Design Agency SEO Model

Sep 11th
posted in

Following on from my post "What To Consider When Starting An SEO Agency", we had a few questions about how to approach the design agency model. This is a model whereby you partner with web design companies. I used to run this model, so here are my ideas on how you can approach it.

What Is The Design Agency Model?

This is when you partner with one or more design agencies who do not have a SEO skillset in-house. This can be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps SEO has never occurred to them, they might not have enough full-time SEO work for a new hire, or SEO just seems like too much hassle.

Forming design agency partnerships can be quite lucrative for the SEO. The design agency typically has a stable of existing clients, and if they're big enough, a salesforce who bring in new clients on a regular basis. The design agency bills hours. In essence, they are a consulting business. The more hours they bill, the more money they make. To scale a design agency, they simply add more bodies.

This is where the opportunity lies for a win-win

How To Approach It

When a design agency is pitching to a client, their incentive is to pile feature upon feature, which of course, takes time to build. The more time they can bill for a build, the more money they make.

SEO is an add-on feature.

Some agencies will be happy just to have an extra service option available to clients so the client doesn't go elsewhere, but most agencies will want a cut. I used to work on 10-15%. Because the clients tend to be corporates, you could charge quite high prices, and they wouldn't blink.

Chances are, the design agencies clients are already asking about SEO. Typically, this happens after the site is actually built, and the client can't find themselves on Google. When you find such an agency, it's not difficult to put a mutually beneficial deal together. The demand already exists, and they can't service it.

Identify agencies that are not so big as to have an SEO capability in house, but big enough to attract a steady flow of clients. It's good if they are in your town. Having the ability to go and see them, and work alongside their sales people and designers if need be, is a big plus.

Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. SEO has a fly-by-night reputation, so it's much easier to establish credibility if you're sitting in front of the people making the decisions, rather than being a detached voice on the phone. They'll also want to see that you're presentable to their clients if you need to attend meetings.

The pitch is you offer white-label search marketing services. You can sweeten the deal by offering to do the first project at cost. The aim is to prove concept and prove that you can fit in with their way of working. It's no different than a job interview and trial period in this respect.

The seamless white label SEO service you provide has little or no overhead cost to the agency. They don't need to hire you and provide you with staff benefits. They'll want to know how and where you fit into the design process, so be prepared to answer such questions. The subtext of this question is they want to know if there are hidden costs i.e. is your work is going to slow the designers down, or make life difficult for them. You could approach this question by saying that if you're in the projects at an early stage, you can make painless recommendations in terms of site build. Emphasize how your work will fit in smoothly, yet provide their clients with added benefit.

Also provide them with marketing collateral. This is the text they include in sales proposals. State the benfits of search engine marketing from a business perspective. You'll get a feel for the type of infoirmation you need to include by looking at their existing proposals. Typically, sales proposals aren't technical in nature. Give an overview of what you do, the benefits you provide, and the cost.

I found that including a PPC option is a good way to go, especially for clients, or agencies, who don't have much awareness of SEO. Even if the designers ignore all your recommendations - believe me, this happens - you can rescue the situation by ensuring traffic still arrives via PPC. You can then demonstrate that traffic is arriving via the search engines, and if you have more input in future, those traffic levels will increase.

Once you've got the first job under your belt, you can negotiate long term arrangements with the agency. You can then go to other agencies - careful that the agencies don't compete directly - and offer the same service, using the first agency as a reference. Repeat until you have as many agencies as you can handle. 4-5 reasonably sized agencies can create a flood of work for an SEO, so much so you'll soon find yourself employing extra staff. That's a great return for 4-5 hour long meetings.

Billing can be by the hour or project based.Try to fit in with however the agency bills. I found most like a project based pricing scheme unless there is significant level of ongoing work.

Benefits

There are significant benefits to this model for the small SEO provider.

Firstly, you outsource the sales function. Sales can be very time consuming and expensive, and have long lead times. The agencies sales force has an incentive to work hard for you because they can sell higher billing projects, upon which their commissions are likely based. Get onside with the sales people as early as you can. Emphasize benefits such as how many people are looking for SEO services, how valuable an add on it is, and how much agency level SEO can charge. The sales people are your friends, as you earn them more money.

If you've selected your agencies carefully, you get to work with bigger clients than you might otherwise land yourself. Besides being more lucrative, you get to work up more and more contacts at high levels. These people often job hop from corporation to corporation, which opens further opportunities for you down the line.

You don't have to build up your own brand, which can take a lot of time and effort. You leverage off the pre-existing brand and reputation established by the agency.

Downsides

Loss of control. It can be harder to pick and choose clients if the sales person is keen to sell every client on SEO. This is why it is important to plan for contingencies i.e. if you get a client hell bent on an all flash, brand heavy site, then be prepared to become Mr PPC. You'll also have less control over projects, as projects are typically managed by dedicated project managers.

Hostility form designers. Designers typically don't like people dictating design standards to them, especially people from outside the agency.

Look for areas where there is cross-over and articulate SEO in their terms. For example, if an agency is focused on usability, then talk that aspect up - usability imperatives and SEO often go hand in hand. Have alternative, low impact SEO strategies ready if you can't get your first choice on strategy. For example, add a site map to facilitate crawling, focus on off-site strategies like link building, build a site-within-a-site consisting of pages that aren't part of the main design, and suggest alternative navigation for those with disabilities.

Some designers are fine, of course, but expect the most push-back in this area. If you get too much push-back because you are imposing what they perceive as draconian conditions, then they will likely complain about you to management. As the designers are the bread and butter of the agency, and you are merely providing an add on, you may soon find yourself out of a contract.

You don't own the clients. The clients belong to the design agency, and they might not want you to use the names of their clients in your promotional material. Also, if you ever want to sell you business, you don't have a client list to sell, which is typically the only thing of value. Essentially, you are not building a business you can likely sell, you're operating as an independent contractor.

When it comes to billing, make sure this is not dependent on the agency getting the money out of the client. Bill the agency directly and let them worry about credit risk. It can be difficult to chase their clients for money due to the indirect nature of the contract.

Any questions? Add 'em below. It would also be good to hear from SEOs who run this model.

What To Consider When Starting An SEO Agency

Sep 9th
posted in

Starting your own SEO business can be a challenge. In DMOZ, a directory often hostile to SEO listings, there are still over 1,018 SEO service companies listed. Do a Google search on SEO companies, are you'll see.....quite a few more!

Ok, it's a big planet, and there is room for many operators, but it's true to say that in the SEO game in 2009, no one is short of competition.

There is a lot of competion because there is a low barrier to entry. In order to enter the SEO market, someone only need put out an open for business sign, in the form of a website, and they are as much an SEO Agency as the next guy.

Maintaining a profitable business is another matter, of course.

If you're thinking of starting an SEO agency, here are some aspects you should consider, and some recommendations on how to position in today's marketplace. If you're an SEO who has started their own business, and made a success of it, it would be great if you could share your experiences in the comments below. What are the things you know now, that you wished people had told you when you started?

Essential Considerations

1. You

The first part of your plan should be all about you.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you a self starter, or do you prefer being given work to do? Take a long look in the mirror and be honest with yourself: is running a business really something you want to do, or is this a means to avoid looking for employment? How suited are you to running a business?

No doubt you can see where I'm going with this. There are personality traits people have that make them suited to running a business, including a desire for independence, being a self-starter, and having the ability to take financial risk. One such risk is the lack of steady salary. Do you have a means of financial support? Savings? If you do, it will make life a lot easier. If you don't, consider building up that safety net before you start.

Once you've decided that this is definitely for you, great! Working for yourself can be an immensely rewarding thing to do.

2. Strategy

Where are you going and how will you get there?

Map out a business plan.It need not be complicated. In short, what can you offer that your competition can't? How much will you have to sell in order to cover your expenses and make a profit? How, exactly, are you going to sell your services and execute delivery?

Once you get a feel for the figures, it will make it easier to see if your ideas are achievable.

3. Finances

How much money will you need in order to get out and sell, and then to provide the services? How much money will you pay yourself? Do you need staff? Do you have an accountant? Do you know your break-even figure? How will you manage bad debts or late payments?

All business ultimately comes down to maths. You need to bring in more than you pay out. Failure to do that means the business fails.

Two important areas are cashflow and value of a good accountant.

Business lives or dies on cashflow. A business can be selling well, but if it doesn't have enough money in the bank to meet payroll or rent at the end of the month, it is finished. Try to arrange sufficient overdraft or investment to ensure you can survive between bill payments. Clients often pay later than you want them to.

Secondly, an accountant is worth their weight in gold. Not only do they take on tedious business of tax filing, they make sure you are claiming all the deductions you're entitled to. For example, your computer equipment, your use of home, your broadband, your electricity use can all be charged to your business. This reduces your costs and tax obligation.

4. Your Idea

Does your business serve a customer need or want? Can competitors easily copy what you do?

These are two critical areas. Many people go into business because they want to do something they like doing. That's ok, so long as there is enough consumer demand. However, think about the number of actors and musicians out there. Most aren't making much, if any money. This is because they are pusrsuing a job they enjoy, and largely ignoring supply and demand considerations. Ignoring supply and demand is ok for actors, but it's poor way to run a business. What can you supply that there is a ready demand for? Can you create new demand?

Secondly, the barrier to entry. Because it is so easy to start an SEO business, you'll need something else to differentiate yourself, other than just having a website. A website is the base level entry point. What have you got that others can't copy? Are you able to service a geographic locality better than other providers? Do you know a particular market vertical well i.e travel/fashion/finance/auto? Do you have a name/brand people know? Can you leverage reputation and contacts from your previous career?

5. Marketing and Sales Strategy

This is part of your business plan, but it is an area that requires special attention. Without a marketing strategy, how are people going to know who you are? How are you going to sell to them? If your answer is SEO or PPC, you'll be up against a lot of competition. Those channels are saturated, and in most cases, there is little to distinguish one service provider from the next.

How do you intend to implement your strategy? What channels will you use? Have you allocated time and money to that strategy? For example, if you intend to speak at conferences, you need to budget for the travel and attendance. You also need a plan for who is going to do the work while you're away marketing and selling.

The sales cycle can be long and tedious. The bigger the client, the longer sign-offs can take. Typically what happens is that many prosposects will all sign off at once, after months of indecision! Can you scale up quickly if a lot of work comes in? Will you turn down work?

The Challenge In 2009

The specific challenge to SEO services providers in 2009 is differntiation. There are many people offering services, so how do you stand out from the rest?

One way is to zig when other zag. Is everyone heading off to the same SEO conferences, saying much the same thing? Instead, how about going to the conferences no one else goes to? Travel industry conferences. Dental conferences. People in those industries need SEO, and you might be the first person who has ever talked to them about it! With careful selection and a little luck, you might corner a lucrative, untapped market.

Do companies really need SEO services? Perhaps they just need their own people trained. Can you offer in-house training courses? How about providing a number for them to call whenever they have an SEO question? Be the go-to guy for a number of small firms who may not be able to afford a full seo service, but might be able to afford an hour of advice or coaching each month.

Partner with design/devlopement companies. Perhaps they can't afford to hire a full time SEO on staff, but if you sign up 4-5 design companies, and offer your SEO service as an add on, you should enjoy a steady stream of work. They do all the sales work for you, you just do your part, and bill the agency. They take a cut.

Got any other ideas on differentiation, or war stories about running your own business? Please feel free to comment :)

The Virtual SEO Office

Sep 7th
posted in

Credit: HardForums

Do you work in an office?

From home?

If you're thinking of starting SEO business, one of the key decisions you'll need to make is where to setup. One of the advantages of the internet is that distance doesn't become the obstacle it once was. An office can exist virtually, with the workforce spread out across the country, or around the globe, with employees working from home.

Let's take a look at the many advantages and disadvantages of the virtual business. It would be great if those who have already established their own SEO businesses could share their experiences in the comments :)

1. Financial Concerns

One of the biggest problems for any start-up is lack of finance. Keeping overheads low in order to maximize cashflow is therefore a good idea, and one of the biggest overheads a business faces in the early stages, besides wages, is setting up an office. The rent must be paid and equipment must be hired or purchased.

A virtual company uses existing premises i.e. the home and, in many cases, existing equipment.

2. Opportunity Cost

Small companies can out-maneuver bigger companies by being more efficient and more productive.

Say employees in a traditional company must commute an hour round trip each day. Then add the time they take to get ready for work. Perhaps that all adds up to an hour and half each day. In a year, this dead time adds up to months! Whilst employees can get work done on the commute if using public transport, it's not an ideal space for concentrating.

The lost time for the virtual office is essentially zero. No commute. No getting ready. Well, maybe putting some pants on might be a good idea :)

3. Less Meetings/Water Cooler Activity

How much meeting time is actually useful? How many hours of the day do we spend chatting with work mates?

Having worked both in traditional environments and virtual environments, I've found I get a lot more done in virtual environments. The social element of traditional workplaces, whilst beneficial in terms of morale, can result in less productivity. The virtual office, on the other hand, tends to be a lot more task focused. "Meetings" (Skype) are a lot shorter, organising them is a lot easier (no room bookings), and because you're not face-to-face with people all the time, there are fewer minute-by-minute distractions.

4. Virtual Office Employees Can Work Longer Hours

I don't know why this is, but I suspect it's because virtual office employees make less of distinction between working time and personal time. It was actually one of the "downsides" I found when I first worked from home - it was near impossible to leave work! Each time I passed the office, I was tempted to do a little more.

When you commute to an office, it's easier to walk out the door and leave it all behind.

5. Employees Really Like It

Some people will work for less wages for the privilege of working from home. They gain in other ways i.e. more flexible arrangements, time spent near family, reduced costs of lunch, enjoying their own surroundings, not having to communte, etc. A happy employee typically produces more work, and stays at the company longer, thus increasing productivity and reducing expenses.

Downsides?

Of course, the virtual office has downsides. One of the big downsides is the reduced social interaction. Some people thrive on the social interaction of the work place, and are not suited to the virtual office. The key is to screen employees carefully. Some virtual offices also setup in coffee shops to help counter the social isolation.

Home can also be a distracting place. Employees need an area away from other people.

Clients may perceive your company as less serious if it operates out of a home address. The way to get around this is to rent a mail forwarding address and the occasional meeting room in the center of town. There are companies that offer these facilities, and you can use meeting rooms and secretarial services on an hourly basis. I've also found that big clients don't go to small suppliers anyway. They demand you to come to them!

Some people need to be micro-managed. Again, careful selection is the key. Also try to make delivery task-based as opposed to based on hours worked.

What have been you experiences - positives and negatives - of your office setup?

  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
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What Do SEOs Know?

Sep 3rd
posted in

IIf you could tell the web 2.0/read-write/blogging/crowd-sourcing crowd one thing about search marketing, what would it be?

In a recent talk, given to bloggers, by Google Engineer Matt Cutts, Matt posed the question:

"What Do SEOs know that bloggers might not know?"

Matt goes on to talk about the merits of keyword research in terms of topic selection, and how understanding this concept can bring you a great deal of traffic. In summary, if you find out what keywords people search on, then add these to your page, you stand a good change of having those searchers land on your page. As SEOs know, there's more to it than that, but that's the quick version :)

Let's look a bit deeper into keywords.

Search Is A Reverse Broadcast System

I think Danny Sullivan first described search as a "reverse broadcast system". It's a great way to describe the value of search, and how to approach search in terms of marketing.

I liken search engines to being a 'reverse broadcast network.' People pay tons to be on television because you can get your message out in front of millions of people: broadcasting. With search engines, millions of people are telling you *their* messages: what they want to buy, purchase or get information about. You don't broadcast to them; instead, it's the reverse, they broadcast to you. There's very little if anything as a marketing or information medium that I can think of that compares to this. It's golden and still today amazingly unrecognized

In search marketing, you prosper when you let your visitors determine your content. They broadcast their intent to you, by phrasing a search query, so you should listen to that intent, and respond by providing appropriate content. Google does the match-making.

For example, if you learn that 5,400 people a month search for "antivirus software comparison", you could research and create this information, thus matching that demand with your supply of information.

How do we determine visitor intent?

The Search Phrase As A Means To Measure User Intent

If you're not an SEO and encountering this blog for the first time, you now now the most important thing about search marketing, and that is you need to match the content of your site to the intent of the search visitor. In a blog post recently, Seth Godin talked about the problem with advertising:

"(The internet) has created a surplus of attention. Ads go unsold. People are spending hours on YouTube or Twitter or Facebook or other sites and not spending their attention on ads, because the ads are either absent or not worth watching"

Seth was talking about the differences between old media advertising and new media advertising, but this is a problem related primarily to to a mismatch of user intent. The intent of users on Facebook is primarily social. Search, however, provides a more specific - and ultimately more lucrative - eco-system for the online marketer.

The intent of the visitor may be determined by analyzing the search phrase itself.

Three Types Of Search Queries

The study "Query Type Classifcation For Web Documents" (PDF) identifies three types of search query and how to quantify them:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional

An informational search is when people want to find out about something. i.e. What is the capital of Finland?. A navigational query is when users want to find a certain site i.e. Dell Computers A transactional query is when users want to aquire, although not necessary buy, something. For example, "where can I get guitar schematics"

There is a fair degree of guesswork involved in determining user intent. The keyword itself may provide clues. For example, "buy LCD monitor overnight delivery" tells you a great deal about user intent. "LCD monitor", less so.

When evaluating keyword terms, and deciding what content to provide, it pays to examine the keyword query in terms of query type. For example, the query "Buy LCD monitor overnight delivery" is clearly transactional. A visitor would expect to see an e-commerce page that facilitates a purchase, as opposed to a Wikipedia entry explaining the history of LCD monitors.

Generally speaking, transactional queries are good to target if you monetraize by providing something, either a good or service based upon a transaction or call-to-action. Navigational queries are good to target if you provide "where to" information - like a directory or a list of links - or you provide information closely aligned to a web destination. Informational queries are self-explanatory.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, and numerous points of cross-over i.e. a query might be informational, navigational and transactional.

The takeaway point is it is to seek to understand the main visitor intent. It will effect what information you present and how you present it. A page based around achieving a transaction will look very different to a page that provides information. If you're ranking well for a transactional query, but you only provide information, you'll lose an opportunity to engage visitors.

On-Page Keyword Integration

Once you've figured out user intent, and chosen your keyword phrases, you then need to integrate these terms into your content. A page should reflect and confirm the intent of the searcher. If the searcher is expecting to undertake a transaction, then the page should be organised in a way to facilitate the transaction.

Amazon provides a good example:

The "Buy Now" function is never far away from the users mouse click. The title is clear and prominent. Informational aspects are relegated to the bottom of the page.

You should provide confirmation the visitor has arrived in the right place. A good way to do this is to feature the search phrase high up on the page, preferably as a headline. This serves two purposes - it tells the search engine what the page is about, and confirms to your visitor that what they searched for and what they got are the same thing. If the visitor has to wade through too much information in order before getting a signal of confirmation, they're more likely to click back.

PPC marketing strategy also supports this theory. Common PPC practice is to include the keyword in the ad title, which can lead to higher click-thru rates than if you leave the keyword out. It stands to reason that a searcher expects to see the same keyword term they searched on echoed back at them.

The Long Tail

Did you know that 20-25% of search phases at Google are unique? 1/4 of all keyword searches have never been searched before! This is why it is important to include related phrases and synonyms on your page. The addition of related phrases and concepts allows you to pick up additional search visitor traffic from obscure combinations of keyword phrases.

The term "The Long Tail" was coined by Chris Andersen, and applied to online retailers, such as Amazon:

"A frequency distribution with a long tail has been studied by statisticians since at least 1946.[2] The distribution and inventory costs of these businesses allow them to realize significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items. The group comprised of a large number of "non-hit" items is called the Long Tail."

The Long Tail also applies to search. Whilst millions of people search for "used cars", a few hundred search for "used cars east texas". If you sell used cars in east Texas, then it makes sense to target these specific, long tail terms. What these terms may lack in sheer traffic numbers, they make up for in broadcasting specific intent.

Match that intent with your service provision, and you're laughing.

How To Put It All Together

  • Visitor search streams determine your content. Use the SEOBook Keyword Research Tool to find keyword terms relating to your business/topic. You can approximate the highest value terms using SEM Rush
  • Having assembled a keyword list, find related keywords and synonyms of those terms. You can use the SEOBook Keyword Research Tool. Or Google's Keyword Tool
  • Split the obvious terms into transactional, navigational, and informational. This will dictate how you prioritize the content on the page. i.e. a transactional query needs a clear call to action featured prominently
  • Create pages. Place the keyword term in a proment place on the page, preferably in a heading. This will help confirm to the visitor they have arrived at the right palce
  • Watch visitor traffic and interaction. If you're seeing high frequency - or strong conversions - for obscure terms, consider writing a page dedicated to this term.
  • Rinse and repat

So long as your site is being crawled by Google, and you've got a few inbound links, traffic will soon flow to your door. What you do with all that new found traffic is up to you :)

For an indepth look at keyword strategies, check out Aaron's tutorial in the members area.

How To Overcome Writers Block

Sep 1st
posted in

Anyone who writes a regular blog knows about writers block. But no matter how much time you spend staring at that blank page, the article just never writes itself.

Pity.

So how do you overcome writers block?

Here are a few tips.

Topic Selection

It's not that there aren't plenty of topics to write about, the problem is we often feel we need to say something new. The reality is that not much is genuinely new. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

Instead, try and find new angles on old ideas.

One good way of doing this is to combine two topics. For example, if you know a lot about SEO, apply this knowledge to a more conventional topic, like, say "How To Innovate" The article then becomes "How To Innovate In The SEO Business". Not rocket science - or a particularly new angle for that matter - but combining two tried-n-true topics can create something new.

2. Just Write

Often called free-writing, there's a lot to be said for just making a start.

Think of a question - any question at all - and start writing about it. Don't worry if your produce gibberish, the aim is to get rid of that blank page.

Introduce an SEO twist by going through your keyword logs. Find any keywords phrased as a question, and free- write about that keyword. Put the keyword phrases into Google's Keyword Research Tool, and see what word associations, and other questions, come up.

I'm getting self-reflexive and post-modern here, but that's how this article started. I'm rewriting this article from a page of utter gibberish. Hopefully I'm making slightly more sense now.

3. Go For A Walk

One daily habit I've got into recently - and I can't recommend it enough - is to go for a walk. There's something about exercise, and being away from a computer, that clears your thinking processes. Try it for a few days and see if you notice the difference.

I'd be really interested to hear if your experience has been the same as mine.

4. Steal!

Well, not really.

Creatively borrow :)

There isn't much that is genuinely new in this world, and there is even less new in the field of marketing theory. I loved the book "The Purple Cow", but really, it's a new spin on an old topic - having a unique selling point.

A lot of the books I've been reading recently have a "sameness" about them. That's because a lot of marketing books rehash old theory using new terminology.

But hey - why not join them! What's old to you might be new to someone else. And if you can put your ideas in a contemporary setting, then that will bring something new to the table. Grab some old books or magazines and rewrite articles. Bring them up to date. Put them in a new context. Redefine terms. Add a new spin. Do some keyword research on the key themes and integrate.

The good thing about writing from existing pieces is that you get over the blank page effect. You're already starting from a finished piece. Your job is to rewrite, expand, take it into new territories, respin and create something new.

5. Chunk It

Chunking is a method of writing where you split concepts into small pieces.

  • Create bullet-point lists of things you want to say - write the conclusion first
  • Create headings
  • Write a paragraph of one sentence under each heading

Can you scan the document and understand it?

Although sparse, the article is complete in terms of structure. You then dress up the bare bones by expanding the sentences under the headings, thus turning them into fully formed paragraphs.

6. Write Something Unrelated

Ever get the feeling that everything that can be said about SEO has been said already?

It's not true, of course, but it feels that way sometimes.

Try researching and writing about a completely different topic area. You might not publish the piece, but by immersing yourself in new areas and concepts, you might gain new insights on your chosen field.

Unfortunately, the SEO niche has become an echo chamber, so try to read outside the area of SEO as much as you can. How about looking at areas such as future gazing, trends, history, economics, business, politics or personal development? Can you relate any of these fields back to SEO and marketing?

7. Don't Write At All

A lot of people feel the need to publish, even when they have nothing to say.

You often see this on blogs. Some arbitrary decision has been made that the writer must make one post a day, or must Twitter five times a day, or else, or else....

....or else what?

People will leave and never come back?

No one is that important.

I think it's more likely that readers will appreciate something that is worth their time reading. Time is a scarce thing, so I don't think writers do readers any favours by churning out, well, typing. Sure, the golden rule of blogging is to keep a blog regularly updated. A good thing, if you can manage it. But this can create a pressure to churn something - anything - out. The reality is that few people can write killer pieces each and everyday.

So rather than write something substandard because you're not really feeling like it, why not just do something else instead.

I'd be interested to hear your strategies for beating writers block.

There Is More To Optimization Than SEO

Aug 25th

What is the purpose of that new page you're adding to your site?

Is it to rank highly for a keyword term? That's half the battle won, of course :)

After the visitor has arrived on your page, what do you want the visitor to do next?

According to Seth Godin, you probably want a visitor to do one of five things:

  • Click to go to another page on your site
  • Buy something
  • Register for something
  • Click on/view advertising
  • Pass your message on to a friend

So, if you build a landing page, and you're going to invest time and money to get people to visit it, it makes sense to optimize that page to accomplish just one of the things above. Perhaps two, but no more.

Keep that desired action firmly in mind when you design and optimize your pages. The first rule of optimization is to optimize for humans. Ranking a page, only to have visitors click away, is a waste of time and effort.

Optimize For Focus

In the SEOBook Forums, we offer site reviews as a service to members.

We often see sites where it isn't clear what they visitor needs to do. This is usually caused by too many options presented on one page. By trying to please all audiences, we often end up pleasing nobody.

Decide the key action you want people to take, and relegate all other options. Either move some options to a different page, or reduce the visual weight of other options relative to the main action you want a visitor to take.

Here's a great example of a site where the one key action is in clear focus: DailyBurn.com

An exception to this rule is when the user is very familiar with the site. A lack of options often means too many clicks to get things done. However, if your page is focused on the first time searcher, then simplicity and clarity is the way to go.

Visual Focus

Do you know where people's eyes focus when they land on your site?

Check out this tool at FenGui. The tool tries to work out how people will visually scan your site. Some web statistics packages, such as Google Analytics and ClickTracks, provide visual click tracking based on user activity.

Before deciding on a template for your site, it is a good idea to test out your ideas using PPC. Knock up a few different designs, run a short campaign and use split/run testing to determine which page layout result in the user taking the desired action most often. Armed with this information, you're less likely to waste time in your SEO campaign.

Design Considerations

There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to web design, because each element you add will affect what is already there. Or not there.

However, a few factors remain constant:

  • The eye will be attracted to color blocks
  • The eye will be attracted to human faces or forms
  • Whitespace promotes readability - keep paragraphs short, use headings and bulletpoints

Make sure all visual elements underscore the desired action.

Where Web Design/ SEO Often Goes Wrong

The success of a page should be measured by one criteria:

Does the visitor do what you want them to do?

Often, other criteria will blur this vision. For example, a designer who is more interested in winning awards than ensuring your pages do what they should, may make a page pretty, but sometimes pretty doesn't result in a desired action. An SEO can sometimes be overzealous in terms of keyword usage, which can result in dense text and odd-phrasing, which has the potential to put visitors off.

There is little point putting a lot of effort into attracting visitors if they don't do what you want them to do.

A Word About Adsense

Positioning of adsense can be the difference between making pocketmoney and making a living. Look at Adsense as a visual element, as opposed to a block of text. Typography and text layout are design elements, every bit as much as graphics.

Are your eyes drawn to Adsense as you scan the page? If not, you may need to tone down other visual display elements, including color, to make Adsense Ads stand out. If Adsense is the way you monetize, the desired user action is the click. Are other elements on your page, be they links or graphics, competing for that click?

How To Buy SEO Services

Aug 21st
posted in

You've launched your website. Everybody you show it to thinks that it is great. You're starting to get some traffic. You search Google for your site.

You can't find it anywhere.

If you've arrived at SEOBook.com, chances are you're trying to solve that problem. Welcome to the world of SEO :)

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is a process whereby websites can gain higher rankings in the search engines. If you find any of the terminology confusing, check out our SEO Glossary.

Can You Do It Yourself?

Of course! Here's how to do it for free.

Ensure that your pages are crawlable, and readable, by search engines. Make a list of around 20 keyword terms that relate to your topic, and write a page on each. Create a site map pointing to each page, and link all your pages to the site map. Finally, build links.

Also read:

Got some training budget? Well, we would recommend this training course - of course ;) Tells you all about SEO and internet marketing - and more - as well as providing personal support in the forums.

Should You Do It Yourself?

Like anything, doing it yourself requires a personal investment in terms of your time. It also requires a desire to dive into technical aspects of search engines and publishing on the web.

If you have neither the time nor the desire, there are many professional SEOs who can take care of the task for you.

How To Select An SEO Professional

Whilst there are training courses run by independent operators, there are no formal industry certifications for SEO providers.

The reason for this is that few SEOs agree on optimal process and practices. Secondly, the search engines have an uneasy relationship with SEO. This is mostly due to the fact SEO competes with the search engines click-driven business model, and overly-aggressive tactics used by some SEOs can degrade the quality of search results.

The way to judge SEO professionals isn't by any claimed qualifications. SEO professionals should be judged by their results. In the SEO world, talk is cheap.

What To Expect

An SEO will adapt content and links in an effort to get you more exposure in search engine results pages.

While it would be nice to be able to pay an SEO to get you a #1 ranking for a high trafficked term, forevermore, SEO doesn't work this way.

The search engines rank sites based on a number of criteria, and that criteria is a closely guarded secret. Secondly, even if SEOs did know the criteria, it may not help. For example, Google places weight on historical factors, such as links built up over a long period of time. These links may be very difficult to obtain.

The criteria is also in a state of flux. What worked a few years ago may not work now.

Typically, what an SEO will do is ensure your site is included in the search engine indexes. Some web design approaches make it impossible for search engines to index a site. The SEO will also tweak existing content, and add new content, with the aim of ranking pages for topic areas related to your business. This can be a hit and miss affair, but generally speaking, the more content you have on your site that the search engine is able to see, the more traffic you're likely to receive.

An SEO will also try and get links pointing to a site, as links are a big part of Google's ranking criteria. If you're feeling adventurous, here is the maths that lies behind Google.

Over time, you should expect search engine referrals from targeted visitors to rise after having implemented an SEO strategy.

What To Watch Out For

Poor Metrics/Illusion Of Action - Some SEOs use poor performance metrics, one of which is ranking.

If no-one searches on a particular phrase, then ranking for the phrase is pointless. It's the equivalent of putting up a sign in a desert, miles form the road - no one will see it. It is very easy to get a page to rank for a keyword term that has little competition. Mention the keyword phrase on your page somewhere, and it will likely rank.

Instead, consider defining performance goals based on your business metrics. Do you want more traffic from search engines? Do you want more conversions? Align these goals with your SEO goals. Ensure the terms you're ranking for translate into measurable business advantage.

Overly-Aggressive Tactics - the search engines take a dim view of aggressive tactics, which can result in a site ban. Whilst this is highly unlikely, it can happen. If you wish to remain cautious, then your SEO should stay within published search engine guidelines. There is an appeals process if your site is penalized, however this can take time.

This is largely a risk vs reward question. The reason some SEOs are aggressive is because it can get results when less aggressive techniques fail. This is not to say aggressive techniques will always work, or that less aggressive techniques won't. A lot depends on the site and the area in which you're competing.

Guarantees - there are no such thing as ranking guarantees, especially if they imply the SEO has control over the search engine results. They do not.

Carefully examine the terms of the guarantee. Worthwhile guarantees, as far as the client is concerned, are where the SEO promises to satisfy criteria based on measurable, business metrics.

Resources

For an indepth look at selecting an SEO provider, members can take a look at Aaron's "Buying SEO Services"

The Pros & Cons Of The Affiliate Model

Aug 18th

Are you making enough money from your website?

There are a number of ways to monetize a site. Aaron covers the options in extensive detail in the "Monetization" members area , however today we'll take a close look at just one aspect of monetization, Affiliate Marketing.

What Is Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing is a marketing method whereby one business rewards another business for sending customers, visitors and/or sales.

Mostly, affiliate marketing rewards come in the form of revenue share on a sale. Site A (the affiliate) funnels visitors to Site B (the merchant). If a transaction is completed by the merchant, the affiliate receives a commission on the sale. Do this numerous times a day in a high-margin area, such as loans, and both the affiliate and the merchant can make a lot of money.

Affiliate marketing is nothing new.

In the carpet markets in Turkey, you get pestered by salesmen whos job is to tempt you off the street and across the threshold of a carpet shop. He - its invariably a he - might get paid for bringing you to the door (the online equivalent is equivalent to cost-per-click), or, if you buy a carpet he receives a commission (cost per action). Or perhaps a mixture of the two.

The benefit to the merchant is that he doesn't have to pay the full time wages of the salesman, and he only pays him on performance. The benefit to the salesman is that he doesn't have to own a shop, carry merchandise, deal with transactions, or any of the other costs associated with running a carpet shop.

Win-win.

In 2006, MarketingSherpa estimated online affiliates worldwide earned US$6.5 billion in bounty and commissions

The Players & How It Works

The Affiliate Marketing industry consists of three core players:

  • The Merchant
  • The Affiliate
  • The Prospective Customer

As the affiliate model became big business, further levels emerged, including sub-affiliates and affiliate networks. We'll take a look at the role of the networks shortly.

The Pros Of Affiliate Marketing

Easy To Set-Up - You simply need to select a program, sign-up, add the tracking code to your site, and you're good to go.

Focus On Your Core Skills - If SEO is your key skill, you can focus 100% on rankings and traffic generation. You leave all the customer handling, sales, returns, legal issues and transactions to someone else.

You'll also be amongst esteemed company. The top affiliate marketers who use SEO to generate traffic typically rank amongst the highest-skilled SEOs. They live or die based solely on their ability to rank well in highly competitive areas.

Low Startup Costs - setting up commerce delivery online can require a lot of start-up investment. The affiliate need not invest anything other than some time. If one area doesn't work out, the affiliate can quickly move onto another area. The merchant has to too many sunk costs to do likewise.

Multiple Income Streams - once you've honed your sills in one area, you can apply them to any area you choose. There is no limit to the number of merchants you can work for, so you are free to develop multiple revenue streams. Some merchants will give you ongoing revenues based on customer activities, too.

Cons Of Affiliate Marketing

Low Level Of Control - Unless you have a close relationship with your merchant, you have little control over offers.

If their competitors are offering better services and/or lower prices, you can't counter unless the merchant changes their offer in line with the market. You're also pretty much stuck with the same standard offer available to every other affiliate you're competing against, making it difficult to differentiate.

There are exceptions.

Sometimes super affiliates - those affiliates who consistently put through high sales volumes - get offered special deals. It's unlikely you'll know what these deals are unless you become a super-affiliate. Some programs allow pricing control, but mostly, you're dealing with cookie cutter offers.

Customer Base Not Locked In - The merchant keeps the customer.

Typically, you deliver the customer, the merchant pays you a one-time commission, then that customer remains theirs for all subsequent purchases. The value of the merchants business increases the more customers they have.

As an affiliate, you don't tend to have lock-in on the customer. Some affiliate deals offer you on-going revenue, however.

High Competition - One of the pros of affiliate marketing is that is is easy to sign up and get started.

This is also a negative.

If it is easy for you to sign up, then it is easy for everyone to do likewise. There are new affiliate hordes arriving each and every day. The incentive for the merchant and affiliate network is to sign on as many performing affiliates as they can, so they don't really care if you face ever increasing levels of competition.

This is why top affiliates look for private deals. More on this shortly.

PS: As I stated above, you'll be amongst esteemed company. The top affiliate marketers who use SEO to generate traffic are typically very highly-skilled SEOs. They live or die based solely on their ability to rank well in highly competitive areas. These people will also be your competitors :)

Pay On Performance - This is a great option for the merchant. They only pay when they sell something. What this does is transfer all the advertising risk to you.

You may spend weeks or months on SEO and make no sales. This might not even be your fault. You get great rankings and traffic, but the merchant has an uncompetitive offer, or loses customers at the point of sale.

Middlemen - As the affiliate area has grown, so too have the number of middlemen.

The biggest middleman in the chain is the affiliate network. The affiliate network is the go-between linking the merchants with the affiliates. Commission Junction is one example.

The network often provides valuable reporting tools and tracking, as well as affiliate and merchant support. Of course, all this costs money and places an additional layer between the affiliate and the merchant. Whilst the network may provide benefits in terms of reporting and support, it also reduces the level of control and contact the affiliate has with the merchant.

Limited Growth Potential - Because you can't lock in your customers or adapt deals to suit changing market conditions, growth potential is limited. Like the carpet salesman, you rely on a new stream of visitors each and every day with no way to grow what you do, other than by adding sub-affiliates.

There is a solution to many of these problems, however.

Direct Partnerships

There are many affiliates making very good money following the model I have outlined above.

However, as affiliates get more and more successful, they often look to partner direct with merchants. This way, they cut out the middlemen - leaving more profit for the affiliate - and gain a closer relationship with the merchant.

Some affiliates structure the entire deal, and take a percentage of the merchants earnings over time. Whilst this approach requires upfront organization, the long term payoffs can be huge compared to the traditional network-driven affiliate model.

But how do you do it?

First, you need to look at areas where there is high returns and low levels of competition.

Make a list of merchants who have a web presence in your chosen area and have the ability to take online orders or inquiries. Approach these merchants directly. It's a good idea if you can demonstrate potential traffic levels and sales, so come armed with this information.

Look to sign up exclusively i.e. you're the only affiliate working with them. Also try to get a cut of ongoing revenue i.e. if the customers becomes a repeat customer, you receive repeat commissions. The bonus to the merchant is that you're a salesman willing to work on a commission basis. There is little risk involved for the merchant, and most will be only too happy to at least consider your proposition.

These types of deals require a high deal of trust and transparency, so it's unlikely you'll get everything you want right away. Suggest a trial run to prove your worth, then negotiate favorable terms once you've proved yourself. If the merchant turns you down at that point, then you simply go to his/her competition, with your accumulated data, and make the same offer.

This way, you should be able to build up a private label affiliate system. You can bring on your own hand-picked sub affiliates to work with you, too, and if you've selected your market correctly, you should face little or no competition. As you have a close, direct relationship with the merchant, you can work on structuring product and service offerings that remain competitive. It becomes more of a partnership that can be nurtured and made valuable over time.

Some of the biggest money-making affiliate opportunities you'll never hear about.

That's because they involve private label deals.

Hanging Out At Established Places

Aug 11th
posted in

In 2009, Google places a lot of trust in authority.

Authority, in terms of ranking, typically means "an established site with a high number of inbound links from authoritative sources".

Ranking might also have something to do with a sites popularity. And the usage patterns. And various other signals of "establishment" known only to the Google alchemists.

Whatever way you look at it, a new site is difficult to get ranked in competitive keyword areas.

So what are you to do while you're waiting for your authority signals to build?

Way, Way Off Site SEO Tactics

Consider placing content on established sites.

There are a number of reasons why you might do this, including increased exposure, the obvious back-link advantages, and the kudos that comes with appearing on a high profile site. Compare the effort of writing one killer article for a high profile site, with - say - begging other webmasters for links. The effort may be comparable, but the rewards of following the former path can be significantly higher.

Even if you get no link value from content placement, at very least you'll get your name seen. This can lead to people seeking you out, whether you rank or not. We'll look deeper into branding aspects shortly.

Piggy Back

Try putting up a page on Work.com, Squidoo, HubPages, Knol and any other established sites that allow user contribution. This also provides a testing ground to see if the keywords you have chosen are worth ranking for, before you attempt to rank for the same keywords on your own site.

Are you good with video? Make a few video's and place them on YouTube.

Win Friends And Influence People

A good, meaty reply to a popular blog post can garner you a lot of attention, particularly from the webmaster who runs the site.

Because webmasters deal with constant spam and low quality contributions, a well-considered comment from a new writer will really stand out. The webmaster may follow your link back to see where that great comment came from. You're now on their radar, which increases your likelihood of getting a mention.

Make sure you already have similarly high quality content on your own site that is link worthy. BTW, I follow every comment left on my SEOBook posts, and find it a great way to learn about what other webmasters are doing. Lurkers never appear on radars.

Q&A sites, such as Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and LinkedIn Answers, often have well-ranked pages. If you provide a great answer to questions, people may follow your link back.

You'll also get a reasonable idea of the amount and quality of the traffic that a page ranking for your chosen term, receives.

Position Against The Market Leader

If you have a competing product to a product already reviewed on Amazon, it can be a good idea to provide your own lengthy review. This is an online way of positioning against the market leader.

Here's an example.

Check out this singing course. Now scroll down to the review comments. The first long review you see is by the author of a competing singing course product.

This is a cunning way to leverage the popularity of the established leader. Get your own product alongside the market leader, which will then encourage readers to draw comparisons. In this case, the first review is associated with a product that is significantly cheaper than the product it reviews, a point the writer alludes to in his opening line.

Why Brand Is Important

Some webmasters only consider the back-link possibilities of these strategies, but they're missing the big picture.

Links are, of course, important, but also aim to build brand recognition. There is little point getting in front of people if they don't remember you, so to get the most out of the above strategies, you must be consistent and memorable.

Individuals make themselves memorable by adding a personal photo. Companies make themselves memorable using brands. Brands are a way of helping consumers make associations between your products and their problems. Aaron goes into depth on branding and how to leverage brands for SEO in the members area. In short, your brand, as well as being memorable, needs to hit empathetic points with your customers. A brand must resonate.

If you can convince people that your brand is what they need, regardless of where they see it, then they will seek you out by typing your brand name into the search box. Whilst you're waiting to rank for generic keyword terms, direct your efforts into making people aware of your brand.

As an aside, when choosing a brand name, check out Aarons post on Domain Names As Natural Brands. Aaron quotes this great line from Rick Schwartz, which is killer:

NATURAL BRANDING or BUILD and CREATE BRANDING

This alone is worth the price of admission. Brad told us his story of spending millions and millions to advertise and brand with his original 3 word creative domain name. When he switched and used a fraction of those ad dollars to buy a category killer domain name, he transformed his business. The dollars he was using to brand was now freed up to do other acquisitions and grow his business in a more dramatic way. NATURAL BRANDING may be the simplest way to describe what a great domain brings to the table."

Few small operators are going to have much money to spend on brand building, which is notoriously expensive. Weigh up the cost of getting a really good, memorable generic name. You're telling people who you are and what you do at the same time.

Try not to position yourself against an existing market leader with a strong brand. Instead, define a category you can be first in, and establish your brand there. I talk more about this aspect in my post"Marketing Driven SEO Strategy".

Summary

Look for ways you can contribute to other sites in order to build awareness, links and brand recognition. Find out where your competition is mentioned and try to get mentioned in the space. Leverage the authority of existing sites.

Marketing Driven SEO Strategy

Jul 31st
posted in

The conventional SEO strategy goes like this:

  • Research keywords
  • Optimize site for those keywords
  • Link internal pages using keyword loaded terms
  • Get links from other sites with keywords in the link

These days, this strategy isn't working as well as it used to.

If a site isn't genuinely interesting and isn't worth remarking upon, it can be difficult to get links, attention and rankings.

These are essentially marketing problems.

By basing our SEO strategy on fundamental marketing principles, we stand a much better chance of dominating the rankings, no matter what niche we choose to target.

Audience

This document is intended for those who know basic SEO principles, but are new to marketing concepts and theory.

If you're new to SEO, there are helpful tips throughout the document, and links to further instruction on SEOBook.com.

Principles That Form The Foundation Of This Strategy

  • 1. Market Analysis
  • 2. Competitive Review
  • 3. Positioning
  • 4. SEO
  • 5. Economics

Market Analysis

In the past, marketing was a last-minute ad on.

A company knocked out a product, then it was handed over the wall to marketing, whose job it was to get the product out into the market. Marketing put a colorful picture on the box, commissioned a jingle, and bought up millions of dollars worth of media time.

These days, marketing is more integrated. A product or service is designed with a clear audience in mind, although many SEOs might disagree, especially when asked to bolt an SEO strategy onto a Flash site consisting entirely of animation!

The internet offers us the opportunity to design with a clear audience in mind, but with a lot less risk than brick-n-mortar companies.

We can figure out if there is a market, and what that market demands, test that market, and then build a site to cater to that market. We can do this quickly and cheaply, using the power of search marketing.

Find Clear Space & Consumer Demand

Like SEO, marketing is part art, part science. Even if you cover the technical aspects of SEO, there is no guarantee you will rank well. Likewise, if you follow a marketing strategy, there is no guarantee of making money.

The trick is to find a place in the market that has two key aspects: clear space and consumer demand.

How do we find these places in the market?

Let's start with a basic marketing analysis.

Perform Market Analysis

Ask yourself three questions:

  • What does the consumer need?
  • How many consumer need this product/service?
  • What is the buying process?

You must fill a genuine need in the market.

Is there demand? It's no good trying to sell something, be it a good, service or opinion, if there is no demand for it. For example, do you know why most blogs don't get read? It is because there is a very limited demand for opinions from unknown writers. Demand is spread very thinly across the opinion/news space, and supply is virtually infinite.

How do you find out if there is a demand for your idea?

The SEO has a valuable tool at his/her disposal for determining demand. Keyword research involves mining databases of previously searched for keyword terms to see if there are existing traffic streams (demand) they can tap into. Any volume of keyword searches indicates demand. Generally speaking, the higher the search volume, the greater the demand, although there are traps, which we'll get to shortly.

For those new to keyword research, here's a step-by-step, using the SEOBook Keyword Tool

Example Of An SEO Marketing Analysis - Gone Wrong

The SEO aims to build a revenue generating site.

The SEO undertakes keyword research and finds there are a lot of searches for Britney Spears pictures.

It turns out that there are approximately 135,000 searches for Britney Spears pictures each month.

Our first two questions - "What does the consumer need? (Britney pictures)" and "How many consumer need this product/service? (lots!)" - appear to be answered. So the SEO licenses a collection of Britney pictures, sets up a site that charges a small membership fee, and ranks well for Britney related keyword terms.

And fails to make any money.

Why?

There are various reasons, but the main reason is that the SEO failed to ask "what is the buy process?" Conventional SEO-led strategies often fail to include this step, however it is crucial if your site is to succeed.

The buy process is, as the name suggests, the steps a person takes when they are interested in buying something. Had the SEO examined the buy process, she would have realized people don't pay for Britney pictures online. Granted, this example is a little silly, but this problem occurs often, especially when search traffic is viewed in isolation.

Offline, people may buy gossip and celebrity magazines, but when online, they expect to look at Britney pictures for free. Online, the buy process for Britney Spears images simply doesn't exist, except in a very narrow B2B market between photographers and publishers.

So what happens next?

Choose Niches With A Commercial Imperative

The SEO, discouraged that his first idea didn't work, chooses to run ads instead. Where there is traffic there is money, right?

Again, this approach is likely to meet with limited success, especially when compared to other niches she could have targeted.

People looking for Britney pictures don't tend to be in a buying mode, and so advertising, especially action based advertising such as Adsense, is likely to go unclicked. The activity "looking at Britney pictures" doesn't have a strong commercial imperative, whereas an activity such as "buying toys", does. Such sites need a very high number of page views to make much money.

One way to determine if a commercial imperative exists is to examine the bid prices for Adwords. Almost always, the higher the bid price on the keyword, the more transactional the niche.

Think Of It From The Advertisers Perspective

The SEO also needs to understand the buy process in order to choose the areas which will be most effective for advertisers. The most effective Adsense sites, for example, are sites where visitors are looking to buy something. That's the only reason advertisers use Adwords - they need to sell visitors something*.

In reality, it's a little more complex than this.

Non-commercial searches can and do result in sales, however searches directly related to commercial activity - such as transactional searches - are most likely to result in higher income for your site and make for more profitable niches. See my article on the three types of searches, navigational, informational, and transactional for more information.

Ask yourself:

What makes someone buy something? Will they buy it online, or offline? Are they even capable of buying something over the internet? If visitors are in a buying mode, then what stage of the buy process are they at? Are they ready to buy right now, or are they looking for information?

Look at demographic details for competing sites and keywords to get inside the mind of the searcher. Don't just look at search volume, but also consider the intent behind the keyword, how you would monetize that demand, and the visitor value.

*The one caveat is to drive brand awareness, but this also has limited effectiveness. When was the last time you clicked on an adwords ad that focused entirely on building brand? And if people don't click, you, as the publisher, don't make money.

I hope I've impressed on you the need to evaluate keyword terms within a marketing and business framework.

Competitive Review - Strengths & Weaknesses

  • Query the search engine results pages under the keywords you want to rank for
  • Pick out the top ten sites in your niche. The top ten sites will usually appear under a mix of keyword terms relating to your niche
  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the competition
  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of your own site, relative to the competition

Once you've decided on a niche to target, you then need to determine the level of competition within that niche.

A SWOT analysis can help you determine how your site compares to those already in the niche. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You perform this analysis on your own site, and the sites of your competitors.

You can can go into incredible detail with a SWOT analysis, but it doesn't need to be complicated. You simply need to determine what you're good at relative to the competition. Draw up a chart like this, and complete:

If you can't find any areas where you are better than the competition, either refine the niche, choose another niche altogether, or figure out a plan that will make you better than the competition. Ranking well doesn't really help, because a searcher will not stop at the first site they find.

Keep in mind that it is easier to be successful if you already know a lot about a market. Any experience you have lowers the investment needed to research the market and ensures you can write at a higher and more compelling level than people who do not know the market.

By doing a SWOT exercise, you'll also get a feel for any opportunities your competitors might be missing.

Positioning

  • Undertake keyword research
  • Look for a niche that is "worth remarking upon" and is new, or doesn't have a lot of existing competition
  • Select a brand name and domain name the describes the niche ie. SEOBook.com. It is useful to include a keyword term
  • Build a site that focuses exclusively on this niche, and no others.
  • Conduct SEO campaign
  • Monitor results.

What do you think of when someone mentions the name "Google"?

Search, right.

How about IBM? Computers. Hewlett Packard? Printers.

If you aim to be the first in the customers mind when they think of a keyword term, you can easily win the ranking game.

Be First

Who was the first president of the United state.George Washington. Who was second? Who was the first man on the moon? Neil Armstrong. Who was the fourth. It is important to be first. Being first is memorable.

But wait a minute! Google wasn't the first search engine!

Correct. However, they've overcome this by being first in people's mind when it comes to search. Yahoo was the first search service, and whilst it's star has faded of late, it is still a very wealthy company. It is no good being the tenth anything. Aim to be first. And if you can't be first....

If You Can't Be First, Be First In A New Niche

You'll face the problem of not being first whenever you enter an existing niche. And on the internet, that's "most of the time"

Look at the top sites in your chosen niche. If they got in early enough, chances are they enjoy the linking benefit that comes with being first. Typically, Google's linking algorithm favors long established sites, as opposed to newcomers. To find out why this occurs, check out Mike Grehan's "Filthy Linking Rich". Those who are first to occupy a niche have a much easier job of getting links because they are remarkable, simply by virtue of being unique.

So what to do if you arrive late to a niche?

Invent a new niche, and be first in that.

Say you sell holiday rental accommodation in Palm Springs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of holiday rental accommodation services in Palm Springs. So to differentiate yourself, you might decide to focus on "the cheapest rental accommodation services in Palm Springs". Or "the most upmarket rental accommodation services in Palm Springs". Or "the best rental accommodation guide for solo travelers in Palm Springs".

Focus on a new angle that your competitors aren't targeting. This is called market segmentation.

Make Sure The New Niche Is Worthwhile

One of the traps of market segmentation is that you might segment too finely i.e. there are not enough customers in your newly segmented niche to be worthwhile.

When you do your keyword research, look at the keyword volume for niche keyword terms. Are there any keywords that have good volumes AND cover an angle that you competitors aren't already targeting? Find a suitable keyword term, and make that your niche. Also, look at demographic details for competing sites and keywords to get inside the mind of the searcher. Remember, there needs to be a commercial intent.

Take Your New Niche For A Test Drive

This strategy has been used in PPC for a while, however it's outlined really well in the book The Four Hour WorkWeek by Tim Ferris.

Once you've decided on a new niche that you can be first in, you need to test the niche to see if it delivers enough revenue to make the effort worthwhile. You can test a niche quickly and easily by using PPC, like Google Adwords.

A lot of SEOs don't use PPC, but they're missing out on a tool that can save them a lot of time and effort.

For those new to PPC, check out Aaron's Guide to PPC.

Run a short Adwords campaign targeting the keyword terms that relate to your new niche. You may only need to run it for a week or two, and it shouldn't cost you more that a few hundred dollars. The aim is to answer the question: "do people who search on the keywords want to buy what I'm selling?".

Ensure your site has a clear call to action that will help you measure actual buyer interest. For example, a sign-up form offering more information, a sales inquiry, or an actual purchase. You don't need to have your site finished to do this. A basic three page site will do.

Monitor the campaign and do split/run testing on the ad-copy. This means you compare one set of wording against another. Helpfully, Google Adwords has this functionality built in, and they provide a free product called Google Optimizer if you want to test you page copy. Check out my article "Tested Advertising Strategies Respun For SEO".

Again, this exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it.

Start off simple, and change the wording to make the offer sound more appealing, and make a note of the wording that works best. You can use this wording in your title tags during your SEO campaign. The wording that receives a click in Adwords is also likely to receive a click in the organic listings.

If visitors are searching for your keyword, clicking on your ad, and moving to desired action, then you've found a great niche. Remember, most people will click the organic results rather than Adwords listings, so the fact you're getting click-through further demonstrates that there is little competition in your chosen niche in the organic results.

If you aren't getting click thru and/or sign-up/purchase, try the same strategy, but with different keyword terms. Keep going until you find a winner.

It is a lot cheaper in terms of time, effort and money to test keywords at this point, rather than commit to a brand and an SEO strategy that targets the wrong keyword terms, and the wrong niche.

Marketing Within The Niche

Choose a trading name, and domain name, that can be used generically, and, if possible, aligned with your keyword term.

One approach is to take a simple keyword phrase people are familiar with, and will search for, and combine it with something else. For example, SEOBook, AfterMail, FaceBook, HotelFind, etc. This approach works well if you don't have a large budget for brand building.

Non-descriptive brand names, such as Kellogs, or Mooch, don't work so well for SEO, especially for low profile companies, because people need to know your name before they search for you.

Become Synonymous With Your Niche

Consider SEOBook.com.

It's hard for anyone else to sell a book on SEO without people also stumbling across Aaron's site. Aaron has selected a keyword-loaded brand name that is aligned with the niche. He has also worked hard to dominate this tightly defined niche within the broader SEO market. Whenever someone promotes any book on SEO, Aaron is likely to benefit, because he is #1 in that niche.

If you dominate your niche, and the niche is relatively new, then any promotion of that niche will also benefit you. If you're a leader in your niche, and become synonymous with that niche, then latecomers and generic copycats will have a very difficult time competing with you. Any promotion of the beverage "Cola" benefits the market leader Coke, because they dominate their niche. Likewise, promotion of PCs will benefit Dell, promotion of smartphones will benefit Apple, and so on.

Position Against The Leader

Let's assume you're competing against an entrenched leader. What can you do?

Position yourself against the leader. For example, if the leader is offering "cheap SEO services", you might position by offering "valuable SEO services". You could warn people against using cheap SEO services by highlighting the problems and risks, and showing how your price is linked to achieving better value. Figure out what they're doing, and define yourself against them.

Avis did this against Hertz. They acknowledged they weren't the top of the rental car niche, but made a virtue out of it. They adopted the phrase "we try harder". The market dominance of Hertz became a weakness.

Barriers To Entry Are Your Friend

On the web, there are few barriers to entry. Anyone can start a website and copy your idea.

However, not everyone can start a Google. Or an Amazon. Or a Facebook. Those companies have barriers to entry in their markets, mostly to do with the scale of operations. It's very expensive to do what they do.

Look for areas where there is some difficulty in starting up. Does your idea require capital? Do you have valuable information that no-one else has? Do you have a pre-established reputation or brand? Does you idea require specialist software? Is the service or product unique, or difficult to obtain elsewhere? Such barriers will dissuade a lot of people from entering the niche, which means you'll face less competitive threat.

The lowest barrier to entry is the affiliate site where the supplier provides a template site. They might even set it up for their affiliates. For free!

See the problem?

If it's that easy, then there is no barrier to entry, meaning anyone can do it. Even with the best SEO in the world, it would be very difficult to defend such a site from the hundreds of webmasters who arrive tomorrow, the day after that, and so on.

So when you evaluate the competitors in your niche, also consider how difficult it will be for followers to compete with you.

SEO

  • Build content. Get a list of 50 keywords and write a page on each. Include how-to's, generalist information, news (use Blog software), video, photos and maps. Tag all graphical content with keyword terms
  • Write naturally, stay on a single topic per page. Forget keyword density, it is overrated
  • Layout site. Place most important (money) pages at the top of the hierarchy, one step away from the home page
  • Create a Google Site Map to ensure crawlability
  • Once the site is complete, submit to the top directories. We recommend Yahoo!, BOTW, and Business.com
  • Issue a press release. Ensure you include a link back to your site.
  • Open Twitter and Facebook accounts, and update each time you add a page of content
  • Add one new page of quality content to the site per day
  • After 30 days, examine your stats. Look for long tail keyword terms, choose the most popular term, and write a page about it. Use this list of long tail keywords as article starter ideas
  • Every 15 days, do the same thing again
  • Remember to write a new page of quality content every day
  • Find the top ten sites in closely related niches, and offer to write articles for them. Include a link back to your site

After six months, you should be ranking well, and your traffic should be climbing.

Need more detail? Join our team :)

*Hat-Tip to Brett Tabke's "Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone"

Economics & Risk/Reward

Are SEO visitors really free?

They're only free if you value your time at zero dollars.

Of course, you time is worth money, and this must be factored in. One of the great things about SEO is that unlike conventional adverting, your visitors don't stop arriving when you stop paying. The downside is that you must spend a lot of time up front, and with no guarantee of success. The search engines could also drop your site, at any time, and without reason.

So it's a good idea to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my costs?
  • What is the break even point?
  • How long before I get payback?

A lot of SEOs will persist with sites that enjoy high rankings, even when the economics of the site don't make any sense. If this happens to you, bite the bullet and drop these sites, or convert them to another use. There is no value in ranking highly if the visitors aren't doing what you want them to, and/or they aren't spending money.

Once your put a value on your SEO efforts, you'll clearly be able to see how much your site is actually making you.

If the site is making money, that's great. If not, then try to determine if the problem is to do with marketing. Have you identified the niche correctly? Are you dominate within that niche? Is there sufficient demand?

Summary

SEO works best when it is integrated into your business and marketing strategy. There is no point ranking well for terms that don't advance your business goals. Find a profitable niche you can make your own, and dominate it.

Follow this strategy and lucrative search traffic will flow you way.

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