The Pros & Cons Of The Affiliate Model

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.


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

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, 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:


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".


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

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.


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

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.


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.


  • 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. 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


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.


  • 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
  • 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?


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.

Gain a Competitive Advantage Today

Your top competitors have been investing into their marketing strategy for years.

Now you can know exactly where they rank, pick off their best keywords, and track new opportunities as they emerge.

Explore the ranking profile of your competitors in Google and Bing today using SEMrush.

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Framing Your SEO Firm

Framing is when you use language to set the agenda.

Framing is short for "frame of reference", meaning "a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood".

This is a very important concept in marketing, and business in general. By using an appropriate frame of reference, you can manage how people perceive you.

Seo Is Spam?

For example, "SEO Is Spam" is a frame. It defines the terms of the debate ie. SEO is either spam or not spam. Would we frame the couriers this way? Couriers are spammers? Why do the terms "SEO" and "spam" necessarily go together?

They don't. That's a deliberate construct.

SEO is spam/not spam is an attempt to frame SEO as undesirable by associating SEO with a pre-existing pejorative term. That frame came from the search engines, and it has stuck with the industry since the days of Infoseek.

Who is ranked as the #1 ethical SEO company in the world?

Some SEOs have contributed, too, of course, but it has served the search engines well. No matter what side of that debate SEOs take, they have already lost. They've been forced to argue within a negative framework.

Getting The Frame Wrong

My personal view if that if you start by framing your SEO service solely in terms of ethics, you're probably losing business.

It's a red-flag.

Potential clients would undoubtedly see such a frame in terms of "where there is smoke, there is fire". Would you trust a car dealer who, upon meeting you, launched into a long explanation of why car dealers have a bad reputation, but he's not like the other dealers, no sir? Why even bring it up? I'd think that he was trying too hard, and really all I'm interested in is buying a car.

Sell me on that instead.

It's the same with potential SEO customers. What are they really looking for? Once you've answered this question, then you can begin to work on your frame.

How To Construct Beneficial Frames

Politicians use frames all the time.

For example, Al Gore framed the environmental issue as “man made global warming.” Bush re-framed it as “climate change.” Those different frames imply different things. One implies "we can do something about an impending disaster by changing our habits", the other frames man in a passive role, because climate change is a natural occurrence.

Both those frames supported the underlying political message.

Same goes with business.

Marketers know that the way a statement is framed influences how customers respond to it. Tell a group of base jumpers that 1% of all base jumpers die horrible deaths, and you'll get few people signing up. However, tell them that 99% live, and it sounds a whole lot more appealing.

A friend of mine told about how he handled an irate customer by carefully framing his response in terms of options. The customer hadn't received his goods - although they had been sent out - and was quite angry about it. My friend listened to the problem, and rather than debate about shipping delays, the offensive language of the customer, and other factors, he replied "I hear you. You'll get one of two things - a complete refund, or a replacement package sent overnight delivery. I just need to find out which option you want".

The customer, given a limited frame, calmed down, opted for the replacement package, and later published an article in, using this story as a great example of customer service. He also became a repeat customer. Using options can be a great way to frame, although care must be taken to present options that are meaningful. Trying to force people to take options they don't actually want, won't work.

SEOBook isn't framed in terms of individuality, ethics, or morality. It is framed as a community-based SEO training site that will help you learn, rank and dominate. There are also mentions of exclusivity, and frequent explanations of value. This is what customers want, and Aaron frames the service in terms of these needs.

So when you're pitching your goods or services, think carefully about the frame of reference.

Make it positive. Make sure it resonates i.e it touches on attributes the customer actually wants. If the customer perceives widespread dodgy practices, then it is a good idea to address them, but be reluctant about framing your service in such a way to everyone. No good comes from starting on the back-foot.

A good way to frame an SEO business is to talk about solving problems and providing benefits i.e. lack of traffic/more traffic, lack of business/more business, lack of exposure/more exposure etc.

Let this flow through into the language you use. And the language you avoid.

SEO Business Planning - Allocating Capital

Following on from our posts on SEO business planning, let's take a look at allocating capital. We'll also take a close look at one of the most important areas for SEO consultancy start-ups: advertising and marketing.

Allocate Budget

Never a truer phrase was said than "you need to spend money to make money". Thankfully, in the SEO game, you don't need to spend a lot, like brick-n-mortar companies need to do in order to get going.

How do you decide where to spend your money? Do you go by gut feel? Do you quantify and measure results? Whatever approach you use, the end result is that any spend you make should ultimately grow revenue.

Common Areas Of Capital Allocation For SEO Companies

Let's take a look at three areas in which a start-up SEO company will likely spend money. Equipment, staff, and sales and marketing.


The SEO business isn't capital intensive. Many SEO consultants need little more than a computer with an internet connection. If you hire staff, then obviously you'll need somewhere for them to work, but besides that, capital investment is minimal.


If you're a sole operator, obviously you have no fixed staffing costs, other than the wage you choose to pay yourself.

You'll likely need to budget spend for outside contractors for doing work you can't do yourself, or work that it isn't worth your time. For example, if you're a sole operator, you'll want to spend as little time as possible on non-core activities. Non-core activities are activities that don't lead to revenue generation, such as administration and accounting.

By the way, a good accountant is worth their weight in gold. By ensuring that you claim all the deductions you're entitled to, you have more money to invest in your business. You can write off a part use of your home, your computers, your internet connection, travel and more. Accountants are relatively cheap, and their fees are more than covered by the tax savings they produce.

If employing people, figure out the total cost of an employee and their likely return in terms of revenue. Costs can include office space, equipment, training, travel, insurance, employment agencies, management overhead, and payroll tax. Employees obviously need to generate more revenue than they cost to employ, but so long as this calculation runs in your favor, you can keep adding employees, which will keep adding to revenue.

Advertising & Marketing

So how do you get new business in through the door? Do you employ sales staff? Rely on word of mouth? Advertise in trade papers? Speak at conferences? Buy PPC? Undertake SEO?

Any new SEO business should allocate sufficient resources to advertising and promotion. Without awareness, there are no customers. And without customers, there is no business. On the flip side, spending a lot of money on marketing and advertising that doesn't lead to increased revenue results in no business either.

Methods of Establishing An Advertising Budget

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." - John Wanamaker, US department store merchant

No method is ever perfect. If we knew our spend would always result in profit, business would be very easy. Here's the most common method of determining the appropriate level of advertising spend.

Calculation Based On Percentage of Sales

Advertising is a cost, just like staff and equipment. It's also an investment in your future. How do we know how much to spend on advertising?

Typically, businesses allocate advertising on a percentage of sales basis. They take their total sales figure for a given period, and ear-mark a percentage of those figures for advertising in the next period. Advertising spend should move in tandem with sales.

Here is a more detailed calculation, aimed at retail, but also appropriate for SEO:

Take 10 percent and 12 percent of your projected annual, gross sales and multiply each by the markup made on your average transaction.Deduct your annual cost of occupancy (rent) from the adjusted 10 percent of sales number and the adjusted 12 percent number. The remaining balances represent your minimum and maximum allowable ad budgets for the year.

So what percentage do you use?

This will vary, but as a guide, look at what other SEO companies are spending on advertising. Join trade organizations to get hold of these figures.

Be careful not to duplicate these percentages exactly, because your business situation is unique. There might be times when you spend a lot more on advertising than others, especially if you are aggressively targeting new markets, or looking to out-compete your rivals. There will also be times when you spend a lot less. For example, you might have more work than you can handle, and advertising would just exacerbate the problem! SEO consultancy can be a difficult business to scale up easily due to skill shortages.

The important take-away point is that advertising should move in tandem with sales, most of the time. If advertising spend is not related to sales, then it is easy to spend far too much, and have little to show for it. Spend and measure, spend and measure. Repeat.

What if you have no sales figures?

If you're a new SEO business, you won't have any past sales data to go on. This is why it's important to be aware of what other SEO companies are spending. If you've been going a while, you'll have some past data to work with, but keep in mind that past earnings might not be indicative of future earnings. There will be a fair bit of estimation and forecasting either way.

Always Set Objectives

Set clear, specific objectives when allocating capital.

An objective such as "boost profits" is too broad. Go for something specific, such as "sign up 30% more customers than the month before".

Next, figure out which channel will reach your target market. Conferences? Trade publications? PPC? SEO? Web? TV? Radio? A mix?

Whatever channel you choose, be sure to measure performance against your stated objective.

Unless you're trying to build a significant brand to spin off to someone else, such as YouTube, that objective should be grounded in increased revenue. Few, if any, SEO companies can operate at a loss for long, so base your key objectives, and your spending, around increasing revenue, and ultimately - profits.

SEO Business: Getting The Numbers Right

What were the reasons you started your SEO-related business?

Perhaps you're thinking of starting one up.

A survey published in New Business UK found the following:

  • 41% went into business because they were passionate about their idea
  • 39% wanted the freedom that came with being their own boss
  • Only 7% cited money as being the reason

It's interesting to note that the biggest obstacle people faced with starting their own business was a lack of money. 44% cited lack of money as being the biggest obstacle.

Whatever your reason for starting, it's clear that money is important. The one thing that is guaranteed to kill any business dead, no matter how good the idea or how many customers a business signs up, are bad numbers.

How Are You Going To Make Money?

In a previous post, we looked at SEO business planning.

In short, a business plan doesn't need to be complicated, it's just a plan of where you're aiming, and how you intend to get there.

Here are a few further important points to consider.

Obviously, the most important thing to do in business is earn more than you spend. Fail to do so, and the business fails. That means flash offices, expensive chairs, flying business class, etc all must wait until profits allow such expenditure.

So it's a good idea to model oneself on Scrooge McDuck, at least in the early days!

The one thing you'll have the most control over is costs. Keep these as low as possible. Pay yourself the bare minimum you need to live. If you're hiring staff, offer them low salaries and revenue share. You may have noticed there is a start-up culture where fun, hip-ness and enthusiastic participation is emphasized. This is almost always because the owners are trying to keep their costs down. The benefit to the employees is seldom coming from wages, so the job has to be made attractive in other ways.

Keep a look out for hidden costs. What is the true cost of attending that conference? What does it really cost to hire and keep employees? What is the cost of scaling up? Does your office equipment need regular servicing? What are the costs of maintaining a lot of customers? Hidden costs are, of course, hard to spot, and hard to generalize. Be aware that any new variable you introduce to your business will incur costs of some description.

Economic rent, or making a profit over and above the cost of the inputs, is the key target you should aim to be above in your forecasts. If you make $100,000 a year from your business, and take it all in salary, that means that your business makes nothing. Your salary is a cost.

Do your projections allow you to make a profit over and above the salary you pay yourself, after all other expenses are deducted? If so, you've got a business that is likely to thrive, and you you may one day be able to sell.

It's surprising how many business owners don't include their salary as cost.

Break Even Analysis

Here's the meaty bit.

How can you determine, very quickly, if your idea will fail?

You need a break-even analysis. A break-even analysis shows you the amount of revenue you'll need to bring in to cover your expenses, before you make a profit.

Knocking up a break-even analysis is a great way to trial an idea before you put it into practice. After mapping out a simple, back-of-the-envelope business plan, it's the first thing you should do. If you can make these numbers work, then the rest of your detailed business plan can flow from there. If you can't get past a break-even analysis, then the rest of your plan will likely fail.

Here are the components of a break-even analysis:

  • What are your fixed costs? i.e rent, insurance,power and other set expenses and overheads.
  • What is your sales revenue?
  • What is the gross profit on each sale? i.e. the money left over after the selling costs are taken out
  • What is your average gross profit percentage? Divide your average gross profit figure by the average selling price.

You should now be able to easily calculate your break even point. Divide your annual fixed costs by your gross profit percentage to determine the amount of sales revenue you'll need to bring in to break even.

Is your break-even point higher than expected revenues? You'll need to change your cost structure (make cuts), or increase the profit potential of your sales.

Can you do without employees? Work from home? Sell your product for a higher price? Target a more lucrative market?

If you can make the numbers work at this point, move on and create a fully fleshed-out business plan. If you can't make the numbers work after a few tries, then dump the idea and try another. Pat yourself on the back for being smart enough to run a few numbers, before wasting a lot of time and effort executing a bad idea.

Most people jump straight to the latter.

Business Plans For SEO Businesses

Often, in our rush to get ahead and do things, we forget to plan.

Do you have a business plan? Do you have a business plan, but haven't updated it in a while?

A business plan need not be complicated. A few bullet points scribbled on the back of an envelope can constitute a business plan. A business plan is simply a description of what you intend to do, and how you intend to do it. The advantage of having a plan written down is that your business becomes a lot easier to visualize.

There are a lot of resources available on writing business plans, but few address the specifics of SEO-driven businesses.
In this article, we'll cover business plan basics, then delve into the specifics of SEO related plans.

The Importance Of Writing Things Down

We all make lists. Why? Probably because our memories aren't that good. A list also helps to focus attention. There's something about the very act of writing things down that makes a nebulous action concrete.

The same theory applies to business plans.

For Whom Are You Writing The Business Plan?

Is you aim to attract VC? Get a loan from the bank? For internal staff to be clear about direction? For your own use? Depending on your answer, your business plan will have different requirements in terms of the information provided.

Business plans typically consist of the following components:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Products & Services Description
  3. Market Analysis
  4. Competitive Analysis
  5. Strategy & Implementation Plan
  6. Financial Plan

Business plans aren't just for start-ups, either.

As a business transitions through different stages as it grows, the plan needs to change. You might want to figure out the best way to invest or fund expansion. A new financial period may be beginning. What are your plans for the next financial year? Do you need to refinance? Are you taking on more employees? Does your old plan fit your new reality?

The Three Levels Of Business Planning

Short Plan

A plan could be as short as one page. Answer the following questions.

  • What is your concept?
  • How much money will you need to execute your plan?
  • How do you intend to plan to market your business to customers/clients?
  • What will your cash flow look like, and over what time frame?

Simple questions, right. Many business ideas can be adopted or dismissed on those four questions alone, saving you a lot of time, money, and opportunity cost. However, such short plans aren't suitable for seeking investment.

Presentation Plan

The essential difference between a working plan and a presentation plan is style and appearance. The tone is serious, and it usually comes complete with charts, forecasts and diagrams designed to convey to people that you've put a lot of consideration into your venture.

Presentation plans should be free of industry jargon. Investors like a lot of due diligence, especially when it comes to outlining competitive threats and market opportunities.

Working Plan

A working plan is a plan used to operate your business. Like a short plan, it is less formal in terms of style. It is used internally to ensure everyone has enough information to be on the same page.

SEO Business Models

Ready to dive into SEO as a full-time occupation?

Before you make that leap, let's take a look at a few business models you can choose from, and weigh the pros and cons of each.

For members, I've written two, detailed business models in pdf format. These can be used as guides for planning your own SEO business model, and projecting your finances and revenue.

Client Service Model

This model includes seo agency and independent consultant.

Learn Business Strategies from Clients

There are some great advantages in this model, especially if you're well versed in SEO, but new to business. One advantage is that you get to see how other businesses operate, and get a close look at someone else's marketing strategy. If you're new to SEO, then it can be a good idea to get an agency job first. This way, you can learn the process of SEO, and how to win and negotiate with clients. View this as a training course if your eventual goal is working for yourself.

In terms of working for yourself, there are huge rewards, and huge challenges.

Focus on Business

One challenge is to describe how you're going to get new clients, how you're going to service those clients, and determine if you have enough time to service these clients and still make a profit. Often, SEOs focus on the technical aspect of the job, which is important, but the business aspects are what will make or break you, not your skills.

Billable Hours

The client service model is essentially about billing hours. The more hours you bill, the more money you make. Given that there are only 24 hours in the day, of which around half you could reasonably expect to consistently work (and still have time for sleep!), it is important to plan how much time a diverse range of tasks will take to achieve. These tasks include sales, accounting, billing, administration, purchasing, computer maintenance, and, if you get some time left over, SEO!

In order to scale up the number of billable hours, SEO service providers usually add more people. If your aim is to run as a sole operator, that's fine, just make sure you've got enough hours in the day to do what you need to do and make a profit, and consider outsourcing as much of the drudge work as possible.

SEO Publisher Model

This includes affiliate, Adsense and other content based models.

If you can get a site ranked well, then why aren't you doing it for yourself, rather than someone else?

Cost of Entry

The "cost of entry" to launch a website is almost zero. This is both a pro and a con. It's a pro, because you can easily bootstrap (meaning you can self fund) your venture and once you have rankings, you then sell the traffic to the highest bidder, by way of advertising, or revenue share, or both. There is little downside risk, other than it won't work. You've may have lost some time, but compare this with the loses associated with a failed brick n mortar operation!

The major downside, of course, is that anyone can compete with you.

Increasing Competition

The SEO publisher model used to be a lot easier than it is today. There was a time that SEO was a mystery to most webmasters and site owners. The biggest downside now is the level of competition. As we face more and more competition, this puts downward pressure on revenues, and only the determined will make good money.

Hard Work

However, there is still a lot of money on the table if you execute well, are determined, and prepared to put the work in. It's a cliche, but those who tend to work the hardest and smartest, benefit the most. A neuroscientist who worked with seven-time Formula One Drivers Champion Michael Schumacher said that he had never met anyone who worked so hard. The guy had natural talent, but it was the sheer hard work that put him above the other talented competition.

Same goes with SEO. When there is a lot of competition, you need to be more determined than your competition in order to succeed. If you've got a good work ethic, and thrive on competition, then an SEO publisher model might be a good fit for you.

Rather than asking "is this good enough to rank #1" you have to be willing to put in the extra effort to build a moat if you want to play where the big boys play. Aaron outlined his competitive strategy here.

New Markets

The obvious way around saturated markets is to look for new markets. If there are a lot of SEOs doing affiliate for any particular company or niche, then you're exposing yourself to a lot of competition. If it is easy for you to sign up and start as an affiliate, then it is easy for everyone else, too.

Instead, consider looking in keyword areas where there are few, if any, affiliates operating. If there is sufficient traffic in the niche, then approach companies directly and negotiate pay-per-lead or private affiliate deals. It can take a bit of effort up front, but the payoff is that you might have a keyword area all to yourself. Most people attracted to the affiliate area will be too lazy to do this.


The SEO publisher model can be scaled more easily than the SEO consultant model, because scaling is as easy as publishing a new site. Once that site is revenue positive, you can further increase its rankings, start another, and so on. Many of the requirements are easily outsourced and do not require extensive , time consuming client interaction. But again, there are only 24 hours in the day, so once you're up and rolling, try to outsource as much as possible.

Get The Business Plans

If you are a subscriber you can download the business plans here, and for SEO professionals there is a secret confidential bonus worth over $500 located here.

How To Spot Keyword Trends

When we launch SEO projects, we've often got one eye on the future.

We start with a site that ranks nowhere, then we build links and optimize with the expectation that a few months from now, we'll start getting rankings, and traffic. Are the keyword terms we rank for going to be worthwhile over time? Will search volumes in our niche increase? Will they decrease? Are there more lucrative niches we could target instead? What will our market be interested in this time next year? Where is our market moving?

Given that search engine ranking has a long lead time, it pays to think about keyword trends well ahead of time.

The problem with the future is that it is difficult to predict. However, spotting trends is somewhat easier, and gives us an insight into how our niche is likely to develop. Trends typically follow a gradual, predictable pattern.

Let's take a look at a few tools you can use to help spot long term keyword trends.

Trend Spotting Tools

Google Trends is a useful tool for predicting rising interest in keyword areas. Search on your keyword terms, and see if interest in your niche is rising or falling. Ideally, you want to find keyword areas that show an increasing level of interest, or areas where there is significant, steady interest over time.

Likewise, Google Insights For Search allows you to drill down into the data in a variety of ways, including by date, by region, by category and by source. The related terms section is particularly useful for getting new keyword ideas, and analyzing trends. Click the RSS icon at the bottom, and you can keep up to date with this information in your RSS Reader. I use Google's Reader.

Twitter Search is a good tool for trend spotting. Possibly the most useful aspect of Twitter, as far as the SEO is concerned, is the ease of which you can spot keyword trends in terms of everyday usage. Search for your keyword term and make a note of the words people use in conjunction with your keyword terms. In what context does your keyword appear? Integrate these words into your copy.

Also check out Twist which shows keyword trends in Twitter over time, although it is limited to the last 30 days.

Both Microsoft Ad Intelligence and Google Adwords provide seasonal trends, which is especially useful for looking at interest patterns linked to the time of year, an obvious example being gift buying at Christmas.

Paid research tools, such as Keyword Discovery, provide historical data. Also check out and WikiRank. WikiRank shows you what people are reading on Wikipedia. It’s based on the actual usage data from the Wikipedia servers, and provides trending data.

Microsoft Bing (I can't type that name without thinking of "Friends") provides XRank, a service that gathers related trend information and presents it on the same page, although the keyword terms it shows any results for seem to be rather limited.

So the takeaway point is to look at both keyword usage volumes and keyword trends over time.

Determine your bread-and-butter terms i.e. the terms that show constant levels of traffic and construct your link building strategy around these terms. Also look at the the emerging terms in your niche i.e. the terms with a rapidly climbing trend graph. Use this trend information as a suggestion list for new article topics. Watch your stats and look for rising areas of interest. Also try looking at keyword research from the opposite direction. Spot a rising trend, then make a list of keywords suggested by that trend.

All grist for the mill :)

Related Resources

What Would Google Do? - Book Review

If Google is so successful, shouldn't you be doing what they do? If you follow their philosophy, then you can be successful, too.

This book, by blogger Jeff Jarvis, is a collection of Google fanboy thoughts on how to do business in the internet age, using Google, and other high tech companies, as a model. The rules have changed. The old way of doing things no longer applies. We're entering a brave new world where the internet will bring about a tech-led utopia.

Haven't we heard all this before?

Indeed, we have. We heard this before the last 2.0 tech crash. And the tech crash before that. When you look at the burn rate of internet start-ups, it doesn't look like a tech utopia, so much as a train wreck. The landscape is littered with bodies, wasted venture capital, and broken dreams. Many of these companies followed the "new rules of engagement", demonstrating that following new models, like the Google model, is far from a guarantee of success.

I'm not quite sure where to start with this book. Someone who is new to internet culture should find it illuminating, as Jarvis pontificates on state of the internet, circa 2009. Unfortunately, the book is a rambling, curricular collection of thoughts, some of which I find highly dubious. For example, Jarvis pontificates that "Free is a business model".


Perhaps it's a case of semantics, but "Free" is not a business model. Free is a loss leader tactic. Free gets people hooked in so the ticket can be clicked somewhere else, just like Google does with Adwords. The obvious irony is that Jarvis isn't giving his book away for free. He's not publishing it online. He defaults to a traditional, old world, fee-based business model facilitated by middlemen - the book.

Funny, that.

Jarvis outlines the "Google Rules" you should follow in this brave new world, which include:

  • The customer is always right
  • Be a platform others can build upon
  • Middlemen Are Doomed
  • Be Transparent (Google are transparent?!?)
  • Small is the new big
  • The middleman is dead
  • Don't sell things, stuff sucks (Kinda hard to drive a non-car, though)

You get the idea. I doubt the audience of this blog will find anything particularly new in this book as it is a mishmash of various ideas that have been floating around for years. I found myself skipping through it. Whilst yawning.

Curiously, SEO is discussed. I'm pleased to note Jarvis doesn't pour scorn SEO, rather he shows how newspapers, and, used SEO to make themselves more useful. He even outlines a basic SEO strategy. So pat yourselves on the back, SEOs. It looks like after all these years, commentators outside the SEO industry are starting to appreciate the value you provide.

It doesn't look like Google had anything whatsoever to do with this book. In fact, this book isn't really about Google. It's more about Jarvis and his personal observations of the state of the internet. The book's major downfall, besides being unnecessarily pompous and condescending, is that it misses the mark. The Google model can't be applied elsewhere and get the same results. It is a model that suits Google, but Google is a product of its own unique environment.

I also disagree with some of his predictions. He thinks the salesperson's days are numbered. Uh-huh. So we're all going to order from the internet, just like we didn't order our stuff from mail order catalogs? Salespeople will persist while people like to do business with people.

He also thinks middlemen won't last. Middlemen often create efficiency, aggregation and add value. Isn't Google a massive middleman, getting in between users and content, and adding value by making finding content a more efficient process?

Really, the rules of business online are very similar to the rules of business 100 years ago. We still need to give people what they want, at a price they can afford, and we need to deliver it at a lower cost than we sell it for. Free is an ideology, it's not a business.

I'm guessing the next big thing on the internet won't model itself after Google. It will do things quite differently, and few people will see it coming, based on their experience of the existing "rules". Did anyone see Google coming? Facebook? Yahoo? EBay? By the time people saw those companies coming, those companies were already entrenched.

They did so by doing things differently than what had been done before. The question isn't so much "What would Google do?". The question is "What Is Everyone Else - including Javis - Missing"?

The Search Taxonomy: Getting Inside the Mind of the Searcher

Bill from SEO By The Sea published a good article entitled "Writing Content for Small Businesses Online", in which he talks about search taxonomies.

For those new to the topic, I thought I'd go over it, and show it applies to SEO strategy.

I'm basing this article on the study "A Taxonomy Of Web Search"(PDF), by Andrei Broder. Andrei is VP of Search Advertising at Yahoo, although he wrote this report while he was with AltaVista.

What Is A Search Taxonomy?

In summary, a taxonomy is the practice and science of classification.

In terms of search, we focus on classifying keywords into three distinct classes - navigational, informational and transactional.

If you can determine user intent behind keyword queries, you can better target your keyword strategies. For example, if your aim is to sell goods online, you may choose to focus on transactional queries e.g. "where can I buy an LCD monitor....", as opposed to informational queries e.g. "power requirements of an LCD monitor......".

There is, of course, a lot of cross-over between these three types of queries, which I'll address shortly.

The Three Types Of Searches

In the study, keyword queries are divided into three groups.


A navigational query indicates the searcher wants to find a specific site.

For example, a search for "BMW" most likely indicates the the user wants to find Navigational queries usually only have one "right" answer. The user either finds the site they are after, or they do not.


An informational query indicates the searcher is looking for specific information.

For example, "symptoms of cancer", "San Francisco" or "Scoville heat units". Informational queries tend to be broad. The informational query doesn't tend to be site specific.


A transactional query indicates the searcher wants to perform a web-mediated activity. For example, "buy LCD TV online".

If your aim is to sell goods and services online, you might focus more on transactional queries than informational queries. The problem with such classification, of course, is that it is narrow. We can't really determine user intent from just looking at the keyword, however this classification gives us a useful way of thinking about which keyword terms might be the most useful in achieving our goals.

Results Of The Survey

There are some really interesting results in this report.

24.53% of people want to get to a specific website they already have in mind. This is a navigational query

This is why brand, and making your brand memorable, is so important. Searchers often type a site name into a search engine, rather than type http://www....etc into the address bar. Optimizing for the name of your site is imperative if you want to catch navigational queries.

68.41% of people want to find a good site on a particular topic. They don't have a specific site in mind. This is an informational query

A lot of SEO is focused on this type of query.

Why did people conduct their searches?

  • 8.16% were shopping for something to buy on the internet
  • 5.46% of people were shopping to buy an item, but not on the internet
  • 22.55% of people wanted to download a file (i.e. image, music, software, etc)
  • 57.19% None of these reasons

What were people looking for?

  • 14.83% were looking for a collection of links to other sites regarding a particular topic
  • 76.62% The best site regarding this topic

Interesting, huh. Site's like and Mahalo capture both these types of queries.

Eye Tracking Studies

Now, with these figures in mind, check out this eye tracking study.

Although the test data is limited, it is interesting to note that sites targeting a transactional query can be further down the search result set than the informational query and still receive attention, if not a click.

When conducting an informational query, if searchers don't see the information they want in the first search result, they will refine their search. The same goes for navigational queries.

If you're targeting the transactional query, however, the wording of your title tag could give you an advantage over those who rank higher than you. When conducting a transactional query, searchers often hunt further down the result page, or across to the Adwords, to see which listing sounds most interesting to them.

How To Integrate This Knowledge Into Your Strategy

So how do you apply this information?

If you choose to focus on one type of query.....

Know Your Users

There are many cues of relevancy left by the market. All you have to do is look for them.

Look at the ads

Google typically only shows AdWords ads above the organic search results *if* they generate a high clickthrough rate (CTR). And since advertisers using AdWords are paying for every click, you can presume that for expensive keywords many of those ads are matched up with strong user intent.

Tools like SpyFu ad history and KeywordSpy can help show you who has been advertising on those keywords for the longest period of time. Those who have been doing it a long time are typically either optimizing their ad copy OR losing a lot of money.

Where Are They Searching From?

Google's keyword tools, Insights for Search, and Google Trends show where a particular search query is popular (and if there is any interesting news that is driving search queries). In addition to seeing the query breakdown by country (or state, or city), you can view ads from different locations by using the Google ad preview tool and/or the Google Global plug in.

Understanding Search Demographics

Google's Insights for Search categorizes user searches for the broad match version of a particular keyword

Microsoft offers a tool to categorize content.

Google's Ad Planner lets you select pre-defined audiences, websites, and keywords to analyze.

Both Microsoft and Quantcast offer similar functionality on a per website or per keyword basis.

What Did They Recently Search For?

Microsoft offers a search funnels tool which allows you to research keywords they recently searched for prior to searching for a keyword, OR keywords they searched for after they searched for a keyword.

Microsoft also has an entity association tool which can be used to find keywords that were co-occuring in the search or searched for in the same session.

Commercial Intent?

Microsoft's Online Commercial Intent tool estimates if search queries or web pages have a high probability of being informational or commercial in nature.

Who is Getting The Click?

Since Google AdWords factors ad clickthrough rate into their calculations, you can presume that the top advertisers are either getting a decent CTR, or are paying through the nose for clicks.'s keyword destination data lets you know the relative click volume sites receive for a particular search query.

Further Analysis

Beyond data from the above tools, you can also infer a lot of data just by putting yourself in the mind of the consumer

  • Determine which type of search you're targeting - informational, transactional, navigational - and segment the audience accordingly
  • Align your site to the intent of the user. For example, a searcher who is after information is going to want to see an authoritative looking site. What is an authoritative looking site? It will differ depending on the market you are in, but it is highly unlikely the searcher will react well to a site plastered with advertising. The site will have markers of authority, such as recommendations, perhaps a display of qualifications, and information laid out in an "academic" way (Wikipedia), as opposed to a blatant sales pitch (Multi-Level Marketing). The transaction searcher will want confirmation (e.g. a big logo) s/he has arrived in the right place.
  • Look for emotional angles and user intent targeting strategies that competing businesses are missing. Is free shipping a big deal? Is everyone trying to sell to a person that is looking to research and compare? Find a compelling way to stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition. Even if you are only targeting 30% of searchers you can still get more traffic being the only person doing that rather than the 8th consecutive similar offer.
  • Track user behavior to confirm intent. Get people to sign up for more detailed information, note which pages people spend the most time on, which keyword terms lead to conversion, etc. Feed this information back into your strategy

The transactional user is more likely to forgive ads. In fact, they may even welcome them, so long as the advertising is relevant.


Integrate All Three Search Types

One of the problems with the study, as noted in the study, is that it is very difficult to determine intent just by looking at the keyword.

For example, an informational search could end up being a transactional search once the user is satisfied that with the answer to the information they were seeking. For example, "symptoms of flu" might turn into a purchase for a flu remedy.

That's why it can be a good idea to target all types of query, in an integrated way.

Carefully consider how you word your title tags. Integrate brand aspects for the navigational query i.e. " - SEO Training Made Easy". Convey the information you provide "i.e. SEO Training" and transactional information i.e. the implication is that people can buy "SEO training". This information is also repeated in the snippet, although webmasters often have less control over this aspect.

Keep in mind that transactional doesn't just mean e-commerce. It can relate to any desired action, such as a sign-up to a newsletter, or a request for more information.

One aspect of web marketing that is getting more important is building communities and tribes. People who will return, in other words. You're unlikely to engage a community of people if all you ever offer is transactions. This is why Amazon integrates reviews and other social aspects in order to hook people in on a number of levels, even though the primary aim is to sell goods. Also check out Bill's excellent "Bills Blues" example.

What approach do you take? Do you narrow in on one type of query? Go wide and try to catch all three? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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