Small Business Link Building Ideas

Dec 15th

It's easy for the big guys.

They have big advertising budgets. They have brand awareness. Every time they twitch, some business journalist will be writing up a story.

But what if you operate a small business? You have a limited budget, you've got a pile of other things that need doing, and very little time to devote to any one aspect of your marketing strategy. How do you build links without breaking the bank?

Let's take a look at how the small business can generate quality links, and do so without a great deal of time and money.

1. Use Your Agility

The small business has one huge advantage over the big business when it comes to SEO: agility.

For a big business to change, it takes time. There is layer upon layer of sign offs. There are meetings. There are lawyers, managers and shareholders. This is a difficult environment in which to undertake SEO.

The small business, on the other hand, can move very quickly.

Chances are, there are only one or two people making decisions, so use this to your advantage. Are there aspects of your industry where speed is essential? Can you react to fast breaking news before the big guys can? Can you spot fast emerging consumer trends, and publish information on them before anyone else does? To help you monitor breaking news and trends in your area of interest, sign up to trend sites, such as Google Trends, and monitor news feeds using Google Alerts.

Big business finds it very difficult to be controversial, yet controversy can be a great marketing tool. The Sex Pistols built a career, not by copying the establishment, but by butting heads with it. Everyone knows about "Will it blend?". That viral campaign was edgy, risky and out-there. If Blendtech hadn't taken that risk, they wouldn't have been worth remarking on. A blender is not a new invention, and there are a lot of big competitors making blenders, but Blentech made their name by being a bit wild and crazy.

Are there opportunities for you to go against the grain and stand out? If you do, you'll be link worthy. Can you borrow controversial ideas form other market sectors and apply them to your own?

2. Publishing Strategy

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to voluntarily link to purely commercial sites.

Consider adopting a publishing strategy that has a non-commercial angle. If need be, create a second site. It is much easier to get links for sites that have utility beyond selling a product or service. Create glossaries, unbiased buyer information, review sites, blogs, wikis, or industry news sites. Once the site has built up some link equity, and is ranking well, you can add your own advertising, or link it to your commercial site.

Try to create niche information sites that cover areas no one else is covering. Think small. If you're one of the few sources for a particular type of information, you stand to get more links than sites that compete in saturated areas. Try not to compete directly with the bigger operators. Redefine your niche until you can make your offering unique.

Take a step back from your site. Is it remarkable? Would you link to it? Be honest. Think about what it takes for you to link out. Why would someone link to you? Can you make the people linking to you look good? Consider writing favorable reviews about indirect competitors. Does your site provide genuine utility when compared to your competitors? Think about what problems you can solve for people that no-one else is solving. PlentyOfFish.com made millions by providing a free dating service when every other dating site was using a paid subscriber model. Provide information that solves a problem.

Links should follow.

3. Nail The Basics

Cover the basics of link building.

Get listed in relevant directories, local business organizations, and industry verticals. To find these sites, search on industry name + add url

Issue press releases whenever you have relevant information to share. Make a list of the top sites in your industry sector, and try to get a link from them. Can you offer to do something for them, like writing an article, in return for a link? Look at who links to your competitors. Use tools, such as Yahoo Site Explorer, to find these links

Make a list of those sites and see what your competitors did to get these links. Copy what they did. Put most of your efforts into getting quality links, rather than getting low quantity junk. It's surprising how few links you need in order to rank well, especially in niche areas.

4. Give Something Valuable Away

Web designers often give away templates. They create a template, and place their link in the footer.

Think about what you can create and give away. Compare the cost of developing these widgets and freebies with the cost of buying or chasing links. If you're providing something genuinely valuable for nothing, people are certain to remark on it, especially if your competitors charge for the same thing. You can also submit your offering to sites that feature freebies, such as TheFreeSite.com. While every other guy is "giving" the opportunity for a link trade - which isn't of much value - you're going one step further.

Offer coupons. Simply by offering coupons, you can get included in coupon and bargain hunting sites.

5. Local News Interest

Local newspapers and news sites are always on the lookout for local content. Unlike major newspapers, the barrier to entry is often low, but the link equity can be just as valuable.

Is there a local aspect to your business? Are there ways you can get involved in the community that would lead to reporters writing a story about you? Issue press releases with a local angle, and try and build up a relationship with local reporters. Offer to be a spokesperson for your topic of interest if they have future stories for which they need an expert opinion.

6. Sponsor Charities

Charity sites are often amenable to linking out to those who support them. The cost of the donation might be nothing compared to the value of a lifetime link from a well-placed charities.

Offer to do work of genuine value for the charity. Could you help them market their website? Design a new website for them? Can you write an article for them, or find a way of featuring in their news stories? These links are pure gold,and because it takes some effort, it is difficult for your lazy competitors to follow.

Search on terms such as donor, sponsors, and donations to find these sites.

7. Request A Link In All Communications

Whenever you mail someone, include a link request in the footer. The communication could be an order confirmation, an email newsletter, or an invoice. Here's an example on SEOmoz.

Highlight featured content in your email footer. Update the links in your email footer regularly, so people are more likely to look at them. Think of your communications as a call to action. How can you get people to engage further with you?

Start a Twitter account and post your articles. Do the same with Facebook and any other social media channels you use.

8. Participate

Go where your audience are.

It's not just about getting links that pass PR. It's about creating meaningful relationships. If your potential audience hangs out on forums, then post to those forums. Become a trusted member and advisor. People link to SEOBook.com not just because of the great information ;) but because of the quality of the relationship has been established in the past.

This approach will serve you well for the future. Google will be placing more and more emphasis on engagement metrics in order to determine rank. Why?

The problem Google was created to solve - finding relevant information - is morphing into a problem of locating quality information. There might be a lot of crawlable information on a given topic, so finding it isn't an issue any more. Finding the information people find most useful is the new challenge.

How people engage with your site is going to become increasingly important.Look to establish meaningful relationships, wherever possible.

Further Reading:

SEO as a Change Process

Dec 5th
posted in

In a previous article, Baking SEO Into The Workflow, we took a look at the problems faced by in-house SEOs. Most of those problems occur because SEO forces a change in work process. Change - any change - is often met with resistance.

We received a lot of great feedback on that post, so we thought we'd delve a little deeper into this topic.

The Change Process

Change managers highlight three crucial factors in any change process:

  • Start at the top
  • Address the human side
  • Approach change systematically

"Any significant transformation creates “people issues.” New leaders will be asked to step up, jobs will be changed, new skills and capabilities must be developed, and employees will be uncertain and resistant. Dealing with these issues on a reactive, case-by-case basis puts speed, morale, and results at risk. A formal approach for managing change — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders — should be developed early, and adapted often as change moves through the organization. This demands as much data collection and analysis, planning, and implementation discipline as does a redesign of strategy, systems, or processes.".

Let's take these ideas and apply them to the world of professional SEO.

Management Strategy

Start at the top.

Management buy in is also the most crucial element. Without their support, it's unlikely you'll get anything else done at the lower levels. That's why change processes start at the top. So, how specifically does one approach getting management on-side?

Analysis

First, do a complete audit of the existing website and web strategy, and make a list of the problem areas that need changing. Order this list in terms of importance. i.e. crucial changes, nice to have, phase one, phase two, etc. Also make a note of how easy, or how difficult, each item is to implement. Think of it as a proposal, which is really what it is. This type of analysis will show that you're serious, organized and thorough.

Management are going to be looking for you to deliver more benefit than it costs to provide that benefit. If you can show you'll achieve this, you're half way there.

Sell It

Use factors such as competitive advantage and disadvantage. Show them where their competitors - specifically their SEO savvy competitors - rank. Estimate the level of search engine traffic their competitors receive.

Create value propositions. Try to get management to place a value on each visitor. What is the opportunity to get in-front of a customer worth to them? How much does it cost to get that same attention via existing channels, such as direct marketing, print, radio or television advertising? Compare this with the cost of implementing your strategy. Show them how they can both save money, and get more return.

Managers also want to get some idea of the following factors:

  • What is the cost?
  • What is the time to delivery?
  • What should your performance metrics/kpi be?

Be prepared to answer such questions.

Use case studies. Show before and after situations where seo has made a remarkable difference. Something that has been tried and proven carries less risk than the new and different. Remember, SEO is probably going to sound new and different to all but the most web savvy organizations.

Get management to commit to your strategy on a point by point basis. Insist that you'll only be able to deliver outcomes if this strategy is followed. Outline the risks of removing any element.

This achieves two things: it gets them to commit to your course of action. They'll back you if you receive push back from designers, developers and writers. Secondly, it provides a get out of jail free card. If you miss KPIs because you couldn't achieve all of the strategy i.e. the other areas pushed back, you can show them why you couldn't deliver.

The Human Side

You go into a meeting.

There is one of you, there is a small team of designers, and there's a manager who thinks he needs SEO, but doesn't have an understanding of what is actually involved. So how do you tell them that their strategy is all wrong, to stop building everything in Flash, and start designing to your exact specifications?

You could use the direct approach: "Listen up! Your strategy is all wrong, stop building everything in Flash, and start designing to my exact specifications!" A tough road, but if your daddy owns the company - certainly worth a shot :)

More likely, however, the design team has more authority than the SEO, especially if you're new to the job.

Softly Softly, Catchee Monkey

There's an apt British phrase: "Softly Softly, Catchee Monkey".

It means play it gently and carefully in order to achieve the outcome you seek.

If you lack sufficient authority to get your way on all decisions, as is the case with most SEOs who work within large organizations, then the softly, softly approach might be more likely to produce results than the my-way-or-the-highway approach.

Consider how people react to change. How did you feel when you were forced to adapt to change? Empathy goes a long way.

For example, try putting yourself in the designers shoes.

She may have graduated from a graphic design course. During her years of study, SEO wasn't mentioned once. She has been working as a web designer for a few years, and she's acutely aware that web design is a very poor second cousin to print design. In print, the designer has free reign, and can specify everything to their exact requirements. The colors, the size, the fonts, the look and feel.

On the web, however, she has to think about how her design is going to display on different screen sizes, how the colors are going to look on various monitors, and how different browsers are going to render the layout. She has to incorporate widgets and forms from the developers. She's got to present to management in a few weeks time. The top manager, who controls her bonus, likes to be wowed by cool, cutting edge designs. She jumping through all these crazy hoops that get in the way of her graphic vision.

Then in walks this new SEO guy and demands she retool the site so a search engine spider can see it.

If there's a fan in the office, it will soon be covered in something unpleasant.

How To Make SEO Fit In

One way is to not do anything.

Not every battle is worth winning. For example, lets say you're working in house at an agency, and the work is for an external client. The client wants a spectacular site, because he wants to impress his colleges and boss. The designer is happy to design it, because she might win an award. The client hasn't specified seo as a delivery requirement, as the clients customers usually find them by word of mouth, not via search engines. Is SEO really important here?

No, it's not.

The best approach, when SEO comes late in the piece, might be to inform the manager in charge of delivery that this site is unlikely to receive much in the way of traffic from search engines in it's existing form. You could specify changes, but is that really in the best interests of everyone? Does the cost/benefit stack up at this late stage?

Insist the person with the authority makes that call. If the client comes back latter and wants to know why their site isn't showing up in search engines, you can refer back to the meeting. Most intelligent people will come to their own conclusions that their process needs to change.

But lets say SEO is something the client wants, but is not knowledgeable enough to know that their web strategy won't deliver it.

If you're experiencing a lot of resistance, try splitting the work into phases. Make phase one low impact. If it's a Flash site, or some other major SEO headache, how about suggesting they add a print -friendly version of the site, with a link from the home page?

The designer will probably go for it, because in her head, the only people likely to see a print version are those who have already seen her flash version. They are simply choosing to print it out. You know better, of course. This is the version search visitors will see. Once these pages start drawing traffic, you then have some leverage for Phase Two. You've demonstrated the power of SEO, and if only they did more of what you request, then they'll get more search visitors.

Their call.

Once you can demonstrate proof of concept, you're on track to winning the war.

Natural Synergies

In my earlier article, I recommended that you keep a look out for natural synergies. Thankfully, not all designers are flash loving design heads. Web design trends have, thankfully, moved away from graphic-heavy approaches, and have moved towards providing ease of use and utility.

Suggest incorporating SEO-friendly elements that are also design elements. Examples include breadcrumb navigation, site organization and hierarchy, most important pages closest to the front, duplicate navigation schemes if the main navigation scheme is uncrawlable, and using Google site maps. None of these elements interfere with look and feel too much.

Attend the meetings where they map out site structure. If the structure is designed with SEO in mind, a lot of other elements fall naturally into place. Emphasize the fact you need to be brought in early, not late, on site design decisions.

Content Writers

In the web industry, content writers are most likely to slot into one of two schools of thought.

One is journalism. Journalism often consists of a top down approach, or inverted pyramid.

"The "pyramid" can also be drawn as a triangle. The triangle's broad base at the top of the figure represents the most substantial, interesting, and important information the writer means to convey. The triangle's orientation is meant to illustrate that this kind of material should head the article, while the tapered lower portion illustrates that other material should follow in order of diminishing importance"

The second is copy writing. Copy writing differs from journalistic styles in that the writing is crafted to elicit a specific response from the reader, rather than to simply inform. There is often a specific objective the copywriter needs to fulfill, and every word is likely to be carefully deliberated over.

Legal

A side complication is legal. Lawyers, as a profession, tend to be risk adverse. Their job, in this context, is to prevent libelous, defamatory, or untruthful copy from being published, which could expose the the company to financial risk.

There's no simple advice I can give on how to get around legal. They carry a lot of weight. Just be aware of the legal requirement, and keep in mind that the "aggressive link baiting technique" you had planned might not be an appropriate strategy for this particular company ;)

Will It Blend?

The easiest road is with the journalists. They are trying to answer the questions Who,' 'when', 'where', 'what' and 'how' . Try to frame your SEO requests in this language.

For example., say if your keyword term is "buy house in San Francisco". A reporter could work this into his copy by asking the "what" question, s in "what is happening?" e.g. "Recently, people looking to buy a house in San Francisco have had to contend with...." etc etc.

This is very much an on-going education process, but it helps if you're already talking their language. Provide them a list of keywords, and specific examples of how they can be incorporated into the article formats they already use. Writers might actually like you feeding them article and story topics. It makes their task a little easier. Try to think of ways you can frame your keyword research as article topic suggestions, or article research.

In terms of structure, try and devise templates that encourage SEO friendly formats i.e. short paragraphs with big headings to break up the copy. You could also argue this increases readability and usability.

Have designers and developers code the templates so related articles are suggested automatically. Include a related articles section. Build the SEO right into the article structure, so that a lot of the SEO happens without the writer having to think about it.

Guidelines For Developers

Developers are used to working to guidelines and specifications, so try and work SEO requirements into these documents.

Here's a sample guideline. There is some overlap here with design, so split them up accordingly:

  1. Use descriptive file names. i.e. dog.jpg, as opposed to image568765.jpg.
  2. Include title and meta description tag in all templates. Auto - populate fields from teh templates i.e. document title - where no over-ride exists.
  3. Use CSS to control font sizes, particularly header tags.
  4. Links should, wherever possible, include keywords
  5. Titles should use text, as opposed to graphics.
  6. Specify an alt tag for images
  7. Create a Google Site Map
  8. Use the following URL format: domain/page-title-name
  9. Avoid frames. If using frames, use the the noframes tag
  10. Create a custom 404 page that links to the site's main pages, or sitemap.

I'm sure there are plenty of other rules you can think of, and depending on how co-operative the developer is, there is a lot more detail you could go into. I find that the shorter the checklist, the more likely developers are to incorporate the changes required. Long lists just create headaches, so often go ignored.

Make sure they do the important things, and don't sweat the small stuff. At least, not in your first week!

Real Life

In real life, things are never this simple.

Humans are messy and complicated creatures, so there are few hard and fast rules, nor is there a prescription you can follow. Be flexible. Be aware. Communicate. A lot. Hopefully, the ideas above will help you formulate your own approach.

You're not alone. Most professional SEOs know exactly what you're going through :)

Related Reading

Holiday SEO

Dec 3rd
posted in

The holiday season is almost upon us.

In fact, it started in July.

More on that shortly.

Part of planning a SEO campaign, especially for anyone involved in B2C retail, is to optimize with holiday events in mind. Obviously, gift giving is a tradition that no retailer can miss out on, so SEO campaigns for the holiday season are often planned and executed well in advance.

Let's take a look at some of the keywords and trends associated with the upcoming holiday season, and look at a few strategies you can adopt in order to cash in.

1. Historical Research

It is fascinating to look at keyword trends, especially around this time of year. Go to Google Trends, and flip the date back to December last year.

Notice any patterns?

For starters, a lot of people are looking for recipes. If you have a food oriented site, include a section focused on preparing common Christmas meals.

People are also looking for stores and restaurants open on Christmas Day. Think about other holiday specific information you can include to capture this type of search traffic.

The other interesting thing to note is that people are still in the mood for shopping on Christmas day. Either they're looking forward to the after Christmas sales, they're looking for something to do, or they're looking for tunes to put on their shiny new Ipod. Think about how the nature of shopping changes on Christmas day, and the few days following, which should help you earn a bit more revenue than your competitors.

Here's an interesting one:

Calendar queries rise from Christmas day onwards, and peak in early January. A last minute purchase, obviously.

2. Gift Lists

Here are few examples of gift lists.

Amazon's Holiday Customer Review Team
Twelve Good, Cheap Christmas Gift Ideas
Geeks Bearing Gifts

Notice how these types of pages pretty much optimize themselves. You can create all sorts of gift lists. Gifts for him, gifts for her, gifts for mothers, budget gift ideas, etc, etc. It is a good idea to personalize the list. Add a human touch, such as a photo, or commentary, or both.

Search on those terms in Google's keyword suggestion tool, and you'll find a wealth of profitable terms and ideas for lists.

For example:

gift ideas for guys
gift ideas for geeks
christmas gift basket ideas
gift ideas for christmas
gift ideas for dad
cheap christmas gifts
unique gifts
corporate christmas gifts
romantic christmas gift
unusual christmas gift
unique christmas presents

Often, people don't know exactly what to buy. They're hunting around for ideas. Organized gift lists solve a genuine problem, and they're a great addition to your SEO campaign. They can convert very well, because the buyer intent is closely aligned with the sales process. Think about the sales funnel and incorporate the hunting stage - not just the buying stage - into your site.

Use sales data to help you decide on your list. What are the most popular and/or high margin products? Can you group these together into the type of list people search for? Link to these lists from prominent pages, like your home page, and try to get links from other sites. This will help drive sales, increase Page Rank, and rankings. And not just for this year - hopefully for many years to come. Can you come up with the definitive Christmas list for "gift ideas for *insert term here*"? You can swap out the products each year.

3. Start Early

If you're only just thinking about SEO for this holiday season, you're probably left your run a little too late. In fact, anyone who didn't have their campaign good to go by July probably left it a little late.

Check out this chart:

Year after year, people start as early as July on their Christmas shopping! They really start to go for it in October and November.

Start planning early for next year :)

4. It Isn't About Brand, It's About The Offer

Because Christmas has a set deadline, and a lot of people leave things until the last minute, brand is the last thing on people's mind. They're focused on solving a problem.

At times such as these, the offer is the most important thing. Your copy should reflect this. This may mean rewriting some pages, or adding new pages that specifically target this time of year.

Be sure to include delivery times, and assure people that their gifts will arrive in time, else they'll be going to your competitors who do emphasize this point.

5. Coupon Codes & Discounts

There was a time when retailers didn't offer sales and discounts during their most profitable time of year, but there's too much competition these days. People will respond to discounts and coupons, same as they do at other times, so try to work them in. Given we're in a recession, and people are likely to be feeling the pinch, discounts and incentives will be especially important this year.

Check out keywords relating to:

bargain christmas gifts
cheap christmas gifts
cheap christmas gift ideas
christmas coupons
sale christmas

etc....

Speaking of which, and since Aarons clearly already in the holiday mood, we are offering all SEOBook readers $25 off their first month's subscription fees by subscribing to SEO Book through this link.

First in, best dressed. :)

6. Seasonal Imagery & Details

Stores are awash with Christmas imagery, and with good reason. It compels people to spend. If you're selling gifts direct to the public, you should do likewise.

Test pages, using PPC, as early as July. Does the Christmas imagery increase conversion rates? What wording and topics produce better conversion rates at this time of year, compared to other times? Feed this data through into your SEO campaign.

The advantage you have over PPC is that PPC bid prices are going to go higher and higher as Christmas day approaches, whilst your bid price remains the same. Zero.

You just need to prepare well in advance.

Got Any Cool Holiday SEO Tactics?

Share 'em below :)

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Baking SEO Into The Company Workflow & Culture

Nov 25th
posted in

There is a big difference between working on your own sites, and working on sites that belong to others.

When you work on your own sites, you can execute changes quickly, and you don't need to convince anyone else of the merits of your actions. However, within an organization, SEO requires significant buy-in on a number of levels. Failure to get that buy in can severely compromise the effectiveness of the SEO, which might - rather unfairly - see the SEO out of a job.

In this article, we'll take a look at the problems the SEO who is either in-house, or working on a clients site, faces, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

Embedding SEO Into The Culture

In-house SEO is just as much about politics as it is about execution.

There will be various stakeholders, many of whom man not be be familiar with SEO. There will be people who will be openly hostile to someone else insisting they change the way they work.

No matter what, you're going to ruffle a few feathers.

The first step to achieving good SEO outcomes within an organizational structure is to get management buy-in.

Given that management have probably already hired you, this should be a relatively straightforward step. Management will want to see facts, figures and strategies that support the business case. Prepare presentations that demonstrate your proposed strategy, how it supports the business case, how long it will take to achieve, and what your measure of success will be.

Once these factors are agreed to, you'll have the backup you'll need to undertake the hard part.

Convincing The Minions

Various people need to buy into SEO in order for it to work.

Some companies locate their web team within IT, whilst others place them within marketing. Sometimes, the two business units share ownership of the strategy. The important thing to determine is who has the control, especially over aspects such as site structure, content production, and overall strategy.

Think of internal employees as customers. Also check out my article Overcoming Common SEO Objections.

Look to establish rapport with, and train, the various people who occupy these important roles.

1. The Manager

You must have buy-in from the person with the most control over the business unit responsible for web strategy. They will be able to provide the support and backup you'll need.

Managers tend to respond well to anything that helps them achieve departmental goals. These goals have probably been set by upper management.

Look for areas synergy exists. For example, marketing managers often have traffic goals, and similar visitor metric milestones. Show them how SEO will help meet those objectives.

This is why it is important to frame SEO in business terms, as opposed to just a technical process. Without management buy in, and aligned business goals, you're unlikely to get support for the technical changes you need to do.

2. The Designer

The designers are responsible for the look and feel of the site. They will probably also be responsible for site architecture. Architecture and design are two areas where you are likely to experience a lot of push-back.

There is good reason for this.

What is good for SEO might not be good for users or brand aesthetics. This area that needs to be carefully balanced. If the designers think the SEO is compromising the look, feel and operation of the site, then you're not going to get very far, no matter how good your intentions are.

If your designers are familiar with usability, and good designers will be, you're in luck. There are a lot of usability integration points that work for users, designers and SEOs. For example, breadcrumb navigation can be great for usability and SEO, as they allow for the propagation of keywords, and provide internal link structure. Be on the lookout for other areas that require little change and provide natural synergies.

Once you've built up trust, you may be able to get bigger concessions.

3. Writers & Content Producers

The writers provide the words. The content producers may provide video, pictures, and other media. You'll probably be dealing mostly with the writers.

Writers, especially if they have been writing professionally for a long time, can often be very set in their ways. Writers schooled in journalistic and copy writing techniques use methods that predate internet search engines, and often the internet itself.

Old habits die hard.

Once again, a way to get around this is to align their goals with yours. Show writers how much potential traffic there is out there and how keyword research can be used to suggest article topics and title ideas. Show them that by following a few SEO principles, they can get more readers reading their stuff.

Writers often have communications objectives i.e. to achieve wider reach and exposure, so there might be some obvious, natural synergies to be had.

Check out this tactic, used by Rudy De La Garza Jr at BankRate Inc to help convince writers to adopt SEO practices:

At Bankrate, Mr. De La Garza showed editorial employees that, for some articles, deciding on about 10 main keywords before writing could help increase their number of page views. Writers were already vying for bragging rights to the most popular articles. He told them: "You know what, guys? If we apply a few SEO tactics here, I can help you win the weekly battle," he says

4. The Developer

The developers are responsible for the technical aspects of the website. Developers need to be aware of the need for site response speed - they probably are already - and ensuring the site is crawlable. This job has been made somewhat easier, of late, given the introduction of Google Site Maps.

There might be various coding practices that can be changed in order to enhance SEO. For example, try replacing JavaScript behaviors, particularly for menus, with CSS techniques. Are there other coding aspects that could be enhanced? It might provide an opportunity for the developer to train in new technologies.

I've yet to meet a developer who didn't want to learn new ways of coding. It all adds to their CV.

Political Concerns

In any change process, there are a lot of political battles to fight. SEO is no exception.

This is where training and evangelism comes in. The more people who understand what you do, and how and why you're doing it, the easier your job will be. There is no one way of achieving this, other than to communicate as often as possible.

Using external metrics can help. Suggest that other companies are doing this, and what you're telling them is industry best practice. Create a sense of jeopardy that if they don't do it, they'll be left behind. Show people how having knowledge of SEO adds to their skill set, and thus increases their value to the employer.

Outside consultants can be very useful here. Short-term contractors usually aren't part of the political machinations of fighting for position and internal power plays, and can often be more successful at implementing change. Because their tenure is limited, they don't tend to be seen as a threat to career paths.

Ongoing SEO Best Practices

Once you've got people onside, you need to start building procedures into the work-flow itself. Amend and rewrite guidelines to make SEO part of the day to day process.

For example, when writing articles, writers should search for existing published articles, and include them in a related articles section. Have the designers build a "Related Articles" section into the template, so it becomes a natural part of the article creation process. Developers should use technologies that allow for crawling. Designers should use SEO friendly formats and templates, where possible.

In this video, Marshall Simmonds discusses, amongst other topics, how to create an in-house search team from scratch:

The best SEO is when people aren't aware they are doing SEO.

The SEO has simply become part of the furniture.

Have your Say

Have you worked as an in-house SEO? Or worked on SEO within a large organization? What challenges were you faced with? How did you overcome them?

We'd love to hear your stories in the comments.

SEO Sales Process: Overcoming Common SEO Objections

Nov 23rd
posted in

When you're pitching for SEO business, what objections do you hear most often?

Knowing what objections to expect, and how to handle them will help you win business. Here are nine common objections made by SEO clients, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

1. Search Engines Will Find Us/We Already Rank

Sure. Under what keyword terms? How much of the site are the spiders missing?

There is a big difference between arbitrary ranking in search engine listings, and ranking for focused keyword terms. Demonstrate to the client the value of appearing under a wide variety of targeted keyword terms, as opposed to this being a random process. It is like the difference between advertising where few people are looking, as opposed to appearing on a string of billboards in prominent locations.

You could do a side by side comparison between the client and a more established competitor using Compete.com graphs. If they already rank for valuable terms, try to get them to track the business derived from those rankings, and show them the upside potential of increasing rank.

2. We'll Have To Redesign Our Site. That Costs Money

Quite possibly.

Try to demonstrate to the client that the potential benefits outweigh the costs. One way to price organic search traffic is to use the PPC prices as a guide. It could also be argued that organic listings have a higher trust level amongst users, making the traffic potentially even more valuable.

So how much is that poor design costing them in terms of lost opportunity?

3. SEO is Expensive

A common objection, usually made because the client can't determine the amount of work required, or the the value added.

Break down the work into separate tasks, and outline how long each task is likely to take. If the client knows your rate per hour, then they will be more able to determine if the cost is fair.

For example:

  • Industry analysis - research industry sector, marketing and sales trends.
  • Competition analysis - conduct review of competitor sites
  • Keyword research - research keyword terms
  • Site optimization, including title tags, meta tags, copy and internal linking
  • Link building/directory submission/social media promotion
  • Monitoring and reporting

Another aspect of this objection has to do with the value proposition. Again, try printing out the PPC bid prices for the same keyword traffic, and show how your work effectively undercuts that price. If you can, try and get information about how much the client spends on other channels, and do a side by side comparison of the relative merits, costs and benefits.

4. Upper management Won't Support It

Perhaps you need to be talking to the decision maker ;)

Ask what upper-managements objections would be? Sometimes this objection is legitimate, but it is often used to avoid having to tell you "no, thanks". The client cites an authority, who isn't present, implying that any further negotiations with the client will prove fruitless.

5. Why Should We Change The Way We Write Just For Search Engines?

This objection is commonly used by copywriters and journalists.

Established writers often use methodologies that don't take into account SEO. One way to get around this objection is to request a trail run on a few test pages. Once you're demonstrated that writing effective copy can result in an increase in visitors and conversions, you'll have more sway when it comes to changing the rest of the site.

Also, appeal to the copywriters vanity. If more people see their work, isn't that a good thing?

Cite "This Boring Headline Is Written for Google", an article about how The New York Times changed their writing practices to accommodate SEO.

"We're all struggling and experimenting with how news is presented in the future," said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. "And there's nothing wrong with search engine optimization as long as it doesn't interfere with news judgment. It shouldn't, and it's up to us to make sure it doesn't. But it is a tool that is part of being effective in this medium."

6. SEO Doesn't Work. It's A Scam!

Ask the client why they feel this way. Has the client had dealings with SEOs in the past? Seen some bad press?

Have case studies on hand that demonstrate how you've solved search marketing problems in the past. Also provide recommendations from previous clients who were happy with your work.

Reframe the debate in terms of problems and solutions.

7. We Have A Strong Brand, So We Don't Need SEO

This is true, so long as people only search on the brand.

But what about those searchers who are searching for generic product/service names?

I once had this objection from a well-known childrens' clothes retailer. I ran a few search reports on generic searches, such as kids t-shirt, babywear, etc, and showed the client the traffic numbers. I then showed the client that their site wasn't appearing under any of those terms.

But her competitors were.

Why choose one or the other when you could easily have both?

8. We Like Flash. It's Cool!

Run away. Run fast..... ;)

Seriously though, such objections usually come from designers who place a lot of emphasis on site appearance, or want to play with the latest toys.

In the past, I've approached this in one of two ways. If they want to keep designing in Flash, or other technologies that make crawling and linking difficult, then suggest workarounds that don't affect the design. For example, create a print-friendly version of the site. This is the part of the site that gets crawled and seen by search engines and search visitors, while the designers can still focus on their elaborate designs. Essentially, you create a site within a site.

Show them that their competitors outrank them, in part, by using different technology. Is Flash really worth that competitive disadvantage?

From Google AdWords Blog:

Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all? With that kind of unpredictable search behavior, it's extremely difficult to create a keyword list that covers all relevant queries using only exact match."

It's even harder to capture that traffic using Flash.

BTW: Check out this example. Here is the spider's view of McDonalds.com.

9. Are SEO Services Really That Important?

Compared to.....?

It's an effort vs reward question. Again, if you can demonstrate clear commercial benefits over and above the cost, then "hell yes!". Try to focus on the clients business problems, and be prepared to demonstrate how the SEO spend will solve those problems in cost effective ways.

Those are a few common objections. I'm sure you've heard others. What is important to understand is that not all objections are legitimate. Most are stalling tactics used to delay making a decision. That decision is difficult to make because the client will expose themselves to risk.

Simply by being pre-prepared for objections, you help negate that risk, and can quickly move the client towards make a decision.

Related Reading:

Google Outsourcing Their Search Algo.....To You!

Nov 21st
posted in

Not really. But kinda.

Google have announced the release of SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. Don't like a result? You can vote it down. Likewise, you can vote links up if you think they deserve a higher rank.

These changes will only appear in your Google account, and won't influence the result sets as seen by others. However, it is hard to imagine that Google won't take note of such signals, especially if they see broad patterns emerging, and then feed this data through into their algorithm development.

When asked about this point, Google sounded a little cagey:

"Dupont was noncommittal about whether the company planned to build in that feedback loop, either directly as a signal to influence search rankings or indirectly as extra data that could help the company judge the relevance of its search results. But he certainly didn't rule the idea out. We don't close any doors. We constantly evaluate signals" that are incorporated into the search results algorithm. Search is adapting to the Internet as it becomes a more participatory medium. Now you have people telling us specific things about how they'd like to see their search results."

Make of that what you will.

Is this a sign Google are looking for other signals of quality? Do too many people know about the influence of inbound linking these days? Quick, vote down Wikipedia! ;) Curiously, Wikipedia's seo page already has 4 negative votes.

Seriously though, let's try an experiment. We here at SEOBook.com love votes for link building, seo tools, and seo ;) Best review on seo for Seobook.com wins a free month of Aarons world-famous SEO training program.

SearchWiki could also be seen as another distribution channel and potential link source ie: the people who look at the SearchWiki are likely to be webmasters. Something to think about if you're targeting this group.

How To Keep SEO Clients

Nov 19th
posted in

In "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we've discussed how to get SEO clients. In this post, we'll look at how to keep them.

In most businesses, a high proportion of revenue comes from repeat business. Because it can be a costly process to acquire new clients, it makes sense to spent time nurturing the clients you already have. We'll look at ways to both structure the offering to ensure on-going revenue, and the simple things you can do to maintain and build relationships.

It's mostly comes down to doing the simple things well.

Structure The SEO Service Offering To Provide Ongoing Value

We've talked previously about SEO business models.

It can often be difficult to justify ongoing billing using a typical SEO consultant model. You go in, you fix up crawling issues, you restructure the site, you change copy, and you build links. Some SEOs may bill on-going for reporting, link building and/or competitive analysis. However, a lot of the value is created up-front, which can make it difficult to build on-going, high value relationships with existing clients. In this respect, SEO is not unlike the web design model. Minor on-going adjustments aside, the job has a clear beginning and end point.

For the relationship to build, you must create more and more value for the client on an on-going basis.

Bob Massa, one of my favorite SEO commentators, has this to say:

With little more than a glance at many of the more popular SEO hang outs, I believe it is obvious even to the uninitiated, SEO is pretty much focused on traffic generation. Things like conversions, demographics, analytics and increased website revenue generation from upselling take a distant back seat. Were it not so, topics like social media manipulation for the primary purpose of link acquisition and when PR will be updated would not dominate the interactive real estate to the extent that it does.

In this guru’s opinion, too many opportunities for genuine marketing discussions get reduced to yet one more twittershitter to be dug up and stumbled upon.

Serious discussion about honest to goodness marketing often gets buried by linkbaiting headlines that offer little more than a boost to the ego of the master baiter. Why? Because generating traffic is easy. Making money, online or off, takes education, dedication, focus, and even with those assets in place, it does little more than give one the ability to be right more often than wrong.

If you create value for the client, they will keep you. If you continue to add value, you can continue to bill. That has little to do with ranking positions, links and traffic, and everything to do with growing revenue and/or brand reach.

For example, I saw one nice piece of SEO work recently where the client remarked "I don't know what you are doing but we are getting lots of large custom order requests!". The technique was little more than placing some well-chosen keyword terms on the front page, however these words were also a strong call to action for large orders. They appeared in a prominent position. Both the SEO implementation and the business requirement were seamlessly aligned.

Think about ways to grow the the clients business when you structure your service offering.

A few models include:

  • Partnering with clients for a share of on-going revenue
  • Offering integrated marketing services - monitor keyword trends, referal trends, link search keyword to desireable action, provide custom tracking and analytics services,etc.
  • Offering lead generation services
  • Brand development and protection - monitoring competitors, monitoring the search engines for negative/positive press etc
  • Locking in clients with propriety software- Some companies muddy the waters by selling intermediary SEO services that sit between the clients site and Google. Certainly one way to get on-going revenue, but vulnerable to the whims of Google, and it could be argued not in the clients long term interests compared to improving their actual site. One great way of doing this would be to lock-in clients with propriety reporting and tools, sold on a subscription basis, that build - and demonstrate - on-going value.
  • Offering on-going competitive analysis services
  • New content production & promotion
  • Drop SEO and take up PPC bid management - kidding ;)

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these models have one thing in common. They create an ongoing value proposition.

The Soft Side

Once you've got your business model sorted out, and you're in a position to build value for the client over time, you need to nurture the relationship. Business is about people, and people need to be recognized, praised, and made to feel good. How much time do you spend nurturing the relationship you have with your existing clients?

Time Management

In order to spend more time nurturing the relationship, you're probably going to need to free up existing time! Write down your tasks and make a note of how much time you spend on each task you do. Are there any low level tasks you could delegate or out-source? Virtual assistants can take a lot of the drudge tasks off your hands, which frees you up to focus on your clients.

Here are some other tools and services worth checking out:

We've got no affiliation to these services. Honest guv' :)

Analyse How You're Spending Your Time

Are you spending your time profitably? Are you adding value to the relationship? Is it better to go to another search marketing conference, or would your time be better spent going to a confernce that relates to your clients business? How much time are you spending time researching their business area?

Word Of Mouth

Your existing customer base can also be your de-facto sales force. They can provide you with recommendations and references. If they are impressed with you, they'll talk about you to others. This both increases your revenue and cuts your sales expenses. It is much easier to close word-of-mouth recommendations than any other type of sales close. What are you doing to increase the chances of this happening?

Deliver On Promises, Let Them Know Early If You Can't

One great way to increase the chances of word-of-mouth recommendations is to under promise and over deliver. In your proposals, pull back a little from what you'll actually end up delivering. Everyone loves a vendor who is seen to go the extra mile.

Once you get the job, and find you may not be able to deliver, let clients now well in advance. Chances are, you'll get time enough to make up for it, and most clients are mature enough to realise that mistakes can happen.

Keep In Touch

It's often as simple as an email, sending a card, or making a phone call. Don't make every communication a pitch. If the client only hears from you when you're trying to sell them something, it's not much of a relationship. Try to think of ways you can contact your client without being intrusive.

Stroke The Ego

Monitor the press for mentions of your client. If you find good reviews or mentions, flick your client an e-mail. Most clients will be impressed that you're taking an interest in them.

Remind Them How Great You Are

This is a tricky one to pull off without sounding like a braggard, but the client does need to understand how much value you're providing them. Build notification into your process. Tell them what you're going to do. Do it. Tell them you've done it.

Focus On The Great Clients, Cut The Rest

Everyone likes great clients. But most clients aren't great. You'll get people who don't want to pay much, who won't pay you at all, who don't value the relationship, who miss deadlines, and who are never satisfied. Here's a great article on identifying the types of clients you don't want, and what to do about them.

Not only are these clients a pain, but they reduce the time you can spend with great clients. Make a list of your clients and rank them in order of who will provide the greatest chance of regular, high value work. Consider cutting the rest. Are they really worth your time?

Free Search Marketing RFP Proposal Template

Nov 17th
posted in

In response to my post yesterday "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we had a few comments from readers wanting to see examples of proposals. Thanks for the feedback, guys. It really helps us to cover areas you find most valuable.

I looked back through some old proposals looking for examples, and here's the one that earned me the most money:

Hi (name removed),

It was great to meet up and hear about your plans for (name removed).

As discussed, this email is to confirm the scope of the project.

I will undertake search marketing for (name removed) with the aim of generating new sales leads. The KPI will be based around increasing the volume of verifiable leads per month, and demonstrating these leads came from search engine visitors.

Contract to follow.

Kind regards,

Peter

Feel free to use it ;)

The problem with templates, and why I don't recommend relying on them, is that they aren't specific. There are no magic words that will ensure clients sign on the line. If you're pitching for thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, then you need to do upfront research regarding the clients specific business problems, and that must flow through into your proposal.

The exception is if you're taking a "throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" approach, in which case you just need to swap out a few details. Personally, when I receive such proposals, I bin them, and then make a mental note not to have anything to do with that company again. If they can't be bothered, then why should I?

The "proposal" above, which was just an email, was arrived at after a working lunch. The client came to me by a word of mouth reference. This particular client was the internet marketing manager for a large, international bank.

Over lunch, I asked questions about the clients business, the problems they faced, and what they hoped to achieve. I made it clear to the client before lunch that if I didn't see an opportunity to get them more business using search marketing, then I would tell them so. No hard feelings, and at least we'd have a nice lunch.

It turned out that was the right thing to say for this particular client, as he had a dim view of search marketers - he'd engaged people in the past, and it hadn't worked out - and he was visibly relived when I started to talking about solving business problems, rather than rankings, links and tags.

In this instance, the proposal fit the client. He was already sold by the time I put something in writing, he just wanted to sign-off and get on with it.

However, template guidelines can be useful, especially if you're struggling to know what to say. Proposals are a plan for solving a problem, and they outline the terms of engagement. You need to state what the problem is, explain how you're going to solve it, and explain why you're the best person to solve that problem.

One of our readers, Hugo Guzman, from zetainteractive.com provided a great example of structure he uses, which I'll reproduce here:

1) Clear bullet points on scope of work (details, details, details)

2) Emphasis on three main facets of SEO (site-side, link building, analytics). In many cases, it's our ability to demonstrate link building or analytics proficiency that wins the business.

3) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and social media

5) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and content development

6) Emphasis on our team's ability to work directly with client stakeholders (IT/Dev, marketing, PR, and even legal for some clients)

7) Emphasis on our team's ability to take overall business goals into account (not just being SEO-centric)

8) Emphasis on ROI (explaining how you will justify their monthly spend...again it's all about the details)

9) Emphasis on the idea that SEO is ongoing and not a one-time engagement

10) Emphasis on the importance of "baking" SEO into redesigns, site migrations and even the addition of a single page of content

11) Case studies and client testimonials

12) Emphasis on our efforts to be thought leaders in the space (aka "shameless plug for my blogging efforts over the years")

That's a good a structure as any, and notice how Hugo emphasizes the need for "details, details, details". There are no short-cut to specifics, and you need to understand the clients business in order to provide them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most clients will appreciate your level of interest.

Here are a few other template ideas to get you started:

  • Clearly state the problems you will solve. Grab a sales proposal response table to help you map out and address problems. Here's a free response table template from Microsoft
  • Address the customers issues, one by one. Use the customers name frequently
  • Organize the proposal either a) exactly the way the customer has specified or b) by order of issues, from most important to the customer, to the least.
  • Try to articulate benefits, as opposed to features
  • Most customers skim proposals, so use bold headings, graphics, and break the proposal up into themes. White space is your friend.

In terms of structure, SEO proposals typically include the following:

  • Covering Letter - summarizes the main points. Briefly. If there are five other proposals sitting on the clients desk, what is going to entice the client to pick-up your one? Clue: it's about them, not you.
  • Articulate The Business Problem
  • Articulate Measures of Success/KPI
  • Outline Your Solution
  • Specify the work you will do - break it down into tasks. Don't go into cryptic detail concerning SEO minutiae. Keep it broad and general, and pitched in terms the customer will understand without resorting to a Google search.
  • Provide a time scale and budget
  • Provide case studies, recommendations, and outline of your skills and qualifications. In my experience, case studies are pure gold. Clients want to know you're solved these types of problems before, which lessens the clients risk.

There are, of course, a million ways ways to skin a cat. If people have any further suggestions and proposal examples they would like to share, please add them to the comments.

Further Reading:

The Art Of The SEO Proposal

Nov 16th
posted in

Following on from last weeks post, How To Be An SEO Service Provider, we'll now take a look at the art of the SEO proposal.

Pitching and proposal writing is a time consuming business, so ideally you want to put your efforts where they will get the most reward. Here are a few tips on how to land the best clients, and how to avoid wasting your time.

It's Not About You, It's About Them

The first rule when pitching or writing a proposal is to put yourself in your clients shoes.

What would be your concerns? What would be holding you back from handing over thousands of dollars for SEO services? You'll need to anticipate those concerns, and be able to counter them in order to win the job.

In my experience, here are the most common concerns you'll come up against:

  • Will it work?
  • Is my money better spent elsewhere?
  • How does this help me achieve my goals?
  • Am I being ripped off?
  • Will this make me look stupid?

To overcome these objections, it is a good idea to have case studies and references prepared. Use before and after scenarios which demonstrate how your skills solved a problem and added value. Here's a great one by Jill Whalen.

The killer hook is at the end:

"High rankings are great, but what do they mean to a business? We talked to Doctor Bowler from Georgetown Surgical recently, and asked him, was he getting new business from the Internet? He was getting two to four new patients a week with his old website, and he's currently getting 50 to 70 new patients a week. That's a dramatic difference: he was nearly going bankrupt and was close to shutting up shop, and now he has to hire a new surgeon".

Now, who wouldn't buy that!

Demonstrate the value of your services over and above what your service costs to provide. For example, try to show revenue increases, as Jill did. You could also show traffic increases, and value these clicks against the PPC prices for these same keyword terms.

A variety of tools, including Google Traffic Estimator, can help you estimate the value of search traffic.

References are also valuable, because clients often seek out independent verification of what you're saying. Treat every client you have as a potential future salesperson.

If you're new to the game, and don't yet have any case studies or references, then consider doing a few freebie jobs. Theses jobs are essentially a marketing spend i.e. you "spend" time, but in return you'll be able to create case studies and get the references you need.

Don't give away your services to just anyone. The bigger the names, the better. You'll be associated with success. High profile charity organizations might be a good place to start.

Neil Patel got his start by giving free SEO tips to top tech bloggers. Bloggers have a big reach and lots of link equity that can be leveraged, so helping them can work just like helping a charity.

Probably the most valuable thing you can do, in terms of landing a sale, is to make a real effort to understand the clients business. Find out who their competition is, research their market sector, and ask questions. Most business people will appreciate you going the extra mile to truly understand them, and the issues they face.

It's Not About Them, It's About You

The flip-side of the argument is "is this pitch worth your time"?

The unfortunate reality is that some clients are not clients at all. They might be competitors trying to find out your pricing structures and strategic approach. They might be tire-kickers trying to scope the market. They could be bottom feeders who want the earth, yet are only willing to pay a few hundred dollars.

You need to quickly identify these people, for the sake of both your business, and your sanity. Make sure you're only giving away detailed strategy and pricing information if you're close to the sale. To exclude bottom feeders, mention a minimum starting price early on.

In my post "How To Be An SEO Service Provider", I question if it's a good idea to use the SEO client model at all:

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth? If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? "

Unlike PPC, SEO is a strategy that requires significant client buy-in in order to work well. The reality is that the bigger the client, the less likely you are going to get your way until you've proven your worth. It's a catch 22 situation.

Test the clients expectations early and be upfront about what it's going to take. For example, who has control over the website? i.e. are you talking to the right person? How much are you going to be able to alter the website? Why do they deserve to be number one? What are they prepared to do to get there?

It's About You And The Client

The happy medium is to land a client you can work with for mutual benefit.

When I was doing SEO for clients, I wrote up an ideal client profile. If the prospective client fell outside this profile, I wouldn't take the proposal any further.

For me, the ideal SEO client:

  • Has reasonable expectations
  • Runs a profitable business
  • Does not compete in saturated markets
  • Is already ranking, but not near as well as they should
  • Has some knowledge about SEO already
  • Is a known brand

There are exceptions, of course, but clients who fit this profile were a lot easier to deal with, and a lot more profitable than the alternative.

One area I found that really makes a difference is how much the client knows about SEO. If a client has the wrong idea about SEO, then you're going to be spending a lot of your time educating both them and their design teams. This can be a long, costly unproductive process.

One way to get around this is to start with PPC.

PPC is low impact. You can use PPC to demonstrate to the client that the traffic is there, and that s/he is missing out on it. If the PPC spend is high, you can then demonstrate how you can create cost efficiencies by getting that traffic at a lower cost, using SEO. It's a good way to educate clients by showing, rather than telling.

Align Metrics With Business Goals

A lot of SEOs don't do this, and I suspect it's the prime reason the industry has earned a bad reputation.

For example, a lot of SEO is sold on the basis that the client will get an increase in rankings.

So what?

An increase in ranking is meaningless unless it translates to a desired action. Some clients will be fooled by such metrics for a while, but they are unlikely to remain so.

Eventually, they will look at their marketing spend, then look at their traffic numbers. If those referrals from search engines aren't heading up, then you're unlikely to get on-going work. If you're not getting on-going work, then you'll spend a lot of your time on the expensive sales process as you churn and burn your way through clients. Not that this isn't a valid business model, but it can be a difficult way to go about things.

Likewise, traffic can be a poor metric.

It works for a while, but unless the client is solely preoccupied with traffic numbers i.e. sites that sell advertising based on page view numbers tend to focus a lot on pure traffic volume, then you're unlikely to get long term business. The traffic needs to turn into a relationship, a sale, or an inquiry. Marketing spend, in all businesses, needs to be justified in terms of the bottom line. Everything, eventually, comes back to revenue.

If you can help the client increase revenue, then you'll make yourself indispensable. Show how SEO fits into their business objectives, which is why making an effort to understand their business is so important. At that point, you can start to reorient their web strategy around SEO.

Not only does this give you more sway, but it increases the chances of future work. For example, you could turn a brochure-web strategy into a publication strategy, which then opens up more content writing opportunities. The client is not going to be able to change a thing until they talk to you first.

If you're in it for the long term, then that's where you want to be.

Further Reading

How To Be An SEO Service Provider

Nov 13th
posted in

When we asked for questions from our readers on topics they'd like to see covered, we received a few requests on how to set up an SEO agency and position the service.

Here's my take on it:

Don't do it!

OK, I'm being facetious :) But before you run out and sell your SEO skills, let's take a look at the issues, ways to get around them, and how to position your service so you get the greatest reward for your efforts.

I'll also explain why selling your SEO services might be selling yourself short.

SEO As A Career

The news is good. According to SEMPO, pay scales for SEOs are looking healthy:

"Of those respondents with up to one year's experience, 60% reported annual salaries in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Compensation tracks strongly with experience. At the next level, two to three years experience, almost 34% reported salaries in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. At the more seasoned end of the spectrum, of those professionals with nine or more years experience, just under 40% are earning between $90,000 and $140,000 annually."

However, let's take a closer look at those numbers:

" More than 33% of the survey respondents said they managed both pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and organic search marketing efforts. Another 35% said they worked primarily in PPC; some 20% worked primarily in organic search"

Most activity in the search marketing space is not SEO. It is PPC.

The reason for this is because SEO is a long term strategy, yet a lot of marketing spend is dictated by short budget cycles. In order to land work, you must be able to demonstrate value reasonably quickly. PPC provides a way to do this. Once businesses are sold on search as a channel, then they'll consider planning for the longer term search strategies, such as SEO.

The exception is when the client is already sold on the value of SEO. This type of client, who doesn't have an existing provider, or hasn't already moved the function in house, might be hard to find.

There is no harm learning both. PPC can teach you a lot a lot about SEO - mainly in terms of keyword research - and it increases your options.

Is Running A Business Really What You Want To Do?

There is a big difference between knowing how to do SEO and selling a service to clients.

For starters, there is the level of competition. Try searching for seo providers. As you can see, the world isn't short of SEO providers! And a lot of them are competing on price.

In an industry with such a low barrier to entry, how will you stand out from the rest? You'll need to give prospective clients a good reason why your service is better than the others on offer. How do you intend to match or better the credentials of established operators? How can you differentiate your service?

Secondly, how do you propose to sell your services?

The sales cycle is a significant cost, both in terms of time and resources. You can put a lot of effort into writing proposals, attending conferences, pitching presentations, and networking. None of this is guaranteed to pay off. And if you do land the work, how much time will you have to both do the SEO work and put in the sales effort required to land the next client? Can you scale up and take on qualified people quickly if that happens?

Thirdly, do you have sufficient cash reserves to live on while you're waiting for your first client to pay up? Cash flow can kill a small business, even those businesses which have a a lot of prospective work in the pipeline. The bills wait for no man.

You get my drift. There are many other considerations before deciding to run your own business, but the takeaway point in terms of SEO is this: determine what you like doing best.

If you like doing just SEO work, consider joining an established agency. They will take care of all the other details. If you want to build your own business empire, doing so mostly involves management, sales and administration. And, if you still have some time left over, some SEO.

Pay Models

How will you be remunerated for your efforts?

Most commonly, SEOs bill by the hour, or by the job. They set performance metrics, such as rankings and/or traffic numbers, and the job is completed when those metrics are achieved. The SEO might be able to get ongoing work in the form of reporting, or by extending the scope of the SEO project. The upside is that such a deal is simple. The downside is this needs to be sold over and over again. When you run out of hours to bill, you've hit the ceiling on your earnings potential, unless you raise your rates, or take on new people.

If you are confident of your skills, and can provide real value to a company - and that means boosting their sales and being able to prove it was you who made that happen - then consider partnership deals.

For example, one high profile SEO I know operates exclusively this way. He doesn't sell his services by the hour, he looks for businesses he can partner with, he boosts their earnings by implementing a robust, long term SEO campaign, then takes a share of their profit. This provides a healthy on-going revenue stream, without having to sell the service over and over again.

This type of deal requires a great deal of trust and transparency, but it is worth doing if you are sure you can deliver value, and can find a solid, reliable partner.

Some SEOs work on a Pay On Performance basis. This is a risky strategy, unless you are certain you can deliver the desired results. All the risk lies with you, and, really, you'd need to charge in such a way that accommodates this risk. Unfortunately, the type of clients who ask for pay-on-performance SEO deals are unlikely to be generous payers.

The Future

While search engines deliver value, businesses will pay to be seen on them.

SEO sits awkwardly amongst other marketing channels. The search engines will always try to make PPC attractive, because that's how the search engines make their money.

At the same time, they'll try to negate the value proposition of SEO, because SEO competes with PPC. SEOs are only useful to search engines in that they help spread the word about search engines, and they help sites get crawled. But don't think the search engines are going to do you, or your business model, any favors.

This situation doesn't make the SEOs job impossible, but I'm sure many people would agree that offering SEO as a service is a lot harder than it once was. A few years ago, all you had to do was add a few keywords terms to the copy and titles, point a few links at a site, wait one month, run a ranking report, and voila! You're an SEO provider.

Not any more.

SEO has become a much more holistic strategy. It requires a greater level of buy in from clients, designers, programmers, and all the other people who's toes you might tread on.

But there is plenty of life in the game yet. A lot of SEOs do great business, as can be seen from the huge popularity of the conference circuit. A lot of marketing spend is moving from other channels into search. By selling your services to others, you not only have an occupation, you gain insight into how other businesses work, which is a valuable education in itself.

I'll be going into greater detail on the workings of SEO consultancy in the coming months.

Don't do it :)

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth?

If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? ;)

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