Who Benefits From Following Google's Guidelines?

Oct 28th
posted in

Some of you may have been hit by Google's 20 October algorithm change.

And some of you wouldn't have noticed any difference.

On 20 October, a number of sites got trashed. Rankings, and traffic, plummeted through the floor. The webmaster forums lit up. Aaron noticed it. I noticed it. Yet, other webmasters wondered what all the fuss was about.

As many of you know, there is not just one ranking algothimn. There are many algorithms. What affects one site may not affect another. Rather interestingly, Google's John Mu dipped into this thread on Google's support forum, offering these words of wisdom (HatTip: Barry)

It looks like the changes you're seeing here may be from an algorithmic change. As part of our recent algorithmic changes (which the outside world sometimes refers to as the "May Day update" because it happened primarily in May), our algorithms are assessing the site differently. This is a ranking change, not any sort of manual spam penalty, and not due to any technical issues with regards to crawling or indexing your content. You can hear more about this change in Matt's video: "

...and....

Various parts of our algorithms can apply to sites at different times, depending on what our algorithms find. While we initially rolled out this change earlier this year, the web changes, sites change, and with that, our algorithms will continually adapt to the current state on the web, on those sites. While it might be confusing to see these changes at the same time as this issue, they really aren't related, nor is this a general algorithm change (so if other sites have seen changes recently, it probably doesn't apply to them as well).

Matt's video, made four months ago, was talking about the algorithmic MayDay change. John Mu adds: "Various parts of our algorithms can apply to sites at different times" In other words, whatever happened in May may not affect your site in May, or June, or July, but might hit you many months later. This implies that your site may trip a threshold, and be judged quite differently than it was the day before.

This still doesn't completely explain why so many sites were hit on the same day, but then Google don't typically explain things in detail.

To complicate matters, there was an acknowledged indexing problem, affecting new content, particularly on blogs. Again, John appears to suggest this was a separate issue.

Forget About Search Engines, Just Publish

Now, all SEOs are used to algorithm changes. Nothing new. But this one has me genuinely perplexed, mainly because of the type of sites that got hit.

Time for some self-searching Q&A about one of my own sites:

Q: So, how many links did you buy?
A: None.
Q: Are you selling links?
A: Nope.
Q: Linking to "bad neighborhoods"?
A: Not that' I'm aware of.....
Q: Did you link-build in an aggressive manner?
A: No. I did no link building, whatsoever.
Q: Huh?
A: That's not a question.
Q: So you just published content?
A: Right.
Q: And people linked to your site, of their own accord?
A: Yep. I guess they liked it.
Q: Was your content heavily SEO'd?
A: No. In fact, I gave writers specific instructions not to do anything resembling "SEO copywriting". It ruins the flow for readers.
Q: All original content?
A: All original. Hand written. No machines involved anywhere.
Q: So this site conforms to Google's Webmaster Guidelines?
A: I'd say it lies well within them. "Be useful to end users", was the guiding principle.

Yet it got hit hard.

What's also interesting is the nature of the sites that replaced it. I checked keyword after keyword, and found script driven, aggressive black-hat, content-free sites in top positions. Not in all cases - there are certainly useful sites that deserve to be there, and deserve to appear above mine. Fair play. However, there were plenty of sites of - shall we say - dubious merit- occupying high positions.

Curious.

Be Useful. Perhaps

Now, I believe in publishing useful, unique content, and not paying too much attention to SEO, other than covering the basics. SEO is one strategy amongst many, and sites should, first and foremost, prove useful to people.

Clearly, no site is immune. You can stay within Google's Webmaster guidelines, and get taken out. I knew that anyway, but when the sites that don't follow the guidelines replace you...

....I'll admit - it grates.

Presumably, Google rewards the sites it likes with high rankings, and if we see a lot of aggressive sites filling the top page, should we therefore assume that aggressive sites are what Google actually wants?

I'd like to think not.

Perhaps they are just trying to mess with our heads?

Or they messed up?

Or the changes are still bedding in?

Or they really do want it this way?

I'm still watching, and considering. Perhaps the site will just pop back up in due course. Or perhaps I need to go back to the drawing board. I'll let you know how I get on.

If you've noticed something similar on your sites, chime in on the comments.

Low Cost SEO

Oct 27th
posted in

If you're considering getting some SEO work done, but working to a tight budget, here's a look at the key issues, and trouble-spots to look out for.

Buying Professional SEO Services

If you're short on time, or SEO skills, or inclination, then you may be looking at getting an eternal supplier to undertake SEO work. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for, and SEO is no exception. There is also a danger you could get a whole lot less, of course.

Like any profession, there are many great operators, and many poor ones.

Set Clear Business Goals

Start by writing down the goals you want to achieve. What business problem are you trying to solve? Do you need more conversions? More traffic? Higher rankings? Only one of those requirements is likely to make you any money.

Traffic and higher rankings can make you money, but can just as likely make no difference to your business, whatsoever, unless they are tied into your website strategy. For example, you may receive more traffic after engaging an SEO, but if this traffic isn't interested in what you offer, they will click back. Likewise, you could gain high rankings for keywords that no one searches on. This will result in no traffic increase, and no new business.

Devise your own metrics for success. Some SEOs will devise metrics for success that are easy for them to achieve, but make no real difference to your business.

Watch Out For Hidden Costs

If you have an existing site, you may need to make changes to your design and layout. Depending on how your site has been built, these changes may be minor or significant in terms of cost to rectify.

The Problem With Cheap

Whilst high cost alone will not guarantee you good results, there's a high probability that low cost will almost guarantee poor results.

SEO is labour intensive and requires skill and knowledge. As a rough ballpark, a small site, that doesn't have design issues, that has had no previous SEO work, could take, at very least, five days of full-time SEO work. This work involves link building, adding keywords and content to the site, and other external promotional activities. Get the SEO to breakdown the work into hours and tasks, and see if the amount charged equates to the work required.

If the SEO is pricing significantly under their competitors, there may be a legitimate reason. They may use cheaper labour, often located in emerging economies. This is fine, however make sure any firm you do use has a good knowledge of the country and culture in which you operate. Marketing, SEO or otherwise, requires an intimate knowledge of language use, culture and location, so ask to see previous work, and check references.

On the other hand, there are agencies that will charge like a wounded bull for essentially the same tasks as everyone else. Obtain a few quotes and compare, as pricing can be all over the place. The industry is not standardized.

Do It Yourself

Anyone can do SEO. However, that doesn't mean that everyone should.

What does SEO involve? It can involve restructuring a site, coding, content creation, marking up content, market research, strategy, link building, and public relations. Do you have the time, or the inclination to do this? The learning curve, for the beginner, is steep. It's also time consuming. How much is your time worth?

However, there are many aspects you can do yourself. Start with a good, solid SEO course ;) Join forums where other SEOs hang out. Look for content management software that is reasonably SEO friendly, out of the box, such as Wordpress (free). Using SEO friendly software means you'll avoid a lot of technical problems that can be expensive to rectify if you use software the search engines find difficult to crawl.

Search engines like content. Generally speaking, the more pages you publish, the more chances you'll have to be seen. If appropriate, adopt a strategy similar to that of magazine publishing. Publish often.

Once your business case and site content are established, you need to build links. A site without links is pretty much invisible. Here are a few link building strategies. In summary, submit your site to directories, get your partners to link to you, issue press releases featuring links back to your site, put links in your online signature. You can never have too many links, so long as they accurately represent the content is on your site, and they appear in places your audience hangs out.

Hybrid Approach

You can go a long way by buying in some help, and doing the rest yourself.

Pay for a few hours of consulting where an SEO evaluates your site and your market niche. It's well worth paying top dollar, for someone good, for this part - as it most likely only takes a few hours. Setting off on the right course can pay high dividends, whilst heading down the wrong path can be difficult, and costly, to recover from. Engage them in an advisory-only role, and ask them to provide you with a strategy. Some SEOs will do this, some won't.

The most important thing is to ensure they establish your site has no technical issues that will prevent it being crawled, and that your content is structured correctly. Once these problems are ironed out, SEO becomes a lot less troublesome.

Only you know your skills, but the following areas are reasonably straightforward for those with a little web knowledge. Keyword research is easy enough to do yourself, using readily available keyword tools, as is content generation.

Simply write on topic and sprinkle keywords through your content and headings, or have your copywriter do so.

You may also wish to undertake link building yourself. This involves requesting links, submitting your site to directories, and building effective partnerships. It can be a good idea to get consultancy as to where you should focus your link building energies. Some links are worth a lot more than others, and there is a strategy to it.

Like any complex professional service, you'll still need to monitor and measure, even if you do opt for expensive, comprehensive outsourced options. There's no sitting back with marketing, and that includes SEO.

Whatever path you choose, make sure the SEO work is aligned with your business goals.

What Is SEO, Really?

Oct 21st
posted in

Lisa Barone wrote an interesting piece entitled "Are SEOs Responsible For Rankings Or Money?". At a recent SMX conference, Matt McGee posed the SEO myth "SEO is about rankings”. Lisa was relieved when the panel concluded that SEO was really all about the money.

I agree, but then all business activity is ultimately about money. We could say car racing is all about money, but it's also about engineering. It's about skill, excitement, and winning the game.

So what is SEO these days, anyway?

A Very Brief History Of SEO

Back when SEO started, SEO wasn't called SEO. It was probably best described by those who did it as a form of hacking.

The first search engines weren't particularly clever, so it was relatively easy to figure out their sorting algorithms. There was a time when Infoseek's algorithm was almost entirely based on keyword density and keyword position.

Whilst this hacking was still ultimately about money, it was as much a game as anything else. I'm sure many old school SEOs remember those days with a sense of nostalgia. It was more of a pure technical pursuit back then.

As search engines got more sophisticated, and more money flowed online, the nature of the game changed. SEO moved beyond technical hacking to an exercise in making connections.

In Googles early days, you could buy a few high PR links - or beg for them - and that was enough to get you ranking top ten in most keyword areas. Buy a few more if you really wanted to go hard. Saturate the long tail with auto-gen, just like your competitors were doing, and it was game on. Some may say we haven't completely left this phase, but the sun is setting on this approach.

These days, a more holistic approach is required. The search engines, Google in particular, have become more and more oblique, which means systematic technical approaches are less effective than they once were. This begs the question - what is a client hiring an SEO to do, exactly?

BTW: For those who want to read deeper on a history of SEO, check out this excellent Danny Sullivan interview. He knows more than most about the history of SEO.

Explaining SEO

Ever had trouble explaining to people what you do?

I've worked out a succinct answer that is easy for non-technical people to understand. When people ask me what I do, I tell them "I'm a drug dealer".

It isn't true, of course, but I just figure it's easier for people to grasp. If pushed, I'll launch into a detailed explanation of SEO, internet advertising and web publishing models - an explanation which is universally guaranteed to be met with the response "huh"?.

Often, they'll conclude: "so you rank web sites in Google, then?".

To which my reply is "well, that's part of it". As I explain further, I'm still not sure I'm making any headway, so figure it's time everyone had another drink and talk about something else.

The SMX panel is right. SEO is not about just about ranking websites, it's about so much more. Some SEOs, myself included, use SEO as part of a business strategy, a strategy that is just as much about publishing, domain names, brand building, marketing and traffic acquisition. It involves metrics, tracking, conversions, split/run testing, adwords, adsense, writing, researching, managing and changing the light-bulb in the office when it blows. The commonality is that it is oriented around the search ecosystem. Except for the light-bulb.

Some SEOs focus on very specific areas. It is their job to take a site from nowhere in the search engines to achieving desirable rankings. Their job ends there. I suspect such a role is becoming less common as search companies like Google extend their tentacles into every corner of the web, and search consultants invariably follow.

Ask ten different SEOs what they do, and you'll probably get ten different answers. None of which the lay person will likely understand, unfortunately.

Learning SEO Today

If you're starting out in SEO now, I don't envy your challenge. If you're reading this, and you're an SEO veteran, please feel free to add your comments below. What is your advice to those starting out?

Here's mine. ;)

It helps to understand the big picture first. The reason people engage in SEO is ultimately about making money. Even a non-profit may make money from SEO by saving money they would have spent on some other marketing channel.

They want people to find their web site. They want people to connect with them, rather than their competitors. They want people to do this so they can convert these people to buyers, of their goods, their services, or their ideas. If a site were only to rank - say, on keyword terms no-one searched for, or that weren't directly applicable to the objectives of the business, then the SEO work is largely useless. It matters not if a site appears in Google's index. If no one visits via a search in Google, then all that's happened is the bandwidth costs have increased i.e. Google's spider visits and digests pages, and the ROI for the SEO spend looks dire.

So SEO isn't about rankings.

The rankings must translate to something tangible. In most cases, this means gaining qualified visitor traffic. To get this traffic, a site must do more than rank, a site must appeal to visitors. A visitor who clicks back isn't really a visitor. To appeal to visitors, the SEO must first understand them. What do they want? What problem do they have?

Once the SEO understands visitor intent - and they can do this by getting clues from the search query itself, and testing pages against alternatives - they then direct that visitor around the site in order to turn the visitor into something else i.e. a buyer, a subscriber, a reader. Some might say this goes beyond the job description of an SEO, however whether an SEO works on this part or not, they do need to understand it. If the client doesn't see a positive benefit from an SEOs work, they are unlikely to keep paying for the services.

So, yes, SEO is about money. But it is also about the long process by which money is made.

  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
  • An exclusive interactive community forum
  • Members only videos and tools
  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

Facebook Vs Google: No Contest

Oct 19th

So the conversation in tech media of late is that Facebook is set to become a bigger cash cow than Google.

Why?

People spend more time on Facebook. Facebook has users locked-in (kinda). Facebook "owns" the social map. Facebook is popular. Facebook is everywhere. Facebook is big.

Uh-huh.

Facebook may be all those things, but when it comes to translating "viewers" into revenue, Google currently wins hands down.

Google wins because Google's advertising is closely aligned with the users primary activity, which is to seek topics and click links. The primary activity of a user on Facebook is to socialize. Translating this activity to a commercial imperative, in a way advertisers find profitable, is the challenge Facebook faces.

The primary user activity on Facebook isn't yet as conducive to effective advertising as the topic-matching system used by Google. This shows up in the revenue data.

Google's revenue, with supposedly fewer users than Facebook, is $23.531 billion - and rising. Facebook, with more users, who reportedly spend more time on the site, has estimated revenues around $1b. Admittedly a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, but useful to get the two entities in perspective. Facebook is nowhere near Google in terms of advertiser revenue.

In short, being popular doesn't necessarily translate into revenue, or marketing value. Ask any popular blogger who is blogging on a non-commercial topic. It can be difficult to convert some audiences, and some activities, into revenue and advertiser value.

As a commenter, Chris Norstrom, on the TechCrunch page I linked to above pointed out:

500 Millions users does not mean those users want to accomplish EVERYTHING on your site. Facebook already tried their own version of "yahoo.Answers" and it failed. People come to facebook to lol with friends and waste time, nothing more. Not to check inboxes, not to ask questions, not to participate in groups, not to rate stores or check into places, not to send or receive money, not to edit documents.

Is he right, do you think?

Like Button Replacing The Link

Some commentators have suggested that the "like" button on Facebook will replace the link

Enter the Like button, the social solution to search, and the replacement of the link as a voting mechanism. The people as a whole are more effective at determining what content is relevant and most of those people are unfortunately not effective at creating links

A "thumbs up" system doesn't say much. It may help people find out what is most popular amongst the heard on any given day, but as anyone can see from Digg, exploding pancakes doesn't mean much, popular as the topic may be. I suspect Facebook users will use the Like button even less when they come to realise it's a form of permission marketing.

Google, on the other hand, is oriented around topical queries. Relevance is decided by alorithms that measure over a hundred different factors. It's fair to say that if a simple "Like" button worked as a means to determine relevance, Google would have implemented it years ago. They pretty much have one, but who really uses it?

In short, user voting is fraught with problems. It won't replace sophisticated algorithms. The link, the basis of the web, isn't going away.

Fit The Message To The Medium

Which, in a rather long-winded way, brings me around to my point.

The Google vs Facebook contest doesn't really matter as far as marketing is concerned. Both environments are valuable to marketers. Both need to be approached in different ways.

As we discussed in Google Keyword Research Tool: Not Popular, search is suited to concepts and services of which the searcher is already aware. Facebook is better suited to distraction media, viral campaigns, and marketing targeted at specific demographic groups.

Facebook may be useful at introducing people to new concepts - especially if those concepts fit into an existing social activity, as defined by members of a specific demographic i.e. the group "Porsche Owners Club" may be interested in new Porsche merchandise, whether they're actively seeking it or not.

Keep in mind the core function of Facebook. The Facebook user isn't likely to be actively hunting for something. They are killing time, or socializing. As a result, Facebook is less suited to direct sales, as it is difficult to determine which phase the buyer is at in the sales funnel. Facebook is more suited to brand building and awareness campaigns. It is suited to relationship building. Adjust your marketing approach accordingly.

For further reading on the specifics of Facebook marketing, SEOMoz offers a great overview of marketing approaches on Facebook.

Google Keyword Research Tool: Not Popular

Oct 14th
posted in

At a recent SMX conference, Baris Gultekin, Group Product Manager for Google AdWords, put the cat amongst the pigeons when he said the Google Keyword Tool only provides keyword data for the terms Google deems “commercial".

Teething problems? New policy? Bit of both? Regardless, it's fair to say there has been a backlash against the changes made to the keyword tool.

For example, Marty Weintraub points out:

“Facebook” Must Not Be “Commercial” Do Google users really only articulate 12 semantic permutations of “Facebook” at phrase, broad and exact match? Eeesh… Obviously that’s a laughable proposition. These 12 keywords are what Google wants to sell as they productize Facebook related queries into AdWords inventory"

Google's Business

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Google is only showing webmasters what it wants webmasters to see. Google will show data that works to Google's advantage.

There's no advantage to Google in revealing all their keyword data - a valuable asset - especially the data that Google thinks can't be monetized as profitably via Adwords. Adwords research is, after all, what the Keyword Tool is for, at least as far as Google is concerned. As much as SEOs like keyword data, Google isn't there to make SEOs lives easier.

Adwords advertisers might argue that we know which terms provide value, but that's a slightly different issue. Google may prefer to force more bid competition on keyword terms Google deems work best - in terms of searcher relevance, clickability, and for Google's bottom line. There's some merit in this, given their number crunching ability, although they don't have end revenue data for sites using Adwords. Well, not unless you give it to them.

There may well be bugs Google are working out, or we're seeing a a change in the PPC game - i.e. encourage advertisers towards the most profitable terms. At SES San Jose last year Google's Nicholas Fox highlighted that Google had about 30 million words in their ad auction. For advertising purposes, Google figures they do not need to give you a deep set of data, just the core relevant keywords and the ability to taste them via a broad match or phrase match AdWords campaign and refine with negative keywords.

As predicted, Google instant has had a significant impact on keyword diversity in some markets: "While organic traffic levels have risen about 5% for all Drive users since Instant was introduced, keyword variety has fallen more than 15%!"

However, there is still a big keyword tail, and the Google keyword tool is but one keyword resource. ;)

Other Ways To Research Keywords

There are many ways to discover keywords. But first, let's back up and focus on the user.

In a user-driven environment, like search, everything centers on typical user behavior, or, more specifically, what's in their head. Those who don't understand this seemingly innocuous piece of information often go wrong in SEO.

For a user to conduct search, they must already be aware of a concept. In this respect, search is reactive. It is difficult - although not impossible - to break a new idea or brand using the search channel, as the searcher isn't already aware of the new concept, therefore is unlikely to search on it. These type of "awareness generation" campaigns are generally better suited to interruption media, such as banners, videos and such.

Is your product/service/concept already known? Is it a brand? If so, it's a good candidate for search marketing. Listen to the way your customers talk. What phrases do they use? What questions do they ask? What problems do they have? Read the sites/magazines/publications they read and look for common terminology and reference points. Keep an eye on social networks and see what news they discuss. Feed all this information - the phrases, questions and terminology - back into your keyword list. Chances are, many of these terms will not appear on keyword research tools.

The next step is to consider searcher behavior.

82% of searchers will rephrase their query if they don't find what they are looking for on their first attempt. Combine this with the fact that 55% of queries use more than three terms, and a staggering 20 to 25% of the queries have never been seen before i.e. they are unique.

This means that there are many more keywords permutations than a keyword tool will ever give you.

If you focus on multiple low traffic terms, this can result in more traffic than can be gained from a single high traffic term. You can often achieve this simply by knowing the topics your audience are interested in, and writing about them. Is this SEO? Of course. Your language matches that of your intended audience.

So publish often. Each page you publish is a keyword net.

Look deep into your web analytics / log file. Use keyword terms found in your logs as topic/titles/starter ideas for new pages. Repeat indefinitely. You'll eventually build your unique own body of keyword data that people using keyword research tools are unlikely to find.

Always listen and adapt to your audience. Always listen and adapt to your site's analytics, as it is the purest (and most relevant) data you will ever get to use in your search marketing campaigns.

Free Keyword Research Tools

We're going to blow our own horn here and recommend the SEOBook keyword tool, powered by Wordtracker. It's free, and provides a lot data across various search services. The SEOBook members section has some very cool tools, too, including a Competitive Research tool based on SEMRush data. This data can list keyword value distribution i.e. keyword value * estimated traffic. Aaron did a thorough review of SEMRush here.

But enough about us.... :)

Google still offer a range of great freebie tools, including:

Google Trends

Google trends for websites

Insights for search

Google Sets

Microsoft's Ad Intelligence is too good to not mention.

Don't forget to use a Thesaurus - such as Thesaurus.com. A Thesaurus can often cough up synonyms the keyword research tools miss. Aaron has a video and a few more keyword tools listed here.

And virtually anything can be a source of data to explore

The well is deep!

There is a ton of data out there, whether Google chooses to share it or not.

The very best keyword data is seldom shared intentionally ;) though sometimes when people sell their site they do offer "free milk."

Public Relations Lessons From Matt Cutts

Oct 6th
posted in

The latest video from Matt Cutts talks about the value of SEO to Google.

The questioner asks:

"Why does Google support SEO specialists with advice? Google's business is to sell text ads..."?

Matt explains that Google sees SEO helping, rather than hindering, their business model long term.

How?

SEOs create - and encourage site-owners to create - the very sites that Google's technology demands i.e. context accessible by an automated crawler, largely text based, and clearly marked up.

By having sites that jive well with Google's technology, this lowers Google's costs, and helps make Google results more relevant in the eyes of the end user. The larger their index, the more chances Google has to answer the query. SEOs love creating crawlable content!

This means the end user keeps coming back, which in turn translates to Google's bottom line.

It's also a good idea to give webmasters something, else Google risks an more adversarial relationship, which again can cause Google problems.

So SEO is good for Google's business - the "good" type of SEO, as defined by Google, of course.

Win-Win

Matt, as always, is giving the side of the story Google wants you to hear.

His position sounds reasonable, generous, and inclusive, and it is - in many respects. But make no mistake - Google aren't there for webmasters. Google will do what is good for Google. If SEO was bad for Google, Google would not be reaching out to the SEO community, in much the same way they don't reach out to, say, the malware writer community. They just stamp it out.

Matt is a master of public relations. Webmasters can learn a lot from Matt in terms of how to handle their own public relations challenges.

Here are a few pointers, based on Matt Cutts approach:

Public Relations Is Relations With The Public

Matt doesn't talk from on high. He doesn't talk at his audience. He talks with them. He attends events where his audience congregate, and he encourages interaction and questions. This activity serves to build a personal relationship, which helps make his messages easier to convey and sell.

Look for ways in which you can go *to* your audience/customers. Where do they hang out? Address them on their own terms, and in their own environment. Regularly encourage questions, criticism and feedback. When it comes time to announce new products and services, your audience is likely to be more receptive than if your communications are anonymous and sporadic.

Ok, this might be all very well for Matt Cutts. Everyone pays attention to Google, because Google are important. However, no matter how big or small your audience, you still must find a way to relate to them.

These days, it's not so much what people say, it's often who is saying it. Modern media is driven by personalities. The content of the message is seldom good enough to stick, unless it is truly remarkable.

People listen to Matt in ways they don't listen to an anonymous Google press release because of the personal relationship he has worked hard to establish. This works just as well for small businesses. In fact, this is one of the big advantages of a small business - the personal touch. Google is a big company, but they work hard to appear like a small one, at least in terms of their personal relations approach with webmasters.

Matt also gets out in front of issues. If there's something going on in the web community relating to his area, he's almost certainly quick to comment on it. By doing so, he can control and frame the conversation in terms that suit Google. If there are industry issues that relate to your work or company, use them as an opportunity to grab the spotlight. Try to become the media go-to person in your local community for issues by building relationships with media and news outlets.

PR consultants aren't quite as necessary as they used to be. They aren't redundant, but the most important lesson to learn from Matt Cutts is that PR is something you need to embody. It's not just a function that you slap on, or hire in, when it suits, and still be as effective. Make PR flow through all you do.

Matt's greatest skill is not making it look like PR at all.

Integrating Demographic Data Into Your Search Marketing Campaigns

Oct 5th
posted in

I recently came across an interesting stream of search traffic.

The demographic using this search stream was one I had no direct experience of previously. I was amazed at the high level of site interaction this group engaged in. It was related to the wedding of two people I'd never previously heard of - Ti & Tiny. From the names of the people who responded, I determined the traffic was mostly African-American. Pretty obvious given the topic, right.

What was interesting was this group engaged and responded at a much higher level than other groups I was targeting on similar campaigns. It was a reminder of the different ways some demographics choose to participate online, especially when the marketing pitch reflects them.

Target Marketing

Target marketing, otherwise known as market segmentation, is marketing focusing on specific groups of people.

Marketers use demographic profiles to break down groups into a series of traits, such as gender, race, age, income, disabilities, mobility, educational attainment, home ownership, employment status, and location. This helps marketers determine the correct pitch, language and approach to use when trying to appeal to a given audience.

When we use search keyword lists, it's often easy to lump people who use the same keywords together. However, if we add demographic information into the mix, our marketing can become more focused, which can translate to higher conversions, and higher returns.

For example, according to a recent demographic study, the African-American market makes up 13 percent of the U.S. population and spends more than $600 billion every year. African-American buying power is expected to reach $1 trillion this year. 26 percent of African-American households had incomes of $50,000 per year. 64 percent of African Americans—versus 51 percent of Caucasians—spend more on products they perceive as being “the best”. That last piece of information is very useful if you were designing a page to appeal directly to this market.

How about the gay market. This market tends to be affluent. The average annual income for a gay household is $61,000, 20.4 percent higher than in a heterosexual household. This group tends to have a high level of education. Some 83 percent of gays and lesbians have either attended or graduated from college. This market is also brand-loyal. Approximately 89 percent of gays and lesbians are brand-affiliated and are highly likely to seek out brands that advertise to them - i.e. advertising that depicts gay lifestyles and models, for example.

How about women. Women make up 51 percent of the US population and influence at least 80 percent of all spending on consumer goods in the United States. By 2010, women are expected to control $1 trillion, or approximately 60 percent of the nation’s wealth. Retail stores are designed around women, and it would be interesting to note how women and men may respond differently to the online retail equivalent.

General marketing one-size-fits-all messages may miss such groups. How much advertising language is geared towards white, middle class family groups, for example? That's fine if a white, middle class family group is the target market, but it pays to be aware of groups we may be missing.

Relevance

Relevance is more than matching a search keyword to page topic.

"Know they customer" and reflect your audience in your site design, language and pitch. Do your pages reflect your world view, or the world view of your customers? Is there a difference? Can you use keyword terms to identify and segment specific demographic groups? Are there keywords that women are more likely to use than men? Keywords that Hispanics are more likely to use than African Americans? Think about the ways different groups in our society use language.

Your website should hold up a mirror to your target audience, using their language, depicting their lifestyles, and speaking directly to their wants and needs.

Research

In my Ti & Tiny example, the demographic was pretty obvious. It was easy to picture the fanbase, and adjust the language, and pitch, accordingly.

For more in-depth demographic information, you could look at census data, available at the US census beureau, or your regional equivalent. Check out the Country and City databook.

Using keyword research tools, look for broad keyword associations to get a feel for language use and associated areas to target.

The Inside Facebook Blog often provides interesting snippets of demographic data about Facebook usage and trends, which will likely be reflected in the wider online community.

Professional data mining companies, such as Nielsen, are great sources, if you have the budget. And if you want to dig even deeper, check out the VALS survey.

VALs.

How To Write Good

Sep 2nd

Yes, deliberate mistake :)

It grates when people write poorly, huh. When writers write well, the words almost become invisible. The focus shifts away from technical details, and onto the message.

Is there an easy way to write better blog posts? E-mails? Web copy?
Let's take a look at three guidelines for web writing.

1. If You Can Say It, You Can Write It

The Dilbert Mission Statement Generator - sadly now offline - comes up with convoluted gems this:

"Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructures"

Satire, one would hope.

However, the US Air Force uses the following mission statement:

"The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests - to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace"

"Deliver sovereign options"?

Who talks like this? Well, apart from the US military.

Nobody.

Good web writing is the same as good spoken language. Use short sentences, short words, simple structures and a natural, predictable flow of ideas. Avoid waffle, hyperbole and words that hide meaning. Whenever you finish a piece of writing, read it aloud. Cut or rephrase phrases that sound clunky, because they'll read clunky, too.

Your writing will sound warm and human.

The human voice is especially important online. Communicating at a distance, particularly two-way communication, is relatively new to humans. To help people connect with one another more easily, it pays to write in a warm, conversational style that mimics personal conversation when conducted in close, physical proximity.

When you think about how you would say something, especially to a specific person, you choose words, expressions and structures based on that personal context. Try to imagine that person in front of you as your write.

This approach works well for all applications - from formal legal sites, to personal sites.

2. Planning

Planning what you're going to say helps you to complete any writing task more quickly and easily.

  • 1. Identify and list your goals. What is the message? What is the desired action you want your reader to take? What is the key thought you want your reader to take away?

    For example, a goal list might look like this:

    *inform people the last project went well, even though there were problems
    *highlight the good aspects about the project
    *highlight the problems
    *present ideas on how these problems can be overcome in the next project
    *get everyone revved up and excited about the next project

  • 2. Think about the audience. Who is your audience? What do you know about the person or group?
  • 3. Determine the right tone and format based on answers 1& 2
  • 4. Write quickly. Don't edit, even if your writing is a mess. Separate out your writing and editing functions.
  • 5. Draw a solid conclusion. Calls to action work well.
  • 6. Read aloud what you've written. Cut, fix and tighten. Writing comes alive in the rewrite.

Solid blog posts sound spontaneous, but they're not. They're often structured, worked and reworked.

3. Hyperbole Doesn't Work On The Web

Hyperbole means extreme exaggeration. i.e. "All the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand". Web readers tend to gloss over the flowery and the convoluted.

On the web, people scan, so the shape of your writing - how it appears on the page - can be just as important as what you say. So think about the shape and form of your writing. Can you use bullets, headings and images to break up large blocks of text? Sometimes, the best thing to do is not write at all. Can an image convey your message? If so, use it.

Also consider context. When visitors arrive on a page, a page deep within your site, do they know what your site is about from glancing at that one page? If not, consider using chunks of content to provide context. These chunks of information can be repeated on every page of your site, and should be self explanatory. Think directory entry. Your repeat visitors will become blind to it, but your first time readers will appreciate it.

We could go on all day about web writing. However, we'd like to hear your tips. How do you approach writing on your site? Do you plan? Do you wing it? What style of writing gets the best results?

Selling SEO Services: A Consultative Approach

Aug 26th
posted in

Does the thought of selling fill you with dread?

If you see yourself as a technologist, or marketer, then selling may not come easy to you. But we all need to sell something, even if it is just our opinion! If you're a consultant of any description, it comes with the territory.

So it pays to know a few techniques. Luckily, sales isn't something you have to be born to do - it does not require supernatural charm, charisma, a hide as thick as an elephant, and a superhuman drive.

Selling can be like a doctors consultation.

A Visit To The Doctor

When you go to the doctor, do you expect the doctor to just guess what is wrong with you?

A doctors consultation involves the doctor asking you a series of questions. This questioning is to help determine what the problem is, and how it can best be solved. At the end of the process, the feeling is probably one of relief and assurance i.e. that the doctor has your best interests at heart, and will cure what ails you.

It's the same in business.

Any client you encounter has a problem. Like a specialist doctor, it is your job to ask a series of questions to help nail down the problem and find a solution. The very act of questioning - known as consultative selling - helps build trust and rapport with the client in the same way you may experience with a doctor. This works especially well in the field of consulting, which is based on information sharing.

The emphasis is on clients needs, as opposed to getting a signature on the dotted line. You first establish a client's needs, then you provide a solution, if you have one. You're building a relationship, based on trust, by asking a series of questions.

Not so hard, really.

The Mechanics Of Consultative Selling

Ok, so how do you do it?

First, you need to understand the buyers buying process. You then match your selling process to their buy process.

All buyers go through a specific process. For example, if a company needs internet marketing services, do they go to their established provider - possibly the web design company who built their site - or do they go direct to the SEO market? Do they attend conferences? If so, which ones? Hint: they may not be SEO conferences. Do they ask other business people in their business network? Do they go with a known brand?

It's pretty simple to determine the buying process if the buyer comes straight to your website, fills out the contact form, and requests a call-back. But life often doesn't work that way.

A prospective client may ask their web design company. Their web design company may not have had a clue, had you not been in to see them a week earlier. You asked the web design people a few questions about whether they had an SEO capability in house, found out they didn't, and found out they had a lot of clients who quite possibly needed SEO. You proposed a joint deal whereas they would refer their clients to you, for a 10% commission.

Try to find out how your prospective clients buy SEO services, and position yourself accordingly. Think business associations and clubs, their existing providers in related areas, and the other companies they have an association with.

You need to get yourself positioned correctly in their buying process.

If you've managed to get in front of them, you then need to think about the questions you are going to ask. You should be asking about their business, where they see it going, what problems they are having, their place in the market, and their competitors. Business owners typically like doing this, and will welcome your interest, so long as you're seen as a "doctor" i.e someone they trust to help. You'll also need to make a presentation, which, depending on the context, need not be formal. It could consist of showing them case studies of how you've helped solve this problem before. Let's face it, most SEO/SEM problems and solutions are going to look pretty much the same.

It's all about trust relationships. It's a fact of life that people buy more readily from people they trust.

But how do you know if you can trust your prospective buyer?

Screening Buyers

Consultative selling is also a great way to screen out tire kickers. A person who is just pumping you for information will reveal very little about themselves. The conversation will be one sided.

If they are genuinely interested in your service, they are more likely to answer questions. They do have to trust you first in order to do this, so try to think like a doctor if you encounter resistance. i.e. "I want to help you get more traffic, but I can't do so if I don't know more about your business before I can devise an appropriate solution".

Be prepared to walk if they don't volunteer the information you need. Even if you did land the job, you may end providing a substandard solution to their problem, which will likely end in tears. Better to find clients who you can work with, rather than against.

Another method of screening is to pre-close the sale. When you are gathering needs, ask that if you can solve their problems to their complete satisfaction, as a result of this discussion, that they will buy your services.

This will sound to them like a fairly safe bet i.e. you have to propose something that solves their problem. However, it also creates an implied obligation on their part to do so. There is no risk on your side, as you can either solve the problem, in which case you'll likely get the business, or you can't, in which case you'll walk anyway.

If they are hesitant, it is either an opportunity to walk, and thus stop wasting your time, or an opportunity to find out something more about their buying process.

In short, when thinking about sales:

  • You are not a salesperson. You are a "doctor"
  • Focus on the needs of the client, not landing the job. Sale hucksters typically focus on the close too soon, which can destroy trust
  • It's ok to walk away. You won't be able to help some clients
  • Insist that the client engage in conversation. A client who asks you questions, and volunteers little information, might be pumping you for information

These consultative sales techniques are covered in various sales theory books. Check out "Consultative Selling", by Mack Hanan, Jay Abrams "The Sticking Point Solution", and "Stop Telling, Start Selling: How to Use Customer-Focused Dialogue to Close Sales" by Linda Richardson.

How To Lie With Statistics

Aug 12th
posted in

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics - Disreli

We get presented with graphs and statistics every day. "Most SEOs think keywords in the title tag is an important ranking factor." "Spending on search to rise by $10b". Ever get that feeling that what you're being presented with sounds plausible, but the conclusion just doesn't make sense?

Here are a few common ways people try to pull the wool over your eyes with statistics. Some you'll be familiar with. If you've got more, add 'em to the comments :)

1. Built In Bias

The sample data supports an obvious agenda. For example, a company is hardly likely to show a graph that shows their product has produced negative results. Try to determine the bias of the person or organisation presenting the data - "what would they want me to hear"? then ask yourself: "what data are they not showing me?"

2. The Average

The media loves to state "the average", then neglect to tell you which average they are talking about.

For example, the average house price for an area could both be 500K and 200K, depending on what type of average is being used. They could be referring to either the mean, the median or the mode. They often mix these up, depending on what conclusion they want you to reach.

3. Inadequate Sample Size

20% of web designers make over $1M. That may be true if the sample size consisted of ten highest earning people in the industry, and two people just happen to have had a great year. But what if the sample size is all those who practice web design for a living? The outcome may be somewhat different.

4. Meaningless Differences

A difference is only a difference if it makes a difference. Potential employee Jill may have an IQ of 120, and potential employee Jack may have an IQ of 118, but does that really mean anything? What if Jill has an attitude problem, and Jack is a great conversationalist? Who would be the better hire?

5. Oh My God!

Al Gore loves this one. The graph that shows some astonishing change in the status quo. The impression is one of significant movement and is meant to shock an audience.

However, if the chart appears in a different context - say, over a longer time period - the rise may not look all that unusual. You often see this in stock price quotes. You could also change the measurement into smaller units, thus making any movement in the graph look even more impressive.

6. What You Infer Is Up To You

If you can't prove what you want to prove, prove something else and pretend they are the same thing. Often used in the alternative medicine industry. They may not be able to prove that their natural products cure cancer, but they can say that the plant extract has been used by some remote tribe, and they have a proven historical low incidence of cancer.

7. Post Hoc

A study found students who smoked got lower grades. The fallacy of one thing not following the other i.e. smoking doesn't cause bad grades. Frequently, other factors are left out i.e. the students who smoked also tended to be party animals. Look out for correlations that happen by chance.

8. Data Precision

Quoting specific numbers, especially including decimals points, can look authoritative. "Real estate values up 4.95%" Why would someone be so precise if they didn't know their stuff? The numbers can be wild guesses, but accuracy gives an air of authority.

General Tips For Spotting The Lies

  • Ask "who says so?" Are they likely to be biased? If experts are cited, check to see if those experts actually agree with the conclusions. Often, they do not.
  • Ask "How do they know"? Is the sample size really large enough, or relevant enough, to draw conclusions?
  • Look To See If They Change The Subject. Look for a change between the raw data and the conclusion. Does one follow the other? For example, more reported incidences of crime do not necessarily mean there is more crime occurring.
  • Ask "Does this make sense?" - are they trying to blind you with numbers? If the conclusion just sounds wrong, look for a disconnect between the data and the conclusion

If you want to delve deeper in to How To Lie With Statistics, grab the little book of the same name. It's getting a bit dated now - it was written in 1954 - but the advice and examples are great :)

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.