I Stopped Caring About Links (Well, Almost)

Dec 6th
posted in

Recently on Twitter a couple people mentioned that we should create tools similar to our Firefox extensions for Google Chrome. Then on TechCrunch there was a comment "As soon as I see the SEO Book toolbar for Chrome, I’ll be glad to uninstall Firefox." I read that and thought news to me.

First of all I think it is a bad idea because if Google owns the search engine and the browser then maybe that is not the best spot to have your SEO research stuff hooked up, but even beyond that I don't think we would make $1 more by creating those tools. Why? Because the people who use Google Chrome for SEO research are not the type of people who want to pay for anything related to SEO (outside of buying links perhaps).

My buddy Patrick from BlogStorm mentioned 'Imagine all the links you would get from people writing about the "Top 10 Chrome Extensions for SEO"' but when you think about it, what kinds of "customers" would those links bring? Entitled demanding and rude non-customers who pollute our sales funnel and waste our time. Eh...not really worth it.

Today a person running a COMMERCIAL SEO company told me "One of my employees loves the hubfinder and is now distraught that it's not free anymore. What would it take to get access to that tool?" And I responded with "if they are distraught over $300 then frankly they are quite pathetic, IMHO." He wants to CHARGE his clients, PAYS his employees, and then wants my time FOR FREE to ask how he could get FREE access to the fruits of our labor.

Distraught? Really? I couldn't imagine having the audacity to send that message.

And the truth is...that is 99%+ of the SEO market...everything should be free except whatever they sell. But we have to PAY $1,000+ a month for a web host, PAY for our vBulletin license, PAY for our SupportSuite license, PAY to license data from other sources, PAY to create tools to collect data, PAY to create new tools, PAY to maintain tools, PAY to advertise, PAY for a design + redesign, PAY for additional servers working creatively on future projects, PAY for the risks associated with being a well known public SEO, PAY to fly out to speak at SEO conferences & share information, PAY for upgrades to the site, SPEND lots of time on creating content for the blog, PAY PAY PAY etc etc etc

We have subscriptions with services like Compete.com and WordTracker because to us they are worth it.Which is why we buy AdWords ads, certain links, access to other sites and services, desktop software like AdvancedWebranking, etc. I have easily spent $100,000's on consulting, tools, and info-products. Was every purchase profitable? No. But in aggregate, there was plenty of profit to be had.

The people who are selling stuff but who are afraid to spend any money themselves often sell trash. They are not convinced in the value of what they sell (often because it is lacking). Or as Seth puts it...

Money is more than a transfer of value. It's a statement of belief. An ad agency that won't buy ads, a consultant who won't buy consulting, and a waiter who doesn't tip big—it's a sign, and not a good one.

You don't create a real business by being the free infrastructure for someone else's business while giving it away AND providing 1:1 support. That is why open source works so well...give away the software, but if they want 1:1 support from the source they pay for it. $$$

Yes we could use more links, but that is not a weakness in our business right now...we have something like a quarter million people using our stuff. If anything, I would love to donate some of this site's links to a few of our affiliate websites. ;)

Imagine having a quarter million+ non-customers. If you are at that scale your problem is not finding a way to get more people at the top of the funnel. At that scale the issue more becomes filtering out the bottom portion of the market without offending the people who might potentially become customers. Assume 5% of the 250,000 people are entitled ___holes. Assume another 5% of them are great people who just happened to have a minor issues in the conversion process (forgot their username, picked the wrong username, registered under the wrong email address, didn't get the welcome email, etc.). Could you imagine handling 25,000+ personal emails a year? Add in paying customers & media inqueries and now your up above 30,000. And that doesn't even include making close to 1,000 posts a month in our member forums and reading the nearly 100,000 posts that have been made there! I love the work I do (and love helping people), but I think this really expresses the sentiment nicely.

I had to add the following to our support feedback section to help make the pollution from non-customers more manageable

Free SEO Tool Issues?
A Polite Warning for Non-customers

We run the best SEO website with the deepest and richest customer engagement. But our resources are finite and our time is valuable.

We Give Away Lots of Value, But Our Company is Small

At the same time we have given away some of our free SEO tools to over 100,000 webmasters. We can not provide 1 to 1 support to an audience that large while still providing the amazing customer experience that our paying customers have grown to appreciate and expect. If you are not a PAYING member then we expect you to read the installation and usage documentation before filing a ticket.

Did You Read The Usage Instructions?

Please note that if you are not a PAYING customer AND your issue is with our free SEO tools then we will NOT respond to ANY requests where you have not read the installation and operating instructions from the associated download pages.
SEO Tool Usage + Configuration Instructions

For your convenience here are links to the official resource centers for SEO 4 Firefox, Rank Checker, the SEO Toolber, & the download page. (The download page requires you set up a free account and login to it).

Need to Uninstall a Tool?

If you would like to uninstall something here are 2 ways to do that.

In his book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky stated something along the lines of popularity being an imbalance between supply and demand of attention. Which is precisely why filtering is so important. If you don't filter out the laggards and freetards you are only holding back your own potential while giving your paying customers an inferior service to what they deserve.

Eventually it gets to where filtering through that noise becomes nearly a full time job. (Lucky for me I work twice as long as just about anyone I know), but anything that makes the sign up process more complex creates more noise (which potentially eats your time + harms your brand while creating 0 income). Plus the above quoted piece from our support section might turn off some potential clients...but it is always a game of filtering...help as many people as you can and hopefully try not to offend many people.

What we are scarce on is time. And that is also what many people new to SEO are scarce on. And what people who are willing to pay for correct information with rich context are short on.

Working through all the hype and misinformation and scammy offers can be a bit overwhelming. To a person who is new to SEO, it is already confusing enough to decide...

  • which tools offer real value
  • if they should use any software
  • if they should use free or paid tools
  • what combination of software to use

And if we duplicate our tools for many different browsers then that ends up increasing the maintenance cost WHILE harming conversion rates (because people don't know what they should chose, or why you have so many tools doing the same thing).

The capital and efforts spent creating (and maintaining) a second or third set of duplicative free SEO tools would be better spent creating more paid tool & content for our paying subscribers.

Updated on November 7th, 2013: years later Google decided to block the ability to deliver plugins from outside their store. read some of the below comments from years ago to see what's up next...

Published: December 6, 2009

New to the site? Join for Free and get over $300 of free SEO software.

Once you set up your free account you can comment on our blog, and you are eligible to receive our search engine success SEO newsletter.

Already have an account? Login to share your opinions.

Comments

December 6, 2009 - 12:24pm

People are selfish, lazy, want instant gratification, are never happy, want everything free, and are hypocrites (everything should be free but people should buy my product).

It's something we all have to deal with, people are always going to have the audacity to email you ridiculous questions... Want to weed out all of the "freetards"?

Make all of your tools paid, make your blog paid, make it so people have to pay just to mention your name in a sentence...

I get your point but when you make free tools available to millions of people, this is what can happen, most people are freebie seekers or else a sales letter with a 3% conversion rate wouldn't be considered good.

Most people want help even though they've invested NOTHING into your business or else having a help desk wouldn't be such a hassle.

If you think people are being ingrates then simply shut down all of the stuff that's costing you more money than its worth so that you don't have to "pay, pay, pay"...

December 6, 2009 - 12:29pm

I have toyed with the idea of making all the extensions paid tools and just using the autoresponder for marketing. If we get much more noise that will likely be the course of action. :)

The main point of my post was not to say I hate free consumption (sales is a cycle after all), but to mention that I had no desire to maintain a suite of SEO tools for Google Chrome as that is a market segment with no customers in it (mainly just freetards).

Mot to say all free stuff is bad. I like Drupal, Wordpress, Xenu Link Sleuth, etc. :D But then I don't try to fire off emails to them wanting free support either ;)

Loved the title on your comment BTW!

December 6, 2009 - 12:48pm

I admit, running your operation isn't easy... I have a hard enough time doing my own thing and it's not on the same level and your blog/brand.

I'll also admit that I mainly use Chrome and I'd probably just be another freebie seeker in your funnel... Segmenting me into a freebie seeker autoresponder and then just testing affiliate products to see if I bite at any could be a profitable route...

I used to buy a ton of SEO materials now I buy a lot of media buying online/offline type material; this might be the same for others, you never know...

I'm sure a lot of people use your tools never intending to buy any SEO stuff from you but that doesn't mean that they'll never buy; they may be in a different point where they feel that they're past SEO learning (in their own minds) and that they already have SEO tools but would still buy something else...

A book on a different marketing topic (media buys, ppc, social networking), a free + shipping offer, business success coaching, copywriting, etc...

I understand you're an SEO site but as I'm sure you already know there are a lot of people who branch off to many different aspects of marketing and SEO is just one aspect.

You could gather up all of your freebie seekers and give them a survey and ask what do you like: affiliate marketing, product creation, ppc, cpa, copywriting, etc. then segment them onto a list where they get offers pertaining to those topics; maybe more effort than its worth but just a thought.

Also for anyone who's reading its a good idea to remember to always answer all comments with a smile; I admit my comment was a bit sarcastic but Aaron just answered calmly...

Well played.

December 6, 2009 - 12:59pm

I don't do too much cross selling yet...but that is partly because

  • if you cross-promote with aggressive info-marketers even if they bring in sales those customers typically tend to have a much shorter lifespan than organic customers. since I do most of our customer service churn is much more expensive for me than for businesses built on it.
  • a lot of marketing stuff for sale is either not worth promoting & damaging to credibility (with the seller being quite the vulture when they have you in their funnel) or pays very little when you promote it (and so we often promote things for free on our blog and forums)
  • when we do promotions I want them to really pop...I want people to pay attention and care...we maybe do 1 a year (or every other year) ... we will likely do some type of promotion in the next 2 or 3 months :D
December 6, 2009 - 12:50pm

...with your post a while back about charging enough for your work so that you're not dealing with the bottom of the barrel (people that think you should work harder because you have something to prove.)

There's also a good video floating around about what it would be like if people tried to pull the stuff they pull on freelancers. So, the guy likes the dinner but only wants to pay for some of it. Or, he'll pay all, but demands the recipe too.

Anyway, great thoughts as usual.

-kpaul

December 6, 2009 - 12:58pm

Here is that video on vendor-client relationships...it really is great!

December 6, 2009 - 2:35pm

Wow, bad day at the office Aaron (haha).

It's amazing what people expect for free. Same thing with small clients vs. large - small clients are usually the ones that expect the world.

I'm sure SEO Book provides great value. I should have joined when it was $100/month.

December 6, 2009 - 3:58pm

Not having a bad day...there is always more demand than supply though...so I need to get better at filtering.

December 6, 2009 - 2:45pm

Aaron I get the feeling you're not short of cash, but you are short of time. I've been in the same boat (still sort of there) but would rather balance the money/time thing to maximise this thing called "being happy".

Close all those doors the idiots walk through. Don't give anything away for free. Delete all emails that even slightly resemble a waste of time. Fire clients who take liberties. Be hard and ruthless in THAT way. Upsetting people is part of controlling your business. It sounds odd but I've been that guy who didn't want to upset anyone, and ended up being miserable.

I'm in the process of trimming down my working week - I fired a couple of long-term clients who constantly sucked the life out of me. I feel better for it. A bit poorer, but a lot happier. I think money / pride / "doing the right thing by everyone at all times" are things that can do you much harm. I say downsize, simplify, and enjoy your life and your career.

December 6, 2009 - 3:56pm

I think you are right Andrew...I need to get better at not answering non-customers and just delete delete delete the noise.

December 6, 2009 - 4:34pm

I got a great kick out of your 'pay pay pay' paragraph Aaron - I can identify deeply with that and it's fun to read your venting. I'm tempted to write a blog post on that topic one of these days. Thanks for the inspiration and keep up the great work!

thx,
Eric

December 6, 2009 - 4:42pm

All good points, and well put as always, Aaron. I give away far too much time and knowledge, and even though that "help everyone" attitude has brought me some clients, more often, it barely gains a "thank you" and I've had to scale back. I can only imagine what your in-box must look like...

But I gotta echo that guy's sentiment... I'll bet many of us paying members would like to see a Chrome toolbar ;)

Scott Hendison

December 6, 2009 - 6:56pm

Hehehe. So you would likely be 1 of 2 Scott. But wouldn't you rather not have that stuff done in a Google owned browser?

December 6, 2009 - 6:58pm

I think I'll do a round-up of best rants for 2009. Aaron, yours will top the list. P.S. I love Hugh McLeod. He motivated me to write my own "marketing manifesto" which starts with 'Web developers are not God'.

Keep up the good work and stop to smell the roses. No one but you will know if you slow down your pace. Remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

December 6, 2009 - 7:23pm

Thanks for the kind comment :D

December 6, 2009 - 11:09pm

Aaron....

If you could go back 5 years ago.. would you have pursued this blog and what came along with it

or

Just pump out shit loads of profitable sites that:

1.) require little to no maintenance
2.) require no customer involvement

I've heard you mention over the several years I've been keeping up with you that you spend ALOT of time on this site and get very little return compared to your other projects. I can see why. You have to do all the blog posts, all the free tools, maintenance of everything, reputation management, newly added membership.. lots of shit.. plus all those emails from non paying customers.. shit adds up and I imagine the expenses do to..

I've sold off my Ecommerce stores for this same reason.. I got tired of dealing with the customers, maintenance of the site, emails, phone calls etc.. people would ask me why not just hire someone to do all that etc. Because I wanted to keep it a one man operation with a bit of outsourcing... and I knew with me running the stores that it was keeping me from growing and working on other far more profitable projects that would require almost no maintenance and I wouldn't have to deal with any customers and the shit that comes with it.

If the chrome extension wont bring you any cash and will only bring more of a headache then no way I'd do it..

I'd make this blog private too or maybe certain posts.. your a big enough brand and you already got the membership sewed up.. plus it would add another layer of filtering and could help further monetize the site IMO

December 7, 2009 - 1:52pm

I am not sure if it makes sense to think entirely either/or.

A few examples:

  • if I had not ran this site my wife would not have found me ;)
  • this site also helps or other sites indirectly sometimes
  • having a mix of experience sets and business models also helps give us a more stable set of income flow and a more diverse set of experience for the future

The other thing which is hard for me is that because I know a lot about this topic there is always something else I could be doing or adding to the site or writing about. For topics I am less interested in I find it a bit harder to really pour myself into the sites.

The other sites are far more profitable (from a monetary standpoint) but if one considers meeting my wife than this site is still way ahead, because that is value beyond any sort of number. :)

December 7, 2009 - 4:04am

There are some who seek cash at all costs and those who seek something more. I think it's correlated with age and wisdom. If you had cash and it didn't work out so well, you know better.If you never had that freedom, how could you know? If you have lots of sites plus the seobook community, perhaps seobook is your meaningful work. Why have to defend or explain that? Make it matter to those who will miss it when it's gone, not the rest.

There are some who seek a meaningful project, and some who seek revenue flow, so someday they have resources for a meaningful project. Again... age differential at work here (among other factors). You might also hear it as "success first, philanthropy later", or 15/15/15 for working for someone else (15 years), working for self, working for humanity.

Most of it is bunk... I doubt much of it matters. What matters is that you find yourself, and then take yourself through your life in a meaningful way. Oh and don't forget to define "meaningful" (good luck!). Since that can't happen in an instant, you best hedge your bet along the way by "behaving", to avoid regrets (and the pain of lasting mistakes). Existentialism... pure and simple (ha ha ha).

I have one question about Chrome extensions: What did Google ever do for you (that it hasn't taken back), such that you want to support Google by porting your extensions to Chrome?

December 7, 2009 - 1:58pm

John...I think you are a different plain than I am. ;)

But I agree it is important to "find yourself" ... after years and years of being in the military my sense of self was utterly destroyed. My old roommate and I flew out to Coachella and saw Radiohead when I was buzzed. I said "this isn't a song about losing yourself...this is a song about finding yourself" and I was so happy.

But the web makes it easy to do a bit too much to where work becomes too consuming and not spend enough time doing the important things, like just relaxing and looking at the sun.

What did Google ever do for you (that it hasn't taken back)

There is an ironic answer here :)

They made SEO complex enough and convoluted enough that it became necessary for a site like this one to exist ;)

December 7, 2009 - 10:14am

I have to admit, I'm not one to jump into monthly subscription fees, but I'm also not into hardcore SEO. I know/use the basics, and I'd be willing to bet that there are a lot of people like me, who don't need a $100/month service, but also wouldn't mind paying for something that is still useful/convenient.

Why not try charging a one-time fee for the toolbar? Hell, throw up a donation button with a set price, and tell people you'll make the Chrome extension after donations hit that mark, lol.

You're right, there's not as much money to be had from people who aren't specifically in the SEO business, but surely you could profit from small webmasters who enjoy keeping track of stats?

Btw, what's wrong with having it in a Google owned browser? Are you implying that they would take and use that data against us? I'm genuinely curious.

December 7, 2009 - 1:39pm

Why not try charging a one-time fee for the toolbar?

Not really...if someone pays you some small amount of money they often feel they own you. So they feel more entitled to bombard you with questions and such, since they have paid you. And, since they already paid you, there is 0 opportunity cost (to them) for them to keep bombarding you.

The only way 1 time fee stuff will work for us is if I hire someone to screen most incoming emails and such.

Btw, what's wrong with having it in a Google owned browser? Are you implying that they would take and use that data against us? I'm genuinely curious.

Why wouldn't they?

They are already doing it to their PAYING AdWords advertisers today!

And they claim that using user data against users for ad targeting will help them save media because advertisers will pay a lot for that targeting. Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the WWW, claims such targeting is dangerous, but it is what Google wants to do.

December 7, 2009 - 4:06pm

The other sites are far more profitable (from a monetary standpoint) but if one considers meeting my wife than this site is still way ahead, because that is value beyond any sort of number. :)

Good man Aaron... joy, happiness and finding a person you can share the rest of your life with are far more important than anything that I can think of..

Also I can see why you go through the trials and tribulations with this site... is because it does give you a diverse income and gives you a place to write about something your passionate about.. I'm very passionate about SEO as well, I've been doing it since 05' but myself I don't think I will ever go public.. I've debated it before but prolly not going to happen.. I'd rather just work on my own projects and get it while I can..

Anyways man, thank you for these years of information.. Although I actually only signed up less than a year ago and I very rarely ever comment.. Know this.. You have helped me and gave me a place to go where I can get a dose of my passion..

December 7, 2009 - 5:46pm

you're welcome James :)

December 7, 2009 - 6:21pm

i have the "work for free" hugh cartoon as my 1920x1200 desktop wallpaper. my coworkers like it a little better than his other that i used to have up, "mediocrity sucks."

i understand the anti chrome mindset. if you ever want the speed sans phoning home to google try one of the chromium based browsers like sr-ware iron.

December 7, 2009 - 6:56pm

I really wanted to put that cartoon in the above blog post...but saw that he had not posted it yet and wanted to wait until he did. :)

I still think "the market for something to believe in is infinite" is his best one, but that email one is probably #2 :D

December 7, 2009 - 7:42pm

I've been using the Iron browser which is basically Chrome without the Google spy stuff.

December 13, 2009 - 5:05pm

There's already someone working on a replacement for Chrome

[link edited out by Aaron...the version you mentioned was stolen code from another publisher!]

January 3, 2010 - 7:25pm

I’m a newbie to seo, managing a website and new to the seobook. Though I don’t sell seo services, I thought this article was great. It hit the nail the head and was very informative.

We’re all in the business of making money, how you make it, and how much you charge depends on you. At the end of the day you if your services back up your pricing structure customers will/should come. Maybe I’m naïve.

I mean... We all want something for nothing. Hell, I’m a victim of that. That’s why I’ve subscribed to the blog and other free features of this site until I’m ready to purchase my monthly subscription.

July 31, 2011 - 4:18pm

... but agree with everything else. Does Chrome require you to release free plugins?

We are trying various ways to stop people sucking our brains out for free. They love to do it though ...

December 13, 2011 - 3:03pm

I agree. All of the point here are valid, but I'm not really sure where Chrome comes in. I use Chrome because it's quicker on my Mac. Unless I am missing something, those were some pretty immature statements within an otherwise reasonable rant. I don't see why you would hold against someone their wanting to have your tools available in their browser of choice. Now DEMANDING them, for free, is another story, but otherwise I would take it as a compliment..

December 14, 2011 - 12:45am

...years ago Google's webmaster guidelines warned against using WebPosition Gold by name (AND ONLY WEBPOSITION GOLD)...even while selling ads to competing software solutions.

~~~

Now imagine you create a tool which allows people to pull in SEO data in ways that violate some TOS (in part because some data sources prohibited collection of said data & killed their APIs off). If you do that in a browser owned by one of those data sources, could that company then advertise an exceptionally negative message about you to your customers? Why yes they could. Why offer them that opportunity when there is literally no reward (only risk) in such an arrangement?

There is a difference between being immature being and aware of history. Those who are ignorant of history might presume staying clear of shrapnel makes one immature...but it doesn't make it true.

~~~

And I don't really take it as a compliment that people want me to work for free and want me to fund additional free labor to their benefit.

I get daily complaints from many of these same jerks & in nearly a year of suggesting that non-customers can donate to a wonderful charity for support, only 1 person was non-dirtbag enough to do so. The rest the people complaining are largely worthless user dirtbags, for which I have no sympathy. They value my life at nothing & complain with the fruits of hundreds of hours and the 10s to 100s of thousands of Dollars I invested to offer something free. Thus most of them are worth less than nothing to me.

March 20, 2012 - 6:25pm

I recently switched to chrome from firefox and find its much better, my computer gets the spinning mac ball much less, it's faster, etc.

I was hoping that you guys would have an extension for chrome and I used your extension with firefox and it's great.

I don't understand this:

"Because the people who use Google Chrome for SEO research are not the type of people who want to pay for anything related to SEO (outside of buying links perhaps)."

The rest of the post talks about people wanting things of value for free. Which is a valid enough thing to post about but,

What does creating an extension that is already free for another browser have to do with people wanting paid content for free?

Thanks,
Emily

March 20, 2012 - 10:10pm

... (and those who are too lazy to read) would be better spent on paying customers.

April 25, 2012 - 8:39pm

SEO Book provides awesome tools and insights as always. The SEO Book Toolbar and Rank Checker are great tools offering users tremendous value free of charge. Thanks for developing, supporting through browser updates and API changes and then offering to the SEO community free of charge. What a deal! All with no spyware!!

The video in the comments is awesome and I am sure that many Internet marketers can empathize. Unfortunately, "please" and "thank you" are dying words in our society today and payment (especially timely payment) in some clients mind is optional with the timing left to their discretion and willingness to pay. Maybe the video should have included the IRS or Utility Cos to turn up the contrast even more.

Though I came through a Google Search for "SEO Book Plugin +Chrome" I leave inspired to filter, filter, filter.

April 26, 2012 - 9:21am

there are a few more here, here, here & here.

New to the site? Join for Free and get over $300 of free SEO software.

Once you set up your free account you can comment on our blog, and you are eligible to receive our search engine success SEO newsletter.

Already have an account? Login to share your opinions.

  • 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!






    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.