We Do Not Spy on Our Customers
I have had a very well known SEO company dust one of best link building strategies (outing it directly to a Google engineer) because I was trusting enough to mention how effective it was inside our training program, thinking that a competitor would not out it, but I was wrong! At least I know what to expect, and can use that knowledge to mitigate future risks.
One of the common concerns about the SEO Toolbar is something along the lines of "does it phone home" or "are you spying on us" or "what data is it sending you". Some SEO companies offer a huge EULA and do spy on the people who use their toolbars, but we do not do that for a number of reasons
- I felt rather angry when that well known SEO company outed my site (and haven't really trusted them since then)
- I never really liked the idea of spying on customers, and going down that path could harm our perceived brand value
- knowing that information is kept private adds value and builds trust
- we are already under-staffed (running quite lean) and have more projects to work on than time, so we are not in need of new projects
- With all the great competitive research tools available now (like Microsoft Ad Intelligence, Google Search-based Keyword Tool, Compete.com, SEM Rush, and many others) it is easy to get a lot of keyword data quickly, and I see little value add in spying on our users.
Why Give Away so Much Value?
It is pretty obvious that the trend in software (since the day I got on the web) is that open source software is commoditizing the value of most software products and tools. Providing tools that require limited maintenance costs and provide access to a best of breed collection of SEO tools makes it easy for us to evolve with the space and help our customers do so, without building up a huge cost sink that requires raising capital and having to listen to some icky investors. :)
The reason we can (and do) provide so many free SEO tools is because I feel doing so...
- makes the web a better place (Tim O'Reilly says you should create more value than you capture)
- offers value to the community
- extends opportunity to more people around the globe (anyone who is just fresh starting out like I was ~6 years ago could use the help)
- commoditizes the value of some bloated all-in-one SEO software (many of those products generally lack value and misguide people)
- makes it hard for con-artists to sell hyped up junk (by commoditizing the value of their offerings to all but the most desperate of get rich quick folks)
- helps to educate potential future customers (when we did a survey recently about 80% of our customers have been practicing SEO for over a year)
- is an affordable distribution strategy for brand awareness
- builds trust by delivering value for free (rather than trying to squeeze every penny out of potential customers)
- is a big differentiator between us and most SEO websites
In addition to all the above points, most of the tools we create are tools I want to use. So the cost of building them would still be there even if we did not share them. Sharing them gets us lots of great user feedback to improve them, and does not cost us much relative to the potential upside.
Small Industry, Lightweight Strategy
Rather than centralizing things, we like to rely on a distributed software strategy which has a much lower cost structure.
That strategy allows this site (with a popular blog, an array of tools, some videos, training modules, and an active community) to run on 1 server. We find the Plenty of Fish story inspiring, though doubt we will need his distributed computing skills anytime soon given how small our industry is. After 5 years we are still millions of visitors and over a billion monthly pageviews behind Plenty of Fish :)
We have analytics on our website to help us see where we are getting coverage, and to measure and improve conversions (an area ripe for opportunity given our brand exposure and site traffic). We may add relevant affiliate links and offers to some of our SEO tools to help pay for the 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars we spent developing our various tools (for example, see how we integrated a link to our Wordtracker keyword guide and the Wordtracker keyword research service in our keyword tool). But we have no need or desire to spy on users who download our tools. Spying and outing are poor strategies for professional SEOs to employ....they erode trust and value.
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