Monthly Archives: September 2012

Top 5 Questions We Ask Clients When They Are About to Sign Up

5 questions every SEO should ask you.There are certain questions that pretty much any SEO expert should be asking you and if they don’t ask you these questions, then you know they probably don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t care much about your needs. These are five questions that we ask prospective clients before they sign up with us. Are you getting this kind of service?

1.     What Have You Done Until Now?

This is probably the single most important question that any SEO company can ask and it’s also the question most often overlooked. However, finding out what exactly you’ve done up to now to try to boost your SEO efforts is absolutely crucial if you want to build a successful SEO campaign. Here’s why:

Did You Mess Things Up?

As many of our regular readers know, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the Google Penguin update and the question of whether or not that update actually created a whole new set of problems which didn’t exist until now. In other words, if you spent money buying yourself lots of junky links, you could need a vastly different campaign than someone who simply hasn’t done much at all.

Have You Already Got Lots of Links of a Particular Type?

Another issue which asking you what you’ve done until now will help us clarify is whether or not the kind of links we can build for you will be effective. For example, if you already have built thousands of profile links, it would be redundant and could even hurt you to have more of them built because you may end up looking like a spammer. Instead, perhaps more blog links need to be built. Or wiki links. You get the idea.

Have You Been Targeting the Right Keywords?

Another issue that can come up when we ask what you’ve done until now is whether or not you’ve been targeting the right keywords. While it’s important to have varied anchor text in order to make your links look as natural and organic as possible, it’s also important to ensure that you aren’t spreading yourself too thin. Targeting fifty different keywords is just as bad always targeting the exact same keyword without variation.

Have You Optimized Your Page?

Too often, SEO companies focus pretty much exclusively on doing off page SEO, meaning they help you to build your link portfolio up and they completely ignore your home page. Often, they don’t even look at your home page. They merely ask you for the list of links that you want targeted and the keywords and they go on their merry way. This of course could mean a lot of wasted effort and money.

2.     What Are Your Goals in Working with Us?

I can’t tell you how annoying I find it when I come across so called “SEO experts” who simply offer up standardized packages and can’t be bothered to talk to their customers. Often, these companies don’t even bother to offer a phone number to get a real live human being on the phone to help you understand what your options are.

Are Your Goals Realistic?

A good SEO company will however take the time to get to know you and your business. They’ll also be able to advise you as to whether or not your goals are realistic. For example, if your goal is to rank number one for the keyword “Windows 8,” the odds are good that you will fail and a good SEO company will tell you that and help you pick a more appropriate keyword.

Do You Have the Money and Patience to See This Through?

SEO is not a magic bullet. It doesn’t slay the dragon and it doesn’t ensure that a truckload of money will be backing down your driveway the next day. It is a long term strategy and it takes both time and money to do it correctly. A good SEO company will challenge you to set realistic goals and to also have a realistic timeline.

Now I know that we live in a world where everyone wants instant results. I’ve seen enough ads on Elance from people looking for miracles in SEO where they expect to hit number one for a popular keyword within a few weeks and they’re willing to pay all of $20 for the privilege. The sad thing is, they get lots of offers to do exactly that. They then wonder what happened when they don’t get the results they expected.

We will work with you to make sure that your budget will match what we can do for you and we won’t make unrealistic promises to you. Regardless of which SEO company you work with, it’s very important that you ensure that whoever it is does the same thing so as to ensure that you will get the results you need.

Have You Got a Good Squeeze Page?

SEO is great at getting people in the front door of your website as it were. It’s not so good at closing the sale. If you hire us and you get lots of hits, you need to ensure that a significant number of those hits will turn into actual sales. This is part of setting up your goals and part of ensuring that you will actually get what you paid for.

3.     How Will You Define Success?define success

SEO is an extremely subjective business. Exactly what does it mean when you define success in the world of SEO? Does it mean that you make it to the front page of Google? Does it mean that you make a certain number of sales each time someone visits your website? Does it mean that you get a certain number of people to sign up for your newsletter?

A good quality SEO company will work with you to ensure that definitions of success are clearly planned out from the get go. This will allow you to understand what they are doing for you and what you can realistically expect to see from them.

…And No, Success Is Not Guaranteed

By the way, speaking of defining success, a good SEO company will be honest with you and admit to you that the chances of success are not 100%. They will not take your money and say that you will get whatever you want however you want it. Instead, they will simply show you what they will do for you and offer you the chance to define success.

If your campaign is successful by the measure that you established, then that’s great. If it’s not, then a good SEO company will work with you to tweak the system so that it becomes a success. The junky places will simply move on to the next mark and will decide that you don’t really matter very much to them anyway.

Success Can Also Be a Specific Number of Links Indexed

By the way, don’t be afraid to define success narrowly. Success could for example simply mean that a certain number of links are verifiably indexed for you and are then made available as part of your link portfolio.

…Or It Could Mean Getting Back from Penguin Hell

One of the things we have had great success with by the way is getting our clients back to their pre-penguin standings even after they get the dreaded letter from Google saying that their sites are over-optimized. This can also be considered a measure of success and again, a good SEO company will help you to define this before you start working with them.

4.     What Kind of Business Do You Run?

Yet another question that many SEO companies utterly and completely ignore is the question of what kind of a business you run. The fact is that there is a world of difference between doing SEO for a company selling a new gadget which is targeted toward the iPhone crowd and a local dentist’s practice. Unfortunately, many, many SEO companies ignore this and simply decide that they will use a cookie cutter approach.

The Kind of Links Matter

Remember that links serve two purposes in any SEO campaign. Yes, they are designed to allow you to build your website’s presence within the Google and Bing rankings. However, they are also designed to allow your website to gain a certain amount of respect and to actually bring in direct traffic.

Thus we may work with a local dentist’s office to make their Google Places profile much more friendly to the search engines whereas we would work with the company making iPhone gadgets on a completely different front.

Do You Need a Blog?

While I believe that most kinds of businesses can benefit from a blog, there are some that may actually not need one or even want one.

For example, if you run a funeral home, do you really want to create a blog for your website which will inevitably be somewhat depressing? Instead, it may be better to add material which allows people to create perpetual memorials and as such, still create constant new content for Google to index while avoiding a blog on what would after all be a rather depressing subject for most people.

On the other hand, there are some kinds of businesses which may well benefit from a blog and not even realize that they could benefit from it. That dentist’s office I mentioned earlier is a perfect example. Most dentists don’t maintain blogs for their websites if they even have a website at all. However, I can see a blog where you talk about the latest information in dental hygiene being hugely beneficial to such a business.

Which Keywords You Target Matters As Well

Another thing to keep in mind and which is another reason we ask what kind of a business you run is that we need to know what kinds of keywords to target for you particular business.

For example, if you run a business selling laptop computers for students, then you may want to target a keyword like “buy student laptops.” However, if your business is a blog which basically relies on referral traffic, then you probably don’t want to target the same keywords. Instead, you might want to target keywords like “student laptop reviews.” The difference only comes out when we know what kind of business you run.

5.     Are You Looking for a Short Term Campaign or a Long Term Campaign?short or long term campaign?

There are times when you may be running a website with a definite expiration date where after a certain time period, there will be little reason to run the website. For example, if you were running a website for Newt Ginrich for President, you wouldn’t need the site to be getting constant traffic anymore once the primaries were done and Romney won.

On the other hand, if you run a longer term business, you may well want a longer term campaign. So for example if you have an insurance agency, then you may well want to ensure that people are able to purchase whatever it is that they need even five years down the line and as such, you would need a radically different kind of an SEO campaign.

This is yet another thing that many, many SEO experts will not bother to ask about. They may even offer rapid SEO packages where you can expect to see your site swell in a relatively short period of time but then flame out soon after the fact. This could be good if you’re targeting a super hot trend and want to sell lots of whatever product is being offered.

On the other hand, it may not be appropriate for your business if you really need a longer term campaign (even though you initially think you want instant success). The only way to ensure then that you actually get what you need is to question what is it that you need and why you may need a long or short term campaign.

Bottom Line

Whether you work with us or you work with another SEO company, you need to ensure that you are getting the services you need and that means getting someone who will listen and ask the right kinds of questions.

7 Lessons Bill Gates Can Teach Every One of Us

Bill GatesWhile I am personally a big fan of Steve Jobs (though oddly, I’m no Apple fanboy – I don’t even own an iPhone anymore, having traded it for an Android phone), there is a lot to be said for the lessons we can learn from Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft. Yes, Bill Gates – the guy who brought us the operating system that most of us have a love hate relationship with, Microsoft Windows.

A Bit about Bill

Bill Gates was a college dropout. He is also an incredibly smart guy who built a business from nothing into one of the largest companies in the world and who today spends his billions of dollars to try to do some good in the world. He created Microsoft together with Paul Allen back in the 1970s (a little before the time when Steve Wozniack and Steve Jobs got together).

Microsoft was already a somewhat successful if small shop by the time they struck gold and offered us our first truly valuable lesson. They had a couple of dozen employees and a mildly successful business selling their BASIC programming language interpreter for early computers. Interestingly, they also happened to create a BASIC interpreter for the Apple II.

1.     Take Advantage When Opportunity Knocks

Life with computers might be vastly, vastly different had Bill Gates not been the smart cookie that he was back in the early 1980s. By a stroke of luck, IBM, which was a behemoth at the time and which was developing its own operating system had had a falling out with Digital Research Inc. (a company which has long since disappeared into the mists of time).

Microsoft, then known only for their BASIC software was tasked by IBM with coming up with a basic operating system for the as yet not release IBM PC. In a stroke of pure genius, Bill Gates made a deal with IBM, which was desperate because they needed to get their product to market soon, whereby Microsoft would be allowed to develop their own clone of the operating system.

IBM later released PC-DOS which was created by Microsoft and Microsoft simultaneously released MS-DOS, which was their legally authorized clone. This simple bit of luck and gumption by Bill Gates meant that Microsoft went from being a tiny company to the supersize powerhouse it is today.

MS-DOS ended up ruling the roost because Microsoft sold it to clone makers who cloned the IBM PC and offered a similar product for cheaper prices. Of course Bill Gates also got lucky because IBM had made the mistake of using stock parts for their new PC instead of sticking with proprietary parts.

Had they created their own proprietary parts, Bill Gates would have been holding a worthless license because nobody would have been able to clone the IBM PC and nobody would have had much use for MS-DOS. IBM did try to correct their mistake when they created the PS/2, but by then the clone market was established and the PS/2 was only a minor success.

So, first lesson from Bill Gates: take advantage when opportunity comes knocking (and think ahead as well). He had the vision to see what DOS could become and he went for it.

2.     Know When to Jump Ship

Know when to jump ship

Sometimes, you need to dump a partner to save your company.

Another lesson drawn from the early days of the PC and from Bill Gates is knowing when to abandon a sinking ship. Microsoft and IBM continued to work together for a number of years to refine the PC-DOS/MS-DOS operating system.

At the same time, they also worked together on a competitor to the Macintosh. No, it wasn’t Microsoft Windows. That was a separate coding development that Bill Gates initiated on his own. By this time, IBM had learned from their mistakes and they didn’t allow Microsoft to create an exact clone of their new operating system. Instead, the system was OS/2 (just like the PS/2).

OS/2 looked a lot like Windows in the early days and may have even shared some underlying code, but the two systems were incompatible from the start. IBM intended it to run on their new PS/2 system and to make it into a proprietary system much like Macintosh (from Apple) of the time.

Bill Gates once again was able to see the future for what it was and ultimately decided to abandon OS/2 and his partnership with IBM because he could see that it was going nowhere fast. He decided instead to focus on developing both MS-DOS and the new Windows operating system, promising that version 3.0 was going to change everything. It did.

Windows 3.0 became the world’s dominant operating system and OS/2 faded into oblivion after another few years (though a handful of ATMs still use that operating system). Lesson number 2 from Bill Gates – know when to jump ship. He could see that his partnership with IBM was holding down his company and so he decided to jump ship and Windows was born.

3.     Be First to Market

There’s another early bit of computer history which many people may not be familiar with and it’s all about a few programs called Lotus 123, WordStar and WordPerfect. Lotus was the first commercially popular spreadsheet program and WordStar and WordPerfect competed in the early days of PCs for the title of dominant word processor.

All three of those programs were DOS based programs though and they were pretty slow to jump onto the Windows bandwagon. They had been making a fortune from selling their products to people who hated Windows (I admit to having hated Windows back then as well by the way) and they felt that there was no need to work on developing a Windows specific version of their software.

Bill Gates thought differently and he pushed early on for the development of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. The two software programs which we know today were early to the market in the new Windows operating system and by the time the old dinosaurs caught up and built Windows native versions of their own, it was too late. The world had moved on.

So, wherever possible, you want to be first to market with your idea. And yes, that can also mean first to market on a new platform which is poised to take off. Of course, you could also make a bad investment as anyone who spent a lot of money developing for the failed HP WebOS, but that’s a risk that you need to take if you want to dominate a market.

4.     If You Can’t Be First, Overpower Everyone Else

The next lesson that Bill Gates has taught us is that if you can’t be first, you should at least overpower the competition to the point where you crush them into dust. There are two examples of this, one better known than the other.

The first and lesser known example is the PC-GEOS operating system from GeoWorks Ensemble. This system came out almost a year before Windows 3.0 and it actually ran very well on older PCs. It also included its own version of TrueType, which allowed it to offer up extremely high quality printing even from cheap printers (back then we had dot matrix printers).

However, GEOS never really went anywhere because the company marketing it was quite small and slow to release an SDK (software development kit). Bill Gates quickly crushed them to dust with the massive marketing blitz he did for Windows 3.0 and today pretty much nobody has even heard of GEOS.

A much more famous case is that of Netscape Navigator. This was the premier web browser at the time when the World Wide Web first started to become popular and Bill Gates actually flubbed this one. He thought the Internet and the WWW was just a fad which would fade away soon enough. When it didn’t however, he did the same thing that he did with PC-GEOS only on a much grander scale.

Gates realized that the Internet was here to stay and so he poured millions of dollars into creating Internet Explorer, which he actually arranged to have integrated into his Windows operating system starting with Windows 98 (though it was available as an add on as of Windows 95).

An aggressive marketing campaign and lots of money spent on R&D to make IE better than Netscape meant that Netscape lost ground and was crushed into dust. Today, Netscape is the neglected stepchild of another has been in the world of the Internet – AOL (which by the way started life on the PC by using the PC-GEOS system, though they moved to Windows when it became popular).

5.     Know When to Throw in the Towel

throw in the towel

You can't always be victorious. Sometimes, you need to admit defeat and move on.

I used to own several Microsoft products which are no longer around. One of them was Microsoft Money. This was Bill Gates’ answer to Intuit’s Quicken software, which he tried but failed to purchase. Another product I used to own was Microsoft Pascal. That was a Pascal (Pascal is a kind of programming language which I learned in college) interpreter for DOS.

Both of these programs have been retired because Bill Gates also understood that not everything works. Eventually, you need to know when to throw in the towel and try a different business. He didn’t rush to drop these things and indeed Money was actually sunseted after Gates left the company. However, ultimately, it was Gate’s vision which saw that some things just didn’t work and needed to be ended.

6.     Be a Standard

This one is pretty obvious, but it’s still useful to remember. Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint – these are all household words because they have become standardized. If you can, try to create products which will become the standards by which all others are measured.

This means that you constantly innovate, constantly work to stay ahead of the game and constantly offer the best perceived value in your particular niche. When you can do that, others will chase you rather than you chasing after others.

And if you ever need proof of that, just remember that pretty much every word processor on the planet offers to save documents in Word format and pretty much every spreadsheet does Excel format. Bottom line – if you can become the standard, you’ll have it made. Though you still need to keep on your toes so that you stay the standard.

7.     Know Where You Can Do the Most Good

Bill Gates was the chairman and cofounder of Microsoft Corporation for a great many years. He had vision and like Steve Jobs, was considered by many to be irreplaceable. People believed that Microsoft without Bill Gates would quickly founder and die. However, Gates had his own ideas about what he wanted to do in life and it didn’t include endlessly sitting around in Redmond, Washington.

He decided to follow his passion and go where he could do the most good. Gates left Steven Balmer in charge of his company, married his girlfriend Meilnda and proceeded to spend his fortune. Like another of my childhood heroes, Andrew Carnegie, Gates believes that money is no good unless you spread it around quite a little bit.

Today, Gates is no longer known for being a shrewd business man. Instead, Gates is today known for being one of the world’s greatest philanthropists with a special interest in education. He has decided that he can do the most good in this new role of his and indeed, he has helped to transform education in many ways. He has used his knowledge from the business world to create various initiatives and see what worked to make education better.

Bottom Line

Bill Gates is one remarkable man. He is one of the wealthiest men alive and today he spends his time giving money away. However, he also has an awful lot to teach every one of us about how to be successful in life. He’s a great role model to follow even if you’re not a particularly big fan of Windows and Microsoft Office and as such, it’s worthwhile to pay attention when this man speaks and offers up his pearls of wisdom.

How Easy is it for Competitors to Tank Your Site Post-Penguin?

One of the things I’ve been talking about endlessly when it comes to the new Penguin update is that Google Bowling may well be back. If it is, just how easy is it for your competition to tank your website and just what is it that you might be able to do to prevent it from happening to you? Here’s what you need to know:

What Is Google Bowling Anyway?

Back around the year 2005, the concept of Google Bowling and negative SEO came into full force. In essence, it was a way to beat the competition not by doing better SEO than they did but instead by tanking your competition’s rankings.

It’s kind of like spreading nasty rumors which are patently untrue about your competitor being a philanderer or even worse, a child molester. It doesn’t really make the slightest bit of difference that it’s 100% pure unadulterated fiction. By simply putting the word “out there” you could permanently damage their business.

The thing of it is though, by doing the above, you’d also risk a slander lawsuit and you would lose and end up having to pay millions of dollars in damages. Google bowling in essence did the same thing as spreading vicious rumors about your competitors but it did it without actually pointing a finger back at you and with little to no chance of legal action being taken against you.

Google bowling relied on the fact that Google considered junk links to be indications that a site was trying to game the rankings and as a result, would drop sites in the rankings or even delist them if they believed that you were in fact engaging in such shenanigans.

People quickly figured out that they could do you a favor and give you a whole lot of backlinks, all junk links of course and get Google to basically tank your website, thus eliminating their biggest competitors. It worked for a short while until Google cottoned to the whole concept and then began to simply ignore the junk links.

For the next few years, you could create all the junk links you wanted for your competitors but it would do little to no good because Google simply didn’t count them either for or against the sites which had them pointing at them and rightly so. After all, how could Google possibly know who had actually created those links? It could have been a competitor.

Fast Forward to the Penguin

Google penguinA few months ago, Google introduced the world to the flightless bird (the penguin update in case you didn’t know that penguins are one of the few kinds of birds that cannot fly. Others are things like the ostrich and the emu). One of the new features in this update was an e-mail sent to the webmasters of certain websites, one which everyone dreaded getting.

The e-mail basically said that a website had been “over-optimized.” What this meant was that your website had been found to have too many junky links pointing to it and as such, it was being dropped in the rankings because of it. To me and most other SEO experts, this sounded suspiciously like an invitation for Google Bowling to make a return.

After all, if you could be penalized for having “over-optimized” your website, what was to stop competitors from doing the job for you so as to get you knocked out of the rankings? I had actually been warning about this in several previous blog posts about the Penguin update and had said that I don’t understand how Google could be doing this. There is after all absolutely no possible way to know who placed  a particular link.

Now here’s the interesting part. I did some research on this subject for this article and it turns out that some SEO experts believe that it may be premature to say that Google Bowling is back. They say the question revolves around whether or not you are being penalized for having too many junk links or if you are being penalized for primarily having junk links.

In other words, some people have suggested that the only way to get that over-optimization notice is if it turns out that you created a website which has a ton of junk links and almost no good quality relevant links.

It’s an interesting premise, however Google has typically refused to confirm or deny that this is in fact the case. Mind you, I do understand their reasoning – the less the black hat SEO people know for certain about how Google’s algorithm actually works, the less likely they are to be able to beat the system at its own “game.”

What You Can Do to Prevent the Letter

Now here’s the really good part. I believe that regardless of what actually triggers those letters (and all we have is anecdotal evidence – Google is as I said, not saying for sure one way or the other), there are ways to avoid getting the letter to begin with.

Basically, the key to successful link building and SEO is to make your efforts look natural. I’ve often said that the one kind of SEO which Google and the other search engines are truly happy to endorse is link bait. This in essence means that you create content which is so compelling that people feel the need to share it and you get links naturally.

The thing about link bait is, you will end up with some junky links because, well let’s face it – some people run junky websites but still may find your stuff interesting. Not to mention that oftentimes, people put up links on junk sites in the hopes of getting a reciprocal link in the form of a trackback.

This basically means that you can pretty avoid the dreaded over-optimization letter by making your link portfolio look as if it was created naturally. The thing is, very few people realize this and they end up shooting themselves in the foot because of it.

You see, natural links don’t get built steadily in batches of 100 or 200 per day. They don’t all appear on social media sites or all on wiki sites or all on blogs. Natural links are haphazard. They appear everywhere. They have spurts where sometimes you’ll have 1,000 links created in a day and other times you’ll have around 15 links created in a day. Oh and they rarely follow round numbers either.

In other words, if you want your links to appear to be completely natural and to avoid the dreaded over-optimization letter, then you need to make your links in a non methodical way. Don’t just build 100 links a day. Some days build 211. Other days, build yourself 34. On still other days, you can build yourself 1354 links because you are simulating a spurt of growth. It’s all about doing it in a random way.

You also need to stop following the trends and the gurus who say “wiki links are all the rage now.” And no, that doesn’t mean you follow the gurus who tell you that press release links are really hot. It means that you go ahead and build links of all kinds and at different times.

If you are doing it yourself, you use several different kinds of software to semi-automate the process. If you are doing it with an SEO expert, you make sure that they are not just offering you one kind of link and that’s that (we do offer packages which include a variety of link types by the way in case you are looking for someone to do the job for you).

It’s also important to remember that natural links are not predominantly do follow links. You’ll get plenty of links from no follow sites. You’ll also get lots of links on low ranking sites which have a PR0 or PR1.

This is a good thing because it makes your link portfolio look completely natural and should utterly avoid the dreaded letter, even if your competitors do try to Google bowl you. After all, in a natural setting, you’d get lots of junk links anyway. It’s simply a matter of balancing out the good with the bad.

If You Were Penalized

Penalized by Google Penguin

No, it's not a crime to be penalized by the Penguin. Though it sometimes may feel that way.

Now, for those who have already been penalized for over-optimization, I have two things to say: first, please let us know about your experience by commenting below. I’m curious to know if you believe you had a healthy and natural looking link portfolio or if you tried the easy way out and used one of those $5 for 10,000 links deals on Fiverr.

Second and more importantly, don’t lose hope. First and foremost, we have had good success with bringing sites back from the brink after they were penalized under the new Penguin rules.

However, even if you don’t work with us, you can get back to where you were. The key is to clean up your act. Build lots of good and varied links all over the web and then submit a request to Google to be reconsidered. Oh and make sure that from now on, you work to build quality links and don’t try the shortcuts. Otherwise, the Penguin update will slap you again and the second time it’s harder to recover than the first time.


by EricHammer, on       5 comments