The Importance Of A Domain Name In SEO

The 2015 SearchMetrics.com ranking factors report is now out. There were a handful of things that look interesting and important, but one thing stood out for me…

Excluding Wikipedia (a .org), 81% of the domains in the top 30 for all tracked SERPs are .com, 84% of which can be found in the top 10. This is an increase from previous years. Top Level Domains are not generally considered a ranking factor.

In other words, if you are starting a new project and cannot find an appropriate .com domain name and instead move on to something more funky like a .co or a .io, you are telling the current version of Google that I do not want to rank highly.

The importance of having a good .com domain name is something that I have written about before (here and here) and it seems that the issue is becoming more, not less, important.

That makes a lot of sense though. In the last year or so there have been more than one hundred new extensions launched from .xyz to .agency and .beer, .ninja, .brussels and on and on. How are users supposed to figure out what is real? Google seems to think that the way to do this is to focus on the .com extension.

And why not? If you can buy a .ninja for $20 and get started and the same .com would cost $5,000 it sends a clear message that one has a more serious owner or backer than the other.

When It Comes To SEO, Google Is Like A Beautiful Lady

Today I would like to present a potential solution to many of the communication problems that we SEOers have. You know the problem, you tried to explain something to management or a client and their eyes glazed over after about four seconds and the first use of the words “keyword density”.

The metaphor is a simple one: treat Google as though it is a beautiful lady. Or, if you prefer, ask yourself whether a beautiful lady would approve of whatever you are contemplating.

Firstly, I would like to apologise for the apparently sexist nature of the metaphor. But, as I am sure you will soon realise, it just doesn’t work as well the other way around.

In my mind’s eye, when I think of a beautiful lady, I think of the swimwear model Irina Shayk. Your mind may lead you to think of someone else, just go with whomever appears first. (BTW – Irina, should you happen to read this, Hi! I’m free for dinner next week, anywhere in Europe…)

It might be helpful to think of Joan Collins for the appropriate attitude. When asked a number of years ago about the thirty two year age difference between her and husband number five, she remarked, “If he dies, he dies”. She didn’t play Alexis Carrington for nothing…

Enough preamble, what would a beautiful lady approve of?

Imagine yourself as a website.

Where do you live? Do you have the best address that you can (.com) or some cheaper nearby address (.info or .biz)? Is your home stable and secure (appropriate hosting) or did you select the cheapest quality based just on cost? Perhaps you should spend the money and upgrade?

One day you are walking around town with your lady. Who is that over there waving at you? Is that the local Mayor? It is! You are friends with the Mayor (.gov)? That’s nice. Most ladies would approve of that.

On your stroll you turn a corner. The Dean of the local University (.edu) stops to chat. He likes you! What a great guy you must be.

One street further on and the editor of the local newspaper says hello as well. Only the best of guys is known and respected (linked to) by such reputable people.

In contrast, how would that beautiful lady feel if the only people that seemed to know you were money lenders (pay day loans), porn stars, drug dealers (viagra) and pit bosses (casino)? She might have good reason to worry about your reputation. I’m going to guess that Irina Shayk and Joan Collins would not approve.

Enough of who you know, what about your behaviour?

If she calls you, you’d better answer or she’ll be gone. What? It takes nine rings for you to answer (slow load times) the phone? Nobody likes to be kept waiting.

What if you kept the same suit and tie (design and sales page), but changed (domain) name every few months and built up a reputation with lots of those undesirables mentioned above? She might think that you are some sort of scammer or fraudster (black hat SEO). Who wants one of those in their life? A lady wants to be seen at the theatre, or in a box at the opera or at a great table in a fine restaurant, not bailing you out of jail…

How about your looks?

A lady wants her man to be someone, someone special and unique, with a purpose and ambition. Hopefully, he will look good in a suit (contemporary design) and always wear shoes and a tie. She doesn’t want there to be fifty versions of you (duplicate content) floating around. Neither, for that matter, will she approve if you make duplicate versions of her! And that late night picture you took of her had better be locked away safely (strong security).

A unique and special man is up to date. He can chat with ease about the latest developments in the world (freshness). Being out dated will not be entertaining for long.

And those advertisements! If you are Lewis Hamilton and the inside of your cap has a sponsor, that is one thing. He has a Formula One team to help pay for. You, do not, so perhaps you can remove some of your pointless adverts? If nobody has clicked on it so far this year, you can get rid of it and she will appreciate the effort.

This all takes effort, of course. Impressing a beautiful lady (Google) is not quick, easy or cheap. It takes commitment. But if you can do it … the returns will more than justify the effort.

Now that I have used this metaphor a few times with clients, it is surprisingly easy for them to grasp – though my clients are all men of a certain age. I hope that you can bridge a few communication gaps of your own with this idea.

Watch This Presentation By Jay Abraham

It is rare for me to post a video to this blog, but I thought that there were some real gems – even more than usual – in this presentation by Jay Abraham.

As usual there are lots of ideas about business, marketing and growth. I hope you find something useful…

Make Your Press Coverage Live On

Press coverage. Every business or professional would like some. You can never have enough, can you…?

For most of us though, if we are able to receive a write up, review or publish an interesting opinion piece, the lifespan of it is very short. In the digital age press coverage can last much longer than used to be the case when it became tomorrows fish and chip paper, but still, how do you get the most from it?

A friend of mine recently garnered a write up in the UK’s Independent newspaper. The actual article is behind their pay wall, but you can read it here.

Deborah is a hynotherapist based in London (visit her website) and from what I can gather, she is very talented. Still, even for the best, like Deborah, press coverage is not an everyday occurrence.

Therefore, below are a few ideas to help you make the most of any press or media coverage that you receive or can arrange.

Get It Online
Not everything ends up on a website. Be sure to ask that your article or interview does and that the page links to your website. High authority backlinks like this are very difficult to get, so when you have the chance you want to make the most of it. Being on their website puts you in front of any offline and online audience that they may have. You want it all.

Have It Reproduced
Can you have the piece reproduced so that you are able to keep a perfect quality copy? Do it.

Laminate It
Over the years I have been published in half a dozen publications under my own name. I now have a folder with laminated copies in of all those articles. On the only occasion that I used it (during an interview for a writing gig) the other parties were blown away by it. Fancy presentation works.

Frame It
You have a wall in your office? Good. Will customers or prospects ever see that wall? They will? Good. Have it framed and mounted in a way that is subtle, but not too subtle. You want people to be reassured and impressed that you have been in the press. Home advantage is only an advantage if you make it so!

Display It To The Public
Does your office or shop have a window that the public passes? If you do, think like a real estate agency and find a way to hang it in the window for the world to see. If it works for property details, why can’t it work for you? Sure, most people will not stop to read an entire article, but the one person each week that does, they are really engaged with you and your company and you need to speak to them.

Mail It To Clients And Prospects
If you have a customer list, prospect list or some form of email list, this is a good reason to contact them. While you are getting in touch, make them an offer. Preferably, make a really good offer that they should want to take you up on.

Mail It To Partners And JVs
If you have referral arrangements or joint venture partners, you could mail it to them. Perhaps there is a way that they can mail it to their clients as a reminder and generate some more leads? An endorsement is a great thing to have. When doing this, by endorsing you your partner is demonstrating how the media outlet is also endorsing you. Is that an endorsement squared…?

This only helps once you can generate some media or press coverage and attention. That is another game! Good luck.

A Ballsy Guerrilla Marketing Campaign

Something I see often with small businesses is that they are stuck. They have managed to grow and survive some years, doubtless with lots of hard work, but now they just seem to exist. There are no new ideas, excitement, enthusiasm or anything. Just existence.

I have recollections of meeting a couple of business owners that could not really even describe to me what their companies actually do. I don’t mean that they didn’t have an elevator pitch or a USP, they just kind of mumbled something!

It was my job to write about their firms for their websites, so I researched some competitors, presuming that they were all generic “me too” businesses and then wrote about the competitors, but put the content on the client websites. My clients never asked how I came to learn so much about their companies – I doubt they ever thought about it – it was all obvious … to them!

And then, in contrast, young and ambitious companies do totally the opposite and it is exciting, fun and demands attention. Exhibit A for the defence is the new website being launched by a Malta based fantasy football startup that I am working with, Oulala.com.

Save The Oulala

They have just launched a campaign to “save the Oulala bird:-)

I’m very sorry to say that saving a well endowed bird deep in the Amazonian rain forest wasn’t my idea…

Their market is international and making a splash big enough for multiple countries is not easy, so a part of the plan is to do some wacky stuff and force the issue. Since their market is football supporters, you can expect to see more of the bird in the coming weeks in football related places.

Attention grabbing fun stuff like this has the potential to go viral, to be written or talked about in the mainstream media and to be a lot of fun.

Of course, it might not work, that is the risk of any guerrilla marketing campaign. Actually, this is the risk in launching any marketing campaign. It might be a waste of time, effort and resources. It is the type of risk that traditional business owners and operators don’t like, but it is one of the differences that makes a startup so dynamic in comparison.

What can you do raise awareness and have fun at the same time? Could you create a guerrilla marketing campaign that improves your chances of the mainstream media mentioning your business?

TorontoRealEstate.com

There was a huge sale announced this week on DN Journal. TorontoRealEstate.com has been sold for US$140,000.

torontorealestate.com sale

In the world of premium domain names, that isn’t actually that high a number. This year the after market has been flying and some incredible prices have been achieved.

However, for a local name like that, $140,000 is a massive amount of money. All serious domainers must be overjoyed to see it! I was, I have a handful of nice “local” names that relate to New York and this sale just made them all more valuable :-)

In many recent posts (such as this one) I have been explaining how and why the cost to perform SEO is rising and how small businesses are unprepared for it. This must be the most obvious display of the phenomenon to date. I work with a couple of local real estate agencies here in Malta. My guess is that they are both very profitable firms – I know how much agencies charge for commission on a sale and how much an average apartment sells for and find it hard to believe that they cannot be very profitable.

However, firms like this (and I work and have worked with many that have a similar mindset) tend to think that a budget for “the internet” of a few hundred each month is extravagant. I can recall meeting one small business owner that asked me how he could get the domain name he wanted for free because he couldn’t “justify” spending $10 on it!

And yet on the other side of the world, someone else thinks that a generic geographic real estate domain name is worth $140,000.

To quote George Soros in 1998 when he was asked how Kim Dae-jung of South Korea thought he was a statesman and genius and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia thought he was a criminal and moron, “One of them must be wrong“.

As I hope I have proved in the recent posts (here, here and here), whichever opinion may be wrong, the direction of travel is very clear. The cost to market online, even city by city, if the business has a relatively high profit margin or average transaction value, is rising fast. Most small businesses are lagging well behind this curve.

Sure, if they are surviving and prospering without spending anything on marketing, good for them. But it is hard to imagine it can continue forever. At some point things will go wrong and they will be left without either the skills or budget to fix it. Don’t let this be your company. Let the huge sale price of TorontoRealEstate.com be a wake-up call for you before it costs as much in your own marketplace just to buy one domain name. Get building and improving your online presence(s) today while you can.

5 Reasons Why Ranking And Renting Websites Is Taking Over SEO

The world of SEO consulting has been going through some major changes recently. I recently wrote about business model innovations (here) and as if by magic one has appeared in front of me.

The recent launch of – and major complaints about – Cloud PBN highlighted this for me. Cloud PBN is a service that makes it easier to manage a network of websites built using WordPress. I’m not going to get into what has been going on, but plenty of buyers seem to be plenty unhappy.

What has been eye opening is the scale of sales being made and therefore, the presumed numbers of people running their own private blog networks.

Now that I have visited lots of the relevant Facebook groups that are devoted to PBNs I have had chance to get a much better feel for things. There have been two types of innovations.

Firstly, after the Penguin update, it is much more important than ever for an SEO to be in control of important links to client or money sites. This has been the case for some years now, but people are clearly taking it very seriously.

Secondly, a lot of people are moving into the “local” space ranking and renting websites. I first heard of this business model for SEOs over a year ago. I played around with it a little and didn’t really commit. Then in the last month or so I have been working on this much harder, since I started mulling these issues over here. I am currently working on ten sites that I hope to be able to rent to small businesses.

Why the sudden rush to rent sites?
1. Easier Monetisation: the harsh reality is that just because you can get a website to the top of Google does not mean that you can make money from it. If you happen to have a book, or supplements, or consulting to sell, then perhaps it is quite easy. However, if you have learned to perform SEO well, there is no guarantee that you have a book to sell…

Therefore, a separate and proven way to make money from the traffic makes life a lot easier. If the leads you generate are passed on to a real business, they already (hopefully) know how to make a sale to prospects.

2. It is easier to rank for local than for big keywords: which keywords will be easier to rank for?
“poker” or “kansas city business attorney”
“insurance” or “toronto personal trainer”

Since SEO can be very expensive, why not do the easier stuff? If you make it work, you will earn less than you might otherwise have done, but the likelyhood is that you will not rank a page for “poker” or “insurance” without years of work and a very large budget.

3. High potential earnings: one of the reasons that I have taken a renewed interest in ranking and renting websites is that I am a follower of the Viperchill blog. I had always presumed that finding clients that would pay more than 100 euros per month to rent a website would be difficult. However, Glen and his partner Diggy seem to routinely find clients willing to pay US$1,000 per month to rent a site. With a fee like that being paid, an SEO will only need a handful of sites to live in relative comfort.

Glen and Diggy often talk about how they are scaling their operation and generating tens of thousands of dollars per month in fees.

One little benefit of the rank and rent model is trust. There are a great many SEO snake oil salesmen in the world these days. Results vary wildly. But if a website is already in the top 10, that kind of proves a point. In fact, with a banner ad at the top, clients will come to you rather than you chasing them. That dramatically changes the dynamic of the sale.

4. You can turn it into a system: with every new client comes new problems to find and then fix on their website. When I build the site, I know the problems in advance and do my best to limit them as I go. There is no needle in a haystack to search for.

Even though I am only working on ten sites, I am already close to making a fully repeatable system. This means that I can get help and add scale. In contrast, after years of consulting I am still nowhere near a system.

5. Removes or reduces problem clients: a huge issue with SEO consulting is that a very good percentage of small business owners and managers handle SEO poorly. At the slightest negative movement in the SERPs they can – and often do – fire their consultant. If results are taking longer than they want to wait they can – and often do – fire their consultant. If they decide they want to cut their expenses for some reason, they can – and often do – fire their consultant. And if things are going badly, they always fire their consultant!

Plus, it can take forever to get things done, fix problems and generally make progress. This is a fundamental issue because the website belongs to someone else. However, when you rank and rent websites, you own the site, not the client. You want to make changes, make the changes! How fast can you do things? I’ll do it today!

If a client stops paying, then their details can be removed from the site and a new client can be found. In this regard, it is a much more efficient way for an SEO to operate.

But it is difficult to find an SEO consultant already! If we all start ranking and renting our own websites, there is a very good chance that we will start to push out the established companies from the top 10 results and insert ourselves instead. Small business SEO arbitrage. And, we’ll be earning enough money that we will actively refuse to work for difficult clients that are more trouble than they are worth.

This is going to be a huge change to the economics of many business sectors.

Where is all this heading?
I would like to refer to page 218 of the approved version of the small business bible, “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.

Discussing the “growth engine” of a business he explains that, “What determines these [advertising] prices is the average value earned in aggregate by the companies that are in competition for any given customer’s attention“.

And then in the next paragraph, “If everyone in an industry makes the same amount of money on each sale, they all will wind up paying most of their marginal profit to the source of acquisition“.

Google’s business is so hugely profitable for exactly that reason. However, most people do not click on the ads, they click on the organic listings. As SEO has become more complex, it is less and less likely that a small business can handle their own SEO internally. Getting into those organic listings is often beyond the capabilities of the company and it’s staff.

For now, firms are negotiating and trying to set the rates that they pay. Small business owners feel that they have the power because they have the money. But if the majority of the SEO community shuns them and starts pushing sites out of the way with their own lead generating offerings, the balance will move, quickly.

By focusing on the high value spaces first (like this one) there is going to be a lot of money to be made. The source of acquisition used to be the print media, now it is the SEO provider.

Is White Hat SEO Even Possible For A Small Business?

In recent days I have had two conversations about white hat SEO that have made me think. When I think, I write…

The first was a conversation with a potential client. I often find that a prospect or client has heard of “white” and “black” hat SEO and has been told to only have white work done. They generally have no idea what any of that means, they are just doing what they have been told to do. Fair enough.

However, what they want and the budget they have available have no relationship to each other at all.

For those that don’t know, pure lilly white SEO is really hard work, very time consuming and has (in my experience) no guarantee of success (read this for an idea). As a way of making a client angry and then losing them, performing white hat SEO for someone that does not understand what is going on is a sure-fire winner. When you have spent ten grand and only have four links to show for it, you won’t want any more of it either.

White hat SEO should really just be called content marketing. That is what it is. The problem is that content marketing involves content – the giveaway is in the name 😉

If content is going to be worth sharing and worth linking to by other firms, it is going to need to be pretty amazing. A $10 article from oDesk isn’t going to cut it. No. You need research, professional images or photographs, a professional writer or copywriter, editing, graphic design and more. To put it another way, most small businesses didn’t put in that much effort on their actual website, so it is going to be a real push to do all that on stuff that you will simply give away.

They are totally unprepared for the reality of white hat SEO for small business and trying to work within Google’s guidelines.

I don’t tend to quote for content marketing like this because I know the pitfalls much better than the clients. Still, I was asked to quote and stupidly I did. I suggested 1,000 euros per month for a minimum of six months with no rankings guarantees. As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted saying them. The prospect thought that I was smoking drugs! 1,000 euros per month?? No, his budget was 250 euros maximum and he wanted results right away.

Phew! That saved me from “winning” that monster headache.

The second conversation was with an SEO consultant friend. He has been conducting a white hat campaign for a client and was moaning about it. He is charging US$1,500 per month and has been “losing my ass”. As he started to get help and put together the research for infographics, guest posts and the like, he realised that he needed to be spending more like US$2,500 per month. He likes the client and believes in honouring an agreement so he is taking the hit. His words to me, “I’ll never do a white hat campaign again for under US$5,000 per month”.

I have never yet met a small business owner that thought 1,000 per month on SEO was good value for money. But my friend now thinks that under 5,000 is a waste of his time. I have been writing on and off for months that the cost of performing SEO is going up, up, up. You can read about that here and here.

The reality is that small business owners often have no clue what is involved and so just make up a number in their mind and presume that will be enough. Often they are a very long way from the reality. It is this gap between expectations and budgets that makes me think that white hat SEO for small business is almost impossible these days.

The Importance Of Business Model Iteration

I am currently re-reading “More Money Than God” by Sebastian Mallaby. It tells the stories of the pioneers in the hedge fund sector, explaining their methods and the workings of this secretive arena.

It has made me realise just how important business model iterations are. I knew this anyway, but seeing it relating to a totally separate business sector is instructive.

Each chapter of the book tells the story about one company and their role in the growth of hedge funds, from George Soros to Jim Simons to Ken Griffin, they are all here. And actually, each story follows a similar pattern.

That pattern can be summarised as: a few very smart people work in fund management and are very, very good. They leave their employer to set up their own shop. Things go very well. Everyone makes lots of money. Then their method stops working as well, there is a big market shock and they lose money. A number of team members decide to leave. A few stick around, rethink their approach, improve their business model, innovate in some way and go on to be even more successful than before.

This sounds a little like the forced curve used in large consulting firms – get promoted or leave. Up or out. Improve or exit.

I have certainly seen the same thing in the SEO space. The arrival of the Panda and then Penguin updates from Google brought an end to the easy money days of SEO. For a while almost everyone I knew claimed SEO as a skill on their cv. Now, a few years later, there are few of us left.

The reality, of course, was that if you understood SEO reasonably well, you probably had 80% of the knowledge that you needed after those Google updates. All you needed to do was to add to those skills and make a few changes and you would be back in the game. For me, that process lasted one very uncomfortable year.

For most businesses, the path is simple. They learn how to do something reasonably well, make some money and then keep on doing it forever. If and when the marketplace changes there will be little or no experience in making the changes and improvements needed.

Real estate agents are a great example. Back in the UK around 15 years ago I was a mortgage consultant working inside estate agencies. In the past two years I have worked as an SEO consultant with a few agencies here in Malta. Honestly, the firm I worked for 15 years ago had more advanced customer service, marketing and technology than the companies I have seen recently. These firms are profitable so they seem not to worry about making improvements.

To quote Mallaby, “the truth is that innovation frequently depends less on grand scale academic breakthroughs than on humble trial and error – on a willingness to go with what works, and never mind the theory that may underlie it. Even in finance, a field in which research findings can be translated directly into business plans, trial and error turns out to be key.”

This suggests that innovation within a business is simply a mindset and does not require academics in white coats.

When did you last experiment with something in your business? Today is a good day to try something new.

Up or out.

SEO Sticker Shock

Regular readers (yes both of you) will know that in recent months I have been writing about the rising costs of performing SEO for clients (here and here).

In recent days I have quoted a lawyer in the United States for SEO. He has been very clear, he wants white hat only, though in truth, I’m not sure he knows what the distinctions are.

His areas of expertise seem to be reasonably competitive in the SERPs for his location, to the extent that the cost per click in Google AdWords is around US$34. That is $34 per click/visitor, not per lead or per sale.

This, unsurprisingly, was news to him.

We had a bit of back and forth by email about this until he came to the conclusion that my quote for US$600 per month was “unjustifiable as a reasonable business expense. I can definitely get more bang for the buck in the marketing world for $600 a month.”

That may be so, but in my reply, I pointed out that, “my suggestion to you was not that I’d charge $600, but actually $1,800 per month”.

I continued, “While I understand that there might be some sticker shock for you, that would still likely work out to be good long-term value when compared to the $3,000 or so that you would need to spend to generate just 100 unique visitors by Google Adwords. Not cheap, I agree, but certainly justifiable.

I guess it is just a good thing that you are not an auto accident attorney, otherwise you’d be spending the equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz to get 200 visitors…”

(FYI, the keyword “his city auto accident attorney” is currently priced at US$269 per click).

The days of internet traffic being cheap are long over. Even I was surprised to see a CPC of US$269, but it was not the highest in his city for attorneys!

As ever, the mantra is that the cost to rank or buy traffic for a keyword is directly related to how monetisable the product or service happens to be.

If he can find someone that is willing and able to rank his site highly for the $200-$300 per month that he is willing to spend, that will be awesome, but I fear he will have a tough job finding that firm or consultant.