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?


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.

The Coming Power Shift In Local SEO

In recent months I have written about how search engine optimization is changing and the costs to perform it well are increasing (here and here).

What is interesting is that I am seeing more and more in the SEO world that suggests that consultants are evolving in the way we approach client related work. This is something that I have been thinking about for months (here) but not fully developed my thoughts on.

Some small and medium sized business owners and managers are incredibly smart, we all know that. Many more small and medium sized business owners aren’t quite so smart, we know that too. However, when it comes to local SEO, virtually everyone is out of their depth.

This understandable lack of specialised knowledge leads small businesses to make some predictable and unhelpful decisions when it comes to their own local SEO efforts.

When it comes to delivering high rankings in Google, typically it takes quite a lot of work. Gradually as the results start to come, the workload recedes and the client becomes profitable for the consultant or agency. However, what typically happens is that as soon as the results start to come, the clients fire the consultant or agency to improve their P&L.

In the short-term, this can make some sense. However, in the fast evolving world of the internet it often causes the consultant or agency to take risky short-cuts on client websites to achieve the immediate rankings being demanded at a low enough price to make it worth the effort.

I was contacted a few days ago by someone with an e-commerce site that was on the reverse of that situation. The agency seem to have spammed his store with poor quality links and now he is left holding the penalty. He was hoping that I would work on a performance only basis (free until results arrive) to rebuild his business…

What Is Changing?
I have recently agreed my first partnership deal and I am seeing more and more SEOers doing similar things.

The typical approach is that as a service provider, we have to pitch ourselves to clients and go through the indignity of them haggling over price before we can start. Then, they may or may not be helpful, pay their bills on time (or at all) and as soon as results look nice, we face the risk of being fired.

However, with partnership and lead generation type situations, we work on our own sites in their sectors and pass them the leads to convert or deliver on. This is a kind of local affiliate marketing. The risk in the transaction is suddenly removed because should the client firm not pay their bills or fire the SEOer, they do not own or control the website. Those leads can be sent to a competing company.

In essence, the SEO provider becomes an outsourced lead generation channel. The goose that lays the golden eggs.

Personally, as I begin to develop sites for business sectors that I think I can work in, this looks like it will be much more profitable for me than normal client work. That, of course, means that the clients will pay more for something similar.

Problems For Local Businesses
This sort of approach will certainly be helpful for many small firms. A good percentage simply do not have the competency to do the web work they need. Even basic tasks can take weeks to be completed. In contrast, for guys like me, those basic tasks are the work of a few minutes or hours. We will likely be much more efficient.

However, this lack of competency means that they are giving away power from within their company, mainly because it is “easier”. That works for the SEO providers but is not a great idea for the firm. Still, because it is easier to do, most will happily do so and worry about the consequences later.

Either way, I have recently launched my own offer here.

The Ever Increasing Cost To Perform SEO

Earlier in the year I wrote about the rising cost to perform SEO on a website (here, here and here).

Those posts were partly based on research, partly on a feeling I and some friends were getting in the market and partly on intuition. Well, I am at it again today…

In recent days I have had a couple of conversations with companies that have real SEO needs and a good friend of mine has had several almost identical conversations of his own. These seem to be based partly on the back of the latest round of updates from Google (known as Panda 4.0).

The thing is, I don’t think that the actual cost to perform SEO have increased, it is just that the complexity keeps on growing and as that happens, there are less and less competent people available that are able to solve this pressing business need.

As that happens, those of us still in the game have less and less available time and more and more offers of ways to fill that time. Supply and demand can be a beast in such circumstances. Prices continue to rise.

I’d like to close this post with a quotation from The Craft of Power, by R.G.H Siu, published in 1979:

“The ancient civilization of the Indus valley is a case in point. It was sustained by a complex irrigation system. The flow of water through its canals was regulated by a series of gates. The farmers found it necessary to assure equitable distribution of water among themselves. So a group of gatekeepers was hired and trained to apportion water in accordance with the instructions and requirements of the farmers. According to historical accounts, not too many decades later the keepers of the gates became the rulers of the farmers.”

The existing economic order is changing.

Is Human Nature The Main Impediment To Good SEO?

In recent days another category of website has been hit by a Google update. This time, the update was Panda 4.0 and the category of website seems to be very large e-commerce sites.

The history of major Google updates has been one of upsets for different groups of website owners. The pattern is almost always the same, only the names change.

Each time a type of site gets hit, there are webmasters and companies that had SEO “figured out” and life was good. Then they lost a huge chunk of traffic and revenues and everything changes. I have been through it myself, learning a lot of business lessons.

The thing is, when SEO is working well, it really can be a money machine. If your site is going great guns and leads are being generated and sales made, human nature kicks in. It always does.

“Why are we paying for all this advertising and marketing when organic search is delivering the goods, almost for free? Let’s switch some of those lesser channels off…” Then it becomes, “Let’s switch all these extra channels off, it’ll make the P&L look much better.”

Gradually the business gets used to this zero cost marketing and sales to the extent that when the algorithm changes and traffic drops, it puts the entire business in jeopardy.

This is not the fault of Google, they are trying to create a better algorithm. It is the fault of management that come to rely on only one source of lead or sales generation. If and when that one source is interrupted, all hell breaks loose. And it happens without warning.

A few months ago I had a prospect call me from the USA. Her business had ranked at number one for her main keywords for years and she didn’t know how or why. But she accepted those leads and built and grew a twenty person company around them.

However, the company website had not been touched since 2005. It was awful. Meanwhile, the competition had been building nicer websites and trying to figure SEO and pay per click out. When her site dropped from number one, it didn’t go to number two or three. No, it dropped to number SEVENTY.

Without realising or understanding, her company was on a knife edge. When we spoke, she needed her rankings and leads back NOW! The company couldn’t survive long without new leads. She had neither the time nor budget to build a new website or to experiment with new lead sources. She asked me, “In these circumstances, what should I do?” I suggested that she might start thinking about making some staff redundant – better to do it now than in three months time. That did not go down well, but I believe it was the reality of the situation.

The real problem, I believe, is human nature. Over time, we come to believe that our website deserves to be number one, that it really is the best and then we become lazy and just presume that things will stay that way.

The web is evolving. Your competition is evolving. The marketplace is not static. Everything is changing all the time. The lazy approach is just asking for trouble and the longer we benefit from the good times, the more we relax and take it all for granted.

Dan Kennedy often says that in business, “one” is the worst number – “You are just asking to get whacked!” – meaning that if you are overly reliant on something and if and when it ends, you will be in trouble. This is certainly true for marketing channels and especially for SEO.

I’ll leave you with an SEOer joke…

What do you call a business owner that generates all their sales by SEO and doesn’t know how search works and has not hired someone that does?

An idiot.

Don’t be that business owner. Presume things will change and keep constantly working to improve your online presence.

Can Your Site Visitors Contact You?

Over the last few weeks I have been doing a little “cold” emailing of small businesses. There are three different categories of business here in Malta that I would ideally like to find a client in. Not knowing anyone in these sectors personally, I have resorted to sending some emails.

Old fashioned hustle.

During this process I have sent almost 300 emails in total. And of those, some have bounced back, of course.

What is interesting is that the contact email addresses listed on company sites are not all working. In fact, I have found that 7% of them don’t work. That is amazing to me.

Bear in mind that I have not been using contact forms either, so there were bound to be a few of those not working as well.

Really, 7% is huge though. What is the point of doing any sort of promotion if visitors cannot then get in touch by email???

Thus the obvious question: are your contact details all up to date on your own website?