John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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February 28th, 2007 by john andrews

Where the REAL Money is in SEO

Rand over at SEOMoz posted a set of salary estimates for SEO people. I understand the marketing value of having an “SEO Salary” post, but I don’t see the point for people working in SEO. If you have to argue about your salary level using outside references, you need Challenger Gray & Christmas or Robert Half or something based on data. But the article did remind me of the importance of staying aware of the real money in SEO work.

As I read, I see that Firm SEO work is quite different from Independent SEO or in-house SEO work. According to Rand’s descriptions, Firm SEO (like his SEO company) is a group of people working together on client projects, guided by an SEO Boss. Rand admits he hires inexperienced talent and the salaries he pays are “on the low side”. This is the opposite of what I do in my own SEO consulting, and what my better clients do with their competitive web and Internet projects. I am not an SEO Firm, so again this is perhaps highlighting yet another a different perspective of the unusual industry we call Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Steve Jobs once said something like “A people hire A people; B people hire C people” and I have always carried that around in my head. I often see it in action. The best people tend to want the best people to work for them. Less-than-the-best often hire people “lesser” than them, for what I suppose is a myriad of reasons. Please note I am not suggestng Rand is hiring people lesser than he is (nor am I sugesting that Rand might be an “A” person). I am simply saying that his description of Firm SEO is opposite of my SEO consulting experience, where the better clients seek out the best SEOs, the best web designers, the best developers, and the best marketers to work on projects. In fact, more times than not, my clients have experienced extreme frustration dealing with “agencies”. From advertising agencies to web design agencies, the expertise and dedication of the individuals assigned by that agency to the projects turns out to be significantly below the calibre of the leaders of that “agency”. Sometimes we collectively wonder if the agency actually has anyone at all of adequate calibre beyond the founder. Other times we know they do, but we wonder why those people are not available to our projects, even when price is not a barrier. Perhaps it is just an “agency” mentality?

So where is the real money in SEO? Well, like any business, the incoming revenue (client fees) has to cover expenses before the owners and shareholders can count profits. So the operational challenge of a business (including an SEO business) is to minimize expenses while maximizing revenues. The goal of an SEO Firm must be to optimize the productivity of internal people, measuring revenue as part of the success metric. The more those people are paid in salary, the more revenue needed to provide profits after expenses. Since most fee-for-service situations do not tie project revenue directly to the productivity of the workers on the project, the “sales” department must generate the revenue. Who is the sales department in your SEO firm?

Maybe it’s clear why there are so many “boiler room” SEO Firms out there cold-calling customers and selling sub-standard SEO services. They are simply maximizing revenues, while minimizing expenses by hiring minimally capable SEOs (or doing minimal work). What is the flip side of that coin? I think it’s people like me: independent SEO consultants hired to work with the best web designers and coders and marketers on projects where someone else is already hard at work maximizing revenues, and where that exact person (or team) has definitively determined they need SEO to help them maximize the revenues. I usually refer to that last aspect as “the business team working strategically with the SEO” because really that is what it is. it’s about maximizing revenue. It’s not about minimizing expenses. Minimizing expenses is a positive side effect of hiring the best people available for the job. The best people get the job done right, the first time, and most efficiently, especially when they are also working with best people (that “A” team thing).
The real money in SEO is in performance, whether that is the performance of the SEO (how much she gets done per hour billed) or the performance of the projects that the SEO optimizes (revenues generated via SEO efforts). The real money is in the very FACT that well-done search engine optimization generates revenues in excess of expenses. Revenues far enough in excess of the direct expenses (such as the SEO consultant’s fee) that the revenues also cover the indirect expenses (the project manager, the marketing team time, the designer time, etc) and still provide profit for the owners and shareholders. The independent SEO consultant needs to maximize his client’s performance to match or exceed his own performance, as part of the combination This is not always easy, and the topic of another post or two since there is much to be said about working with client-based teams, maximizing consulting efficiencies, and helping client-based teams compound their investment in outside SEO consulting (so that we can all share larger profits).

Maybe “Firm SEO” involves alot more middle-man communication stuff, which generates additional overhead (meetings, meeting minutes, changes to Statement-of -Work documents, clarifications of same, budget adjustments, etc) and all that additional overhead needs to be covered by the revenues generated by the actual SEO?
Rather than “what are SEO salaries” I think the question for people working in SEO is “how do I get REAL money by doing SEO?“. The answer is, you get real money by placing yourself into a pay for performance situation, and performing well. Most of us perform our best when we work with others who are good at what they do, or better than us at what we do. “A” people, according to Jobs. I look to hire the best I can when I need help, because it helps me be my very best for my client. It is almost always less expensive than alternatives when you balance the books at the end of the project.
One final comment since we are now discussing where the real money is in SEO. Every time I am engaged in a real world SEO project where past revenues from SEO efforts far exceeded costs, I have discovered new ways that prior SEOs used to keep a share of those revenues for themselves. Often the SEO before me was raking it in, and the client was now acting to bring some of that back to the client side or to eliminate risk identified with the SEO activities. Maybe SEO is not rocket science, but it is business, and where there is business there will be optimization. If you ask me, the profits flow to those doing the optimizing, every time. What varies is what aspect of the project they are optimizing.

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February 23rd, 2007 by john andrews

ReviewMe gets a little Shmarter: Better than A Press Release

ReviewMe is a service for sponsoring product and service reviews by bloggers. You pick your property (someone’s blog) from the many, many blogs in the system. Each blog has a fee (less than most insertion fees out there in PR/advertising world) based on popularity and traffic measures. The blogger decides whether or not to highlight your product/service, and if she does you get a highlight and pay the fee. No additional haggling required. Of course you don’t get to dictate the content, but people are predictable, and it is pretty easy to avoid prople who are hypercritical if you know your product or service stinks.

ReviewMe just updated their evaluations of blogs and now charges $250 for a sponsored highlight on this johnon.com blog. Initially, I was offered half of a $60 fee for johnon.com. With this update, I think ReviewMe is now a viable service. Since they keep 50% of the fee, sponsored reviews here at johnon.com will now result in a $125 payment to me, and $125 to ReviewMe. As a pasive form of promotion, we can both prosper with that.

I am often hired to write press releases and promotional copy. And I am just one of *many* marketing bloggers registered with ReviewMe. So think this through… if you hire me to write your press release, and then pay the wire service to distribute it, you’re close to $1000 typically and even then the PR wire service is usually placing some restrictions on how many links you can have, what anchor text you can use, and how it gets archived. With clever utilization of ReviewMe, you can get that professional marketer to write about your product or service, insert it into syndication for you (this blog pings over a hundred syndication alert systems), and archive it several times. What a bargain, no?

Take my advice. After you get a marketing blogger to highlight your product or service offering via ReviewMe, issue a brief press release about how Blogger so-and-so highlighted your product (whether they loved it or just liked it). You don’t need to pay a consultant to write than one, and the third-party linking will give Google goose bumps. It’s a career move for you junior marketing and PR folks out there. It’ll impress the hell out of your old fogey corporate upline.

So good luck to those of you who utilize ReviewMe to get popular Internet marketing blogs to highlight your offerings and activities, and who then reference those in your About blogs and the free press release services. Let me know how much you get for your $250. I’d love to hear the success stories.

Disclaimer: this was NOT a sponsored review of ReviewMe.

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February 18th, 2007 by john andrews

Don’t Let Web 2.0 Fuzzy Focus Blur Your Competitive Business Vision

My first job was as an engineering tech for a small electronic instrument manufacturer. The company actually made things here in the US of A, by hand. They bought boxes of screws, drilled holes in sheets of beautifully-painted metal, and manufactured scientific instruments from the ground up. I put them together. Later, I was hired as an engineer and started designing and selling them.

Every day, I was reminded that the suppliers list, the customer lists, and the methods we used were trade secrets. I wasn’t reminded by some overly anal retentive Corporate Confidentiality Officer, I was reminded by the daily stories about who was discovered spying over at so-and-so competitor, who got a strange sales inquiry from a small town outside Berlin that just happened to also be the home of a competitor, or who at the European office was just fired for suspected espionage activities. And if our own paranoid CEO wasn’t enough, our customers were (at that time) building the super-secret stealth bomber using our instruments. They suffered their own security-clearance-driven paranoias, which of course propagated through to us once we were working on an order for them.

But they were right. Looking back, if I had their vendor lists, I could use my knowledge of their instruments to compete directly with them rather easily. It wasn’t about automation. It didn’t require a $2 billion dollar manufacturing facility. Sure there were patents, but there were also plenty of opportunities for leverage via innovation. The supplier catalog was indeed competitive intelligence. One of the most significant barriers to entry for that business would be finding the craftsmen and small tech shops that could fabricate parts from the special high-temperature materials we were using. Not every mechanic could spin graphite and machine small parts from high temperature quartz or sapphire, for example, without “learning on the job” with materials that cost as much as platinum and could not be recycled once broken.

Today we tend to get caught up in “tech world”. The Internet People are open, and use the Internet for everything. They move constantly from company to company, and work their networks to find jobs. They blog about their work. They give presentations and show source code, and contribute to Open Source.¬†They rely on non-competes and non-disclosures to protect them.

But does that mean you should, too? Really? Are you sure?

I get asked to expand my LinkedIn network almost daily. I say no. It’s simply un-wise.

The Tech Companies ride the edge of innovation, which moves very, very fast. They can afford to be open about a lot of stuff, because no one can keep up with that pace of innovation anyway. It’s more about the pace at which you innovate (and work) than how you do it or what resources you use to get the job done. Their non-competes can be 1 year, and often proprietary knowledge lasts months. That is NOT the case in my business. How about yours?

I have some serious CSS people on hand, but I don’t own them. Fact is, you can have them at your disposal just like me, for the same great price I pay. Go ahead… but first you will have to find them (heh heh). Good luck. I went through dozens and listened to reports on dozens more before I found my “suppliers”. I won’t give that info up easily. If I LinkedIn my contacts, you’d be able to see my contacts in CSS land. They are very well-respected in CSS world.

I have some excellent database programmers at the ready. I pay them well for the work they do, but at best I probably cover their 4 weeks of annual Aegean vacation. They work for other people as well as me. And they could work for you. Good luck finding them. Oh, would they show up in my LinkedIn network? Of course… who else do I have to put in there but the people I associate with in my professional life?

When I need help on trends, I have some well placed people in advertising world of whom I can ask questions. Again… I suppose there’d be some serious vanity ego points gained for LinkingIn with them, but what do I gain from giving up my “suppliers list” like that? I suppose if I wanted to get a job I could work that extended network. Do I ever want to get another job?

So I routinely turn down LinkedIn requests, quietly and stubbornly declining. But the other day I got another one, from someone I don’t like. And it reminded me of this very topic. He reminded me by asking to “LinkIn” with me, when we are clearly not friendly. He digs through LinkedIn for competitive data he can use to make money on the web. I am just a name in his network, and a potential source of more names and contacts he can mine for free info to make money on the web. This guy is just like the temp at my first manufacturing job, who stole the wholesale client list and started cold-calling our customers the next day to sell them disposable static-control booties for $2 a box. He had no qualms about citing us as the source of his “referral”, and suggesting that they probably need to buy static control booties, and this was probably their lucky day.

Think your LinkedIn contacts are of a higher caliber than that dork? Think you’ve got the no-ass-clowns-in-my-network thing covered? Guess again. Your list is only as good as your vetting process, and hey… it’s all about being open and sharing, web two dot oh style, right?

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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