I started out in the SEO business in 1995 when I hardcoded my first website back in the day when Alta Vista and Yahoo ruled in the search engine world. If you are making a living by selling items on-line you have no choice. You must understand SEO and apply it if you want to succeed online.
This is also a small history lesson of SEO and Internet Marketing that I am sure you will be interested it; The start of the industry, the ‘appearance’ of the black hatters, etc…
I have seen it all. I felt compelled to write this article to help business owners understand the history behind SEO and navigate the morass of dubious SEO firms plying their ‘latest and greatest’ techniques to attain high search engine rankings for their clients when in fact they are only interested in the check, and once they receive that they move on to their next victim.
Back at the beginning of the internet (the first real ‘social’ internet sprung from local bulletin boards that you accessed via a modem connected to your computer ). Local internet providers (ISP’s) would soon start popping up in the mid 90’s in every city and large town in the US. For $19.95 a month you had unlimited access to the internet via your phone line. Soon people were complaining they could not get through to the person you were trying to call because the phone line was constantly busy. A second line took care of that. Most of these ISP’s provided you with a certain amount of memory on their server where you could create your own website. That’s how I created my first website.
At the time web authoring tools were just being developed, however one browser, Netscape Navigator Gold, had a nice little web authoring tool included with it. Ahh… those were the days. It was so simple back then. I soon discovered that the code used to create a website was fairly simple, so I went about creating my first website from scratch and added working forms to it also.
Oh, you want proof, here is some of it; That’s the oldest copy of the website I can find. Some of the time stamps go back to 1997. But it was late in 1995 when I created and uploaded it the first time. I was constantly updating it based on the latest research. It’s still up and running today. Why am I graying out its name? It’s called protecting ones interests. Here is some more proof;
Originally the way back machine showed my first site appearing in 1996 and stopping at 2007, however over recent years it has been getting later and later, going from 1996 to 1998 as the starting point. Don’t ask me why it’s happening, or why it stops at 2007. It’s still there online. I have no clue. My site is not the only one immune to this issue. Amazon.com is having the same issues;
It is well documented that Amazon.com was created in 1994.
Back then in order to make a sale I had to have all the contact information from my perspective clients e-mailed to me. I would then follow up with a phone call. Faxes and Fax blasts were still the latest and greatest back thaen, the internet was still the fringe. In the early and into the mid nineties it was not cheap to get into the internet business, domain names could only be purchased thorough Network Solutions and they were going for around $250 per year. If you wanted a shopping cart, forget it, unless you were a good programmer, had a heck of a lot of cash, or was willing to pay the outrageous fees that merchant account providers wanted back then.
I still remember in those days when all you had to do is ‘stuff’ keywords into the meta tags to get high placement in the search engines. Software would soon emerge to semi-automate the process. The likes of legends such as Danny Sullivan would extol there virtues. Remember the software called “WebPosition”? I still have a copy laying around;
I used this software sparingly to help with the task of building my websites, however others did not. This was one of the pieces of software that would soon be abused by individuals seeking to gain the top spots in what were the search engines of the day. The term ‘black hat’ would soon arise and be used to describe individuals who would do anything to attain the number one position in search engine results. Use of this software was soon used by search engines to penalize websites and drop them from indexing-. Did any of the websites I was using the software on get banned? No… Why? I can only ponder that thought, but I believe it’s because I did not abuse it. I used it for what it was intended for. That’s one of the ‘secrets’ of white hat SEO versus black hat SEO; a lot of methods utilized today in the white-hat SEO community can easily become black-hat if not done properly. More secrets to follow…
Throughout this whole time I have seen the ‘latest and greatest’ methods come and go, and go many of them did, along with the rankings of the majority of websites that used them. During this whole time my websites have ranked well and have remained relatively stable and have earned a decent living from it. Sustainability, that was the key, and it still is today. I have, and had, many page one rankings for the various keywords I targeted.
Business owners have to realize SEO strategy is like the law. You can easily find one ‘expert’ saying what has to be done to achieve top ranking and another expert saying the exact opposite. To me, it’s like the movie the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the little man behind the grand wizard. Remember what he was doing? Turning knobs and throwing switches. That’s how I view the search engine algorithms these days. The days of gauging the algo’s are over. You may find a little loop hole every now and then, but sooner or later the search engine figures it out and wham, it’s over. They are in a constant state of flux. What worked yesterday won’t today…. “For a site of this size let’s use this part of the algo to rank it for the next month…” “for a site with this many links lets use this part of the algo to rank it for…..”, etc…. Anyone who claims to be able to have their thumb on how to get to the top in SER (Search Engine Ranking) ranking safely is lying to you. The song remains the same, they just use new terms and techniques to get the prospect to write them a check.
An example of how hard it is to get and stay on top is one website which I created back in 1998. The keyword I was shooting for has always remained in the top five for the most part. The website strictly focused on this one keyword at the beginning. Today it’s still the main focus of the website. The results for that keyword hover in the 600,000 to 800,000 range and damn it, it’s the hardest one to keep in the top three. Yet I have other pages on the same site, that have one, maybe two pages devoted to a specific keyword, that rank well with 13,000,000+ results. Are there competing websites that are doing as well as me that are using spamming methods? Yes, there are and the search engines sooner or later figure it out and they disappear never to be seen again. It happens all the time. It easy to spot black hat methods when you know what you are looking for.
I am an avid reader and spend hours a day researching and reviewing the latest marketing, SEO and mobile concepts to see if they are valid so I can apply them to my sites and/or my clients. The first thing you should ask any SEO firm is do they have in their employment any individuals who have real time experience selling products, or services OTHER THEN SEO services online. If they answer no, then request a full portfolio of their experience in the field, examples and reference information. If they answer Yes, still ask for examples. It’s the individuals who make a living online as their only means of income are the ones you should be dealing with. Their livelihoods depend on it, food on the table, bills to pay, etc… and if they fail online, they fail in life. They understand the importance of online staying power (OSP). This should be considered, as Jean Luc Picard states, ‘the prime directive’ of firms engaged in SEO services. However it is not.
Throughout my whole career I have seen SEO firms come and go. A good percentage of them, for the most part, have short life spans, as short as their clients’ retain-ability of them. Many are hired kids with no real world experience. Many have college degrees that are taught methods that are out-dated. I have a degree in computer programming and to this day it really has not helped me when it comes to clients and my own websites. Technology is changing to rapidly for the educational system to keep up. What was cutting edge six months ago has been kicked to the curb today. A perfect example is Myspace. Remember that?
Most companies hire an SEO firm for an average of three to four months because they don’t see immediate results. They expect huge amounts of traffic in a sort amount of time. They want potential customers beating down the doors. This is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make. It can take up to twelve months to see any real results for a high quality organic campaign and the results will be conservative. You will not see any major spikes in organic traffic if it is done right. If you do that is a red flag that the firm may be engaged is some sort of black hat SEO strategy. Why am I stressing organic? Because that is the lynchpin of all successful websites. That should be the starting point of anyone who wished to be successful online; A good organic campaign. The importance of an organic campaign cannot be stressed enough. A good SEO firm will develop an organic search engine campaign based on relevant keywords as well as other factors. This includes the generation of keyword relevant articles and the proper placement of, and linking to, these articles on the website. If articles are already present on a website a high quality firm will review them to determine if they are optimized properly. If they are not they should be re-edited and reposted to the website. Further the design structure should encompass numerous sales funnel s to lead potential prospects to the ultimate goals of making a purchase and/or donation. Studies show that people are more likely to click on an organic search result then a paid per click advertisements. One study showed that showed that 50 percent of users begin their search by scanning the organic results and another showed that over 70% of viewers choose organic listings over sponsored listings. The main issue with sponsored listings is they are not as trusted as organic listings, organic listings are considered much less biased. The most important fact a company should understand is that the conversion rate is 17% higher for organic search results than that of paid results .
Here is part of an example of what I provided to a recent client of mine. This chart is the estimated unique visitor traffic to each site. Site number one is one of my sites which I occasionally re-edit to keep up with the latest safe trends in SEO. Site two is one of my clients competitors and site three is my clients before any SEO work has occurred on my part. I used this traffic estimator because I had no access to any analytical statistics to either site at the time of the review. It was part of a proposal. I further confirmed the accuracy of this estimated traffic produced by this site by comparing actual analytical statistics of my own site to its results.
As you can see site number one is the clear winner while the other two sites were relatively even. I know the owners of both companies and one had just hired a supposed SEO firm to help them with their online presence. Can you guess which one did? Let’s take a closer look at sites two and three;
If you guessed the one with the big spike in traffic that occurred within a one month time frame you are correct. Any huge spike in traffic is an automatic red flag in that short of time, PERIOD. Were they using a black hat techniques or PPC? A jump like that, which was caused by PPC alone, must have cost the SEO company a fortune. How is that helping OSP? On the other hand if it was a black hat technique then the down the road the company will see traffic fall of a cliff. Notice the time from the jump in traffic, from when it started to when it declined? Three to four months. Also, notice how in early 2011 it dropped back off to where it started? If you take a look at a website that has OSP (graph 1, site 1) you clearly see an upward trend in traffic while the other two remained virtually the same.
Here is another example. Recently I added around ten well authored, highly targeted articles were added to one of my websites. The update to the website was submitted to the search engines using the proper tools. A couple of months have elapsed since then. Let’s take a look at a 20 day time frame before and after the articles were added to make a comparison to see if the campaign was successful. While this comparison should be done over a longer period of time, one to three months, experience has proven that this represents an accurate model for me to determine if it was a successful implementation.
This is a twenty day time frame exactly one month before the articles were added;
This is a twenty day time frame after the new content was added.
This site is not a large site, it had around 300 pages indexed before I created and uploaded the latest organic campaign. The traffic increase was around 14% for increasing the size of the site by about 3%. Not a bad return on investment and it has OSP. What I have found is when I add high quality articles to a website I will see a increase in traffic, but the percentage depends upon two factors; (1) SER for the keywords targeted, and; (2) The percentage increase in the size of the site. This pattern has repeated itself year after year. It has withstood the tests of time. Here is what you should expect from a good SEO firms who has created a well planned and executed organic campaign(s) for you;
At the start of the organic campaign you should start to see a gradual rise in organic traffic upon the implementation of it. Then you should start to see a leveling off of the new traffic. The ‘Plateau effect” This leveling off may take anywhere from one to three month to recognize it as a leveling off. The important thing to remember is it is gradual. It can take anywhere from one to three months to see the increase in traffic and another 6 to 12 months to be able to positively measure the effects of it.
The social effect. Social networking has become an important player in search engine rankings (SER). Google as well as other search engines have confirmed that that monitor social networks to determine the popularity of a website. However it is a proven fact that a websites ‘social’ popularity is based on the content therein. In other words, a high quality organic campaign is essential to the social popularity level of a website. You can’t have one without the other and it is important to properly integrate social media networks into a clients website.
What do SEO Firms Charge?
One of the easiest ways to price SEO projects is by the hour. At the starting level you may find $30 to $60 per hour, individuals with a couple of years of experience and the examples to back them up from $100-$300 and the big firms from $300-500. Also, many firms will break down specific projects;
Description of Task
|Autoresponder Design and Campaigns||$500-$800||$1500-$3000||$2500-$5000|
|Manual Link Building||$300-$500||$2500-$5000||$10000-$15000|
|Site Review + Consulting||$500-$700||$2000-$3500||$5000-$10000|
|Social Media Set Up and Integration||$250-$500||$1000-$2000||$5000-$7000|
This is but a brief overview of what you will see in a high quality organic campaign. Here is a brief overview of what you should be looking for in a SEO firm;
- Owner and/or employees have real world experience. By employees it could be independent contractors who are already making a good living online and have everything automated to the point where they are board and looking for some excitement. One thing you will learn about good SEO’ers versus bad one. The bad ones, its just a job. The good ones, it’s a passion they can’t let go of. As the founder of Sam Adams always says, “if you love your work, you never work a day in your life.”
- The firm or individual can back up their experience with real world examples
- The firm or individual has experience in PPC and an provide data to prove they know how to set up a PCC campaign that produces good results
- Their website is still available online. Yes I know this sound humorous, but I can’t count how many times I would click on a potential clients “powered by” or “designed by” link and it goes to a domain name that is up for sale.
- Before getting a quote the representative will ask specific questions about your website, where you would like to see it at in a year, what keywords you believe are important, who your online competitors are, etc…. In other words, they will that a personal interest in providing the best solution for fulfilling your needs and if your needs are not attainable they will explain to you why in clear convincing terms.
- Recommended by friends who have had positive results
- Ones recommended by other websites with similar interests which appear to be honest links.
- They can provide least quartly reports on ranking, traffic to your site and also be able to separate PCC, and CPM traffic from organic traffic.
- Check the Better Business Bureau’s website for complaints
- Make sure they have a telephone number where they can be reached during normal business hours.
- Hire a consultant who has a proven track record to review your needs and help you find a good firm that is tailored to fit your needs.
- Can provide you with quote based on your needs or wishes.
- Hire anyone who sends you an unsolicited e-mail claiming to be able to get you to number one rankings or anything similar. They are pretty easy to spot.
- Uses black-hat techniques to increase rankings.
- Guarantees high ranking prior to seeing your site.
- Only changing meta tags.
That concludes some of my ‘secrets’ for maintaining a successful online presence.
Follow you common sense and never follow the herd. They will lead you off a cliff.
 Enquiro, July 2005
 Are Corporate Web Sites Optimized for SEO? by Paul Bruemmer, August 2005
 eMarketer 2003
 Marketing Sherpa, August 2005