SEO Business Guide for New SEO Consultants: Part-1

SEO Business GuideThis is a detailed SEO Business Guide for new SEO consultants who don’t yet have the business experience of SEO. A lot of freelancers and businesses involve themselves in the business of SEO as solo-entrepreneurs. SEO consultants can come from a variety of backgrounds – web programmers, designers, writers or just plain entrepreneurs who understand the industry.

This SEO business guide should help you get started, irrespective of how much experience you have had in the past. There might be some parts that might seem as if you know everything, but pardon me because I want this guide to be pretty comprehensive, irrespective of what your background is.

Why Become an SEO Consultant?

Why should you consider becoming an SEO consultant in the first place? Plenty of reasons –

  • Interest: Many people become SEO consultants purely for the joy of SEO. They like to see their actions produce results, and SEO consultants are constantly in the game for results. Your theory doesn’t matter, but the results do. If you are able to provide a value to your client with quality SEO, they should benefit for the rest of the life of their business. This is thrilling and challenging at multiple levels, and  that is what attracts a lot of talented SEO consultants to the industry.
  • Freedom: An SEO consultancy gives you a lot of freedom, in terms of money and also creativity. Typically, your clients will trust you to know and understand the nuances of SEO. You have a lot of freedom in terms of how you want to go about it. For instance, I do SEO almost completely through content marketing. This gives me freedom to try out different techniques from guest posts to trying viral marketing.
  • Money: Let’s be honest here – the money is good as an SEO consultant and that attracts a lot of people. Unfortunately, this also brings around a lot of unqualified people in the industry. However, if you are serious about being in the SEO industry for a while and don’t want to wind down after 6 months, the money is good and there are plenty of opportunities to pursue.

Broadly, those are the motivations of most people who become SEO consultants. If you have a strong motivation in any of the above categories, you can consider becoming one. Don’t work with money as your primary motivation though – it is hard to last through turbulent times in such a case.

What Should I know about SEO?

A lot! I don’t want to go into what SEO is and entails, but here is a great beginners guide that might help for those new in the industry. Remember that search engines are dynamic, so your tactics might change. However, you should have a long-lasting strategy that doesn’t change with every Google update. If it does, you are doing something terribly wrong.

What Motivates Search Engines?

Search engines were designed for a simple reason – to give people what they are looking for. It is a simple aim with mind-boggling complexity to get there. However, you should never forget this basic fact. Search engines aren’t designed to point to pages with most links or pages with the highest keyword density.

If you find yourself conflicted at any point of time, ask yourself what you would like to see when you search for a term. For example, if you are searching for ‘handyman service New York’, are you looking for how to obtain a Handyman degree? Probably not. Your target site should address the need in the keyword. Sometimes, keywords are more generic. That’s where your creativity comes in. If someone is searching just for the word ‘handyman’, they could be looking at a number of different things.

To keep the Google Gods happy, always answer how you can solve the problem addressed in your search query. Never forget this. Google is designed for the people who search everyday, and not for SEO consultants and such. The user should be your end target as well.

Educating Clients on SEO

This is something I believe every SEO consultant should actively be involved in, if only at the beginning of the project. A lot of people tend to think that keeping their customer in the dark means they can show ‘magical’ results. That’s not true at all, and in the long run, it is always good if your customer and you are on the same page. They are hiring you for your specialized knowledge. If they know something you know, it only strengthens your relationship instead of weakening it.

Many clients are surprisingly ignorant of SEO. At the very least, you should educate your clients about the following –

  • SEO takes time. You cannot expect results the day after your start the assignment. Or a week later.
  • No one (except a snake oil salesman) can guarantee you the first position in Google for a keyword. You don’t control the search algorithms and your competition can always be better than you in lots of unexpected ways.
  • Rankings fluctuate. You cannot expect to remain stable on a ranking every day. Lots of clients get paranoid when a ranking temporarily drops.
  • SEO is usually an ongoing process.
  • What your clients thinks about SEO is probably wrong or outdated.

Once you educate your clients about SEO and they are ready to hire you and give you a go-ahead, here is how you can get started.

Contracts, Agreements, Paperwork, etc.

I cannot stress how important this aspect of SEO is, because it is so volatile and there are definitely times, in spite of how well you educate your clients (see above) about SEO, when your client expectations are not met. When there is a clash, what do you do? Simple – refer to the agreement.

If you are an independent SEO consultant, I highly recommend you do this step right. Trust me, it is well worth the initial effort and your life will be so much better in the future. I personally use the SEO contracts from John Romaine and really like their content. He also gives a good SEO eBook that talks about how to set up your business and other details that might be helpful on the business side.

Again, use any method you want, but don’t go wrong here.

Two Broad SEO Categories

The SEO work that you will do for any client can be broadly divided into two categories –

  • On-page SEO: All the changes done on your client’s website come under on-page SEO. You have direct control over things because you own the site. Everything from site navigation to keyword optimization will fall under this category.
  • Off-page SEO: Everything outside the realm of the given site will fall under this. Most of the times, off-page SEO deals with backlinks, but another important aspect of off-page SEO is anchor text.

Steps to Follow for SEO

I’ll cover these in the next parts to follow. Each step needs a detailed post in itself. If I missed something or if there’s something you want to read about specifically, do mention in the comments.

Step-1: Analyze the Current SEO Efforts

Step-2: Analyze the Competition and Learn

Step-3: Keyword Research (Google adwords and also autocomplete)

Step-4: Content (keywords, infographics, press releases, social media content, viral content)

Step-5: Backlinks

What Small Businesses Don’t “Get” about SEO

Small Business SEOIt’s funny how many small businesses have heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) without really knowing what it entails or how it can help their business.

There is no magic bullet called SEO that will make your business an overnight success. Like any success, success in SEO is never overnight. It takes time, effort, patience, right strategy, ability to handle uncertainty, monitoring progress and making sure you follow the right path. Unfortunately, most small businesses want quick, instant results when it comes to SEO. They want to double their traffic in a month. Or triple.

No wonder so many SEO companies are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen. They sell what the customer wants to buy, no matter the risks. They can get paid to show higher search traffic, but one misstep and the business can literally be wiped off the internet (aka doesn’t show up in Google. Don’t mess with big G when you’re a small business).

If you are a small business that doesn’t know about SEO, here is a quick, dirty guide to follow:

  • Never, ever, go black hat. Sure, you’ll quadruple your traffic in a month, and then you’ll fall to zero next month. The risks are too high. Besides, trust me, Google has some smart engineers working for them. They tend to know more than your average SEO company or your “brilliant black hat SEO method that Google can never detect”. Cut the BS. Don’t risk your entire business on your “genius ideas”. Think ethical SEO.
  • If you’re hiring an SEO company, know what they do. Not just you, even big businesses have no clue what their SEO firms do, but they have leverage that you don’t. Look at JC Penney – the most famous SEO gone bad scandal for a big chain. Know what you’re paying for.
  • Give up on SEO right now if you want overnight success.
  • SEO, when done right, requires a lot of hard work. It means aligning the interests of the search engine, search users and your business. This isn’t easy. It means providing the highest quality content that appeals to people who don’t want to buy from you and hopefully convert them over time. Are you ready for that investment?
  • SEO can be highly rewarding. What’s better than getting highly targeted traffic to your business, every one of them a potential buyer, all for free? If you want to reach such a coveted position, however, you will need to think long-term. There is no overnight SEO success anymore.
  • Beware the snake oil salesman. Are you being “guaranteed” success in terms of first position in Google? Run, don’t look back.
  • SEO is just another tool in your toolkit. Even if you don’t land a top Google spot, the strategies behind SEO should promote your business and get interested buyers to you nevertheless. Think powerful and useful content that people like and would want to share. How could you go wrong, even if Google ceases to exist tomorrow?
  • Learn. Learn from the better sources on the internet. Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks. Know what Google wants. Learn as much as you can. At least you’ll be in a position to know what is acceptable to you and what is not. Don’t build your business around fishy techniques and shady alliances.
  • Know your business. Know how SEO fits it. It isn’t the beginning and end of any business. Purely by itself, SEO is meaningless. You need a way to convert the people who come to your site. Have a plan in place. What should the reader do after reading your awesome post?

What am I missing? What else don’t businesses get about SEO? What tips do you have for them?

Photo Credit: San Diego Shooter

EzineArticles any Good in 2012? A Case Study

EzineArticles any goodIs EzineArticles any good in 2012 and worth your time to publish there? For those who don’t know or have been in the online world for less than say a couple of years, EzineArticles was the best article directory out there. They have consistently maintained a higher quality of articles (than say a site like GoArticles that was popular at one point of time and almost dead now) and it was a good resource for people who wanted a quick, cursory research on a topic. The webmasters who published on EzineArticles knew that if they provide something of value, people will click on their links in the signature and they get highly targeted visitors. So is EzineArticles dead in 2012 now or does it still have life in it?

Why Publish for Free?

Historically, the primary benefits of EzineArticles was –

  • Backlinks for your site in the signature
  • Traffic to your site from highly targeted visitors

A lot of people especially in the SEO world looked primarily at the first benefit – that of link-building. Granted, EzineArticles homepage is a PR-6 (page rank 6) and it definitely helped you get a good link profile. However, the second aspect was and still is as important. Webmasters realized that it was easier to rank their EzineArticles pages than their own blogs, and they tried to funnel that traffic from the article to their websites.

This was a strategy that I had personally used and historically, I have had some really good quality traffic coming from EzineArticles to my blogs (granted, at times, I was really annoyed that my EzineArticles page ranked higher than a page about the same topic on my own blog).

Google Panda

And then Google Panda update happened. That almost killed article marketing and EzineArticles was one of the worst hit. A lot has been written and said about the death of EzineArticles and article marketing. However, I take a less dramatic approach. I’ll tell you when you should still use article marketing and when you shouldn’t.

Yes, the Google Panda update changed things. Hopefully for the better. This also means that genuinely good content might have been pushed down in the Google search engine rankings. Sites like EzineArticles weren’t deemed to provide enough quality content and the entire site suffered as a result.

Although Alexa rank isn’t the best judge of traffic, it can give a fair estimate. Before the Google Panda update, EzineArticles had a rank of under 100, which means according to Alexa, it was among the top 100 websites visited around the world. After the Panda, it ranks at 311 at the time of writing this. A rank in the 3 digits is still a highly respectable one.

Personal Experience – A Case Study

I have been using EzineArticles for several years now. My best performing article still manages to get over a 1000 visits a month in a very specific niche. However, I have definitely seen a drop in traffic to my articles and subsequently to my blog through EzineArticles.

Before the Google Panda update, I was able to rank highly and get good traffic from EzineArticles. After the Google Panda, here are the changes I noticed personally –

  • It is much harder to drive traffic from EzineArticles to my blog. This is because these articles rank lower in Google and also because overall, people visiting and searching for things within EzineArticles has probably decreased.
  • ‘Backlink juice’ is lower but still not terrible. Yes, backlinks from EzineArticles are still precious in the eyes of Google even though as much as before.

When I try to determine if EzineArticles is any good in 2012, I look at both traffic and backlinks. Both have decreased, but that still isn’t a reason to abandon this strategy completely. I would still recommend EzineArticles to new blogs to get backlinks and rank soon in Google.

The advantages of EzineArticles in 2012

  • The backlinks are still valuable! If you are a new blog and no one is linking to you, this is a great way to get some linking going.
  • Other blogs still borrow content from EzineArticles. This means if you publish an article, chances are, someone else picks it up and thus you get additional backlinks. Don’t count on the quality of these sites though.
  • You can still get decent traffic, especially for a new blog. When you are starting out, it isn’t terrible if you can get your first 10-20 visitors through a site like EzineArticles.
  • If you are a diamond member and write halfway decent articles, they should be accepted. It doesn’t take me more than 20-30 minutes to write and publish here, and it shouldn’t take you more either. For the effort that goes in, I think the results are worth it.
  • One strategy that I often follow is to publish a new post on my blog and write a related article on EzineArticles and get a link back to my blog in my signature.

Case Study

After the Panda, I tried to see how effective EzineArticles was in terms of helping me rank better in Google. Here is what I did –

Step-1: Publish a post on my blog, targeting a keyword that I want to rank high on.

Step-2: Measure its rank in Google. I used different computers just to be sure that I wasn’t affecting the results of my own blog. I saw this every day for a week, to make sure the rankings are stable for the short term at least.

At this stage, I have no backlinks to this newly created piece of content.

Step-3: Publish an article on EzineArticles with one link to my homepage and another to this newly created content. Wait for the article to be accepted and published on the site.

Step-4: Measure the rank for the particular keyword again.


  • For Keyword1, the rank went from 25 to 8. Not bad at all.
  • For Keyword2, the rank went from 15 to 6. Again, not too bad

This is why I think EzineArticles can still be good in 2012, considering the effort that is needed to publish there, versus the kinds of returns that you can expect. I wouldn’t write this off completely and is definitely still a powerful tool in your arsenal.

What has been your experience with EzineArticles before and after Google Panda?

Ethical SEO Techniques: Google Evolves

Ethical SEO techniques should be learned by every webmaster who wants to holistically grow their site and are in for the long haul, not looking for a quick buck off their website. The meaning and idea of optimizing for search engines has drastically changed in the last couple of years. Considering how frequently Google updates their algorithms and what is, in general, considered ethical, I deem it necessary to educate my readers about ethical SEO techniques that are up to date today.

Ethical SEO is all about following the Google Webmasters Guidelines, in a nutshell. You should definitely read and understand the spirit of this document.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, has been around since search engines and before Google. The definition of ethical SEO has kept evolving over time. It is important to keep up to date because when it comes to best practices with respect to SEO, these keep changing with time and if you are not well informed, can be left in the dark when it comes to promoting your site online.

Recently, Google has accelerated in its quest for weeding out questionable SEO techniques and penalizing websites using them. It started off with the (in)famous Panda Update that left Article Marketing Obsolete. There were plenty of smaller updates with the Panda. The most recent Google algorithm changes have to do with including social data in the search engines.

A lot of “grey-hat” SEO techniques are also being punished. For instance, recently, Google began deindexing paid blog networks which affected quite a few websites. It is also worth nothing that a number of internet marketing/SEO blogs had actually promoted their use and many webmasters were taken by surprise because they considered this to be complete within the realm of ethical SEO techniques. Well, guess what, it is not! It is simply a disguised form of link-spamming with thin content that hardly adds any value.

In such turbulent times, best practice dictates that you stick with core Google values and do the following –

1. Build Quality Content

2. Build Quality Links (most penalties are in this area, be ethical!)

3. Provide a great user experience, user interface and look to keep visitors hooked on your site.

4. Promote your site on Social Media, including Google Plus

These are the essential fundamentals of ethical SEO techniques.

Quality Content

At the heart of ethical SEO lies quality content. There is no denying the fact that ultimately, the purpose of search engines is to dig out the best quality content and present it on top. There should be no substitute for this. Not even Google can be perfect in this – perhaps you have written an entry that is better than Wikipedia but you will be beaten by Wikipedia every single time. That doesn’t mean quality content means nothing. Never compromise in this aspect. Good quality content spills over to all the other aspects of SEO as mentioned above as well.

Link Building

The most contentious part of ethical SEO comes with respect to link-building and most efforts to trick Google using black-hat techniques have to do with link-building. Essentially, you don’t want to spam the internet with your links, try to build links as organically as possible so it is most “natural”. Follow the dictum – if there were no Google, how would you use link-building? You would still want your links on high quality blogs and sites so their readers can discover you and you won’t bother about crappy blogs that exist solely to provide backlinks to other blogs. Do the same with Google present.

User Experience

This is hard to measure, but Google is certainly taking the overall user experience into consideration when it ranks websites. This involves a slew of metrics from the bounce rate and time spent on the site to the time taken to load the website. As a webmaster, you should be involved in this process and try to provide the best user experience to your visitors. Does Google have to tell you to do this?

Social Media

This is another new addition to the list of ethical SEO techniques from Google. The more people like and share your articles and website on social media, the better it is. Social media is also harder to game – for example, how can you ensure that a piece goes viral without it actually having the qualities of going viral? You cannot log into your friends of friends’ Facebook accounts and share your link now, can you? Don’t spend all your time on social media though, optimize your time and effort.

The bottom line is that ethical SEO techniques cover a broad range of topics and not just looking for backlinks for your website. Take a holistic view of the internet and search engines and understand why they exist and how you can align their purpose with yours. You should be able to do well in the ethical SEO realm, don’t resort to black-hat SEO and other questionable techniques. Don’t blindly follow everything you read from the “Gurus” either. Think on your own and understand what Google wants.

Photo Credit: San Diego Shooter

Google Slaps Blog Networks … Hard!

Google Slaps Blog NetworksBlog networks are being de-indexed by Google … hard and fast! Google always maintains it needs webmasters to follow all the ethical principles of ranking higher in search engines. Of course, it is hard to implement all of them, even by a giant like Google. This is why people have been using all sorts of methods to rank in higher. Remember for an internet marketer, the difference between the first and tenth position can be a few hundred thousand dollars, so there is a high incentive to use “black hat SEO” methods and the like. This isn’t a very good idea in the long run; after all, the bottom line of SEO is Quality Content. Links are a way for Google to identify quality content. If you try to deceive Google, there are consequences.

What are Paid Blog Networks?

For those who do not know, paid blog networks are a private network of blogs formed in a network only to build links to one another and to others who pay them, directly or indirectly. What this means is, you either pay a blog network to publish your article on their network (one of the blogs) or you indirectly pay by adding your own blog to the network so others and submit articles on it with a link back to their own website.

The problem with paid blog networks is that the only reason they exist is for back-links. They are not “natural” as Google would say. Even though it is private, Google the God knows everything. It is now beginning to de-index the sites.

Some of the blog networks are well-known names in the industry, like Build My Rank (BMR), Article Marketing Automation (AMA), Authority Link Network (ALN), Linkvana (LV), etc. If you have used these services before, you might notice a decrease in your overall Google ranking because you would have lost out on some backlinks now. Just hope Google doesn’t punish the users of blog networks too (harshly).

So What Happened?

Well, in simple words, Google found those out! Matt Cutts, the legendary inside-Google-SEO guy who does all the wizardry for search rankings and such updates, says blog networks are on his radar.

Google has already began de-indexing sites at BMR and ALN. Here is a discussion about ALN and was referenced by Matt Cutts in his tweet. BMR has posted the truth on their blog. It looks like the other networks are still safe, but no one knows for how long. Once Google is on to something, they can be pretty good with weeding out what they don’t like.

In the world of blog networks, de-indexing is part of the game. However, this is far more serious than the ones before.

If you are de-indexed by Google, you are essentially relegated to the netherworld of the internet, condemned to spend your time in obscurity without a soul in sight. That isn’t the best place for a site or blog to be, which is why it is never a good idea to be on the bad side of Google. Like it or not, they are the Gods in this game and you don’t want to displease them.

Looking Forward

For starters, don’t use paid blog networks for link building! Think about promotion methods that you can talk to Matt Cutts about over a cup of a coffee. Do you think you can tell him that you pay some shady network of blogs to get backlinks to your site so that Google thinks you are more popular than you actually are? If not, don’t do it.

The discussion between white-hat and black-hat SEO is a long one. Many people justify using black-hat methods on many grounds. However, you should remember it is hard to last and you shouldn’t use those for the long term.

The sad thing is, many webmasters are unaware of these methods and they go to the SEO companies for building their rankings. They don’t know what these companies do to get these ranks. This is one reason I am always suspicious of these SEO agencies. They have an incentive system that isn’t in line with yours. They want to get your site up the search engine rankings as fast as possible and take the money. You want to remain there for the long term. Ask Google about the difference!

Understand what good SEO is about and don’t make the big-G angry. Promote your blog but only through ethical methods. Or if you want to give something a try, don’t do it with your primary blog. It is hard to know which black-hat methods will be weeded out. Do you really want to take the chance though? Whether you deliberate engage in these practices or you are just a victim, unfortunately, Google isn’t likely to consider you on a special basis.

Have you used blog networks? Have you been affected? What are your thoughts on this issue?

Photo Credit: VerminInc

Google’s Freshness Algorithm: Major SEO Change

Google Freshness AlgorithmGoogle’s freshness algorithm is out! This is a major search engine change by Google. In fact, it is more major than the last Panda Update which affected a very high number of search results. This was presented on Google’s official blog today. The announcement says that the freshness update affects up to 35% of the searches. This is huge.

As its name suggests, the freshness algorithm is aimed at bringing in results that are ‘fresh’, i.e. more updated. This is a natural move from Google, when people are so active on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and thus used to getting the latest updates and information. Don’t we all log into Facebook just to see what major is happening across the globe, apart from looking for the cute kitten and the annoying game requests? Well, now Google wants to be that portal.

The feature is pretty neat and should help people a lot. From an SEO perspective, I am not too sure how this will pan out since this is too early in the day. However, I think it is not that major a change for most of the internet marketing type of sites. However, don’t be surprised if one of your ‘pillar articles’ is displaced from the throne (aka first rank in Google) because Google thinks something more recent is more relevant.

This might not cause as much an uproar as Panda did in the SEO world, but it is a very important update that every blogger and internet marketer should be aware of and prepare accordingly. Also, this was important enough to get front page web coverage from New York Times which usually reserves such news to the bottom annals of technology news.

Of course Google will now need to act quickly in collecting data and determining how relevant it is to be shown in the search results on the top. This is of course not easy, but nothing Google does usually is. How this pans out in the end will be interesting to see. I think a lot of smaller sites that were designed around displaying the ‘live scores’ for example will be hurt very badly.

At this point, I would guess that fresh content will become even more important from an SEO point of view. Google doesn’t like stale information. Keeping your blog updated with quality information is one way of telling the Big G that you provide fresh and up to date content to your users. This might become even more important in the long run.

Also, if your blog has been affected by Google’s freshness algorithm, you should consider more ways to promote your blog, especially on social media which has constant updates. So for example if you want to rank high for certain live scores, you should try to provide exactly this rather than just having the keywords in your title. In addition, you might want to have a widget showing the live scores and perhaps publishing some information on to social networking sites too.

As more information becomes available, I’ll write a more detailed strategy of how you can benefit from this algorithm change and how you can protect yourself. In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments.

SEO Companies: Fastest Growing Businesses

Fastest Growing BusinessesSEO companies are one of the fastest growing businesses. This is hardly surprising, considering how much of what we do is shifting online and the growth of the internet in all parts of the world and traditionally ‘offline’ businesses (who would have thought 10 years ago that you would buy shoes online!) SEO is a great investment for small businesses to make their presence felt in the online sphere and attract new customers. There are several famous SEO experts who have famous SEO companies, like Neil Patel. Then there are fast growing SEO companies like

The scope of an SEO company is quite vast, especially if you are good at what you do. So here is a piece of news that might interest you – is officially one of the fastest growing companies of Utah. That is a significant development. Now, SEO companies are on the forefront of digital companies, although none of them are as famous or big as their dot-com counterparts which can be billion-dollar companies. This, however, is a step towards gaining more popularity for SEO companies.

SEO companies can be one of the fastest growing businesses because they have the scope to expand. You would be surprised by how many small businesses don’t care about SEO. Heck, you would be surprised by the number of small businesses and start-ups that don’t even have a website! SEO is a great tool to employ in the overall growth of a company, especially when it is one without borders. You can reach a global audience through the internet and every business should make use of the opportunities that the internet provides.

That being said, you should always beware of the dark side of SEO, the so called black-hat SEO. In a nutshell, you need to have quality content defined by Google. Without this, all your efforts are meaningless in the long run because a small change in the Google’s algorithm can destroy you, like the Google Panda update. This is why it is important to remember that quality content is at the heart of SEO and all your efforts to grow your website and blog.

If more SEO companies line up with Google’s policies of quality content, we can have an industry leader that is not after short-term profits but after long term value that SEO can provide a business.

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