How Much Should Your Business Charge?

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A common question in entrepreneur circles is:how much should your business charge for it’s service or product?

I’ll give you three stories. Two of them involve Audi, and that’s not an accident.

Alicia got into the Audi A4

The A4 was her dream car that she wanted after college. Her previous car was a Volkswagen Jetta whose lease was coming to and end. This was our first test drive and she was excited…

…until she looked down at the door handle. It was the same as her Jetta. And the dashboard was the same as the Jetta. The entire interior of the Audi A4 was the same as a car costing $20K less! Sure the car had more horsepower and looked sleeker. But Alicia couldn’t shake the feeling that the car was just a re-branded Volkswagen Jetta. Her dreams of an Audi A4 were crushed.

So we looked at other luxury vehicles and were disappointed. Lexus’s were re-branded Toyota’s. The Porsche Cayenne was a re-branded Volkswagen Touareg. It was down to Land Rover and BMW because those were the only brands that didn’t obviously share parts with cars tens of thousands of dollars less. She went with a BMW x5.

We knew that we were paying an up-charge for the brand. We were paying for exclusivity. A brand can charge disproportionately more for exclusivity, but they do have to give more in return. The A4 didn’t give enough.

Audi Quattro Club at Excel Energy Center

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Rinkside tickets cost $450+ for a Minnesota Wild game. Tickets for row 3, literally a few feet back from the rink, cost $150. The viewing experience is actually worse rinkside than 10 rows up. The refs and plexiglass posts block the action. The jumbotron is hard to see because it’s right above you. How can they justify the charge?

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The seats around the rink are exclusive. The players crash into the boards, flexing the glass and knocking off drinks and phones placed on the ledge. The seats are leather with the Audi logo stitched into them, further differentiating them from normal seats. You also get the benefit of banging your hands against plexiglass in celebration. Who knew that people would pay triple to hit inanimate objects?

The final benefit is the Audi Quattro club. There’s free food, beer, and wine in this club. Of course it’s not exactly “free” because no one could possibly drink enough 50 cent light beer to get their money back. The point is the exclusivity. Even the name “club” insinuates that some people belong and some people don’t.

Getting to the club is oddly difficult because it’s not well-marked. On purpose. Club members have to go through the back corridors of the arena where most people are not allowed to go. On the way to the club you pass by the press lounge and player entrance. The arena itself is beautiful and clean. The back tunnels to get to the club are ugly and not meant to be seen by “normal” customers. Club members are “different”.

The Audi club, just like Audi cars, is a brand that allow people to pay more simply to signal to other people that they are different. I think the Audi Quattro club gave enough value for the price.

The best salesman I’ve ever seen

The prospective client asked “How much does it cost?”. The salesperson replied: “What does your budget look like for this quarter?”. The client responded with a number. The salesperson told the client that he was in luck: the product cost exactly that amount! How lucky!

Over the years I’d see this salesperson sell the same software product for $500 and $50,000. He was also the owner of the company and was very successful.

This same salesperson took clients golfing and out to lunch and dinner. Because it made the clients feel important. These clients would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year with with the salesperson. The lunches and golf trips cost a few thousand dollars and yielded a 100x return.

I’ve worked at another small company that charged every company the same amount for their software. They didn’t allow clients to pay for the opportunity to feel special. They didn’t take clients out for lunch. The company struggled and ultimately stopped selling software.

Maybe you think that it’s unethical to sell the same thing at different prices. But that software had different value to different companies. A company with 5 users wasn’t going to pay a lot because they couldn’t get much value from the software. A company with a dozen worldwide offices and tens of thousands of users would get a ton of value from the software. Why should both companies pay the same price?

People pay for an Audi car because they want the appearance of luxury. People pay for rinkside tickets for the exclusivity. Businesses pay the amounts something is “worth” to them.

People will give you a lot of money so that they can feel special. But you have to let them.

Other people will want the best value without the emotional niceties. Offer clients and customers this option too, just like Volkswagen is the cheaper Audi and the rink has cheaper seats with excellent views.

Your pricing strategy should be fluid

Pricing client to client is time consuming at the beginning, but a real time saver overall. If a client is trying to haggle on price, remove features. If a client wants more features, raise the price. All parties should be happy with the price and features.

There are clients that want a lot of touch and face-time. Those clients pay more because that’s time consuming to you. But it’s worth it to them to have more meetings. I’ve had clients be unhappy because while performance was strong, they really wanted that high-touch, constant meetings and face-time experience.

There are other clients that just want the work done with the least amount of hassle possible. Those clients can pay less. This benefits both provider and client because meetings are a disproportionate time suck.

Every client is different, so every price should be different

Figure out of your client or customer is an Audi or Volkswagen person, and give them that. Offer a no-frills value package for your money conscious consumer and a luxury package for those willing to pay for the best. A luxury client won’t be happy without special options and a value client won’t be happy paying for luxuries!

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone paying the same price is “fair”. Pricing middle-ground will make everyone unhappy. Luxury customers will look down on your product because it’s not exclusive enough. Value customers will think your product is overpriced. And you’ll be broke because no one is buying.

What no one tells you about running your own business

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Here is what no one tells you about running your own business.

Always on the clock

Alicia and I were recently celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary in Curacao. On the day of our anniversary we held a client call. Because when you own a business, there are no days off. Every day blends between work and not-work.

Entrepreneurship is like chewing glass while staring into the abyss. The abyss fades, but the chewing glass never does. – Elon Musk

Clients won’t pay on time

Regular people have to pay their bills monthly. Clients will pay their bills whenever they damn well feel like it. That could be this month. That could be 6 months from now. Imagine not getting paid for 6 months. This is standard for businesses.

You can be fired at will

While normal employees can be fired at will as well, there are still laws that dictate the employee must be warned beforehand and given a chance to change. Your clients do not have these laws restricting their foot up your ass.

Even good things that happen can get you fired, like having your client contact be promoted. When the new contact comes in, they might just bring in a new company to work with and kick your company out.

You’ll get used to the feeling of being near-fired every week. Or you’ll not have a business anymore.

Accounting

There is a stupid amount of paperwork to file every year. Forms with the government, IRS, and clients will eat up free time and energy. It never goes away and there’s no one else to do it.

15% additional income tax

Did you know that self-employment also comes with an additional 15% income tax on top of everything you already pay?

Starting a business is already one of the harder endeavors. That’s why so few people do it. Now take all the stress, long hours, and uncertainty and pay the government 15 cents more on every dollar you make.

Tax laws

Before you start a business, you’ll know next to nothing about taxes. After starting a business, you’ll quickly be an expert. You’ll know what percentage of your home is deductible, what purchasable items are deductible, and what tax breaks to take advantage of.

Yes there are a lot of deductions, but they are to help offset the ridiculous 15% self employment income tax increase. The end result is that you’ll still pay more in taxes than the average person. And in addition, it’s a lot more work.

The buck stops here

The average employee gets to say “it’s not my job!”. As the owner, everything is your job. You’re now a marketer + engineer + designer + customer service + HR + manager.

It’s not only 6x the responsibility, it’s 6x the blame.

Eat what you kill

Paul Graham calls it “default alive or default dead”. If new customers or clients are constantly coming in through the door, your business is default alive. If not, your business is doomed at some point in time.

Anxiety

One client fired you + Other client hasn’t paid $30K invoice + Other client numbers look terrible this quarter = oh god I fainted.

Few Mentors

People will no longer be able to relate to your problems. No shoulders to cry on. No sage advice given.

Other people get paid every two weeks like clockwork. You haven’t been paid in months.

Other people clock out and forget about work until Monday. You’re in a hotel in Mexico on your supposed vacation taking care of an emergency.

Other people complain about a co-workers drama. You’re wondering how you’ll survive this month.

No road map

There’s no instruction book. The only qualified people to teach how to succeed are busy with their own businesses.

How do you know you’re doing well? You stay in business for another month. How do you know you’re doing poorly? You’re out of business.

The only constant is change

The world is changing so fast that what was true a year ago is no longer true today (yet another reason college is a scam). Over the next few years, the taxi and trucking industry will cease to exist due to self-driving cars. The hotel industry is facing heavy competition from Airbnb. Neither travel nor real estate agents saw the writing on the wall when the internet ravaged their industries. Cable companies see dwindling subscription numbers as the public chooses Netflix and Hulu. Manufacturing is forever-gone due to advances in robotics and 3D printing.

On top of all the headaches of owning a business, you also have to change your business with the times or die.

Is starting a business right for you?

For me, it 100% was worth it. I enjoy the challenge and the ambiguity. Most people don’t.

The rewards are off the charts better than a typical office job. But that’s only if you succeed. Most people don’t. That’s why new businesses are being started at a 40-year low. It’s a hard road.

CEO’s are dangerously underpaid

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I read that some CEO’s get 500 times more than the lowest paid employee. That’s outrageous! CEO compensation should be 10,000 times more than the lowest paid employee. CEO’s are dangerously underpaid.

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The image of CEO’s as evil scammers is everywhere. Above: The Wolf of Wall Street.

Skills

I lead a pretty good life. Travel all over the world, stockpile of money, limitless options to what I can do. Right now, I can do ~50 different jobs that make 6 figures per year, without additional training. I know several dozen different programming languages/frameworks, multiple advertising channels, professional gambling, and normal things like sales.

And CEO’s have me beat by a mile.

Some CEO’s have a broad range of top-tier skills, while others are the top 0.1% in their field. Elon Musk is known for doing an engineers job for them if he’s unsatisfied with the work (and then fires the employee). Steve Jobs was involved with almost every facet of designing the Mac, right down to the typography.

90% of new businesses fail because the owner has to do everything at the beginning: accounting, marketing, HR, development, IT, etc. The learning curve is really high. But the average employee will always say things like “That’s not my job”. A CEO doesn’t have that luxury. They have to do 7 jobs at once. And that’s why they get paid like it.

Network

An Uber driver asked my opinion on college. College [itself] is a scam, but there’s one redeeming factor: networking. It was worth a lot to my career that I was surrounded by people who would later go on to work for companies scattered around the country. Getting jobs and clients from your network is a very real thing. Was paying six figures for a network worth it? Doubtful, but it’s certainly a bonus.

Even if a CEO isn’t right for the job, their network alone can be worth it to the company. Tesla and SpaceX recruit the top talent out of colleges because it’s cool to work for Elon Musk. Mark Zuckerberg could bring limitless value to a company just by introducing them to government officials around the world. Kanye West and his wife can bring worldwide legitimacy to a brand just by Tweeting about it.

A normal person might ask a friend of theirs to help them move.

Risk

The average person refuses to quit the job they hate. So they work 40 years in a terrible career, self-medicating with drugs. That’s how much normal people avoid risk. Most people throw away their entire lives rather than try something new.

The average person is scared to ask that guy or girl out on a date for fear of being embarrassed for 30 seconds. Embarrassment isn’t even real. It’s a tiny chemical reaction in your brain. You can’t even prove that your embarrassment exists. But it stops people from doing anything remotely interesting with their lives.

CEO’s try new things all the time. And when it doesn’t work out, they get dragged through the mud after being unceremoniously fired. And then the CEO gets up, dusts themselves off, and gets immediately rehired because 99% of people hate taking risks and doing new things is what it takes to succeed.

Perseverance

The gym is filled in January and empty by March. All of the “New Year’s Resolution” people fail before they even get started.

The average working career is 40+ years. Why not spend 5-10 of them trying new things to make sure the other 30 years are stellar? Very few people are willing to commit several years to something that might not work out. But here’s what happens: the time passes anyway and these people who never tried are in the exact same spot.

Amazon.com has never been profitable. Yes they do a lot of business volume, but the profit the company makes is put back into the company. They are on a 20 year timeline to profitability.

Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. His companies Tesla and SolarCity, which won’t have made a profit in their first 10 years of existence, are merely stepping stones to exploring space. It’ll take another 20 years to get colonies on Mars.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, works 16 hour days. 8 hours at Twitter and then 8 hours at Square. Neither company is profitable or looks to be profitable in the future. He’s been doing this for 10+ years.

CEO’s have 10, 20, and 30 year plans where they devote their entire lives to the cause. The average person can’t use a treadmill a few times a week for a couple months.

“What would you do with a million dollars?”

If you answered “two chicks at the same time” or “invest and live off the interest” then you will never be rich by your own efforts. The people that have money are constantly working, improving, and pushing themselves. We lived in one of the richest areas of Minnesota (Lake Minnetonka), and the lights on all the houses were dark at night. Those expensive lake shore properties rarely threw parties or saw the boats get used. Because the owners of those million dollar homes were always working.

It’s popular to hate on CEO’s

The world is better than it has ever been in human history, by any metric: health, wealth, or peace. CEO’s like Elon Musk are solving the energy problem by converting cars and homes to solar. CEO’s like Bill Gates are curing Polio and Malaria. CEO’s like Steve Jobs gave the average person with a smartphone more computing power in the palm of their hand than the entire world had in 1980.

Do you really think these people are underpaid?

Want to Get Paid for Drinking Beer?

drinking-beer

Yes you can get paid for drinking beer. Don’t believe me? It wouldn’t be the most ridiculous way people make money. Not even close. Let’s look at a tiny portion of the ways people make money before I tell you how.

Tucker Max is an asshole. He says it right on his book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. It’s a collection of stories of Tucker being a bastard in every way possible. It became a best seller.

drinking-beer
This wouldn’t even rank in the top 100 most ridiculous ways of getting paid.

Jackass is a movie where they kick each other in the balls and drink horse semen. It started as a group of skateboarders screwing around, daring each other to do stupid things, and laughing at each other’s physical pain. They recorded the idiocy on video and it would later be picked up and broadcast.

Grumpy Cat is just a house cat with a sad looking face on him. The owners created video of this cat and posted in on YouTube. They made so much money that they quit their jobs. The goddamn cat has an agent.

EL James, creator of 50 Shades of Grey, started out by writing erotic Twilight fan fiction. Fantasizing about Edward lead her to a net worth of $90 million.

@TweetofGod is a Twitter account that was made into a Broadway play.

@ShitMyDadSays is a Twitter account that was made into a book and a short-run TV show starring William Shatner.

Fashion Instagram bloggers are people that Alicia worked with while at Target. They’d pick out clothes in the store, go to the dressing room, try them on, take selfies, and post them in Instagram. And not even buy the clothes! These people make 6 figures and are flown to fashion shows around the world.

Video games are an endless ecosystem. Pick any popular game and there will be streamers, fan websites, strategy websites, coaching, professional players, and mod creators. When that video game goes stale, move your audience to next game of the year.

Bloggers of all types make their living online. Mommy blogs, DIY blogs, Investing blogs, Travel blogs, and I even heard that some sites on the internet are about sex. Pick your interest and I guarantee there’s an audience out there no matter how ridiculous you think it is. Like underwater basket weaving.

I spent 2.5 years as a professional online poker player. It paid for Alicia’s wedding ring, her BMW x5, and our destination wedding to Aruba with a $1,000 subsidy to each of the groomsman/bridesmaids.

Don’t like poker? Why not try sports betting? Heck, there are even professionals playing fantasy sports.

If you like socially acceptable gambling and not being treated like a heroine-addicted-child molesting-reject, think of becoming a day trader. Yes the stock market is gambling. Take it from me, a former professional gambler.

The Starters are a TV show on the NBA channel who started as a simple podcast. They did the podcast daily for years, eventually getting paid for their work by websites. And later, the NBA itself.

Jenna Marbles creates girly videos on YouTube and makes millions per year. Topics include makeup, boys, and “OMG” stories.

PewDiePie plays video games and uploads them to YouTube. He’s the most watched YouTuber. In 2014 he made 8 million dollars.

Ken M is a professional online troll. He goes to comment sections of websites and tries to trick people into stupid arguments for his enjoyment. This started his writing career and now in addition to writing for Comedy Central and other websites, he was named one of the 30 most influential people on the internet by TIME magazine.

Andy Samburg and his Lonely Island crew started out on YouTube. He’s since gone to SNL, starred in movies, and has a TV show called Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Justin Bieber made his debut on YouTube and a producer clicked on his video by accident.

E-Books have broken the rules of traditional publishing. It’s easy to release a title on Amazon or other online book sites with minimal effort.

Etsy is a way to make arts and crafts without having to worry about the hassle of setting up a website.

StichFix is a company that gives fashion advice for people. Think you have an eye for fashion? Become a consultant and work from home!

Mythbusters were just a group of guys that liked blowing things up.

Vine NBA parody guy makes short videos mimicking professional NBA players. These 15 second videos pull in 6 figures.

Rick Steves put out TV shows on public access for years before taking off as the travel authority online.

Reaction Videos are simple video blogs where the user is commenting or ranting on a particular phenomenon. Yes people make a living at this.

Online stores are just that. Selling things. Go to Shopify and set one up for yourself. Like selling offensive T-shirts few people will have the guts/stupidity to wear in public? That exists.

SEM/SEO/Social Marketing are skills that are desperately in need by companies, but you can’t go to college for them. Learn about them online and then try them for yourself.

A British teen makes tens of thousands of dollars helping Chinese parents name their babies.

Amazon has professional book reviewers. They wrote so many reviews that companies pay them to read and review their books.

Web comics flourish without the traditional newspapers. Can’t draw? No problem. Not funny but you can draw? Sure.

EatWith is a site for hosting people in your home and cooking for them. Like your own private restaurant.

Take a few years off and teach English in foreign countries. Easy job in exotic locations.

Airbnb lets you rent out empty rooms [you weren’t using anyway] to travelers.

Tripadvisor tours are great ways to give a service in your town. Wine tours, pub crawls, walking tours, fishing tours, historical tours, boat tours, whatever.

Upwork/eLance are freelancer sites to sell your services to people.

Copy writing has become fashionable with digital nomads.

Subscription boxes are small packages that arrive every month in the mail with a new thing to try. There are shaving clubs, wine boxes, candy, BarkBoxes for your dog, and more.

Mike Cernovich has become a media personality with nothing more than a website and Twitter.

Fiverr is a place for people to do their ridiculous skills for others at a low cost of $5. Are you an attractive woman who will record a 5 second video for someone? Great, you just made $5 for doing practically nothing. And you can include a $50 add-on where you will blow a kiss to the viewer. Or blow up a balloon with a message on it that explodes.

Mr Moustache found out how anyone can retire at 30, just by using math.

Buzzfeed is a $100 million dollar company that spews “listicles”. You know, the Top 6 Ways Peanut Butter Will Cause Your Death? That crap.

Programmers will always have jobs, so learn for free at CodeAcademy.com. Gain experience by building stuff and submitting bug fixes to open source projects.

OK, so people make money in all kinds of ways

Here’s something you probably didn’t catch: the above costs almost nothing to start. The device you’re using to read this probably has a camera on it and is connected to the internet. That’s all you need to start on one of the above.

So I hope you can see that almost anything is possible.

What else is required?

Persistence
Courage
Delusion

It will probably take a long time to show results for your effort. The downside is that to become world class at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours on it. That’s a lot of time. The upside is that many skills are transferable and you probably have put a lot of time towards your activity anyway. For example, all that time I wasted debating people on forums over video games drastically helped my writing. As did time spent writing memos in my office job. All the time I spent writing on this blog, Reddit, Twitter, or Facebook also helps my email communication to clients. All the activities I choose to do improves my skill at writing. I suspect you have a talent or hobby that you’ve kept for awhile and are similarly good at. Start there.

Gaining a following will take more time than you’d like. There’s no simple or single route to success other than keeping at it and trying new ways to get your message out there. Sorry. The best advice I can give here it to read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk. Most people try to close the sale (right hooks) with everything they do and forget that providing value to people (jabs) is actually the more important part.

Next up, courage. People will look at you differently for breaking tradition. They may even look down on you. Others will tell you that you “have” to do this and “have” to do that. You don’t. Take advice from people whose life you want to imitate, or from people who have direct success at what you want to achieve. Have the courage to take risks. You will lose friends as you succeed. It’s a cost few people talk about, but it’s there.

Get good at being delusional. The most successful people I know, meet, and read about all have a positivity force-field which blocks all reason. To these people, success is right around the corner at all times. They know that putting in the effort will get them there.

This post was inspired by someone on Reddit who lamented: “Follow your passion? No one will pay me to drink beer!”.

I disagree.

Craft breweries and pubs are growing like weeds. Become a beer expert (read: get drunk). Know everything about how it’s made and the different styles. Create a beer tour that goes around to different pubs and breweries. Make a simple webpage and put reviews from friends and family on Tripadvisor to start. Pay $10 per week for AdWords advertising and start a Facebook page. Start a subscription box with beer that you curated. Sell beer T-shirts and accessories. Make a YouTube channel all about beer. MAKE STUFF.

When I walk into a liquor store, I am overwhelmed with choices. Hundreds of beers that I’ve never had before. So you might be thinking that no one will pay you to drink beer, but I’m saying that’s exactly what we need right now.

SEO is Dead

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SEO is dead. It died back in 2010 but people still refuse to acknowledge it.

Here is the easiest proof that SEO is dead, the search results page (SERP) itself:

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Click for large

The first organic result is barely on the page… or even below the fold!

Any remotely commercial search has tons of ads above the organic results. Even if you’re #1 for your search, your result will still be buried. Mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic years ago and it doesn’t look like anything will reverse that trend. On mobile, it takes several swipes to get to the first organic result!

Aiming to be #1 in Google means you’re still invisible!

Honestly, it’s hard to overstate this point. #1 in Google still means you’re not even shown until the user scrolls down… IF they scroll down.

Ad are more enticing than organic results

The ads have pictures of the product, pricing, reviews, and sitelinks to other relevant areas on the website. The organic links are bland text that blur together.

Which do you think the user is going to click? In the image above, there are 11(!) ads above the first organic result that all have extra information an organic ad is lacking.

Our agency saw 25% drops in organic traffic for clients, across the board

We have clients in vastly different niches, and all of them saw the same trend: in Q1 of 2016, organic traffic dropped like a rock. This drop coincided with the changes to Google Shopping and removal of right hand side ads. Google didn’t just remove the right hand side ads, they put additional ads in the main column. Our clients didn’t make any huge changes and never invested in scammy SEO services that would get them penalized.

The elimination of the right hand side ads and introduction of more ads appearing in the main feed pushed organic results farther down the page. More scrolling + More ads = less organic clicks.

Ads are now nearly indistinguishable from organic results (other than the cool features ads get and organic doesn’t)

Searchengineland has a great article on how ad appearance has changed since 2010.

“AdBlockers are a thing! People won’t see the ads!”

Guess where the majority of AdBlocker’s revenue comes from? Google, paying the creators to not block their ads. When the next AdBlocker extension gets big, Google just hands them a pile of money to neuter it. Paying a few million dollars to get a few billion dollars is a great investment on Google’s part.

SEO is too slow to be effective – paying for ads is better

Here’s why most people give up when trying to start an online business:

Start a new website. Google indexes roughly once per quarter. That means if the site is new, it’ll take up to 3 months to even get ranked!

So they waited 3 months and now you see their rankings: they suck because the site is new. Do SEO things like like put out content and get links. Wait 3 months for the next index to come out.

It’s now 6 months in and they still don’t have sales because they don’t have traffic because the rankings suck. Most people gave up 3 months ago, but they push on! They’ve put 100’s of hours into cranking out stuff no one sees.

9 months later, they finally have good enough rankings to have some traffic. Still no sales because they couldn’t test conversion optimization, which they start to do.

One year after starting, the website owner is burned out. There’s a few thousand dollars in sales which don’t even begin to cover the cost of the owners’ time.

SEO is a means to an end: getting traffic. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc are all willing to sell you more traffic than you can possible handle! Before you complain about the cost, remember that SEO isn’t free. It’s the most expensive way of getting traffic out there.

Paying for traffic means you can start seeing results immediately. In SEO, if you picked the wrong strategy, not only will it take months of work to fix, you won’t even know if your new strategy is working several months after that! With paid advertising you can get immediate feedback and change your strategy from day to day. The second you find a profitable niche, you can duplicate it and increase the budget and see results that day.

So what should you do?

Knowing the basics of SEO is still a good thing. There’s no reason to ignore it when the basics are so easy.

View each platform as a search engine. Google is the #1 search engine, but can you name the second? It’s YouTube. People don’t think of it that way, but you should. Buzzfeed reports that social greatly outperforms search for them. They also used email newsletters to bring people back to the website. Stop thinking that search is the main way you get traffic!

Step 1 is creating good content. Good content will always have a place. Unfortunately I don’t have any advice on this topic other than to practice. Create content every day, get feedback, and try things.

Step 2 is spreading your content across as many platforms as you can: Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Amazon, etc. Yes you would have to create content specifically for that platform. For example, I could put together a little e-Book from a collection of posts on here and put it up for $1.00 on Amazon. The main purpose wouldn’t be to make a killing on the book itself, but act as a gateway for people looking on Amazon for travel to come here.

On the site I created for SEO testing where I got 100,000 sessions a month in ~6 months, I made sure to use as many “search engines” as possible. Each article had images that were tagged to show up in image searches, videos put on YouTube, links from social media such as Reddit, and links from community forums. There were plenty of ways to find my content because I put it in a lot of different areas. That in turn gave me good rankings in the search engine. But by that point I didn’t really care as my brand was larger than the traffic the search engines were giving me.

When you start out, you probably won’t be good at making content. That’s why I don’t suggest putting money behind your efforts right away: paying to distribute bad content won’t work. But once you find your content being liked and shared, it’s time to get out your wallet.

Step 3 is paying for traffic to build on what already works. If you’re good at creating content, you can get to this step in a week or two. This is also the time to work on optimizing conversions.

The internet landscape is constantly changing

site-traffic-split
This is the split of traffic sources for this site. The key is to not rely on any one source!

Don’t get stuck thinking Google is the portal to the internet. Instead of trying to game Google to be hidden under a pile of ads, spread your message across the other search engines that you didn’t think were search engines. And when you find something that works, pay for traffic and watch your site take off.

Simple SEO

Simple SEO with the stats to prove

The simple SEO guide here will get you farther and for less effort than other guides. In this day and age, everyone should have a basic understanding of online marketing. I think it’s important because the new economy is more about personal branding than ever before.

Here’s how I built a site that went from 0 visits to 100K visits per month in 7-8 months while giving SEO very little thought and I didn’t pay for advertising.

Results and niche

The site in question was rocketbrainsurgeon.com, a strategy website around a game called World of Tanks. Articles were 700+ words long and included at least 2 images. Often there was an associated video that was hosted on YouTube. Content was released every weekday for 7 months.

Simple SEO with the stats to prove

According to Google Analytics, 41% of my traffic came from Organic Search. And I did very little to earn that traffic.

Understand how organic search works

“Where do you hide a dead body? On the second page of Google’s search results” – Funny joke, but true. 97% of searches don’t get to the second page. If your average position is over 10, it might as well not be ranked at all. Page one or bust.

Rank 1 in Google still means you’re not shown on the screen for some search results – Google didn’t get to be the gigantic company that it is by giving away things for free. Ads fill the screen for most searches. Realize that all the hard work you do on SEO can still mean that you don’t even show up without scrolling!

Users click on a search result within 3 seconds – There’s 1,000+ words on the page, how to users make a choice? By skimming. Google highlights the words the user typed into the search box and people click on the results that have the most highlighted words.

Content is devalued over time because people want recent search results and not something from 2003. So all that effort you put into getting Rank 1 for your keyword needs to be maintained. Forever. The second you stop is the second your results drop.

Personalization and Localization is huge – Search engines tailor results based on things you’ve searched before and where you are located. So two people doing the exact same search will get different results. Don’t be afraid to go niche, because there are lots of people out there who want very specific content just for them.

SEO is slow, subject to the whims of the search engines, and incredibly time intensive. This article exists so we can get the biggest impact for the least effort… which still equates to a ton of effort because that’s the reality of SEO.

Basics

SEO consists of three main ideas: finding keywords, content, and on-page optimization. People more familiar with the process will notice I omitted linkbuilding, which I’ll talk about later.

Finding keywords

Reduce your broad keyword to a niche. For example, “GoPro camera” is pretty broad. The search results page will be filled. But “GoPro travel camera” will be less competitive. And phrasing it as a question, “Is the GoPro camera good for travel?” will be even less occupied. Go small. You’ll rank better and get more clicks than trying to go broad. Using the above method got me 114 clicks and 3 affiliate conversions for half an hour of effort of writing the article. And counting.

Tips to find a good keyword:

Do a Google search, and then look at the results page.

  • Few to no ads (good)
  • The exact search phrase doesn’t appear in bold 50+ times (better)
  • The exact search phrase doesn’t appear often at all (best)

If you don’t see the exact phrase you typed in very much on the page, that’s a good keyword. Don’t stress out about how much volume this keyword gets. If the keyword is relevant to your business and you have exactly what they are looking for, there will be traffic.

But also don’t bend over backwards to get some weird phrase that no one uses. Think of normal, yet specific phrases relevant to your business.

Use the words your customers use!

Search engines are basically word-matching. If you don’t have the exact words your customers are using, you won’t show up! Don’t use business language.

Here’s how the business thinks vs a customer:

  • Business: “We offer the best in outdoor simulated driving experiences!”
  • Customer: “go-karts near me”

The business will never rank because when Google looks at your site for “go-karts”, it finds “simulated driving experience” instead.

On-Page optimization

Now that you have a keyword, you need to structure your page properly to make sure the search engines can see it.

General rules:

  • One page, one idea – don’t try to make one page do everything
  • Keyword goes at or near the start
  • Keyword remains the same in every element
  • Keyword is spelled correctly and in the same order each time
  • Textual content starts as high on the page as you can get it: NO BIG IMAGES PUSHING CONTENT DOWN

Place your keyword in the URL, title, meta description, hero image alt text, H1, and content of the page. That’s it!

Using this page as an example: “simple-seo” is in the URL, “Simple SEO” is the title, “simple SEO” is in the meta description, “simple SEO” is in the alt text of the image, “simple SEO” is in the H1, and in the first sentence of the content. There’s no huge image taking up the screen.

Linkbuilding

Linkbuilding is the practice of pointing links towards your site to give more credibility to search engines and thus getting a higher position in the search results. These are called “backlinks”. Backlinks are so important that people even go so far as to build fake websites specifically for the purpose of gaming this system.

So how do you do it? Simple. You don’t. The only links you are interested in are ones real humans actually follow. Instead of scouring the internet looking for some obscure directory with a high PageRank (Google’s “power” rating) and begging them for a link to your site, let your audience build backlinks for you.

If your content is good, it WILL be shared. It WILL be linked.

Share your content with your Facebook friends. Share it on social media. Share it on forums. Share it on Reddit. Share it on StumbleUpon. But only put links where it adds something to the conversation. Don’t spam.

“Content is king. Context is God.” – Gary Vaynerchuck

If no one shares your content, that means it sucks. No amount of spammy backlinks would have helped you anyway because once they got to your site, they’d just leave. That’s the most important point. If your content can’t convert people, it doesn’t matter one bit that you’re Rank 1 for that keyword. If you have good content, it converts. It builds backlinks on its’ own.

According to Google Analytics, referrals and social media shares made up 36% of my traffic. I put out only one link per day, in front of people who would be interested in what I had to say.

Linkbuilding: not even once. To back up my point on this, Google will declare that links bring little to no benefit to ranking. For them to come out and acknowledge this publicly means that links have been of low to zero value for some time before this.

Common misconceptions about search

“I can get you Rank 1 in Google!” – If an agency or product says this to you, RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. The top ranking in the search engines doesn’t matter, you want quality traffic that converts.

How to get Rank 1 in Google:

  • Optimize for gibberish or an obscure phrase. Examples: “dfuaiopr3ewjdklafd878cc” or “Pinky rings enhance pickles while playing Call of Wartoads”
  • Wait
  • Boom: rank 1 on Google for a phrase no one is searching for

Or, pay for AdWords advertising to get Rank 1 in Google in less than an hour.

“Organic search is free” – nothing is further from the truth. Organic search takes a lot of time and effort. An article that took 8 hours to write may only gather 10 clicks a month, and one conversion per year. And that’s after waiting two months for it to get indexed and ranked.

Instead, in that 8 hours that took you to write it, you could have worked at McDonald’s for $10/hour, made $80, and gotten 160 clicks and 2 orders in a few hours from Facebook advertising. Then you could have put that profit towards more advertising and built your business from there.

Oh, and that was one article we were talking about. To get good at organic search, you’re going to need several pieces of content every week. Organic traffic is one of the most expensive ways you can possibly advertise because of the overwhelming amount of time it takes.

“I never click on ads” – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAH. People say this to me all the time, and it’s just not true. Even if you have ad blockers, you still click on ads. I click on ads. Advertising has changed, and what an “ad” can be is very fluid. The top organic results for Google might not have advertising on them directly (ie, clicking on them doesn’t give Google money for that click), but I guarantee you there’s a pile of money and effort behind that #1-3 ranking for a competitive keyword.

“Every page needs SEO” – Nope. While this page has basic SEO done to it (because it’s so easy), it’s not intended to gain traffic through organic search. It’s intended to be shared. Companies waste a lot of time SEO’ing pages that are never meant to generate traffic.

Most common failures

Poor keyword selection

Most people optimize for keywords where they have no chance, like “real estate agent”. Instead, get more specific. “real estate agent in Minneapolis” is better, but not perfect. “real estate agent in Minneapolis for single family homes” is what we’re looking for. Will something like that get a lot of traffic? No, but the traffic it does get has a high chance of conversion because it’s exactly what they are looking for. Getting 100 clicks and no conversions for the month is a failure, but getting 10 clicks and one conversion instead is a success.

Think small. Specific.

Very little content

The vast majority of businesses throw up a few pages and then never touch their site for a few years. And then they wonder why they aren’t getting traffic. You absolutely have to keep producing content if you want to rank well. Organic search is very time intensive if you want to compete for high volume keywords. Most companies discover very early that this isn’t what they signed up for and that they’d rather pay for traffic than earn traffic.

Short or copied content

An article must be 700 words or longer to rank effectively. It also must be unique. You can’t just copy from somewhere else, you have to sit down and write it. Don’t believe the people that say programs can write unique content that will evade search engines.

Summary

SEO is much easier than most people make it out to be. Yes there are things you can and should do to help search engines find your content. But it doesn’t replace great content. Spend your time creating content people love, and everything will grow from there.