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So what about this SEO guy who will get 500 quality links for £100 a month and will get me on page one?
2011-04-13: Let's nail this once and for all.
To Google, it's worth $22bn per year to provide excellent search results to each and every query users throw at it. Their whole business is based on providing the very best search results because the day they don't is the day everyone leaves and their business collapses.
That's $60m per day, $2.5m per hour, $700 per second of motivation. And they are very, very .. very .. clever.
So, put aside that idea that you have of tricking Google into doing anything. There are no tricks that will work for long. Google saw all the tricks coming years ago.

First page of Google

If you want a first page ranking on Google, it is actually very easy .. for a worthless search phrase that no-one buys from.
So when someone says "I can get you a number one position within a week", the point is .. it's for a worthless phrase.
Here's why.
The first page of Google is a free market. People want to be on the first page of Google because they make money from it. People click through to their website and one way or another they make money from that.
So what's it worth, to be on the front page of Google? Well, if, by being in position five of Google you'd make £1,000 of profit each month, would you spend £500 per month to your SEO person?
Well your competitors might.
And when your competitor is making that £500 of profit each month from this one phrase .. well, that's still an opportunity for someone else.
If they are willing to spend £600 a month and take £400 a month profit, particularly if they can knock the other guy out of business and eventually settle with more profit, that's a business opportunity.
So .. how much to get on page one of Google? It's whatever the business is worth.
It has to be that, because if the £100 a month chap we started with could get you to page one for a profitable phrase, then anyone can do that. And anyone can't because there are only ten slots on page one. So once ten people have done it, you'll need something else, something extra.
That's the reality of SEO. Two rules apply:
"if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"
and Johnny's rule:
"everything is as complicated as it's humanly possible to be"
If there was a simple thing you could do to get on page one, everyone would do it, and it would no longer work (because there are only ten slots).

Web 2.0 and the rise of social media

Trite, I know, but the Internet and the web gave us all a distribution channel previously available only to powerful people like newspaper owners and TV channels.
Web 2.0, the rise of social media, turned that right up. So now, everyone is familiar with populating the web themselves, whether it's about the lovely pizza they've just eaten, the bad service they just got, or their plans for the week or weekend through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, Flickr and the rest.
It's no exaggeration to say this is revolutionary.
Your business exists in a new world where your customers have as much voice as you do. You can't fight that. You have to embrace it.
Here's an attempt Seabrook Crisps' Facebook Page.
What do you think?
They have 3,398 fans, so what about Ben and Jerry's. OK, about quarter of a million fans.
Note that these pages are open to comment from everyone. That's your page, open to comment from everyone. Scary eh?
I don't know about you but I find Seabrook's approach a little patronising. Perhaps they are appealing to kids, but Ben and Jerry's (and I know they are now owned by Unilever but I imagine they keep at least some of the awesome original branding) seems more genuine.
The Ben and Jerry's brand was what? For me it was amazing stories about ice cream tasting sessions, employees being able to invent flavours as they wished, natural and great quality ingredients, massive customer involvement, and .. an ice cream revolution everyone could get involved in that was really great fun.
Stories are important. Viral. Ancient.
I probably haven't eaten any Ben and Jerry's for years, but I love what they stand for. So it even reached me .. and I'm not really their cinemagoing, sofa DVD watching market. Ben and Jerry's isn't patronising. It's fabulous.
Google wants to see a balanced website that's continually maintained with external links from all sorts of areas that look like genuine customer involvement. So .. you'd better get some genuine customer involvement.

It's an attention economy

Nowadays we are used to being bombarded by thousands of messages which we ignore.
Interestingly, filtering software, like Facebook, that gives us more of what we want only makes it worse. I personally have an interest in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I even filter out lots of that. Even powerful, focused messages get ignored. We are very, very good nowadays at ignoring what we are not interested in right this second.
The web is a goal-focussed environment after all. It's not like watching telly and sitting through the ads. We drive the web. When we use the web, we use it to do something. When an ad or other message gets in our way, we route around it. We want what we want. The web is like a cash machine .. we just want what we want from it.
Equally, as marketing becomes more sophisticated, we become more adept at spotting when we are being sold to. If we didn't, we'd be bust. This is life and death stuff. We have to spot sales and deal with it accordingly.
So that audience of yours with its global voice: it's not stupid. It also knows what you're up to.
Try commenting in a forum. You will be slaughtered if there's even a subliminal whiff of anything commercial.
So now. Do you fancy spamming them? That guy who will get you 500 quality links with a software robot for £100 a month. Is he going to improve your brand or make you look like a salesman in a cheap suit? Once you look like that, your brand image changes. People remember these things, especially if they actually rather like your brand. So you could really spoil things with your key supporters.

So here's how I do it

So if the answer isn't ramping up the automated SEO software .. "shall we go with the guy who offers 500 or the one who offers 1,000? Oh, 1,000 is bigger, let's go with him" .. what is the answer?
It comes from a common Twitter strategy. How do you get Twitter followers? Answer: one relationship at a time.
Boring. One? Yes one genuine, real relationship with someone who can be your advocate.
Social media blurs the boundary between you and your customers. Now you have customers who will comment on your new packaging, flavour, product or outlet. They will let you and all your friends know if your customer service sucks. They'll help you get it right. Use that.
It's no longer about you and them. The company sending out press releases and messages that your customers consume. It's about interaction, relationships, conversation.
That's what's missing. That's what will set you apart. Soul. Real connections.
And what are people connecting with when they connect with you? Your brand, and the people within your company who live that brand.
Your brand differentiates you in the market. Your brand values are how you live, as a company, every day. It's in everything you do.
So the first thing I need to understand is your brand, because that determines everything you do.
I'll need to know who's involved in the company, and who I can work with who is already enthusiastic about this stuff who can become an advocate in your business for social media.
I'll need to do some number crunching to see what relevant search terms are entered into Google by your audience. I'll need to see your Analytics figures to see how people behave on your website already. I'll work out which search terms are making money for you. I'll need to know as far as possible where you are making profit.
I'll look at your competitors and work out their strength in each of your markets. I'll forensically analyse their strategies and see what we can use.
And I'll need to know your strengths. What can you bring? Do you write well? Got good photographs? Video? Is there already a news system? Do you have people able to monitor Twitter? Are your sales people willing to bring input? What's your website like? One of my clients found out one of their receptionists was actually a trained journalist .. she writes fabulous copy to this day, every day.
Having done all that, I'll make some initial recommendations about where the easiest next income streams might be and how we can develop systems to take advantage of that, systems that we can optimise and internalise as much as you like once we've proved they work.
I can promose you something. Those systems will not be boring. They won't be me-too. I won't patronise your customers. I want you to take your brand values and live them to the extreme in everything you do. What would your brand do if it was really free?
As we run those systems we can monitor progress against your competitors.
It's possible do work on SEO and see no results if your competitors are doing more. So by making a good initial guess at how much resource to put in and then monitoring progress against the competition, we can see whether we are gaining on your competition or not and adjust the system accordingly.
Of course, if they are well managed they will see you coming and raise their game to protect their income, their jobs, their families. Money is serious stuff.
Have you got enough resource to storm your competitors' castles? They are, after all, funding their defence of their page one position with the income they are getting every day from that position. Once you are in position one, it's easier to stay there. So .. that's where you want to be, defending, spending less, rather than fighting up from below.
If you are low on resources we can pick our battles. It will take a fortune to get to number one for 'car insurance', but less to get there for 'car insurance broker Wolverhampton'. But once you've got the latter, maybe you can go for 'midlands' and work up, using some of your new income to fund bigger battles.
Another way forward is .. if your website converts better than your competitors', you will make more money than they do for the same volume of traffic. So website conversion, another specialism of mine, is key to funding the whole thing.
At the end of all this, you get a page one position, perhaps a number one position, for a phrase, and you get income from that. I like to think of that as a spinning plate on a pole. I guess that shows the size of my maturity.
Once you have one revenue stream, you'll want another, and another. Each one picked because it's winnable and it's right for you. Achieved with a customised system that plays to your strengths.
Each win makes the next win easier. Every achieved keyphrase number one position raises all boats.
Notice I haven't promised you anything? That's because I don't know you yet. How long is a piece of string? My answers are customised every time, but they are based on a deep knowledge of how this all works.
I ran a PR company for ten years and worked in marketing, PR and direct mail for twenty. So I know marketing.
I have a first class degree in Internet computing, so I know the Internet.
I'm trained by the best .. Stompernet .. in Internet marketing.
So what I don't do is take what you tell me and push it through robot software.
And I'll beat those methods every time with insightful systems that play to your strengths.
Because the battle is partly about resources, and partly about doing the right things.
This is as hard as humanly possible. It has to be, otherwise we'd all be on page one, and we can't be. Don't let anyone tell you it's easy. The principles are simple enough. So is kicking a ball in the back of a net. But being a championship footballer isn't easy.
This is the right way to do Internet marketing. Professional. Following the money. Using science and the numbers to guide us, but also psychology, soul and enthusiasm.
Your business exists to make a difference. So let's make that difference.

By John Allsopp
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