I wish I knew how to do it, but I simply do not know how to advertise correctly. Advertising is much more confusing for me than doing search engine optimization. In advertising, you are much, much more likely to get burned and have a bad experience than when you use SEO.
I’ve been doing various SEO-related tasks for over a decade. They have been the most rewarding investments of my time and money that I have ever made. When I perform SEO-related tasks, I am actually providing massive value to the marketplace and providing my companies long-term value. When I advertise, I am rolling the marbles and taking chances with my money and my business.
Several years ago, I was operating a student loan company. This company spent a lot of money on advertising. At the height of this student loan company’s popularity, we were sometimes spending over $100,000 per day advertising. One year, the most popular site in the country was MySpace. I decided that I was going to spend roughly $20,000 a week advertising there.
I had a nice time with the people at MySpace. They invited me to a big party in San Francisco in some hotel where everything was all white and fancy food was being served. It was the company’s time, and I enjoyed it.
After a few weeks of advertising on MySpace (which was at the time considered a very trustworthy site), we discovered that they had engineered some stuff into their code to serve pages and count banner impressions (and charge me for this). This was astonishing to me that a company this large could be this unethical.
When we confronted them with evidence of this fraud, do you know what they did? They said: “You’re right. We’re sorry, and we won’t do it again.”
They still wanted to get paid!
I only discovered what they were doing because at the time, my company had 100+ computer programmers working for it. If I did not have these sorts of resources, I would have wasted tens of thousands of dollars.
I’ve had a similar experience with other sorts of online advertising—even search engines. I just did a search for the term “click fraud.” Look at the results that I got:
I’m not an expert in “click fraud,” but when I see numbers like 28.9% and so forth, I am not happy. These are frightening numbers. What this means is that approximately 30% of the money that is spent on search is fraudulent. Who knows who is clicking on the ads? It could be the publication’s computers; it could be your competitors—you simply do not know.
Several years ago, I was sitting in my office in Los Angeles and wanted to do some advertising in a magazine called JD Jungle. At the time, this was a hot magazine that had recently been started by a couple of young Ivy League graduates. It was considered to be a very “cool” and up-and-coming sort of magazine by the young attorney demographic that I wanted to reach with my business. Moreover, the magazine had invited me and members of my staff to go to a couple of law schools and give speeches in some events sponsored by Johnnie Walker Whisky. I’d been to the magazine’s cool loft offices in New York City and was impressed with the crew behind the magazine.
I called the magazine, and a few days later a polished salesman in a suit arrived at my office.
After some niceties, he told me it would cost $10,000 for a one-page color advertisement in his magazine.
“$10,000?” I asked. “That’s a lot of money.”
“That’s what it costs,” he told me.
I was a little upset and politely asked the man to leave my office.
I called the people whom I knew in the magazine and told them about the experience. I started negotiating a rate for the advertisements. After weeks of negotiation, I got the rate for advertising down to $2,000 a month.
Over the next several months, the magazine started to get thinner and thinner and its quality continued to deteriorate. The magazine was distributed to law schools, but I started to hear that it was being distributed to fewer and fewer law schools. The number of advertisements in the magazine started to decline further and further as well. Eventually, I told the magazine that I no longer wanted to advertise in it.
Then, they threatened to sue me.
“I do not even have a contract with you!” I told them.
“It’s a course of dealing!” they told me. “You need to honor our informal arrangement!”
I had an experience several years later with a company called Vault.com. This company was supposed to publish a series of advertisements in some books for our company over the course of two years. This was a contract for roughly $200,000.
At the end of the two years, they had not published any of the advertisements and had only fulfilled about $20,000 of the contract and been paid over $100,000.
They started calling, writing, and threatening that they wanted the rest of their money.
“You have not done the work!” I told them.
They told me “We gave away too much in our contract, and you got your money’s worth!”
Then, to my astonishment, they started writing me all sorts of letters demanding money, threatening to sue and so forth. I had done business with these people for over 5 years and was very surprised by this in all respects. In fact, I could not believe it.
A few months after all of this started the company was sold to a private equity firm. Later, I learned that the company had started threatening customers like me “irrationally” because they wanted to collect “receipts” and other money before the company was sold because they would be able to keep everything they collected before the company was sold.
I do not want to regale you with various stories about my dissatisfaction with print media and online advertising. What I do want you to understand, though, is that it can be incredibly inefficient and cause major, major problems for you when you put a lot of effort into this.
About 8 years ago, I was operating a student loan company that was bringing in millions of dollars in revenue per month. Like most businesses, I advertised and even sent out hundreds of thousands of letters every week. The company was growing so fast that I could not believe it. I was purchasing printers that cost upwards of $750,000 to print letters. I had an American Express Black Card with a $250,000 credit limit and was sending wires to Amex several times per week because I was maxing it out advertising.
Then one day, the government passed a law that only the government could make federal student loans and literally put just about every student loan company in the country out of business. Despite this, our company survived. We had incredible infrastructure and were doing private student loans. We puttered along for several months and then the credit crisis hit. As far as this once-thriving company was concerned, it was all over.
There’s nothing wrong with having a company go out of business because of forces beyond its control. What was problematical for me at the time was that I had a lot of assets:
- I had a $15,000,000 house with a $225,000 a month mortgage payment (don’t ask).
- I had another $2,500,000 beach house.
- I had some very nice cars.
- I had approximately 700 employees.
- I had over $1,000,000 in printing equipment.
- I had hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in payments on buildings that I had purchased to house my expanding empire.
- I had millions of dollars in tax liability from the time when the student loan company was making lots of money.
- I had tens of thousands of dollars of payments in just property taxes alone on my buildings.
To make a long story short, the shit really hit the fan. Certainly, the $3,500,000 jet that I was seriously looking at was now out of the question.
Prior to the explosion of this student loan company, I had a nice “little” $15,000,000 a year company or so with very few liabilities. After the rise and then fall of the student loan companies, I had a much smaller company with lots of liabilities. I was in serious trouble.
Being alone through all of this was not easy. I had to personally let go hundreds of employees who turned to blogs and so forth to criticize and attack me (as they had a right to do—it is not easy losing a job when the economy goes south).
However, it is not easy letting people go. When you let people go, it is because you have failed. You have failed to either hire the right sort of person or you have failed to generate enough business to give them a job. You also are causing pain and when you are in business, you always have to decide where you are going to put that pain. Do you fire one person or do you fire another? Who is the most appropriate to “live”?
I had to start prioritizing when certain bills got paid and when the others did not. I had to deal with lots of very upset people. Most importantly, I had to generate a lot of money and a lot of profit.
How much profit?
Millions and millions of dollars per year…
I also had to generate this profit without the benefit of advertising. I was 100% cut off from advertising by my accounting department that was struggling to keep the company going in the face of a crisis. We wanted to keep our properties, deal with our liabilities, and climb out of the hole that we were in. The only question was how.
How do you keep a business going if you cannot afford any advertising?
I currently operate over 450 websites. These sites get millions of visitors per month. I really do not advertise much at all (I spend maybe $1,000 a month on LinkedIn and a few ads sponsoring searches for various brand names and that is it.). I work in diverse fields ranging from running a large yoga studio to running a law firm to running recruiting firms and employment websites. I owe most of my success to simply understanding the power of search engines and how to give them what they want.
Here are a few of my sites and the “SEO Traffic Value” of free search engine traffic that these sites get each month. I’m not sure how “accurate” these numbers are, but what I do know is that they are good “approximations” of money that I do not have to spend on pay-per-click advertising:
I’m embarrassed to tell you that I have not even looked at some of these sites in months—I just wrote down the first ones that came to mind. I have so many sites, in fact, that I cannot even remember them all. A lot of the traffic that they get is just from simple systems that I have set up for them to ensure that they get the traffic that I want them to.
Now, if you were able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in “free visitors” per month to your site without doing much work or spending much money, don’t you think that is a good thing?
With no advertising budget to speak of, I was able to get my business to rise from the ashes like a phoenix (I’m sorry—I love metaphors) and generate tons of business and money. These businesses continue to do well irrespective of where I am or what I am doing. Search engines bring me most of my customers.
In my experience, marketing is over 70% of what ultimately makes a business successful. You need to understand how to bring in customers. Once you understand this, everything changes. Without the ability to bring in customers, a business will fail.
SEO is the Ultimate Marketing Weapon
The business case for SEO is very simple: You get out of it far, far more than you put into it. If you invest $5,000 and this investment is done correctly, you will not only get your $5,000 back in a relatively short period of time but you will also continue to get money back for years (or even decades) after that investment because the search engines will continue to send you traffic.
Did I grab your attention with that site of mine that I showed you is getting an astonishing almost $500,000 in free advertising per month? I do not spend more than a few thousand dollars per month on that site right now and never have. My investment in the site has been cumulative. I may have invested $100,000 over the years in the site, but it is giving me back five times that in traffic every month.
Why is Google doing this?
Simple: I followed the rules and did things correctly.
Unlike an advertiser who will cheat you, or change the rules, or allow a competitor to steal from you, a search engine will not cheat you. A search engine will always be your friend if you do not cheat it.
I hear stuff about Google coming out with one update or another all the time. Unlike a lot of people in the business, I generally do not care when I hear about this sort of stuff because it never affects me and never has. In fact, when the search engines have an update, it is generally something that helps me because I spend my time concentrating on doing things the correct way.
The correct way does not involve any tricks, special tools, or a high level of intelligence. All that the correct way involves is understanding how search engines operate and giving them what they want.
I am going to tell you a secret: All you need to do to get traffic from search engines is provide professional content that people are interested in on a website.
The key terms here are “professional” and “interested in.”
How does a search engine know if your content is “professional”:
- If your site speed is fast
- If your site has proper title tags, meta tags, and so forth
- If your HTML is professionally done
- If your content is understandable
- If your content contains images
- If your content is not copied from others or written by robots
How does a search engine know if people are “interested in” your content?
Generally, the most important factor in a search engine knowing whether or not people are “interested in” your content is whether or not your content has a lot of links going to it.
What makes these links from sources that are important?
- If these links are from sources that are related to your subject matter
- If these links are sufficiently diverse and “natural”
- If these links are continuous (the longer people link to your site, the better)
- If people come to your site and stay there for a long time
- If people are talking about your site on social networks and other places where they normally would for an interesting site
Additional factors that search engines use with respect to finding out information about your site are various but make a lot of sense:
- If people are searching online for your company and site name
- If people stay a long time on your site and do not bounce around
- If people return after visiting your site
- If your site is updated frequently
- If your site has been around a long time
These are a few of the things that the search engines do. There is a lot more involved, of course, but this is about it. If you understand this and nothing more, you can do very, very well in search engine marketing. The rest of what you can learn about this business is basically smoke and mirrors.
When you give search engines what they want, your business can change beyond your wildest dreams. You probably will not get rich overnight—but done properly you will not have to worry about getting business. You need to make sure, though, that you are giving the search engines what they want.
SEO Must Be Done Correctly
Realizing that my survival depended on getting free traffic, I searched far and wide for various forms of information. I did everything that I could to ensure that I was finding the best information possible. As most people do, I always hoped that there was some sort of shortcut out there.
I attended tons of seminars held by the “so-called” gurus and was amazed at the stuff that I saw and heard. Most online practitioners have all sorts of tricks that they are happy to teach you. With almost 100% confidence, I can tell you that most of these tricks are worthless.
At the present time—and for the past several years—one of the most popular Internet gurus teaches nothing more than “Permission Marketing”—a concept that he seems to have stolen from Seth Godin (someone in the field whom I respect). This essentially involves giving people various free forms of information and then making them trust you before they give you thousands of dollars for a course that essentially teaches the same thing.
With very, very few exceptions, very few people in the Internet marketing field are teaching real search engine optimization. They are teaching a series of shortcuts and today’s latest tricks. You are not learning search engine secrets from the sort of Stanford-educated PhDs roaming around Google. You are learning them from people who in most cases did not even attend college and may have found a little loophole that will work for a time but then will get your site in more trouble than you want with Google.
Fads, quick marketing tricks, and so forth do not work against thousands of computer science PhDs operating a multibillion-dollar company with more resources at its disposal than most countries. It cannot be done. You need to give these people what they want and stop playing games.
Search engine optimization absolutely must be done correctly. There are zero shortcuts in the business, and anytime someone promises you something big, it is probably not the real thing.
None of the search engine stuff that I am going to teach you is difficult at all. It is, however, time consuming, very time consuming. And, it will require you to stop looking for shortcuts.
When someone walks into a bank with a gun and sticks it in a teller’s face, he is taking a shortcut. The odds are he is going to get caught. The money might explode with an ink bomb. He may get caught fleeing the bank. Or, the FBI will catch him a short time later. Whatever happens, the odds are very good that he is going to get caught and will spend several years in prison.
Robbing a bank is a shortcut. Using automated tools to try and fool search engines or following the advice of the hot guru for a certain period of time is a shortcut.
At this point, it is important that you understand one very simple point about search engines and this business: You need to invest time and money into SEO to get results.
I do not need to tell you that absolute fortunes are being created online every single day. As new websites are started, newspapers and other types of media are folding. Even television and entertainment are going increasingly online.
Because so much is going online, it is imperative for a business to do aggressive SEO if it wants to thrive. I own a law firm and a yoga studio and do SEO aggressively for these. I also have recruiting companies and do SEO aggressively for these. Whatever your profession, whatever type of business you have, you must do SEO.
In SEO, the only results that generally matter are the top 3 results. No matter how you look at it, search engine optimization is a race. 95% of all of the clicks in SEO are on page 1. If you rank for something like #30, the odds are that you will get zero traffic.
When you do SEO, you are attempting to win that race. You are doing this in a variety of ways, and they are all ways that you need to learn about and understand. Doing SEO will change your business in a fundamental and meaningful way if you do it correctly.
You have to do SEO and do it correctly. SEO is predictable. SEO has rules. SEO will not cheat you. SEO encourages you to do good things.