How Expensive is SEO?

Expensive? A Common Question and a Reasonable Concern.

SEO-best-practices-words1Since Rank Magic’s main market is “small and very small businesses”, expense control is always an issue. We hear often that business owners fear that SEO will be too expensive. We are very price-conscious here, and will be reluctantly raising some of our rates next year; our hourly rate has been the same since 2008. Nevertheless we remain highly competitive price-wise, and much more than competitive value-wise.

What do most SEO companies charge?

That question was asked on the LinkedIn SEO, SEM, and Social Media Marketing group, and here are some typical answers:

  • Around $700 per month for ongoing SEO, $350 per month for basic SMM.
    Karen Godfrey, Melbourne, Australia
  • In India generally around 50,000 – 80,000 for (SMM) close to $1000 and SEO ($400) per month [in US dollars]
    Raveesh Shrivastava, India
  • Depends on what client wants to achieve and the timeline in delivering it. For a small to medium campaign, $500 – $850 per month budget could drive a better ROI from the campaigns.
    Humar Priyam, India
  •  I have seen smaller agencies begin their pricing around $400-$500 in the U.S.
    Todd Bacile. New Orleans, LA
  • Hyper-Localized Management: $250-$750dollar-sign
    • This is based on a small business operating in a specific geographic region
      Example: Family-owned store in a local town that sells natural foods
      Anthony Capetola, Hicksville, NY 
  • Larger Brands w/ National Reach: $2000-$10,000 +
    • High competition range, National or Semi-National Reach
      Example: A new mortgage firm that operates along the eastern seaboard of the United States
      Anthony Capetola, Hicksville, NY 

Want to know how Rank Magic compares? Ask for a copy of our free Overview & Pricing Guide.


Google Panda 4.1 Rolls Out

Uh-Oh.

Google Panda algorithm

Google has rolled out a new version of the Panda algorithm, and it’s believed to affect 3-5% of websites. That may sound like a small number, but as Google algorithm changes go, it’s a pretty big one.

Google’s Pierre Far announced the update on his Google+ page two weeks ago. He explained that it’s not a simple update because  it actually adds a few more signals to help Panda identify low quality websites better. Assuming your website is not a low quality site, this should work in your favor. In fact, he says this update results in a”greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher”.

There’s a nice Panda overview and guide to Panda 4.1 over at The h\Huffington Post.

The rollout is a slow one, not hitting all Google data centers at the same time. It wasn’t expected to continue into this week, but according to Moz it was still rolling out as of three days ago. They say “fluctuations and ranking changes you are seeing are likely related to that.”

There are a series of questions you can ask and answer about any given web page that should give you an idea of whether Panda will like it (improve its rankings) or not (potentially drop its rankings). The Moz blog of two days ago goes through that for some representative sites that were helped by Panda 4.1 and some that were hurt. There are also links there to some places where you can get a page evaluated … but the easiest one (PandRisk) costs about $100 to evaluate a handful of pages for you.

How are you doing under the new (and improved?) Panda algorithm? Please let us know in the comments below.


The 7 Steps to a Perfect Blog Post

Can you really write a perfect blog post?Blog orange

Well, “perfect” is a little tough to pin down, but yes, you can make your blog posts far more powerful. A recent blog post of mine went wildly viral (at least from my own, limited perspective). It was read more than any other blog post, shared more than others, and picked up and syndicated by several blog sites like Business2Community.com. I’ve often wondered what made that blog post so special. I think the secret was that I inadvertently applied some of the seven steps below from the folks at Buffer. There’s a more thorough discussion of this over there, but here are the highlights.

Start with the perfect headline

You may realize that people tend not to read online: they scan. Research shows  that people tend to read the first three words in a headline and the last three words. I’ve used that technique in this very post.

There are also a number of headline techniques that catch readers’ attention:

  • Surprise: “Don’t optimize for Google”
  • Question: “Are You Getting Screwed by Google’s Pigeon Update?”
  • Curiosity Gap: ” Top 10 Rankings Factors – #4 Is a Shock!”
  • Negatives: “Never Ignore the User Experience”
  • How To: “How to Fix Your Keyword Stuffed Copy”
  • Numbers: ‘The 7 Steps to a Perfect Blog Post” (I’m using that one in this post)
  • Audience Reference: ‘You Need Video on Your Site Now”
  • Specificity: “Six Ways to Get More Out of Your SEO”

 story-impactHook readers with a story

After you grab them with the headline, hook them with a story introduction. This turns out to be surprisingly important in turning a glancing reader into one who stays and reads your whole blog post.

I’ve started out this very post with a short story. Did it help hook you?

 Cut down on characters per line with an image

Placing an image in the top right corner of a blog post does two important things. First, It provides a picture to attract attention and hopefully focus the reader on the subject at hand. But second, It makes the first several lines of text shorter. Shorter lines are easier to read and easier for the eye to scan; it’s easier to comprehend and it seems less complicated. That makes your post almost subliminally more appealing for someone to read. An alternative is to make the font size larger for the first paragraph of your post., I’ve actually done both in this blog post.

Use sub-headings

As I said before, people tend to scan on the web rather than read left to right, one word after the other. They scan down the page seeking morsels of information that appeal to them. Then they read.


Headings and sub-headings provide the perfect scan-fodder for your readers. They also add white space and break up your text, making it more approachable. Another technique that can help is using bullet lists  — for the very same reasons.

Consider your word count

Word count does play a role here. Too low a word count makes the page look like it’s not going to be very informative. After all, how much important information can you glean from 100 words of text? On the other hand a 3,000 word post is just over-kill. It may appear too complex to read, the reader may think they don’t have enough time right now to read it, or they may think it’s got too much information to digest at one sitting. All those are turn-offs.

There does seem to be a sweet spot.

socialsharesThe folks at QuickSprout have an extensive article about this, and their research shows that longer posts get more social shares. Social shares is a simple measure of how many people read the article and found it worthwhile. Shares really start  to pick up once the post length exceeds 700 words, and is best over 5,000.

Add one or two “tweetables” to your post

Tweetables are little snippets of text — like soundbites on the news  — that are memorable and easy to tweet. You can even use a quick blog plugin to help you create them. You’ll find one of those about three paragraphs up in this post, using the Click to Tweet WordPress plugin.

 Four little things to consider in your blog post

  1. Include a call to action. “Share this post” “Call us for an appointment” “Visit our website” There’s a reason the person who takes your order at the fast food burger chain always ask “Want fries with that?”
  2. Include images. We remember photos 6 times easier than text.
  3. Include social share buttons. You want your readers to share your post with their own circle of friends and colleagues, right? You’ll notice our social share buttons at both the top and bottom of this post.
  4. Create a readable URL. Instead of the URL for this post being http://www.rankmagic.com/blog/2014/09/7-steps-perfect-blog-post/ it could be improved to http://www.rankmagic.com/perfect-blog-post/.

stopwatch-timingTiming matters

When your blog post appears has an impact, too, but I’m not convinced this is as important as the other factors. For one thing, most blog posts are published during the workday, but most social shares of blog posts happen between 5 and 11pm, after the workday. More social shares also occur on weekends than during the work week. Do posts published outside of working hours get shared most often? Or are those posts that were published during the workday but not read and shared until after work? The research doesn’t tell us.

There you have it. Seven steps to a perfect blog post.

How many of these things do you employ in your blogging?

There’s plenty to agree and disagree on here. Which are most important? Which do you think are hogwash?Which have worked well for you? Let us know what you think about these in the comments below.

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If perfect blog posts aren’t helping your visibility on the web, maybe the problem’s with the rest of your SEO. At Rank Magic, we can fix that. Drop us a note.


Are You Getting Screwed by Google’s Pigeon Update?

PigeonRankIn late July, Google released a new algorithm change nicknamed the Pigeon Update. Not to be confused with PigeonRank, a Google April Fool’s posting we reported on back in 2007, this one is very serious, indeed.  And not everyone is thrilled by it.

The “Yelp Problem”

Yelp had complained they it was being discriminated against in Google local results. It seems that even if someone included the word “Yelp” in their search Google often listed is own local listings ahead of Yelp listings. According to Search Engine Land, the Pigeon Update does in fact solve the Yelp problem.

Google's new Pigeon updateThe question now is whether that comes at the expense of your own local listings. Has solving the Yelp Problem caused a new problem for you?

Directories Win. Do You Lose?

It seems that local directories like Yelp, InsiderPages, CitySearch and others are showing up more prominently now than they used to. That’s great for those directories, but it may come at the expense of listings for individual small business websites like yours.

How do you respond?

Google is constantly trying to improve the relevance of its results, so over time the Pigeon Update will be refined and improved. But how do you respond in the meantime?

Those local directories are showing up more prominently now and are seeing a bump in traffic. The folks at Social Media Today have written why it is more important than ever for you to have fully optimized listings in those very local search directories, hopefully supported by positive reviews there. For our own locally oriented clients, we’ve been doing that for some time but for the immediate future that seems to be a more critical activity than ever before.

If you’d like to learn more about that, check out our local search category.

What’s been your experience? Have you seen a loss of local rankings? Have you seen any negative impact on traffic? Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Most Common Mistake for a Local Business Website

The local business error we see more than any other

You serve people within a limited geographic area.

Oops-250So when consumers in your area search for what you do or what you sell, you need to show up in the search engine results. And to maximize the likelihood of that, search engines need to understand where your business is, and what geographic areas you serve.

Despite how much better search engines have gotten in understanding the focus of a web page, they’re not yet as smart as a person. If you have a page all about in-home widget repair, search engines will understand that very well. And if you have another page about your service area, they can understand that. But what they don’t do well is connecting those dots. To a search engine, each web page is like an island. It connects with others via links, but it needs to do the dot-connecting itself. In other words …

You need location information on every page of your website.

Depending on your business, it’s good to have your phone number posted prominently near the top of every page. And make sure it’s a local area code. Toll-free numbers for local businesses make customers suspicious.

Then, make sure your address, including state and zip code is on every page. Beyond that, you might allude to your service area: counties you serve, or even the major cities and towns, as long as you don’t make that annoyingly long. The easiest place to include this is in your page footer because that allows you to put and maintain it in one spot that will be inherited by all the pages on your site. For example, if Rank Magic was limited to local business, I might place this in our footer:

Serving the north Jersey counties of Morris, Essex, and Sussex
from offices in East Hanover, NJ 07936

If you serve customers (or clients, or patients) at your office or store, you should obviously include the street address as well.

How do you deal with this on your site? Let us know in the comments below.

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How Your Clichés Turn Off Potential Customers

You probably don’t use clichés in the marketing copy on your website.

Or do you?

I learned a simple rule from a marketing consultant years ago that’s stuck with me ever since. Don’t make your reader think “well, I should hope so”. But I see that all the time in website copy  — empty phrases and promises that prompt exactly that response.

  • Quality service!
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We do it right the first time!
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We always honor our agreements.
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We have expertise in [whatever it is we do]
    Well, I should hope so.
  • Free estimates.
    Well, I should hope so.
  • At [company name] you’re the boss.
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We pride ourselves on working hard for our customers
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We provide a job well done and done to your satisfaction.
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We respect our customers
    Well, I should hope so.
  • Fully insured!
    Well, I should hope so.
  • Your satisfaction is our goal.
    Well, I should hope so.
  • We work to make you happy.
    Well, I should hope so.

You get the idea.

The next time you write or revise your web content, I hope you will keep this principle in mind.

Well, I should hope so.

What are your thoughts about this? Let us know in the comments below.

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Too Many Keywords In Your URL?

Keywords in your URL are a good thing.

Keywords in your URLHaving keywords in your URL can help your rankings. For example, our web page describing the value and process of building inbound links to help with rankings has this URL: http://www.rankmagic.com/seo/link-building.shtml.  It contains the keywords SEO and link building.

But blog posts in particular can get pretty long because often by default the entire title of a blog post becomes part of the URL. For example, our blog post titled 6 Ways Small Business Owners Can Get More From Their SEO has this rather long URL:http://www.rankmagic.com/blog/2013/09/6-ways-small-business-owners-can-get-seo/

Is that URL too long?

A few years ago, Stephan Spencer published an interview with Matt Cutts (“The Google Guy”) and that very question came up. Since we often recommend our clients establish and maintain a blog because of the many ways it can help search engine rankings, I thought it would be good to address this now. Here’s what Matt had to say about that:

If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.

The thing to be aware of is, ask yourself: “How does this look to a regular user?” – because if, at any time, somebody comes to your page or, maybe, a competitor does a search and finds 15 words all strung together like variants of the same word, then that does look like spam, and they often will send a spam report. Then somebody will go and check that out.

So, I would not make it a big habit of having tons and tons of words stuffed in there, because there are plenty of places on a page, where you can have relevant words and have them be helpful to users – and not have it come across as keyword stuffing.

Would something like 10 words be a bit too much, then?

It is a little abnormal. I know that when I hit something like that – even a blog post – with 10 words, I raise my eyebrows a little bit and, maybe, read with a little more skepticism. So, if just a regular savvy user has that sort of reaction, then you can imagine how that might look to some competitors and others.

There you have it. Don’t go too overboard with using keywords in your page file names and URLs, but within reason there’s nothing wrong with ensuring you have essential keywords in them.

Do you have any thoughts on Keyword rich URLS? Let us know in the comments below.

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On-Page SEO Checklist for Your Blog

On-Page SEO Checklist for Blogs

I don’t think header tags are very important anymore, especially in Google, but I do like using title attributes, which aren’t listed here. If you’d like to know more about any of this, we can help.

Please share your own thoughts and experience in the comments below.


Should You Avoid a Niche-Designed Website?

Niche Websites: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

search-magnifying-glassThere are web design and hosting companies out there that focus on a specific industry or niche. Some create only Realtor websites, others specialize in car repair shop websites, some do only podiatrist websites, and so on. They have advantages and disadvantages, and for some situations they may be the perfect solution. But for others, they can be a very bad solution despite how attractive the process might appear.

The Good

  • Considering their specialty, they may understand your target market or readership perfectly; better than other web designers.
  • Often you’ll have a single point of contact for web design, web programming, content writing, etc. instead of different individuals.
  • They may integrate with your back office systems like practice management systems, CRM (Customer Relations Management) systems, etc.
  • They may offer specialized, pre-programmed tools to enhance your website; things like mortgage calculators, diagnostic questionnaires, etc.
  • They may have pre-written content that can really expand and flesh out your website.

The Bad

  • You may get stuck. If you’re unhappy with pricing or customer service, you may be unable to pick up your website and plunk it down at another web hosting company.
  • If you’re stuck, you may find yourself at the mercy of abnormally high recurring costs for your hosting.
  • Once you’re stuck, the company may have less motivation to update your site to current standards and your site may begin to look stale.
  • Limited templates may mean your site looks like a lot of other websites that are in your niche.
  • In some cases, you don’t own the rights to the content on your site; it may be legally owned by the website creator, not you, the website owner. That means if you want to move your site away from them, all the content needs to be rewritten from scratch.

The Ugly  — Sometimes

You may be in a niche that doesn’t require SEO. Not every website needs to draw visitors from search engines. Someone new to a community may search online for a pediatrician or a podiatrist, but someone who needs a brain surgeon is very unlikely to search the web to find one. If you’re that brain surgeon, you rely on referrals from other doctors and patients, and your website serves to provide information to people who have already been referred to you. For you, a niche-sprcific website may be perfect.

But if you’re like most website owners you need to attract new customers, clients and patients via your website. You need to show up in search engines when people look for what you sell or what services you provide. Here is where niche-designed websites may get ugly.

Some may not permit many optimization techniques that will help your website show up for the searches your target is looking for.

Google hates duplicate contentBut perhaps the ugliest thing is something I listed above as a good thing: They almost all offer pre-written content for your website. If you’re a podiatrist, say, they may have content about bunions, ingrown toenails, ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis, and many other conditions of the foot and ankle. Good, right? Not really.

The Danger of Duplicate Content

Let’s say you want patients suffering from bunions to find you online. If a dozen local podiatrists have a page about bunions that says the same thing on all of their sites, Google is very unlikely to show more than one of them in search results. What good does it do the searcher if every one of the top ten results has exactly the same information for them?

How likely is this to happen? Well, in a search for a local doctor who treats bunions, I found a podiatrist’s web page that began with this sentence: “A bunion is a bone deformity caused by an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint).” That page has a good deal of relevant, interesting content. But then when I searched in Google for that precise sentence, I found quite literally thousands of web pages with exactly the same content. The likelihood that multiple podiatrists serving the same geographical community have the same page on their websites is very high. Any two or three such podiatrists are almost certainly not all going to show up on the first page of Google because of that duplicate content issue.

Those websites will be fine as brochure websites for people who already know the name of the doctor or medical practice, but almost worthless in terms of attracting people looking for a podiatrist on Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

Does your experience with a niche-designed website support or contradict this? Let us know in the comments below.

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3 SEO Tips For Lawyers – Plus 1 Bonus Tip

21.9% of people needing a lawyer search online.Not everyone looks for a lawyer online.

However, according to Lawyernomics, search is the second most common way people look for an attorney.  If you want your share of those clients, SEO is essential so your website ranks near the top in Google, Yahoo & Bing.

Are you getting your share of clients from search? It’s easy to tell. Pretend you’re a potential client who doesn’t know the name of your firm or of any attorney on staff. Go to the search engine you use the most and see if you can find your website. If you don’t show up in the top two or three pages, you’re missing out on those clients. And if other local firms show up prominently, guess where those clients are going for representation?

1  — On-Page Local Optimization

Attorneys deal with clients on a face to face basis, so your clients are going to come from a certain radius of your offices. They’ll be searching for such terms as

  • Morristown child custody attorney
  • North Jersey workers compensation lawyer
  • New Brunswick DUI lawyer
  • Wayne NJ estate planning attorney
  • Lake George business attorney

As such, it’s important to have local terms on your web pages so the search engines know exactly where you practice. And it’s not enough to have a page entitled Service Area or something similar; search engines won’t readily connect the dots between that page and your page about child custody, workers comp or DUI. You need your geographical terms on every page.

2  — Local Search Directories

Local search resultsYou also need a presence on Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local, well optimized for display in the local search results. Beyond that, you need to be listed at local oriented directories like Yelp, City Search, Insider Pages, Yellow Book, etc. It takes explicit action to ensure you’re listed in all those places with appropriate information about your firm.

3  — Focus on Sub-Practice Areas

Many firms concentrates in a limited number of practice areas. For sake of discussion, let’s say you practice family law and elder law. It’s not enough to have a Family Law page with a bullet list of sub-areas like divorce, mediation, custody issues, and child support and an Elder Law page that lists services like estate planning, wills, medicaid planning, trusts, elder care issues, probate, etc. You need a page about each of those detailed practice areas with meaningful content. Ensure there’s clear navigation on the site so a potential client can find information related to their specific concern.

Bonus Tip – Not everyone comes from search

Content is what converts visitors to clients.Clearly, many potential clients come not from search but via referral: from a friend or another attorney. Those people will still go to your website to check you out and verify your expertise and professionalism. Regardless of how a potential client ends up on your site, it’s up to your website to convert them into a paying client. You need clarity, reader-friendly copy, appropriate calls to action (“Call now to schedule a free consultation”), and information about the attorneys on staff and their education and experience. But don’t make your content all about you  — you need a clear client-focus to show you’re goal is to solve your visitor’s problem, not to brag about your skills.

Need professional help making this happen? Rank Magic can help.

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We always welcome your comments below.

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