New SEO/SEM packages for small businesses

Posted on December 27th, 2011 by John Nicholson

We’re excited to now offer standard packages for small businesses wanting help with SEO and SEM.  Writing SEO/SEM proposals for startups, non-profits, and other small businesses has been my least favorite task since we started Marketade.  It takes time away from more productive work, and it always felt like a guess in terms of the hours and cost we quoted.

No matter how many projects we do, we don’t seem to be able to accurately predict how long a new one will take — because SEO and SEM projects are inherently unpredictable.  Especially because these have been projects for budget-strapped businesses, we tended to err on the low side in our quotes, which meant we often ended up working many more hours than we got paid for.

Our new packages attempt to solve all these problems by providing a structure that’s both clear and flexible — and gets us out of the custom proposal writing business for small search projects.  We …

  • offer a discounted hourly rate of $150
  • use a not-to-exceed structure where clients pay only for hours we work
  • don’t provide custom quotes, instead leaving it up to clients to set a max budget
  • provide minimum, maximum, and average hours/costs to give clients an idea of what to expect

We realize clients would prefer to know, ahead of time, exactly how much an SEO/SEM project will cost.  But given that we can’t predict how long these projects will take, we feel strongly that the approach we’ve come up with is the best one.


KikScore’s interview with John

Posted on August 16th, 2011 by John Nicholson

KikScore, an online trust scoring service, interviewed me recently about my experience with Marketade and my advice for small businesses.  They’ve just posted the interview on their blog, under the generous title “Turning Sites into Gold.”

Thanks to Raj and Brad from KikScore for inviting me to do the interview and making it happen.  It was a lot of fun.


How to respond to a negative review on Yelp: a quick case study

Posted on August 4th, 2011 by John Nicholson

A few weeks ago, one of our DC area clients received an extremely negative, 1-star review on Yelp.  This was worrisome because the company only has a few other reviews showing on its Yelp page — 2 of which are negative — and because its Yelp page ranks well on Google brand searches and gets a lot of traffic.

Within a couple weeks the customer of the 1-star review had removed it, and how this happened is a good case study in responding to negative reviews.  Here’s what we did:

1. Within a few hours we worked with the client company to craft and send a private response via Yelp.  The reviewer had gripes about the company’s lack of responsiveness to his inquiries.  The response, which came from a senior manager at the company, apologized authentically to the reviewer and thanked him for his feedback; this was in fact valuable feedback and we appreciated it.  The response then provided a number to call and requested that he respond with his number.

2. He responded within a day with his number.  The senior manager at the company called him a couple times and eventually connected, apologizing again and doing anything possible to help.  It turned out the reviewer didn’t need the company’s services, but he left the call with a much better impression.  The company did not ask the reviewer to change or remove the review.

3. We waited.

4. Within a day of the phone call, the reviewer removed the review and emailed the company via Yelp to say why he’d done so.

Notice that 1) in our initial contact, we did not respond publicly to the reviewer (as tempting as it was to do so), and 2) we did not push him to remove the review at any point in the process.  We first gave him a chance to decide to remove it himself.  What if he hadn’t removed it?  We might have reached out to him again via Yelp email after a week or two.  Or we might have replied publicly.  Or we might have done both.

For more on how to deal with negative Yelp reviews, see this blog post in the New York Times and this blog post on Yelp.


Results from SEO makeover for PhotoTour DC

Posted on March 23rd, 2011 by John Nicholson

Back in October, we selected PhotoTour DC (previously PhotoTour Excursions) as the winner of our first SEO makeover contest for DC small businesses.  We’ve had a lot of fun working with Lynford Morton during this process and, as we draw a close to this makeover, are happy to report some nice results.  Below is an email I sent to Lynford a few days ago capturing the results and my recommendations for next steps to keep his momentum going.


Hi Lyn,

Hope you’re doing well and gearing up for the spring tour season.

I spent a few hours today analyzing your Google Analytics data for the last few months, to see the impact of our SEO efforts so far.

You can see the results here.  The first tab shows the results in graph form, the second tab shows the actual data.  I more or less used the SEO measurement process described here – with some adjustments for your situation.

I looked at the 9 weeks after our SEO was implemented vs. the 9 weeks before.  Not apples to apples but good enough for our purposes.

For keyword groups I’m focusing on the keywords we identified in our keyword research back in October.  Within Google Analytics I aggregate similar words together (e.g. everything with “class” or “classes” in it) which is how I end up with “keyword groups.”

By “conversions” I’m referring to the 3 goals we set up initially in Google Analytics — visits to your Signature Excursions page, visits to your Specialty Excursions page, and visits to your Calendar.  These don’t tell us whether they signed up for a tour, but it is a good indication of interest and the best conversion metric available. (I originally was trying to track clicks over to the Eventbrite page but for various reasons we haven’t been able to track those consistently.)

While the numbers aren’t huge, we have seen a nice increase on a number of our target keyword groups.  For instance, “workshop” related phrases had 0 conversions prior to SEO; after they had 36.  “Photography” went from 32 to 101, “class” from 6 to 21.  A few groups stayed flat and one – “lesson” – dropped.

Overall your conversions on SEO target keywords increased from 50 to 175 – an increase of 3.5x.  Not bad for the first couple months.

Note that I did not include “tour” related words in the analysis.  Because your brand name includes “tour” it’s too hard to tell the effect of SEO on these words vs. other marketing efforts like Groupon.  It does appear that your Google rankings on top “tour” phrases have increased.

Based on the analysis, I don’t think you need to make updates to the body content of your site at this time.  I’m confident that over time our optimization from the end of last year will continue to help improve your rankings.  I do, however, think it’s worth updating your title tags at this time based on what I saw in the results to date.  I’ve attached recommendations for updating titles on most of your main pages.

I’m marking this as the official end of our “SEO makeover.”  Of course I’m happy to answer any questions you have, now or in the future.

I’ve set up an automated report for you in Google Analytics; you’ll receive it by PDF at the beginning of each month.

As for future steps, here are my recommendations:

1. Keep the target keyword list (keyword research) doc handy anytime you make changes or additions to the website.  Integrate those keywords where possible, especially in the title tags, headings, and lead paragraphs of any new pages.

2. Ensure that the title tags remain intact anytime you make updates to the site.  Those are critical for SEO.

3. Check your Google Places listing once a quarter or so to make sure the information is still accurate.

4. Continue to try to attract links from other relevant websites.

5. Continue to post regularly on your blog.  Consider approaching photography experts to interview on your blog, to mix up the content.  And consider approaching other local bloggers offering to post tips (or be interviewed) for their blogs.


It’s been fun working with you on this.  Keep me posted on how things are going with your biz!



Title tags and SEO: a primer

Posted on March 23rd, 2011 by John Nicholson

For our latest newsletter I’ve written an article on title tag optimization — what I call the “easiest way to boost your Google rankings.”  If you’ve read the article and have feedback or questions, please submit them below.

Given that we often spend 5+ hours on Step 2 alone, it was a challenge to create a process that could be done in under an hour.  If you have the time and want to do a more thorough job with title tag optimization, here are some other steps you can take.

Check Competitors

(I originally included this as Step 2 but cut it out in the interest of simplicity.  I recommend doing it between Steps 1 and 2 in the article.)

Google the phrases you identified in step 1, and click through to the sites of any competitors or similar companies that appear on the first few pages of the organic search listings.  Look at the title tag (see Bank of America screen shot in the article to know where to look) and the most prominent text on the page you land on.  See any good keywords that you missed in your brainstorm?  If so, integrate those into your existing phrases or add new ones.

You can also go directly to the sites of competitors you already know of; but especially if you’re a small business, expect many of them not to have keyword-rich title tags.  The advantage of finding competitors through Google searches is you know they’re well-optimized for search.

For Randi’s site, I Googled “dc nutritionist” and checked out sites of two similar businesses that ranked well organically.  From their title tags I picked up a few new phrases like “certified,” “health and wellness,” “specialist,” and “counselor.”

Step Up Your Keyword Research

If you have a lot of time, replace steps 2 and 3 with the much more rigorous, 10-step keyword research process I describe as part of our SEO makeover for the Melete Foundation.  Expect it to take at least a couple hours.  It’s hard to emphasize how beneficial this process is if you’re serious about SEO.

Optimize Title Tags on Your Other Pages

In the article I focus just on the homepage because that’s the most important title tag for SEO and I wanted to make the process manageable.  But the same general process can be used to optimize title tags throughout the rest of your site.  Service pages, product pages, and about us pages are ideal candidates for keyword-rich title tags.  And if you came up with a lot of phrases in your keyword research, much of the hard work is already done.  Just try to tailor the title tags to the specific pages as much as possible.  As part of our Melete SEO makeover, I’ll have more detailed tips on full-site title tag optimization.  Stay tuned …


Melete SEO step 3: pre-SEO analysis

Posted on February 8th, 2011 by John Nicholson

This is part 3 in a series of blog posts capturing our SEO makeover for the Melete Foundation.

On any SEO project, before you jump into core tasks like keyword research, content optimization, and link building, it’s important to learn as much as you can from existing data sources.  This could be Google Analytics or another web traffic tracking tool, as well as AdWords or another search advertising platform.

Your goals with “pre-SEO analysis” are, in order of importance, to …

  • Identify anything that will help you do smarter keyword research and search optimization
  • Create a baseline against which to measure your post-SEO results
  • Gain familiarity with the site’s overall metrics and trends

Melete has had Google Analytics running since September of 2010.  I spent about 90 minutes analyzing and summarizing their data, focusing on the traffic sources reports.  You can read my pre-SEO analysis for Melete here.  As I note in the report, to date they’ve had almost no search traffic from the types of target keywords we identified in our kickoff meeting brainstorm.  The vast majority has come from brand searches (e.g. “melete foundation”), people searches (e.g. staff names), and generic searches related to songs mentioned in blog post titles (not a good match).

Melete Pre-SEO Analysis Excerpt

If I had found traffic from our target keywords, I would have tried to break those keywords into buckets (e.g. teacher-related phrases, volunteer-related phrases) and looked at their respective levels of engagement on the site (bounce rate, time on site).  I would make a note of which keyword groups perform best and worst on these measures — information that would help us as we prioritize target keywords during keyword research, our next step.

In the absence of this kind of data, this exercise mostly serves to reinforce the need for rigorous SEO on this site, and to act as a baseline going forward.

Up next: keyword research.  See posts on all of our Melete SEO makeover steps so far.


Melete SEO step 2: web tracking optimization

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 by John Nicholson

This is part 2 in a series of blog posts capturing our SEO makeover for the Melete Foundation.

Following our kickoff meeting, the next step in Melete’s SEO Makeover was to optimize their web tracking.  Since measurement and analysis are key to the process, it’s critical that you set up and optimize tracking early on.  In this post, I’ll share the process I went through to do this.

Fortunately Melete already had Google Analytics (GA), our preferred tracking tool, in place when I started working with them.  When they set their site up on WordPress, they added a great Google Analytics plugin from Yoast and have been receiving data since September of last year.  Still, there were 2 critical pieces we needed to ensure that our data is accurate and actionable: goals and internal traffic exclusion.


Our aim with SEO isn’t just more website traffic, it’s more high quality traffic that takes desired actions.  The “goals” feature in Google Analytics — frequently called “conversion goals” — allows us to identify these actions and integrate them into our analysis.  The most common goals we use are 1. a visitor viewing or hitting a key page on the site (e.g. a purchase thank you page) and 2. a visitor spending a minimum amount of time on the site before leaving (e.g. 2 minutes).

With goals in place, we’re able to say that a site had, say, 200 leads or 450 engaged visits last month, which over time is a lot more meaningful than just saying they had 1,000 visits (what most companies focus on).  But the really great thing about goals in GA is that you can tie them back to traffic sources.  This allows us to be much smarter when we measure SEO results using Google Analytics; we can see which keywords send traffic that converts and which ones don’t, and then focus our future optimization rounds accordingly.

1. Identify potential goals

When I met with Melete we identified two key desired actions on their site:

  • somebody clicking the Support (donate) button on their Support Our Work page
  • somebody signing up for their newsletter, which can done at the bottom of any page via a Mailchimp widget.

Since their site traffic is light right now, and there aren’t many people taking either of these two actions, I identified two other “soft” or intermediary conversion goals that are likely to get more data:

  • somebody spending 1 minute on the site
  • somebody spending 3 minutes on the site

I chose 1 and 3 minutes after glancing through the Traffic Sources > Keyword report and looking at keywords that had only 1 visit.  This allowed me to get a sense of how long individual visits last (vs. just looking at averages which can be skewed by one really long visit — I’m sure there’s a better way to find this).  I saw that not many people last more than a 1 minute on the site.

2. Set up easy goals

The time on site goals were easy to set up.  To set up the “1 minute” goal, I just went to the GA Settings (entry) page and clicked Edit.

GA Goal Setup Step 1
Toward the bottom of the next page I clicked Add Goal.

GA Goal Setup Step 2
Then I made the selections and inputs below.

GA Goal Setup Step 3

And then I followed the same process for the “3 minute” goal.

3. Set up tricky goals

One big problem with GA goals is they can’t be used to track clicks on links or submit buttons that take a visitor to another site – what are often called “outbound clicks” or “external links.”  And for a lot of small businesses and non-profits that take advantage of 3rd party solutions for newsletters and payment collection, these types of “outbound clicks” are in fact the primary goals on their site.  That’s the case with Melete.  Their newsletter signup form takes the user to a Mailchimp-hosted page.  Their “Support” button takes the user to a PayPal-hosted page.

Since goals don’t work for outbound clicks and submits, we have to use a different GA feature: event tracking.  You find it under the “Content” section within GA.  Events can’t be tied to traffic sources the way goals can, but they are still a useful metric to have in place.  The problem is events are much, much harder to get to track than goals.   Goals are set up directly within the GA interface; you don’t have to touch the website if you already have the main GA tags in place.  With events, you have to add JavaScript code to the page at some precise spots and customize it properly.  Google’s help documentation on it is confusing (and as of this writing, somewhat contradictory), so it’s easy to get it wrong.  You have to be familiar with HTML, and you have to be persistent.  Otherwise stick with goals.

If you do want to set up events, the best place I can point you is this thread on the Google Help forum which I initiated a few months ago when I was struggling to get them to work for another project.  Now I just use the code and process that Joe from Blast Advanced Media was kind enough to provide in that thread.  Since both of the outbound clicks we wanted to track for Melete were in effect form submissions (the “Support” button doesn’t seem like a form but in terms of HTML code it is), I used the “onsubmit” variation of the code he provided, which goes inside the <form> tag.

One last note on this: if the outbound action we wanted to track for Melete had just been on clicks on links, rather than clicks on submit-style buttons, all of this would have been much easier.  That’s because Yoast has integrated the heavy-lifting described above and allows you to track outbound clicks by just checking a box (see below — found under the GA Settings in your WordPress account).  But at least in our experience, this feature didn’t pick up “submit” clicks.

Yoast event tracking on outbound clicks

Internal traffic exclusion

Internal traffic is a common cause of inaccurate data in GA.  Internal traffic for your site includes you and everyone at your company, as well as vendors and partners who are likely to visit the site often.  Especially when you are making changes to your site, you visit it often to test the changes.  If you don’t exclude this data, you can end up with a very distorted picture of your site’s performance.  (Thought it’s good to wait until after setting up goals and events to add these filters, because you may need to do some testing that you want to see in the reports; e.g. making sure event tracking is capturing your newsletter signups.)

For Melete, as with all of our projects, we use two techniques to exclude internal traffic: 1) cookie-based exclusion, which excludes traffic from individuals’ computers, and 2) IP exclusion, which excludes traffic from geo-locations.  Since neither method is perfect, we use both.

Google Help has instructions on both methods here.  The IP steps I think are a little out of date based on the way their interface now works, but they’re good enough.

To get the cookie exclusion to work, you need to add a page to your site.  Once I did that, I sent an email to the Melete team explaining what I needed them to do: click on the link that exclusion page (to get the cookie) from each computer they use, and send me their IP addresses from each place they work, which they can get at

Once I received their IPs, I went to the same place under Settings that I went to to add goals, and then added Marketade’s and Melete’s IPs.

Melete IP Exclusion

Setting up goals and internal traffic fitlers are very hard to do in one sitting, since you’re often relying on other people to click things or test things for you.  So the best way to approach web tracking optimization is to break it up into smaller steps and try to tackle it over a few days.

Up next: pre-SEO analysis.  See posts on all of our Melete SEO makeover steps so far here.

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Melete SEO step 1: kickoff meeting

Posted on February 1st, 2011 by John Nicholson

This is the first of a series of blog posts capturing an “under the hood” look at our SEO Makeover for the Melete Foundation.  The first step in our process was a kickoff meeting. I visited Melete’s office in DC’s Dupont Circle and spent about 90 minutes talking with the team: Mija, Guy, Ben, and Heidi.  We followed this agenda:

  1. About Marketade (15 min)
  2. Marketade’s SEO Process (15 min)
  3. About Melete / Positioning (30 min)
  4. Keyword Brainstorm (30 min)

For the About Melete (#3) part of the meeting, I asked questions like:

  • What’s your elevator pitch?
  • Who are your competitors, broadly speaking?  Or what organizations do something similar to Melete?
  • What are the things that make Melete different from these other organizations?
  • If a donor was deciding between giving to you and one of these other orgs, what would you tell him to convince him to choose Melete?

They had great answers to these questions, and their passion for their mission and work came through.  This exercise is critical because SEO is so intertwined with content writing. If you’re going to be rewriting and reorganizing a lot of a site’s content for SEO, our view is that you should improve the overall writing while you’re at it. Part of doing that is getting a good handle on an organization’s positioning.  What makes them unique? What are the key benefits of their offering?

For the keyword brainstorm (#4) part of the meeting, I asked the team to throw out words or phrases that people might type into a Google and that are a good fit for Melete.  Here were some of the ones they said:

- meaningful international experience
- community based international experience
- teacher development
- teach abroad
- working with teachers abroad
- fostering cross-cultural knowledge
- making world smaller
- citizen diplomacy in action
- educational citizen diplomacy
- local citizens
- summer teacher exchange
- summer cross-cultural exchange
- empowering young women
- middle east peace

The goal here wasn’t to come away with a definite list of keyword targets, but rather to give us a starting point for the later step of keyword research, which often doesn’t have the benefit of a meeting setting.

Up next: web tracking optimization.

See the full series of blog posts capturing our SEO makeover for the Melete Foundation.


What is SEO? What do I need it?

Posted on January 30th, 2011 by John Nicholson

I’ve just posted an article on our site on 5 Reasons You Need SEO.  Here’s the intro:

My friend Carolyn, a life and business coach in DC, wrote to me after our last newsletter and said, “The acronym SEO – it always gets me. What is it? Why do I need it?” I realized there were probably a lot of other people asking these same questions. So here are my answers, directed to Carolyn, but applicable to any company.

First, a quick definition. SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” which is the process of ensuring that your website can be found by people looking for your type of product or service on search engines.

And now for my top 5 reasons you need it …

Read the full article here…

When you’re done reading it, let me know what reasons I missed in my list — or if you have other questions about SEO — by leaving a comment below.


Under the hood of Melete SEO

Posted on January 27th, 2011 by John Nicholson

One of the goals of our SEO makeovers is to share in detail the process we use to optimize a site.  Since it’s easier to learn through a real-world example, we’re hopeful this will be much more useful than the generic SEO tips articles business owners and marketers normally have to rely on.

With our first makeover, for PhotoTour DC, we didn’t do a good job of documenting our key initial steps as we were doing them (we’ll still be sharing results and lessons from that makeover as they come in).  With our current makeover for the Melete Foundation, we promise to do a better job of sharing as we go.

As I explained to the Melete team in our kickoff meeting, we’ll be following the steps shown in our SEO process map.  Here they are in a 10-step list:

  1. Kickoff Meeting
  2. Web Tracking Setup
  3. Pre-SEO Analysis
  4. Keyword Research
  5. Content + Tag Optimization
  6. Local SEO
  7. Link Optimization
  8. Analysis + Reports Rounds 1 + 2
  9. Optimization Rounds 2 + 3
  10. Automate Reports + Send Final Recs

As with all of our SEO projects, we set Melete up in Basecamp, our web-based project management and collaboration tool.  This allows everyone to easily stay on the same page.  We can track our milestones …

Melete SEO Milestones… and each team can see their to-do items, along with deadlines, that lead up to each milestone …

Melete SEO To-Do ListMore to come as we knock off more steps.

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