I just spent part of my morning writing up internal documentation to operationalize so-called SEO competitor analysis. If you don’t believe me and think this is just a rhetorical flourish, here’s a really boring screenshot.
As I was doing this, my last step was to record a high-level explanation of the document, which included this paragraph:
Clients have various ideas about what a competitor analysis is or should be, and they’re often requesting it by rote, as it’s something that SEO firms tend to do. Assessing competitors, however, tends to be of somewhat limited value, since many of them aren’t even trying for search traffic, or, if they are, they might be doing it naively.
After typing that, I immediately wrapped up the SOP and started writing this blog post. My intent is to have it up here on the blog so that we can send it to anyone requesting a competitor analysis. And I want to do that because we do this differently than the typical SEO firm.
Lately, within the account management function of Hit Subscribe, we’ve been swatting around a philosophical question.
Rather than having disparate sales and account management departments, could a unified customer success group serve both functions for our business?
We currently, tentatively believe that the answer is “yes,” and we’re proceeding accordingly. But to make this work, we realized that we’d need to provide collateral about how we work with clients prior to when we’ve historically done this: during kickoff and onboarding.
This realization dovetailed nicely with the fact that a lot of the reader/viewer questions I answer in my freelancer Q&A video series are essentially about how to conduct yourself as the owner of a practice. So I figured I’d write it up, get buy-in from Hit Subscribe’s account managers, and publish the results.
And that’s what this post is.
I’m framing this as a list of rights (with a table of contents for navigability), and I intend our clients and prospects to be the primary audience, with newly hired account managers as a secondary audience. If any other readers enjoy this or get some use out of it, hey, it’s always nice to put a little collateral good into the world when you can.
What follows is what you can expect from Hit Subscribe—and what we hope you’ll hold us to account on. We also have a PDF, cheat sheet version you can download, if you like.
(Editorial note: I originally published this on Hit Subscribe, and am going to gradually 301 the rest of the SEO/digital marketing content over there, where it makes more editorial sense. But I’ll keep cross-posting it here, if it seems like might be relevant to this audience. I’ll also keep posting miscellaneous rants and thoughts for indies and techies here.)
If the title here seems aggressive, my hope is that you’ll empathize with me by the time you’re done reading.
Throughout this post, I’m going to post screenshots of link building outreach I’ve received over the years. They’re not going to be relevant to the flow of the post, per se. Instead, I’m going to invite you on a walk with me through a digital garden of spam while I explain how to earn yourself backlinks without being terrible or hiring someone else to be terrible on your behalf.
You see, these screenshots represent how most link building outfits operate. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg of what I receive—just the ones funny enough to save.
Link Building: What It Is, Briefly
If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say link building, let’s start simply. What is link building?
Well, for SEO purposes, the more links you have from other sites to yours, the more search engines like your site, and they’ll rank your content accordingly. So link building is an activity wherein you specifically “encourage” the world to link to your site, through a variety of tactics. These tactics run the gamut from “create interesting content that people want to link” to “hack into some poor blogger’s WordPress instance and insert 40 million links before someone kicks you out and has you arrested.”
The Link Building State of the Art
Sadly, the state of the art in link building looks a lot more like the latter than the former.
Aw, you don’t have to visit if you don’t want to, Tony Montana, but if you do, please say hello to my little friend.
If you go out and google link building, I’m sure you’ll hear from the world’s top SEO tool vendors. And I’m also sure that—caveated with appropriate cautions not to leverage underhanded, “black hat SEO” tactics and that the best approach is earning links via “good” content—they’ll encourage you to undertake an extremely outreach- (read: spam-) heavy approach, such as:
Create a throwaway gmail address because boy are people going to report what you’re doing as spam.
Create an email template wherein you beg for links or else mendaciously tell recipients that it’s in their best interest to link to you.
Unleash that email template onto the blogosphere, like a firehose taking out a few butterflies on some flowers.
If that doesn’t work, just try to bribe people.
In parallel to all of that, offer filler content with links to your site as a guest post for other sites.
If that doesn’t work, try to sneak content with links onto various sites.
As a last resort, also bribe them to publish the filler content.
As you might imagine, these tactics yield a low success rate. And that means the only way to make them succeed is to execute them at incredibly high volume and low cost.
I know a bunch of you already have your pitchforks out, so let me start out by establishing some goalposts for my premise. When I’m done, you may still want to skewer me, but at least it’ll be for the right reasons, if you do.
Through the rest of the post, I’m going to draw a distinction between amateurishness at craft, and amateurishness at business. Understanding my premise hinges on understanding that someone (a technician, in particular) can simultaneously be a craft professional and a business amateur.
1. Taking part in an activity for pleasure and not as a job, or (of an activity) done for pleasure and not as a job
2. Someone who lacks skill in doing something
Professional Craftsperson, Amateur Business Owner
For ease of illustration, let’s imagine someone following my own career arc. This person spends years employed as a technician. In my case, a software engineer.
This person, in their salaried capacity, becomes a professional, non-amateur, generalist software engineer. Specifically, they become professional at maintaining a generalized, diverse skillset that allows another party (the employer) to deploy them in a wide variety of ad hoc situations.
The professional software engineer becomes agnostic about things like tech stacks, implementation particulars, and, crucially, business outcomes. They hyper-optimize for versatility and feature shipping efficiency, abdicating on any true study of the business, beyond off-the-cuff opinions (“this feature is stupid, no one will buy this.”)
You can recognize this by the continued focus on matters of technician craft and navel gazing about how they work, rather than for whom or why. They continue to abdicate on business outcomes for their clients, even though delivering client/customer outcomes is the absolute backbone of business professionalism.
So this formerly professional craftsperson becomes an amateur business owner. And the billable hour is, quite literally, the currency of amateur business ownership.
It’s been a decent run banging out my SEO for Non-Scumbags series, even if there might well have been an audience mismatch. I had fun with those, but they were fairly trade and theory heavy. And I’ve found that kind of discouraged me from my writing habit as a whole.
So, if only for today, I’m going to dust that habit off and resume ranting to whoever happens by, like some kind of internet busker.
Today’s topic is on my mind, both because I did a livestream Q&A about it (it’ll be up on the Hit Subscribe Youtube channel in the coming weeks), but also because I see it everywhere whenever I’m poking around freelancer or small, boutique service provider websites.
What I’m Talking About: We Do Labor and Consulting
If you can’t picture what I mean, I’ll default to a hypothetical custom app dev shop for example. If you hover over their “services” menu on their website, you’ll see a list like this:
Custom WordPress Website Builds
Monthly Site Maintenance
Custom Plugin Development
WordPress API Integrations
Emphasis mine. (Well, I mean, of course it is, this is a hypothetical I made up, not a quote.)
The service provider enumerates a series of different kinds of labor they will sell you, and then, almost invariably at the bottom, they’ll throw in that they also offer consulting.