We covered a lot in this program with Aaron Wall, founder of SEO Book. The big areas are:
1. How Aaron built a profitable business selling content to his readers.
2. Why Aaron keeps urging Google to police big sites like Mahalo and why he thinks they have an unfair advantage over unfunded competitors.
3. How you can get more traffic from Google search results.
Andrew: I recorded this interview today at my place in Buenos Aires because the Internet at my office went down.
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All right, here’s the program.
Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart with an audio only interview because we’re having a little bit of technical trouble. But I’ve got with me one of the leaders, in fact maybe even the leading expert in search engine optimization. His name is Aaron Wall. He is the founder of SEO Book.
When I used to do live events and bring out entrepreneurs, investors, search engine optimization experts, to come in and talk to my audience, whenever they talked about SEO, they would always tell the audience go check out SEObook.com. Go check out the tools on there.
I always used to say, well, if they’re all referring to this guy, if all these experts that I’m bringing out on stage are referring to this guy, whey don’t I bring him on to Mixergy and do an interview with him? And I finally got to do an interview with Aaron Wall.
He has been mentioned by tons of well-known publications, including Wall Street Journal, PBS, New York Times. Al these guys refer to him when they need to teach their people, their audiences how to do search engine optimization right.
He has a quarter million registered members on his website and about a thousand of them are paying members. And paying members on your site, Aaron, tell me if I’m wrong, means they’re paying you $300 a month to learn search engine optimization?
Interviewee: It depends. The new members, that’s the rate. What we did is we used pricing to help control demand, so when we first launched it was actually like $50 per month for the first hundred people. Then it went to $100 and then I started fixing a lot of conversion issues and we raised it to $150 and then there was still like – the site was growing quite a bit, so then we closed down. We closed it down to new subscribers for about two and a half, almost three months. Then when we reopened we did it at 300.
We also do a lot of web publishing and stuff, too, so we’re always balancing out resources between trying to grow the site and make it as good as we can with not having too many members while also being able to work on other stuff and learn from it, too, because there’s a symbiotic relationship between publishing stuff and learning from it and then teaching SEO and they both feed off each other.
Andrew: Okay, so here’s my agenda for the program here today. I want to find out how you built your business. How are you selling content online to people who are smart enough to know that there’s free content everywhere on the Internet, How did you get here?
Second thing I want to do is go over some search engine optimization tips from you. My concern in doing that is that in a short program like this, I want to make sure to get to some of the unique things, because so many people in the audience already are familiar with search engine optimization techniques and I don’t want to give them the same old stuff that they can find just anywhere.
And then the third thing we’ve got to do, the audience is talking about it. I know I’ve wanted to talk to you about this. You’ve had a couple of run-ins with – actually you’ve called out Mahalo. You’ve said that they’re doing things that are a little bit shady.
I know from our conversations before this interview that you don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about Mahalo and you have a certain reluctance to talk about certain aspects of that, but we’ve got to talk at least a little bit about the big issues there. Fair?
Andrew: Okay. All right let’s start out with how you got here. You started off, as I understand it, in 2003. What did you launch with in 2003?
Andrew: What did you launch with in 2003?
Interviewee: So my first site in 2003 going like way back to the beginning my first site was like a rant site that was not really good and then I got like, I learned a little about affiliate marketing created like the worlds thinnest least valued e-commerce ball site well I can put affilliate links on it and it wasn’t very good either but I soon learned that search was certainly where there was a lot of value in traffic and from that I created a site called search-marketing.info where it was basically notes to myself about how you would do SVO and stuff I was learning about basically and it was kind of like raw HTML and when I say this it was like 1998 grey background almost…kind of bad. Some artist he was like a painter from New Jersey and he cam across that site and he wanted to hire me to sell services and I really didn’t want to because I thought I was so new and still learning and he was very persistent so he hired me so I tried my best and he got good results and then
around the time in 2003 I worked for a few more cleints and started to get a little more confident had a few more of my sites and they were starting to do well. And then Google did what they call the Google Florida Update.
Andrew: Well lets stop it right there I know that the Google Florida Update happened in November 2003 and I want to get into that because i know that It’s a turning point but I want to know how you got to this point. When you had that Rant site what was it and what was the purpose of it.
Interviewee: It wasn’t like a very good website, it was not a very good website. It was something I was just ranting about.
Andrew: OK so it was like something was bothering you and you were just ranting about it. You wern’t necessarily using blogging software Ranting in HTML.
Interviewee: Yeah basically. and towards the end of 2003 not only was there the Florida update but something I saw in 2003 alot of sites that were using blogging software would get all these reference links just because it was so easy for people to subsribe to them so thats part of the reason I shifted over from a search marketing info site to the SVO book blog.
Andrew: I see so search-marketing.info…one of the worste domaine names out there I think. Actually what do you think about that? You know domain names better than me so what do you think?
Interviewee: As far as a domain name it sucks the info extesion is generally sinonomous with spam because every year there seems to be a special where you seem to get 88 or 99 cent domain names so people through junk.info in there. Also hyphens in domain names are horrible beacuase you have to save a hyphen and when you save a hyphen it has to be enphasized and it sounds weird and if you have to do any sort of branding its just not good.
Andrew: Yeah frankly I don’t even think most people know what hyphens are. It’s amazing that they don’t. But they don’t seem to. Ok then you go on to create an affiliate site. Essentially what you said its a thin website with nothing but links out to affiliate programs. The goal there was just to make money and you were just testing out ideas. Am I understanding it right?
Interviewee: When I had that site the first one I made there that was before I started selling any SVO stuff. I had that site and then I hired someone to do SVO stuff for it and frankly the SVO site was terrible. So anyone who really knew SVO wouldn’t want to do SVO port casue there was not value on the site there, they’d rather do something better however I hired someone and they really did do a very good job, so that’s what spurred me to learn SVO. Also back then with that website I misspelled a couple words and actually ranked for a few of them and was actually one of the few results for the mispelling of an online casino’s name in a yahoo directory so that actually created a little bit of cashflow for a bit until I knew what I was doing later on. So it helped a lot.
From 10 to 15
Andrew: — This interview is going to be transcribed. The transcribers are going to get typos all over the place. And it’s not a bad thing because anytime somebody searches for a word that’s just a little off, I’ve got a potential of showing up in the search engine results I’m learning. In fact, they give you a lot of traffic from these typos. I could go back in and correct them, I thought of hiring somebody and having them fix it, but I figure why? It’s a good traffic. True?
Interviewee: Right, there — there are lower competitive keywords so, [xx].
Andrew: Okay, but the affiliate site in retrospect, it’s kind of a spamy site, no?
Interviewee: Oh, yeah, absolutely, it — it wasn’t because I didn’t understand enough off the web to understand. So, I like figured out like, oh wow there’s affiliate program, so I could just create this cool site and have all these options. I didn’t appreciate the — the adapt that you can do on a specific topic or how bad or, you know, how hard it is to create something that’s full great and in adapt and broad. So, I mean, I didn’t stick with that site very long, actually it’s not even published online anymore.
Andrew: Okay, what made you realize that search was the answer, and the reason I’m asking is, when we’re starting something new, we’re groping around, looking to figure out where the hit is, where — what make sense for us, what we’re going to be excited about and you were searching around for a little bit and suddenly you hit on something that let you get really big, so I’m curious about how you discovered and so the rest of us can also discover our — our next hit?
Interviewee: So, with — with search, I mean a lot of it kind of seem almost a bit obvious. Because like a lot of the add programs that were also targeted, I tried some of those stuff. And you would see how certain keywords were — would be worth more. And then, like if you try buying other forms of advertising, if you did any sort of tracking at all. Like if your site was a really super fine tune for conversion, if you’re buying other sorts of advertising, you could throw tons of traffic at a site and still have no conversions at all. Whereas, with search, you could throw some traffic at it and you’d still get some conversions out of it, even if not a lot, and if it’s a bad site, it’s not going to make that major conversions. But it — the difference in targeting is so amazing. And then, the other thing is — is since I was so new to the web I wasn’t, you know, immediately a conversion expert or maybe other sort of topics. So this — a lot of the people are attracted SEO, I think part of it is they like the idea of getting free traffic. It’s not necessarily entirely free, you know, it takes lot of effort to get it. But the thing is well, there is a lot of web businesses, like, say with a lot of the add networks. You have to keep refining what you’re doing and increasing value and then keep out handing larger chunks serve the add network because your competitors are doing the same thing. Whereas, with SEO if you can get a strong enough position and become associated with certain concepts, you kind of keep the profit margin rather then have it slowly erode.
Andrew: I see what you mean. I want to get into that and I’m going to make a promise to my audience right now. We are going to give them some techniques that they can use to get, not free traffic in the sense that, it’s going to cost them time, but it — it’s going to be free because they won’t have to buy it from search engines. Can we — can we make that promise together?
Andrew: Okay, all right.
Andrew: So, let’s — let’s move on then to — to SEO book. How did you start SEO book? What — how did — how did Google’s Florida update lead to SEO book?
Interviewee: So what happened was, in November 2003, Google did a pretty major update. And after they did it a lot of the SEO companies were kind of just scrambling because all their clients were angry because or large chunks of clients were angry because certain sorts of sites go up, certain sites were dropped. And the types of sites that dropped were often the ones that were kind of aggressive with link anchor text and mostly they’re based on kind of manipulative or aggressive practices. Whereas, the types of sites that rose, kind of to be the ones that had kind of more of a Natural Backlink Profile. Or when you hire an SEO ideally, eventually and developed somewhat natural link profile. But part of that is, you know, you try to get the best returns we can and sometimes that means being a bit aggressive. Till Google did that update, SEO was basically — pick the key word you want to a link for, buy as many links as you can with that keyword in the link anchor text and you drink. And then, suddenly it was way different after that update where you had to vary the link anchor text there was all kinds of — they were also looking at how you did your on page
Interviewee: They were also looking at how you did your on-page stuff and creating link stuff so, whereas before that update you would do like — if you wanted to ranked for something, you would make it very obvious that you wanted the page to be targeted towards that keyword, in the page title, in the page heading, in almost all the link anchor tax you’d be very overt about targeting it and then after that it became a bit more refine in that. So I wrote an article about that, I would say, in it I went kind of from being pretty darn obscure so I being well enough known to what kind of people knew,
who I was, which was kind of weird how quickly a change and then I started getting lots of calls from people who want a consulting staff and you know, I would do some of them but I couldn’t do all of them because there were so much. And then within a month that sort of popularly lot of it, sort of die down or dropped off, so I thought that consulting is kind of bit of a feast or famine sort of business model where you get, you know, suddenly popular and then a lot of it dies down and then, so I thought it might make sense to have something like sort of a, like an [xx] product or something between — something that was between like sowing a full-on consulting something package and you know, just only publishing on sites, so I thought there were some way that to do something in the middle of the service, the market.
Andrew: Did I lose you?
Interviewee: No, no. Do you hear me?
Andrew: Yeah, I can, I thought — I thought we lose the conversation. OK, so you are realizing what a lot of people in the consulting business realize which is — it’s a tough business, even if you’re doing really well, it’s your hours that are bringing in the money, you only have so many hours in a day and what you decided to do is a result of that was —
Interviewee: To launch a new book.
Interviewee: On the topic.
Andrew: Why to decide to launch an eBook and not grow a blog where you can sell advertising and maybe even bring in more traffic than the advert blog because you had a better sense of Search Engine Optimization?
Interviewee: So, I would say that we do plan more traffic than most of the — if you compare on, there is companies that look like thousands of employees that have some more traffic profiles or smaller little company. We definitely do pull in Monster Traffic but the thing is in SEO most of the people aren’t the type of people who really click on ads, so there is not a large sum of people who you can sell ads to and have them preferably one advertise month after month after months. There is — I mean it’s — if you compare click-through rates on different classifications of websites, there is some sort of sites where if you’re pretty [xx] add an aggression, you can get, you know, 20 percent click-through rate on some of the ads whereas with SEO, you know, you are lucky to get a half percent or a quarter percent if you are talking about the SEO topic.
Andrew: I see OK, alright fair enough. So you realize that there is not enough money in advertising, you have got to create your own product. Why did you decide on an eBook out of all the products you could have created, maybe an audio book you could have done or a video series or do what you eventually did in 2007 which is chart subscriptions, why an eBook first?
Interviewee: So, back then I would say that I didn’t have — so I was — I would say I was new and naÔve enough to think my knowledge was better than it actually was because I was — compare to what I know today. But I wasn’t necessarily, I didn’t have all the skills of like being able to do the videos, you know, set up a programming stuff for running a membership site and all these other things. But I did think that an eBook could be priced at a reasonable price to where people can afford to get it and you can provide updates, it’s kind of like a service with that, and you know, still make it a pretty darn good product and make it fairly affordable and there was a common thread or line of five on the web which was all SEO books are out of the — you don’t want an SEO book blah, blah, blah. So that actually was part of the angle for like explaining why the eBook was good, you know, hey this is current it’s up-to-date. So that was why I went with that off to start.
Andrew: OK at its height, how much money did it bring in a month, the book?
Interviewee: It’s kind of, I think — I actually didn’t track the numbers as well as a lot of people would — I would say study state per day maybe, would sell 10 units or something.
Andrew: Ten units, how much per?
Interviewee: Like $79.00 or something like that.
Interviewee: I think $79.00 or something like that.
Andrew: Wow! So you charge $79.00 for the book, on average you’re saying ten books a day for –
Andrew: — almost $800.00 a day?
Andrew: And how did you get the — the customers to come in and buy it? How did you get them into your site even?
Interviewee: So, our site has a bunch of free tools on it that you — you — you’ve heard a lot of people recommend them. So that was part of that, plus the blog of one — the people would subscribe to it, and we did — we did a bit of a — we have an affiliate program. So we have a bunch of affiliates and then also we have — I would do a bit of like adwords or adsense sort of marketing. And the thing is, like the ads would maybe appear on a form in the space and someone will — someone would see the ad on a — more of the public forms that say hey, I just saw an ad for this [xx] site, isn’t any good? And then since we had a lot of customers who — who liked us and thought our product was good, or one of those would turn into like testimonial threats and then let you know that day, there would be an extra $1,000.00 of sales or something.
Andrew: Ha-ha. Dan Blank is saying Aaron seems like a kind of guy who will tell you all about his earnings numbers and a few other people who sat earlier in the chat room that you’re very open. Dan Blank also calculated it’s $24,000.00 a month on eBook, which says nice. That’s just sales though and what portion of that was expenses?
Interviewee: See that’s the thing, yes, I would go to all the — I would go to a lot of — back then I would go to almost all the conferences, any ad posted hanging on a screen, all the tools [xx]. So, there was still a lot of expenses in running the site too. I’m — I’m, like I said, I wasn’t — I was a type of person who towards the end of the year would kind of calculate stuff, I’ll — but I wouldn’t really every month sale, you know, I got to grow five percent or ten percent. If I was to — I felt like I was too focus on the short-term numbers of trajectory that sometimes you don’t always control all that sort of stuff. And sometimes I get burnout that way. So I just kind of, you know, identify, do all and not but a lot of a stuff, then to some degree that numbers will kind of go where they should.
Andrew: OK. But you know what, that’s surprising, because I take a look at your website now, the first thing I see is an offered by, I — if I stay on the site I think for a few seconds, a pop-up comes up asking me for my email address to register. You seem like somebody who is — who is not passive about growing his business and making sales but actually doing some things that other people would shy away from. So, I always thought of you as somebody who’s a little bit more active. Is that —
Interviewee: So that was actually —
Interviewee: There’s a couple of contradictions in that, yeah. So, I think my approach to business was kind of really passive of the start with — with some certain aspects anyway. And then overtime, it got more progressive and a bit piece of that was actually my wife. So, I met her in, I think it was, let’s see, in 2006 and it was towards the end of the year. And, she was actually the person that kind of push for making the membership site sort of idea. And — and some of the stuff on the site more recently is we work with conversion experts and they help include some of the conversion flow path and we even tested the problem for a while. And, it kind of — it didn’t — we don’t use a pop-up on many of my pages because it didn’t resonate with a sort of — the people who end up being our customers are usually kind of more towards the expert or pretty experience sort of level, whereas a lot of them are more aggressive marketing stuff. It didn’t resonate as well but the only thing that trying to did OK without pulling the wrong audience and was kind of like the slide up sort of thing at the bottom.
Andrew: Ha-ha, yeah, that’s I think that comes up it takes about the — the bottom ten percent of the screen gets people’s attention but isn’t distracting and there’s always a hyperlink there that says, ‘I never want to see this pop-up again’, or something to that effect. And, so that’s what’s work for you, that’s how — that’s — that’s what you’re doing now, we talked about earlier subscriptions. When you turn to subscriptions, what was the audiences’ reaction?
Interviewee: So, there — I think that when — when you try — recurring the — dealing with conversions is a lot harder than — than when you’re just doing one off. Because when you’re doing a one off purchase, it’s under $100.00, you can get a lot of just impulse conversions like what people are, sure, I’ll try it out.
Interviewee: And, once you — once you go to charging recurring, it’s a heck of a lot harder to get people to convert each. So, the initial reactions when we lost was we — we’ve been — I’ve been on the web since like 2003.
So we have, i mean if not convert by tens, we would launch it and get it up,up and rolling pretty good almost straight away. There were some technical issues with, like a, with the programming on it, but, i think it was pretty well received. But when you find out though, is a, the people, whenever you sell people, there was , there was like a life lessons about how to turn people for free, then, then they are not respecting it or like it.but people paid for it and act [SS] because they have invested in the result and they respect it once. I think a lot of that goes that way too, i think part of that i have to learn to do is back when i used to get epep models, i would, i would answer too many questions in emails and i helped a lot of people. People who opt to get more from me would just shoot me emails, then they would get from a lot of firms that pay 500 or 10000 dollars and..
Interviewee: And then kind of broke it down and tried to clean it up, add more stuff to it. You know, okay, we can have a video here or let’s expound on this area here. So I did that stuff in the background and then when I was kind of done editing it and comfortable with the format of it, at that point then we launched.
We didn’t have as many tools off the start as we have today, so we definitely added a bunch of those over time, but off the start we had what was going to be a monthly newsletter, the training modules, the forum, and then a few private tools.
Andrew: Okay. I want to get back into this, but I’ve got to take a step in another direction and ask you about the tools. I heard about SEOBook because of the free tools that you’ve offered forever on the website. Somebody in the audience asked me to ask you how did you get those tools made? You’re not a developer yourself, right?
Interviewee: No, actually, I used to be – kind of weird, huh, I used to be a nuclear [xx] operator in the Navy and on the submarine there was another guy with me who worked with me that was in my division who knew all about kind of web stuff and programming.
Our first tool that was a big hit was called SEO for Firefox. He made that for me. I had him make that. So that’s how I got that one. Then as far as from there, sometimes I would have friends make some one-off tools here, there that I liked or stuff that I thought would be cool to have or features that I thought would be neat.
Also at one point in time some Romanian programmer sold me a bunch of SEO scripts pretty cheap. They weren’t perfect and a lot of them I didn’t really use, but one of them was the basis for what became our keyword tool. Then I just kind of started hacking with the PHP to add features to it. I mean that in the loosest sense. Like I’m not any good at programming.
We later upgraded to that to be powered by Word Chapter. We also have a programmer now that works for us full time.
Andrew: Okay. I ask because it seems like the tools are a bigger draw even than the articles. Do people talk about the tools because there aren’t a lot of sites that have them and I’m feeling like the rest of us should probably have some tools, too. And you could probably go out to Elance and have them done or, as you did, get a friend to create a couple.
Interviewee: Yeah, the key is like the more unique you can make them. Like if they’re satisfying like how you mentioned with the interviews where sometimes you’re scratching your own itch. If you can create some stuff that’s the stuff you want for you because you think it would be really useful for you and save you time, then those are the type of ones that will be really well received by others.
Andrew: Okay, all right. And then going forward to the membership site, when you launched it, you launched it with a forum. Most people can’t get a forum populated for free. Here you’ve got a gate where you’re charging people. How are you managing to get a conversation going in this forum in the beginning?
Interviewee: So we had a number of different streams we could use. I had my blog, which people subscribe to and see and some of them would be interested in it. We also had our old ebook subscribers and I gave some of them like a trial account that converted into a beta account after they stayed for awhile. So some of them joined form that.
And then on the blog, when we mentioned it there, also the first hundred people got a half-off coupon. So between those two, that kind of helped get it up and going and kind of running. Then from there, as the promotional value of those kind of faded slightly over time, it just kept building on its own.
Andrew: Okay. That’s a way to get people to be registered members of the forum. How do you get them to start interacting on the forum?
Interviewee: Well, that’s what I was saying is – oh, how do you get them to interact?
Interviewee: I think a lot of that comes down to if you promptly answer people’s questions and you give them really good answers and you try to set an example of being really helpful, you’ll find that some other people will do the same thing.
Some of our moderators do an awesome job. And even some of our people that are paying to be our customers still help out a lot with each other. So I think it’s just if you work hard and you try to share a lot of value, then it’s kind of contagious and a lot of people do it as well.
Andrew: So in the early days it was you answering questions, the way that you used to answer questions by email, you adding a lot of value yourself and then other started adding it, too. Fair?
Interviewee: Yeah, and I mean it was almost instantaneous with others. We have some really, really great members that have been there like from the first day.
35 to 40
Interviewee: — like from the first day and it’s not like a few years later.
Andrew: How did you get good members in the beginning to — I’m sorry, the overlap is just because of the Skype issues. How did you get people in the early days to participate in — to be as helpful as they were? How did you get those moderators, how did you get them to be so helpful?
Interviewee: So, I — well, I didn’t like point any moderators off the start, OK, do you want to be a moderator, I’m about to launch a site. What I did is I took some of the people that were some of the most helpful people and I asked them if they wanted to become moderators, so that’s — that’s and then as far as how we got it, I think if you have, I mean, if you have a site that’s out there that has, you know, thousands of — thousands of existing articles or pieces of context and have any form of kind of advertisement on it, you’re going to pull in like a stream of people from that and if you are pretty consistent in the way you talk and what you say and that sort of stuff I think you are pulling people who eventually become royal to that sort of brand or are interested in having more conversation like, related to that but maybe there — but more focused on, you know, their needs or, you know, marketing their site and such.
Andrew: Merrick[sp] in the audience, one of the best contributors here to lot of events. Merrick is saying Aaronn also bought a form in the past called Threadwatch there is crossover. So, did you buy a form that you are able then to get some of those members over to — to your site?
Interviewee: I would say there were certainly some crossover in membership, however, I closed one and then it was a while before I open the other, but it wasn’t, but part of why I had to close Threadwatch is remember how earlier how we mention how, you know, ad base models in the SEO space don’t really work that well.
Interviewee: Well, that was the site that was primarily trying to be kind of ad oriented but kind of related to SEO stuff and the thing is it was a bit probably too snarky and cynical and it is — it was — you couldn’t really a business off of it based on how it was set up, like, it was set up to where it was, it was almost like a, like kind of a gawker website in your space.
Andrew: OK. Christmas in the audience says that he used to be a subscriber of yours and he says he currently ranks top ten on Google for keyword to crossover $4000.00 a day on AdWords. I’d love to hear a little bit more from you on what that is, tell me in the comments Christmas 365 is his — is his name. He says SEO Book can teach you a lot of tactics. Then why did you cancel by the way Christmas? Tell us why you canceled, did you get enough value, did you find that at some point it was repetitive, I’m curious about that too. OK, at it’s height how much did SEO Book as a membership site bring in. We got disconnected. You were saying before we got disconnected was you prefer not to be the guy holding up the check, it’s just not the kind of repetition that you want out there. Is there — is there a number you can say that you make over then, can we say over a million a year from membership or would you — would you feel comfortable with some kind of number like that even if it’s a fuzzy number?
Interviewee: It wouldn’t be that high and then also you got to remember we have a full time program or a host cost like over a grand a month. We have people who help out like in the forms or on the blog, there is a lot of cost to the site, it’s not the highest margin project we’ve worked on, it’s just one that — it’s a topic that interest me, so it’s easy to spend a lot of time doing.
Andrew: I see. What other sites do you have?
Interviewee: You see, we don’t disclose most of those because people burn sites because of who you, like, with SEO stuff you had people who would go out of their way to try to burn your stuff just because you are you and that’s part of to tie into the sort of Mahalo angle. Certain sites, larger sites can kind of get like, oh well, you’re a big brand so you’re the benefit of the doubt that’s all fine, whereas if you’re an SEO people actively try to reach on to your stuff and like, rather than you getting the benefit of the doubt or like you know, it’s just like, you know, shoot first ask questions later. So, it’s just like, it’s — if I — it could be anything other than an SEO, somebody, you know, well known at marketing, I love it, because then I’d be able to talk about my other sites a lot a more but you know, some people they say well, here’s — here’s how you do this or that and they provide like a really good kit, they’ll show you the site they did it on and then Google engineer says, you know, why is this jerk exposing this publicly, screw him, I’m going to burn his site and then your site is banished from the web.
Andrew: I see, you’re saying that Google sees that you’re exposing –
Andrew: — exposing how to — how to top the ratings, how to — how to top the search engine results and because they know that it’s you exposing these — these — these — the secrets, they burn your other websites meaning, they don’t show up in the search engine results. OK so —
Interviewee: Yeah, so that’s — that’s kind of how it works.
Andrew: You got to give me another —
Interviewee: [xx] there is — there is a good video —
Interviewee: OK. So there’s a good video — there’s a good video, a guy name Jeremy Schoemaker/Shoemoney made, I think you interviewed him in the past.
Andrew: You bet.
Interviewee: He — he made a video called ëDon’t Make — Don’t Make Google Look Stupid’ and it talked about that.
Andrew: OK, all right, fair. We’ve got to give the audience another 25 minutes. I know that you and I are at the top of the hour and we need to end the conversation but I feel like I owe it to them to give them a full hour with you. Are you cool with that?
Interviewee: Yeah, sure.
Andrew: Thanks. OK, all right. I wanted to go into the SEO tips right now but since you brought up Mahalo and the difference between the way big companies and small companies are treated, let’s talk about that. Why don’t we have you first –
Andrew: — explain the issue –
Interviewee: OK —
Andrew: — a little bit more depth.
Interviewee: So, with SEO, there’s guidelines and they’re like, you know, this can be spammy, this can be clean and then there’s this kind of whole shades of grey area in the middle where it’s like, well that’s kind of spammy but it looks sort of legit or well, that’s person X’s websites, they probably went to spam so, screw them —
Andrew: Oh, did we just lose him? Sorry. Oh man, we’re getting just to the good stuff.
Interviewee: Here, you do.
Andrew: Sorry, oh you’re back. We were just — we just lost you. So you were saying, I don’t even remember at what point we lost you. You were saying that with SEO, there’s — it’s who you know and how big your site are that influences Google sometimes, right?
Interviewee: Yeah. The largest sites can usually get away with, kind of being spammier whereas kind of the smaller independent sites that aren’t backed by you know, venture capitalist or large corporations are usually held to, like, kind of a — a higher standard. So, like, bigger sites –
Andrew: Can you give me — can you give me two examples —
Interviewee: — are getting the benefits of the doubt whereas —
Andrew: Let — let’s give people an understanding of what this is.
Andrew: Can you give me two examples —
Interviewee: So —
Interviewee: Yeah, well so, a great example would be, like, for example like that Mahalo site. So, he was thinking — I don’t know if you know that at its height, they have like, three or 400,000 pages that weren’t 100 percent entirely machine generated and wrapped in ads and that was breaking in search results and that was somehow fine. Whereas in the past, there was a guy named — Teeceo was his nickname T-E-E-C-E-O and if you look on the Matt Cutts blog, he mentions that — I know the stuff Teeceo is doing back then and it was shoot on sight and that’s how he described scraper sites and yet Mahalo wrapped in brand and all that, same sort of things, same concept. However, it’s legitimate and it flies, you know.
Andrew: What about what Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo who says, which is — that’s it’s a small percentage of his sites and it seems like he’s experimenting with new ideas and maybe Google needs to understand that bigger sites need to experiment and — and this is — what seems to big most sites is a small-scale experiment to these bigger sites.
Interviewee: So, the thing is, when you’re experimenting, let’s say an experiment, a small experiment shouldn’t be 90 plus — 90 plus percent of the pages on your site. A small experiment is, maybe you throw two or three pages out there and that’s your experiment you know, or — or something like that but it shouldn’t be 90 something percent of your site if it’s a small experiment. And it’s fine if you want to experiment. However, if you’re auto generating page, why should you immediately have the right to arbitrage Google’s search results with. So here is how it works. So right now, you’re spending your time interviewing me and then someone’s going spend time transcribing it and there’s all these labor costs going, then creating contents, you know, your time, my time, hosting, so on and so forth, right. And then, a lot of these third-party sites that just kind of scrape a bunch of content, wrap it in ads, you know, and then put your content that’s scraped kind of below the fold so its search engine sees it but you know, its just there to kind of pull in visitors and try to get them to suck off and add click. Well, the thing — the problem with that right now is that, like, kind of media — media system —
Interviewee: Well, the thing, the problem with that right now is that like kind of the media system as a whole is kind of collapsing on itself to where it’s not profitable and a lot, there’s a lot of kind of where they like do… Google has a… There’s a lot of thin, no-value ad sites in the middle of them that are just sucking off of whoever is putting in the effort. So it’s like everyone else is taking a pay cut because they’re not getting all the traffic they should for the own content because someone just snagged some of their content and threw it on some crappy auto-generated page.
So, if you look at it from that sort of perspective Google views some pages as having added value and utility for users, some pages as having none, and then it’s a scale. But like clearly if the page is 100% auto-generated and barring some unique filtering algorithms to add value on some other level, then basically it’s just it doesn’t add any value to the searcher. So, you know, either the searcher gets stuck having to make an extra click by stopping through that sort of site or they click the back button and have to click on something else. It’s not a good user experience if a user searches a search engine and then just gets another list of 100% auto-generated results.
Andrew: But doesn’t Google see this? Or do you feel that they’re missing it because they’re they’ve got too much to look at? Or do you think they actively see that this is happening by the big sites and they’re turning they’re turning a blind eye to it because it’s a big site run by a friend of a friend who we might buy in the future?
Interviewee: It it might… I don’t I don’t think… Well, first I would say that I don’t think they’ll ever buy that site, the one we were just mentioning. I don’t ever I don’t see that happening. I don’t see that being remotely possible. Yahoo might make a crazy acquisition like that because they have a string of bad acquisitions, but I wouldn’t see Google doing that.
But I think it’s more that as Google becomes more of a dominant player in the web ecosystem, that they be they to some part are fearful of people who are good at public relations and people who have access to, you know, capital and power and authority because they want to protect their own brand and they don’t want to be accused of being a monopoly or acting like a monopoly. Like one of the companies that sued Google over in Europe, I think it was like eJustice or something, is actually if you go to the website it’s a Google custom-powered search engine and they’re suing Google because Google’s not indexing its own results. And that’s kind of crazy, but at the same time, you know, they don’t want to do much other high profile stuff in a way that makes them look like they’re being abusive because it’s just going to work against them. And now Microsoft’s funding, you know, whatever legal interests need be to put kind of put pressure on them.
Andrew: I see. So what you’re saying is all those times that Jason Calacanis railed against Google Knol and said that Google was potentially competing with publishers and all those times that he stood up for other big causes, he was building his reputation as a crusader in addition to being an entrepreneur, and Google is saying we don’t want to fight a crusader. We don’t want to a guy who’s so high profile, has such a big voice. Let’s deal with the smaller guys who don’t have that.
Interviewee: It’s, yeah, it’s much easier to it’s much easier to do something to someone when they don’t have any effective way to retaliate.
Andrew: How do you know that? How?
Interviewee: You know?
Andrew: It sounds compelling…
Andrew: …but how do you know this is true?
Interviewee: Observations and experiences. [laughs]
Andrew: [laughs] Alright.
Interviewee: It’s hard, right? The more specific you get, the weirder it gets.
Andrew: I’ll tell you why, because…
Andrew: …because it’s seems to me…
Interviewee: I mean, you can see how…
Andrew: It seems to me that they could say, it seems to me that just as just as you saw three- to four-hundred-thousand pages that were essentially computer generated wrapped in advertising meant to do nothing more than grab traffic from Google to send it to this landing page that would hopefully then send the users who end up on that trap, on that page, to a Google ad. It seems to me that if you saw that Google would see it and they would say okay we don’t want to get into a fight with all of Jason Calacanis’ business and this whole megaphone against us, but we do want to say these three- to four-hundred thousand pages we’re not going to index. We’ll focus on the rest of the business. He’s not going to get upset. He’s going to see that this is the way that we do business. Everybody’s happy including Aaron Wall and his followers. Why wouldn’t they do something like that? Is it that they just didn’t catch it? Why wouldn’t they do something like that?
Interviewee: Because, well well a lot of it a lot of it, and then this was also in that [unintelligible] sort of video, a lot of it is about the perception. You know, Google’s algorithm is kind of their magic, and if you show that you, you know, heavily manipulate it manipulate it or something, they’ll torch you for it. Now, whereas with some of the like bigger sites, one of the things that I’ll I’ll compliment Jason for is he does a very good job of publicly acting naive about what he’s trying to do so that there’s some wiggle room there.
Interviewee: — some of the — like bigger sites ñ one of the thing that have been — are complimentary in for — if she does a very good job of publicly acting nice, about what he is trying to do so that — so that there is some wiggle room there. However, I mean a lot of sites, if you — Google has remote quality rater guidelines, and — you can reach through them and see what they say, it’s value add or what’s not value add. So, it’s not just whether or not, you know, twenty Google engineers in the quality team or a hundred engi –
Andrew: Let’s see, if we lost him, I’ll piece it back together again.
Interviewee: Can you hear me?
Andrew: Oh, yeah, there we go. Sir, we lost you, I was just calling you right back. The last thing I heard was it’s not just X number of engineers sitting in a room. Can you pick it up from there?
Interviewee: Yeah, sure. So, it’s not just like X number of engineers sitting in a room that have to — to catch up with, but they also have like over 10,000 remote quality raters that look through the web in great stuff. So there is um-hmm — there is a lot of different ways for a lot of advanced stuff to come up and be seen. It’s just sometimes it’s um-hmm, you know, given a lot of, benefited it out and then sometimes it’s not.
Andrew: OK. Alright, so let me see over that? Well, actually, one more thing, I — first of all, I think when you stand out — when you stand out for content creators, aren’t — can you hear me or did we lose the connection again?
Interviewee: Yeah, I can hear, yeah.
Andrew: OK, great. When you stand up for content creators, I appreciate it because I — I have done searches for my own work and discovered that some scrapper website ends up showing up at the top of the search results and not me because they figured out how to grab my videos and add tags to them, and because of that they are going to end up with my traffic, and I — I’m upset by that. But as an interviewer, I — I have to ask more questions here. I have to challenge a little bit. I wonder if maybe they — these guys are adding some value, maybe these sites are taking Andrew Warner’s video and they are adding proper tags and they are making it more searchable and they are helping Google and they are helping Google’s — Google’s users and at the end of the day, the user doesn’t care that Andrew put in the work, they care about who is the easiest to find, who was the best layout, and if it’s not Andrew the guy who created it, screw Andrew, we have got to go with the other person. So, maybe Google is making the right decision here. What do you think of that?
Interviewee: OK, if — if you — well, that’s exactly what the founders of YouTube thought when they described their tag. It says, whatever tactics, however evil, you know. So that’s how they have internally described their own methods about, you know.
Andrew: They described their tactics, as whatever tactics, whatever evil –
Interviewee: Whatever tactics, however evil, that’s how Mr. Chen — I think that’s his name described in the internal emails about them trying to grow their traffic as quickly as they could. They were selling out, you know they just sell out to Google for a big number. So the point is though, if the original content creators aren’t really making — aren’t making a living off of it, and it’s mostly just parasitic crack, then some of those original content creators are going to get away. And then eventually, here is where it gets scary, is when — when the top-ten searches are also like, kind of like, Mahalo, eHOW, Associated Content, whatever, then when people got to make more content, and then people start researching of this basic kind of AutoGen or word content written by non-topical experts and — and that’s sort of stuff, all the web collectively as a whole just starts losing utility. It doesn’t happen in one day, however, over time, it — it’s certainly either — either a search is getting better and the web is getting better or it shouldn’t be — it can get more sick and one of Google’s biggest problems is figuring out how to get the economics to work to get the best content in its indexing, keeping in there.
Andrew: Alright, OK. Alright, that’s a great point. So let’s do this then. I — I don’t want to just bitch and moan about Mahalo and the big guy, it’s just not in my nature as you know. I want to say OK, if there is something out there that works, what can I learn form it and what can my audience learn from it. So let’s ñ let’s now shift to what we can learn from your experience and from what you’ve observed other people do properly when it comes to SEO. I’d tell you a couple of things that I noticed here when you and I are talking. First, having capital, having good backing is going to help you with the — with sites like Google. It’s going to help you with your traffic. It’s going to help you experiment a little bit more than if you were just a small site. Guys who are own funded, keep braking on being funded, here is — here is another reason why being funded helps. Here is other things I heard. Go out there and make a name for yourself. Get that megaphone for yourself. I used to wonder why is it that Jason Calacanis is wasting all his time building up this reputation as a fighter –
Andrew: I used to wonder, why is it that Jason Callican[sp] is wasting all of his time building up this reputation as a fighter, blogging, emailing, videoing himself and doing all these stuff, now you’re showing me that there is — that there is a direct business benefit that helps out his company and I say everybody in the audience here needs to go out there and keep building up their megaphone, and needs to get it bigger and bigger and bigger. What else? You take it from there. What other tips can somebody who’s in my audience right now, Moses, Adam, Ravish, Jiten[sp], Ted, Casey, Allen, what can all of these guys who are running sites do to grow their traffic from search engines?
Interviewee: So, one of the tips that’s pretty good is if they have good domain name because a lot of — a lot the search engines place a lot of weight on the anchor texts and lengths. And so if you, you know, mykeywords.com or whatever, it’s really easy to build links using your keywords in it. Where as if you conversely owned, you know, yeah-the-that’s-credit-cards, you know, -now.info you own something like that and you’re going around using anchor text as credit cards [xx] kind of spare me.
Interviewee: So, if you use a domain name that matches your keywords that helps out a lot. There’s also some engines also put a waiting directly on the domain name too. So, that’s one thing that helps a lot. Another is kind of the idea that once you have, from the authority, once you have a bunch of inbound links, once you have an audience, you can try to leverage that in a way that kind of make sense for you. So, if you know you’re starting off a new site and it’s brand new, no one says that anyone has to launch eight crappy thin me to e-commerce site, [xx] that, you know, you could just as well launch a blog about the industry brand you know, and then 3 — sorry, 6 months or 12 months later, at an e-commerce store — story. So, it’s kind of the order of operations matters there too. So, if whatever you’re doing isn’t remarkable and isn’t likely to be remarked about and nobody cares about it, then don’t make that the focus of what you’re doing, just make that be a side of that the project, sort of like what you mentioned with Jason as, you know, he’s always, whatever the cost is, you know, rally for this would add or whatever, and the idea there is if you build up enough, you know, awareness and momentum or whatever, you can kind of monetize it however you want.
Andrew: OK. So, you’re saying before you build the store, build the megaphone, build the remarkable conversation and then go on and build the store, right, so you could get some links?
Interviewee: Yeah. And then also if you want — if you can’t get exposure in a certain space, if you’re trying to get exposure in a certain space and you can’t really get it, a good option is to try to give exposure to the people you want exposure from and I hope that for some bit of reciprocity out of it. So, some of the more interesting pieces of content, you’ll see some of them have inputs through, like, group interviews or interviews of individuals already well-known and then if some of them linked back to you, that helps quite a bit.
Andrew: I see. I obviously do interviews here a lot, I ask the people who I interviewed to link back to me after I do the interview. In fact I had given the whole video with a request for a link back, I say, you can post the interview on your site but I’d also appreciate a link back. Does that help the fact that I might get if I do 20 interviews a month, maybe 15 of them linking back, it seems like such a puny number of links.
Interviewee: But there are huge authority links and if they market it to their audiences, those audience pick up on you. So, there’s some spots where you build a crappy link and the crappy link is all there ever is and that’s all that’s ever going to amount to. But if you’re interviewing people that are popular, who have audiences, you’re not just getting that link, you’re getting that link and then a bit of that audience and over time that adds up to quite a bit. So, you know, you may say you’re only getting 15 links a month or something, but at the same time there are links that have a lot of traffic associated with them. So, like I branded your site many times.
Andrew: Yeah. Thank you by the way. Before this interview, you link to me, I know that I did an interview with the founder of Y Combinator program, he put a link to my interview on the front page of Y Combinator, I couldn’t believe it. And yeah, so all those are great authority and it has helped me get traffic. That’s my biggest source of traffic right now, links from people who I’ve interviewed. What else? What else — can somebody who’s not doing an interview, who wants to say, you know, Andrew, I’ve listened to this program for about 45, I don’t know where we are, maybe 50 minutes into it —
Andrew: — for about 45 – I don’t know where we are – maybe 50 minutes into it, I want to go out and do something that will pay off, that will make all this time that I spent with Andrew and Aaron pay off. What’s the one thing they can go and do right now.
Interviewee: So, a lot of it comes under doing the research upfront and make you are entering the, sort of, right market. Just because a lot of people are in the market doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best market to enter. And so, an example of that, like if you had an idea of, you know, like yeah, I am going to start a blog about SEO, that was a pretty good idea towards the end of 2003; maybe not so good of an idea right now just because it’s like those people aren’t very receptive of that, there is already thousands of other sites you are going to be competing with. So, if you can find — there is a — there is a post Bryan Clark made props — I think something like how to dominate you niche or something like that and the basic concept is — is if you are in area where you feel that you — there is hierarchy of competition and you are at the bottom and there is all these people above, you are doing the same thing, then try to think of a — trying to have a ingrown sort of way to approach your markets, to where you don’t have so many competitors. So, his example is, he wanted to create a blog about blogging but then he didn’t want to be the number three player behind Darren Rowse’s pro-blogger. And the site started by Nick W — I just forgot the name of it right now, performance thing, I believe. And then he didn’t want to be number three there, so he took — he read what they are writing about and it was about copywriting stuff, so he made a blog that was just kind of more about copywriting stuff rather than just a blog about blogging. So it’s kind of a different niche, and so it’s a parallel. So, like, within SEO, there’s people who have made a name for themselves focusing on, like, local search stuff; There’s people who have made a name for themselves focusing on stuff like video search. So, the key is if you don’t have a lot of resources off at the start doesn’t necessarily mean you need to raise funding but maybe just need tighter branding, tighter
topic focus, so you get well known and then you can start spreading out with it.
Andrew: Right. What else? Let’s suppose the —
Interviewee: Another thing you can do off the start —
Andrew: Let’s suppose that you — that you are already in business, you already are either selling something or you got a content site that you are building and you need to find a way to get more traffic, more people to come over to the site, because it’s, man, it’s so lonely when you are building a website and there is no out there looking at it. What do you do if you are already up and running?
Interviewee: So, even if you are already up and running, it doesn’t mean you can’t add pieces on to it. So, some people go, well, I have an e-commerce store, and it’s like OK, well, you can have an e-commerce store with the blogging tools and this and that. Like, if you think about how SEOstarted, I wasn’t necessarily resource rich back then. That was like, you know, a copy of moveable type, and the original version of it was a — was a 90 — well, actually the initial version was just one of their default pamphlets, the second version was a $99.00 logo with kind of me trying to color match the CSS for, like, ten minutes. And then, over time, you know, that eventually became the membership site with all the tools and forums and all the other stuff. So, if people are ever sitting around, saying that they don’t have anything to do or that, you know, their site’s is boring or it’s not remarkable, I don’t think — I don’t think their mindset or approach is the best one. Usually you have to figure out — keep trying stuff and eventually some of it is going to work, you know. You can also, like — if — even if the keyword or an idea isn’t that profitable, you can still create content about it. And if you make really great content about it and can get exposure for it, then that link actually, you can help the other pages and your site’s going to be better too.
Andrew: So, [xx] is saying, he’s hearing a lot of what we are saying towards the end of the interview here and you are saying, man, is it jut me or does SEO take too long? What about that? That a few years ago it used to be easy, now you are competing against guys like Mahalo that have millions of dollars behind them, you are competing against Demand Media, you are competing against all the students that you’ve taught out there. Maybe — maybe this just doesn’t pay off so much any more.
Interviewee: The more people who think that, the more money I’ll make. But the thing is, that’s a good point, is OK, so it’s not instantaneous feedback. The good news is that the lack of instantaneous transparent feedback is also part of why there is sustainable profit margin there. So, imagine — imagine the alternative that it was — well, it’s really fast, everybody can do it. Suddenly it’s, you know, a $3.00 a day job outsourced to someone in China, you know.
65:00 to end
Interviewee: And so it’s good that to some degree the opacity of your, I can’t say the word right. The fact that it’s opaque is actually somewhat good in that it means that there can be significant profit margins. And it doesn’t have to take a long time. Like once you already have a site that’s up and running, if you already have a good trusted site then you can add stuff to it and have it do well pretty quickly, you know, in the first month or so.
Andrew: Like what?
Interviewee: Now, if you’re starting from scratch, it will take — well, you can — you can — so you can find out there is a certain area that monetize as well. You know, you can test articles about any topic on your website once your site is trusted and then simply, you know, if you got analytics you can get the feedback and you go that’s too competitive, I can’t wait for that or that’s, you know, well, I can’t wait for that, let’s see what else is in that space and, you know, there is programs like AdSense, so it’s not hard to at least get a baseline idea if you can make any revenue off the traffic.
Interviewee: And then from there you can try to do, you know, affiliate marketing or whatever else.
Interviewee: Can you hear me?
Andrew: Yeah, I can absolutely hear you. I’m feeling the pressure of the time and I’m seeing that there are lot of questions coming in. How about this? I’ll give people a way of asking you questions afterwards, if — can I pass on to you maybe the best one or two questions that we get maybe a few more if they are really solid?
Interviewee: Sure, and can I share you one more kind of cool SEO tip?
Andrew: Yeah, I’d love it, 100 percent.
Interviewee: OK. So if you go to the search results, the search results themselves can be a bit of an SEO tool.
Interviewee: So if you search for a topic, say you search for like credit cards or something like, well, if you look they try to complete the search query for you and they will show you some of the breakdown keywords there. Then they also have a show options link and if you look at the show options link, there is a link on there for related searches and then it will show you a bunch of different related keywords and concepts and then you can look at the page titles of the existing listings in the search results. Between the three of those, you’re seeing what other people are trying to target their page titles, what related keywords are Google suggesting, you know, people starting the search query complete with and then other related keywords. Between the three of those it can really help you get some good ideas of how to optimize a page title and what’s interesting when you use that sort of strategy is let’s say — let’s say you don’t have the authority to rank for credit cards, but maybe you can rank for instant credit cards or credit cards <1:07:44.2> or some of the other concepts like that. Well, then over time you’re just like it’s more authoritative, then you can end up ranking for, you know, a broad array of keywords and then eventually build up or truncate to the core keywords. So even if you don’t have tons of authority right off the start, you don’t just lose by not linking it to the main keyword, you still are pulling in traffic from some of the other ones.
Andrew: I love it. Let’s see, Dan Blank in the audience is saying I love how Aaron wants to just keep sharing even more. I do too, I really appreciate it. Aaron, I am grateful to you for — not just coming here and doing an interview, but people don’t realize this. You and I have now spent an hour and a half together, the first I think 20 minutes were in deep tech support mess and I am so grateful to you for even sticking with that and figuring out a way for us to continue on and do this interview and I — I see all the questions, some of them from really supportive people in my community here. If you guys post them on foundersmix.com, Mixergy’s new community site, tag them with Aaron Wall or SEO Book, I will take the best ones and I will pass them on to him, and Aaron, I’ll pick out the best ones for you so you don’t have to go through all of them. But of course you’re welcome to and I’ll link all of them if you’d like that too. Aaron, how can people go and find more information from you, how can they learn from you?
Interviewee: So, we have of course — so on our site, we have a seven-day like intro to SEO thing, comes with a couple of free SEO tools and that’s at SEO Book/free-account or if you just go to our homepage and click the join link, that will start in there. And then if they want to like interact directly with us and be part of our community with the forms and the training modules and all that other stuff, then there is an upgrade link too and they can become a member that way.
Andrew: OK, all right. Guys if you do that I want to hear from you what you think of it. So send me an email, let me know what you thought of the program, I haven’t heard anyone say anything negative about it but I’m open to hearing both. From what I understand Aaron, you really help people get a lot of traffic. This guy Christmas in the audience whose chat I’ve lost over here has talked about how much traffic he got from being a member. I’m not getting anything for recommending people become members, I’m just saying that it’s a guy who is well-known in the industry and it’s a guy who has helped out a lot of people and I think you should go and check out his site seobook.com. Aaron, thank you again. Guys, thank you for being out there. I’m Andrew, I’ll see you all in the comments.