Is anyone paying for SEO help? How do you find someone who is doing it the right way and getting results?

This post contains both a very general and very specific question. Let me give some context to frame my inquiry and then ask my questions.

I run three small side projects all of which I want to grow. All three perform poorly in terms of organic inbound traffic.

I have not invested much effort or money into content marketing or other organic-centric strategies. I recognize that starting with the basics of keeping fresh content on the sites, getting a decent backlink portfolio, etc… would be a good place to start. I’ve done a TON of reading over the years and have worked for some very SEO dependent companies so I know all the fundamentals.

Beyond those “evergreen” basics, I recognize that there is also the constant game of trying to stay one step ahead of the of the search engines and use some very specific tactical approaches. I’m not even talking black-hat/gray-hat stuff. I’m just talking about optimizing all of your efforts in the ways that have the most impact currently. For instance, from what I’ve read there is a right way and a bunch of wrong ways to do guest posting these days.

I worked for during the original Panda update. We were one of many sites that got obliterated by that change and so I experienced first hand how certain tactics can be VERY effective one day and then be completely gone the next day all at the whim of the all-mighty Googs.

I do want to personally get good at the basic evergreen fundamentals of organic inbound marketing but I would also love some consultation and augmentation from really good, really smart people who are focusing on THIS all day everyday. As a web based business founder, I think that it is essential for me to stay aware of the current SEO landscape. On the other hand, I’m also a husband, father and full-time employee so I just simply can’t invest the amount of time it would take to stay sharp as an “SEO Ninja” (you can slap me for that). For that reason I would like to find some really good people to help me with my businesses.

So there’s all of the context.

Now for the questions.

General Question:
How do you handle SEO? Does everyone here run their own SEO/content marketing/inbound marketing? Has anyone successfully found a way to augment your businesses by delegating some of that strategy and execution?

Specific Question:
If you do have SEO help, how did you find it? Who do you recommend?

Hi Travis,

Here are my experiences in seo.

  1. First, don’t overdo seo. As with everything in life, it is a question of balance. Give it time, it won’t work overnight, it will not work in a month, maybe it will work in a year.

  2. do not do “linkbuilding”.
    Every link which is “build” without the best content ever surrounding it, is going to hurt your site. Don’t think links, think relationships. Fore example, don’t do guestpost for the backlinks, do them for the reputation.
    Every day people will “discover” amazing traffic or link sources. If you think about using any of them, always think about how you can deliver value first.

  3. optimize internal links.
    The biggest impact for websites which already had content, was the optimization of internal links. Such as links to other articles, related content or pagination. The goal is to make it easy for google to crawl you site. It also helps to create the occasional “archive article”, in which you link to older articles. You cant’ make all your website areas equally crawlable all the time, but you can shift focus strategically. Useful for seasonal events for example.

  4. Make every text unique
    Individualize everything! For example, I rarely see people individualize the snippets on category pages. I don’t mean the category description, as many agencies do as a “quick win”. I mean the snippet that belongs to an individual article. You have a page for tags? individualize these snippets as well. All your links to the detail article say “read more”? individualize.

  5. create content hubs
    You have many articles on one specific topic on your niche website? Create a hub. The basic idea is to emphasis a specific theme, instead of watering it down with other “related” content. For example, your website is about action movies and you have four articles on Rambo movies? On each of these articles, remove everything that is not directly related to Rambo and add everything that is related to it.

These are the optimizations which had the biggest impact for me. Everything else depends on the niche you are operating in.


I would start by picking the project with the best potential and focus on SEO for just that one project.

There are 3 things you can do that will probably work - build real relationships, make great content, and capture the long tail in a “scalable” way.

Making friends and getting in front of the right audience means building real relationships with people. Be honest and make it not about getting the links. You can still ask for a tweet or a link, but don’t make it your primary cause in building a relationship.

Great content means something that people want. It can be video, audio, pdf, whatever. Make it something that people want and they will show up and trade you for it in attention, money, shares, or links.

Going after the long tail of search in a scalable way is about solving really small problems better than other people do. For example, with @patio11 Bingo Card Creator, his long tail bingo cards solve really small problems like helping a teacher who wants to print out bingo cards for something obscure like Flag Day or Pi Day or Talk Like A Pirate Day. It’s still about providing something that people want, but only for a small slice of the market.

The scalable part comes in with the fact that your investment in long tail content has to be small on a per-unit level or you won’t make a good ROI on your SEO. So, $5 per page might be worth it if each page generates a $10 sale, but $100 per page means you’re losing $90 per page you create.

I’ve had some success with SEO, but I’d rather build a business using paid advertising to get it off the ground and then be able to invest in SEO. If your only avenue of business growth is SEO, it’s going to be a long, slow ramp to any kind of success.

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Why? Seriously - beyond because you are a “web based business founder”, why do you need to stay aware of the current SEO landscape?

Genuine question, by the way - not trying to be contrarian.

This is a very helpful list. Stuff I’ve heard and “know” but have not put into practice or internalized. Thanks for putting thought into this answer. Will definitely be applying some of this immediately.

Great question. Thanks for calling me out on my poorly justified statement.

Here’s a little more context on what I’m thinking. My statement may or may not valid given this context.

I plan on making a living for myself and my family by building and running software businesses for the rest of my life. As such I believe I should be knowledgeable in the various customer and traffic acquisition channels that are prominent at any point in time.

A given business may or not require one or more of the available channels.

Some businesses may run 100% on paid placement.

Some businesses may thrive based on the word of mouth promotion of a engaged community. Maybe you can launch a business with an email list and grow it via word of mouth buzz created by the audience on your list.

However, for many businesses search ranking is a very powerful and important acquisition channel. Search is generally a high “intent” channel, whereas social media referral is often very low intent.

For that reason, I think search is one of the more important channels to understand for many businesses. If you can make paid search work, it is the easier to control and tune of two the search channels. However, for many businesses the unit economics of paid search make it unviable. That leaves organic search as the only search channel for those businesses.

Side note: SEO is such an overloaded word. All I mean by it is understanding how to drive organic search traffic.

All of that being said, I will reiterate that there are many businesses where pursuing organic search as an acquisition channel is not only non-optimal, it is a complete waste of time and money. If you are building a business exclusively in one of those channels then my statement would in no way apply to you.

This is a conclusion that I have come to as well.

One of my projects has fantastic word of mouth referral and direct traffic. However, I think our competitors are eating our lunch because they out-rank us. We are 2nd page for all of the important terms in a very focused and specific niche.

The other project will absolutely not work with paid search due to the economics. It’s not a product that has any relevance to my personal interests, so building and audience and real relationships related to that one is gonna be a challenge. I think SEO is really the way to go with it but I think it’s gonna be a long, slow process.

On a related note, I’m considering shutting down or selling that project. :wink:

Thanks for the answer. Great food for thought.

I agree, but I also have done enough mobile app development to understand that poor economics makes it artificially difficult to grow your business. You can’t invest in growth because you don’t have the money to do so. If you don’t invest in growth, it is very difficult to grow.

Also, there can be equally bad economics on the SEO side depending on the cost of your time or hiring someone else to do your content or link building. Articles can cost anywhere for $3 for super low end stuff to $150+ for high end stuff. Producing audio or video has a significant cost too. Link building or social media marketing is pretty much the cost of someone’s time for however long they do it.

My point is that if bad economics exist in your business, the answer isn’t to try and figure out how to cheaply advertise a business with poor margins and high costs, it’s to figure out a better model that you can sustainably promote.

I’ve had to learn this lesson and I’ve moved away from consumer apps, mobile apps, AdSense and affiliate sites, to business oriented SAAS software.

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After years of trying to hire someone I have finally come to the conclusion, that SEO is way too sensitive and important to be outsourced. It’s way too easy to screw things up. With AdWords, Facebook ads, Twitter ads, etc. screwing things up means losing money. With SEO screwing up may cost you business.

Hire “executors” for your SEO tasks - like, say, content creators and writers, freelancers for dumb jobs (like “go find all blogs in niche XXX, sort by PR, send a personal guest-blog proposal” or “write a press-release, find journalists on twitter, approach” etc. etc. But keep this starship’s bridge to yourself.


Indeed. Patio11 goes one step ahead and makes the point that you shouldn’t hire any SEO consultant you can afford:


Hi TF,
I have always done best with a qualified approach. I find that if you go to the doctor you are prescribed drugs, if you go to the phsio you are prescribed weekly sessions. If you go to the SEO providers your now buying expensive links or blog networks.

I do it myself for the most part but definitely seek a person who tracks their success on sales and is continually experimenting with different methods. I find those experts that are prescribing one method are far more interested in their scaling up their biz than they are in your sales. In reality nobody knows what is going to be successful with your audience since all audiences are different.

For example I ran my competitors (and my site) through and found that none of us had more than 9% of traffic coming from Google. Often you will find its far less than 20% of people find popular sites through Google. The majority of that 20% uses Google as a shortcut to find the website with short hand search. So it really isn’t that fruitful to focus on search engine rankings especially with the expense of SEO these days.

Another area to investigate is how many conversions are you getting from your current content. You can determine this through Google Analytics quickly and easily. Producing content targeted at good converting keywords has definitely given me a good boost in sales. No paid links, or anything, just producing articles and a continual stream of them for things I know my customers are searching for.

Another area, that seems to be a swear word in the internet marketing world, is to approach customers directly. For example, I have utilized free audiences looking for related products in Craigslist - this method drives about 40% of my sales.

Also realizing that a lot of customers need a warm up period before buying. For example a free email course that gives them a chance to see your product or service for free has worked very well for me.

I haven’t experimented with it yet but a free webinar (advertised in the right place) with a pitch of your product is a very good means of allowing them to see your product without risk. John Lee Dumas knocks it out of the park with this method.

I would really look for a service or person that is focused on a number of techniques and quantifies them with a feedback loop for sales. The one stop approach just doesn’t work.

I hope that helps, feel free to shout.

I hope nobody minds if I revive this useful thread.

So is creating quality unique content or some viral stuff is the only way up in search results? Our Mac app is getting outranked to the 3rd page by really old reviews just because they are on a popular site. Or some semi-abandoned competitors because they were released before 2010.

It’s really noisy nowadays plus many review sites died in 2015-2016, like AppStorm. At least we have a B2C product that can gather some press (though has a trouble doing it currently) but I wonder how do you solve it for services that are not hip enough for any tech news.

A great read, I got burnt on it myself. SEO specialists that you can afford as a bootstrapper will do basically what free “SEO check” sites and a 30 day trial can do.

So is creating quality unique content or some viral stuff is the only way up in search results?

It is probably not the only way, but creating quality content is indeed important.

I’m no SEO expert, but I do spend time every week honing our SEO. As a result, over the last two years, we’ve gone from an average of position 19 to an average of position 3 for our most important search term. Some other alleged indicators that Google uses:

  • Do people tend to bounce back very quickly to the search results page after clicking to your site? That’s a negative. Do they stay for a while? That’s a positive.
  • Do you use HTTPS throughout? The jury is out, but Google suggests you’ll get a small plus for this
  • Is your site mobile friendly? If so, Google possibly ranks you higher on search devices
  • Is your content updated from time to time? If so, Google possibly likes that

However, frequently adding quality content that addresses issues your potential customers might have does seem to outweigh everything else!

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Average session duration is 01:20, HTTPS is enabled, and the site is using Bootstrap 3 to be mobile-first. I read lots of detailed SEO guides, like the one on, and optimized everything is possible for a small site.

Checked it with a couple of SEO checkers and got top score on them, also got Google PageSpeed score to 70 on mobile and 88 on desktop. (Mobile could be better maybe but 70% of visitors are searching desktop app and using macOS.)

Bounce rate is 60% but I guess it’s tolerable for a landing page. But we don’t have much content besides the landing, FAQ, and utility pages like EULA and Privacy Policy. That’s why I’m thinking about starting a blog and producing something that can be linked to, reposted to big sites with a backlink, found for long tail search queries, etc.

The most mysterious part here is that we completely remade the site in May but there’s very little effect overall.

I spent a lot of time on optimizing and rewriting texts to match different keywords better (both popular and low-volume), got important things above-the-fold (for the first version we cloned Fantastical 2 layout that is not very informative), fixed technical issues like lack of GZIP and resource caching, optimized image sizes…

Bounce rate went from 72% to 60%, session duration grew from 00:54 to 01:20, pages/session – from 1.38 to 1.7, conversions to downloads went up for 2-4% depending on the channel. But there’s almost no change in search result positions after 3 weeks. Maybe it needs even more time, like 2 months?

I think SEO is the one area that will drive you insane. Sometimes there is no logic to it. I find there is a direct relationship the more work you put into SEO vs the worse the rankings get.

Google really hammers you if you try too much.

I use this site to track our rankings but it can be a depressing read at times

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About your particular case I think you have a few issues:

  1. Ranking a single page site is hard.
  2. You need further on-page optimization: Titles, url, heading, keyword density all those things are sending another signal to google. Unless I go it wrong and your keyword is not Mac Time Tracking.

I’vent looked your link profile; but, looks like you are after a competitive niche.

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On the landing page we have “time” 29 times and the “track-” root 16 times, I’m afraid doing more could be considered keyword stuffing.

But yes, I think we need to go for more pages with good content. I thought it wouldn’t be that hard for Mac-only queries because many competitors have small sites too but I believe they beat us with the age and 2-3 times larger backlink count. Even this tiny addon list for Freshbooks is ranked higher currently. :expressionless:


An obvious SEO 101 improvement would be to buy domain name.

Google gives the highest rank to domain name, then to url, then to title/h1, then to page content.

The domain name you picked and the product name are awful.

Rule of thumb: if I can’t pronounce the name, it’s bad. I can’t pronounce “qbserve” or “qotoqot”.

That being said, there’s no way you’ll out-SEO 100 other time trackers, even if you do everything right.

At least some of your competitors are also doing everything right and they’ve been doing it it much longer (age of the website is a SEO boost).

You really compete with RescueTime, which has been around forever and has a free version.

The product is really polished. You can write high-quality software for Mac, which is important because it opens up opportunities.

My advice is to pick a product that has less competition, higher value to users, one where you can outdo them on quality.

Just off the top of my head:

  • if you write file compare (like, you compete with 2-3 products
  • if you write a git client, you compete with 2-3 products
  • if you write a GUI PostgreSQL client, you compete mostly with 1 mac native product (postico) and I don’t know any GUI client company that does SEO well. This area is so rich with SEO opportunities because there’s countless useful posts that you can write about Postgres so if you have a good quality product you can out-SEO others. That is not true when it comes to time tracking
  • or duplicate It was a successful 4 person startup but they killed the stand-alone product when they were acquired by Slack. As far as I know, no one has tried to clone it. It’s not easy, it must be cross-platform (mac and windows) but it’s a validated idea

It’s not about specific ideas.

My point is that there is a category of software that has proven utility to users (like time tracking), so you don’t have to worry that if you build and market it, no-one will care. But unlike time tracking, there’s less competition and more opportunity to market via SEO.

Time tracking is not good for SEO marketing because there’s only so much you can write about time tracking.

PostgreSQL GUI client is perfect for SEO marketing because there’s no limit to how much you can write. Documentation is always lacking there. You can write a book about Postgres, which would be a great, evergreen content. On every release you can write about new features. You can write in-depth articles about some specific aspect, like date/time handling, json handling, performance investigation, and all of them can link to your app.

You seem to have programming skills to pull off a good quality product, you just have to apply those skills to a more profitable product category.

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Thank you a lot for this huge feedback!

Yes, I’m not happy with the product name in the end (promoting it in podcasts? heh, no) but we really hit the wall back then trying to find something unique and gave up, probably too early. I was very frustrated with polishing the famous “last 10%” before the release and the app basically got its internal name. Now it’s too late to change. The company name is awkward but it was done on purpose – to stand out.

Anyway, our competitors are sometimes called like “Chrometa”, “Caato”, “Toggl” – they have nothing time-related in the domain but rank higher because of the age, content, and relevant backlinks.

This was the idea from the beginning. RT is stagnated and server-dependent, there’s basically no alternative with similar features. It’s also much more expensive if you need advanced options. Dozens of RT users migrated to our app because of these issues (and probably hundreds, I’m speaking for the ones who wrote it to me).

I’m not giving up yet. :slight_smile: The app is profitable even from the 2nd and 3rd pages, I can actually live from it in a humble style.

HubStaff team writes about everything mildly related to productivity in their blog. I want to try the same – we have many ideas to share after 8 years of working remotely.

I understand the advantage of building tools for less saturated niches but tech tools are just not our thing. It’s hard to fight in the productivity software field but the impact is totally worth it.