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My New Ventures

September 30, 2015

So it’s been a little over 5 years since I last posted on this site. And to be honest, I’d pretty much forgotten about it completely the past 2 years. Such is the case for a web guy with many domains and a bit of A.D.D. I’m sure I’m not alone on that though!

If you’re new here and came via a Google search or something, my name is Jon Payne and I’m an internet marketing guy. For the first 10 or so years of my career, from roughly 2003 through 2013, I was an internet marketing consultant and transitioned over time from a one-man show to a legitimate agency with a team of 15 full-time internet marketers. My agency was called Ephricon and it focused primarily on organic SEO services for clients who were looking to generate leads. Hence the name of this blog and domain.

In 2013 I made the decision to sell my agency to another larger agency by the name of Straight North. Long story short, it was the best decision for the growing agency which needed structure and administrative support and at the same point I was getting burnt out and wanted to take some time off and then shift my professional focus a bit.

After sticking around for about 9 months after the merger to help integrate the two firms, I made the decision to leave and time a little time off. I did pretty much nothing professionally speaking (lots of travel and Xbox) for about 6 months. It was great! But then it was time to get the business juices flowing again.

So that puts me to about a year ago, right around the start of Q4 2014. My “next phase” has involved several different focuses. In a nutshell, I’m doing 3 different types of things:

1) CREATING A PRODUCT BRAND (ON AMAZON) – This is something I sort of backed into, but am having a blast with. Originally I was interested mostly in figuring out how to rank on Amazon. As a guy with a background in SEO, Amazon’s search piqued my interest and the numbers about how more people search and buy through Amazon than on Google really caught my attention. The thing is, to rank on Amazon you need a product, not a website. So I got into the whole world of product sourcing, private-labeling, etc. and essentially backed into creating a brand called Comfy Clothiers. Our first product is a 5-pack of metal collar extenders that help give guys a little extra room in the collar of their dress shirts. The feedback we’ve gotten has been great, and as such we’re currently developing several new products to be launched in Q4 2015. What started as a “ranking on Amazon” thing has really turned into a passion for what our brand represents – creating useful products to help ensure that looking good and feeling comfortable don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We’re now looking past just our primary channel – Amazon – and working on selling direct on our own website, selling wholesale to brick-and-mortar retailer, etc. Its a great combination of my skillset and experience in digital marketing combined with enough new areas for me like manufacturing and general retail sales to keep me on my toes.

2) CAREER COUNSELING & JOB TRAINING WEBSITE – We have a big issue in the US that effects many of us both individually and as a society. We have this huge mis-match between supply and demand as it relates to jobs. I believe that part of the issue is that in general most of us are ill-informed about different types of careers. So you have college freshmen picking majors that either align purely with their interests and maybe have poor practical applications when it comes to getting a job (like history or sociology) or you have people on the other end going so practical in their major and then learning later on that they really don’t want to be a nurse or an accountant or what have you. So my contribution to this problem is The Career Project, a website that features thousands of real-world career profiles that document the pros and cons of different careers. The idea here is that whether you are a college student or someone mid-career who is looking for a change, we’ll bring you the inside scoop on what its really like to work as an accountant, or nurse, or whatever. Plus, we’ll match you the training and educational tools you need to start moving in that direction. Sometimes it may be a college degree, sure, but more often it’s a certification test you need to pass, or an online course you can take and complete within a few months.

3) CONSULTING SERVICES – As my focus is really on the two things above, I am super selective with the consulting work that I do. I have a couple of clients and generally focus on some combination of serving as a part-time outsourced CMO, providing marketing automation consulting services, and assisting with helping companies effectively sell on Amazon as an Amazon selling consultant.  In fact, the response has been so strong to our Amazon consulting services that I’m setting up another agency – after having run an SEO agency for more than 10 years – but this time it’s an Amazon consulting agency that focuses on helping manufacturers and brands sell more on Amazon primarily through a form of Amazon SEO and Amazon Account Management.

Lastly… so as not to shortchange you…  I’ve also got an e-commerce site that sells industrial supplies such as schedule 80 CPVC fittings as well. But I think 3 topics above is a bit more digestible than 4 different focuses. So we’ll save that discussion for another day!

I just got an email from an old associate.  He is a PPC guy and is doing an SEO project.  He asked for basic insight to “double check” on the keywords that his client provided to him, wanting to make sure that he wasn’t going to spend his time optimizing for keywords that were seldom searched.

Good call.  In fact, when Ephricon takes on a new client we ask for lots of input from the client, but we reserve the right to have final say on the keyword priority list.  I feel as though that’s part of what clients pay us for.  We hold ourselves responsible not for rankings, but for traffic and leads.  As such, we need to have significant say as to which keywords we target.  This goes for both SEO and PPC.

My reply to him is below.  I intentionally tried to keep it fairly high-level.  The guy wants recommendations, not thorough discussion of every tool ever made.

Hi <<Name>>,

Good hearing from you.  There are a number of options, of course, but the fastest/easiest one is the good ole Google Keyword Tool.

Search volume is pretty much the same for PPC as with SEO – b/c at the end of the day its still just counting the number of people who are searching.  Your approach to target them (PPC ads vs. organic listings) is different, but there is still the same “supply” of people searching.

We also use KeywordSpy, SpyFu, Trellian’s Keyword Discovery and other programs too, but I feel like Google’s free tool gets you 80% of what you need quickly and easily.

That’s all volume.  For relevance, I apply a more subjective measure.  If you have conversion data than you can use that, but if you are starting from scratch you have to go with your gut, and when in doubt lean more towards longer tail keywords and keywords with “buying” intent.

For competition, we again use the Google Keyword Tool and also SEOmoz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool.  Neither is perfect, so we also do a lot of “custom” analysis to determine difficulty levels.  The SEOChat tool is actually pretty good too… it doesn’t look as cool as the others but I tend to agree with its scoring a bit more.

Your thoughts?

Sweet New SEOmoz Tools

April 7, 2010

I hate writing “groupie” type posts, but this short one was earned.  SEOmoz just launched a new Keyword Difficulty tool, which, at first glance and after just a couple of tests seems to have a bit of merit.  I tested on some keywords I’m pretty familiar with and its ratings matched my general concept.

My only critique would be that its maybe its scale should be adjusted a bit… I put in “directory of handsome guys” and that was a 22%.  IMO that should be like 5% or less, there is no competition on that keyword.  I accidentally ranked a site of mine #1 for that, and after a few days I wouldn’t be surprised if this blog post ranks #2 for “directory of handsome guys”.

I guess it was a couple of months ago that the launched the Open Site Explorer tool, which I now use daily and love it.  My only critique with that is the size of the data set.  I have one client where we’ve tracked the total number of links its reporting by month with that tool and its showing drastically changing numbers – both up and down.  I believe its more reflecting of swinging changes in their data set than it is “real” changes in numbers of links to their site.

I’d say in general their data seems to be tracking the good-old-fashioned Yahoo Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, but their front-end interface and the tools’ overall usability more than makes up for that.  I’m a fan.  Good work, Rand and team.

Update: See my comment below and comment from Richard Baxter’s write up for another critique.  I’d like to see it weigh “domain authority” more and “page authority” less.

Good write up Richard.  Overall I like the tool, but I feel like its maybe favoring “page authority” a bit too much, and “domain authority” not enough.  Anyone else agree with me on that?

Take the “pivot tables” (49) vs. “pallet delivery” (64) example.  I’d argue that “pivot tables” is more competitive b/c all of the sites in the top 20 have domain authority over 80.  You need an 80+ domain just to to get a ticket to that dance.  But for “pallet delivery” only 2 of the top 20 have domain authorities over 80, and several have very low domain authority.  You can get into that dance with most any site, so long as the page itself has a little juice.  That’s much easier to do.

“You can think of us as your website’s cosmetic surgery team.” – Baran Golocy, Norcal Internet Services

Norcal Internet Services

At first I thought this guy’s site design was just terrible, end of story.  Then I saw a few people tweeting his link, and blogging about how its the worst website ever, etc.  So then I thought… social media genius!  Just think of all the link bait he’s getting!  But then I checked out his other websites (below), and now I’m back to thinking that his stuff really is just that ugly and perhaps the fantastic buzz he’s getting is indeed unintentional.




So let’s think on this a bit more.  I’m not designer myself.  I have zippy art / design skills.  I can’t even match my clothes for goodness sake.  But pretty sites don’t necessarily sell products and services online.  Think of the most successful online retailers.  Hardly a list of nicest site designs.  For most businesses, the focus should be on the product or service itself, and not the site’s layout and design which is simply the structure used to communicate the message.  Amazon’s site design won’t impress anyone.  Nor does 1800petmeds.com.  But those guys make good money.  As an SEO/SEM guy, I fully understand that while we’d prefer to have a visually-appealing site, the “is it attractive?” component takes a back seat to “does it generate traffic?” and “does it convert?” questions.

So back to our guys at Norcal Internet Services…

Success: He’s getting a ton of buzz, and a nicely done professional design would not.  It would be boring, expected, or whatever and people would not be tweeting about it.  And I think he does intend, at least a little bit, to be “just a little bit different” as he puts it.

Failure: Are you going to hire him to design your website?  Your flash banner?  Your walk-out video?  Perhaps you might if you wanted the cheesey feel for your own social media campaign, but otherwise most of us would probably move on to the next guy.  The quality of the video itself on some of the sites is pretty weak.  If it was nice and clear and high-resolution – but just cheesey in nature – then sure I’d hire him.  But only for a viral comedy piece.

So what’s the net here?  I have to think that even though he’s probably not getting a high conversion rate, he’s getting more total conversions than he was before getting this buzz…  But would he be better served to use a more professional, higher-quality design and presumably convert more (and/or better) prospects, albeit on a lesser traffic level?

Your thoughts?

Note: There are apparently at least two companies named NorCal Internet Services.  They do not appear to be related.  The one discussed above does walk-out video, email advertising, web design, etc.  The other is an ISP.  This post is only referring to the former, not the ISP.

Update 03/11/2010: I removed the link to the above site b/c apparently since I posted this someone apparently swiped this poor guy’s domain and put a not-so-family-friendly website there.

As the owner of a growing internet marketing company, I’m terribly curious about how other agency leaders spend their time. On this note, I tweeted out a question yesterday on Twitter and was looking for a few responses.  There’s nothing like an open-ended opinion question sent to a targeted market to get a good reply rate.  Specifically, I asked:

SEO Agency Question

I got back some great responses:

CoreyCreed: Regularly drop your worst clients and keep getting better ones.

pepperjamceo: position our clients ahead of the competition.

portentint: Restrain myself when people say “I don’t think that’s how SEO works”

ericfransen: Manage people & expectations

wilreynolds: SEO, I still do SEO about 40%-50% of my work week.

I asked the question b/c for the last several months I’ve been really focusing on running our agency – looking at things like processes, systems, efficiency, scalability (while still staying high-touch and high-end in approach), etc.  Anyhow, I’m not sure I can even answer my own question.  I guess I’d say putting resources in place to be successful.  That’s pretty darn generic though.  Maybe more specifically I’d pick two things.  For the “agency” part its communicating with our clients.  For the “SEO” part its monitoring keywords that convert and using that data in combination with current rankings, traffic potential, etc. to continually revise which keywords we are most directly targeting.

Additional thoughts?

A couple of months back I was asked to speak at Search Exchange, an SEO conference taking place in Charlotte, NC from May 17 through May 19, 2010.  Since I’m local (live + work just south of Charlotte), and since the guys running the event are top-notch SEO folk, I was honored by their offer and accepted.

Since then, they’ve added a number of SEO Rockstars to the speaker list.  Names such as Jim Boykin, Wil Reynolds, Rae Hoffman, Lee Odden and Chris Brogan – all of whom have about a zillion times the “name brand draw” of yours truly.  That’s okay.  I’m totally taller than them.  Well, some of them.  Maybe I’ll give out free blogroll links to attendees or something so that people like me too.  🙂

Anyhow, the organizers have put together a pretty solid list of keynote speakers and panelists, and have secured a fantastic venue as well (the Belk Theatre in uptown).  It should be a blast.  I know the local search community here in Charlotte is pretty strong, and I expect to see good support both locally and nationally. Its also going to be just the right-sized conference too… small enough where people actually share ideas and its not watered down by too many corporate-types who are looking for SEO 101, and still large enough to where it covers a number of topics and there will be plenty of fresh perspectives.

So I’m going to make the case for you to attend Search Exchange…

Why Attend Search Exchange Over SES, SMX and Other SEO Conferences:

  1. Charlotte in May is about 1,000 times nicer weather and more enjoyable than New York in March (SES).
  2. It will be smaller in size and less corporate than the bigger conferences, enabling better conversations and a higher percentage of “real SEO people” not just entry-level programmers from Fortune 500 companies.
  3. The speaker and panelist lineup is amazing.
  4. Its much more affordable. You can get a 3-day ticket for the cost of a 1-day pass to most of the other conferences.
  5. I’m offering a $100 discount if you sign up through this link.

Its currently $595 if you buy your ticket by January 31st, but with the $100 discount I’m offering its only $495.  If you read this or buy after January 31st, the $100 discount is still valid – it will just come off of whatever the “post early bird” price is. So go sign up. Now.

Use this link to get the $100 discount.

Update: Okay, you have to click the “Enter Discount Code” link and enter in “speak100” and you’ll get the $100 discount.  Sorry about this not being clarified the first go-round… needless to say there was a little confusion.

See you there!