Dreamhost, Finally

So I had a long run of some very problematic website issues…vicious infiltrations on client-owned things that I managed. They followed me from host to host, and took me months of work to finally eradicate (they are clean, and have been for weeks now). It was a pretty bad nightmare, though.

The Pain

It all stemmed from one of my clients loading in a shitty plugin, after he had set up a user account with the password of “password”(I am not kidding) – and this plugin with that even brief access created a gateway that quickly leaked out into other unrelated sites co-hosted on the server. The plugin concerned me from the get-go, but it was a crucial part of the guy’s build, and I was trying to be accommodating: big mistake on my part. Rules are not all meant to be broken.

The way the poison worked, was it would create a couple of files in a WP install – files that you would not ever see in normal WP dashboard management, but only thru FTP. Then, it would infect any site on the server it could exploit – in my case, it leaked out to maybe 5-6 of them in various ways…no consistency I could ever find.

The hidden files then start creating folders of “files” that are triggered to render from “normal” web operations. Self propagating keyword-based ugliness. So an otherwise standard header request, would instead get rerouted (in a millisecond) to a bad folder, with a spammy hateful page – inadvertently hosted by ME! I could find the folders and delete them, but they would regenerate at unbelievable speeds unless I found the root of it all.

It destroyed my account, and at Web Hosting Buzz, they shut down my account repeatedly, hurting all of the sites I had that were NOT compromised, only because it was a standard response they did. I then learned Web Hosting Buzz had changed my server, so I was working on an old one for over a week–and my live one, was even more compromised than the one I kept cleaning.

That was the final straw for me- Web Hosting Buzz was sliding for months, and now they were just infuriating me.

I dealt with their helpdesk a LOT, and they cleared me multiple times – -often to only shut me down again in a couple days for exactly the same thing they said I just completely fixed. I was losing my mind, and spending DAYS on this issue that became weeks; deleting files became half of every workday, and I was exhausted.

The Fix

The way I finally found it, was by rebuilding each site from scratch that I had in this account (about 45 of them)…it was long, arduous work, but it was the only true way I could make it stop. All new user accounts and passwords, universally. Deletion of all old files/accounts.

It was easy for me to clean out the infected sites and make them whole – it just needed new WP installs, free from the vulnerabilities and exploits in Web Hosting Buzz.

I ended up moving my hosting for this account to Dreamhost, based on prior experience and some suggestions/support from some friends with many more sites than I have. The cost was reasonable, the support looked fine, the interface was actually refreshingly clean, simple and easy to manage.

When I got to the truly bad site, I saw almost immediately, that the problem came directly from ONE plugin – which I removed, kicked into the yard and went postal on for a while (at least in my head I did). I told the client that he could NEVER use that thing again – and I built him a new framework with trustworthy plugins.

So far, it has been weeks, and not a single incident on the new stuff – my nightmare seems like it is finally over.

The Advice

So to avoid this kind of crap, the simplest thing, is to limit your plugins to only trusted ones (no duh, right?). It is something I got lax on, and I paid the price for sure…had to give away a lot of time to make it right with the poor folks who suffered thru no fault of their own.

Stick to frameworks that have MANY reviews, current updates, and transparency – there were red flags all over the bad plugin I fought with here, but being Mr. Nice Guy got in my way of killing it faster. It was also very insidious, and threw me in the wrong direction a lot…it did not create only one page, it varied its assault to keep trying to stay hidden…so no rules would prevent it enough. It was like a zombie.

Know what the files are for the latest WordPress install – compare it to the files in your installs…the bad guys are getting smarter at creeping in without you seeing them. Keep it updated and secure.

Use smart passwords, and even isolate sites if you need to (VPS, firewalls, hide the login page location) – there are some pretty simple ways to prevent them from getting in, since most of what they do is automated.

And above all, know that a cheap web hosting option rarely is worth it – I learned it the hard way, but am wiser for it now.

SEOBook Membership Review

I decided that I am going to try to encapsulate some of the value that I get from being a member in SEOBook’s Community. Aaron didn’t ask me to write this – I just wanted to. You might want to get a snack – this one has been brewing for five years. ūüôā

I think I started following Aaron Wall in 2004-2005, because he was fighting a lawsuit that SEO geeks were talking about and Aaron was actively in the blogs I was reading, commenting. His own work was gaining more and more ground as a solid resource, too. He also got answers from Matt Cutts from time to time, and just had comments I liked (a lot of “me too” was more prevalent then but Aaron had his own ideas)…but I remember wondering, who is this guy: just a really sharp kid that didn’t back down easily.

So I started ghosting him around the web. What I found was a guy whose ideas I agreed with more than not, but he was definitely spunky – and always entertaining as hell to me. He seemed pretty honest and really straightforward too, which stood out in the industry, for me.

By 2007, I was reading his blog regularly, but still pretty much creeping around invisibly. I may have commented once in a while, but hardly much. I had a freelance company and a corporate job, so was gleaning all kinds of great tips though – and again, compared to everything else on the web (more or less) his stuff was really different to me: lacking adornment. Clearheaded. Not pandering to Google, which was the most interesting thing of all to see in an SEO.

Some time around then, I emailed Aaron some questions and was amazed that he answered me in less than 15 minutes – so I pressed for more specific answers, and after he gave me a few, he gently suggested I join the forum if I wanted more of those kind of answers. Not pushy about it, just that he could not answer stuff like that for me and continue to offer value behind his paywall. I think the forum had been operating for a few months at the time.

Back then, I was a huge freetard and hated paying for anything. Partly because I was cheap, partly because I didn’t know any better. But he didn’t follow up by hounding me with emails to join, or put me into some kind of “hot lead” category – he didn’t start on the sales angle at all. Actually, he did nothing more than simply point out the obvious, once, nicely – if I wanted more information, I had to pay. I felt my internal freetard logic beginning to crumble, because I REALLY wanted more answers.

So I finally couldn’t stand it any longer and joined in 2008, talking my corporate job into footing the bill to assuage my freedtardliness: and I have not left the forum since. I took over my membership and left the corporate jobs behind though – based in no small part on the information and the connections I make (still, all the time) in SEOBook’s forums. I am like the ultimate fanboy, you could say…this place has helped me to change my life to be more of what I want.

To say I am in there every day is perhaps putting it a bit mildly. I am in there or dealing with members offline for a couple hours, daily. Unless something really weird is going on, and then I might be refreshing the new posts a half-dozen or more times to keep on top of what’s being shared and observed. But let’s look at why this is the way it is for me.

Approach

SEO is complicated, and growing more so every year. Some forums like to suggest one form of direction is the way to go, and that is a large part of what brings the people together. In SEO circles, a lot tends to gets lost in public, large-scale discussions. People chime in, but answers are not always based on tests or experience – there’s a lot of echo-chambering to sift thru.

In SEOBook’s forums, nothing is off-limits as a discussion topic: the general consensus and supported approach in there, is that there is no one answer or single right way to get things done, ever. SEO is approached more as an ongoing balance and reevaluation of risk-to-reward. There is an appreciation for collecting, sharing and trying to interpret data to support or refute the efficacy of different potential directions, but it is not as if one shining ideal brings the forum members together. Unless you boil that down to simply being successful online, I guess…but everybody wants that. As a result, discussions in SEOBook’s forums are definitely a much higher caliber than the majority of public options in my experience: biases are identified and parsed out to try to scrub it down to the true meaning.

I have seen very few things in five years that cannot be discussed by the community. To act like some risky tactics don’t work because they shouldn’t, or pretend all-will-be-well-by-this-recipe is burying your head in the sand, to me. And it simply doesn’t happen in there like that…too many members don’t think that way, and someone is going to call bullshit.

But no outing is allowed, and very strictly enforced – if someone brings up a site that is winning and not theirs, links and direct references are often moderated out so the thread can be about the general tactics used, and not about the specific site who is doing it. People freely share their own sites for help and advice, but the rules are, they can’t be outing others as a professional courtesy.

People in the forum talk about what is happening to them, and their sites as well as what they see on the web. The advantage that you get here, is that there are so many members with so many diverse sites willing to chime in, that insights into any issue or situation takes on new and more rounded perspectives.

In some memberships, a lot of the interactions are driven by the leader(s) needing to maintain/increase the cash flows that come from membership, and increase or drive sales for products and partnered services. There is a soft-sell undercurrent at all times, occasionally peppered by an all-out campaign. Being on “the list” can mean you get a ton of emails. Not to say value is not being shared – just that it tends to come with an advert embedded in there somewhere.

Aaron’s team has not upsold me, once, on anything in my five years as a paying member. They have done some great product reviews (most on the blog, a few only in the forum), and they have vendor discounts and special tools as rewards for my membership – but I have never been pitched because I am a member. There is a place in the forum set aside for different folks who offer services (more on that later), so there are definitely things you can buy only because you are a member. My point, is you are not going to get sales pitched – likely, not ever. Hasn’t happened yet to me anyway.

I do get the newsletter he compiles every month sent here – and the information in it is really staggering. Really: it is much deeper than any other like it, and they do it every month -0r he does it, I suppose. The newsletter alone has tremendous value, but it is the only email I get from my membership, and I could stop receiving that too, if I wanted – there are no forced communications. My name has never been shared, and over the years, any tech issues connected to my account are fixed in hours, usually…or less.

But one thing that made me stop being a freetard and start seeing the promise of value, is the fact that I could always quit at any time. That was super important to me, because I had tried some other things that just didn’t fit – so I did not want to get locked into anything. Instead, I have seen over the years Aaron’s team to be incredibly fair (almost to a fault) when it comes to fees and such. The last thing he wants to do is seem like he is overcharging, so he’ll make sure members NEVER feel that way.¬† Made me feel like that anyway, and I took the plunge because SEO is complex, and I needed more answers.

To sum up the fundamental approach I find in and from my membership in the SEOBook Community:

  • Appreciation for layered complexity of current-day SEO.
  • Open discussions allowing all tactics air time, and a spot to reside…shielded by rules that protect specific member and non-member efforts.
  • Effort to see clear of personal and professional biases. They are still there of course (often lots of them too), but they are typically identified and addressed.
  • No add-on sales push, or membership drives. Can quit any time.
  • Extra value-adds for membership tucked in, like sweet discounts on tools or directories. More will be in the future there, I am sure. ūüôā

Depth and Degrees

In a learning forum, people are going to enter at different levels of experience and need. The conversations and lessons are therefore geared this way, to appease the masses and keep it growing reasonably. What happens in a lot of instances, is the low level entries needed to sustain the business aspects of the community drive the bulk of the content. This can be a great thing when you are starting out and seeking something similar, as there are answers and information to help you drive it into place. And starting out with the basics in SEO is not rocket science and never has been, so it is pretty easy for a forum to offer value in this regard, to me. New players interested in SEO jump in every single day.

Where value is found for many though, is in levels a bit higher than an entry-leveled one. Experience gets you over a lot of the basics, but especially in SEO, the need to understand and be exposed to new and different approaches is constant. A successful SEO forum therefore has to cater to this need, and provide access to or facilitate some kind of advanced ideas.

Here again, though, lies the rub: this is such a common place for people to have needs, that these needs are often exploited by SEO-related groups that promise some kind of advantage, some kind of inner secret. You are promised that you can unlock easy, if you simply join today. I won’t get into my feelings on that business model here, but let’s say it is out there, and pretty common.

In SEOBook’s Community, members are of all stripes and experience. Beginner’s benefit from starting on the right foot, mid-level and advanced folks benefit from having input from comrades and colleagues who may have a lot to offer.

The noise level here, is virtually none…the forum has always been a busy place, but not one full of sales pitches and empty finger pointing. The discussions tend to be on the more informed side, because of the level of experience the members bring in. I don’t think I am out of line at all to say accelerated discourse is possible and happens quite often in here: where member insights often trump what is being shared in the news, or other outlets.

Beginners are always welcomed here though, because most members remember being there. Aaron’s team has compiled an impressive amount of information on SEO in here over the years which makes it easy to refer people to popular threads, or updated ideas. I have used these threads to reaffirm my own ideas, or to see what others are doing successfully…they offer wonderful and practical things to start testing right away.

Honestly, I feel for people who are starting today- SEO is so much more complicated than it was when I started over 10 years ago. But this is why a membership to a place like the ‘book is smart for beginners who don’t want to spin around, or chase dreams. Building things for lasting value is the mantra there, but there is also plenty of appreciation for the things that are really working today. The combo is intoxicating.

I personally started in here at about a mid-level. I had about 6 years of personal SEO experience for my own clients and some for bigger projects, but not a very wide range of knowledge outside of that. I loved testing stuff, but often had limited resources. In there, I met people who had much wider interests, and others representing some really popular and competitive sites.

If you are considering a membership, you might wonder if your level of experience is well suited. In this forum, I would think beginners get a huge boost, mid-level folks get a chance to grow and advanced folks seem to find others in there to commiserate with, and compare notes (I see them in there). Those advanced folks often share case studies and vendor suggestions that are really a huge bonus for us, too.

One of the best, and most valuable things in the forum to me, is the site reviews. People can put up their URL and state what they are trying to do and the members offer opinions. The ability to ask about specific issues you are facing really helps you consider it a couple different ways. The insights shared can be really serious, bottom line ideas too – hitting everything from structure and URLs through design, content and links.

Looking at the various scenarios that might be driving you to consider a membership: If you have been involved in web marketing for a couple years, or have a website that has done well for you and you need it to do better, or have a corporate gig and need help because the suits are getting in the way – these are all great scenarios to get into SEOBook’s Community. If your website is your business, you should be in here. If your niche has suddenly become much different and more competitive, this may be a great place to get new ideas. If you are looking for tactics to help survive, prevent or mop-up behind any of the past or emerging¬† Google penalties, SEOBook makes a great answer.¬† If you have a small (or medium or large) SEO shop, and want to offer safe or even aggressive offers to your clients, the ‘book is a very good choice. If you simply want to become part of what I consider the smartest bunch of web marketers collected, it is a no-brainer.

Another crucial element of a forum or community, is the amount of continual activity it sees. Many times what you find, is the lure of a community is pinned on some of the members being in it. Like I did above, where I talked about how many impressive marketers are in the ‘book forum every day, because this is sexy (in this case, true, but still very sexy). Thinking your nothing little web effort gets the eyeballs and helping hands of someone you recognize, is empowering.

What happens in a lot of places though, is the superstars are not really in there, active, as it seems on the adverts and testimonials. They may have dedicated staff to answer questions, but sometimes you get the feeling you are in a ghost town, and the site activity suggests the same. Or, it is mostly chatter by others like you, looking for a bit of something more. So you, like the rest of the members, start coming by less and less, because there is no lure, there is no real reason to keep checking in, when history shows a lack of engagement. The community suffers, or worse: withers and dies.

I led into all this by saying how much time I spend in the SEOBook forum, but I am not alone in being in there every day, adding something when I think I can or should or want to. There are many, led by Aaron, who definitely reads and responds to almost every thread over the course of a day. His moderators are also right there with help – and then, members start chiming in, based on what the discussion is.

This is an active forum though, especially when you see changes in the search ecosystem somewhere. In those days (and they can very dark, depressing days indeed), a thread may get updated over a dozen times in a hour with insights filling in the blanks from all different sectors and verticals, from all corners of the web.

But if you posed a question, virtually any question, you can be sure it gets seen, and typically answered within a day in here. Usually, it is within a couple hours – remember when I said Aaron answered my first email in under an hour? He still does that a lot of times…and he’s positioned employees and moderators in there to do it for him, too. Then you have guys like me, just members, but if I see something I can help with, I do…and there are a couple dozen of us that have been in there for a few years or more, daily.

Maybe it is not always true, but certainly more than not. I may be in there every day, but just reading. Still, I do like seeing what is happening, and the news in there is stuff that matters to me. Even when I am simply creeping around.

I watched it for a week, and the average was 15 new posts a day. Weekends can be a little slower, but this is a place where people are checking in regularly.

I think that is another salient point: these advanced SEOs that I see in there are still there year after year, still chiming in, still active all the time. If I was the only one seeing this community’s intrinsic value, these guys would have long ago stopped the monthly payments, and moved on. I would have, for sure. I promise you though: if something goes wrong out there, many of us are going to go straight to the forum to see what everybody else is seeing before we start thinking anything “firm” at all…that says a ton. And it only seems to get stronger every year, as SEO gets tougher…maybe we’re depending on each others insights other more.

The connections and friends I have made in here personally, make it a truly valuable and attractive place to be.

Some people surely don’t fit – in the five years I have been in here, I have seen maybe two folks get escorted out that I can remember. Man, did they both deserve it. Not for asking questions or using the tools, but for being abusive and obtuse. Both got full refunds, too. ūüôā

To sum up the depth and degrees of experience and engagement I find in my SEOBook Community membership:

  • Basic information compiled and available, making a beginner a mid-level player in no time.
  • Mid to advanced levels are well suited here, finding challenging ideas and networking benefits.
  • Members represent a mix of many types of web marketers and business owners, making discussion more rounded.
  • Daily activity and even more, when market conditions are unstable. Helps you see immediate issues through wider lens.
  • Many advanced webmasters have been in here, talking together and comparing notes for years. Nothing suggests ROI quite like ongoing monthly investments.

Community+

In any community, there is opportunity for service providers to find some business. SEOBook makes this possible with a dedicated Marketplace section.

In the Marketplace, people can offer services or sites or related things for like-minded folks.It’s been a popular place in my years there, and people make lots of great connections.

It is very bad form to get a membership, dive in and immediately start trying to hawk your stuff – I did a post along time ago about watching someone blow it in a situation like this (great pic in that one). That kind of behavior¬† is certainly not going to fly in SEOBook, either – you’ll be asked to tone it down, no doubt.

That said, there is nothing wrong with coming in, interacting a bit, reading a ton and getting a feel for the folks in it. You want to see how things roll back and forth, and who is saying what. Once you get it a little, you will know where, and how to pitch. You would not barge into a social situation like a maniac, so don’t do it online, either. Don’t do it in SEOBook, or I will want to slap you for not listening to me.

In my own case, I found so many like-minded people in SEOBook’s forums over the years, that they make up the majority of my client base today. Through them I have been able to do stimulating projects across multitudes of verticals, and I meet and work with new folks every month, still.

I’ve been able to work on sites and projects in other countries a lot, and hone my own skills in lots of different ways. I like to approach what I do in a kind of fluid way, and SEOBook has connected me to people who think like I do about business, but are better at it. Has been a truly eye-opening perk, to be able to learn on the job that they offer me.

On a personal level, I have made some friends in here that I talk to about lots more than SEO now. The community, for me, has reached beyond professional and brought me even more meaning and value. Sounds corny as hell, but true. I am sure it is not like this for everyone who joins, or maybe even not many of them – but it is what happened to me.

I’ve spent more time with some of these folks now than I did in either high school or college…I have met some lifers in this bunch. Colleagues, coworkers and friends.

Cost

A membership to SEOBook’s Community runs $300 per month. This puts it on the high end for communities like this. However, I would like to illustrate something in how I decided a long, long time ago to keep my membership going forever. Whatever forever truly means, deciphered in reality, yet very passionately felt.

If you look at the cost as a yearly business cost, $3600 is not too much to consider for most businesses for a decently waged effort. If $3000 is a considerable expense for you to think about in general, then yes you may not quite be ready to get back the value from a membership here – forums with a focus on your level of experience or books and free resources will likely get you what you need to get off the ground. Best practices are easy to decipher, really, just please remember to avoid the easy button – easy is a lie.

In my own case, I can remember distinctly early on as a member, asking a moderator some specific questions regarding titles, and a corporate client’s struggles. I was nervous to share it as a thread, but I needed help. I used the PM because I wanted to keep it off the radar. The moderator’s answer, received in an hour, took me ten minutes to deploy and moved my site up a full page – it was definitely the problem as he identified it. The resulting leads we got from the improved position more than paid for a year’s membership fees in a single afternoon – more like 10x that amount or more over the next couple days. And this was one site, one problem, one issue fixed – just one example of so very many that have been there for me over five years. In addition to specific issues I ask for help with, there are other best practices I glean regularly.

Add in, the amount of work that I have taken in from my connections made here, and I owe SEOBook well over six figures more. And thankfully, that number just keeps on growing – something I never will take for granted…I earn lots more than the cost of membership every month, in healthy multiples.

But lots of folks in there do not offer services like me, and I did not go in there with the intention of offering them…it just started happening because I was talking to people I liked, about business ideas that were really interesting. The folks who don’t offer services do have opportunity to get some though – have I mentioned there is a Marketplace set aside, and Aaron is good about letting everyone hang their shingle? (seriously nice place to see) I have seen businesses get made simply because someone had a good idea and offered it to the community for a trial run. It is a small group compared to lots of communities, but they know a good thing when it is in front of them and take advantage of it.

Conceivably, you could go in there and make all the connections you need to have a revenue generating site operational, or buy one flat out. This is not a cost to measure, but more of a benefit to appreciate against the cost.

When I start adding up the connections, the information, the sheer volume of tips and suggestions I have gleaned over these five years, cost gets pretty murky. Pretty silly, really – I made more in the first couple years in here to ever question staying.

The ideas I have today are colored a lot by my five years of membership so it is hard for me to see it without bias. But it is also a reflection of my connections here that I can now clearly see my own bias even as I write it. ūüėČ

How to Create an Invoice for Freelance Copywriting

Lately, I have had more than one occasion where an aspiring young writer asks me some questions about creating an invoice for their copywriting or SEO work. This page is going to serve as a dump for information about creating an invoice for whatever, and I’ll drop in a link to resource templates too, so you can skip to them if that’s all you need.

invoice templates

Why You Create Invoices

You create an invoice to bill a company for the work you do for them. They receive it, approve it, and put it into their payment cycle. The duration of each one is one of those things that depends on the company you are dealing with, but no matter how they handle it, many companies want an invoice to complete the project. You send this after a project to mutually agree you are finished, and you are now waiting to be paid.


They will use the invoice on their end to complete internal paperwork – assigning the value to a specific department, or sometimes a specific representative.

You will likely use it for record keeping too, but maybe just in an e-format.

Because both parties will use this document for tracking purposes, the information in it must be kept clear, and straight-forward. Offer exactly the information you need – nothing more, nothing less. The following things are going to be pretty standard things in the invoice information:

  • Your company name and contact info in the header and footer. The mailing address is important – a lot of people will mail your checks to you. Also, the phone number/email is important, because if there is an error or something they need to be able to reach you quickly to sort it out. Every day the mistake exists is another you are not being paid.
  • Their company name and specific contact information e.g., “Attn: Paul Jones.” The specific contact is used to identify your contact in a larger company – it is a good thing to know. They’ll often shuffle it around and get people to sign it – so be on the ball, and know where it needs to go.
  • A specific invoice reference number – one that is unique.
  • The description of the services/deliverables, potentially itemized. I like to keep this pretty general and simple…so something like “50 pages of original content and research @ $75/page¬† – $3750 total project fee” or something like that works. Put the itemized things in the left, the right column tabulates all the individual items being invoiced.
  • Any additional costs/considerations/notes. If there was scope creep, delivery charges, outsourced talent or something off the grid of what you originally determined to be the project, state it if you want to get recognized and paid for it. All of the phone calls in the world don’t hold the same power as a written, signed invoice. Put it in writing.
  • A total now due. Make this a very clear number using a font that is big, red, bold, exciting – make it work like a fork jabbed in their eye. There should be NO DOUBT how much they owe, and when. That is the only purpose of this document, so make it work.
  • Payment preferences. You can state how quick you want the turn to be – I state net-10, meaning within 10 days of my final approval, they need to pay me. The common deal with bigger companies is closer to net-30 – this is important to know when you are just starting out. Demand all you want – but it doesn’t mean much to stomp your feet. It is truly better to wait it out, painful as that can be. Way back a long time ago, I actually had a client owe me over $10k for a month’s work because they were pushing hard quickly, and I was simply working hard to meet it – but when I balked to get paid in the middle of the second month (yeah-$10k+ is a LOT of dough, and my bills weren’t waiting), they “paused” with me to work it out and hired someone who was evidently more patient. The terms of our agreement stated I was to be paid every two weeks, yet I was 8 weeks in, and still waiting for an installment. They were never waiting for copy though – I met my deadlines, and their client loved my work. I could have simply shut-up and knew I’d get my money eventually – but I made a stand (sticking purely to the terms of our agreement) and essentially got moved aside. I got paid in a few weeks, but this was the last time I worked for them for a while. It meant more to me then – but in retrospect, the additional $10-20k I could’ve earned for another month would’ve been nice. Not to mention the additional work from this connection I likely flushed away with my indignant (however justified) “demand.” I was right according to our agreement, but who cares – I still got all-but-fired, and they didn’t call me again for almost a year (but they did – they always come back!). We made nice, and I eventually had more work on better terms with them, but it was definitely cooled-off for us both for a while. Learn from my mistake…stay on the job, get paid, and don’t leave your fences in a state needing attention. Act like a grown-up. I was mad, so handled this worse than I think I would’ve if I was not angry. It was years ago, but became a lasting lesson.


Creating an Invoice for Freelance Copywriting or SEO Work

Now that we have covered the basics in “why” you do this stuff, it’s time to look at the “how.”

Great news – you need to know nothing, and everything is free. Just grab the right template and Go.

Use this link – the big G has provided: https://docs.google.com/templates?q=invoice&sort=hottest&view=public .

When I make invoices, they are done in Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. I create them as a template (much like the Google ones), edit them with the specifics of the project and save them as a document and then create a pdf to send the client. You want to pdf them, so the client can’t change something on-the-sly before a signature or something creepy like that. It happens – sorry. But also keep it in editable format, as there might be something you need to change later and it helps you to not start over from scratch every time.

So that’s it really – use that link, and find a service-oriented invoice template you like. Save it as a template, and create all your invoices from the same one. If that is in any way confusing, email me directly, and I’ll help you sort it out.

Creating an invoice is a necessary skill to know if you are to be working for yourself at any point. But they are so frighteningly easy, it makes no sense to fear them. And needing to create an invoice is a great thing – it means you’re about to get paid!

Later edit: a Blank, company-less invoice template

Had more than a couple comments and questions about what to do if you have no business, and need an invoice – the short answer, is you do the same thing, just substitute your personal info where the company info would have gone. Just to keep it easy, I made you guys a little blank template you can download and modify: invoice-no-company-blank


Keyword Density Tools

keyword density is a farce OK, let’s start this¬†with my personal thoughts on¬†keyword density. That’s what we all came here for, right?¬†

Keyword density is typically represented as a percentage. It a measure of the occurrences of a keyphrase relative to a body of text, typically a complete webpage. If a keyword happens 7 times in 350 words, its density is 2% (7/350).  

Keyword density is a measure of SEO that has seen its ups and downs. There was a time years and years ago, where you could cram a ton of meaningless keywords into any page and get it to rank. These¬†days the search engines are much better at what they do, so this is not such an effective tactic. In fact, it simply won’t work like that anymore.

When this keyword free-for-all was happening, the on-page keyword density definitely carried a little more weight. However, because it was easy for anyone to cram keywords all over the place, the search engines quickly learned to spot and filter over-stuffed pages.

And while many SEOs were saying “OK, the party’s over” and looked for other tactics, there were MANY who still believed in the power of keyword density. Personally, I have worked on projects for very well-known brands where the highly paid agency insisted on a specific (really high, actually) density per-page as the primary measure of success. Readability, tone, and even conversion¬†were afterthoughts. Sigh.

Get On With It

…which brings us crashing into today.

Keyword density is still an SEO ¬†measure. Yep, sure is. And some people still believe it is a necessary part of a good plan in optimizing your site. I would not agree. But just like that agency I worked for, I know that everyone has their reasons and motivations…experiences vary. If you think (or know) it is important, go ahead and triple-check it.

If you ask me (as you should), it remains a very low level concern if you are trying to improve the pull of your page. There are usually MANY things you should be doing to improve your SEO before you start worrying about tweaking your keyword density. Many things.

I have made pages rank without having the keyword in the visible text once. Density, on its own, is just a silly measure of page strength in SEO. Don’t be silly – there is work to do.

But Wait…

Let me suggest another use for measuring keyword density, one that is much more valuable to today’s search engine algorithms, IMHO:¬†Using density checkers in¬†determining over-optimization.

Another by-product of the keyword-frenzied days of yesteryear, is that there seems to be a filter in Google for over-optimizing your pages. I am not referring to a site that gets completely whacked because they have crossed the line, but rather, an otherwise solid site that seems to hit a ceiling for ranking for targeted keywords. 

What you might find, is that you may have inadvertently been a bit too focused on improving your keywords, and now you have gone a bit overboard¬† and entered a gray area. Google likes most of your site, but thinks you are trying a little too hard so they put a “soft” filter on you – like your site will never get beyond #6 or something like that. (that is my own observation and¬†not supported by a focused, data-enriched case study or anything).

Call it the SEO filter. Google doesn’t like SEOs, so if a page looks to be manhandled by one, it could get this SEO filter applied. What it would do, is force an SEO to spin his or her tires in the sand trying different techniques to improve. But if this filter¬†is real, they won’t see improvements¬†until they start un-optimizing their site a little.

In this case, you can use a keyword density checker (per page) and start, very carefully, dialing it back a little. You can look at the density on each page, and work out variations that tone down the optimization efforts.

So which density is the right one? Sorry, it’s just not that easy. Good SEO does not offer simple “Do it X number of times, and you’ll win,” kind of strategies. Too many variables.

Disclaimer aside, it is more often a range you are looking for, like between 3-7%, or something like that. I will say around 7% usually reads pretty spammy no matter what you do, and 2-3% might be a little on the softer side.

If you have a reading that is climbing over 7, 10, 12% or more, it may be very likely over-optimization might be an issue for you. Maybe not. Keep testing to figure out what works best for your site Рit is not the same for everybody.

Links to Free Keyword Density Tools

Allright – with all that fanfare,¬†it’s time to see what you can do.

First, you have online options. There are literally hundreds of sites offering web-based keyword density checkers. In these tools, you just enter in a URL, enter in your keywords, and get a report in seconds. The depth, accuracy and filters available will depend on the tool you use.

Here’s a Google Search that will show you tons of free keyword density checkers. Go have fun. The math is simple and consistent, so it is the interface, speed¬†and features that will make a difference to you in finding the best one.¬†The numbers should be the same between them all.

Here is another tool that is a personal favorite of mine – it has been¬†there for years.¬† http://www.live-keyword-analysis.com/¬†The big difference you’ll see in this tool, is it is not based on URLs – it is based on text you input into the text field. This gives you an ability to enter your text and tweak it – seeing the density effects on-the-fly. With three possible keyphrases, it has been a great little tool when I need it.

Bottom line is don’t think too hard on keyword density…it is simply not worth the effort as a page-strength building tactic. In today’s websites, you are much more likely to have an over-optimizing issue that a keyword density tool can help you find than you will a weak page that is bettered through a density analysis.

New SEOMoz Link and Site Analysis Tool

http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/seoMoz

This neat little site explorer tool was released this past week by SEOMoz.

It’ll help you to do competitive research or learn more about your own site, and where you might be able to build some power into it.

I’ll add more to this post after I have had more time to play with the tool, but it is pretty swift. Highly suggest checking it out if you are into SEO copywriting – there is a ton to learn in here.

To get a better idea of what this tool can do, Rand Fishkin, the Big Cheese at SEOMoz wrote this post full of details and explanation.

On another site, I actually asked Rand about the site metrics, which he responded to almost immediately.

My thinking, is that in time, this tool will become very popular, especially in SEO circles. Go check it out!

(tell ’em Martypants sent you!)

Later observations:

  • The tool has a really nice interface and is very user-friendly. Pretty easy to figure out, even if you have limited SEO experience.
  • The clear indications of 301s and no-followed links gives some great “at-a-glance” info
  • (Entry date: April 17, 2010): I am realizing I use this tool mostly for some large overview glances into competion. I do not have a pro membership, so my results from my free account are limited. They do help, and I do think of this tool in my natural work flow now. I like the look at link profiles to see where I stack-up against the people I am looking at. I don’t get much value from some of the data (seem a bit abitrary, but if used as a constant in comparison and analysis, I guess they offer some degree of competitive insight), and referred to this tool probably 3-4 times. I will give it props though – it does offer value, even at the free level. And the sales tactics used to try to upsell don’t impede anything, so it is well presented in that way.¬†For a free tool, it is one of the better ones out there in the SEO world, to me. That said, I use my SEOBook tools much more often, and still rely pretty heavily on them.¬†¬†Go figure! ūüôā¬†¬†
  • (more to come…)