Bob Massa, one of the original SEOs (though I don’t think he likes to be referred to with that label), always talks about SEO from a conversion standpoint, offering quotes like “traffic without conversions is the epitome of futility.”
The SEO space is a bit crowded right now. So many people are fighting for attention that it seems like people are fighting without purpose. There may be more people writing SEO blogs than there are reading them. That abundance of new publishers makes it easy for established authors to build links by re-spinning old phrases with new definitions, but if those links don’t create profit what is the point?
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Looking back a few years, I can see that I was a bit economically challenged. I tried helping many people for free… but then some of those people I helped for free could never get enough, plus when something is free many people simply do not respect it. I remember my wife reading a book about self-made Internet and info-based product millionaires, and coming across a guy who in the past valued my time at nothing, always reminding me of how poor he was (though never reminding me that he is economical with the truth!)
A side effect of this situation was that the people who paid me for my book would only get limited support because I was filtering everything at the inbox level – one of the easiest ways to reach burnout and miss a person or two. I kept answering more email, but only managed moderate growth while the value of what I had learned and the market we are in sharply increased. When you don’t charge for a finite resource (your time) market forces will drive the value of that resource down toward zero.
I am not suggesting that free is a bad price point. When you are new, it is one of the easiest ways to get to know the market and gain attention in the marketplace, but if you start to become well known the burden of free keeps increasing.
The concept of FREE as a business model
Free is one one of the best business models around. It worked well for Google search, and it may be the future of business. When we make economic decisions, we weigh the positives against the negatives to measure opportunity cost. The word free is so powerful that it makes us act irrational and overlook other costs (like our time).
Online publishing is organized by power laws, offering predictable imbalances everywhere we look. The key to making free profitable is to use it on things that are easy to make free – answers to common support questions, open source software, blog posts, white papers, and anything that helps do your mass marketing for you. Cory Docotorow recently described how free ebooks help build distribution by turning customers into marketers:
In an ideal world, people without a lot of discretionary income are given the electronic edition (which costs [nearly] nothing to distribute) for free. They act like the breezes that loft the dandelion seeds — they go around, telling people about the book and its merits. In this regard, they’re better than random breezes, for they undertake a directed distribution of the book, seeking to bring it to the attention of people who are likely to have a positive response to it.
If you want to keep an active voice online while selling information, give away as much as you can bear while charging a premium for things that are scarce (like your time) and build a customer interaction that is remarkable and better than free.
In a market with infinite competition, one of the easiest ways to increase the value of what you offer is to change the format and be choosy with who you are willing to accept as a customer. You have to optimize the experience by limiting the number of social interactions and social connections you are willing to take on.