the item


the questions

  1. How to tell people about your business
  2. How to run a killer startup
  3. How to make beautiful web pages

more about the

the consensus

A useful tool with many features for anybody with a web presence and a desire to have customers

recent reviews

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance
  2. The Sparrow
  3. SEOMoz
  4. Mythical Man-Month
  5. Code Complete
  6. Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master
  7. This Perfect Day

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the review

What's the best tool for your startup? When hackers start talking tools, the immediate answer is easy: something free. Startups have got to save every penny they possibly can.

But thinking about the problem some more, there are a lot of free tools that are useless. And there are a lot of expensive tools that look cool but aren't worth much, either. The key factor is: "How will this tool help me make things people want?" Instead of cost, what you really want to know is how much value do I get? It's not just price, it's not just what the tool does, it's how much value you get out of it. How it helps you help others.

Looking at it that way, there's one clear answer that hackers with successful startups talk about: SEOMoz. The SEOMOz guys have a fairly new, relatively unheard-of web app for startups that provides tremendous value for anybody who has a web presence. Aside from hosting, It's the only tool I pay a recurring fee for. Why? Because startups are full of tough questions, and SEOMoz helps me with the answers.

What kinds of questions?

What do people want?

Everyday people go to Google to ask it about things they want, and you can use this to help you in the critical first part of your startup. Building an app that helps zoo visitors? A typical noob error is to try to roll-out an app to some huge audience that you can never engage with. This is called "boiling the ocean" or "chinese math". Instead of shooting the moon, use SEO tools to narrow your initial target, to find a niche. Succeed small, then spread out. So go to Google search, type in "zoo" and see what sorts of suggestions it offers (There's also a wordtracker free tool for this. There's also a windows standalone niche finder that's highly recommended). Looking at the results from these, it turns out most people, when looking for zoos, use the location of the zoo in their search. This is very important.

What kinds of competition is out there?

Since people think of zoos geographically, and since you can't target every zoo on the planet with your new app, pick a particular zoo to start with, an initial market. Using SEOMoz's keyword difficulty tool, "miami zoo" beats all others. Its lower difficulty score means it'll be much easier to get attention for your content, and 27,100 people a month search for it using the exact word "miami zoo". If you play your cards right, you can have thousands of people a month coming by your site, looking at your application, trying it out, giving you feedback, all without your spending any money. Typical noob error: trying to attack markets that have great numbers but that are too difficult to engage.

How difficult is it to be heard?

Looking at the keyword difficulty tool, "miami zoo" socres a 52. That's not going to be an easy, but not impossible either. With some elbow grease and hard work you can make it happen, but it won't happen overnight. You have some work to do. You need to start generating publicity and conversations.

Where do I go for publicity?

Using the "Juicy Link Finder", SEOMoz tells you where all the cool kids on the web hang out when talking about the Miami zoo. It returns over 200 places that Google use as an authority for searches, many of which are great places to strike up conversations with other folks interested in the Miami zoo. You can thrash around randomly trying to tell people about your startup, or you can find the places where it makes the most sense to become part of the community. Your call. Typical noob error? Dropping in randomly and posting stupid fluffy comments with links back to your site in them in an attempt to get Google's (and other people's) attention. This is called "Link Spamming". Unfortunately to some degree it works, but your real goal is people, not machines, so if you want to be around the web for a while, be very careful about what kind of name you make for yourself.

Does my page tell the search engines what they need?

Once you start making web pages, you can use the on-page keyword optimization tool to see how search engines view your page. SEOMoz gives you a report card for your page, including what needs to be done for it to score higher. Typical noob error: trying to maximize keyword scoring on-page and making the page butt-ugly in the process. While important, just do the best you can and then work on getting links and conversations started about your topic. Don't fret with this exclusively. Remember the goal is to do the technically correct things in order to start helping humans, not machines. Your pages should always put people first.

What's wrong with my site?

80 folks a week visiting without your spending any ad money? Good start!

Building an entire site? Do you know how search engines are going to read your site? It used to be simple, but now there are things like canonical meta tags, duplicate content, poorly constructed pages, inbound link quality, server errors, and hundreds of other factors that can make a difference in how easy it is to find your site. Typical noob error: not realizing that, for most startups with huge publicity machines, the inner html structure of your site can have as big an impact on how many people see it as style of the words on the page.

Within one hour, we took a general idea for an app, found an initial niche to attack, evaluated our competition, and started making a marketing strategy. Not too shabby.

But back to the initial criteria: is there some way to do this for free?

Yes, there is. Some of this material you can get for free, and different tools on the web give you different answers. Google Trends, for instance, can give you a graph of search trends over time -- but they won't give you actual search volume. WordTracker has a couple of free tools for doing keyword research -- but there are limits on how much you can use them. When I started, I visited dozens of these sites and created spreadsheets to answer these questions.

I learned a lot doing that, but at some point you have to place some kind of value on your time. If you're spending ten or twenty hours or more a month working on these critical problems, that's time that you're not spending your product, which isn't good. Remember: spend time with your market, not your code or your tools. My app needs to have a web presence, I pay for hosting, people find my app almost solely through the web, so I can certainly pay for a tool that helps me maximize my hosting.

Some of the tools, like the Pro Dashboard, you just can't find anywhere else. The SEOMoz guys have the idea of viewing your site as a large configured program that "runs" on the web, and they're developing tools to help find the bugs in it. I don't think anybody else is doing that, and it's an exciting idea, especially if you have more than one site. Love to see where they go with that.

If anything, there's just too much on SEOMoz: all kinds of tools all over the place. It takes time to dig through and find out how to apply everything. I'm not anywhere near done yet, and I've been a member for several months. I've also become so much of a fan about using SEO to help startups that I'm not happy with using just one supplier any more. So I constantly try and use new tools and compare answers.

When I joined SEOMoz as a Pro Member, I planned on staying only a month or so -- you can quit any time you like. But after a couple of months passed, I found myself visiting their site more regularly and using it for advice. The more I use it, the more ways I found it could be useful. I keep a careful eye on the amount of money I spend, and I'm not about to pay for something that's a waste, but as the site gets more and more valuable to me SEOMoz has become a sort of a magic customer box.

Whether you think you need a long-term commitment like that or not, I encourage anybody with a startup or startup idea to give the guys at SEOMoz a trial run -- especially if they continue their offer of giving out the first month for free with no strings attached. That makes it a no-brainer. Take a few days and explore these questions around what you're doing. One of the consistent problems I hear from startups is that you can't find customers and can't get into conversations with them to find out if you're making what they want. This tool directly helps with both of those things. You might not like the answers you find -- it may be that nobody wants what you are making and nobody will listen -- but it's much better to find all of that out now rather than later.

Like it or not, the internet is reality. No matter what your business, if people can't easily find you on the internet then you don't exist. Your web presence is like a little computer program than "runs" on the constantly-changing internet. SEOMoz helps you optimize and continue optimizing that program so that you can have the one thing that is critical to every startup: customers. Startups are much more than tools, but tools can help make the difference between a sucessful startup and a pipe dream.

SEOMoz helps me make things that people want better than any of the other tools I use. It's a powerful tool with a clear value proposition for startups. That makes it a keeper.


the buzz

Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along

SEOmoz PRO combines campaign-based monitoring, actionable recommendations, and premium access to the web's largest SEO community


the interview

Some of the Questions Answered in this Interview:

  • If you're so good at SEO, why are you doing this? Why not just make money off of your own sites?
  • Can't we just do everything we need to do in SEO for free? Do we have to pay for anything?
  • "SEO" seems like a dirty word with many hackers. How do you try to deal with that?
  • How come when I use different SEO tools, I get different answers? What's up with that? How am I supposed to make sense of it?
  • Who cares about all this SEO stuff? Shouldn't I just make stuff people want and let the rest take care of itself?
Questions? Comments? Use our commenting system below, and we'll see if we can get Rand to drop by and reply

What is this?

A while back I wrote an article on my blog listing all the books that hackers recommended to each other from the site HackerNews. The purpose was to provide a place to list book recommendations so that people didn't have to type in the same list over and over again. (HN gets several requests for book recommendations a week. I also get at least a couple each month). It was very well received, and many posters and commenters either asked that I make a site or sent me an email asking me to do so.

How is this any different from the list on the blog?

This list has more books. This list is sortable both by what question you have and your skill level. In addition, once you sort the list, you can save the link with your sort and send it to somebody else. So, for instance, when somebody wants a book for noobs learning to program, you can make a link for that and then reuse it

How did you collect these books?

Initially the list came from Googling "best book" and taking the books from the first few pages returned. Later, I added all the books that were mentioned "You left that out!" when Jacques posted the link. While adding those books, I came across a Stack Overflow link where programmers were asked to list their favorite tech books, so I included those too.

If I ask you to put a book on here, will you?

It depends.

These books were all gathered by finding places where hackers hang out and are suggesting books to other hackers and other hackers agree with them by voting up their suggestion. If I can find an example of this for your book, I'm happy to include it.

How are the books ranked?

I did the best I could with ranking. I am sure there are many things you do not agree with. It would be possible to add voting and personal ranking -- that would make the system much better. Heck, you could rank the books yourself and use it as a customized book list to show to people who want your advice. I'd like to do that, but if I've learned anything is to not let your featureset get ahead of the users. This first version will test the waters to see what kind of interest the community might have.