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Comparing Rank Tracking Software

3 Feb

I’ve been using Advanced Web Ranking (not to be confused with Advanced Web Ranking Cloud) for eight years. Read riveting tales from 2010 wherein I try to find a replacement for WebPosition, eventually deciding on AWR. Things were simpler then; there weren’t many players in the ranking software space, and almost everything was desktop-based.

Fast forward to 2018. When AWR started shitting the bed a month ago, I was faced with more than three dozen contenders for my search engine querying and reporting needs, almost all of them cloud-based or SaaS. I could have ferreted out even more vendor options, I’m sure, but when I added the 40th vendor/software suite to my spreadsheet of rank tracker candidates, I stopped.  (Full list at end of this post.) Daunting. “If you can’t find what you want from 40 vendors, there’s something wrong with you.” I said that out loud.

This post is long. If you want to skip the criteria I used and go right to the two winners and six runners up, go ahead. But you might be looking for something substantially different than what I found.

comparing-rank-trackers

Partially obfuscated spreadsheet of rank trackers, criteria, and notes. Pure madness.

SEO Reporting Software Criteria

So, what exactly did I want? That’s an important question. My criteria are similar to those of many, but might very well be different from yours. Keep that in mind as you read on. Oh, and if you don’t have any interest in SEO software, you should probably stop reading and have fun with some of the non-SEO posts on this site, or go contemplate a tree, or something.

If you’re still here, let’s dig in for rank checking software comparison.

What I did NOT want

I already have great sources for keyword research, backlinks, competitor analysis, website violations/improvements, and some other important SEO metrics. Sometimes I subscribe to a service for a month and do what I need to do. Sometimes I lean on one of my colleagues who already has a subscription to one or more vendors. Several of the SEO software vendors I considered are full-service suites of sorts, and therefore often priced themselves out of the SEO ranking software market.

At most, I do keyword research and backlink audits quarterly for existing clients so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for it every month. If you’re looking for a 360-degree SEO suite, this rank tracker comparison might not be for you.

Historical Ranking Data Import

Although I’m not importing data for all projects when I migrate, I’m importing historical ranking data for most of them. (A couple clients wanted to archive old data and start fresh.) Some vendors like RankTrackr (not to be confused with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker) and Tiny Ranker don’t have a way to migrate SEO ranking data from your old projects to their platform. With them, you’ve no choice but to start with a fresh slate in reports. Other companies say they’ll import data for a fee, including SERPBook and SEMRush.

Caveat: Your data might not be in the format they want. Look before you leap.

Ability to Pause/Stop SEO Projects

Sometimes clients leave for a few months. (See my post from a week ago about why SEO clients leave.) Sometimes you’ll have cause to pause a project for years. It doesn’t happen often, but about half of rank trackers surveyed don’t allow you to pause. Or they offer janky workarounds: “Just delete the keywords and save them on your computer. When you’re ready to start again, add the keywords again!”

Who won’t let you pause an SEO project? SE Ranking, RankTrackr, Tiny Ranker, Rank Ranger, and others. SERPFox is one of a few non-pausers to offer what I consider sub-optimal workarounds, but SERPFox at least preserves your data, somehow.

Reporting Format

I’m accustomed to being able to upload several HTML reports for each client. While there are several candidates who offer access to an API so you can cobble together your own reports, I don’t want to do that. I’m also not interested in reporting software that only generates static PDF reports and/or ugly CSV spreadsheets. These are comparatively horrible ways to display report data. Rank Ranger, SE Ranking, RankTrackr, and others all fall short here.

Vendor Support Hours

Chances are, after you’re all setup with your new rank tracker, you’ll seldom need support. But take it from somebody who’s needed a lot of support from Advanced Web Ranking over the past month: you’ll care about support when you need it. AWR is in Romania, I’m in California. AWR is at the support desk when I’m asleep, and vice versa. I open a ticket on Monday. I receive a response on Tuesday, to which I reply. Wednesday I get their reply, and so on. The weekend comes, and the snail’s pace of support slows to a stop. …And that’s when they bother to respond in a timely manner.

Support availability matters sometimes. Do yourself a favor and weigh candidates support hours in your process. Spoiler: I ended up picking two vendors. One of them offers perfect support hours for me, the other one, not so much. The latter is half a world away, which is unfortunately not uncommon with the ranking software bros.

Update Frequency

Don’t let companies fool you; updating your keywords’ rankings every day, or every hour isn’t adding value for you. Well, if you’re playing at the most vaulted, vaunted levels of SEO, I suppose you could argue that point, a little, but if your clients need detailed reporting more than once a month, you should find different clients. Spend more of your time DOing SEO, and less time measuring it. Anyhow, several vendors offer different plans/options for different scanning/querying frequencies. I don’t want hourly or daily scans because I’d be paying for unused fluff. Some services, like SEO Rank Monitor, SEMrush, and others only offer daily tracking.

Obviously, you sometimes won’t want to wait a week or longer for keyword rank data. SerpBook and Rankinity get around that thusly. SerpBook gives you a bunch of monthly credits for on-the-fly, ad hoc rank checking, e.g. for research, in addition to your regularly-scheduled data, and the latter is a granularly-priced pay-as-you-go service, so…

Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about pricing and cost.

It’s so hard to compare different products’ pricing models. …No two vendors define their pricing the same way. It’s almost totally incongruous.

Comparing SEO Reporting Software Pricing – Not easy.

On January 31st, as I was deep in this ranking software comparison, I guest lectured part of a class on Digital Media and Analytics within Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program. My spiel (“Serendipity: Two UX ROI Stories”) was last on the docket, so I got to enjoy the first hour of Ethan McCarty‘s class.

While much of the class discourse (analytics/meaningful data/correlation vs causality/etc.) resonated with my experiences, I was particularly moved by Ethan’s reflection on his experience choosing and comparing web metrics software suites.

“Buying any kind of SaaS (such as SEO software) is kind of like buying a mattress,” said McCarty. “They all might have a similar feature sets, but each vendor names things differently, accentuates their own strong points and usually does a pretty good job of obfuscating their weaknesses. They are also all sold on different pricing schemes which makes comparison shopping grueling even if you’re a diligent spreadsheet-keeper. You may as well buckle and get the one you find most comfortable to use,” he said, speaking of both SaaS solutions and mattresses, natch.

Mattresses, am I right? It was comforting to find a sense of simpatico. We are not alone. This sucks for almost every discerning consumer, it would seem. I had to ask most vendors several followup questions to try to figure out how they actually priced their services.

How do we define rank-tracking pricing units?

“Keywords” are the near-universal pricing unit in the ranking space. But different vendors define that word conflictingly enough to make apples-to-apples pricing comparisons almost impossible. That’s why it’s in quotes there!  I kid you not, the number of “keywords” I have varies by MORE than a factor of ten, depending on the vendor. It’s nuts! What’s worse, getting straight answers regarding a vendor’s definition of “keyword” is akin to pulling your own teeth. Not fun.

We’re dealing with several variables, depending on the vendor:

  • Keywords (kw) – number of different keywords in the project
  • Search Engines (SE) – # of different search engines to be queried
  • Depth (d) – number of SERPs of data you want to gather (ranged from 1 to 30)
  • Projects (p) – number of, in my case, clients
  • Frequency (f) – how often do you want to query for data?
  • Sites (ws) – number of  websites you want data for (e.g. your site/s + ‘competitors’)
  • etc.

Vendor SE Ranking defines a keyword as one keyword in a project regardless of the number of SE. Well, you can add up to five SE, and that kw still counts as one “keyword” in their pricing model. I didn’t catch how deep (d) their data delves into the SERPs, but they offer different pricing for three frequencies, ranking from one day to one week.

Some vendors, like AWR Cloud, SerpBook, and others count Google-US, Bing-US, and Yahoo-US as a single SE unit. But they count other SE and location-based SE as individual units. But AWR Cloud only goes a few pages deep for a “keyword” while SERPbook digs to 10 SERPs and still calls it a “keyword”.

Some rank checkers count a keyword as a single SERP. So if you want to check ranks 1-40 (four SERPs) for a keyword in a single search engine, that’s four “keywords”.

Rankinity, as hinted earlier, charges per kw-se combo, with pricing for each pair delivering 10 SERPs.

Some charge only once for a keyword-se combo, regardless of the number of projects in which it appears while others will count each project-keyword-se instance as a separate “keyword”.

Some rank trackers, like SerpBook essentially charge extra for competitor rankings. (“keywords”=kw*SE*s) while other rank trackers will gather ranking data for several sites/urls, for the same keyword, without counting it as extra “keywords”.

Those are just a few examples. The myriad definitions of the “keyword” pricing unit are beyond my tired brains’ abilities to concisely summarize. Sorry!  The takeaway is: Make sure you know what their “keyword” is, and how it differs from other vendors you’re considering.

Plan Pricing Break Points – Important Future Thought

Some companies, like SEMRush and Web CEO limit how many projects you can have. Add your 6th project and you have to jump from the former’s $99 “pro” plan to the $199 “guru” plan, (or the latter’s identically modeled “Startup” and “Corporate” plans,) even if you weren’t close to the other price-resource-unit limits of your subscribed service level.

Other rankers charge more to add additional “users”.  …I’m telling you, it’s complicated.

Which Search Ranker / Reporting Solution did I choose?

As I hinted before, I originally picked two. Rankinity and SerpBook. But then I learned SerpBook counts each competitor as an individual set of keywords, and that priced them out of the top spot, and maybe even out of honorable mention. BUT they’re still a great option if you don’t want to track much (or any) competitor data. Alas, they’re not a good match for me, because I like to keep an eye on the competition. …I often find it actionable.

Using Rankinity to check once a month is a great value, and I’m still waiting for them to finish importing my data. They said it’ll be a few more days.

But I’m optimistic. …And I’m willing to pay a little extra for the elbow grease that might be required to massage my data into place.

The Proof is in the Pudding

That’s an old proverb dating back to the 1300s meaning: You can only say something is worthwhile after you’ve tested it. As of this writing, I tested what I thought was a top finisher enough to know they’re not a great match for me. I’m still in bed with Rankinity, and after digging into the honorable mentions, below, I’m left with RankWatch in second place.

Honorable Mentions

Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I spent more time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking,  and SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. As of this editing (a month after publication) I still haven’t signed with RankWatch, but I will, soon. If they don’t pan out, I’ll update yet again.

Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on more general bits. Please use the comments section, or if you’re feeling shy, send me an email or something. The rest of this blog post is me kvetching about AWR, and the aforementioned list of competitors. Good luck!

Regarding Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been unable to run reports without zany errors for over a month now. AWR wasted countless hours of my time denying the problem was theirs. They blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to a different batch of proxies. Nope. AWR still blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to another proxy vendor and dedicated proxies. No dice. AWR said those proxies too were to blame for my continued problems. So I switched to a different batch of IPs. Same problem. (Shoutout to Trusted Proxies. They helped me troubleshoot and were always quick to respond.)

I gathered and presented evidence to the contrary over and over again but Advanced Web Ranking denied any responsibility. At one point, they went nine days without responding to an email or trouble ticket, of which I sent MANY.

So, needless to say, I’d already decided to move on by the time they picked up conversation again. Then a few short days later,  on January 31st, AWR apologized and they sent a mea culpa. They’re unable to fix the problem. (Even though competing desktop rank tracker “Rank Tracker” doesn’t suffer from the same problem. …I tested.)

I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR and they gave me a full refund. While the last bit of road to the end was unnecessarily bumpy, at least they ended the relationship with class.

List of SEO Rank Trackers Compared Herein

Note re: crappy data: When I started this task, I didn’t know I’d write this blog post, so I didn’t preserve my data at first. If I determined a candidate was far from the mark, I just deleted their row from the spreadsheet. When I’d whittled down to a couple dozen, I realized I should stop doing that! (#destructive) However, I’m not made of time, so later, as I determined a vendor wasn’t a good match for me, I stopped gathering data for that vendor. The more I whittled the list down, I kept adding more criteria. So, when I mention a list of vendors lacking a particular trait in the criteria sections above, it definitely doesn’t imply all other vendors DO support it.

Here are the twenty-four I compared:

Ahrefs
Authority Labs
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
Conductor
CuteRank
LongTailPro
Majestic
Microsite Masters
Moz.com
nozzle
Rank Ranger
Rank Tracker
Rankinity
RankTrackr
RankWatch
SE Ranking
Searchmetrics
SEMrush
SEO Rank Monitor
SerpBook
Serpfox
SERPs
SERPWoo
Tiny Ranker
Web CEO

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s trying to find more people with whom to make music in San Diego. Dan also likes food and film. He just ate some ice cream and he’s seen five of the nine 2018 Best Picture nominees, so far. His vote goes to Aronofsky’s un-nominated “mother!” – Best allegorical thriller, EVAR!

Ending an SEO/UX relationship

25 Jan

I’ve blogged twice before about firing SEO/UX clients, but there are other reasons practitioner and client separate.

What are some reasons to part ways?

The best reason: “Dan, you helped us sell all the inventory. We’re done. Thanks!” (Only happened once: Hawaii housing development)

One of the most annoying reasons: “Some guy in a suit came into our office and shook my hand. They’re cheaper, so we went with them.” (Has happened twice, both clients came back.)

A middle of the road reason: “We’re growing so fast, our goals are ambitious. You’ve helped us, but we’re necessarily somewhat inefficient and crazy-swamped organizationally, so we’re going with a 360-degree, all-inclusive agency who can handle everything under one umbrella.” (Has now happened a few times, including today.)

…It’s not like I can’t help this last subset of organizations in the next step of their SEO/UX journey, (I’ve driven ambitious budgets to success-city before,) but sometimes it makes sense to move on to the next step. There’s a decent chance their new agency will kick ass or at least continue to add value. But there are no guarantees; I’ve seen these moves fail miserably, too.

Moving on

The good thing about today: I’ve moaned about this client for years. (Ask them, they’ll tell you.) As a thought experiment, I took a 2-month sabbatical from them this past summer. But I stuck with it and helped them grow. Anyhow, I’m thrilled that we’re both moving on. After a fruitful 4+ year engagement, this is a good parting. #Healthy

Hell, just a few hours ago I sent a note to one of my referring agencies telling them fficient SEO & UX is at capacity and not accepting new clients for a while. …Maybe I’ll revisit that thought in a month or two.

welcome to san diego 1973

WASHED OUT! — The blogger, his special lady friend, and some cats, parting ways with Ohio in late 2014, on the way to life in sunny San Diego. This picture is like a metaphor. That sentence was a simile. This blog post is done.

CheapoDrugs.com Database Hacked?

29 Jan
cheapodrugs-blog

Not all companies care about privacy

Update: 7/1/2017
If you use CheapoDrugs.com, stop. If you put any faith in the CIPA, stop. Neither of these organizations take cybersecurity seriously. I don’t consider them good stewards of your or my personal information. Neither organization will address evidence of a breach. …The CIPA at least gave me lip service for a while, before blowing me off.

Is CIPA legit? If CIPA doesn’t hold its members accountable, it’s worthless and you should ignore its recommendations and “certifications”.  Check out the Wikipedia entry for more evidence. Malarkey.

Original post follows

For almost 20 years, because I’m a big nerd, I’ve been using unique email addresses for every single website. e.g. the email address I give VictoriasSecret.com is different than the one I use to sign in to Fredericks.com.

When I start getting spam at an email address, I can quickly turn off that one address.

Problem solved. No more spam.

For those of you thinking, “That multi-address thing sounds like an ongoing hassle!” All addresses come into a single inbox. It’s easy. …It wasn’t necessarily easy to setup, but that was forever ago. Who even remembers that? 😉

Canary in an internet coal mine

Anyhow, if I start getting spam to an address, and its content is unrelated to the site/business where I used the address, something is amiss. If it’s a biz/site I don’t care about, I just kill that address. However, when it’s a biz I care about, I let them know. I’m a canary in a coal mine. But much larger, and figuratively in email databases instead of literally in a coal mine. I also lack feathers.

Most of the time these businesses are thankful when I have an opportunity to act as an email canary. They listen. I tell them, “I don’t know how it happened, but somebody got into your database. I don’t know what they didn’t get, (credit cards? social security number?) but I can tell you that they for sure have your email list.”

How did somebody get our database?

There are three likely routes:

  • One of your employees or contractors grabbed it and sold it or is using it themselves.
  • Somebody hacked into your system and stole it.
  • A computer/laptop with your db and/or email list got infected with malware, which then sent the list to its devious hacker makers.

There are other options, but those three methods account for the vast majority of email leak incidents.

Why oh why is he blogging about this?

Cheapodrugs.com. I used ’em. …And while I still sometimes use Canadian pharmacies for my sweet, sweet drugs, I haven’t used Cheapo Drugs in a few years.

How strange then, that a little over a week ago I started receiving emails to the address I only gave to Cheapo Drugs. Within these emails I’m encouraged to use a coupon code to save on drugs at safemedspills by clicking on a tinyurl.com link. Nope. Not. Clicking. That.

What’s worse, the email contained evidence that the spammers also have access to other Cheapo Drugs’ clients’ information. (Full name, address, etc.)

I emailed Cheapo Drugs and let them know what had happened and shared with them the three possibilities (see above). In their reply, Cheapo Drugs confirmed that, shocker, they had not sent me the spam emails. The only other substance in their missive was, “We guarantee our patients that we do not sell their information to any phishing websites.” …I never said that you sold your address list. Idiots.

I went back and forth with Cheapo Drugs customer support a few more times trying to help them understand, but was met with a stonewall of non-customer-service. I even called and talked to somebody. I’ll spare you the frustrating details and summarize: Cheapo Drugs does not take proof of a database leak seriously. What to do?

Reporting a pharmacy to CIPA

I contacted CIPA, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. Let’s see if CIPA takes this more seriously than Cheapo Drugs. …It would be hard not to. I’ll report back.

Sidenote: Now that Gmail’s spam filtering is so on fleek, I’ve considered using my gmail address more, in lieu of the system above. However, doing so isn’t as secure as using a different address for every site. Especially if you use the same password for multiple websites. Natch, I use unique passwords for each site, too. hashtag: nerd.

2015 in review

31 Dec

2015 was dismal for dandreifort.com blogging. The report’s well done though! If you’re a fan of data visualization, you’ll like it! Enjoy, and happy new year.  -DD

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

2015-blog-data-viz

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Firing SEO Clients

27 Nov
yourefired

Try to say, “President Trump” without gagging.

I’ve blogged about canning clients before (because of payment and/or privacy problems,) but this recent blog post by Marvin Russell made me want to do it again!

I accept up to four clients every year. I don’t accept every potential client, and because I have the luxury of excellent word-of-mouth, I seldom respond to RFPs and the like.

I’m picky about who I work for.

Six qualities I look for in a potential SEO client:

  1. Quickly groks what I do, the pace, etc. Can I quickly shape their expectations?
  2. ROI-minded, with the data/analytics to back it up. Or empowers me to quickly set it up!
  3. Willing to sign boilerplate mutual NDA.
  4. Big enough to potentially benefit from my minimum monthly retainer, currently six hundred and fifty bucks. I don’t like wasting money.
  5. Eschews unneeded gloss and superfluous meetings/conference calls. Appreciates concise communication and reporting. Doesn’t want excess overhead.
  6. Provides communication conduit to fast decision-makers in the organization, so great plans don’t linger in development hell. Am I talking to somebody who can affect change?

Though they passed that top-six litmus test with flying colors, I encountered problems with two clients over the past couple of years. Both were related to other third-parties on the clients’ marketing teams.

Please, won’t you tell me about your wonderful web/branding team?

The first problem was an unresponsive, and then slow web team. After six months of hair-pullingly frustrating non-progress, I threatened to quit. Client finally whipped their web team into shape and it’s been (mostly) smooth sailing ever since. I look forward to their switch to a new developer and CMS in the near future.

The second, more recent problem, was when a client’s branding agency communicated poorly and repeatedly wasted my time.

The branding agency wasn’t willing to communicate via email and only scheduled phone calls in four daily time slots via a web calendar app. Good luck finding a conveniently timed opening in their tiny schedule! “Can you squeeze a five minute call in? Just call me any time, all day!” Nope. Only four a day.

The last straw: they missed a call I managed to schedule. When I called them out on it and asked for demanded other lines of communication, they finally started responding to email, by calling me “unprofessional” and defending their (lack of) communication, saying it was typical of agencies. (I work with several agencies. These jokers were the worst, by far.)

They got nastier. I told the client, “I’d rather have my dignity than the aggravation and money. I won’t work with them.” (The branding agency is in Dallas. That’s all you’ll get from me!)

Rough Ride to a Happy Ending

That client now insulates me from the branding agency’s bad mojo. When taking the branding agency’s advice lead to a >90% drop in organic sales, the client quickly reverted to the old site and told the branding agency to act on my recommendations. Rankings, traffic and sales recovered. I don’t think that agency will be in the picture much longer.

I’m glad it worked out.
I like all of my clients. That’s the idea.

Though I’ve come close, I haven’t fired a client since my first and only firing, the one mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. #gettingbetter

Reduce Facebook Ads the Supai, Arizona Way

13 Jul Soylent Facebook
Soylent Facebook

IT’S PEOPLE!!!

UPDATE:
I should note, days after this post, Facebook demanded I prove my identity. As my name is not Danakin Skyjacker, I was unable to satisfy their idiotic documentation criteria. They closed my account. I switched to one of my other fb accounts, with an even goofier name. The good news? Even less advertising. That fb profile has never had a hometown or a current city associated with it and it had “liked” almost nothing. Pure minimal-ad Facebook experience achieved. If you don’t want to open a new Facebook account, stick with the method below.

Original post follows:

I’ve been increasingly inundated with advertisements on Facebook, especially on their iOS app.

Cause 1: Facebook continually finds new ways to monetize its product. (You. You’re the product!) (Go on, click that link. It’s fun!)

Cause 2: Until today I’d told Facebook I lived in Honolulu, one of the most hip, expensive, and cosmopolitan cities in this hemisphere. (I don’t.)

Minimize Facebook Ads

So I changed my current city and hometown to Supai, Arizona, the most remote town in the United States. It’s not even accessible by car! Supai is the only place in the United States where mail is still carried out by mules.

RESULT: Fewer advertisements on fb. I am no longer ostensibly part of a cherished target demographic. (I never was.)

Sure, I might start seeing ads targeted to native Americans, and if Facebook advertising is on its game, I might even see ads related to sprucing up my imaginary new home in Supai. So far–worth it.

Concerned about your privacy? …Or just tired of ads?

Won’t you join me in Supai?

When not generously providing free table tennis lessons to hacks at the Triple Crown Pub, Dan Dreifort consults on SEO, user experience, and other aspects of digital marketing.

Beware Donating to Collectibles with Causes

4 Nov

Keen readers will notice my last blog post discussed parting ways with my beloved comic book collection. I painstakingly entered each book first into a spreadsheet and then into an online database. If I’d carefully packaged and sold the lot, spread out into a hundred or so auctions, I probably could have received $5,000 or so.

Collectibles With Causes Legit? Unknown. Sketchy? Yes.

Collectibles with Causes, also known as With Causes, Works of Life International Ministries, and dozens of other names, is a charity that accepts collectibles, sells them, and then uses proceeds for good works, When I found them in August 2014, I did my research, like any good donator would. While I found nothing indicating proceeds would be used for hateful/exclusive causes, their EIN (26-0903224) appeared in neither the California nor the USA register of charities. I called the IRS and they confirmed that they had no record of their non-profit standing. Furthermore, none of the charity rating services have an entry for them. Not a deal-killer, but cause for concern.

The only third-party mention of With Causes/Works of Life I could find pertains to their Christmas 2011 gift of a house to a large family whose house had just burned down. Here’s an article/video. Works of Life is still milking it; one of their most recent (2014) Tumblr posts gives a shout-out to this same charitable effort.

Nonetheless, I was attracted to Collectibles With Causes. I really liked the idea of a win-win-win. I get a tax write-off for my comics and don’t need to spend dozens of hours selling them. The charity sells them and my beloved comic books find new, loving homes. Finally, people benefit from the good works/proceeds of the sale. Three wins–at least! But is it too good to be true?

Communication Problems

Collectibles with Causes might not want to reimburse your shipping expenses even when you follow their instructions.

Collectibles with Causes might not want to reimburse your shipping expenses–even if you follow their instructions.

I sent them the details of my donation on September 3, 2014 and received a canned response thanking me, providing shipping instructions, shipping reimbursement instructions, and other information. I asked for clarification on 9/7/14. On 9/9/14 I still hadn’t received a response so I pinged them again. Later in the day, no response forthcoming, I called them. Ginger finally checked the info@withcauses.org inbox and responded.

Five days later, on 9/16/14, I shipped eight boxes/about 280 pounds of comic books to:

Works of Life
ATTN: Collectibles with Causes
1175 Shaw Avenue #104-135
Clovis, California  93612

Their canned reply mentioned that, “The best method for shipping a volume of comics is USPS PARCEL POST or MEDIA MAIL …costing only approx $25.00 per long box and less than half of that for a short box.” Alas, you’re unable to ship anything with advertising via media mail. (Newsflash: comics have ads.) The plot sickens: USPS Standard Post (known as Parcel Post, until May 2007,) is much more expensive than $25/box. My shipping bill totaled $484.49. I sent them the original receipt as requested.

I notified them of the shipping cost and problems with media mail, and asked them how long it would take to get reimbursed the large shipping outlay. Amazingly, I got a reply the same day, 9/18/14, “Shipping is reimbursed once we receive your books and the shipping receipt. I will let you know once the books arrive.”

Tracking information let me know that the books arrived on 9/26/14. Ginger did NOT let me know. I sent an email on 9/29/14 asking if the books arrived. No response. I sent another email on 10/8/14 asking for an update on shipping reimbursement. No response. On 10/27/14, I emailed again. No response. (I should note that I called a couple of times in that month-long period too.) I then called on 10/28/14 and was told Ginger no longer worked there and that I’d receive a call back in a couple of days. That didn’t happen.

I called on 11/3/14, and they’re now apparently reluctant to reimburse shipping, because actual expenses don’t gel with the dream-world figures in their horribly out-of-date canned response. They asked me to scan and send another copy of the receipt. I did. Again, they said they’d get back to me. …24+ hours later, I’m not holding my breath.

Is Collectibles With Causes as Scam?

I’m not sure if Collectibles with Causes is a scam. …They might just suffer from personnel and communication problems.

If I don’t receive shipping reimbursement within a week I will contact the California Attorneys General, the BBB, the IRS, their local news media, and anybody else I can think of. I’ll pass along every bit of information I have about Works of Life and how they’ve (so far) reneged on the implied contract presented on their website, in their emails, and via phone. …I’m pretty sure that’s a crime. They are messing with the wrong dude.

I strongly urge you to find another charity for your donation. I will revise this review if they eventually make things right.

Update:

It’s 11/17/2014. After nearly two months staying on them, I have a shipping reimbursement check in hand. (They paid up!) Did this blog post have anything to do with it? I don’t know.

If you’re going to incur considerable postage expenses when you ship something to any With Causes charity, note that you might have to wait and/or fight for reimbursement. If I had to do it all over again, I’d donate to a local charity instead. Lesson learned.

Update:

2/16/2015:  Very unofficial response from alleged former Collectibles with Causes volunteer is in comments. While it’s entertaining, I smile more when I read my response to it. Enjoy.

Update:

1/30/2017:  Somebody claiming to be Cameron Arballo from Works of Life called both my wife’s and sister’s places of employment and left threatening messages saying that he knows where she lives. Conveniently, these conversations were recorded. I’m giving them to the police.

Dan Dreifort is a professional part-time complainer. (In lieu of donations, send his wife earplugs.) He consults on web optimization and usability for fun.

Looking for the best Hawaii digital marketing agency

8 Jul Hawaii Destination Marketing SEO and a Beach

I fired a Hawaii marketing agency a couple of months ago. I was not a client. I’d been providing usability and SEO services to their clients since 2007. (Does that mean I quit?) I grew online business for a few of their big-name clients and received decent money for it. Everybody at the agency was polite and skilled. So why did I fire them? Throughout the six-year engagement they paid several hundred invoices, but rarely on time. I fired them because they regularly forced me to act as an accountant and a collections agent.

Glutton For Digital Media Agency Punishment

Hawaii Destination Marketing SEO and a Beach

I heart Hawaii !

A few weeks later I was approached by another Hawaii digital marketing outfit. I’m not hungry for work now, but with so much SEO and usability experience in the Hawaii destination and hospitality verticals, part of me wants to put that knowledge to good use. So when this new agency reached out to me, I engaged.

I insist on signing a mutual non-disclosure agreement with all clients. The NDA serves to protect any private information and ostensibly allows us to discuss anything without worry of public eyes and ears. After a month of wasting my time, this new agency today tells me, “We can’t sign this.” I tried to identify and fix the perceived problem, but after receiving a couple more obtuse emails, I eventually jabbed, “I take my clients’ privacy very seriously. If [Agency] doesn’t respect that, we’re obviously not a good match.” I sent a friendly “goodbye” note to his partner.

I assure you I won’t be communicating with them again unless we agree about privacy.

What I’ve learned:

  • Fool me once, shame on, um… how does that go, George Bush? Fire clients more quickly if/when they’re late with payments.
  • Don’t invest too much speculative time with clients until they agree to protect privacy.
  • I’d again like to help a Hawaii company or agency with search engine optimization and user experience.
  • I *still* don’t like time-wasters.
Dan Dreifort‘s current clients include: Product recommendation SaaS company, Plastic container manufacturer/retailer, Adjustable air-mattress retailer/manufacturer, Memory foam mattress manufacturer/retailer, Specialty shipping company, Brazilian jiu jitsu franchises, Tourist magazine, Childcare franchises, Acting school, Real estate brokers, Lawyer, Fence manufacturer/retailer, Online drug rehab center and a couple more. Dan is busy and can’t accept new work until January, 2014.

Keyword Research Alternatives to SEOmoz and Wordtracker?

7 Mar SEOmoz results

Research is the smart first step when starting a new SEO campaign or growing an existing SEO effort. I talk with clients to brainstorm a few keyword ideas and then feed those seed keywords into tools to find related keywords. Then, ideally, I look at  traffic and competition metrics to identify low hanging fruit of the long tail and other gems in the rough. (Per previous whiny posts,) Wordtracker (wordtracker.com) lost my business a while ago, but SEOmoz (seomoz.org) is just as frustrating.

Every single bit of keyword research I’ve done on SEOmoz returns “unavailable” for these metrics:

  • Local Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Local Search Volume (Broad Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Broad Match)

…Leaving only one SEOmoz metric, “Keyword Difficulty” which also often returns the dreaded “unavailable” result.

Obfuscating Valuable SEO Metrics is a Poor (But Popular) Business Model

SEOmoz results

SEOmoz – Close to Useless.

What’s worse, this “Keyword Difficulty” metric is dumbed down so as to hide any real value. While I’m sure the two-digit SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty score (or the nearly identical two-digit “Competition” score from Wordtracker) in some fashion represents IAAT and other competition metrics, I am more than hesitant to base important keyword decisions on these vague scores. While I’m sure their scoring algorithms consider many factors, I’m accustomed to crafting my own meta-metrics. But pretend for a second that we do trust their “scores” – exactly how are we supposed to make intelligent decisions without good traffic data?

More frustrating still is the fact that SEOmoz limits us to five keywords at a time and always takes several minutes to return results. There’s nothing less satisfying that twiddling your thumbs waiting for a screen full of “unavailable”. Oh wait, there is – try paying $99 per month for the privilege. Yeah, it burns.

What Does SEOmoz Have to Say?

I posed these conundrums to SEOmoz and received a few responses.

Load times in the Keyword Difficulty tool can vary depending on the keyword(s) and time of day but generally, this shouldn’t be more that a minute or so. Cutting down on load times is also why we limit individual searches to 5 terms.

Sounds like a crappy Band-Aid to me. I ran into slow load times regardless of time of day and keywords.

Search volumes were pulled from the tool several months ago due to problems we were having with accuracy. So instead of taking the entire tool offline, we removed search volumes while we work on new metrics that we hope provide more valuable data. In the interim, I’d recommend checking out Google’s Keyword tool if you’re looking for search volumes.

What are the chances that somebody using SEOmoz doesn’t already know about the Google Keyword tool? And why did it take a trouble ticket for me to find out that this is a known issue? Ugh.

Although we don’t have a solid ETA at the moment for a release on the new metrics, we’ll definitely let everyone know via the community and blog.

I’ll ask them if they can just send me a note when they get it in gear. I don’t want to have to follow them on Twitter for five months to figure out that their ducks are all finally in a row. I asked if I could have a second free trial whenever they fix their tools, you know, so I don’t have to pay a hundred bucks to play with broken toys:

Unfortunately I can’t promise that since we don’t have an actual ETA on when the new metrics will be updated but I’d be happy to add a credit to the account for half off your next month if you’d like.

Paying $50 to test their patches wouldn’t be as bad, but it’s hardly ideal customer service.

What’s the best SEO Keyword Research Tool?

And just to be clear, I’m asking you. Sure, I can get all the data I need directly from Google, but it’s a time-consuming boondoggle. That’s why SEO professionals like me used to pay thousands of dollars every year to the likes of Wordtracker and SEOmoz. Alas, no more.

If I’m going to spend a couple grand a year for competition and traffic metrics, I expect better. What SEO tools do you recommend? If you know a coder looking to make a buck on a new creation, I’ll help him/her design a killer app for keyword research. All I ask in return? Please let me use it.

When not whining on this blog Dan Dreifort consults on Search Engine Optimization and Usability from his home. An avid musician, Dreifort is currently performing with four different bands and trying to form a fifth. Dan Dreifort is for scuba.

Robocalls Are Easy To Fix

4 Jan
English: A Fox 40 whistle from the late 1980s.

A Fox 40 whistle from the late 1980s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In early November I received my umpteenth call from Rachel at cardholder services. A few years ago I wasted time filing FTC reports on these jokers in a wholly ineffective effort to thwart their incessant nagging. Of late I’ve instead taken to passive aggressively nagging them back.

How I Used to Deal With Rachel and her Cardholder Services Minions

This time, as is now my custom, I pressed whatever number would get me to a consultant to discuss the urgent scam relating to my credit cards. I then pressed mute and walked away. A few minutes later, per my routine, I picked up the phone to hang it up, but this time there’s a guy whispering all sorts of awesome stuff still on the line. So I listened for a while. He’d just started at his call center job two weeks earlier and had yet to get any training. He was bitching about the people near him and how backwards and horrible everybody and everything about his job was. Very entertaining. (He was using more colorful language than I’m willing to recount here.)

I wanted to un-mute and talk to him but decided not to. What would I have said? “Become a whistle-blower!” These $#%^ing phone spammers are breaking the law and I’d love to see some convictions. Unfortunately I (and likely most call center drones) are unaware of incentive to blow the whistle on such illegal activity, if any even exists.

FTC Robocall Challenge to the Rescue?

The FTC is planning to spend serious dough on “new and innovative ways to block these illegal calls,” and is soliciting fresh ideas via the U.S.A.’s official challenge website. They’re also offering $50,000 in prizes for challenge winners. But I recognize problems with most of the submissions. They’re either ineffective, costly, unproven, violate basic privacy or show other weaknesses. Solving this problem is as simple as the American dream itself and it’s a bargain too.

Incentivize Whistleblowers

From aforementioned breathy undertones of the underbelly of the robocall world, I was able to infer that call center workers are overworked, underpaid, shown little respect and mistreated. What if we offered cash rewards for proof of illegal telemarketing activity? How much would it take? I’m guessing not much.

What person working at a thankless illegal job is going to turn down a four figure reward for ten minutes of work? IT WILL WORK. But how will we fund it? While there’s likely already a budget for this sort of thing, I understand that taxing and spending isn’t sexy these days and that we’re to rely on the private sector for things like… money. (?!)

I’ll start. If I win the challenge, I’ll donate 10% of my take to an FTC telemarketing whistle blower fund.

Won’t you join me? (Boring details for my FTC challenge submission follow. Thanks for reading!)

Project Details FAQ

Q: What is required to stop robocalls and encourage whistleblowers?

A: Funding. A website to field scam reports. Small staff to review reports. Initial marketing push.

Q: What about robocalls that don’t provide an option to speak to a human?

A: There are still underpaid minions in these shady organizations. We can turn them from the dark side.

Q: What about robocalls from other countries?

A: People in other countries like cash too. We can turn them and stop the flow of robocalls.

Q: Harumph! I hate government spending! What else would we need to crowdsource the funding?

A: If the gov doesn’t have the ability to do it already, hire somebody to use free, off the shelf, open source scripts to accept donations. Initial marketing push.

When he’s not traveling or making music, Dan Dreifort likes to consult on search and usability. Dan also likes his wife even though she has neglected him for almost four years while she’s been at veterinary school. She comes back in three weeks. Dan is very happy about this.
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Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

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