30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 3: Skills Test Torture


I feel your pain, Elisa

So I started the day by creating a profile on oDesk. Friends on Facebook had insisted I would have a much better chance of finding work on oDesk than Elance, as it had more of a tech audience and I wouldn’t be undercut by 12 year old sweat-shop workers in India. Or something along those lines.

The profile creation process was longer for oDesk, mainly because you couldn’t import CV detail from LinkedIn, so you basically had to make a whole lot of stuff up recreate your entire CV from memory.

After uploading some portfolio items on oDesk, it was time to return to Elance in order to take some skills tests. I use the phrase “skills tests” loosely. I would neither class these quizzes as *tests* or involving any *skills* whatsoever. Unless you count the ability to slam your head repeatedly into your keyboard.

I started with the SEO “skills test” (note the air quotes). During the process, I became more and more frustrated. The majority of SEO questions were about the robots.txt file, which I found strange. Others were super outdated, often because recent algorithm changes made the question redundant or they referred to product names/services that no longer exist  e.g. Google Places. The more questions I took, the more ambiguous or redundant the questions became, meaning I had to guess what the author meant rather than rely on my 18 years of solid SEO knowledge. Finally, I got tired of slamming my head into the keyboard there were no more questions in the pool so I had no chance of improving my score. Wonderful.

elance-sem-skills-test-q2Next up was the AdWords “skills test”. This had similar issues to the SEO test, with ambiguous or simply outdated questions. Take for example the question *Can you use the same keywords in different AdGroups? Yes or No?*. Although I guessed the answer correctly as *yes*, the question needs to be re-worded. Any good advertiser knows that although it IS possible, you should never use the same keywords in multiple AdGroups, because Google won’t know which ad you meant to show and will just pick the one with the highest AdRank. This means you are effectively competing with yourself and driving up the CPC.

So for clarity, the question should ask “Is it possible” rather than “Can you”. (Reading that last paragraph back, I sound like a complete wanker, but other wankers digital marketing folk will no doubt be nodding their heads ).

The Google Analytics test was mostly straight-forward, but there was a focus on only one or two aspects of Analytics. Which seems kind of ridiculous when you consider that Avinash Kaushik’s book on Web Analytics is 500 pages long and weighs a kilo.

elance-sem-skills-test-q4After that, I took the Bing Ads test. Nearly half of the questions were about JavaScript programming instead of Bing Ads. Which is perfectly understandable, if you’re insane.

Judging by some of the feedback comments, I wasn’t the only person who found this frustrating. Last of all, I took the Search Engine Marketing skills test. Again, many of the questions (or answers) were either irrelevant, redundant or outdated. Quite a few were subjective or written in a way that was too ambiguous.

I left quite a lot of feedback on the questions, but of course this ate into the time I took answering each test, which lowered my overall score and increased my stabbiness and doughnut intake. I think this is a bug inherent in the Elance system, but something that could be easily improved. Perhaps they should find a way to allow test-takers to tag a problem question and provide feedback at the end, after test time has been recorded. Or perhaps send each applicant a box of doughnuts by way of apology?

As you can see by the attached screen-shots, I wasn’t the only one unhappy with the test quality. I particularly enjoyed Elisa’s comment “Are you proud to write stupid questions?”.

Having such a lot of negative feedback clearly viewable by test-takers reflects badly on Elance. I’m not sure how often the feedback is reviewed, but to the public, it looks as though the feedback is being ignored completely.

I wonder if oDesk will have the same issues? I’d better buy more doughnuts.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 2: Profile Pain


Profile completedness: unlocked

Having set up a profile on Elance yesterday, it was currently sitting at 70 percent complete. Apparently freelancer profiles with less than 100 percent completion get very few views, let alone jobs, so it was time to expand that profile and bring it up to 100 percent completion.

To achieve 100 percent profile completedness (is that even a word?) on Elance requires the following:

  1. Verify Identity
  2. Upload Portfolio Items
  3. Join Groups
  4. Take Skills Tests

1. Verify Identity

My identity verification interview was scheduled for between 9 and 10am this morning and I was pleasantly surprised to receive my Skype call about 9.20am. The verification process lasted all of 2 minutes and involved simply switching on my web-cam and speaking a few words to the authentication agent. Perhaps being presented with someone in a lime green bathrobe and no make-up made him speed the conversation up. I’m not sure. But within a few minutes, I received an email stating that my identity verification was complete.

2. Upload Portfolio Items

The Portfolio section of your Elance profile is where you can upload samples of your work to create an online portfolio of sorts. Once you’ve uploaded work samples, you can attach them to any job proposal you submit.

For freelance web designers and graphic artists, this is a pretty straight-forward concept, as you can simply upload web designs, images and artwork you have created. For a digital marketer, it requires a little more thought, especially when you have signed NDAs for nearly every client.

I suddenly wished I’d thought to record a recent meeting with a new client who slapped me on the back and exclaimed “Holy S**t that’s impressive. Those *bast***s over at [ill-performing agency name] are in for a grilling when I get hold of ’em!”. On second thoughts. Perhaps I could upload a picture of the giant box of chocolates another client couriered over following their web site audit?  Hmmm.

I finally decided to upload a sample web site performance audit (with all client references removed), a recent Google AdWords audit, a search ranking report, a pretty chart showing post-SEO traffic growth and some sample articles I’d written for SiteProNews.

3. Join Groups

According to the 75 emails I received from Elance since registration (kidding!), I would have more chance of finding employment if I joined as many industry groups as possible. Immediately. These group had names ranging from WordPress Experts, to Microsoft Certified Professionals, to Facebook Developers to something with the rather concerning anagram of PIMP. (Turns out it has something to do with project management. But I digress).

I finally narrowed down my preferred group selections to:

  • SEO Experts
  • Google AdWords Experts
  • Google Analytics Experts
  • Google Webmaster Central Experts

To join these groups, I would first have to take a Skills Test in each discipline to prove my knowledge level.

4. Take Skills Tests

So I took some skills tests. Oh boy. These deserve an entire blog post. Actually, I think they deserve an entire blog. But you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow. Day 2 done and dusted.

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30 Days as Geek For Hire – Day 1: Registration Frustration

elance-logoFollowing on from my lack of cash revelation, I’ve decided to try my hand at being a freelance geek-for-hire for 30 days to see if I can earn enough income to compensate for a full time job.

I’ve decided to start my search for work on Elance. Setting up a profile with Elance was mostly painless. The one positive aspect of registering with Elance is that they’ve partnered with LinkedIn, so you can simply import your entire CV and employment history if you connect your Elance profile with your LinkedIn profile.

However, the one aspect of Elance registration that was not straight-forward was the identity verification process. After fleshing out my profile, it was suggested that I verify my identity by completing an online form and registering for an identity verification interview via Skype. The only problem was, there seemed to be a bug with the Skype interview section of the verification request form.

elance-Screenshot1When I chose my time-zone (Wellington, New Zealand), no available interview times were shown and when I clicked *view more*, nothing came up and then the *view more* option disappeared entirely. No matter how many times I refreshed the form, there were no available interview time slots available. If I tried to submit my verification request, even if all other fields were completed, it wouldn’t let me submit because it said I have to choose an interview time slot. Le sigh. Different browsers triggered the same bug. I even tried at different times within a 24 hour period, with no luck. It was like a mini Ground Hog Day.

How was I supposed to verify my identity if I couldn’t select an interview time slot? In desperation, I lodged a support ticket and was informed that identity verification for Elance was performed by a third party, Aristotle, and that their technical support team was working to solve the error.

True to their word, the problem was solved within a few hours and I was able to set up my Skype interview and pass the identity verification hurdle at last.

Day 1 down. My next goal is to flesh out my profile completion to 100 percent. Catch you on Day 2.

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30 Days as a Freelance Geek for Hire

geek-for-hireI came to a dramatic conclusion today. I need more income. As you all know, I’m a digital marketing consultant and trainer.

My contractual consulting work has dried up for the year and the exciting new IT start-up that had offered me 3 months work has been dismantled by their board and abandoned. Bye, bye guaranteed income.

So here I am, a self-employed geek, in need of consulting work in order to pay off a very large tax debt and keep me in coffee and French doughnuts for the foreseeable future. What’s a girl to do?

I had heard that marketing and IT specialists could make a nice little income on the side of their *real* job by using sites such as Elance, oDesk, Freelancer and Guru.com. I immediately thought “I can do that”. I’ll just have to take on enough freelance projects to provide a full-time income.  How hard can it be?

So I’ve decided to spend the next 30 days totally immersing myself in the seedy online job market and pimping my services as a freelance geek-for-hire. I thought my experience might make for entertaining reading, or at the very least provide an example of what not to do for future freelancers. So I’m going to blog about my experiences right here. Watch me as I fly or fail. Or quite possibly both.

If you’ve got any burning questions about freelancing in the digital / IT space, please post them in the comments and I’ll make sure I cover those off during the month. Any words of advice (warning?) for me would also be welcomed.

Wish me luck!



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Q and A: What are some ideas for SEO lead generation?

QuestionHello Kalena

I’ve recently struck out on my own as a search engine optimization freelancer and I’m finding it really difficult to get new leads.

I can’t afford to pay per click the amounts that the big players are paying on Google AdWords and I’m not confident enough with Bing Ads to try that. I did experiment with some Facebook advertising, but the response wasn’t great so I don’t think it’s really where my market is.

I know you recommended in the past to try some freelancing sites, but I was on Elance for a month and was out-bid by a lot of SEO crews based in South East Asia, who seem to low-ball everybody and win most of the projects. I know my work is higher quality than what they are offering, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the client.

Any creative ideas for how I can generate new leads and find genuine SEO clients who are willing to pay fairly for quality?



Hi Anthony

I feel your pain, I truly do. Having my own SEO consultancy, I am fully aware just how challenging it can be to secure a steady flow of new business and compete with rivals after the same clients.

Here are my tips for gaining new SEO leads:

1) Install MySiteAuditor on Your Main Sales PageMy Site Auditor is a custom-built lead generation tool for SEO professionals and freelancers. You simply install the code somewhere prominent on your site and it allows visitors to generate a one minute SEO audit for a URL of their choice, for a particular keyword or phrase. Visitors need to enter their email address in order to generate the audit, creating automatic leads to follow up.

You can see it in action over at Site Audit NZ. There is a 10 day free trial and two low cost monthly subscription plans, depending on whether you want to embed the tool, white-label the audits and have leads emailed to you.  We use it and it’s a great way to increase SEO sales and leads by simply embedding a useful tool on your site.

2) Utilize Keyword Alert and Social Monitoring Tools – Services like Google Alerts and the fairly new Talkwalker Alerts allow you to track mentions of your target keywords or search phrases across the web without lifting a finger. You simply choose the search terms you want to be alerted about and then the service will email you whenever it finds a new mention of those terms in Google search results (for Google Alerts) or in news sites, blogs and discussion boards across the entire web (for Talkwalker). Klout, Social Mention and HootSuite all offer a similar service to track real time mentions on social sites. Raven Tools used to offer the same, but have sadly discontinued it.

What this means is that you can pin-point potential leads by what they are searching for / talking about. So, for example, we are always looking for new students to join Search Engine College and a great way to find potentials is to see who is discussing topics like “I want to learn SEO” or “Teach myself SEO”.  We can then (tactfully) approach those persons directly on the sites where the discussion was found to see if our courses might be a good fit for them.

You can do the same thing by creating alerts for phrases like “Need help with SEO” or “SEO my site”. Just make sure you follow up fast though, because discussions can become stale quickly, especially on social networks. Also be super careful that you take a helpful approach rather than dive in with a sales pitch, or you’re likely to frighten off any genuine potentials.

3) Give Bing Ads a Whirl – You can teach yourself how to use it fairly quickly and the CPC is much, much cheaper than Google AdWords in my experience. If you want to contact me directly, I can even send you a USD100 voucher for ad credit (as I’m a Bing Partner).

4) Give Stuff Away – Got an ebook or a white-paper lying around? Turn it into a free give-away on your site, in exchange for a visitor’s email address. Companies like HubSpot do this type of incentive-based lead generation exceptionally well. With a little forethought, any client case study or interesting SEO research can be turned into a downloadable incentive to part with an email address. Just make sure you have their permission to contact these visitors with your marketing messages later on.

These tactics may not work for you, but they consistently work for me, so I’m confident you will get some good results.

Best of luck :-)


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