Welcome to USA Land Surveyors. This site is owned by a land surveyor and it is for land surveyors. After 25 years owning his own land surveying and engineering consulting firm, Keith Maxwell was “forced” to do marketing by the Great Recession. After much trial and error he hit on this thing called the Internet, which blew away all the other marketing methods. For the last 5 years he’s been helping other surveyors get found on the front page of Google in their local market.

Why Land Surveyors MUST Be Online

Keith works with only one local surveyor per city or town. No city is too small for internet marketing. If you have more than 2 competitors, you need to be found on Google ahead of them, preferably in 1st place.Keith Maxwell, PLS, PE

If you prefer to be only found for ALTA Land Surveys, we have a page dedicated to this valuable surveying business type.

Call Keith today at 888-316-4124 to talk about how he can help market your land surveying business and get found on Page 1 of Google.


How to Earn a Six Figure Professional Salary

I’m borrowing the premise for this article from two very good articles on Architecture Salary and Six Figures.

We all want to know how to make more money in the same amount of time, or less. That article spoke to employees of a firm, and not owners but I’m an owner and want to address that more. Read his article if you want to know about employees. Most of what he talks about would apply to you as a Land Surveyor or Engineer.

Firm Size and Specialization

Generally speaking if you have more people working for you, you should be making more money. Now I’m not talking about more revenue, I mean more profit and salary for you.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. You’re doing a lot of work, but you’re not making any profit on all that work. So, size alone doesn’t necessarily translate to more profit. But, specialization might hold the key.

By specialization I mean what service do you offer that makes you the most profit? Do more of that. It’s really that simple. Focus your marketing efforts on that service. Look for more opportunities to do that. Cut back, or stop completely, those services that you break even or lose money. Just say NO. Or go up on your price. Then, IF someone wants you to do a small lot survey for $850, you’ll make a little profit instead of doing it for $450 and losing money.

We all know though that we can make more on a larger job – like ALTA surveys, construction surveying, topo surveys, and large boundary surveys. So, look for more of this type work.


If you live in a rural area and just can’t get enough work to grow your business, then you may need to consider relocating. This is a big step, but it could make the difference in just getting by and running a real business. Let’s say you live a couple hours from a large metro area. Then, do some advertising in that area for the large jobs we talked about earlier. Obviously you can’t drive two hours for a lot survey, but you could for a $5000 ALTA survey, or a 100 acre boundary survey. And, you can do this without moving immediately.

If you want to move, look at places that are experiencing long-term growth. This information can easily be found from the Census Bureau. Or, just search for “fastest growing cities in Texas,” or the state you’re interested in. Don’t just look for the largest cities. A city of 40,000 that has experienced 5% a year for 5 years adds 2,000 people a year. This means something is happening that could help your business grow. Make sure that it isn’t a one-time event though, like a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) surge at a military facility. These are good but they may not mean future growth.

Personally, I like a city with good growth in the 60,000 to 100,000 population range. Growth of just 4% a year adds 2,400 to 4,000 people to the economy. See this Census article if you’re interested in Texas. Lots of opportunities there.

Skills and Qualifications

Personal skills and qualifications are important. If you haven’t done any of the high-profit jobs like topographic surveys or ALTA surveys, you should learn how. Work with someone else to learn. Attend some classes.

I learned a lot from a mentor early in my career and have since made many thousands from just learning how to do septic system designs. Take an older surveyor to lunch who knows what you want to know. Ask if they’re willing to work on a project as a joint venture for a few times. You bring the job, they help you with it. Now some may not want to help the competition so you may have to go to a different city to learn this. It will be worth it. If they’re in a flexible situation (like retired) they may be willing to come to you. (Heck, if you have an internet connection and cover my expenses, I’m willing to come train you.)

Another way to gain skills and qualifications for your company is to make a strategic hire. Finding someone who brings the right skills and qualifications is easier than you might think. The only issue here is paying them. Start out subcontracting with someone. Then, when your business grows, you can hire someone permanently.

“Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz

But, you need to learn these skills yourself anyway. What if that person leaves? I believe that you should know how to do about everything that your employees know. That doesn’t mean that you have to do it, but you should not be put out of business by losing one employee.

Don’t forget the soft skills like communication, leadership, adaptability and flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, team-working, time management, and being willing to learn. Those are all topics that you need to learn to grow individually and to be able to grow your business. A book mentioned in that article is “The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy”, which I also recommend.

Be the Best

This is related to Specialization but takes it a step further. “What do you do better than anyone else?” If there’s nothing, then do some training. Do your ALTA surveys look better than anyone else? If not, can you make them? Maybe you can add an aerial photo from a drone. I know, this costs something to learn but it might also catch the attention of the Title companies and Attorneys who then call on you more.

Your drawing is not only the record of your survey, but it is a lasting document that shows your professionalism. Most times I never meet my clients in person, but when they get my drawing they definitely get a sense of how professional I am.

Your communication is very important here. This is part of the overall customer service part of your business. You should have excellent customer service. It should be remarkable. If you’ve ever had a waiter or waitress serve you that you said to yourself “I’d love to hire that person” then you know what I’m talking about. Did they keep your water filled? Did they recommend something good? Were they great at conversation? You know what it takes, maybe you’ve just gotten lazy and only get excited about collecting the checks and not the idea of actually helping someone with a problem they’re having. Step up your game if you want to be the best.

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar

Do you keep your clients updated about how the job is going, or do you dread getting a phone call from them about why you’re not finished with the job. Be proactive. Most people will be patient if you communicate with them about any delays you’re experiencing. Your employees and subcontractors should also share this customer service philosophy. A good book on this is “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard.

This one also is similar to “Reducing the stress of others” that is mentioned in the article. This counts for your employees as well as your clients. People like working with people who are easy to work with and just get the job done without drama. Shoot for drama free projects. That will help you avoid burnout and increase your bottom line.


This is my addition to the list, not covered in the article for employees. I firmly believe that effectively marketing your company is one of the best ways to expand your business. I wrote an article recently on Ranking Your Professional Website but there’s so much more for you to learn about marketing. I’m going to try to do more articles about this in the future.

J. Keith Maxwell is a Professional Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer in Alabama. He has owned a professional consulting business for over 27 years. If he had it to do over again, he’d have learned more, sooner. Hindsight is 20/20.


How2: Rank Your Professional Website

If you have to create a Periodic Table for a subject, it’s got to be complicated, right? At least it is to me since I didn’t do too well in Chemistry. But, while there are many factors(some say up to 200) that influence how your website ranks, these three are the top factors (according to Google) that determine how your site ranks on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP.) They are:

  1. Links
  2. Content
  3. RankBrain

What Are Links?

Links come from both internal to the site – internal links – and outside the site (wait for it…) – external links. All of these are referred to as backlinks, or just links. For example, if you have written a blog post about a certain topic, say a particularly interesting ALTA survey you completed, you might link somewhere in that post to your Services Page about ALTA Surveys or another site about ALTA Surveys. The link uses the HTML Anchor Tag and looks something like this:

  • HTML Code: <a href=”URL” >Anchor Text</a>
  • Example: <a href=”http://altalandsurvey.com/” >ALTA Survey</a>
  • Looks Like: ALTA Survey in the post.

The HTML Code elements are: (***GEEK ALERT***)

The “<” symbol opens the HTML code

The “a” stands for the Anchor Tag

The “href” is an attribute of the Anchor Tag and stands for the Hypertext Reference, which consists of:

  • URL – the Uniform Resource Locator of the page you’re referring TO (“http://altalandsurvey.com/”)
  • Anchor Text – what will appear on this page as the highlighted LINK (“ALTA Survey”)

The “>” symbol closes that portion of the Anchor Tag and proceeds the Anchor Text

The “</a>” closes both the Anchor Text and the overall Anchor Tag

If you want to learn more about this and other HTML Tags, see W3Schools.com.

Why Are Links Important?

Links are similar to votes for a website; the more links you get, the better you look to Google. This is understandable. If your article is popular (being shared by people), then is should be ranked higher as it may be interesting to others searching for that same topic. So, having other people give a link “back” to your article lets Google know they liked it.

Where the links come from, the referring site, is also important. For example, a backlink from a Wikipedia article would be MUCH more valuable than one from an obscure website about title insurance. And, if the backlink is evaluated by Google as a PAID link or from a very Spammy site, then they may even penalize you for this backlink.

The relevance of the referring site is also important. So, a link from a website about the development of subdivisions by Civil Engineers linked to my Civil Engineering service page with the anchor text of “civil engineering consultants” would be a very relevant backlink. Whereas a backlink to that same page from a site about toys on a page about a toy train with the anchor text “engineer” would not be relevant.

For more information about Good & Bad Backlinks, see this article.

Why Does Content Matter?

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” – Stephen Covey

Each page of your website (the content) should be relevant to the overall subject of your website. The words you use on each page describe that particular subject. You should pick one particular subject per page. There are similar words that could be used, but dissimilar words should be reserved for another page or subject.

For example, if I’m writing about ALTA surveys on my page, it shouldn’t be all about elevation surveys. And, the term “elevation survey” is not similar to the term “ALTA survey.” Of course, Google understands that both these terms are covered under the overall topic of your website about “Surveying” but these two different types of surveys should be on separate pages.

So, your page about ALTA surveys would use similar keywords like ALTA Survey, ALTA Surveying, Table A, ALTA Standards, ALTA/NSPS survey standards, land title survey, etc. while talking about the overall message you want to convey about your subject.

“Keywords are words or phrases describing your product or service that you choose to help search engines know what you’re talking about.”

Again, non-relevant content on the page, or the overall site will be seen as not contributing to your overall relevance, and may negatively impact your search engine ranking. Let’s call this diluting your message. So, try not to write too much about your favorite football team, or your coin collecting hobby on your site about land surveying. Create a personal blog to cover those non-relevant subjects. That’s not to say that on your “About Us” page that you don’t mention these two things – they help people to identify with you. But, your About Us page is understood to be “about you” and likely won’t get ranked for anything specific anyway.

One hint I usually give almost everyone when I evaluate their website is to divide up your services page into multiple pages. Don’t just have one page and mention all of your services on that page. Divide them up into ALTA Surveys, Elevation Surveys, Topographic Surveys, Construction Surveys, Lot Surveys, Boundary Surveys, etc. That way you can focus on one thing on each page. And, that page is more likely to be found on the search engines for that specific term.

What is RankBrain?

Having just learned about this term, “RankBrain is Google’s name for a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that’s used to help process its search results,” according to the SearchEngineLand.com article linked above. Machine learning is where a computer teaches itself how to do something. RankBrain is part of Google’s overall search “algorithm,” a computer program that’s used to sort through the billions of pages it knows about and find the ones most relevant for particular searches.

So, in my words, it’s the word used to describe this process of finding (learning) all of the related topics out there on the World Wide Web. This is then fed into the overall algorithm that Google uses to provide us the results on SERP. That algorithm is currently known as Hummingbird. The overall algorithm and how it’s all scored is a trade secret that Google keeps hidden very well. There are also frequent changes to the algorithm though links and content have been at the top for a very long time.

For more indepth information about SEO and the “periodic table” see this article.


As I mentioned at the beginning, there are a number of other factors influencing how your page and website ranks. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a very wide subject and has taken me into a rabbit hole that has lasted for over six years now. If you need help with this, I’ll be glad to talk to you about how I might can help you.

J. Keith Maxwell, is a Professional Land Surveyor and Professional Engineer in Alabama, who wandered off into SEO Marketing during the Great Recession and has established a niche business by helping other Surveyors & Engineer with online marketing.

WTH: Why The Hell Are You Surveying So Cheap?

Dear Mr. Cheap Surveyor,

I just got off the phone with one of your newest property survey clients. Evidently he called me because he thought your price was too high. I didn’t know that till I spent an hour measuring and figuring and estimating what it would take to do the job. I talked to my field surveyor and got him to look at it with me. It’s 53 acres of recently cut-over woods, with a creek along one side (1600 LF), a dirt road on one side (2200 LF) and 3800 LF of woods lines. (See the picture above.) And, the site is two hours from my field guy’s office.

Not knowing that he had talked to anyone else prior to calling me (had I known I couldn’t even have talked to him legally because of QBS) I gave him my best price of $4,100 to $4,600. He let out a yelp. “Wooo, I thought the other guy was high andhe quoted about half that.” I laughed out loud. “You’ve got to be kidding me” I said.

So, Mr. Cheap, I’d really like to know how you keep your costs so low that you’re able to charge $0.30 per linear foot on average for the same survey. That was the low end of what I priced work at in 1989, when I started practicing land surveying.

Some things that happened in 1989:

  • Apple introduced a new portable computer. The retail price was $5,800.
  • The first of 24 satellites of the Global Positioning System (GPS) were placed into orbit.
  • The Energizer Bunny replaced Mary Lou Retton as company spokesperson.
  • DNA genetic evidence was first allowed as admissible evidence in court.

Some cost related items in 1989 compared to today:

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average was $2,753 then, today it closed above $18,300.
  • The average income per year was $27,450.00, in 2015 it was $44,600.
  • The average monthly rent was $420, this year it’s $1,300
  • The average price for a new car, $15,350, today it’s $33,560.
  • 1 gallon of gas was $0.97, today it’s $2.22.
  • The minimum wage was $3.35, today it’s $7.25.

Are you recognizing a pattern here yet? Lot’s of things are at least doubling since 1989.

There is this thing called the Inflation Rate that I want to introduce to you. The Inflation Rate is a way to boil down all of the costs of different things over the years in today’s’ dollars. Or, how far does my dollar go today compared to a certain year in the past. Using the Inflation Calculator, since 1989, the US Inflation Rate has caused what cost $0.30 in 1989 to cost $0.58 in 2016 dollars, a 98% increase. That’s about double, matching our pattern above.

So, why are you charging 1989 prices for land surveying in 2016?

Cheap Surveyor, Cheap Survey

Now you may have been charging $0.15/linear foot in 1989 (which would have been 1977 pricing then.) You may also think that I was charging too much in 1989. Well, before I worked on my own, I worked with other surveyors and had a pretty good idea what prices were then. I also knew how much I had to pay my crew, how much their health insurance cost, how much I contributed to their 401 K plans, what gas cost, my rent, and what the truck payment was.

I’m not saying you can’t charge whatever you want for your work. Heck I’ve even done work for free in the past, voluntarily. We all have occasion to help someone who needs it every now and then. It’s called charity. This was not the case today.

Now, I’ve made the assumption that you’re doing quality work. Maybe that’s assuming too much. I know of a few folks who work for pennies that are worth pennies. I don’t really know you at all so I can’t comment. Quality isn’t something we as professionals can negotiate. The landowners we deal with should expect that a licensed surveyor will be able to turn out a survey that would close on itself, and represent the actual conditions of the property boundaries. If your surveys don’t do that, you’re cheating your clients.

The best example I have of quality is the difference between the 1-Ply Toilet Paper you find in lots of public bathrooms like Walmart or McDonalds and what you probably buy for your house. I don’t skimp on toilet paper. Quality determines whether you have crap on your hand after use or not.

Bottom line, you are selling yourself short, very short. And, leaving that much money on the table is kind of ignorant. Think about what it’s worth for someone to have a survey of their land. Think a little more highly of your profession, of yourself and your employees.


J. Keith Maxwell, PE, PLS

USA Land Surveyor


J. Keith Maxwell is a professional land surveyor and professional engineer in Alabama. He frequently runs into other surveyors who don’t think their work is worthy of a “living wage.” He also buys top quality toilet paper for he and his guests.