Today I received an email from reader Chad:
I read your Q&A post. Thanks for taking the time to really think about our questions and giving us your honest answers. If you’re taking in suggestions for your next blog post, I have one for you. There are so many SEO tips from so-called “experts” and pretty much all of them talk like theirs is the most effective way. I don’t know who to believe anymore! Since I trust you, what are some SEO techniques you used that worked? Thanks and great job Dan! Your content means a lot to aspiring entrepreneurs like myself. – Chad – TuringanDesigns.com
Thanks Chad. Although nobody really thinks I know what I’m talking about when it comes to SEO (for good reason!), it has played a central role in my business for the last 4 years. I currently have 2 smart guys who work for us full time doing SEO and SEM. That’s the best qualification I’ve got. Even if my approaches are sub-par, they are creating a return on investment.
There are a bunch of reasons why SEO talk is confusing. It’s tough to isolate variables and duplicate conditions on the web. I often find legit experts having to speculate about the cause of ranking changes. Even at the top level there is no shortage of shoulder shrugging.
I don’t read much about SEO anymore so I can’t suggest many good resources. The best way to learn is to have a live site that you are trying to rank. If you don’t have a site you are trying to rank, don’t bother learning SEO. Once you get a site and identify a product, make sure they are worth ranking for (love the product and make sure it’s expensive!), because it’s probably going to take you a while.
You should know that I don’t play in any premium niches. I’ve never attempted to rank for weight loss, make money online, gambling, or similar. My knowledge is ranking for middle-competition industrial and consumer niches.
In the list below, I was careful to only discuss approaches that have actually made us money. My tactics might not be cutting edge, “correct,” or even applicable to your business. They just worked, and hopefully you can learn something from that.
1) Not starting niche businesses on SEO opportunities.
I hear a surprising amont of people, both in blogs and in person, talk about starting a business based on keyword research alone. I have no doubt it works on occasion, but I wouldn’t adopt this strategy. Take the opposite approach– identify a compelling product or service that you feel you can sell, and then search for clever ways to get exposure for it in the search engines. This way is more likely to succeed in my experience. Product conception first, keyword research second.
If you find yourself drawn to identifying profitable, undervalued, or underserved key term markets, you should consider building a business that does that alone (see: AdsenseFlippers.com). SEO is a long term battle fought on many fronts. You’ll want a compelling reason to keep at it.
I have never selected to get in to a business solely because it was an attractive key term market. We’ve always had some other reason to be in the marketplace. Generally, we’ve thought that we could provide better products or services. We have, however, disqualified many business opportunities due to intense search competition.
2) Knowing the basics well and working hard.
I often point people to SEOMoz’s guide for beginners. There’s a bunch of basic concepts you need to have a handle on. You don’t want to be lost when people are tossing around “PR,” “SEPRs,” “301s,” “SEM,” “anchor text,” and “orphan pages.” If you know the fundamentals, and you work a lot, you’ll find winners.
Try focusing on the aspects of SEO work that you excel at. Dave Huss is great at analytics, so he focuses a lot of energy on buying traffic to test potential key term markets. David Hehenberger excels at site technology and infrastructure. He builds sites fast and can scale whole networks in a few weeks. I was always good at generating content, so I would focus on viral startegies and long-tail spreadfire approaches. No need to do it all, there’s plenty of opportunities where your talents are.
3) Buying links.
Buying links works really well. It’s also dangerous. All the more reason to love it! People have been telling me this for years and we never got in to it. It’s tough to get up to speed because people don’t want to talk about it much. I don’t blame them. There is a lot of risk here.
In the past we only bought links in benign ways– like paying people to write a bunch of articles and then posting them to useless directories.
The hard part of buying links is figuring out how and where to buy them from, and managing your risk when you do so. You probably don’t want to take one of your more established sites and start pumping a bunch of paid links towards it. I’m just learning about buying links and I don’t want to get in too much hot water by saying stuff that could hurt others. If you want to know more or you do this stuff, best to join us in the private forums or email me.
4) Creating sticky content for big sites.
Back in the day, Ian and I made a PDF guide with some really cool photos, lots of jokes, and useful information for a huge blog in the auto industry. When they published our PDF guide, it ended up getting re-blogged over 40 times. Those links from years ago continue to prop up some of our money generating sites.
5) Create tons of content and a huge site footprint.
A few years ago I took a site that was getting 400 unique visitors a month, and scaled it up to 10,000 monthly uniques in about a year. It wasn’t an interesting topic either. I took a look at my business partner’s assets. They had a great portfolio of proprietary photography. I think they had about 1000+ unique images.
I decided we’d take a spreadfire approach. Our site would have a huge footprint and pick up traffic from a broad range of searches. I made sure we used a site platform that scaled well– in this case Drupal. I was looking to diversify the photos and text descriptions to as many 3-4 word key phrases as possible. I didn’t bother to do research, there were too many. I just came up with phrases off the top of my head.
I often used the same photo 3-4 times, sometimes slightly alter it (crop, etc), and change the header tags, IMG tags, and body text. Within a few months a site that had 25 pages had 1500. The resulting traffic was easily worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company. I also made sure I put up new content on our sites weekly going forward, something Google continues to reward.
Another thing– on your money pages, all things being equal, the more content the merrier. Put 2,000+ word articles on the pages you want to rank. Make them awesome. Link to the best stuff. Have great pictures, research, and clear copy. It works!
6) Avoiding SEO guys and building in-house competence.
Those are the guys who are confusing you. I’m all about hiring SEO services. Supremacy SEO, Build my Rank, SEOMoz premium, and many others– I’ve probably bought, used, and benefitted from over 40 premium SEO services and tools (a post for another day!).
It’s important that the understanding of how your products get noticed by the market is knowledge that is baked into the fabric of your company. It’s even more important because the knowledge you pick up via your SEO efforts should define your product roadmap. If you let it to the consultants, they are less likely to make those kinds of critical connections.
7) Focusing on the non-organic parts of the search results.
If you take a look above the fold at many SERPs these days, you’ll see images, videos, Adwords, maps, products, and pretty much anything but organic rankings. We spend a ton of our energy trying to show up there. Going for #1 is great, but when you are getting started, go for everything. Get aggressive about Youtube videos, Google product feeds, Adwords (be careful!), Google Maps, Places, and anything else you can get your hands on.
We have a handful of sites that make good money that don’t show up anywhere on the first page of Google. They make money because we’ve got good products, good on-site content, and a ton of hustle. Someday we’ll get to the first page (maybe with the help of some experts!), and when we do, it’ll all be gravy.
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