Content Publishing, Controlling Costs, Scaling Profits & Link Bait: Being Small & Competing With Big Fish

Sep 16th

Much in the same way I recently mentioned SEO marketing as being a layered process I tend to view building a long-term profitable website as a layered process. My fundamentals revolve around marketing and SEO of course, but as Google's algorithms get more authority based in nature it is worth taking a look at ways to control content costs while still coming up with ideas that help build up domain authority scores.

In any publishing medium, especially one which encourages crap content, and one where people grade your work in many ways, it usually takes a while to gain enough brand / authority / trust / popularity to be profitable, or you need to create something unique or citation worthy, or you need content of various quality levels to be profitable from the start. On the web your content is graded by people in the following ways

  • being worthy of attention (based on overall and subject related credibility and authority)

  • being worthy of a subscription (generally being worth visiting again, or adding your feed)
  • being worthy of a recommendation (via link, instant message, or email)

Then search engines look at whatever of that information they can interpret to find signal amongst the noise and try to rank pages based on query relevance, naturalness and uniqueness of text, semantic structure, user acceptance, age, naturalness of growth and citation, and outbound linkage.

Because there are so many forms / techniques / types of low quality information, and search is such a profitable targeted advertising vehicle, some search engines (for example, Google) have been placing significant weight on domain related authority to rank pages for specific queries. Put another way, if I published the same article on CNN.com and MySmallWebsite.com the CNN article will win out time and time again.

Small webmasters still can compete, but they must overcome the disadvantage of being small and having limited mindshare, trust, (and typically financial capital). There are many fundamental things you can do to help overcome those disadvantages. Once you overcome those disadvantages you can work your way into a self reinforcing market position which allows you to profit greatly from the work necessary to gain such a position.

Brand & Niche Selection
If a niche is saturated it may be worth it to pick another niche or a subtopic within that niche. One of my biggest failures when I first got on the web is that I wanted to learn everything about search. The problems with that are: Danny Sullivan is an amazing person and with all the hard work he has done it would be ridiculous to try to do something similar starting a decade later, and that niche is way too broad for anyone to do unless they had a team helping them. So I decided to try SEO, and that worked well. Today SEO is so saturated that it would be much harder for me to gain traction today than when I started a few years ago.

Site Design
A professional site design will pay for itself many times over, largely because a professional site design makes average to slightly above average content quality linkworthy.

If all you have is a few hundred dollars spend it on a logo design, and then use a minimalist site design which is color matched to the logo.

Format Your Content so it is Easy to Share & Easy to Change
Using a blog platform such as Wordpress as your content management system makes it easier for other bloggers to identify with you as being similar to them. Using a database driven content management system also makes it easy to change your site design quickly.

It is best if it is easy to change your site design quickly (to test different ad placements, etc.), and to be able to grow out any section that you found interesting and / or highly profitable.

Participate in Communities
Online (and offline, if possible) participate in communities discussing your topic to help create friendships, learn better what people care about in your field, and to help people if you can. If their site is authoritative in nature many people will come across your information published on their site.

You can start building your brand before you even have your site by selecting a username that you later relate to your brand name.

Buy a Bit of Trust
A listing in DMOZ, the Yahoo! Directory, or Business.com might seem expensive at first, but if you get a few trusted links it helps show the search engines that you are serious about business (and it shows them what community you belong to and that a human editor has reviewed your site).

Information Accuracy
Rather than aiming for bland objectivity, it is easy to be remarkable by being more biased and more personable, especially on your feature articles.

Content Quality
Mix your content quality. Try to create a few promotional pieces of content and market the hell out of those, but also leverage that authority to help improve the exposure of other things on your site. Even if your promotional pieces lose money, if you create enough other (hopefully cheap and easy to produce) content riding on the authority of your great content it can work to lower the cost of your higher quality content. Your cheap content can be textually unique but may not need to be conceptually unique. Your promotional content should hopefully be conceptually unique.

If you already have significant mindshare and a highly profitable business model you may want to try to post higher quality stuff most of the time. Posting lower quality information in bulk is more about giving your site a back-fill to aggregate the cost of the higher quality content.

Post about things you care and are passionate about, but if you are still trying to build up authority rather than publish based exclusively on information quality and passion, occasionally publish based on how well you think your ideas may spread.

If you can find a way to make consumers want to help generate your content then to them your content will be of high quality. If they create it they may also want to help market it.

Content Costs
I am using money as a proxy for value input each piece. If you are low on cash you can make up for that by putting in time and effort. Rather than writing 100's of $20 to $50 articles, write 100 or 100's of cheap ones, then spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per good idea. Make sure your best ideas are well executed, bake social elements into their structure, make them look exceptionally legitimate and useful, and make them easy to share.

To control costs, rather than hiring many employees full time it might make sense to try hiring freelance writers off Craigslist and other related sites. Consumer generated content is also a way to maximize the return on expensive content.

Content Targeting
When you are trying to write content use keyword research tools and search forums and other locations for common questions. If you are making up your bulk content make sure you control costs, but still make the content unique and legitimate enough looking to pass an editorial hand check and not undermine your brand value if you are trying to build a real brand.

If there are not any authoritative and relevantly targeted pages ranking for the related search query, and you can make a quality page on the topic which would be easy to cite then try to roll it into a high quality (and perhaps high cost) linkbait which helps lift the authority of the rest of the site. Make sure you target linkbait at specific people who are easy linkers or exceptionally authoritative linkers.

Don't be afraid to send personal targeted emails if you are launching something of high quality. I wrote something amazing and got about 300 links. I wrote something of slightly lower quality and got about 3,000 links. What was the difference? About a half dozen polite emails to friends seeded the second idea and helped spread the second idea much further than the first.

Another good way to make your site more linkable is by regularly linking out to the people who you would want to link at your site.

Social Marketing
If your content is of decent quality submit it to social sites like Del.icio.us, Digg, Netscape, and others. On your linkbait content page place links that make it easy for others to vote for your content, and ask a few friends to vote. Exposure on these social sites will put your content in front of bleeding edge link rich webmasters.

If your linkbait page looks useful, well structured and something worth looking at later many people will bookmark it, especially if it is long enough to look comprehensive and be placed in the this is too much so I will check it out later category.

Also do not forget to spend the 10 minutes it takes to make a topical Squidoo lense.

Use a Proper Title
If you are writing a quick piece of lower quality content then try to be somewhat literal and descriptive in how you title that page. Conversely, if you are writing to try to spread an idea you may want to sacrifice the title a bit if a more controversial title will make the idea spread much further.

Titles matter a lot if you want to create a controversy. Look at magazine covers, meme trackers, meta news sites, and social bookmarking sites for examples of good titles.

Controversy = discussion = links = money.

Information Timeliness
There are so many meta news sites, social bookmarking tools, and meme trackers that in most competitive markets it is going to be a waste of time to try to be the first person with every story unless you have access to insider information OR are able to create your own controversy which allows you to become the story.

You can use these fast acting sources to your advantage too, more on that later though.

Additionally you can create meta posts that strongly agree and strongly disagree with certain AUTHORITATIVE opinions on a topic. If you link at popular narcissistic webmasters eventually some of them will cite you back.

Information Sources
Use and abuse vertical search, social bookmarking, and meta news sites as the resources that they are. Even if they are 50% spam that still leaves a lot of good resources to make your articles look well researched with minimal effort.

The more creative you are with how you search the more stuff you will be able to dig up. For example, search for multiple related phrases, competing URLs, and track early votes for really interesting stories and see what other related stories those people voted for.

Don't forget traditional published books, books in the public domain, government content & research, DVDs, and documentaries. I saw a magazine at an airport for $10 which gave me thousands of dollars worth of content ideas. Their publishing format and information inaccessibility means that people creating a slightly dumbed down version of similar information get to make good money starting their ideas based on the hard work and research purchased for only $10.

Generally the less accessible a piece of information is the easier it is to sound remarkable by citing it or stating something similar on the web :)

Picture Page
Include photos from sites like IStockPhoto or Flickr in your higher quality articles to make them look more legitimate.

What has Worked so Far?
Check your traffic logs to see what articles are the most popular. Install SEO for Firefox and do a site search, or use Yahoo! Site Explorer to look at which of your articles have the most backlinks. Also search for your domain on Del.icio.us to see which of your pages got the most bookmarks.

Syndicate
Writing high quality content articles that are published on other sites is a good way to improve your credibility, link authority, drive targeted traffic, and if your site is new your content on older trusted sites might be more likely to rank to help your brand and ideas gain further exposure.

Monetizing

  • If your site is brand new go lean on the ads until you have some authority. Heavy ads too early = no authority. No authority = no income.

  • When links can be profitable link for conversion from within your content.
  • If you plan on selling ads directly it may make sense to put up a fake ad or two in the sponsors section. After one competitor has bought an ad many companies will feel they need to buy in because the competition already did.
  • Set AdSense as a default monetization model if you do not want to deal with ad sales (or need to get a pricing baseline).
  • Blend the ad colors with your content and place those ads in your content area to make them look like part of the content.
  • Consider factors affecting ad clickthrough rate, and check AdSense ad targeting before you write about a topic.
  • Look at the ads after you write a page. Make sure your page talks about the topics the ads are targeted to or you create other more targeted pages that address the contents of those ads if that makes sense.
  • Check ad clickthrough rate on a per page level and see what keywords are driving your ad clicks. Set up ad channels to test the earnings of different formats or sections of your site. Grow your site based on where the income is coming from. The deeper you want to dive into a topic the more targeted the traffic will be, but remember to keep building your site authority if you are going to build a big site.

The Importance of Viral
From Andrew Goodman:

Some well-funded companies with strong business development plans are able to negotiate means of driving underpriced traffic to a site, while selling listings at a higher price (this is why all the kerfuffle about "click arbitrage" seems to be overblown: many businesses have grown through "click arbitrage" and continue to be built around it).

In the past, quite a few companies were built up quickly simply through the grace of free mass organic Google referrals. As spaces get cluttered and large media companies spend in multiple channels in order to indirectly maintain their organic lead, this gets harder to achieve for a startup unless something goes a bit viral.

Thus if many of the current successes launched today with their current model they would not be citation worthy enough to earn their current market position.

What Did I Miss?
Any other tips we should add?

Published: September 16, 2006

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Comments

David
September 17, 2006 - 6:04am

Thank you Aaron. More Strategy and Tactics...I love it.

September 17, 2006 - 8:03am

Love watching your progress Aaron, and agree with your comments about content 100 percent. That's precisely why it's often cheaper (in the scheme of things) to actually shell out for a decent copywriter. Paying for good content is a powerful investment in your site, and where in the real world could you make a significant investment for a couple of thousand bucks?

Best,
Patricia.

mblair
September 17, 2006 - 10:16am

How about:

- Try to make at least one unique contribution to the topic, so that you are providing a resource that is valuable to members of the community. Such a contribution might be as simple as organizing existing information in a more useful way. To get ideas, you could look across other topical communities and see if you can spot any unique resources that may be a boon for the community that you are immersing yourself in.

- Look for ways to assist the operators of valued and respected sites within the community. Try to put together mutually beneficial cross-promotions, cobranded content, or other shared activities that. Don’t forget that behind every website, there are people and that the strongest marketing you can do may be to build genuine relationships with significant players in your field.

September 18, 2006 - 5:41pm

Wow, that's one hell of an entry. I read every day, and sometime, and it's getting more and more regular, you're adding great posts.

I just wish I was being as good as you at adding more unique content to my blog. I'll be bookmarking this one and refering back a lot.

Cheers Aaron

Debra
September 19, 2006 - 3:45am

Competition -- You might have sold me if a MAJOR headline on the first webpage I was directed to hadn't had the word COMPETITION misspelled! How extremely unprofessional; sure, business major types don't have a lot of time, but please, spellcheck on a headline is just good sense! Wish I could sign up, but you lost my confidence right away. I would have emailed you privately about this, but couldn't find a way to do so. You really should fix that.

September 19, 2006 - 2:56pm

Another great post Aaron. For me, the social aspect is really important. Sure, other things are just as big, but there is nothing like word of mouth promotion. Sometimes I feel like I am right on with my content, but I have to be so vague about what I say because of client protection that I fall short with backing it up and that has to be hurting me. I need to find a happy medium to not be so vague….
:(

September 19, 2006 - 6:45pm

Monetizing:
It seems that your focus there was on selling ads. That suprises me from you Aaron who has no ads on this site and only sell one highly niche product - SEO Book e-book.

For monetization, I'd mention a number of other ways to generate revenue from your site:
1. Selling a product or portfolio of products.
2. Selling services. Ie. Consulting in your area of expertise.
3. Selling 'Listings'.
4. Selling revenue - commission based advertising.
5. Selling subscriptions to valuable information.

Keep up the great work Aaron.

September 20, 2006 - 3:41pm

Hi Aaron,

Are you planning to add information on latent semantic indexing and internal linking in your updated version of seobook? I am sure you have seen the videos produced by Brad Fallon and Andy and the big noisy they are making with their new "network" technique. Mostly how they are using internal linking to get higher PR and theme to their sites.

I am sure you know exactly what they are doing and how they are doing it. Can you show us the technique on your ebook so we do not have to buy or join in their "network" that apparantly will be very expensive to join.

Thanks

September 20, 2006 - 4:11pm

Well done Aaron, I liked your new seo tool ( firefox extension)
Be unique, get first and offer it for free.

September 20, 2006 - 4:12pm

Hi Dave
Yeah...good call on monetizing. I was mostly focused on automation and scalability, that is why the post sorta talked AdSense and establishing baselines.

Hi Manuel
My book already briefly discusses latent semantic indexing. This is about all you need to know about the topic. Or if you are passionate about learning it well this is a cool research paper that discusses LSI in plain English.

You do not create PageRank just by linking internally the five major things you can do with internal linkage are:

  • Actively guide users to increase conversion rates. See also: linking for conversion.
  • Help theme related pages
  • Use different anchor text variations to help the pages rank for different related topics
  • Distribute more of your site's link authority to the most important pages.
  • Increase the ratio of internal to external links...thus flowing more of the PageRank you have internal to the site. Please note that I still like linking to external resources from within the content as I think that adds value and linkability to your pages and some search engines may like it as well.

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