Anyone who writes a regular blog knows about writers block. But no matter how much time you spend staring at that blank page, the article just never writes itself.
So how do you overcome writers block?
Here are a few tips.
It's not that there aren't plenty of topics to write about, the problem is we often feel we need to say something new. The reality is that not much is genuinely new. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.
Instead, try and find new angles on old ideas.
One good way of doing this is to combine two topics. For example, if you know a lot about SEO, apply this knowledge to a more conventional topic, like, say "How To Innovate" The article then becomes "How To Innovate In The SEO Business". Not rocket science - or a particularly new angle for that matter - but combining two tried-n-true topics can create something new.
2. Just Write
Often called free-writing, there's a lot to be said for just making a start.
Think of a question - any question at all - and start writing about it. Don't worry if your produce gibberish, the aim is to get rid of that blank page.
Introduce an SEO twist by going through your keyword logs. Find any keywords phrased as a question, and free- write about that keyword. Put the keyword phrases into Google's Keyword Research Tool, and see what word associations, and other questions, come up.
I'm getting self-reflexive and post-modern here, but that's how this article started. I'm rewriting this article from a page of utter gibberish. Hopefully I'm making slightly more sense now.
3. Go For A Walk
One daily habit I've got into recently - and I can't recommend it enough - is to go for a walk. There's something about exercise, and being away from a computer, that clears your thinking processes. Try it for a few days and see if you notice the difference.
I'd be really interested to hear if your experience has been the same as mine.
Well, not really.
Creatively borrow :)
There isn't much that is genuinely new in this world, and there is even less new in the field of marketing theory. I loved the book "The Purple Cow", but really, it's a new spin on an old topic - having a unique selling point.
A lot of the books I've been reading recently have a "sameness" about them. That's because a lot of marketing books rehash old theory using new terminology.
But hey - why not join them! What's old to you might be new to someone else. And if you can put your ideas in a contemporary setting, then that will bring something new to the table. Grab some old books or magazines and rewrite articles. Bring them up to date. Put them in a new context. Redefine terms. Add a new spin. Do some keyword research on the key themes and integrate.
The good thing about writing from existing pieces is that you get over the blank page effect. You're already starting from a finished piece. Your job is to rewrite, expand, take it into new territories, respin and create something new.
5. Chunk It
Chunking is a method of writing where you split concepts into small pieces.
Create bullet-point lists of things you want to say - write the conclusion first
Write a paragraph of one sentence under each heading
Can you scan the document and understand it?
Although sparse, the article is complete in terms of structure. You then dress up the bare bones by expanding the sentences under the headings, thus turning them into fully formed paragraphs.
6. Write Something Unrelated
Ever get the feeling that everything that can be said about SEO has been said already?
It's not true, of course, but it feels that way sometimes.
Try researching and writing about a completely different topic area. You might not publish the piece, but by immersing yourself in new areas and concepts, you might gain new insights on your chosen field.
Unfortunately, the SEO niche has become an echo chamber, so try to read outside the area of SEO as much as you can. How about looking at areas such as future gazing, trends, history, economics, business, politics or personal development? Can you relate any of these fields back to SEO and marketing?
7. Don't Write At All
A lot of people feel the need to publish, even when they have nothing to say.
You often see this on blogs. Some arbitrary decision has been made that the writer must make one post a day, or must Twitter five times a day, or else, or else....
....or else what?
People will leave and never come back?
No one is that important.
I think it's more likely that readers will appreciate something that is worth their time reading. Time is a scarce thing, so I don't think writers do readers any favours by churning out, well, typing. Sure, the golden rule of blogging is to keep a blog regularly updated. A good thing, if you can manage it. But this can create a pressure to churn something - anything - out. The reality is that few people can write killer pieces each and everyday.
So rather than write something substandard because you're not really feeling like it, why not just do something else instead.
I'd be interested to hear your strategies for beating writers block.
If a person is a public SEO and their only gig is writing a blog about SEO (and selling client services to newbies) then it can be quite easy to share and not care. If they destroy a technique or someone else's business to earn a bit of attention who cares? They got the attention, and that can be converted into currency as herds of newbies flock to where the crowd and controversy are.
Which is why some of the sleaziest SEOs publicly promote SEO outing.
They understand that justifying their own business actions helps to legitimize them, even if they are hypocritical scumbags who use their blog to threaten and bully around people with a smaller platform. If you are doing effective SEO but are not paying them on retainer look for them to go out of their way to try to out you and harm your business.
Real SEO Professionals
But if a significant portion of your revenues comes from affiliate and/or ad driven sites which just happen to be ran by SEOs (which Google generally hate, in spite of some claims to the contrary) the care with which you give out information increases. And competition is not always above board.
Business Can Be Dirty
About a month ago a person contacting me about how they were an honest Joe wanted more tips from me, and about a week earlier I noticed that the same person stole something from one of my sites and was trying to compete directly against me using my own content!!!
About a year ago a "friend" claimed he wanted to invest in some of our businesses. He came up with an offer, got most of our information about some of our business ideas, grabbed a hold of some of our business relationships, and is now creating a similar business model competing head on. He claims that his capital was illiquid as for why he did not complete the deal, but he does not realize I know how much he spent on some other assets at the time. And a case of inadequate resources is never an adequate excuse when the person who approaches you names their offer price. They burned 100% of the trust I had in them to the ground. How could I ever trust them again?
A couple years ago one of my sites got dinged with a penalty. While that penalty was in play, another "friend" working on building other businesses told a friend of mine "clone Aaron's site," not expecting that sleazy advice would come back to me.
I think about a week ago someone asked me a blog comment along the lines of "what affiliate offers should I promote right now."
At that level the person...
is not a paying customer
is valuing my time at nothing
is trying to take away time I could spend servicing our paying customers (or attention I could spend promoting our other money making sites)
AND they want me to give them advice which would increase the competition we faced in our other publishing projects, sacrificing our future revenues
When I wanted to be well known there was value to popularity, but the people who are paying you $0 for your time AND who are asking specific specialized questions about what you are doing are only going to harm your business interests. And so you must say no thanks to answering those types of questions.
Real SEOs Become Guarded - or go Bankrupt!
After a few years of being constantly screwed over by a bunch of snakes and liars you simply decide to share less. Either you do that, or you are simply commoditizing the value of your own time (past/present/future) with each advanced tip you share publicly. Who wants to work harder to lower their current (and future) wages?
The internet marketing field is branded in part as being sleazy largely because a huge segment of the marketplace is. Even if 90% of PPC affiliate marketers were honest, the sleaziest 10% of the market will get 90%+ of the ad impressions because they are willing to go the extra mile to promote scams, bundle reverse billing fraud, use fake celebrity endorsements, create fake brands, etc. Given that search engines are willing to compete against their top advertisers and ad networks are how many internet marketers make their money, it is quite hard to build a sustainable business model unless you create and sell your own products.
Free Specific SEO Advice Worth Thousands of Dollars
Here is a ranking chart...let me tell you how to boost rankings for a site from nowhere to in the game on a bunch of keywords for only a few hundred bucks.
Well if I actually did that, it would just get burned to the ground.
Real SEO Goes Underground
Lots of other smart people have came to the same conclusions, which is why SEO has gone back underground. Yes some of the public information is decent, but more and more misinformation and hype are polluting the industry.
It is just like people writing about social media, but giving you a half-truth about how it organically spreads rather than mentioning what they really do to seed it...and where one rats out the next while selling himself to the highest bidder. As the market matures and SEO returns go from x hundred/thousand percent to y percent you can only expect competitors to act sleazier to gain any competitive advantage they can. After all, who wants to go back to having a regular old job?
What is the purpose of that new page you're adding to your site?
Is it to rank highly for a keyword term? That's half the battle won, of course :)
After the visitor has arrived on your page, what do you want the visitor to do next?
According to Seth Godin, you probably want a visitor to do one of five things:
Click to go to another page on your site
Register for something
Click on/view advertising
Pass your message on to a friend
So, if you build a landing page, and you're going to invest time and money to get people to visit it, it makes sense to optimize that page to accomplish just one of the things above. Perhaps two, but no more.
Keep that desired action firmly in mind when you design and optimize your pages. The first rule of optimization is to optimize for humans. Ranking a page, only to have visitors click away, is a waste of time and effort.
Optimize For Focus
In the SEOBook Forums, we offer site reviews as a service to members.
We often see sites where it isn't clear what they visitor needs to do. This is usually caused by too many options presented on one page. By trying to please all audiences, we often end up pleasing nobody.
Decide the key action you want people to take, and relegate all other options. Either move some options to a different page, or reduce the visual weight of other options relative to the main action you want a visitor to take.
Here's a great example of a site where the one key action is in clear focus: DailyBurn.com
An exception to this rule is when the user is very familiar with the site. A lack of options often means too many clicks to get things done. However, if your page is focused on the first time searcher, then simplicity and clarity is the way to go.
Do you know where people's eyes focus when they land on your site?
Check out this tool at FenGui. The tool tries to work out how people will visually scan your site. Some web statistics packages, such as Google Analytics and ClickTracks, provide visual click tracking based on user activity.
Before deciding on a template for your site, it is a good idea to test out your ideas using PPC. Knock up a few different designs, run a short campaign and use split/run testing to determine which page layout result in the user taking the desired action most often. Armed with this information, you're less likely to waste time in your SEO campaign.
There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to web design, because each element you add will affect what is already there. Or not there.
However, a few factors remain constant:
The eye will be attracted to color blocks
The eye will be attracted to human faces or forms
Whitespace promotes readability - keep paragraphs short, use headings and bulletpoints
Make sure all visual elements underscore the desired action.
Where Web Design/ SEO Often Goes Wrong
The success of a page should be measured by one criteria:
Does the visitor do what you want them to do?
Often, other criteria will blur this vision. For example, a designer who is more interested in winning awards than ensuring your pages do what they should, may make a page pretty, but sometimes pretty doesn't result in a desired action. An SEO can sometimes be overzealous in terms of keyword usage, which can result in dense text and odd-phrasing, which has the potential to put visitors off.
There is little point putting a lot of effort into attracting visitors if they don't do what you want them to do.
A Word About Adsense
Positioning of adsense can be the difference between making pocketmoney and making a living. Look at Adsense as a visual element, as opposed to a block of text. Typography and text layout are design elements, every bit as much as graphics.
Are your eyes drawn to Adsense as you scan the page? If not, you may need to tone down other visual display elements, including color, to make Adsense Ads stand out. If Adsense is the way you monetize, the desired user action is the click. Are other elements on your page, be they links or graphics, competing for that click?
In April a web designer who came across our site gave me the following feedback "I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked."
To which I replied "...and yet I rank page 1 in Google for SEO. Who cares about valid code? Not me. And not Google. Oh well."
Imagine the paradox in the mind of a self-important web designer seeing high ranking sites that did not have perfect HTML. All he can do is lash out like a confused injured animal...as though he knew SEO and both I and Google were wrong.
Validation = Who Cares?
But looking at things in practical terms...
Question: What is validation?
Answer: How web designers try to justify over-charging for their work + pat each other on the back.
If you are a web designer (and/or want links from pretentious web designers) then validation is a great idea...it is core to the group circle-jerk amongst cool web designers. But for everyone else, it generally doesn't matter.
One of the best ways to improve search relevancy is to use more data. But a September 2006 test by a Google engineer named Ian Hickson across billions of web pages showed that 93% of the pages did not use valid code. If valid code was rewarded by the algorithms (or invalid code was heavily penalized) then spammers would just use valid code, while search engines returned inferior search results because most quality websites do not validate. Google's Matt Cutts wrote:
Fellow Googler Ian Hickson contacted me with more recent numbers from a September 2006 survey that he did of several billion pages. Ian found the number of pages to be 78% if you ignore the two least critical errors, and 93% if you include those two errors. There isn’t a published report right now, but Ian has given those numbers out in public e-mail, so he said it was fine to mention the percentages.
These numbers pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the “Only return pages that are strictly correct” argument, because there wouldn’t be that many pages to work with. :) That said, if you can design and write your HTML code so that it’s well-formed and validates, it’s always a good habit to do so.
If I am paying a designer to make a custom web design for my site then I will demand clean code (in part so I can use it to score links from designers who care about that), but the truth is most sites do not validate. And few need to. Google doesn't, and they seem to be doing just fine.
When Web Design Has No Value
If a beautiful design gets no exposure then it has no value.
Traffic = opportunity.
No traffic = no opportunity.
When Web Design Has Value
If you have a big public relations driven launch then of course it makes sense to start off with a beautiful design. But most entrepreneurs can start out ugly and invest once capital starts rolling in. It worked for Google. And it worked for me. ;)
Once you have decent exposure great design can be worth a lot of money because it helps build trust, and increases your visitor value...allowing you to pay more for traffic and sell your products + services at a higher price point. But most small business sites can succeed with an average design and still be functional enough to get market feedback, sell stuff, build a customer base, and build a real business from. Eventually it might make sense to get a strong design, but if budget is limited then there are a ton of affordable starter options to bypass the costs of custom web design work.
Bootstrapped Design on the Cheap
The logo at the top of this page cost $99 about 5 years ago. When I color-matched the design to it this site was only moderately ugly. And the original site design we used was unbelievably ugly. Today the market is much more sophisticated with DIY design options.
What ***really*** annoys me about the arrogance of the web designers like the one quoted above is how they can know absolutely nothing about SEO and then claim that valid code is the key to SEO. It is a bogus lie used to promote their own trade at the expense of their clients.
Sure websites can have major issues that prevent a site from ranking. BUT the SEO is not just in the code. The whole reason Google was able to gain marketshare so fast was because they did sophisticated link analysis. If you are in a competitive market you need links to compete. Simple as that.
In 2004 I remember a web design firm quoting a new launching auto insurance firm (which wanted to buy SEO services) a design for $10,000 and then claiming that "the SEO was in the code" ... as though somehow there was no need for a link building/buying budget. The equivalently dishonest marketing angle would be an SEO grabbing a set of free web templates to go along with their SEO services and claim that everyone gets a free original professional custom website design as part of their SEO package.
Sure that was 2004 & that web design company was not as well known as it is today. And the above guy was just 1 random guy, so who cares, right? Well what annoyed me enough to make me write this post was seeing a recent copy of Web Designer magazine that my wife bought.
2009 Web Designer Magazine
In the top left of the magazine they advertise "TOP SEO TECHNIQUES"
And The Magazine Advertises SEO Circa 1998!!!
Their "top five tips for tackling SEO" include
Choose one main keyword per page
Increase the Keyword Density for each page
HTML tags emphasis your keywords
Include meta tags in your website
Submit your website to major search engines
No mention of links. Why? The guy who wrote the article works for a company that has a business model built around offering cheap + useless services that scale - like keyword density analysis and search engine submission. I could do the same thing if I wanted to be a dishonest piece of trash, but I chose not to.
The article mentions some shoddy survey, that you can use their tools, and that "From only £100 a year, a company can implement a solution that will ensure much-improved rankings." They also flat out lied with this gem "Search engines expect the keyword or phrase on each webpage to make up six-to-ten percent of its content."
Equally Bad Website Design Tips
To apply the equivalent sort of advice to web design I would have to write truly useless design tips like
set a large web design budget upwards of £100 a year
spend ~ 100% of that budget by paying a designer to download an open source design they just got free
if the site design fits your business then perfect
if the site design looks ugly then it will stand out even more
customers expect 6 to 10 percent of your text to be in a red marquee with a speed setting of 5
Many Web Designers Kick Ass
A lot of our best customers in our community are former web designers who got started doing design, but care about the success of their customers and began moving themselves up the value chain by offering web designs that come with real SEO services.
When I was sitting in jury selection one potential juror did not feel it was fair that the DA had to prove guilt. She presumed guilt based simply on accusation, without any other facts.
Most people are ignorant to the sausage-like nature of media, the corruption that is core to large centralized governments, and the fraudulent private banking interests that skim off the top of every transaction and enslave society in debt. We are trained to be ignorant consumers who trust authority. How else could you justify virtually nobody caring about bankers & politicians robbing trillions of Dollars from the country while budget constraints are forcing some local sheriffs to call in the national guard for security. The head of the Federal Reserve put in a half-trillion Dollar short on the US Dollar to aid foreign central banks (at our expense) and yet nobody cares! Steal from the semi-rich, middle class, poor, super-poor, unborn, etc. and give to the super rich. Let them have another round of casino capitalism until the country is bankrupt.
If you ever want to sell anything, then people trusting you and seeing you as an authority makes sales far easier. Back when I sold a how to SEO ebook there was a month where Google rolled in a filter that whacked some branded sites from ranking for their brand. Even though our site was selling an SEO how to book ***while not ranking*** our sales that month were still 85% of the record month. Because the site had so much perceived authority it developed distribution channels outside of search strong enough to sell even when the rankings made the site look like it was (at least temporarily) lacking in credibility.
Think of how the vast majority of searchers click on the top few listings in the search results. That is because perceived relevancy and authority. Even if you most the most relevant result down the page, many people will still click the first listing because of the perceived authority of that ranking position.
Many of the quality links that can't be easily replicated and are actually organic only come about after you are established as an authority. I just got referenced on the Network Solutions blog in passing...no way those types of links happen unless you already have lots of established exposure and perceived authority. But how do you develop it?
Recently I saw Barry Ritholtz mentioned that he was selling video recordings of a conference he put on for only $69, and some of the people who commented on his site wrote garbage like this:
These people have enough capital to try to trade the markets, but spending $69 for one of the most in depth and most current pieces of information about their livelihood is completely out of the question. Imagine having the gall to register on someone's site to leave a comment like "where can we steal your work from."
And yet this is normal (and expected) behavior on the web, even in fields directly connected money / finance / investing!!!
Every day I get some non-customers who acts that way as well. The noise does wear you down, and it really does highlight the problems with free. When some people get hooked on free they have no end to the demands, and no respect or appreciation for the work.
I personally handle all customer correspondence, which is why I recently had to increase prices to slow down our rate of growth. I am only 1 person. Customers rarely wait as long as a day for a response. This guy never sent in 3 requests, was rude and demanding and demeaning, is not even a paying customer, and expects free phone support for software worth hundreds of dollars that we give away for free.
Why would I care if that guy used our tools for free? Since he is rude I hope he can't use them, such that any competent competitor interested in SEO has a competitive advantage over him. And that guy's rudeness shows that he probably lacks the social skills to be successful on a large distributed social network.
When you chose your customers you are picking how much you will enjoy your job.
There are a lot of potential bad customers like that, and you don't even want to suggest they become a paying customer. The only ways to handle people that are that rude are to either ignore them or tell them off to let them know they are not welcome in your business. If you play nice with a person that treats you like a doormat then it will only get worse in time.
The person who needs a lot of support BEFORE becoming a paying customer rarely becomes a profitable long-term customer. The person who needs a price break today expects a larger one tomorrow. They keep squeezing margins until you are a commodity and the model no longer works. It is just a path to self destruction because if you cater to such people you do not raise them up to your level, you lower yourself down to their level.
This reminds me of an important business lesson from a Dan Kennedy book called The Ultimate Success Secret that a great friend recommended I read about a year ago.
When I first started in the "success education business," one of the few people in the country who was consistently effective at selling self-improvement audiocassette programs direct, face-to-face to executives and salespeople, gave me what turned out to be very, very good advice - he said: "Don't waste your time trying to sell these materials to the people who need it the most. They won't buy it. You should focus on selling to successful people who want to get even better."
Over the years, I've demonstrated the validity of this to myself a number of different ways. And I've developed an explanation for it. There is what I now call "the self-esteem Catch-22 loop" at work here: in order for a person to invest directly in himself, which is what buying self-improvement materials is, he has to place value on himself, i.e. have high self-esteem, but if he has such high self-esteem, he is probably already doing well and does not have a critical need for this type of information; he will get marginal improvement out of it; but the person who needs it most does not place much value on himself, i.e. has relatively low self-esteem, which prohibits him from buying, believing in or using self-improvement materials.
I used to be all about making everything (or as much as possible) free because I liked helping people, but really most people won't act on advice or respect it much unless they pay for it. Human nature is what it is, and there is no point fighting it. ;)
At some point we may need to test moving from offering any tools for free to making everything paid just to filter out that noise. Such a move would likely cost us exposure, but most of that exposure is not leading to any tangible business anyhow.
Anytime any of these words are in the name of an informational product or software tool you can be 99%+ certain it is a scam:
plug and play
Social Power Words
if your not sure what it does then its not worth buying.
the quality of the product is often inversely related to the number of products the vendor has on the market.
the quality of the product is often inversely proportional to the number of people who email you about it.
Why write blog posts like this one?
Our Support.seobook.com tickets often get filled up by people who bought some scammy products from some hyped up marketer (who we have nothing to do with) and beg us for refunds. I figure if I write a few more posts on topics like this maybe I will get a few less of those support requests from people who bought garbage from someone else.
Well they got that link because they were the best site out there. That was organic. It is a naive view of marketing to assume that if you are the best people will notice you and people will care. It is not enough to be the best...you need others to say that you are. If anything the web is making most people more driven by self interest - rather than lending a helping hand.
Worse yet, due to the anonymous nature of the web (and other automated technologies), we are bombarded with every type of spam imaginable (auto-dial telemarketing, fakevertising, reverse billing fraud, phishing, bait & switch marketing, etc etc etc) and the people who have distribution are gaining a predisposition that if you contact them out of the blue with anything commercial you are a spammer. Further tools like Twitter pull links off the web graph and make conversations more shallow, limiting the discussion of many complex topics.
Affiliate programs are great for distribution (and whoring fake reviews), but most good affiliates typically target brands that already have their own gravity around them.
Even if you make someone millions of dollars they typically don't want to give a testimonial because they are afraid of creating competition for themselves.
The site has a range of options for letting your company or organization know that you want it to “Go Google,” including things like fliers and pre-populated emails to send out.
And Google is also promising to give away “goodies” each week in August to users who have Gone Google and fill out a Google Doc describing their experience.
Eventually the goal of many forms of marketing is to create something that has enough targeted awareness that it begins to market itself. To become synonymous with a field. Kleenex & Xerox are great examples. But you have to use push marketing, begging, bribery, ass kissing, capital, sweat, blood, luck, and a bit talent to get in that type of position.
You can't be a successful market maker without first being a market manipulator. And even when you get to the top of a market you still have to try to control market perceptions. To get a refund for an Apple iPod that literally blows up you need to sign a confidentiality agreement:
The letter also stated that, in accepting the money, Mr Stanborough was to “agree that you will keep the terms and existence of this settlement agreement completely confidential”, and that any breach of confidentiality “may result in Apple seeking injunctive relief, damages and legal costs against the defaulting persons or parties”.
In spite of their strong market positions, Apple and Google are still heavily focused on manipulating public opinion of their products.
And Google's CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board to avail himself of key information. He sat on that board as Google attempted to clone the iPhone with Gphone, and stayed on it until his company pushed the FCC to go after Apple for blocking the Google Voice app: "Google brought down the disapproving scrutiny of the FCC onto Apple on Friday night, and on Monday morning Schmidt resigned. It is difficult not to make a connection between these two events."
And while Google paints the media as trustworthy, it rarely is. The news corporations do business deals to engage in cross-censorship in an attempt to increase short term corporate profits:
GE is using its control of NBC and MSNBC to ensure that there is no more reporting by Fox of its business activities in Iran or other embarrassing corporate activities, while News Corp. is ensuring that the lies spewed regularly by its top-rated commodity on Fox News are no longer reported by MSNBC. You don't have to agree with the reader's view of the value of this reporting to be highly disturbed that it is being censored.
One of the biggest flaws with the field of SEO is the presumption some people have that there is only 1 right way to do things, everything should be free, marketing should be entirely organic, you have to keep it all above board or you risk losing everything, and other BS pitched by companies trying to minimize and regulate the field.
The bigger risk for most businesses is being too conservative and thus remaining obscure, unknown, and unprofitable.
Get links from other sites with keywords in the link
These days, this strategy isn't working as well as it used to.
If a site isn't genuinely interesting and isn't worth remarking upon, it can be difficult to get links, attention and rankings.
These are essentially marketing problems.
By basing our SEO strategy on fundamental marketing principles, we stand a much better chance of dominating the rankings, no matter what niche we choose to target.
This document is intended for those who know basic SEO principles, but are new to marketing concepts and theory.
If you're new to SEO, there are helpful tips throughout the document, and links to further instruction on SEOBook.com.
Principles That Form The Foundation Of This Strategy
1. Market Analysis
2. Competitive Review
In the past, marketing was a last-minute ad on.
A company knocked out a product, then it was handed over the wall to marketing, whose job it was to get the product out into the market. Marketing put a colorful picture on the box, commissioned a jingle, and bought up millions of dollars worth of media time.
These days, marketing is more integrated. A product or service is designed with a clear audience in mind, although many SEOs might disagree, especially when asked to bolt an SEO strategy onto a Flash site consisting entirely of animation!
The internet offers us the opportunity to design with a clear audience in mind, but with a lot less risk than brick-n-mortar companies.
We can figure out if there is a market, and what that market demands, test that market, and then build a site to cater to that market. We can do this quickly and cheaply, using the power of search marketing.
Find Clear Space & Consumer Demand
Like SEO, marketing is part art, part science. Even if you cover the technical aspects of SEO, there is no guarantee you will rank well. Likewise, if you follow a marketing strategy, there is no guarantee of making money.
The trick is to find a place in the market that has two key aspects: clear space and consumer demand.
How do we find these places in the market?
Let's start with a basic marketing analysis.
Perform Market Analysis
Ask yourself three questions:
What does the consumer need?
How many consumer need this product/service?
What is the buying process?
You must fill a genuine need in the market.
Is there demand? It's no good trying to sell something, be it a good, service or opinion, if there is no demand for it. For example, do you know why most blogs don't get read? It is because there is a very limited demand for opinions from unknown writers. Demand is spread very thinly across the opinion/news space, and supply is virtually infinite.
How do you find out if there is a demand for your idea?
The SEO has a valuable tool at his/her disposal for determining demand. Keyword research involves mining databases of previously searched for keyword terms to see if there are existing traffic streams (demand) they can tap into. Any volume of keyword searches indicates demand. Generally speaking, the higher the search volume, the greater the demand, although there are traps, which we'll get to shortly.
The SEO undertakes keyword research and finds there are a lot of searches for Britney Spears pictures.
It turns out that there are approximately 135,000 searches for Britney Spears pictures each month.
Our first two questions - "What does the consumer need? (Britney pictures)" and "How many consumer need this product/service? (lots!)" - appear to be answered. So the SEO licenses a collection of Britney pictures, sets up a site that charges a small membership fee, and ranks well for Britney related keyword terms.
And fails to make any money.
There are various reasons, but the main reason is that the SEO failed to ask "what is the buy process?" Conventional SEO-led strategies often fail to include this step, however it is crucial if your site is to succeed.
The buy process is, as the name suggests, the steps a person takes when they are interested in buying something. Had the SEO examined the buy process, she would have realized people don't pay for Britney pictures online. Granted, this example is a little silly, but this problem occurs often, especially when search traffic is viewed in isolation.
Offline, people may buy gossip and celebrity magazines, but when online, they expect to look at Britney pictures for free. Online, the buy process for Britney Spears images simply doesn't exist, except in a very narrow B2B market between photographers and publishers.
So what happens next?
Choose Niches With A Commercial Imperative
The SEO, discouraged that his first idea didn't work, chooses to run ads instead. Where there is traffic there is money, right?
Again, this approach is likely to meet with limited success, especially when compared to other niches she could have targeted.
People looking for Britney pictures don't tend to be in a buying mode, and so advertising, especially action based advertising such as Adsense, is likely to go unclicked. The activity "looking at Britney pictures" doesn't have a strong commercial imperative, whereas an activity such as "buying toys", does. Such sites need a very high number of page views to make much money.
One way to determine if a commercial imperative exists is to examine the bid prices for Adwords. Almost always, the higher the bid price on the keyword, the more transactional the niche.
Think Of It From The Advertisers Perspective
The SEO also needs to understand the buy process in order to choose the areas which will be most effective for advertisers. The most effective Adsense sites, for example, are sites where visitors are looking to buy something. That's the only reason advertisers use Adwords - they need to sell visitors something*.
In reality, it's a little more complex than this.
Non-commercial searches can and do result in sales, however searches directly related to commercial activity - such as transactional searches - are most likely to result in higher income for your site and make for more profitable niches. See my article on the three types of searches, navigational, informational, and transactional for more information.
What makes someone buy something? Will they buy it online, or offline? Are they even capable of buying something over the internet? If visitors are in a buying mode, then what stage of the buy process are they at? Are they ready to buy right now, or are they looking for information?
Look at demographic details for competing sites and keywords to get inside the mind of the searcher. Don't just look at search volume, but also consider the intent behind the keyword, how you would monetize that demand, and the visitor value.
*The one caveat is to drive brand awareness, but this also has limited effectiveness. When was the last time you clicked on an adwords ad that focused entirely on building brand? And if people don't click, you, as the publisher, don't make money.
I hope I've impressed on you the need to evaluate keyword terms within a marketing and business framework.
Competitive Review - Strengths & Weaknesses
Query the search engine results pages under the keywords you want to rank for
Pick out the top ten sites in your niche. The top ten sites will usually appear under a mix of keyword terms relating to your niche
Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the competition
Determine the strengths and weaknesses of your own site, relative to the competition
Once you've decided on a niche to target, you then need to determine the level of competition within that niche.
A SWOT analysis can help you determine how your site compares to those already in the niche. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You perform this analysis on your own site, and the sites of your competitors.
You can can go into incredible detail with a SWOT analysis, but it doesn't need to be complicated. You simply need to determine what you're good at relative to the competition. Draw up a chart like this, and complete:
If you can't find any areas where you are better than the competition, either refine the niche, choose another niche altogether, or figure out a plan that will make you better than the competition. Ranking well doesn't really help, because a searcher will not stop at the first site they find.
Keep in mind that it is easier to be successful if you already know a lot about a market. Any experience you have lowers the investment needed to research the market and ensures you can write at a higher and more compelling level than people who do not know the market.
By doing a SWOT exercise, you'll also get a feel for any opportunities your competitors might be missing.
Undertake keyword research
Look for a niche that is "worth remarking upon" and is new, or doesn't have a lot of existing competition
Select a brand name and domain name the describes the niche ie. SEOBook.com. It is useful to include a keyword term
Build a site that focuses exclusively on this niche, and no others.
Conduct SEO campaign
What do you think of when someone mentions the name "Google"?
How about IBM? Computers. Hewlett Packard? Printers.
If you aim to be the first in the customers mind when they think of a keyword term, you can easily win the ranking game.
Who was the first president of the United state.George Washington. Who was second? Who was the first man on the moon? Neil Armstrong. Who was the fourth. It is important to be first. Being first is memorable.
But wait a minute! Google wasn't the first search engine!
Correct. However, they've overcome this by being first in people's mind when it comes to search. Yahoo was the first search service, and whilst it's star has faded of late, it is still a very wealthy company. It is no good being the tenth anything. Aim to be first. And if you can't be first....
If You Can't Be First, Be First In A New Niche
You'll face the problem of not being first whenever you enter an existing niche. And on the internet, that's "most of the time"
Look at the top sites in your chosen niche. If they got in early enough, chances are they enjoy the linking benefit that comes with being first. Typically, Google's linking algorithm favors long established sites, as opposed to newcomers. To find out why this occurs, check out Mike Grehan's "Filthy Linking Rich". Those who are first to occupy a niche have a much easier job of getting links because they are remarkable, simply by virtue of being unique.
So what to do if you arrive late to a niche?
Invent a new niche, and be first in that.
Say you sell holiday rental accommodation in Palm Springs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of holiday rental accommodation services in Palm Springs. So to differentiate yourself, you might decide to focus on "the cheapest rental accommodation services in Palm Springs". Or "the most upmarket rental accommodation services in Palm Springs". Or "the best rental accommodation guide for solo travelers in Palm Springs".
Focus on a new angle that your competitors aren't targeting. This is called market segmentation.
Make Sure The New Niche Is Worthwhile
One of the traps of market segmentation is that you might segment too finely i.e. there are not enough customers in your newly segmented niche to be worthwhile.
When you do your keyword research, look at the keyword volume for niche keyword terms. Are there any keywords that have good volumes AND cover an angle that you competitors aren't already targeting? Find a suitable keyword term, and make that your niche. Also, look at demographic details for competing sites and keywords to get inside the mind of the searcher. Remember, there needs to be a commercial intent.
Take Your New Niche For A Test Drive
This strategy has been used in PPC for a while, however it's outlined really well in the book The Four Hour WorkWeek by Tim Ferris.
Once you've decided on a new niche that you can be first in, you need to test the niche to see if it delivers enough revenue to make the effort worthwhile. You can test a niche quickly and easily by using PPC, like Google Adwords.
A lot of SEOs don't use PPC, but they're missing out on a tool that can save them a lot of time and effort.
Run a short Adwords campaign targeting the keyword terms that relate to your new niche. You may only need to run it for a week or two, and it shouldn't cost you more that a few hundred dollars. The aim is to answer the question: "do people who search on the keywords want to buy what I'm selling?".
Ensure your site has a clear call to action that will help you measure actual buyer interest. For example, a sign-up form offering more information, a sales inquiry, or an actual purchase. You don't need to have your site finished to do this. A basic three page site will do.
Monitor the campaign and do split/run testing on the ad-copy. This means you compare one set of wording against another. Helpfully, Google Adwords has this functionality built in, and they provide a free product called Google Optimizer if you want to test you page copy. Check out my article "Tested Advertising Strategies Respun For SEO".
Again, this exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it.
Start off simple, and change the wording to make the offer sound more appealing, and make a note of the wording that works best. You can use this wording in your title tags during your SEO campaign. The wording that receives a click in Adwords is also likely to receive a click in the organic listings.
If visitors are searching for your keyword, clicking on your ad, and moving to desired action, then you've found a great niche. Remember, most people will click the organic results rather than Adwords listings, so the fact you're getting click-through further demonstrates that there is little competition in your chosen niche in the organic results.
If you aren't getting click thru and/or sign-up/purchase, try the same strategy, but with different keyword terms. Keep going until you find a winner.
It is a lot cheaper in terms of time, effort and money to test keywords at this point, rather than commit to a brand and an SEO strategy that targets the wrong keyword terms, and the wrong niche.
Marketing Within The Niche
Choose a trading name, and domain name, that can be used generically, and, if possible, aligned with your keyword term.
One approach is to take a simple keyword phrase people are familiar with, and will search for, and combine it with something else. For example, SEOBook, AfterMail, FaceBook, HotelFind, etc. This approach works well if you don't have a large budget for brand building.
Non-descriptive brand names, such as Kellogs, or Mooch, don't work so well for SEO, especially for low profile companies, because people need to know your name before they search for you.
Become Synonymous With Your Niche
It's hard for anyone else to sell a book on SEO without people also stumbling across Aaron's site. Aaron has selected a keyword-loaded brand name that is aligned with the niche. He has also worked hard to dominate this tightly defined niche within the broader SEO market. Whenever someone promotes any book on SEO, Aaron is likely to benefit, because he is #1 in that niche.
If you dominate your niche, and the niche is relatively new, then any promotion of that niche will also benefit you. If you're a leader in your niche, and become synonymous with that niche, then latecomers and generic copycats will have a very difficult time competing with you. Any promotion of the beverage "Cola" benefits the market leader Coke, because they dominate their niche. Likewise, promotion of PCs will benefit Dell, promotion of smartphones will benefit Apple, and so on.
Position Against The Leader
Let's assume you're competing against an entrenched leader. What can you do?
Position yourself against the leader. For example, if the leader is offering "cheap SEO services", you might position by offering "valuable SEO services". You could warn people against using cheap SEO services by highlighting the problems and risks, and showing how your price is linked to achieving better value. Figure out what they're doing, and define yourself against them.
Avis did this against Hertz. They acknowledged they weren't the top of the rental car niche, but made a virtue out of it. They adopted the phrase "we try harder". The market dominance of Hertz became a weakness.
Barriers To Entry Are Your Friend
On the web, there are few barriers to entry. Anyone can start a website and copy your idea.
However, not everyone can start a Google. Or an Amazon. Or a Facebook. Those companies have barriers to entry in their markets, mostly to do with the scale of operations. It's very expensive to do what they do.
Look for areas where there is some difficulty in starting up. Does your idea require capital? Do you have valuable information that no-one else has? Do you have a pre-established reputation or brand? Does you idea require specialist software? Is the service or product unique, or difficult to obtain elsewhere? Such barriers will dissuade a lot of people from entering the niche, which means you'll face less competitive threat.
The lowest barrier to entry is the affiliate site where the supplier provides a template site. They might even set it up for their affiliates. For free!
See the problem?
If it's that easy, then there is no barrier to entry, meaning anyone can do it. Even with the best SEO in the world, it would be very difficult to defend such a site from the hundreds of webmasters who arrive tomorrow, the day after that, and so on.
So when you evaluate the competitors in your niche, also consider how difficult it will be for followers to compete with you.
Build content. Get a list of 50 keywords and write a page on each. Include how-to's, generalist information, news (use Blog software), video, photos and maps. Tag all graphical content with keyword terms
Write naturally, stay on a single topic per page. Forget keyword density, it is overrated
Layout site. Place most important (money) pages at the top of the hierarchy, one step away from the home page
They're only free if you value your time at zero dollars.
Of course, you time is worth money, and this must be factored in. One of the great things about SEO is that unlike conventional adverting, your visitors don't stop arriving when you stop paying. The downside is that you must spend a lot of time up front, and with no guarantee of success. The search engines could also drop your site, at any time, and without reason.
So it's a good idea to ask yourself the following questions:
What are my costs?
What is the break even point?
How long before I get payback?
A lot of SEOs will persist with sites that enjoy high rankings, even when the economics of the site don't make any sense. If this happens to you, bite the bullet and drop these sites, or convert them to another use. There is no value in ranking highly if the visitors aren't doing what you want them to, and/or they aren't spending money.
Once your put a value on your SEO efforts, you'll clearly be able to see how much your site is actually making you.
If the site is making money, that's great. If not, then try to determine if the problem is to do with marketing. Have you identified the niche correctly? Are you dominate within that niche? Is there sufficient demand?
SEO works best when it is integrated into your business and marketing strategy. There is no point ranking well for terms that don't advance your business goals. Find a profitable niche you can make your own, and dominate it.
Follow this strategy and lucrative search traffic will flow you way.
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