Hacked – Why Longtail Pro is the Best Keyword Software, and How to Use It

It’s a rare week that I have time to post twice on this blog. Heck, it’s a rare month, at this rate. Well, it’s been a productive day. Below I’m going to outline a crude but revealing process I learned using a keyword research software.

But first some background…

I’m going to assume readers of this post have some familiarity with Four Hour Work Week, and further with muses, passive income, and niche websites. If not (and bless you for reading this far into the post), please check out some of my earlier posts on the subject.

I’m well into the process of trying to create the third of my niche websites. The first two are “long game” sites – sites for which I realize there’s fierce competition, but which I’m launching because I love to write about the subject matter, and which I believe will eventually become “authority sites”. The third, I’m going “cold blooded” about. As you may know, one of my gurus for online business is Pat Flynn, whose original blog series on niche sites (published in 2010), was the “101 class” for the launch of my two existing sites and search engine optimization of one of them.

This is like business school for me, and niche sites are the canvas – the case studies.

Anyway, Mr. Flynn is launching the second installment of his niche site series, “Niche Site Duel 2.0”, and its criteria are stricter.

Stock in Trade

Niche sites live and die by ranking on the first page of Google for keywords. Say you noticed a lot of people asking about the best grips for female golfers but no web resources devoted to supplying information about it. In theory, you could build a site to satisfy the people searching for that information, and monetize it by trading your traffic for advertiser or affiliate dollars.

But how can you be sure of those two crucial contingencies?

1) Get on the first page of Google

and

2) enough people searching for the term that your site will get enough visitors to make it relevant to advertisers.

Keyword Research – that’s how. There are various tools, but Google itself supplies the crucial data on who’s searching for what and in what numbers, to anyone willing to sign up for an account. In order to make sense of the data, though, you need to cull through hundreds of variations on your keyword, checking each for competition, value to advertisers, etc. It can be an exhausting process.

Several softwares simplify it. Market Samurai and Longtail Pro are two such softwares, and I’ve used both. Both seek to import data from Google and organize it in a manner more useful to the user.

Here’s what an effective software needs to do – display, at-a-glance, the most relevant information on value and competition for an ever-evolving multiplicity of keywords, allowing the user gradually to winnow down thousands of possibilities to the most optimal few.

Pat Flynn calls this “panning for gold”.

Here’s why Longtail Pro (platinum) does the best job, and how I’ve managed to make it even more efficient.

-You can enter multiple keywords at once. The software searches for relevant data on all of them, then eliminates the ones that don’t qualify for certain preset “filters”, for instance 3000 minimum exact-match local searches per month.

-In the platinum version, there’s an algorithm that distills down multiple factors – page rank, domain authority, something called “SEO Moz” (don’t worry about it), etc – into a single number indicating average competitiveness. It’s not a be-all-end-all, but it’s a useful early filter. Basically if things tick north of 30 in this metric, there better be a compelling reason to keep the keyword (maybe you love the subject, think you can write better posts than the competition, etc).

-Here’s the best part – you can distill down all your historical searches to only keywords that pass muster, then continue to add new ones. I have my “dirty dozen” sitting in Longtail Pro, and I keep trying to “beat” them with any ideas that occur to me throughout the day.

And here’s my hack…

I’ll surely face accusations of being too binary, but you can use math to mirror the spirit of the basic function of keyword research. Every keyword needs to be investigated thoroughly, and qualitatively as well as quantitatively, but you can eliminate a lot of hassle by using simple math.

-Basically, a keyword’s value is some combination of the average Adwords cost-per-click (a measure of your phrase’ value to advertisers) and the number of monthly exact-match local searches, diminished by factors limiting its chance of getting seen – i.e. competition that will make it difficult to rank on the first page of Google.

(CPC * Local Searches)/Average Competition coefficient

…with shades of gray, of course.

To find this, do your keyword search in Longtail Pro for several days until you have a decent “distilled” list. Then run the “average KC” function for everything left over. Eliminate every word over 30 that you wouldn’t absolutely love writing about/researching.

Then click the “export” button on the bottom right of the form, and export the file as a CSV. Import it into Excel.

Now make an extra column, and assign that column a function based on the above: “= [CPC] * [Local Searches] / [Avg KC]”. Copy and paste that formula down the column, then sort by that column in descending order.

And there you have it – a list of your keywords in descending order of potential reward/hassle.

Of course now the most difficult work begins, but thought I’d share this little hack.

lizard

Taking Stock – 3 Months In

Actually it’s a bit reassuring to read that I’m only 3 months into this process. My inaugural post was February 22.

Well, here’s what’s going on lately.

Overview

I definitely feel pulled in four-directions-at-once. Tim Ferriss’ advice (not that he’s the only authority, but he was the impetus for launching this experiment and its blog) is “you have to throw a lot at the wall before you can [see what sticks].” Things I’ve thrown at the wall include-

-A drum DVD/video channel that’s been back-burnered while I see if it attracts any views on youtube. (Part of the reason it’s back-burnered is my market-testing tools got more precise and drum instruction has a pretty poor searches/competitiveness ratio.)

-An idea for a physical product – a hybrid shoe – that would have required either astronomical startup costs or really out-of-the-box thinking.

-Two niche websites based on the template from Pat Flynn’s “niche site duel 1.0”, Smart Getaways for Couples, and the Outer Boros Blog, to both of which I’m still adding content, and for one of which I used some Search Engine Optimization tactics that date from 2010.

Those are the moneymakers, or, more realistically, the case studies, through the trial-and-error of which I’m teaching myself the landscape of passive income. There will likely be another niche website that I’ll speak more about below, but all of the above is only one facet of Four Hour Work Week.

The other themes are crafting the life you think you need riches to live, and finding and focusing on only the things with the highest rate of return.

Basically, there are two things I want to do with my “Four Hour Life”: Travel whenever I want, and produce my web show.

But let’s take things in order.

80/20 ing My Life

The more I get into Paretto’s Principle (google it, but it’s the principle that says in multivariate systems the distribution of inputs and effect is often uneven, and at a bare minimum 80% of the output is usually due to – at a maximum – 20% of inputs, you can find it everywhere blah blah), the more I realize I’m a novice. Yes, just understanding that there is such a thing as 80/20 is a huge step. But I’m not much beyond that.

Here’s what 80/20 has done for me:

-Made me more effective in less time at work.

That’s real, and can work for you, mostly because most of us spend a lot of time on ineffective things at work. Just do the initial 80/20, and you too will realize what’s generating the most results and what’s wasting the most time. Most results for me: uninterrupted stretches of “batched” work, focusing on the few activities where my expertise is required, outsourcing almost everything else. Most wasted time: “defending” myself against allegations of lousy work (the higher ed equivalent of chronic complainers, except unlike Tim I can’t simply stop doing business with them) that don’t materially affect anyone, doing rote administrative tasks a temp or AA could do.

-Made my decision processes easier.

In particular, Tim’s tip about choosing the 3 “force multiplier” things to do each day (part of the reason writing on this blog has been sparse lately, though I do consider it important) has helped me narrow down my goals.

Web Show

Ironically, this was all a way to make it easier for me to do music. I have a web show, called Shed Science with Nate Smith, still in its fledgling stages, that, itself, is kind of my “hack” of music. Hardly anybody in my demographic is using the potential of the web as a low-overhead content distributor. Everyone’s still paying to play in the back rooms of bars, and begging friends and family to come out and pay $20 drink charges. I need to get back to editing and producing more episodes – part of the feeling of overwhelm.

Travel

My goal of travel actually dovetails with one – soon to be two – of my niche sites. (Niche Site: a website offering a go-to resource on something many people are searching for but for which existing information is sparse and/or disparate.) Which may be why I’m pursuing it even though it may turn out to be a less-than-optimal choice of keyword. But writing a travel blog I’m trying to monetize gives me another handy hack – anything I’m reviewing is “business”. I started an LLC with my wife, which will be the umbrella entity for all the ventures.

Psychologically, seeing travel as an investment rather than a discretionary expense has made a huge difference. We’re motivated to travel like it’s our job, because, technically, it is. Especially this year and next, we’re investing in visiting destinations personally to build content for our sites. (Smart Asia Travel is yet to launch as of this writing.)

So in one very real sense, I’m actually already there.

There’s even an argument to be made that by 80/20ing my job and treating travel as investment in my business, I’ve already improved both my hourly earning rate and my leverage with money.

Still, that self-encouragement is only useful insofar as it keeps me hungry. My goal from the start has been singular: make passive income so I can fund my life. To that end, I’m most likely going to be starting a new niche site, and here’s why-

As I wrote in the last post, since the 2010 blog series that I discovered 3 years after its publication, google has changed its algorithms in significant ways. Since the name of the game with niche sites is getting on the first page of google for a highly-searched keyword, many of the original techniques are no longer as effective. But more important than even the google updates is my personal learning curve.

-I’ve used multiple keyword research tools for multiple keywords.

-For a few of the “winners” I’ve purchased domains and set up websites.

-For all of those sites I’ve “powered through” learning the design, and gotten better at conceptualizing a site’s architecture, choosing a theme for it, and customizing it.

-I’ve written tons of posts for those sites, and just returned from one trip I took exclusively to write content about it.

I don’t know if it’s just me – I certainly used a similar process to learn music – but the “get an overview, jump in with both feet, succeed or fail, return to source material with new insight, jump in again, repeat” seems a good way to learn things. (Tim Ferriss, who favors no-wasted-time-learning, would probably take me over his knee for that, though…)

So it’s with the hard-won perspective of having launched three sites and published content for two that I’ll return for my second bite at the niche site apple. Here are a few things I know I can improve-

-Keyword Research

This is the process of using tools to find highly-searched but low-competition search terms. My original keywords were “Best things to do in NYC” and “getaways for couples.” Both had relatively high search volume, but also high competition, especially the first. I now know that to give myself the best chance, I need to find a real “diamond in the rough” keyword, that meets an extremely specific set of criteria, which I’ll detail in later posts.

-Site Design

It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of site analytics. One obvious thing I learned is to make the purpose of my site obvious from the first page and make sure noone is more than few inches either direction from a call-to-action. (Subscribe, order now, whatever.)

Anyway, will write in more detail later in the month but that’s the 10,000-foot-view.

Quick and Dirty SEO Post for a Quick and Dirty Business

I’m deciding to leverage my secret weapon – rapid-fire-content-creation – to write myself out of the posting doldrums. Trying assiduously to post here every week, for the dual purpose of keeping the reader up to speed and “restating my assumptions,” as they say in Pi.

10,000 foot view – and I encourage you to read the first post – is that I’m an average guy who read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week and decided to try to make it work for me. This blog is my diary. Many of Ferriss’ original suggestions, such as using Google Adwords “pay-per-click” advertising to quickly drive web traffic to your product, have become too expensive to be economical, so following the advice of some contemporary gurus I trust, and after months of research, I’m slowly creating two products – a drum DVD I posted about in earlier articles, that’s currently back-burnered while I see if the initial videos generate any interest on Youtube, and a niche site. Idea of a niche site is you find a topic many people are desperate to learn about but that has few good resources, and put up a site offering good content on the subject, then monetize the web traffic. Following Pat Flynn’s example, I’m trying to be maximally ethical and minimally spammy – creating a real site that provides tangible value to people and building a community around it. But you also need to rank in Google, and that’s where SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, comes in.

It’s about the sexiest industry term to throw around these days, gracing resumes, banner ads, and youtube sponsor videos (at least with my cookies). Whenever I get a whiff that a lot of people are capitalizing off a meta skill made more important by an information asymmetry, my “fuckery radar” goes off. (No, this isn’t a G-rated blog. Quite a few others are already doing that.) I already have experience in two of the most charlatan-heavy economies in modern history – music and New York apartment rentals. Know that adage about the gold rush? The one that goes “the people who made the most money off the gold rush were the folks who sold picks, shovels, and Levi’s Jeans”? That’s meta-fuckery. Identifying a thing a lot of people want to do (play music in a band, make money online, rent the perfect apartment with zero hassle), and charging them for your “expertise”.

I’ll digress in another chapter about why I’m not going to try to monetize this blog, no matter how popular it becomes, unless/until the tactics I’m espousing have actually worked for me, and, related, the difference between “education” and “pyramid schemes” (hint – in the former you’re selling advice that’s actually worked for you), but for now, suffice it to say that Search Engine Optimization is just that market, like the gold rush, music, or real estate, where you have to be really suspicious of everything everyone’s saying, because everyone has something to sell. (Among the things distinguishing Pat Flynn, Corbett Barr, and their ilk is they’re transparent about it, and give most of their advice away for free. My kinda cats.)

So I wrestled with SEO last week and this week, and I had planned to write a blog post about it, and it just so happens to be the perfect week to do so, because Pat Flynn is launching “Niche Site Dual 2.0”, premised on the fact that the tactics he espoused in the original niche site duel have stopped working as efficiently as they once did. As I’ve commented on his site and in other places, I was about a third of the way into implementing the 1.0 strategies, and am now in an optimal position to observe what’s changed, and report it to you.

First, the basics-

In SEO, you’re trying to raise your page rank in Google by creating what are called “back links” to your site. A large part of how Google values your site is a function of [number of pages linking to your site] * [page rank of those sites]

That’s principle #1.

Principles 2 – infinity are that it’s a cat-and-mouse game with Google, with SEO’ers going buck-wild trying hacker tricks to simulate organic links and Google getting ever-more-sophisticated telling the difference between organic links and hacker tricks. The conundrum, of course, is that this is an arms race. Getting ranked wholly organically is a function of longevity, pedigree (doesn’t hurt, for instance, if you write for the wall street journal), and luck, and those of us with good content who don’t fit the “profile” have to get a bit “guerrilla” about it. I faced the same thing in music, by-the-way, with gatekeepers being rather arbitrary, and increasingly corrupt about whom to “let in”, even as pathways for insurgents grow more numerous. The “white hat” version of the arbitrage is the same in both scenarios – have extremely good content, and spend your energy delivering that to the people who can benefit from it, instead of trying to fool people into buying – or reading – crap.

Those are the basics, the rest is really window-dressing.

But here’s just a peek inside the kitchen – one “best practice” is to create a low number of extremely high-quality links back to your site. Google will penalize you for too many links in too short a period of time because it doesn’t look organic. The way to hack this is by creating satellite sites with altered versions of your original content (I DO NOT advocate plagiarism, not least because it doesn’t work) and single links back to specific relevant pages of your core site, then using a tool like Unique Article Wizzard (google it – maybe some day they’ll give me an affiliate commission to link to them) to distribute unique versions of that second-tier article to hundreds of article directories.

The result is a “concentric ring” contraption, where you’re raising the quality of the few links back to your core site by driving a huge quantity of links to those second tier sites. A little like a solar farm uses mirrors to reflect low levels of sunlight hundreds of times over onto a boiler, until the energy level at the apex is scorching.

Head spinning yet? That’s just the 101, and the fun part is it’s already partly obsolete.

As Pat Flynn writes with respect to Niche Site Duel 2.0, the impact of the above method is lessening. Two key lessons I took from the little bit of reading and listening I did on the subject-

– As google becomes ever-more-sophisticated, it’s learning to identify unnatural ratios of identical anchor text linking back to core sites. “Anchor text” is the keyword you’re trying to rank for, coded for the link. (For me it was “best things to do in NYC” – you can google “html code for hyperlink” and copy and paste it to create anchors.) Time was, you could immediately rank highly for your keyword by sending tens-of-thousands of links around the same anchor text to your site. Then somebody at google said, “wait a minute – when a site selling Air Jordans ranks naturally, there aren’t usually 100,000 instances of ‘the best jordans for cheaper than you thought’, word-for-word, from sites with different authors all over the internet.” In nature, you find many subtle variations of the keyword, because the people linking to the site are theoretically people unaffiliated with the original brand.

[phew]

-A number of “black magic” gurus advocate purchasing domain names of sites that already have high page ranks and slapping up a new site at the old URL. This is kind of Eastern Block Gangster, and it smacks of scarcity. For those reasons, and the “google laws of nature” (my Occam’s Razor that eventually google will root out almost everything spammy or disingenuous), Pat Flynn and some others have “passed” on those tactics and moved onto other things.

Will keep you up to speed as I continue to try to rank my site, and promise posts about music and my web show soon!