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.
-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!