Ranking Update, and Reality Check

So my existing niche site continues to climb in the Google rankings.

Here’s the progression-

June 20 – 64th

June 26th – 39th

June 28th – 38th

June 30th (today) – 29th

A quick search of the existing blogs and sites in the top ten was all the reality I needed to get my feet back on the ground, however.

They clearly have boutique web designers. They have custom made interactive maps, and charts for every article. They have slick sites with custom sidebars.

They review far more destinations than I have (travel niche).

They (to my chargin) have comments disabled, or rerouted through social media (i.e. the url that my name would link to would be my facebook profile).

Getting in the top ten in this niche might be rough, but here’s why I’m not throwing in the towel just yet.

1. This is all a learning experience. When I chose this niche I didn’t have a super firm grasp on keyword research, and part of the motivation for writing a travel blog was to give me an excuse to travel. Which is not to say I’m “moving the goalposts” – I’m still going to go after it 100%.

2. Even if I don’t get in the top 10 for my primary keyword, there’s still reason to monetize. Online biz guru Hayden Miyamoto monetizes every site that cracks the top 20. Sure, the top 20 is daunting, but that seems a more reachable goal. Moreover, I’m already receiving traffic from certain “longtail” keywords semantically related to my niche.

Let me just pause here and mention that if any of these words sound like jargon or cult-speak, as if I were talking about Scientology, you’re not wrong. If you’re crazy enough to still be reading, check out this post for background.

3. My content may not be fancy, but it’s f@#$ing awesome. Many of the competitor sites seem to pick locations and businesses to review either because of affiliations, or totally at random. The result is a fancy looking blog with very little useful information to the user. If every chamber-of-commerce or small-biz association blog were brimming with useful information, there would be no need for Yelp. Yelp isn’t fancy, but it has something far more important – credibility.

How does credibility with users translate into rankings? Not directly, it’s true. The average time people are spending on my site is close to 12 minutes, and most people are viewing multiple articles. This translates in two ways – number one, search engines do take stock of time-on-site and what’s called “bounce rate” (basically the number of people who take one look at your site and go “hup that’s not what I wanted) as a metric to judge whether your content is relevant to the search term, even though it’s not the most important metric.

Second, people liking my content translates into a repeat user base – people who view my site as a go-to for credible information, and who will potentially subscribe to a mailing list and/or check back when new articles/reviews are published.

Anyway, I’m tantalizingly close to being able to monetize my first site. What stands between me and dollar one, as I wrote last Monday, is more content, and SEO. Inspired by some of the blogs in the top 20, I want to create more destinations, and expand still more on those where more depth is available. I’m also working on the next several phases of my SEO – blog comments (easier said-than-done), and social media/gallery sites.

More to come.

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Rabble Rousing – Evolving Web Directories Cheat Sheet

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m working my way through Spencer Haws’ suggestions about SEO for my existing niche website. Spencer, designer of the keyword research tool Longtail Pro, “details” his search engine optimization process in a blog post.

I’m having my Virtual Assistant submit my site to several high PR directories that are free.   Because not all of the links will be approved, I’m submitting to 50 or so directories to start.  So, I’ll get more than 10 links total, but many won’t be indexed either, so I might end up with just over 10 real links pointing to my site.  That’s fine with me.

Fantastic. Which directories?

It turns out, to my annoyance, Spencer never reveals this. (Instead he suggests readers go to a site called Point Blank SEO, which doesn’t reveal it all in one place either, unless you want to register for the online course.)

I reread the transcript to an interview Spencer gave, in which he mentions web directories, and gives three examples (don’t worry, they’ll be down below). The others, we’re told, will be in the show notes for the interview. No dice.

Ok, this is basic stuff – submit your site to 50 or so web directories as soon as it’s reasonably complete for low-medium quality base-level link building and forget about it. So why won’t anyone talk about the specific directories?

Well, that’s where your boy comes in. Increasing the abundance in the universe. I have my theories about why the major web-biz gurus are reluctant to list things, and they relate to encouraging readers to click on their affiliate links. I have no affiliate links. I have no dog in this race besides helping the maximum number of people possible crack the code to passive income. I want this stage to be a no brainer for my readers, because we’re content creators, not SEO experts.

Here It Is

Below, my working list of web directories. If you see it below, it’s because I’ve submitted, or tried to submit my site to it. If there aren’t 50 yet, it’s because I’m still adding to it.

Technorati.com – Spencer Haws’ recommendation. Registration required.

Blogs.com – submit page appears not to be working

Open Directory Project at dmoz.org – registration required

Bing.com – formerly Yahoo Directory – guess Bing bought them. Requires registration.

Gimpsy – free submission available, but currently overloaded.

Joe Ant – “become an editor” to submit a site for free.

Go Guides – only paid submission available, which I skipped because web directories are such an apparently small part of the SEO equation.

Top Blog Area – straightforward and free – just register.

BlogRankings.com – straightforward and free – just register.

Blogarama.com – straightforward and free – just register.

Zimbio.com – was hard to tell if this one worked at all – you simply enter your site url into a field and click “submit.” It only takes five seconds, so not a waste of time.

That’s it – I’ll continue adding as I discover more.

How I Found These

Googling “web directory list” was a bust. Up came a bunch of niche sites with questionable affiliations. So I googled “web directories technorati, alltop”, including the two examples Spencer Haws specified, and that led to greater success.

Again, want to emphasize that this is a preliminary step, like getting toilet paper for the John when you first move into an apartment. I won’t spend more than a few days on it. And that’s why I want it to be even easier for you.

Monday Morning Post – Countdown to Dollar One

I may regret this.

That’s one reason I’m doing it.

Remembering the importance of “stakes” in motivating me to follow through on a promise, and inspired by a recent interview I heard with AppSumo’s founder Noah Kagan, I decided to create a little social pressure for myself. I often say “talk less, do more,” mostly as a mantra for myself, but the exception to that rule is when talking big will motivate me to back it up.

Well, I’m starting to get some traffic to this blog from smartpassiveincome.com (big ups!), mostly folks trying to do the same thing I am, and feeling like a part of that community, in some small way, also gives me a sense of responsibility.

Finally, as I wrote last week, I managed to score a pretty good keyword for one of my sites, and as of last Friday was ranked 64th in google without doing any search engine optimization. (As usual I encourage interested readers not familiar with the lingo to read the archive.) That discovery made things a little more real, a little more tangible.

So I decided to take a page from Noah Kagan and work backward from my first dollar.

Here’s what needs to happen-

1) I need an Adsense account. I could sign up for one tomorrow, but for accounting purposes, I want it connected to my LLC, the paperwork for which is awaiting approval. If everything else was in place I’d be more impatient about this, but the delay gives me a chance to maneuver some other key things into place.

2) I want to improve my ranking as much as possible. The front page of google is competitive for my keyword, and I feel I’ll get a decent amount of traffic even on page 2, based on the number of page views I’m getting at #64. All that means is I won’t use not being on the first page of google as an excuse to delay monetizing. This is the first niche site – I need early victories.

But I will still do everything I can to get on page 1. To that end I’ve been studying the SEO strategy of Spencer Haws, designer of Longtail Pro. Spencer’s top two strategies are select a niche wisely and create great content. Content wise, I want to do a little more to flesh out the category I’m trying to rank for so it’s a real authority site. But I won’t let that delay my SEO.

The next stage is submit my URL to web directories and begin to make comments on relevant blogs. The first I have yet to do, the second I began last night.

After that, spencer recommends Web 2.0 properties, a squidoo lens, and accounts on Slide Share and Doc Stock. Those photo sharing sites work perfectly for my niche, which involves travel. On my own I may consider a Facebook page. I don’t want to subject my weary Facebook friends to every hairbrained project I’m up to, but I’ve had decent success generating views for my web show with a Facebook page and strategic paid advertising to increase “likes”. Social proof is a snowball effect, and google likes sites with natural traffic.

The “varsity” Spencer Haws strategy is purchasing expired domains for relevant sites, resuscitating the sites, and building links from them.

At every stage it’s a tension between SEO power and pissing google off. If I have an unnatural number of links from a single domain, or with the same anchor text it can actually hurt, since google has the power to “sandbox”, or de-rank, sites they think are using shady link building tactics. And since I’m not an SEO expert I want to be extremely careful. Better to rank on page 2 and gradually work my way up to page 1 “the old fashioned way” than to get sandboxed.

So that’s it – it’s this, along with a streamlined version of my web show – that I’ll be sweating blood over in the coming weeks.

Thanks everybody who’s been reading so far. I want to show you this is a viable alternative to the rat race, that it can be done, even by a “normal” guy like me, and I expect you to hold me to it.

I don’t usually end with “calls to action,” but I’d like your feedback – are you working on something similar? Do you have thoughts to share about your own journey? Leave a comment. This site is not monetized, so comments are purely to share our thoughts and experiences.

Thanks!

What In Blazes? I’m ranked 64th in Google!

Well I’ll be.

longtail rank

Decided on a lark to include as a side page a search term Longtail Pro hipped me to – “weekend getaways from NYC.” 3600 local exact match searches per month is nothing to sneeze at. $2.51 average cost per click isn’t mind blowing (and only about a sixth the avg cpc of the keyword I’ve selected for Pat Flynn’s niche site duel 2.0), but consider the rationale for my travel site in the first place:

I want to travel, and launched a blog as a way to make a good deal of my travel Business Travel, and as a “stakes raiser” to keep me from chickening out of going on trips.

By the way, if you have no idea what any of the above jargon means, read this, and then this.

Anyway, a rank of 64 for my search term doesn’t seem that impressive, until you consider that I haven’t done one iota of SEO on this site. Yes, I’ve linked from this blog to the site, and almost totally random received a rank from a higher ranked (and very cool looking) style blog.

And I’m aware that it may be a lark. Sites can sometimes do a dizzying ride up and down the rankings known as the “google dance.” So no illusions.

Still, this illuminates two things-

1) They keyword for which I’m ranking was not the keyword upon which I launched the site. That keyword was “getaways for couples.” (At the time I was using Market Samurai to do keyword research, and while it’s a beautiful piece of machinery, it doesn’t have the same idiot-proof simplicity that Longtail Pro does.) This means you can indeed rank for multiple keywords within a single site, and that an exact match url is not necessary. What that means is I should go buck-wild trying to find keywords semantically related to my niche and write articles about them. Sounds like another night in…

2) Tim Ferriss’ adage that early successes is essential to build momentum and Steven Pressfield’s appeal to the professional to seek real world feedback both proved prescient. I was so busy building content I hadn’t come up “for air” to check my ranking. Doing that, while I don’t recommend doing it too much (see also: “resistance”, in Pressfield’s book), it sure helped rekindle my motivation.

Again, don’t want to make too much about this, because the site is so young, but it’s encouraging. It also segues perfectly into my post breaking down Spencer Haws’ SEO methodologies and how I’m planning to apply them to my site. (Since I haven’t done any SEO yet, I want to be extra careful not to get “sandboxed”, or penalized by Google for sketchy link-building tactics.)

Look for the Spencer post later this week.

Doing My Work – Meditations on Music, and Why I’m Doing This

“Update: What I’m throwing at the wall, what’s sticking, and what it’s like”Four Hour Work Week devotes two entire chapters to what you’re going to do with all this *time* you’re saving now that you’ve 80/20’d your life and automated your income. Start a charity? Go vagabond and resettle in another country for half a year?

Both of those are possibilities, but in the short to medium term, I’ve already got my raison d’être – my web show.

Just as 80/20, niche sites, iPhone apps, and instructional products that sell or monetize themselves online are the hacks to break out of the 9-5 mold, Shed Science is the hack to break out of the artificial bookends the music industry forces us into.

(Haha that’s a little grandiose – it’s *my* hack. Lots of other people have their own.)

What are the problems with the music industry? Ha – you need Me to tell you? You’ve probably heard the strum and drang about how downloads are ruining music, and there are no real talents anymore. Well you won’t hear that from me.

I’m more concerned with the opposite problem – namely that *not enough* people are taking advantage of the space the Internet has opened up.

For purposes of analogy, consider the central mechanism for Ferrissian passive income – the abundance of the Internet and the opportunity for a single mom to mimic the web-presence of a multinational corporation. Want to market test? Use Adwords or Longtail Pro. Want to sell a product? Write an ebook or make a video series for download. Need a landing page and Facebook or etsy isn’t enough? (Often they are.) Buy a domain name for nine dollars, host it for 18, and slap up a WordPress site for free.

Now – how much of that could you have done 15 years ago? How much could you have done *10* years ago, unless you were a web designer?

Technology has delivered to almost everyone with a computer and an Internet hookup the ability to make money. And as more and more people avail themselves the quality of products and ventures goes up, and the low-hanging fruit disappears. In 2007 if you wanted to launch a niche website and make money the only thing stopping you was your web design abilities. Find a keyword, slap up a 3-page site and do some Web 2.0 properties for SEO and you were off to the races. Now, of course, you to research more carefully, create a better resource, and sell it through more traditional “person to person” means as the search engines become adept at rooting out everything else.

So the ideal time to jump in is after the technology becomes available to the Everyman, but before your next door neighbor has a website.

Music is experiencing an analogous renaissance, but musicians are slower to adapt. I like to say “music is an abundance society functioning like a scarcity society.”

I’ll tell you my evidence for that “radical” assertion in a bit, but first a bit of history.

Just as it did other media, the “populization” (not “popularization”) of the internets opened the floodgates in music by eliminating the need for many of the middle men. I don’t want to overstate this, because major record labels still offer a reach and a media access that’s hard to emulate with a single-author blog or youtube channel. But say your music was going to be niche and small-label anyway. Like…Jazz…for instance. Or electronic pop, or fusion. Or something ahead of its time. You were unlikely to find a label to pick up either way, even when labels controlled everything, and now you don’t need them.

The exceptions that prove the rule –

Pamplamoose (everyone’s heard of them – why?)
And two lesser-knowns-
Knower, and
Evan Marien

These are all artists that embraced the “negative space” vacated by the relative dissolution of the labels’ influence. The first two fall into the “ahead of its time” category, and the last, a fusion band, is always going to be a bit niche. But they all embraced a similar methodology – build a web presence (Pamplamoose, and Knower – very likely a student of the former’s method – both used covers of popular tunes to get their own videos noticed on youtube.) A kind of guerrilla SEO of the type online biz gurus are familiar with. Evan and Dana used a similar strategy with their original tunes, creating killing, unique “content” (musicians hate this word), building a following (probably by using some SEO tricks to appear in the “suggested” bar next to popular videos the attention of whose fans they wanted to capture)(a “trick” that doesn’t work unless your music is amazing), and linking directly from the video of each new tune to the download.

Another advantage of the online space is the opportunity for developing talent to play “gigs”, the way the Talking Heads once did at CB’s, and get better at the same time they build a following. As I mention below, it’s difficult and expensive to play brick-and-mortar gigs, but why not do what the artists above do and do virtual gigs by releasing video singles?
Point being, why are all musicians not doing this? In other sectors, as I mentioned above, there’s almost no room to break in unless your content is exceptional. In music, it’s wide open.
Evidence of a scarcity society-
Middle Men, like agents and publicists, making money while few of their clients do.
Difficulty Getting Gigs at brick and mortar venues because of an influx of talent competing for limited nights.
Zero Sum Thinking within the community, where musicians trash each other (“he got a record deal?!?”) instead of celebrating each other’s successes.
Yea, you see those elements in New York Housing, or outside of sold-out concerts, but those contexts are provably scarce. Music, for the reasons I’ll argue below, is not.
At the end of the day, mine is not to wonder and fret about why more people aren’t jumping into the online space with both feet. It’s to jump in myself. And to yell from the hills about it.
Why?
Online music is an abundance culture, for two primary reasons-
1) A user can watch multiple artists’ work in a single afternoon, and as I’ve mentioned in other articles more musicians in a genre with music online can help guide a user to new music.
2) Music is famously hard to fake. Unlike a lot of other things you can hack, you really probably do need “ten thousand hours” to begin to produce a good product. In an abundance context, if you produce something good, people will find it. There’s no reason to sweat competition. Instead we can push each other to become better and celebrate each other’s success.
Which is the purpose of my web show. It’s part fun-learning-experience for me, part lead-by-example in the online space, part guerrilla warfare, but all rewarding, and it’s my Steven Pressfield “work” – the thing I feel I’m called to do.

But how are my muses doing? Check back soon.

Black Hat – the obvious but oft-ignored difference between Niche and Pyramid

I promised a more detailed post on this and after a day of content creation for my niche websites and a week of video editing interviews for my web show, I think it’s time to address Black Hat vs White Hat.

You know what you’re doing.

-Joe Rogan

In the crudest sense, anybody with a big megaphone giving props to someone with a smaller megaphone is doing him/her a favor. That’s why it’s called “props.” If Barack Obama says “Nate Smith has an excellent blog,” he’s transforming my life in a single moment. (More often in the real world, it’s Oprah.)

It’s the same thing as giving somebody money. Literally. Fame/eyeballs is one half of the crucial equation of success (the other half being, in my opinion, great content).

Let me get to the point.

You wouldn’t steal money out of your friend’s bank account, obviously. Accordingly, you wouldn’t steal the mic from Oprah or the president and use it to shout out your own website. (Or you might, but you’d be roundly ostracized and your brand would suffer.)

Why then, would you try to force a link from the web page of somebody more prominent than yourself?

The line gets harder to see as we get more abstract, but it’s there. When we’re giving value away, or even trading value, that’s White Hat. When we’re taking it, that’s Black Hat.

One of the most interesting black hat/white hat dichotomies is between providing niche information and pyramid scamming. The line gets blurred sometimes. Here’s an example.

The niche site building I’m currently doing seeks to provide useful information to people. Whether it’s about the best ways to explore NYC’s outer boroughs or the best practices for escaping for a weekend with your Better Half, I’m working hard to write informative, fun-to-read articles on the subjects and to organize them in an easy-to-navigate fashion.

But I’m not doing it for free. (Well, right now I’m doing it for free, but the intention is eventually to make money.) To that end, I researched to subject matters meticulously to make sure they were subjects people were searching for in google. What’s more, I’m planning to employ search engine optimization, which includes robot article spinners, pen names, and multiple “identities” across the web, to get traffic to my blogs so I can monetize them.

One subject a lot of people are searching for is How to Make Money Online.

I could hypothetically also try to turn this blog into an authority site, blanket the web with SEO linking back to it, etc, and I might even succeed. Heck, I’d probably succeed faster than with my other niche sites.

But I’m not going to do that. It’s pyramid-schemey, and, hence, Black Hat.

An important thing to realize is Black Hat doesn’t mean illegal. There are plenty of totally legal ways to monetize without providing value, and there’s a corresponding ethos that any way you can make a buck, as long as it’s legal, is respectable. Indeed, the above is itself a very useful definition of Black Hat.

So what’s the difference between a niche site and a pyramid scheme?

Let’s remember our first principles-

It’s ethical to give or to trade value, but it’s not ethical to take it without asking.

A pyramid scam is a monetization scheme in which the information being “sold” is information on how to perpetrate the scam on others.

-Instead of teaching you to make and sell lemonade, I teach you to teach others to teach others [in perpetuity] to sell lemonade, and I charge you. Problem? There’s money changing hands, but no actual lemonade being created. This is a pyramid scheme.

-In another scenario, I achieve success making the best lemonade and developing the best way to market and sell it, then you pay me to teach you. You employ some of my strategies and some of your own, and achieve your own lemonade success story, before teaching countless others to do the same.

Similar basic premise, but I would argue the second example is White Hat. Sure, we’re teaching others and charging for it, but there’s lemonade being created for thirsty customers and, most importantly, money being made from that lemonade, instead of from the idea of selling lemonade.

Accordingly, once I achieve success with online business, I could conceivably charge money for a book or website of the lessons I learned. People are getting real value from hearing about how I made real money, and it has worth to them.

Which leads us to our second principle-

It’s ethical to get paid for providing value. It’s unethical to expect to be paid for intentionally representing as valuable something you know is not.

But what distinguishes pyramid schemes from other Black Hat practices is even more specific. You could ethically make money curating or organizing other people’s knowledge about how to make lemonade, so the distinction isn’t only about having done personally the thing you’re monetizing information on. (Though it certainly adds credibility, which is why I’m trying to write only about destinations I’ve experienced firsthand for my travel sites.)

No, what makes a website on making money online authored by someone who hasn’t done it scammy is the tautology – the endless feedback loop of meta-information with no primary information to underpin it. Or, as I put it above, nobody’s making lemonade in any part of the system.

I felt compelled to write about Black Hat because it’s rampant in the online biz community – just read the comments of any popular ebusiness guru and you don’t have to scroll down very far before somebody’s shanghai’ing the comment thread with a non-consensual backlink, often to a website about making money online – but the mores are looser there than in the “real world.”

We wouldn’t tolerate many of these behaviors offline, and I hope as the search engines continue to get better we’ll see fewer and fewer online.