Meta Post 2 – Testing Things in Parallel

Today marks a benchmark. I finally installed adsense on Smart Getaways for Couples. I’m waiting for final approval, which can take up to a week. There’s still a lot to do in terms of SEO – I want to see the impact a couple of juice links I’ve got pending have when they’re published and crawled – but it allows me to “back burner” SGFC for a bit while I work on some other things.

Which brings me to my new, carefully-searched, niche site that I would have used had I participated in Pat Flynn’s Niche Site Duel 2.0. It’s call You Can Be A Trainer, and the keyword is how to become a personal trainer. (And now it has its first link with anchor text.) Unlike Pat Flynn or Spencer Haws, I don’t need to worry that a link from Breaking Ferriss will warp my metrics, since it has nowhere near the readership of those blogs. Instead, I’m trying to implement, in small-scale, the methodology of a niche-siter I spoke about earlier in the week: Hayden Miyamoto.

Hayden, you’ll recall, launches literally hundreds of niche sites in parallel, monetizing only those that pop up naturally to the top 20 in google. By launching the sites with some basic content, Hayden can “real-world-test” how good his keyword research was. I can’t do this for hundreds of sites, but I can do it with two-or-three. And it occurs to me this might be the best way to spend the next several weeks. If you look at You Can Be A Trainer, it’s extremely basic – one article (though I’m going to give it four-or-five before leaving it), a free WordPress theme, and not many bells-and-whistles. That’s by design. It’s true, I shot for the stars from day-one with Smart Getaways, but that was hardly necessary to test my keyword.

The metrics for “how to become a personal trainer” looked great: astounding monthly exact-match search volume, and great theoretical adwords cost-per-click (which will mean more money for adsense, and will compensate for lower conversion rates, even though I want my conversion rates to be great), relative to competitiveness. I wrote a few months ago about the basic algorithm I used to tease out “how to become”.

Anyway, I’ve sort of “gone the distance” with Smart Getaways – launching the site, creating the content, doing the on-site and off-site SEO, and it’s ranking well, but it may have a difficult time busting the “top ten” bubble. I’ll do my best, but I’m fully content that SGFC be a “long term project” – a labor of love that I spend years researching and writing, that eventually ranks well for a spate of keywords I never intended. But by Spencer Haws standards “weekend getaways from NYC” is a poor keyword choice. Max of 3600 monthly exact-match searches, and hella competitive. I want to see if the more meticulously-researched “how to become a personal trainer” performs better on its own.

It only takes a couple of days to launch a site, throw up some really decent basic content, toss a couple of backlinks with anchor text its way, and wait-and-see. So I’m going to be doing this for a few other sites as well. One niche site ranking well is great. Several is even better. Developing a battle-tested method for seeing which ones are worth it to try to rank, then extrapolating a flow-chart for the fastest route to monetization, is a hack, and we know how I love those.

I’m still brainstorming products, and I’ll keep you posted about those. And the race to “dollar one” continues.

Stay tuned.

Long Overdue Update – Going Deep with SEO, the Long Game for Niche Sites, and Why the Muse May Yet Live

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I’ve posted in Breaking Ferriss. If I were the excuse-making type I’d say it was because I wanted to have something to actually report, instead of just ideas or feelings to share. Well, the wait is over. I’m happy to report I’ve been deep with the Perry Rosenbloom SEO model, that it works, and that I’m a mere technicality away from monetization.

Also, a “shortcut” I discovered for monetization may have far reaching implications for future business.

Let’s begin at-the-middle and discuss niche-sites-writ-large for a moment. I’ve devoted gallons of imaginary ink to the subject over the last several months, and continue to believe niche sites are a great “entry point” to e-entrepreneurship, requiring minimal investment (at least of money), and next-to-no-risk (especially if you consider the time spent akin to classroom learning, which I do – I truly believe I’m getting my “street MBA” for a song). They’re also about the lowest profit margin of any avenue of e-commerce.

Google Adsense pays a small percentage, but it’s peanuts compared to selling your own product. Ditto affiliate deals. When you “do the math” about dollars-of-profit-per-hour, it’s not great. In today’s search engine environment there are two ways to make a lot of money: scale up, or get lucky. Those success stories you hear on the podcasts about people making $4000 per month from home from niche sites are mostly anomalies: an average niche site with 3500 monthly visitors can expect to net $350-$500-a-month. That’s a great extra passive income stream, but you’re not going to be bumping Zuckerberg off the Forbes list any time soon.

Niche site guru Hayden Miyamoto knows how to scale up. He has a team of virtual assistants trained to trawl the search engines for low-competition keywords and thow up niche sites about them. There are thousands. If a site gets to top 20 in google on-its-own, Miyamoto monetizes, and turns on the SEO juice. Did I mention that Hayden owns several hundred expired domains with high page-ranks? He has a staff of people working on finding and reviving those, as well. Naturally, he runs a side business selling premium domain names.

Not everybody can be Hayden Miyamoto, and his model does something beyond simply scale up his earnings: it engineers luck out of the equation. By launching hundreds of sites in parallel and monetizing only those that pop up naturally in google rankings, he’s taking all the guesswork out of keyword searches. All the metrics – Moz Rank, Juice Links, etc – we use to try to estimate traffic and ease-of-ranking are still shots-in-the-dark. The only real way to find out how golden a keyword is is to launch the site and see.Those of us just starting out can learn a bit from that model – probably launching a few sites at once will give us a picture of which keywords we’ve searched well and which are too high-competition.

But there are a few reasons why we may not want to. There’s an advantage to doing sites one-by-one – the psychological literature is clear that mono-tasking improves productivity and quality – and it’s worth doing Ferriss’ (I guess Paretto’s) trademark 80/20 analysis on the whole venture. Point being – there are much higher leverage ways to make money.

None of this should discourage a reader from launching a niche site as a “gateway drug” to higher-return/more varsity avenues of business, however, and it doesn’t take into account passion. If you can find something you’re really passionate about that’s also monteizable, you can literally earn money while doing what you love. I love travel, and I wanted to do it more. Boom – travel site.

It used to be if you wanted to be a travel blogger you had to find somebody to hire you as a travel blogger. Now (assuming you can write well enough to attract an audience) you can literally just “be” a travel blogger.

Or mom-blogger, or business blogger. It just-so-happens I also love to write, so Smart Getaways for Couples (which I’m not linking to any more from this site for SEO reasons) is checking at least two boxes. If you think passion for your subject, doing it for the right reasons, and being realistic about the ROI of time/fun relative to money (it’s the first in far greater quantity) isn’t related to SEO, you’re wrong – or at least I think you’re wrong.

Ok – The Perry Rosenbloom SEO Model

Perry Rosenbloom of SEO Sherpas pioneered an SEO method for the “google of today” – i.e. a Google you can’t fool or cheat. What does google want us to do in order to build links? Simple – market our content to people who might find it interesting/useful, and it if really is, they’ll link to you. Perry describes using a toolbar to “scrape” google results, dumping it into a spreadsheet, paying a gaggle of freelancers cents-a-site to find contact info of site owners, then using a plugin to mail-merge a metric ton (literally) of emails to prospects. A cumbersome process.

Luckily, enter Buzz Stream, a site that does everything for you. Just type in what you’re searching for – I should back up and say that Perry’s key is to look for clubs or groups that might find your content interesting. For his binocular review site, he marketed to bird-watching and amateur astronomy clubs. No brainer, right? Well, try the same exercise with travel. Chambers-of-Commerce? Meetup groups? Travel Agents?

Nope – it was going to be other travel bloggers, which meant the process was going to be “sniper rifle” rather than “shotgun”. I used Buzz Stream to find about 450 sites, then started going through them”the old fashioned way,” looking at each site individually and assigning it a score that took into account relevancy, page rank, and contactability. (A sort of pre-engineered 80/20 to stop me going down a rabbit hole to get in touch with the owners of a low-page-ranked site, particularly if they had no interest in me.) Anyway, I did about 50 sites-a-day for two days, then used the mail merge feature to send personalized emails to each one. (By the time I filtered down to the highest ranked sites with published email addresses, it ended up being about 35 the first day and 20 the next.) The advantage to having spent all the time reviewing the sites was that I could include details from each in the introductory emails.

As you might expect, my conversion rate was lower than Perry’s. What incentive do other travel bloggers have to link to me, besides good karma? Perry’s birding clubs, by contrast, had an incentive to give good tips to their members. So it’s not surprising that not everyone got back to me. What DID surprise me was how many did!

All-told, I got around ten responses from just over 50 emails. Most were words-of-encouragement, and that’s fine. People shouldn’t link to me unless it’s a win for THEM. I’m not asking for any favors. But some people DID offer me links. And I’m happy to say my first two “juice” page links from high page-authority sites are inked – one is live already and the other hits virtual news stands August 30. And in the process I discovered a quid-pro-quo for link building I hadn’t realized existed – guest-posts-as-outsourced-content-creation. For some bloggers it’s better business sense to offer guest writers links than to pay them. A free link with my own anchor text from a high-PR site whose content I love, and all I have to so is write you a baller article that’s going to bring eyeballs back to my site, and that I would probably write anyway just for fun? Show me where to sign.

In the coming weeks I’m going to be doing some karmic-balancing of my own and finding ways to link to a few sites that impressed me especially (like this one from a fellow blogger going deep in Japan). As I mentioned above, the non-monetary and the subtlely-monetary benefits are what make niche-siteing worth it. If there’s not something you’re passionate about, you’re better off doing it Dane Maxwell style.¬†

Which brings us to Noah Kagan and the “velocity to one dollar”.

Noah Kagan and the Velocity to One Dollar

Tim Ferriss did an interview with Noah, and it’s about the most epic thing I’ve ever seen.(My anchor text is not doing anybody any good today. Sorry;) Noah, like Tim in Four Hour Work Week, likes to validate business ideas before he invests even a single dollar. “What could you do before you go to bed to see if anybody wants to buy your product?” he asks the audience. Post a facebook status? Open a google group? Tim and Noah welcome two guests as case-studies, and the amount of fat they are able to trim is appalling.

How do we make sure we’re not just playing business?” Kagan asks.

The interview reminded me of Tim’s original muse model in FHWW – dry test several products in parallel using Adwords, then launch once something is validated, using hacks like “net-30 terms” with drop shippers to avoid negative cash flow. The most difficult and off-putting part for me was the choreography of roll-out. I jumped in gamely with two product ideas, and spent around $500 in Adwords discovering one very marketable idea it turned out it was going to cost me a cool $70,000 to make. Not to mention that Adwords is far too expensive to be a viable test platform.

But something else isn’t, and, ironically it was designed by Noah: Facebook Ads.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads to increase “likes” for my travel site’s facebook page. (Yes I did link to that intentionally! Like it, for Pete’s sake!) The experiment was a bust, but in the process I discovered something else. Click-through rates to the articles I was advertising to get “likes” were off-the-charts. I was getting decent traffic to my site without even ranking in Google, and it was only costing me $2.50-a-day.

Hold on – I could monetize right now.

Excited by the idea, but wary of SEO and branding consequences, I emailed Spencer Haws  of Niche Pursuits, and he was nice enough to get back to me.

“Go for it,” he said.

So there we are – I’m in the process of steam-cleaning my site to make sure any hint of copyrighted material is removed and that all the links work and all the pages and articles display cleanly. Monetization will be an experiment, to see what type of ads I’m getting, what types of cost-per-click they’re bidding, and how the conversion rates work. If I even break even on the ads, it’s worth it, considering the value of the exposure the ads are giving me. I did some back-of-the-napkin math, though, and if I have even modest conversion rates and cost-per-click I think this goose might fly.

Then I can get my tattoo.

Not that any of that is stopping me from going full-speed-ahead with SEO. The advantage to being on the first page of google with legitimate links earned “the hard way” is immeasurable.

Two Final Thoughts

This is running long, and hopefully it’s “epic long” and not “rambling long”. But I had a lot to share. The ethos of my travel site is running experiments and reporting back with hard data, and I intend for some of that to rub off on Breaking Ferriss, as I alluded to above, so that this space is not just a confessional, but more like a loose mastermind group for anyone who wants to read.

First, I’m exploring applying the facebook ads to dry-testing actual products. I’m going to be running some experiments in the ensuing weeks, and I’ll report back. A high conversion rate on adsense is still only pennies, but the same rate applied to a product, even one costing a modest $5, might be the ticket.

Second, I’m now actively looking for another day job. The skill set I’ve amassed in the last six months is immense, and includes web copy (obviously), user-level web design with some JV html 5 coding, and some pretty cutting-edge SEO. Not to mention a ton of ground-level, freshly-gleaned social-media-marketing chops from both Smart Getaways and Shed Science, my web show. Because most of the SEO science is being continually re-written, and search engines are nearing the endpoint of being able to discern genuine links from spam links, the Perry Rosenbloom method is the vanguard. If it succeeds for me I can now sit across from any interviewer and say I’ve successfully implemented post-Panda/Penguin SEO campaigns. So I’m searching for a web content creator/SEO guy position. The race – between whether I’ll make money first from my own business or from a new job – is on.

As always, thanks for reading.