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.
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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


-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!

My Niche Site, and Why it’s Been a Minute

Back on the F train, and finally able to write a little bit. Well that’s only half the reason posts have been thin recently. But true to the spirit under which I got into this I’ve created an incentive to write here by creating a disincentive to Not Write – breakingferriss.com will soon be fully integrated into both branding and backlinking strategies for passive-income-generating websites. That means if you’re a prospective employer I’ve directed to this blog to showcase my content creation skills (purely writing in this case), you’re both Observer Of and Participant In a small part of my SEO spiderweb, and by clicking through the links to my other sites you’ll be both observing and helping my traffic strategy.

Anyway, the vast majority of this blog’s intended readers are not folks looking to hire me, but people in very-close-to-my-shoes – maybe they’ve read Four Hour Work Week and are looking for real-life examples of people trying to enact the principles in the book, or maybe they’re lifetime cubicle-rats just now discovering that there’s another way to live – one that doesn’t necessarily preclude a traditional job, but which certainly frees us from the need for one. (Prospective employers may take solace in the fact that if I sought you out for a job it’s because I want to work for You specifically, not that I’m desperate for any job I can find.)

Before I digress TOO much, I want to come to the main point of this post: together with my wife, I launched a niche website this month!

Little background – niche sites, in their purest form, date from the heyday of lackadaisical google algorithms and “content farms,” an era just a few years ago when early adopters of affiliate marketing and Adsense realized that unique visitors were not only a means to sell or promote a product, they were The Product. As such *any site* you could slap up that could get enough visits could easily be monetized, regardless of whether it was providing value to its readers.(If you’re a Boyscout like me, that probably rubs you the wrong way, as it did me.) All you had to do was use more sophisticated tools than most people were using at the time to find a phrase a lot of people were searching for and few websites were writing about. Buy the domain, throw up a free WordPress theme, use some SEO dark magic by sprinkling lots of keyword-dense short articles on the site and backlinking from the comments sections of high-traffic message boards on the subject, and Bam, you had a moneymaker.

Well those days are over, and it’s a lucky thing for any road weary google-searchers out there, tired of ghost landing pages and useless “About.com” articles. Google’s panda update sent a great many of these content farms to the back pages of search results. The silver lining is that those of us with actual expertise and website creation skills can now compete on a relatively level playing field. (There are still lowbrow sites, to be sure, but those folks now have to work harder to supply real content.)

Which brings us to http://nycbeyondmanhattan.com . I should say at the outset that as of this writing, the site is one week since launching, and has only skeleton content, let alone Adsense, and hence is not generating money. (We hope there’s a “yet.”) I’m chronicling my experiences in passive income, so I’ll detail below some of the steps I’m taking, but it would border on unethical to pass myself off as an authority on this stuff unless and until I’ve actually earned from it. Disclaimer out of the way, read on…

Chih-yu’s and my site caters to experienced travelers who want to experience New York like a local – not just outer boros but non-touristy areas of the outer boros. (Yes, the phrase “like a local” is part of my branding.) Problem was, very people were searching for “outer boros.” For starters, “boro” is a pretty new-York specific term. It’s what marketers call a “semantic keyword,” the way “passing guard” is to “jiujitsu” or “backlinking” is to “make money online.” People want to know about it, they just don’t know they want to know about it until they learn more about the umbrella subject. The best strategy is to rank for something people are searching for and try to get “targeted traffic” – people likely to be genuinely interested in your site and not just happening on it accidentally – by extrapolating from other keywords.

So the keyword I’m trying to rank for is “what to do NYC”, which has *steep* competition. What to do in that scenario? Trusting the wisdom of Pat Flynn, we decided that even though competition for those search terms was high, we could serve them better. We’re building what’s called an “authority site.”

But let’s back up just a bit. The niche thing, outlined on Pat’s site, starts with Keyword Research. A keyword is anything someone searching for information in your niche is likely to type into google. There are two tools I’ve used to help me with this, one free – the infamous Adwords Keyword Tool (I could give you the link but let’s let Google earn their paycheck) – and one for a nominal fee, Market Samurai. (Market Samurai is a piece of software you download and install, which pulls thousands of results from google and does the sorting for you. It also uses a metric ton of memory while it’s running, though the files don’t take up much space.)

What are we looking for with keywords? High traffic relative to competition. Keywords like “best footwear for Hokoken in July” have next-to-no searches. You could rank for that keyword right away, but you’d get precisely zero visitors to your site – at least based on that keyword. Keywords like “how to garden” or “make money online”, on the other hand, have extremely high traffic, but to publish a site catering to searchers of those terms, you’d have to beat out hundreds of big, old, and well-funded sites. There’s not much traffic for pages on the second page of google, let alone the 255th.

Both Adwords and Market Samurai can help, but the best single tool, after playing around with those sites, is your noggin. Only you know what you’re unique at. Here are some examples of niche ideas I came up with – clinical scheduling best-practices for medical and dental schools (not very sexy, but unique), low-budget DIY videography for musicians, a guide to Montana for urbanites traveling there, etc. The key, I think – and this is something I haven’t heard many of the online marketing gurus mention – is the “for”. Take a need, then make it specific to a group you belong to. In Four Hour Work Week, the example is Yoga for Rock Climbers. There are a million-and-one DVDs on yoga, but few specifically tailored to rock climbing. By adding the qualifier, you’re making the target group smaller, but also more focused. Just like adding a single character to a password, you’ve reduced by an order-of-magnitude the volume of your competition.

The other commonality of the above niches is they’re often an adjunct to a primary skill. Say, like a family member of mine, you practice law. That’s a primary skill, one that takes years to hone, but for which there are formal schools and millions of CLEs (continuing legal education seminars) competing in the space. But say you’ve taught yourself videography and basic website design and enjoyed greater commercial success promoting your firm. A few minutes to confirm the existence of a market, and surmountable competition (web traffic for a few targeted search terms), and you could launch a site/video series/all of the above dedicated to that niche.

I should say that a great many niches don’t follow the [primary] for [adjunct] model – Pat Flynn’s niche site is dedicated to security guard training. One of his interview guests has a site dedicated to reviewing Gis for jiujitsu. But if you look deeper, the specifiers are there. Pat didn’t tackle security guards writ-large, but focused on providing a few targeted resources to a select group interested in finding out how to train to be a security guard. The Gi site isn’t an omnibus site dedicated to juijitsu in the abstract, but rather a small facet – gis – and a particular angle on that facet – reviewing them.

Chih-Yu and I, inspired by another of Pat’s guests who, with his wife, launched a niche dedicated to providing information on Dubai for westerners traveling there, originally discussed starting a blog on Taiwan for an analogous audience, but quickly dismissed it due to lack of recent expertise. What we do know about, however, is living Brooklyn like a gangster, and we felt our particular quizzical, nerdy, analytic, skill-set could be deployed to explain it to foreigners. In that spirit, NYC Beyond Manhattan (subtitled “outer boros adventures”) was born.

I promised a discussion of the low number of posts, and that’s because I’ve been creating content like a feind, for a quixotic number of sites, not least of which is NYC Beyond Manhattan. As NYC Beyond Manhattan is actually launched, I can now write about it/it desperately needs backlinks.

Have a comment or success story? Hit me back. Reading this and want to do me a solid? Link to this blog from your site. Thanks, and I’ll be back soon with more!


Getting the Hang? Passive Income Further Deconstructed

Nothing keeps my head in the game as effectively as rereading the first few posts on this blog. As you climb the mountain, sometimes it’s useful to glance behind you.

One week ago I was posting about shooting my drum DVD imminently (I began last Friday), and lamenting the demise of my Shoe Muse but entertaining the idea of doing something else – designing an iPhone app, perhaps. The further I get into this, and the more I listen to things like the Smart Passive Income podcast, the more I understand the fundamentals at work.

-Most of us have something we’re exceptional at, or a problem we’ve solved, that others would value.

-Many of us are already making money with these skills – for instance teaching music students, creating websites, or personal training – but in ways that aren’t scalable. (There’s only one of you, so you can’t teach two $50-an-hour lessons at once.)

-There are at least two easy ways to “scale up” the montization of our skill:

1) Sell our information directly (simplest but probably lowest reach). This is basically the approach with my drum DVD. Instead of teaching hundreds of hours of lessons, I’m putting my best practices in one place where thousands of people can access them with no effort on my part once the DVD is complete.

2) Get a little “meta” on our skill, and figure out something we have to offer others with our same skill set. An example of this would be finding something I as a drummer or musician can do that other drummers or musicians would value, for instance creating a website to review teaching materials (uggh), or a personal trainer with a programming background creating a software to help other trainers manage their clients’ diets.

…and two ways to make money from it-
1) Sell it directly – wall the content off and charge a price for a download, DVD, eBook, whatever.
2) Give it away for free and build a community by establishing ourselves as authority figures in our niche, then charge the corporations to recommend products useful to our readers/viewers.
These can be used in combination, too, and a combination will most likely be what I use for the drum DVD. Some people post tons of high value free content, then use that to promote their paid product (“freemium”, even though that’s borrowed from software), and some even enjoy success by giving away all their content for free, but charging for a video series or eBook that puts things into an organized, easy to use format.
The deeper I get into this the more I understand I have pretty good instincts too. Maybe it’s the years on social media, the years in music. When you’ve seen every pitch you’re naturally suspicious, and if you’re savvy and ethical you won’t expect people to put up with anything you wouldn’t put up with, and you want to deliver to them the same value you would expect. I’m kind of playing it by ear with The 8020 Drummer. As it stands I’m bifurcating free and paid content, but if as it nears completion I feel like I wouldn’t pay for it myself, I’ll give it away and find another way to monetize.
Two other things, briefly, to update you about-
Drum DVD – so how’d it go?
Taping was difficult, as I expected, but fun. Over the course of two days I found a rhythm. Instead of using the standard model of sitting behind the drums and alternating talking and playing, I’m using a more “behind the music” documentary style. My practice space actually looks really cool with Marshall amps in the background. Have to reshoot a few things due to lighting. Learning curve.
Above all it needs to be clear, and the deeper into it I get the more clear the thesis becomes: you can accelerate your progress in a complex skill by focusing on the steep part of the diminishing-returns curve for multiple skills. Uncoached, many musicians will waste countless hours practicing things in the flat part of the curve (things they’ve already got pretty well under their hands/chops, and for which further progress requires a huge investment of time), letting other skills where they could make quick progress go unattended. To get from mediocre to top 5%, simply aim for 95% proficiency at a whole portfolio of skills, and you’ll improve quickly. In the video I tell you what those skills probably are, from years of teaching, playing, teaching myself, and passive observation, and show you the tools for the most important meta-skill in the arts: self diagnosis.
Or, put more simply, “practice your weaknesses!”
Have a growing laundry list of free content to record, including many of the foundational skills for a lot of things I discuss in the DVD (aimed at intermediates looking to advance or proficient high schoolers headed for college auditions), and just for fun I used Google’s keyword search tool to identify a few things a lot of people want to learn, most of which are going woefully unaddressed by the vast majority of instructional material.
Flow-charted the whole launch below, and I think this hews pretty closely to the best-practices recommended by my blogger heroes.
Other Ideas, Foundational Skills
Really quickly, I learned last week that you can make money from a skill long before somebody will hire you to do it. I must admit it stung to receive a message from a recruiter that she didn’t believe my content creation skills or grasp of online marketing was adequate for a managerial level PR job in higher ed. Nope. I needed a corporation to pay me a salary for using those skills so I could get them on a resume under a title at a real company (guess they didn’t dig 8020 Creative?) Hah. I’ve spoken before about how my day job teeters on the edge of tolerable. (If they’d just listen to me:P) So I’m in a constant search for something to transition to while I make the more long-term transition to online commerce.
One such skill, which I’ll either teach myself or invest a few paltry hundred dollars to learn, is web design. Before I can launch any products, free or paid, I need to have baller websites. Luckily WordPress.org and the oodles of cheap templates (many themselves created by Ferrisite passive income “NR”), make it easy, once I devote the few hours necessary to learn it. Good luck finding an institution to pay me for low level coding and baller site creation. Their loss.
Finally, the third way to make passive income I didn’t mention above is the latest “alternate joze” I’m looking into: niche sites that aren’t authority sites but which survive by using smarts to get to the first page of google, dropping just enough content to provide value to readers, then sending them off to the affiliate races. This is a marketing approach that doesn’t require a particular skill (drums, programming, Crossfit, what-have-you), save the meta-skill of Search Engine Optimization.
Patt Flynn talks extensively about his niche site, a security guard training resource, on his blog under a dedicated url, and he has niche-selection down to an evil genius science (basically it’s a function of specific clicks-per-month/competition), but I’ve been around the block a few times with keyword search and I prefer to be a little more right-brain, and this morning I woke up with two I suspected (and Adwords Keyword Tool confirmed) were winners. On a lark, I bought the urls:

No idea yet how, or even if, I’ll make those work, but now I’ve opened the door. See you soon!

Eve of first DVD Taping Session, and Ten-Thousand Foot View of Passive Income

I’ll tell you right now what’s probably going to happen. I’m going to complete the drum DVD, kicking and screaming the whole way, at every stage clawing to any other muse I can find (iPhone Apps? Niche sites for people avoiding sugar?), and it’s going to be far-and-away the most successful.

Let’s take a page from Pi (no, not The Life Of), and “restate my assumptions.” More accurately, “revise my assumptions to reflect my growing understanding.”

-Ways to make passive income – posting articles on “content farms” (low leverage and no fun), affiliate marketing, niche sites, blogging, eBooks and other informational products, physical products (whoa Nelly), and software, including iPhone and android Aps.

-Actually pretty much everything above (with the exception of physical products, and even sometimes websites for selling those) relates back to affiliate marketing, and here’s how: niche sites, blogging, eBooks, and even free iPhone apps all make money by trading eyeballs for dollars. More exactly, trading eyeballs you’ve carefully screened for interest in a certain thing for money from those advertising that thing. Which brings us to a truism:

-Your currency is your ability to attract people around a single item of interest to a single point in space. The network is not the means to the end, the network is the end.

This has startling implications for music. For starters, music no longer has to be “zero sum.” In a traditional music culture, we’d trade dollars back and forth. I buy your CD, you buy mine, I go to your gig, you go to mine, and if somebody builds more influence, he’s getting more dollars from more people and spending fewer on fewer. It’s the textbook scarcity context, where I succeed only at your expense, and it’s rife with “pyramid”-style relationships, where people trade dollars for the possibility of a “boost” up the ladder, which more often than not doesn’t materialize.

But say you and I both have successful web channels, and we appear on each other’s shows. Say we both attract a substantial enough following to make money from affiliate marketing. Here’s the crux – if I “click through” on your site then you “click through” on mine, we don’t trade the same dollar back and forth. We both earn original money. (This assumes, or course, that we’re actually deriving value from the product from the affiliate and not just buying crap we don’t need in order to support each other.) As such we can have an overlapping fan base, and your success doesn’t hinder mine – indeed by creating a network of like-minded people and cross-promoting each other’s music/sites/products, we can help each other succeed.

I wonder how quick musicians will be to adopt this. Pop musicians are miles ahead of jazz musicians. One of the many things inspiring me is seeing a group last night that was the “total package”: amazing product that sells itself (the show has to be seen to be believed), and whip-smart online marketing dynamo, complete with search-engine-optimized social network pages linked to youtube, and music’s equivalent of “guest posts”: covers of oft-searched pop songs redone cleverly and catchilly. (Remember Pomplamoose?) (Oh, and in the spirit of abundance, find the group I’m talking about here.)

The thing is, it’s still difficult for me to view music as a moneymaker. And in truth, it shouldn’t be one. Music should be the thing you make money so you can do, not the thing you try to make money from. And, strangely, many of the most successful ideas were just that – things people were passionate about and never viewed as vehicles to riches. (Want a little example? How about Steve Jobs.)

Still, I’m living this experiment/writing this blog to test the viability of passive income, so I need something whose primary purpose is money. Enter: iPhone apps. More on that next post.

By the way, anyone who’s read Four Hour Work Week owes it to him/herself to spend a week with Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast/blog before delving in. SOOOOO much has changed since FHWW was written. Adwords are too expensive. Content farms were “demoted” in google’s algorithm. All of which means people who were in it to get rich quickly should probably look elsewhere. But the model of leveraging (ugh buzzword) something you’re good at/passionate about to create something of value (truly of value, not just exploiting an information asymmetry), and attracting loyal fans whose lives you enrich, and benefiting financially either directly from them (by selling informational products like my drum DVD – yes I’m backlinking the hell out of it – or a paid iPhone app) or indirectly (via affiliate marketing) is a viable one for people passionate about and dedicated to the meta-skill of organic marketing.

Anyway, my experiences with my first taping session, as well as all things app, next post.

(photo depicts the electronica duo I posted about)


If You Build it Will They Come? Meditations on SEO

I promised a post on search engine optimization, and as I dial in on my drum DVD and web show, it’s at the front of my mind.I’m going to go ahead and recommend that new readers read the first couple of posts to get the gist of this blog, rather than devoting 50% of each new post to bringing everybody up to speed.I will, however, supply some new details. I have a web show. It’s called Shed Science with Nate Smith (http://www.youtube.com/user/ShedScienceShow on youtube, and look for www.ShedScienceShow.com soon), and I just learned a lesson from a minor wasted opportunity. People will usually only watch a new episode once, so the per-viewer half life of each episode is short. Once posted, you want a click on that episode to redirect users to the correct YouTube channel, where they see an ad directing them to the correct website to see more, where they’re prompted to subscribe, and to click a button to “like” your Facebook page, which in-turn directs new users to the Facebook page, which prompts them to “like” and share content, and to subscribe to the YouTube channel, etc. And I posted an episode from my personal Facebook page, which directed viewers to my personal YouTube page, where they encountered a dead end.And it’s here that most arts-related content goes to die. There’s a gravitation pull that few artists escape, and that’s the 250-some fans threshold. I have only anecdotal evidence, but I have a couple of theories as to why.

-Most artists don’t think beyond their existing network. My network – New York musicians – is probably the most jaded, overstimulated group in the universe. We’re constantly besieging each other with our gig invitations, gig videos, album release parties, etc., but instead of thinking beyond its borders most musicians continue to “share” things only with a small group of Facebook friends.

-Related, many of us don’t think very carefully about our content. Do I really want to watch another grainy, low-fi iPhone video of a thirteen minute tune? No, and I’m a jazz musician. If I can’t sit through it, it’s doubtful anyone else will. It’s true, the music should speak for itself, but at a live gig our attention can drift, and we’re still in the room. If you lose somebody’s attention in a video they’re already looking for the next thing to click on.

So what does this mean with respect to the web show? Gladwell wrote about it in 2005 – you need to reach early adopters, mavens and connectors, and your content needs to be “sticky”. (Not sticky in the chain-store, watered down sense, but addictively entertaining for your narrow niche – your “1000 True Fans”.)

My plan is to put a lot of effort into two things – getting a couple of early guests who fit the Venn diagram of interesting/inspiring people and people with a broader platform than mine (and people for whom appearing on the show is beneficial, so it’s a “win win”), and having an architecture like I described above in place by the time it’s time to drop the next few episodes.

All of this is just incidental to creating a great show, by the way – the web show is purely a labor of love. It’s my DVD for which I’ll need to apply all the lessons I’m learning about network-building and SEO. For that I plan to use a loophole in google’s keyword retail model – I’ve written previously about the ballooning cost of Adwords campaigns, where you can expect to pay at least a dollar-a-click for most quality search terms. But there’s one place where keywords are completely free: YouTube. By following the Free Content model of other sites like FreeDrumLessons.com, I hope to generate traffic and direct users to my site who will eventually pay for retail content.

A drum DVD in a market flooded with high-production-value content? Am I crazy? Hopefully not, for two reasons –
1) Within the broad category of “drum instructional material” I was able to find a pretty potent niche – Audition Preparation. True, there’s a drum DVD for every day of the week, but the vast majority is either celebrity-centered videos (Thomas Lang, Carmine Apice, etc), or instruction for “vanity skills” like faster double bass drum chops (yes, that gets thousands of searches a week). Nowhere was I able to find a product showing a user how to use his or her time in the practice room to improve quickly! So – Kaplan for the drums it is. The 80/20 drummer tested well on Adwords, to boot.
2) I can produce it for basically zero investment, save domain names, since I already bought cameras and editing software for my web show and taught myself to use them. True, I’m looking at long days editing, but I don’t need to pay anyone else to do it for me. Once up, the DVD can sell as little or as much as the market dictates, and it’s impossible for me to lose money on it. (Not that I won’t use analytics to optimize the heck out of it…)

I’m going to hold off on speculating and devote future posts to real-life lessons learned, but wanted to give you an insight to my SEO plans.