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.


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.