It’s quite rare for me to publish a guest post on my blog.
I got chatting to Lewis Ogden a couple of months back after he published an epic post for Matthew Woodward on his methods for finding new money making niches. It was a really solid post and I recommend you take a few minutes to read it some time soon.
So I decided to invite Lewis to share his thoughts on building an online business.
Over to you Lewis…
If you paid any attention to Google and SEO over the last 6 months of 2013, you would have witnessed a tidal wave of angry people, complaining about how Google screwed their business. Whilst sad that these people have lost a lot, and in some cases everything, they really should have been asking themselves these 3 questions;
- Does my business/website rely solely on Google?
- Do I deserve to rank #1 for this keyword?
- Is my website built for the user or search engines?
By answering these 3 questions honestly, you can quickly determine if you have a website that will stand the test of time, or will succumb to an Algorithm update 6 months or even 2 years from now.
Here are ten guidelines to follow to ensure any business you start in 2014 is one for the future.
1) User Experience over SEO
There is more and more emphasis being placed on user engagement in the ranking factors.
Bounce rate, time on site, CTR all play a part in your overall SERP position and how Google see’s your site. Gone are the days of micro niche sites, 5 pages of crappy content plastered with affiliate links.
Today is the day for awesome content, engaging video and captivating images. Your site structure should make navigation a breeze for the user, it should not look like a maze of “silo links” designed to control link juice.
Your site speed is even more critical now than it ever was, you have less than a second to capture your readers eye, anymore than that and they are gone, never to return again. If your site loads like in the blink of an eye, you bounce rate will drop…simple.
Your content is the foundation of your business, not how may backlinks you have.
If your content is built for the reader, is helpful and provides what they are looking for, they will tell others.
If however, your content looks like a robot wrote it with, keywords bolded and italicized all over the place, you have no business. You have a game of cat and mouse…and guess who the cat is?
2) Own Your Links
First of all, what do I mean by owning your links?
If you build a backlink on a site owned by another webmaster, you ultimately have no control over that link. If one day, the kind of link you built is deemed ‘spammy’ by Google, then you may have a hard time getting that link removed.
If however you owned a nice authority website built on an aged domain with good Moz metrics and a clean link profile, you could build the very same backlink as in the previous example and when Google says “hey, we don’t like these links”, you can simple change or remove the link as you own the property.
So what kind of properties can we own where we control the links?
- A Private Blog Network – authority domains with good content and structure
- Web 2.0 Sites – Tumbler, BlogSport (hint: maybe some ‘dropped’ web 2.0 properties)
- Social Media – All the usual suspects, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc
- Guest Posts – Forget the SEO talk about Guest Posting, it works for real traffic and business growth
- Real Active Websites – Have a few sites in the same vertical niche? You can interlink strategically
- Client Websites – Think of a better way than sticking a link in the footer, think ‘in-text’ links
Sure you will never control all of your backlinks, however by creating properties that you do control, you will set yourself up for an much easier ride.
3) Spend More Time On Market Research
Early on in my online career, I made the mistake of jumping into a niche with both feet, only to realise there was zero money to be made. I still do sometimes enter a niche that turns out to be a duff, however these days I am fully armed and informed before I enter any online business niche.
If we spent more time on market research and less time worrying about 301 redirects, link cloaking and tiered link building, we would make our lives so much easier.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “I’m an SEO”, “I build niche sites”, “why should I worry about market research?”, Well for starters just because you are building a niche site doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat this as a real business.
There is serious money to be made online and if we all took a step out of the ‘small fish’ mindset and took ourselves seriously for a moment; I guarantee we would be that much more successful.
The research you conduct will guide you on whether the niche is a winner or a dud and could be the difference between a home run and an epic failure. Most internet marketers are lazy and they are unwilling to put the work in, before the real work starts.
So what can market research tell us?
- Financial viability of the niche/market
- The Competition (activities, strengths and weaknesses)
- Our customer profile
- What is required to be successful?
- Current and future market trend
As a bare minimum, you should be building a profile of your ideal customer. How old are they, where do they live, what type of jobs do they have and what do they do for leisure?
By doing this you will understand your audience better than 99% of the competition and have the upper hand should you site or business take off. We are all familiar with keyword research, but this is different.
This kind of market research requires a look at the ‘climate’ of a niche, who are the big players, what are they doing, what are they not doing? Ultimately, how can YOU be better?
4) Starting an Online Business Doesn’t Have to Cost the World
Jumping back into niche sites, most of them I come across are completely garbage and done on a shoestring budget. The trouble is not the budget or the amount that was spent, but the sheer lack of thought that goes into these sites.
Seriously, it doesn’t take much time and money to turn a 10 page niche site into a 50+ page authority site.
Things that will add value to your site;
- Custom Logo
- Images & Video
- Targeted content
- Top 10 Lists
- Free guides
- Unique angles and points of view
Another great way to save money on a start-up is to look to Flippa.com.
There is a good chance that there is a similar business to yours being sold on the online marketplace. I have done this a number of times, in one case I picked up an affiliate site for $1,300 that had $15,000 spent on custom code and design.
Flippa really is a great way to cut corners and have an established business up and running for a fraction of the cost of starting from scratch.
5) Focus on the Right Metrics
In my last post here, I revealed my latest case study on building a brand without SEO. I received lots of comments and emails questioning the case study and the feasibility of building an authority site without conducting SEO or worrying about where my keywords rank in Google.
This proved to me that we are still stuck in the wrong mindset. There is a whole world outside of Google and if you were to take that leap of faith and step outside for just a second, you will wonder what all the fuss was about.
I will now make a bold statement;
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOUR KEYWORD RANKS IN THE SERPS”
Now I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a few of you and you may think I’m crazy, but just think for one second why I say this?
We can define a successful site in many ways;
- Generate AdSense clicks
- Making a sale
- Lead Capture
- Generates traffic to sell ads space
- Gain an email subscriber
- Having your content retweeted or a ‘liked’
- Signing up a new client
NONE of the above has anything to do with the position of your keyword in Google.
ALL of them are affected by your ability to optimise and convert. What good is an MFA (made for AdSense) site sitting at #1 for “how to boil an egg” when there is no one paying for those keywords in the first place?
The metrics that truly matter are;
- Email Sign Up’s
- Social media interaction
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
Sure, ranking a keyword at #1 will get you traffic, but without the market research, without the optimisation in place, without the A/B split testing, our site is nothing more than a place people click on and click the back button.
Far too many of us focus on our keyword rankings without tracking the correct metrics or coming up with new, heck even better ways to get traffic. Which brings me on nicely to guideline number 6.
6) Google Isn’t the Only Way to Get Traffic
I honestly believe that Google is trying to make a better search engine for its users (along with making a boat load of money from businesses who now have to pay for Ads, but that’s another story).
The trouble is, we webmasters and SEO’s have handed the baton over to Google and they are not handing it back. Why do we dance to the Google drum?
Who said if you want success online you need to rank #1 in Google?
What about sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon, Zappos. These guys have their own music maker, does Google punish them? Heck no. It embraces them and shows them love.
Have you seen all of the ecommerce sites that dominate the SERPS? Keyword research of any kind will show you who Google loves and it’s not hard to understand why. The guys that don’t rely on Google have developed a customer base, a following if you will, of loyal supporters that share their stuff, buy their products and promote them between friends and family.
This makes Google stand up and take notice. They want a piece of the action, they want to give their users what they want and what they want are these awesome brands that have shown they can stand on their own 2 feet and don’t rely solely on organic traffic.
So What Are The Other Ways of Generating Traffic?
There are many and this section is a blog post in itself, however to summarise;
- Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest
- Guest Blogging – Forget what Mr Cutts says, guest blogging works for real traffic
- YouTube – The second biggest search engine and things go viral….
- Blogging – Start a blog for your business, you will rank for stuff you didn’t even mean to target
- Email Marketing – Building an email list to market to your customers
- Affiliate Program – Got a product or service that others could promote for a commission?
- Forums – Contribute, promote, advertise. Be the expert.
These are just a handful of ways we can show Google we can stand on our own 2 feet. By doing this we are setting ourselves up for even more traffic, sales and clicks once Google decide THEY WANT US in their organic search results.
7) Forget Micro Niche Affiliate Sites
Ok so all websites may start of as a small niche site with the potential to build into something bigger and better, but a micro niche site? Seriously, how can we expect 5 pages of dribble with affiliate links to make serious money, or any money at all?
I am all for “poking niches”, once I have conducted my market research I love nothing more than to throw together a site and see what sticks. The difference is I already know that the niche has potential to make money and the site is often 20-50 pages in size.
That is what we call making a serious effort upfront, but it doesn’t take many of these to make a serious income online, one which can replace your corporate salary in fact.
How to plan for something bigger?
So you have your niche researched and core keywords chosen, the next step is to plan your content strategy.
Chris wrote a great article titled “Developing a Content Strategy for Your Niche Site“, in which he details the 2 components of useful content in today’s market – the content and people. Have a read of the article, however in summary it boils down to one thing;
Create something valuable and BETTER than what is already out there. – Chris Dyson (TripleSEO.com)
To add my own thoughts on creating a content strategy, I have broken my process down into actionable bullet points;
- Let Long Tail Keywords guide you – these will reveal how your audience think and search which will lead to discovering sub niches within your market.
- What is the most popular content – Check out the competition, what gets the most comments and social shares? Put the article titles in a spreadsheet for future brainstorming
- Use your ideal customer profile – That profile we already have of our customer, read it and jump into their shoes. What are your needs, wants, problems and passions?
- Follow the trail – Social media is awesome for following breadcrumbs. Along with looking at the most retweeted and ‘liked’ content, you can see who does this on a consistent basis. This is your target audience, those that will help you grow your business.
From these 4 steps you should be able to come up with at least 100 article ideas. I set a target of 50 before I continue developing my site, if I cannot hit this number I go back to my market research and decide if this is a niche I should be entering.
8) Build a Website you Would Share with Your Nan
This one is more of a personal preference; however I am going to share it.
For any business or website that I am thinking of getting into, I ask myself this question; “Would I be happy to share this site with my Nan?”
If the answer is no then I leave it alone. This has prevented my, quite thankfully from entering markets such as adult, gambling and pay day loans, even the medical niche as I would hate for someone to act upon my ‘non-medical background’ advice!
Some people are cool with being involved with some of the more taboo niches, and that’s cool, to each his own. As long as you conduct your research, profile your customers and build it big then I wish you success!
9) Stay away from Black Hat SEO
If I HAD to, I would place myself within the white/grey hat side of the SEO spectrum. Yes I link build, which you may say is Black Hat, however I believe there are certain forms of linkbuilding and SEO methods that are Black Hat and I don’t conduct them. Plus it helps me sleep at night 🙂
Black Hat SEO is getting evermore harder as Google gets even smarter. Every time they are squeezed by an algorithm update, the Black Hats come back with another way to ‘beat the system’. For me this is a tiring game and I don’t have the heart or the willpower for this ‘churn and burn’ style of SEO.
Don’t get me wrong, it works for some and they are very skilled at what they do, they probably make a heck of a lot more money than I do too… it’s just not the way I am put together.
My advice is to build for the future, imagine that tomorrow Google was to disappear in a ‘serpocalyptic’ disaster. How would you build your business, how would you generate traffic and sales?
10) Know When to Outsource
Outsourcing is something that took me a while to get my head around. Initially I just couldn’t justify the money it would cost to have others do things I could do myself for free.
The trouble is I wasn’t thinking as a business owner and I didn’t realise that doing these things myself for ‘free’ wasn’t actually ‘free’ at all. Our time has a cost associated to it and anything you work on is costing you….in time.
We should be working smarter.
I decided I needed to outsource and I began slowly, an article here, a bit of data gathering there. Before I knew it I was outsourcing all kinds of work I never thought I would. As a result I have seen a big change to the way I work.
What this will do is enable you to work ON your business rather than IN it. Once you master outsourcing, you are able to spend your time working on the things that you enjoy and that will generate revenue and grow your business.
Some of the resources I use to outsource have been mentioned above, they are;
- BigStock.com (images)
You can get practically anything you need from these 4 sites, articles, images, logos, proofreaders, ebooks, programmers you name it.
So there you have my advice for building an online business that will last in 2014. If you take anything away from this article I hope that you are starting to think outside the box and think BIG. SEO is changing – it’s better to be ahead of the curve. – Lewis