Todd Malicoat (Stuntdubl SEO Consulting and Clientside SEM), Michael Gray (Graywolf’s SEO blog) and Rae Hoffman (Sugarrae Website Audits & SEO) were lucky enough to kick back with me at SMX West, so in my infinite generosity I decided to let them school me on some of the finer points of being an independent webmaster. This is intermediate level stuff mostly (my fault for not having better questions; see the end of this post for your chance to followup with your own questions), but there are a few nuggets in here for those of you who pay attention.
I began by asking Todd what he was up to in terms of personal projects.
He’s doing affiliate marketing, and his focus at the moment is on developing thicker, fully built out sites in “high dollar” niches. Most affiliate marketing industries have lots of saturation though, so Todd suggests that people getting into the game build a niche site first since it’ll be easier.
“Do something you like, that’s profitable, then cross-promote other sites [that are more lucrative],” said the Stuntman.
Michael Gray joined the conversation at this point and gave me the example of the Motley Fool, who has built a community of passionate users. My notes are hazy on this point, but I think he was getting at the fact that a passionate community can be a valuable asset, especially as it makes your revenue defensible against search engine mood swings.
“Write as you enjoy it,” Mike said, “or your site will be indefensible.” Also, if you can create one, a brand is an extra line of defense.
The conversation moved to blackhat issues at this point.
Mike highlighted that some of the drug spammers promote are illegal to sell without a license. Further to this insight, Mike contributed what I think is a somewhat obvious point yet hasn’t been made in any blog/forum/site/book I read, which is saying something: “Blackhats today need technical proficiency. You need to be a programmer. There are no blackhat marketers,” [ the way there are successful whitehat SEOs whose success is based on their marketing prowess and comes in spite of not being skilled with code].
We got back to the less shady side of things, and I asked the trio what they did for content and whether they hired any out.
At this point, Rae chimed in with her usual, helpful insight, “Where are the waiters and what’s it take to get another beer here?!”
Rae’s been hiring her content creation out and recruiting people off of Craigslist (sound familiar, SEOmoz?). That’s apparently worked out great, and both Todd and Michael are doing the same now. This made me wonder about quality control.
“Plenty of people like Lord Of The Rings and write their own spinoffs of it,” Gray said, “but they’re not necessarily good writers.” So Mike uses Problogger’s job boards. (On a related note, I’ve been sitting on Hire Bloggers .com if anyone’s in the market; it gets some typeins every month.) Another source he goes to is to tap bloggers already in the space.
Another tip Mike shared on managing writers is to use a 30 day probation period. “I can tell if they going to work out within about two weeks,” Mike said, “but 30 days gives me leeway just in case and allows for testing their ability to meet an editorial schedule.” He continued, “Keep them on a tight leash at the start and be sure to check their references.
Aside: Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start emphasizes doing this at the start of the selection process, and using it to screen out people, by seeing who only gets mild, noncommital references. I’m reading it now and it’s a great book. And even better than reading Guy’s advice, you can read this case study on how SEOmoz recruited Jane Copland!
After a brief segue by Rae about some linkbait of hers attracting links from TechCrunch and follow-on links for a total of 200,000 page views and later continuing to send 5,000 – 8,000 referrals a day, we moved to the topic of raising barriers to entry.
As mentioned above, it’s important to build a community. But it’s not as simple as just buying a vBulletin license and telling friends. You need to understand the dynamics of user participation online, according to Todd and Mike.
First, you need readership. Most of your readers and users will be passive content consumers.
The second step after that is that your commenters will start appearing. At this point, you need to start and nurture the conversation.
Finally, and usually, after a long period of starting and nurturing the conversation, your users will carry it on themselves.
The question, then, is how do you build up readership?
Todd emphasized the importance of having a strong start. “Get your exceptional content out first,” he told me. The point here is to get it bookmarked or have a “check-in the history” (not sure if he meant that your browser history will show a checkmark next to it). Todd’s point [as I took it] was that you want people to have a positive recollection of your site the second time they visit, and the third, etc.
Another highly overlooked tip Todd shared was to link out to people promiscuously. But the timing should happen after your content is awesome enough to make a good impression once people check out who is linking to them and come by to visit your site.
And that’s where we wrapped things up. Well, not quite. Todd, Michael, and Rae all offered to answer follow up questions I might have, so rather than be a guru-hog, I’m going to turn the floor over to you, dear readers, and let you submit questions (by leaving a comment). Those that are most original/likely to produce useful responses will get passed on. Big kudos to the trio :D!
Liked this? You have a huge choice of what to do next: subscribe to my RSS feed, give it social media love at StumbleUpon or Sphinn, link back, comment, check out related posts … Or if you’re really smart, sign up for SMX Social Media – Mike’s going to be speaking there, and you’re sure to meet other great folks to learn a lot from, just like I got to meet the triple threat gang!
I also strongly encourage you to check out SEM Canada, where I just got accepted to speak and where many people with lots to teach will be speaking too. Andy Beal (Marketing Pilgrim), Christine Churchill (Key Relevance), Bill Slawski (SEO by the SEA / Key Relevance), Ken Jurina (Epiar), Jane Copland (SEOmoz), and Todd Friesen (aka Oilman) are just some of the big names who’re going to be there. So go register for SEM Canada now!
Oh, and if you’re lucky you can get a picture of Matt Cutts when he’s not throttling Mike: