It was a scorching hot summers day in 1998, I was 18 years old and it was my first ‘proper’ job interview.
The guy sitting on the other side the desk, my potential boss, was just a few years older than me.
Smiling from ear to ear, he looked at the computer monitor as he beamed “your websites look good. You’d be a good fit here”.
All those months of hard work were about to pay off and I could feel my heart pounding through my chest.
Then he looked at me and narrowed his eyes, “but can you optimize them for search engines?”.
There was a long silence between us. I could feel the panic creeping in.
“Erm… I don’t know.. Uh.. I don’t what that means, is it important?” I asked nervously.
He started laughing, shaking his head in dismay as he stood up to shake my hand.
“Thank you for your time Mick but I’m sorry, we need someone who actually understands web marketing”.
My heart sank. I felt humiliated and dejected. I’d spent months learning how to build websites.
Back then if you wanted to build a website you had to code in Notepad by hand. There was no WordPress, no themes, not even any WYSIWYG software like Macromedia Dreamweaver.
I left the building feeling like a complete failure. And then on my walk home, I got angry.
But I wasn’t angry at him, I was angry at myself for not being prepared, for not understanding an important part of ‘this Internet stuff’. I was going to use this anger to my advantage, to improve my skillset.
The problem with being self-taught is that you never know where the gaps in your knowledge are until it’s too late. And then it can be a painful lesson to learn.
Immediately, that very same day I consumed as much information about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as I could. In the following days, I learned how to do it, and it was pretty easy at first.
In fact, I never stopped learning. Years went by and I still paid close attention to changes in the search engine algorithms, how websites fluctuate as a result, then adapting and refining the optimization process to make sure my client’s websites stayed where they were supposed to – at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Over time, everyone in the SEO industry had to experiment through trial and error. Seeing results for a short period, then re-engineering sites to make them climb back up the ranking.
Through examining the Google patents, finding potential correlations between them and taking educated guesses at how each signal influenced the SERPs, we eventually figured out what worked and what didn’t.
And before long, I’d spent an entire decade getting websites to the top.
Then after around 15 years of SEO, I started to notice a disturbing pattern emerging across the industry; legitimate high-quality websites were being penalized by Google. Clean websites with authoritative backlinks from good neighborhoods were dropping like flies.
It didn’t make any sense.
White-hat SEO techniques had suddenly become black-hat.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but this time it enabled me to understand something important; You shouldn’t build your home on someone else’s land.
Especially in business.
Google has a history of doing this; encouraging particular techniques and touting them as a great way to SEO a website, only to punish websites for going along with it.
We have plenty examples to choose from, but the one that caught the attention of bloggers everywhere is guest blogging. In 2014 Google decided that guest blogging was no longer a viable option, after encouraging the practice for years.
Guest blogging, like most promotional methods, has been abused by unethical marketers. However, Google’s algorithm clearly isn’t smart enough to tell the difference between legitimate guest posts and spam posts.
The collateral damage to small businesses that depended on SEO was immense.
So it hit me.
There are millions of businesses out there, all dependent on Google to drive conversions to their website.
It freaked me out. I became deeply concerned for any blog, e-commerce store, affiliate, any website that needed Google to survive.
Almost every single one of them oblivious to the enormous risk they’re taking.
Should the big G make a slight change to the algorithm, then BOOM – thousands of businesses destroyed in a flash, and potentially thousands of lives ruined.
A common mantra from bloggers is “algorithm changes are good, they weed out bad sites”.
If that was true, I’d agree with them.
Another one I often hear; to stay in Google’s good graces, all you need to do is “have good content and have good backlinks”.
This is naive.
But I can’t blame them for believing it. Google are fantastic at PR, they push this idea and a lot of bloggers simply accept it without question.
In some ways, this gives us an advantage – while they’re all falling over themselves to appease the Google Gods, the rest of us can get on with getting the kind of traffic that matters.
I’ll tell you how to get that kind of traffic in a minute, but first, when it comes to SEO, there are 2 core practices you need to be aware of.
On-site SEO and off-site SEO.
On-site SEO is the stuff you can control; page title, meta data – the page description and keywords. SILO, keyword density, and sitemaps are all under your control too, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Off-site SEO is largely the things you can’t control; things like the number and quality of inbound links to your site, media mentions, reviews etc.
Control is vitally important for maintaining longevity in your business.
Traffic That Matters
We know that when comes to SEO you have no control over the position that Google chooses to give you.
But do you have control over ANYTHING?
Facebook accounts can be banned, the same with Adwords, blogs can refuse to do business with you. Does control exist?
Well, yes it does.
I learned from Russell Brunson that there are 3 types of web traffic:
- Traffic that you don’t control.
- Traffic that you do control.
- Traffic that you own.
It’s the aim of the game to own as much relevant traffic as we can.
I’ll explain this to you in more detail.
Traffic that you don’t control
This is traffic from search engines, social media, and other websites. This is the traffic that you have no control over. Someone can link to you, stop linking to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
SEO, if you’re lucky, results entirely in traffic you can’t control. This is organic traffic and people proudly boast about it.
It’s free traffic, which is great. But it should be considered as supplemental and not the main source.
Every time I hear someone boast about how their traffic is organic, all I’m really hearing them say is “I have no control over the longevity of my business, and its survival is at the mercy of other companies”.
Traffic that you do control
These are traffic sources that you can influence. Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, YouTube Ads, solo ads, etc all provide traffic that you control.
You decide on what degree of targeting you want, you decide on the entry points into your funnel, and you decide how your message is framed.
Given a choice between this kind of traffic, and organic, this is more valuable.
Traffic that you own
Both of the previous traffic types can become the third type; traffic that you own.
This is the best, most valuable type of traffic to have and it’s what gives your business longevity. It also gives you predictable and consistent results.
This kind of traffic is made up of your email subscribers, your RSS subscribers, your followers, the people who’ve taken direct action and made a commitment to receiving more of your content.
These are typically, but not exclusively, the people who become your customers.
So obviously the smart thing to do is to focus on getting more traffic that you control.
SEO does have a place in the equation, it can generate supplemental free traffic so it shouldn’t be ignored – but it absolutely should not be your sole promotional vehicle or only source of traffic.
Just today I was speaking to someone who told me he’s making almost $60,000 per month just from SEO traffic.
It’s a major achievement and something to be immensely proud of.
I asked him how much of that was going back into other areas of promotion. Nothing, it turned out.
That’s understandable – when the sun is shining it’s hard to think about rainy days.
But for his business, right now there is no safety net.
I asked him to think about the way Google’s algorithms frequently change.
He’s placing a lot of trust into a company that has a track record of being highly unpredictable.
Only a few hundred high profile websites are seemingly immune to Google updates, and his website isn’t one of them. Chances are neither is yours.
Maybe you’re doing everything ‘right’ and you’re playing by whatever ‘
rules guidelines’ Google are enforcing this year.
But what happens in 2, 5, 10 years down the road when Google’s algorithm is nothing like it is today, even if you’re doing everything ‘right’?
SEO is temporary.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s pretend that your website benefits hugely from one of the ways Google ranks a site, called Clustering.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s pretend that your website benefits hugely from one of the ways Google ranks a site, called Clustering.
Should Google change the way it handles Clustering, that is likely to have a massive impact on your business.
You haven’t been penalized. You haven’t done anything wrong. Google just changed their recipe slightly and you got hit in the fallout as collateral damage.
This happened a while ago and many businesses suffered.
You can adapt and experiment to find out what changed, and maybe recover in time if you’re one of the lucky ones.
But what about the stuff you have no control over or can’t make any changes to?
Google likes to keep an eye on your websites past.
If Google decides to change the way it handles things like Document Inception, or how it likes Growth Profiles to look or the way it expects Historical Data to read, then you’re in serious trouble.
No amount of fresh content and no amount of authoritative backlink can save you. The only thing that can, is a time machine – or a new website.
The Saftey Net
The good news is that we have a multitude of other traffic sources that are more reliable. They’re also cheaper than SEO, faster and you can track your results more effectively.
How did businesses generate sales before the Internet? They advertised.
That word, advertising, scares a lot of bloggers. It used to scare me too.
It seemed like an expensive and risky option while the thought of free organic traffic was more appealing. But apart from the issues I’ve mentioned already, I also found another big problem with organic traffic; they’re not buyers.
Unless you’re specifically targeting, and achieving a good rank for purchase orientated keywords, then most of the people who visit your site aren’t in buy-mode, because they’re in research mode. You can siphon a small percentage of them into your funnel but conversion rates are always low.
In my experience, it’s easier, quicker and more profitable to just go directly to the people who want to buy, help them for free (really), and then ask for the sale.
I’ll explain more about this process in a minute.
If you’re doing this in addition to your SEO efforts, then you’re building a safety net for your business. Should anything happen to your position in the SERPs, it won’t impact your bottom line as much.
It means you’re taking control back of your business.
But where to advertise? That’s the easy bit.
Find out where the people who need your stuff hang out online. Find the blogs, forums, groups, where they look for help and put your advert in front of them.
The tricky part is getting them to click on the ad.
That’s why solid ad copy that grabs their attention and piques their curiosity is essential.
And even that isn’t too difficult once you include the main benefit of your product in the headline.
The New Lead Acquisition
Once you stop relying on Google to keep your business alive, things become a lot more steamlined and a lot less confusing.
Things also become predictable and you can clearly see which methods are providing you with a good Return On Investment (ROI)
This means you’ll know exactly how much traffic you need in order to break even.
The great thing about advertising on the Internet is that we can follow up with website visitors – I’ll call them leads from this point onwards.
Before the Internet, advertising was hit and miss – and the main way to track the effectiveness of an ad was to use a coupon.
The reader had two choices; either seek out your product and buy it or ignore the ad. If they chose to ignore it, you would have probably lost the sale forever with no way to re-engage with them.
Today we have a third choice, and it’s the smart way to do things.
We turn visitors into leads – they have the opportunity to become a prospective buyer.
This doesn’t work for all business models, but if you’re a blogger then you’ll want to sit up and take notice.
Here is how it works:
- A visitor clicks on your ad
- They are offered free content
- They are offered a product
It’s simple, right?
We ask them to opt-in to our mailing list, where they can receive high-value content that will help them to solve part of their problem. At this point, they become a lead.
Once we’ve demonstrated that we can help them, we offer them an upgrade option to buy if they feel our stuff is a good match for their needs.
If they decide not to purchase, we can follow up with them via email, and we can retarget through Facebook and through Adwords, to entice them to take action.
If we want to, we can blitz their online experience with our message – you can place your offer at their every turn. It’s incredibly powerful.
Becoming their virtual stalker isn’t something I feel comfortable with, and it’s my opinion that they will either buy from you or they won’t and no amount of advertising can convince someone to buy a product they don’t want.
But staying in regular touch with them, the way a friend does is smart.
And we can ramp things up yet again by understanding the behavior of our leads.
The great thing about this; most of it can be automated.
That means that once you create a campaign, it can be hands-off and run automatically in the background while you get on with running the parts of the business that you enjoy.
For me, it’s creating content and that’s where I like to put my focus. I automate the ‘selling’ side of things.
We can create automated campaigns that speak directly to our leads. With email marketing, it’s possible to trigger sequences based on the actions that a lead takes.
For example, if your lead expresses interest in one type of content over another, we can automatically send them more of that type of content.
Let’s pretend that you’ve sent 2 emails to your list. The first one on Monday, and it’s all about apples. The second email on Tuesday is about oranges.
If your lead opens on the email about apples and ignores the one about oranges, it’s possible to make sure the lead receives ONLY emails about apples.
This results in a refined, laser targeted campaign that speaks directly to the needs your prospects.
All this gives you a lot more control over your business than SEO, and it’s easy to see why so many bloggers are no longer investing so much time and money into the practice.
And when you think about it, if you’re investing your time and energy into creating awesome content that your visitors want and value, then you’re already doing everything that Google says it wants you to.