The affiliate marketing dream. Passive income from organic traffic, where you set it up once… and the commissions just roll in like clockwork, month after month.
No dealing with customers, no developing products, no “real” effort or need to build a brand… you simply broker the traffic. Insert yourself into the buying cycle, and soak up the profitable after-effects thereof.
No testing a plethora of different ads, no messing around with traffic buys… no real risk. Just slap up your sites, build some links on the cheap… and wait for the buyers to start rolling in.
(Just for the record – this was pretty much the consistent reality of organic marketing prior to mid-2011)
So is it still possible today? In 2013? Post Panda, Penguin, Penguin 2.0… etc?
Unlike most in this crooked little corner of the web – I really have nothing to gain at this point by feeding you any kind of “embellished hope” about what’s possible with SEO-driven affiliate marketing.
(As a handful of you may know, I’ve spent the last 2 years silently building another business – enterprise level, and almost completely outside of AM. And no, I’m not talking about LinkItPro).
That means what you’re about to read hasn’t been discreetly marinated with bias.
So let me be completely honest. The answer is a little complicated. Because not only is it still possible – in many ways, these days it’s actually easier, particularly in terms of average ranking speeds.
But there’s just one little catch:
It’s No Longer Passive
Everything else is still the same – all the keyword research, onsite SEO, fundamentals of link-building, Google’s domain-bias, gunning for product-analysis keywords… hell – even buying links based on PageRank.
It’s all just like it’s been for the past 5 years. (Regardless of what Google’s PR department would like you to think.)
Except, these days – if you’re an affiliate – you measure your site’s lifespan in months, and typically the number of said months can be measured on one hand.
This doesn’t mean it’s “over”, though. It just means that it’s a new playing ground, with new rules. And in some cases… there’s even a few less kids in the playground competing for a spot on the proverbial monkey bars…
The New World of SEO for Affiliates -
Pros, Cons, Realities – and the Way Forward…
Let’s talk in real terms about the pros and cons of affiliate marketing with SEO in 2013…
1. You Can Rank Fast. I Mean Really Fast. And For Almost Any Keyword. (Even New Domains)
If you don’t believe me (and if you’re too lazy to try yourself), all it takes is to head over to Google and start scoping out basically any of the aggressive, big-money niches. Payday, college, pharma, diet, as seen on TV… you name it.
Go and do 5 seconds of research over at SEMRush to determine what the big keywords are, and then look at who’s ranking on page 1. Aside from Google’s profit-driven “filler SERPs” (like Yahoo Answers, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc.), basically you’re going to find big brands…
…and brand-spanking-new minisites propped up with heavy, obvious linkage. If you take it a step further and monitor these SERPs for a few months, you’ll see the ever-revolving door of new sites continually running up the ladder to the top – and then either getting slapped, or pushed down by new contenders.
And no – I’m not saying it’s like this in every niche. But when ranking on page 1 means you’re going to be doing 5 figures a month… I guarantee you – those SERPs will be a revolving door.
How fast are we talking?
We’re talking a few weeks – at most. Sometimes we can get sites to page 1 (for real keywords) in a matter of days. Literally inside of a week, but usually inside 2-3 weeks. It’s truly amazing… especially compared to the months and months of waiting that SEO used to entail, in years past.
How are we doing it?
It’s a matter of straight out building as many High PR links as we can (with about 10% of the anchors being the target keyword, 90% brand/naked or generic), while maintaining an effective ROI. Since this typically rules out traditional link prospecting / bartering with other webmasters (established sites, in other words), basically your options come down to either “building” PR (with tiered linking on authority web 2.0s), or renting it (joining a network).
However, these present challenges as well…
Tiered linking – while awesome for client-safe campaigns, and still very effective, even in high-comp verticals, and particularly with exact match or near-match domains - simply takes a bit of time. Perhaps about a month longer than building links on pages that already have PR.
It’s totally viable in all but the most competitive spaces – and it doesn’t jeapordize your rankings, either. Again – perfect for local campaigns, ranking your own brand’s site(s), moderately competitive affiliate verticals… etc. But a little bit too long-term to work for the churn & burn model.
Joining networks isn’t necessarily always a slam-dunk, either.
a) If you join a homepage network, you’ll be sharing your linkjuice with probably 10+ other assholes (ahem… I mean fine, upstanding affiliates) on each respective page. The outbound links will not only dilute your potential linkjuice – they’re also a literal beacon of risk in terms of getting that host site deindexed / slapped for selling links.
Not to mention, you’ll be paying monthly for each link. This limits how many sites you can actively promote.
b) If you join a network that you can “blast” (with spun content, across hundreds of sites), your links will quickly roll off the homepages of each blog, respectively. And generally this happens very quickly. So you’ll often find that your “SERP Boost” is short-lived.
And again… you’ll still be paying monthly for posting access, generally.
This is why you ultimately want to build up your own network of High PR sites that you can use as linking assets (if you’re, you know, really hardcore).
Now – if you don’t feel like spending big bucks (and several months) building your own network of sites… there is another option for quickly ranking sites with the churn & burn model that’s deadly effective, and for once – very affordable.
What is it?
It’s a combination of network blasting to a number of high-PR sites, and then immediately reinforcing those posts with tens of thousands of tier-2 links so as to actively maintain (and sometimes even increase) your backlink’s respective PageRank source.
What this effectively does, is it gets you tons of high PR links fast – and cheap – and your linkjuice doesn’t dry up as soon as the post rolls off the root pages.
Typically, I’ve always had to do this heavy reinforcement myself (after running a network blast). That is, until we officially added it a few days ago to the LinkItPro lineup.
With this service, you can literally build hundreds of High PR links for as low as $3 per link – and they’re permanent. Not a monthly thing either… one-time.
I should make it exceptionally clear that – even though we’ve yet to see any slaps (and we have tons of page 1 rankings thus far) – this is NOT for your white-hat-obsessed, nail-biting clients.
It’s for churning & burning your way to page 1, over and over again, in high-stakes vertical. And if you know what you’re doing… and where the money is – there’s nothing else like it.
Anyway – enough of the semi-shameless plugging.
Let’s move on..
2. Thus, You Can Quickly Replace Sites That Get Slapped… Making “Churn & Burn” Totally Feasible.
As I just described above, by simply loading up a site with High PR links (as quickly and economically as you can), you can rank it in record time.
Even now – even Post Penguin 2.0
Just keep your anchor ratios in check, and you’ll see upward traction as fast as you’ve ever seen it – if not more rapidly.
I recommend that you basically queue up sites (and start promoting them in advance, regardless if your other properties haven’t yet fallen from grace) every 2 months, for each of your major keyword targets.
By no means do these sites have to be an artful masterpiece – nor do they need to offer hordes of content. For pretty much any affiliate site I put up these days, I keep them to about 5 pages in depth, total. That’s all that’s required, if even that.
Speaking of which…
3. Quality Content is No Longer a Necessity.
I debated as to whether this should instead be listed under “Cons” section as I drew up this list. I eventually decided that at least from an ROI perspective – and considering that ruthlessness is now a required attitude to adopt in order to succeed in the organics as an affiliate – it made sense to include as a “Pro”.
But essentially, it’s self-explanatory.
Despite my utter disdain for spun content, creative scraping, and in general – littering the web with crap – the fact is, Google still has yet to successfully differentiate “real” content from garbage. Let alone differentiating a content’s original source – which is why so many people complain that infringing scraper sites are still outranking them.
And this means that, unfortunately, you can basically get away with proverbial murder when it comes to content production.
As long as it’s “unique” in a technical sense, on an algorithmic level – Google eats it up.
So my advice is to be as ruthless as you feel like being.
For myself, this amounts to basically using passable, unique (but non-spun content) for my 5-page wonders.
And for my database-driven directory sites, instead of spending a fortune on content, I use “ad-lib” style spin-scraping to automatically generate “content” for thousands of keyword-rich pages. And it basically works just as well as hiring a team to spend months writing blurbs for 4,000 pages.
(Ask me how I know).
The bottom line is – just keep it technically unique, and you’re fine. That’s all there is to it, currently.
And as far as Panda goes – just make sure that 99% of the pages on your site (that you allow to be indexed) have at least a few hundred words of “unique” content, and you’re fine.
4. There’s More Technology at Your Disposal to Squeeze Out More Profit Than Ever Before…
I’ll refrain from expanding on this one – as there’s literally 100 blog posts worth of exploration here (and that’s something I plan on doing at some point this year, at least in part), but I will summarize some of the key, relatively-new technologies that you can use to immediately multiply your average revenue per visitor in a big way…
* Build a Retargeted Audience from Key Properties / Segments.
Particularly if you’re in a high-ticket market (like FX trading, for example), then every visitor is sacred. So you’d honestly be insane not to start building a pixel audience that you can retarget at any time, right from day one – even if you don’t plan on running ads for several months.
I’ll try to go into the opportunity here in a future blog post sometime soon – but the ability to instantly reach all of your previous visitors, with any offer – regardless of where they are on the web – is epic. Especially considering that you can often bid far less in $eCPM to reach them, seeing as how they’ll often be on “mass market” sites where you can typically win impressions for next to nothing.
My RTB platform of preference, so far, has been SiteScout – which handles not only retargeting, but also a full suite of other media-buying channels, on virtually every ad exchange. Again – it’s a whole other blogpost, but RTB (realtime bidding) is very much in its infancy. Keep an eye on it… it’s what “SEO” was 15 years ago, in terms of opportunity.
* Pay-per-Call, Pay-per-Install, Pay-per-”Like”, CPA-driven content “unlocks”… etc.
There’s a whole new world of conversion metrics – and therefore profitable benchmarks – that can be tracked and quantified in today’s environment than there ever was a few years ago…
There’s dudes out there turning over 6 figures monthly with each of the above monetization models, day in / day out. Use creativity, and dig deep into what your “colleagues” are doing.
There’s a hell of a lot more out there than AdSense, these days…
5. SEO is Still the King of eCPC’s at the Prospecting Level…
And this is still the big one, folks.
Even with all the cards seemingly stacked against organic traffic these days (see below), it is still – far and away – the best ROI you’ll ever realize from a traffic-cost perspective when you’re prospecting for new visitors, new leads, etc.
Even if it means you have to perpetually turn over new sites on a weekly basis – chances are, it’s still many times more affordable to realize effective traffic streams from soley-organic properties, than it is to simply cave in, and start running PPC ads…
In short – it’s still the only place where you can “buy” real, motivated clicks for pennies.
And until that day ends – SEO will remain the King of ROI at the prospecting level.
So, those are the primary “Pros” of the current state of SEO, as it pertains to affiliate marketers.
And make no mistake: There is a big difference between the affiliate experience VS. the local business experience VS. the big-brand experience VS. the sole vendor experience… ad infinitum.
I don’t have time to address those differences today – but they are real, and the differences are vast. I’ll be addressing them in detail, quite soon.
But for now – back to the affiliate experience.
Let’s talk about what’s not so great, in 2013…
1. The “Great Content + Big Site = Lifetime Traffic” Model is Dead. D-E-A-D.
This is the one that is most painful to write about – both philosophically and personally. It unearths everything that’s wrong over at the G plex, and it sheds light on the death of what was once a great, user-driven business model…
It USED to be that if you actually followed Google’s guidelines, created a wealth of excellent content, and built up your site to be a huge repository of valuable knowledge for your marketplace – regardless of your particular business model – you could more or less count on an eventual, long-term, consistent influx of steady traffic from Google.
This WAS the reality, for many years. And it was a fair system, as it rewarded true effort with steady traffic. If you built lots of great content, you would receive lots of great traffic. And if you only built a handful of good pages – you’d only get a handful of good visitors.
Then… Panda happened. At first, the fallout wasn’t so bad. Most of the losers were big sites with slim content (particularly ecommerce sites), and so we could more or less agree with the logic.
But then, with each new Panda “update” and user-experience-driven algorithmic patch, it became clear that Google didn’t give a flying shit about increasing SERP quality. Far from it, actually.
This became increasingly evident, as Google continually started giving up more and more of its results to YouTube, Yahoo Answers, Wiki pages, Forum Threads, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot, YouTube, eHow (really, Google?), Scrapers, and YouTube.
Did I mention that YouTube results practically dominate every keyphrase?
This is what has choked out legitimate, relevant and focused content on topical blogs, multi-user platforms (like Squidoo), and otherwise static authority sites that actually ADDRESS the user’s search query.
Why? My hunch is that it’s because YouTube & friends are “relevant enough” to avoid user revolt, there’s shitloads of content to draw from on those platforms – and what it does is it makes the AD BLOCKS legitimately more relevant than the organics.
THAT is the “user experience upgrade” that the Panda algorithms have accomplished for Google. It has NOTHING to do with combating spam, low-quality sites… and everything to do with turning off the free-traffic taps for sites that used to be able to earn that traffic by supplying Google with solid results to serve its users.
Google doesn’t need publishers anymore. And therefore… they don’t need to reward them.
These days, trying to draw in consistent traffic from the long-tail of search with a wide volume of good content is a fool’s errand. If you don’t believe me – try it. Better yet, go over to quantcast.com and start running estimated traffic lookups on all the major content sites out there. The ones in your niche, the user-driven sites like HubPages, Squidoo, InfoBarrel… etc.
They’re all dying.
Then, go look up eHow, Yahoo Answers, YouTube, Quora… etc. All those shitty, “gap-filling” content sources that Google loves to throw at searchers are thriving.
Do the math, friends. This isn’t about improving user experience. It’s about improving INVESTOR experience. This is Google pandering to the pigs on Wall Street, at the expense of the millions of legitimate, well-meaning publishers who’ve invested their life into building their content hubs – people who can’t AFFORD to build their audience through other means.
Search-driven content publishing, as a business model, is dead for legitimate publishers.
Let me tell you about one of my most ambitious projects in the past few years. I had really high hopes for this one, and I was waiting until we had a plethora of stellar results before telling you guys about it, and promoting it to my readers…
The idea was to essentially make it as simple as possible for people to start with affiliate marketing, by giving them a pro-affiliate platform to publish awesome product reviews, on an already-established authority site.
Unlike Squidoo/Hubpages, affiliate marketing would actually be encouraged – but every page is also human moderated prior to going live. This would keep out the “crap” and maintain tight standards, site-wide.
The biz model from there was to basically develop a backend product line for users, and maybe monetize somewhat with ads – and/or charge a premium for people to turn ads off on their review pages (called “krits”).
We went to fucking town, loading up the site with 900+ REAL product reviews, written by a small team of pro writers. We spent mid 5 figures just on content alone.
Every link ever built for Ukritic during its initial promotion phase was done with sweat. It was ALL the real-deal. Hell, we actually hired a publicist to go out and land us magazine interviews, we got on a radio show, we had writeups done on some of the key touchpoints in the general marketing world.
There again, we spent big money on real promotion. Another healthy 5-figures.
This is all prior to reaching out with list promotions, and/or attempting to bring in the member base. The whole idea was to get our own content well seated, and drive our own results – and establish ranking authority – so that we could bring members in and offer them a platform that truly worked.
Well… there’s a reason you’re only hearing about it now.
No matter what we did, no matter how stringent our content standards, and no matter how careful we were with linkbuilding – NOTHING would bring the site into Google’s good graces.
It is so disconcerting to watch some of our individual blackhat mini-sites, or individual database-driven mass scrapers, pull down more daily traffic, and more daily profit – than Ukritic. Which is the fucking poster-child of “what to do right”, according to Google’s suggestions for affiliate publishers.
Yes, it still generates some traffic, and some revenue (it basically covers our office rent)… but it’s a far cry from what this site would have been in years past. Before Google’s concern for “user experience” (aka. investor experience) in the SERPs, Ukritic would likely be conservatively adding roughly 50 – 100 new members a day, and averaging about 10K – 20K uniques per day, and in the range of $2K – $6K in commissions, daily.
But more than that… it would have been a great way for beginning affiliates to not only start earning relatively quickly/consistently – but we were enforcing actual value for the readership. The platform openly supported public product voting, so that only the stuff that’s ACTUALLY GOOD would be able to convert into real sales.
It was a great idea. And it was, admittedly, also a gamble.
So we rolled the dice, and counted on Google actually abiding by their own guidelines. And what we found, is that the business model they push directly (via Matt Cutts, via their own materials, etc), is total bullshit.
It literally makes more sense, from a business model perspective, to focus on building 5-page churn/burns – which provide NO value to anyone – than it does to shoot for the stars, and try to make something worthy for all parties, especially including the visitor.
That’s ultimately because Google is in the user-gouging business. And unfortunately… we now have to join them, if we’re going to survive in their playground. Quality is not the ticket. The ticket, friends, is ruthlessness.
But, this ruthlessness comes at a cost…
2. Organic Traffic Has Lost Most of its Value as an Capital Asset.
For all of the reasons above – especially regarding the death of the big, quality site model…
…organic traffic as an ASSET has largely decayed. The market for organically-driven traffic properties has become volatile at best. And it only makes sense from the buyers’ perspectives. The sheer volatility and risk involved with investing into organic traffic has significantly reduced buyer confidence, and therefore, the valuations for sites mostly dependent on organic traffic have plummeted.
Again, this means that there is no more gold at the end of the “good content, big site” rainbow. All you’ll have ended up doing is building yourself a temperamental income inside of a big, giant liability.
Now, some will argue that relying solely on organic traffic has always been a shitty business model. And I’d mostly agree. However, at least there was always some asset value involved, since – even factoring in things like ranking fluctuations and new competition – it used to be that domain authority, age and in general a long-established profile were things that would give that property a serious edge over any inbound newcomers.
Then, Google decided to ramp up its user-experience algorithms by introducing external penalties – things OUT OF YOUR CONTROL that could damage your sites.
These include the Penguin algos, the Unnatural Links warnings… etc. This has got to be the most blatantly-obvious move in Google’s history, in their campaign against the organic model.
Because now any asshole with a Fiverr account and $10 can go and destroy a 7-figure brand. Overnight. Nearly instantly.
And no, link disavowal doesn’t work. Nor do reconsideration requests. (Go and try, if you don’t believe me). And in the rare cases where they do… it usually involves MONTHS of waiting, and proof-of-effort in regards to link cleanup… etc.
The fact is, Google could instantaneously restore most of the value in organic traffic by simply setting the value of bad external factors to “0″, rather than making them a negative signal. The fact that they don’t do this – should be pretty telling to anyone with the remotest of deductive abilities.
This, more than anything, has degraded both the perceived and true value of organic traffic as an asset.
At best, these days, organic influx needs to be seen as a psuedo-paid traffic strategy, for the purpose of diverting that audience into other channels (pixel, email, social, etc.) as rapidly as possible…
When you sell a site that solely relies on organic traffic – what you’re selling is a billboard on a busy highway that’s on the brink of toppling over. You don’t know exactly when the sign will fall down, but you know that it inevitably will at some point – without any rhyme or reason, or warning. Could be next year. Could be next week. Both are equally plausible.
How much would you invest into something as insane as that?
Ergo… the death of a business model.
3. There’s More Moving Parts, and it Takes Perpetual Action to Maintain Consistent Influx.
SEO – particularly for affiliates – is now a lot more involved. Everything happens 10X faster.
This means that while ranking new sites is WAY faster… those rankings fluctuate 10X more quickly, and more often. What this has done is create the necessity for perpetual management in order to maintain organic traffic influx.
Whether you’re managing freelancers, platforms, software… whatever it is – the fact is, you WILL be managing something, all the time, in order to keep it coming in.
This is simply the cost of doing business in the new SEO playground. Gone are the days of watching your rankings slowly accumulate and trend upwards, month after month, until you cement yourself for years on end at the top of the pile.
Now the whole thing happens inside of a few weeks. Today’s SEO life-cycle is like watching how things used to work in 2006, except in time-lapse mode, where each 24 hours in 2013 is like 24 days in 2006.
This is good in terms of ROI turnover. And it’s bad in terms of long-term value. So this is more or less the other side of the double-edged sword with respect to ranking quickly.
4. Adwords, the Knowledge Graph, and Other “Rich Media” in Google’s Top-Fold is Increasingly Shrinking Your Total Potential Traffic via Organic SEO
This is a silent killer for alot of organic players – and many of them probably don’t realize the impact that this has.
I recently discovered the extent of this damage…
A few months ago, I decided to jump back in the saddle and hit some sites out in a trusted, tried & true niche that had treated me quite well in the past. I used to easily pull in several hundred unique visitors a day, per site, as soon as any of them rounded over the 1st page of results for any half-decent keyword.
And so I set things in motion, assembled my various network blasts, and sat back in anticipation.
I did end up on page 1 for essentially all of my targets. And boy, was I surprised to see how much of an impact Google’s new “user experience” upgrades to their layout has had on organic CTRs.
Positions where I USED to be pulling in 500 uniques a day in pos. #1 or #2 were now only netting 150, on a good day. This generally applied to all the other keywords in my target group, across the board.
I couldn’t believe it. And no, the search volume wasn’t down – according to all the trends, it’s either stabilized or in some cases increased, in that particular niche.
Therefore, it’s important to realize that given the volatility of trying to shoot for long-term rankings as an affiliate (bad idea), you need to carefully consider the cost of promotion – now that you’re often dealing with less than HALF of the available traffic (just based on deprecated CTR in the organics).
This trend will not reverse itself. Google, understandably, has no interest in restoring the strength of organic listing CTRs in the profitable spaces. They will, in fact, perpetually try to do just the opposite.
Therefore, you need to get more out of less, in today’s playground. Once again… ruthlessness required.
5. The Reality is Simply That Google Hates Affiliate Sites. Period.
And this is the big one, folks.
Regardless of what anyone (including Google, Matt Cutts, White-Hat “experts”, etc.) tells you, something I’ve just seen over and over again is that Google outright hates the affiliate model, period.
We’ve seen this in our own results.
We’ve seen this echoed – clearly – in leaked internal documents for Google’s remote rater contractors.
We’ve seen this perpetually play out over the last couple years in every competitive vertical.
We’ve seen this in Google’s shotgun approach to dealing with “low quality Adwords users” by carpet-banning literally tens of thousands of advertisers who had at ANY point in the past decade, decided to run an ad (or even a hypothetical campaign!) for what Google considered to be a “low quality offer”.
And ditto the above, for AdSense publishers (carpet banning).
I have literally watched as Google has taken action and sent warnings via WMT against an entire group of affiliate sites in niches where we PURPOSELY hosted each site on a different server, and promoted each site with entirely different methods. The WMT warnings ranged from unnatural links, to “thin content”, to malware… you name it.
All on the same day. What a coincidence.
Obviously, Google has people who manually curate the competitive verticals where money’s on the line for their advertisers (and them). Anyone who believe otherwise is either inexperienced, or they have one anomalous site on which they base the entirety of their results.
This is a fact. This is the reality. You can choose to stick your head in the sand, and head on over to SEOMoz (oops… that’s just “Moz” now – hmmmm…) and talk about how wonderful Google is all day long. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that if your business model revolves mostly around earning organic traffic – then you are no friend of Google’s.
Particularly as an affiliate.
Where do we go from here?
What is the future for affiliate marketing… SEO… and the “dream” in general?
If I build it… will anyone show up?
The Way Forward:
How to Embrace the New World…
And Exploit the NEW Opportunities…
Do you remember, as a kid, discovering that Santa Clause wasn’t a real person? Or the tooth fairy? (Or whatever else?)
Maybe you were sad for a few days… and maybe initial shock of resigning yourself to the fact that something that once seemed special was in fact, very ordinary, took a few days to wear off.
But pretty soon – you just simply moved past it. It was probably liberating, in some ways – to have any growing suspicions, or doubts in your subconscious mind become validated by direct confrontation (having the “talk” with Mom, or finding Dad’s santa suit in the closet).
The magic of Christmas, or of Easter, or of getting a dollar when you lost a tooth, wasn’t “lost”. It was simply shifted into a new context. For me at least – it was still just as much fun to receive presents, or chocolate eggs – or whatever – regardless of the source.
This is very similar to what has happened in the past 24 months, for SEO’s in general – and particularly affiliate marketers.
The inevitable “squeeze” has happened. And for many, the trap door beneath them has swung open. Perhaps, you’re one of them.
They have a choice – freefall, or adapt and learn how to fly.
The key, folks, is to embrace this new reality – get smart about it – and then evolve in order to thrive.
So… where are these “new” opportunities?
You need to consider both sides of the equation, in the wake of Google’s tumultuous stranglehold on the web marketing industry in general…
* Faster ranking cycles means that now you have a real chance at sucking in some serious traffic for those “holy-grail” keywords that, years ago, would be little more than a pipe dream.
Again, you can do this inside of a couple weeks using low-cost, big-horsepower services like High PR Squared
* Volatile SERPs are awesome for experienced affiliates in verticals where you’re not duking it out with hardened, well-heeled veterans. If you’re competing with traditional brick/mortars, or even less-experienced SEO’s, you’re going to crush them.
* Remember that most people still honestly believe – and follow – the bullshit myth about “great content” and “great user experience”. Exploit this for all it’s worth by outranking them with swaths of cheap, shitty links – and passable content.
* Actually MAKE USE of organic traffic. Don’t just expect it to roll in, day after day. Channel it into other audiences that YOU control. Email lists, pixel audiences, social channels… etc. Real assets that aren’t dictated by Google’s whims.
* Treat organic traffic as a paid strategy. Measure your eCPC’s (effective costs per click) with your campaigns, and get better at converting the traffic you bring in. Combine this with other traffic sources to discover which traffic strategy works best for your niches.
* Maybe this is the wake-up call you needed to finally step up your game, and get on the other side of the fence. You can really only go so far as an affiliate. Remember that as the vendor… you can afford to spend far more on traffic acquisition, while still realizing superb profit margins (far more than affiliates can).
And the biggest opportunity of all for affiliates in the new “era”?
Yes, I know I went AWOL for a few months, and left a few things hanging…
There’s a few reasons for that – the main one being that the world of organic traffic has been turned on its head recently, and I’m neck-deep in running a huge number of SEO tests (and still spending often in the low 5 figures a month on linkbuilding/SEO promos), just so we can stay on top of what’s actually still working.
As you probably know full well, the past couple months have been rife with tumultuous changes in the SEO world. A lot of people have gone under, and many have simply just walked away from the business altogether.
Between the latest Penguin refresh, Google’s “EMD filter” and other noticeable changes in how rankings are currently obtained – one thing is certain: things are drastically different, now.
And I wouldn’t be much use to anyone unless I actually had some current, real-life data to back up what I’m saying, teaching and occasionally selling – right?
Therefore, our goal these past few months has been as much to simply gather data – and figure out what works – as much as it has to actually rank sites and bring in the bucks.
It’s been revealing, to say the least. In fact, what we’ve discovered has entirely changed my own approach towards SEO.
So let’s dig right in and talk about the results we’ve been getting, exactly what’s changed – and what you need to do to adapt and come through this without going under.
I’ve organized my findings into a “Top Ten List” of facts we’ve established from our testing over the last 3 months in particular, right up until today. As the title of the blog post says…
…prepare to be pissed off – and thrilled.
Fact #1: You Can Rank Much, Much Faster Than Ever Before
Like, as in – you can rank for stuff in 2-3 weeks. Sometimes even 1 week. I’m talking competitive keywords, sometimes in insane niches.
This is not the old days of SEO, where you didn’t even login to your stats until at least 3 months after starting your linkbuilding. No, right now it’s pretty well instantaneous (in contrast).
This means faster cash-flow, faster ROI’s, faster “niche proving” and in general just faster everything.
Let me show you some recent examples of some of our test sites:
This site (above) doesn’t take much traffic to pull in serious coin. The offer it’s pushing pays out $90 a LEAD, and it converts very well. However, in this market, “heavy lies the crown”. Nobody stays on page 1 for long. Negative SEO (you know, that thing that “doesn’t exist”) pretty well takes care of that. But if you can shoot up to page 1 for a few weeks, you’ll make back 20 times what you spent getting there.
With this site, our rankings shot up to the top of page 2 less than a week after we blasted the site out on some semi-private blog networks.
This site is in a very high-traffic niche (this isn’t the main keyword target), and it generally converts very well. This has actually been my best-performing affiliate niche from the “old days” until now. Not necessarily the biggest uptake, but definitely the most consistent. The sales just roll in steadily, day after day.
Anyway, as you can see, all it took was a couple link pyramids (3-tiers) and boosted blog posts (on a high quality network – basically like “insider” guestposting) to hit that spot. Oh, and to top it all off, the site is an EMD, exact-match-domain.
So much for the whole “EMD penalty”… Definitely not seeing it on our end. The site ranked up about 2 weeks after promotions began.
Now here’s something totally nuts. The above site is currently fluctuating at the top of Page 3 / bottom of Pg 2 for a profitable, competitive keyword that gets 1.2 MILLION search queries (and that’s conservative), and all we’d done is set up a couple linking pyramids and place about 50 or so quality comments (on established blog pages with PR, mostly dofollow).
I’m thinking a couple blasts on a private network or two will secure a Page 1 spot inside of a couple weeks from now, and based on my previous experience in this niche (and ranking on page 1 awhile ago with a site that got tanked when the big public blog networks got mass-deindexed), we’re looking at 1,000 – 3,000 uniques a day, converting at something like 2.5%, just from that keyword.
As you can see, it took a matter of days for those rankings to start climbing up.
The real takeaway here folks is that ranking up in the organics is currently faster than I’ve ever seen it. Ever.
And it truly does not take much to get there, right now. Partly it’s this new algorithm behavior, and I think it’s also because a lot of affiliates/SEO’s in general have tucktailed and thrown in the towel, so there’s less competition (temporarily) right now.
There’s some strings attached to this anamoly…
Fact #2: 90% of Those Rankings Will Not Last Longer Than 2-3 Months
Yep. It’s true.
And no, before you get all self-righteous on me and start preaching from the SEOMoz Bible, I’m not JUST talking about sites with horrible backlink profiles, obvious link-buys, obvious blog network blasts, obvious sitewides, obvious comment spam, obvious spun wikis, etc.
I’m talking about ANY affiliate-driven site in a COMPETITIVE market, regardless of your backlink profile. Your backlink profile could solely consist of natural, in-context editorial mentions from Ghandi, the Dalai Lama and all their whiter-than-whitehat webmaster friends.
You’re still gonna tank, most likely, after a short run. The writing is, in fact, on the wall, from the day you get yourself on the radar. If it’s not some “quality rater” who is unofficially employed to downgrade all affiliate sites – particularly minisites – it will be your competitors, who will just send masses of horrible links at your site from spyware-infected, Romanian-hosted porn sites, and then file a DMCA takedown request and a spam report directly, just for good measure.
And yes, I know that Google now has a “disavow tool”. However, I really have my doubts about its efficacy, and recovery times. Also, your links may not be the root cause (and I suspect, they often are not).
I honestly believe at this point – just from seeing this happen over and over again – that Google just simply has it in for small, tightly-focused affiliate sites (minisites) in “known” markets. The really profitable stuff, that is.
In fact, from our own tests, there appears to be NO APPRECIABLE BENEFIT to building “quality content” or “quality links” for any affiliate-driven website for keywords (or specific niches) that can net you $1K+ per day from organic traffic. And I think obviously this just comes down to the kinds of perpetual spam that Google sees, day in and day out (mass auto-comments, etc.)
It’s not just limited to “buy viagra” or “payday loans”, but you can see where I’m going with this.
Basically, if you even look the part in a competitive market where Google knows everyone is most likely guilty (due to the uptake of landing on page 1) – you’re guilty by association, and the game is “up” before it’s even started.
Ask me how I know. All I can say is that we’ve spent literally as much as high 5-figure amounts on promoting certain sites the “right way” (real press, real publicity, real exposure), and for other sites (“throwaways”) we’ve spent literally like $300 on homepage links and crap blasts. On more than one occasion now, we’ve seen both types of sites TANK, not long after peaking out at their ranking target.
Let’s just say the whole experience has significantly enlarged the already-substantial ice chips I’d had on my shoulders, regarding my views on how Google treats legitimate webmasters.
So the business model, in this case, is literally just to get yourself to the top as fast as you can, soak in the profits at the top, and then wait for the inevitable slap. And it is inevitable. Whether you got there with a link from CNN’s homepage, or with 100,000 footer links on some horribly obvious spintax blog network – your days at the top are numbered, unless you’re a direct-supplying, established brand.
(And before anyone tries to prove me wrong, ask yourself: “Does my wonderful site that follows Google’s rules currently net $1,000 per day or more from my primary keyword target via affiliate marketing?” If the answer is “no”, then please shut the hell up in advance. Any moron can have “consistent rankings for years” for non-competitive keywords. Good luck in the big-dollar markets with whitehat SEO…)
So what does this mean for affiliates like us?
The answer will either offend you to your whitehat core, or powerfully liberate you with a rush of grayhat goodness. The answer, my friends, is just to continually (link) spam your way to the top, with as little $$ as possible, over and over again.
Not only does this produce a 10X greater ROI, it also lets you create a realistic business plan – one that is repeatable, scalable and consistent. And one that does not end up in you “betting everything on White”, only to lose it all to the assholes who only need to bet a few chips on “Black” with each turn of the Roulette wheel.
Speaking of link-spamming your way to the top…
Fact #3: Link Spam, Paid Links, High PR Comments, Blog Networks, etc… Still Working Like Clockwork
Now, there’s a few things that have changed in the “new world” of SEO (post Penguin, Post Panda, blah blah blah), but basically, it’s still the same old game.
PR is, sadly enough, still king.
Let me summarize everything you need to know about ranking (FAST), right now, and maximizing your capabilities as a “rank-modifying spammer” (what Google likes to call us – no, really).
The New Rules For Ranking Hard & Fast:
1) Dedicate Only 10 – 15% of your anchors to your primary keyword target. The other 90 – 85% should largely consist of brand and naked URL anchors, mixed in with a random smattering of generic anchors and related keywords.
2) For new domains, spend about 1-2 weeks doing “good” stuff like press releases, niche directories, and maybe some light blog commenting. Before you go hog-wild with the real linkjuice.
3) Use tiers (pyramids) to funnel and shield your masslinks. No, you can’t just go and blast your site with 300,000 profiles and 100,000 comments anymore. Instead, have maybe 20 – 30 actual pages on quality sites (Squidoo, News sites, guest posts, etc. – this is your tier 1), and then build a few hundred links to each of those with spun content on decent Web 2.0 platforms (this is your tier 2). Then, blast the complete crap out of that 2nd tier with as many automated masslinks as you can. Hundreds of thousands, if possible.
What this does is it inflates PR forward to each respective tier, and focuses all the ultimate link-juice at your money site. It also gives Google spiders thousands and thousands of spidering paths, which ensures your backlinks will be quickly found and amply spidered for a long time to come.
4) Use semi-private blog & homepage networks, or otherwise networks run by somewhat intelligent people who have the common sense to use redundant precautions, zero footprints, readable content and daily checks for blog deindexing (and replacement thereof).
5) Direct link-buys are still king. Nothing beats a high PR link, yet. Can be challenging to find willing sellers. Start by browsing the more serious SEO forums.
6) Create “noise” around your true linkjuice with stuff like articles, press releases, bookmarks, and quality comments. This will hold off most issues and maintain your rankings, until the site gets manually reviewed or abused by competitors. Do this on the cheap.
7) Hold your wallet close. Remember that if you’re an affiliate going after the big money… the writing’s already on the wall. Don’t spend a penny more than you need to, to rank on page 1.
And that pretty much sums it up.
Wanna see what you can do with just a couple Pyramids and a handful of paid links?
How about this site on Page 1, pos #4, in a notorious market with a $13 CPC:
Pretty neat, eh?
This is the reality of what is working, folks.
Now, let’s take a quick moment to talk about what is NOT working, or worth your time…
Fact #4: Social Signals Basically Mean Nothing Right Now – Anomalies & Manual Reviews Aside
I’m not going to spend much time on this, simply because the title says it all.
Facebook likes, Twitter “tweets”, and whatever other crap is out there that people are saying is “working” to rank sites… basically, it’s all a bunch of bull. While I do admit that twitter does SOMEWHAT seem to – very temporarily – put your site on the map, and maybe give you some SERP-rise for a few days, it’s a temporary effect at best.
So if you’re going to do this for minisites or otherwise “not your main business” sites, do it on the cheap, and realize it’s just basically a social-proof / conversion factor, and not a ranking factor.
However, that said, Google Plus does have an influence on your rankings, both in terms of what your “followers” see in the personalized SERPs (kind of like organic re-targeting, in a way), and more importantly in terms of the Authorship attribution, which appears to provide some advantage for bloggers/publishers integrated with G+.
And at the very least it will positively increase your CTR’s, quite a bit, actually. If you can feasibly do this for your money sites – do it. It’s the only worthy “social signal” so far, but one that should be used with care, for obvious reasons.
Fact #5: Google Doesn’t Care About “Quality Content”, Which is Both Good & Bad
It’s good because, well – it means you can be lazy, and it really won’t affect your results. Again, I’m talking about affiliate sites in high-comp niches.
It’s bad because it means that, unfortunately, the user experience suffers. What I suggest is using great content (conversion-focused) on your main page, or key pages, and just filler for the rest of your pages. In generaly our mini-sites are only 5-6 pages in depth, only 1-2 of which are going to provide a solid UX.
This is different for conduit (review) sites, but that’s not what we’re discussing in this post.
Anyway, the bottom line is that Google may tell you that focusing on “greate content” is the key to long-term success in their SERPs. It’s true from a business perspective (pretending that Google doesn’t even exist). But from an SEO perspective, it’s literally meaningless.
Keep it unique, readable and use natural keyword density – and that’s all you need (to rank).
Fact #6: Most Conventional “SEO Wisdom” is BS. Focus Solely on ROI to Succeed
This is kind of a re-iteration of stuff I’ve already been saying, but let me paint you a metaphorical picture of just how damaging “conventional wisdom” really is, from another area of my business life…
A few of you might have remembered me mentioning that I dabble(d) in revenue properties. Basically as a way to be “smart” with my online earnings (what’s left of them after I pay the tax agency obscene sums of hard-earned money).
It’s a conventional strategy, and one that generally wins the “approval” of my peers, financial advisors, etc.
Well, let’s just say that I’ve had more than one of these properties go south on me – and more than that, it just honestly S-U-C-K-S being a landlord. It’s such a giant pain in the ass… especially when I compare it with what’s possible with even bottom-tier affiliate marketing.
Anyway – here’s a fun story:
A few years ago, we purchased a multi-family property in central BC. We put about $90K down as a down-payment, and maybe another $5-$7K or so on a few renovations.
For the first couple years, it was generally OK. Then, stuff started going wrong. Pipes bursting, irrigation lines clogging, etc. Not the end of the world, but annoying nonetheless. In total, we’re probably into the place (including downpayment) about $98 – $100K.
And with the market the way it is now… basically, I have to “hold and hope” (for probably 10+ years) before we ever see any kind of appreciable gain, or positive ROI, on the property (after realtor fees, closing costs, etc.)
Right now, I’d have to sell it at a loss of about -$20,000, if I wanted out, and wanted to wait a few months for the right buyer.
Guess what I could’ve bought for the same investment back then – and either be ahead today, or at least at par?
A 1994 Lamborghini Diablo:
But of course… that wouldn’t be “conventional”, would it?
My financial advisor, and my peers, would not approve. It would be seen as “foolish”, or an early mid-life crisis. In contrast, my BAD real estate investment is seen as a “learning experience”, or “thinking for the long-term”.
What a bunch of bullshit.
The FACT is, a Lamborghini Diablo is literally a better investment than my “investment property”, which we purchased based on conventional wisdom, and because it was something that the majority of our peers “approved of”.
It’s an extreme example, but I’m making it because it’s important to realize that JUST BECAUSE something is “commonly accepted” or preached by industry leaders – does NOT mean it’s the best pathway for you.
Don’t simply follow the herd. Look at what’s REALLY happening around you, and adapt to it, so that you can ride the crest of the wave… rather than paddle desperately behind it.
Think about how this applies to what you’re planning, right now, in your business. Are you doing things just because it’s “conventional”? Or are you looking at the horizon with your own eyes… and making plans based on what you see?
Fact #7: Organic Traffic is Now Akin to Advertising – You Pay For Temporary Traffic, Then You Pay Again for More
To continue on from my “rant” about the Lamborghini (and conventional wisdom vs. reality), I really think that a KEY part of surviving now in the organic traffic industry…
…is to stop treating it like it’s “organic”. Rankings happen much faster now – but they also disappear, just as quickly. This is a new environment. Gone are the days of relatively “stable” rankings in most niches. Now it’s volatile. It’s easy come, easy go.
Some might be looking at this and freaking out. Because that long-term “free traffic” is no longer a reliable factor. Several months ago, I’ll be honest in saying that I was beginning to think that way as well.
But in a sense, when I start looking at the new world of SEO in its current state, I actually think there’s possibly about a 2 year window right now to REALLY cash in – but only if you change your mindset.
You have to stop obsessing over your rankings, or doing everything “right”. You have to become completely ROI-focused, rank as fast as you can, and line up another 1-2 sites behind your currently visible site to replace it when it drops.
This allows you to figure out what you can spend, what you have to make, what a keyword target is really worth – and in general – it makes you think like a MARKETER. Not just a search engine trickster.
If you embrace this, then I think that Google is still a complete goldmine for you. If you’re still chasing those “retirement rankings”, though… I think you’re in for some disappointing realizations.
Finally, organic traffic has become just another paid-traffic strategy. The ROI can still be incredible, but it’s no longer the lazy, long-term traffic stream it once was. At least not in the big-dollar niches.
But like I say, a LOT of people have dropped out, and a lot of competition is drying up, even as we speak, specifically because of this new (required) mindset shift to succeed right now. So if you’re willing to get mathematical about your SEO, and spend a month or two nailing down a cost-efficient ranking method and site rollout itinerary/schedule – then you’re golden.
Fact #8: SEO-Driven Authority Sites Are Just Too Risky
I’m sorry to say that building SEO driven authority-sites (where list-building or repeat visitors aren’t plausible strategies – which is the case in many niches) is now simply too risky.
You’re better off spreading your risk among several smaller sites, as opposed to building one big site. Not only are you less susceptible to Panda, but your inner content on smaller sites will rank much more easily (in the 10-20 page range) than trying to rank deep content on a site with several hundred, or thousand pages.
Plus – you’re dealing with multiple index/root pages, which will generally always rank more strongly than a deeper page.
So, unless you can build a business around a big site (lists, products, forums, etc.) – don’t do it. Too risky, right now.
Fact #9: Traffic is Way More Valuable Than Ever Before…
I think it goes without saying at this point that my opinion on the value of each visitor has drastically changed the last few months. In the past, I wouldn’t think much of getting a site to 1,000 uniques a day. It’s basically just standard practice for sites with enough deep content – or sites in the right vertical. (Well, it was, anyway).
That’s all changed now. Traffic comes in bursts. It shoots up for a while, and then it’s gone.
You need to make the most of it.
I strongly suggest getting into markets where you can build opt-in lists, or where the demographic is a clearly-identifiable “buyer group”. This allows you to use things like re-targeting technology (Adroll, ClickCertain, etc.) to build an “audience” that you can reach again and again as they browse other sites on the web.
It’s sort of like a “soft list”. Anyway – I strongly suggest considering these two approaches to “harvesting” your existing traffic. This is how you can use SEO’s traffic-spikes to truly create a consistent, at-your-fingertips network of traffic that you can tap, any time you want.
Traffic, more than ever, is becoming a commodity of increasing value.
Fact #10: Google Has Finally Killed the Quality Niche Content Publishing Model.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing that we’ve seen happen these last few months is the death of a completely respectable business model: unbiased, niche content publishing.
The thing with unbiased, niche content sites is that they’re always most useful to the reader when they match intent, at exactly the right moment. That is to say – when a reader is searching for something (maybe about how to make their dog stop eating socks), typically, the best user experience a search engine can provide is to serve up a quality page, on a quality niche site, whose entire business model is matching a searcher’s intent with maximum content quality.
This traffic is then monetized with ads (such as AdSense), and “everyone wins”.
Or so we thought. These days, the overall relevance of the SERPs has been, in my opinion, purposely downgraded to force PPC reliance (for consistent traffic), and also to encourage a closed-loop of user activity from Google back to Google-owned properties such as YouTube.
While this has forced many commercial sites into Adwords, the business model it’s entirely damaged is the search-driven quality content publisher. Because they can’t afford to pay for traffic – you can’t spend $0.50 a click when your average visitor is only worth $0.05.
A good example of of this is AskTheBuilder.com
It’s a sad moment for webmasters at large. Basically, now there is no incentive for anyone to publish excellent content without bias (an angle, a product on the backend). Now we ALL have to have an agenda, just to survive.
Final Takeaway: SEO is No Longer a Retirement Strategy. But You Can Still Exploit it to Build Something Bigger…
I know that a lot of this post probably sounds like it belongs on “InfoWars” or something, but I strongly suggest that you weigh my own results, and my suggestions, against the reality of what you’re REALLY seeing in the Serps right now.
Remember – conventional wisdom is often the farthest possible thing from “wise”.
As we find out more – I will let you know. But that’s pretty much how things break down at the moment. I strongly suggest that you start adapting to this as fast as possible – making the most out of every last visitor.
In other news…
Remember that guy I told you about (John Ozjaca, originally a customer of mine) a few months back, with 3 crappy blogs that have brought in close to $2MM in affiliate rev so far?
Well, here’s what’s going on with that – he’s still rocking, and he’s been able to adapt (using some of the strategies above) to maintain his (impressive) salesflow and traffic.
Also, I think we’d mentioned POV Profits – his “over-the-shoulder” project where he actually goes and pulls the curtain back on his sites, his niche, keywords, all the stuff he’s done/does on a daily basis, etc.
It’s all been updated in light of everything that’s happened these last few months, hence the delay.
I’ll be posting more about it in a few days, but for now – check out the official site at POVProfits.com
For obvious reasons, access is going to be very limited, so I’d suggest writing down the go-live date (on the site) and marking it on the calendar, if being able to see the inner-workings of an actual 7 figure affiliate business is something you’d find interesting…
Anyway guys, I’ll have more on what’s working – and more on John’s POV project, shortly…
Here’s to still kicking Google in the balls, well into 2013 and beyond – milking that hypocritical cow for all she’s worth, and turning that traffic into a network of influence that you can tap, on-demand, regardless of your rankings.
It’s a question that I’ve been asked since I first popped my head up in this industry, and every new year seems to represent some new benchmark in apparent difficulty, or barrier-to-entry.
Well – make no mistake – things are different now, than they were back in, say, 2006. And as we all know, with the rise of Panda and more significantly, Penguin (with its negative external factors), it truly is a different ball-game in 2012.
Things are getting saturated in the obvious markets. Affiliate marketing is becoming pretty “mainstream”, relatively, in contrast to the elite/wild-west industry it was 5 years ago, and even more so if you go back a decade. Gone are the days of buying PPC clicks for a penny a pop and direct-linking to a ringtone paying $2 per install (or whatever).
Even fast-forwarding to the SEO space from 2009 – 2011 Q1, when ultra-competitive rankings could literally be bought for a few hundred bucks using a few different blog networks, paid links and some aggressive ScrapeBox runs… it was brainless. And I honestly feel like an idiot for not exploiting the ever-living hell out of those SERPs. I should have built 10 times more sites.
But, alas – here we are in Post-Panda, Post-Penguin 2012. And we now vividly realize that the “golden years” of easy rankings are a thing of the past. Rankings are no longer formulaic, nor are they secure once earned. Everything is volatile, jumpy and inconsistent. And on top of everything that’s already happened… I fear we haven’t seen the end of it. In fact – I think we’re in for quite a ride.
(Here’s just a few reasons why I think that: Reason 1, Reason 2, Reason 3 – and that’s a small sample. I could go on and on.)
Google is simply going to continue closing the gap for anyone who’s not a big brand (or a Google-owned property) in their organic SERPs. They’ll call it “user experience” and “steps toward quality results”… but the reality is, it just comes down to profit.
As a result, my nearly-inevitable prediction is that in the very near future, you will increasingly see more and more of the the page 1 SERPs (for commercial-intent keywords) get eaten up by ads, paid placement, “universal” search (with a massively obvious hyper focus on Google’s other properties – like YouTube, +1, Images, etc.), or even just useless shit like your own Gmail archives, the knowledge graph and – perhaps in its most blatant move yet – by actually reducing the number of organic results on the page itself, from 10 down to 7.
So… what does it all mean? And is organic traffic as we know it quickly becoming an endangered species – relegated only to obscure niches and generic / noncommercial keywords?
Is affiliate marketing via SEO still viable in 2012?
The answer is yes – and there’s actually tons of new opportunity – but you can no longer be lazy. The game may have changed… but there’s still a game to be played.
Instead, the key in 2012 is to use a shotgun approach in a profitable niche/sub-niche, scale as hard as you can, and squeeze every last inch out of your traffic.
Things are sporatic and crazy out there. There’s no “sure path” to success in the SERPs. You basically have to – like I say – hit your sites with a shotgun smattering of every link type you can, and without any clear bias towards a “favorite” anchor-text to stay below the radar.
On top of that, you need to increase your chances of sticking in the SERPs with multiple sites, multiple supporting assets (free blog pages, YouTube videos, etc), multiple link building techniques, multiple levels of aggression… you name it. Run the gamut, and see what works best, in your particular playground.
Trust me – it’s a different set of rules in every industry right now. Strangely enough, in some (but not all) of the crazily-competitive markets, a soft-touch is all it takes to land on Page 1. And that’s just one anomaly of several.
The good news, though, is that A LOT of your competitors (and future would-be competitors) are throwing in the towel right now. Anyone involved in the SEO industry from the vendor/service end will tell you that the day Penguin rolled out, the link building / buying industry has been hanging by a string.
Only the ignorant or the well-heeled are buying stuff right now. Most people are guarding their wallets with a vengeance – most likely just to see how things shake out. And, sadly, a lot of people literally went from 6-figure players to nothing – overnight – on April 24th (Penguin).
Bottom-line? Think of 2012 as a big, giant reset button.
Yes, the game has changed, and “lazy rankings” are largely a thing of the past. Furthermore, Google will keep on pushing the envelope of blatant manipulation and cash-grabbing until their actual userbase (not us, average joe’s) start to revolt – but don’t hold your breath… that will probably take years.
But at the same time, it’s almost like an “equilibrium” of sorts, because as the barrier-to-entry tightens, competition is reduced. So, in a way, it will be “easier” to become a big fish. Especially in a small pond.
Now… let’s address the last part of this post’s headline:
Can you still thrive?
The answer is yes. EVEN if your rankings suffered Post-Penguin. And for this section, I’m going to toss the microphone over to John Ozjaca (the $1.8MM affiliate who you’ll be hearing a lot more about, right away)… who’s going to be answering some tough questions that I’m sure more than a few of us have on our mind right now…
It stands to reason that if we want to know if “thriving” is possible right now – then we should ask someone who’s doing just that, and in a market that is by no means uncompetitive…
The last question deals with the “thriving” issue directly.
1) John, you’re in a very competitive market. How do you find the constant SERP shifts and competing affs effects your bottom line?
Over the years I was never effected much by the shifts in the search engines because most of my SEO was pretty white hat. Penguin was a bit different though. After Penguin hit I saw my rankings change up a bit. I dropped back for certain keywords that I had been targeting, but started ranking for other keywords which I hadn’t been targeting quite so aggressively. This appears to be because of my anchor text ratio and Google’s new preference for big brands. I also seemed to see an uptick in my referral traffic which was interesting. Many of the web 2.0 properties I had created for backlink purposes started sending me more traffic. I have a lot of diversity out there and that really seems to have helped to protect me from Google’s ever changing algorithm. A least in terms of keeping the traffic coming in.
Competing affiliates were never much of an issue for me because of the foothold I have in my particular market. As for my bottom line, it’s held pretty steady. There are always ups and downs but business is still thriving and sales keep coming in each and every day.
2) How crucial was it to build a list? Has it saved your ass in these turbulent times? Or are most of your revs still from search based influx (your sites, web 2′s, articles, etc?)
You know, it’s funny. For some dumb reason I initially thought that email marketing was only for Biz Opp markets. I never even sent an email promotion out to my list until it was over 5000 strong (all customers). I was shocked when I made over 20 K in just four days from that first promo series. It was nuts. I now have about 16,000 customers on my list and each and every month I run a promotion or two which usually bring in at least an extra few thousand dollars.
To answer your question though… I do see knew customers coming in every day from the SERPS, but my existing customers account for daily sales as well. There was a point over a year ago that I was forced to switch brands because the original manufacturer I sold product for decided to do away with all of their online partners. I thought this was going to kill my business because my entire presence was built around that specific brand. Much to my surprise my list – and more importantly the RELATIONSHIP I had with that list – saved my skin. And as mentioned, over a year later the business is still thriving and supporting my family. In short, without the search engines I never would have had my list. But without my list I may not have been able to weather a few storms that have cropped up over the years.
3) What have you found more profitable – targeting high traffic “intent keywords” or low traffic product or “buy” keywords?
I’ve found that my answer to this is a bit different depending on the market. And it also depends on just how much traffic those product related keywords are getting. But I can say that at my peak I was dominating for the main root keyword in my niche, as well as all of the product related keywords. The niche specific keywords brought in at least four times the traffic (ballparking that), but my product related keywords actually brought in more sales. I don’t personally see many sales from long tail alone. At least not unique long tail queries. It tends to be lower traffic product related terms that convert the best for me. But again, this has varied a bit for me from market to market. In some other markets those high traffic intent keywords do really well.
4) Your products have a recurring element to them. Has this stabilized revenues or simply extracted more value on average per referral/customer?
Both really. I have a monthly billing option and that brings in a few thousand dollars of base profit each month. For example I just ran my monthly orders yesterday and rang over $3000. Not bad for a single day’s totals. But I also have a huge number of people that come back and order product as needed. Some have been ordering with me for years. So it’s nice to know that if my website disappeared tomorrow, I’d still have some money coming in each month.
5) If you could do it all over again, what are 2 things you’d do differently?
If I was starting from scratch in a new market I would do a couple of things differently.
1. I would focus more on building my own brand and authority as apposed to building my online identity around the products I was selling. This would have given me more control and left me much less vulnerable to the whims of the companies I was promoting. That has perhaps been the most frustrating part of being an affiliate and/or distributor.
2. I would analyze the traffic opportunities a bit more before diving in. My business was built almost entirely on search engine traffic. In my particular market PPC and JV opportunities are limited. Had they been available to me they would have offered even more diversity and protection from Google’s fluctuations. It’s all about creating your own traffic network and that is what I would focus on more, right from the start.
6) Do you still think affiliate marketing is a viable business model for SERP chasers?
Absolutely, without a doubt. But it has changed a bit, at least for me. I no longer chase any old idea that seems like it might be profitable. I now only get into markets where I think I can really offer value and be a true authority. That passion and commitment to my subscribers and/or customers really seems to be key. It causes my focus to shift from just wondering how I can rank for a keyword to focusing how I can offer a kick ass product or service. Then the search engine optimization is easy.
When you really care about what you are promoting your content reflects it, your user engagement is much higher, the social media signals are there, and natural link building occurs. Add a bit of intelligent backlink building to the mix and I find it’s pretty easy to rank well for just about anything. But that’s not to say that it’s all white hat. Once you are an authority in your market you can go out and build a network of smaller sites that send you additional traffic. With these sites you can take many more chances and play Google’s game. Ironically there seems to be a lot of new post-Penguin opportunities when it comes to grey hat link SEO.
I think the bottom line is that people will be using the search engines to find content for the foreseeable future. And unless Google becomes an intellectual dictatorship there will always be opportunities for us to get our content in front of those SERPS. I don’t think Google got it right with Penguin. Assuming they do eventually get it right and accurately punish search engine spammers while rewarding good content… I think that offers even better opportunities for “SERP chasers”. After all, it’s a hell of a lot easier to create a great article than it is to build and/or pay for hundreds of high authority backlinks.
There you have it, folks.
I probably have a little more BlackHat / GrayHat in my blood than John does, but obviously, it’s still some sage advice.
Thriving in 2012 is more than possible. It’s just done differently, and you have to actually take things more seriously now if you want to establish steady traffic assets.
Anyway. Enough about the apocalypse.
Anyone interested in seeing John completely reveal his existing affiliate/reseller business – his actual domains, offers, a complete breakdown of everything he did/does to draw traffic, and literally every aspect of his day to day operations?
If so, I think you’ll like what’s coming next…
P.S. Yes, I know this post (an update on Penguin and John’s upcoming total-disclosure project) was due a few weeks back. What can I say? It’s the summer, and everyone’s busy. Myself included. It just means it’ll be that much better when you finally see the “big reveal”…
Having tech/browser/something issues with Aweber today, so I’ll have to mail out on this later on, but for now, I wanted to at least get this on the blog for those waiting for the promised interview with John Ozjaca…
I’ll just get right to the point.
I recently interviewed a long-time customer of mine named John Oszjaca. A couple years ago he’d purchased the Conduit Method (or something, I forget at the moment). He’d emailed me a few times asking about various link-building techniques, and I basically just told him to buy high PR links and then dilute them with “nice links”.
(A strategy which works as well today – Post Penguin – as it ever did in the past. But more on that in the very near future…)
Fast forward a couple years, and John literally lives in multiple places around the globe, most recently purchasing a property in New Zealand (in cash), where he and his wife spend about half the year. (Bastard!)
This is all made possible by 3 little wordpress blogs that he rolled out a few years ago, and to date they’ve pulled about $1.8 Million in rev selling a product (as an affiliate/reseller) in what has become a very competitive market, but where there’s still plenty of room.
John has spent exactly $0 on ads. The sites get the majority of their traffic from organic search, followed by the mailing list interactions (which was built up from SEO anyway).
And what about Post – Penguin?
His traffic and sales are still standing strong as ever, even though one of his sites did get affected by Penguin. (This is an important factor guys – the key is diversified organic traffic channels)
What’s he doing? How’d he get there?
Well, you’re in luck, friend. Because I just so happened to ask him those very questions on a recorded phone call.
Which you can download and listen to, right here
No optin, no BS – just right-click it and save directly from here:
A few months back I wrote an enormously long post on Google’s Penguin update, and basically, I ended off by saying that I’d be running tests and then getting back to you with my findings. Yes, I know that was a few months ago – and my apologies for the wait on this – but in our world (SEO), it takes a few months to see how things actually shake out.
But the good news is… it was worth the wait. And for anyone who’s feeling beaten down and confused right now – read through this post very carefully. It just might save your ass from throwing in the towel, so it’s well worth a read…
We’ve since rolled out about 15 mini-sites and have been testing several different linkbuilding methods and onsite factors with those, as well as with individual pages of our primary authority site. While it’s not universal (and every campaign / keyword / site / page / niche / etc is definitely its own animal), we’re seeing some constants that simply can’t be ignored…
And there’s some more good news – this post won’t take a year to read, either! Contrary to the previous post, I’m just going to summarize our findings and simply report what we’ve seen, and what the main takeaways are.
This is far from comprehensive, and we’re continuing to run tests, roll sites, try new linking methods – and so on – but for now, here’s where we’re at. When I have more to tell you (which should be soon), you’ll hear from me then.
First Things First:
This Isn’t Just About “Penguin”
The struggles we face, and the ranking factors and SERP peculiarities we have to deal with right now aren’t just limited to Penguin. The SEO landscape right now is a whole buffet of BS. There are a number of hurdles to jump and landmines to side-step, and it can’t all be lumped into one simple “thing”, (and nor can one single culprit be at fault).
It’s the overall combination of all these things that make up the “New Google”.
But basically, there are offsite factors, onsite factors and niche factors that you have to be aware of – based on our findings. Whether they technically fit under the classification of “Penguin” or not doesn’t matter. Whatever you wanna call it – this is what we’re facing, and this is what works. So take it for what it is…
Careful Not to Step in the Bullshit
Right now there is a lot of emphasis from the “top” (Google’s PR dep’t, Matt “Distinguished Engineer” Cutts) as well as from their boot-licking fan-club (basically any WhiteHat authority/expert) that the way forward is by focusing on “great content”, “user experience”, “relevance” and all the rest of it.
I can assure you, in all the markets I play in at least… that is far from the reality. And anyone willing to tell the truth will tell you the same thing, even if it means being anonymous.
Right now, it honestly seems like two things are happening:
1) Google (the search engine) is broken. The focus has shifted from displaying quality results, to almost entirely focusing on anti-SEO measures. As a result, the SERPS themselves are largely degraded and biased. Especially in niches with high commercial intent.
2) Google (the company) is acting desperate. Google is systematically screwing webmasters, skirting copyright laws and otherwise rolling the dice aggressively to rake in as much as they can right now from their true profit center (advertising), and they don’t care who gets trampled in their path. With recent additions like outright stealing content to display knowledge graphs and essentially forcing anyone targeting product searches into buying their spot – the message they’re sending is pretty clear.
It’s not a “user experience” or “content” that will save you. The only way you’re safe is if you’re making Google money. If not – then nothing is sacred. You’re one algorithm / manual review away from oblivion. Yes, even hugely established websites like TripAdvisor are SOL if Google wants a piece of the pie.
So you shouldn’t have any false illusions about Google, and their true intentions.
They don’t give a shit about “good content”. What they care about, and what they’re obviously focused on, is:
* Profit, and
* Discouraging SEO through Misinformation and Scare Tactics, Thereby Increasing Reliance on Advertising, which increases…
If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and leave a comment below that answers these simple questions:
1) If Google can detect unnatural links, then why do they penalize them? Why not just discount them entirely? That would eliminate Negative SEO almost entirely, while simultaneously “killing” spam methods. Provide even a SINGLE benefit to penalizing external links, and I’ll be blown away. (Obviously, it’s a PR move to scare people away from linkbuilding).
2) If Google gave a shit about innocent webasters who are legitimate victims of Negative SEO, then why don’t they follow Bing’s example and provide a Disavow tool? Now I’m the first to agree that disavowing links all day is a massive waste of resources – but hey – at least there’d be some recourse for people, now that Negative SEO is indeed a reality. But c’mon… if Bing can offer this? So can Google. But they don’t. Or should I say… won’t.
3) Why are YouTube videos, eHow pages and webmasters who embed YouTube videos and/or AdSense on their pages receiving “special treatment” in the SERPs? Search through enough high-comp keywords, and you’ll see this trend over and over again… Google is essentially just recycling its traffic into its own, or allied, profit funnels.
4) Why does Google ignore your title tag and display what “it feels is best”? My ass they can detect what’s best for the user. They can’t. What they’re doing, though, is thwarting organic CTR’s for everyone by literally removing control from how your site’s pages are displayed in the SERPs. If they leave your title’s alone, you’re favored. If they’re screwing with them – you’re in the shithouse. It’s as simple as that.
I could go on and on.
Folks – this company is not your “friend”. They don’t care about your “good content”, or your business. They care about moving their profit line up a few percent points every year to keep their shareholders happy, and that’s literally where it ends. In fact, these are just rumors, but there’s actually some pretty compelling evidence that came to light a few days ago that shows you just how anti-webmaster Google might be…
…and if it’s true – it’s beyond cruel.
As webmasters, we are the fodder in their supply chain. And I should add – it’s FREE for Google. All they have to do is spider & scrape YOUR hard work so that they (and their big-brand friends) can make billions, while you watch your traffic dangle by a thread.
So, you know what?
GOOGLE AND THEIR FANBOYS CAN GO TO HELL.
And in the meantime – here’s the reality of how the SERPS actually work, and how to rank for pretty much anything you want in record time…
Everything I Know About Ranking Right Now, Post-Penguin…
Admittedly, it’s not much, but at least what I’m sharing with you is stuff I’ve actually seen with my own eyes, on my own campaigns. So here goes:
1) EXACT MATCH DOMAINS.
That is the word, folks. Right now, that seems to give you a free pass to rank well, and rank FAST. We’re talking inside a couple weeks, sometimes.
I can speculate as to why this might be. I think it’s simply because if the domain contains a keyword, then that keyword is technically your brand. And brands are “good”, and therefore your inbound keyword-anchors will be seen as “natural”. Or something to that effect. Perhaps it’s just a “get out of penalty free card”.
In all honesty I have no idea. But it definitely accelerates and drastically reduces the effort normally required to rank.
So for your mini-sites, right now, I would only focus on EMD’s. You don’t have to get the actual EM keyword. Let’s say your primary kw is “Porsche 911 Turbo”.
It’s okay to these kinds of variations:
Porsche911TurboCar.com, Porsche911TurboWeb.com, etc.
Throwing a short suffix on the end like that doesn’t ruin the effect. In your linkbuilding, just make sure the majority of your anchors are naked URLs and actual brand kw’s, ie. “Porsche 911 Turbo Web”. More on that below.
2) PageRank Still Matters. Alot.
Social signals and relevance possibly matter, somewhat. I think they’re important to have for no other reason than for diversity and withstanding a bit of manual scrutiny (in the case of real sites, actual biz domains, etc.). But compared to sheer PR?
Nope, sorry. PR still reigns supreme.
However, by “PR” I really mean a combination of actual green-bar PR, and the arbitrary “TrustRank”. Basically, a High PR site by my definition is this:
* PR4+ Green Bar PR
* Real site with real backlinks
How do you obtain these? Buy them discreetly, or guest post and then build in major linkage / juice to the page that links to your site. Basically, inflate the PR of your backlinks, on real sites. Note that many (many!) “real” sites have a review fee or whatever (normally just around $200 or so) where they will “feature” your site in a dedicated post.
I just had a site do this for one of our sites; it’s a PR7 and has an Alexa rating just shy of 600. It cost us $199. That’s pretty damn good. So keep an eye out, this stuff is everywhere…
Do that for real sites, for sure. If you have the time/budget, then do it for your mini-sites if there’s ROI to be had. If not, then just buy shitty HighPR links from SMALL private networks, individual webmasters, etc. Very easy to find this stuff on TrafficPlanet, WickedFire, BHW, yada yada.
Avoid popular vendors or networks. Avoid blogrolls/sitewides. Go for “smart” networks, limited availabilities, one-offs, etc.
They’re not as effective and do carry some risks – but it sure beats “creating great content” and letting the magical link fairies find your site and link to you. (In reality, the only links you get without any outreach/effort in most cases are from scrapers, domain info sites, etc.)
And it’s definitely still about as strong as it gets from a linkage perspective, especially for minisites and EMD’s.
Right behind outright link purchasing is high-quality, High PR blog commenting. NF comments will actually still pass authority and some link juice. We’ve seen this many times. DoFollow links are stronger, though. But they’re rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Milk it while you can. (Don’t post anchors in comments. Don’t post links in comments, either. Just use a normal-ish name and enter the URL where it asks you to do so – commenting is purely for PR/juice).
3) Link Shields Work Like Crazy With EMD’s!!
Link shields (tiered structures) are working VERY well right now with EMD’s. We literally ranked on page 1 for an insanely competitive keyword (in a notorious financial niche) with a 3-page minisite in a total of 10 days… and all we’d done is order the $200 “Results Package” from HOTH.
(HOTH is a well-known link shield / tier service. There are many others out there and many are effective, but HOTH is definitely worth mentioning, and I recommend it).
This won’t work for every keyword, and I think an EMD is almost required, but when it does it’s magical.
What’s crazy is that – really – all you’re building is a handful of boosted links. But Google responds to it – and generally, much more quickly than I’ve ever seen in the past with this kind of method.
Definitely give this a shot. HOTH is well-priced, and there are several other options out there spanning from riskier (cheap) options to far more diverse options costing several hundred $$’s. Use what works best for you and your niche/budget.
4) Use Short, Not-So-Obvious Title Tags
Long-winded titles will often be REPLACED by Google’s own “title writer” algorithm, which is designed to apparently describe your page to users better than you can yourself.
So make them as short as possible to avoid getting “help” from Google.
Don’t just use your primary kw target as the the title (standalone) but be sure to include it “naturally”.
If your title tag is “Black Mold DIY Guide”, then use something like “The Definitive DIY Guide to Black Mold Removal”
5) Dilute Links and Anchors, Steady Drip.
Blasting your site won’t get you far. We’re seeing that a “soft touch” is really the key to seeing rapid SERP gains, again, particularly with EMD’s. Your rankings will generally come from High PR backlinks and “boosted” premium web 2.0 links (like Link Shields), but this needs to be “insured” and diluted with a nice spread of everything else.
Your primary keyword should only comprise maybe 10 – 20% of your overall anchors. MUCH of your anchor portfolio should be random/generic. A big portion should also just be naked URL and brand signal. Between nakeds/brand and generics (“this site”) you’re basically looking at about an 80% chunk, at least.
Well, that’s what we’re doing, anyway – and it’s working.
As for link type – just get as much stuff as you can, as steadily as you can. Press Releases, articles, bookmarks, web2′s, twitter/FB, some wikis, even profiles & crap links – it’s all good IN MODERATION.
Just automate this and buy packages, etc. Again, peruse the above mentioned forums for literally endless options on these.
Drip this stuff out. Slow burn is the key… that way you have no “link velocity” issues, you just have a steady link profile growth that stays under the radar. Again, the purpose of all this crap is mainly just to HIDE your “real” ranking factors. Namely, paid / inflated High PR links.
So keep that in perspective when you’re budgeting your campaigns.
6) EMD Minisites Only, Right Now.
I strongly advise you to just focus on rolling out a perpetual production-line of exact-match-domain minisites, one after the next (or preferably in batches of 5 or 10, if the budget allows). Spread these out a bit, between a few different IPs/hosts, and also spread out your link types/services from site to site.
This is MUCH SAFER than going and investing all of your time into “one big site”. Keep in mind that Panda’s “all it takes is one page to tank all pages” policy directly works against the viability of building larger properties.
Plus, Google’s philosophies on what’s “right” will perpetually change, as well. So you might as well build a giant network of feeders that are largely self-reliant.
Rather than “building a brand”.
I really hope that changes, some day – for what it’s worth. I really wish providing great content / UX and building real sites was worth doing. But Google is making it clear that they are at war with all SEO’s, that webmasters are pawns in their empire of scraping / stealing value, and that major sites can tank overnight for “sins” (even retroactive sins) that are often far outside one’s ability to control.
You are a source of free content and increased ad revenue to Google. You don’t matter, to them. But they’ll happily use your hard-created content, and display it far below their plethora of top-fold adverts.
So let’s return the favor and make the SERPs our little bitch – a source of free traffic and increased profit for us… and ride the gravy train of FAST EMD Rankings for as long as they last.
See above for instructions.
P.S. On Thursday I’m sending out a very comprehensive (and enlightening) interview with that guy who made $1.8MM from 3 wordpress blogs (John) I mentioned a while back. It’s pretty eye-opening in terms of:
1) What’s possible
2) Why diverisified ORGANIC traffic channels (ie. minisites, vids, web2′s, etc) are vital for longterm success.
Today’s blog post is of vital importance if you utilize Google’s organic SERPs as a traffic source.
Even if you’re not an “affiliate”, per se, but your business model in some way involves acquiring organic traffic from Google, then drop everything you’re doing and read this – because things have changed. And you need to either adapt, or find a new business model…
Ranking in the current environment (Post-Penguin) is a different game. Recovering in the current environment is… well… more on that below. The bottom line is that now, more than ever, you need to be building your OWN network of traffic. Your own audience. Ideally, one that’s Google-proof.
But that doesn’t mean that SEO is dead, or that the game is up. It’s not. It’s simply changed (or more accurately, is changing). And in fact, right now is a crucial moment in which you can actually use Google to “Google-proof” yourself, ironically. Again, more on that further down…
What follows are my own opinions into what has happened, what is happening, what is going to happen – and what you can do about it to stay above water, and even thrive. I am not an all-knowing demigod when it comes to SEO, but it has been my playground for several years, and I have enough sites that I can at least draw a few conclusions, or at the very least, make some half-decent guesses.
If for no other reason, you should really pay attention here, because I’m not some “in-Google’s-pocket” WhiteHat SEO douchebag who will simply parrot whatever Matt Cutts is saying on any given weekday. I play both sides, and I don’t have, or need, SEO clients. My advice is based solely on what I have done, and am going to do, to extract as much profit from Google’s organic listings as I possibly can. Take that for what it’s worth.
So let’s begin:
First Things First – The Fat Lady Has Not Sung
Anyone with half a brain can plainly see that Google’s current SERPs, spanning almost every vertical, are some of the lowest quality results that we’ve seen in years. Decades, even. There are literally forum profiles and empty blogspot/web 2.0 pages ranking for some of the web’s most competitive keywords in every major commercial market. (Don’t believe me? Take 20 minutes right now and run searches for every competitive keyword you can think of – make sure to turn off personalized results, and make sure you’re on Google.com)
I’ve spent the past week pouring over hundreds SERPs, and I’m consistently seeing low-quality, and in many cases outright nonsense, ranking on Page 1 for basically any high-comp keyword. Of course, there’s the nearly-guaranteed presence of WikiPedia/Squidoo/eHow/YouTube/BlogSpot (and equvalents) across the gamut – irrespective of quality or even relevance. Clearly, the domain-authority filter has been jacked up, way too much.
Maybe that’s the “3%” that Matt Cutts had mentioned was affected by Penguin. Perhaps the other 97% of Google’s results comprise searches like “Why do hippies smell?”, “Who would win in a fight Chuck Norris or Moby?” and other completely unprofitable keywords that simply don’t matter, to anyone.
But as it stands, Penguin 1.0 is pretty atrocious. It wasn’t just “web-spam” that got hit in this update. Some did, but it was just as quickly replaced with more spam – much of it being worse than that which it replaced. In fact, something we’re seeing again and again is that scraper blogs are outranking the source sites, more than ever. This is insane.
More troubling is that many salt-of-the-earth publishers (like AskTheBuilder.com, DaniWeb, and countless others) were severely affected by Penguin. Sites that are in some cases over a decade old, comprised of thousands of pages of quality, unique content, and plenty of social/brand signals – and they’re tanking, hard. These are sites that provide an awesome user experience.
Google claims that they are rewarding high quality sites. Their SERPs make it clear that they are rewarding scrapers, irrelevant, outdated web 2.0 pages, generic “slightly relevant” domains, and YouTube.
Obviously, they haven’t got it right. So if Google has any intention of maintaining dominance with it’s only profitable space (search), this is far from over…
Will Google roll back Penguin? Not a chance. This is Panda all over again. They’ll just keep on making updates, tweaks, etc. So take heart!
We’re not out of the woods yet… and in this case, that’s most definitely a good thing.
Second – Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid…
Right now, much of the White-Hat community (SearchEngineWatch, WebProNews etc.) is simply parroting Cutts and talking about things like “keyword stuffing” and “link schemes”.
Obviously, what’s happened here with Penguin is a combination of corporate agenda (discouraging SEO, pushing more into Adwords out of necessity), a monumental screwup on the engineering front based on altruistic notions about ranking sites that “haven’t tried to manipulate their rankings”, and a giant can of worms known as “Negative SEO”.
So I have to laugh at some of the moronic advice I see being handed out by some of the industry’s most “respected” authorities. Particularly amusing are the glaring contradictions that these experts spout forth – seemingly without stopping to really consider them, first.
Perhaps the most annoying example is when [insert basically any WhiteHat blogger here] talks about how “Negative SEO” is a myth – and in the next breath, advises against building low-quality links, since Google might penalize that activity. (Hmmm…)
Some random examples of questionable logic from White-Hat “experts”, in no particular order:
“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms toward that goal.” ~ Matt Cutts
Here’s some feedback, Matt: If that’s what you want people to do, then how about actually rewarding them as a result? Instead of rewarding brands with thin content, scrapers/splogs, and YouTube videos?
That’s a nice delusion, Rosalind. You do realize, that people can go on Fiverr.com and spend literally $5 to blast thousands of crap links at their competition, right? This is a serious issue, and it’s one that is currently unresolved. Yes, I believe that Google will eventually do something about it. But not until it starts to affect big brands. And that could take quite a while. Till then… good luck convincing Google’s pious spam team that a competitor is orchestrating a Neg SEO campaign against you.
“The guidelines have been around for a long time, and Google has enforced them for just as long. In that regard, the Penguin update is nothing new. It’s just that Google thinks it has a new way to better enforce the guidelines. You should expect that Google will only continue to improve, so your best bet is to simply abide. That is, if you care about your Google rankings.” ~Chris Crum
Right… Because penguin was definitely all about “hidden text”. I’ll have to re-read those at some point, but apparently Google’s Guidelines must strongly endorse creating empty blogspot pages and scraping competitors…
Those are some examples of why you need to carefully draw your own conclusions, and not just blindly trust people who might seem like a “trusted authority”. Many of the so-called experts in this industry are either just some jackass who’s built a large following via JVs/product launches, salaried writers for publications, or people under too much political pressure to do anything aside from singing the party line (ex. well-known SEO firms, high-profile career WhiteHat bloggers, etc.)
Who should you be listening to?
People who either own or directly monitor hundreds of sites, and that’s it. Everyone else is just speculating and blowing smoke.
Let’s move on, and start digging into the really important stuff…
Assessing the Damage – What Did Penguin Really Target?
It’s hard to say for sure (yet), but there’s definitely some consistencies that we see across the board. Also, aside from being able to definitively see ranking drops on Apr 24th (Penguin’s confirmed rollout), it’s a bit mudded over, seeing as how there were substantial Panda updates on April 19th and April 27th as well.
But here’s what I can tell you…
My Own Data:
1) BlogNet & Obvious Link Buys From “Outed” Sites = Penalty. We only had a few sites get the “unnatural links” notice in WMT, and they were all (eventually) negatively affected. This was mostly predictable, as we’d heavily used blog network links and obvious site-wide link buys for these sites, from blogs that were clearly selling their PageRank. In cases when a WMT message was present, the penalty seems to have affected the whole domain, and it isn’t just a “discounting” of said links. It is actually a negative effect. Bad links, obviously, can outweigh good ones.
Therefore, Penguin/Panda/Whatever has opened a can of worms. Because it now means you can play “Duck Hunt” with Google’s SERPs.
2) Unexplainable Collateral Damage. This is really frustrating – the only sites that really got hammered were 2 of my true authority sites. Sites with linking profiles cleaner than Mother Theresa, and whose content is stellar. I think things are still in flux, and it’s too early to throw in the towel with them… but still. It’s pretty amazing, in a bad way. I truly and honestly have no idea why these sites are pushed in the background.
All I know is that I’m in good company… with several other legitimate publishers. Folks, I have no reason to embellish this at all. Remember that I’m proudly GrayHat and openly buy my rankings with smaller, disconnected sites. (And yet very few of them were seemingly punished… while my “real” sites are buried, at the moment. Insanity.)
3) Nonsensical (and Likely Temporary) Black Hat Rewards. I have sites from years ago that have SO much blackhat stuff going on (externally) that not only weren’t affected by Penguin, but which also shot up in the rankings. Although, admittedly, these rankings are volatile and change every day. Nevertheless, they’re getting tons of traffic right now. And from a “WebSpam” perspective, these should be nuked. Gone. Buried.
(Nope – that’s just the quality sites, I guess…)
4) Over-Eager Title Tags = Less Eager SERP Placements. We’re also seeing that sites with title tags directly targeting our primary keywords are not holding position. They’re losing rank to more “generic” or “loosely relevant” pages (in terms of evaluating their title tags).
5) Who Knew That Dropping an Anchor Could Sink a Ship? I’ve always varied my anchor text when backlinking, quite a lot actually. However, in the few cases where I didn’t (usually with throwaways or mini-sites), these have all taken hits. It seems like the affected pages have been relegated back in the SERPs anywhere from 1-5 pages. It’s not consistent. At least not with my relatively small pool of sites with heavily-similar anchored backlinks.
Also, it’s not clear whether this is a sitewide effect, or only something that only affects the page where the offending anchored-links point. In my limited test group, I see both of those results (page penalty only, sitewide penalty). Of course, the sitewide issues on these sites could be caused by the other factors mentioned here.
That’s what I’m seeing on my end, for what it’s worth.
Other People’s Data:
These are well worth looking at – after you finish reading this post. Here they are for your reference…
1) Jerry West’s Quick Analysis. 10 Second Summary: Sites that got hit consistently have uneven anchor text, too much keyword density onsite, low quality backlinks, internal dupe content/title tags, too many 404s
2)Jon Leger’s Take on Ranking Post-Penguin. 10 Second Summary: Authority (Web 2′s like blogspot) domains unfairly favored, uneven anchor-text is a problem, exact-match domains NOT targeted in/of themselves – only if overly anchored, “spam” links still working, ranking varies by keyword niche – do SERP research to determine winning profile for your niche.
3) MicroSite Masters In-Depth Analysis. This is probably the best data so far to surface Post-Penguin. 10 Second Summary: “Google is trying to replace or devalue “anchor text” use with “niche/content relevancy of linking sites” as a primary link relevancy, (or “quality”) signal.”
Basically folks – the big takeaway is that Google is currently seems to be rewarding brands, authority domains, sites with links from “relevant” sources, and sites that are only “somewhat” gunning for a given keyword.
Will it hold? Not in its current form – the SERPs will eventually start to piss off even the average joe surfer. (Which is already happening, to an extent). But I believe the overall principle is one that won’t be going anywhere…
Google is obviously, desperately trying to use other signals apart from backlinks/anchors to determine relevance. They didn’t get it right this time. However – this direction is one they won’t stop pursuing. In other words – now would be a good time to stop ordering 10,000 anchored link blasts to your mini-sites…
So… What Now?
How the Hell Do I Rank in Google, Post-Penguin?
(And How Can I Rescue Sites That Got Whacked?)
Even though the dust hasn’t yet settled – and it’s almost as certain as death, taxes and Dolph Lundgren starring in another B flick that Google will be rolling out a plethora of Penguin updates…
…what’s clear is that, if anything, right now Google seems to be rewarding a degree of “restraint”. Less appears to be “more”, in the SERPs.
However, you can’t paint every vertical with the same brush. There’s still plenty of stuff ranking based on nothing more than mass spamming, obvious paid links, and even some other variation of BlogNet links/spun content. Sure, it could be temporary fodder that’s simply been propped as a default effect of its previous, better-ranking competitors being condemned to oblivion. But it also shows us that Google is far from catching “webspam” universally.
It almost seems to be a different set of rules for each market. (Maybe it is?)
So what’s the way forward with ranking new sites?
I think the key to success right now is twofold:
1) Tread Lightly. What’s obvious is that Google is attempting to discourage “obvious manipulation” through the use of heavy-handed penalties. This includes things like uneven anchor text, over-optimization (onpage), unnatural backlinks, uneven backlink relevance. It could also possibly include things like uneven NoFollow/DoFollow ratios, having too many of the same types of links, and so on. I have no data to back that up, but it does follow the logic.
Therefore, I strongly recommend “keeping it natural”, and building a few good links rather than several “so-so” links. Diversity is also key. Spread the net, and don’t just build one type of backlink. (I’ll get into specifics further down.)
2) Copy Success & Run Low-Risk Experiments. The truth is that right now your guess is probably just as good as mine! Low-risk, research-based experimentation is going to be the key to finding your way (up) in any given market right now. Take a look at who’s ranking. Use ahrefs and OSE to find out what they’ve got for backlinks. Look at their title tags, their site structure, and their content. And go from there.
(By the way folks, the above is the foolproof, never-fail formula to SEO, by the way. And it’s hiding in plain sight.)
Now – I’m going to talk about some “traffic band-aids” just below this (for established sites that have been sucker-punched by the Penguin), but for now, here’s the extent of my knowledge as it pertains to recovering from Penguin…
So… how can I get my rankings back?
The first thing to do is to honestly assess your link profile. Onsite and onpage factors really don’t matter. Those things are easily remedied. It’s your backlinks that determine your options, right now.
We know, for sure, that Penguin (or something – Penguin, Panda, April’s 50 updates – whatever) is slamming sites that have too many anchored backlinks, too many links from bad neighborhoods, BlogNet links, obvious link-buys, etc. Keep in mind that not every site that’s been hit has received an “unnatural links” notice in WMT…
So, for this reason, if you reasonably believe that you can feasibly “clean up” your backlink profile by removing or pulling down your potentially “offensive” backlinks, then your site is likely salvageable.
On the other hand, if you fall into the unfortunate category of people who built backlinks very aggressively in the past, pointed directly at your money site (or – gasp – your authority site), then it may not be so simple, but there are still some options, which I cover below…
Finally, if you’re one of the many totally-above-board publishers (like AskTheBuilder.com) that have been slammed by Penguin for truly no apparent reason – and have nothing to hide – then you should file a reconsideration request, submit this “I was unfairly affected by Penguin” form, and consider publicizing your case on Google’s webmaster forums. And then wait patiently – while at the same time, taking some of the advice I’ve dispensed further down…
At the very least – regardless of whatever category of victim you fall under – the good news is that you certainly aren’t alone. This is far from an isolated case, and for what it’s worth, “we’re all in this together”.
Your patience and loyal readership has paid off, friend. In addition to receiving a cookie (literally), you’ve also finally reached the part where I start to dole out actionable shit…
Here’s Exactly What I’m Doing
Take it With a Boulder of Salt…
Again, I have to make it very clear that I’m not an SEO wizard. Nobody is, right now. Even the people who think they’re real smart for not getting taken out in these last few updates, will likely be swallowing their words a few weeks from now, whilst shitting bricks, sewing together a Google Voodoo Doll, and popping valium.
So, what that means is that just because what follows is my own plan… that doesn’t mean it’s the answer to all of our prayers, or that it is guaranteed to do anything. I generally have a pretty good track-record in terms of success with organic strategy, but hey – I sure didn’t see the Penguin coming…
Therefore, don’t just follow me blindly – we could both very well end up falling into a pit. Do your research, and make your own decisions (and take responsibility for them).
With all that said – here’s what I’m doing:
I want to first begin with my recovery strategies, as I actually fall into each of the three “victim classes” that I itemized above. I will lay out my recovery plan for each victim profile…
* My Recovery Plan for Salvageable Sites
For these sites, obviously, the first move is to go and axe backlinks that are either a potential cause of the ranking loss – OR – could become a liability, even if they aren’t the current cause. Essentially, I’m going to pretend that I’m working through a reconsideration request, and doing “good-faith” efforts.
Then, I’m going to audit the site itself thoroughly. Look for crawling errors, potential internal dupe content/tags, jack up the site loading speed as much as possible, look at any potential keyword density issues, over-use of internal anchors, sitewide or footer links out to other websites – and so on.
Then, with my remaining backlink profile, I’m going to use Ahrefs, Majestic, or OSE (possibly all 3) to take a close look at my anchors. I may have to work on diluting my overall % of anchored links by building/adding naked links or d0main-brand links (which I would do with press releases and submission to relevant directories in my actual niche – not the typical dir submits… I’ll have to train someone).
My ideal “anchor ratio” (both for salvaging sites, and going forward for any new authority site) is as follows:
–> 30% naked links
–> 30% brand-anchor links
–> 30% is a DIVERSE MIX of keyword anchor links. At least 10 variations per target (site, page, etc.)
–> 10% Misc/random (images, “click here”, etc.)
When I have roughly attained that type of BL profile, then I go into “slow burn mode”, which I’ve detailed further down. If I don’t see an improvement (after I’ve axed bad links, drastically improved anchor ratios, etc.), then I take the steps mentioned above for attempting to rescue a site that’s actually innocent.
* My Plan for Sites That I CANNOT Feasibly “Clean Up”
It’s basically a rite of passage as any SEO-driven affiliate worth his or her salt… Most of us have dabbled in Gray-Hat or Black-Hat stuff. If you haven’t, you’re probably a boring person, and stop at intersections if the lights so much as hint at turning yellow.
Anyway, the day of reckoning is upon us, and the deeds done in darkness are now exposed to the light. Even if these “deeds” are done by competitors, disgruntled employees, unwitting customers, etc. It doesn’t matter. The price is paid by the root domain, and its owner (you).
So you have 156,000 backlinks comprised of forum profiles, mass-comments, wiki posts, and spammy bookmarks? Unfortunately, with these sites – the fat lady has indeed sung. And your site is the proverbial champagne glass – shattering to the floor…
If you feel like tossing the dice, you can try to see how far you get with a re-consideration request. You have nothing to lose, and at the very least it’s worth a try. (Now – I should make it clear that I’m talking about sites with horrible BL profiles that have already been negatively affected. If you have NOT been penalized or kicked out the SERPs – then do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Ride the wave, my friend, for as long as it lasts, and stay under the radar as long as possible.)
If a re-con request doesn’t work (and it probably won’t), then here’s what I recommend, and what I myself will be doing in these cases…
–> Locate every scraper site and otherwise website that has copied any of your unique content and initiate a takedown campaign. Contact them with a Cease & Desist first. They will likely ignore it. When they do, send in a DMCA takedown order to their hosting company, and also file a DMCA with Google for that page.
Why? Because you’re going to be relocating your site’s content to a new domain, with no pre-existing authority or “claim” to the content. If you don’t wipe out as much of the scraped/copied content from around the web as possible, then Google will simply see your new domain as yet another scraper joining the party.
Anyway, after you’ve done all you can…
–> Turn your existing site into a one-page wonder, and remove all content, including your homepage content. Just have a notice like “this site is moving” or something. Let it sit like that for at least one month. Make sure your old pages are good and de-indexed (by using the site:whatever.com command in Google’s search field), before proceeding.
–> Then, roll out your old content onto a new, fresh domain (or an aged one, whatever – just make sure it doesn’t have a “checkered past”), and then start fresh. I outline what I’ll be doing to “tread lightly” for new sites further down…
–> “To 301 redirect, or not to 301… that is the question”. Yeah. I don’t have an answer. I have a feeling that a 301 will pass the bad stuff just as easily as the good when it comes to transferring authority. My gut tells me to start completely fresh. But maybe I’m wrong. (If you have true data on this, please leave a comment).
Keep in mind that even with this “worst case scenario” for sites too far gone – ironically – you could quite plausibly fare better with this fresh-start-strategy than you might with orchestrating a full-recovery for sites that are salvageable. It remains to be seen, but if Google’s really and truly going to enforce the “less is more” mentality – it could very well be the case.
It’s something to consider.
Well, that about covers my plans for recovering some of my sites (the ones worth recovering).
Now – let me share with you how I’m planning on building links in the Post-Penguin-Apocalypse, as well as some other cool stuff that you might like if generating shitloads of traffic tickles your fancy…
In fact, let’s turn this into a new section. Just for fun.
A Fancy New Section:
My Primary Strategy, Post-Penguin?
“Churn and Earn, Baby!”
If there’s one thing Google has communicated loud and clear through all of this insanity – it’s that they’re not afraid to sacrifice quality SERPs to make a point.
The problem is, though – those “points” keep on changing. Remember when directory submission was kosher? Remember when article marketing was considered White Hat? Remember when rel=”nofollow” didn’t exist? Remember when PageRank sculpting was actually encouraged?
Now, all of those things are “bad”. And they’re incurring penalties – retroactively! It’s madness. (It’s stupid.) And it’s putting people out of business, overnight. Now – before the “Google doesn’t owe you anything” comments start spouting forth – keep in mind that the vast majority of sites out there are legitimately trying to do everything right. And a lot of them just got hammered – either because what was “right” 5 years ago is “evil” now. Or even just for no apparent reason.
Regardless, I guess what I’m trying to say – is that Penguin has shown us that nothing can save you. Not “great content”, not a “good user experience” – nothing. And nobody is safe. Except for brands, Google Properties (YouTube, Blogger) and Wikipedia.
So where does that leave us?
It’s simple. It means that SEO is now a numbers game, and your safety is earned by way of diversity at every level. And when I say “diversity”, I’m especially talking about domains, and the backlink profiles thereof.
This means that instead of walking into a niche with 1 domain and building a nice 100 page site, it means that you walk into that market with 10 domains, with 10 pages per site – and where you build 10 different backlink profiles for each site. (Even if only slightly different).
This gives you the ability to switch it up – and you’ll likely end up netting far more traffic as a result, anyway. Myself, what I’ll be doing is as follows…
Especially at first, I’m going to be treating these new rollouts as tests. Experiments. For one site, I’ll basically only build links using press releases. For another, only article marketing. For another, only blog nets. For another, only niche directories. For another, only guest posting. For another, only Web 2.0′s. And so on/so forth.
I might even try doing ONLY social signals, and see what happens…
I still think EMD’s (exact match domains) are very powerful, and we will continue to buy/use them, because ranking them is much easier. Even if it’s not exact-match, having at least part of the KW in the domain is still going to help.
Bottom line – right now, it’s important to find out what the Penguin “likes”. And my guess is, this probably varies a little bit from one market to another. But still, there will be universal consistencies – and those are the things we can then focus on as a primary source of links in our future BL profiles.
Again, guys – I can’t stress it enough – spread out your risk. Both in terms of sites, and tactics. The only reason I’m still sitting pretty is because I have enough crap out there that, purely by way of chance/odds, only some of it tanked. If I’d only had one or two major sites or sources of income, things would not be too rosy right now…
So let’s take a moment and get specific about backlinks, Post-Penguin.
Here’s how I’m going to be building my links from this point forward…
This is the stuff that’s safe for virtually any site, including authority sites. The key is to slow-burn. Don’t go crazy. A few links a day is all you need.
1) Press Releases. Still effective, and totally defensible. We use PRLog (free, meh), PRLeap ($69, not bad), Press Release Monkey ($100ish, pretty solid) and eReleases ($399, tons of exposure and authority linkjuice). Use each service according to your budget and objectives. For micro sites or niches that aren’t really that competitive, you don’t need to pull out the big guns.
2) Guest-Posting: This is the next big thing. It will likely become abused fairly soon. My suggestion is to ride the wave right now, and if you can, try to stick to the bigger/better sites. To find blogs to post on, do some Googling for “your niche + guest blogger”, and variations thereof. There’s sites everywhere, in most niches.
Also, there’s some really awesome networking resources for guest posting that have popped up. The most popular by far is Ann Smarty’s MyBlogGuest. Another up-and-comer showing a lot of promise is Duncan Carver’s Content Facilitator (say that one ten times)…
3) Real, Conversational Commenting. It’s still very effective, and these are natural as can be. Only post a few comments per day. Don’t use anchors as, or in, your posting name. Only link to your root domain, or else your comments will go straight to akismet’s spam box. Switch your “name” up a bunch, if you’re in a niche where you don’t have to be “you”. And honestly, post as many NoFollow comments as you do “live” links. Link Diversity is paramount. Of course, you can use my service, ActuallyRank, to locate DoFollow commenting opps.
4) Niche Directories. These are real sites in your industry/market that have a directory or profile page for other sites, like yours. An example is CrunchBase.com, which is a directory of tech companies. Another example is KillerStartups.com. You can’t go and outsource this on Fiverr. You need to do it yourself or train someone to find good, quality sites like this and get your site listed. As a side note, the only generic directories I would bother with for an authority site are BOTW.org and Yahoo DIR.
5) Real, Actual Press (Authority Sites Only). This means emailing big sites, editors, journalists, etc. Maybe using HARO, etc. You need to actually have something, though. I don’t think MFA sites will cut it…
This is the kind of stuff that you ONLY use on mini-sites. And this can also include YouTube videos, Web 2.0 pages and Free Blogs (Blogspot, etc.). And I suggest that you run these as isolated tests, so as to not compromise time or $$ spent on any of the above “Safe” linkbuilding.
Myself, I actually put my authority sites on totally different servers as well (not just IPs) – just to keep them far removed from this stuff…
1) True, Private Blog and Homepage Networks. I’m not going to recommend any, or tell you which ones I use, thus defeating the purpose. Don’t go and join the most popular thing you see all over the various IM/SEO forums out there. Instead, seek out the really exclusive stuff. The more obscure, the better. Heavily vary your anchor text, and use naked/brand links as well on BlogNets.
2) Direct Link-Buys. There are many ways to buy links “naturally” from other sites. Lots of sites in most niches sell banners and text ads, and you’d be surprised how many people still don’t even know what “nofollow” is. Also, money is the great motivator when it comes to making exceptions. I would strongly suggest, at this point, that you only buy links from sites that are at least partly relevant. It only takes a handful to make a huge impact.
3) Tiered Linking Structures. This is where you go and put up, say, 10 very high quality, in-depth Web 2.0 pages (that both promote affiliate offers AND link to your minisite), and then aggressively hammer them with links to inflate the importance of the page. In general, pointing hundreds, or even thousands of backlinks at a hosted page on an very established Web 2.0 or Wiki site isn’t going to raise any flags, and you’re essentially multiplying the power of each backlink you’ve built to your own site.
In this example, you’ll have netted 10 very strong links, as well as built 10 additional traffic sources. It’s risky because your content can be pulled down at any time by the host site (especially if you get overly aggressive with links/traffic). Also, be sure to carefully read each site’s TOS to make sure you’re not in violation or potential hot water…
4) Article Marketing. What!!?? Articles are “sketchy” now? I honestly don’t know one way or the other. Back in the day – it was literally magical. You could rank sites with articles all day long. These days, mass article marketing (especially with spun content) is seen as gray area, at best. I don’t have enough data, Post-Penguin, to know if it’s still remotely viable. Hence – it’s now experimental, in my books.
5) Mass/Generic Directory Submission. Basically, see my explanation of Article Marketing, above, and apply it to this in kind. The only thing I’d add is this – only use services that submit manually, and can post several anchor variations.
6) Mass Links. I’m going to lump a whole bunch of stuff into this one – it includes, but is not limited to – mass profiles, scrapebox blasts, mass bookmarks, trackbacks, shareware subs… you name it. Typically, I’ll only use these links to “boost” tiered linking structures. Even then, I do it pretty sparingly.
Ironically, you actually can still see phenomenal rankings (for a very short period of time) using masslinks. And then they will drop like a rock, likely never to return. (Just pray that your competitors don’t do this for you… yet another good reason to diversify, and rollout an army of small sites!)
7) Simulated Social Signals. You can use services like Synnd.com and EmpireAvenue to artificially inflate stuff like FB likes, Twitter activity, etc. Synnd is definitely the “grayer” of the two, and used correctly, EmpireAve could actually be pretty whitehat.
And that’s about it.
Again – the experimental stuff that I just mentioned – only use this on throwaways right now. Don’t let it touch anything you care about. This is the kind of stuff you do with mini-sites you’re rolling out in uber-competitive markets, where even one day on page 1 for any decent keyword will earn you 10X what you spent getting there.
For everthing else, I recommend lightly treading with above-board links.
Let’s wrap this all up in a few sentences for the sake of the scanners among us:
* Build up an “income safety net” by rolling out tons of small sites. As many as you can. With as much backlink diversity between them as possible. Right now, this is far safer than relying on one main site – even though that should be part of your overall plan, eventually.
* Less is more. Tread lightly with your new site rollouts. Don’t be aggressive. Just aim for a few links a day.
* Experiment. Nobody *really* knows what’s up right now. It’s too early on. The best thing you can do right now is to experiment with a bunch of different linkbuilding methods (low risk, low cost), and find out!
* Churn and Earn, Baby! Once again – roll out as many sites as you can, using different methods (or focusing on different things) for each one. That is your only safety-net. “Great content” obviously isn’t enough.
Here’s How to Actually Leverage Penguin’s Weaknesses to Generate Traffic FAST…
…While Simultaneously Diversifying Your Traffic Channels
(So You Can Eventually Tell Google to Go Get Stuffed)
My guess is your eyes are probably as sore as my fingers are at this point. So I’m going to do both of us a favor, and communicate in bullet points.
* Penguin LOVES Blogspot, YouTube, Squidoo, HubPages, Tumblr and WordPress.com Right Now. Along with a bunch of other sites like them. Seriously – this crap is ranking everywhere, and seemingly without any supportive links, quality or effort. My suggestion? Start publishing high-profit product reviews, and pages/videos targeting specific, but high-traffic keywords in hot markets. Hire someone to do this, all day long, if you can.
No, you might not “own” it – but hell! At least it’s freakin’ ranking...
* PRESS RELEASES – WHAT THE HELL!!?? These damn things are ranking for everything, right now. I’ve lost track of how many PRWeb, SBWire, PRNewsWire, and even PRLog (the free service!) press releases are ranking for insane keywords. Probably worth doing for some high-traffic keywords, IMO…
* Power Tip (Especially For Sites That Got Hit) – Why not craft a short YouTube video, press release or Web 2.0 page around each of your important pages on your most profitable sites? Especially if they recently got hit. Not only will this have some possible ranking boosts down the road – it will drastically bring up your traffic levels and get the revenue pumping again. (In fact, you may even find this is more profitable, in some cases)…
Note: Well-made YouTube vids in particular have an awesome sales conversion rate. Followed by Web2′s, and the distant third is press releases (although, PRs often rank on page #1 the day they go live).
* Stop Throwing Away Your Visitors. Build lists, if it makes sense in your market. Build an audience you can continually reach with re-targeting technology (this is going to be massive – I strongly suggest joining the waiting list for ClickCertain, and checking out existing services like AdRoll). Build a fan base using Facebook, Twitter – whatever. However it makes sense for you in your market – set shit up so that you eventually own your own network of traffic. Build something you can really count on. And one day, sell.
In the meantime, you can use the above strategies to do so, while you wait to see what ends up happening with Penguin.
Has the Sky Fallen?
No. It hasn’t.
Google is making some really stupid moves right now – especially considering that they’re under Federal investigation for favoring their own sites in their SERPs – and their obsession with products that are quite obviously destined to fail (ahem.. *Google Plus*) seems absurd. But they are still the only real search game in town.
And it’s still THE traffic source to conquer. The great equalizer.
It might not always be that way. But for right now – it still is.
MILK IT. MILK IT. MILK IT.
Screw playing by “the rules”. (There is no golden bucket at the end of the “quality content” rainbow, as Penguin has just made painfully clear).
Sure, play it straight with your branded authority site(s). That’s definitely something that should be part of your longterm picture.
But as much as you can – right now – start rolling out all the mini-sites as you can, and let them ride.
Ironically, it’s honestly the safest thing you could do right now.
Maybe one day, in the distant future, quality content – and investing years of blood, sweat and tears into a site really will be rewarded.
~ Chris Rempel AKA: “The Lazy Marketer”
P.S. Oh, yeah – I forgot to mention. In a couple days my friend John Ozjaca will be explaining how he’s (so far) made $1.8 Million with two small WordPress blogs, organically. $0 has been spent on ads or PPC.
John and I have actually been talking shop and stuff for a couple years now. He’s a great guy – and he’s got a pretty cool story, too (he was literally a rock star before getting into aff marketing).
If that sounds interesting, then stay tuned and keep an eye on the blog…
Well, apparently Google’s latest “step forward” against WebSPam is being coined as the Penguin update.
Evidently, Google’s goal was to downgrade their SERPs and start ranking profile pages and literal spam on the first page of their results in most of their competitive verticals.
(Strangely, basically all of my grayhat properties saw a great big jump in traffic recently). Which sites of mine have lost? Well, only the ones with a nearly-poster-perfect whitehat backlink profile, and where the sites themselves contain top-shelf, totally unique content. Yep.
I won’t say too much in this blog post.
Instead, I just want to ask a question, and then provide some “study material” that you might want to use in forming your own opinion:
Or Would You Call It a Complete and Utter Failure, an Insult to WhiteHat SEO, and an Monolithic Embarrassment?
Here are some resources and “study material” you may find enlightening…
First, let me just quickly point out something more than a little ironic in Matt’s little blogpost. In the post, he calls out a spun article posted on a splog, with an obvious link drop for a payday loan site. (It’s a screenshot, but if you run an exact match search in Bing for a sentence from that article snippet, you’ll find it).
In actual fact, the money-site that the splog links to is a 301-redirected domain, pointing at one of the larger players in the payday niche. And guess what, folks?
This offending site is currently ranking #1 for the target anchor, “pay day loan”.
Bang up job, Google. Your own public shaming example seems to have backfired. (Check it out for yourself, and prepare your stomach muscles for a good laugh)
The Worst SERPS in the History of the Universe:
There’s thousands of examples, and you’ll find plenty of references for starters on the comments of Google’s Webmaster blog in the most recent post there, but here’s one particularly amazing example…
SERP: payday loans online – Page 1 contains FIVE listings that are profile pages for someone named “Rebecca Carmack”. So half of the 1st page is literally worse than spam. It is part of the tier-network from a BH linkwheel. Nice.
I want to believe. I truly want to believe that WhiteHat, good content, real links – the whole spiel – will win in the end. I think it eventually does.
But why is Google consistently getting, well, worse?
And why is spam winning, while the good sites suffer?
I feel like a sucker for even trying, sometimes. It’s easier just to buy my rankings with throwaway sites.
Matt Cutts – feel free to chime in here, if you think I’m missing the big picture. But the fact is that WhiteHat is just increasingly becoming more and more of a risk. As evidenced by the 500+ comments from desperate, real-life, WH webmasters on your blog.
GrayHat and even full-out BlackHat makes more fiscal sense, without the fear of losing it all the next time an “improvement” rolls out.
THIS PENGUIN NEEDS TO DROWN, AND DIE AN ICY COLD DEATH.
If you want to be totally safe from your competitors knocking you out of the SERPs with a dirt cheap Negative SEO blast on Fiverr, all you have to do is become a Fortune 500 Brand.
Or use Adwords. (Oh, but then there’s click fraud…)
Good going, Google.
And you wonder why anyone would “waste their time” with GrayHat campaigns and buying links?
How about because in the end, there’s less to lose? If all it takes is for some jealous/ambitious competitor 5 minutes and $20 to permanently damage my link profile or possibly even deindex my site (which I’ve spent possibly years of my life carefully building) – doesn’t that completely remove any incentive for me to invest time in WhiteHat SEO?
Why SHOULDN’T we all just become skilled with artificial linking (GrayHat), promoting quick-build sites?
So what if your site gets whacked, reported or devalued? It took 3 days to create and market.
Plus, now when we’re stuck in position #3 for a high-comp keyword, all we have to do is go out and blast the crap out of the sites sitting at #1 and #2… and voila! We reap the benefits until someone returns the favor, or the Spam Team comes to the rescue.
In either case, we’ll have made bank for likely the better part of a year, at a ridiculous ROI.
And why not scale, then? Spanning hundreds of markets with this strategy is completely feasible.
Of course – in saying this, I’m not recommending all of the above (but definitely some of it – especially when it comes to keeping one’s investment of time/money to a minimum when building out new sites) . What I’m trying to do, though, is paint a picture of where this industry is headed.
Far as I can tell, the only “true” WhiteHats out there are big political companies with millions of dollars to spend on “natural buzz”, or the self-righteous group of SEO service providers who like to trumpet their ethical escapades to the masses on certain blogs (SEOMoz leaps to mind), and who likely on average earn about as much as your average garbage man.
Make no mistake. The people making millions with organic SEO are buying links and artificially increasing their rankings – though usually their money sites themselves are totally above-board and white hat. But how they get to page 1 without being a “brand”?
Well – you know the scoop on that.
My challenge to you is to really think about it – and realize where Google stands. In this video, they are outright telling you that they don’t give a shit about the little guy. In their eyes, to “play ball” you either become a brand, or buy adwords. Their shareholders don’t win if you succeed with organic SEO.
Decide whose good books you really want to be in.
Google’s? The self-righteous pricks on WhiteHat SEO blogs?
Or your Accountant’s?
Once again – thanks Google, for welcoming Negative SEO practitioners with arms wide open. Now we can all look forward to a global degradation of SERP results. (But who cares, the future is Google Plus, right? Screw your primary userbase who still sees Google as a search engine…)
Yes, I said White Hat is far more risky. Not less.
And by the way, I’m actually entirely pro-whitehat. I just wish it worked consistently, and didn’t leave gaping holes for the true villains (infringing scraper sites, reverse SEO practitioners, mass comment spammers, etc.) to have their way with my site and its rankings…
This blog post should be considered an open letter to Google, from yours truly. Because I actually still do invest pretty much all of my substantial time & energy into building truly awesome content, and building links the “right” way.
(But it’s a shame that I have to hedge against that by simultaneously running GrayHat campaigns – on different sites / different servers – as a sort of income insurance policy…)
Basically, as a publisher, I want to K-N-O-W beyond a doubt that hard work, creating an awesome user experience and really going to great lengths to add value to the web will pay off. The fact is that in the current Google playground, the only people who can’t sleep at night are White Hat webmasters. The GH and BH crowd are laughing all the way to the bank.
So let’s dig right into it.
Starting from the top…
Reason #3: “Quality Original Content” Only Means Something if it’s Secured by Domain Authority.
So you’ve invested all this time into building your first round of initial content. You’re paying writers handsomely because you want your users to love their time on your site, and you want to be earning “editorial backlinks” (people liking your stuff and hence linking to it).
That’s nice. Too bad it can all be thrown in the garbage overnight by some asshole with an autoblog that has just a little (or a lot) more domain authority than you can just OUTRIGHT STEAL your content and be recognized by GoogleBot as the “original owner”.
All it takes is monitoring any popular SEO/webmaster forum to see the widespread number of victims of “source of content” theft accumulating in droves.
Now, this is a lot more preventable if you could really get some solid domain authority out of the gate, in completely WhiteHat ways.
But you can’t. Because…
Reason #2: WhiteHat Link Building (For New Sites) is a Joke.
You know, even though I’ve been active as an affiliate publisher for the last several years, I’m still fairly “new” to the SEO world in any measurable sense. But even I’ve seen the so-called White Hat industry increasingly become an incestuous little cesspool of self-righteous bastards.
Article marketing used to be completely white hat. Now it’s “bad”.
Mass directory submission PRECEDED the search engines. But now – of course – it’s “evil”.
Even press releases, to an extent and in some cases, are viewed as a questionable form of linkbuilding, because “anyone” can distribute them for a fee.
Instead, what today’s White Hat “authorities” are telling us to do, is to just create “great content”, submit our Google sitemaps, and engage is relevant social media discussion to “let the world know” about our site, which will magically make those casual social users link to our new sites from their… profiles?
Maybe 1% of them have blogs/sites? Or less?
You know – this works (sort of) in niches where there’s a lot of blogging activity. But what if you’re a commercial pipe fitter? Or an insurance broker specializing in international shipping?
Should you go and “get involved” in the thriving social scene that exists online for international shipping insurance? Maybe send a few tweets or Facebook posts out about some incredibly boring “infographic” that visually outlines the importance of insuring goods in transit?
Obviously, you won’t get any traction. In that position and industry, there IS NO “White Hat” pathway for sites trying to gain their initial footing. None.
And this applies to less extreme niches / industries as well. (But the d-bag who’s ripping off your content so they can cash in on some easy AdSense rev is having a heyday, since you can’t build domain authority, but he can).
Reason #1: Because Your Competitors ABSOLUTELY CAN Harm Your Rankings.
It’s now 100% confirmed.
External, “unnatural links” will trigger a Google penalty. Even if it’s not something that you did, yourself.
I’m sure you’ve already seen several examples of this in living color. Maybe you’ve had the great fortune of experiencing this first hand.
Sites are getting wiped out left and right. All it takes is for someone to fire up their copy of (the aptly named) SENUKE software or equivalent, and start lambasting your site with thousands of crap links.
But don’t worry. According to Google’s warning notification that’s sent to webmasters who have acquired (voluntarily or involuntarily) these “unnatural links”, all you have to do is somehow bring your site back into compliance with their webmaster guidelines, and then you can resubmit your site for re-inclusion.
I’m sure that the tens of thousands of splogs, inactive / abandoned forums, neglected web communities and every other shitty link source is going to be more than happy to accomodate your request.
Translation from Sarcastic to English: Hopeless. Not going to happen. Ever.
Even if you were, oh, say, a Fortune 500 brand (that Google is more than happy to unfairly defer to in their SERPs) with the resources to send out DMCA’s and removal orders all day long – all that has to happen to trip another filter is for someone to fire up SENUKE once again, and go to town.
This is a complete travesty, and puts absolutely everything in the “White Hat” universe at risk.
Google – ask yourselves something… Why wouldn’t a black hat spammer just spend their days building “unnatural links” to their competition, and then report those sites from your handy “Spam Reporting” interface, inevitably slotting at least SOME of those sites into a penalty?
Even if it’s just a temporary penalty – it’s degrading the SERPs and hurting real business (including consumers, not just the vendors). And it’s also creating a dark business model (reverse SEO).
What the hell are you thinking?
See folks – here’s the thing…
Online publishing is still where it’s at. And affiliate marketing it still the best revenue game in town, for online publishers. SEO is still a safer bet than “mastering” Adwords, in my opinion. Because at least you can always start a new site. With adwords, once you get slapped – that’s it. Game over.
And yes, the best pathway (in my opinion) as a publisher is still to build a defensible, highest-possible-quality authority site with awesome content and a diverse and powerful foundation of quality, natural backlinks. That is hard-built, hard-won and full of challenges. It takes a LOT of time and effort.
But it has the highest return, in the long run. Because if you’re smart, you’ll realize that an authority site is a form of real estate. And real estate can be sold. Depending on your tax code where you are – that can be classified as a capital gain. Not just income. (Which means that it’s a REAL pay-day. And you get to keep a lot more of that significant windfall).
It’s just that as a standalone, and singular business model – it’s VERY risky. At least in terms of montly income and consistency.
What if your site gets penalized as a result of someone else’s doing? What if your content gets ripped off and syndicated across someone’s vast spam network?
And what if this happens while you’re still in “growth stage”, and have no subscriber base or user base to lean on as a fallback if you drop out of the SERPs for months at a time?
These are serious considerations. These are holes in Google’s algorithm, and instead of burying their heads in the sand, or having Matt Cutts deliver sugar-coated ambiguity and tiptoe around REAL issues like this with a nice nerdy smile – they need to be addressed.
Here’s some easy fixes and suggestions for Google that will never be implemented, but I offer them anyway:
* Allow webmasters to voluntarily discount inbound / external links from Webmaster Tools. Everyone wins if this is the case – and it directly contributes to helping the overall algorithm improve, since bad neighborhoods and low-level link sources will be indentified directly.
* Allow webmasters to claim ownership of their content as it’s published. This should be built into the dynamic sitemap reader, and also alternatively available as a manual submission.
Ah…. wishful thinking.
But until they do address these things, as an affiliate publisher, you need to be realistic, and play both sides of the coin.
You still need to be building some primary, main authority sites (even if it’s just one), where you actually “have something” you’re proud of. This is essentially your retirement strategy. You need to build something worth selling for a small (or perhaps a large) fortune. This will not occur overnight.
At the same time, however, I advise that you hedge your bets (so to speak), and build out a network of small affiliate sites (mini-sites, conduit sites, etc.), completely separate from your “real” site(s).
Different IPs, different servers – different everything. Zero crosslinking. Zero determinable footprint to link them to eachother. This includes using different google accounts to monitor Wembaster Tools and Analytics! This also means using different Privacy / TOS content, and using images (instead of text) for things like mailing addresses or corporate information, such as a company name.
With these sites, you go GrayHat. They should still have good content, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone, since you don’t want to be exceeding more than 10 pages or so per site. Keep them small, and automate as much of your external SEO as possible. (How? Read my previous blog post )
In simple terms, the only difference between “Gray Hat” and “White Hat” is that you simulate natural backlinks, rather than earning them sporadically and organically (and uncontrollably). There is no difference from an on-site perspective, other than my recommendation that you keep GrayHat properties small, and easily replicatable.
Some of them will probably get penalized or deindexed. That’s why you keep them small. Never build a gray hat site that you can’t replace in 2 days. Some may last indefinitely, though.
Usually, each site will have a nice run for 6+ months, or years, before anything happens. (Unless you’re being totally stupid with backlinking like building masses of profile links, etc.). And most commonly, they just fade off the SERPs due to competition or algo adjustments – not penalties.
In reality, a GrayHat site is completely within ethical and legal compliance so long as you’re simply buying links from willing site owners, or distributing content to willing publishers who want to post it, along with your byline/links. Google might not “like” this, but they can go to hell. They aren’t the internet police.
Note: While you can flip these sites, you should definitely disclose your backlink activities to prospective buyers (so they know what they’re getting). GrayHat sites aren’t really what I’d call a retirement strategy.
Target a variety of profitable markets as you build out your “Gray Hat” empire. Don’t just focus on one niche. This spreads your risk.
Treat the whole operation like a production line. Don’t become attached to these sites whatsoever. They serve a purpose, that is all. And that purpose is to hedge against the massive risks involved in facing temporary penalties and competitor-driven hurdles that Google currently allows to afflict WhiteHat publishers.
It’s as close as you’ll get to “affiliate marketing insurance”.
And unfortunately, because Google is actively facilitating reverse SEO, it’s a necessary evil if you want to (eventually) establish a completely WhiteHat authority site.
Perhaps a better title for this post would’ve been… “Succeeding With Google – And Why You Have to Break the Rules in Order to Survive Long Enough to Follow Them…”
Well guys – you’ve heard my $0.02
What are your thoughts on all this?
Have you had this happen to you first-hand? Do you think Google’s (retarded) algo-holes are temporary?
I think there’s some valuable discussion to be had here.
Who knows? Maybe someone on Google’s payroll will actually see this, and extract some form of logic from it.
Would love to hear your opinion in the comments below…
P.S. Shameless plug time:
Affiliate Recon – which opens in just a few days now – is an awesome resource for Gray Hat niche targets and easily-rankable product keywords in (verifiable) 6 figure markets.
In a sentence, it’s basically SEMRush, but instead of just letting you “research stuff” – it shows you WHAT to research, and you can dig as deep as you like from there. A very profitable exercise. New niches and intel reports added monthly.
First – since it’s been so long, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas/New Year, and hopefully you avoided Italian cruise ships over the last couple months…
For the people who may have wondered why my newsletter and my blog have been a ghost town for several months – well, I’m going to cover all of that below, because it all nicely works into my little message for today.
So let’s dive right in:
In Case You’re Wondering – Here’s What’s Actually “Dead” in 2012…
To paint the picture clearly, we have to take a quick “tour” of 2011 – which was quite a year.
So Here’s the Year 2011 in Summary – from the Affiliate Perspective:
* Mass-Deflation: We witnessed Google unleash its Panda / Farmer arsenal on the majority of commercially-intent websites across the web, and even in the aftermath… there’s still a lot more losers than winners. (Although in the short-term, Google is definitely one of the winners). But more on that below.
* TrickBank No More: We watched as Clickbank (finally) cracked down on many of the BS-peddlers in the IM and BizOpp category. Likely the result of pressure from government, its payment processors, or both.
* Data Wars: Again from Google, the webmaster community (particularly the organic marketer) received a “loud and clear” message from the Big G when it decided to withhold its referring keyword data for any search conducted by a searcher who’s logged into his/her Google account while searching – under the guise of “privacy”.
(Amazingly, this restriction on keyword referral data doesn’t apply to PPC advertisers. Hmmm…)
* Stepping on Dollars to Pick up Dimes: We watched even more clueless, short-sighted politicians trying to “cash in” on affiliate marketing by adding a State sales tax that affects online transactions. The cash-grab has simply been avoided by most of the larger players (like Amazon) who instead decide not to support affiliates in those states. And my guess would be that collecting from the smaller merchants would be like pulling hens’ teeth. Result = Everyone loses.
Once again, politicians shooting themselves in the foot. In response, some of the larger ecommerce operations like Overstock are proposing a much-needed fairness bill. Let’s cross our fingers…
* The New World: On a brighter note – 2011 was likely the strongest year yet for Mobile Apps and the entirely newfound “Kindle” ebook market. Though this is eventually going to become a saturated race to the bottom, in certain top-line categories, it’s largely untapped. (Example – there is only ONE keyword research tool that I could find last night in the iPhone App Store. Well, at least one that’s properly tagged as “keyword research” in the App search engine). Lots of opportunity there, across hundreds of markets. Think: List-building.
* The Tough Guys Tumble: Organically speaking, 2011 saw some of the long-standing big fish take a beating (EzineArticles, Technorati, PRNewsWire, etc.) in Google’s Farmer/Panda rollouts.
By pure coincedence, amazingly, Google-owned properties like YouTube, Blogger/Blogspot and its indirectly-associated “partners” like Android.com and others have seen significant gains since the implementation of all these unbiased algorithm changes. What luck.
* The Censorship Cronies Strike Again. Well, I guess technically this was resolved just recently in 2012, as SOPA was taken off the table (for now) due to all the outcry about it. Essentially it was a corporate censorship agenda gift-wrapped as being an anti-piracy bill. It was initiated by a draconian and dying industry and drafted by people (with obligations to the cronies) who simply don’t understand the internet, and how much collateral abuse SOPA would have incurred.
So What Was 2011 in a Nutshell?
It was the year of the divide.
The “middle” is now rapidly shrinking, and basically it’s dead.
RIP: Long-Term Success for the Middle-Sized Affiliate Relying on SEO.
You are now either winning, or losing. Period. And as we all discovered, the tables can turn overnight.
So let’s look at this in detail. (In particular, how to win in 2012).
Succeeding in 2012:
Make No Mistake – It’s a Different Game Now…
(And There’s 2 Main Pathways to Success… One of Which Probably Isn’t What You Expect)
You probably noticed a bit of a theme going on in my “year in review” bullet points above. And if you’ve got any kind of dependance or semi-dependance on organic search-driven traffic, then you’re probably also feeling it firsthand right now, too.
That’s right folks – 2011 was basically the year when Google showed us all their true colors. Especially for affiliates, AdSense publishers and the eComm crowd. The destruction was widespread. Pretty much anybody with a commercially-inclined site of any kind was negatively affected by G’s rounds of Panda updates. There were very few winners.
And it wasn’t just the thin-content guys and scrapers going down (if anything, they’re the ones thriving right now!)
It was totally legit sites. Sites with tons of awesome, original content, and thousands of real and legitimate backlinks. Sure, there were a few understandable adjustments (such as dialing back the visibility on some of the content mills and article farms), but even then it was inconsistent at best.
For example, the great disparity between EzineArticles.com’s massive decline in the SERPs, as compared to eHow’s unexplainable staying power. (eHow is far from being a “premium” content source. Other search engines such as DuckDuckGo have even gone so far as to block the domain entirely from their results, due to overwhelming user complaints).
But the bottom line was that “Panda”, at least from everything I’ve seen (and I’m far from being the only commentator on this), has only degraded Google’s own search results. It’s as if Google is trying to adapt to the social-scene far too early in the game, and “force” their algo to weigh unproven metrics (like social factors, Plus One’s, etc), as opposed to the long-standing factors like age, natural backlinks and user beahavior.
One thing did happen in 2011, however, that directly benefited Google whilst Panda was wreaking havoc on their own user experience and overall search result quality…
…PPC clicks increased by 28% in Q3/2011 over the same quarter in 2010, and just a few months later into Googles 4th quarter (in 2012), Paid Clicks increased yet again by 17% over and above Q3!
Maybe I’m going out on a limb folks – but something tells me that lately, Google just might be pandering to Wall Street moreso than it is to its actual userbase. And they might kid themselves into thinking that they’re a multi-tiered company, but really and truly all Google REALLY offers us is their search engine. Without that, they’re nothing.
This might sound crazy.. but is it possible that Google is skewing it’s own organic results (call it “Farmer”, “Panda”, whatever) so that its PPC results are actually more helpful? And receive more clicks?
In the past I would’ve thought “no way”. No company is that stupid, or arrogant. But after watching a clear and obvious degradation of Google’s own SERPs this past year, all under the guise of algorithm improvement, I really have to wonder if this is nothing more than a strategic cash-grab.
Conspiracy Theory? Definitely. (But then, every conspiracy tends to contain seeds of truth…)
The other thing that all of these “improvements” have done is left gaping holes in their ranking process, particularly regarding duplicate content. You’re probably already aware of this, but at the moment it’s possible to essentially just go and steal content from almost any site (aka. scraping), post it on some crappy splog – and if you “play to the Panda”, you will actually de-throne the original site in the SERPs.
No, really – that is happening right now, as we speak. And all the blackhatting scrapers are having themselves a little gangsta party. (Many of the people reading this, including myself, are victims of exactly this issue). Thanks Google, what a huge improvement.
Conspiracy, Wall Street butt-kissing, stupid ideas, releasing algo changes prematurely – whatever the truth really is – the bottom line for you and me is that these days there’s a new set of rules.
And you either gotta play along with them – or break them.
I’m doing both…
Success with “Modern WhiteHat” SEO in 2012
I’m a little wary of guaranteeing the long-term effectiveness of anything SEO-related these days, but watching one of my most established authority sites take a nose-dive last year did result in about 6 months of feverish, intense investigation into Google’s new ranking patterns, and what exactly made someone a “Panda Winner” or a “Panda Loser”…
Anyway, it’s still a crapshoot, it’s inconsistent and the dust is far from settled – but here’s what I was able to determine after intensely scrutinizing my own sites, and literally about 400+ others using traffic trending tools like Compete.com and looking at their backlinks base VS ranking (identifying sites that should be far outranking most everything, but aren’t).
And keep in mind, for this section I’m basically talking about succeeding with authority sites (portals, 100+ page HQ content sites, etc). I’m not talking about ranking up little conduit sites or mini-sites.
In a word – the “formula” for your best shot at success with white-hat SEO this year is summarized in one word:
And I’m not talking about being aggressive, or building “thousands” of backlinks. No.
I’m talking about building multiple layers of legitimacy.
Making sure your sites not only have great content, but also LOOK like an authority. Embracing the new ranking factors that Google seems to be in love with lately – sitewide content standards, social factors, user behavior statistics (like bounce rate) and passing the manual human reviews by conducted by Google staff/contractors.
Offering valid contact information, full legal docs (privacy, disclaimers, etc), professional graphics, and in general an “implied trustworthiness” that would make a human reviewer comfortable.
As far as promotion goes – focusing almost entirely on natural, “hard to get” backlinks, well-chosen commenting and social participation (quality means way more than quantity here), and spreading out a base of diverse supportive links with legitimate stuff like press releases, syndicated content/media, and so on.
Also, after charting winner/loser trends this past year, I am now fully convinced that “NoFollow” backlinks and otherwise exposure from the major social networks like Facebook (likes, wall posts), Twitter and so on are absolutely counted when it comes to affecting SERP positions.
Let’s get specific about what I believe are the 3 biggest WhiteHat success factors in 2012:
1) Every page you want indexed needs to be 100% unique and long-content.
Maybe it’s a bit excessive, but for my largest authority site yet (which I’ve been building for over a year now), my minimum word count per page is 550 words, and usually 600+. And we’re talking top-shelf content. This is definitely NOT $5/article drivel.
The first wave of Panda updates seemed to really hammer the thin-content side of things. This really hit a lot of Ecommerce sites hard. Also, a major factor here with Panda is that – seemingly – even a single “thin” page on your site has the potential to UNIVERSALLY penalize every other page of the site.
So what I’m doing is simply telling the spiders not to index any page that could be construed as thin (such as search tag pages, contact pages, image galleries in some cases, etc.). What little gain I might realize by leaving them visible to the spiders is just not worth it, in my opinion.
Forget about RSS-feed content, dupe content, “spontent”, etc. That stuff has it’s place when it comes to throwaway domains and Black/Grey Hat stuff – but get it off your authority sites immediately. It’s like inviting an audit.
2) Freshness Factors Actually Matter Now.
I still hate blogs (ironically), but I have fully embraced the need for using purpose-built CMS systems for publishing and serving up content, over an above what I’ve done for so many years until recently, which was just to build static HTML sites.
Why? Because these days, more than ever, the “newness” factor based on things like POST DATE and RSS FEEDS (your site’s) is directly contributing to SERP placement. Most of you have probably already noticed this.
We’re all seeing recent blog posts starting to occupy much of the first page on a higher percentage of SERPS, and it’s only increasing in frequency. In fact – many of the blogposts (or otherwise time-stamped content) I’m seeing ranking in the top 5 spots is outranking results from majorly established sites with backlink volumes in the 6-figure range.
What this also means (as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now) is that to consistently rank for a certain keyword set… you need to be adding content frequently. For the longest time, this really wasn’t a factor, aside from what the pundits were telling us.
But these days… it seems it finally is.
3) “Social Media” is (Unfortunately) Now a Part of Essential Linkbuilding.
Getting “likes”, “tweets” and all the rest of it is now a very real ranking factor. Additionally, so is your author tag (rel=”author” and rel=”me”). We knew this day was coming, and its arrival has been tumultuous, simply because it’s far from being a refined science like traditional backlinking (and it’s easier to exploit).
Since this is still fairly new and largely unscientific at this point, I’ll just leave it there. But it definitely matters – that much is undeniable. And you need to be encouraging or even incentivizing users to “share” your content as much as feasibly and tastefully possible.
Again, today it’s all about the layers of legitimacy, if you’re going to be investing months of time and/or serious investment to get an authority site rolling in 2012 and beyond…
However – what if you’re still just at the “I need traffic” stage, and building out a large authority site is out of the question?
Well, a few years ago, you could rely on a nice, steady stream of traffic from medium-sized static sites. For several months, if not years.
These days – you can to a point, but the payoff ratio of building a “medium” site compared to either going all the way with a fully-legit authority/news site – OR – just going the quick route with ultra targeted mini-sites or conduit sites, simply doesn’t add up.
It makes more sense to either go big – or to go under the radar, so to speak.
And that brings us to the 2nd pathway for SEO success in the Post-Panda era…
When you’re a big, well-funded country, your military uses sheer quantities of manpower, firepower and defensive infrastructure for its dominance. You can afford to have giant aircraft carriers, warships, numerous tank divisions and so on.
Campaigns are slow-moving, but widescale. You can do big things, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Thousands of moving parts. And it takes massive budgets, too.
But what if you’re some dinky little country with GDP revenues smaller than those of the average Silicon Valley software company?
You can still be deadly effective – but it’s all about stealth, mobility and adaptation.
You don’t have tank divisions or aircraft carriers. Instead, you use things like special-ops commandos, guerrilla warfare, cruise missiles and political assassins. Your strengths are that you’re small. You can move quickly, strike from the darkness, and take out key defences – all without a trace.
You also have much less to risk, much less to lose. (Although the spoils of war can still be substantial).
It’s the same with SEO.
You can become a “super-power” in your market, build a site hundreds – or thousands – of pages deep. It takes a lot of effort to get things rolling, but the results can be massive. However, the “catch” is that you have a lot to lose. (Just ask EzineArticles). And if things go bad… you’re basically SOL.
You can’t just “throw up a new site” in its place. It’s back to the drawing board, with another year’s worth of effort just to build up some momentum again.
But if you’re small… You can rebound in a matter of days.
It’s all about striking fast, hard and letting your sites run their course. If they get de-indexed, penalized or smothered by competitors – who cares? Just throw up another, and turn the site into linking inventory or just sell the domain.
The key to making it work, though, is knowing exactly what to sell, and then blasting that offer with as many mini-sites, exact-match-domains, database-driven sites and whatever other tactics you feel comfortable with.
The beauty of this is that it’s repeatable & scalable. I wouldn’t call it “BlackHat”, necessarily (that more or less depends on how you promote your sites). But it’s not WhiteHat, either. That much is sure.
Anyway – since this is quite an extensive topic – here’s a few starting pointers, if you’re going to go down this road…
Starting Points for GrayHat Success in 2012:
1) Become a Wizard at Keyword Research – Since you want to be focusing mostly on a single keyword target for each minisite, you REALLY want to know your keywords. Aim for high-traffic 3 word and 4 word phrases in HOT markets.
2) Focus on Markets You Know Inside & Out – Most of the really hot niches I’ve stumbled into or researched over the years typically have hundreds of viable primary-target keywords, especially if you can geo-target. You’re far better off scaling and spreading into proven markets with proven offers.
3) Buy Up Aged Domains Like a Mother – Doesn’t really matter if they’re EMD’s (exact match domains), although if you can do both – awesome. Why aged domains? Because they’ll rank up quickly, and Google still doesn’t seem to be applying the “sandbox effect” if you build links quickly to an aged domain (that hasn’t been dropped). Speaking of EMDs…
4) And Exact-Match Domains If Possible – While aged domains will rank fast, EMD’s will rank strong, though it may take a bit of time. And usually they’re… well… eyesores. S0metimes your spot at the top will end abruptly, but, hey – sometimes its better to have ranked and lost, than not ranked at all
6) Spread Your Risk – Learn about how to spread your sites across multiple IP addresses. Especially if you’re rolling out multiple sites in the same niche. You don’t need to put each site on its own IP, but at least spreading them across a few IPs is a prudent measure. It’s sort of like the whole egg/basket thing.
7) What About Backlinks? It’s All About Magnitude. Not Volume – Get good at buying backlinks (home page links in particular), and quality blog commenting (for example, using tools like ActuallyRank). Those are the two strongest types of links you can build for GrayHat campaigns.
A close third would be 2-tier links (boosted Web 2.0 links). In a nutshell, this means building pages linking to your money site on Authority sites, like Squidoo/HubPages/InfoBarrel/Blogger/WordPress, etc. and then blasting the crap out of those with masslink tactics (but don’t aim masslinks at your actual moneysite).
Please note: I absolutely do not endorse or recommend the use of mass blog commenting to build up a 2-tier structure or linkwheel. There are other ways to build mass numbers of backlinks without spamming someone’s blog.
8) Link Diversity Matters Too - In Addition to the real backlinks (see #7), you’ll need to essentially “camouflage” them with a diverse base of supportive links. Things like directory subs, bookmarks, press releases/articles, and perhaps any of your preferred private networks, such as LinkVana or BuildMyRank. This is the usual stuff, but you’ll want to really get strategic here, since you’ll need to watch your bottom line closely.
(You’re not promoting authority sites – the key is automation and keeping it economical).
9) This is “Freight Train SEO”. Literally. I remember as a kid, counting how many boxcars a train would have as we waited at the railroad-crossing in the car. It was just one after the next. And if you want to hit the search engines “like a freight train”, that has to be your strategy as well.
To succeed at grey-hat, you need to just keep it coming, all the time. One site after the next, one keyword target after the next. The more you can automate and/or team-build to make this happen, the better.
The same goes for sites that might fade off the SERPs, get deindexed or just otherwise lose their steam. Since this is a mass production, you need to have a plan for those. To some extent (and with a careful watch on your IPs), you can use them as linksources for new sites you’re putting into production – or sell them for their content or remaining revenue.
But regardless, you need to have a plan, and you need to be methodical. Because with very few exceptions, every GreyHat site has a shelf-life. And the idea is to basically establish a comfortable “throughput ratio”, where your sites that see growth or steady traffic on a given month exceed the sites that fade or completely fall off.
It could be rolling out just one money-site per month, or it could be 100. It really depends on your own capacity, the niche, your budget, etc. But regardless, make a logical & consistent system – and stick to it.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface here, but hopefully you found some value, somewhere in that big mass of drivel I just posted.
For 2012, it may not be the end of the world – but it is the end of “comfortable SEO”.
You either have to go all the way (Overkill WhiteHat), or you have to get really clever and systematic (GrayHat). If you can do both, that’s even better. But regardless, hopefully I was able to summarize things for you, and paint a clear picture of how to make upward progress this year.
For those who might care – here’s what I’m doing these days:
* This year, basically my “Overkill” project is a massive, massive review site. It’s been in development for about a year now, we have usually around 4-5 writers going steadily with it at any given time – and it’s not even public yet (that’s still a few months out). It is by far the largest-scale affiliate site I have ever attempted to roll out (albeit with a web 2.0, user-driven twist). And we even have our own fancy publicist person. (Go big or go home, right?)
When it’s ready… I might even share this one publicly on the blog. Maybe it will be my first, celebratory backlink
* My “GrayHat” projects are still largely in the lead-gen front, and they’re picking up steam, lately. It’s actually quite exciting. We’re finding that press releases, especially with eReleases.com, have a lot of traction with them.\
* ActuallyRank is still going strong, and members are seeing awesome results (one guy is now reportedly making about $150K/yr from sites promoted just from commenting alone – awesome!), although I’ve refrained from re-promoting it until we have our new platform completed. Which adds a whole other service, that has nothing to do with blog commenting, into what AR already offers.
In fact, here’s what another customer emailed me recently:
You said, “(mind if i maybe use as a testimonial?)” With regards to what I said, “I’m using Actually rank at the moment – works quite well… One of my sites (about 2 weeks old) shot from not in top 1000 to number 10 with 6 links.” Not a problem. Just please don’t use my full name.
Also, here are my results with my other AR test websites (new rankings since I sent first email 5 days ago):
So far, In just over 2 weeks of using ActuallyRank every 2nd day making about 15 comments each session (less than an hours work every 2nd day) with the comment url field pointing back to 3 different websites of mine, I have made the following Google SERP improvements (Nov 27 – Dec 12):
Website 1 (6 months old): From position 8 to position 2 with 14 “live” links.
Website 2 (2 months old): From position 52 to position 19 with 11 “live” links.
Website 3 (2 weeks old): From not even in top 1000 to position 9 with 9 “live” links.
(1) I use Market Samurai Rank Tracker.
(2) I did absolutely no other SEO or link building during testing out AR on these 3 websites of mine.
(3) I make worthwhile and value adding comments on the links AR provides and never once left my keywords inside the comment.
(4) I don’t focus on PR – I focus on commenting on the green AR rating links.
Loving this shit,
J. K. [Full name withheld]
AR certainly had its hiccups initially, but at this stage it’s smooth-sailing. However, we are finding that quality DoFollow inventory on the entire internet itself is simply shrinking each day. This presents a real challenge for us in about an estimated 1-2 years from now.
(Which is why we’re slowly going to be transitioning AR into a service that offers much more than just DF blog prospects, over the next several months…)
That’s what’s new in ChrisLand and PandaVille.
I hope you’re doing awesome.
P.S. Oh – I think I forgot to mention something…
Yes, I did. Affiliate Recon launches in about a week from now. What’s that? Well, you’ll find out shortly
Let’s just say it would be really handy if you wanted to have, oh – I dunno – a repository of niches, offers and specific keyphrases, but only in markets where several affiliates are verifiably doing 6+ figures in profit, right now.
(For example, did you hear about “MT __________”? It’s a trade analysis program that costs about $2,000 and gets roughly 3600 searches per month. And you could rank on page one for the product term itself in about a week, because aside from the vendor’s site, there are no other true contenders).
And that’s one of hundreds of opportunities that Aff Recon just hands out on a silver platter. Oh, and just for fun, it’s fully integrated with SEMRush, too. So you can dig as deep as you’d like into keyword possibilities, using 6-figure niches and products as your “idea launchpad”. I think it’s pretty effin cool, myself
(And yes, before I get lambasted with emails – Aff Intel members get the first data set on the house).