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.