How difficult is it to master the SEO basics? According to columnist Stephan Spencer, it’s child’s play!
As it turns out, I’m not the only SEO professional in the family. At 14, my daughter Chloe started creating a passive income stream, enviable to most teenagers, of up to $1,100 per month. She did it with only a few ingredients: a WordPress blog, a Google AdSense account and some basic SEO knowledge.
Like many young teenagers at the time (which was about 10 years ago), she was obsessed with the Nickelodeon-owned “virtual pet” website Neopets.com. So, like any enterprising young internet entrepreneur, she started a fan site, at NeopetsFanatic.com, and monetized it.
She researched profitable keyword niches like game cheats, avatars, neopoints and so on. Then she developed content around those niches. After that, she started building buzz and links, leveraging the angle that here’s a kid doing SEO. It doesn’t take very many bloggers picking up on that before you get traction in the Google results.
Pretty soon, she was getting enough visitors to make consistent money with Google AdSense. However, she wouldn’t have seen such great returns on her time spent (which after the initial site build amounted to a handful of blog posts per year) if she hadn’t made the front page for her primary keyword target, “neopets cheats.”
I gave her some training and coaching, but she did all the work. And she was willing to put herself out there as a public figure — speaking to the media, speaking on stage at numerous conferences, at 16 years old. Thanks to the speaking gigs and resulting press coverage, her blog ranked on the first half of page 1 in Google for “neopets.” Boom!
A decade later, my daughter continues to milk this early success, even with Neopets being a fad that’s well past its prime. She does SEO consulting for clients (Yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) and continues to get in the limelight whenever possible. A couple of weeks ago, she was a guest on Jeremy Schoemaker’s podcast, the Shoemoney Show — another opportunity to demonstrate her entrepreneurial prowess.
The moral of the story: if a child can do it, so can you!
Though your mileage may vary, Chloe’s results are replicable with the right knowledge and the right strategies. Here are five tips to make SEO child’s play.
1. Look For Bankable Keyword Opportunities
Fueled by her passion for the topic of Neopets, she used a basic keyword tool (Nowadays there are many great options for these, with much more sophistication — SEMRush, for instance) to see how she could best reach people with her same interest in Neopets.
She discovered that “neopets cheats” was hugely popular, showing up near the top of the Google Suggest autocomplete suggestions list for “neopets.” She set the bar a little lower because of the competition level for that keyword, initially going after “neopet cheats” and getting traction on that keyword pretty quickly.
With that success, she was able to garner attention from bloggers, and with that additional PageRank, she set her sights higher for “neopets cheats.” Google Suggest guided her entire site structure, in fact. All the categories of her blog were based in large part on the popular Neopets-related keywords.
Any online marketer can do the same, and it needn’t be for a fan site or standalone blog. Exploring keyword niches related to a passion or hobby of yours can reveal new opportunities for you to add new sections or categories to your existing site to reach new audiences that may have interest in that topic.
In fact, just today I was having a conversation about applying this very strategy with an artist who has a passion for elephants and stopping poachers. He committed to moving ahead with this strategy and will be incorporating an elephants section into his art website.
Another tip: Track the keywords your site already ranks for. Are there a few for which you rank 11, 12 or 13? These could be an incredibly easy opportunity to get on the front page, which is where the views are, by beefing up the quality and depth of the content focused around these keywords.
2. See What Content Is Out There, And Figure Out How You Can Improve Upon It
The queries people search for are your insight into their intentions and interests.
Do you find that there are several blogs in your niche, but their coverage is kind of spotty? Flesh out some ideas that provide needed depth on the topic and add massive value. Want to become the go-to blog for winter wilderness survival? Create a comprehensive eBook for edible plants, bring on survival experts, offer resources on starting a fire in a snowy landscape and where to buy the best flint — there are so many ways you could make this niche your own.
Take note especially if searchers are searching for specific items using your internal site search. Are your visitors using terminology/vocabulary that you don’t? If you’re using certain words, but your visitors are using alternative synonyms, you have a disconnect. Or perhaps they are searching for problems, but you are only chasing after the solution-related keywords. Better finesse your content.
For example, if folks are searching on the problem of “treating frostbite,” and your content is about the solutions of “hand warmers” and “sterile dressing,” then you have some writing to do.
3. Make Sure Your Site Is Palatable To Robots
For visitors to flock to your blog, they need to be able to find it first. And although the content should first and foremost be written for the audience, it also needs to be written for the search engines.
Yes, the bots, spiders, crawlers, whatever you want to call them, cannot be neglected. Here are a few tips to make sure the bots “get” what you’re offering:
- Keep your navigation simple. Make sure there aren’t any pages that are incredibly difficult to get to from your home page.
- Keep URLs as short as you can. The folder organization within the URL should make sense, too.
- Bots don’t read the text when it is part of an image. Make sure the text is overlaid on top of the image instead. If that text isn’t in the HTML source as text, it’s likely not going to count.
- Don’t hide text and require site users to hover over something or click a tab to display the text. If you do this, you risk Google discounting this text, at least partially. Whether it’s product specs or customer reviews, display that great search engine fodder by default.
- Check that your pages are being crawled often. If there is a strange lag, or if the crawling stops, this is a strong indicator something is awry and Google is having trouble accessing your content.
4. Focus On Getting Links Rather Than Likes
Although social signals are nice to have, links are where it’s at. To acquire links, your content must be linkworthy, as in high-quality, engaging and remarkable. That’s a given. You also need to find a good home for that content. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
- Keep it on your domain. Although microsites can make sense for certain brand awareness campaigns or events, aim to build up the link authority of your primary site by hosting the linkworthy content there.
- Be brandable. A linkworthy domain is memorable, easy to type and not confusing when spoken aloud. If it is a clumsy, awkward or otherwise horrible domain, consider changing it. You can buy aftermarket domains for as little as a few hundred dollars. I bought ScienceOfSEO.com for $500, for instance. You can start your search for aftermarket domains at BuyDomains.com and HugeDomains.com; enter your keywords into their site search and start shopping. Examples of brand and domain “makeovers”: Alpha & Omega Financial Services (AOFSUSA.com) became Living Wealth (LivingWealth.com), American Response Inc. (ARI2000.com) became SkyCover (SkyCover.com), and iFitnessMind (iFitnessMind.com) became Orion’s Method (OrionsMethod.com). The first two were the fruits of my re-branding efforts; the latter was my fiancee’s.
- Tone down the sales pitch. The launching pad of your linkworthy content will most likely be your blog. Your blog should never be a shill for your company — full of shameless plugs, photos of your booth at trade shows and ads for your products/services filling the sidebar. Your blog should be at an arm’s length from your online store or corporate site in terms of its look and feel. If your viral article would repel a Reddit user because of the commercial feel to the page, you’re doing it wrong. Companies who “get it” include Valore Books with their blog, and REI with their blog. You can’t go wrong with a magazine-type feel, in my opinion.
5. Build Your Credibility Over Time With Authority Marketing
Building authority goes beyond links. The links and the content are great building blocks, but don’t stop there. Aim to become a thought leader in your field.
Conferences related to your niche are a great way to get your presence known among the other niche experts and influencers. If you can market yourself effectively enough to get a speaking gig, that will give you a huge boost in your visibility as an expert. There are plenty of Calls for Speakers posted on the web by industry conferences. Start applying. My daughter at 16 could do it; so can you.
If you don’t have any significant speaking experience, and you’re starting from zero, it’ll be easier to break into the speaking world if you first go local. Meetups (meetup.com) are still going strong, and they present a great opportunity to do some local-scale networking. Once you have a feel for the group, propose a topic that you have enough knowledge on to present yourself.
After meeting other experts or sharing your content with them, talk about how you can collaborate with each other on podcasts, collaborative articles, Google Hangout webinars and other projects. This could lead to their subscriber base getting interested in what you have to offer, as well.
Consider launching your own podcast show. Being a podcast host not only conveys thought leadership status, it also gives you a great excuse to reach out to major influencers and start a dialogue because you can invite them onto your show as a guest. Be sure to ask your fans, followers and listeners to post reviews on iTunes, as that’s an important part of the iTunes ranking algorithm.
By finding a valuable niche, building your content and credibility, and then using SEO to get that content seen, you can easily make money in a way that can scale. It’s child’s play! Well not really, it’s a lot of hard work. But if you are willing to put in the “hard yards,” even if you’re not technical, you can achieve great results and dominate in Google.