Category Archives: Business

Choosing a Niche for Your Blog

niche-researchA while back I mentioned that you should seriously ask yourself if your blog even needs a niche at all. I stand by that. But let’s suppose that you have decided that you need a niche, for whatever reason. How do you pick one?

First of all, if your niche isn’t obvious then you need to go back to step one and seriously consider a general blog again. Having a niche that’s obvious to you is one of the best indicators that a niche actually is the right thing for your blog. It’s not the only one, but it’s the strongest. Of course, if your niche is obvious then you don’t need this post at all. So if you’re looking for a niche, here are some factors you should consider.

Your topic should be something that you really know something about. If you’re a world-class expert in something then this is pretty obvious. But most of us aren’t world class experts. That’s ok. Your readers won’t be, either. The important thing is that you can provide them with new and useful information that they don’t have. So it’s good for it to be something you are actually well versed in.

Another option, though, is to pick something that you want to be an expert in and use your blog as an opportunity to study it. That’s how my last niche blog started off, and it worked pretty well – both as a blog and as a learning tool.

Your topic should be something that’s underserved. Even on today’s saturated internet, these topics still exist. This doesn’t have to mean that there aren’t any blogs on the subject. It doesn’t even mean you have to be the best blog on the subject. But there should be relatively few of them. The main benefit of having a niche is to dominate search engine traffic for keywords related to your topic. With a well selected topic and good SEO you very likely can actually monopolize certain keyword combinations. By extension, if there are already a thousand blogs out there on that subject, don’t bother. Pick something else or go general.

Also, if your niche is too specific then even monopolizing those keywords won’t bring you enough traffic to be worth it. For example, I currently dominate Google search results for my own name. All but one of the first page results go to pages or profiles that I control. The second page is almost as good. Anybody searching my name is going to find me, and that’s intentional. But nobody’s actually searching much for my name as of yet, so it doesn’t bring me a lot of traffic. My dojo, on the other hand, does better. I’ve done very well with SEO there, and anybody searching within the right geographical area is very likely to come across my site first or second on the list. That does a lot better for bringing me traffic, and it’s very targeted traffic so it’s helpful.

Speaking of which, if you’re selling something then your niche should be closely related to what you’re selling. The one thing that would help me more than anything for actually selling stuff would be to blog more about the martial arts. I’ve seen a few good blogs that do it. I actually run a separate blog for my dojo, and I’ll have occasional posts here about that. But I already spend a lot of time teaching that and it’s very difficult for me to keep motivated writing out the same information over and over again. My dojo blog is seldom updated as a result, and I just can’t keep motivated to do it. I do far better here. The successful martial arts blogs that I’ve seen tend very strongly toward repeating the same information over and over. I’m not criticizing them – I get why they do it. All niche blogs eventually do, or else they die. But that’s just not my thing.

In summary, we have three criteria we should be looking for:

  1. A topic you either are or want to become an expert on.
  2. An underserved topic where there’s little competition.
  3. Something closely related to what you’re selling.

If you can’t meet at least one of these criteria, don’t even bother with a niche blog. It won’t help you. If you want to get good results, you really want at least two. As for myself, I probably wouldn’t do another niche blog unless I could meet all three. I’d need to see that kind of benefit to overcome what I view as the tedium of exhausting one topic. Not everyone views that as a burden, though, so maybe a niche blog is right for you.

Automate Your Social Media

If you’re using social media to promote yourself or your brand, you need to be taking advantage of automation. You can’t live on social media all day. Well, you can – but then you won’t be doing any of the other things you need to do to keep your brand value high. Most of all, you won’t be making the products or performing the services that you actually get paid for. But social media doesn’t stop and it doesn’t sleep. So automate it.

As human beings, tools are our birthright – so put them to use for you. There are lots of choices on the market. I currently have Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts for myself and three businesses. I use HootSuite because it lets me manage multiple social media accounts on multiple platforms from a single control panel. It allows me to schedule posts in advance, bulk upload posts, use auto-scheduling features (it schedules based on historical data to maximize engagement). I can send the same post to multiple social media accounts or tweak them all individually. I also use the SNAP (Social Network Auto Poster) plugin for WordPress for this blog.

You’ll want to experiment and read up to decide what the best social media schedule is for you. But to help you out, here’s a brief outline of what I do, followed by some results. First, I use built-in WordPress functionality on this blog to write posts ahead of time and schedule them to go live when I want to. I strive for 2 posts a day Monday through Friday, although I don’t always meet that goal. My experience so far has been that weekends are a slow time on blog traffic. It’s also a time when I have important things to do (like relax!). And although I sometimes write posts days ahead of time, often I’m only running a night or so ahead. So I don’t worry about weekend posts unless I just have a burning need to get a post out. I also use the SNAP plugin to make sure that these posts are pushed out to all of my personal social media accounts at the same time that they go live on this blog.

For Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, I leave it alone there. By the nature of those feeds, doing more than that is somewhat spammy. Twitter is a different beast altogether. Remember when I said that social media is your short game? Twitter is the extra-extra short game. Twitter is the “blink and you miss it” game. So I use HootSuite to schedule five Tweets a day on my personal Twitter feed linking back to this blog. Monday through Friday I usually focus on recent content. On the weekends, I focus on older but “timeless” content – posts that are still relevant even if I wrote them months ago.This may seem a bit spammy at first. But if you use Twitter regularly you know that most people will only scroll back through their feed for an hour or three when they log in. Then they’re done and they’re off – most likely until the next day. That’s as many as 23 hours that they’ve completely missed! So retweeting your content throughout the day won’t actually bother most users – it just means that they’ll actually see it.

On my dojo’s Facebook, Google+, and Twitter feeds, I make it a point to have some sort of picture posted daily. Typically I’ll mix it up – some will be funny memes. Some will be motivational. Some will be commentary on martial arts related things. Others will just be cool pictures. Those have gotten me a pretty good bit of interaction. On the Silver Empire feeds, I mostly keep a stream of Silver Empire related news going – calls for submissions, new products, etc. There’s room for improvement on both of these business fronts.

Remember when I said I’d post results? Two weeks ago I shared a snapshot of my Twitter analytics showing that my tweets had made 107,000 impressions in the previous 28 day period. That’s an average of 3800 impressions per day. Here’s the results from this morning:

TwitterAnalytics_05_2016

In two weeks, I’ve raised that up to 251,000 impressions – an average of 8,900 per day. That’s two and a half times higher.  Measured in pageviews, blog traffic in May was nearly three times higher than April. If you compare to the screenshot 15 days ago, you’ll also see that my follower count has increased by 19% in two weeks. Google analytics shows that a full two thirds of my traffic in May came from social media. At the same time, “direct traffic” (people coming here just to come here) has doubled in May as well – which means that at least some of those readers are now coming back of their own accord. In other words, these strategies are clearly working.

I only started rolling out these strategies over the month of May. And they weren’t completely implemented until just a week or two ago. That means that June should continue to show strong growth over May in all of these areas as the full effect of automation hits. Best of all, I have also seen a small uptick in book sales in May as compared to April, although this effect is definitely lagging the other changes. I expect that effect to be even bigger over time than it has been so far.

Don’t try to automate everything. You need to still have personal interaction in your social media. But automation can reap huge rewards. If you’re not using it, you need to be.

Blogging is Your Long Game

blogging2As I discussed last week, social media is your short game. It’s important, and you can’t neglect it. But if you’re trying to build a lasting web presence, blogging is equally critical. It’s your long game, and you’ll pay the price if you neglect it.

Too many people start a blog to promote their business or brand without knowing why they need one or how it will help them. Without these crucial elements, blogging is nearly pointless (from a business perspective). You must know what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve already written several posts discussing why blogging is important. I’ve talked about why building blog traffic is both harder and easier than it used to be. I’ve talked about why both inbound and outbound links are critical for your blog’s success. I’ve explained why your blog should be ad free. But why does blogging actually work? What is it that you’re actually trying to accomplish with your blog?

A well run blog will help you on two fronts: it will help you build a relationship with your readers and it will help you gain visibility with search engines such as Google.

Blogging is all about building a relationship with your readers, but I’m going to gloss over that part today. People have written a ton about it. The only point I’m going to emphasize is that this is a process that takes time – lots of time. You can’t expect overnight results from it.

Today, though, I’m going to get a bit more technical and focus on why blogging helps you so much with search engines. Inbound links are important for this – critical even. But I’ve already written a whole post about that. Here’s the other big reason blogging helps you so much: content quantity. Raw quantity is important. Everyone tells you that you should set a blogging schedule and keep to it. I’m going to tell you that that schedule should be as aggressive as you can find the time for. Get as much content out there as you can – but not all in one post.

A high post count on your blog will help you in many ways with the search engines. First, as I mentioned before, outbound links from your blog are huge – especially those sidebar links. The more posts you have, the more pages Google sees. The more pages Google sees, the more times it sees those sidebar links. This post will be my 183rd on this blog. So those sidebar links show up 183 times, right? Wrong. Due to the nature of blogging software, Google recognizes the sidebar links on this blog at least 367 times (based on information from Google Webmasters). Holy cow! How did that happen?

Let’s consider WordPress because it’s what I use for this blog (but realize that pretty much all blogging software works the same way these days). When I create a new post, that’s not the only thing that happens. My main page is updated. But my main page only shows up to 10 posts on it. When post number 11 goes live, WordPress now creates a second page. You can see that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the main page and find the link that says, “Older Posts.” When I hit post 21, it has to create another page. And so on. 183 posts means 19 pages, just in the main stream. See all those “categories” listed on my sidebar? Each one of them has at least one page of their own. But for each category, when the magic is hit then another page gets created. Click my author name at the top of this post and another multi-page stream is created, showing all the posts written by me. Since this is a single author blog, it won’t look any different than the main stream – but Google sees an entirely separate set of pages.

Each of these pages gets to “vote” by linking other places. In a well setup blog, each of these pages will link back to your homepage. And they’ll usually link to other important pages on your site. And, of course, if you’ve followed my advice they’ll link to your business pages. Pretty nice, isn’t it?

It gets better.

Google likes big sites. All else being equal, a large site will rank better in Google’s search results than a small site. So the more raw content you create on your blog, the more Google will like it. The bigger your site is, the more often Google will check it for updates. That means that anything new you add will make it into Google’s results faster. Pro tip: Google also likes it when you update frequently, so posting regularly will help trigger Google to scan your blog more frequently, too. Not too shabby!

But there’s one last reason that’s a biggie – perhaps the biggest of all. Every author has a unique writing style.

Try this test:

  1. Pick one of your blog posts at random.
  2. Pick a paragraph of text at random.
  3. Copy that text.
  4. Paste it into Google – but be sure to put quotation marks around it! (This triggers Google’s “exact match” functionality)
  5. Hit the search button and check your results.

I bet you a dollar that the only result you got was your own page (or somebody quoting you directly). Leave a comment here if you get different results. If I can verify it, I’ll pay up! Now try the experiment again with three sentences. Two. One. Your writing is unique. How little of it do you need for Google to uniquely point to you?

OK, you’re thinking, what’s the point? The point is that sooner or later somebody is going to come along and search for a topic you’ve written about using a particular combination of words that nobody other than you is using. With a whole paragraph, your writing style is unique. But for a small sentence fragment, it’s merely rare. It doesn’t matter if there are ten million pages on that subject. Google thinks that yours is the match because your word choice matches that person’s choice for that topic. So that person sees your page on his search results, clicks it, loves your post, and boom, you’ve got a new long-term reader!

Great, but that’s just one guy. Right? Sure – if you’ve only got one page of content. But what if you had hundreds of pages? Thousands? And then what happens when those readers start sharing and linking to your blog content, or effectively “upvoting” it to Google? Over time the search engines come to love you, and more and more traffic comes your way.

As I mentioned, this blog has fewer than 200 posts. Yet I now get a very steady stream of daily traffic from Google and other search engines. I’ve upped my schedule recently to two posts a day (on weekdays). So far I’ve managed to hit it. Don’t stress about it too much if you miss it every now and then. At that rate, I’ll double my current post count in less than 19 weeks, or about five months. Based on previous experience, I expect that to more than triple my incoming traffic from Google.

Now imagine that spread not over months but over years. Not hundreds of pages but thousands – maybe tens of thousands. The power that has on the search engines is massive, and it’s yours for the taking.

But it isn’t going to happen overnight. And that’s why blogging is your long game.

Trump Made Out Like A Bandit on Miss Universe

Donald Trump, left, and Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler, of Venezuela, talk during a news conference, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in Doral, Fla. Three of the last six Miss Universe titles have gone to Venezuelan contestants. This year's Miss Universe competition has a unique undertone: It will take place in South Florida, home to the largest number of Venezuelans in the U.S., the majority strongly against the current Venezuelan government. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Donald Trump just filed a new financial disclosure form with the Federal Elections Commission claiming his net worth has risen to $10 billion over the last year. Forbes rebuts that, claiming his net worth has instead dropped from their previous estimate of $4.1 billion to $4 billion.

For the record, I have no idea what Trump’s net worth actually is. And I don’t care. Trump is almost certainly giving an answer higher than the real one. He wants to be called out on the lie. As Scott Adams has repeatedly pointed out, this keeps the conversation in the news. And most people aren’t even listening. For the average person, the takeaway is simple: Trump is really, really rich. The specifics don’t matter – the only argument they hear is an argument over just how really, really rich he is.

But I think Forbes did make a pretty big error in their calculations. Specifically, I think they factored Miss Universe as a loss for Trump last year.To quote their own words:

In fact, we’ve lowered our valuation of the real estate tycoon from $4.1 billion to $4 billion since his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants during his campaign launch speech, which led to the end of his business deals with NBCUniversal, Univision, Serta Mattresses, and Macy’sM, as well as PVHPVH Corp. and Perfumania, the manufacturers of his menswear line and fragrances, respectively. In the wake of these developments, we have dropped the value of his brand to zero (previously, we pegged it at $125 million).

Like most people, I think they’ve missed what actually happened here. To be fair, you had to be paying really close attention to catch it, as the sales numbers and contractual arrangements for Trump’s Miss Universe stake weren’t public. I only caught it by sheer accident. But I’m pretty sure I’ve pieced together what happened, and it’s sheer genius on Trump’s part.

First of all, I don’t disagree that the value of Miss Universe dropped when Trump made his comments about Mexican immigrants. Those business deals were, indeed, canceled. However, what most people miss is that before then, Trump only owned half of Miss Universe. That changed later. On September 11, 2015 (an ironic date), it was quietly announced that Trump was buying out NBC’s half of Miss Universe. Most people missed that. What they didn’t miss was the second part, that came only days later. On September 14, Trump sold all of Miss Universe.

And therein lies the genius. Trump bought the beauty pageant at a deflated price – it was worth less because of his involvement. It had almost no media contracts, destroying its value. But when he sold it, he automatically became uninvolved with it. Which means that the value of the company was much higher, because all of those contracts could now be reinstated for a Trump-less pageant. Or maybe they’d negotiate better ones. The point is, it doesn’t matter. When he bought it, the company was severely undervalued compared to its potential. But that’s not the company he sold. The company he sold had full value (or near to it) again. Remember, it’s an age old adage of investment: the money isn’t made on the sale, it’s made on the purchase. Trump purchased the company at the right time.

Odds are very good that he planned this out as part of his campaign. But even if he didn’t, it shows a remarkable flexibility and the ability to take advantage of opportunity when it knocks.

Again, the actual numbers aren’t public. I can’t prove that this is how it went down. But look at the timing of it. There’s really no other way it could’ve happened. I only noticed because I happened to see the news that he’d bought NBC’s stake on the day it happened. I was laughing at the time, certain that he’d gotten a fire sale price for it. Then a few days later I saw that he’d sold it, and I was laughing even harder.

Trump Trumped NBC, plain and simple.

Bonus thought: the value of Trump’s brand may be lowered or may be raised by the events of his presidential bid. But Forbes has gone full retard by labeling it as “zero.” The eleven million votes he’s received in the Republican primary definitively proves that it’s not zero.

Social Media is Your Short Game

Social media is a really useful tool for promoting yourself and your brand. With some changes and improvements I’ve made over the last few weeks, social media now accounts for almost three quarters of the daily sessions coming into this blog.

Twitter alone accounts for nearly 60% of the incoming traffic now. I’ve upped my Twitter game substantially, and the results are readily apparent. This blog got more traffic from May 1 through May 15 than it got in all of April. That holds true whether you measure it by sessions or by pageviews. And I expect another big growth wave as I branch out into other social networks and study the right ways to optimize traffic from those sources.

But social media is your short game.

The traffic from social media is ephemeral. The traffic from social media has a high bounce rate (the visitors who only look at one page on your site). Most who come in from social media are one time visitors. Social media visitors are far less likely to leave comments on your actual blog – but far more likely to talk about it on social media, so there’s a trade-off! But worst of all, the traffic flow is here today and gone tomorrow. If you don’t keep active on the social media every day, that traffic comes to a halt. The picture below represents traffic from Twitter after one particular influencer retweeted a blog posting of mine last week.

TwitterTrafficFalloff

Note the large spike and then the quick fall-off afterward. That’s not a snapshot over a period of days – that’s over a period of hours. Now, keep in mind that Twitter is the shortest of short game. Even in social media terms, Twitter is ephemeral. The tweets are gone quickly. Facebook moves at a much slower pace. And Google+ seems to have a nice staying presence in Google’s actual search results. But in general, you need to understand that any given post on social media doesn’t stay around on people’s radar for very long.

This doesn’t in any way mean that you should be neglecting social media. This one retweet by one influencer brought in more sessions in one day than I got in most months in 2015 (when I wasn’t doing much to promote this blog). But the following day, traffic was back to very close to normal. To sustain the traffic, you have to keep hammering away at the social media every single day.

But the key point that I want to make is, social media is the short game and must be treated like it. Spend time on it, but don’t neglect your long game. What’s the long game, you ask? Come back next week and we’ll talk about that!

Why Blogging Works – Inbound Links

Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works.
Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works.

Whether you’re promoting yourself, your product, your service, or your business, everyone tells you that you need to start a blog. A lot of places will tell you how to do it. But very few will tell you why blogging works. Understanding why will help you get more out of your blog.

Last week I talked about outbound links and said that they just might be the reason why blogging works to promote your brand. If it’s not outbound links, then inbound links are a strong contender. Once more, to understand how this works we need to understand a bit about how modern search engines work. Let’s recap from last time:

Google began as a research project by its two co-founders into a new technique to make internet searches better. They created a system called “PageRank.” The extremely simplified version is this: every time one page on the internet links to another, that link counts a “vote.” The more votes a page has, the higher its PageRank is. When searching for keywords, the algorithm first finds pages that match those words. Then it checks the PageRank of each page, and the page with the higher PageRank wins. But they got a little smarter than that, even, and added a few layers to it. They manage it by individual keywords. Say your page is about cars. Another page links to you, and includes the word “cars” in the link. If somebody comes along later and is searching for cars, that counts as an extra vote, because they used that keyword to link to you. And if their page is about cars – and ranks well for cars – then that vote counts even more.

Remember, this is a vastly simplified explanation. That’s ok. Just remember the three mnemonics. Links are good. Links that use specific, relevant keywords are better. Links from a “reputable” site are even better.

That’s all great, you say, but how is my blog going to help with that? Your blog helps because it’s easier to get quality inbound links to a blog than it is for just about any other form of content. I’ve run several web sites over the years and I can tell you hands down that this is true.

Getting inbound links to your blog isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back in the day everybody’s blog had a comment section and – like mine still does – those comments linked straight back to… well, whatever you told them to. And people liked it if that linked back to your blog. If you left interesting comments, they wanted to go see what else you had to say. So they’d follow the links.

This still works – just not as well as it used to. A lot of blogs use commenting systems that don’t provide direct links anymore. Many others don’t accept comments at all. But there are still plenty of blogs out there that do this. Find them and take advantage of it. Be sure that the comments you leave are relevant to the topic of each individual post. And personally, I try not to leave a comment unless I have something useful to add. But blog comments are a major way to get quality backlinks to your site. Google Webmaster Tools currently recognizes 4,275 links pointing to this blog from the blogspot.com domain alone. That’s a lot of comments! But I’ve left them at various blogs over 15 years. Many of them have pointed to this blog since its very first incarnation. And the beauty of the internet is that those links didn’t go away when I shut that blog down. They were right there waiting when I started it up again.

Some other techniques to get high quality inbound links for your blog:

  • Write about other people, especially bloggers. Review their products. My review of Somewhither is one of the top ten traffic generating pages on this site, and is responsible for more inbound links than almost any other page. Why? Because Mr. Wright saw it, liked it, and linked back to it.
  • Interview other people. They like to hear about it, and they’ll tell their readers about it. My interview with Brian Niemeier is another of my best-linked pages. I definitely plan to do more of those. [Hint: if you’d like to be interviewed on this blog, drop me a line!]
  • Write about things that people want to talk about – especially scandalous or controversial things. My post about science fiction and fantasy fandom’s pedophilia problem is my most linked page as of today.

Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works to help build your brand. Know how to build them and don’t neglect the work!

Followers Aren’t Everything

Everyone these days is using social media to promote your business, your product, your service, or yourself. And what’s the first metric everyone turns to? The number of followers you have. Make no mistake, that’s an important number. But it’s not the most important one. Followers aren’t everything.

Sales > Conversions > Engagements > Impressions > Followers

Remember, your number one goal is to get paid. So sales are the first metric you need to be tracking, and that’s the number you need to ultimately be focused on raising. Everything else on the list is just a tool to help you with that – just like social media itself. You have a lot of social media followers. So what? Or maybe you don’t have very many at all. Again, so what? Let me show you a quick screen grab of my Twitter analytics as of Friday. This is just a snapshot of one social media platform. You’ll always want to use every platform you have – and you’ll want to analyze them about the same way.

My Twitter Analytics as of 5/13/2016
My Twitter Analytics as of 5/13/2016

Impressions are how many times your content has been seen (in this case, tweets). As you can see, I don’t have a particularly high follower count – only 344 followers. But move your eyes over a little bit to the left to that second number: 107 thousand impressions over the four week period shown. There are folks out there who could certainly do better. But as far as impressions go, I’ve done quite well with the followers that I have.

Engagements are how many times somebody has interacted with your content (again, in this case a tweet). Twitter says I have an engagement rate for this period of 2.4%, which comes out to roughly 2568 engagements. That number includes people liking and retweeting my tweets, or responding to them. It includes people who click through the links to wherever they go. It includes people following me after seeing a tweet, or clicking through to my profile. A 2.4% engagement rate isn’t terrible, but it could be better.

Conversions are far more valuable than engagements, however. And conversions are kind of defined by you. Conversions are usually sales related – somebody actually bought something from you. But often they can be useful to track non-monetary transactions. You can also think of somebody signing up for an e-mail list as a conversion, for example. Since my primary goal with social media is to increase traffic to this blog and awareness of my businesses, let’s think of somebody clicking through to one of those sites as a “conversion.”

Digging through my Google Analytics history shows that those 2568 engagements led to at least 800 pageviews on this blog. It’s more than that, because Google Analytics doesn’t always show someone coming from Twitter as coming from Twitter. Sometimes they show up as “direct traffic.” But I don’t know how much of my “direct traffic” came from Twitter, so we’ll stick with the 800 pageviews value. We can confirm that. Also, this is just from one of the three sites that I promote on Twitter. That means that on Twitter, I’m converting approximately one third of my engagements into my goal (site traffic) – probably much more when you include my other sites. That’s not bad!

Ultimately you want to track how many of those visits convert into actual sales. Sorry guys, but that information I keep confidential! I do track it, however, and you should do the same. The ultimate goal is to get paid. If you’re not getting as many sales as you’d like, you need to check every level of this chain and see where you’re deficient. As we can see from the chain above, my follower count is low. But we can also see that it’s growing quickly. It grew almost 20% in this period. I’m doing well on impressions per follower, and we can also see from this result that this is something I’ve improved quite a bit recently. I expect it to improve even more in the next 28 days as I implement new processes to help automate my social media. My engagement rate isn’t bad, but it could be better. 4-5% would be a good target. That’s definitely something for me to work on. On the other hand, I’m converting a large number of those engagements into pageviews. At the moment, that’s not where I need to put my energy!

If you’re focused on your low follower count, you’re looking at the problem wrong. You need to be ensuring that you’re doing the most that you can with the followers that you have. If your followers are engaging with your content, you will grow more followers with time. So make sure that you get those impression and engagement numbers up! And always remember to analyze every level of the flow to make sure that your focus is where it needs to be.

Why Blogging Works – Outbound Links

outboundlinksWhether you’re promoting yourself, your product, your service, or your business, everyone tells you that you need to start a blog. A lot of places will tell you how to do it. But very few will tell you why blogging works. Understanding why will help you get more out of your blog.

Outbound links are a major reason – perhaps the major reason – why blogs work. To understand why this is so important, we need to understand how modern search engines work. Thankfully, I’m a computer scientist so I can help you with that. But don’t worry, I’m going to leave out the math and the hard stuff.

Google began as a research project by its two co-founders into a new technique to make internet searches better. They created a system called “PageRank.” The extremely simplified version is this: every time one page on the internet links to another, that link counts a “vote.” The more votes a page has, the higher its PageRank is. When searching for keywords, the algorithm first finds pages that match those words. Then it checks the PageRank of each page, and the page with the higher PageRank wins. But they got a little smarter than that, even, and added a few layers to it. They manage it by individual keywords. Say your page is about cars. Another page links to you, and includes the word “cars” in the link. If somebody comes along later and is searching for cars, that counts as an extra vote, because they used that keyword to link to you. And if their page is about cars – and ranks well for cars – then that vote counts even more.

Remember, this is a vastly simplified explanation. But the short version is this: links are good. Links that use specific, relevant keywords are better. Links from a “reputable” site are even better.

Google has really updated its algorithms over the years – it’s come a long way since its founding! It now accounts for all kinds of other factors, and their process of determining all of this has gotten far more complex as well. For example, links from known spam sites now count against you. But at the core, this statement is still true: links from a reputable source that use relevant are really good.

Why does blogging help you so much with links? First, it’s pretty easy to get links to your blog. Google recognizes 4,862 links pointing to this blog. Now, I did spend a pretty good amount of time building those links. Back in the day when Google still measured such things, this site had a PageRank of 4 (out of 10). That’s not too shabby.

Links

The upshot is that this small blog alone has enough power from the links that I’ve built up that I can link to other sites and actually have a small but noticeable impact on how they rank in search results. It’s not enough to put a site up to number one, but it’s enough to take a site that’s not even ranking and get it on the radar. Right now the effect is very small. But give me two more years of working this blog, and it’ll will be significant.

Why is this important? Because you want to use that power to promote your brands, by linking back to yourself. But be careful – if you overdo it, Google will decide you’re spamming them and it will really hurt your site. One of the easiest things to do though is also highly effective: put links to your businesses, products, or services in the sidebar of your blog. Look over to the right and you’ll see links to my dojo, my publishing company, and my wife’s videography business. [Notice how I linked those using keywords instead of just straight text? And how I slipped them in and made them a natural part of the post?]Also notice that I have links to a few of my friends and to several of my most recently published works.

The nice thing about the sidebar links is that they’ll show up on every page of your blog.Google currently recognizes 225 pages on this blog, so anything I put on the sidebar automatically gets 225 “votes.” In a year, this blog will have at least twice that much content, and its power will be even bigger. It will also have hundreds, if not thousands, more incoming links – which means that its own reputation will also be far higher.

Intelligent link selection is just one of the techniques I’ve used to help my dojo completely dominate the search engine results for most martial arts related searches local to Madison, Alabama. I’m still building the web presence of my publishing company – and it’s a little harder to do on a national scale than a local scale – but it’s coming.

Before we go, here are my tips for using links in your blog:

  • All of your businesses should be linked in the sidebar of your blog so that they show up on every page. Simple links are fine – you’re not actually hugely worried about people clicking them. These are for search engines.
  • If you sell products or services, the two or three that are currently your biggest priority should have prominent, visual links (such as book covers, like I’ve done). These are partly for search engines. But you also want people to actually see and click these, so use the space.
  • Use that sidebar space to link to friends and supporters – but be very judicious about who you link to.
  • Inside your blog posts, be cautious about over-linking back to yourself. But if it fits the content of the post, don’t be afraid to do it – and make sure you use good keywords in and around the link text itself.
  • Don’t be afraid to link back to other bloggers and news sources that you’re referencing. In the old days (circa 2005) this was common, and just considered “good manners.” Too many bloggers have gotten away from it, thinking that they can keep the traffic and the credit to themselves. This is short sighted (more on this in a future post).

Building Your Blog is Easier Than It Used To Be

This isn’t the first blog I’ve run. It’s not even the first blog I’ve run at this URL. From about 2002 until 2007 – the golden age of blogging – I ran another blog on this site. It did reasonably well at the time. And I can tell you firsthand, a lot has changed since then. As I mentioned yesterday, in many ways, building your blog up is much harder than it used to be.

But in many ways, it’s also far easier than it used to be.

keep-calmTo put it bluntly, the blogging software back in the “golden age” sucked compared to today. Find today’s worst blogging platform and compare it to the best tools available in 2003 and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, the first version of a “blog” that I ran at this URL used software I wrote myself. Believe me, that software wasn’t very user friendly at all. At some point I switched over to B2Evolution, which was a huge improvement. WordPress came out around that time, and it was pretty decent, too. I liked B2Evo a lot better at the time. But today’s WordPress kicks its butt. The level of customizability, the number of themes out there, and the plugins available all far surpass what we had back in the day. And most of them are free.

We also didn’t have tools like Google Analytics or Google Webmasters, both of which are now indispensable. The best we had back then was the old fashioned “TTLB Ecosystem” and Google’s “submit your site” tool. Alexa came along a little bit later, but it’s always been less than perfect and seems today to actually be worse than it was then. You could get the Google toolbar and check your PageRank status, but that was always of mixed value.

And social media? MySpace was garbage right from the beginning. Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist until 2004 and 2006 respectively, and it took a few years for each of them to really get big. Today, I get more than half of my blog traffic from social media – and I’m working to learn that world even better and increase that. As an example, yesterday’s post about the difficulties of today got shared by Mike Cernovich on Twitter this morning. I got an entire day’s worth of traffic in 15 minutes. Make friends with influencers on social media!

Want to really make use of that e-mail list you’ve built? MailChimp is phenomenal – and they have a free plan that’s just fine if you’re just getting started. Want to automate your social media? Check out HootSuite – again, the free plan will be plenty for many users.

Want to improve the performance on your blog? Get the caching plugins, and boom it’s done. No more spending days messing with your server’s configuration. Want your own server instead of the free blog-only solutions? Hosting solutions are cheap these days. I pay $98 per year through OpenSourceHost.com, and I run four web sites off of that! Want to pay for a killer site design? If you’ve got the cash, there are plenty of folks who will do it for you.

All the things I wrote yesterday are true. But on balance, building your blog is easier today than it’s ever been. You just have to adapt to the times. Keep reading. Stay current on what’s out there. Use tools to make your life easier. Learn to play the social media game. And keep on blogging.

Hyperloops Won’t Catch On

I ran across this in my Twitter feed this morning:

The funny thing is, I found this other article about why hyperloops won’t work.

But I think there are a number of problems with this.  First of all, many of the people flying between Dallas and Houston are not actually ending up in those cities; they’re going somewhere else, because Dallas is a major hub.   When I want to fly up to see my family in upstate New York, I don’t take Amtrak to Penn Station and then trek out to LaGuardia, even though I much prefer rail travel to air travel.  So high speed rail doesn’t readily substitute for air travel unless you have a lot of connections running out of Dallas.  I don’t think it’s an accident that the two places in America where rail kind of works–the northeast corridor, and the LA-San Diego route–are coastal runs where the regional links run down a basically straight line.  And the reason that they are conveniently in a straight line is that both regions happen to be sandwiched on a narrow strip between the coastline and a big mountain range that limited inland development during the formative years. In the middle of the country, where you need to add an east-west axis to your planning, things rapidly get more expensive.

The other reason I don’t think that rail is going to compete with air in most places is the very thing that makes air travel so environmentally problematic:  frequency of service.  For high speed rail–or any sort of rail, really–to be an environmental boon, the trains have to run pretty full.

A Hyperloop
A Hyperloop

But wait, you say. Ms McArdle (yes, the same Ms McArdle) is talking about high speed rail, not hyperloops!

From a technological perspective, hyperloops are new and cool and really awesome and totally not trains. But from a business perspective, it’s just a glorified train. It moves a lot faster and it’s more efficient, but those aren’t really the problems with trains. Maybe speed, but we already have a faster-than-trains alternative: it’s called the airplane, and there’s already a lot of infrastructure in place for it in the US.

But trains are already pretty efficient, especially electric trains. The reason we don’t have more of them in the US is because the infrastructure cost is too high. For hyperloops to become a thing (outside of a few limited areas), there would have to be trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars worth of loop built. If you don’t believe me on the cost, check out the latest highway bill – and remember that that’s just for maintenance, not for building the whole Interstate Highway System from scratch. Trillions of dollars isn’t exactly the kind of fixed cost that you recoup quickly or easily.

What about the speed? Well, what about it? The Concorde had speed, too, and it didn’t catch on either. The thing is, I can already cross the country coast to coast in about five or six hours. There are very few reasons why I’d need to do it faster. I might like to, sure – but not enough to pay twice as much to do it. Some businessmen might, but they already have a nice way to do it faster: private jets that can go point-to-point and shave an hour or two off of that (more if you factor in layovers and TSA checkpoints).

The thing is, the faster you’re already going, the less of an advantage more speed is. If you can cross the country in four hours, you’d have to double your speed to make it really worth paying more. Even then… how many of us value our time so highly that shaving two hours off of a four hour trip is worth thousands of dollars? Again, not many. The extra speed just isn’t worth much. Which means that hyperloops would be competing with an industry that’s already hyper-competitive.

The tech is cool. But the market simply isn’t there.