Are you chasing algorithms and trying to make Google happy?
Fear-based SEO is paralyzing. What can you do instead to optimize and promote your business? Examples.
Link building of the past
For many years link building has been the most important ongoing SEO practice. Sure, you would fix onsite issues and ideally improve the site itself and add content regularly but the main SEO task was to acquire editorial links from third parties in the case of high quality SEO.
In the case of low quality SEO it was artificially inflating your link popularity with manually built links or worse automated link farms.
The latter practice was in fact so easy and successful that even quality professionals like myself often felt the pressure to compete with guaranteed 10 or 100 links per month link farming businesses.
Luckily the days when even webmasters fairly new to SEO could “game Google” with ease are over
and the demand for creative techniques to earn authority links is on the rise. Sadly not only those pesky unethical webmasters are subject to Google updates and “unnatural link” penalties but basically all of us.
Google hurts good sites
Most people won’t probably admit it but Google also hurts legitimate sites. I have shown examples in the past and indeed I’m a good example myself. Both my own sites and client projects have been affected negatively with Google “manual actions” and cute animal named “updates”.
Nobody is safe. You can hide you can’t run. Google will get you whether you deserve it or not and your guilty until proven innocent in a bizarre confessional like process Kafka couldn’t imagined himself.
So trying to optimize your site for Google is more of an annoyance each day. Even in case you do everything right one day you might end up being labeled a spammer the next day. Thus increasingly Web professionals are looking for alternatives to the absurd cat and mouse game Google plays with our livelihoods.
Precautions against Google interference
Can we reach people without Google interfering and standing in the way like the proverbial gatekeeper? Can we sleep without being haunted by nightmares of our business being smashed by a whim of an anonymous Google engineer over night?
You can set up CCTV cameras to protect yourself from burglars or robbers
but there is no way to protect yourself from the Google search traffic monopoly other than cutting out the middleman holding Web traffic hostage. It’s time to end the dark ages of fear, uncertainty and doubt and bringing power back to your own hands.
Audience building on independent venues
Obviously Google is not solely about search. When you try to reach an audience online you will encounter many Google owned venues like YouTube, Google+ or even Gmail. Yes, Google even controls email marketing because of its overwhelming market share as an email provider.
On YouTube you create content for Google and your build an audience on rented space from Google. Reaching your subscribers on YouTube is still free but it won’t be forever. Just like Facebook YouTube has to monetize your content, audience and relationships.
So in case you want to stay independent for the Internet giant you do not only try to steer clear of their properties when audience building.
For example personally I invested a lot of time and effort over the years on socializing on Google+. For my specific kind of expertise (blogging, social media and search) it was a good place and as long as the future of Google seemed promising it seemed like a good idea. No that Google+ has a far lower priority on the Google agenda it’d ore complicated. Also my audience of 10+k on Google+ is very specific.
People follow me due to my authority on the above mentioned topics and because I share and curate high quality content dealing with those topics. They don’t care for my other interests though and wouldn’t share pictures of pretty birds (I tried to post them on Google+).
Thus I started building an audience on a more successful site, especially with mainstream audiences from scratch: Pinterest. I started using it privately, that is not dealing with my business topics or trying to cater to the same audience I have on Google+ or Twitter.
At first (after several months of daily activity) I had around a thousand of real followers who cared about my content no matter who I was.
Later on Pinterest put me on the suggested list for new users in Germany (where I live) although I don’t share for a specifically German audience. Now I have an audience of more than 50k on Pinterest, sadly mostly lurkers.
Nonetheless my Pinterest audience, the one I earned and built organically without the additional push by the site itself is faithful enough to follow and reshare (repin) my images on a regular basis. Some boards are more popular than others but that’s to be expected and also depends on my engagement.
The more regular I share high quality images the larger and more engaged the audience up to a certain level (unless you flood).
Recently a pin of mine had 500k impressions and several thousands of repins. It didn’t make a lot of business sense but it showed that there is a potential for viral effects too on Pinterest. Of course one day Pinterest might decide to sell my audience back to me just like Facebook does by now but as of now my audience building efforts led to a perceived independence from the Google silo.
Ideally you create a community and build an audience of your own
just like the Hubspot and Moz founders did with Inbound.org – you can even use third party tools for that, like Get Satisfaction feedback communities or simply by creating a forum. Even an informal blog community is an option by engaging with your blog readers in your comment section an don social media sites.
Relationship building with social CRM
When you build an audience on social media sites or even within your own community you will notice fast that just a bunch of people are highly active while a minority will engage at all. The majority will be silent lurkers. This is perfectly normal.
It’s called the participation inequality and can be reduced to the so called 90-9-1 rule. 90% of your audience is passive and doesn’t engage, 9% is occasionally active by commenting or sharing and 1% really runs the show with most contributions being provided by them.
The 1% of hyperactive supporters are the people you need to care for and remember.
That’s where social CRM comes in handy. As a business owner you probably know what CRM or Customer Relationship Management is. Tools like Salesforce have been around for ages and are business standard by now. They help you to write down and remember who your customers are and how you can customize your offer to make theme even happier next time.
By knowing where your customers live, how old they are or whether they are female or male you can send them only the offers they would really need. For example you could offer someone living in the mountains hiking boots while someone living at the coast a surfboard. The logic is simple and effective.
Social CRM extends that kind of closer relationship building to people who aren’t your customers yet.
They may be your supporters or even so called brand evangelists. They may be relatives of your customers. In any case, these people like your business, brand or specific products. In case you blog already your supporters might simply like your content. Or they appreciate the content you share from other sources.
These people are sometimes much more valuable than your actual customers. Why? It’s simple. A brand evangelist who repeatedly shares your content, links to your site or simply tells her or his friends about your product can results in many more additional sales while a customer might just buy one item.
Social CRM tools like Nimble allow you to keep track of these people and their whereabouts online.
You can add their social media accounts along other contact data like mail or physical address. Even in case a social site turns overtly selfish like Facebook or goes down the drain like Google+ might any day you have still a lasting connection with the people who mater most online. Of course you don’t need to use Nimble.
You can use most average CRM tools by now, even the free ones like Zoho CRMand write down the addresses of your most ardent online supporters. It might seem like a tedious task but they won’t be that many. They might be a few dozens if your lucky or maybe around a 100 or two. You may have thousands of followers but your real online friends are far and in-between. So it’s not a numbers game here.
List building using trusted third party tools
This one might seem obvious and thus I didn’t want to add list building at the beginning so that my readers don’t think I’m just writing a “me too” post. Yes,email marketing is still a good way to build an audience. As mentioned above you have to fight Google the gatekeeper though as they will add your newsletter message to the “promotions” tab by default even in case you don’t promote anything.
One of the most successful link builders in modern SEO, Brian Dean is also a master list builder. I learn a lot from him. Even the sheer fact that he focuses so much on email marketing as an SEO shows you the importance of list building today despite or within SEO.
Personally I use the popular MailChimp email marketing webware but many people also use Aweber.
there is a plethora of advanced new tools simplifying and improving your email marketing these days. Many start-ups focus on mail messaging and modern web design feature an opt-in form as a central site element.
The days of annoying pop-ups are numbered in my opinion as UX designers adapt to the current need for independent connections with your audience. I have neglected email list building far too long because of the annoyance I associated with that type of marketing effort. You don’t have to push people anymore. Well design site can get mail subscribers without interrupting people browsing.
Dealing with Google, the bully
Google is like the typical bully, the more you like to please him the more power he wields over you. You won’t ever become as perfect as he wants so that he won’t ever stop picking on you. In school you could go home and your bruises would be tended by your parents and you still had something to eat.
With Google it’s worse. They will crush you completely taking away your ability to earn money
with your website by blocking search traffic to it for a myriad of often petty reasons. Then Google will demand that you buy your way back to online visibility.
Yes, you can easily become cynical about that or give up and wait until the likes of DuckDuckGo or Blekko finally bring some substantial competition back to the search market. Yet, you don’t have to wait for heaven after Google. You can strengthen your business by becoming less dependent on the gatekeeper controlling Internet search and increasingly other markets.
Ah, I almost forgot to mention: all these audience, relationship and list building efforts will help with your SEO as well, as these people are far more likely to link to you than strangers.