I've seen far too many people latch on to the idea of Search Engine Optimization and throw everything else to the wind much to the detriment of their business or other goals, not to mention their life in general!
SEO is simply a way to market your product, service or content online. As such it is part of a field known as Online Marketing.
Before you make SEO your obsession its important to recognize that this is only one of many ways in which you can drive visitors to your site.
In fact, as the graph above shows, search engines only account for 50% of website traffic which means SEO will only ever give you access to half your potential market.
(I've written more about this graph on my blog post Does Google really rule the roost when it comes to search? if you want to have a closer look at the figures).
Right now you might be thinking "Eek! I can't do all of those things or afford to pay someone else to do them!". You don't need to. I see people run perfectly successful businesses from Amazon and/or Ebay or get all the customers they need just by being in all the respected online and offline directories ... when they do it right (more on this later).
I have clients who bring the right traffic to their websites because they are respected members of forums or Question and Answer sites.
And of course I also know people who have made their websites a success with Search Engine Optimization.
The key is in taking a little bit of time right now to figure out which channels are worth considering and then focus your energies there. To help you do just that I'll give you an overview of your SEO alternatives right here. ... and if you think you know some of these options ... think again!
So what other options do we have in the Online Marketing toolbox?
You can either try and get the market to come to you or you can go to the market.
SEO, Paid ads, Affiliate Programs, Partner programs and Email marketing are all about getting the market to come to you but is it always worth the effort?
If, for example, you wanted to sell your car you would take some photos and put it on the best known portals in your country. You wouldn't make a website about your car and then try and find ways of getting people to visit your site. And yet that is the approach many people take when creating a website.
They invest heavily in their site's design and capabilities without really thinking through where their potential customers are.
With so many online platforms for all sorts of products (physical and virtual) and services it's well worth investigating these either to work with your website ... or instead of it.
Yes, you are going to have to pay but very often you only pay for results and by setting up in an area which already has thousands or millions of the people you are trying to target you can be achieving your goals tomorrow ... if you do it right.
Here are just a few examples if you are selling products:
This is just a tip of the iceberg. To find the right online market places for you is a case of tracking down where your competitors are. A farmer goes to a fruit and veg market, not one where everyone is selling antiques!
When you list your products make every effort to present them in the most attractive way possible - full descriptions, lots of images, etc. Don't just expect to sell because you are there and then blame the platform for being ineffective.
If its an online service you are selling then again there are platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, Behance and Fiverr.
Many people try these and become disillusioned because competitors seem to bid so low for work that it makes no sense. However as with every market place there is an art and a science to making them work so do some solid research before jumping in.
I personally have paid Upwork and Freelancer contractors tens of thousands of dollars and built up long term relationships that have lasted years meaning those contractors are receiving repeat business over and over again.
Sales pitch - at link2light we help clients get set up in marketplaces and manage their presence on these platforms to make sure they get a positive return on their investment. If you would like help then get in touch.
These are probably the most overlooked sources of quality website traffic but they are all too often ignored because people lose track of what their goal or objective is.
A restaurant wants to be fully booked. A plumber wants to get leads. An online store wants to sell products.
I've talked about how people who are selling products might consider going to the market rather than trying to get the market to come to them. I've also mentioned how only 50% of people find what they're looking for online through search engines.
These points are important because a large chunk of potential clients or customers beat a path to certain doors via directories, not search engines - whether its to choose a place to eat or headhunt for a great job. For many individuals and companies achieving their actual goals can come through the proper use of the right directories.
If you've been reading around in the SEO world then doubtless you will have come across numerous references as to how getting listings in directories can get your site banned from Google and such like.
These stories refer back to the days when directories were created purely for the purposes of providing links. Thousands of directories popped up, many were completely unaudited and filled up with spam and rubbish or links to low quality websites.
They became known as Link Farms and Google decided that if you had links from those directories they wouldn't count anymore. If you had gone wild and paid some far east company to list you in thousands of these directories Google might also have even given you a slap via the Penguin penalty.
The general panic caused a stampede of SEO amateurs fleeing the entire directory scene and you still find them around the web saying "Directories? Ooh. You don't want to do that!"
In reality, as with so many online marketing activities, its not what you do its the way that you do it. Listing in directories is not effective. Creating full and attractive listings in the right directories is.
Its really a common sense approach using the following steps for each directory you find.
For most small or local businesses this comes down to the likes of Google Places, FourSquare, Yellow Pages, perhaps even controversial Yelp!. But don't forget other opportunities to find legitimate directories for your local area such as a Chamber of Commerce.
Ironically many people find, when they start looking, that they are already listed in large numbers of directories. Does that mean "Job done" and let's move on? Not quite. You need to make sure your listings help, not hinder, in achieving your goals.
As the old saying goes "If you're going to do something, do it right" so make your listing as comprehensive and attractive as the service allows. If you have spent a lot of time and money making your website look great think of this as equally important - it may well be the first impression a person gets of you or your business.
Just remember that a half-hearted directory entry can be more damaging to your business than no entry at all.
Why not? All online marketing activities come at a cost, whether that's your time or your wallet.
But if you are going to pay to promote your listing then as with any marketing activity make sure you can monitor what happens so you can make an educated decision as to whether the promotion is worth the spend.
The most important step is to always ask customers how they found you and keep a tally. If the directory sends people to your website:
Sales pitch - at link2light we help clients identify the right directories and set up effective listings. If you would like help then get in touch.
You may well have read articles about email campaigns where people paint them as beautifully simple to do.
Don't get me wrong there are webmasters with very busy sites who never thought to collect emails but what if you don't have hundreds of people passing through your site every day? "No problem just post to your mountain of Facebook fans or Twitter followers asking them to sign up". Don't have that ... "ah ... well ... you know ... just make quality content ...".
There are, you will be relieved to hear, a number of ways to send promotional emails before you have achieved a subscriber base of your own.
Let's go back to our earlier example of a website about 'seafood recipes'.
Buyng an email list is the most obvious and easy route. There are plenty of lists for sale out there so you could track down and purchase a list of emails from people who expressed an interest in 'seafood recipes' and then start firing off promotional emails to them about your website.
I wouldn't recommend this though. You don't really know the quality of most email lists and your domain could quickly end up black listed for spamming becaue people hate receiving messages from complete strangers.
A better approach is to get a mention in someone else's email. For example, find a blogger who regularly sends out emails to their verified list of foodie fans and ask them to promote you in one of their emails.
They might be so impressed by your content that they want to do this but more often the wheels need a little greasing. You could create an ebooklet like "10 seafood recipes you can cook on the fly" which is exclusive to that bloggers readers. If you sell a product or service you could offer to pay a commission for any leads or sales which come from the email.
Basically you are using emails to get targeted visitors to your website ... just not emails you have collected.
If you design your website well you can then persuade a good bunch of these visitors to sign up to your email list and start creating regular contact with them.
Another method is to negotiate an exchange. You will mention their work and in return they will mention in their email to their subscriber base that you mentioned them.
Eh? Its like this. Most webmasters are constantly fighting to keep their fans and one way to do that is to show their followers how popular their content is. So in their email newsletter they basically say something like "My infographic is so good it was featured in the XYZ blog, take a look.
OK, so with or without a list of emails there are ways to build up a subscriber base so you can send out your own regular emails.
They sound like a good idea, a whole bunch of people rave about them, but will they work for you? To email people regularly you have to have something to say on a regular basis. Do you? Write down what the contents of your first 20 emails to see if subjects come easily to mind.
For some it is a no brainer. I regularly need to use currency exchange services and my daily email from one such company gives me an update on the rates, what is on the horizon that could bring change and of course reminds me of that company. Its helpful and effective.
I regularly buy take away soup from a particular bistro. It's nice to know what's on the menu early in the day and their morning email tells me. Its helpful and effective.
I get a rambling email with very bad graphics from a book author that usually has little to do with the book he penned or writing in general. I ignore it. It isn't effective because he has very little of interest to say in the subject area of his book which is what originally persuaded me to sign up.
If you struggle to think up ideas don't give up too easily and look for inspiration from family and friends.
In our 'seafood recipes' example you could send out a 'Recipe of the day' or special recipes which reflect the time of year (Christmas, summer, etc.). Your website sells screws and nails? What about a new furniture design project each week? You're a medical practice? What about a new excercise or healthy recipe each week?
Many webmasters sweat away over Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing or both. Others pay companies or contractors every month to do the sweating.
But what if you could get other people to do the sweating and only pay them if the visitors they sent bought a product, signed up for a service, etc. ... that's how affiliate programs work.
The concept here is that you offer to pay others who bring you visitors who carry out a specific action. This payment can be:
The deal is usually time limited. So, for example, you will page $10 if a visitor fills out an enquiry form within 30 days of being referred.
To some affiliate marketing is a dirty word but this is usually because they got mixed up in something illegitimate or cowboy like. Just as link building can be spammy or clean, affiliate marketing can be scammy or legit.
Some of the biggest brands in the world use affiliate programs from Amazon down. You only need to join a reputable service such as tradedoubler to see who is on there. I send visitors to websites via affiliate programs and it's a very nice income.
So don't feel there is anything dark about this area of online marketing. Just remember it is one area and it may not work out for your needs. Careful thought is needed before you pile in.
If carried out successfully affiliate programs can be an extremely powerful way of driving traffic to a website. In essence you take all the effort of marketing off your hands and give it to others without spending a penny until you see results. Nice!
That all sounds great but of course it's not as easy as it seems. There are a number of challenges to overcome:
The easiest way to do this is to join an affiliate program website such as clickbank.com or tradedoubler.com.
Services like these (and there are many beyond Tradedoubler and Clickbank so do your homework!) will help you set up your website so that visitors sent by affiliates can be tracked independently. Most of the time they will place a cookie on the visitors browser which will report back if and when the visitor carries out the target task.
It's in this way that you can offer payments such as '5% of any ticket sold to the visitor within 30 days of them arriving at the site'. The cookie placed on the visitors browser remains active so even if the visitor does not buy on the first visit, should they return (because perhaps they bookmarked your site) the payment is still due.
The services also report back to others how well your affiliate program works (e.g. how much other affiliate marketers have earned, the average earning per visitor sent, etc.). Thus the more affiliates earn marketing you, the more others will be attracted to do the same and start promoting what you offer.
When carried out right this leads to an ever increasing number of affiliates all with one thing in mind - to help you achieve your goals.
Perhaps the hardest part of all is finding an online service where you can list your affiliate program. As I mentioned clickbank is popular but it is also a hard place to find that diamond in the coal and if you are the diamond you'll have to find ways of sparkling!
A quick search of the web will reveal blog posts where people have reviewed the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of affiliate platforms operating in different areas and market sectors.
Once you are on board with the ones you chose spend some time contacting websites, bloggers, instagramers, etc. who might be interested in your program in order to get it rolling.
Theoretically websites promoting you will need to place a link on their website to yoursm. "Oh", you might be thinking. "Great way to link build".
No. These links are officially paid links even if no payment has been made yet so whoever is placing the links needs to mark them 'no follow' in the page code. If they don't both you and the websites with the links could end up with a Google penalty for building paid links.
Focus on affiliate programs for what they are, a great way to get other people to deliver focused traffic to your website.
Most webmasters I meet have been burnt by this or know someone who has been burnt by this.
Its not surprising, paid advertising such as Google Ads or Facebook or Amazon sponsored listings, is the easiest way to burn though hundreds or even thousands of dollars and see little in return.
But if it really were a pointless money pit then why is it so popular? Because it can work.
To kick off, though, don't go anywhere near this field unless you are hiring someone who knows what they are doing (Sales Pitch - me!) or you have completed the core courses at Google Academy for Ads and Google Analytics Academy. They are free and no matter what form or platform of advertising you chose they will give you a solid foundation in how to use this medium.
The keys to successful paid advertising are:
If you don't know how to do these things you are likely to lose money.
There's no denying that if you have a large following you can leverage it to bring well targeted traffic to your website but the usual Catch 22 is how to get that large following.
Much of my advice about email marketing rules here as well. First decide if you have regular and useful things to say. That may not come easily but don't dismiss the idea too quickly, take some time to think about regular messages you could be sending. There's a few examples in the section on emails earlier in this article so if you scrolled straight down here you might want to scroll up a bit now.
If you do then start posting and get ready for a game of stamina. Very few people want to follow a social media profile with little in the way of content so that has to come first.
Next, keep posting!
Next, you are going to need to get some other social media players in your topic area on board to share some of your posts or direct their followers to your profile. These people are not called 'influencers' for nothing.
If you sell a product this often involves negotiating the the influencer for a positive product mention - usually in exchange for a free product but sometimes even a fee on top of that depending how heavy a hitter they are.
Other alternatives can be simply making them aware of a piece of content such as an infographic. Remember they are constantly working to keep their own following high and so they are forever on the hunt for useful things to share.
Again, as I mentioned with emails, they also need to keep proving how popular they themselves are. So, for example, if you publish something on your website that is from them (say a photograph they took) let them know about it. They may well share that fact on their social media profile as a way of proving to their own followers how popular they are on the wider web.
Next, keep posting!
Little known to most internet users is that a very large proportion of social media profiles that claim to be individuals are actually managed by contractors or agencies. Some of the biggest names out there aren't replying to your post of comment, their PA is.
So if you are thinking, "How the hell do they manage to be so active on social media" the answer is they don't. They pay someone else to and you might want to consider that as well.
Sales Pitch - we handle and manage social media profiles for companies and individuals in a confidential and discrete manner so if you need help in this area get in touch.
You don't just want to get lots of visitors to come to your website, you want to get lots of visitors to your website and carry out the action that will meet your goal (buy a product, sign up to a service, etc.). Crucial to this final step is trust.
You can start building that trust elsewhere on the Internet and great places to do this are forums and Question & Answer websites. Find these for your area of expertise and become an active participant.
In this way visitors who come to your website via these routes already know
The conversion level for these visitors is extremely high so while you might need 100 visitors via a search engine like Google to achieve one of your goals, it might only take 10 visitors from a forum or Q&A site.
This isn't an easy path by any means. You need to identify the Q&A sites which are not full of spam and junk as well as the forums where members already talk sense because it is going to take time and effort to build up a reputation on each one.
I personally belong to the SEOChat forum which I originally started using just as a place to relax and discuss Search Engine Optimization aspects but it has also become a place where I receive some of my best leads.
When I launched Webmaxing I added answers to specific questions on Quora (which did have a fair amount of junk on it but ranked well at the time for 'seo course' related keywords). In the early days this accounted for nearly half the traffic to the site.
I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.
If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.