OK, many people (names shall be changed to protect the innocent) make the same mistakes when they start out promoting their new business / website. The mistake is this: they SPAM. For those that are really new to this game, SPAM is the term used to describe any online activity where the sole aim is to get people to go to your website. This may seem odd to newcomers, as people think that no-one will really mind if I share my site freely on every forum, chat room, social networking site etc. that I come across. But this is far from reality.
Once you have been online for a while, you soon realise that spam is prolific across the Internet, and actually destroys much of the enjoyment of the Internet. Also, it makes life hell for webmasters. Spammers are always looking for new ways to beat the system too. It is not just link dropping – i.e. where a person creates a new account on a forum, says “hi, this forum is great, look at this site …” but automated spamming.
People actually write computer programs (known as spam bots in the business), which seek every known place that they can link drop, and do so. Comments on blogs, forums, guest books – anywhere and everywhere. And these bots are sophisticated. Many are no longer fooled by email verification, some can read out of date CAPTCHAs. Some forums, such as the open source phpBB have a hell of a time stomping out spammers.
Why am I telling you this? Well, some people start out on the net, and live in denial. They do all the wrong things, and tell themselves that it is OK. They convince themselves that one more link drop will not hurt. But again, this is far from the truth.
Spammers not only get banned from websites, social networking sites, forums etc. but they can also get reported to search engines. Once your domain is on a blacklist, then you will find very hard to recover your search engine position. Time for a new domain! However, do not panic just yet, it may not be that bad. Use the site command in Google to see if your site is still present, i.e. search for “site: morrowtech.co.uk” (change to your own website!) and see if you are listed. Then check your logs – are you still getting hits?
OK, lets assume that things are not so bad that you have managed to get your site blacklisted (this is actually quite hard to do). Now time to promote your site the right way. To do this, follow the rules set out in this thread.
Now some of the “secrets of SEO”. Not secrets at all really, but you can either spend a month trawling through the latest discussions online, filtering out all the crap, or just take it from me that this is how it works.
Content is King
Your website needs good quality, unique, fresh and relevant content. And plenty of it too. Why? Well, some history. When Google rolled into the search engine market, they had a revolutionary idea. They decided that the best way to determine if a site was good, and therefore one that should be listed high, or even top, in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS from now on) was by looking at how many links were pointing to that site.
The idea was that if a site was good, then people would link to it freely, as in the idyllic early days of the Internet, this is what people did. Not so long ago most websites were actually found by way of referral from other sites, and not through search engines, because the search engines could not list everything. It was a great idea from Google. But it had a major flaw…
Webmasters realised that this is how Google “Page Rank” worked. So, they all went out and started “link building”. And in the days before the rel=”no follow” tag, every link (with the exception of a few bad neighbourhoods, link farms etc) were good links. Website owners would link drop forums, comment forms on blogs, guest books – everywhere that they could get a free link. Websites, which built a “high page rank” and had lots of traffic, started selling links to people for good money. Site with a toolbar PR of over 6 generally got a good price, in return for passing on some link juice.
Of course, this started messing up the search engine results. Something had to be done. So, the nofollow tag was introduced, which removed all passing of page rank to a link posted on a blog (if the blog CMS is designed that way) or forum etc. There is a lot of disagreement over the whole nofollow thing, and some people are now saying that some “link juice” is passed on now (Matt Cutts from Google mentioned something along those lines) but the general rule still applies, comments on blogs etc. are not as valuable as before.
This is not all although, some people set themselves up as “SEO companies” and offered link building services. For a minimal fee you can hire someone in India or Malaysia to add spammy comments for forums and blogs all over the world in an attempt to promote your site. Some of these people will even have automated systems for doing this (this spam bots mentioned earlier).
The spammers were still winning. So Google started tweaking its search engine, and making it smarter. Now here are some more shocking facts which many people that claim to be experts in SEO still seem to not have cottoned on to. For years Google has been looking at better ways to “rank” websites. Although links are still important, and probably will always be important, the Google search algorithm is now able to judge from a page how good it is, just from the content.
Webmasters know that duplicate content has limited value. That is, if you take content from another site (even if you have permission, i.e. article directories) then when that content appears on your website, you will not actually appear high in the search engines for it. Why? The first site to list that content will be given “authority” for the work (this is all really vague and under a lot of speculation). But, if you write unique content, that is well written, and even well referenced, then you are creating an authoritative page. Google is more than capable of determining if a page is well written. If Microsoft Word can spot spelling mistakes and poor grammar, then you can bet your bottom dollar that Google can too. Some people even feel that linking, by way of a reference, to an authoritative site, will boost your own site. Why?
Well, anyone that has ever written essays in college / university will tell you that tutors expect you to reference your work. Few people create totally new ideas, all ideas come from somewhere (although I am actually writing this whole thread off the top of my head, but then I have over 3 years experience in web marketing…).
What was my point? Oh yes, if you are writing on a subject using a good online resource, then reference it at the end. Good content needs a good reference. If you read an article on a blog about the development of the microchip, then you would expect some references to other authoritative material, otherwise how will the reader know that anything you have written is true? So, in short – write unique content, but give credit where credit is due.
What else? Content should be fresh too. Why? Well, there is now a massive amount of content on any subject on the Internet. The SE’s are trying to find new ways to find fresh content. Google has been doing this well for a while now. Bing.com has started looking at Twitter for its fresh content (a slightly dubious approach, but it may work!). If you write on an event, then there is a chance that you can get in there first, and become an authority. Other people will link to you, reference you, talk about your site.
Many website owners think that there is nothing fresh that they can write. But again, just not true in most cases. You need to “think outside the box”. Most businesses are backed / controlled by industry standards, rules, legal restrictions etc. For example, if you were selling soap, there may be laws governing how it can be marketed, what ingredients can be used to allow that soap to be classed as organic, or natural. If you write an industry news blog as a side line to your main site, then you could pick up a lot of traffic from your competitors. They may even link to your blog, and if you provide an RSS, then this again could work in your favour, as some people may use this to provide news updates on their own blog. Just an idea, not guaranteed to work!
Relevant content. Must mention that. What is relevant content? It is my belief (not grounded in scientifically tested theories) that at some point a search engine will categorise your website. You will not know what category you are in. However, articles / pages you write that stick to this category will be ranked higher than off-topic subjects. So if you are selling plumbing equipment, and have 20 articles on plumbing and 100 pages of products, these may perform well. If you get cheeky and start to try to sell fake designer watches, do not expect to get the same level of traffic to those pages! Keep on topic.
This actually leads to branding. To create a successful website, you need to develop a brand. To put it simply, a brand is a generic word that becomes so well known that people consider it as the product type. We are talking about Hoovers for vacuum cleaners, LA Fitness for health clubs, Sony for electronic products. But a brand does not have to be global, it can be a small scale, niche brand. Such as Hornby for toy train sets or Green King for beer. People that are interested in these areas will know these brands. They do not care if people that collect dolls or drink nothing but wine have never heard of them, as this is not their market. So your business, or website, needs to develop brand awareness. To do this, you need to slowly, professionally, make people aware of it. But never spam.
How is it done? Well, one way is to make use of forums that allow signature links and blog comments. But do not make the mistake of writing on the forum with the intention of getting people to “click your link”. Do it to build a brand. Find forums and websites that are relevant to your business (i.e. niche sites) and create accounts. Then contribute. Always ADD VALUE to the discussion. The best way to promote your business is by showing people that you are an expert in your area. People do not like arrogant experts though. Just be professional and calm. Do not get involved in heated debates (arguments) and be aware that there are “trolls” online, i.e. people who deliberately try to upset people and draw them into an argument. Just help people. Provide people with information that they require. Then, in your signature link, just keep it simple. Do not try a hard sell, just brand promotion.
For example, my signature link for this site would be “Webologist – Clueless Internet blog”, or similar. The domain name is mentioned so that people become aware of it without having to link, and the tagline is used so that people know what the site is about. Many people use keywords in “sig links”, such as “Essex web design”. They do this for the possible SEO benefits of sending their sites relevant anchor text in the link. However, this does nothing to improve their brand, and the likelihood is, not a lot SEO-wise either!
One site that can work well for brand building is Yahoo Answers. Look for questions that you can genuinely answer, and if possible provide your site as a reference, or one of a few. Also, write for article directories, such as eZineArticles.com and iSnare.com. Become and “expert author”.
There are a lot of ways of promoting your business well, and equally a lot of doing it badly. A web business should be approached just like any other business. You build it slowly, invest time in it, work hard, create a professional image, and make people aware of what you have to offer. Rome was not built in a day. So do not expect your web business to grow overnight. You are now sharing the Internet with millions and millions of people, and they all want a piece of the action. Everyone is trying to promote their site as the best one around. Few of them are doing it professionally. Be different. Be successful.