Growth Partner owner and President Nathaniel Broughton was featured in an interview with Vanessa Zamora at Pubcon 2010, ahead of his session on the State of Domain Names.
View the full video here.
People who hate on SEO have always had this as a common rally cry: “Title tag. H tag. Done!”
What that means is SEO is simple, and all you have to do to rank is put your keyword in the <title> tag, in the <h*> tag, and boom you’ll rank.
This chant is always rebutted with the “PPC – The lazy man’s SEO” t-shirt I had a few years back at Pubcon.
While we all know these forms of online marketing both require a lot more attention than those remarks imply, I think it’s time to update the SEO one. Ready or not, here it is:
Buy exact match domain. Done!
Google’s boost for exact match domains is as strong as ever based on my experience. You want to rank for “beach sandals”? Screw everything you’ve heard about building links or title tags. Get your hands on BeachSandals.com and things are going to work for you. I promise.
Now, I support the reasoning behind the exact match bonus. I know why it’s there. It’s just one of many things going on in SEO that make me want to spend my time on something else these days.
The others? How about the pandemic link drought on the web. No one will link to anything. Good viral content can bring eyeballs, but rarely will it bring links. Retweets don’t count yet in the rankings to my knowledge . . .
Even still, if you are able to develop a way to bring in links on scale, you’re likely to get scrutinized. They could be 100% free, earned, “yes I like this site, think it’s good for to link to and here’s the link”. Anything on scale is going to get you into trouble.
Forgive me, but when the person who does less gets rewarded, I’m pissed. I like the beach but only after a good day’s work. The link economy is so jacked up that getting less links is actually better. Try competing in that environment for awhile. “So I should do less. Okay, how much less is enough less?” Ridiculous.
A few other complaints include-
You can’t buy links much any more. People that sell them have polluted pages filled with casino, UK crap, or payday loans. Good sites don’t sell them. Getting them in the sidebar or the footer seems more like an eyesore or red flag than an honest vote.
Plus, the new Google design has also hurt organic CTR’s, just one instance in the line of many that have pushed organic results down and out from the top of the SERPs.
So I’m left with these thoughts-
Buy exact match domains. That should work for awhile. Don’t get too many links to them. Just a few good ones. Let it ride.
Down the road, I better get a lot better at monetizing social, PPC, and building a list/platform to survive, with all my businesses.
Cause the SEO route is competing for a much smaller chunk of traffic than it did 5 years ago, and it’s no fun in a link-less economy that lets exactmatch.org rank on name alone.
5 years ago I was an SEO all the way. Today I’m basically a domainer. In 5 years, I’m not sure I’ll be either. Pick a buzzword: “zero sum game” “diminishing returns”.
How about “no fun anymore”.
Image: Paul Thurlby
One of the greatest challenges of any investor or entrepreneur is deciding what to invest in.
Business ideas (and investment opportunities) are like the bus – there’s always another one coming. So we’re all stuck in a constant state of evaluation, left to our own devices trying to decide which ones will succeed and why.
Of course, most businesses change their course more than once in their lifespan.
Men I enjoy reading like Nassim Taleb might have you even believe that we can’t predict anything in life, so why bother trying so with businesses. This philosophy aside, how do you know where to put your money and your time?
At Growth Partner, we’re working on a guide right now that outlines how we evaluate a potential deal or new business. One thing I believe investors and businessmen seem to have a conflicting opinion over is the level of competition in a given niche they’re looking into.
Are competitors bad? Does that mean there’s less chance of your investment succeeding?
I’ve heard people say as much. I’ve also heard that competition (on the SERPs or on the street corner) is no more than a validation of the business.
That is, if you’ve got an idea, and someone is already doing it and surviving, all the better. That means you’ve got a good idea. Invest with gusto!
Let’s look at it more closely.
Breaking Down Both Sides
1. Competitors are Bad News Bears.
Too much competition means you’ll be fighting for pennies on the dollar. Established companies are hard to unseat. They have everything in place and we have nothing.
To draw from my own thought process, note that I’m purely an online guy. I invest in web-based businesses.
Say we’ve got an offer to work with AutoInsurance.com (we talked to them a few months ago, so this is legit).
To evaluate this opportunity, I go off to Google and start doing keyword research. I search on some of those terms like “auto insurance quote”. All the big brands are there, in the organic rankings and the paid. A bunch of lead aggregaters are there too.
So, should we work with this guy or is he going to be over his head?
It’s interesting and complicated. First off, brands have been getting more love in Google lately. So even with a killer exact match domain like www.autoinsurance.com, you’re fighting the brand-love.
Also, if we want to go in and compete for paid traffic, those keywords are some of the most expensive online. We’ll need to really kill it on conversions and on backend monetization to do well.
Fighting for pennies on the dollar? Maybe.
Let’s do another example. What about something easier, like “San Antonio lawn care”?
If I’m going to start a lawn care biz in San Antonio, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of competitors. It goes without saying. High school kids that work their neighborhoods, all the way up to corporate-type providers with businesses all over town.
Searching that set of keywords brings back a different type of competition (cause again I’m looking online). You’ve got the OneBox local results to fight with, and it looks like most of the top-ranking sites are directories and aggregaters.
Good business to jump into, with these cited competitor types? I think so. I’d go try to buy http://sanantoniolawncare.com, get in those local results, and push ahead of the directory sites. They are spread thin, and San Antonio can be your market, when they are dealing in 250 others.
Granted, I chose two fairly conventional business types, but they do represent various types of competition both online and off. The thought process is similar no matter what niche or business you’re looking at.
Competition from big brands can be a problem, as can a crowded marketplace for lawn care providers in your area. But it can also be a sign that somewhere, someone is running a similar business and making money . . .
2. Competitors Mean this Business Will Work.
The presence of a few established competitors shows that this business can work. We can capitalize on mistakes they’ve made, or market segments they’ve ignored. Their track record can mix right into our blueprint to success.
In short, competitors show you a business idea is not some pie in the sky idea.
Existing search traffic can show you people are looking for a particular service, but it’s really the guys you see in the top 10 organic results and the top few paid results that give it this validation.
(Note of caution: Just because a company is bidding on a keyword, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it on purpose, or they’re doing it profitably. But that’s another discussion.)
Consider this example, one of which I think is interesting and common amongst all “big thinkers.”
Tell me if you’ve done this – you have an “ah ha!” moment in the shower, on the plane, or on a lazy afternoon. Some genius idea just came to you. You’ve never seen anything like it, and you know it’s money.
After a few hours searching online, you put together a one-pager on the idea. You pick out a domain name. You’re all ready to go.
The next day, you bring it up to your buddies and one says, “Oh you mean like ABC Company?”
Shit. Someone else already created this? And marketed, and sold it? You’re ingenious concept is now a lot less sexy than it was the day before. Now there’s competition. Bad thing?
I don’t think so. I think that’s a great thing. Too many entrepreneurs get bent out of shape over an existing competitor. They should appeal to concept #2 here, that existing competition validates the idea and the business.
Sadly, at this stage, some might abandon the idea. You’re forgetting that you don’t need a revolutionary idea to have a successful business. You might need an interesting angle, or “in”, or marketing strategy. But as far as original ideas go – There aren’t any! There are only iterations.
It’s a Constant Battle, but Keep Your Head Right
Like I said, starting a business or choosing which ones to invest in will always come with a dose of uncertainty. You are obligated to research the competition and the “competitive landscape” before making any decisions one way or the other.
While some will shy away from crowded fields, count me as one that sees competitors as a positive. Especially when you are marketing online. I sleep much better when I have some active competition in the SERPs.
Without it, you’re more susceptible to two things that kill any business – being too content, and being caught by surprise.
Image: Eric Wolfe
A few days back, Brandon and I met with a couple of scary-successful entrepreneurs. Inc 500’s, Fortune 500’s, and IPO’s litter their 40+ year careers.
As they were telling us their story, one mentioned:
“At the time, I was working 130 hours a week and she was working 100 hours a week. (pause) That’s what you have to do.”
I mean, that’s why we all love the internet so much. It’s the great equalizer for launching any business, it’s the land of opportunity, it’s the best way to generate passive income.
17 hour days are for the corporate birds in their Famous Barr suits and briefcases. Grinding it for the man.
But it’s also hard to argue with someone who’s built a 9 figure business through sweat.
How many hours do you need to work a week to kill it online? To build a good business? Of course it all depends.
Recently, a group of well-known ‘net people answered this very question. All successful people, all work a good number of hours. (Not 130, but some are getting up there.)
I’ve met most of those people and it’s clear they enjoy what they do. That definitely helps. But you can see that the amount of time they work varies. And who knows what constitutes ‘work’ for them, or for you even?
What looks like work in 2010 probably looked like vacation in 1980 when our successful friends were building their business. Checking email, responding to customers on Twitter, drinking Ginger Boys in Del Mar. That’s work for me.
By that definition, I guess I work like 80 hours a week. But it doesn’t feel like it, thankfully. Here’s what it seems to boil down to:
1. Wake up every morning ready to get at it.
2. Have a long-term outlook.
3. Never stop learning.
That’s enough. Keep getting better every day and don’t let up. Working 100 hours a week isn’t going to guarantee success, and hopefully the way business works online you can either put in less than that, or feel like it isn’t ‘work’.
Lifehacker.com is one of the most popular blogs online. But their on-page SEO is hurting their traffic.
I bet if they made a few small changes they’d see a nice spike in traffic, that would stick around for the long-term.
I’m calling you out Lifehacker!
It sure isn’t about your incoming links (they have ~8 million), or unique content. People love Lifehacker and the site puts out great content. It’s funny, cause that’s the ‘hard part’. They are messing up on the easy parts.
Here are the Problems
1. Title Tags
I wouldn’t be a nerdy SEO without looking right away at Lifehacker’s sloppy title tags. First off, they need to drop the Category and the omnipresent “Lifehacker” from each post’s title tag.
Looking at this post on Webmonkey Stopwatches, the current title “The Browser Stopwatch Speed-Tests Page Load – Bookmarklets – Lifehacker”.
That should be changed to “The Browser Stopwatch Speed-Tests Page Load”. Why? They lose relevancy as the title tag gets longer. Also, they are going to rank for “Lifehacker” regardless of including it in all their page titles, and Google might view this as duplicate crap.
This is a quick change in their CMS. If you use something like WordPress, be sure to do this on your site.
2. Title Tag decouple/Keyword smarts
Second thing with these title tags is to try to be more aware of what keywords are worth ranking for. This post entitled “First Look at Window’s 7 Backup and Restore Center”. That’s a good title to show users on the site as a headline, but Lifehacker should go do some keyword research on Windows 7 before they post on it.
A keyword like “Windows 7 Review” gets 135,000 exact match searches a month. This post could easily have a <title> of “Windows 7 Review – Backup and Restore Features”.
With 8 million freaking backlinks, and such a popular site, I bet they’d rank very high for ‘windows 7 review’ with that title, and ultimately get more traffic.
Decoupling a post headline and the <title> of a page is easy in any CMS.
3. Take the 4949422 out of the URLs.
That Windows 7 post’s URL is http://lifehacker.com/5144757/first-look-at-windows-7s-backup-and-restore-center
Why with the ‘5144757’? Take that out.
Any time there’s a “:” symbol in the post title, it goes as a “+” in the URL. And look how long that is.
Lifehacker should micromanage their post-URLs to be shorter, cleaner, and more keyword-focused. Cleaning up the <title> values is part 1, then translating that into the URL is part 2. So http://lifehacker.com/5144757/first-look-at-windows-7s-backup-and-restore-center might become http://lifehacker.com/windows-7-review-backup
That’s how I’d do it, and I bet the traffic would go up, up, up across the site.
That’s 3 simple things that are on-page changes Lifehacker should do that would instantly increase their traffic. The current setup is poorly leveraging all the link popularity they’ve built up.
The point is these are easy changes that have the greatest effect when it’s a big site like Lifehacker. I just wish they’d take a listen . . .
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Not only is life itself very much about personal relationships, business can be a different world when you have the right connections.
How do you get them?
People are people, and it’s easier than ever to find everyone using the ‘net. It’s also easy to stay in touch with contacts across the globe with email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and the like.
What I mean by ‘people are people’ is we’re all the same. Just because someone is your idol because they wrote a book or started a successful company doesn’t mean they won’t talk to you, or find interest in you.
The ‘hustle’ part comes from you actively reaching out to the people you want to connect with. Research them, research the groups that would be good to join, and send out an intro email. Make a call or send a letter. Be persistent with this.
What will you say?
Here’s the rub, and the title of my post. You need a story. You may be wondering how that is possible if you have no business, just got out of school, or spent the past 5 years desk-jockeying it up at Edward Jones.
It is possible. I think you have to focus it more on what you want to become, your ideas and passions, and how it relates to the person you’re trying to connect with. But it’s possible.
Like: “I’m 26 years old, and a big follower of the internet space. I’ve been obsessed with financial software since I was a kid. I would spend hours at night working with Quicken. Now I’m starting a simple finance platform for old people to help them track their medical expenses. I’ve connected with some local groups like ____ and ___ but am looking to meet other people who can offer advice. I’ve seen your company/product _____ and . . . Let’s have coffee.”
Of course this can be hit and miss. There’s no telling if your story will resonate with the intended party, or which part will. You need a story to even get in the game though.
With Growth Partner, it’s nice to talk to people about the involvements with 3 Inc 500 winners or the companies that sold. The current investments and interests and online marketing skills.
Then again, we’ve had people say, “What really stood out to me was that Monopoly was your favorite game as a kid.” Or “I remembered your name from youth hockey.”
I’m still waiting for the “you guys brought personal assistants to Pubcon didn’t you?”.
The point is, get a story together and hustle. Connections will come.
Here are 3 little suggestions in the name of getting things done when you’re an internet entrepreneur.
After 9 solid years online filled with blinking IM screens and the world at my fingertips, I suggest giving the following a try:
Close your contact list.
Wherever you do your communicating, whether it’s email, Twitter, or some chat client (or all 3), close the contact list box. Leaving it open on your desktop beckons your attention to wandering thoughts like:
-“Billy just logged on.”
-“I’m bored, who can I hit up.”
-“Only 8 people are on right now, I guess the internet is down in Columbia. Or they went to the bar. Maybe I should go to the bar.”
Terrible waste of time. Especially if your contact list sits in between your browser and your email client. You see it every time you scan from one to other.
These are wasted thoughts because it doesn’t matter when/if Billy logs on or if your friends are at the bar. Unless you work at Initech, that is. Stay focused on your own self. You can always open it up to contact someone when the need arises. Just close it right after.
Stand up while you work.
I’ve tried this periodically over the years, and recently started doing it every day before 10 am. I can’t sit down until 10 am, that’s the rule.
Standing up makes you focus. Maybe it’s science, but I’m no scientist. It just works. You keep on task and don’t get lost browsing the news or the Twitterverse.
There are some desks that you can crank up and down throughout the day and I may end up with one. I also think the iPad (or any tablet) could help here – you stand up and work for a few hours, then sit down and use the iPad for an hour reading news, checking stats, brainstorming. Get away from your inbox and alerts for a bit then head back – standing of course.
Use short to-do lists.
People generally have a love-hate relationship with to-do lists. If you keep them short – focus only on the next 2 hours, and check things off as you do them – I find them helpful.
The joy and effectiveness of a to-do list only comes when you can check things off. Lingering tasks from 8 days ago make you feel anxious. So keep it short, and make big check marks through them as you finish.
In the End
It’s all about getting things done. Avoid the dopamine rush all the shiny lights of the internet can provide. There are millions of drone employees out there getting their fix clicking around in the Age of Distraction. Gotta watch it, less you become one.
Image: Kristi Broughton
If you want to successfully market your business online, you need to generate great links for your site.
SEO is all about links. Jay-Z wanted “Girls, Girls, Girls”. You want “Links, Links, Links”.
(It might help to sing “I want lee-inks, lee-inks, links” each morning to keep the focus going.)
Every business we’ve successfully built with Growth Partner has benefitted from a steady supply of high quality links. There are already a lot of good guides on how to build links online, and here’s a discussion of what makes up a “quality” link.
Here are 5 ways to go about getting links you might’ve not tried before:
1. Start a glossary. Any site in the world can have a glossary. Hire a freelance writer to put together a unique glossary around your topic. Put it up on your site at /glossary.html, and then go email a bunch of relevant sites in your niche about it.
There are also a bunch of sites that link to multiple glossaries. You can find this with a “inurl:glossary” search in Google. These likely won’t be as valuable links, but they will be easier to get.
The best links you’ll get out of this are the niche sites around your topic, who find the glossary useful for their visitors.
2. Start a legit scholarship. Start a yearly scholarship sponsored by your company. Host it on your main site, with a sign up form. Then go contact university websites and scholarship sites to get a link.
Don’t be shady about this – give a legit scholarship to someone. Maybe it’s $2,000, maybe it’s $5,000. Site owners might think you are not legit at first, but you can solidify the scholarship in two ways.
First, send notices out to the winning person’s school that they won (bonus: It might get featured in a school newsletter that gets posted on the school website). Second, profile the student on your scholarship page. Show a picture of them and interview them.
3. Anything can be a ‘calculator’. Widgets and calculators have always been easy ways to get links. Consider this – any scenario where a user inputs a few bits of information in order to get a result can be a calculator. That means any business or any site can make one.
Examples? The “Find your hat size calculator”. The “Best schools for you calculator”. The “Laptop of your dreams calculator”.
Think along the lines of matching people with a result based on their input. The link benefit can come in an embedded link in the calculator code (be sure to rotate them). If it takes off, people will share it and you’ll get the best links virally.
4. Brand your blog. Years ago, boring company execs read a news story that pleaded them to start a company blog. So they put up /blog on their site and posted about the company picnic and birthdays. Maybe a new product or 2.
That’s weak, self-serving, and better for an internal company blog. If you want links, you need to have a blog with some personality. So dig into your niche and figure out how to brand your blog as a separate entity from the main website.
Give it a different name. Focus it on a core customer segment. And interact with that segment by having guest bloggers and guest blogging on their sites. Again, don’t fake this. You should care about these people and engage with them.
For the links, you can still host it at /blog. Just call it something different and don’t talk about your company. Talk about people.
5. Get married.
I’m serious. Or have your employees get married.
Marriage announcements in newspapers can bring in links. You know when they say “the bride-to-be is employed at _________________”? That’s your shot. Make sure they put a link in there.
A lot of companies struggle getting links from any mainstream news outlets. You may think it’s goofy, but it’s probably one of your best chances.
Links. It’s all about links.
Most new business ideas aren’t very good. That doesn’t mean we should all stop coming up with them – quite the contrary.
But I’ve started to notice some common rally cries meant to support how ‘great’ an idea will be that are poor, lazy assumptions.
We all know what assumptions lead to.
Whether you are the point man leading a new idea or a possible investor, watch out for these.
(Let this stand as a personal reminder to myself as much as anything. I only list each of these because I feel myself doing them over and over again.)
“The existing sites in this niche all suck.”
Usually this is an opinion on a combination of factors – site design, SEO strength, lack of dedicated competitors, lack of PPC competitors, and the like.
There are many reasons this is irrelevant to deciding if you should start a business in said niche. Trust me, it doesn’t matter if you think the existing competition have ‘bad websites’.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
You haven’t? Neither has your buddy, your mom, or the angel group you talked to? Wow. Sign me up.
Every idea has been tried before. You need to find others who’ve attempted your idea, or at least something very similar. It’s more productive to discuss past attempts or similar businesses, how they’ve done well in some aspects and failed in others, than to take 20 minutes to research and boldly state: I have conjured up the most unique idea in the history of Man.
“I have an idea for a business. [pause] That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
That’s great. Can you ask her to re-fill my scotch? I have to go outside now.
“In 2013, we should be banking $2,000,000.”
You have no idea what the future holds, what you’re business will be by then or how you’ll get there. I love a lofty goal (and I still will set them), but assuming a dollar figure and how you’ll get there is ridiculous.
“Just replicate that over 50 states/1,000 cities/___ groups, that’s huge.”
Making an idea or business work in one small sector is awesome. It’s hard.
Shit does not scale to the rest of the United States just because you made it work in Bloomfield. The real flaw here is ignoring the amount of bareknuckle sales work it takes to scale from local to national. It takes talent, time, money. It’s not overnight, even if it works.
“Someone came to our site!”
Good. What did they want? Did we give it to them? Did that even pay for our electric bill?
The internet game is all about traffic and lots of it. Get traffic, give them what they want so they convert. A few small fleeting visits can point to you being on the right track . . . only if you learn something from them to 1) get them to come back 2) get more people to come 3) get them to convert.
Remember Son, Things Change
Timing is incredibly important in determining if a business idea succeeds. It makes it hard and somewhat foolish to try to copy other businesses you read about in Inc. There are no overnight successes, and you’re starting much later than your idol company.
The competitive environment will also change quickly. How you can acquire customers will change – organic, paid, social, affiliate – constant state of flux. Don’t bank on how it works today working tomorrow.
There is now way you know what people want without asking them first.
Let me sum this up in one sentence:
As a startup or new business, the amount of time you spend writing up a sexy business plan to pitch investors would be better spent running a $500 PPC campaign testing your idea.
The pain point for me comes from both sides. I have new business ideas all the time, much like other entrepreneurial people. I also do the investor/angel thing, mostly with my boys here on GrowthPartner.com.
You can save everyone a lot of time and trouble with a simple PPC campaign. Doesn’t matter what side of the coin you’re on. Let’s look at the how and why . . .
The Business Idea Side
The ‘market potential’ for your product means nothing without testing. Back in the day, you had to rely on market surveys and other empirical data to determine if your business idea had any mettle.
That was expensive. The intention, though, should remain with the entrepreneur of 2010.
You are lucky enough to live in a world with Google Adwords. This is a good thing. The costs of launching a new business online are hastily reducing to zero. Testing a business idea or even a half-baked, half-assed business-sorta idea, is easy. So do it.
Stop thinking about writing a business plan (that you mostly copy of some web template – be honest), and start here:
1. Register a domain name. Doesn’t have to be good. Starting a bird feeder biz? Get birdfeederdepot1.com.
2. Get hosting, install the CMS of your choice.
3. Make 3-4 landing pages. Ask questions. Find out some key answers to the market you are hoping to serve with your genius new idea. Offer to sell your service right now.
4. Setup an Adwords campaign and spend $500.
5. Read the answers you get. Scour the analytics, the keywords and clicks. Any sale or response is good. Email your new ‘customers’ and find out more about them.
Now it’s time to reflect.
That was easy wasn’t it? And informative? You bet. Guarantee you have a different perspective of your starter business after a little Adwords campaign and ‘customer’ interaction. Guarantee you saved yourself from future, more expensive mistakes.
The point is, this is so easy and cheap to do, you should do it. There’s no risk in doing so, and the upside is possibly priceless.
It could save you from wasting 9 months of your life chasing a bad idea. It could teach you what people really want, not what you think they want. It makes you get serious.
The Investor Side
As an investor, I want more of the aspiring to take the time to use Adwords for research. Putting your idea, or at least a shell of your idea, in front of the right audience is very ‘real world’.
Business plans don’t equal funding. A business plan lives somewhere else than the real world. Unfortunately, success will only come outside those .doc walls. Maybe you feel safer with just a ‘plan’?
A quick test PPC campaign toughens you up. That’s what I like.
Also – How immune to BS business plans do you think a seasoned angel or VC is? I am 27, and if I read one more sentence about the ‘market potential’ of an idea with 0 customers and 0 test customer interactions, I am going to flip.
If you’ve tried some things online, you’ll ask better questions of your investors. You’ve saved us all a bunch of time. You don’t need me or any other crusty angel to help you right now. Go do, and come back later.
Potential investments that have a passionate leader, a verified business model/service, and existing revenue are so much more inviting than a fluff plan about market potential. While you may not make it that far in your Adwords test, you’ll be a lot closer than otherwise.
Don’t write a business plan and try to pitch investors without running online campaigns that force you to interact with your desired customers. You don’t know what people want. Use the easy and cheap tools the internet provides to make yourself more refined, and wiser, ahead of seeking investment.