I think this conversation can be beneficial for many people, and for others, a walk down memory lane. Time and knowledge has been collected through the years by large companies and absolutely changed how we rank in organic search each day. There are hundreds of companies collecting our information for the purpose of targeting us to buy something based on out profile. I particularly hate these companies and they know this which is why they don’t promote themselves publicly.
With that said, my focus is on Google Search and not social media or other search engines like Bing (Which has been known to copy Google). I still have to discuss the other platforms and how they relate to your search position, but I am not doing a dive deep into these actors. The main point is how I ranked in Google in the “Golden Years” and now.
Let me divide it into two time era’s which I think are relatable. Google is constantly updating and rolling out changes to their algorithm that usually affects websites that were trying to manipulate their positions through ways referred to as Black or Grey Hat SEO methods. They take advantage of opportunities and implement short term techniques to rank higher than others. They are called these names because of the ways they approach their solutions. Google deems the large majority of methods as breaking the rules.
Then there are the White Hat SEOs that follow best practices that Google and people like Matt Cuts recommend. They want organic link building and a normal growth pattern. There are things like Pagerank, Panda, Penguin, and other updates. I am not going to talk about each of those because Google doesn’t share the changes and most others are guessing about the changes.
I am guessing as well in the following break downs. I simply did what people talked about and it worked. I used all forms of the hat colors and it worked for a time being. I never bounced around too much in the search results, but it did take a while to hit my stride and find good inbound links. Just to be clear, I am not teaching you how to manipulate the search in a negative way, algorithm rollouts, link building, or anything like this. I am solely going to discuss my tactics and my final thoughts at the end on what I am doing today, like right now. Shall we…
During this time, Google changed their algorithm several times in a year without really telling everyone. They didn’t have a fine tuned machine and it was easy to rank for keywords. I would start by building a site, working the brand first with a logo, social media artwork, and build lots of good content that focused on keywords. Then I would go to sites like oDesk, freelancer and hire someone for writing or whatever I needed. I didn’t always write the posts so I had to trade time with money. Once I started building the content and look ,I would quickly switch to SEO.
SEO meant a “natural” looking pattern towards the later years. Up front though I read forums, blogs, watched videos and networked to learn how to rank on the first page of Google. This is what I would pick up from forums like digitalpoint.com, warrior forum, or v7n.
- 4000-6000 link directory submissions: My guy Randy did this for $40USD and he would use like 5 different keywords that I gave to him. These would drip over 90 days or so as the submissions were approved.
- Submission to important directories: DMOZ directory and if possible, a Wikipedia page along with paid directories.
- Blog commenting: I would do this or hire out by searching blogs that are in my niche and leave a great comment with a link back to my site. Sometimes you could buy a good comment for $.50 each. A lot were spammy.
- Article spinning: People wrote a script that allowed you to enter and article and tell it words to rotate to. So the sentence would write like this, “You key point should be [upfront | focused | passionate ]”, and the spinner would use different words creating completely original content. Ya, I did a lot of this.
- Press Releases: These are hard, but I hired a lady on eLance at the time and she wrote great press releases for $20 each. Then I would distribute them in all the free newswire sites. Sometimes journalists will pick up one that is flashy.
- Social media posts: They were in their infancy so I just posted all of my stuff to my personal Facebook profile. I never really did social until later. I dabbled in Friendster, Myspace, and Digg. No one thought social signals mattered until Google had to compete with Facebook.
- WordPress theme sponsorship: This was awesome! A theme developer would build a WordPress theme and have 3-4 links in the footer. You could sponsor that theme and any site built using it would add a link back to your site. I sponsored shitloads of themes for $10-$20 each. I would have hundreds of links just from this.
- Run the list of edu/gov links with comments: People sold lists or did it for you to get links from these TLDs. They were considered rare and powerful. This didn’t last very long, but I still bought hundreds of them.
- Submit to ezines: This was massive. You could write content and have a couple links back to your site in your bio. There were so many ezines that were great for content marketing. I flooded results for my keywords.
- Link Wheels: These are still a thing if you look at Fiverr or SEO Clerks. Essentially they build several layers of pages that link to each level and then ultimately point links to your site. This can be a useful idea.
- Hub pages: Sites like Squidoo would allow you to create your own personal pages and you could link to your sites for whatever words you wanted. This was only if I felt the need and not a go to.
- Buy multiple domains: I purchased almost 1000 domains in a matter of 2-3 years. I hosted 860 of them and they all had great content and were legit. They linked back to my money site. To really boost them I put them on C-class IP’s so they look like someone else’s site. Now they even look at the domain registrar WhoIs and take it into account. Still worth at least 5 strong domains in different hosting IP’s and private domain registration.
- Rent links: Yup, I could rent a PR7 link for $100+/month depending on niche. This was a monsterous boost and ultimately what I think sent my sites to the top of the first page.
- There are more as well, but that short list will do for now. Add your technique in the comments!
So, I think the above is pretty straight forward for anyone who has read forums like Digital Point or the other sites like it. We all got punched in the face around 201o to the present. Google has gotten so smart that it is difficult to do any of the options above. Using those methods today would just invite Google to give you a manual penalty.
Even the C-class IP’s were very difficult to keep track of. I had personal built 860 hosted WordPress sites that all had content and all where pointing to each other in groups as mentioned in the list. I would group them into groups of 5-10 on shared hosting to manage them easier. They all were pointed to my money site and and to each other to kept me #1 in my niche until the business closed it’s doors. I owned the first 3 pages for almost any keyword to include longtail keywords in my niche. This is how I became #1 over night and in addition, I built an ad network across those 860 websites and sold ad space to my competition. This was truly icing on the cake
I know that a lot of people play the short game in SEO, but I am not one of them. I am a long game type of guy. SEO is hard and in my case, expensive. You have to either pay someone a lot of money to do all of this for you or learn it all yourself. I always do things the hard way for some reason. Maybe I subconsciously love pain and stress.
I paid to play in the early years and I was ranking my sites from non-existence to front page in a matter of months because I became very aware of what worked. I was discounted by my competition and they realized quickly that they were playing a dangerous game of chess as I rose through the pages.
Okay, that was a good look through memory lane. I miss how easy it was, but now it’s time to go through what I do right now and the previous few years.
SEO 2010-Present, On-Page SEO 1st
The following is what I do from the very beginning. I search for a name and sometimes I sleep on it and as soon as I find it, I purchase the .com. Next I choose complimentary hex colors for my palette so I can begin the design phase. I move to logo, then social branding once I have secured all of the pages using my domain name. Then it’s designing and adjusting the layout of the site with it’s theme. Finally it’s time to focus on the content and getting social with it. It all happens in a matter of 72 hours. I move quick, but I want to dive into the stages below.
I brand by starting with color choices using a hex color site. There are tons of them out there. You simply need to choose 2-4 colors that work well together. The next step is getting my designer on board by sending him and email describing the project, colors, and logo ideas. This is the visual that most people suck at.
Next, it’s social media and reserving all vanity URLs that match my site name to the best of my ability. You can scroll down to the bottom in the footer and see that I have done so with this site. After I get the grunt work done by registering everything, I send the platforms and dimensions to my designer to keep the brand look connected across the domain and social spots.
The branding is really the key and yes, I know some people pass on this, but not me. YMMV
I set my target demographic, my about pages, and any page that will change rarely on my site. I want the message to be consistent as well as the visual look. I learned this went I went to college for visual communications and it has held true through the years. On point, consistent, and having everyone on board can be challenging, but very possible.
Please don’t overlook corporate identity even if you are just building a fun little blog. People will tear down anything that they can find. Most brands can handle a bit of teardown, but getting it right from the very beginning is beneficial. Remember that time is certainly money and I try to nail it the first time so my focus can shift.
I immediately start connecting Google Console, sitemap development, outline the way I approach on-page SEO and start building out my Google Analytics profiles or goals. I am gearing up the basics so I can track what’s happening on my website and social. Tools like IFTTT can help automate your work, but don’t automate everything. For social I have used Crowdfire, Unfollowers, Manage Flitter, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and even Buffer. I dislike all of them for various reasons, but they do help.
Please don’t automate too much to where people don’t interact with you because they think you are a bot. People will react to you or your brand when they know you are actually the one talking to them. The fastest way to send your target audience somewhere else is by automating.
Nothing more until I start building a very user friendly theme, navigation, and of course, high-quality content. This is #1 all day long. Without content you have nothing. It’s a true puzzle in how getting people to your content without issues. You want as few clicks from the reader to your content. That is the creating the perfect UX. The content needs to flow well too.
I will write and fine tune posts to get at least 10 pieces that people can read and share. When, and if possible, I podcast, post video, and create infographics to compliment my written content. The more you offer, the more there is to index in the search results, but also more options for people to consume. I call this content stacking. Focus on the experience and the quality and it will attract more people.
Now, I finally get to SEO which involves Keyword research which also happens in the Corporate Indentity phase. I setup Google Alerts and start plugging keywords into it. I use Alerts to find quality posts on the net that I can read and comment on with something that makes it authentic and try get a link to the site if possible. I guest post on good sites if time allows and I feel that it will benefit. It does bring in a couple of links to the site with keywords of my choosing.
I consider press releases only when I have something meaningful to put out.A press release just for the sake of it does nothing. Using HARO, I might find a journalist that may be interested in my story. In this stage I really am trying to get my content to do the lifting for me.
Once I get the easy stuff out of the way it’s all about those inbound links which I will dive into in the next section.
I build a profile on Medium & Quora and start writing content so I am getting even better content out there. I never even consider writing on another site unless I am prepared to dig in. The length of this post should be indicative of that. While some may not consider sites like Medium as a social platform…it is. It’s well worth the effort and soon I will be posting some new stuff on Medium.
From there, I get good content going on the other social platforms. I follow the right people, build lists on Twitter, scheduling posts where possible, and continue it each day. This is a consistency thing that has to be maintained. This pattern signals to Google that you are being social and you might be important. This is one of many signals used to rank your site for certain keywords.
I think you will notice that directory submissions, link wheels, and most of the older stuff has been put away. I have become dependent on my content to do the talking for me. This approach doesn’t always work, but I take pride in my projects so I build slowly and traffic happens organically. I avoid PPC or really ads in general if possible. It challenges me to create better so it naturally happens. Please don’t take this as saying SEO is dead and it’s all about SMM. You need both to be a success.
Tangent: I am working on writing a book on these topics and I have written extensively on how I approach each item on the list. I have a deep understanding on where I have been and to where I am going. I am not really trying to game Google’s index. I want to get there and stay there.
Off-Page SEO Tactics
There are the on-page SEO which I mostly talked about above, but the off-page SEO is the money. I am going to close this with a list of things I have been doing since 2010 and I am still doing today.
- Guest blogging: I rarely do these, but I do get my links in them and I choose the best offer. Look for places with good readership. You can tell by looking at past posts and how many comments are on them.
- Press releases: Still valuable, but I lost my writer a few years back and need to find another one. You can pay a website like PR Web, but you can still get some good links from the free ones. Look for distribution offers on sites like SEO Clerks. Ask for samples. After all, we want quality links so examine results.
- Blog comments: Almost worth nothing today, it still provides some kind of attention if you read their piece and offer a wonderful comment. Every bit helps as long as you aren’t being spammy.
- Using Google: Google takes some kind of metric if you are using G+, YouTube, and other Google services. While it’s not explicitly said, it’s kind of a “can’t hurt if you do” kind of thing. My only disappointment is that G+ doesn’t let you schedule posts. I understand why though.
- Renting links: You can still find quality links out there. I personal have little desire to be on a subscription for links, but if you can one that makes a difference then why not? I personally am not using this tactic.
- Social ads: Ya buying ads suck, but it’s a pay to play system these days. You can do a $1/day just to try it out. I have done this, but am not doing this at the moment.
- Infographics: Design an infographic or do the research in what you want into the infographic. Not artistic? There are many services out there that will do it at a cost. You can purchase my infographic service if you like what I do. Anyways, these are shareable and you can email websites in your niche to see if they will post it. Here an awesome video that describes how to do this.
- Please feel free to write ideas to add to this list in the comments and I will gladly build onto this list.
There are probably 100 ways to build links. The point of this entire piece is to get you thinking about the entire process. I want to see people succeed in the ventures. If this helps you then let me know below. I want to do more topics like this to help people out.
TL;dr I did a lot of bad stuff to get my website to #1 in Google search until 2010 and now I am a reborn internet nerd with ethics and write lots of great things for people to share and link to.