- Squidoo Lenses
- Sales Funnel
- Google PageRank Algorithm
- Google Bad Neighborhoods – Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines
- Google Bomb
- PAD Files
[00:00] Rob Walling: This is Startups For the Rest of Us: Episode 6.
[00:13] Rob: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you have built your first product or are just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
[00:24] Mike Taber: And I’m Mike.
[00:25] Rob: And we are here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Mike?
[00:31] Mike: Not a whole heck of a lot. I’m just trying to get a couple sites up and running and get them to the point where I can start driving traffic to them.
[00:39] Rob: Nice. New products?
[00:41] Mike: Well, they were the products we talked about in a previous podcast, so it’s more and less about just getting the marketing materials in place, because obviously, I want to get my mailing list set up and started and get all that stuff underway. Because once I launch the product, I know that I am not going to have time to go back to it. So I figure if I get that stuff out the way first, then I don’t have to scramble later.
[00:59] Rob: Right. Yeah, and especially with a mailing list. I mean that’s something, obviously, you want to start building as soon as possible.
[01:05] Mike: Right, because it takes time. It’s not something you can just throw up there and expect to start getting people up there. I mean by then it’s too late. You are already into your marketing efforts and the mailing list doesn’t do you any good.
[01:14] Rob: Right.
[01:15] Mike: What about you?
[01:16] Rob: Well, last week I was at the Microsoft MVP Summit.
[01:19] Mike: Oh, yeah. That’s right! How’d that go?
[01:21] Rob: Up in Seattle. It was a lot of fun. It’s the third one I’ve been to. And Microsoft basically tells us…It’s .NET developers and SQL Server admins and IS people. There’s like 1,400 people in a bunch of different disciplines all that use Microsoft products. And we signed an NDA to become part of this program, and then they tell us stuff that’s coming down the line. So they’ll say, “In six months, this is going to happen.” Or, “In a year, look at this feature we are talking about adding to .NET.” And they try to get our feedback on it. They use as kind of the voice of the community.
[01:51] And then they wine us and dine us. They pay for our hotel and they pay for food. Had a lot of really good food. Had a bunch of sushi, which is good.
[01:59] Mike: Do they pay for the airfare out there, too?
[02:00] Rob: They don’t. That’s the one thing we have to take care of.
[02:03] Mike: Ah!
[02:04] Rob: Yep. Airfare and travel to and from the airport. But yeah, man, the food was good. And they have like an open bar almost every night. It’s crazy to see a bunch of drunk developers.
[02:15] Mike: So, sign me up for that one! [laughs]
[02:16] Rob: Yeah, I know. That was fun. It was how I spent last week, and ready to get back in and get some work done this week. Then I’m out of town over the weekend, so back to it!
[02:24] Mike: Very cool!
[02:27] Mike: So I think the topic for today’s podcast was “How to get traffic to your site”. A lot of people I talk to sit there, and they are trying to build traffic to their website, and they’ve got a product they’ve launched, and they’re trying to get it noticed. I mean that’s really the biggest challenge in the beginning is getting your product noticed so that you can get customers who are going to pay for the product so that you can take those profits and kind of send them back into the product to do more development, and rinse, lather, repeat.
[02:52] Rob: Right. And I think there’s something we should say upfront about traffic, is that a lot of people focus too much on traffic. There’s a certain amount of effort you have to push out upfront to get some traffic to your site, but then you kind of have to switch to doing conversion rates and getting your conversions increased, whether that means getting people to buy or just to sign up for more information, whether via email or subscribe to an RSS feed.
[03:14] If you focus on traffic for six months straight, you are probably doing something wrong. While we’ll talk about traffic here, I think in a future episode we’ll talk about conversion rates as well.
[03:24] Mike: Right. I think the topic that we’re talking about is more along the lines of getting that initial burst of traffic and how to build traffic in general.
[03:32] Rob: Right, ongoing.
[03:33] Mike: Yeah, because if you don’t have any traffic, you are not going to get any sales. So, at that point, the conversion rate is immaterial. If you’ve got one visitor and it’s your mother, then you are not going to get any sales out of that. And you have to have traffic before you can start working on that conversion rate.
[03:48] Rob: Absolutely. OK. Well, should we dive into some approaches that we’ve used with success?
[03:54] Mike: Sure.
[03:55] Rob: I think one thing I’ll say upfront in thinking about traffic, and kind of looking back on the businesses that I’ve built, is there are a lot of sources of traffic you hear about on the web, or in podcasts and blogs, but there are very few that you can build a business on, or that are really well suited for building an entire business on.
[04:12] So you may hear article marketing, and you may hear Squidoo Lenses, and you may hear things like using Twitter as a traffic source. And those are all well and good; those are all decent traffic compliments that help drive some traffic. But you will be hard pressed…You can find exceptions, but in general, those are not good sources to use to build an entire business on.
[04:30] The sources that are really good for actually building an entire sales funnel on are things like pay-per-click ads, which we’ll get into about the pros and cons of that, organic search, and then having some type of audience, whether it’s through a blog or a podcast, or a video blog.
[04:46] Twitter I think is on the edge. I think it’s possible, but I think it’s a lot harder to do than most people will make out. Typically, you are going to use Twitter to send people to a more in-depth content area that you’ve created, such as a blog or a podcast.
[04:59] That’s my preface to all of this: all traffic sources are not created equal.
[05:04] Mike: Right. And I think that one of the other things that you kind of implicitly point out is the fact that you just listed several different methods that are kind of the things that you should focus on, and they are all different. There’s AdWords, there’s organic search, there’s blogs, or social networks, those sorts of things. But all of those are different. And you have to leverage all of them. Basing your entire business on just one of them is just not going to work out, regardless of what it is that you are trying to sell. I think you really need to diversify your marketing efforts to try and drive that traffic to your site, because there’s no one source of traffic that you want to rely on completely. You are always going to want to have some traffic from links, some traffic from AdWords, and some traffic from other sources.
[05:47] Rob: Right.
[05:48] Mike: So tell me what your thoughts on Google AdWords are.
[05:51] Rob: Yeah, so Google AdWords is a good traffic approach to use early on and to learn about the types of visitors that are going to come to your site, and to learn about which keywords will result in conversions for your site.
[06:04] I don’t see pay-per-click as a very sustainable model. Obviously, it costs a bit of money depending on what niche you are in. And you can make it profitable for you depending on your niche, but it does take ongoing maintenance and it requires ongoing cash outlay.
[06:21] So if you find that you advertise for a specific keyword in Google AdWords and you are able to convert that, then the next question is: Well, why aren’t you now trying to attack that really hard or through organic search?
[06:33] Again, I use Google AdWords ongoing in DotNet Invoice. We do make a profit on it every month. But I use it more as a learning tool than an actual profit center.
[06:43] Mike: And the reason for that is because you want to be able to figure out what things people are looking for and drive those people to your site. And driving those people to your site isn’t a goal in and of itself, it’s more to learn about whether getting them to your site with that specific keyword is going to make them interested in buying your product.
[07:02] Rob: Exactly. And it’s a lot faster to put up a Google ad than it is to invest the time to do SEO to rank high for a specific term. It could take six months to rank for a specific invoicing term. But with Google AdWords, you can just get right to the front page of Google right away and see, A, how many clicks you get, and, B, how many of those clicks turn into sales. And if it’s a total bust, then it’s likely…you know, if there’s no conversions, it’s likely going to be a waste of your time to go through all the search engine optimization effort.
[07:30] Now I have heard of businesses being built on pay-per-click. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not saying it’s a bad business deal. There are people who invest $1,000 and then they make $2,000 in sales, so they come out with a net $1,000 profit. And there are pay-per-click experts and they have that ongoing $1,000 expense, and they are able to react pretty quickly to the market because AdWords does behave so quickly you can disable and enable ads.
[07:55] But to me, it’s not a super sustainable long-term mindset, whereas trying to get organic rankings can last for years. Someone can bring up a caveat of, “Well, organic rankings require ongoing link building,” which they do, and we’ll get to, as well as, “A Google update can kind of shake your rankings.” But it is; it’s definitely a more sustainable idea than purely basing a business on pay-per-click.
[08:18] Well, that brings us to the next strategy, which is organic SEO. What do you think about that, Mike, building incoming links?
[08:29] Mike: I think that building incoming links is…I won’t say that it’s difficult, but it’s time consuming. And part of the challenge with that is that as a developer, I prefer to do my code or whatever and compile and see my results right away. I don’t really like wading through tons and tons of data just to figure out what it is that I did worked or not.
[08:51] And the challenge I find with SEO is that you literally have to do that. You have to continue to do things and hope that the next time Google does their update, or Bing, or Yahoo, or whatever search engine you are looking at, whenever they do their update that your listings are better than they were before.
[09:07] And if they’re not, it takes time to figure that out. So let’s say that their update cycle is a 30 day cycle and you start on day one of that cycle; they’ve already come to your site the day before. And you spend the next 30 days trying to build links and getting people to link back to your site, and then that Google update comes and nothing changes, or there is a very minimal change.
[09:28] It’s frustrating, to be honest, because you don’t have any good feedback that tells you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. So I think that’s the biggest challenge with it, is just the fact that there is this huge time delay between when the updates are made to your website and how you are ranked in the search engines.
[09:47] Rob: Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s definitely a mindset thing. It’s a challenge to get over that early on. And to feel like you are building links and that it’s not doing anything is frustrating.
[09:57] In addition, I think a lot of developers, including myself…I’m in a very batch-mode mentality where I like to batch things. And I’ll want to spend four or six hours just building links like crazy and then not do it again for months. Or I’ll even spend two days doing it and then not do it again for months, and that’s a terrible approach to bad strategy with link building, because it doesn’t look very organic to Google. It looks unnatural.
[10:20] Mike: Right. The other problem with that is the fact that it’s just disruptive to your schedule to be trying to do that. And the other thing is that when you do do that, your results can change. Even if you get ranked well one month, they might drop off the next because Google looks at them and says, “Oh. All these links are stale. They haven’t been updated in a while.”
[10:41] Rob: Right.
[10:42] Mike: All it takes is for your site to be down for a few minutes when Google comes, and all of a sudden your ranking just drops like a stone because Google says, “Well that site’s offline.”
[10:52] Rob: Yeah, I think these days they give you a little more benefit of the doubt, but you’re right. It’s pretty easy to fall in the rankings. And I think we should take a step back and talk about why you should build links at all, because some people might not understand the whole SEO thing of how organic search works.
[11:09] Mike: When you say step back and take a look at the…
[11:12] Rob: Why you should build links.
[11:14] Mike: Why you should build links, yeah. Well, I mean I think it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? If you’re running Google AdWords for a particular search phrase and you’re paying $1,000 and making $2,000 a month, wouldn’t you rather pay zero and make $2,000 a month than shell out a thousand to Google every month?
[11:29] Rob: But that’s what I’m pointing at, is if someone has no idea how search engine optimization works, they’re not even going to put together that links tie in with organic search rankings. Most of us know this, but is there someone out there who may be like, “I have no idea why a thousand links would mean I would rise in the search engine rankings.” Or do you think that’s just a known fact at this point?
[11:48] Mike: You know, actually, I don’t know, because the fact is that there are sites out there where you will look at them and you look at the back links and some of them have maybe 100 back links and they rank number one. And then there’s others that have thousands and they don’t even rank on the first 50 pages.
[12:06] Rob: Yeah, well, I mean it depends on so many factors. A, links is just one of a number of different factors, right? There’s on-page and off-page factors. And so the on-page factors is all that SEO that you do with the H1 tag and the title and your body text and all that stuff. And then the off-page factors are the links that we’re talking about.
[12:25] And even with links, all links not created equal. So if you can get one high authority link from NPR.org, and that can be worth literally 500 or 1000 links from just these random free directories you can submit to, or even more than that.
[12:41] Mike: Yeah, and links from like colleges or other educational institutions rank pretty high as well.
[12:47] Rob: Yeah. There’s kind of an old…Google has come out, like I think Mack Kutz has said that .edu links inherently do not hold higher rankings just because it has an .edu suffix on it, but that most .edu institutions tend to have authority because they have a lot of incoming links and because they’ve been around for a long time; the domain has age. And those are two factors that really dictate a lot of SEO.
[13:09] Mike: Right. I wasn’t necessarily implying that just going out and buying a .edu domain name and point it to your own server would be a good idea.
[13:17] Rob: Yeah. I don’t think you can buy an edu domain name. You have to prove that you’re educational. Yeah, you just can’t go to Godaddy and buy an .edu. Trust me, I’ve tried. No, I’m just kidding.
[13:29] Rob: Rob.edu. Yeah, no you can’t do it. But yeah, the point is, I mean I think my impression a few years ago is that .edu’s actually held more weight, and I think they may have at one point at Google. But at this point I don’t think the .edu itself has more meaning. It’s more of the things that an .edu kind of like brings about, like the links and the domain age.
[13:48] Mike: You know, somebody’s going to email us and say, “Hey, this is exactly how you get an edu link.” [laughs]
[13:53] Rob: Yeah, totally. Well, if they do, then they do.
[13:55] Mike: Well, a domain, I mean. One of the key things, though, is being able to target, specifically, the sites you want to link back to your website because that’s, as you said, not all links have equal value. So you really want to target the websites that are going to have the most value if they link back to you. So high profile blogs, colleges, obviously, I think that’s going to be a little bit more challenging to get linked back from those types of places.
[14:21] But even if you go to like…if there are public forums for a college, if they have them someplace, you can get linked back on those and it would help your search rankings because of the fact that it’s coming from an .edu domain. And again, not necessarily because it’s .edu but because the college itself has a lot of links.
[14:40] Rob: Yeah and there’s actually a pretty cool strategy I’ve heard, and I have on my task list to-do with a couple of my products, and it’s once you have your product up and running, you offer a free version to universities, assuming that it’s applicable to them.
[14:55] So I, as an example, with DotNet Invoice, obviously, they may need to invoice someone at some point. So I have a free educational version or a free university version; all I need is a link back. So instead of paying 300 bucks, they give me a link. And truthfully, man, if I got a few of those, it would be well worth the price. You know, the $300.
[15:12] Mike: I could certainly see how that would be attractive. But as you said, you have to have a product that’s going to be of interest to them, and not everybody’s going to have that.
[15:21] Rob: Sure. I think all the link building strategies we talk about, as well as all of the traffic strategies, need to be evaluated for your particular scenario, because you read a lot on blogs that’ll say, “Do link bait,” or, “You need to use Twitter.” And it’s like, yeah, these may work. I mean these are good tactics but they don’t work for everything. They don’t work for selling B2B software to the construction industry, or maybe selling to the aerospace industry, right? I mean Twitter and link bait just are going to have a lot less impact. Although link bait, of course, does help your search engine rankings as a side effect. That’s something people should be aware of, is all of these tactics really need to be evaluated for your case.
[15:59] Mike: So one of the things I think that people should probably look at when they’re trying to build these links backs is creating a list of sites that you want to link back to your site, and then going in and maybe looking at the Google PageRank and trying to figure out, “Is this an appropriate place that I want linking back to me?”
[16:17] The unfortunate part is that you don’t necessarily have control over everyone who links back to you. If you end up on the website where all they’re doing is it’s a link directory or link exchange and they’re just basically spamming people with back links, it can theoretically drop your ranks in the search engines just because of the fact…
[16:34] Rob: No.
[16:35] Mike: Oh it can’t?
[16:36] Rob: No. It’s only the other way. Google, long ago, realized that people could screw you. [laughs] You could build a spam farm. It’s only who you…
[16:45] Mike: That’s what I was saying, though. That’s exactly what I was saying. It can theoretically hurt you, but because of all the other things, I mean they don’t necessarily put as much weight on that. That’s what I was getting at.
[16:56] Rob: Yeah. I don’t think they put any weight…On links that are coming into you, yeah, if it’s not an authority link, or if it’s a spam link, they won’t even count it. It’s not a negative, it’s just a zero. It’s eliminated.
[17:06] Mike: No, they do. If you look at the PageRank algorithm, though, it is weighted but its weighted very, very small, and it’s based on the PageRank of the site itself. You can go and you can look at the approximate algorithm…I don’t know if they post the exact algorithm.
[17:20] Rob: No, they don’t.
[17:21] Mike: It’s generally there. If you go and look at the patent office for what was originally filed way, way back in the day, it shows you that a PageRank of one counts like one-tenth of what a page rank of 10 does. And there’s a broad scale that as you up in page rank, you have more and more authority. And obviously, the tweak this…
[17:43] Rob: Yeah, it’s exponential. Right. That’s what I was just going to say, the algorithm is very, very different than it was 10 years ago. At first they based the results just on PageRank; that was maybe the single factor. And now they say there’s like 50 factors or 100 factors and PageRank has some impact, so it’s a lot lessened.
[17:58] However, I thought you were going to say that if you’re linked to by a spam website that it will actually have a negative impact on your ranking. And that, as far as I know, has never been the case, that it will have a negative impact. You’re right, a PR 1 will have a lesser impact than a PR 2 link…Or no, I’ve specifically heard it refuted, actually, I should say.
[18:18] But if you link out…you can control who you link out to, so they will nail you if you link into spam farms or Black Hat sites and they catch into “bad neighborhoods”, they’re called. Then yeah, Google will penalize you for that.
[18:31] Mike: So that brings up an interesting point about link exchanges, though. It almost seems like it is to your benefit to not link to anyone else. If I remember correctly, I remember hearing someplace that linking out is as important as the links that are coming in, but you also have to be careful who you link out to.
[18:51] Rob: Yeah, you definitely need to be careful.
[18:54] Mike: I’m just not sure if there’s a good balance that you can strike, because obviously, if you want to promote another site and they want to promote you, you should link to each other. But at the same time, if you’ve got a PR 7 site and they’ve got a PR negative 40, I mean you don’t want to link to them. [laughs]
[19:09] Rob: Right. That’s right. I mean linking to a PR 0 is not inherently bad. A PR 0…if I set up a website today it’s going to have a PR 0. So linking to me is not going to hurt your site. It’s only if I’m actually in a bad neighborhood where Google has marked my neighborhood…and they call it a “neighborhood” because they’re typically all linked together, a bunch of websites. And if you start linking into that, you’re considered part of that bad neighborhood.
[19:30] So it’s harder than you think to make a bad decision and to link out. If you go to a site and it’s pretty scammy and crappy, then just don’t link to it. But if it’s just a new website or has a low PageRank, it doesn’t decrease your value of your site in the eyes of Google. It’s not going to increase the SEO.
[19:47] Mike: Yeah. I guess I’m just thinking that if you were to link into a bad neighborhood, then obviously it would decrease your page rank. But there would be very little incentive for you to do that in a social sense because of the fact that it wouldn’t…what is the advantage for you and your sites to be linking to that site?
[20:04] Rob: It does make sense. You brought up link exchanges, which is an interesting topic. Link exchanges, these days, they do not work. People are trying to do these round-robin link exchanges where they get 50 or 60 people. A, if you and I just link back and forth to each other, Google is going to realize that. If we did it once, they may not care, but if you do a bunch of link exchanges, Google just nullifies these things. It’s just way smarter than that at this point.
[20:29] And they’re trying to get…someone’s setting up these link circles where you get 50 people in a row and A links to B, B links to C, C links to D, all the way around until Z links to A. Google is now sophisticated enough to catch these things as well.
[20:46] So people are trying to come up with new ideas, but, man, link exchanges of any form, I have never found to work. They’re more trouble than they’re worth. They just don’t provide a lot of value, and people who are doing link exchanges tend to have sites that aren’t that high in PageRank anyways. They don’t have a lot of value. You don’t see high profile bloggers…Joe Spolsky is not part of a bunch of link exchanges. My blog, not part of link exchanges because it doesn’t need them. It has authority by itself. Yeah, I don’t recommend people using link exchanges at all.
[21:15] Mike: Well, I think of link exchanges can be kind of lumped in with the idea of gaming the system. And I think that any system can be gamed, even Google. You can do a Google bomb and I’m certain you can get highly ranked for specific search terms in any given week of the month, or even the year. But the problem is that it only last for so long, and eventually Google’s going to do some corrections and you’re going to have to go back out and do that. And essentially, it’s a game of cat and mouse. And you’re always going to have to keep on top of it. And that’s a problem because it detracts from the time that you have to spend actually making you product better and making your business better. It’s just not worth the time and effort.
[21:57] Rob: Yeah.
[21:58] Mike: So short-term it’ll help, but unless you keep on top of it, it’s not going to make a difference in the long run.
[22:04] Rob: Yeah. That’s right.
[22:05] Mike: What are some of the other things you think that people should avoid doing when you are trying to build links?
[22:10] Rob: Well, I actually get this question quite a bit about using automated directory submissions, so there’s just directories all over the web, and you can go and submit by hand, or there are these kind of directories or search engine submission tools.
[22:25] Mike: So a lot of places where if you buy a domain name, they’ll actually ask you, “Hey , if you pay me an extra $5 or $10 and we’ll put your domain in all the directories.”
[22:34] Rob: There’s a couple different types of them. One is you can get submitted into a bunch of search engines. I’ll just say that’s worthless; total waste of money. It’s like the search engines are going to find you if you’re important, and if they need to be submitted to, then no one is searching them anyway. I mean Google, Yahoo, Bing have so much of the search engine traffic these days that you’re going to get in these three and everything else is just frivolous.
[22:58] Now beyond that, there are actually directory submission services where you pay $5 or $10 and it goes out and does an automated submission. I won’t say they’re all worthless, but in general, if it’s five bucks and you feel OK about it, do it. But frankly, I haven’t used one in 9 years, probably. I just find that they’re a waste of time, waste of money, and you wind up getting some spam at whatever email address you enter. Yeah, automated services are bad.
[23:24] However, I found an alternative to this, and it’s using manual services. It’s basically hiring someone to do manual directory submission. And, of course, the directories want your links, so this is not spamming in any form, right? It’s actually submitting your site to these directories that want links.
[23:43] There’s one service that’s really good called seobuilding.com, and they’ve done some directory submission for me and they do it all manually. They’re overseas. I’m sure they’re in India or something. They have some good directory submission plans. So I’d recommend using them rather than an automated service.
[24:00] Mike: And roughly, how much does that cost? Is it something you have to do on an ongoing basis? I’ve never actually paid anybody to go out and do those for me. I’ve always done it myself or done that link building myself. Roughly, how does that work?
[24:13] Rob: Well, they charge you $10 for 100 directories or $35 for 500. They can also do a delayed service. They have one where you pay $65 and its 100 submissions every 10 days, for a total of 50 days. So they do space it out a little bit. You can work different things out with them.
[24:31] Again, this is not like a killer SEO technique. If you’re trying to get to rank high for credit cards, and mortgages, and super high-end terms, this is not even going to have an impact. This is for more low hanging fruit. And it’s a really good thing to do when you first get your website started, because you’re worried about so much other things, you can’t spend time to build really solid links that you are going to build over the life of your site.
[24:54] It’s a great way to just kick start your site, get a little bit of Google juice going, and it’s not something that once you build momentum and your site does start getting real links with more authority, these just essentially aren’t worth that much. They’re worth such a small percentage of that. But it’s a really decent investment upfront just to get some initial traffic to get you started.
[25:16] Mike: What are those things that you’re going to want to hold off on until after you’ve done Google AdWords to figure out what sorts of things you should be advertising for? I mean it seems like it’s a chicken and egg problem. How do you know which key words to be using for your directory submissions and things like that, unless you’ve run Google AdWords, at which point it’s very difficult to know which one you should be doing first? I don’t know if there’s a good answer for that.
[25:40] Rob: Well, typically, I would start with these easy tactics that are pretty quick. I mean to me, dropping $35 or $65 and choosing a handful of keywords that I have a good feeling about just based on my research that have quite a bit of traffic, that I feel like the SEO is not super competitive for, that’s what I would do up front.
[25:58] Yeah, I agree. There’s no right or wrong answer here. You could hold off or you could even submit again later. There so many directories out there that even if you submit to 500 directories now, they’re going to be able to find 500 more directories later. I mean there are that many out there.
[26:13] So, again, it’s something, when I’m first kick starting a site, that I typically do. I’ll either use SEO Building or I’ll have my own VA’s just go out and do it. We have kind of an in-house list of directories that we do just to get it kick started.
[26:24] Mike: Now what about press releases? I’ve done press releases in the past, and what I’ve found for press releases is they tend to work better if you have an established product. Come out with a Version 1, nobody cares. I mean you send out a press release and you might get a few people who say “Yeah, we’re going to throw this up because it’s a slow news day.” But I’ve found that press releases don’t generally work as well unless you’ve got your product out to like Version 2 or 3 and it’s been out there for awhile.
[26:51] Rob: It depends on what you’re using the press release for. If you’re actually using it to try get people to write about you, then yeah, you need a compelling offering. If you have some boring B2B thing like invoicing software, no one’s going to write about it. But if you have a Web 2.0 fancy-dancy thing that would appear in Fast Company, then you may get some blogs to pick up your press release.
[27:12] That’s one approach to it. I’ve actually, since I do tend to frequent more boring niches that sell to a particular paying point, these things are not that exciting to the press. So when I issue press releases, I do it for the SEO benefits.
[27:25] The idea is that you issue this release and you can pay like $80 on PRWEB.com, and you put some of just a few links in there with some keywords that you’re targeting and you link back to your site, and it appears on PRWEB, which is fine; get a little bit of juice from there.
[27:42] Then there are syndication sites that grab the PRWEB press releases, and they automatically post them up in a blog format. So pretty soon you’ll start getting back links from different websites. Again, these are not super high-authority sites, but they do send you back just a little bit of traffic and a little bit of link juice when you’re getting started.
[28:03] If someone does wind up picking it up…I mean you definitely want to write it for people and not for search engines, because if someone does pick it up, someone with authority, then getting one link out of this thing from a high-profile blog or authority site is just worth so much more than the $80 investment. So I don’t send press releases out for everything, but I do from time to time. It typically winds up paying for itself.
[28:24] Mike: Yeah, and that’s another good point that you kind of had buried in there, was that even if you don’t get a lot of traffic from each of these individual sources that ends up reposting that press release, all of them collectively add up. Let’s say you’ve got 1,000 links out there and each of them maybe gives you one link back every 10 days. Well, you’re still getting a decent amount of traffic from that. I mean you’re still going to get some residual traffic every single day.
[28:50] And the more links that you have, the more places it appears, one, you get the search engine benefits from that, but two, anybody who actually ends up at those sites and sees it has a possibility of clicking on those links and then coming back to your site.
[29:03] Rob: Right. So you essentially have two benefits from it. You have direct traffic through their link and you have that SEO benefit. It’s nice.
[29:11] Mike: Right.
[29:11] Rob: How about Twitter? What do you think of Twitter? I know you and I both have been on it for what, 3 months or something? What have your results been?
[29:18] Mike: I think that…I mean for the stuff that I use Twitter for, I don’t know if it’s such a great benefit for me to draw new people to my site. I find Twitter is more along the lines of something that you direct people to so they can essentially keep tabs on the things that you’re doing and your new offerings. But I don’t see it as a great place to attract new people. I just think that the messages are too short, it’s not really targeted very well, and just not terribly beneficial.
[29:50] Now, if you amass 10,000 Twitter followers and then from there you send out a message that says, “Hey, come see our new product” or something like that, then it’s beneficial. But at that point, you’re marketing at an existing user base. Even if they’re not already actual customers of yours, if they’re following you because you’ve directed them to follow you on Twitter, then that’s beneficial. Almost like a built-in mailing list, but I don’t see a lot of people going out there and creating a Twitter stream, and then getting tons and tons of people to follow them just from the Twitter stream.
[30:25] Rob: Yeah, I would agree. I mean I think if you were to ask me, would I prefer to have 5,000 followers or 5,000 RSS subscribers to my blog, it would just be, hands down, the blog involvement, because I think it’s such a longer discourse. You can have so much more information.
[30:41] You can build a relationship with someone using RSS. Just following people on Twitter, I don’t know. I feel like I don’t know them very well, but if I was reading their blog I would have a much better idea of who they are.
[30:53] Mike: Well, I think part of the thing that detracts from Twitter so much is the fact that because exactly what it is, I mean Twitter, where it came from, the chirping of birds in a collective. The problem is that you can very, very easily have your message just lost. And if you’re following anything more than like 30 or 40 people…
[31:15] I’ll give you a perfect example. I was following Robert Scoble for a little while, and I got so many things on there. The number of messages from him alone pushed everything off my Twitter stream. I had no idea what anybody else was saying. So I ended up taking him off just because of the fact that he’s got so many things coming up. I am just like, “You know what? I don’t want to even hear 90% of these,” so I took him off. Now I’m able to look at Twitter and see what the people I’m tracking are actually saying and doing.
[31:41] So I think that it’s very easy to get lost in the Twitter stream. That’s the reason why I don’t particularly care for Twitter. It may be great for keeping in touch with people and keeping tabs, but because you don’t really have a great way to go back and separate people out, it’s very easy to get lost. And as you said, with an RSS feed, people are actively following you specifically. And people are just going to not follow people on RSS if they don’t feel like there’s value in it. When you are following people on Twitter, people follow people just to follow them. At least that’s been my impression.
[32:18] Rob: Yeah. I view Twitter as like a content propagation network, or a content propagation medium, whereas a blog is actually content creation. That’s where you create new ideas and you can discuss them in a long format with comments and such. You can have intelligent discourse. Whereas Twitter, you can re-tweet, and that’s fantastic, and it’s worked out great for my blog. I have followers, I re-tweet a post, and then they’ll re-tweet, and it propagates to new people. That’s fantastic. But to actually try to put something intelligent in a tweet itself is a maybe one in a 100 thing for me, at least for me.
[32:51] Mike: Well, I think your differentiation there is a good one because of the fact that it’s about propagation. It’s about propagating the message. I mean you can take a website and you can send out the URL to it in Twitter. You re-tweet it, and other people re-tweet it, and it gets the message out there.
[33:07] But as you said, those people are already on Twitter, they’re already using it, they’re already following people, and other people are following them. It’s great for getting those messages out there, but it’s not great for attracting new customers. Twitter’s a place that you send them to get them to subscribe to your Twitter feed. It’s not as if you’re just drawing people in from Twitter.
[33:30] Rob: Right. And I think that brings us to blogs. I mean this is another traffic generation method. I think blogs are actually over-recommended to people. I think as soon as someone says, “Well, I’m gonna launch a product.” “Oh, start a blog.” I think there’s not a lot of understanding of why people say that, or people don’t understand why blogs build traffic. Maybe we should spend a couple minutes talking about what we think about that.
[33:51] Mike: Right. I see blogs completely different from Twitter, because a blog…Well, there are good blogs to have and bad blogs. I mean if you have a blog just for sake of having a blog, you’re probably not going to do very well with it. And doing very well is really quantified by talking about what your goals are for that blog. And if you’re blog is just to have a blog, that’s not a very good reason. But if your blog is there so you can share information specifically with people where the content is going to change on a weekly or monthly basis, that’s a lot more beneficial for a couple of different reasons.
[34:26] One, you get to promote a particular message. Two, you get to become an authority figure. Three, you’re building inherent SEO in your blog for people who are out there in the search engines. I mean there’s just all these great benefits in there. But the other side of the coin is that if you don’t upkeep it, if you don’t regularly post, it becomes a desolate wasteland. Once you’ve let it go for a couple weeks or a couple months, it can be pretty hard to get back to it, because you’re like, “Well, I haven’t posted in a while. What’s another day going to make? What difference is another day going to make?” And then another day and another day. Then you realize that it’s been six months since you posted anything.
[35:05] Rob: I agree. I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to hear when everyone recommends, “Oh, you’re gonna launch a product? Start a blog, start a blog.” Because there are two different distinct focuses that I see a blog can have. One, you can build a blog to truly build an audience and to build that RSS count or email subscriber feed. This is something, obviously, Joel Spolsky has done and Eric Sink did back in the day, and Arman Shah has that today. I mean you really build followers and they know you and there’s a personal relationship. That’s a great thing to do, but it’s so incredibly time intensive; really, really time intensive.
[35:39] I spend hundreds of hours a year on my blog, and I’ve been doing it for four or five years, and I have 5,000 RSS subscribers. I’m proud of that, but that’s not a heck of a lot of people listening to me based on the sheer number of hours that I’ve invested into it. I do it because I enjoy it, and there’s obviously rewards that come from it, but I can’t say to everyone, “You should go start a blog.” Because it really does take a lot of time, and it takes the ability to write well, to have original ideas, and things like that.
[36:07] But, there’s this whole other focus that a blog can have, this whole other purpose that very few people talk about. And you brought it up. It’s the SEO benefits of it. I know people who have a blog, and I’m not just making this up. I know of some specific examples of guys who launch products, and they have a blog with barely any audience, like nine RSS subscribers. But they blog about their product, they blog about topics relating to their product, surrounding their product, and they get maybe a link here and a link there. And since they’re not targeting super high-end keyword terms, they’re really getting a ton of love from Google. And the blog starts building organic search traffic.
[36:47] Pretty soon it’s 100 a month, then it’s 500 a month, then it’s a 1,000 visitors a month. When you think about investing a small amount of time on an ongoing basis to build up a recurring stream of 1,000 visitors a month, without a real audience, that’s a pretty powerful idea.
[37:03] And so I think as someone listening to this, think to yourself, “Boy, if I have a lot to say, a lot of original ideas, and I’m a good writer,” then start a blog, and do it the Joel Spolsky way, and create original content and be original. If you don’t think that’s you, start a blog and just do heavy SEO. And still write for people, of course, but get all the SEO stuff set up, and think about the keywords that are going to be in your titles and what you’re writing about.
[37:27] And again, you want it to be extremely human readable. Write for humans first, but target some search engine terms. That will pay off. You don’t have to spend as much time. You don’t have to post as frequently. They don’t have to be a long or as original. But just a whole other way to really generate some substantial traffic, especially in a niche that’s not super competitive.
[37:46] Mike: Right. And that comes back to making sure that you understand exactly why you’re writing your blog. Why does that blog exist? If you don’t define that upfront, it makes it difficult to do exactly what you just said.
[38:03] Rob: I don’t have much to say on software download sites, actually. DotNet Invoice is on a bunch of them, and we get a little bit of traffic, but I just don’t have enough experience with them. I’ve never submitted to any of them.
[38:14] Mike: I did back in the day, but it was a long time ago. I found that something like 60% or 70% of my traffic from download sites all came from download.com. It was literally ridiculous, the sheer percentage of people who came from download.com versus all the others.
[38:36] Rob: They’re like the Google of download sites? They just own the market?
[38:40] Mike: Yeah, they really were. And it was great because you could submit your products to them, and for the first several weeks, you would be ranked really high because you were on the “New” page; everyone would come to your site and download your stuff. But after you dropped off that, you were basically at the same point you were beforehand, and you had virtually nothing coming in.
[39:01] I doubt the helpfulness of those software download sites, at least for anything other than a quick shot in the arm. Rob:
[39:07] Rob: Sure. DotNet Invoice is not on download.com at all, or at least we don’t get traffic from it. You actually have to upload a product to be on download.com, right?
[39:16] Mike: Right.
[39:17] Rob: Upload a physical thing that they can download. Yeah, see, we don’t have that. Since we don’t have any DRM or any licensing on our app…it’s all source code. So we wouldn’t upload it, because then people would just download it freely. So we are on a bunch of download sites, but they all link to us, like 411asp.com, and scripts.net. I don’t know, there’s like 20 of them. We get a decent amount of traffic, but yeah, we would never upload our app.
[39:41] And C, if you’re a SaaS app, this is irrelevant, right? So this is really only for people who have desktop apps, and then if they’re going to put in the licensing stuff so they can’t be duplicated or have unauthorized use. So it seems like download.com would be a reasonable thing to shoot for.
[39:58] I think people get hung up. I used to do this, too. You have a lot of time and you don’t really know what to do with it, and so you’ll spend like hours and hours submitting to every download site you can find, and the law of diminishing returns is just incredible. It’s like the first one, like you said, download.com gets 60% to 70%, and then it’s like 5%, 2%, 1%, and then everything else is fractional. You know, it’s like one-tenth of 1% of your traffic is going to come from all these. So it’s just a waste of time.
[40:24] Mike: I think that…I mean for download.com, let’s just leave out Software as a Service apps for the time being. But if you’ve got a download application, like I said, that’s just a shot in the arm. I mean you will get that much traffic in the very beginning. Let’s say you get five or 10,000 downloads in the first couple of days. And then after, say, a week goes by, or a week and a half, there are so many other products that have been submitted to your category that just basically push you off the front page and off people’s radar.
[40:53] And it’s kind of like Digg. I mean if you are off the front page, you are off the beaten path and people don’t find you as easily. So if you make it to the front page of Digg, you are going to get more traffic and more Digg votes just for the sake of being on the front page. I mean it has nothing to do with the content of whatever your submission was.
[41:13] And download.com is the exact same thing, or at least it was at the time. And I think that all the download sites are going to be like that. You are going to get…Presumably, they have enough of an audience, or following, or traffic to their site to begin with to be able to push more traffic to your site to get you those downloads that you need. But then after a while, it’s going to peter out and you are not going to end up with a lot of traffic upfront.
[41:36] But what you will end up with is you will end up with a lot of back links to your site. And in the long-run, that can pay off.
[41:43] Rob: Yeah, and I bet by submitting to download.com that there are a bunch of other download sites that monitor it and they will pull the listing off and put it on their own site, which is going to help generate a little more traffic and send more links. So it sounds like that’s probably our recommendation, would be to submit to download.com and maybe the next couple of popular download sites in your niche. You know, if you are a .NET app, you can go to the .NET download sites, or if there is an invoicing download site, you can go submit there.
[42:09] But to not try to submit to like 80 of them, right? That’s kind of what we are saying. Don’t waste the time?
[42:14] Mike: Right. There was an automated tool several years ago that…there were these XML files called PAD Files that you had to basically put together that would describe your product, and you could submit those to various sites that also accepted PAD Files. And there was some sort of a network behind it where you could kind of upload your PAD Files and everybody would get them.
[42:33] I think it worked out reasonably well, but it was still a little challenging because you still had to go to a lot of these different sites manually. And there was some software tool out there that would allow you to upload it automatically to all of them. But again, you had to pay for that tool, and you had to build a PAD File, and it was honestly kind of a pain in the neck, but it’s really no more of a pain in the neck than going out and doing it all manually.
[42:55] Rob: Right.
[42:56] Mike: And I mean, yeah, I would certainly go after download.com, and Tucows, and a number of other sites that are probably high on the list. But I don’t know if I would go past 10 or15 for those download sites. And I would probably do it right around the time that I am launching a new version.
[43:11] Rob: Right. That makes sense.
[43:12] Mike: So are we good for the day, Rob?
[43:13] Rob: I think so! I think that about wraps up our discussion of driving traffic to your site.
[43:28] Mike: If you have a question or comment, please call it into our voicemail number: 1-888-801-9690. Or you can email it in MP3 or text format to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to include your name and URL if desired. A transcript of this podcast is available on our website: startupsfortherestofus.com.
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