Posted by randfish
Making money with SEO today is nowhere near the same practice it was in 2009. Sketchy, manipulative practices and simple, straightforward tweaks no longer do the job — to be successful in 2019, you need to be smart, strategic, and in tune with what searchers want. Rand Fishkin outlines three steps you need to have down if your goal is to improve your bottom line with the help of SEO.
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Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are talking about how to make money with SEO. Now, for many of you who might be watching this video because perhaps you have googled or searched on YouTube about how to make money with SEO, well, what I want to do is talk about how that practice has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.
In 2009, if you were searching for how to make money with SEO, there were a lot of sketchy and manipulative and actually relatively simplistic, straightforward things that you could do to make money online with SEO, and that has changed. That is not the case anymore, and I think this is why you see so many people who are in worlds like affiliate marketing and the worlds of creating small websites and many networks of small websites and trying to sell relatively simplistic, unbranded products or services or advertising revenue, that a lot of those sites have disappeared. Certainly part of that is because the margins on many of those products has gone way down. Some of it is big competition from many new entrants, including big companies like Amazon, but many others as well.
A big part of this is the way that you think about making money online and how you might be able to use SEO to do that. Now if you are not one of those folks who's trying to do that and you are instead a professional marketer, I still think this video is going to be very valuable for you because there are a few key sources of change that have been brought to our industry by what Google has done and what websites have done and how users behave that shift a lot of this thinking. So stick with me.
Step 1: Find (or create!) a business/website that fits important criteria
If you want to make money online in the SEO world in 2019, your general step one is to either find and buy or create a new business or a website that fits some important criteria or to modify a website you've already got to fit these important criteria.
A) Produces a relatively high amount of gross margin per search visitor
The first one is you want a relatively high amount of gross margin per search visit. This is fundamentally different from the past. In the past, I knew plenty of people who built their living in the SEO world with, "A visitor is worth a penny to me. A visitor is worth a hundredth of a penny to me, but it doesn't matter because I can make up for it in volume." But today, earning search visitors is so much more challenging than in the past, especially for a new website or an emerging one or a startup, that I believe you need this high gross margin to be able to do that.
So you want to find people who are searching for a variety of things. I want this thing. Do a search. Come to your site. Take an action of some kind. That could be sign up for an email list. It could be view some advertising. It could be actually buy a physical product or buy a software product, whatever it is. You make revenue that is significantly more than the cost of serving that customer, the cost to you of maintaining the website, doing the marketing, your time and hours and whoever else you employ, keeping the lights on, paying the bills and the taxes, and the product itself, whatever you're shipping or whatever you're creating and serving, software, advertising, etc.
B.) Inspires/incentivizes users to amplify their experience and your brand
Then it inspires and incentivizes users to amplify their experience and as a result your brand. You might say like, "Well, why do I need that? Why do I need someone who's going to go and share?" Not every visitor, but you need a certain percent of people to go and say, "Gosh, their site is great. I am going to post about it on my social media. I'm going to link to it. I'm going to talk to my friends about it. When people see this thing that I've made, I'm going to say, 'Oh, it came from such and such place.'" You need that because these types of online and offline word of mouth and amplification is core to a business' survival on the web, and that is fundamentally different than 10 years ago.
Ten years ago you could do a lot of sketchy, spammy, manipulative stuff to earn links and to earn rankings. Google has removed almost all of that ability for 99% of websites, especially in the English language world. If you are operating in other languages, especially where Google's Web Spam Team has not done as well, there's still some more of those opportunities. But generally speaking, this is crucial. You need people who are going to link to you and amplify you.
C.) Over time, creates branded demand rather than generic search behavior
You need a business that fits the criteria of over time it creates branded demand rather than generic search behavior. Why? Because otherwise you do not create a competitive advantage that is sustainable with time, and other people who do will certainly recognize that and enter your field and compete with you and put you out of business.
"I want this thing" is a fine search phrase to target for your SEO. But you know what's way easier? "I want yoursite.com." When you have people searching for your brand and your branded products or the keywords that they were searching for generically plus your brand as a word in there, what they're saying is, "Google, don't serve me up just any result. Take me to that website." That is a competitive advantage, a barrier to entry that has huge amounts of protection for you as a business owner.
Step 2: Design a unique value prop/strategy that resonates with searcher intent & produces search-optimized content that people want to link to
All right, step two. You've found a business that fits these criteria or you've created one or you've modified your business such that it does this. Great. Now you need to design a unique value prop and a strategy that does a couple of things. It's got to resonate with searcher intent, meaning you are serving what searchers actually want rather than just serving searchers with what you want them to do but that does not actually serve them. This is because Google has gotten too sophisticated about being able to match searcher intent with the keyword phrases and rank the sites that solve the searcher's problem.
Ten years ago, that was not the case. Ten years ago, in 2009, someone could search for "best pasta," and you could serve them up a site that tried to sell them a certain kind of pasta as opposed to comparing a bunch of different brands and varieties and trying to truly serve the searcher's intent. That's almost impossible today. There are a few exceptions, but those gaps are closing rapidly.
It also needs to produce search-optimized content that people and publications want to link to. Totally different from 2009, when you could manipulate the link graph, acquire links in ways that searchers didn't necessarily love, but Google would put you on top anyway and you could sort of take advantage of that for a while. Not the case. Now you need people to want to link to you, to have a reason to link to you. Otherwise, you will not be able to get those top ranking positions.
A.) Build a keyword research list
So first, build a keyword research list. You can use Moz's Keyword Explorer, which is what I personally use. But there are many keyword research tools out there on the web. You can type in phrases. I love Italian food, so I'm using examples like that, so "best pancetta," "3-year aged parmigiano," "Rustichella d'Abruzzo," which is like this pasta variety that I personally think is the best one out there. There's search volume, there's difficulty, and there's click-through rate percentages. So I'm building this list. You can go check out the videos on keyword research if you want to dive deeper on this.
B.) Answer 3 questions
But essentially I want this list because I want to be able to answer some questions about the search phrases and terms that I'm targeting with my business.
1. What will I create to be 10X better than what's currently ranking on page one?
First, what will I create to be 10 times better than what's already ranking on page one for these terms? If I search for "best pancetta" and I cannot come up with a way that I think I could outperform, have a better web page than what everyone else has got there, what's my competitive advantage? How am I going to take that over? You better come up with those things. I need those answers for the crucial terms and phrases that I'm going after, that are going to bring me the gross margin dollars that I need for my product, my services, my advertising, what have you.
2. Who will help amplify/link to this and why?
Second, when I produce that content, who will help amplify or link to this and why? Who will help amplify this and why? If you don't have a great answer to that question, don't publish the piece. Wait until you do. Find that great answer, because you need that amplification in order to perform, especially in the earliest stages. Once you have lots of links, high domain authority, lots of visibility in Google, you can put a lot of things out there on the web and basically coast on your brand's strength and the fact that Google already likes your domain and is going to bias toward you. But in the early stages, when you have a new business, not the case.
3. How will I build a moat that can protect against Google's own incursion into these results?
Third, how will I build a moat around this business that can protect from potential incursions by Google themselves? If you look at the search results today versus 2009, you will see a dramatic difference, which is that Google's results, from Google Maps to Google's own instant answers to their featured snippets to their tabs and systems where they try and answer a query fully with their own stuff, Google Travel, Google Flights, Google Hotels, the list goes on and on and on and on, they are taking away a lot of that opportunity, and you need to have a way to protect yourself from that. One of those ways is certainly branded search. Another way is to make sure that the words and phrases that you're going after, especially early on, are not ones where you have to compete with Google themselves.
Step 3: Find what customers do before they search for high-competition keywords/around your topics
Step three, finally, find what customers do before they search for these high-value keywords to you, high competition keywords around your topics. What do they search for before they get to that? What do they search for around that stuff? How can I capture this customer prior to that money search? Then I can create a new keyword research list and a new set of content that I'm going to create to target those people, which will be vastly easier to capture them earlier in their buying cycle, earlier in their potential funnel.
So exposure keywords would be things like "carbonara recipe." Someone's going to search for carbonara and how to make it before they ever look up, "Now, where do I get pancetta?" This one potentially is easier to rank for than this one. This may be an imperfect example. But "types of parmesan" -- first off the English American spelling -- versus "3-year aged parmigiano," this is a transactional keyword. I know what I want. This is an "I'm still learning about this" thing. You're going to need content in both of those worlds.
"Pasta brands," I'm learning. "Rustichella d'Abruzzo," I know what I want. Got to serve both.
Finally, as part of step three, you want to find what link-likely sources are willing to cover. What is going to be the thing that gets you the amplification? Sometimes it's not the same thing as the exposure keywords or the money keywords. So you need content that is going to affect influential publications and people, things like, "Okay, we're going to produce a piece. It doesn't necessarily serve a lot of searchers, but we know we can get links to it. We know people will tweet about it. We know they'll post to their Facebook page. We know they might talk about it on Instagram."
"The best American cities for Italian food," ooh, competition between American cities, whoever it is, whatever, Philadelphia, we put them low in the rankings. New York, we put them high in the rankings. They're going to fight about it relentlessly. Tons of people are going to talk about it. The "New York Post" is going to write about it. "The Philadelphia Inquirer" is going to be all pissed about it. Great.
"Where to visit in Italy if you're really just there for the meals." Hmm, that's the kind of thing someone would cover. "Cooking pasta in cold water isn't madness. It's better." What? I actually do this, by the way. I do recommend starting pasta in cold water. We'll talk about that in another episode when I have my cooking set up here. But regardless, the idea behind this is that I have influencer and publication targeted content in addition to exposure keywords and money keywords.
This sort of strategic thinking is how you can make money with a new business, a new website in 2019, and it is vastly different from what you saw 10 years ago.
All right, everyone. I hope you've enjoyed this. Look forward to your comments. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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* This article was originally published here