July 16, 2015 was the 5 year anniversary of buying my first domain name. I’m too embarrassed to tell you the name but I will tell you the idea for the website was to teach people how to slack off at work. At the time I was getting pretty good at doing just that and I thought it would be fun, funny and useful to tell people what I knew. I had no idea how to make money online but I knew I wanted to.
Over the last 5 years I have made so many mistakes and learned so much that I wanted to share 10 lessons learned on my 5 year anniversary of “getting into the game”. Here they are in no specific order:
1. To be interesting you must be interested.
Lesson: Pick a product you like to use because it shows in your writing.
One of my first websites that I actually stuck with was to do with fitness. It was going to teach people how to get fit and eat right. I had been told over and over that you should make a website about something you enjoy. I enjoyed lifting weights and mountain biking and eating good food so I started the fitness website. The problem was that for it to make any money I would need to teach people. And I hated teaching people. I liked doing fitness but not teaching fitness.
Fast forward to today and almost all my websites are about products that I use. A few months ago I started PressureWashr.com a pressure washer reviews website because I recently had bought a pressure washer to clean my back patio and concrete driveway. I thought I’m already interested so why not try this product out. It turns out I love writing articles for the site and the whole process of making the site was and is enjoyable. So I think over the years making sites that were boring to me just because they had good keywords and potential I learned that life is just too short to not be interested in what you’re doing.
2. Spend triple the time telling people about your website than you spend creating your website.
Lesson: Don’t be shy. Promote your stuff like it’s the next gold rush.
John D. Rockefeller has a quote that he is famous for: “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.”
I like this quote because it is the same as with your website. It is not enough to just make a website, you need to tell people about your website.
I learned this over many failed websites. I would spend hours on an article and press publish only to sit back and wish people saw it. I didn’t even email anyone to tell them about it. Fast forward to today and I won’t even start a website until I have a spreadsheet of 50 web masters’ contact details in the industry. I will email a bunch of them just to say hello to gauge their engagement before starting to build anything. This might possibly be the most important lesson I have learned in the entire 5 years.
3. It adds tons of trust if you share stories about your real life experiences with the product you sell.
Lesson: Don’t hide from your audience.
My favorite example of this is DCRainmaker.com. It’s a website run by a triathlete and he reviews fitness trackers and indoor bike trainers and that sort of thing. He makes a ton of money and has even moved to Paris with his wife because his website has been so successful. His secret? Trust. He takes 15 – 20 pictures of himself using the products in every review. He tells a story about using the product and sells tons of what he recommends because of it.
4. Consistency is key.
Lesson: Work daily even if for only 5 minutes.
Over the 5 years I’ve been involved in making money online I have not gone a single day without spending at least 5 minutes creating, thinking or reading about website stuff, copywriting stuff etc. I found that it was more important to do 1 thing every day compared to 20 things in a week then nothing for a month. This consistency keeps the focus and the drive in check and I found you see success incrementally grow instead of taking 3 steps forward and 4 steps back with the sprint style of work.
5. Every single page on your website needs to target a keyword.
Lesson: You don’t need 1,000 pages to have an awesome authoritative website. You just need to cover the topic thoroughly.
A simple trick is to go into Google Keyword Planner with your main keyword and then open the related keywords in Excel. Group the keywords so each group shares a similar purpose. Now make a page for each of those groups. That’s it. From experience most keywords worth going after will have 15 – 80 groups. This means if you make a website with a page for each you will have an authoritative website for the keyword.
I originally made the mistake of making separate pages for all the top searched keywords instead of grouping similar words/topics into one page. Big mistake because search engines don’t know which page to rank for what.
6. Don’t focus on just one source of traffic focus on many quality sources.
Lesson: Quality of traffic is better than quantity.
The obvious first choice for most traffic is Google. But what about Pinterest if you’re selling clothes? What about Instagram if you’re selling cookbooks? What about Facebook if you’re selling funny hats?
There was a popular game a few years ago: Get to the front page of Digg and you win. The problem web masters begun to learn was that, yes, they got a flood of traffic but they got no sales. It was terrible quality traffic. The Digg traffic spent seconds on your site before bouncing off to the next place.
Don’t go after traffic for traffic sake. Find the quality traffic. Find your customers.
7. You need to become friends with other web masters in your industry as soon as possible.
Lesson: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
There is no better way to secure long term success than creating a network of people around you. Think about if Brad Pitt goes bankrupt. Well, his network has deep pockets so I’m sure he could ask friends like Matt Damon, George Clooney and others for some money.
In the online world you want to become friends with other web masters who have great websites in your industry. This is not just for links but for support, knowledge and it makes it more fun.
8. Design matters. But design isn’t what you think.
Lesson: Less is always more. Simple is always better.
Have you ever seen the website DrudgeReport.com? It is a headline news site that breaks news but writes no news. They link to other news outlets with unique headlines. It is run by one guy and is only one page – the home page. Some call it ugly but some love it. There is one thing not up for debate and that is that it makes money. Millions a year. And it’s run by one guy.
What’s the lesson?
You should make your website simple. Does your user care about a picture of a group of people in a conference room looking at the whiteboard with a graph showing an uptrend? No. They care about you telling them what to do next. If they found your site by searching “cheap lawn chairs for sale” then you should tell them what the best cheap lawn chair is. Pretty simple. Yet so many try to dazzle and impress with images in a slider and 50 links to different chairs when all you should be doing is telling people the best cheap one. Keep it simple and realize less is more.
9. People love to be told what to do online.
Lesson: Tell people to buy. Tell people when to click a link. Tell people what the best product is.
Think about the real world. When you go to a restaurant and the waiter tells you the burger is the best burger he has ever had in his life you are quite likely to order it, right? Same goes on your website. Tell people to go click on links by saying: Click this link here to visit the page. Or say: Watch this video now to learn more. People can’t help but do what you say because it is just how we work, it is our psychology. You made the website therefore you are the expert. Tell people how to use your website, what product to buy and so on.
10. Authoritative and relevant links are still the king, 4 years later.
Lesson: The harder it is to get the link the better the link.
When I started learning about keyword research in 2010 the rage was anchor text. Whatever keywords you wanted a page to rank for you just linked to that page with those keywords in the link text. This worked liked crazy until Penguin. All the “experts” begun recommending you only have your keywords in 10% or so of the link’s text. Now you were told to mix it up with synonyms, long tails, brand words and words like “see here” and “this website”.
But everyone was missing the point. The point Google was making was about low quality links. Google wasn’t penalizing anchor text they were penalizing people for manipulating their algorithm. How did they know you were manipulating? They looked at the sites you were getting links from. If you had 100% anchor match keywords from sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, The Guardian, IMDB, Bloomberg, TechCrunch and the like there is no way you get a penalty.
Because Google knows it would be impossible for you to manipulate those sites all at once. They conclude you must have a great site if all those sites link to you, no matter the keyword percentages. And how does Google even know the difference between brand and keywords? What if your brand is your keyword? The fact here is that all that matters is how easy or hard Google calculates it would be to manipulate links on the sites linking to you. The harder it would be the more the link matters.