Saturday, 10 October 2009

The New FTC guidelines for bloggers and internet marketers

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the American consumer protection body which has federal authority to police anticompetitive behaviour and to protect consumers. It was originally formed in 1914 to take down the robber-barons that dominated US commerce, and since then has branched off to regulate other aspects of modern commerce.

Now they are looking at the internet. In particular they are worried about the dubious claims being made for products that are sold with the consumer expecting a certain result - e.g. the make money scams which start "I was bankrupt and two months later I was a millionaire" type thing. Consumers are vulnerable to this sort of thing because they want to make money online fast. As I explained in my post on how long it takes to make money online, there is nothing quick or easy about internet marketing. But a lot of people have been tricked into buying courses that claim it is.

Now the FTC has stepped in with some new guidelines. In the past they allowed testimonials from people claiming all sorts of things, as long as there was a disclaimer saying "Results not typical". Now they are only allowing typical results to be claimed in online testimonials. So if you are claiming that everyone using your course becomes a millionaire in two months, you had better be able to prove this is typical or end up getting sued by the FTC with a fine up to $11,000.

Some marketers might think they can get round this by simply not having any testimonials at all. But they now want you to disclose within your text the results that the typical consumer might expect. So if the typical consumer won't make any money at all from your product, or won't lose weight etc etc, then you have to say that! As Frank Kern points out in his blog post about the FTC decision, this is going to take a lot of competition out of the market. Which is good for the legitimate internet marketers.

And what of internet marketers outside the USA? In my personal opinion, I think this ruling affects them too. The net is global - which means that some of the people reading your material and buying from your site are from countries not your own. If you have potential American customers, you are affected. So comply with the ruling, don't try to trick your customers, keep everything abovge board and legit, and you won't go far wrong. Don't be tempted to take short-cuts, it's just not worth it.

Case Studies on this blog

Sometimes the only way to learn a technique is to look at individual case studies. Here's a list of case studies on this blog:

Case study on internal dynamic linking

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The value of internal dynamic linking - case study

I thought I'd use a case study to demonstrate the value of internal dynamic linking.

If you google the keyword "make money online" (a major keyword that gets 246,000 searches a month according to Google's External Keyword Tool set on "exact" match), you will find a page from ranking second (see the image above - click to enlarge it).

Here's the page url:

But how has it managed to rank in the way it has for such a competitive keyword?

If you check Yahoo's Site Explorer for backlinks, the page has only 3536 backlinks of which only 1269 are external to the domain - some of the competitors for this keyword have over 10,000 backlinks, and some over 20,000 backlinks. The real secret to it's ranking is from the 2267 internal links.

For instance, one of the internal links, anchored on the term "make money online", is

And exploring the backlinks to that url shows that it has a staggering 95357 backlinks (see the image below - click to enlarge it), including a link from the home page,, which is pagerank 8 and has a staggering 3,171,374 backlinks (of which only 378,493 are external links).

What has done is create a giant site full of content, and has cleverly anchor-linked all the internal pages so strength flows from page to page. They always use anchor text when hyperlinking, and the repeated use of certain anchors make pages hyperlinked on those anchors surge upwards the search rankings.

Wikipedia ranks in the SERPs for a similar reason.

The thing is, you too can use internal linking to get certain pages to rank in the SERPs. Of course to have an effect, you will need a lot of content - but in smaller niches, some 1500 to 2000 pages are sufficient to get you to the top if you link internally in an intelligent and persistant way. Make certain pages powerful, and then use them to send links to your money pages so that you rank for them

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Estimating Google website traffic

Position #1 in the SERPS gets a 42% clickthrough rate - is this true?

Everywhere you look online you see the assertion that the number 1 position in the SERPs gets 42% of all the search traffic for that keyword.

A whole industry has been built around this - for instance in Market Samurai's tool, they pull in monthly search data from Google's External Keyword tool for any given keyword, divide by 30 to get a daily number, and then calculate an "SEOT" number (the amount of traffic the top position would get) - and they calculate SEOT by applying a straight 42% to the total daily search number.

But where does this magical 42% number come from?

It goes back to August 2006, when AOL accidently leaked it's search figures. And because AOL's engine is actually powered by Google, people used this as a proxy for what happens on Google. Someone on a forum crunched the numbers for a single keyword, and published it and thus publicised it (it got replicated all over the net). Here's the numbers:

Total Searches:9,038,794
Total Clicks: 4,926,623

Click Rank1: 2,075,765
Click Rank2: 586,100
Click Rank3: 418,643
Click Rank4: 298,532
Click Rank5: 242,169
Click Rank6: 199,541
Click Rank7: 168,080
Click Rank8: 148,489
Click Rank9: 140,356
Click Rank10: 147,551

As you can see the number 1 position doesn't get 42% of the searches, they get 42% of the clicks. Not everyone who searches clicks - sometimes they scan the snippets under the links and decide that it's not what they were looking for, and sometimes the searches are done by internet marketing software checking rankings, so there was never any intention of clicking.

Based on the above data, the number of clicks the top position gets as a percentage of the searches done is 23%. That ties in with my experience - where I'm number 1, I seem to get between 20% and 25% of the number of searches quoted in Google's tool. So if you are looking at the monthly search figures in Google's Keyword Tool, apply 23% to work out the traffic the top position gets, not 42%. It goes to show how important it is to rank for many keywords, especially the long tail, in order to ensure you get sufficient traffic.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

How long does it take to make money online?

The blunt answer is at least a year, sometimes longer.

Yes, I know there are all these challenges out there which imply that you should be able to make money online within a few weeks (30 days is a popular time frame). This isn't really true. Well you might make a few dollars in 30 days, but not much more. It takes a while for websites and blogs to establish themselves before they really show profit.

What usually happens is this:

In great excitement you set up your new blog, convinced you are on the path to riches. You get indexed within a week (sometimes sooner) and start to get a little traffic on long tail keywords. You monitor your stats avidly.

But the money doesn't really gush as hoped and then three weeks later your site disappears from the search results. In a panic you check all your keywords and finally put your entire URL into the engine to see if you are there. Nothing. Oh my god, I've been slapped by Google, the cry goes up. What did I do wrong? Then you check whether you are in Bing and find that Bing hasn't even got round to indexing you in the first place. Google is evil. Bing is evil. You've been scammed. You hang around the Warrior Forum and let off steam with a few rants and notice that everyone else is doing the same. The crowd convinces you it is all impossible, and you give up. Another blog goes to the great internet graveyard.

What you should have been doing is updating your blog daily even while you had disappeared from the SERPs, and carefully building backlinks to it. And also setting up a new site in a new niche. By the time the new site is up and running and going through the Google Dance, the old site will suddenly reappear in the results and begins to get traffic again. You continue to build backlinks and add new material to both sites, and you gradually start to rise in the ranks. Then your sites disappear again. It turns out that the search engines are doing some sort of major update. But you keep going and are now starting your third site in your third niche.

After a full year of this, site number 1 finally starts to get stable and holds a steady position in the search results. Now traffic fluctuates depending on users rather than search engine rankings. You notice dips in traffic on the weekends or at certain times of the year when people stay offline. You are now starting to get hits from a wide variety of keywords. But you are still not number 1 in the results for your main keyword, you seem to have settled at number six. You keep going, slowly adding more content and building more backlinks. And then you get to experience another update in the search results where one or other of your sites disappears for a couple of weeks.

At the end of year 2 you start to see your site rising again, and get closer to the coveted number 1 position. And with the rise in ranks comes a substantial rise in traffic, and a rise in profits. You are at last making decent money online.

Occasionally the process is quicker than this - but more often than not it takes longer, much longer in the case of the competitive niches. Making money online is a marathon not a sprint. Yet people persist in believing that because it's the internet it should be "quick" and "easy". Make money online fast is a popular search term. Actually there is a grain of truth that making money on the internet is quicker than in the offline world. Bricks and mortar businesses usually take five years to show profits. So one year, maybe two years is pretty quick. Of course it's not as quick as making money in 30 days. But you didn't really think you could make big money in 30 days, did you?

Busting some myths about making money online

There are a score of myths floating on the net about making money online, which actually hinder people from succeeding. Here are some articles that explode the myths:

How much traffic do you need to make money online?

How long does it take to make money online?

Estimating Google website traffic

Monday, 28 September 2009

How much traffic do you need to make money online

The conservative answer is that you will need about 100,000 visits a month to make $1000 a month. And I'm talking about traffic from search engines here - traffic from social sites doesn't count - see my post on The Buying Cycle to find out why.

I can hear the sharp intake of breath from readers. A hundred thousand visitors? Surely not. Surely there is an easier way to make the $1000 a month.

I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there just isn't.In order to make money you need traffic. That traffic then has to do something, click ads, click affiliate links. If you are monetising with Adsense, you might not get more than 50 cents per click. The click through rate might not be great either. If you are going down the affiliate marketing route, not everyone who clicks your link will actually buy. To overcome all that, you need traffic, lots of it.

This means that instead of sitting there tweaking the theme of your blog for the umpteenth time, you should be concentrating on getting traffic, either building backlinks to your site or building new existing sites. There is no "easy" way around this. This is a volume business.

In fact you are probably getting the idea that making money online is not easy at all. Congratulations. Just by understanding that, you are miles ahead of the crowd.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Off-page Search Engine Optimization

Off-page search engine optimization refers to links coming to your website or blog posts from other sites.

As I explained in my post on How Search Engines Work, links coming into your site are a powerful voting machine, representing the wisdom of crowds. The idea is that people only link to good pages, and thus the best pages will have the most links and rise up the search rankings.

Anyone reading the above will see at once how it can be gamed. Why not set up a whole bunch of other sites yourself, and then get them to link to you? The "blog-farms" beloved of blackhatters are based on this principle. In the early days of search engines this technique worked pretty well. But then Google wised up.

As I've explained before, Google is a hand-built search engine. Sure they have a very complex search algorithm at the heart of their system, but they also have teams of engineers who are actively looking to put an end to efforts to game their engine. They've built in a system of flags, which prompt the engineers to do manual inspections of the sites that have triggered flags. Flags get triggered if a new website suddenly accrues a large amount of external backlinks. Now that can happen if there is a new hot topic (such as Michael Jackson's death), and an engineer will quickly glance at the site and decide it is legit (though note it took Google half an hour to realise that Michael Jackson's death was a legit event - during that half an hour, they blocked searches on Jackson, assuming that they were under a denial-of-service attack). But a sudden collection of backlinks can also mean that someone is purchasing links or someone has created a blog farm to propel them up the rankings.

Once the engineer has inspected the site in question, it's a simple matter of tracking back to the other sites, to see what is going on. If the sites linking to you are sites with no other links out apart from to you, they know something is up. If the site linking to you is an existing "authority" site - in other words a site that has been around for a while and has proved over time that it is legit, then they will deem the link to be natural and valuable, and you get full benefit from it.

One of the happiest moments in my career was when one of my blogs got linked to by the Financial Times Alphaville blog. Those kind of links can't be bought or begged for - you need to earn them with great material.

Therefore the first and best way to get good quality authority links to your site is to create great unique material. You will find that people link to you spontaneously and the sites linking to you will be of a great variety and so diverse that the links are obviously natural and not farmed.

One problem with natural links is that the anchor text the links are on is usually not great - "click here" and "this article" tend to be common. You can help the situation by always being careful about the title of your blog posts or articles so that they include your keyword. The person who is linking to you will either use your article title or your blog title, so choose carefully.

I need to point out that there is a chicken-and-egg situation with the "write great material and you will get links" theory. If the only way to get found in the engines is due to backlinks, and no-one has yet found your new great article because it is new and hasn't any backlinks, how are you to get found in order to accrue the links to get ranked in the first place?

Google tries to get round this by the "new content bonus". They will boost new pages simply to help them get found. They then sit back and see what happens. If it is great, they reason, it will naturally accrue backlinks. If not, it will sink. However, for some niches, it is so competitive, even the new material bonus doesn't really help you get noticed. This is where social media and web 2.0 sites come into play - they give your material some exposure so that someone else can read it (and hopefully link to it).

If you create a HubPage or Squidoo lens pointing to your website, you will not only get backlinks, but those hubpages/lenses will benefit from their site's internal backlinks, and will thus gain authority. Google trusts certain web 2.0 sites that it feels regulates spam properly (and periodically penalises sites when it thinks they have lost control and the internet marketers have taken over). The trusted sites change from time to time. Squidoo for instance had great trust from Google - and then lost it when the spammers selling dodgy weight loss products and whatnot descended en masse. Squidoo responded by banning certain types of lenses and topics, and also operating a secret blacklist of sites, which if linked to by the lensmaster would automatically get the lens in question locked and unable to be loaded. Squidoo's trust level is slowly coming back. Hubpages too was flavour of the month because their proprietary hubscoring system was successful at weeding out spam - but the internet marketers learned to game them, and they lost trust.

The point to remember is that the "most trusted" web 2.0 site changes from time to time, and you need to keep up with the fashions so that your initial backlinks are from sites that will gain you the most exposure so that you are in a position to accrue the coveted "natural" backlinks.

I might add that both Hubpages and Squidoo are great sites to make money on in their own right, and I will be going into how to do this later in this series.

Another way to get links to your site is simply to ask for them - email the webmaster and ask if they'd like to exchange links. Putting your URL in your signature in forums also helps to a lesser extent, as does making comments on other people's blogs, with your own blog URL anchored on your blog name (which of course you selected carefully to include your keywords).

If you do go along the "farm" method then be careful to link out to a number of sites, not just your money sites. That way you should be able to disguise what you are doing better from the engineers. You also need to take care to build the links slowly so as not to trigger any flags.

However do note that however careful you are, if you are in one of the "big money" niches, you will get manually inspected no matter how careful you have been. Sometimes the best way to make money online is to keep to the small niches outside of the "big money" areas that are frequented by blackhatters. That way you end up staying under the radar permanently and making good money as well. I will be going into this in my series on Niche Selection later.

How to optimize your website/blog for search engines

Here are the lessons dealing with all aspects of how the search engines work and how to optimize your site to ensure you get ranked in the search results. Click the links to read more:

How Search Engines Work

On-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Internal Dynamic Linking

Off-page Search Engine Optimization

Internal Dynamic Linking

In my previous post about How Search Engines work, I explained that search engines used the anchor texts in links to your page to help them decide what your page is about. The theory is that the anchor text summarizes what topic the page being linked to is talking about.

The easiest way to help the bot understand what your pages are about is for you to use internal linking. This helps the spiders crawl your site, especially if all the pages are linked to each other. Internal linking also helps your readers - they can easily go from one page to another simply by clicking your internal links and thus get to read all the relevant pages on your site.

There's another benefit. The search engines do count internal links, especially machine-turned search engines such as Yahoo (Google being a hand-built engine is slightly more difficult to rank for, but even Google will pay attention to internal linking). If you gain sufficient internal links to your pages, you start to rank for those terms on Yahoo. Don't turn your nose up at ranking on Yahoo. Plenty of people use it - indeed the more search engines that find your material the better, because you don't want to exclude any demograhic from the benefit of reading your articles.

One way of adding useful internal links is simply to link to other pages in the body of your post if those pages are relevant, and use an anchor text that summarizes that page (usually a keyword you want that page to rank for). So at the start of this article, I referred to my previous article, and I linked to it, anchoring it on a set of keywords that summarized that article. That way a reader wishing to go to that article can do so (and the anchor should tell them what it is about) and a bot wishing to look at that article can also simply follow the link.

Another way of adding internal links is to put a list of related posts at the bottom of your article, each of which is anchored on the title of that article.

You can also create a directory of your articles in your sidebar. If you have a static website, a directory of links on the home page is vital - that's how users will navigate the site, and also how the bots will find your material. Always make things as easy as you can for your readers, and you find you make things easy for the search engines too.

Bloggers sometime list their "best posts" in their side bar. A side effect of having permanent links in your sidebar to your best posts is that everytime you create a new blog post, it will have these sidebar links - thus the internal backlinks to the posts listed in your sidebar will mushroom, and these "best posts" will start to gain authority. Next, ensure that these "best posts" have related links to other pages on your blog, so that readers clicking on them can follow through to other material and bots can do the same.

Instead of a "best posts" system, you can also use a "summary post" system. This is what I've chosen to do on this blog, so my sidebar contains a post on How to optimise your website for search engines, which contains links to all the blog posts that deal with search engines, and I also list other summary pages which deal with other aspects of making money online, so readers can access all of the lessons simply by using the sidebar.

Finally, when using "Blogger" in the formatting section under "Settings" I always have the "show links field" set to "yes". This then creates a link under the Title field for each blog post. I put my blog url in this field, so every single blog title is pointing to my main blog homepage. When I come to build external backlinks for the blog, I won't be building them to the home page but to individual posts. Therefore using the title of each post to link back to the home page, I shall be redirecting some page juice to my home page.

The next lesson in this series will cover Off-page Search Engine Optimization.

On-page Search Engine Optimization

You not only need to optimize your blog or website, you need to optimize each page on your site too. Start with the Title of your page. Make sure you have your main keywords in there that summarizes what the article is about. For instance this page is about on-page search engine optimization, so I've said so in my title. Don't make your titles too long - the search engines will cut the ends off, which is particularly unfortunate if you've put your keyword towards the end. The maximum length your titles should be is 60 characters (including the spaces).

The next thing to do is select the URL name for your blog or article. If you are blogging, you get to choose the URL for the blog, but the URLs for the individual blog posts are automatically created based on your page title - so it's doubly important that your page title is relevant and has your keywords in it.
When I have a choice about what my URL is, I usually go for a small variation in the keyword. So the URL of this blog says "Alyssa makes money online" (the only URL I could get on blogspot that was available). But the title of the blog is "How to Make Money Online", the title I really wanted. More people will search for "how to make money online" than will search for "Alyssa makes money online", but the two are sufficiently related, and the search engine will pick up on the connection. In the search results, they always bold any words in the title, URL or description that match what the user has typed in, including parts of words. So if someone types in "make money online" into the engine, it should show my URL as follows:

Research indicates that the more matches you have bolded in the results, the more likely the searcher will think your page is exactly what they are looking for and thus the more likely they will click.

If you are setting up a website, hubpage or entire blog they usually allow you to put in a description. Always use this - it will get quoted in the search results in the little snippet of text, if they find that it sumarizes your site properly. If the bot doesn't find a description or thinks your description doesn't summarize your site properly, they will pick their own snippet, and sometimes edit it. So always write your own description if you can. When writing your description think about what the searcher is looking for and what would persuade them to click on your page (instead of someone else's page). The description functions like a mini-advert for your site. Some people like to put keywords in their description separting them by dashes or a bar like this:

Make money online|Internet Marketing|SEO

You can get more keywords in that way - experiment and see what works for you. I've chosen a sentence for this blog description instead (see the description below the blog title).

Then write your article as naturally and informatively as you can. Remember you are writing for people, and you want readers to find your material so useful that they spread the word for you and quote you on their sites, giving you backlinks.

Some people still think of "keyword stuffing" - this is where they trying to use a few words over and over. Don't do this. The best way to avoid this is to write long articles/blog posts - at least 700 words long, preferably 1000 words. That way even if you have used your keyword a few times, it won't overdominate your page or seem un-natural or trigger off any flags in terms of density.

Instead of going for one keyword, go for variations on that keyword, and try to use each variation once. That's it.

People get very hung up about keywords. In truth about 20% of the search phrases put in the search engine have never been used before - and if you write naturally (i.e. in the way real people actually speak and thus type into engines), chances are high that your text will contain a phrase that someone somewhere is typing into the engine.

The only real rule is that your post must be on topic (i.e. related to your post title) and further, the blog posts must be related to the title of the blog itself - so if your blog is about wedding favours, don't go suddenly writing posts about grooming dogs.

If you are worried about keyword density, run your page through this free keyword density checker. Each word should come up no more than 5% of the time. If words are occuring more frequently, either go back and edit using synonyms, or add content to the article, as this will dilute the density (that's why long posts work so well!).

Finally make sure your article is unique. I can't emphasise this enough. There is a lot of material online but much of it is regurgitated or "spun". So even if it's not a direct duplicate, it's similar enough for the search engines to discard it, thinking "this doesn't really add to the user experience". So when you are writing, put your best work forward, add unique insights that you have gleaned from experience. Or do real research (using books and libraries) and add that research to your article to give it weight.

If everyone online is simply regurgitating what everyone else is saying online, but you are coming up with stuff that is fresh and unique to the online world (even if your research came out of a reference book), then you have the edge. Of course some people will try to steal your content - so turn your feed off. Most of the thieves are lazy and use feed aggregators to populate their sites. They can't be bothered to go to a site and individually copy and paste (apart from the real amateurs). So turning your feed off should be sufficient protection against plagiarism.

The next post in this series will cover internal dynamic linking.

Friday, 25 September 2009

How Search Engines Work

There are billions of pages on the internet. Possiblly trillions and maybe gazillions. And not all of it is indexed by the search engines (they can't possibly index and store it all, their servers just arn't that powerful).

So what they do is trawl through the web looking for material and then analyse what the material is about. They then have to decide how important the material is and whether to list it in their index or not.

Google, Bing and Yahoo have bots that are constantly out there looking for material. In the parlance, they are "spidering" the web, because like a spider they crawl from one page to another using the links on the page, and when they find a new page, they index it.

In my previous post I mentioned that social media does have uses, it's just not about directly making money. Well we come to the first use of social media - getting your website noticed. The spiders and bots practically live on the social media sites such as Digg and Reddit. So to get your site indexed for the first time, simply submit a page (or get someone else to submit a page) to one of the social sites. You just need to submit one page. That's it. You don't need to spam the social sites with all your material. The bot will crawl from the social media site to your page, and index the page, and then for good measure index your entire site, especially if you have laid it out nicely with dynamic linking (a lesson we will come onto later).

Don't submit your page to search engines (and certainly don't pay to get someone submit your page to search engines). Let the spider find you. Why? Because when the spider finds you, you are just dealing with a bot. If you submit to the search engines, you will be dealing with a human, and a) it will take an age for them to get round to viewing and approving you and b) the only people who submit sites are internet marketers, normal bloggers and webmasters don't - so this send up a flag in the search engine to watch you closely.

What happens once the bot has found and indexed your page? The bot has to try to decide what your page is about. The title is a big clue (titles usually summarize the entire page). Therefore always choose your title carefully, with your main keyword in the title towards the front. Don't be tempted to go for jokey titles or puns that the tabloid newspapers love - the bots have no sense of humour, and won't get the point. And your page won't get found as a result.

Next the bot will try to analyse your content. It will create a matrix listing every single word you have in your article, counting how many times each word comes up. It then eliminates the prepositions and conjunctives (words such as "the", "a", "and" etc, with which we build sentences), and will instead concentrate on the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. In the olden days people used to keyword stuff their pages (i.e. mention their main keyword over and over to make the point). This is not necessary anymore, the search engines have become more sophisticated. They now look for patterns of related words (for instance a post about search engines will usually mention crawling, but won't mention running). You may inadvertantly have several related patterns on your page - the biggest pattern wins, and this is pegged to be what your page is all about, and everything else is discarded. To make things easy for the search engines always write your post to be tightly on topic. Don't confuse the bot by going off on tangents and talking about material that is not relevant to the title of your article.

The next thing the bots do is check whether any other page links to you. The anchor text (the set of words that the hyperlink is anchored onto) also gives them a clue as to what your page is about. The reasoning is simple - the person who is linking to you usually anchors the link on a set of words that summarises your page. Thus the anchor text is a big clue as to what your page is about. Gradually as you get more and more links, a picture is built up by the search engine as to what your page is about and therefore which search results pages they should list you on.

But how do they rank you on the results page? The search engines are looking to deliver the most relevant pages and also the best pages. So they are looking for pages which have the closest match to what the person has typed into the search engine (in terms of what is on the page, the title of the page and the anchor text of links to your page), and of all the pages that have a close match they are trying to work out which is best and then rank them in the results.

How do they work out which is best? They simply use the wisdom of crowds, and the pages with the most links to it are deemed the most popular. They reasoning is that real humans will have read the pages, and real humans will only link to other pages that they find worthwhile and wish to direct their readers to. Nobody willingly links out to rubbish. In fact if you find a link to a poorly written page, chances are very high that the person who created the link also wrote the rubbishy page - and this is how Google engineers catch those who are trying to game the system. They just have to find one rubbish page and track it backwards via the links to it, and then they usually deindex the whole lot - this is also why blackhatting doesn't really work. It's easy for an experienced engineer to track.

Google is actually a hand built search engine, not a machine built one like Yahoo - and this is key to it's success. They have teams of engineers handchecking the most searched for terms and the biggest money niches where the blackhatters congregate, and they will deindex any spam they come across. So for all the talk about the algorithms that search engines use, always build your sites in a way a real human will find useful and valuable, and always remember that real humans include Google engineers who may be inspecting your site and who have the power to deindex you.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Understanding the Buying Cycle

In my previous post about making money online, I mentioned that I had turned off my feed. To the gurus this may seem like heresy. How are you to make money online without faithful readers?

The answer is simple. I'll get my visitors from the search engines. All the money I've made online has come from search engine visitors. They are the most lucrative type of reader. To understand why, you need to understand the Buying Cycle.

What is the Buying Cycle? It's a sequence of thoughts and actions that a customer goes through before they purchase a product.

The first stage of the Buying Cycle is triggered either by need or by interest. The prospect has some sort of problem they need to solve, or they've heard about a product and would like to find out more. A woman who has suddenly discovered an ant infestation in her house, and a middle aged man whose nostalgia has been triggered by the launch of the Beatles Rock Band game are both at this initial stage of the buying cycle. This "Interest" stage is usually triggered either by an urgent problem or by interest stoked by television advertising, product launch buzz or social conversation and excitement about something new.

The next stage is the "Research" Stage. This is when the prospect decides to find out more about how they can solve their problem, or find out more about the item that has triggered their interest. In the past people went into showrooms to browse or window-shop or puchased Which magazine to read the reviews. Now they type the problem or the product into Google to see what comes up. They will typically use words such as "How to..", "Review of..", "Remedy for..", "Cure for..." in the string of words they type into the search engine.

The final point in the cycle is the "Buying" Stage. This is when the prospect has made their decision and are ready to buy. In the past people would wait till payday and then go to the shops and make the purchase. Now they go online to make the purchase, often using credit cards, though some wait till payday. They will either type in the product name directly into the search engine or type in "Buy ..." or "Purchase ..."

As you can see, the scatter gun of television advertising is aimed at people at the start of the buying cycle. Demographic based advertising on platforms such as Facebook also hits people at the start of the buying cycle. And feedburner readers to your site will view ads on it with the "Interest" of the first stage of the buying cycle. Same goes for visitors from the social bookmarking sites.

However search engine users are usually either at the second or at the final stage of the cycle. This is why the Return on Investment for ads on search pages is so much better than traditional ads on television or on newspapers. Your ads are only shown to people actively searching for your niche. The customer is coming to you, you are not having to go out and get them.

Unless you are launching a brand new product and thus need to create Interest and Buzz to trigger the buying cycle in the first place, it makes no sense to focus on social visitors. If you are selling existing established products, you need to concentrate instead on search visitors. And let's be honest, most people making money online are selling existing products, they arn't Apple launching a new version of the iPhone.

Please note I'm not knocking social media. There is value in it (which I'll explain later), it's just the value doesn't lie in making money unless you are launching a product.

The next lessons in this series will cover how search engines work and how to perform search engine optimization on your site.

Alyssa's Guide to Making Money Online

I've been making money online since 2007 - in the beginning it was a lot of hope and big dreams, and not a lot of success. I fell flat on my face over and over before I finally learnt what worked and what didn't.

I'm writing this blog simply because I wanted to share what actually worked. There is so much utter rubbish written about how to make money online - all appended with the words "easy" or "fast".

The truth is that setting up an online business (which is what making money online is about) is not that different from making money offline. It takes a lot of time and effort. The only difference with the offline world is that it doesn't have to take a lot of money - there are lots of free tools and platforms you can use (which I will be explaining on this blog). In fact I recommend you start with the free platforms first, because you will make mistakes in the beginning no matter how great your guide (me!) is. At least with the free platforms all you lose is a bit of time rather than a lot of money. Once you've cracked what works, then go buy yourself a hosted domain and build an authority site.

There is a downside to not having to spend a lot of money to get started online - it means that all 6 billion people on the planet can have a go if they want. In business parlance this is known as a "low barrier to entry". Simply, the lower the barrier the greater the competition. You will be competing with people who have a lot of time but not much money, as well as people who have a lot of money but not much time, and every variation in between. Lots of competition means this is not easy.

But it can be done as long as you stick to the rules, work hard and are in this for the long haul. Please don't be tempted to make shortcuts - these shortcuts work for a month or so, and then you get caught and deindexed, all your work is wasted and you have to start over. So many people spend hours and hours trying to work out how to get round Google - but in the same way that robbing banks is harder work and less lucrative than getting a legitimate job, going black hat is harder and less lucrative than being white hat.

Therefore this is a white hat blog full of legitimate ways of making money online. It will take you longer, but it's worth it.

One final thing - I've turned off my RSS feed. My bete noire in the two years I've been making money online is the scrapers - black hatters who like to use your feed to steal your content. Really it's not worth having a feed. If you like this blog, do things like they did back in 2004 and simply bookmark it (or put a link to it in the sidebar of your blog so you have easy access to it). Is it possible to make money online in the web 2.0 world (or is it web 3.0, I forget) without a feed? Of course, and I'm going to prove it.