Stories about Software


Link Building for Non-Scumbags: Build Authority Without Being Awful

(Editorial note: I originally published this on Hit Subscribe, and am going to gradually 301 the rest of the SEO/digital marketing content over there, where it makes more editorial sense.  But I’ll keep cross-posting it here, if it seems like might be relevant to this audience.  I’ll also keep posting miscellaneous rants and thoughts for indies and techies here.)

If the title here seems aggressive, my hope is that you’ll empathize with me by the time you’re done reading.

Throughout this post, I’m going to post screenshots of link building outreach I’ve received over the years.  They’re not going to be relevant to the flow of the post, per se.  Instead, I’m going to invite you on a walk with me through a digital garden of spam while I explain how to earn yourself backlinks without being terrible or hiring someone else to be terrible on your behalf.

You see, these screenshots represent how most link building outfits operate.  And they’re just the tip of the iceberg of what I receive—just the ones funny enough to save.

Link Building: What It Is, Briefly

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say link building, let’s start simply.  What is link building?

Well, for SEO purposes, the more links you have from other sites to yours, the more search engines like your site, and they’ll rank your content accordingly.  So link building is an activity wherein you specifically “encourage” the world to link to your site, through a variety of tactics.  These tactics run the gamut from “create interesting content that people want to link” to “hack into some poor blogger’s WordPress instance and insert 40 million links before someone kicks you out and has you arrested.”

The Link Building State of the Art

Sadly, the state of the art in link building looks a lot more like the latter than the former.

Aw, you don’t have to visit if you don’t want to, Tony Montana, but if you do, please say hello to my little friend.

If you go out and google link building, I’m sure you’ll hear from the world’s top SEO tool vendors.  And I’m also sure that—caveated with appropriate cautions not to leverage underhanded, “black hat SEO” tactics and that the best approach is earning links via “good” content—they’ll encourage you to undertake an extremely outreach- (read: spam-) heavy approach, such as:

  1. Create a throwaway gmail address because boy are people going to report what you’re doing as spam.
  2. Create an email template wherein you beg for links or else mendaciously tell recipients that it’s in their best interest to link to you.
  3. Unleash that email template onto the blogosphere, like a firehose taking out a few butterflies on some flowers.
  4. If that doesn’t work, just try to bribe people.
  5. In parallel to all of that, offer filler content with links to your site as a guest post for other sites.
  6. If that doesn’t work, try to sneak content with links onto various sites.
  7. As a last resort, also bribe them to publish the filler content.

As you might imagine, these tactics yield a low success rate.  And that means the only way to make them succeed is to execute them at incredibly high volume and low cost.

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Every Billable Hour is Amateur Hour

I know a bunch of you already have your pitchforks out, so let me start out by establishing some goalposts for my premise.  When I’m done, you may still want to skewer me, but at least it’ll be for the right reasons, if you do.

Through the rest of the post, I’m going to draw a distinction between amateurishness at craft, and amateurishness at business.  Understanding my premise hinges on understanding that someone (a technician, in particular) can simultaneously be a craft professional and a business amateur.

Oh, and incidentally, I’m not overloading the definition of amateur — I’m using it in the most literal sense.

1. Taking part in an activity for pleasure and not as a job, or (of an activity) done for pleasure and not as a job

2. Someone who lacks skill in doing something

Professional Craftsperson, Amateur Business Owner

For ease of illustration, let’s imagine someone following my own career arc.  This person spends years employed as a technician.  In my case, a software engineer.

This person, in their salaried capacity, becomes a professional, non-amateur, generalist software engineer.  Specifically, they become professional at maintaining a generalized, diverse skillset that allows another party (the employer) to deploy them in a wide variety of ad hoc situations.

The professional software engineer becomes agnostic about things like tech stacks, implementation particulars, and, crucially, business outcomes.  They hyper-optimize for versatility and feature shipping efficiency, abdicating on any true study of the business, beyond off-the-cuff opinions (“this feature is stupid, no one will buy this.”)

Now let’s assume this software engineer decides to hang out a shingle as a freelancer.  Almost without exception, this launches them into a pupal state between employee and business owner.  They become amateur business owners.

You can recognize this by the continued focus on matters of technician craft and navel gazing about how they work, rather than for whom or why.  They continue to abdicate on business outcomes for their clients, even though delivering client/customer outcomes is the absolute backbone of business professionalism.

So this formerly professional craftsperson becomes an amateur business owner.  And the billable hour is, quite literally, the currency of amateur business ownership.

Every hour they bill is thus an amateur hour.

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Don’t Throw “Consulting Services” Onto Your Website

It’s been a decent run banging out my SEO for Non-Scumbags series, even if there might well have been an audience mismatch.  I had fun with those, but they were fairly trade and theory heavy.  And I’ve found that kind of discouraged me from my writing habit as a whole.

So, if only for today, I’m going to dust that habit off and resume ranting to whoever happens by, like some kind of internet busker.

Today’s topic is on my mind, both because I did a livestream Q&A about it (it’ll be up on the Hit Subscribe Youtube channel in the coming weeks), but also because I see it everywhere whenever I’m poking around freelancer or small, boutique service provider websites.

What I’m Talking About: We Do Labor and Consulting

If you can’t picture what I mean, I’ll default to a hypothetical custom app dev shop for example.  If you hover over their “services” menu on their website, you’ll see a list like this:

  • Custom WordPress Website Builds
  • Monthly Site Maintenance
  • Custom Plugin Development
  • WordPress API Integrations
  • WordPress Consulting

Emphasis mine.  (Well, I mean, of course it is, this is a hypothetical I made up, not a quote.)

The service provider enumerates a series of different kinds of labor they will sell you, and then, almost invariably at the bottom, they’ll throw in that they also offer consulting.

This is what I’m saying you shouldn’t do.

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Keyword Research Case Studies: Glossaries

My quest to document content campaigns and their keyword research tactics lurches on today.  For this particular installment, I’m going to document one we (Hit Subscribe) have been doing a lot lately: the glossary.

In case you haven’t been following my rather halting process, this is another addendum post to the SEO for Non-Scumbags series.

Glossary Campaigns: A Quick Definition

As with tool user campaigns, glossary campaigns lend themselves pretty well to an elevator pitch.  Create a glossary of terms relevant to your brand and publish a “post” for each term.

I put post in quotes because I tend to think of these as glossary entries, rather than blog posts, even if the mechanism through which you publish them is a blog CMS.  It’s like you’re building a specific, niche wiki on your site.

The glossary should, ideally, have a jump page with quick definitions and links, and then URLs for each individual entry, ideally with “glossary” baked into the URL.  InfluxData does this perfectly, with a glossary jump page and then pages like this one, about columnar databases.  Notice the URL scheme with “glossary” (influxdata.com/glossary/) for the main page and then satellite pages that extend that page (influxdata.com/glossary/columnardb).

Glossary campaigns limit themselves to nouns (what is it searches) by their nature.  As a result, segmentation is quite loose — it’s just anyone curious what the term means.

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Keyword Research Case Studies: Tool-User Campaigns

Hola amigos.  It’s been a long time since I last rapped at ya‘.  (If you know what that’s from, we’re buddies for life)

Today I’ve got another installment of the addendum to my “SEO for Non-Scumbags” series.  In this series-within-a-series, I’m walking in detail through applied keyword research tactics.  This may pickup steam, too, because we’re starting to teach clients to do this, instead of just our staff.

At any rate, today I’m going to talk about tool-user campaigns.  Like the last type of campaign, “ownership,” tool-user campaigns are pretty straightforward to execute.

Tool-User Campaigns: A Quick Definition

In a sense, this content ideation tactic is as simple as “if it’s about {tool}, let’s create a post about it.”  You’re essentially looking for winnable keywords with volume that contain a specific term, where that term is a tool.

From a segmentation perspective, you’re reasoning that there’s a pretty good chance anyone googling that tool would make a good user or customer.  Or, at the very least, someone you want to reach.

For instance, Architect makes a continuous delivery platform, aimed to make life easier for developers doing devops-y things.  So if they create a piece of content about using the Terraform K8s provider, they’re basically saying “we’re assuming that if someone is using and Googling Terraform (or K8s), it’s probably someone we want on our site.”

A tool-user campaign is when a site works a steady diet of content like that (targeting users of a tool, generally with tutorials).

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