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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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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Keyword Research Case Studies: Ownership Campaigns

I’d wrapped the core part of the SEO for Non-Scumbags series by poisoning the idea of content-creation-as-art with art’s natural, mortal enemy: ROI.  For this reason, I thought folks might not take me up on my tepid call to action of “I may do more stuff, if anyone wants.”

Turns out, against all odds, some of you do want.

So I’m going to make that happen, both to give the people what they want and also to opportunistically teach some of our staff to do keyword research.  Toward that latter end, I’ll structure this as an appendix to the original content, with shorter vignettes corresponding to specific keyword research tactics.

Today, I’ll do the most straightforward one: ownership campaigns.

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Reasoning About and Projecting SEO Content ROI

Hello folks.  And thanks for sticking with me as I continue my relentless assault on any remaining soul I have yet to suck out of content creation.  I’ll try to finish it off today.

And there’s no better way to do that than to start talking about return on investment (ROI).  Return on investment is amount that you wind up reaping (or losing) from a given investment of money or labor.

There are two main ways to think of ROI for SEO-minded content:

  • Comparing the ROI (or cost) of SEO campaigns to that of other lead acquisition tactics, measuring relative ROI.
  • Reasoning directly about the revenue (well, profit, really) generated by your SEO-minded content efforts.

I’m going to dive into both extensively.  But first, let’s take a detour through some business terms and some extremely opinionated takes on digital marketing metrics.

How Should We Measure a Content Program? (Hint: There is a Right Answer)

For my money, one of the most surreal questions that I see when DevRels or content marketers get together and talk shop is a simple one.

What’s a good metric for the success of a content program?

This seems both innocuous and like a good question.  But here’s what I hear when someone asks that:

What’s a good cardinal direction to drive in?  I’m a south kind of guy, but I’ve been hearing a lot of good things lately about northeast.

Both questions are kind of absurd, because both beg the contextual question of “what are you trying to do / where are you going?”  Metrics and tactics both are meaningless absent articulated goals.

If DevRels and content marketing managers are asking this question as a matter of shop, someone in the org chart above them has faceplanted in setting them up for success.  Nobody should need to flail around aimlessly for a success metric or a driving direction.

Luckily, however, unlike “which direction should I drive,” there is a universally right answer about how to measure the success of a commercial content program.  You measure that with the relationship between customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer profitability.  This is your return on investment in the purest form: how much profit do you realize from spending money or time on content?

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