You keep asking for it!
So I’m doing this post for those of you who want to learn more about why your website is not ranking for your targeted keywords. I’ll also explain why some people say you need to build backlinks and others say you don’t.
And finally, I’ll update you on my experiment I started in July, 2013 where I built up search traffic without any backlinks at all.
By now, you’ve probably heard or read that if you want to rank on Google, you need backlinks.
A backlink is a link from one site to another. In Google’s eyes, backlinks are votes for your site.
How many you need for worthwhile traffic depends on how competitive the keywords are, the quality of the backlinks you receive and your site’s Domain Authority.
Domain Authority (DA) is a metric that was developed by Moz, and it takes into account domain age, popularity, etc.
If your site’s DA is 90 (the max is 100), it will be much easier for you to rank for a medium or even highly competitive phrase, compared to a site that has a DA of a 30.
I use Long Tail Pro (affiliate link) to check DA because it shows you the values for the top 10 results for any keyword search. It helps you easily gauge how competitive a niche or keyword phrase is.
In the screenshot below, the keyword “healthy grocery list” gets a decent amount of searches per month, BUT look at how high the DAs are for the websites in the top 10. That would be a tough phrase for a new or unpopular site to rank for.
All the DAs are medium to high, and there are no websites ranked in the top 10 with a DA below 40.
You can also check the DA of individual domains for free using this site.
So the reason some of you are struggling with organic Google traffic is you are going after keywords you will never, ever be able to compete with because your site’s authority is too low and you’re targeting keywords that are too competitive.
Sean Has Had It and Is Now Building Backlinks
Now let’s talk about getting backlinks. Should you build them? What about earning them naturally over time?
Website Babble member, Seanguy is changing his approach. He’s tired of working hard on his content and seeing new competitors with lower quality content rise above him in the search results. He concluded through research that they are building links manually.
Building backlinks means you seek out ways to get people to link to your site instead of letting it naturally happen over time. This could mean you email other site owners and ask them for a link to your site on their research page or create an Infographic and ask other bloggers to link to it.
There are many ways people build links and Sean is on a mission.
So he created a very honest post on the forum back in August about how he is going to start building backlinks because he believes that’s the only way he is going to compete.
Many of you know I’m not a fan of this approach, but I can also understand why people resort to it. It’s super frustrating to see websites with lower quality content outranking you.
After all, the search engines are bots. They aren’t humans. So they will never get it 100% right with regards to ranking websites.
How many of you are frustrated with your competitors like Seanguy?
Choosing Long Tail Keywords Require Fewer/No Backlinks
I can tell you from experience that you can build traffic without manually building links if you go after long tail keywords.
It doesn’t work as well as it did years ago, but well enough to make what I call “passive side money” without building backlinks.
A long tail keyword is a very specific phrase that gets searched for much less than a more competitive one. So if you have a site about weight loss, a keyword like “how to lose weight” is too competitive due to the number of monthly searches and the big brands ranking in the top 10.
But a long tail keyword like “how to lose weight drinking tea” is more specific and less competitive. So the idea is you methodically write posts that target less competitive phrases.
I attended a webinar recently and one guy said he only goes after keywords that get searched for less than 100 times per month, and his site consistently gets 2,000 visits per day using this method.
So even though you may only get 5 visits per day from these keywords, they are much easier to rank for, and if you repeat the process across multiple keywords, the traffic adds up over time.
So that’s all fine and good, but the argument to this approach is many of these keywords you can rank for today are not “money keywords” – meaning they don’t generate traffic that easily converts into sales.
A valid argument indeed, but this strategy is still worth implementing.
I WOULD NOT SUGGEST BUILDING YOUR PRIMARY SOURCE OF INCOME THIS WAY.
My SEO Experiment With The Long Tail
You may remember my experiment I started back in July of 2013, where I was able to build traffic up to 500 uniques per day in about 6 months. I didn’t manually build backlinks. I just wrote keyword-focused content.
I made the site anonymous to keep the stats pure, and even created a separate Google Analytics account just to make sure the nothing I have currently done will influence the ranking in any way. (At the time, Google Authorship was still live and kickin so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have anything linked to my sites.) I didn’t even use AdSense.
It took me about 6 months to rank on page 1 (position #7) for my main seed word. The traffic peaked in January, 2015 at 800 visitors per day, but as you’ll see below, it didn’t last.
That traffic may not sound very impressive, but if you take into account that I put in a total of 10 hours (mostly in the first 2 months), it’s not too shabby. I just wish I had chosen a niche I was more interested in. The results would have probably been more impressive because I’d have more content.
I did outsource content for a few months on TextBroker just to keep traffic up, but stopped earlier this year.
That site still exists and is getting around 400 unique visitors per day, and still generating passive affiliate income. I only added one article this year, which is no doubt a reason for the big dip in traffic. Most of the content was added in 2013 and 2014.
Here’s a screenshot of the traffic to the site starting in July 2013 to now.
That surge in traffic you see at the very beginning of the graph in August 2013 was something I was trying with Pinterest and Pinwoot. DON’T GO TO PINWOOT. I just tried to pull it up and got a Norton warning. Yikes!
Since I wasn’t building backlinks I wanted to try something with social media just to get the site on the map. I earned credits on Pinwoot by sharing other people’s content on Pinterest. In return, other people shared mine. So the traffic was coming from that Pinwoot experiment.
As you can see it took a good 6-7 months (January 2014) for the Google traffic to pick up. That’s a lesson in why you don’t give up after 2-3 months. It takes time!
I will probably have my V.A. (virtual assistant) start updating the site regularly again because the income is worth keeping the site around. As you can imagine, the earnings have dropped off with the decrease in traffic.
This was the first site where I methodically created content with SEO in mind on every page. It felt a little weird and robotic because I normally choose content based on interest, not keywords, and let the ranking chips fall where they may.
I understand why people do keyword research before writing content, but geez it is incredibly tedious! I’ve never been a fan of doing all the research. I just want to write and forget about keywords! 🙂
But since this was an experiment, I decided to be more deliberate with my approach.
Why Link Building Stories & SEO Advice Varies So Much
You may have read stories about people (like me) building traffic without fussing with backlinks. On the flip side, some people will tell you that you MUST build them. It’s often an ongoing part of their site upkeep.
So why the inconsistent advice and suggestions across the Web about backlinks?
There are many reasons…
- Some people get lucky and have an interest in niches that don’t require as many backlinks due to low competition. So they take a topic and run with it.
- People get into a niche early before it gets too crowded.
- Some are just insanely creative/useful with their content, videos, social media, etc. and have no problem getting followers and links naturally. They don’t need to build backlinks.
- Others really take time to do the research and understand how the long tail works. They strategically choose niches and select keywords for each article very carefully.
And here’s a big reason link building stories vary: I’ve learned through my own experience that certain niches are more sharable.
What I mean is the people in the niche are on social media more and sharing happens more frequently. I’ve found this to be true with visual topics like hair, makeup, fashion, beauty, etc. It’s just the nature of the topics. Not all niches have that advantage.
The site in my experiment did not have that advantage, but when you choose the right keywords, you can rank without backlinks.
So yes, opinions vary for many different reasons. Someone like me is going to tell you to not to build backlinks because I’ve had moderate success. Obviously my opinion is greatly influenced by my own experiences.
Your Expectations & Goals Matter Too
How much traffic and income are you seeking and what do you define as success? This will also influence your outlook. Is 500 visits per day enough? Are you looking to live off the income?
I was very satisfied with my experiment results given the minimal time invested. I never expected to make a living with these kinds of sites in 2015.
So if you’re looking to make significant long-term income, then you may have a different perspective on all this.
Where Do You Stand?
I was wondering how many of you feel like Seanguy and have given up on the “build and they will come” philosophy for SEO? Or do you even care about SEO anymore?
I’m also posting this to gauge interest in videos on understanding how to use the long tail with Long Tail Pro (affiliate link). You don’t need this software for research, but it speeds up the research process for keyword selection.
When I make suggestions for products people need to make money online, I often categorize them in two ways: necessities and luxuries. Paid hosting, in my opinion, is a necessity. Long Tail Pro would fall in the Luxury category.
If you can afford it, grab it. If you can’t, use free tools like The Google Keyword Planner. You just won’t get the additional info about competition (domain authority, backlinks, etc).
I get the sense a lot of you have given up on SEO (search engine optimization) and have opted to focus more on diversification through podcasting, social media, live streaming, YouTube, etc. No doubt that’s the best approach for sustainable success, but some of you may still focus on SEO.
No matter how much I preach about traffic diversification, there are always people who simply want to focus on Google traffic.
That’s your right, and I get why it’s so desirable. It can lead to a lot of passive income, but it comes with huge risks if that’s the ONLY way you plan to build traffic.
Where do you stand with all this? Are you also frustrated with not being able to rank? Are you noticing your competitors building backlinks? Or have you moved away from SEO?