[INFOGRAPHIC] How Google Slowly Killed the Long Tail Keyword

It isn’t too often that I see an infographic that is spot on, but this infographic on how Google diminished the effectiveness of long-tail keywords hits the nail on the head. Having made a very nice income in the past focusing exclusively on organic traffic from Google, I saw first hand how each move by Google slowly killed the traffic from long-tail keywords.

The credit for this infographic goes to SEOBook for a job well done.

SyllabusCentral passes 14,000 members: Lessons Learned

Back in July of 2008 I co-founded a website called SyllabusCentral. The idea behind SyllabusCentral was simple – create a platform that makes it super easy for professors and students to post, update, and view syllabi online.

SyllabusCentral currently has over 13,200 members and is adding about 20-30 new members a day. The site generates about 8,000 unique visitors per month and about 94% of those visitors come directly from search engines. The average visitor spends a little over a minute on the SyllabusCentral and will view a little over 3.5 pages.

THINGS WE DID RIGHT

1.) Outsourced document hosting to Scribd

When you are building a start-up it is important to understand that you can’t do everything. When you try to do too much, quality will suffer and you will have done a lot of things just okay. One of the cool things about creating a start-up today is that you don’t have to build every new technology in-house. One of the key decisions we made with SyllabusCentral was to outsource all our document hosting (in our case syllabi hosting) to a third-party service called Scribd. Through Scribd’s API, we were able to use their document hosting and viewing service to do things like convert a Microsoft Word document into an embeddable format that was easy to work with and provided our users a great user experience. If we had tried to develop this technology in-house, it would have taken us months and the end product wouldn’t have been nearly as good as Scribd’s solution.

2.) Focused on SEO

A decision we made early when designing the architecture for SyllabusCentral was to have a maniacal focus on search engine optimization (SEO). We knew that we had a significant opportunity to drive a lot of free search engine traffic though organic rankings since long-tail keywords like professor names, class names, and school names with the word “syllabus” appended to them had little competition and lots of searches.

3.) Made it super easy to upload syllabi

If you can make your website easy-to-use, you dramatically increase your odds of success. This is one of the things we did really well. One example of this is using Scribd as our document hosting and embedding solution. Traditionally, it was very difficult to view Microsoft Word documents on the Web. You either had to download the document to view a document, and even then sometimes you wouldn’t have the right version of Microsoft Word or the user uploading the document would have had to convert it into a PDF, which for the average internet user isn’t an easy task. With SyllabusCentral, all our users had to do was browse any file on their desktop and they would then be able to view the syllabus right in their browser regardless of the file type. Back in 2008 there were very few websites using this technology, so it was a competitive advantage for us.

4.) Made it super easy to request a syllabus from a professor

The other thing we did that was innovative was to make it super easy to request a syllabus if a syllabus wasn’t already on the website. All a visitor had to do was enter the professor’s email address and the class that they would like to get the syllabus for. We’d then send the professor an email that came from SyllabusCentral notifying the professor that one of their students has requested that they upload a syllabus to the site. All the professor would then have to do is click a link, browse the syllabus on their computer, and click “upload”. The entire process from start-to-finish would take no more than 30 seconds.

5.) We served a need in the marketplace

Finally, SyllabusCentral was serving a real need in the marketplace. At the time, the idea for SyllabusCentral was solving my own need. As a college student at the time, I thought to myself that wouldn’t it be nice to be able to view the course syllabus while picking classes and have it so that you could order your textbooks online in advance of the first day of classes. When I searched online, I found that a similar site did not exist, so I decided to fill this void in the market. Today, 94% of our traffic is from student searching for syllabi online.

LESSONS LEARNED

1.) Chicken or the egg

In order to attract visitors to SyllabusCentral, we needed an extensive library of syllabi. But in order to build an extensive library with thousands of syllabi, we needed thousands of visitors to upload syllabi. This was the problem of the chicken or the egg. How do other companies solve this problem? Usually with money, which unfortunately for us was something that we didn’t have access to at them time. Had we had some money to spend on hiring cheap labor to find and upload syllabi all day, we probably would have been able to reach a tipping point where we had enough syllabi on the site to make it extremely useful. Hitting this critical mass is crucial for any start-up.

2.) Monetization

Monetization is a big buzz (or taboo) word in the start-up world. While SyllabusCentral had a solid plan to monetize the site, it required a large and active community to execute. The eventual model was to have students viewing syllabi weeks in advance of classes starting. If we could establish this behavior, then we’d be able to automatically scan the syllabi for an ISBN# of the textbook for that class and offer the student a price comparison of the textbook of that class. The student would then be able to order the textbook, have it arrive in time for classes, and save a couple hundred dollars per semester in the process. Sounds good, right? If only SyllabusCentral reached the critical mass to make this a viable business model…

3.) Think big, but start small

When we started SyllabusCentral, we had high expectations for the site. Right away we tried to conquer the world. Looking back, this was probably a mistake. A more strategic approach would have been to smart small, prove out the business model, and then slowly expand. Had we focused on 3-5 schools from the start and focused on really making those schools successful by establishing a large library of syllabi and a strong user base, we would have then felt more comfortable investing more money into the business and expanding to additional schools.

4.) Have a solid marketing plan in mind

Promoting a new idea is never easy. Right away we realized it was going to be very difficult to acquire new members at a low cost. We knew we’d have to rely on word-of-mouth and organic search engine traffic in order to really grow the business. While organic search engine traffic has been great, we never reached the critical mass of syllabi on the site in order to really get the word-of-mouth engine going. If you are starting a business, make sure you have a solid plan to acquire members at a low cost. If you have a capital intensive marketing model, you will need to have a high lifetime value of a member in order to justify every marketing dollar you spend.

5.) Cyclical businesses can be difficult

One of the things that made it really difficult to identify trends and adapt the site accordingly was the fact that students typically only register for classes two times a year usually around November and then again in April. This made things difficult because if we wanted to test a new idea we’d basically have one shot to get it right, and if we got it wrong, we’d have to wait another 4-6 months to test it again. While this type of business is nice in that it is very exciting two times a year, it can be frustrating in that you don’t get that slow steady growth with continuous tweaking and improvement.

The personal blog IS the new resume

If you haven’t read the article titled How to Make an Absolute Fortune From Your Blog (Really) by @ProBlogger then please, go read it now.

Darren Rowse declares “I want you to use your personal blog as a launch pad for your dream career. The personal blog is the new resume of the revolutionary.” When I read this, I couldn’t agree more.

He goes on to write, “The revolution is new, but the revolution is real. I invite you to leave the confines of the box everyone lives in and be a revolutionary.”

Please stay tuned to my blog, I have some exciting stuff planned in this area. It is my goal to revolutionize the way students and graduates think about finding jobs and defining their careers.

#1 Way to SEO a WordPress Blog

WordPress Blogs on their own are extremely search engine friendly. Within minutes of publishing a post you can get a listing in Google. Because of this WordPress is extremely valuable in generating traffic and building your business. If you are just a casual blogger that does not know too much about search engine optimization (SEO) there is one extremely important and beneficial way to optimize your blog posts for the search engines.

#1 Way to SEO Your WordPress Blog

By default WordPress does not optimize your URLs for the search engines. Look at the URL of one of your blog posts. It might look like http://www.andrewnadeau.com/?p=329. The problem with this URL is the ?p=329 part. Google gives extra weight to pages that have the main keywords in the URL, so as a blogger you are missing out on huge brownie points from Google by not optimizing your URLs. For example, the URL for this blog post is http://andrewnadeau.com/1-way-to-seo-a-wordpress-blog. Google will give extra weight, and therefore rank my page higher in their results, for anyone searching “SEO a WordPress Blog” or a combination of those keywords.

How to SEO Your WordPress Blog’s URLs

In your WordPress Admin Panel click on “Settings”, “Permalinks”, and then click the “Custom Structure” radio button. In the “Custom Structure” you will want to type /%postname%/ and you are done. It is really that easy to do. WordPress will now automatically convert your blog post URLs to URLs that are optimized for the search engines.

Search Engine Optimization: Worry About Your Content

If you asked someone what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was 3 to 5 years ago they would have given you an answer similar to this one…

“SEO is making sure your title, meta, alt, and h1 tag all have your main keyword in them and that you have an optimal keyword density on your page.”

Three years ago I would have agreed with this statement 100%.  Three years ago I was able to get a top ranking in Google and Yahoo within 24 hours by simply following the simple formula above.  But the problem was it was too easy to manipulate these on-page characteristics and game the search engines for top rankings.  This naturally lead to a lot of spam websites in the search engine rankings.

In response to this spam problem the search engines had to change their ranking algorithms to focus on off-page factors as opposed to on-page factors.  This meant that on-page factors like your meta keywords would be weighted significantly less in the search engines and off-page factors like the number of authoritative websites that link to you (called backlinks) would be weighted significantly more.  This meant that the days of simply putting up a page that had good on-page SEO and getting traffic through organic search engine listings were over.

Now the major search engines like Google focus more on factors like:

  • How many backlinks does your website have?
  • Are these backlinks from credible and authoritative sources?
  • What anchor text are these external websites using to link to your website?
  • How old is your domain name?
  • How long until your domain name expires?
  • How much traffic does your website receive?
  • How long do visitors stay on your website?
  • What is the bounce rate of the traffic the search engines are sending you?

You might have noticed a trend with the factors that the search engines are now using to rank websites in their results.  The trend is in using factors that are difficult to manipulate.  It is tough to manipulate the age of your domain name or the number of external websites that are linking to you.  Another trend with these factors is that they all relate back to having quality content.  Google’s job is to help its users find what they are looking for when searching.  If a searcher clicks on a search result and then immediately hits the “back” button then obviously they did not find what they were searching for.  This is known as a “bounce” and Google will take note of this and lower that search engine result on the results page.  The way for a webmaster to lower their bounce rate is to create quality content.

So how do you get other websites to link to you?  Create quality content.  How does a webmaster increase the time visitors stay on their page?  Create quality content.  How do you receive a lot of traffic?  Create quality content so the visitor keeps coming back to your website.

The point I am trying to make is that SEO is becoming less about on-page SEO and more about just creating quality content that benefits the user.  If you create quality content then the rest of the SEO should take care of itself.  Yes, you still need to do all of the on-page SEO, but on-page SEO is becoming the standard now and will not get your website to rank on its own.