All Posts by Tommy

 

A Six-Figure Side Project: 2017 Update

Before doing anything, watch the video above! ūüėā

So, the blog post below was originally written in December 2014.

It later became the premise for the video above, a talk I gave at SumoCon, a conference put on by Noah Kagan’s Sumo.com¬†in September 2016, in Austin, Texas.

There have been a few updates to the story since then. The biggest is that I recently left Airbnb to work full-time on ClickMinded.

Crazy, right?

ClickMinded is a search engine optimization training course, designed to teach businesses how to drive more customers to their website as quickly as possible.

We have been hard at work¬†re-doing, re-branding and re-launching everything related to ClickMinded and I’m super pumped about it.

Anyways, here’s the post in its entirety, slightly refreshed and updated for the modern era. You can either watch the video above (easier and more fun) or read below (stupid and boring and not as fun).

Don’t want to do either? Just want to try out the course for free? Nice:

 

Anyways, here we go:

—————-

ClickMinded is the¬†SEO training course I’ve been working on for the last 5 years. ¬†It’s been a side project for most of that time, up until two months ago when I quit my job to work on it full-time.

A few years ago, it crossed over the six-figure revenue mark and started bringing in more than my annual salary, managing SEO at Airbnb.

It has grown even more, since.

I’ve gotten lots of questions about how all this happened. The short answer is that it was messy AF.

Here’s how it went down.

Who is this guy?

I lived in San Francisco for 6 years before recently leaving. I moved to the bay area in 2011 to manage SEO at PayPal. Two years later, I left to work on SEO at Airbnb.

If it’s not obvious yet,¬†I love SEO. More specifically, I really enjoy the puzzle that SEO is. Trying to make¬†a particular document the most relevant on the web for a specific query, relative to competitors, is a fascinating process. It’s a lot of fun for me.

I’ve had a number of side projects throughout college and into my 20’s. ClickMinded definitely isn’t the first attempt, but it’s certainly the one I’ve put the most heart and energy into.

My Dreamhost account is a graveyard of domain names that are the byproduct of 1-day idea seizures.

I’m sure this personality type isn’t alien to entrepreneurial-minded people. What I want to point out is that I wasn’t really able to succeed until I stopped having lots of ideas all the time and started to focus on just one.

With that said, I wouldn’t have ever stumbled upon ClickMinded if I wasn’t constantly moving from one idea to the next. So there’s a balance there, I guess. I think the key is to aggressively think through different problems, and¬†when you’ve found something that you’re more passionate about than anything else, drop everything and push on it as hard as you can.

The early days of ClickMinded

Towards the end of 2011, I had¬†asked if I could lead¬†one of the monthly marketing¬†classes that were open for anyone to teach at PayPal. The entire marketing org was obligated, once a month, to “refine their marketing skills” and learn about a subject they generally¬†knew nothing about. I put together a 2-hour “Introduction to SEO” course with a colleague of mine, and it went really well.

I got really good feedback on it. Specifically, I was told multiple times I made a previously uninteresting topic, interesting. The good reviews were a catalyst for me to ask my boss if it was cool if I started teaching SEO classes on the weekends to startups in San Francisco. He said it was okay, but asked me to check in with the eBay legal team first, to see if there was a conflict of interest.

I was super nervous about checking in with them and put off writing the email for much longer than I should have. What if they say no? I would be destroyed and would kick myself for not just going for it without asking for buy-in. I wrote and re-wrote it multiple times. It took me about 5 days to write 3 paragraphs. I was¬†really sweating this one. After sending it, I got an email back in about 10 minutes, one line, that said: “sounds like it’s not a problem”.

I bring this up because this seems to be one of the first big things that hold people back from starting side projects while they’re working full time. Most of the people I’ve met doing¬†a side project outside of their work tend to immediately view themselves as traitorous. My bias is, you shouldn’t be all that worried about it. There are definitely real, actual conflicts of interest out there in the world. If what you’re working on isn’t, and it’s starting to get traction, then let the¬†right people know and stop letting it hang over you. Many¬†of the people I’ve met trying to get a side project going are far more secretive than they need to be about whatever it is they’re working on.

After getting the okay, my back-of-the-napkin plan was:

  • Rent space at a co-working venue in San Francisco
  • Charge $500 per student for¬†an all-day class, maximum 5 students
  • Teach the fundamentals of SEO¬†and give students specific feedback on their sites

The first version of the site was pretty simple:

 

clickminded-old-01

 

Initially, my plan for customer acquisition was, obviously, SEO. But as any practitioner of SEO knows, results can take time. So the chicken and egg problem while I waited for my search rankings to go up, was how to get users for an SEO class, without SEO?

To get started, I went old-school, the same way you’d start mowing lawns or babysitting. I started¬†printing out flyers with pull tabs on them that had my website URL. I burned a vacation day at¬†work and walked around the city all day, papering most of the FiDi, North Beach, the Marina, SOMA and the Mission with flyers.

Not a huge surprise, but this didn’t work at all.
clickminded-old-flyer

Surprisingly, this was the moment where a bunch of my friends said they knew ClickMinded was going to succeed, regardless of the fact that it seemed like a stupid way to acquire new users. I was told that everyone has ideas, but not everyone has followed through.

 

As mentioned earlier, the video is way better! Just watch it instead of reading:

 

Want to see the dumpster fire for yourself? Start the course for free:

A hidden gem: Meetup.com 

Next, I setup a meetup group, The San Francisco SEO Meetup.

I didn’t exactly have a plan in starting this group, but it felt like something would happen if I gave it a shot.¬† This ended up being absolutely crucial in getting the initial traction I needed for my class.

The formula for my meetup group success was:

  • Setup a Meetup group ($72 for 6 months). In your first few days of existence, Meetup automatically emails¬†members they think would be interested in your group based on the categories you set. I¬†shot up to ~100 members in the first 3 days.
  • Create your fist event. I had success with happy hours on Wednesdays or Thursdays at 7pm. Call different bars and restaurants, and tell a manager that you intend on bringing¬†~30 people, and you’d like a discount or a space to hold the event.
  • Email other Meetup group owners telling them your¬†new group exists, you’re having an event, and you’d love for them to come as well as announce the event to their members.
  • Setup another event 4-8 weeks out the minute your event finishes. The key is to let the future event exist for a long time as an “upcoming event”. While it’s listed as an upcoming event, you’ll add dozens of new members that are looking for¬†meetups happening soon, rather than looking for a¬†group to join. Make sure your settings are configured so that¬†the user has to join your group in order to join the event (both of which, should be free).

This will effectively give you a mailing list that grows pretty quickly.

Minimum Viable Course

Once I had a substantial meetup group of people that were all interested in SEO and online marketing, I set up an event at a coworking space in San Francisco and did a deal with them to hold an event there.

I had three goals: force myself to finalize the class, get feedback on making it better and get five 5-star yelp reviews.

I had no intention of charging attendees. With that said, the key to getting people to show up was not to ask them¬†to come to a free event but to give them a free pass¬†to an expensive event. I set up an Eventbrite, set a price of¬†$100, and then emailed my meetup group saying “Hey, I’m holding this event, it’s an all day Saturday course. It’s normally $100, but it’s free for the first 15 people that¬†email me. Let me know”.

In the last 30 seconds of the course, I thanked everyone for coming and mentioned that I was looking for 2 things in return: feedback and Yelp reviews. Then I did one more email follow up after the event, asking again for the same thing.

In doing this, I accomplished all of my goals. I finished my course, I got tons of great feedback on it and I had four 5-star yelp reviews. It was enough to give it a shot. Armed with a few good yelp reviews and a minimally viable class, I walked into Parisoma, another coworking space in San Francisco, and asked them if they ever hosted tech class meetups. They said it sounded interesting. We agreed on a rev share, and I had a date set for my first class.

A large portion of revenue derived from ClickMinded over the last 3 years was via some type of revenue share. Whenever I mention this to friends, I’ll often get a response like:

  • “What a rip-off”
  • “50%? For what??”
  • “I’m sure you could’ve gotten a better deal. I have a friend who….”

What I found through this process, is that the % of revenue shared is almost the last consideration for me now. Much more important is the platform and the expected number of users, especially when you’re new.

After agreeing with Parisoma to do a course at their facility, they added the event to their weekly email. Cass Phillipps from Web Wallflower, a bay area events mailing list, instantly picked it up and sent it out in her next email. All of a sudden, I had my first 3 customers.
Those first 3 paying customers were definitely the hardest.

Once that was done, I entered into a new rev-share arrangement with SpherePad.¬†This was another key agreement because I realized early on that flexible rev-shares (where I could book a room up to a day beforehand) were much less risky than setting a date and paying up front. If I didn’t find students, I was on the hook for it, and it was incredibly stressful to try to continually find new students right as I was starting. It made more sense for me to give a little more of the income away in exchange for not being on the hook for renting a room out for a day when no students signed up.

This continued for approximately 3 months.  I held 9 classes, with class sizes ranging from 1 to 4, all at $500 per person.

Eventually, I was contacted via Twitter by Samir Housri, from Rho Ventures in New York.

Samir

Samir¬†said that if I’m ever on the east coast and holding a class, I should let him know. Having never met someone at a VC firm, and being absolutely star-struck that he would ever reach out to me, I made up a reason to go to the east coast, contacted WeWork NYC¬†and held a training course there.

He came, along with a few other students that WeWork promoted the class to, including a guy from¬†TED. ¬†Meeting Samir was awesome, and we’re still in touch.

The transition to online

One of the other results of the Meetup group was that a student from HULT, an international graduate school in San Francisco, came to a happy hour. He was part of a digital marketing club on campus and asked if I wanted to come to one of his classes and give a talk on SEO. I said sure.

Crucially, after finishing my presentation, a student raised her hand and said “Have you ever heard of Udemy?¬†You should put your class on there.”¬†This was the turning point in the life of ClickMinded.

At the end of the talk, I asked if anyone would be interested in doing an internship, and a number of hands shot up. I later emailed all the students with a long summary of what I was looking for in a summer internship and had a bunch of people apply.
I ended up turning this internship into what would become the first version of ClickMinded – as an online class on Udemy. Huge props to Bruno and Lorena, my first two interns who helped film the¬†course and get it live. This was a giant project, and I’m still deeply grateful for all the work they did on this. ClickMinded went live on Udemy, and everything changed.

Here’s the first teaser:

Getting the ball rolling

Even though the course was done, it certainly wasn’t ready to be sold. In order to get it¬†ready for users to want to buy it, I made two assumptions around social proof:

  • I need at least 100¬†users signed up on Udemy
  • I need at least 10¬†5-star reviews on Udemy

 

In order to do this, I used the Meetup group as leverage again. Here’s¬†how I did it:

  • Launched the course on Udemy.
  • Gave¬†everyone in the meetup group a promo code to get the¬†class¬†for free
  • Encouraged them to share with friends
  • Emphasized that the offer was ending in 48 hours
  • Sent a “last chance” email with a few hours left
  • Emailed everyone that signed up a few days later and asked for reviews

Outside of this, I also did the standard act of spamming a few close friends and asking them for reviews on Udemy.

I got to 100 users and 10 5-star reviews in about 5 days.

I will admit, many of my first 10 reviews were artificial. Is this justified by the fact that the next 50 reviews were real 5-star reviews? Probably not. Does it make me feel better? A little. The reality is, I found it¬†very difficult to close the checkout loop when it’s clear that very few people have purchased the product, and there aren’t any reviews.

Since those first 100 quasi-artificial users and 10 quasi-artificial good reviews, the class now has thousands of enrolled companies with hundreds of 5-star reviews.

Self-Hosting

Once the transition to Udemy was made, I also started hosting content on my own site. This was a great experience, and I learned a whole bunch going through this process. Lots of it was very messy at times. Video encoding, S3, multiple payment processors, dealing with hundreds and thousands of user login credentials. There was a lot here. I went through a number of different learning management systems throughout this:

The course is now hosted on Teachable, which is far and away the most valuable learning management system platform I’ve ever used. I’m a huge fan, and I highly¬†recommend reaching out to them if you’re hosting a class of your own.

Based on these different platforms, the site also had to evolve a number of times as well:

clickminded-old-02

 

clickminded-old-03

 

clickminded-old-05

The kingmaker: AppSumo

The biggest break for me was landing my first deal with AppSumo back in 2012. I wrote a blog post on this called $21,243 in 8 days: Why AppSumo is crushing it. This summarizes the AppSumo story. I’ve done many more deals with AppSumo, and each one has been larger than the previous.

Roughly¬†35% of users have come from AppSumo. If you can get a deal going with these guys, you’re golden. You can apply to promote your product here.

Grad school

A few months later, the class was rolling, and the dean of HULT San Francisco gave me a call and asked if I wanted to teach an elective. Since I had offered to do a few guest lectures, it put me on their radar. This was super interesting, because it was a graduate level class, and I definitely didn’t go to grad school.

I went into his office one day after work, and we hashed out a bunch of ideas for a course. I ended up coming back to the school the next summer and taught a class, Customer Acquisition Through Digital Marketing. It was a summer elective taught to 105 MBA and MIM students over the course of 6 weeks. I’m teaching it again next summer.
I was also fortunate enough to teach a Stanford Continuing Studies course on search engine optimization. This was funny, mostly because Stanford still owns the patent on PageRank.

Certification

I was always a huge hater when it came to SEO certification. Google doesn’t offer one, and all of the ones I saw being offered were extremely low quality. With that said, my users were constantly asking me to do this, and I finally gave in. The ClickMinded SEO Certification is now real, and you get one once you finish the course and pass¬†the final exam.

Online learning and the future

I used to think online classes were a complete scam. They used to have¬†that “University of Phoenix” stigma¬†in my mind. Maybe it was because I took a few in college and they were garbage.

Since starting¬†ClickMinded, I’ve received dozens¬†of emails from students describing¬†some¬†amazing outcomes. A huge number of people have said they’re getting more traffic and customers after finishing¬†the class – which is validation that it’s working, and that’s great. But there’ve also been students¬†that were¬†hired for a new job, promoted from their old job, or changed their career entirely after taking the course. Getting¬†emails like that¬†has¬†been awesome.

I’ve now been on both sides of the table. I’ve taught a class with thousands of users that have been positively impacted, and I’ve participated as a student in classes with thousands of users and was very positively impacted.

Online learning is for real.

Now I’m interested in working on a viable alternative to grad school.

Final Thoughts

I think my advice for starting a new side project can be summarized in two points:

  • Be passionate about what you’re working on
  • Don’t stop wiggling

There are a ton of great ideas out there. There are a ton of profitable ideas out there. There are not a ton of ideas that you will personally be passionate about. What I’ve come to discover, is that when getting started, the size of the market is much less important than the size of your own personal interest in the market.

If the passion’s there, you’ll find that you’ll WANT to go paper the city with flyers, even if it might not work. You’ll WANT to host happy hours and geek out about search engines. You’ll WANT to give lectures at universities that don’t seem to have a point or an end game. You’ll WANT to change learning platforms 3 or 4 or 5 times order, in order to better deliver your product.

Finding something you’re¬†passionate about working on is the tough part. Once you do, you just gotta keep wiggling.

excited-baby

You read the book, now watch the movie!

 

Want to witness the train wreck for yourself? Start for free:

  • June 5, 2017
  • SEO

The Complete Guide to Link Building (Updated 2017)

Link Building 2017

Before getting into some of the link building tactics, here’s a quick refresher on why building links helps our search engine rankings. This is all covered in the SEO training course and the ClickMinded SEO Certification Test.

  1. Off-page optimization (or link building), is arguably the single most important aspect of SEO.
  2. A link from Site A to Site B is like a “vote” from Site A for Site B
  3. There are essentially 3 factors when it comes to link building (in order of importance): Contextual relevance, authority, and quantity

Contextual relevance, as well as the trust/authority of the domain you’re getting the link from, are very important.

For awhile, all anyone ever cared about was PageRank, named after Larry Page and now a patent owned by Stanford University, which assigns a “weight” value to a webpage. It’s still important, but just one factor among many in the ranking equation.

I strongly recommend getting the book The Search by John Battelle. It’s a comprehensive review of the evolution of search engines through the late 90’s. He discusses a number of different search-related topics, including the creation of BackRub, Bibliometrics and Citation Analysis, Eugene Garfield (the creator of the Science Citation Index), and what Impact Factor (IF) means, basically the average number of citations received from published science journals in a two-year period.

“Larry Page reasoned that the entire web was loosely based on the premise of citation and annotation. After all, what was a link but a citation, and what was the text describing that link but annotation?” – John Battelle, The Search

Link building is a never-ending task. Let’s look at a few strategies for building links.

Content Marketing and Guest Blogging

Create great, compelling, unique content, add in relevant links back to your site and send it out to relevant blog and website owners. Rae Hoffman-Dolan aka “Sugarrae” has a fantastic two-pronged guest blogging strategy, which she calls Horizontal and Vertical Guest Blogging.

Vertical Guest Blogging – Finding people in your industry, creating great content for them and incorporating a way to naturally include a link back to yourself.
Example: I run an auto parts store. I find a blog on antique cars, and write a great article on how changing the parts on antique cars every 6 months helps the cars last longer, and end the article with a link back to the page on my site about classic car auto parts.

Horizontal Guest Blogging – Finding topics that aren’t in your industry or niche directly, but find a way to relate, incorporate your content and link back to yourself.
Example: I am a supplement and nutrition store owner and I’ve just imported a new super drug supplement from Eastern Europe. I’m promoting my new drug and creating guest blog content for it. I’ve already reached out to a number of supplement and nutrition blogs, and they’re sick of me guest posting for them all the time. Let’s say the drug helps prevent memory loss, increases focus, aids in muscle building and helps with creative thinking.

Now, I’ll target themes where I can work my keyword in:

  1. GMAT Study Blogs – An article titled “7 ways to prevent memory loss while studying for the GMAT”. Include 6 proven memory loss prevention, and make the 7th tip a few sentences on your new supplement.
  2. Video Game Websites – Create a comprehensive list of 100 foods, drinks, exercises, supplements and stimulants that increase your focus for intense gaming sessions. Include your drug as one of the list items, as well as a link.
  3. Music Blogs – Write a post on 7 musicians and how they inspire themselves creatively. You include a number of tactics, including long walks on the beach, painting, and your new supplement (with a link of course!).
  4. Weight Lifting Blogs – An article on 15 proven ways to gain muscle fast, including the use of your new supplement.

More great blog content ideas:

  1. Writing a “how-to” walk-through guide
  2. Patch together a number of different strategies into one post (what do you think you’re reading? :) )
  3. Develop a top 7, top 10, top 50, top 100 list
  4. Write something controversial
  5. Debunk a myth

 

Blog Commenting
Find relevant blogs, contribute to the conversation, place a link back to your site. Don’t worry as much about no-follow/do-follow, just contribute to relevant topics, and mention your site in a way that helps the reader. If you’re interested in do-follow blog comments (don’t over-do it): A Massive List of 1,000 “Dofollow” Blogs

 

Testimonials
Write down all the products, services or tools you’ve used in the last 3 months that you really liked. Contact them, give them a great review/testimonial, and don’t forget to include a link to your site in it.

Linking Out
Many people seem to be very stingy with their linking, particularly when it’s a competitor that’s creating great content. I can understand the issues around this with large enterprises and fortune 500 companies, but I feel like most personal sites and small companies should freely link as much as possible. Creating a “resource” for your users is a great way to link out, as well as a way to signal to major search engines which kind of “link neighborhood” you’re in.

Asking Your Customers
If you have customers you’re close with, talk about link opportunities! Even if you’re not in the exact same vertical, there are always ways to find chances to link to each other. I’m a huge fan of leveraging offline relationships for my link building plans.

Advanced Search Parameters for Link Building
Find websites that are asking for guest bloggers

  • Keyword + intitle:‚Äúwrite for us‚ÄĚ
  • Keyword + intitle:‚Äúcontribute to‚ÄĚ
  • Keyword + intitle:‚Äúsubmit‚ÄĚ + inurl:blog

Find websites that have a large number of guest posters already

  • inpostauthor:guest + keyword
  • inpostauthor:‚ÄĚguest blog‚ÄĚ + keyword
  • inpostauthor:‚ÄĚguest post‚ÄĚ + keyword

Find college clubs (with .edu domains) for linking opportunities

  • inurl:.edu keyword club
  • inurl:.edu keyword group
  • inurl:.edu keyword organization

Find university resource lists

  • inurl:.edu helpful sites + keyword
  • inurl:.edu keyword + resources
  • inurl:.edu useful sites + keyword

Find non-profits that accept donations (and put links to donors!)

  • inurl:.org donors + keyword
  • inurl:.org supporters + keyword
  • inurl.org contributors + keyword

Find country-specific links ‚Äúkeyword + inurl:cc.tld‚ÄĚ
Create a contest intitle:submit your contest

 

Link Building Resources

Point Blank SEO – Complete List of Link Building Tactics

The single best resource I have ever seen on link building tactics, from Jon Cooper.

Backlinko – Link Building Strategies

Another incredible resource on link building by Brian Dean.

Ahrefs

My personal favorite. The best link analysis tool in the industry. Their link database seems to be the largest, and the way you can cut the link data is extremely comprehensive.

Majestic SEO

Another link analysis tool. My second favorite tool in the link building industry.

Link Research Tools

Another link analysis tool.

Open Site Explorer

Another link analysis tool.

  • May 28, 2017
  • SEO

Google Analytics Certified (GAIQ) in Only 4 Hours

Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ)

A little while ago, I studied for, took and passed the Google Analytics Certification test. I was able to pass after about 4 hours of studying.

With that said, I had been using Google Analytics for a few years. You need to get at least 56/70 questions correct for a passing grade of 80%. There are a ton of fantastic walkthroughs out there on how to pass this exam, but I felt that some of them were a little bit too wordy, and sort of trick you into over-preparing for it when you don’t really need to.

 
Ready? Here’s how I passed it after just an afternoon of studying:

Step 1
First, go to the Google Partners and click “Join Google Partners”. This can be the same as your Google login.

Step 2
Next, go to Google Analytics Academy and take all the lessons.
As today there are 3 different courses that are free and really helpful. They are:

  1. Digital Analytics Fundamentals
  2. Google Analytics Platforms Principles
  3. Ecommerce Analytics: From Data to Decision

Each course is taught by Justin Cutroni and consist of a walk-through guide and video. I would highly suggest you take all 3 courses – really great content. If you want to study above and beyond Google Analytics Academy, check out Avinash Kaushik.

Step 3
Once you‚Äôre done watching the videos, and you‚Äôve taken notes and read through the practice problems once, go back to the Google Partner center and fire up the test. It will open up a browser that doesn‚Äôt let you escape, so make sure to open up a second browser, and include the following 5 tabs: Analytics Help Center, Google Analytics Academy, your Actual Google Analytics Account, and of course the big G itself.

Be careful because as soon as you start, you won‚Äôt be able to mark a question and/or to go back and check your answer. I also suggest getting familiar with the Analytics help center. Most of the answers can be found there.

Heads up! Once you start the test, you can’t pause, go back, or mark questions!

The test takes an hour and a half. I used up all the time. If you fail, you’ll have to wait 7 days before taking it again.

The certification is valid for 18 months, and you get a shiny new logo and another line on your resume.

  • May 26, 2017
  • SEO

The Insanely Powerful 2017 SEO Checklist (Updated)

Every time you start a new site, use this SEO checklist to take names and kick ass.

There are a number of things you should be doing every time you create a new page. This list covers the most important things.

Heads up: This SEO checklist, and on-page optimization in general, is best thought about as incrementally beneficial. The big mistake people tend to make is that they find a checklist, they go through everything on it, and the minute they realize they won’t be able to do one of them, they think they’re screwed.  That’s not the right way to think about it.

Try to do as many as you can – but the vast majority of people aren’t able to get everything.

The 2017 SEO Checklist

Install Google Analytics.
Install Google Search Console.
Focusing on the US? Might want to install Bing Webmaster Tools.
Using WordPress? Get a WordPress Google Analytics plugin. Here’s one. Here’s another one.
Using WordPress? Install the free version of Yoast SEO.
Check Google’s Search Console for crawl errors, duplicate content errors, missing titles and other technical errors.
Use Browseo.net to spot-check redirect problems (specifically, 302 errors that should be 301s).
Use Screaming Frog to find broken links, errors, and crawl problems.
Use Google Adwords Keyword Planner for keyword research, along with KWFinder, KeywordTool.io and SEMRush. Be sure to consider searcher intent and difficulty, pick 1 keyword per page, and you’ll generally want to start with lower-volume keywords first.
Have you looked at competitor link profiles? This is the easiest way to get started with link building. This way, you can see what kind of anchor text they’re using, as well as how and where they’ve been getting their links. Something like the Ahrefs, Link Diagnosis, Open Site Explorer, or Majestic.
Try to get your primary keyword into your page URL (but there are very serious consequences to changing a URL that already has authority – don’t do this if your page already has links!).
Add your keyword to your title tag. Is your title tag compelling?
Add your keyword to your meta description. Is your meta description compelling?
Add your keyword to your H1 tag. Make sure to only use one H1 tag, and make sure it shows up in the document before H2, H3 etc.
Add crawl-able text to your page. Make sure to have at least 100 words on each URL (minimum – the more the better). You can still rank with less, and you don’t ever want to put unnecessary text on your site, but I recommend not creating a new page unless you have roughly ~100 words worth of content.
Use synonyms in your copy. Remember: synonyms are great, and using natural language that’s influenced by keyword research (rather than just pure keywords) is highly encouraged.
Use words discovered through latent semantic indexing in your copy – you can determine what keywords to add at LSIGraph.com.
Add descriptive ALT tags and filenames to your pages. Search engines “see” images by reading the ALT tag and looking at file names, among other factors. Try to be descriptive when you name your images.
Link to other pages on your site with SEO-friendly text (use the primary keyword in anchor text). We recommend not using anchor text in your global navigation because it can look like over-optimization. Stick to in-content links instead.
Make sure you don’t have duplicate content – use 301 redirects, canonical tags or use Google Webmaster Tools to fix any duplicate content that might be indexing and penalizing your site.
Use PageSpeed tools,  Gift of Speed, GTMetrix and Pingdom to determine page speed – keep your site fast!
Make sure your site is mobile friendly – use Google’s mobile friendly testing tool.
Create an XML sitemap and submitted it to Google Search Console. Use XML-Sitemaps.com or Google XML Sitemaps WordPress Plugin – the Yoast SEO plugin also comes with this functionality by default.
Create a robots.txt file and submit it to Google Search Console.
Claim your brand name on as many social networking sites as possible for reputation management reasons. Namechk is a great resource to see if your name is taken on most major networks.
Use the SEO Audit Tool to double-check everything once you’re live.

  • May 26, 2017
  • SEO

The 31 Best Free & Paid SEO Tools For 2017 (Updated)

Paid and Free SEO Tools 2017

The tools you use can legitimately make or break your SEO campaign. By using faster, more effective SEO tools, you really can make a measurable impact on your SEO efforts. Not going to lie: there are a lot of SEO tools out there, it is quite a jungle. Here are our favorite SEO tools for 2017.
 
Keyword Research / Competitive Analysis
KWFinder.com
My personal favorite – the #1 keyword research tool in the industry. Creates a “competitiveness” score that is super helpful, and shows where your competitors are ranking for each keyword
SEM Rush
Fantastic data on rankings, competitive analysis, keyword research and more. Arguably the best tool in the industry.
KeywordTool.io
A great tool that uses autocomplete data to find more keywords in your vertical.
Keywords Everywhere (Chrome Plugin)
A great tool that shows you Google Adwords Keyword Planner search volume data every time you do a search! Super helpful for uncovering valuable new opportunities by accident.
SEO Quake (Chrome Plugin)
SEMRush’s chrome plugin. Overlays super useful data right into the search results.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
This used to be the defacto starting point for your keyword research in SEO, however Google has really started to limit the functionality. You now only get “range” data if your paid search campaign budget isn’t high enough. This tool is much more effective if you have a bigger paid search budget. If you don’t, use some of the other keyword research tools we recommend.
Google Trends
Google Trends is a great additional tool to check query volume on a relative basis.
 
Link Building
Ahrefs
My personal favorite. The best link analysis tool in the industry. Their link database seems to be the largest, and the way you can cut the link data is extremely comprehensive.
Majestic SEO
Another link analysis tool. My second favorite tool in the link building industry.
Link Research Tools
Another link analysis tool.
Open Site Explorer
Another link analysis tool.
 
Technical Tools
Redirect Path (Chrome Plugin)
A simple tool that shows you the redirect page a search engine takes on any page.
OnCrawl 
A free crawl path optimization tool
Browseo.net
See how search engines view your site with Browseo. This is great for diving into how Google and other search engines view your site. It’s particularly helpful with identifying redirect chains, and 302 redirects that should be 301s.
BuiltWith
This will show you a number of things going on behind-the-scenes with competitor websites. Server information, CMS systems, frameworks, analytics and tracking etc. Not necessarily directly helpful, but can help uncover valuable information.
Screaming Frog
A fantastic tool for crawling your site and understanding the myriad technical problems that are inevitably happening. Screaming Frog crawls your website just like Google does, and tells you exactly what you need to fix.
Xenu
Find broken links and errors with Xenu. While Screaming Frog is significantly better and has a lot more functionality (it’s actually kind of crazy to even compare the two), this one is free.
Google Page Speed Tools
Google’s tool which shows you exactly what you need to fix in order to speed up your site.
Gift Of Speed
Another page speed testing tool
GTMetrix
Another page speed testing tool
 
Miscellaneous
Google Chrome
This recommendation will seem funny to most people – but yes there are still some people trying to do SEO with Safari or Firefox! I highly recommend using Google Chrome. From developer tools to a massive ecosystem of SEO plugins, you really should be using Google Chrome if you’re serious about SEO.
LinkClump (Chrome Plugin)
A simple plugin that lets you grab multiple links at once and open them up all at the same time.
User-Agent Switcher (Chrome Plugin)
Let’s you view pages as any user agent (great for testing responsive design).
LinkGrabber (Chrome Plugin)
Extracts all the links on a page and gives it to you in an easy-to-use copy and paste format.
Yoast SEO
The single best WordPress SEO plugin.
No-Follow Checkbox
A simple tool that makes it easy to no-follow links in WordPress
Google Tag Assistant (Chrome Plugin)
An easy way to see if your Google tags are installed correctly.
Google Analytics
The non-optional Definitely the most valuable analytics package out there. World-class enterprise grade analytics for free. The first thing you should install.
Google Search Console
This one isn’t optional folks. You have to install Google Search console in order to ‘communicate’ with Google about your site.
Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool
Use this tool to check how Google views your structured data markup.
ClickMinded SEO Certification – Learn more about the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification

  • May 26, 2017
  • SEO

A Simple Guide to How SEO Works (Updated 2017)

How SEO Works in 2017

This is an overview of how SEO works, and is covered in the ClickMinded SEO Training Course. Once you’ve taken that, sign up for the ClickMined SEO Certification Test.

Here’s everything that’s included in this post:

 

What is SEO?

The best way to start is by defining what SEO is not:

SEO is NOT:

  1. NOT about buying keywords
  2. NOT calling up Google and telling them where we want to be ranked
  3. NOT often a very fast process
  4. NOT shady (though there are plenty of bad apples out there!)
  5. NOT incredibly difficult once you know the basics! Google and Bing want to help you rank well if you create great content.

 

Matt Cutts, the former head of the Google WebSpam team, has the official Google line on SEO:

 

Many have tried to correlate click-through rates with search rankings, starting with an AOL data leak in 2006, but now there are a number of agencies that release click-through rate reports.

There are plenty of CTR charts out there, but personally I like using Advanced Web Rankings’ CTR chart as a benchmark, which says that a #1 ranking receives approximately 25-30% of clicks (depending on your device), and that the top 5 results receive approximately 75% of clicks.

This means that if you are not in the top 5, you are effectively invisible.

 

Explaining SEO in 60 seconds:

  1. The words you use are important.
  2. The titles and meta descriptions of your pages are important.
  3. The links pointing back to your website are important.
  4. The words used in those links are important (called “anchor text”).
  5. Your ability to get pages into search engine indices, or technical optimization, is important
  6. Your domain reputation matters.
  7. Freshness matters.
  8. Understanding searcher intent matters.

 

 

On-Page Optimization

  • keyword research and searcher intent
  • title tags
  • meta description tag
  • heading tags
  • image optimization
  • body content
  • internal link anchor text

 

Keyword Research

Google Adwords Keyword Tool

Searcher Intent:
1. Navigational Queries
2. Information Queries
3. Commercial Research Queries
4. Ready To Buy Queries

Title Tag

The most weighted aspect of on-page optimization
Title tags tell humans (and search engine spiders) what the page is about
Should be approximately 65 characters long
Titles should be unique for every page

Meta Description Tag

Should be no longer than 156 characters
Your primary keyword(s) should be there
Meta description DOES NOT impact rankings but are directly related to your click-through rate
The meta description does not appear anywhere on the page
Google will often supplement content on the page with your meta description if it either does not find the description tag or finds the keyword on the page and wants to display it to the user

Heading (H1) Tag

Heading tags are used to logically lay out your webpage
Primary keyword should be included at least once in the heading tag (does not need to be an exact match)
Like all aspects of SEO, don’t overdo it!

Body Copy

There’s no real “minimum number of words” needed for each page, but I recommend at least 100 words (to give the engines enough text to make an assessment of your content)
Important keywords should be mentioned in the first 50-100 words of the content if possible (but design for users!)
The keyword you’re targeting should be used 2-3 times on the page for short pages, don’t keyword stuff!
“Keyword density” and “text-to-code” ratio are not important today. If anyone tells you they are, RUN AWAY!
If it’s really hard to “work in” your keywords, it might be the wrong page for that keyword

ALT Tags

Search engine spiders aren’t humans, and can’t see images
Visually impaired surfers rely on ALT tags to visit websites
We use ALT tags to tell search engines what those images are, as well as the name of the image file
ALT tags and file names are just one more component of the total optimization equation
Again: Don’t over-optimize! Use natural, user-friendly language, don’t worry about exact match text

Internal Links

The text you use in your links matters!
Search engines factor in HOW you link to your other content as a clue to what that content is about
The keyword you’re optimizing for should be used in the text pointing to that page
Links with text like “website” or “click here” are too generic, and don’t help search engines figure out what that content is about

 

Off-Page Optimization

Don’t be a miserable failure about your off-page optimization:

Google Bomb - Miserable Failure

Off-page optimization is the other “big piece” of the ranking equation. Search engines basically factor in how the rest of the Internet views your site. A link from Site A to Site B is like a “vote” from Site Afor Site B This is very simply described as “link building” but it’s becoming more comprehensive

There are 3 important aspects of link building. Quantity, Authority (Quality), and Contextual Relevancy.

 

 

Building links is a continuous, difficult, never-ending process. There are hundreds of strategies, tactics, and techniques for link building. There is even a multi-million dollar industry being built around this concept. However, there are only 4 crucial things to understand about link building in order to be successful:

  1. Get links from good, trusted content.
  2. Don’t get links from bad, spammy content.
  3. Link to good, trusted content.
  4. Don’t link to bad, spammy content.

 

Everything Else

Competitive Link Analysis

(be sure to check competitors anchor text for keyword ideas too)
Majestic SEO
Open Site Explorer
Ahrefs
Majestic SEO

 

 

Great Tools For Beginners

Google Analytics – Amazing, free analytics software

Google Webmaster Tools – Not optional, must install in order to submit sitemaps and more to Google

Google Adwords Keyword Tool – The de facto keyword research tool of the SEO industry

Google Trends – Interesting tool to check seasonal fluctuations in keyword search volume

Check My Links – Free link analysis tool plugin for Chrome

Open Site Explorer – Free (trial) tool to build inbound link profile

Marketing in the Age of Google – The only book I recommend buying to learn more about search

  • May 25, 2017
  • SEO

The Definitive 2017 ClickMinded SEO Certification

ClickMinded SEO Certification

Fun fact: More than 500 students have earned the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification since 2013.

Look, you don’t need an SEO certification. The best people in the industry don’t have them. But we’ve gotten so much demand for these, that we decided to create them, and to date more than 500 people have earned them (60% of people fail on the first try).
‚Äč
When you finish the course, you’ll get the opportunity to sit for and earn the ClickMinded SEO certification. Finish the course, pass the test and you’ll earn your certification (automatically integrates with LinkedIn).
In order to qualify for the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification, you’ll need to do two things:

  1.  Complete the ClickMinded SEO Training Course.
  2. Get at least an 80% on the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification Test.

Once that’s done, we’ll create an SEO certification for you like this one.

Heads up:

  1. You don’t need an SEO certification to be a good SEO. Most old-school SEOs don’t have a certification.
  2. SEO certification is not done by Google or any other major search engines. It’s only done by private companies. These types of certifications are not necessarily reliable entities.
  3. With that said, the goal of the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification (CSIQ) is to create an accreditation that proves students have acquired a moderate level of understanding in the field of search engine optimization.
  4. Google does have a certification program of their own called Google Partners. You may want to check it out.
  5. Start the process towards the ClickMinded SEO Individual Qualification for free:


  • May 25, 2017
  • SEO

Powerful SEO Checker & Website Analysis Tool (Free)

Free SEO Checker Page Analysis Tool

 Perform an SEO check of your website and receive an analysis of on-page optimization ranking factors for any page. Enter a URL and a primary keyword to get started.

The tool will give you feedback on a number of things, including:

  • Site speed test, including time to load, size, and number of requests.
  • Analysis of your URL.
  • Title and meta description analysis based on your primary keyword
  • SEO checker for images determines if you’re using the right file names and ALT tags.
  • Visualization of the most used words on the page.
  • SEO audit of your heading tags, page copy, and code.
  • Analysis of social media metrics for the page and root domain.
  • Mobile-friendliness diagnosis.
  • Outbound and backlink analysis of the page and root domain.
  • High-level SEO check of your root domain.

After reviewing all of the items above, the ClickMinded SEO Checker & Website Analysis tool will provide you with a checklist of on-page optimizations you can start implementing right away.

 

  • May 25, 2017
  • SEO

The 2017 Site Migration SEO Checklist

I was recently asked about the SEO implications of migrating to a new domain. This can be scary! If you do a migration incorrectly, there’s definitely a chance of losing a significant amount of traffic.¬†With that said, I know plenty of people that have done successful migrations. Let’s cover the big ones, so you can get back to what you do best. Business.

Ha Ha - Business!

The 2017 Site Migration SEO Checklist

Check off items as you go along.

¬†Use Screaming Frog, or a similar crawl tool, to get a comprehensive list of your URLs. A tool like this will definitely show you URLs you didn’t know you have. This is your survey of the universe. Export these URLs to a new sheet¬†in Google sheets and call it “All URLs”
¬†Export the “Top Pages” report in Google analytics, paste them into a second tab of the Google sheet and call it “Top URLs”
¬†Use a link analysis tool like Ahrefs.com to sort your pages by links. Ahrefs calls this “Best by Links” under the “Pages” tab. Paste them into a third tab of the Google sheet.
 You now have 3 tabs. All your URLs. Your top URLs by traffic. Your top URLs by links.
¬†Compress all of this data into just 3 columns. Your URLs, the traffic over the last 30 days, and if you’re using Ahrefs, the¬†link score (you could also use “total linking root domains” as a link metric if you’re using another tool – that works too). Your file might now look something like this:

Link Migration

 

 Once you have this, add filters to it, decide if you want to 301 it, 404 it, or something else. Mark it down in the sheet and write down the URL you want to point it to. It might look something like this:

 

Google Sheet Migration Checklist

 

Setup the new site.¬†You can use robots.txt to block search engines from indexing your new site until you’re ready. Make sure to remove this when you actually launch, ya bozo.
 301 redirect your old stuff to your new stuff!
 Double check and make sure that users and bots are actually being redirected when they hit the old URL. You can use a tool like Browseo to test.
Make sure to remove canonical tags on the new domain that are pointing back to the old domain, and make them self-referencing canonical tags.
Evaluate live pages and your new XML sitemap with the Google Search Console “Fetch and Render” feature to spot any additional bugs.
¬†Once your new site has all the content moved up, and you’re ready to migrate, use the “Change of Address” feature in Google Search Console to let Google know you’re on the move.

Change of URL
¬†Make sure to re-create your XML sitemap for your new domain. Test both your old sitemap and new sitemap heavily before submitting to Google.¬†You want to make sure every URL in your old sitemap is correctly doing a 301 redirect to your new pages. Once both your old and new sitemap are error free, submit both to¬†Google Search Console. There are lots of tools to help you create sitemaps in WordPress. If you’re not using WordPress, checkout¬†xml-sitemaps.com.
Watch for 404s, crawl errors, number of indexed pages, organic and referral traffic on the new domain.
¬†Do outreach for your links. If you can get people to update their content and link¬†to your new URL, great. This is generally seen as better than a 301 redirect, even with Google’s¬†announcement that 301 redirects now pass 100% of the link value.
 Throughout this entire process, be sure to keep an eye out for any easy optimizations you can grab related to missing, duplicate, or under-optimized:

  • Title tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headings
  • Canonicals
  • Broken links
  • Img ALT tags
  • Schema markup
  • Robots.txt
  • Site speed
  • Crawl & server errors
  • May 25, 2017
  • SEO

Google Keyword Research Tool Alternatives

Hey all! I mentioned a number of Google Keyword planner alternatives in the ClickMinded SEO training course.

This week I’ve been at the¬†SMX West Conference in San Jose, and have been meeting a bunch of awesome people and learned some really interesting new tactics and strategies. On Wednesday,¬†I sat in on a great session called “Beyond The Google Adwords Tool: Advanced Keyword Research Tactics”. The speakers included Cameron Cowan, Patricia Hursh, Ted Ives¬†and Keri Morgret.¬†While the session was designed primarily for paid search, there are always takeaways within organic search at these sessions. I always like to find alternatives to the Google keyword tool and found some great ones at this session.

University of Colorado Latent Semantic Analysis Tool –¬†https://lsa.colorado.edu/

latent semantic understanding university of colorado

Ted Ives mentioned the University of Colorado Latent¬†Semantic Analysis Tool. This is super old school and. at first glance, looks ridiculously complicated (ok, let’s be honest, it’s not intuitive at all, but it’s still pretty bad ass).

The first few sentences of the executive summary go as follows:

Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) captures the essential relationships between text documents and word meaning, or semantics, the knowledge base which must be accessed to evaluate the quality of content. Several educational applications that employ LSA have been developed: (1) selecting the most appropriate text for learners with variable levels of background knowledge, (2) automatically scoring the content of an essay, and (3) helping students effectively summarize material.

It basically finds relationships between keywords by scoring them against whether or not they appear in millions of documents, relative to other keywords. Using this in tandem with the Google Keyword Tool could be ridiculously helpful.

IMDB Advanced Search –¬†https://www.imdb.com/search/title

imdb database advanced search

Keri Morgret had a fantastic presentation on negative keywords in Adwords and showed a number of examples of large companies doing a not-so-great job with their keyword saturation. It was astounding to me how many large Fortune 500 companies are just not doing it right.

Keri had an awesome¬†strategy. She recommended using the IMDB Advanced Search to put your keywords into this tool to find movies, tv shows, and other forms of media that might be artificially spiking search volume with the “wrong intent”. Such a great idea! Simply export your keyword data, do you everything you normally do for keyword research, but then double check it with the IMDB tool, to make sure some old movie or tv show isn’t artificially boosting your numbers.

Yahoo Answers to find natural language –¬†https://answers.yahoo.com/

yahoo answers

Keri also mentioned that Yahoo Answers is an incredibly easy way to find different variations on how people naturally speak. Type in your keyword and take a look at the way people not only use those keywords but use variations, different stems and descriptive words around those keywords.

Awesome takeaways! Really good presentations from all the speakers.

 

  • May 18, 2017
  • SEO