Today we’ve invited Jon Cooper, who has shown built up a reputation in the SEO industry in just 12 months (at the age of 18!), to explain how to get noticed in such a competitive industry.
Enter Jon Cooper, an 18 year old high school student from Tarpon Springs, FL in March, 2011. At the time, few knew the name (unless you’re a big fan of Skillet, whose lead singer goes by the same name), and for good reason – I was an SEO that was one in a million. But this is the month that I started Point Blank SEO, a link building blog that is one of the sole reasons for any type of success you associate with me.
For the next 9 months, maybe a person here and there would see my name, but nothing more than that. I had a post go live on SEOmoz that I was very excited about in October, but that was about it.
I wish I had a bigger picture, but this is all that I have. The thumbnail you see is of my blog up until December 20th, the day I took it offline. As you can see the design was garbage, and at this point in time, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Sure, a couple posts seem to resonate with a few people, but only with the 50-100 or so that viewed it.
Then everything changed. I started reading about blog relaunches, and I convinced myself that doing one could really elevate my success. At the time I was receiving roughly 100 visitors a day, and my goal for the post-relaunch was about 300 a day. I hit that number, then flew by it.
On January 5th of this year, I completely redesigned and relaunched my blog. I gave it the grey background you see on it today, I made sure the content was as readable as possible, and I started my email list to help stay in touch with the people that valued what I said.
But the reason for my success was twofold. The first was (sigh…) content. I don’t like saying it, because it’s been pounded into you since the term “content marketing” became the buzzword in this industry, but it’s true. On launch day I published this post (as well as this one), which jump started everything. On that day I received over 1,000 visitors, MUCH more than I anticipated, and from then on, I never looked back.
Things were going great. I ended up publishing 18 posts that month, with a few guest posts scattered in, but one in particular was highly successful. I managed to get 24 SEO experts together to talk Links vs. Tweets, not knowing what I was getting into.
Sure, I could have treated it like every other crowdsourced post out there, but I didn’t. I spent over 10 hours getting everything just right, and finished at 4 in the morning of the day it went live (it went up at 9AM, so I had about 5 hours of sleep, but the excitement fueled my energy for the day). As the visitors started to roll in throughout the next day, I once again broke my traffic record. This time, it was 1,700 people in a day. Sure, it’s a one day thing, but IMO this was the first time some of you saw my name and what I was about.
After another month of publishing frequently, I got a chance to roll out the post that’s now responsible for more page views than my homepage. Crazy, right? I’m talking about my mega link building strategies list that took on a life of its own. Like the SEO experts post, I spent a ton of time on it (15-20 hours total), and it paid off big time.
The latest big traffic jump came in the last day of April. For me, this was a huge lesson. When people say “link building”, they think links for SEO, but that’s only half right. The other half of link building is the links that send traffic, sales, and conversions (all things we’re trying to get as a result of great SEO, right?). With that said, I got a link in the SEOmoz Top 10 newsletter, one that has over 200,000 subscribers. Needless to say, traffic numbers were through the roof.
Here’s a look at my analytics:
I ended up receiving over 8,000 visitors over those two days, so I guess you could say I was a little excited.
Other Important Numbers
Let’s backtrack once again to December of 2011. I had roughly 150-200 Twitter followers, about 100-150 RSS subscribers, and no email subscribers (hadn’t started one yet). I also hadn’t received more than a couple of natural links from other blogs.
Fast forward to today, May 1st, the day I’m writing this. I have over 1,750 Twitter followers, 600+ RSS subscribers, and over 1,100 email subscribers. I receive natural links from other blogs on a daily basis (over a third of them to my strategies post), and the numbers keep on growing.
Lessons For You To Follow
My blog still might not be deemed as successful to some of you, but I thought I’d hit on a few reasons why I thought I was successful in the last 4 months.
When I caught a wave, I rode it
If you ever have something awesome come your way, take full advantage. In the first week, the wave was all the experts in the industry taking notice of my stuff. I took advantage just days after by reaching out to them to be a part of my crowdsourced post. Since my name was fresh in their mind, almost all agreed (only 1 didn’t!).
This also holds true to my content strategy. I wrote a few good posts that got noticed, but I used this to motivate myself to write even better content.
I focused solely on link building
This is my blog’s title tag: “Point Blank SEO – Link Building Blog”. I focus solely on link building, and this has been essential to building traction so quickly. If you establish yourself as an expert in one specific, detailed area of SEO, or anything in general for that matter, then it’s much easier to get noticed.
Another good example of this strategy is what Peep Laja is doing over at ConversionXL.
I wasn’t out to make a ton of money
My blog, and SEO in general, is more of a hobby to me than a job. I’m not out to make a million bucks with some internet marketing schemes, a huge mega blog monetization strategy, or by harassing people to hire me as a consultant. I put monetization last, and it’s done wonders for me.
Sure, I could have thrown up some ads on my blog, put myself everywhere as an SEO consultant desperately wanting you to hire me, or by reviewing products and throwing in affiliate links everywhere. But I didn’t. I still haven’t tried to make a dime off my email list, which grows every day, and for the most part, I’m trying to keep it that way.
I built brand evangelists
All it takes is a small group of people to talk about and promote you to be successful. I’m a living example. I go into a lot of detail about brand evangelists here, so if you’d like to find out more, check out that post once you’re done here.
The SEO community is flat out awesome
I’m not even trying to suck up to you guys, I’m being completely serious. If I had the same amount of knowledge in a different industry, and I did the exact same thing, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly the same success. Why? Because great people share great things. If you found a new, great link building tool, the first thing you’d want to do with it is share it everyone else, not hoard it for yourself. That’s just how things are in this community.
But there’s also a lack of competition that makes the community so awesome. For example, SEOmoz and SEObook link freely to each other, despite both trying to rank for “SEO software”, a highly competitive term that could reap the victor great benefits. That’s why we’re such a cool, unique industry of people who actually get it.
I interviewed as many industry link builders as I could
If you haven’t noticed, I do a lot of interviews. Guys like Wil Reynolds, Ross Hudgens, and Rand Fishkin have all answered a few questions on my blog about various link building related topics. These not only helped get me familiar with them, but they also helped me borrow some of their authority.
The right people liked me
I don’t want to get weird here and start naming names, but a lot of industry thought leaders tweeted my posts, commented on them, and always loved having conversations on Twitter, and as a result, I gained some success through association. Relationships are HUGE, not only for links, but for success in general.
I was unique & different everywhere I could be
Here’s a list of things that are unique to me, all partly responsible for leaving an impression and making sure I got noticed:
• My blog’s header & footer design
• My CTA’s (i.e. my email list’s opt-in form button is “Be Awesome”)
• My emails for my newsletter (hard to describe; hate to say it, but see for yourself)
• My first comment page
• My opt-in confirmation page
• I responded to almost all of my comments (although it’s been tough to keep up with lately)
There are a bunch of others, but the important thing here is that the little things can matter the most at times.
Be ambitious, work hard, and be different. If you really want to get noticed in your industry, know that it’s possible. Remember, I’m an 18-year-old high school student, and not some phenomenon who’s going to MIT or Stanford (actually got rejected by 6 of the 9 colleges I applied to). If I can do it, then there’s no reason why you can’t.
Don’t try to get noticed with the end goal in mind. Have patience, and make sure you put people first and the benefits last. They’ll all come in time, but if you try and force it, they’ll never reach you.
Find something you’re good at, and do only it. If you’re amazing at CRO, then don’t do keyword research. This will not only help you gain traction more quickly, but you’ll also be able to refine your skills so you become even better in what you’re already best at (that’s how you become an expert).
Finally, know when to say yes and when to say no. It’s funny, because some people tell you “say yes to everything!” while others recommend you “say no to everything!” It’s all about finding the right balance. In the beginning, I programmed myself into saying yes to every opportunity. It worked great, but as more and more rolled in, I forgot to prioritize and started forgetting about what I should be focusing on. I eventually found the right balance, but if you’re looking for advice, you’ll have to find what that that balance is yourself (it’s different for everyone).
Lastly thank you for taking the time to read this, and I’d like to thank everyone at Koozai for letting me tell my story. Make sure you leave a comment, as I’m dying to hear your thoughts!
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.
@Jon Cooper – Jon what’s the analytics traffic like for the term Cro Link Builder? I was unable to ever find out the return for hit on #1 spot but I was getting between say 11-40 profile views … a week?..through it – I can send you the graph if you like? I’d be very interested to see analytics screenshots if you could share? I don’t actually blog you see – I only do social channels.
Hit me up sometime!
I thought it was an interesting read, thanks for sharing your story. I like the advice about finding what you are good at and focusing on that.
Thanks for reading it John (oh, and nice name btw :D)
Jon “aged 18”, really u r providing gr8 work man. Especially the link building strategies post was an awesome. Expecting more from you.
Great news, great story and I have to be honest what a great trail of PR. I cant help but see there is a nice pattern emerging here. I do not want to get into a cross fore but what is the purpose in all of it. The viral aspect will lead people your way but surely there is another reason behind it?
No reason, Mike came to me & asked if I wanted to guest post; I said sure. He suggested this topic, and I took him up on it. That’s all it was :)
Thanks Jon, your linkbuilding strategies really helped me out a lot when I was feeling like I was running out of ideas and generally feeling very tired working inhouse as linkbuilder monkey for a big client.
I like how you mention about forgetting to prioritize too. Know that feeling too well but getting better.
Thanks again Jon
Thanks Keith :D
Another awesome post Jon, your email newsletter is one of the few I still subscribe to because that to me is the best way to make sure I never miss a post. Your humility throughout the explosive growth of PointBlankSEO has been as inspiring as the story itself (and they seem to go hand-in-hand!).
Keep up the great work! Do you know what you’ll be doing after graduation yet by the way?
Thanks Brett! I’ve put in a lot of work to that newsletter and glad to see someone’s really liking it.
Nice piece. Love your enthusiasm. FWIW, your linkbuilding treatise is the homepage on one of my browsers in the office. I know that’ll make your day!
Had a mini version of some of this when my Star Wars Day SEO blog caught some attention last week, I can understand you chasing that buzz and congratulate you on what you’ve achieved so far!
Thanks lain!! I really appreciate that :)
Great post, great blog.
I’ve been putting together a strategy for my blog that I want to start but I’ve been making it too complicated. This post has given me the ideas to get it started.
Thanks for that
Glad I could help spark a few ideas Stephen! Let me know how things go when it’s live :)
Not sure what I love more, Jon: the post, or your handling of Dirt’s comment!
Ironically, he’s says no one knows who you are (when quite a few people do), yet no one genuinely knows who he is because he’s an anonymous coward. Go Figure. :-)
Haha funny how that works, right? But yeah, embrace the haters. They never see it coming.
All I Can say is that I vogue for Jon any day.
Thanks Dewaldt!! :)
Agreed on that whole first comment! But does me agreeing make me a yes man in this situation? ;)
Great point Joel on money, I’m just saying that in my current situation, not pursuing it helped me more than I could imagine.
Thanks for the post Jon, yours is a really interesting and motivational story. As you know I’m a big fan of your work.
One of the points you make (and have backed it up thus far with your replies) is how you always look to improve user experience by replying to comments. I commented a couple of times on one of your blogs a few months ago and after answering my question, you said you’d enjoyed my writing on Search Engine People blog. I was like ‘WTF? I’ve only done 1 guest post in my life (at the time) and no one knows me – how the heck has this guy joined those wildly disparate dots??’
It just proved to me even more that you got game. I hope Koozai will invite you back in 2013 so we can hear how you and your blog have progressed.
My previous post had a typo so will try again and apologies for that….A truly inspirational post by Jon, just shows having the will and motivation proves the SEO industry can provide anyone with the opportunity to succeed
Thanks Simon, and yes, I owe a lot to the industry I’m in :)
I’d also strongly disagree on the point of “wanting to make a ton of money”. Money is a fantastic motivator. Wanting to make a buttload of money isn’t a bad thing until it starts degrading how you communicate with people and how smart you are strategically. If you network and if you do good work, you OUGHT to make a ton of money.
My one nitpick. Money can be a bad detractor, but it’s not always.Sometimes the will to be rich is a powerful will indeed.
With all due respect (and you know my position on this), I feel like there are already too many people trying to “get known” in the industry and not enough trying to CONTRIBUTE to the industry. So many “me toos” and “yes men”, so many pieces of garbage content and so many people ignoring their paying clients in their never ending quest to pat themselves on the back and be the next Wil Reynolds.
The whole point and reason that people get “well known” in an industry is because they contribute something meaningful. Jon, you did that. But most won’t. They’ll just try to trumpet their own boring ass content and accomplishments to an industry full of others all trying to do the same thing.
Love and kisses,
Well for 18 years old, you are definitely on track Jon! I’m 26 and have only entered the field after being an English teacher for some time. So I am learning a lot! Thanks for the great, optimistic article!
Thanks Elizabeth for stopping by! Your english knowledge will have a huge, positive impact on your online copywriting skills :)
Thanks so much Jon! I hope son! Keep up the great work.
@Gaz – Thanks, glad you thought it was great! Funny how one piece of egobait leads to another :)
@seo – Word of advice, don’t use “seo” as your name. Not only will you never rank for it, but it’s just not something you should do on a blog like this where people actually chat in the comments (not bashing you, but letting you know so someone down the road doesn’t). But thanks, and stay ambitious!
I am extremely impressed by what you’ve done. I also am young and new to the SEO game. I’ve been successful with about 20 companies so far and am working to build my own company very soon. I am happy to have found someone like myself and am also looking forward to sharing what I learn with you in Twitter.
Great post. I first came across Jon with his 50 G+ people and pages article, massive kudos for that piece of ego bait, it had it all. I think I tweeted him in the days following congratulating him because he totally nailed it.
Jon was one of the first names on my own piece of ego bait “Awesome SEO’s you probably don’t follow on Twitter (but should)” https://stokedseo.co.uk/2012/03/12/awesome-seos-you-probably-dont-follow-on-twitter-but-should/ at that time he had a little over 500 followers….he now has almost 2000.
I guess my first comment didn’t go through…
@Mike – Thanks so much for the invite! Had a lot of fun putting this together :). And yeah, forgot to mention the charity giveaway, my bad.
@Kevin – Thanks man, I appreciate it :)
@David – Really glad you’ve been checking out my stuff, I’ve been doing the same to you as well! Really like the posts you write, keep it up.
@Gregory – Haha, embarrassing wasn’t it? ;)
@Dirt – Thanks, appreciate you stopping by. I guess that means I need to start working harder!
@stephen – Thanks for the support!
@Casey – You’re awesome Casey, thanks again for sharing it. Doing my best to stick to just link building, so I’ll try to keep it up!
@Jason – I hope so, only time will tell :). Thanks!
Congrats on quite a year Jon. It’s very inspirational and it shows how through following your passion, talent, hard work, and dedication you can go a long way in a relatively short period of time. I’m sure the next year will be even better!
Great stuff Jon, Im enjoying your work
I love your key points here in this post. I am in the SEO industry and you are right about how when we read something great we LOVE to share! I was one of those people who shared that link building article you put together and when it comes down to what people love, it is a clear way to read everything they need to know about that one specific topic. You nailed it!
Sorry bro – no one knows who you are.
Heh, I actually remember visiting your site from those ThemeForest template days, who would’ve thought it’d become what it is now!
I’ve been following Jon on Twitter and reading his blog for a few months, so it was great to hear more of his story. I really enjoy these story-type posts.
What I find impressed is that at such a young age he figured out the power of knowing your audience, and not overwhelming that audience with random info, but focusing on just a few things they can take action on.
Jon’s story is probably one of the most fascinating and exciting in the SEO industry right now. Can’t wait to see how it continues to unfold.
Brilliant Post, I have started following you more recently and reading a lot more of your posts! Awesome work!
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