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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.
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