Link Building – It’s a messy job but somebody’s gotta do it.

I can’t seem to get through the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Dummies book on my own, so my friend who is an SEO expert agreed to do some barter work for me.

Link building is a key component of any good SEO strategy.  Or so she told me and I had to agree because I didn’t know any better.

Link building is an ongoing effort, she says.  You do it a little bit every week, for several weeks at a time, and then repeat that over and over.  In a nutshell, it requires 2-3 people posting comments, blog entries, forum replies, answers to questions, etc, on high ranking sites a whole bunch of times, all containing links back to your site.

At some point, you will see your site’s PR (page rank) improve enough that your SEO effort takes on a life of its own and you don’t need the manual link building any more (or much).  At least that’s the idea.

So now that I’ve done a little research into how this works, let me tell you something: it is not as simple as it sounds.  Let’s go over some of the finer points of link building:

  • First of all, this work is BORING and I certainly can’t spend hours and hours every week doing this.  So I decided to get some cheap VAs (virtual assistants) to help.  I posted a very simple job opening on oDesk and within 2 hours had close to 50 applicants.  Whoa horsey!!!  I shut that faucet off as soon as I could chat the help desk to ask them how.
  • My personal ethics will not allow me to use black hat methods.  If you don’t know what that is, look it up on wikipedia.  Trust me, it’s bad.  But what it means is that I have to filter out any candidates who I think might use these techniques, because the last thing I want is for Grouvia’s reputation to be tarnished before we’re even one lap into the race.
  • You have to hit all different kinds of sites, from ebay and craigslist to blogs, article comments, review sites, and answer sites.  You have to hit the ones that have high PR, you have to hit them at different times of the day, and you have to hit them from different IP addresses and different devices and browsers.
  • Here’s a critical piece:  the things you hit have to be RELEVANT to your subject matter.  You can’t just hit anything — you have to hit stuff that means something to your site and your site’s audience.  For Grouvia I could hit anything group-related.
  • Finally, the things you say in these posts have to be relevant and valuable.  You can’t just put a comment on a blog post that says “thanks for the great post, signed soandso at http://www.grouvia.com”.  That would be spam and I get that all the time on my blog.  I trash them, even if it’s the only comment.  Especially the ones that are written by a non-English speaker.  Please.

My friend (the same one I talked about earlier) does this for a living.  She started doing it with stock sites when she was a day-trader, and according to her it works like a charm.

The whole thing seems really scummy, but everyone does it.  Apparently if you don’t do it your site is destined for Internet purgatory forever because nobody will ever find it.  Either that or you’ll have to pay for search engine advertisements which, when you have no money, is not much of an option.

[I just found this hilarious post called 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity.  Maybe he’ll see my link and link back to me.]

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    How to Increase Adoption Rates

    I wrote the headline for this article hoping that it would inspire me somehow.

    The signups for Grouvia Beta have been slower than I had hoped.  If I sit down and think about all the reasons this could be, here’s the list I come up with.

    1. Hello?  It’s Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa, and people are distracted by many other obligations.  How many times have you said “I’ll do that after the holidays” in the past two weeks?
    2. The month-long break I took from marketing to do design and programming was a bad move.
    3. People can’t see Grouvia’s value from reading the marketing materials or looking at the web site’s front pages.
    4. People don’t trust beta software.
    5. People are wary of brands they’ve never heard of.
    6. The SEO for the site is bad and we’re not getting in front of our target audience.

    This list is not in any particular order.  But it seems to logically break down into things I can (3, 5, & 6) and can’t (1, 2, & 4) do something about.  So let’s just ignore the latter ones and focus on the former.

    People can’t see Grouvia’s value.

    Starting next week I will review all of Grouvia’s marketing content that exists out on the Internet (or as much of it as I can find).

    I’ll look at everything from the Groove blog posts to the emails I send out and the status updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ll make an attempt to look at it critically and take notes about anything that someone might not understand or care about.

    Also, I’ll try to find someone to sit down with me and just walk through the web site and help me figure out where the communications need improvement.

    People are wary of brands they don’t know.

    I’ve heard that people won’t recognize your brand name until they’ve seen it at least seven times.

    Someone told me recently that they advertised their product on Facebook and wrote the ad in such a way that people wouldn’t click on it.  When I first heard it I thought it was stupid.

    But the point here is that if nobody clicks on your ad you don’t pay anything.  So without much effort I could throw together a Facebook ad without a call to action, just to start getting the Grouvia brand some cheap exposure. OK, so maybe it’s not so stupid after all.

    The SEO is bad.

    I did some Google AdWords testing a couple months ago with decent results.  I wrote about it in a blog post at the time.  I decided after a few weeks to put it on hold because although people were clicking the ad they weren’t signing up.

    I decided back then that it was just too soon to advertise, because technically Grouvia didn’t even exist yet.  It’s possible that it’s still too soon to advertise.  I won’t know until I do another test.

    An alternative approach is to try to improve Grouvia’s organic search rankings.  I may need to pay somebody to do this.  I don’t have the knowledge and I think it will take a good deal of time for me to learn how to do it and then craft and execute a plan.

    So I think the bottom line is that both of these approaches (paid vs. organic search results) take either too much time or money.  The unfortunate result is that this particular item falls to the bottom of the list for now.

    I’ll do it after the holidays.

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    The Grouvia Signup Drive

    My brother’s father-in-law passed away on Monday morning. That put me in a funk, as I had to weigh hopping in the car and driving seven hours to Connecticut to be with family, or staying home to focus on business. I admit I do tend to be impulsive, and driving under pressure and exhausting myself would not have helped anyone so I’m glad I didn’t do it.

    Jacque was a great guy, and we’ll miss him at family gatherings. So Jacque, this blog post is for you.

    I’m behind on everything this week. My blog posts are late, I can’t keep up with my email much less my daily reading. My To Do list is getting longer instead of shorter. I think I might be at a saturation point where every task seems daunting, if not overwhelming.

    I wake up in the middle of the night and think about where I am with Grouvia and how much further we still have to go before we’ll see results.

    Why is it that everything seems more scary and uncertain at 3 am?

    I much prefer broad daylight. I tell you this so you understand that this is my state of mind as I write this. I’m generally an optimistic confident person.

    My big challenge at the moment is this: How to drive Grouvia signups.

    There are several ways to tackle this. You know by now how much I love making lists, so here’s my list for Ways to Drive Grouvia Signups.

    1. Google AdWords: We did some testing with different keywords, ads, and landing pages and while the ads got a respectable click-through rate (see my Sept. 3rd post about this test) the actual sign up rate was not great. The presumption here is that the landing pages failed to get people to take action. So, we’re learning from this experience and working on improving the landing pages.
    2. Direct Selling: This is a lot of effort for very few signups. However, the signups we do get are of very good quality. I am currently trying to get the Yahoo group moderator for my networking group to move at least part of the group’s site to Grouvia.

      A side benefit of this exercise is that I’m finding out what messages work and don’t work. For example, no matter how many times I say “Grouvia is a free tool…” people always ask “How much does it cost?”

    3. Social Networking: While I do post blurbs and links to my blog posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, I have not asked people to sign up yet using these venues. I think it’s still early and I want to have something more concrete to show with the application before pushing into these channels.
    4. Email Sales: This is a bit dicey because some people might think this crosses the Spam line. Personally I don’t think it does and I am very intolerant of Spam. The concept here is that we search for people who run clubs or organizations and send them an email about Grouvia. There’s a lot more to this than what I’m describing, and I’ll probably write a post specifically about this topic at some point.

      At any rate, the process of finding these group organizers is tedious, but we’ve got a pretty long list compiled already. Did you ever notice how many organized groups there are? It’s probably in the seven figures. (Incidentally, *that* is the main reason I believe so strongly in Grouvia’s ultimate success.)

      (By the way I want to state unequivocally and for the record that Grouvia does not practice Spam techniques, and we are very careful to comply with the CAN-SPAM act of 2003.)

    5. Create Listings: Here’s another dicey one and there are certain risks involved. The idea is to create directory listings of clubs that we find are active online. This is a basic group listing consisting of the group’s name, topic, location, email link, phone number, and maybe a short description — whatever is available online. Then we email the organizer, tell them we’ve created this listing for them, and ask them to log into their account and create a password so they can enhance their listing and start adding their members.

      Honestly I’m not sure about this one, I think we’ll do a test and see what happens. If there is a negative reaction we’ll can it. The risk I mentioned is about creating stale content. The listings that don’t get validated somehow by the group’s owner would have to expire to make sure they don’t create a bunch of stale content.

    So there you have it – the five ways we are trying to get sign ups. Are you using any of these approaches? Are you using any other methods that you want to share? Please let us know, so we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

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    Release 0.01 – Four Things Grouvia Just Did

    We had four really big accomplishments this past week.

    1. Grouvia Has a New Development Team

    Yup, I pulled the trigger. I hired what I thought was the best development team of the bunch and now I can’t look back. I have to trust that I did the right thing and plunge onwards. I did choose a company from India, in a small industrial town near Utter Pradesh. The company’s name is “SmartData Enterprises” and I found them on oDesk.com. I had also invited a handful of firms via guru.com, but I do like the oDesk development features better. I won’t write about those details here, you can check out the sites if you’re interested. (And if you’re doing that don’t forget to look at elance.com as well.)

    Hopefully we will sign the contract this week, so I can engage the developers and walk through the requirements with them. The functional requirements are very good, but they’re not super-tight. I could tweak these requirements until kingdom come and still not be happy with them. So now that the train is on the tracks and moving out of the station, I have little time to dicker around with the documentation, and hope the developers will ask the right questions to get it done the way I envision it.

    There is something very satisfying as well as terrifying about this. It’s satisfying because we are taking a major step forward (and I’m a big believer in getting things done quickly). It’s terrifying, well… just being in business for yourself can be terrifying so it comes with the territory.

    2. Got the Public Web Site (Mostly) Up and Running
    This is not a big deal really, but it was time consuming. Fortunately I have HTML/CSS skills and was able to code it myself. Could I have used my time better? Sure, but I also could be $500 poorer if I got someone else to do it, besides not being certain it would be good code and then not having time or inclination to go fix it. At least now I know it’s good, and I practically did it in my sleep.

    Having the web site up allowed me to get the next two items accomplished as well…

    3. The Users Are Starting to Gather ‘Round
    Another cool thing I did this week was to create a Google AdWords campaign. I developed three different ad groups for different personas: 1) Outdoors Types with an existing club; 2) people who are looking for tips on How to Start a Club; and 3) people who just want a new Club Web Site for Free. (The links go to the different landing pages.)

    After four days of watching results, my ads in the #2 group are outpacing the others by a mile. Funny thing is I have no idea why. My “Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords” book states that you should do “split testing” where you always have two ads up at the same time. Whichever one doesn’t do well gets dropped, then you replace the dropped one with a new one and repeat the process over and over. It sounds a little tedious but I can now see why they say that – because you have no idea what people will respond to, you can only guess and test. I am now a believer in the importance of testing your advertising.

    Another thing that’s interesting in all this is the signups. We have received 13 signups so far and need to figure out if that’s a good conversion rate or not. Here are the early numbers:

    • 5,210 Impressions
    • 211 Click-Throughs
    • 13 Signups

    That’s an overall CTR (Click Through Rate) of 4.05% and a Conversion rate of 6.2%. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? The bill so far is about $64 so it’s costing about $5 per signup. It doesn’t sound so great when you put it that way. It’s actually not even that good because I know some of the signups did not come from the ads. On the other hand, I also know that the CTR is getting better as I continue to tweak the ads. For example the current best performing ad is averaging a respectable CTR of 4.59%. What this tells me is that I need to improve my conversions by re-writing my landing pages. Test and tweak.

    4. Grouvia Issued its First Press Release and Got Its First Article
    Last week, we issued a press release announcing the pre-release alpha site. We also reached out to a number of reporters to start to develop relationships as we move forward. Bill Freehling, a reporter at the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, liked the story and contacted me. He even wrote an article, which was in Tuesday’s edition of the paper and can be seen on the paper’s web site at fredericksburg.com.

    There are signup numbers associated with the press release and the article, but I’ll report on those next week.

    I said it was a busy week, didn’t I? And that doesn’t even cover the 349 other little things I was working on.

    Happy Labor Day!

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