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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    Ready or Not, Here I Come

    I don’t think I can beat the list of last week’s accomplishments so I won’t even try (but being the type-A entrepreneur that I am, I know I will soon enough).

    I worked all Labor Day weekend finishing up the requirements so I could deliver them to the development team, which I did on Monday night. The document is 188 pages long and I’m sure it will take them a couple of days to absorb it all. In the meantime we’re working hard to design mockups to illustrate some of Grouvia’s more complicated features.

    We’re continuing to get signups on the Grouvia site, even though I paused the AdWords campaign over the Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure where they’re coming from, but the signups continue to trickle in, at a rate of 1 or 2 a day.

    Getting the word out about Grouvia is proving to be a challenge. I Facebook and Twitter every day, I comment on other blogs, I go to networking groups, I keep up with the LinkedIn discussions, I blog twice a week, I do the Google AdWords thing, we got some good media coverage, but the signups are a slow trickle.

    I know you’re out there, future Grouvia users! How do I reach you???

    The urgent goal now is to get an early alpha release up and running ASAP, get people to start playing with it, then solicit feedback. I’m not sure I agree with my developers’ prioritized list of deliverables; I know they want to do it the way that is most efficient from a system design and coding perspective, but I have to look at the business side.

    For example, to me it makes the most sense to approach it like this:

    1. Start with as many of the member features as possible (early alpha),
    2. Build the group site features (alpha),
    3. Add events and group management features (beta).

    We can do the mobile device support, advertising, and Grouvia Admin CMS stuff right the end, right before the 1.0 launch. What do you think?

    The test is: Can we get that first iteration out by the end of this month? I hope so, and I may need to negotiate with them to get what I want.

    I can be very tenacious when I want something… just ask my Mother. But I do think this approach makes the most sense from a business perspective.

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    Train Wreck-norati

    My experience with Technorati has been anything but pleasant. As a matter of fact every experience I’ve had on that site has been a disaster.

    It’s totally UN user-friendly, the pages are busy and confusing, and the blog claiming process is a complete mess. I finally managed to get the original juntopia blog claimed (I don’t even know how) and now I’ve been struggling for a month with getting the Grouvia blog claimed with no luck and absolutely no help from their support.

    Let me show you the sequence of this excruciating process, I promise I’ll make this concise and completely factual without any commentary or diatribe. [Update: I kinda lied here.]

    Shortly after I moved my blog from blog.juntopia.com to blog.grouvia.com I attempted to do the technorati claim process. I received an error about my URL being invalid, and managed to enter a support ticket of “other” because none of their choices matched their error message. I received an auto-responder message stating they received my ticket and assigned a number to it. I got nothing after that.

    A week or so later I remembered I still needed to do this and decided to try again. I entered the blog url and this time I got a different message. Now the site told me that the claim was “in progress”. You can see this screen here:


    This seemed relatively normal and so I waited an hour and the same message was still there. I saw the button that says “Complete the Claim” so I thought “Oh, I have to click that button.” So I did and got this message:

    To really appreciate this, you have to see it within the context of the rest of the screen. Look at this screenshot:

    Holy cow! (Oops, sorry, that was commentary.) Just pause for a second and look at this screen and ask yourself… what would YOU do next? I tried pretty much everything. I finally decided to contact support because I was getting angry and frustrated. So I clicked on the link in the middle of the error message, the green link that you can barely see, yeah that one. (Oops sorry, I did it again.) And I got this screen:

    After selecting “Claiming”, I got this screen:

    Technorati5
    Uhhh…. Hm. None of those seem to fit do they? So I just blindly picked one and sent a description about my problem, and crossed my fingers that the right person would get it. You don’t even want to see the email I got back from them – oy vay! (If you do, just email me and I’ll be happy to forward it to you.)

    By the way this was on June 21st. It is now July 16th (actually I wrote this post on July 11th) and finally got back to this again and the same thing happened, and I sent another support ticket in.

    *sigh*

    One question I have is this: how does this ultra-popular web application survive with this complete train wreck of a web site??? Am I the only one baffled by this? Is it because all the other ones are even worse??? I shudder to think.

    In the meantime, my now-defunct juntopia blog is like number 3,245,761 on the popularity list, or the authority list or whatever the heck that ranking thing is they do. Since Grouvia has little hope of ever getting listed, I might as well just leave the old juntopia one up there and hope a few people stumble upon it. No reference to that OTHER web site intended. Let’s just not go there.

    [Another technorati claim code: mpvbjge7hd]

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    Into the Fire

    Well, things are definitely heating up on the Grouvia landscape.

    I sit here wolfing down tofu curry from Wegmans (delish!) and hoping I can get in a good after-dinner walk with my dog. She really loves our nightly walks and I hate to disappoint her.

    I can barely remember what all I did this week, it was a hurricane of activity.

    Ok, I finally hired a marketer/copywriter, whom I so-far ADORE. His name is Karl Schmieder and I think I’m pretty lucky to get him. His web site and blog are here: http://www.messaginglab.com/. He gets what grouvia is all about and so far is super-easy to work with and knows all the stuff I don’t know about marketing and advertising that is going to be so crucial to the launch of this product.

    I also finished all my mockups to hand over to the IA/designer. I have a colleague working with me to complete these, and she will also work on the functional specs. She is AWESOME and she’s doing me a huge favor by working with me on this. I’m so lucky to have her assistance, I don’t even know how I’d do it without her help.

    Ya know, I think sometimes people must think I have a money tree in my backyard or something. Of *course* I’m going to ask for as much as I can get for as little cost as possible. Why would someone be surprised about that? That’s the way bootstrapping works. It’s called “negotiation” — hello???

    Well at any rate… it was a stressful but productive week, and I got a lot of little details ironed out. There are a lot still left to tackle, but not as many as there were last week :-).

    Oh one other thing, Karl wants me to change blogs. It’s a good idea. I need to move this blog to another domain, and convert this one into one that’s friendlier and more useful to Grouvia’s target audience. Yeah, he’s right. And I appreciate the way he thinks. It was a problem I didn’t know how to resolve. Now I do. Just like that.

    Twitter Schmitter (or “Tweeting Frenzy” for the non-New Yorkers)

    I have to talk about Twitter. It’s everywhere and it’s driving me nuts.

    Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY is pushing me to get a Twitter account. Apparently my life will continue to have no purpose without it, my business will fail, my marriage will fall apart, Republicans will take over, and on and on.

    Hogwash.

    I have read lots of articles and blogs (but, happily, no tweets) on how great this little tool is. But I have yet to find a compelling argument for why I should spend my limited time “following” dozens (or hundreds) of people’s stream-of-consciousness rants about their pet peeves and kids’ poop schedules, and broken household items. Oh, I know there are useful bits of information being tweeted, but honestly folks, I’m trying to start a business here and I really do not have the time to sift through it all waiting for that pearl of wisdom to drop into my crackberry. I already spend several hours a week keeping up with LinkedIn, Facebook, and a dozen or so blogs I subscribe to. I’m sorry, I have better things to do with my time, and I have to prioritize. And yes dammit — I need at least 7 hours of sleep.

    The only hope I have is that those who will be my ultimate competitors are spending half their days twittering and not getting important business-related tasks done. That will give me another edge over them.

    I’m OK with that.

    P.S. Here’s a salient interview with by Jakob Nielsen (one of my favorite authors) about the value of Twitter. Hear hear.

    [Update: You might notice that I actually now have a twitter account (see nav links). As a startup, I’m trying to maximize exposure for grouvia and one reputable source says having a twitter account is crucial. So for the love of my business, I got one, but I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet and I am still skeptical.]