Getting search engine traffic to a new web site

If you search for “family link” or “familylink” on Google, the first hit is not www.familylink.com. Today, on the query “familylink”, hits #5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 all refer to FamilyLink.com, but they are from blogs and press releases. Google is not yet ranking FamilyLink.com as the most relevant result for these queries. I’m sure that will change soon, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

When you’ve been working at a web company that has had its web site up for many years, has good PageRank, good titles and internal links, and has many incoming links that have come in steadily over the years from press coverage, bloggers, customer links, and so forth, you sometimes take for granted the huge flow of new customers that come without cost from natural search engine rankings.

I have been involved with and seen web sites that get free search engine traffic worth the equivalent of millions of dollars of paid clicks/sponsored links.

But with any new web site, it takes time for users to create content, and for people to link to your site and to deep link to your user content. It takes time for the virtuous circle of more users posting more content generating more users (from search engines) to really kick in.

And when you have seen it work so beautifully before, and it is not working now, it is hard to be patient. But you just have to wait.

Fortunately, you can join Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Site Explorer and get validated by them as the site owner, and see your site through the eyes of their bots–how often they come back, how many pages they index, what your top rankings are on various keywords.

But that still doesn’t get you all the incoming links you need from authentic sources over a long period of time so that you can have a robust amount of natural search engine traffic.

That does take time.

Today, if you search for just about any keyword or phrase that might eventually help you find our familylink.com social network, such as the names of more than a hundred thousand cities and towns around the world, or millions of surnames from around the world, or the specific names of ancestors who might have pages on our site, you probably won’t find our web site yet using Google, Yahoo, or MSN.

So we really have to rely on email, the blogosphere, press announcements (including a couple of big ones coming up), and a little paid search to get our intial users. Then we will see more and more member invitations to other genealogists and family members, as our viral marketing efforts start to grow.

Years ago Yahoo had a Paid Inclusion program which didn’t make sense to me when most of the sites I was working on were included in their natural search for free. But I guess I didn’t think about using Paid Inclusion out of necessity for a free site.

Can some SEO expert out there tell me how they have used Paid Inclusion in a way that is worthwhile, particularly for a brand new site?

I’m tired of looking at my Omniture Site Catalyst referring domains report and seeing almost no traffic from Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

I am however happy to see our WorldVitalRecords.com traffic growing steadily, since that is where our company’s revenue comes from. We are getting more and more natural search engine traffic there since our number of databases grow every day and our site has been up for nearly a year.

Some people say the one year mark is magical for natural search engine traffic. Has anyone had an experience that validates this, or is that just an urban legend?

Google may provide query volumes soon

The blogosphere is going nuts over the possibility that Google will be providing monthly query volume by keyword. This is something that Goto.com/Overture/Yahoo Search Marketing has provided for years, but inventory.overture.com has been unreliable for some time. And Yahoo only has a minority of the overall search traffic. There are paid options like WordTracker (which I have used) for query volume and Keywordtopia (which I haven’t used yet) for generating unique words lists based on query volume and amount of competition. But if Google gets into this arena, it will be a boom for all search engine marketers. The screen shot from the adamap.com post shows that Google will display the query volume per keyword as well as the amount of PPC competition for that word. What they won’t do is show the SEO competition. This is what our WebEvident.com Searchability(TM) technology attempts to provide: an SEO “acquirability” score, meaning, how hard will it be to get a top 10 ranking on any given keyword based on the current top 10 results–how optimized is their page, how many incoming links do they have, etc. Unfortunately, WebEvident is only available through third party distributors; its retail site has never launched. If WebEvident could find a partner to build its retail site and share the revenue, I think they would do it. Use the Contact Me form if you are interested in discussing this….

International Genealogy and Search Engine Rankings

For many years I have wanted Ancestry.com to go international, since the world population is more than 20 times larger than the U.S. population. I felt that a Rootsweb-type model could be done in virtually every country of the world, followed at sime time, by an Ancestry-type subscription model. The one (a user generated content model) would lead to the other (a premium database model.)

Note: I left the company in February 2002 and have no inside information about the company or its plans.

Since the company hired Tim Sullivan as its 6th CEO in 8 years (I was the first, then hired my brother Curt, who was replaced by Greg Ballard, and then Dave Moon, Tom Stockham, and now Tim Sullivan), there are strong signs that Ancestry is going international, and in a big way. It’s very exciting for me to watch. I’m very pleased with the German web site that Ancestry launched, and of course the company has done great things in the UK and Canada.

When I first learned about Tim Sullivan, I heard that in his previous role as CEO of Match.com he had helped Match.com go into 27 countries, or something like that. So I suspected this was coming. This is a very good thing for the company as well as for genealogists worldwide. Tim has made a number of very good decisions in the past year, and in the past few months I’ve seen an acceleration of good moves being made by the company. I’m very encouraged.

When I decided to get back into the genealogy industry full-time, just a few months ago, we decided to try to focus on things that were not being addressed yet by the larger companies in the genealogy space. We have started beefing up our international search engines, and working on user generated content features that will be rolling out in the coming weeks. In addition, I’m planning to travel internationally to work with content partners worldwide. I have several such trips in the works.

Even though we are a small company, we have a generous approach to working with content partners and an incredible online marketing team that is generating more traffic and customers every month, so our royalty pool is becoming sizeable. We know we will make a good partner for many international content owners.

One of our keys to success internationally will be search engine optimization that will enable us to attract visitors from all over the world to our web pages with no marketing costs. With pay-per-click costs increasing, natural search becomes the key way for a company to grow and grow profitably.

Our efforts in this regard are beginning to pay off. We rank #1 on MSN.com for “china genealogy“, “chile genealogy“, “kenya genealogy“, “philippines genealogy“, “portugal genealogy“, “tonga genealogy“, “turkey genealogy“, and “vietnam genealogy.” We rank in the top 10 in Google, Yahoo and MSN for many other countries already. And as we roll out genealogy web pages for every town and city in the world, and for every surname in the world, and as our users beginning sharing content with each other, all of this content will be optimized for search engines as well as for mobile phones.

After leaving MyFamily.com in 2002 I ran an internet marketing agency called 10x Marketing that did search engine optimization, pay per click marketing, and affiliate marketing for many companies. And our World Vital Records team has excellent skills in these areas as well.

So keep an eye on World Vital Records and our forthcoming FamilyL— web site, as our natural search rankings continue to grow our total web site traffic will get very robust.

We know that having 13.8 million pages of content indexed by Google, like Rootsweb does, almost all of it user generated, is a great way to attract millions of monthly visitors, the way Rootsweb does.

We have only 17,400 pages indexed by Google right now, but this should grow by two orders of magnitude this year as our strategy begins to play out. And when it does, we will become a significant participant in the international genealogy space.

The long term cumulative impact of guerilla marketing

In December a panel of internet entrepreneurs shared their stories and their keys to success with my BYU marketing and Provo Labs Academy students.

One young woman told how she had teamed up a few years ago with her brother to start an ecommerce site, selling a very unusual niche product. They did almost $1 million in revenue last year.

One student asked her how long it took for her sales to take off initially. Her answer surprised me: she worked for an entire week before she had her first sale.

How many people would work a full week, generate one sale (probably under $30) and still be willing to stick with it? Yes she worked for a full year before generating enough sales were to pay her a living wage.

Now, after many years of hard work, she and her brother are doing very well.

Her story reminds me how important it is to be patient and persistent with your online business. Online businesses almost always start with a small trickle of visitors, a few sales, and then over time turn into a stream of traffic and a river of repeat customers — but only if the founding team keeps at it.

Even eBay started this way. When the auction site was first launched, a small number of checks started coming in. The stream of checks turned into a torrent, all while Pierre Omidyar was working at General Magic in his cubicle. EBay was profitable from the beginning, because
there was really no overhead and the site was incredibly viral and revenue ramped quickly.

But most of the ecommerce sites listed in the Internet Retailer Top 500 (it takes more than $3 million in annual sales to make that list) probably started much more slowly than eBay. But their teams kept promoting their products, they kept at it, until revenue reached the millions.

The most important book I had when starting all of Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com’s marketing efforts was Guerilla Marketing Online Weapons: 100 Low-cost High Impact Weapons for Online Prosperity.

A lot of the tactics are now obsolete, but it is the mindset that matters the most. It’s a rare mindset but a really valuable one.

As my World Vital Records team watches our small stream of visitors grow, I want to remind them how important it is to market our company’s products at every opportunity, in every possible channel, using every possible tactic.

As our marketing team grows, I want every one of them to understand the power of guerilla marketing compounded over time.

Let’s do the math.

Suppose you hire a marketing employee at $10 per hour, and assign her to do guerilla marketing and PR using dozens of online marketing tactics. There are literally hundreds of legitimate tactics.

Let’s say that her first day she gets a link from another site that will consistently deliver 3 visitors per day from now on. This could be a link on a blog roll, or an entry in a web directory, or a link on any other site.

Not a very successful day, right. In eight hours, she cost $80, and delivered 3 visitors and no sales.

With an average conversion rate of 2% and an average sale price of $50, the marketing employee failed on day one. Result: loss of $80.

But imagine that she works every day using guerilla tactics such as posting answers to questions on Yahoo Answers, appropriately advertising on Craigslist, submitting her site to search engines and directories, commenting on blogs and participating in message boards, putting offers up on freebie sites, publishing press releases, syndicating articles, and asking bloggers to review her site or link to her. Let’s say her efforts bring an additional 3 visitors per day from links that are semi-permanent and will consistently generate 3 visitors per day from now on. (Many links have a long life span and therefore individually have a long tail.)

So after 30 days her links are now bringing in 90 visitors per day and generating 2 sales a day, or $100 in daily revenue.

Now all of a sudden the economics start looking really good. She’s generating $100 in sales with labor costs of $80. Depending on the cost of goods, she will soon be a profit center for the company, if she can continue focusing on these online marketing tactics and overcome boredom, and the lack of management understanding about what she is up to.

If she is creative enough to keep finding new ways to get permanent links from other sites that will consistently deliver 3 new visitors per day, then within a year, her efforts will be bringing about 1000 visitors per day or 20 sales per day, which would be $1000 per day, or
$30,000 per month. The second year, her results would be double.

This is how internet companies actually succeed. Ask the founders of Backcountry.com to tell you how they spent the first few years basically getting as many links from other sites as they could (even before it mattered for SEO purposes) and how over the years the cumulative impact of all these links (including from their paid affiliates) yielded tens of millions in annual revenues.

This is how it works. There are employees in every successful internet company (usually underappreciated) who are in the trenches every day, gutting it out, getting a link here and a mention here, and an affiliate here, finding webmasters or bloggers or journalists anywhere who might take an interest in their products, writing new content, finding new keywords to market around, generating some sales and some positive word of mouth, until the cumulative impact of all their efforts is generating a consistent daily stream of sales.

Since most corporate executives (unless they were there from the start) have no idea how this stuff actually happens, they don’t give much credit to the trench workers (such as when Ancestry.com laid off its only affiliate manager back in 2000 when she was merely responsible for personally recruiting 9 of the top 10 affiliates, and generating, at one point, a very significant percentage of the companies new daily sales), and they stop investing in the daily guerilla and online marketing tactics that have this cumulative impact.

When their businesses seem to plateau or peak, they panic and spend more and more dollars on paid marketing, and the guerilla stuff goes by the way side.

You can still be profitable when you are spending money to get every visitor to your web site, but not nearly as profitable as when you use a nice combination of paid marketing, guerilla and viral.

For me and my team at World Vital Records (and genealogy is extremely diverse and viral, so we have a lot of opportunities to spread the word in creative ways) the question is this: how many employees like the one I described above can we find, train, and support, before they are duplicating efforts and stepping on each other’s toes.

If our market can handle one such employee, and she can generate links every day that will bring us 3 clicks per day from now on, then in a year, we’ll have one employee generating the $1,000 per day that I described above.

But if there are enough tactics involving enough web sites from enough countries and we can have 10 employees doing this guerilla marketing stuff, then at the end of a year, this team will be generating $10,000 per day in revenue. That would be better: a $3.65 million annual revenue stream from our guerilla marketing/affiliate marketing team. But what if we could support 20 such employees, or eventually 50. The numbers start looking very good.

And it all starts with just 3 visitors a day.

PS. I just thought of a new metric for guerilla marketing. We all use unique visitors, unique visits, page views, and sales. But what about this: unique daily referring domains. I wonder if anyone has ever used that.

A guerilla marketer or a team of them could keep track (this would be an easy report in Omniture) of the number of unique domains or unique URLs that brought at least one visitor each day. If the team is doing their job and getting enough attention and links from other sites, this number would grow every day. This would indicate how horizontal their efforts.

Of course a good online or guerilla marketer will try to get prominent links on high traffic web sites that will generate hundreds or thousands of visitors per day; but my point is that you don’t have to have huge wins like this to succeed–you can do it with small wins every day over a long period of time.

WSJ Startup Journal: How to stand out online

Some people are born with great names and others have great names thrust upon them. In the 1960s when I was given the name “Paul Allen” it was an ordinary name. But thanks to the dynamic duo of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the name is now famous.

But what do you do if you want to be found online, but you can’t possibly stand out like the rich and famous person with the same name? Or what do you do if you have a name like “John Smith” that is so common that it can’t possibly stand out?

The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs published an article today by Elva Ramirez that may give entrepreneurs a few ideas about how to stand out in the search engines and how to elevate your search engine rankings. One key is blogging. Another is giving yourself a unique online persona, like Phil Burns did.

I was interviewed for the article as was Phil Burns, aka Phil801, founder of TagJungle.com.

I mentioned in the interview that it’s hard to compete in search engine rankings with the Microsoft Paul Allen. He used to have the first fifty or so search results in Google. But since I’ve been blogging fairly consistently for more than three years, and have posted about 800-900 times, I’ve attracted hundreds of incoming links that have given my paulallen.net web site a decent ranking on the search phrase “paul allen.”

I’m still known as Paul Allen the Lesser, and will likely stay that way forever both in reputation and in Google rank, unless I outlive the Greater and do something so marvelous (like bring about world peace through blogging) that my web page someday outranks his Wikipedia article. Not likely, I know. I’ll settle for third or fifth and be happy as a clam.

But when you name your company, or purchase your domain name, or name your product or service, do something to make it unique and easy to find, or do something to attract so much attention that you get the search engine rankings that you need to be found.

It often takes a ton of quality content (either company published or user generated) to generate enough incoming links to get high rankings on various keywords. But I’ve seen in done over and over and over again by SEO savvy entrepeneurs and internet marketers.

It pays great dividends to generate content that is worth linking to, because search engine rankings can make the difference between success and failure of an online business. I tried to calculate the value of high search engine rankings in an article published in December 2004 by Connect Magazine last year.

In the mid 90s, it mattered a great deal that your company name started with an “A” or better yet a number like “10x” since so many directories were alphabetically sorted. As better sorting algorithms were developed, that became less important. (But even now, in Google Book Search, the book vendors are listed in alphabetically order, meaning that Abe Books and Alibris show up ahead of Amazon.com whenever you want to purchase a book.)

How do you think names will affect the 2008 Presidential Campaign?

I think Hilary or is it Hillary Clinton has a pretty big problem. People don’t know how to spell her name. About 1/4th or 1/3rd seem to spell it wrong according to a Google Trends Report on both spellings. Her first name has two l’s.

I think Rudy Giuliani has an even bigger problem. It’s hard to find someone online when you can’t spell their name correctly. It’s taken me several searches for me to become comfortable with the spelling of his last name. The first few times I got it wrong.

Barack Hussein Obama will have the problem of getting people to spell his first name correctly (I think I typed two “r”s initially), but worse still, the Hussein might bring up all kinds of search engine results that may turn people off. Good thing for him that his last name has a “b” in it rather than an “s.”

People may wonder if you spell Mitt Romney with one or two t’s, so I think John Edwards and John McCane have the edge here in “ease of use.” Just kidding, I know it’s McCain, but I wonder if everyone else knows that as well. So may Edwards actually has the advantage.

At least I thought he did, until I did a search on Google for “John Edwards” and after the first three hits came up I saw something I’ve never seen before, a line separating the first three results from the next set of results, followed by a message:

“See results for John Edward”

Then below that were a bunch of websites dealing with a musician named John Edward.

I have never before seen Google take a plural word query (Edwards) and offer search results for a singular version of the name (Edward) partway down the page.

Can someone tell me what’s going on here? Does someone at Google not like John Edwards?

(Just kidding, I totally believe what happens at Google is algorithmically based. But John Edwards just happens to be caught in a bad spot with regards to this particular algorithm. Instead of “hanging chads” determining the outcome of the 2008 Election, maybe it will be a tweaked google algorithm.)

I wonder how many of the campaigns will try to purchase domains or build sites that include the misspelled versions of their opponents names. Would that be a base tactic in politics?

I typed in familsearch.com the other day (accidentally missed the “y”) and I found that I got redirected to the Ancestry.com web site presumably because an affiliate bought that typo version of a popular domain name and took advantage of the typo. In internet marketing this happens all the time. Some companies own thousands of domains with misspellings and typos that can redirect traffic from their competitors’ sites.

So what do you do to stand out online? And why do you think it matters?

And what advice would you give the 2008 Presidential Campaigns as they try to stand out online? Who has an inherent advantage because of his/her name, and who has a disadvantage? Which tactics should they embrace, and which should they avoid, because they might backfire? Which candidate will write the blog with the best content (hopefully not ghost-written, but genuine) and attract the most incoming links in order to get more incoming traffic and higher search engine rankings.

For a lot of reasons, including the impact of names on a candidate’s ability to be found online, it will be an interesting race to watch.

Seattle SEO firm reveals method for finding sites that should link to you

Thanks to SoloSEO.com, a new web-based search engine marketing project management system, for pointing me to this excellent post from a Seattle SEO firm about how to get more incoming links. I have used some of these ideas before, but this post describes a more comprehensive and useful approach than any internal search strategy my teams have employed to get links. I highly recommend this.

Backlinks are the #1 most important factor in search engine rankings. So everyone needs them. But there are legitimate natural ways to attract links and then there are short-cut ways, which in the long run won’t give you much credit.

For example, many web sites will sell text links for SEO purposes. If your company is considering buying text links from any of the networks that have popped up, you should read this excellent Matt Cutts post from December 2005 that reveals that Google is getting very good at identifying purchased text links. Matt Cutts works at Google with the team that tries to identify and stamp out SEO spam; at the same time he gives wonderful advice about how to legitimately design your web site to be search engine friendly.

Search Engine Strategies in Chicago

I’m attending my first panel at SES Chicago. I chose to attend the session called Bulk Submit 2.0. The presenters include Amanda Camp, the Google engineer over Sitemaps, and Amit Kumar, the Yahoo manager over Site Explorer, along with two agency search marketers. Everyone is enthusiastic about the industry’s acceptance of a bulk site submit protocoal at www.sitemaps.org. I will try to boil down all the advice from this session and others into future blog posts.

Google Employee Posts Videos on How Google Search Engine Really Works

I have recently discovered that Matt Cutts, a Google employee who blogs about search engine optimization (he explains the kinds of tactics that Google considers black hat SEO tactics and encourages everyone to do only appropriate search engine optimization) is also doing video posts on Google Video. (See all 19 Matt Cutts videos on Google Video.)

I’ve been watching some of these and I highly recommend them. First, because Matt works for Google, he is an authority on these topics. Second, he is both articulate and concise. He doesn’t waste your time. His explanations are very clear.

Yesterday I showed my Academy members a Matt Cutts video on “some SEO myths,” which explains that hosting a few web sites on the same IP address or the same server is not a problem (but hosting several thousand is.)

Today I watched this excellent Matt Cutts video about Dynamic vs. Static URLs (he says they do inherit exactly the same PageRank from sites that link to them, but he says avoid multiple parameters and use mod rewrites where possible to make dynamic pages look like static pages) and how to not be guilty of “cloaking” (which violates Google’s policies) if you do GeoTargeting with your web site (deliver different content to different users depending on their country/place of origin, as determined by their IP address.)

As I told my Academy members yesterday, my job is to read, listen to, and watch everything I can find about internet marketing (as well as oversee the internet marketing campaigns of my portfolio companies) and then share only the best, most relevant information with them, so that they can focus on running their business, and I can help them find all the best new opportunities in internet marketing. And of course, their sharing their successes and failures with each other helps everyone too.

We had an open house last night at the Provo Labs Academy for Entrepreneurs with about 20 people and signed up several more members.

I’ve had several people email me lately about signing up for a online version of the Academy instruction that we do. I’ve been considering rolling out a $99 per month service for entrepreneurs who don’t live in Utah. Several people have already told me they will sign up for this as soon as it is ready.

If you are interested in this service, please email me or comment on my blog. As soon as I get 25 people who are willing to subscribe, we’ll launch this.

MySpace, YouTube, Wikipedia and Free Downloads

Okay, I’m just keyword stuffing my blog post, to see how many visitors I get by using these keywords in my title. These are all very hot keywords according to Google Trends.

Here are the trends for MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia.

But the title wouldn’t be complete without including “free” and “download.” I can’t seem to find any search terms on Google Trends that get more searches than they do. I compare “free” and “download” to “yahoo”, “google”, and “myspace.” Interesting results.

Anyone searching on Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, or Google Blog Search for any of these keywords will find this post, at least for the next few minutes until others post entries that also have these keywords in them. I wonder if I’ll see a spike in traffic.

I don’t believe in keyword stuffing. I’m doing this just to make a point. (I did blog about an effect press release that I saw the other day that used keyword stuffing to drive traffic to its site.)

But I do believe in careful keyword selection. Every time you post a blog entry, write a news article, or create a title for a web page, you really ought to make sure that your title does make sense, both to readers and to searchers.

Make sure that the keywords you are choosing are actually popular keywords. They should also actually match the content of your post, unlike my poor example here.

I really do check Google Trends most of the time before posting. For example, yesterday I wondered if “online marketing” or “internet marketing” would make a better title.

Clearly, internet marketing won easily.

My title was “Next 3 days: free online conference on internet marketing

I checked “3″ vs “three” and “online conference” vs several other options.

So, with a 1-2 minute check of Google Trends, I’m guessing that I increased the odds that anyone using a blog search engine would find that post by about 50-100%.

My traffic has been going up lately, but I can’t tell if it is because I’m posting more frequently or if my post titles are better. But I’m going to keep using Google Trends to do this, because I think it will make a really big difference long term on my site traffic.

When the bloggers in our world history blogger network all start taking an extra minute or two before each post to check their keyword selection, I believe that the traffic there will increase dramatically.

I actually hope someone will create a WordPress plug-in that will access Google Trends within the interface. Maybe it could grade my headline while I’m writing my article, and then return some alternatives (by checking a thesaurus in the background as well as querying Google Trends) and then let me know the best ones before I finalize my post.

What do you think about keyword stuffing and careful keyword selection? Do you know any journalists or newspapers or online publishers that train their writers to do this? And if so, are their tools out there that get into the daily workflow?

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