Forget SEO – It’s All About Community Building
2012 was not kind to the SEO industry. Google’s Panda algorithm refreshed, fine-tuned, and snagged another round of websites with content that wasn’t up to snuff. Penguin burst on the search scene and manhandled backlinks. Big G also rolled out other game-changing tweaks like the EMD (Exact-Match Domain) update this year – that is, when the search giant wasn’t busy banning AdSense accounts left and right.
If you’re in the SEO biz – or even a webmaster – you likely felt some pain as the drama unfolded in waves throughout 2012. Without a doubt, it was a rough year for the ‘net.
Any time a major change happens, humans must suffer through a period of adjustment. That’s why the search environment sea change has us all rehashing, regrouping, reorganizing – and some of the least fortunate among us are completely rebuilding. The same tired old SEO tricks simply don’t work anymore. No longer can SEOs crunch numbers, mine keywords, and spit out kitschy sites designed to do nothing but rank.
…and is that necessarily a bad thing?
Google’s encouraging webmasters to leave data-driven SEO by the curb in favor of creating websites that users will actually want to visit. Imagine that! It’s a win for everyone – you can make a site that you’re truly passionate about, your users will enjoy the show, and Google won’t slap your masterpiece from the SERPs for stuffing keywords into every tag you create.
Of course, building high-quality websites is not for the faint of heart. You must pump out loads of stellar content, score heaps of high-quality backlinks, figure out how to snag traffic for your site, and get your brand noticed by the heavy-hitters in your niche in order to make it.
I’m tired just thinking about it, how about you?
The Basics of Community-Building
Believe it or not, there is a way to accomplish all of these goals simultaneously – without running yourself ragged in the process. The secret lies in community building, and if you manage to get your niche on lockdown, the sky is truly the limit.
The most successful websites and blogs on the interwebs today all boast “sticky” communities of loyal readers, subscribers, and followers. If you’re just starting out – or if you’ve had an active site for a while but your traffic numbers have remained dismal – you’re probably so irritated by the juggernauts in your niche basking in all that reader love that you’ve considered throwing in the towel.
Don’t despair. Here’s how to plant the seeds to grow an audience of your very own. First, create a document and list links to the key players in your niche. (Hint: they’ll often cite one another in their posts frequently).
Then, spend a couple of days simply browsing their content. For the sake of this exercise, focus on the comments after each post – not on the post itself. You’re looking for serial commenters; names that pop up repeatedly from blog to blog.
These people are likely hardcore members of your niche – leaders with whom you’ll want to associate, regardless of whether their own blogs are popular. Each comment usually contains the linked name of the commenter, and that link will direct you to the commenters’ own site or blog. Add the names and website URLs of each serial commenter you find to your list.
Don’t try to fit everyone in that you find – a well-developed list is enough of a starting point. Continue posting on your own website regularly – every other day at a minimum – and begin leaving comments on every site from your list. Rotate the list so you establish a pattern of regular commenting, and ensure you make each comment detailed and well thought out. The idea is to get the attention of the site owner by expressing a true interest in his or her words.
This process is grueling, but it won’t last forever. You’re implementing a short-term, rapid-fire approach to get your site’s name out there. If you persevere, a funny thing will happen. You’ll begin to see comments filling up your website from niche leaders who’ve noticed your frequent visits and want to return the favor. That’s your queue to take things a step further: reach out to webmasters via email. Start a dialogue. Make friends. Soon, you’ll be guest posting and racking up organic backlinks left and right.
Then, naturally, the traffic will follow.
This method is what Social Media Today calls an “organic growth strategy” – and it works:
We’re talking about Newton’s law of motion here, folks. That same concept your 5th grade science teacher drilled into your brain all those years ago. An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. Once you get past those first difficult steps to tap into your niche’s community, the sheer momentum of your website’s development will take your breath away. Your site’s traffic will never be Google-dependent either – meaning your visitors won’t disappear overnight after a few of Big G’s notorious algo tweaks.