So let me get this right? You’re a small business? And you want a website? And you also want SEO? You want to rank number 1 for things like “dance studio” and “summer activities?” And your budget for the entire SEO project is $400?
Well, ok then. This should be a fun conversation!
You would be shocked at the number of people I have had a similar conversation with (or maybe not, if you’ve ever done web work for local businesses.) After that startling intro, the conversation usually progresses something along the lines of the following:
Wherein, We Learn What a Website Does
In short, two things.
1. Bring In A Lot of Traffic
There are a number of ways to get traffic to your site.
- Paid Traffic
- Referral Traffic from links on other sites.
- Direct Traffic when someone types your “.com” address into their browser.
- Search Traffic when someone search a word or phrase on Google and your site shows up in the index.
Of the 4 traffic types I listed above, search traffic is the best. Here’s a few reasons.
- It’s free!
- By taking steps to ensure your site is easy for google to find, you can reap long term benefits for a small amount of work.
- Traffic as a result of a targeted keyword can indicate how far through the sales process a potential customer is.
- It doesn’t go away when you stop paying.
All great reasons to make sure your “organic search” part of the pie graph is as big as you can possibly make it.
2. Turn That Traffic Into Sales
So now that you’ve got a huge volume of traffic, you get to have fun with A/B testing and using customer feedback to improve key portions of your site. I won’t beat a dead horse here, since there are a million and one blog posts that talk about ways to test, and even more companies that offer testing as a service. Check ‘em out. Do your research and figure out what works best for your situation. Just be sure that you’re actually putting in the work and running the tests.
Ok. Now we know in general terms about what your site should be doing, let’s discuss the easiest way to make that happen.
Website As Sales Force
Like I said above, organic search traffic is awesome, and getting more of it should be what every website owner strives for. Free, targeted traffic that what to hear what you have to say. Win.
My theory of how search engines works is the following (please note, I have no idea if this is a case or not, but it seems to be working for me, so there – take it with a grain of salt or ignore me if someone smarter than I were to offer up a better suggestion.)
- Depth – You need to prove that you know what the heck you’re talking about by writing good content that answers the questions people are asking when they search. You’ll know you’re doing this when things like your bounce rate drop (people are spending time to read the content!) and your inbound links go up (someone else thought this content worth sharing!)
- Breadth – We know you’re a genius on a topic that is relevant, but what else do you know? For example, my other site offers thesis child themes. I have experience creating those themes for real estate agents, but what about rental leasing agents? Or rental property managers? Well, the answer to both is yes, but my site currently does a bad job letting the world know this.
If my website were a real-life salesman, and he can’t say a lot of things about a lot of relevant topics, he wouldn’t be very good as his job. Womp womp. So then…
How Can We Fix That?
Easy, write a lot of really good articles that people will find useful!
Well, that’s kind of hard though. As companies like the New York Times surely know, getting good content at scale is expensive, requires a lot of people, and doesn’t always produce the kind of ROI needed to sustain itsself.
So what’s the next best solution? Good-enough content that you can mass produce. No, this doesn’t mean creating a ton of spam with an auto-blogging tool. Trust me – I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. You get short term gains, then you get blacklisted, and all your effort is for naught.
It means creating a large volume of pages that all share a similar format, each tailored to a specific segment of your audience, that is unique and interesting at the same time. Let’s discuss a few examples of this in the real world.
Enter Scalable Content
Before I begin here, I just want to say hats off to Patrick McKenzie of Bingo Card Creator, since, as far as I know, he coined the term and has championed the cause. I’m absolutly stealing this premise from him. Thanks Patrick – (and if you read this – keep posting great comments on Hacker News!)
Creating great content for your site in a repeatable, scalable fashion is the new holy-grail of search engine marketing. Doing it in a way that doesn’t break the bank is hard though. Unless of course, you run a popular blog and you’ve got people tripping all over themselves to write stuff for you for free in exchange for the exposure.
Odds are that isn’t you though, so let’s take a look at a few examples of what scalable content looks like for the average netizen.
Examples of Crowd Sourced Scalable Content
- Customer Testimonials – Customer testimonials are an easy crowd sourced way to add pages to your site. For example, here on ThesisReady, you can fill out a short form to submit a testimonial. From there, I can approve it if it isn’t spam, and off it goes to become an indexable post of its very own. Since I don’t really have editorial control over the content of testimonials (after all, they wouldn’t be testimonials if I edited them) on their own, they won’t be much help in bringing in high quality traffic. In the next section, we’ll talk about how we can improve that though.
- Frequently Asked Questions – This kind of content serves double duty for me. For one, it cuts down on email and support forum requests, which rocks. Not only do I get to not have to answer the same questions via email 500 times, it also let’s me create pages centered around a question. For example “How do I add new posts to WordPress” is a popular search term. Creating a FAQ section on your site and answering this question there means potential search visitors for you. Later we’ll talk about a trick to improving conversations without annoying regular users. This means making the same page of content work overtime.
- Marketing Terms Glossary – One of the things I’ve been experimenting with on my local business marketing site is a marketing terms glossary. It’s still in the early phases and the few pages of content (which you’ll notice isn’t visible in the menu bar) have been added with the help of a VA. As the site audience grows, I’m hoping that people will want to share their knowledge and create a central resource to direct people to. This is also a potential way to encourage inbound links.
Example of Non Crowd Sourced Content
Accepting content from the public doesn’t make sense in every case though.
- Target Key Service Customers – Something I haven’t done (so feel free to steal this from me!), but want to, it create a new page for each type of local business we aim to work with. For example, a page titled “How SEO Helps Doctors Grow Their Business” wouldn’t be too dissimilar from “How SEO Helps Dentists Grow Their Business.” The key thread is the same and with minimal work can be applied in a nearly limitless number of cases within that well defined scope. I’m also then free to move on to “How WordPress Helps X Do Y” where X is a potential customer and Y is the business goal they want to achieve. That gives me a formula to plug content into at will.
- Target Key Product Customers – I’m cheating a bit here, but it bears mentioning that the idea above applies not only to services, but to products as well. I get contacted frequently by customers interested in buying a Thesis skin asking something along the lines of “I’m a realtor. Which thesis skin is right for me?” It wouldn’t be too much work for me to create a page called “Thesis Skins for Realtors” with a short paragraph about the benefits of using Thesis, thesis skins, and WordPress. Underneath that (which is what would change from page to page across different professions) include a top 5 list of which skins I suggest, and why. Not only can I answer those emails with an auto responder, I now get free realtor eyeballs from Google.
An Old Idea With New Life
So as you’ve probably noticed by now, the idea of scalable content creation is by no means earth shaking, on it’s surface. It’s just a matter of creating targeted landing pages. It does, however, flip the idea of crafting long sales letters on its head. In most cases, it just doesn’t make sense to write 3-5k words of copy for each segment of your market, nor does it make sense to hope that those words will appeal to every customer.
Scalable content means splitting the difference between too much extra work, and no extra work.
Landing Pages at The Speed of Light
The crux of the benefits of scalable content is that you can create specific landing pages at the speed of light. Or even better, you can pay someone else to create your landing pages.
VA’s are your friend.
Tim Ferris, et all, have beaten the horse that is outsourcing to death and then some. If you’ve ever tried to hire someone on oDesk to do your writing you know it’s a crap shoot at best. Odds are, that if someone is a native English speaker and knows how to form a coherent paragraph accordingly, they’re going to want more than $5/hr to work for you, and at scale, that’s unsustainable for many budgets. Instead, envision your landing page, and create a mad-libs form that anyone, regardless of their familiarity with English can fill in for you.
The process looks something like the following…
- Determine the content you want to create more of.
- Write one landing page yourself.
- Figure out, in 5 changes or fewer, how to adapt that content to a new customer segment.
- Create your content template (preferably, this means a custom post type in WordPress.)
- Hire your VA.
- Provide a list of 5 starter pages to create, and a deadline to create them.
- Assess the VA’s performance. If the content isn’t great, was it because of a poor content choice? Does the template not actually apply to different situations like you though it does?
- Make revisions to the template and landing page.
- Scale content to the moon.
- Test the living daylights out of your new landing pages. Don’t forget – conversions is the name of game with all of this!
That is an approximation of how to get started with scalable content. Time for tips, tricks, and caveats.
Custom Content Types Are Magic
Since WordPress 3.0, we’ve been gifted the magic that is custom content types. That’s right – you can add an unlimited number of new post types to your blog, and do with them what you wish. All without messing up your existing content. Just add a few lines of code to your functions.php file, and off you go.
Its like the WordPress folks could predict the future.
Instead of doing boring things with your content types, try employing them in unique ways to get a better handle on your new content empire.
More Fun With Friends
As I mentioned in my first set of examples, some types of scalable content lend themselves to crowd sourcing. Using a plugin like Gravity Forms is key to getting your readership involved. You want to make it easy (no , seriously – make it like stupid easy) for them to get involved. But that’s not the only thing you want to worry about. You need to get the incentives for contributing right.
Think about how you can get your audience to give up their time to help you generate new content pages for your site. Is a link back to their site enough? While it may, you want to keep the ultimate purpose of the page they are creating in mind – the first thing a search engine visitor will see of your site. Will that link siphon off too much traffic?
Since your site is the one that ultimately benefits from user-submitted content, you need to figure out a way to balance your goals and still create a situation where contributors get excited about being able to create new content for you.
Who Sees What?
With the magic of http headers, we can see which site is responsible for referring each visitor. Like I mentioned under the “Frequently Asked Questions” example, you want to be able to differentiate between new customers and return customers. The easiest way to do this is to check the referrer.
So, if a visitor lands on an FAQ from a google search, we want to show them a big “Hey You! Join my mailing list!” box under the content. If they don’t have a referrer, that means they visited your site by directly typing in your URL or clicking a bookmark. It probably isn’t worth annoying them to join your list, since they’re probably already on it.
Alternatively, getting fancy with something like Popup Domination is something to consider. I’ve had great results on a client site where I only showed the popup to search visitors after her regular readers took the time to email and complain about it.
Your mileage may vary. Feel free to experiment and see what feels right to you.
The Business Case For Scalable Content
Now that I’ve sold you on how awesome of an idea having a ready-to-go landing page is for each and every possible keyword relevant to your site, you still need to turn around and sell it to your boss. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Be Like Demand Media – Search for anything on google right now. If an eHow.com result shows up, you understand the power of scalable content. They have thousands of articles that people contribute about niche topics. While any given page might not be brilliant, they’ve got enough coverage for any individual page not to matter.
- Compete On the Long Tail – The more specific a keyword is, the farther through down the buying process a visitor is likely to be. Instead of trying to compete with giant websites for keywords that pull in millions of searches, scalable content lets you quickly own a large volume of more valuable, easier to own keywords. Just track your conversion rate by keyword in Google Analytics to see what I’m talking about.
- Minimal Risk, High Reward – For an investment of a few thousand dollars one time, you can get setup with a scalable content system of your very own. Compare this to the same amount of money every month that you’re probably spending on AdWords to rent traffic. Even a few conversions quickly add up to a huge ROI. It’s smart money spent with a long term plan in mind, rather than chasing after ever-diminishing short term rewards.
So, 2,600 words later, I hope I’ve made the case for a new approach to managing your traffic generation efforts. I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say in the comments, and if you think this is the kind of project that could have a seriously amazing impact on your bottom line (hint – it absolutely is) drop me a line.
And oh yeah — be sure to check out the other thesis tutorials as well.