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Getting a website to get organic traffic should be a fun and rewarding process. Rather than focusing on building links, it’s more fruitful to focus on the user experience, making good shit and building genuine relationships.

Among the many websites hit in 2013, Interflora were the highest profile. They got caught flush by Google for using advertorials. From one angle, they were simply just doing an outreach campaign to boost their profile on relevant blogs. But the urge to get link juice passed on from these blogs hurt them badly.

Of course, links are still needed to improve the search engine rankings for your website, but you risk a perilous campaign if you put too much emphasis on them. Rand Fishkin sums it up well here.

Even today, you can get short-term success from linkbuilding and black-hat SEO techniques, but you leave yourself vulnerable to future Google algorithm updates. Is it worth it?

What you really want is a Google proof and robust inbound marketing machine which will continuously generate organic traffic without being at the mercy of penguins, pandas and hummingbirds.

Whether you’re starting up a company or already have a website that you do linkbuilding for, you can still refine your approach. All that is required is a change in your mindset towards SEO and inbound marketing.

You can start by following the principles below and everything will start falling into place.

Make use of your company vision and values

A lot of companies fail with their marketing endeavors because their strategy is too reactive to the surrounding environment. They are doing things in response to Google updates, the latest fad or technology. They have no identity of their own.

Stop all this and go back to the roots of why your company is in existence. This requires getting in touch with the core ideology of your company. This is beyond any product, CEO or technology. The core ideology is the core purpose and core values of your organisation.

For the sake of this post, I’m just going to stick with the core values.

Core values are three to five tenets which an individual or an organisation holds tightly, independent of whatever happens in the external environment. These 3 to 5 principles would stand the test of time or any scenario the individual or company faces.

They should be used to remind you and your team about your vision. Moz does a great job with their TAGFEE tenets. These tenets help them stay consistent with their approach to everything they do. Rand also uses his blog as a great tool to practice the TAGFEE tenets.

Another example is Coca-Cola, they have a mission to refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, create value and make a difference. This is reflected with the content that they are regularly producing.

As SEOs and inbound marketers, by understanding our core values or those of the client, we step away from a micro-mindset of just linkbuilding or writing a blog post for the sake of it. Instead we awaken a desire to produce something consistent in line with our organisational values. We enhance our ability to make congruent decisions with all areas of the marketing strategy.

A few quick ways to get closer to your core values is by asking yourself some questions.

  • If you had enough money to retire, would you take your core values with you?
  • What are the core values that you envision will continue to be valid in your organisation in 2123?
  • Would you still hold your core values if they were to become a competitive disadvantage?
  • If you were to start a new organisation regardless of industry, what core values would you build it upon?

By applying your core values to your marketing strategy, you will be stepping away from the environmentally reactive mindset.

If you haven’t already, check out how Simon Sinek perfectly elaborates this topic in one of my favourite Ted talks.

Take time to understand the customer

How valuable would it be if you could read the minds of your current and potential customers? It can happen. You just have to start paying more attention to who they are, what they do, their motivations etc.

You can get started by asking yourself who are your customers. Split them into 4 or 5 separate personas. Create a hypothetical composite of your customer. Initially, it will be very blurry but the aim is to make each persona clearer with time.

Include their demographic information, their goals and motivations, how they define success, their biggest obstacles and challenges, what media channels (online and offline) they frequent etc.

Once you have something, you can start to test these assumptions. Do everything to get as much data on your market and buyer personas. Set up Google Alerts, participate in forums, use social networks and create surveys. But nothing beats speaking to a potential customer, present customer or a customer that chose the competition. The insights that can be gained from buyer persona interviews are priceless.

For each persona, have a place to store and update all the quantitative and qualitative data and information. I would recommend that you use a mixture of Trello and Evernote or Google Docs.

Over a period of time, you will have developed a thorough understanding of your target customers. The words they use, things they hate, the websites and social networks they frequent.

Based on this information, you will have the leverage to provide them with content they like, do outreach on the websites they frequent and connect with them on their favourite social networks.

Build remarkable content

google proof

Being just good isn’t good enough. There’s a lot of good websites with good content. The reality is that no one shares good content.

In order to build a website that will convert or content that gets shared and builds loyalty – you have to work towards being exceptional. Pay attention to the small things. Make the design look great. Make sure that the blog posts are amazing enough for someone to take time out, read and share.  Make sure that the social media page is beautiful. Make sure every single pixel related to your business kicks ass. Optimise everything.

Intercom is a great example of a company who know how to produce the remarkable (visit their blog and see). Their blog posts are well-researched, relevant to their audience and get shared a LOT. In fact, everything from their homepage, documentation and about page are examples of optimising everything.

If I don’t feel something is good enough, I’ll go back to the drawing board and make it better. If you’re not good at something, I understand that there’s a learning process. But there’s a few things you can do to boost this:

  • Build an awareness and appreciation of what is good and what is considered shite.
  • Putting time into a blog post or piece of content. Some of the best bloggers are known to spend a significant amount of time per blog post. For example, Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich spends 12 to 18 hours per blog post. He gets 300,000 visitors per month. This is an extreme case, the point is that rarely is anything great built with half-hearted effort.
  • Make things that have a WOW factor. You know it’s ready when you’re excited to ship it. Look at the WorkforceFM app, it’s in a “boring” niche but looks exciting. The website and product both look and function great, bringing an air of confidence which can’t be faked by crappy websites and products.

Start building genuine relationships


When someone is trying to build a relationship with you, they either want something or they are genuinely interested in you. I’m not sure about you, but I hate reciprocating a relationship with anyone with an ulterior motive.

This principle applies to outreach. Start building genuine relationships with people without the feeling of needing to get a link on their website, or them to promote your product to their vast readership. Most popular bloggers get hundreds of generic and disingenuous emails from people asking for things. Try to differentiate yourselves.

For me personally, outreach is about building genuine relationships. I enjoy meeting people and discussing and sharing ideas with them. If I see a great blog post, I will retweet it and may even send an email to the writer complimenting them about their work.

Outreach should never be about getting in touch with a blogger, journalist or influencer because you want something from them. That’s the beggar frame. Instead you want to be reaching people without looking like you are after something.

The aim should be to continuously network and build friendships, retweet their content, post a genuine comment on their blog post and show some genuine loving. When you are writing a blog post, if relevant, mention them in your blog. Tell them.

Make these influencers and bloggers genuinely want to be part of your network. This will automatically open many opportunities for writing guest posts, co-marketing or even getting introductions to other bloggers they know. You will be genuinely tapping into their readership and earning plenty of links along the way.

So next time you think of sending an email for a link, take a step back. Instead start following them on Twitter or Linkedin. Read their content and share it with your followers. Tell them they have a great piece of content. Ideally, you would have already had some sort of contact with them in the first place.

Whatever you do, DON’T send a generic email asking to post a guest post with a link back.

Keep testing new ideas

If you want to innovate, then you have to remove that fear of failure. The only way for this to happen is to allow some room for failure. For this there needs to be a space for innovation.

A lot of successful companies are doing this already. A good place to begin is by using the 70-20-10 model. 70% low-risk and bread butter, 20% innovating what has worked in the past and 10% on more high risk stuff and brand new ideas. Regardless of whether that 10% might become the next 70% or it will be a failure and be forgotten, it allows the team that space to try new things that they wouldn’t have done without this rule.

70-20-10 Model

Google are big advocates of this principle. Everything new that comes out of Google is from the 10% of time the engineers spend on their side projects.

How can this be applied to content marketing? Simple. Spend 70% of your time focusing on the core things that need to be done. 20% of the time on premium stuff like ebooksepic pieces of content. The remaining 10% is for trying new things regardless of if they fail.

Olga Vidisheva of Shoptiques, allows each member of her team to get creative by giving them a $1000 budget. It doesn’t matter if they fail, the main objective is that they experiment and try something new.

Instead of worrying about the outcome, just go out and test it and see what happens. Based on the feedback, you’ll know whether to repeat & scale or to eject.

Main takeaway

The main takeaway is that you can build sustainable inbound marketing which naturally earns links, improves your keyword rankings, builds your brand, & converts traffic into leads and customers. All of this by simply following these principles.

  • Know your vision and core values.
  • Know your customers.
  • Be remarkable at everything or at least try.
  • Build genuine relationships with people.
  • Keep testing new ideas.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts and stories on this area of creating a sustainable approach to SEO and inbound marketing.

Image Credits

CC image courtesy of LyndaSanchez on Flickr

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