Leaving Work Behind

My Authority Site’s SEO Optimized Setup

Written by Tom Ewer on September 27, 2012. 41 Comments

The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!

One Hour Authority Site Project: My Site's SEO Optimized SetupIf you have been following along with this project, you will know my short term focus is almost solely on content. All of the things I would typically focus on, such as design and marketing, have taken a back seat.

However, there is one thing in addition to content that I haven’t skimped on — onsite search engine optimization. Given that my aim is to rank in Google without doing any black hat link building, I need to make sure that my onsite SEO is spot on.

In this post, I am going to take you through exactly how I have set up and optimized my site. Although the following is specific to my authority site, I believe that the process could be adopted to suit just about any site.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!

Site Update

Before we begin, let’s take a brief look at how my site is getting on.

There is very little to tell you further to last week’s update — not a great deal has happened in the past seven days. I have written another five articles, each of which has exceeded 500 words (with a couple over 1,000).

My most recent ranking update didn’t reveal anything particularly dramatic:

Market Samurai Rank Tracking

There are however a couple of noteworthy points:

  1. The number of keywords that Google is ranking me for has increased from 8 to 11
  2. I have my first ranking on the first page for a keyword

Before you get excited, that first page ranking is for a search term with just 22 exact match searches per month. That term has only brought one visitor to my site so far.

Speaking of visitors, the site remains all but desolate, with only the occasional visitor. I’ve got a long way to go yet!

Naming My Site

Before we get onto the nuts and bolts of how I set up my site, I want to take a moment to address an extremely important factor — its name.

I decided early on that I wanted to find a keyword rich domain name. It seems apparent to me that Google still loves exact match domains, and I therefore consider partial match domains to be pretty useful too. It means that every single page on your site is partially optimized for a particular keyword before you have written a word.

The keyword I chose has a fairly healthy number of exact searches (2,400 per month) and is highly relevant to my niche. This keyword also “devolves” nicely — take a word off and you have a keyword with 27,100 searches. Take another word off and you have a keyword with 40,500 searches. All three keywords are relevant to my niche.

Furthermore, the front page competition for the keyword isn’t horrendous (screenshot from Market Samurai):

SEO Competition

There are only two root domains on the first page, and the number of referring domains isn’t particularly imposing — especially when you consider that future organic links back to my site will include the search term. I am pretty confident of being able to establish myself on the first page in the long term.

I couldn’t get my hands on an exact match domain for this keyword (no surprise there), so ended up with a domain like this:

http://www.free[myniche]advice.net/

Setting Up My Theme

Getting the site up and running was a relatively simplistic affair. Whilst it is all too easy to spend days or weeks working on a site launch, I had mine live within a few minutes.

My site runs on the default WordPress Twenty Eleven theme. And why not? It is extremely well-coded, clean, minimalistic, and content-focused:

Twenty Eleven

I did actually make a few minor tweaks to the theme, which I added in a child theme:

  1. I edited the footer.php file to remove the WordPress attribution and include a copyright notice
  2. I added CSS to remove post meta data and make some minor formatting changes

That was the extent of my work on the design of the site.

The thinking behind my limited approach was very simple — what is the point on pouring a whole load of time and effort into the design of a site that no one is going to see? If we adopt the principles of The Lean Startup for authority sites for a moment, you should start with the most basic design, and only upgrade when the size of your audience warrants it.

The focus here is cost benefit — i.e., what benefit does the cost of my time in improving the design have on my goals? The answer, at this stage, is no benefit at all.

Plugins

I had a similarly no-frills approach to plugins. I installed the following:

Whilst there are plenty of other plugins that I could install, at this stage, there is little point in doing so. As I keep pointing out, my focus is entirely on content. The more distracted I am by fiddling around with plugins, the less time I have to produce content.

Pages

Again, I stuck with the bare minimum here.

I created a simple About page with a with a few brief paragraphs — a quick overview of the benefits that my site brings, along with a brief biography. This is something that I definitely would look to develop more as traffic to the site grows, as your About page is pivotal to engagement on your blog.

The only other page I created was a Contact page. This is something of a necessity if you want your site to seem approachable and non-spammy. After all, how many blogs do you read that don’t have a contact page? I used the aforementioned Contact Form 7 plugin to place a contact form on this page.

Search Engine Optimization

This is the area into which the bulk of my setup time went — it wasn’t something that I wanted to skimp on. In fairness, site optimization is something of an ongoing process for me — I am often getting new ideas.

SEO by Yoast

This is (in my humble opinion) by far the best SEO plugin for WordPress. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it didn’t take me too long to get everything to my liking.

My first port of call was the Titles & Metas settings screen:

Titles & Metas

As you can see, I had to check the force rewrite titles in order to get the feature to work properly. Furthermore, I noindexed subpages of archives, and decided not to use meta keywords (by all accounts I have read, they are redundant).

I then turned my focus to each of the tabs, where I could set how title tags would be displayed on my site. In case you don’t know, title tags are the titles that show up in the search engines and in the title bar of your browser. Filling your title tags with relevant keywords is absolutely vital, and a major part of onsite SEO.

The title template for my homepage is simply the site’s name (which is keyword rich by default). I also wrote a custom description, which will show up in search engine results. Whilst Google doesn’t take keywords within the description into account when ranking a site, writing a good description can make the difference between someone clicking through to your site (or not).

Next, I set the title templates for posts, pages, categories and tags:

Title Template

As I will better explain in my post on content creation, this template gives you a keyword rich title without it seeming unnatural. You’ll end up with titles like:

How to Throw a Curve Ball — Free Baseball Tips

The title is perfectly optimized for SEO, but also seems completely natural. The best of both worlds.

I also disabled the date and author-based archives, which you can do in the “Other” tab. Given that my site is to be a single-author blog with evergreen content, there’s no point filling Google’s index up with useless duplicate content.

Just to clarify, I left the settings so that the following content formats and taxonomies were indexed:

I believe that each one offers an opportunity to rank in Google, should you go about things in the right manner.

Although there are a huge amount of settings within SEO by Yoast, the only other thing I did was check to enable sitemap functionality on the Sitemaps screen:

XML Sitemap

Although they are not a necessity, sitemaps help search engines crawl websites more effectively. Since SEO by Yoast automatically keeps my sitemap up to date, I had no reason not to enable this feature.

Categories and Tags

This is a fairly large topic, and this post is getting big enough as it is. Fortunately, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which demonstrates exactly how I have set up categories and tags for my authority site: The Right Way to Use Categories and Tags in WordPress to Boost SEO.

I basically keep three things in mind when creating categories and tags. Each one must:

  1. Be a relevant phrase that someone would actually search for in Google
  2. Look presentable in the search engine results page (i.e. be written in title case)
  3. Actually serve a useful purpose to the end user

I am pretty conservative with my tagging. At the time of writing, I have just 39 tags across 31 posts, but almost all of them are used more than once (and some as much as eight times).

Webmaster Tools

The final thing I did to set up my site was add it to my Google Webmaster Tools account. This is basically a way of saying to Google, “This is my site”. It also gains you access to a whole bunch of analytics tools and gizmos.

Adding a site is a piece of cake — just follow these simple instructions. One thing I will mention is that you should add both the “http://” and “http://www.” version of your site, and then tell Google which one to prioritize. Don’t worry if this all sounds foreign — I wrote a simple to follow guide which you can find here.

Finally, you should upload your sitemap to Webmaster Tools by navigating to Optimization > Sitemaps in the sidebar, and clicking on “Add/Test Sitemap”. This is your way of telling Google that your sitemap exists, so that its spiders can utilize it when crawling your site.

Rank Tracking

Once my site was set up, I needed a way of tracking the huge number of keywords that I was going to be targeting. Doing so isn’t just an exercise in curiosity — I will be carefully analyzing keywords that I do rank for, so that I can gain a better understanding of why I don’t rank for others.

Your keyword list will probably start with a bunch of relevant search terms with high search figures. Then as you add content, you will add any long tail keywords relevant to each article that you write (more on this in a later post).

I decided to use the rank tracking feature that comes packaged with Market Samurai. It updates once per week, and gives you fancy graphs so that you can track your progress:

Market Samurai Rank Tracker

Market Samurai is a piece of software that I have been utilizing heavily for this project, and rank tracking is just one aspect of its feature set.

What Next?

That’s it folks — a breakdown of my entire site setup process.

In the next post in this series, I’m going to be getting onto the most important part of the process — content creation. I will be revealing, in detail, my approach to writing posts for my authority site.

Until then, I’d love to know what you think about the process that I have revealed above. Do you think it is a sensible approach? Do you think it could be improved? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of S. Diddy

How to Get More Twitter Followers on Autopilot

Written by Tom Ewer on September 24, 2012. 97 Comments

How to Get More Twitter Followers on AutopilotI love Twitter.

When it comes to promoting my blog, meeting likeminded people, increasing brand awareness, and just about any other benefit that is possible through social media, Twitter comes out on top for me every time.

I know that Facebook is the big boy on the block and Pinterest is growing every month but I have had more success with Twitter than every other social network combined. The fact is this — my success with Twitter is completely disproportionate to my success with other social media networks and the size and age of my blog.

You may be wondering how I’ve managed that. Well, in this post I intend to give you a step by step guide to the biggest causative factor of my Twitter profile’s exponential growth.

My Twitter Story

But before I get onto that, you may be curious to better understand the success I have had with Twitter.

It didn’t come easy. I created my Twitter account in June 2011 and in that year I scratched around for followers. Unlike Facebook, I had never used it before and didn’t really “get it”. By the end of December 2011 I had fought my way to 552 followers.

Then in the New Year — after I had quit my job — I decided to put a concerted effort into my Twitter profile. I reached 1,000 followers on 16th February 2012. I had repeated what had originally took me six months in just 47 days.

And the growth didn’t stop there:

Twitter Growth Statistics

At the time of writing I have nearly 5,500 followers (and you’re all awesome, by the way). My Twitter account is growing faster than that of some blogs 3-4 times my size (if you’re not convinced, just head over to Twitter Counter and do the math).

But what does this do for my blog? Well, statistically speaking, this:

Twitter Referral Traffic

Throughout the life of this blog Twitter has been the single biggest source of referral traffic, driving more visitors to my site than second-placed Facebook by nearly 80%.

But that doesn’t reveal the true positive impact of Twitter. In reality, the reason that I love Twitter so much is represented by tweets like these:

Tweet

Tweet

And emails like these:

Email

Email

I get this kind of feedback regularly. What I rarely get is similar messages about people who have found me on Facebook or via Google. Not only do these messages make me feel like I must be doing something right, they also demonstrate that Twitter is a fantastic source of highly valuable traffic.

And what really excites me about Twitter is that all of this is possible for just about any blogger. You don’t need a huge blog to grow a big Twitter following (tweet this). I don’t know of any other social media network than you can leverage so effectively without having a well-established presence.

Disclaimer

I am about to reveal the precise strategy I have used to grow my Twitter following. What I am not teaching in this guide is how to engage with Twitter followers and build up a rapport. Growing a big follower base is only worth doing if you actually run an active Twitter account (which in reality, only has to take 5-15 minutes per day). Otherwise, you will find yourself with a whole load of followers who aren’t actually interested in what you have to say.

If you want to learn more about actually using Twitter (rather than growing your follower base), I recommend that you check out this article: How to Use Twitter for Exponential Blog Growth.

Furthermore, if you get too carried away with the strategy below you do run the risk of having your account suspended, or in the absolute worst case scenario, banned. Please note that anything you choose to do as a result of reading this post must be at your own risk.

Introducing Tweet Adder

Tweet AdderIf you’re desperate to get more Twitter followers and have yet to hear of Tweet Adder, I’m about to make your day. If you have already heard of Tweet Adder but haven’t got around to giving it a real try, I would recommend that you take this opportunity to have a closer look.

In a nutshell, Tweet Adder is a software application that you can use to semi-automate various tasks relating to your Twitter profile. Whilst I am not typically a big fan of automation when it comes to social media I make a happy exception in this case. Why? Because if you use Tweet Adder correctly and responsibly your actions never approach anything close to spamming and there is no downside. You get to connect with a whole bunch of willing people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of you.

At the time of writing, a one profile license will set you back $55. Tweet Adder is (to the best of my knowledge) the best and most reasonably-priced partner to my Twitter growth strategy, and is worth every single penny. I purchased Tweet Adder many months ago, still use it today, and will continue to use it well into the future.

TweetAdder can do a lot of things, but for the purposes of this guide, we are focusing just on growing your following. This can be done in four simple steps. Let’s get to it!

1. Find Potential Followers

In a nutshell, the key to growing your Twitter following is to find people who might be interested in your blog and follow them. It sounds simple, and that’s because it is. The logic is sound — if you follow people who might be interested in what you have to offer, some of them will follow you back.

So — the first step is to compile a list of Twitter accounts for users whose followers match your target audience. The more relevant, the better.

There are plenty of ways to find Twitter accounts similar to your own — if you have been blogging for any length of time, you will probably already have such a list (in your head at least). If not, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Search for related keywords in Google Blog Search
  2. Browse Technorati and other blog directories
  3. Search Twitter by hashtag (e.g. “#gardening”)
  4. Search Google for “[your keyword] top blogs”

That should get you rolling. Ideally, you’ll have a nice long list of Twitter profiles which you should sort broadly by relevancy (i.e. the most relevant profile comes first). Relevancy is key — the more their followers align with your target followers, the higher follow to followback rate you will achieve.

Once you’ve done that, login to your user account in Tweet Adder and click on “Followers of a User” in the sidebar. Then just enter the first Twitter username at the top of your list (without the @ sign), and hit “Search Now”:

TweetAdder

You then may want to go make yourself a cup of tea because fetching usernames can take a while. To be honest, you are not going to want to run through the entire sequence, as too many of the older users will be inactive (more on this later). Fetching around 10 pages or so is usually enough.

Once you have fetched enough pages you can hit “Stop”. You will then be presented with a list of usernames such as this:

TweetAdder

All you need to do on this screen is click on “Save All”. All of the most recent followers of your chosen account will then be added onto your list of people to follow in Tweet Adder.

2. Follow

The second step is a piece of cake and is where Tweet Adder begins to show its true value.

Click on “Follow” in the sidebar and you will see a screen like this:

TweetAdder

Here you can set how Tweet Adder follows new people from the list you have just created.

You can ignore the “Send Follows Now” area — we’re interested in “Automation Settings”. The figures you put in here will largely be dependent upon the size of your account. For instance, I would never recommend that a smallish account (say 500 – 3,000 followers) send 300 follows per day. Twitter won’t bat an eye if I do it, but may take note if a smaller account does.

Fortunately, the maximum follows number becomes largely academic because the real key is that little checkbox at the bottom.

When it comes to following people on Twitter, I have one very simple rule — never follow more people than you have following you. It looks spammy and will affect the way people perceive you. As you can see, I personally have Tweet Adder set to stop following when my following to follower ratio reaches 0.98 to 1. So if I had 100 followers I could only follow up to 98. If you were to check my Twitter account right now, you would see that I follow less people than I have followers.

Therefore, the size of your account typically dictates the daily volume at which you can follow new people. If you have a brand new account I would recommend that you start with a very low number of maximum follows per day (say 10), and work really hard on attracting new followers through other means. That will provide the fuel with which you will need to start growing your Twitter account at a faster rate with Tweet Adder.

Ultimately, it is up to you. The more people you follow, the greater the chance you have of being suspended by Twitter (it is likely that you will get a slap on the wrist first, rather than a full ban, but don’t just take my word for it). It’s balancing act.

As for the Time Delay setting I recommend that you use a little math here:

Active Period / Maximum Follows = Time Delay

Your active period is simply the amount of minutes per day that Tweet Adder will be open (and therefore able to add new follows). So if your PC is on 10 hours per day, your Active Period would be 10 * 60 = 600. Divide that by your Maximum Follows (say 100) and your average Time Delay should be 6 minutes. Therefore, you could set your Time Delay range from 4 to 8 minutes which would mean that you would get through your 100 follows per day. The further apart your follows are the better (although I wouldn’t worry too much about this).

Once you’re happy with your settings, just hit the “Automation” button at the top of your screen. It will switch to “Automation On” and you’ll be up and running!

3. Unfollow

Alright, so that’s your following sorted. You may now be wondering how on earth you build a sizable following. Aren’t you going to fill up your follows quickly with inactive accounts and spammy profiles?

The answer, to a degree, is yes. However, there is a solution — Tweet Adder’s UnFollow function. Its settings screen (accessed via the “UnFollow Users” link in the sidebar) is very similar to the Follow function:

TweetAdder

Again, you can ignore the “Send UnFollows Now” area — let’s get straight onto the good stuff.

First of all, you need to set the maximum number of unfollows per day. I would recommend that you set this to be identical to the number of automated follows. With that same number in mind, your time delay should also be the same.

It is unlikely that you will need to use the checkbox option for stopping unfollows. Unless your account grows at a spectacularly fast rate you will always be in a position where your number of follows aren’t too far off your number of followers.

Finally — but no less importantly — you will want to specify two things:

  1. Who is unfollowed
  2. How long you wait after following them to unfollow them

The logic here is simple. You follow someone then wait a few days for them to follow back. If they don’t, you unfollow them so that you have made room for a fresh follow (that may result in a follow back). By this method you’re never following anyone who isn’t following you for more than a few days, which theoretically gives you endless opportunities to follow new people. I personally feel that 3 days is long enough for an active Twitter user to decide whether or not to follow back, but again, you may wish to rely upon your own personal preference.

I recommend that you select “UnFollow nonreciprocal follows that were followed using Tweet Adder” from the drop down menu. This means that any people you manually follow — via the Twitter website or any other Twitter app — will not be automatically unfollowed by Tweet Adder. I like to follow certain people, regardless of whether or not they follow me, and this feature allows me to do just that.

4. Rinse and Repeat

This final step is extremely important — you must not miss it out if you want your Twitter account to grow quickly.

There is one key thing that Tweet Adder can’t do for you — it can’t spot inactive or spammy accounts. So for instance, an inactive account can have autofollow enabled, which will gain you a new follower, but will not in reality actually be of any benefit. Similarly, you can follow spam accounts who follow you back but again offer you nothing.

The first thing you should do to combat this is keep an eye on your growth statistics. You can use Twitter Counter for this. Just check your account week by week, and look out for a slow down in the number of follows you are receiving on a weekly basis. As soon as you spot a slowdown, clear out any existing users from your “To Follow List” in Tweet Adder, and add fresh users from another Twitter profile. The following week, you will almost definitely see a notable uptick in the number of followbacks. Alternatively you can choose to preempt this — I add a fresh “batch” of people to follow to Tweet Adder every Monday morning.

The other thing you should do is unfollow inactive and spammy Twitter profiles with ManageFlitter. This is a freemium web-based app but you only need to use the free option. Just sign in via your Twitter account and you’ll see a screen like this:

ManageFlitter

The two functions we are interested in are “No Profile Image” and “Inactive” — both available in the sidebar. “Inactive” Twitter users are those who have not tweeted in the past 30 days. It is fair to say that they probably won’t be much of an asset to your blog. Twitter users with no profile image (i.e. just the infamous Twitter egg) are usually spam accounts. I say usually rather than always — it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to make the exception.

Once you’re ready to zap some redundant follows, just click on each icon in turn and you will be presented with a list of all relevant follows. On that screen, click on the “Quick Edit” link, select all of the profiles and hit “Unfollow”:

ManageFlitter

You will need to repeat this process if there are more than 100 follows as ManageFlitter only includes 100 per page.

I typically clean house like this a couple of times a week. You could do it every day if you wanted to, or once a month — it’s entirely up to you. Obviously, the more regularly you keep on top of it, the quicker your account is likely to grow.

Finally, you will want to make sure that you keep on top of the number of users left to follow in Tweet Adder — you can see that on the Overview screen:

Tweet Adder

If the number is getting low, you will want to top up by sourcing new follows from your list of related Twitter accounts. I personally have an ever-growing list which I cycle through. By the time I’m done with the last user the first one has attracted enough fresh new users to make coming back to them a viable move.

That’s It!

Above is the strategy I have followed to grow my Twitter account steadily through 2012. There are few (if any) internet marketing products I have tried that have been as effective for me as Tweet Adder and I would heartily recommend that you take a closer look if you are interested in growing your Twitter account.

Please note that a contest was run on this post (hence some of the comments you will see below) but it has since ended.

Creative Commons image courtesy of shawncampbell

How I Chose a Niche for My Authority Site

Written by Tom Ewer on September 20, 2012. 27 Comments

The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!

One Hour Authority Site Project: How I Chose My NicheIt has been just over three weeks since I launched my new authority site.

So far I have chosen my niche, created and optimized my blog for onsite SEO, and written 26 articles. Including setup time, I have probably spent around 20 hours on the site. And as you can no doubt guess from the title of my project, I intend to spend an hour every weekday working on the site for the foreseeable future.

As you will know if you read my first post in this case study series, I plan to document just about everything relating to this project here on Leaving Work Behind. I will reveal my process in its entirety, and share all my successes and failures. I plan for the site to be a long term income stream for my business, and if I can achieve that, I hope that these posts can help you do something very similar.

With all of that said, today I want to focus on an extremely important part of the process — how I chose my niche.

A Recap

But before I get onto that, I want to elaborate on why I am doing what I am doing — the motivation behind this project.

This is an experiment. I do hope that it will become a viable part of my business, but I have not entered into this project with wild expectations. This post series is a case study, rather than a “How To” — I wouldn’t want you to think that I am endorsing my methods as a successful system (because I am not). Only time will tell on that front.

I view this whole project as the equivalent of Google’s 20% time:

Google's 20% Time

…just without the 60 hour workweek.

I typically work around 7 hours per day (not including social media and emailing). Most of that time is spent either on freelance writing, or other income-generating projects such as this blog, or my upcoming freelance blogging guide. I like the idea of taking a 15% (i.e. one hour) chunk out of my day to work on something purely speculative.

It’s a hobby of sorts, in the same vein as my original niche site that I started way back in May 2011. I’m not concerning myself with rankings or income — I’m just following a plan, and observing the results. As I said in the first post, I do have plenty of interesting ideas relating to this site (many of which have nothing to do with Google), but my focus is very much on the present.

So with all of the above said, I would love for you to join me on this journey and try something similar, but only with an understanding of what you’re getting into.

Site Update

There is very little to report since last week’s initial post regarding this project. Market Samurai’s rank tracking feature (which updates once per week) showed some rotation and movement amongst long tail keywords, but nothing exciting:

Authority Site Rankings

Traffic to the site is almost completely non-existent, but I am sure that will change in time. The site is indexed, and Google is seeing my pages and ranking them — that’s all I need for the time being.

The fact is, I don’t think many internet marketers have a great deal of respect for Google’s algorithms. A lot of people get very impatient if their site isn’t ranked after a matter of days or weeks. I used to be one such person.

But the fact is, my site is brand new, and my domain is brand new. I have appeared out of nowhere and started producing content regularly. For all Google knows, I might just as easily disappear tomorrow.

Whilst I would say that the content on my site is of a higher quality and more informative than the majority of what is currently on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the keywords I am targeting, I don’t think I warrant a spot there (yet). I’m a complete newcomer to the niche.

So that’s all the news I have for you at the moment. With that said, let’s take a few steps back in time and explore how I chose my niche in the first place.

How I Chose My Niche

It is an unfortunate necessity that I must not reveal the identity of my website. There are plenty of people out there who would only be too happy to scrape my content, copy my ideas, and generally be complete assholes. For the 99% of you who wouldn’t do that, I apologize for not being able to reveal more.

So, my mystery niche does put a slight limitation on how I can explain my process — but only slight. It may in fact be beneficial that you are not led by my choice of niche, as I have picked something very personal to me. It probably wouldn’t be a good niche for you at all.

There were basically five things I had in mind whilst I was picking and considering my niche. Let’s go through each in turn.

1. It Had to Be Personal

The niche had to be something I knew about — something I had experience in. It needed to be something that I could write endlessly about, and with relative ease. And it needed to be an information based niche — a niche in which I could write content based upon opinion, rather than research (because research-based content takes an age to create). Think Q&A style content, and you wouldn’t be far off.

You’re probably getting the idea here. I picked a passion — something that I wouldn’t get bored of in a hurry. We all have them — there is not a single person reading this who couldn’t think of something.

2. It Had to Be Broad and Specific

I also wanted to find a niche that is big enough so that I would never run out of inspiration, but tight enough so that the blog would have a clear singular focus. Here are a few examples:

Too BroadPerfectToo Specific
SportBaseballHow to Pitch
Health & ExerciseHome Cooking Tips & RecipesVegan Lunch Recipes
The ArtsActing for BeginnersHow to Get Auditions

I found a niche that sits in that middle ground really nicely. It is part of an absolutely enormous market, but it is clearly delineated, and a huge topic in its own right. Perfect.

3. It Had to Be Evergreen

Since my strategy is massively content-driven, I had to find a niche for which I could write content that would stand the test of time.

Say for instance I had started a blog on Hollywood movies. The problem with such a niche is that most people are only interested in new movies. As a general and relative rule, interest in movies wanes massively as they age.

Each article I write has to stand alone as a traffic generating cog in the engine that is my blog. And that means that my niche focus must be on evergreen information.

4. It Had to Be Monetizable

When I was picking my niche, I was rather on the fence about the topic of monetization. Of course, being able to make money out of the site is ultimately my number one priority, but you can make money out of any site if you generate enough traffic.

Having said that, it is a damn sight easier to make money if you pick a niche that is particularly commercial. In adjudging commerciality, I considered simple desire. Had I picked a niche where people had a burning desire?

Consider the example niches above. I think that they are all monetizable, in their own ways, and would rank their “commerciality” (based upon desire) as follows:

  1. Acting for Beginners
  2. Home Cooking Tips & Recipes
  3. Baseball

The problem is that judging commerciality is really tough. For instance, there are no shortage of people out there who really want to make it as actors or actresses, but perhaps those people generally don’t have much of a disposable income, and might be unwilling to part with their money.

On the flipside, whilst few people have a real burning desire to be a good home cook in the same way that someone wants to be an actor, there are perhaps more homemakers out there with the kind of disposable income available to spend on related products.

Ultimately, I think you can second guess commerciality and spend weeks (or months) procrastinating. If you just pick something and get on with it, you may get it wrong, but then at least you’ll spend those weeks and months taking action and learning a lot.

Finally, I considered different methods of monetization, namely:

  1. Advertising
  2. Affiliate marketing
  3. Product creation
  4. Membership site

I decided that my niche could support any or all of those monetization methods, which was certainly encouraging.

5. Competition Didn’t Matter

This may rank as perhaps the most controversial step in my niche selection process — I basically didn’t consider competition. For the purposes of picking my niche, I wasn’t particularly interested in it a factor.

Why? Because my strategy is centered around three things:

  1. Creating an enormous amount of quality content
  2. A focus on highly specific long tail keywords (for which there is less competition)
  3. A longer term strategy that doesn’t just focus on Google

Nearly anyone can make inroads into any niche. Just look at Leaving Work Behind. I had barely even read a blog about 15 months ago, and yet I’ve built up my own little corner of the web in what is an incredibly crowded niche (making money online) in that time.

Competition is overrated (tweet this) — just be consistently better than the competition over an extended period of time.

What Next?

That’s it folks — the process I went through in order to pick my niche! It may sound quite involved, but it was in fact a pretty easy decision for me — it was more confirming that my decision felt right that took the time.

In the next post in this series, I am going to focus on how I created my site, and the onsite optimization methods I employed (and employ) to make sure that there is a clear path between my content and the search engine results pages.

In the meantime, I’d love to get your feedback on the process I have described above. Do you agree with my approach, or do you think I’ve got it all wrong? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of basheertome

How to Be Productive

Written by Tom Ewer on September 17, 2012. 36 Comments

How to Be ProductiveI have always had a fascination with productivity.

Each and every one of us only has 24 hours in each day to achieve our goals. When it comes to simple time investment, no one person is more advantaged than another. Time is the great leveler.

But productivity gives you a cutting edge. Leveraging the time available to you effectively can be the key difference between success and failure.

Over the years I have taught myself to be more productive, and these days, I would like to think that I’m not too shabby on the productivity front. With that in mind, I thought that it would be useful to share what I have learned.

Understanding Productivity

Productivity: achieving a significant amount or result.

When most people write guides on productivity, they’ll give you tips on managing your email better, or “how to do stuff more quickly”. I want to take a slightly broader view, as to me, productivity means far more than that.

To me, productivity is the difference between achieving great things, and simply existing (tweet this). It’s what separates the men from the boys (or indeed, the women from the girls). It isn’t necessarily about doing things quickly or efficiently — it’s about doing the right things, more often than not. When you consistently do the right thing, truly awesome things can happen.

Productivity starts with goals. In order to be productive, you must first know what it is that you are trying to achieve. It is all to easy to feel like you’re being really productive, when in fact you are simply doing a whole load of relatively inconsequential things in a speedy fashion.

So, in order for this guide to be of use, you must first read my post on goal setting. If you skip this step, you will benefit from the advice below, but it probably won’t lead to anything of note. And I don’t know about you, but I have ambitions to achieve a lot, not a little.

Prioritization

Once you know what it is that you want to achieve, it is a case of breaking each goal down into manageable tasks, and prioritizing them accordingly.

Prioritization is a very personal thing. I am not going to tell you exactly how you should prioritize your work. But I am going to tell you that the way in which you prioritize your work can make a huge difference to your productivity.

For instance, going back a few months, I was struggling to work a full day without losing focus. That loss of focus was leading to a notable drop in productivity. I would find myself twiddling my thumbs come 3-4pm (or even worse, out on the golf course).

However, I found that by switching my freelance writing work to the afternoon, and working on my own projects in the morning, my productivity increased massively. This worked for two reasons:

  1. In the morning I’m typically fresh and ready to work.
  2. In the afternoon I’m not quite so fresh, but I am accountable to my clients, and wouldn’t dream of missing a deadline.

However, the exact opposite approach could work for you. For instance, if you currently have a job and are a morning person, you could find that working on your side projects at the crack of dawn, before you go to work, could be the ideal time for you (like it was for my friend Bon). If however you’re a night owl, you may well benefit from working on your side projects in the wee hours (like Mark Mason does).

Ultimately, it is up to you to figure out what unique timing and scheduling of your tasks makes you productive.

Task Logging

Let’s get something out of the way immediately — do not multitask. It is not the most effective way of getting things done. In fact, according to some researchers, it can reduce productivity by 40 percent.

If you want to be productive, do just one thing at a time. And I mean that in an absolute sense. In an ideal world, you would dedicate yourself wholly to just one task at a time. No distractions, no tangents, no absent-minded wanderings. Whilst this isn’t always possible, it is something that I always strive for.

If you’re starting from a position of unproductiveness, I would suggest a fairly radical course of action. You should set up a spreadsheet in which you log everything that you do. And I mean everything. You put in a start time, and begin a task. If you find yourself subconsciously checking your social media account, you go back into your spreadsheet, log the time period for which you were doing your original task, then punch in the social media time — even if it was just for a minute (or less). As a rule of thumb, the less entries you have in your spreadsheet for the day (compared to the average), the more productive you were.

Task Logging

An example of task logging I did back in July.

I did the above exercise for over four weeks, and it was immensely helpful. With all the times inputted, I could even see what percentage of my time was taken up with what tasks. I could figure out my precise equivalent hourly rate for any given task, or group of tasks.

But that’s not all — perhaps the key benefit was the fact that I actively discouraged myself from trivial distractions such as social media and compulsive email checking, because I knew I would have to log it.

Tasks

A scrap of A4 paper that I was using to write up my to dos. It worked beautifully.

Once you have established the kind of discipline that allows you to carry out tasks in a relatively distraction-free style, you can wean yourself off this kind of task logging.

What I most certainly still do however is start each day by deciding what I am going to do. I write down all of the tasks I want to achieve, and I plot out how much time I think each one is going to take me. As I go through my tasks, I cross each one off when I have completed it.

This work really well for two reasons:

  1. Although you may have more tasks than you are capable of doing, you can clear your head of everything else by including only what you can do on your daily list.
  2. There is something uniquely satisfying about crossing something off a list (it may sound stupid, but try it).

Whilst I do use a task manager (The Hit List), I still manually write out my tasks on a daily basis. It only takes five minutes, but allows me to clear my mind of all other tasks and focus on what I can do with the time available to me.

Establishing Banished Tasks

As far as I am concerned, if you want to maximize your productivity, your most productive hours must be sacred. You want to do your most important work at the time at which you typically do your best work.

Any less-than-important tasks (or secondary tasks that you really enjoy doing) should be banished from your most productive hours. For instance, here are four of the things that I either avoid or do very little of during my normal 9-5 hours:

  1. Leaving Work Behind comments
  2. Low priority emails
  3. Analytics
  4. Social media

I could quite easily spend an hour or two on the above activities at the start of the day, and it would do very little to advance my business. I could even go as far as to tell myself that I was being productive, but it would be a lie.

Remove all instant notifications and push alerts. You don’t need to know immediately when an email has been received. You should operate in a distraction-free environment.

Any task that does not directly contribute towards the furthering of your business should be banished outside of your most productive hours. No ifs, no buts. The fact is that most of these tasks are typically quite enjoyable, so you will be happy to do them at other times. For instance, it is easy for me to respond to comments on this blog when I am watching a bit of television the evening. I can interact on Twitter whilst I am traveling, waiting in line at the post office, or otherwise engaged.

Taking a Break

If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen. So when you have your lunch break (or if you take shorter breaks during the day, which is certainly not a bad idea), you need to get away from your screen.

Your lunch break shouldn’t be an opportunity to spend 30 minutes catching up on your social media accounts. I often have a nap at lunch time — 20 minutes of silence. That rejuvenates me more than anything.

A break should be just that — a break from your work surroundings. Move around, go for a walk, have a lie down — whatever works for you. Just make sure that you get that separation from what you will be doing for the hours following on from your break time.

Motivation

I spoke a lot about motivation in my goal setting post — about how it is borne out of understanding what you want, and why you want it. But with the best will in the world, sometimes you will just not feel motivated to do your work.

This does not necessarily mean that you do not have enough intrinsic desire — we all have our off days. The key is in stepping back and honestly assessing your lack of motivation. Is there a genuine deep-seated issue regarding your desire to achieve your goals, or are you just tired and fed up at that particular moment?

If you really feel like you can’t get your chosen task done due to a temporary lack of motivation, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, focus on what you can do with that time. It may not be the most important task on your list, but if you can do it ably (rather than procrastinating endlessly over a more important task), you will have made the most of your available resources. Do not be afraid to adapt to circumstances, and remember that you are only human.

Removing Distractions

We’ve already spoken about distractions in the form of emails, push notifications and so on, but I also want to discuss distractions in your working environment.

Momentum is a wonderful thing. If you can kick off your morning in a productive fashion, more often than not, you’ll have a great day. However, if you suffer from distractions, your productivity can stop in its tracks.

For instance, I was working at home a few weeks ago when my handyman came around to fix my dishwasher (which he failed at miserably, but that’s another story). Unfortunately, he was in a very chatty mood, and I was too polite to ask him to leave me alone. I ended up talking to him for twenty minutes or so, and not only did that stop me from working in that time, but it also knocked me off my game for the rest of my day. I got distracted, and lost my focus.

I could have got far more done on that day — it was the distraction that ruined my productivity. So be fully aware of how powerful distractions can be, and do your best to remove yourself from situations where you might face them.

Your Environment

The quality of your workspace can make a massive difference to your productivity. I use the world “quality” in an entirely subjective manner, because it can mean different things to different people.

For instance, I found that moving from working in my home to working in my local library helped me be a lot more productive. That simple change of environment helped me great deal (and I’m sure that the walk to and from the library is beneficial too).

But it may not be something as drastic as completely changing your working environment — it could be as simple as clearing clutter from your desk. This is another example of getting rid of distractions. If you have a clear desk, you can work with a clear mind.

Giving Yourself Time to Breathe

If you book each and every day solid, you will work more hours than you anticipate. Life has a way of ruining your best laid plans at times, and if you are always fully booked, you will have no contingency time to work with.

Whilst you should plan to work full days, you shouldn’t put yourself in a position where you have to work those hours.

Dog Bite

Not the most friendly dog I have met.

For instance, I had a nightmare week last week. I was attacked and bitten by a dog on Tuesday morning and spent half the day in hospital. Then on Wednesday I had to spend the day in court, serving as a witness to a civil suit relating to my previous job. The week ended up being a bit of write-off, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It just meant that a few of my projects were pushed back a couple of days.

If on the other hand I was working say ten hours a day on freelance work, last week would have been enormously stressful, as I would have had numerous client deadlines to meet. I just don’t need that kind of stress in my life if I can avoid it.

Balancing Productivity with Sanity

Finally, I want to touch upon what I view as the important balance between productivity, and actually enjoying your day-to-day work. After all, whilst I do want to be successful, I don’t want to work myself into the ground in order to get there.

So when it comes to setting and managing my tasks and projects, I always bear the following three things in mind:

  1. An unproductive day or week is not a disaster. Focus on the future.
  2. Never rush — always focus on quality.
  3. If you’re just not feeling it, don’t force it.

Productivity isn’t defined by a day, or a week. It is defined by months or years of hard and smart work. Beating yourself up for the times when it doesn’t quite come together is a pointless exercise. Instead focus on what you learn, and how you can apply what you have learned in the future.

There is no such thing as perfect productivity. All you can do is define worthwhile goals, work on them, and achieve them. Many things will happen between those stages, but as long as you continue to grow and improve in what you do, you can be content that you are heading in the right direction.

Creative Commons image courtesy of joe.ross

Introducing the One Hour Authority Site Project

Written by Tom Ewer on September 14, 2012. 57 Comments

The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!

Introducing the One Hour Authority Site ProjectI miss the good old days.

Creating content, building links, then checking my Google rankings every few hours to see if I had reached the promised land (otherwise known as the first page). It was exhilarating and frustrating, but perhaps most importantly, it held promise. As long as I was working at building websites and achieving rankings, the dream of creating passive income streams was alive.

In reality, those days were not good for me at all. I threw a huge amount of time and money (relative to my personal wealth) building out two authority sites and around fifteen niche sites, and achieved next to nothing in terms of income. I did however gain a lot of invaluable experience, and now I’m coming back for more.

Interested? Read on…

Learning and Developing

The best lesson my niche site mishaps taught me was simple — don’t mess with Google. Don’t piss them off, don’t do anything against their Webmaster Guidelines (or at least, if you’re going to, be 100% sure that they won’t be able to tell). Operate from a position of absolute conservativeness, and play the long game.

Whilst you can achieve quick rankings and build up an income-generating website with black hat techniques, you always run the risk of being wiped out by the next Google update. If I’m going to pour a whole load of time and effort into a site, I do not want that possibility hanging over my head.

Furthermore, I have always had a focus on quality content. I am a writer, and I hate the idea of pumping out average or poor content of little use to anyone. When I was developing my previous authority sites, I had a strong focus on quality content. That focus slipped with niche sites as I sought to systematize a passive income model, but I soon learned that it wasn’t for me.

Just a few weeks ago, all of the above was floating around in my head. I don’t like link building. I do like quality content. I love the idea of building an online asset with a basis of strong Google rankings, which I can than develop into a complete authority blog with varied traffic sources. I just needed a little impetus.

Enter Skelliewag

I wasn’t really thinking about starting up a new website that focused on obtaining rankings in Google until I received what initially seemed to be a rather innocuous email from one of my clients on 27th August.

That particular client is very interested in SEO, as a lot of his site’s traffic originates from Google. The email he sent was just a one-liner, with a link to this article: How to Launch a New Blog With (Already) High Search Traffic.

For those of you who haven’t read the article, the strategy explained within is pretty simple — build a website with content based upon long tail keywords suggested by Google instant autocomplete. So if I were to create a blog about dog training, I could grab some topic ideas by typing “dog training how to” into Google:

Google Autocomplete

Four article ideas, straight off the bat.

The ideas you can get from Google autocomplete are nearly endless. Take this search for “dog training how to u”:

Google Autocomplete

Another four ideas.

The logic behind this is pretty straightforward — such terms have historically been searched for, and are very specific and long tail. That means two things:

  1. The competition for these specific phrases is likely to be relatively low
  2. People who create such specific queries are likely to be highly targeted

In the original article, Skellie (the author) explains how he built out a blog with over 600 daily visits, without doing any link building, just by creating a lot of unique content based upon Google autocomplete search terms. That’s the kind of result that will catch my attention.

I did however have reservations. This article was written over a year ago, and the SEO world moves along at a rapid pace. Plus, it just doesn’t seem entirely plausible to me that you can create a website with good traffic numbers by creating a lot of content alone. That just seems too easy. But then, the easiest things I have done in business have often given me the greatest reward.

So I thought, what the hell — let’s give this a go.

The One Hour Authority Site Project

Whilst Skellie’s article served as the inspiration for my project, I knew that I wanted to create a more developed and customized strategy based both upon the time available to me, and my own experience with onsite and offsite SEO and content creation.

I quickly realized that this could become a great case study for LWB. So in my typical full disclosure style, I thought I’d kick off a new case study series, in which will reveal everything I do in terms of strategy as I try to develop my new authority site.

The initial rules in what is the “first stage” of the development of the site are as follows:

  1. I will spend one hour per weekday on the site
  2. A new 400+ word article must be published on the site every weekday
  3. I will not engage in link building until at least 60 articles are published on the site

Impatience is most certainly not a virtue when it comes to ranking in Google, and I am attempting to circumvent that by imposing a strict “no link building” policy for the first 12 weeks of the site’s life. After all, let’s consider that for a moment — if I am trying to build a solid long term asset, 12 weeks is an utterly inconsequential amount of time.

There is also a secondary aim to this 12 week link building ban — I am interested to see if I can build up a decent level of traffic with content alone. This is similar to what I tried with Deal With Anxiety, but involves a lot more content, and more specific keyword terms.

In a perfect world, I will never have to engage in link building of any type (even if it is “safe”, such as creating genuinely valuable web 2.0 properties). If the site has gathered momentum in those first 12 weeks, I may jump straight onto blog outreach, guest posting, and other “organic” link procurement strategies. Alternatively, I might choose to simply continue with producing as much content for the site as possible.

So What’s the Site?

I have made the decision to not reveal the identity of my site. I don’t think doing so would actually be of any practical help to anyone, as I will be revealing every step of my strategy in absolute detail anyway. The specifics of my site in question aren’t really relevant.

I will however be revealing all of the site’s vital statistics. By means of an introduction, I can confirm that the site has been live for just over two weeks, and has attracted nothing more than a handful of visits at this time.

However, what has been interesting to note is its rankings:

Google Rankings

I am currently keeping a record of my site’s rankings for each of the long tail queries I have written articles for (as well as a couple of higher traffic “short tail” keywords). I am currently ranking for eight long tail keywords.

Although they only offer a handful of traffic even when combined (the most searched-for keyword amongst the eight only attracts 260 searches per month), it is a pretty encouraging start — especially considering that Google hasn’t crawled my site in 9 days.

What Now?

In conclusion, I have a lot of ideas for this site, but I am not getting too far ahead of myself. My focus at the moment is just to keep pumping out content, and keep an eye on my rankings.

I do however have a lot more to reveal in terms of my process. In future posts, to be published in the coming weeks, I will be covering everything from choosing a topic, to site setup, to onsite SEO, to content production, and more!

Until then, I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this project. Do you think that it is an interesting idea? Or do you think that it is doomed to failure? Please feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of RLHyde