The great thing about the Web is that there are countless different ways to be successful. Each man’s own talents, connections and personality gives him a unique path to success.
But I do think it pays to observe what other successful people have done and take some pointers. You won’t be able to copy them exactly and equal their level of success, but, on the other hand, every successful playbook steals a ton of pages from other successful playbooks. All art is derivative. Or something like that.
Anyway, let’s take a look at Mr. Aaron Wall’s playbook. If you need an introduction to Aaron Wall, you should probably
check out this shit-tastic Wikipedia page just Google him.
I’m not going to recount what Aaron writes about–you can read over 1,000 posts for free on his blog or purchase the SEO Book to hear what he has to say in his own words. Instead, let’s look at some of his actions–what he actually did to get where he is today.
- First things first, he built his home on a good domain. SEOBook.com: it describes exactly what the product is. And quit whining “but… but… branding!!” Aaron got the best of both worlds: he took a great keyword domain and branded it. Even though other prominent dudes sell SEO books, Aaron Wall is now The SEO Book.
- He went into a crowded niche and excelled by having a unique voice. I believe Aaron started blogging on SEOBook.com in late 2003, and even then there were over a hundred SEO blogs (there are probably over a thousand active SEO blogs now, but even then, it was competitive). When you go into a crowded niche like this you have to be unique and stand out to gain any mindshare. Readers tend to go to old, familiar, trusted sources so you’ll need to be remarkable to draw them in. Aaron differentiated himself by a) being brutally honest, even at the cost of short-term profits; b) blogging about higher-level topics (e.g. capitalism, marketing), but relating them to SEO; c) giving useful, specific and timely tactical advice. A lot of other bloggers at that time were saying “get more links”. Aaron would say “Here are 13 specific places to get links”. That’s how you get bookmarks and subscribers.
- When he attained moderate success, he reinvested more time and money. I don’t know the exact timeline but I think within 6 months Aaron was selling a low–but decent–volume of eBooks. Enough to live off of. So he kept up his blogging pace, and within another year he was selling enough eBooks to live really well off of it. At that point, he could have cut down his level of posting and just sort of coasted and probably maintained his (nice) income and mindshare, more or less–but again, he kept up his furious blogging pace. The result was he had enough plenty of capital to invest in other (more profitable) projects. Another side effect was that his mindshare had grown to the point where he became a minor celebrity at SEO conferences. (If you’re into the whole “fame” and “SEO groupie girls” thing.) Anyway, the law of increasing returns holds true in competitive webmastering.
- He sold an e-product rather than selling leads or tangible goods. OK I am the first guy to stick up for affiliate marketing. I am also the first guy to say that almost all e-products are “shit-tastic crapola in a box”. However I think that a very well done e-product is one of the best possible assets to own and sell online. The margins are extremely fat. The costs are fixed, but the sales ceiling is very high. You have a monopoly on the product, and you don’t have the risk of merchants screwing you somehow (affiliate marketing), or inventory risk (tangible goods). And the instant downloadability lends itself to impulse buying, which is the easiest type of online sale to make. Bottom line: most people selling e-products really suck at doing it, but the few at the top who really excel are reaping the rewards.
- He made himself accessible. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” OK we’ve all heard that a thousand times. That’s because it’s been proven time and time again. Aaron posted regularly on every major SEO forum (under his brand name ’seobook’), attended every major conference, and answered almost every e-mail (and I assure you, a lot of annoying wankers e-mail him every day). The net effect is that almost everyone who participates in the SEO community feels like they “know” him. That leads to a lot more links, word-of-mouth recommendations, goodwill, and karma. F*ck karma, you say? Sure. But not when that karma turns into ca$h money!
- He focused on providing value for his visitors. It took me a long time to come around to Aaron’s point of view that you should always focus on providing value for your users. Firstly, I am too lazy to do this, and secondly, I am obsessed with shortcuts. But in the end, search engines want to rank those sites that provide value, and other webmasters want to link to and recommend sites that provide value. If you’re not providing value you’re swimming against the tide and playing a short term game: sooner or later you’ll drown. Ironically, creating something that people actually want is easier, more profitable, and more compatible with laziness in the long run.
- He hustled. A lot of Aaron’s success is due to the above wise decisions that he made. But remember that he also worked his ass off. Many competing SEO blogs and e-products had advantages over his (longevity, liquidity), but one thing they couldn’t do was out-work him. And remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 4 years later SEOBook.com ranks in the top 10 for [seo] and Aaron has as much mindshare as anyone in the industry.
FYI, Aaron is my friend, but he didn’t know I was writing this post. Hopefully he doesn’t sue me for giving away his trade secrets, but then, getting sued is just another page out of his playbook!
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