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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

This is inline with what Brian Dean reported when he analysed 1,000,000 Google search results:

As he says, “In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Overall, it makes sense that domain authority plays a big role in overall site rankings (it’s not easy to get internal links) but I’m surprised to see it being so important.

How IAC’s About.com Used Their Authority to Catapult a New Site to the Top of Google

When TechCrunch covered the launch of About.com’s new standalone health website, Very Well, they had this to say regarding their SEO,

One of the greater challenges for About.com will be SEO. The company current has pretty good juice when it comes to Google searches, and launching on a new domain with a new brand could prove difficult to migrate.

The other interesting thing they quoted, which a lot of other news sites picked up on, was that,

Verywell will launch with more than 50,000 pieces of content ranging from common medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to simple health tips like how to get more sleep or advice on fitness.

That’s a lot of content for a brand new site.

50,000 Pages of Content Did Nothing for Their SEO.

From what I can tell, Very Well seemed to come online around February of this year. The first mentions or evidence of the site didn’t appear until April, but some of their older content has February 2016 as the publish date.

Now the day they launched the site – whatever that really means – was April 26th, 2016. That means they added 50,000 pieces of content to a dropped domain in the space of two months.

During these two months not a single website analytics tool (such as SimilarWeb, Alexa or Compete) detected any traffic going to VeryWell.com

Luckily, About.com Has Some SEO Authority to Throw Around

As TechCrunch noted, About.com are one of the most SEO-authoritative brands in the world. It seems like no matter what you search for, they’ll be there ranking on the first page of Google.

It’s interesting then that About.com decided to risk that authority by pointing their health-related sub-domains straight to Verywell.com, as shown below.

This is just a sample of those I found. There are many more.

To be clear, these sub-domains used to have sites on them. They’re not just randomly redirecting. They were previously used by About.com.

WIth a wave of links from About.com and the media web talking about IAC’s new web brand, VeryWell started to get noticed on website analysis tools. Most notably by Ahrefs.

That’s a lot of links in a short period of time. Surely it must be setting off a few red flags like they did for Best Products.com? Heh.

“How’s That New Site Ranking, IAC?” Very Well!

If you want to know how this new brand is doing in Google, take a look for yourself.

That’s a recording of 3.6 million visitors to the site with 56% of that reportedly from free search engine traffic.

IAC must be pleased with that. So much so in fact that I think this situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This Domination of Google Results Is Going to Get Much Worse

Over the last two weeks of dedicating day and night to this topic I found a lot of similarities in these mega brands.

Many started offline in publishing and brought those titles online while many purchased their own competitors and ran different brands like they were separate entities. For instance, IAC purchased About.com while AOL (now owned by Verizon) purchased Patch, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post.

However, the most common thing I’ve found in my research is that they all plan to spread the authority of their online presence.

IAC’s About.com Will Disperse into Many More Verticals

Speaking with TechCrunch, their CEO Neil Vogel states, “What we learned in rebuilding what we were is that we don’t want to be that anymore. About was built during a different time in the internet, where scale translated to trust. But the internet has changed. No one wants advice on their 401k from the same people that give advice on how to bake a pie.

As TechCrunch also note;

Learning that, About has shifted its focus to building out verticals around its troves of topic-specific content, with Verywell being the first.

After seeing the quick SEO success of Very Well, I’m sure they’ll be bringing that plan forward.

Time Have Already Spun-Off into Two Verticals

Back in September of 2015, Time Inc’s ‘The Foundry’ (sort of like their internal incubator) launched a car news website called The Drive. Time recently revealed the site is now receiving more than 2 million unique visitors per month.

More recently, Time launched a website called Extra Crispy. Oddly enough it’s a website dedicated to breakfast, but if you saw the screenshots above then you’ll know they’ve received a TON of links back to this site, simply because it was created by Time.

Two of the 16 Are Teaming Up

Just last month, two of the sixteen brands I’ve highlighted today actually acquired a new company together named Complex Media.

The video-focused company claim to reach more than 50 million unique visitors per month.

With Verizon purchasing AOL last year for $4.4B, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them make a few more content-focused acquisitions. *Cough* Verizon will buy Hearst *cough*

Hearst Built BestProducts.com in Just Six Weeks

I’m not even talking about how long it took to get the content on the website. I’m talking about sitting in a meeting one day and having the idea for the site to actually having it online and getting links from some of the most powerful domains in the world.

Digiday reports that Hearst can move fast. “We’re now at place where we can spin up properties incredibly quickly,” Young said. “This went from idea to launch in six weeks.

Young also commented that, “We have a strong new platform. Now we can start applying that to new opportunities.”

Which to me can only mean that more BestProducts-like websites are on their way.

A Depressing Summary, but Not a Negative One

Though this post may seem like a bit of a “it’s us against them” fight, that really wasn’t my aim.

The more research I did for this article and the more I realised certain brands were owned by the same company, the more I felt like I was watching Food Inc, the documentary that revealed the thousands of brands you see on supermarket shelves are really owned by just a handful of companies.

Side note: If anyone has the skills to make a similar graphic with the brands I covered here I would include it

It’s not too dissimilar from what I’ve shared today. Thanks to Jason and Mary for putting this graphic together.

Click here to view larger

As I’ve always said, I write articles that I personally think would be interesting to read. In 11 years of immersing myself in the online marketing industry I’ve never seen anyone talk about the huge dominance that certain players have on search results. So, as the research was interesting to me, I decided to share it.

Let’s take an ideal worldview for a second. If Google’s ideals are to be believed, results from queries in their search engine should produce results that searchers want to find.

For that reason, I’m sure teenage American girls searching for advice on colours of eye-liner aren’t thinking “Ugh, really Google? Beauty tips from Vogue again?”

Similarly, when I’m searching for tech product reviews, I’m actually happy results from The Verge appear over some site I don’t have much faith in. I trust The Verge, and I’m more likely to click on their results than from anyone else.

From an objective standpoint, the Google results are good, if not great. They provide what the searcher, and I, are looking for.

But I’m a marketer. If you’re still reading this article, I can assume with 99% certainty that you’re one too.

As a marketer I learned how little Google care if a new site gets hundreds of thousands of links very quickly.

I came away with even more belief in the importance of having a strong domain (read: a domain that has a lot of backlinks) if you want internal pages to rank.

I also became a little fearful that these brands are going to spread into even more verticals, taking their already huge financial war chests and filling in all of the blank Google results they don’t yet own.

If we want to debate whether it’s fair or not or whether Google should make changes, a court of law in the US has twice protected their search results under the First Amendment. Meaning it is totally up to them to list and rank websites wherever they wish.

The first time they won a battle on their rankings, a company called CoastNews were suing them for $5M because they ranked at the top of Yahoo and Bing but were nowhere to be found on Google.

At the end of the day, Google is a business that aims to make their shareholders money and if we as webmasters are looking to rank higher in Google, it’s usually because we want to make more money as well. I can’t feel it’s unfair and want to profit from it at the same time. After all, I do have several niche agencies which profit from ranking other people highly in Google.

I can complain – it’s a shame Google can’t detect some of what is going on here – but it’s not going to change anything about how I run my business.

All in all, I simply hope you found my findings as interesting in one go as I did while discovering them on the way.

You Can Still Fight Back

Next week I’ll be going live with a report on the state of link building in 2016 so if you want strategies on how to get links to make your sites rank, make sure you enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss it.

Thank you so much for reading.

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How a Simple Productivity Tool Helped Create the World’s Best Marketing Blog

Today’s blog post will reveal my biggest goal for 2016, nine niche ideas with huge potential and the most effective productivity technique I’ve used over the last few years. Let’s begin by talking about the productivity technique which is often referred to as the Pomodoro Method. If you’ve followed any kind of productivity guide online in the past then you may already know about this way of working in 25-minute time blocks.

Between each you take a five-minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes.

Generally, Pomodoros happen in ‘rounds’ so you’ll do four of them in a row – not forgetting the five minute break between each – then give yourself a much longer break after the round. I don’t really follow this method at all – I’ll share my own version in a minute – but I don’t think I would be where I am today without the Pomodoro Method. Telling myself to work for “just 25 minutes” is far easier than sitting down and thinking “I have to write a blog post now.”

Millions have found the same to be true for them as well.
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As I’m writing this very sentence, the seconds are ticking down on the Pomodoro app on my phone. When a ‘Pom’ is underway, I will not succumb to any distractions.

I won’t answer any calls.

I won’t check another tab in Chrome “just for a second”.

I won’t look at any Tinder notifications my phone might throw out.

Nothing.

In the rare case there is something I really need to check – like someone who never calls has phoned me four times – then I’ll simply hit pause on the Pomodoro app I use (though this is very rare).

The reason I’m telling you about the Pomodoro Method is because I believe there is a huge opportunity to create an amazing website and online community focused around this way of being productive.

And like with most ideas in this series: If you build it, I will use it.

There aren’t going to be a ton of opportunities for everyone to be successful with today’s core angle, so I’ll also be sharing some other niche ideas you can spin off from this concept as well.

I have so much belief in this idea that if someone were to pull off what I’m about to outline in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have hundreds of thousands of active users in a short period of time.

After all, could you tell me one person you know that doesn’t want to be more productive?

I could totally see my friends and family using this, and it’s rare for website ideas to have that potential without already existing.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to give a little background on how I personally use Pomodoros and how others I know use them, so you can hopefully understand the huge opportunity I’m about to present.

How I Get Things Done: My Pomodoro Day-Flow

As I explained earlier, Pomodoros are generally done in rounds. People typically do four in a row – that’s 1 hour and 40 minutes of solid work (with 20 minutes rest) – and then take a longer break of 30 minutes, an hour, or more.

This is the general method, but I don’t follow it very closely.

I tend to do at least eight Pomodoros per day, but aim to complete at least ten. While 4 hours and 10 minutes of work (10 x 25 minutes) might not sound like much to be proud about completing in a day, you have to remember it’s about real, focused work on serious tasks without interruption.

I’m not multi-tasking. I’m not taking breaks within the Pomodoro itself. And I’m not starting my timer on things like reading or cleaning up my office. They’re taken very seriously.

This screenshot is from the day this article is going live, but the rest of the post was actually written a few weeks ago.

The four unproductive days represent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The two biggest spikes represent 12 Pomodoros completed for those days. Today (Thursday) I’m currently on Pomodoro #9 which you can see on the far right.

For me personally, my breaks between Pomodoros are very sporadic. If I’m producing content like I am right now, then it’s likely I won’t take a 5 minute break between Poms but skip the 5 minute break, finish another one, and skip the break after that.

Often when I’m writing I get in the “zone” and I really don’t want to take a break. Getting started for me is the hard part so once I do get going I let momentum take over.

On other days I can take breaks of more than an hour between Pomodoros. Life is not some perfectly structured machine – even when you don’t have a 9-5 job – so things tend to crop up which stop me from flowing one Pom into the next.

As I write this, with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left on the clock, I only have a few hours before I head to Bangkok to shoot a commercial I have been wanting to make for almost a year. Because of that, I won’t be able to get my ten Poms completed.

(I count shooting the commercial as work, but because I don’t believe it’s the best use of my time, I will not track it in the app).

You may be wondering why I, or anyone else, would track how many Poms they complete in a day.

Why not just do as many as I can and be happy with that? Or why not just count them when they’re tough? As a famous bodybuilder once said, “I only count the reps when they start hurting, because that’s when they count.”

Well, I’ve actually found on my most productive days, I’m competitive about them.

I’m not the only person I know who works around Pomodoros. Diggy, my business partner, is obsessed about them too. And because we sometimes work in different cities or at least in different offices or houses, we generally ‘show off’ to each other via a chat app how many Pomodoros we’ve completed in a day.

Here’s one such example:

If my numbers are low, he’ll take a dig at me. If they’re high he’ll be a little more motivated to push on and try to catch up with my numbers for the day before he goes to sleep.

As an aside – for those of you who don’t know us personally – we’re not really that serious about this. When I say we take a dig at each other, it’s just friendly. We don’t really care who wins for the day; we just want to push each other to get work done while we can instead of messing around on the likes of Facebook. Mostly because both have huge goals in life.

While I don’t share my daily Pomodoro count with my brother – we’re on different time zones so I don’t want to wake him up or vice versa – he also relies on them heavily.

Ever since he started working from home he has found them incredibly useful to help keep him going, especially when it’s easy to procrastinate because he really can work at any time of the day.

So where are you going with this rambling story Glen? My apologies, but you really did have to read this backstory to understand the potential of what I’m about to share — especially if you don’t currently use the Pomodoro Method to help with your productivity.

Forget Income Reports, I Want to See Your Grind Reports

As I’m very much into internet marketing and the overall industry, I’m aware of most of the big blogs in this space. One trend that has grown over the last few years, spurred on by the likes of Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas, is people sharing their income reports from their online ventures.

I won’t go into the full details of why I’ve grown to dislike them so much here – it could take an entire blog post – but for the most part I find they simply tempt beginners to copy them in promoting the same affiliate products, rather than getting into other niches where they could make a killing as well.

(Side note: I’m a huge fan of John & Pat and I totally understand their own reasons for sharing income reports, but I’m going a different route and would love to see them try it also).

So here’s what I say to anyone who shares a public income report: I would much rather see your grind report.

I would prefer to see how much work you get done each day and be inspired by that, rather than how much income you made because someone chose a to start their new website on a web host you recommended.

I think showing off your true activity levels would be so much more inspiring for beginners, and really show people you mean it when you say things like, “You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to take action.

What if there was an online community where anyone around the world could show off, in public, how many Pomodoros they complete each day.

What if they could be charted over time like in the Pomodoro apps I use?

What if I could see how many Pomodoros other people are doing each day, or have done just today? Especially those who I connect with on Facebook or Twitter to make it even more interesting.

I really can’t imagine this kind of thing would be difficult to put together. Here are a few features of the iPhone app I use daily:

It has an adjustable 25 minute countdown timer
It lets you change the colour of the app background
It tracks how many Poms I’ve completed over the last 14 and 30 days
I can change the sound it makes when a Pom is over (woo!)

That’s it.

And it cost me $4.99.

It’s doesn’t even have what would no doubt be my favourite feature: A way to export that data into some online community where other people can see how much work I’m doing and I can see how much work they’re doing.

And to take it a step further, just imagine you could see how many people were currently completing Pomodoros LIVE around the world.

Let’s say that you wake up one day and you’re not feeling particularly productive…

You could open up this app or website and see that 654 people are online completing Poms, or a blogger you follow is on three for the day, or your friend is about to finish his first one.

I’m living proof that those with a competitive nature totally get inspired to do more with this kind of set-up. You saw in the screenshot with Diggy above that we’re already competing in a fun way; it’s just that our approach is messy and slow.

That’s a problem for us, and we would love for one of you to build a solution.

To show how serious I am about this, I put together a little Google Charts graph highlighting how simple the reporting can be. We’re not looking for fancy analytics – my $5 app doesn’t have them – just a way to see how much work we’re doing.

Because I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t cheat the grind, if I’m not getting the results I want to in life, I can look at my chart and see exactly why. I’m either not putting in enough hours, or I’m kidding myself and completing Poms on the wrong (usually easy) tasks.

google.load(“visualization”, “1.1”, {packages:[“bar”]});
google.setOnLoadCallback(drawChart);
function drawChart() {
var data = google.visualization.arrayToDataTable([
[‘Date’, ‘This Month’, ‘Previous Month’],
[‘Week 1’, 45, 38],
[‘Week 2’, 54, 45],
[‘Week 3’, 36, 38],
[‘Week 4’, 65, 48]
]);
var options = {
chart: {
title: ‘Completed Pomodoros’,
subtitle: ‘Tracking January 2016’,
},
bars: ‘horizontal’, // Required for Material Bar Charts.
colors: [‘#d5a130’, ‘#694e15’, ‘#7570b3’]
};
var chart = new google.charts.Bar(document.getElementById(‘barchart_material’));
chart.draw(data, options);
}

If you can’t see the graph, please click on over to the post to view it on site.

If you hover over a particular week you’ll see more details about it. I’m not a programmer whatsoever and I created this in two minutes using Google Charts. Pretty cool, no?

It would be awesome to see graphs for:

How many Poms you’ve done each day over the course of a month
How you’ve done each week compared to the previous month (shown above)
How you’re doing as a percentage of other people on the website
How you’re doing compared to your friends

If anyone reading this goes and makes this website, makes it beautiful and gives me great charts to track overtime, I’ll be your first customer.

In yet another hopeful display of how serious I am, I’ve put up a few mockups of how I think a great website like this would look structurally.

Mockup #1: The Core Interface

The main Pomodoro screen should be as clutter free as possible. You might even want to remove the counts of how many Poms you’ve completed for today and leave that up to the stats page (below).

I really like the idea of showing how many people are online and being productive, which you’ll also find in the Headpsace meditation app I’m a big fan of.

Mockup #2: The Stats Page

Hopefully the image is fairly self-explanatory. Here you can see how well you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and then check in on the progress of other people you follow as well.

In the screenshot we can see Ramsay (@blogtyrant) is on track for an awesome day. Don’t think he’s too productive though; he’s in Australia so he’s hours ahead of everyone else!

Mockup #3: The Group Chat

I’m not great at drawing chat windows in Photoshop but hopefully you get the idea. The left panel could show not only who is online but how many Poms they’ve completed for the day, with a big chat window to give everyone space to encourage each other and talk about what they’re working on.

I imagine this feature alone would be awesome for those who partake in mastermind groups.

Want My Money? Additional Features I Would Certainly Pay For

There are nearly 300,000 results in Google for “The Pomodoro Technique” and no doubt millions of people who have tried it in their daily lives.

To make this tool really take off and potentially reach those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users, I believe that at minimum the three sections I’ve outlined above should be completely free for all users.

They’re enough to get the job done, but if you’re serious about this method of being productive, you may want something a little more. That’s where some additional features might come in handy.

Premium Feature #1: Group Moderation

Instead of just throwing everyone into a chat, make it so that premium users can delete messages they’ve written, assign admin privileges to other users and give them an option to ‘start’ rounds for the entire group, meaning a Pomodoro will start for everyone at the same time.

Premium Feature #2: Link it to an App

The only thing that might personally put me off the above solution is that I’m not always at a PC when I’m doing a Pomodoro or even if I am, I may not have an Internet connection. While an app will be more expensive to put together, we’re looking to build something that could potentially be used by millions here, so I think it’s worth the investment.

Think of apps like Evernote where you can write notes offline and they sync up to the web later.

Premium Feature #3: Allow Us to Make Financial Bets

If you’re in a close group – like I imagine the #marketingcrew group above would be – we could each pitch in say $50 and whoever completes the most Poms in a week or month collects the prize money. While I wouldn’t expect the amounts bet to be life changing, they could be an added incentive to be more productive.

I’m sure getting more work done even at the cost of $50 would totally be worth it. There would be the possibility of ‘cheating’ but the real aim here is to push everyone to produce instead of procrastinate. I can’t imagine any of the people I would likely do this with would fudge their numbers.

Premium Feature #4: Screenshot my Page as Proof I’m Working

I haven’t totally fleshed out in my head how this could be used in a lot of ways, but it could definitely help to hold yourself accountable to make sure even during a Pom you’re not slacking off.

I’m not sure how the technology works exactly, but I know Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) have the ability take random screenshots of a freelancers screen so employers know they’re actually working and not claiming more billable hours than they actually worked.

Though I take all Poms seriously, this could be useful for those just starting with the technique who may even find 25 minutes a long time to focus.

BONUS Marketing Tip: Give Me a Widget!

Let me show the world how many hours I truly put in. How much I grind to achieve the results I get.

I’m proud to be a hard worker, so let me inspire others and show that if they want more from life, they need to put in the hours too. Make it easy to paste the widget into a blog sidebar or even take up an entire page if I were to dedicate one to it.

Add a link back to your website in the bottom of the widget, of course. Even make it an optional affiliate link so I get credit if anyone joins the site as a premium member because of me.

10 Other Potential Angles to Take With This Concept

With any niche idea I share, I aim to not only give you one core concept, but suggest other ways that concept could spin off into other industries you may be more interested in.

So instead of just a generic online ‘Pomodoro community’ like I’ve outlined above (now referred to as PomCom’s), you could niche down into smaller industries and grow a passionate audience around similar projects.

For instance, picture a PomCom for writers where the app will actually track their word count during each Pomodoro (by writing directly on the app or website), and then share that in a chart with fellow writers.

This would be amazing for bloggers, book authors, journalists or any other hobby or profession which involves writing as its primary role.

As someone who at times has actively tried to learn the Thai language (tones are difficult!), I would have loved to be part of a PomCom that consisted solely of people learning Thai where I could share how many words I’ve learned each day or at least how many Poms I’ve completed towards learning.

The whole idea being, once again, that you can’t cheat the grind. If I’m not making progress with Thai, I only have to look at how many 25-minute time blocks I’ve dedicated to it to see why. Lack of these will almost certainly result in a lack of progress.

There could be a PomCom for serious cyclists who track how many miles they’re putting in each day on their bikes and comparing them with others online. This wouldn’t necessarily be Pomodoro-related, but it’s just another idea that can ‘branch out’ from the original concept here.

The frameworks I mocked up could still be relevant.

If you see some kind of community you could create that benefits from any kind of progress reporting then don’t feel like you have to be bound by the 25 minute limitation. Do whatever you feel would be more relevant for that specific audience.

A few more PomCom ideas that come to mind include:

People learning a specific instrument and wanting to show how many hours they put in while getting feedback from others on the same journey
Students tracking how much time they’re spending with revision and being able to form online study groups with others learning the same subjects
Bodybuilders tracking their weekly workouts and current weight so they can show off to others. I can imagine this would work very well for people looking to build their authority as personal trainers as well
A site for women planning their wedding where they can check off all of the things they need to do before their big day and get advice from other brides-to-be.
Beginner pilots tracking their hours in the air and being able to talk with more experienced pilots
A weight loss PomCom for people who do best by tracking their results and find motivation in the success of others on the same journey
Or how about collectors of anything being able to keep track of how much memorabilia they have in their position and talk with likeminded people

If anyone ends up making that original, generic app (or the one specifically for writers) I will be your first paying customer in a heartbeat.

And if I would pay for it, surely someone else would too.

The World’s Greatest Marketing Blog

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that yesterday I revealed my biggest goal for 2016: To make ViperChill the best marketing blog in the world.

Now of course this is an entirely subjective goal. The best movie when I was a kid was Matilda but you were probably more fond of something else (just kidding, I know yours was Matilda too).

There’s no real way of determining the best blog in any category so I will purely be judging myself on this one and not expecting to win any kind of award. It’s a goal that has little other purpose than for me to push myself to write the best content I possibly can on a more regular basis. I relaunched this blog in 2009 and I’ve always been infrequent with my posting so it’s more of a challenge to see what I can become, rather than what I can get back in return.

In my recent guide on how to make money online I talked about a personal development blog I used to run and how my sole focus for the site was to reach 10,000 subscribers.

I didn’t have any income goals
I didn’t care how many people followed the site on Twitter
I didn’t want to reach X amount of comments per post
I didn’t want to write a book or be featured on a specific website

All I wanted to do was reach 10,000 subscribers. It might seem like a weird goal because it doesn’t really tie directly into anything else, but it was something I wanted to achieve. You will find yourself setting ‘strange’ goals like this when money becomes a byproduct of whatever you’re working on.

In 2016 I want ViperChill to become the best marketing blog in the world by my own standards. I don’t mind if anyone agrees with me; it’s more of an internal goal I have for myself.

Now the reason I tell you about this goal is because I want you to watch how much work it takes for me to try and make this happen, and hopefully use my grind as inspiration to work harder on your own challenges this year.

Look at how many articles I write. Look at how active I am on Facebook. Look at how many comments I reply to on every article.

I also want you to be able to see how many Pomodoros I do throughout the year, so someone please make that app and website. If I get anywhere close to my goal it will be by and large thanks to the Pomodoro Method, because I get so much more done with it than without it.

Who knows…maybe the headline for this post will be true in 12 month’s time (at least in my eyes).

The ‘Click’ I Experienced Recently

As I wrap things up I want to get back to the subject of productivity which spurred on this entire post.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been working on a problem for a while or trying to understand something and there’s a moment when everything just ‘clicks’ together?

Where something ‘goes off’ in your head like a light bulb and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense? Even stranger is that the answer you’ve been looking for tends to be incredibly simple.

This happened to me earlier last year and ever since then I’ve stopped wondering why I’m not achieving stretch-goals I’ve set for myself and instead I’m actually achieving them.

My click, was simply this: Every single Pomodoro I complete takes me one step closer to my goals. And every day I don’t do as many Pomodoros as I should have, I shouldn’t be surprised why I don’t have what I want within reach.

Now I know this is incredibly simple, so let me explain this a little further because it’s unlikely the ‘click’ happened for you after reading that bolded sentence.

All of the work I now do on a daily basis is purely revolved around completing Pomodoros. If I’m not doing a Pomodoro, I’m not working on the most important tasks I could be doing. And in order to achieve the big goals I have set for myself in this lifetime, I need to keep working on the important things to get there.

So it all comes full circle in a very simple manner: Every single Pomodoro I complete gets me one step closer to my goals.

In my last post I talked about the compound effect and how little things can stack together over time to create much bigger wins. Just make sure you keep hacking away at the little challenges consistently.

For once, I’m a little lost for words on what else to say here. It was just such an incredibly powerful realisation for me to think “the only way I will be successful is if I finish more Poms” and have my whole journey simplified in such a way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, sorry for wasting your time with the last section. Hopefully my writing ability will improve in 2016. If you did get what I’m saying then I hope it simplified your journey for you as well.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

Update: I was interviewed on this very topic by Chris Winfield, sharing my daily productivity process.

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PIN’s: The Future of Private Link Building

What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.

If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.

When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.

Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.

I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.

I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It

This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.

Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.

Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.

The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased

It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.

The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).

There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before

There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.

This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.

‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results

Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.

After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.

I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.

Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too

We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.

This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar

It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.

Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.

They Have All The Answers

The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.

Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.

They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building

Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.

That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Guest posting for links
Using directories for links
Utilising private blog networks
Adding links to website themes
Adding do-followed links to widgets
They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag

That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.

Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.

Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.

The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.

Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.

But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.

Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail

As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.

When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.

While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.

Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.

The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse

If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.

In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.

That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalised, continues to work incredibly well.

“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?

Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.

I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.

I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.

PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can

When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.

You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.

While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.

I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.

Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.

My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.

I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
My title tag seems more relevant than half of them

Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.

It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.

All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.

This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.

I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).

This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.

This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.

Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.

In my exact words:

What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.

Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.

The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.

The Approach to Take

One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.

My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.

It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.

While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.

Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.

There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.

It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.

What the Hell is a PIN?

A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.

I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.

I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.

Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.

PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.

Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.

I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.

Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.

The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.

A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose

I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.

I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.

Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.

A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.

This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.

Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”

If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.

One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.

I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.

One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.

While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.

While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.

If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.

As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.

While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.

You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.

A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works

One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.

I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.

Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.

I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.

While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.

There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.

It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.

I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.

A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.

Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.

In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.

Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.

Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.

The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.

They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.

A PIN in Action

I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.

The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).

The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).

The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.

While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.

Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.

In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.

Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.

When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.

The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.

So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.

Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return.
This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.

The Types of Links Which Are Shared

I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.

If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.

The types of reciprocation that can take place.

You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
You can utilise a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilise for theirs
Offering website design advice
Utilising Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return

If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each other’s search engine rankings.

If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.

Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice

If you see the benefits of utilising a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.

A PIN Must Have a Leader

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.

My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.

In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.

The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.

Bringing Together Your Team

While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.

Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimisation.

If someone:

Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals

Don’t invite them to be part of your network.

I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.

A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.

If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.

You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.

As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.

You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.

Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.

A private Facebook group is another good option.

Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.

The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).

Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche

It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.

However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.

If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.

Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.

Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful

From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.

Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.

You Need to Know How the Microphone Works

And how to sing.

One of my favourite authors, Daniel Priestley, said the following in his book The Key Person of Influence;

You don’t need to know how the microphone works, you need to know how to sing.

He was referring to the technology behind the microphone and how, when it was first invented, your time would have been better spent learning how to sing than how a microphone worked, if you wanted to reach a lot of people.

When it comes to ranking in Google, I don’t think that’s the case. You need to know how the microphone works and how to sing.

There are going to be people who worry I’m encouraging armies of people to come together to take over the Google search results.

The truth is that I don’t believe people who can’t sing – in this case, can’t produce great results for search engine users – will have much long-term success.

There’s no point putting all of the work into your PIN if the end result is going to be a crappy website.

The third example of a PIN that I mentioned earlier now easily does in excess of over $100,000 per month. What I didn’t yet tell you is that they built a fantastic resource for their industry. The site doesn’t have many pages (less than 50), but each one genuinely solves a question that a particular searcher is looking for an answer to.

I don’t view utilising a PIN as a way to “sneak” up the Google results and send thousands of visitors to an ad-riddled website.

Instead, I see it as a way to help you start getting great content noticed that could attract natural links once it is.

I mentioned at the start of this article that I would likely weed out some of the audience of ViperChill. I want to make it clear though that I’m not trying to help people with shitty websites rise to the top of Google.

While I believe there is a great opportunity here, it isn’t easy. Turning the concept into reality sounds much easier on paper (or in a blog post).

The truth is that when it comes to making money online, most people are, quite simply…lazy.

They may be excited about this idea for a few weeks but if you’re going to use this to rank in an industry worth ranking for, you should be aiming for keywords that take a few months to get any serious traction for.

Links Aside, The Connections You Build Can Be Invaluable

I’ve already briefly talked about the other benefits this kind of network can have, besides link building.

You can connect with people who have a genuine passion for your industry who in turn spur you on to put more work into your site and help you improve your online ventures. Whether that’s giving advice on your design, your writing, your strategy or anything else.

Working online can seem lonely at times, especially if your offline friends don’t have an inkling to do anything online. When you’re aiming to make money from your web projects it’s nice to find other people on the same journey.

In my future of blogging post a few years ago, one of the most popular on the site, I mentioned how some bloggers had worked together to help grow their respective audiences in the same industry.

TechCrunch and Mashable grew incredibly quickly at the same time while investors were putting more and more of their money into web-based projects. They mentioned each other thousands of times.

Smaller operations – though still huge – like Copyblogger and Problogger would guest post on each others’ sites, promote each other’s products, send traffic to each other via their email lists and essentially enhanced both of their own images through their connection.

I took the time to actually figure out how many times some sites mentioned each other, which you can see in the graphic below.

While links were a key factor in all of these partnerships, I wouldn’t essentially class them as private link building. Most of the links didn’t include any specific anchor text and they weren’t to random affiliate sites or anything like that. All of them were trying to build authoritative online businesses and found someone with a similar passion on the same journey.

While TechCrunch and Mashable were almost in direct competition with each other, they still highlighted the stories that the other site got to first. Michael Arrington later sold TechCrunch to AOL for $25m. Pete Cashmore is still the CEO of Mashable though according to Politico.com, is trying to sell the site for around $300-$350m.

That’s a partnership that certainly paid off for both of them. Pete holding out six years on his sale seems to have been a smarter choice, however.

A Facebook Group to Find PIN Partners
For what is probably a very limited time only, I’m giving access to a private Facebook group where people can assemble together to potentially build their own Private Influencer Network.
I don’t want the comments here to be full of pitching opportunities, so let’s take this elsewhere to see what industries you’re working with. To be approved for the group you must leave a comment here with your Facebook name or put your Facebook initials at the end of a comment. Facebook will likely recommend the group to people who have no idea what PIN’s are and I don’t want to do a lot of moderating.
Don’t reveal your exact niche when you start a discussion, just simply zoom out of your niche and reveal a higher category that you would like to work in. You can find the group here (remember to comment to be approved).
Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit

Sometimes an AdSense unit won’t display an ad to a user for whatever reason. When an AdSense unit doesn’t show an ad, it leaves an odd amount of space within the content, and reduces my ability to monetize those pages – and I find that unacceptable. This used to be a much more significant problem,… Read More

The post How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

This is inline with what Brian Dean reported when he analysed 1,000,000 Google search results:

As he says, “In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Overall, it makes sense that domain authority plays a big role in overall site rankings (it’s not easy to get internal links) but I’m surprised to see it being so important.

How IAC’s About.com Used Their Authority to Catapult a New Site to the Top of Google

When TechCrunch covered the launch of About.com’s new standalone health website, Very Well, they had this to say regarding their SEO,

One of the greater challenges for About.com will be SEO. The company current has pretty good juice when it comes to Google searches, and launching on a new domain with a new brand could prove difficult to migrate.

The other interesting thing they quoted, which a lot of other news sites picked up on, was that,

Verywell will launch with more than 50,000 pieces of content ranging from common medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to simple health tips like how to get more sleep or advice on fitness.

That’s a lot of content for a brand new site.

50,000 Pages of Content Did Nothing for Their SEO.

From what I can tell, Very Well seemed to come online around February of this year. The first mentions or evidence of the site didn’t appear until April, but some of their older content has February 2016 as the publish date.

Now the day they launched the site – whatever that really means – was April 26th, 2016. That means they added 50,000 pieces of content to a dropped domain in the space of two months.

During these two months not a single website analytics tool (such as SimilarWeb, Alexa or Compete) detected any traffic going to VeryWell.com

Luckily, About.com Has Some SEO Authority to Throw Around

As TechCrunch noted, About.com are one of the most SEO-authoritative brands in the world. It seems like no matter what you search for, they’ll be there ranking on the first page of Google.

It’s interesting then that About.com decided to risk that authority by pointing their health-related sub-domains straight to Verywell.com, as shown below.

This is just a sample of those I found. There are many more.

To be clear, these sub-domains used to have sites on them. They’re not just randomly redirecting. They were previously used by About.com.

WIth a wave of links from About.com and the media web talking about IAC’s new web brand, VeryWell started to get noticed on website analysis tools. Most notably by Ahrefs.

That’s a lot of links in a short period of time. Surely it must be setting off a few red flags like they did for Best Products.com? Heh.

“How’s That New Site Ranking, IAC?” Very Well!

If you want to know how this new brand is doing in Google, take a look for yourself.

That’s a recording of 3.6 million visitors to the site with 56% of that reportedly from free search engine traffic.

IAC must be pleased with that. So much so in fact that I think this situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This Domination of Google Results Is Going to Get Much Worse

Over the last two weeks of dedicating day and night to this topic I found a lot of similarities in these mega brands.

Many started offline in publishing and brought those titles online while many purchased their own competitors and ran different brands like they were separate entities. For instance, IAC purchased About.com while AOL (now owned by Verizon) purchased Patch, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post.

However, the most common thing I’ve found in my research is that they all plan to spread the authority of their online presence.

IAC’s About.com Will Disperse into Many More Verticals

Speaking with TechCrunch, their CEO Neil Vogel states, “What we learned in rebuilding what we were is that we don’t want to be that anymore. About was built during a different time in the internet, where scale translated to trust. But the internet has changed. No one wants advice on their 401k from the same people that give advice on how to bake a pie.

As TechCrunch also note;

Learning that, About has shifted its focus to building out verticals around its troves of topic-specific content, with Verywell being the first.

After seeing the quick SEO success of Very Well, I’m sure they’ll be bringing that plan forward.

Time Have Already Spun-Off into Two Verticals

Back in September of 2015, Time Inc’s ‘The Foundry’ (sort of like their internal incubator) launched a car news website called The Drive. Time recently revealed the site is now receiving more than 2 million unique visitors per month.

More recently, Time launched a website called Extra Crispy. Oddly enough it’s a website dedicated to breakfast, but if you saw the screenshots above then you’ll know they’ve received a TON of links back to this site, simply because it was created by Time.

Two of the 16 Are Teaming Up

Just last month, two of the sixteen brands I’ve highlighted today actually acquired a new company together named Complex Media.

The video-focused company claim to reach more than 50 million unique visitors per month.

With Verizon purchasing AOL last year for $4.4B, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them make a few more content-focused acquisitions. *Cough* Verizon will buy Hearst *cough*

Hearst Built BestProducts.com in Just Six Weeks

I’m not even talking about how long it took to get the content on the website. I’m talking about sitting in a meeting one day and having the idea for the site to actually having it online and getting links from some of the most powerful domains in the world.

Digiday reports that Hearst can move fast. “We’re now at place where we can spin up properties incredibly quickly,” Young said. “This went from idea to launch in six weeks.

Young also commented that, “We have a strong new platform. Now we can start applying that to new opportunities.”

Which to me can only mean that more BestProducts-like websites are on their way.

A Depressing Summary, but Not a Negative One

Though this post may seem like a bit of a “it’s us against them” fight, that really wasn’t my aim.

The more research I did for this article and the more I realised certain brands were owned by the same company, the more I felt like I was watching Food Inc, the documentary that revealed the thousands of brands you see on supermarket shelves are really owned by just a handful of companies.

Side note: If anyone has the skills to make a similar graphic with the brands I covered here I would include it

It’s not too dissimilar from what I’ve shared today. Thanks to Jason and Mary for putting this graphic together.

Click here to view larger

As I’ve always said, I write articles that I personally think would be interesting to read. In 11 years of immersing myself in the online marketing industry I’ve never seen anyone talk about the huge dominance that certain players have on search results. So, as the research was interesting to me, I decided to share it.

Let’s take an ideal worldview for a second. If Google’s ideals are to be believed, results from queries in their search engine should produce results that searchers want to find.

For that reason, I’m sure teenage American girls searching for advice on colours of eye-liner aren’t thinking “Ugh, really Google? Beauty tips from Vogue again?”

Similarly, when I’m searching for tech product reviews, I’m actually happy results from The Verge appear over some site I don’t have much faith in. I trust The Verge, and I’m more likely to click on their results than from anyone else.

From an objective standpoint, the Google results are good, if not great. They provide what the searcher, and I, are looking for.

But I’m a marketer. If you’re still reading this article, I can assume with 99% certainty that you’re one too.

As a marketer I learned how little Google care if a new site gets hundreds of thousands of links very quickly.

I came away with even more belief in the importance of having a strong domain (read: a domain that has a lot of backlinks) if you want internal pages to rank.

I also became a little fearful that these brands are going to spread into even more verticals, taking their already huge financial war chests and filling in all of the blank Google results they don’t yet own.

If we want to debate whether it’s fair or not or whether Google should make changes, a court of law in the US has twice protected their search results under the First Amendment. Meaning it is totally up to them to list and rank websites wherever they wish.

The first time they won a battle on their rankings, a company called CoastNews were suing them for $5M because they ranked at the top of Yahoo and Bing but were nowhere to be found on Google.

At the end of the day, Google is a business that aims to make their shareholders money and if we as webmasters are looking to rank higher in Google, it’s usually because we want to make more money as well. I can’t feel it’s unfair and want to profit from it at the same time. After all, I do have several niche agencies which profit from ranking other people highly in Google.

I can complain – it’s a shame Google can’t detect some of what is going on here – but it’s not going to change anything about how I run my business.

All in all, I simply hope you found my findings as interesting in one go as I did while discovering them on the way.

You Can Still Fight Back

Next week I’ll be going live with a report on the state of link building in 2016 so if you want strategies on how to get links to make your sites rank, make sure you enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss it.

Thank you so much for reading.

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How a Simple Productivity Tool Helped Create the World’s Best Marketing Blog

Today’s blog post will reveal my biggest goal for 2016, nine niche ideas with huge potential and the most effective productivity technique I’ve used over the last few years. Let’s begin by talking about the productivity technique which is often referred to as the Pomodoro Method. If you’ve followed any kind of productivity guide online in the past then you may already know about this way of working in 25-minute time blocks.

Between each you take a five-minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes.

Generally, Pomodoros happen in ‘rounds’ so you’ll do four of them in a row – not forgetting the five minute break between each – then give yourself a much longer break after the round. I don’t really follow this method at all – I’ll share my own version in a minute – but I don’t think I would be where I am today without the Pomodoro Method. Telling myself to work for “just 25 minutes” is far easier than sitting down and thinking “I have to write a blog post now.”

Millions have found the same to be true for them as well.
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As I’m writing this very sentence, the seconds are ticking down on the Pomodoro app on my phone. When a ‘Pom’ is underway, I will not succumb to any distractions.

I won’t answer any calls.

I won’t check another tab in Chrome “just for a second”.

I won’t look at any Tinder notifications my phone might throw out.

Nothing.

In the rare case there is something I really need to check – like someone who never calls has phoned me four times – then I’ll simply hit pause on the Pomodoro app I use (though this is very rare).

The reason I’m telling you about the Pomodoro Method is because I believe there is a huge opportunity to create an amazing website and online community focused around this way of being productive.

And like with most ideas in this series: If you build it, I will use it.

There aren’t going to be a ton of opportunities for everyone to be successful with today’s core angle, so I’ll also be sharing some other niche ideas you can spin off from this concept as well.

I have so much belief in this idea that if someone were to pull off what I’m about to outline in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have hundreds of thousands of active users in a short period of time.

After all, could you tell me one person you know that doesn’t want to be more productive?

I could totally see my friends and family using this, and it’s rare for website ideas to have that potential without already existing.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to give a little background on how I personally use Pomodoros and how others I know use them, so you can hopefully understand the huge opportunity I’m about to present.

How I Get Things Done: My Pomodoro Day-Flow

As I explained earlier, Pomodoros are generally done in rounds. People typically do four in a row – that’s 1 hour and 40 minutes of solid work (with 20 minutes rest) – and then take a longer break of 30 minutes, an hour, or more.

This is the general method, but I don’t follow it very closely.

I tend to do at least eight Pomodoros per day, but aim to complete at least ten. While 4 hours and 10 minutes of work (10 x 25 minutes) might not sound like much to be proud about completing in a day, you have to remember it’s about real, focused work on serious tasks without interruption.

I’m not multi-tasking. I’m not taking breaks within the Pomodoro itself. And I’m not starting my timer on things like reading or cleaning up my office. They’re taken very seriously.

This screenshot is from the day this article is going live, but the rest of the post was actually written a few weeks ago.

The four unproductive days represent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The two biggest spikes represent 12 Pomodoros completed for those days. Today (Thursday) I’m currently on Pomodoro #9 which you can see on the far right.

For me personally, my breaks between Pomodoros are very sporadic. If I’m producing content like I am right now, then it’s likely I won’t take a 5 minute break between Poms but skip the 5 minute break, finish another one, and skip the break after that.

Often when I’m writing I get in the “zone” and I really don’t want to take a break. Getting started for me is the hard part so once I do get going I let momentum take over.

On other days I can take breaks of more than an hour between Pomodoros. Life is not some perfectly structured machine – even when you don’t have a 9-5 job – so things tend to crop up which stop me from flowing one Pom into the next.

As I write this, with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left on the clock, I only have a few hours before I head to Bangkok to shoot a commercial I have been wanting to make for almost a year. Because of that, I won’t be able to get my ten Poms completed.

(I count shooting the commercial as work, but because I don’t believe it’s the best use of my time, I will not track it in the app).

You may be wondering why I, or anyone else, would track how many Poms they complete in a day.

Why not just do as many as I can and be happy with that? Or why not just count them when they’re tough? As a famous bodybuilder once said, “I only count the reps when they start hurting, because that’s when they count.”

Well, I’ve actually found on my most productive days, I’m competitive about them.

I’m not the only person I know who works around Pomodoros. Diggy, my business partner, is obsessed about them too. And because we sometimes work in different cities or at least in different offices or houses, we generally ‘show off’ to each other via a chat app how many Pomodoros we’ve completed in a day.

Here’s one such example:

If my numbers are low, he’ll take a dig at me. If they’re high he’ll be a little more motivated to push on and try to catch up with my numbers for the day before he goes to sleep.

As an aside – for those of you who don’t know us personally – we’re not really that serious about this. When I say we take a dig at each other, it’s just friendly. We don’t really care who wins for the day; we just want to push each other to get work done while we can instead of messing around on the likes of Facebook. Mostly because both have huge goals in life.

While I don’t share my daily Pomodoro count with my brother – we’re on different time zones so I don’t want to wake him up or vice versa – he also relies on them heavily.

Ever since he started working from home he has found them incredibly useful to help keep him going, especially when it’s easy to procrastinate because he really can work at any time of the day.

So where are you going with this rambling story Glen? My apologies, but you really did have to read this backstory to understand the potential of what I’m about to share — especially if you don’t currently use the Pomodoro Method to help with your productivity.

Forget Income Reports, I Want to See Your Grind Reports

As I’m very much into internet marketing and the overall industry, I’m aware of most of the big blogs in this space. One trend that has grown over the last few years, spurred on by the likes of Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas, is people sharing their income reports from their online ventures.

I won’t go into the full details of why I’ve grown to dislike them so much here – it could take an entire blog post – but for the most part I find they simply tempt beginners to copy them in promoting the same affiliate products, rather than getting into other niches where they could make a killing as well.

(Side note: I’m a huge fan of John & Pat and I totally understand their own reasons for sharing income reports, but I’m going a different route and would love to see them try it also).

So here’s what I say to anyone who shares a public income report: I would much rather see your grind report.

I would prefer to see how much work you get done each day and be inspired by that, rather than how much income you made because someone chose a to start their new website on a web host you recommended.

I think showing off your true activity levels would be so much more inspiring for beginners, and really show people you mean it when you say things like, “You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to take action.

What if there was an online community where anyone around the world could show off, in public, how many Pomodoros they complete each day.

What if they could be charted over time like in the Pomodoro apps I use?

What if I could see how many Pomodoros other people are doing each day, or have done just today? Especially those who I connect with on Facebook or Twitter to make it even more interesting.

I really can’t imagine this kind of thing would be difficult to put together. Here are a few features of the iPhone app I use daily:

It has an adjustable 25 minute countdown timer
It lets you change the colour of the app background
It tracks how many Poms I’ve completed over the last 14 and 30 days
I can change the sound it makes when a Pom is over (woo!)

That’s it.

And it cost me $4.99.

It’s doesn’t even have what would no doubt be my favourite feature: A way to export that data into some online community where other people can see how much work I’m doing and I can see how much work they’re doing.

And to take it a step further, just imagine you could see how many people were currently completing Pomodoros LIVE around the world.

Let’s say that you wake up one day and you’re not feeling particularly productive…

You could open up this app or website and see that 654 people are online completing Poms, or a blogger you follow is on three for the day, or your friend is about to finish his first one.

I’m living proof that those with a competitive nature totally get inspired to do more with this kind of set-up. You saw in the screenshot with Diggy above that we’re already competing in a fun way; it’s just that our approach is messy and slow.

That’s a problem for us, and we would love for one of you to build a solution.

To show how serious I am about this, I put together a little Google Charts graph highlighting how simple the reporting can be. We’re not looking for fancy analytics – my $5 app doesn’t have them – just a way to see how much work we’re doing.

Because I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t cheat the grind, if I’m not getting the results I want to in life, I can look at my chart and see exactly why. I’m either not putting in enough hours, or I’m kidding myself and completing Poms on the wrong (usually easy) tasks.

google.load(“visualization”, “1.1”, {packages:[“bar”]});
google.setOnLoadCallback(drawChart);
function drawChart() {
var data = google.visualization.arrayToDataTable([
[‘Date’, ‘This Month’, ‘Previous Month’],
[‘Week 1’, 45, 38],
[‘Week 2’, 54, 45],
[‘Week 3’, 36, 38],
[‘Week 4’, 65, 48]
]);
var options = {
chart: {
title: ‘Completed Pomodoros’,
subtitle: ‘Tracking January 2016’,
},
bars: ‘horizontal’, // Required for Material Bar Charts.
colors: [‘#d5a130’, ‘#694e15’, ‘#7570b3’]
};
var chart = new google.charts.Bar(document.getElementById(‘barchart_material’));
chart.draw(data, options);
}

If you can’t see the graph, please click on over to the post to view it on site.

If you hover over a particular week you’ll see more details about it. I’m not a programmer whatsoever and I created this in two minutes using Google Charts. Pretty cool, no?

It would be awesome to see graphs for:

How many Poms you’ve done each day over the course of a month
How you’ve done each week compared to the previous month (shown above)
How you’re doing as a percentage of other people on the website
How you’re doing compared to your friends

If anyone reading this goes and makes this website, makes it beautiful and gives me great charts to track overtime, I’ll be your first customer.

In yet another hopeful display of how serious I am, I’ve put up a few mockups of how I think a great website like this would look structurally.

Mockup #1: The Core Interface

The main Pomodoro screen should be as clutter free as possible. You might even want to remove the counts of how many Poms you’ve completed for today and leave that up to the stats page (below).

I really like the idea of showing how many people are online and being productive, which you’ll also find in the Headpsace meditation app I’m a big fan of.

Mockup #2: The Stats Page

Hopefully the image is fairly self-explanatory. Here you can see how well you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and then check in on the progress of other people you follow as well.

In the screenshot we can see Ramsay (@blogtyrant) is on track for an awesome day. Don’t think he’s too productive though; he’s in Australia so he’s hours ahead of everyone else!

Mockup #3: The Group Chat

I’m not great at drawing chat windows in Photoshop but hopefully you get the idea. The left panel could show not only who is online but how many Poms they’ve completed for the day, with a big chat window to give everyone space to encourage each other and talk about what they’re working on.

I imagine this feature alone would be awesome for those who partake in mastermind groups.

Want My Money? Additional Features I Would Certainly Pay For

There are nearly 300,000 results in Google for “The Pomodoro Technique” and no doubt millions of people who have tried it in their daily lives.

To make this tool really take off and potentially reach those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users, I believe that at minimum the three sections I’ve outlined above should be completely free for all users.

They’re enough to get the job done, but if you’re serious about this method of being productive, you may want something a little more. That’s where some additional features might come in handy.

Premium Feature #1: Group Moderation

Instead of just throwing everyone into a chat, make it so that premium users can delete messages they’ve written, assign admin privileges to other users and give them an option to ‘start’ rounds for the entire group, meaning a Pomodoro will start for everyone at the same time.

Premium Feature #2: Link it to an App

The only thing that might personally put me off the above solution is that I’m not always at a PC when I’m doing a Pomodoro or even if I am, I may not have an Internet connection. While an app will be more expensive to put together, we’re looking to build something that could potentially be used by millions here, so I think it’s worth the investment.

Think of apps like Evernote where you can write notes offline and they sync up to the web later.

Premium Feature #3: Allow Us to Make Financial Bets

If you’re in a close group – like I imagine the #marketingcrew group above would be – we could each pitch in say $50 and whoever completes the most Poms in a week or month collects the prize money. While I wouldn’t expect the amounts bet to be life changing, they could be an added incentive to be more productive.

I’m sure getting more work done even at the cost of $50 would totally be worth it. There would be the possibility of ‘cheating’ but the real aim here is to push everyone to produce instead of procrastinate. I can’t imagine any of the people I would likely do this with would fudge their numbers.

Premium Feature #4: Screenshot my Page as Proof I’m Working

I haven’t totally fleshed out in my head how this could be used in a lot of ways, but it could definitely help to hold yourself accountable to make sure even during a Pom you’re not slacking off.

I’m not sure how the technology works exactly, but I know Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) have the ability take random screenshots of a freelancers screen so employers know they’re actually working and not claiming more billable hours than they actually worked.

Though I take all Poms seriously, this could be useful for those just starting with the technique who may even find 25 minutes a long time to focus.

BONUS Marketing Tip: Give Me a Widget!

Let me show the world how many hours I truly put in. How much I grind to achieve the results I get.

I’m proud to be a hard worker, so let me inspire others and show that if they want more from life, they need to put in the hours too. Make it easy to paste the widget into a blog sidebar or even take up an entire page if I were to dedicate one to it.

Add a link back to your website in the bottom of the widget, of course. Even make it an optional affiliate link so I get credit if anyone joins the site as a premium member because of me.

10 Other Potential Angles to Take With This Concept

With any niche idea I share, I aim to not only give you one core concept, but suggest other ways that concept could spin off into other industries you may be more interested in.

So instead of just a generic online ‘Pomodoro community’ like I’ve outlined above (now referred to as PomCom’s), you could niche down into smaller industries and grow a passionate audience around similar projects.

For instance, picture a PomCom for writers where the app will actually track their word count during each Pomodoro (by writing directly on the app or website), and then share that in a chart with fellow writers.

This would be amazing for bloggers, book authors, journalists or any other hobby or profession which involves writing as its primary role.

As someone who at times has actively tried to learn the Thai language (tones are difficult!), I would have loved to be part of a PomCom that consisted solely of people learning Thai where I could share how many words I’ve learned each day or at least how many Poms I’ve completed towards learning.

The whole idea being, once again, that you can’t cheat the grind. If I’m not making progress with Thai, I only have to look at how many 25-minute time blocks I’ve dedicated to it to see why. Lack of these will almost certainly result in a lack of progress.

There could be a PomCom for serious cyclists who track how many miles they’re putting in each day on their bikes and comparing them with others online. This wouldn’t necessarily be Pomodoro-related, but it’s just another idea that can ‘branch out’ from the original concept here.

The frameworks I mocked up could still be relevant.

If you see some kind of community you could create that benefits from any kind of progress reporting then don’t feel like you have to be bound by the 25 minute limitation. Do whatever you feel would be more relevant for that specific audience.

A few more PomCom ideas that come to mind include:

People learning a specific instrument and wanting to show how many hours they put in while getting feedback from others on the same journey
Students tracking how much time they’re spending with revision and being able to form online study groups with others learning the same subjects
Bodybuilders tracking their weekly workouts and current weight so they can show off to others. I can imagine this would work very well for people looking to build their authority as personal trainers as well
A site for women planning their wedding where they can check off all of the things they need to do before their big day and get advice from other brides-to-be.
Beginner pilots tracking their hours in the air and being able to talk with more experienced pilots
A weight loss PomCom for people who do best by tracking their results and find motivation in the success of others on the same journey
Or how about collectors of anything being able to keep track of how much memorabilia they have in their position and talk with likeminded people

If anyone ends up making that original, generic app (or the one specifically for writers) I will be your first paying customer in a heartbeat.

And if I would pay for it, surely someone else would too.

The World’s Greatest Marketing Blog

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that yesterday I revealed my biggest goal for 2016: To make ViperChill the best marketing blog in the world.

Now of course this is an entirely subjective goal. The best movie when I was a kid was Matilda but you were probably more fond of something else (just kidding, I know yours was Matilda too).

There’s no real way of determining the best blog in any category so I will purely be judging myself on this one and not expecting to win any kind of award. It’s a goal that has little other purpose than for me to push myself to write the best content I possibly can on a more regular basis. I relaunched this blog in 2009 and I’ve always been infrequent with my posting so it’s more of a challenge to see what I can become, rather than what I can get back in return.

In my recent guide on how to make money online I talked about a personal development blog I used to run and how my sole focus for the site was to reach 10,000 subscribers.

I didn’t have any income goals
I didn’t care how many people followed the site on Twitter
I didn’t want to reach X amount of comments per post
I didn’t want to write a book or be featured on a specific website

All I wanted to do was reach 10,000 subscribers. It might seem like a weird goal because it doesn’t really tie directly into anything else, but it was something I wanted to achieve. You will find yourself setting ‘strange’ goals like this when money becomes a byproduct of whatever you’re working on.

In 2016 I want ViperChill to become the best marketing blog in the world by my own standards. I don’t mind if anyone agrees with me; it’s more of an internal goal I have for myself.

Now the reason I tell you about this goal is because I want you to watch how much work it takes for me to try and make this happen, and hopefully use my grind as inspiration to work harder on your own challenges this year.

Look at how many articles I write. Look at how active I am on Facebook. Look at how many comments I reply to on every article.

I also want you to be able to see how many Pomodoros I do throughout the year, so someone please make that app and website. If I get anywhere close to my goal it will be by and large thanks to the Pomodoro Method, because I get so much more done with it than without it.

Who knows…maybe the headline for this post will be true in 12 month’s time (at least in my eyes).

The ‘Click’ I Experienced Recently

As I wrap things up I want to get back to the subject of productivity which spurred on this entire post.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been working on a problem for a while or trying to understand something and there’s a moment when everything just ‘clicks’ together?

Where something ‘goes off’ in your head like a light bulb and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense? Even stranger is that the answer you’ve been looking for tends to be incredibly simple.

This happened to me earlier last year and ever since then I’ve stopped wondering why I’m not achieving stretch-goals I’ve set for myself and instead I’m actually achieving them.

My click, was simply this: Every single Pomodoro I complete takes me one step closer to my goals. And every day I don’t do as many Pomodoros as I should have, I shouldn’t be surprised why I don’t have what I want within reach.

Now I know this is incredibly simple, so let me explain this a little further because it’s unlikely the ‘click’ happened for you after reading that bolded sentence.

All of the work I now do on a daily basis is purely revolved around completing Pomodoros. If I’m not doing a Pomodoro, I’m not working on the most important tasks I could be doing. And in order to achieve the big goals I have set for myself in this lifetime, I need to keep working on the important things to get there.

So it all comes full circle in a very simple manner: Every single Pomodoro I complete gets me one step closer to my goals.

In my last post I talked about the compound effect and how little things can stack together over time to create much bigger wins. Just make sure you keep hacking away at the little challenges consistently.

For once, I’m a little lost for words on what else to say here. It was just such an incredibly powerful realisation for me to think “the only way I will be successful is if I finish more Poms” and have my whole journey simplified in such a way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, sorry for wasting your time with the last section. Hopefully my writing ability will improve in 2016. If you did get what I’m saying then I hope it simplified your journey for you as well.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

Update: I was interviewed on this very topic by Chris Winfield, sharing my daily productivity process.

Read More

PIN’s: The Future of Private Link Building

What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.

If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.

When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.

Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.

I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.

I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It

This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.

Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.

Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.

The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased

It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.

The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).

There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before

There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.

This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.

‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results

Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.

After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.

I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.

Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too

We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.

This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar

It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.

Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.

They Have All The Answers

The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.

Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.

They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building

Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.

That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Guest posting for links
Using directories for links
Utilising private blog networks
Adding links to website themes
Adding do-followed links to widgets
They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag

That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.

Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.

Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.

The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.

Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.

But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.

Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail

As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.

When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.

While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.

Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.

The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse

If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.

In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.

That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalised, continues to work incredibly well.

“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?

Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.

I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.

I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.

PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can

When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.

You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.

While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.

I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.

Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.

My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.

I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
My title tag seems more relevant than half of them

Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.

It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.

All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.

This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.

I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).

This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.

This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.

Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.

In my exact words:

What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.

Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.

The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.

The Approach to Take

One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.

My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.

It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.

While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.

Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.

There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.

It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.

What the Hell is a PIN?

A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.

I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.

I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.

Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.

PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.

Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.

I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.

Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.

The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.

A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose

I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.

I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.

Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.

A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.

This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.

Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”

If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.

One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.

I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.

One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.

While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.

While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.

If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.

As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.

While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.

You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.

A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works

One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.

I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.

Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.

I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.

While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.

There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.

It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.

I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.

A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.

Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.

In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.

Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.

Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.

The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.

They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.

A PIN in Action

I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.

The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).

The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).

The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.

While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.

Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.

In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.

Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.

When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.

The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.

So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.

Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return.
This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.

The Types of Links Which Are Shared

I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.

If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.

The types of reciprocation that can take place.

You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
You can utilise a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilise for theirs
Offering website design advice
Utilising Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return

If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each other’s search engine rankings.

If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.

Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice

If you see the benefits of utilising a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.

A PIN Must Have a Leader

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.

My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.

In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.

The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.

Bringing Together Your Team

While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.

Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimisation.

If someone:

Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals

Don’t invite them to be part of your network.

I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.

A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.

If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.

You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.

As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.

You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.

Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.

A private Facebook group is another good option.

Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.

The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).

Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche

It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.

However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.

If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.

Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.

Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful

From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.

Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.

You Need to Know How the Microphone Works

And how to sing.

One of my favourite authors, Daniel Priestley, said the following in his book The Key Person of Influence;

You don’t need to know how the microphone works, you need to know how to sing.

He was referring to the technology behind the microphone and how, when it was first invented, your time would have been better spent learning how to sing than how a microphone worked, if you wanted to reach a lot of people.

When it comes to ranking in Google, I don’t think that’s the case. You need to know how the microphone works and how to sing.

There are going to be people who worry I’m encouraging armies of people to come together to take over the Google search results.

The truth is that I don’t believe people who can’t sing – in this case, can’t produce great results for search engine users – will have much long-term success.

There’s no point putting all of the work into your PIN if the end result is going to be a crappy website.

The third example of a PIN that I mentioned earlier now easily does in excess of over $100,000 per month. What I didn’t yet tell you is that they built a fantastic resource for their industry. The site doesn’t have many pages (less than 50), but each one genuinely solves a question that a particular searcher is looking for an answer to.

I don’t view utilising a PIN as a way to “sneak” up the Google results and send thousands of visitors to an ad-riddled website.

Instead, I see it as a way to help you start getting great content noticed that could attract natural links once it is.

I mentioned at the start of this article that I would likely weed out some of the audience of ViperChill. I want to make it clear though that I’m not trying to help people with shitty websites rise to the top of Google.

While I believe there is a great opportunity here, it isn’t easy. Turning the concept into reality sounds much easier on paper (or in a blog post).

The truth is that when it comes to making money online, most people are, quite simply…lazy.

They may be excited about this idea for a few weeks but if you’re going to use this to rank in an industry worth ranking for, you should be aiming for keywords that take a few months to get any serious traction for.

Links Aside, The Connections You Build Can Be Invaluable

I’ve already briefly talked about the other benefits this kind of network can have, besides link building.

You can connect with people who have a genuine passion for your industry who in turn spur you on to put more work into your site and help you improve your online ventures. Whether that’s giving advice on your design, your writing, your strategy or anything else.

Working online can seem lonely at times, especially if your offline friends don’t have an inkling to do anything online. When you’re aiming to make money from your web projects it’s nice to find other people on the same journey.

In my future of blogging post a few years ago, one of the most popular on the site, I mentioned how some bloggers had worked together to help grow their respective audiences in the same industry.

TechCrunch and Mashable grew incredibly quickly at the same time while investors were putting more and more of their money into web-based projects. They mentioned each other thousands of times.

Smaller operations – though still huge – like Copyblogger and Problogger would guest post on each others’ sites, promote each other’s products, send traffic to each other via their email lists and essentially enhanced both of their own images through their connection.

I took the time to actually figure out how many times some sites mentioned each other, which you can see in the graphic below.

While links were a key factor in all of these partnerships, I wouldn’t essentially class them as private link building. Most of the links didn’t include any specific anchor text and they weren’t to random affiliate sites or anything like that. All of them were trying to build authoritative online businesses and found someone with a similar passion on the same journey.

While TechCrunch and Mashable were almost in direct competition with each other, they still highlighted the stories that the other site got to first. Michael Arrington later sold TechCrunch to AOL for $25m. Pete Cashmore is still the CEO of Mashable though according to Politico.com, is trying to sell the site for around $300-$350m.

That’s a partnership that certainly paid off for both of them. Pete holding out six years on his sale seems to have been a smarter choice, however.

A Facebook Group to Find PIN Partners
For what is probably a very limited time only, I’m giving access to a private Facebook group where people can assemble together to potentially build their own Private Influencer Network.
I don’t want the comments here to be full of pitching opportunities, so let’s take this elsewhere to see what industries you’re working with. To be approved for the group you must leave a comment here with your Facebook name or put your Facebook initials at the end of a comment. Facebook will likely recommend the group to people who have no idea what PIN’s are and I don’t want to do a lot of moderating.
Don’t reveal your exact niche when you start a discussion, just simply zoom out of your niche and reveal a higher category that you would like to work in. You can find the group here (remember to comment to be approved).
Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit

Sometimes an AdSense unit won’t display an ad to a user for whatever reason. When an AdSense unit doesn’t show an ad, it leaves an odd amount of space within the content, and reduces my ability to monetize those pages – and I find that unacceptable. This used to be a much more significant problem,… Read More

The post How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

This is inline with what Brian Dean reported when he analysed 1,000,000 Google search results:

As he says, “In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Overall, it makes sense that domain authority plays a big role in overall site rankings (it’s not easy to get internal links) but I’m surprised to see it being so important.

How IAC’s About.com Used Their Authority to Catapult a New Site to the Top of Google

When TechCrunch covered the launch of About.com’s new standalone health website, Very Well, they had this to say regarding their SEO,

One of the greater challenges for About.com will be SEO. The company current has pretty good juice when it comes to Google searches, and launching on a new domain with a new brand could prove difficult to migrate.

The other interesting thing they quoted, which a lot of other news sites picked up on, was that,

Verywell will launch with more than 50,000 pieces of content ranging from common medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to simple health tips like how to get more sleep or advice on fitness.

That’s a lot of content for a brand new site.

50,000 Pages of Content Did Nothing for Their SEO.

From what I can tell, Very Well seemed to come online around February of this year. The first mentions or evidence of the site didn’t appear until April, but some of their older content has February 2016 as the publish date.

Now the day they launched the site – whatever that really means – was April 26th, 2016. That means they added 50,000 pieces of content to a dropped domain in the space of two months.

During these two months not a single website analytics tool (such as SimilarWeb, Alexa or Compete) detected any traffic going to VeryWell.com

Luckily, About.com Has Some SEO Authority to Throw Around

As TechCrunch noted, About.com are one of the most SEO-authoritative brands in the world. It seems like no matter what you search for, they’ll be there ranking on the first page of Google.

It’s interesting then that About.com decided to risk that authority by pointing their health-related sub-domains straight to Verywell.com, as shown below.

This is just a sample of those I found. There are many more.

To be clear, these sub-domains used to have sites on them. They’re not just randomly redirecting. They were previously used by About.com.

WIth a wave of links from About.com and the media web talking about IAC’s new web brand, VeryWell started to get noticed on website analysis tools. Most notably by Ahrefs.

That’s a lot of links in a short period of time. Surely it must be setting off a few red flags like they did for Best Products.com? Heh.

“How’s That New Site Ranking, IAC?” Very Well!

If you want to know how this new brand is doing in Google, take a look for yourself.

That’s a recording of 3.6 million visitors to the site with 56% of that reportedly from free search engine traffic.

IAC must be pleased with that. So much so in fact that I think this situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This Domination of Google Results Is Going to Get Much Worse

Over the last two weeks of dedicating day and night to this topic I found a lot of similarities in these mega brands.

Many started offline in publishing and brought those titles online while many purchased their own competitors and ran different brands like they were separate entities. For instance, IAC purchased About.com while AOL (now owned by Verizon) purchased Patch, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post.

However, the most common thing I’ve found in my research is that they all plan to spread the authority of their online presence.

IAC’s About.com Will Disperse into Many More Verticals

Speaking with TechCrunch, their CEO Neil Vogel states, “What we learned in rebuilding what we were is that we don’t want to be that anymore. About was built during a different time in the internet, where scale translated to trust. But the internet has changed. No one wants advice on their 401k from the same people that give advice on how to bake a pie.

As TechCrunch also note;

Learning that, About has shifted its focus to building out verticals around its troves of topic-specific content, with Verywell being the first.

After seeing the quick SEO success of Very Well, I’m sure they’ll be bringing that plan forward.

Time Have Already Spun-Off into Two Verticals

Back in September of 2015, Time Inc’s ‘The Foundry’ (sort of like their internal incubator) launched a car news website called The Drive. Time recently revealed the site is now receiving more than 2 million unique visitors per month.

More recently, Time launched a website called Extra Crispy. Oddly enough it’s a website dedicated to breakfast, but if you saw the screenshots above then you’ll know they’ve received a TON of links back to this site, simply because it was created by Time.

Two of the 16 Are Teaming Up

Just last month, two of the sixteen brands I’ve highlighted today actually acquired a new company together named Complex Media.

The video-focused company claim to reach more than 50 million unique visitors per month.

With Verizon purchasing AOL last year for $4.4B, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them make a few more content-focused acquisitions. *Cough* Verizon will buy Hearst *cough*

Hearst Built BestProducts.com in Just Six Weeks

I’m not even talking about how long it took to get the content on the website. I’m talking about sitting in a meeting one day and having the idea for the site to actually having it online and getting links from some of the most powerful domains in the world.

Digiday reports that Hearst can move fast. “We’re now at place where we can spin up properties incredibly quickly,” Young said. “This went from idea to launch in six weeks.

Young also commented that, “We have a strong new platform. Now we can start applying that to new opportunities.”

Which to me can only mean that more BestProducts-like websites are on their way.

A Depressing Summary, but Not a Negative One

Though this post may seem like a bit of a “it’s us against them” fight, that really wasn’t my aim.

The more research I did for this article and the more I realised certain brands were owned by the same company, the more I felt like I was watching Food Inc, the documentary that revealed the thousands of brands you see on supermarket shelves are really owned by just a handful of companies.

Side note: If anyone has the skills to make a similar graphic with the brands I covered here I would include it

It’s not too dissimilar from what I’ve shared today. Thanks to Jason and Mary for putting this graphic together.

Click here to view larger

As I’ve always said, I write articles that I personally think would be interesting to read. In 11 years of immersing myself in the online marketing industry I’ve never seen anyone talk about the huge dominance that certain players have on search results. So, as the research was interesting to me, I decided to share it.

Let’s take an ideal worldview for a second. If Google’s ideals are to be believed, results from queries in their search engine should produce results that searchers want to find.

For that reason, I’m sure teenage American girls searching for advice on colours of eye-liner aren’t thinking “Ugh, really Google? Beauty tips from Vogue again?”

Similarly, when I’m searching for tech product reviews, I’m actually happy results from The Verge appear over some site I don’t have much faith in. I trust The Verge, and I’m more likely to click on their results than from anyone else.

From an objective standpoint, the Google results are good, if not great. They provide what the searcher, and I, are looking for.

But I’m a marketer. If you’re still reading this article, I can assume with 99% certainty that you’re one too.

As a marketer I learned how little Google care if a new site gets hundreds of thousands of links very quickly.

I came away with even more belief in the importance of having a strong domain (read: a domain that has a lot of backlinks) if you want internal pages to rank.

I also became a little fearful that these brands are going to spread into even more verticals, taking their already huge financial war chests and filling in all of the blank Google results they don’t yet own.

If we want to debate whether it’s fair or not or whether Google should make changes, a court of law in the US has twice protected their search results under the First Amendment. Meaning it is totally up to them to list and rank websites wherever they wish.

The first time they won a battle on their rankings, a company called CoastNews were suing them for $5M because they ranked at the top of Yahoo and Bing but were nowhere to be found on Google.

At the end of the day, Google is a business that aims to make their shareholders money and if we as webmasters are looking to rank higher in Google, it’s usually because we want to make more money as well. I can’t feel it’s unfair and want to profit from it at the same time. After all, I do have several niche agencies which profit from ranking other people highly in Google.

I can complain – it’s a shame Google can’t detect some of what is going on here – but it’s not going to change anything about how I run my business.

All in all, I simply hope you found my findings as interesting in one go as I did while discovering them on the way.

You Can Still Fight Back

Next week I’ll be going live with a report on the state of link building in 2016 so if you want strategies on how to get links to make your sites rank, make sure you enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss it.

Thank you so much for reading.

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How a Simple Productivity Tool Helped Create the World’s Best Marketing Blog

Today’s blog post will reveal my biggest goal for 2016, nine niche ideas with huge potential and the most effective productivity technique I’ve used over the last few years. Let’s begin by talking about the productivity technique which is often referred to as the Pomodoro Method. If you’ve followed any kind of productivity guide online in the past then you may already know about this way of working in 25-minute time blocks.

Between each you take a five-minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes.

Generally, Pomodoros happen in ‘rounds’ so you’ll do four of them in a row – not forgetting the five minute break between each – then give yourself a much longer break after the round. I don’t really follow this method at all – I’ll share my own version in a minute – but I don’t think I would be where I am today without the Pomodoro Method. Telling myself to work for “just 25 minutes” is far easier than sitting down and thinking “I have to write a blog post now.”

Millions have found the same to be true for them as well.
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As I’m writing this very sentence, the seconds are ticking down on the Pomodoro app on my phone. When a ‘Pom’ is underway, I will not succumb to any distractions.

I won’t answer any calls.

I won’t check another tab in Chrome “just for a second”.

I won’t look at any Tinder notifications my phone might throw out.

Nothing.

In the rare case there is something I really need to check – like someone who never calls has phoned me four times – then I’ll simply hit pause on the Pomodoro app I use (though this is very rare).

The reason I’m telling you about the Pomodoro Method is because I believe there is a huge opportunity to create an amazing website and online community focused around this way of being productive.

And like with most ideas in this series: If you build it, I will use it.

There aren’t going to be a ton of opportunities for everyone to be successful with today’s core angle, so I’ll also be sharing some other niche ideas you can spin off from this concept as well.

I have so much belief in this idea that if someone were to pull off what I’m about to outline in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have hundreds of thousands of active users in a short period of time.

After all, could you tell me one person you know that doesn’t want to be more productive?

I could totally see my friends and family using this, and it’s rare for website ideas to have that potential without already existing.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to give a little background on how I personally use Pomodoros and how others I know use them, so you can hopefully understand the huge opportunity I’m about to present.

How I Get Things Done: My Pomodoro Day-Flow

As I explained earlier, Pomodoros are generally done in rounds. People typically do four in a row – that’s 1 hour and 40 minutes of solid work (with 20 minutes rest) – and then take a longer break of 30 minutes, an hour, or more.

This is the general method, but I don’t follow it very closely.

I tend to do at least eight Pomodoros per day, but aim to complete at least ten. While 4 hours and 10 minutes of work (10 x 25 minutes) might not sound like much to be proud about completing in a day, you have to remember it’s about real, focused work on serious tasks without interruption.

I’m not multi-tasking. I’m not taking breaks within the Pomodoro itself. And I’m not starting my timer on things like reading or cleaning up my office. They’re taken very seriously.

This screenshot is from the day this article is going live, but the rest of the post was actually written a few weeks ago.

The four unproductive days represent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The two biggest spikes represent 12 Pomodoros completed for those days. Today (Thursday) I’m currently on Pomodoro #9 which you can see on the far right.

For me personally, my breaks between Pomodoros are very sporadic. If I’m producing content like I am right now, then it’s likely I won’t take a 5 minute break between Poms but skip the 5 minute break, finish another one, and skip the break after that.

Often when I’m writing I get in the “zone” and I really don’t want to take a break. Getting started for me is the hard part so once I do get going I let momentum take over.

On other days I can take breaks of more than an hour between Pomodoros. Life is not some perfectly structured machine – even when you don’t have a 9-5 job – so things tend to crop up which stop me from flowing one Pom into the next.

As I write this, with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left on the clock, I only have a few hours before I head to Bangkok to shoot a commercial I have been wanting to make for almost a year. Because of that, I won’t be able to get my ten Poms completed.

(I count shooting the commercial as work, but because I don’t believe it’s the best use of my time, I will not track it in the app).

You may be wondering why I, or anyone else, would track how many Poms they complete in a day.

Why not just do as many as I can and be happy with that? Or why not just count them when they’re tough? As a famous bodybuilder once said, “I only count the reps when they start hurting, because that’s when they count.”

Well, I’ve actually found on my most productive days, I’m competitive about them.

I’m not the only person I know who works around Pomodoros. Diggy, my business partner, is obsessed about them too. And because we sometimes work in different cities or at least in different offices or houses, we generally ‘show off’ to each other via a chat app how many Pomodoros we’ve completed in a day.

Here’s one such example:

If my numbers are low, he’ll take a dig at me. If they’re high he’ll be a little more motivated to push on and try to catch up with my numbers for the day before he goes to sleep.

As an aside – for those of you who don’t know us personally – we’re not really that serious about this. When I say we take a dig at each other, it’s just friendly. We don’t really care who wins for the day; we just want to push each other to get work done while we can instead of messing around on the likes of Facebook. Mostly because both have huge goals in life.

While I don’t share my daily Pomodoro count with my brother – we’re on different time zones so I don’t want to wake him up or vice versa – he also relies on them heavily.

Ever since he started working from home he has found them incredibly useful to help keep him going, especially when it’s easy to procrastinate because he really can work at any time of the day.

So where are you going with this rambling story Glen? My apologies, but you really did have to read this backstory to understand the potential of what I’m about to share — especially if you don’t currently use the Pomodoro Method to help with your productivity.

Forget Income Reports, I Want to See Your Grind Reports

As I’m very much into internet marketing and the overall industry, I’m aware of most of the big blogs in this space. One trend that has grown over the last few years, spurred on by the likes of Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas, is people sharing their income reports from their online ventures.

I won’t go into the full details of why I’ve grown to dislike them so much here – it could take an entire blog post – but for the most part I find they simply tempt beginners to copy them in promoting the same affiliate products, rather than getting into other niches where they could make a killing as well.

(Side note: I’m a huge fan of John & Pat and I totally understand their own reasons for sharing income reports, but I’m going a different route and would love to see them try it also).

So here’s what I say to anyone who shares a public income report: I would much rather see your grind report.

I would prefer to see how much work you get done each day and be inspired by that, rather than how much income you made because someone chose a to start their new website on a web host you recommended.

I think showing off your true activity levels would be so much more inspiring for beginners, and really show people you mean it when you say things like, “You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to take action.

What if there was an online community where anyone around the world could show off, in public, how many Pomodoros they complete each day.

What if they could be charted over time like in the Pomodoro apps I use?

What if I could see how many Pomodoros other people are doing each day, or have done just today? Especially those who I connect with on Facebook or Twitter to make it even more interesting.

I really can’t imagine this kind of thing would be difficult to put together. Here are a few features of the iPhone app I use daily:

It has an adjustable 25 minute countdown timer
It lets you change the colour of the app background
It tracks how many Poms I’ve completed over the last 14 and 30 days
I can change the sound it makes when a Pom is over (woo!)

That’s it.

And it cost me $4.99.

It’s doesn’t even have what would no doubt be my favourite feature: A way to export that data into some online community where other people can see how much work I’m doing and I can see how much work they’re doing.

And to take it a step further, just imagine you could see how many people were currently completing Pomodoros LIVE around the world.

Let’s say that you wake up one day and you’re not feeling particularly productive…

You could open up this app or website and see that 654 people are online completing Poms, or a blogger you follow is on three for the day, or your friend is about to finish his first one.

I’m living proof that those with a competitive nature totally get inspired to do more with this kind of set-up. You saw in the screenshot with Diggy above that we’re already competing in a fun way; it’s just that our approach is messy and slow.

That’s a problem for us, and we would love for one of you to build a solution.

To show how serious I am about this, I put together a little Google Charts graph highlighting how simple the reporting can be. We’re not looking for fancy analytics – my $5 app doesn’t have them – just a way to see how much work we’re doing.

Because I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t cheat the grind, if I’m not getting the results I want to in life, I can look at my chart and see exactly why. I’m either not putting in enough hours, or I’m kidding myself and completing Poms on the wrong (usually easy) tasks.

google.load(“visualization”, “1.1”, {packages:[“bar”]});
google.setOnLoadCallback(drawChart);
function drawChart() {
var data = google.visualization.arrayToDataTable([
[‘Date’, ‘This Month’, ‘Previous Month’],
[‘Week 1’, 45, 38],
[‘Week 2’, 54, 45],
[‘Week 3’, 36, 38],
[‘Week 4’, 65, 48]
]);
var options = {
chart: {
title: ‘Completed Pomodoros’,
subtitle: ‘Tracking January 2016’,
},
bars: ‘horizontal’, // Required for Material Bar Charts.
colors: [‘#d5a130’, ‘#694e15’, ‘#7570b3’]
};
var chart = new google.charts.Bar(document.getElementById(‘barchart_material’));
chart.draw(data, options);
}

If you can’t see the graph, please click on over to the post to view it on site.

If you hover over a particular week you’ll see more details about it. I’m not a programmer whatsoever and I created this in two minutes using Google Charts. Pretty cool, no?

It would be awesome to see graphs for:

How many Poms you’ve done each day over the course of a month
How you’ve done each week compared to the previous month (shown above)
How you’re doing as a percentage of other people on the website
How you’re doing compared to your friends

If anyone reading this goes and makes this website, makes it beautiful and gives me great charts to track overtime, I’ll be your first customer.

In yet another hopeful display of how serious I am, I’ve put up a few mockups of how I think a great website like this would look structurally.

Mockup #1: The Core Interface

The main Pomodoro screen should be as clutter free as possible. You might even want to remove the counts of how many Poms you’ve completed for today and leave that up to the stats page (below).

I really like the idea of showing how many people are online and being productive, which you’ll also find in the Headpsace meditation app I’m a big fan of.

Mockup #2: The Stats Page

Hopefully the image is fairly self-explanatory. Here you can see how well you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and then check in on the progress of other people you follow as well.

In the screenshot we can see Ramsay (@blogtyrant) is on track for an awesome day. Don’t think he’s too productive though; he’s in Australia so he’s hours ahead of everyone else!

Mockup #3: The Group Chat

I’m not great at drawing chat windows in Photoshop but hopefully you get the idea. The left panel could show not only who is online but how many Poms they’ve completed for the day, with a big chat window to give everyone space to encourage each other and talk about what they’re working on.

I imagine this feature alone would be awesome for those who partake in mastermind groups.

Want My Money? Additional Features I Would Certainly Pay For

There are nearly 300,000 results in Google for “The Pomodoro Technique” and no doubt millions of people who have tried it in their daily lives.

To make this tool really take off and potentially reach those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users, I believe that at minimum the three sections I’ve outlined above should be completely free for all users.

They’re enough to get the job done, but if you’re serious about this method of being productive, you may want something a little more. That’s where some additional features might come in handy.

Premium Feature #1: Group Moderation

Instead of just throwing everyone into a chat, make it so that premium users can delete messages they’ve written, assign admin privileges to other users and give them an option to ‘start’ rounds for the entire group, meaning a Pomodoro will start for everyone at the same time.

Premium Feature #2: Link it to an App

The only thing that might personally put me off the above solution is that I’m not always at a PC when I’m doing a Pomodoro or even if I am, I may not have an Internet connection. While an app will be more expensive to put together, we’re looking to build something that could potentially be used by millions here, so I think it’s worth the investment.

Think of apps like Evernote where you can write notes offline and they sync up to the web later.

Premium Feature #3: Allow Us to Make Financial Bets

If you’re in a close group – like I imagine the #marketingcrew group above would be – we could each pitch in say $50 and whoever completes the most Poms in a week or month collects the prize money. While I wouldn’t expect the amounts bet to be life changing, they could be an added incentive to be more productive.

I’m sure getting more work done even at the cost of $50 would totally be worth it. There would be the possibility of ‘cheating’ but the real aim here is to push everyone to produce instead of procrastinate. I can’t imagine any of the people I would likely do this with would fudge their numbers.

Premium Feature #4: Screenshot my Page as Proof I’m Working

I haven’t totally fleshed out in my head how this could be used in a lot of ways, but it could definitely help to hold yourself accountable to make sure even during a Pom you’re not slacking off.

I’m not sure how the technology works exactly, but I know Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) have the ability take random screenshots of a freelancers screen so employers know they’re actually working and not claiming more billable hours than they actually worked.

Though I take all Poms seriously, this could be useful for those just starting with the technique who may even find 25 minutes a long time to focus.

BONUS Marketing Tip: Give Me a Widget!

Let me show the world how many hours I truly put in. How much I grind to achieve the results I get.

I’m proud to be a hard worker, so let me inspire others and show that if they want more from life, they need to put in the hours too. Make it easy to paste the widget into a blog sidebar or even take up an entire page if I were to dedicate one to it.

Add a link back to your website in the bottom of the widget, of course. Even make it an optional affiliate link so I get credit if anyone joins the site as a premium member because of me.

10 Other Potential Angles to Take With This Concept

With any niche idea I share, I aim to not only give you one core concept, but suggest other ways that concept could spin off into other industries you may be more interested in.

So instead of just a generic online ‘Pomodoro community’ like I’ve outlined above (now referred to as PomCom’s), you could niche down into smaller industries and grow a passionate audience around similar projects.

For instance, picture a PomCom for writers where the app will actually track their word count during each Pomodoro (by writing directly on the app or website), and then share that in a chart with fellow writers.

This would be amazing for bloggers, book authors, journalists or any other hobby or profession which involves writing as its primary role.

As someone who at times has actively tried to learn the Thai language (tones are difficult!), I would have loved to be part of a PomCom that consisted solely of people learning Thai where I could share how many words I’ve learned each day or at least how many Poms I’ve completed towards learning.

The whole idea being, once again, that you can’t cheat the grind. If I’m not making progress with Thai, I only have to look at how many 25-minute time blocks I’ve dedicated to it to see why. Lack of these will almost certainly result in a lack of progress.

There could be a PomCom for serious cyclists who track how many miles they’re putting in each day on their bikes and comparing them with others online. This wouldn’t necessarily be Pomodoro-related, but it’s just another idea that can ‘branch out’ from the original concept here.

The frameworks I mocked up could still be relevant.

If you see some kind of community you could create that benefits from any kind of progress reporting then don’t feel like you have to be bound by the 25 minute limitation. Do whatever you feel would be more relevant for that specific audience.

A few more PomCom ideas that come to mind include:

People learning a specific instrument and wanting to show how many hours they put in while getting feedback from others on the same journey
Students tracking how much time they’re spending with revision and being able to form online study groups with others learning the same subjects
Bodybuilders tracking their weekly workouts and current weight so they can show off to others. I can imagine this would work very well for people looking to build their authority as personal trainers as well
A site for women planning their wedding where they can check off all of the things they need to do before their big day and get advice from other brides-to-be.
Beginner pilots tracking their hours in the air and being able to talk with more experienced pilots
A weight loss PomCom for people who do best by tracking their results and find motivation in the success of others on the same journey
Or how about collectors of anything being able to keep track of how much memorabilia they have in their position and talk with likeminded people

If anyone ends up making that original, generic app (or the one specifically for writers) I will be your first paying customer in a heartbeat.

And if I would pay for it, surely someone else would too.

The World’s Greatest Marketing Blog

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that yesterday I revealed my biggest goal for 2016: To make ViperChill the best marketing blog in the world.

Now of course this is an entirely subjective goal. The best movie when I was a kid was Matilda but you were probably more fond of something else (just kidding, I know yours was Matilda too).

There’s no real way of determining the best blog in any category so I will purely be judging myself on this one and not expecting to win any kind of award. It’s a goal that has little other purpose than for me to push myself to write the best content I possibly can on a more regular basis. I relaunched this blog in 2009 and I’ve always been infrequent with my posting so it’s more of a challenge to see what I can become, rather than what I can get back in return.

In my recent guide on how to make money online I talked about a personal development blog I used to run and how my sole focus for the site was to reach 10,000 subscribers.

I didn’t have any income goals
I didn’t care how many people followed the site on Twitter
I didn’t want to reach X amount of comments per post
I didn’t want to write a book or be featured on a specific website

All I wanted to do was reach 10,000 subscribers. It might seem like a weird goal because it doesn’t really tie directly into anything else, but it was something I wanted to achieve. You will find yourself setting ‘strange’ goals like this when money becomes a byproduct of whatever you’re working on.

In 2016 I want ViperChill to become the best marketing blog in the world by my own standards. I don’t mind if anyone agrees with me; it’s more of an internal goal I have for myself.

Now the reason I tell you about this goal is because I want you to watch how much work it takes for me to try and make this happen, and hopefully use my grind as inspiration to work harder on your own challenges this year.

Look at how many articles I write. Look at how active I am on Facebook. Look at how many comments I reply to on every article.

I also want you to be able to see how many Pomodoros I do throughout the year, so someone please make that app and website. If I get anywhere close to my goal it will be by and large thanks to the Pomodoro Method, because I get so much more done with it than without it.

Who knows…maybe the headline for this post will be true in 12 month’s time (at least in my eyes).

The ‘Click’ I Experienced Recently

As I wrap things up I want to get back to the subject of productivity which spurred on this entire post.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been working on a problem for a while or trying to understand something and there’s a moment when everything just ‘clicks’ together?

Where something ‘goes off’ in your head like a light bulb and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense? Even stranger is that the answer you’ve been looking for tends to be incredibly simple.

This happened to me earlier last year and ever since then I’ve stopped wondering why I’m not achieving stretch-goals I’ve set for myself and instead I’m actually achieving them.

My click, was simply this: Every single Pomodoro I complete takes me one step closer to my goals. And every day I don’t do as many Pomodoros as I should have, I shouldn’t be surprised why I don’t have what I want within reach.

Now I know this is incredibly simple, so let me explain this a little further because it’s unlikely the ‘click’ happened for you after reading that bolded sentence.

All of the work I now do on a daily basis is purely revolved around completing Pomodoros. If I’m not doing a Pomodoro, I’m not working on the most important tasks I could be doing. And in order to achieve the big goals I have set for myself in this lifetime, I need to keep working on the important things to get there.

So it all comes full circle in a very simple manner: Every single Pomodoro I complete gets me one step closer to my goals.

In my last post I talked about the compound effect and how little things can stack together over time to create much bigger wins. Just make sure you keep hacking away at the little challenges consistently.

For once, I’m a little lost for words on what else to say here. It was just such an incredibly powerful realisation for me to think “the only way I will be successful is if I finish more Poms” and have my whole journey simplified in such a way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, sorry for wasting your time with the last section. Hopefully my writing ability will improve in 2016. If you did get what I’m saying then I hope it simplified your journey for you as well.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

Update: I was interviewed on this very topic by Chris Winfield, sharing my daily productivity process.

Read More

PIN’s: The Future of Private Link Building

What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.

If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.

When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.

Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.

I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.

I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It

This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.

Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.

Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.

The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased

It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.

The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).

There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before

There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.

This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.

‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results

Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.

After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.

I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.

Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too

We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.

This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar

It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.

Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.

They Have All The Answers

The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.

Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.

They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building

Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.

That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Guest posting for links
Using directories for links
Utilising private blog networks
Adding links to website themes
Adding do-followed links to widgets
They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag

That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.

Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.

Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.

The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.

Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.

But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.

Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail

As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.

When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.

While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.

Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.

The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse

If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.

In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.

That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalised, continues to work incredibly well.

“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?

Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.

I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.

I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.

PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can

When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.

You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.

While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.

I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.

Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.

My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.

I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
My title tag seems more relevant than half of them

Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.

It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.

All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.

This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.

I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).

This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.

This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.

Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.

In my exact words:

What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.

Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.

The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.

The Approach to Take

One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.

My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.

It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.

While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.

Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.

There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.

It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.

What the Hell is a PIN?

A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.

I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.

I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.

Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.

PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.

Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.

I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.

Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.

The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.

A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose

I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.

I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.

Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.

A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.

This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.

Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”

If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.

One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.

I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.

One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.

While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.

While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.

If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.

As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.

While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.

You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.

A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works

One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.

I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.

Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.

I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.

While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.

There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.

It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.

I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.

A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.

Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.

In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.

Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.

Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.

The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.

They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.

A PIN in Action

I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.

The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).

The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).

The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.

While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.

Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.

In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.

Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.

When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.

The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.

So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.

Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return.
This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.

The Types of Links Which Are Shared

I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.

If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.

The types of reciprocation that can take place.

You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
You can utilise a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilise for theirs
Offering website design advice
Utilising Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return

If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each other’s search engine rankings.

If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.

Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice

If you see the benefits of utilising a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.

A PIN Must Have a Leader

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.

My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.

In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.

The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.

Bringing Together Your Team

While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.

Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimisation.

If someone:

Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals

Don’t invite them to be part of your network.

I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.

A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.

If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.

You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.

As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.

You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.

Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.

A private Facebook group is another good option.

Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.

The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).

Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche

It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.

However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.

If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.

Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.

Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful

From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.

Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.

You Need to Know How the Microphone Works

And how to sing.

One of my favourite authors, Daniel Priestley, said the following in his book The Key Person of Influence;

You don’t need to know how the microphone works, you need to know how to sing.

He was referring to the technology behind the microphone and how, when it was first invented, your time would have been better spent learning how to sing than how a microphone worked, if you wanted to reach a lot of people.

When it comes to ranking in Google, I don’t think that’s the case. You need to know how the microphone works and how to sing.

There are going to be people who worry I’m encouraging armies of people to come together to take over the Google search results.

The truth is that I don’t believe people who can’t sing – in this case, can’t produce great results for search engine users – will have much long-term success.

There’s no point putting all of the work into your PIN if the end result is going to be a crappy website.

The third example of a PIN that I mentioned earlier now easily does in excess of over $100,000 per month. What I didn’t yet tell you is that they built a fantastic resource for their industry. The site doesn’t have many pages (less than 50), but each one genuinely solves a question that a particular searcher is looking for an answer to.

I don’t view utilising a PIN as a way to “sneak” up the Google results and send thousands of visitors to an ad-riddled website.

Instead, I see it as a way to help you start getting great content noticed that could attract natural links once it is.

I mentioned at the start of this article that I would likely weed out some of the audience of ViperChill. I want to make it clear though that I’m not trying to help people with shitty websites rise to the top of Google.

While I believe there is a great opportunity here, it isn’t easy. Turning the concept into reality sounds much easier on paper (or in a blog post).

The truth is that when it comes to making money online, most people are, quite simply…lazy.

They may be excited about this idea for a few weeks but if you’re going to use this to rank in an industry worth ranking for, you should be aiming for keywords that take a few months to get any serious traction for.

Links Aside, The Connections You Build Can Be Invaluable

I’ve already briefly talked about the other benefits this kind of network can have, besides link building.

You can connect with people who have a genuine passion for your industry who in turn spur you on to put more work into your site and help you improve your online ventures. Whether that’s giving advice on your design, your writing, your strategy or anything else.

Working online can seem lonely at times, especially if your offline friends don’t have an inkling to do anything online. When you’re aiming to make money from your web projects it’s nice to find other people on the same journey.

In my future of blogging post a few years ago, one of the most popular on the site, I mentioned how some bloggers had worked together to help grow their respective audiences in the same industry.

TechCrunch and Mashable grew incredibly quickly at the same time while investors were putting more and more of their money into web-based projects. They mentioned each other thousands of times.

Smaller operations – though still huge – like Copyblogger and Problogger would guest post on each others’ sites, promote each other’s products, send traffic to each other via their email lists and essentially enhanced both of their own images through their connection.

I took the time to actually figure out how many times some sites mentioned each other, which you can see in the graphic below.

While links were a key factor in all of these partnerships, I wouldn’t essentially class them as private link building. Most of the links didn’t include any specific anchor text and they weren’t to random affiliate sites or anything like that. All of them were trying to build authoritative online businesses and found someone with a similar passion on the same journey.

While TechCrunch and Mashable were almost in direct competition with each other, they still highlighted the stories that the other site got to first. Michael Arrington later sold TechCrunch to AOL for $25m. Pete Cashmore is still the CEO of Mashable though according to Politico.com, is trying to sell the site for around $300-$350m.

That’s a partnership that certainly paid off for both of them. Pete holding out six years on his sale seems to have been a smarter choice, however.

A Facebook Group to Find PIN Partners
For what is probably a very limited time only, I’m giving access to a private Facebook group where people can assemble together to potentially build their own Private Influencer Network.
I don’t want the comments here to be full of pitching opportunities, so let’s take this elsewhere to see what industries you’re working with. To be approved for the group you must leave a comment here with your Facebook name or put your Facebook initials at the end of a comment. Facebook will likely recommend the group to people who have no idea what PIN’s are and I don’t want to do a lot of moderating.
Don’t reveal your exact niche when you start a discussion, just simply zoom out of your niche and reveal a higher category that you would like to work in. You can find the group here (remember to comment to be approved).
Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit

Sometimes an AdSense unit won’t display an ad to a user for whatever reason. When an AdSense unit doesn’t show an ad, it leaves an odd amount of space within the content, and reduces my ability to monetize those pages – and I find that unacceptable. This used to be a much more significant problem,… Read More

The post How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

This is inline with what Brian Dean reported when he analysed 1,000,000 Google search results:

As he says, “In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Overall, it makes sense that domain authority plays a big role in overall site rankings (it’s not easy to get internal links) but I’m surprised to see it being so important.

How IAC’s About.com Used Their Authority to Catapult a New Site to the Top of Google

When TechCrunch covered the launch of About.com’s new standalone health website, Very Well, they had this to say regarding their SEO,

One of the greater challenges for About.com will be SEO. The company current has pretty good juice when it comes to Google searches, and launching on a new domain with a new brand could prove difficult to migrate.

The other interesting thing they quoted, which a lot of other news sites picked up on, was that,

Verywell will launch with more than 50,000 pieces of content ranging from common medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to simple health tips like how to get more sleep or advice on fitness.

That’s a lot of content for a brand new site.

50,000 Pages of Content Did Nothing for Their SEO.

From what I can tell, Very Well seemed to come online around February of this year. The first mentions or evidence of the site didn’t appear until April, but some of their older content has February 2016 as the publish date.

Now the day they launched the site – whatever that really means – was April 26th, 2016. That means they added 50,000 pieces of content to a dropped domain in the space of two months.

During these two months not a single website analytics tool (such as SimilarWeb, Alexa or Compete) detected any traffic going to VeryWell.com

Luckily, About.com Has Some SEO Authority to Throw Around

As TechCrunch noted, About.com are one of the most SEO-authoritative brands in the world. It seems like no matter what you search for, they’ll be there ranking on the first page of Google.

It’s interesting then that About.com decided to risk that authority by pointing their health-related sub-domains straight to Verywell.com, as shown below.

This is just a sample of those I found. There are many more.

To be clear, these sub-domains used to have sites on them. They’re not just randomly redirecting. They were previously used by About.com.

WIth a wave of links from About.com and the media web talking about IAC’s new web brand, VeryWell started to get noticed on website analysis tools. Most notably by Ahrefs.

That’s a lot of links in a short period of time. Surely it must be setting off a few red flags like they did for Best Products.com? Heh.

“How’s That New Site Ranking, IAC?” Very Well!

If you want to know how this new brand is doing in Google, take a look for yourself.

That’s a recording of 3.6 million visitors to the site with 56% of that reportedly from free search engine traffic.

IAC must be pleased with that. So much so in fact that I think this situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This Domination of Google Results Is Going to Get Much Worse

Over the last two weeks of dedicating day and night to this topic I found a lot of similarities in these mega brands.

Many started offline in publishing and brought those titles online while many purchased their own competitors and ran different brands like they were separate entities. For instance, IAC purchased About.com while AOL (now owned by Verizon) purchased Patch, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post.

However, the most common thing I’ve found in my research is that they all plan to spread the authority of their online presence.

IAC’s About.com Will Disperse into Many More Verticals

Speaking with TechCrunch, their CEO Neil Vogel states, “What we learned in rebuilding what we were is that we don’t want to be that anymore. About was built during a different time in the internet, where scale translated to trust. But the internet has changed. No one wants advice on their 401k from the same people that give advice on how to bake a pie.

As TechCrunch also note;

Learning that, About has shifted its focus to building out verticals around its troves of topic-specific content, with Verywell being the first.

After seeing the quick SEO success of Very Well, I’m sure they’ll be bringing that plan forward.

Time Have Already Spun-Off into Two Verticals

Back in September of 2015, Time Inc’s ‘The Foundry’ (sort of like their internal incubator) launched a car news website called The Drive. Time recently revealed the site is now receiving more than 2 million unique visitors per month.

More recently, Time launched a website called Extra Crispy. Oddly enough it’s a website dedicated to breakfast, but if you saw the screenshots above then you’ll know they’ve received a TON of links back to this site, simply because it was created by Time.

Two of the 16 Are Teaming Up

Just last month, two of the sixteen brands I’ve highlighted today actually acquired a new company together named Complex Media.

The video-focused company claim to reach more than 50 million unique visitors per month.

With Verizon purchasing AOL last year for $4.4B, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them make a few more content-focused acquisitions. *Cough* Verizon will buy Hearst *cough*

Hearst Built BestProducts.com in Just Six Weeks

I’m not even talking about how long it took to get the content on the website. I’m talking about sitting in a meeting one day and having the idea for the site to actually having it online and getting links from some of the most powerful domains in the world.

Digiday reports that Hearst can move fast. “We’re now at place where we can spin up properties incredibly quickly,” Young said. “This went from idea to launch in six weeks.

Young also commented that, “We have a strong new platform. Now we can start applying that to new opportunities.”

Which to me can only mean that more BestProducts-like websites are on their way.

A Depressing Summary, but Not a Negative One

Though this post may seem like a bit of a “it’s us against them” fight, that really wasn’t my aim.

The more research I did for this article and the more I realised certain brands were owned by the same company, the more I felt like I was watching Food Inc, the documentary that revealed the thousands of brands you see on supermarket shelves are really owned by just a handful of companies.

Side note: If anyone has the skills to make a similar graphic with the brands I covered here I would include it

It’s not too dissimilar from what I’ve shared today. Thanks to Jason and Mary for putting this graphic together.

Click here to view larger

As I’ve always said, I write articles that I personally think would be interesting to read. In 11 years of immersing myself in the online marketing industry I’ve never seen anyone talk about the huge dominance that certain players have on search results. So, as the research was interesting to me, I decided to share it.

Let’s take an ideal worldview for a second. If Google’s ideals are to be believed, results from queries in their search engine should produce results that searchers want to find.

For that reason, I’m sure teenage American girls searching for advice on colours of eye-liner aren’t thinking “Ugh, really Google? Beauty tips from Vogue again?”

Similarly, when I’m searching for tech product reviews, I’m actually happy results from The Verge appear over some site I don’t have much faith in. I trust The Verge, and I’m more likely to click on their results than from anyone else.

From an objective standpoint, the Google results are good, if not great. They provide what the searcher, and I, are looking for.

But I’m a marketer. If you’re still reading this article, I can assume with 99% certainty that you’re one too.

As a marketer I learned how little Google care if a new site gets hundreds of thousands of links very quickly.

I came away with even more belief in the importance of having a strong domain (read: a domain that has a lot of backlinks) if you want internal pages to rank.

I also became a little fearful that these brands are going to spread into even more verticals, taking their already huge financial war chests and filling in all of the blank Google results they don’t yet own.

If we want to debate whether it’s fair or not or whether Google should make changes, a court of law in the US has twice protected their search results under the First Amendment. Meaning it is totally up to them to list and rank websites wherever they wish.

The first time they won a battle on their rankings, a company called CoastNews were suing them for $5M because they ranked at the top of Yahoo and Bing but were nowhere to be found on Google.

At the end of the day, Google is a business that aims to make their shareholders money and if we as webmasters are looking to rank higher in Google, it’s usually because we want to make more money as well. I can’t feel it’s unfair and want to profit from it at the same time. After all, I do have several niche agencies which profit from ranking other people highly in Google.

I can complain – it’s a shame Google can’t detect some of what is going on here – but it’s not going to change anything about how I run my business.

All in all, I simply hope you found my findings as interesting in one go as I did while discovering them on the way.

You Can Still Fight Back

Next week I’ll be going live with a report on the state of link building in 2016 so if you want strategies on how to get links to make your sites rank, make sure you enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss it.

Thank you so much for reading.

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How a Simple Productivity Tool Helped Create the World’s Best Marketing Blog

Today’s blog post will reveal my biggest goal for 2016, nine niche ideas with huge potential and the most effective productivity technique I’ve used over the last few years. Let’s begin by talking about the productivity technique which is often referred to as the Pomodoro Method. If you’ve followed any kind of productivity guide online in the past then you may already know about this way of working in 25-minute time blocks.

Between each you take a five-minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes.

Generally, Pomodoros happen in ‘rounds’ so you’ll do four of them in a row – not forgetting the five minute break between each – then give yourself a much longer break after the round. I don’t really follow this method at all – I’ll share my own version in a minute – but I don’t think I would be where I am today without the Pomodoro Method. Telling myself to work for “just 25 minutes” is far easier than sitting down and thinking “I have to write a blog post now.”

Millions have found the same to be true for them as well.
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As I’m writing this very sentence, the seconds are ticking down on the Pomodoro app on my phone. When a ‘Pom’ is underway, I will not succumb to any distractions.

I won’t answer any calls.

I won’t check another tab in Chrome “just for a second”.

I won’t look at any Tinder notifications my phone might throw out.

Nothing.

In the rare case there is something I really need to check – like someone who never calls has phoned me four times – then I’ll simply hit pause on the Pomodoro app I use (though this is very rare).

The reason I’m telling you about the Pomodoro Method is because I believe there is a huge opportunity to create an amazing website and online community focused around this way of being productive.

And like with most ideas in this series: If you build it, I will use it.

There aren’t going to be a ton of opportunities for everyone to be successful with today’s core angle, so I’ll also be sharing some other niche ideas you can spin off from this concept as well.

I have so much belief in this idea that if someone were to pull off what I’m about to outline in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have hundreds of thousands of active users in a short period of time.

After all, could you tell me one person you know that doesn’t want to be more productive?

I could totally see my friends and family using this, and it’s rare for website ideas to have that potential without already existing.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to give a little background on how I personally use Pomodoros and how others I know use them, so you can hopefully understand the huge opportunity I’m about to present.

How I Get Things Done: My Pomodoro Day-Flow

As I explained earlier, Pomodoros are generally done in rounds. People typically do four in a row – that’s 1 hour and 40 minutes of solid work (with 20 minutes rest) – and then take a longer break of 30 minutes, an hour, or more.

This is the general method, but I don’t follow it very closely.

I tend to do at least eight Pomodoros per day, but aim to complete at least ten. While 4 hours and 10 minutes of work (10 x 25 minutes) might not sound like much to be proud about completing in a day, you have to remember it’s about real, focused work on serious tasks without interruption.

I’m not multi-tasking. I’m not taking breaks within the Pomodoro itself. And I’m not starting my timer on things like reading or cleaning up my office. They’re taken very seriously.

This screenshot is from the day this article is going live, but the rest of the post was actually written a few weeks ago.

The four unproductive days represent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The two biggest spikes represent 12 Pomodoros completed for those days. Today (Thursday) I’m currently on Pomodoro #9 which you can see on the far right.

For me personally, my breaks between Pomodoros are very sporadic. If I’m producing content like I am right now, then it’s likely I won’t take a 5 minute break between Poms but skip the 5 minute break, finish another one, and skip the break after that.

Often when I’m writing I get in the “zone” and I really don’t want to take a break. Getting started for me is the hard part so once I do get going I let momentum take over.

On other days I can take breaks of more than an hour between Pomodoros. Life is not some perfectly structured machine – even when you don’t have a 9-5 job – so things tend to crop up which stop me from flowing one Pom into the next.

As I write this, with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left on the clock, I only have a few hours before I head to Bangkok to shoot a commercial I have been wanting to make for almost a year. Because of that, I won’t be able to get my ten Poms completed.

(I count shooting the commercial as work, but because I don’t believe it’s the best use of my time, I will not track it in the app).

You may be wondering why I, or anyone else, would track how many Poms they complete in a day.

Why not just do as many as I can and be happy with that? Or why not just count them when they’re tough? As a famous bodybuilder once said, “I only count the reps when they start hurting, because that’s when they count.”

Well, I’ve actually found on my most productive days, I’m competitive about them.

I’m not the only person I know who works around Pomodoros. Diggy, my business partner, is obsessed about them too. And because we sometimes work in different cities or at least in different offices or houses, we generally ‘show off’ to each other via a chat app how many Pomodoros we’ve completed in a day.

Here’s one such example:

If my numbers are low, he’ll take a dig at me. If they’re high he’ll be a little more motivated to push on and try to catch up with my numbers for the day before he goes to sleep.

As an aside – for those of you who don’t know us personally – we’re not really that serious about this. When I say we take a dig at each other, it’s just friendly. We don’t really care who wins for the day; we just want to push each other to get work done while we can instead of messing around on the likes of Facebook. Mostly because both have huge goals in life.

While I don’t share my daily Pomodoro count with my brother – we’re on different time zones so I don’t want to wake him up or vice versa – he also relies on them heavily.

Ever since he started working from home he has found them incredibly useful to help keep him going, especially when it’s easy to procrastinate because he really can work at any time of the day.

So where are you going with this rambling story Glen? My apologies, but you really did have to read this backstory to understand the potential of what I’m about to share — especially if you don’t currently use the Pomodoro Method to help with your productivity.

Forget Income Reports, I Want to See Your Grind Reports

As I’m very much into internet marketing and the overall industry, I’m aware of most of the big blogs in this space. One trend that has grown over the last few years, spurred on by the likes of Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas, is people sharing their income reports from their online ventures.

I won’t go into the full details of why I’ve grown to dislike them so much here – it could take an entire blog post – but for the most part I find they simply tempt beginners to copy them in promoting the same affiliate products, rather than getting into other niches where they could make a killing as well.

(Side note: I’m a huge fan of John & Pat and I totally understand their own reasons for sharing income reports, but I’m going a different route and would love to see them try it also).

So here’s what I say to anyone who shares a public income report: I would much rather see your grind report.

I would prefer to see how much work you get done each day and be inspired by that, rather than how much income you made because someone chose a to start their new website on a web host you recommended.

I think showing off your true activity levels would be so much more inspiring for beginners, and really show people you mean it when you say things like, “You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to take action.

What if there was an online community where anyone around the world could show off, in public, how many Pomodoros they complete each day.

What if they could be charted over time like in the Pomodoro apps I use?

What if I could see how many Pomodoros other people are doing each day, or have done just today? Especially those who I connect with on Facebook or Twitter to make it even more interesting.

I really can’t imagine this kind of thing would be difficult to put together. Here are a few features of the iPhone app I use daily:

It has an adjustable 25 minute countdown timer
It lets you change the colour of the app background
It tracks how many Poms I’ve completed over the last 14 and 30 days
I can change the sound it makes when a Pom is over (woo!)

That’s it.

And it cost me $4.99.

It’s doesn’t even have what would no doubt be my favourite feature: A way to export that data into some online community where other people can see how much work I’m doing and I can see how much work they’re doing.

And to take it a step further, just imagine you could see how many people were currently completing Pomodoros LIVE around the world.

Let’s say that you wake up one day and you’re not feeling particularly productive…

You could open up this app or website and see that 654 people are online completing Poms, or a blogger you follow is on three for the day, or your friend is about to finish his first one.

I’m living proof that those with a competitive nature totally get inspired to do more with this kind of set-up. You saw in the screenshot with Diggy above that we’re already competing in a fun way; it’s just that our approach is messy and slow.

That’s a problem for us, and we would love for one of you to build a solution.

To show how serious I am about this, I put together a little Google Charts graph highlighting how simple the reporting can be. We’re not looking for fancy analytics – my $5 app doesn’t have them – just a way to see how much work we’re doing.

Because I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t cheat the grind, if I’m not getting the results I want to in life, I can look at my chart and see exactly why. I’m either not putting in enough hours, or I’m kidding myself and completing Poms on the wrong (usually easy) tasks.

google.load(“visualization”, “1.1”, {packages:[“bar”]});
google.setOnLoadCallback(drawChart);
function drawChart() {
var data = google.visualization.arrayToDataTable([
[‘Date’, ‘This Month’, ‘Previous Month’],
[‘Week 1’, 45, 38],
[‘Week 2’, 54, 45],
[‘Week 3’, 36, 38],
[‘Week 4’, 65, 48]
]);
var options = {
chart: {
title: ‘Completed Pomodoros’,
subtitle: ‘Tracking January 2016’,
},
bars: ‘horizontal’, // Required for Material Bar Charts.
colors: [‘#d5a130’, ‘#694e15’, ‘#7570b3’]
};
var chart = new google.charts.Bar(document.getElementById(‘barchart_material’));
chart.draw(data, options);
}

If you can’t see the graph, please click on over to the post to view it on site.

If you hover over a particular week you’ll see more details about it. I’m not a programmer whatsoever and I created this in two minutes using Google Charts. Pretty cool, no?

It would be awesome to see graphs for:

How many Poms you’ve done each day over the course of a month
How you’ve done each week compared to the previous month (shown above)
How you’re doing as a percentage of other people on the website
How you’re doing compared to your friends

If anyone reading this goes and makes this website, makes it beautiful and gives me great charts to track overtime, I’ll be your first customer.

In yet another hopeful display of how serious I am, I’ve put up a few mockups of how I think a great website like this would look structurally.

Mockup #1: The Core Interface

The main Pomodoro screen should be as clutter free as possible. You might even want to remove the counts of how many Poms you’ve completed for today and leave that up to the stats page (below).

I really like the idea of showing how many people are online and being productive, which you’ll also find in the Headpsace meditation app I’m a big fan of.

Mockup #2: The Stats Page

Hopefully the image is fairly self-explanatory. Here you can see how well you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and then check in on the progress of other people you follow as well.

In the screenshot we can see Ramsay (@blogtyrant) is on track for an awesome day. Don’t think he’s too productive though; he’s in Australia so he’s hours ahead of everyone else!

Mockup #3: The Group Chat

I’m not great at drawing chat windows in Photoshop but hopefully you get the idea. The left panel could show not only who is online but how many Poms they’ve completed for the day, with a big chat window to give everyone space to encourage each other and talk about what they’re working on.

I imagine this feature alone would be awesome for those who partake in mastermind groups.

Want My Money? Additional Features I Would Certainly Pay For

There are nearly 300,000 results in Google for “The Pomodoro Technique” and no doubt millions of people who have tried it in their daily lives.

To make this tool really take off and potentially reach those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users, I believe that at minimum the three sections I’ve outlined above should be completely free for all users.

They’re enough to get the job done, but if you’re serious about this method of being productive, you may want something a little more. That’s where some additional features might come in handy.

Premium Feature #1: Group Moderation

Instead of just throwing everyone into a chat, make it so that premium users can delete messages they’ve written, assign admin privileges to other users and give them an option to ‘start’ rounds for the entire group, meaning a Pomodoro will start for everyone at the same time.

Premium Feature #2: Link it to an App

The only thing that might personally put me off the above solution is that I’m not always at a PC when I’m doing a Pomodoro or even if I am, I may not have an Internet connection. While an app will be more expensive to put together, we’re looking to build something that could potentially be used by millions here, so I think it’s worth the investment.

Think of apps like Evernote where you can write notes offline and they sync up to the web later.

Premium Feature #3: Allow Us to Make Financial Bets

If you’re in a close group – like I imagine the #marketingcrew group above would be – we could each pitch in say $50 and whoever completes the most Poms in a week or month collects the prize money. While I wouldn’t expect the amounts bet to be life changing, they could be an added incentive to be more productive.

I’m sure getting more work done even at the cost of $50 would totally be worth it. There would be the possibility of ‘cheating’ but the real aim here is to push everyone to produce instead of procrastinate. I can’t imagine any of the people I would likely do this with would fudge their numbers.

Premium Feature #4: Screenshot my Page as Proof I’m Working

I haven’t totally fleshed out in my head how this could be used in a lot of ways, but it could definitely help to hold yourself accountable to make sure even during a Pom you’re not slacking off.

I’m not sure how the technology works exactly, but I know Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) have the ability take random screenshots of a freelancers screen so employers know they’re actually working and not claiming more billable hours than they actually worked.

Though I take all Poms seriously, this could be useful for those just starting with the technique who may even find 25 minutes a long time to focus.

BONUS Marketing Tip: Give Me a Widget!

Let me show the world how many hours I truly put in. How much I grind to achieve the results I get.

I’m proud to be a hard worker, so let me inspire others and show that if they want more from life, they need to put in the hours too. Make it easy to paste the widget into a blog sidebar or even take up an entire page if I were to dedicate one to it.

Add a link back to your website in the bottom of the widget, of course. Even make it an optional affiliate link so I get credit if anyone joins the site as a premium member because of me.

10 Other Potential Angles to Take With This Concept

With any niche idea I share, I aim to not only give you one core concept, but suggest other ways that concept could spin off into other industries you may be more interested in.

So instead of just a generic online ‘Pomodoro community’ like I’ve outlined above (now referred to as PomCom’s), you could niche down into smaller industries and grow a passionate audience around similar projects.

For instance, picture a PomCom for writers where the app will actually track their word count during each Pomodoro (by writing directly on the app or website), and then share that in a chart with fellow writers.

This would be amazing for bloggers, book authors, journalists or any other hobby or profession which involves writing as its primary role.

As someone who at times has actively tried to learn the Thai language (tones are difficult!), I would have loved to be part of a PomCom that consisted solely of people learning Thai where I could share how many words I’ve learned each day or at least how many Poms I’ve completed towards learning.

The whole idea being, once again, that you can’t cheat the grind. If I’m not making progress with Thai, I only have to look at how many 25-minute time blocks I’ve dedicated to it to see why. Lack of these will almost certainly result in a lack of progress.

There could be a PomCom for serious cyclists who track how many miles they’re putting in each day on their bikes and comparing them with others online. This wouldn’t necessarily be Pomodoro-related, but it’s just another idea that can ‘branch out’ from the original concept here.

The frameworks I mocked up could still be relevant.

If you see some kind of community you could create that benefits from any kind of progress reporting then don’t feel like you have to be bound by the 25 minute limitation. Do whatever you feel would be more relevant for that specific audience.

A few more PomCom ideas that come to mind include:

People learning a specific instrument and wanting to show how many hours they put in while getting feedback from others on the same journey
Students tracking how much time they’re spending with revision and being able to form online study groups with others learning the same subjects
Bodybuilders tracking their weekly workouts and current weight so they can show off to others. I can imagine this would work very well for people looking to build their authority as personal trainers as well
A site for women planning their wedding where they can check off all of the things they need to do before their big day and get advice from other brides-to-be.
Beginner pilots tracking their hours in the air and being able to talk with more experienced pilots
A weight loss PomCom for people who do best by tracking their results and find motivation in the success of others on the same journey
Or how about collectors of anything being able to keep track of how much memorabilia they have in their position and talk with likeminded people

If anyone ends up making that original, generic app (or the one specifically for writers) I will be your first paying customer in a heartbeat.

And if I would pay for it, surely someone else would too.

The World’s Greatest Marketing Blog

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that yesterday I revealed my biggest goal for 2016: To make ViperChill the best marketing blog in the world.

Now of course this is an entirely subjective goal. The best movie when I was a kid was Matilda but you were probably more fond of something else (just kidding, I know yours was Matilda too).

There’s no real way of determining the best blog in any category so I will purely be judging myself on this one and not expecting to win any kind of award. It’s a goal that has little other purpose than for me to push myself to write the best content I possibly can on a more regular basis. I relaunched this blog in 2009 and I’ve always been infrequent with my posting so it’s more of a challenge to see what I can become, rather than what I can get back in return.

In my recent guide on how to make money online I talked about a personal development blog I used to run and how my sole focus for the site was to reach 10,000 subscribers.

I didn’t have any income goals
I didn’t care how many people followed the site on Twitter
I didn’t want to reach X amount of comments per post
I didn’t want to write a book or be featured on a specific website

All I wanted to do was reach 10,000 subscribers. It might seem like a weird goal because it doesn’t really tie directly into anything else, but it was something I wanted to achieve. You will find yourself setting ‘strange’ goals like this when money becomes a byproduct of whatever you’re working on.

In 2016 I want ViperChill to become the best marketing blog in the world by my own standards. I don’t mind if anyone agrees with me; it’s more of an internal goal I have for myself.

Now the reason I tell you about this goal is because I want you to watch how much work it takes for me to try and make this happen, and hopefully use my grind as inspiration to work harder on your own challenges this year.

Look at how many articles I write. Look at how active I am on Facebook. Look at how many comments I reply to on every article.

I also want you to be able to see how many Pomodoros I do throughout the year, so someone please make that app and website. If I get anywhere close to my goal it will be by and large thanks to the Pomodoro Method, because I get so much more done with it than without it.

Who knows…maybe the headline for this post will be true in 12 month’s time (at least in my eyes).

The ‘Click’ I Experienced Recently

As I wrap things up I want to get back to the subject of productivity which spurred on this entire post.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been working on a problem for a while or trying to understand something and there’s a moment when everything just ‘clicks’ together?

Where something ‘goes off’ in your head like a light bulb and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense? Even stranger is that the answer you’ve been looking for tends to be incredibly simple.

This happened to me earlier last year and ever since then I’ve stopped wondering why I’m not achieving stretch-goals I’ve set for myself and instead I’m actually achieving them.

My click, was simply this: Every single Pomodoro I complete takes me one step closer to my goals. And every day I don’t do as many Pomodoros as I should have, I shouldn’t be surprised why I don’t have what I want within reach.

Now I know this is incredibly simple, so let me explain this a little further because it’s unlikely the ‘click’ happened for you after reading that bolded sentence.

All of the work I now do on a daily basis is purely revolved around completing Pomodoros. If I’m not doing a Pomodoro, I’m not working on the most important tasks I could be doing. And in order to achieve the big goals I have set for myself in this lifetime, I need to keep working on the important things to get there.

So it all comes full circle in a very simple manner: Every single Pomodoro I complete gets me one step closer to my goals.

In my last post I talked about the compound effect and how little things can stack together over time to create much bigger wins. Just make sure you keep hacking away at the little challenges consistently.

For once, I’m a little lost for words on what else to say here. It was just such an incredibly powerful realisation for me to think “the only way I will be successful is if I finish more Poms” and have my whole journey simplified in such a way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, sorry for wasting your time with the last section. Hopefully my writing ability will improve in 2016. If you did get what I’m saying then I hope it simplified your journey for you as well.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

Update: I was interviewed on this very topic by Chris Winfield, sharing my daily productivity process.

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PIN’s: The Future of Private Link Building

What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.

If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.

When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.

Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.

I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.

I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It

This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.

Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.

Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.

The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased

It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.

The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).

There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before

There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.

This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.

‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results

Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.

After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.

I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.

Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too

We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.

This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar

It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.

Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.

They Have All The Answers

The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.

Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.

They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building

Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.

That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Guest posting for links
Using directories for links
Utilising private blog networks
Adding links to website themes
Adding do-followed links to widgets
They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag

That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.

Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.

Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.

The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.

Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.

But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.

Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail

As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.

When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.

While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.

Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.

The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse

If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.

In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.

That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalised, continues to work incredibly well.

“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?

Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.

I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.

I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.

PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can

When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.

You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.

While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.

I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.

Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.

My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.

I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
My title tag seems more relevant than half of them

Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.

It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.

All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.

This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.

I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).

This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.

This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.

Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.

In my exact words:

What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.

Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.

The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.

The Approach to Take

One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.

My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.

It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.

While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.

Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.

There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.

It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.

What the Hell is a PIN?

A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.

I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.

I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.

Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.

PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.

Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.

I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.

Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.

The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.

A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose

I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.

I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.

Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.

A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.

This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.

Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”

If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.

One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.

I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.

One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.

While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.

While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.

If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.

As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.

While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.

You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.

A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works

One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.

I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.

Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.

I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.

While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.

There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.

It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.

I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.

A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.

Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.

In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.

Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.

Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.

The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.

They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.

A PIN in Action

I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.

The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).

The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).

The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.

While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.

Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.

In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.

Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.

When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.

The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.

So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.

Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return.
This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.

The Types of Links Which Are Shared

I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.

If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.

The types of reciprocation that can take place.

You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
You can utilise a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilise for theirs
Offering website design advice
Utilising Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return

If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each other’s search engine rankings.

If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.

Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice

If you see the benefits of utilising a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.

A PIN Must Have a Leader

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.

My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.

In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.

The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.

Bringing Together Your Team

While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.

Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimisation.

If someone:

Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals

Don’t invite them to be part of your network.

I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.

A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.

If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.

You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.

As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.

You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.

Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.

A private Facebook group is another good option.

Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.

The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).

Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche

It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.

However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.

If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.

Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.

Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful

From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.

Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.

You Need to Know How the Microphone Works

And how to sing.

One of my favourite authors, Daniel Priestley, said the following in his book The Key Person of Influence;

You don’t need to know how the microphone works, you need to know how to sing.

He was referring to the technology behind the microphone and how, when it was first invented, your time would have been better spent learning how to sing than how a microphone worked, if you wanted to reach a lot of people.

When it comes to ranking in Google, I don’t think that’s the case. You need to know how the microphone works and how to sing.

There are going to be people who worry I’m encouraging armies of people to come together to take over the Google search results.

The truth is that I don’t believe people who can’t sing – in this case, can’t produce great results for search engine users – will have much long-term success.

There’s no point putting all of the work into your PIN if the end result is going to be a crappy website.

The third example of a PIN that I mentioned earlier now easily does in excess of over $100,000 per month. What I didn’t yet tell you is that they built a fantastic resource for their industry. The site doesn’t have many pages (less than 50), but each one genuinely solves a question that a particular searcher is looking for an answer to.

I don’t view utilising a PIN as a way to “sneak” up the Google results and send thousands of visitors to an ad-riddled website.

Instead, I see it as a way to help you start getting great content noticed that could attract natural links once it is.

I mentioned at the start of this article that I would likely weed out some of the audience of ViperChill. I want to make it clear though that I’m not trying to help people with shitty websites rise to the top of Google.

While I believe there is a great opportunity here, it isn’t easy. Turning the concept into reality sounds much easier on paper (or in a blog post).

The truth is that when it comes to making money online, most people are, quite simply…lazy.

They may be excited about this idea for a few weeks but if you’re going to use this to rank in an industry worth ranking for, you should be aiming for keywords that take a few months to get any serious traction for.

Links Aside, The Connections You Build Can Be Invaluable

I’ve already briefly talked about the other benefits this kind of network can have, besides link building.

You can connect with people who have a genuine passion for your industry who in turn spur you on to put more work into your site and help you improve your online ventures. Whether that’s giving advice on your design, your writing, your strategy or anything else.

Working online can seem lonely at times, especially if your offline friends don’t have an inkling to do anything online. When you’re aiming to make money from your web projects it’s nice to find other people on the same journey.

In my future of blogging post a few years ago, one of the most popular on the site, I mentioned how some bloggers had worked together to help grow their respective audiences in the same industry.

TechCrunch and Mashable grew incredibly quickly at the same time while investors were putting more and more of their money into web-based projects. They mentioned each other thousands of times.

Smaller operations – though still huge – like Copyblogger and Problogger would guest post on each others’ sites, promote each other’s products, send traffic to each other via their email lists and essentially enhanced both of their own images through their connection.

I took the time to actually figure out how many times some sites mentioned each other, which you can see in the graphic below.

While links were a key factor in all of these partnerships, I wouldn’t essentially class them as private link building. Most of the links didn’t include any specific anchor text and they weren’t to random affiliate sites or anything like that. All of them were trying to build authoritative online businesses and found someone with a similar passion on the same journey.

While TechCrunch and Mashable were almost in direct competition with each other, they still highlighted the stories that the other site got to first. Michael Arrington later sold TechCrunch to AOL for $25m. Pete Cashmore is still the CEO of Mashable though according to Politico.com, is trying to sell the site for around $300-$350m.

That’s a partnership that certainly paid off for both of them. Pete holding out six years on his sale seems to have been a smarter choice, however.

A Facebook Group to Find PIN Partners
For what is probably a very limited time only, I’m giving access to a private Facebook group where people can assemble together to potentially build their own Private Influencer Network.
I don’t want the comments here to be full of pitching opportunities, so let’s take this elsewhere to see what industries you’re working with. To be approved for the group you must leave a comment here with your Facebook name or put your Facebook initials at the end of a comment. Facebook will likely recommend the group to people who have no idea what PIN’s are and I don’t want to do a lot of moderating.
Don’t reveal your exact niche when you start a discussion, just simply zoom out of your niche and reveal a higher category that you would like to work in. You can find the group here (remember to comment to be approved).
Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit

Sometimes an AdSense unit won’t display an ad to a user for whatever reason. When an AdSense unit doesn’t show an ad, it leaves an odd amount of space within the content, and reduces my ability to monetize those pages – and I find that unacceptable. This used to be a much more significant problem,… Read More

The post How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

This is inline with what Brian Dean reported when he analysed 1,000,000 Google search results:

As he says, “In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Overall, it makes sense that domain authority plays a big role in overall site rankings (it’s not easy to get internal links) but I’m surprised to see it being so important.

How IAC’s About.com Used Their Authority to Catapult a New Site to the Top of Google

When TechCrunch covered the launch of About.com’s new standalone health website, Very Well, they had this to say regarding their SEO,

One of the greater challenges for About.com will be SEO. The company current has pretty good juice when it comes to Google searches, and launching on a new domain with a new brand could prove difficult to migrate.

The other interesting thing they quoted, which a lot of other news sites picked up on, was that,

Verywell will launch with more than 50,000 pieces of content ranging from common medical conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to simple health tips like how to get more sleep or advice on fitness.

That’s a lot of content for a brand new site.

50,000 Pages of Content Did Nothing for Their SEO.

From what I can tell, Very Well seemed to come online around February of this year. The first mentions or evidence of the site didn’t appear until April, but some of their older content has February 2016 as the publish date.

Now the day they launched the site – whatever that really means – was April 26th, 2016. That means they added 50,000 pieces of content to a dropped domain in the space of two months.

During these two months not a single website analytics tool (such as SimilarWeb, Alexa or Compete) detected any traffic going to VeryWell.com

Luckily, About.com Has Some SEO Authority to Throw Around

As TechCrunch noted, About.com are one of the most SEO-authoritative brands in the world. It seems like no matter what you search for, they’ll be there ranking on the first page of Google.

It’s interesting then that About.com decided to risk that authority by pointing their health-related sub-domains straight to Verywell.com, as shown below.

This is just a sample of those I found. There are many more.

To be clear, these sub-domains used to have sites on them. They’re not just randomly redirecting. They were previously used by About.com.

WIth a wave of links from About.com and the media web talking about IAC’s new web brand, VeryWell started to get noticed on website analysis tools. Most notably by Ahrefs.

That’s a lot of links in a short period of time. Surely it must be setting off a few red flags like they did for Best Products.com? Heh.

“How’s That New Site Ranking, IAC?” Very Well!

If you want to know how this new brand is doing in Google, take a look for yourself.

That’s a recording of 3.6 million visitors to the site with 56% of that reportedly from free search engine traffic.

IAC must be pleased with that. So much so in fact that I think this situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This Domination of Google Results Is Going to Get Much Worse

Over the last two weeks of dedicating day and night to this topic I found a lot of similarities in these mega brands.

Many started offline in publishing and brought those titles online while many purchased their own competitors and ran different brands like they were separate entities. For instance, IAC purchased About.com while AOL (now owned by Verizon) purchased Patch, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post.

However, the most common thing I’ve found in my research is that they all plan to spread the authority of their online presence.

IAC’s About.com Will Disperse into Many More Verticals

Speaking with TechCrunch, their CEO Neil Vogel states, “What we learned in rebuilding what we were is that we don’t want to be that anymore. About was built during a different time in the internet, where scale translated to trust. But the internet has changed. No one wants advice on their 401k from the same people that give advice on how to bake a pie.

As TechCrunch also note;

Learning that, About has shifted its focus to building out verticals around its troves of topic-specific content, with Verywell being the first.

After seeing the quick SEO success of Very Well, I’m sure they’ll be bringing that plan forward.

Time Have Already Spun-Off into Two Verticals

Back in September of 2015, Time Inc’s ‘The Foundry’ (sort of like their internal incubator) launched a car news website called The Drive. Time recently revealed the site is now receiving more than 2 million unique visitors per month.

More recently, Time launched a website called Extra Crispy. Oddly enough it’s a website dedicated to breakfast, but if you saw the screenshots above then you’ll know they’ve received a TON of links back to this site, simply because it was created by Time.

Two of the 16 Are Teaming Up

Just last month, two of the sixteen brands I’ve highlighted today actually acquired a new company together named Complex Media.

The video-focused company claim to reach more than 50 million unique visitors per month.

With Verizon purchasing AOL last year for $4.4B, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them make a few more content-focused acquisitions. *Cough* Verizon will buy Hearst *cough*

Hearst Built BestProducts.com in Just Six Weeks

I’m not even talking about how long it took to get the content on the website. I’m talking about sitting in a meeting one day and having the idea for the site to actually having it online and getting links from some of the most powerful domains in the world.

Digiday reports that Hearst can move fast. “We’re now at place where we can spin up properties incredibly quickly,” Young said. “This went from idea to launch in six weeks.

Young also commented that, “We have a strong new platform. Now we can start applying that to new opportunities.”

Which to me can only mean that more BestProducts-like websites are on their way.

A Depressing Summary, but Not a Negative One

Though this post may seem like a bit of a “it’s us against them” fight, that really wasn’t my aim.

The more research I did for this article and the more I realised certain brands were owned by the same company, the more I felt like I was watching Food Inc, the documentary that revealed the thousands of brands you see on supermarket shelves are really owned by just a handful of companies.

Side note: If anyone has the skills to make a similar graphic with the brands I covered here I would include it

It’s not too dissimilar from what I’ve shared today. Thanks to Jason and Mary for putting this graphic together.

Click here to view larger

As I’ve always said, I write articles that I personally think would be interesting to read. In 11 years of immersing myself in the online marketing industry I’ve never seen anyone talk about the huge dominance that certain players have on search results. So, as the research was interesting to me, I decided to share it.

Let’s take an ideal worldview for a second. If Google’s ideals are to be believed, results from queries in their search engine should produce results that searchers want to find.

For that reason, I’m sure teenage American girls searching for advice on colours of eye-liner aren’t thinking “Ugh, really Google? Beauty tips from Vogue again?”

Similarly, when I’m searching for tech product reviews, I’m actually happy results from The Verge appear over some site I don’t have much faith in. I trust The Verge, and I’m more likely to click on their results than from anyone else.

From an objective standpoint, the Google results are good, if not great. They provide what the searcher, and I, are looking for.

But I’m a marketer. If you’re still reading this article, I can assume with 99% certainty that you’re one too.

As a marketer I learned how little Google care if a new site gets hundreds of thousands of links very quickly.

I came away with even more belief in the importance of having a strong domain (read: a domain that has a lot of backlinks) if you want internal pages to rank.

I also became a little fearful that these brands are going to spread into even more verticals, taking their already huge financial war chests and filling in all of the blank Google results they don’t yet own.

If we want to debate whether it’s fair or not or whether Google should make changes, a court of law in the US has twice protected their search results under the First Amendment. Meaning it is totally up to them to list and rank websites wherever they wish.

The first time they won a battle on their rankings, a company called CoastNews were suing them for $5M because they ranked at the top of Yahoo and Bing but were nowhere to be found on Google.

At the end of the day, Google is a business that aims to make their shareholders money and if we as webmasters are looking to rank higher in Google, it’s usually because we want to make more money as well. I can’t feel it’s unfair and want to profit from it at the same time. After all, I do have several niche agencies which profit from ranking other people highly in Google.

I can complain – it’s a shame Google can’t detect some of what is going on here – but it’s not going to change anything about how I run my business.

All in all, I simply hope you found my findings as interesting in one go as I did while discovering them on the way.

You Can Still Fight Back

Next week I’ll be going live with a report on the state of link building in 2016 so if you want strategies on how to get links to make your sites rank, make sure you enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss it.

Thank you so much for reading.

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How a Simple Productivity Tool Helped Create the World’s Best Marketing Blog

Today’s blog post will reveal my biggest goal for 2016, nine niche ideas with huge potential and the most effective productivity technique I’ve used over the last few years. Let’s begin by talking about the productivity technique which is often referred to as the Pomodoro Method. If you’ve followed any kind of productivity guide online in the past then you may already know about this way of working in 25-minute time blocks.

Between each you take a five-minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes.

Generally, Pomodoros happen in ‘rounds’ so you’ll do four of them in a row – not forgetting the five minute break between each – then give yourself a much longer break after the round. I don’t really follow this method at all – I’ll share my own version in a minute – but I don’t think I would be where I am today without the Pomodoro Method. Telling myself to work for “just 25 minutes” is far easier than sitting down and thinking “I have to write a blog post now.”

Millions have found the same to be true for them as well.
<!–more–>

As I’m writing this very sentence, the seconds are ticking down on the Pomodoro app on my phone. When a ‘Pom’ is underway, I will not succumb to any distractions.

I won’t answer any calls.

I won’t check another tab in Chrome “just for a second”.

I won’t look at any Tinder notifications my phone might throw out.

Nothing.

In the rare case there is something I really need to check – like someone who never calls has phoned me four times – then I’ll simply hit pause on the Pomodoro app I use (though this is very rare).

The reason I’m telling you about the Pomodoro Method is because I believe there is a huge opportunity to create an amazing website and online community focused around this way of being productive.

And like with most ideas in this series: If you build it, I will use it.

There aren’t going to be a ton of opportunities for everyone to be successful with today’s core angle, so I’ll also be sharing some other niche ideas you can spin off from this concept as well.

I have so much belief in this idea that if someone were to pull off what I’m about to outline in a big way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have hundreds of thousands of active users in a short period of time.

After all, could you tell me one person you know that doesn’t want to be more productive?

I could totally see my friends and family using this, and it’s rare for website ideas to have that potential without already existing.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to give a little background on how I personally use Pomodoros and how others I know use them, so you can hopefully understand the huge opportunity I’m about to present.

How I Get Things Done: My Pomodoro Day-Flow

As I explained earlier, Pomodoros are generally done in rounds. People typically do four in a row – that’s 1 hour and 40 minutes of solid work (with 20 minutes rest) – and then take a longer break of 30 minutes, an hour, or more.

This is the general method, but I don’t follow it very closely.

I tend to do at least eight Pomodoros per day, but aim to complete at least ten. While 4 hours and 10 minutes of work (10 x 25 minutes) might not sound like much to be proud about completing in a day, you have to remember it’s about real, focused work on serious tasks without interruption.

I’m not multi-tasking. I’m not taking breaks within the Pomodoro itself. And I’m not starting my timer on things like reading or cleaning up my office. They’re taken very seriously.

This screenshot is from the day this article is going live, but the rest of the post was actually written a few weeks ago.

The four unproductive days represent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The two biggest spikes represent 12 Pomodoros completed for those days. Today (Thursday) I’m currently on Pomodoro #9 which you can see on the far right.

For me personally, my breaks between Pomodoros are very sporadic. If I’m producing content like I am right now, then it’s likely I won’t take a 5 minute break between Poms but skip the 5 minute break, finish another one, and skip the break after that.

Often when I’m writing I get in the “zone” and I really don’t want to take a break. Getting started for me is the hard part so once I do get going I let momentum take over.

On other days I can take breaks of more than an hour between Pomodoros. Life is not some perfectly structured machine – even when you don’t have a 9-5 job – so things tend to crop up which stop me from flowing one Pom into the next.

As I write this, with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left on the clock, I only have a few hours before I head to Bangkok to shoot a commercial I have been wanting to make for almost a year. Because of that, I won’t be able to get my ten Poms completed.

(I count shooting the commercial as work, but because I don’t believe it’s the best use of my time, I will not track it in the app).

You may be wondering why I, or anyone else, would track how many Poms they complete in a day.

Why not just do as many as I can and be happy with that? Or why not just count them when they’re tough? As a famous bodybuilder once said, “I only count the reps when they start hurting, because that’s when they count.”

Well, I’ve actually found on my most productive days, I’m competitive about them.

I’m not the only person I know who works around Pomodoros. Diggy, my business partner, is obsessed about them too. And because we sometimes work in different cities or at least in different offices or houses, we generally ‘show off’ to each other via a chat app how many Pomodoros we’ve completed in a day.

Here’s one such example:

If my numbers are low, he’ll take a dig at me. If they’re high he’ll be a little more motivated to push on and try to catch up with my numbers for the day before he goes to sleep.

As an aside – for those of you who don’t know us personally – we’re not really that serious about this. When I say we take a dig at each other, it’s just friendly. We don’t really care who wins for the day; we just want to push each other to get work done while we can instead of messing around on the likes of Facebook. Mostly because both have huge goals in life.

While I don’t share my daily Pomodoro count with my brother – we’re on different time zones so I don’t want to wake him up or vice versa – he also relies on them heavily.

Ever since he started working from home he has found them incredibly useful to help keep him going, especially when it’s easy to procrastinate because he really can work at any time of the day.

So where are you going with this rambling story Glen? My apologies, but you really did have to read this backstory to understand the potential of what I’m about to share — especially if you don’t currently use the Pomodoro Method to help with your productivity.

Forget Income Reports, I Want to See Your Grind Reports

As I’m very much into internet marketing and the overall industry, I’m aware of most of the big blogs in this space. One trend that has grown over the last few years, spurred on by the likes of Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas, is people sharing their income reports from their online ventures.

I won’t go into the full details of why I’ve grown to dislike them so much here – it could take an entire blog post – but for the most part I find they simply tempt beginners to copy them in promoting the same affiliate products, rather than getting into other niches where they could make a killing as well.

(Side note: I’m a huge fan of John & Pat and I totally understand their own reasons for sharing income reports, but I’m going a different route and would love to see them try it also).

So here’s what I say to anyone who shares a public income report: I would much rather see your grind report.

I would prefer to see how much work you get done each day and be inspired by that, rather than how much income you made because someone chose a to start their new website on a web host you recommended.

I think showing off your true activity levels would be so much more inspiring for beginners, and really show people you mean it when you say things like, “You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to take action.

What if there was an online community where anyone around the world could show off, in public, how many Pomodoros they complete each day.

What if they could be charted over time like in the Pomodoro apps I use?

What if I could see how many Pomodoros other people are doing each day, or have done just today? Especially those who I connect with on Facebook or Twitter to make it even more interesting.

I really can’t imagine this kind of thing would be difficult to put together. Here are a few features of the iPhone app I use daily:

It has an adjustable 25 minute countdown timer
It lets you change the colour of the app background
It tracks how many Poms I’ve completed over the last 14 and 30 days
I can change the sound it makes when a Pom is over (woo!)

That’s it.

And it cost me $4.99.

It’s doesn’t even have what would no doubt be my favourite feature: A way to export that data into some online community where other people can see how much work I’m doing and I can see how much work they’re doing.

And to take it a step further, just imagine you could see how many people were currently completing Pomodoros LIVE around the world.

Let’s say that you wake up one day and you’re not feeling particularly productive…

You could open up this app or website and see that 654 people are online completing Poms, or a blogger you follow is on three for the day, or your friend is about to finish his first one.

I’m living proof that those with a competitive nature totally get inspired to do more with this kind of set-up. You saw in the screenshot with Diggy above that we’re already competing in a fun way; it’s just that our approach is messy and slow.

That’s a problem for us, and we would love for one of you to build a solution.

To show how serious I am about this, I put together a little Google Charts graph highlighting how simple the reporting can be. We’re not looking for fancy analytics – my $5 app doesn’t have them – just a way to see how much work we’re doing.

Because I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t cheat the grind, if I’m not getting the results I want to in life, I can look at my chart and see exactly why. I’m either not putting in enough hours, or I’m kidding myself and completing Poms on the wrong (usually easy) tasks.

google.load(“visualization”, “1.1”, {packages:[“bar”]});
google.setOnLoadCallback(drawChart);
function drawChart() {
var data = google.visualization.arrayToDataTable([
[‘Date’, ‘This Month’, ‘Previous Month’],
[‘Week 1’, 45, 38],
[‘Week 2’, 54, 45],
[‘Week 3’, 36, 38],
[‘Week 4’, 65, 48]
]);
var options = {
chart: {
title: ‘Completed Pomodoros’,
subtitle: ‘Tracking January 2016’,
},
bars: ‘horizontal’, // Required for Material Bar Charts.
colors: [‘#d5a130’, ‘#694e15’, ‘#7570b3’]
};
var chart = new google.charts.Bar(document.getElementById(‘barchart_material’));
chart.draw(data, options);
}

If you can’t see the graph, please click on over to the post to view it on site.

If you hover over a particular week you’ll see more details about it. I’m not a programmer whatsoever and I created this in two minutes using Google Charts. Pretty cool, no?

It would be awesome to see graphs for:

How many Poms you’ve done each day over the course of a month
How you’ve done each week compared to the previous month (shown above)
How you’re doing as a percentage of other people on the website
How you’re doing compared to your friends

If anyone reading this goes and makes this website, makes it beautiful and gives me great charts to track overtime, I’ll be your first customer.

In yet another hopeful display of how serious I am, I’ve put up a few mockups of how I think a great website like this would look structurally.

Mockup #1: The Core Interface

The main Pomodoro screen should be as clutter free as possible. You might even want to remove the counts of how many Poms you’ve completed for today and leave that up to the stats page (below).

I really like the idea of showing how many people are online and being productive, which you’ll also find in the Headpsace meditation app I’m a big fan of.

Mockup #2: The Stats Page

Hopefully the image is fairly self-explanatory. Here you can see how well you’re doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and then check in on the progress of other people you follow as well.

In the screenshot we can see Ramsay (@blogtyrant) is on track for an awesome day. Don’t think he’s too productive though; he’s in Australia so he’s hours ahead of everyone else!

Mockup #3: The Group Chat

I’m not great at drawing chat windows in Photoshop but hopefully you get the idea. The left panel could show not only who is online but how many Poms they’ve completed for the day, with a big chat window to give everyone space to encourage each other and talk about what they’re working on.

I imagine this feature alone would be awesome for those who partake in mastermind groups.

Want My Money? Additional Features I Would Certainly Pay For

There are nearly 300,000 results in Google for “The Pomodoro Technique” and no doubt millions of people who have tried it in their daily lives.

To make this tool really take off and potentially reach those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users, I believe that at minimum the three sections I’ve outlined above should be completely free for all users.

They’re enough to get the job done, but if you’re serious about this method of being productive, you may want something a little more. That’s where some additional features might come in handy.

Premium Feature #1: Group Moderation

Instead of just throwing everyone into a chat, make it so that premium users can delete messages they’ve written, assign admin privileges to other users and give them an option to ‘start’ rounds for the entire group, meaning a Pomodoro will start for everyone at the same time.

Premium Feature #2: Link it to an App

The only thing that might personally put me off the above solution is that I’m not always at a PC when I’m doing a Pomodoro or even if I am, I may not have an Internet connection. While an app will be more expensive to put together, we’re looking to build something that could potentially be used by millions here, so I think it’s worth the investment.

Think of apps like Evernote where you can write notes offline and they sync up to the web later.

Premium Feature #3: Allow Us to Make Financial Bets

If you’re in a close group – like I imagine the #marketingcrew group above would be – we could each pitch in say $50 and whoever completes the most Poms in a week or month collects the prize money. While I wouldn’t expect the amounts bet to be life changing, they could be an added incentive to be more productive.

I’m sure getting more work done even at the cost of $50 would totally be worth it. There would be the possibility of ‘cheating’ but the real aim here is to push everyone to produce instead of procrastinate. I can’t imagine any of the people I would likely do this with would fudge their numbers.

Premium Feature #4: Screenshot my Page as Proof I’m Working

I haven’t totally fleshed out in my head how this could be used in a lot of ways, but it could definitely help to hold yourself accountable to make sure even during a Pom you’re not slacking off.

I’m not sure how the technology works exactly, but I know Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) have the ability take random screenshots of a freelancers screen so employers know they’re actually working and not claiming more billable hours than they actually worked.

Though I take all Poms seriously, this could be useful for those just starting with the technique who may even find 25 minutes a long time to focus.

BONUS Marketing Tip: Give Me a Widget!

Let me show the world how many hours I truly put in. How much I grind to achieve the results I get.

I’m proud to be a hard worker, so let me inspire others and show that if they want more from life, they need to put in the hours too. Make it easy to paste the widget into a blog sidebar or even take up an entire page if I were to dedicate one to it.

Add a link back to your website in the bottom of the widget, of course. Even make it an optional affiliate link so I get credit if anyone joins the site as a premium member because of me.

10 Other Potential Angles to Take With This Concept

With any niche idea I share, I aim to not only give you one core concept, but suggest other ways that concept could spin off into other industries you may be more interested in.

So instead of just a generic online ‘Pomodoro community’ like I’ve outlined above (now referred to as PomCom’s), you could niche down into smaller industries and grow a passionate audience around similar projects.

For instance, picture a PomCom for writers where the app will actually track their word count during each Pomodoro (by writing directly on the app or website), and then share that in a chart with fellow writers.

This would be amazing for bloggers, book authors, journalists or any other hobby or profession which involves writing as its primary role.

As someone who at times has actively tried to learn the Thai language (tones are difficult!), I would have loved to be part of a PomCom that consisted solely of people learning Thai where I could share how many words I’ve learned each day or at least how many Poms I’ve completed towards learning.

The whole idea being, once again, that you can’t cheat the grind. If I’m not making progress with Thai, I only have to look at how many 25-minute time blocks I’ve dedicated to it to see why. Lack of these will almost certainly result in a lack of progress.

There could be a PomCom for serious cyclists who track how many miles they’re putting in each day on their bikes and comparing them with others online. This wouldn’t necessarily be Pomodoro-related, but it’s just another idea that can ‘branch out’ from the original concept here.

The frameworks I mocked up could still be relevant.

If you see some kind of community you could create that benefits from any kind of progress reporting then don’t feel like you have to be bound by the 25 minute limitation. Do whatever you feel would be more relevant for that specific audience.

A few more PomCom ideas that come to mind include:

People learning a specific instrument and wanting to show how many hours they put in while getting feedback from others on the same journey
Students tracking how much time they’re spending with revision and being able to form online study groups with others learning the same subjects
Bodybuilders tracking their weekly workouts and current weight so they can show off to others. I can imagine this would work very well for people looking to build their authority as personal trainers as well
A site for women planning their wedding where they can check off all of the things they need to do before their big day and get advice from other brides-to-be.
Beginner pilots tracking their hours in the air and being able to talk with more experienced pilots
A weight loss PomCom for people who do best by tracking their results and find motivation in the success of others on the same journey
Or how about collectors of anything being able to keep track of how much memorabilia they have in their position and talk with likeminded people

If anyone ends up making that original, generic app (or the one specifically for writers) I will be your first paying customer in a heartbeat.

And if I would pay for it, surely someone else would too.

The World’s Greatest Marketing Blog

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that yesterday I revealed my biggest goal for 2016: To make ViperChill the best marketing blog in the world.

Now of course this is an entirely subjective goal. The best movie when I was a kid was Matilda but you were probably more fond of something else (just kidding, I know yours was Matilda too).

There’s no real way of determining the best blog in any category so I will purely be judging myself on this one and not expecting to win any kind of award. It’s a goal that has little other purpose than for me to push myself to write the best content I possibly can on a more regular basis. I relaunched this blog in 2009 and I’ve always been infrequent with my posting so it’s more of a challenge to see what I can become, rather than what I can get back in return.

In my recent guide on how to make money online I talked about a personal development blog I used to run and how my sole focus for the site was to reach 10,000 subscribers.

I didn’t have any income goals
I didn’t care how many people followed the site on Twitter
I didn’t want to reach X amount of comments per post
I didn’t want to write a book or be featured on a specific website

All I wanted to do was reach 10,000 subscribers. It might seem like a weird goal because it doesn’t really tie directly into anything else, but it was something I wanted to achieve. You will find yourself setting ‘strange’ goals like this when money becomes a byproduct of whatever you’re working on.

In 2016 I want ViperChill to become the best marketing blog in the world by my own standards. I don’t mind if anyone agrees with me; it’s more of an internal goal I have for myself.

Now the reason I tell you about this goal is because I want you to watch how much work it takes for me to try and make this happen, and hopefully use my grind as inspiration to work harder on your own challenges this year.

Look at how many articles I write. Look at how active I am on Facebook. Look at how many comments I reply to on every article.

I also want you to be able to see how many Pomodoros I do throughout the year, so someone please make that app and website. If I get anywhere close to my goal it will be by and large thanks to the Pomodoro Method, because I get so much more done with it than without it.

Who knows…maybe the headline for this post will be true in 12 month’s time (at least in my eyes).

The ‘Click’ I Experienced Recently

As I wrap things up I want to get back to the subject of productivity which spurred on this entire post.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been working on a problem for a while or trying to understand something and there’s a moment when everything just ‘clicks’ together?

Where something ‘goes off’ in your head like a light bulb and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense? Even stranger is that the answer you’ve been looking for tends to be incredibly simple.

This happened to me earlier last year and ever since then I’ve stopped wondering why I’m not achieving stretch-goals I’ve set for myself and instead I’m actually achieving them.

My click, was simply this: Every single Pomodoro I complete takes me one step closer to my goals. And every day I don’t do as many Pomodoros as I should have, I shouldn’t be surprised why I don’t have what I want within reach.

Now I know this is incredibly simple, so let me explain this a little further because it’s unlikely the ‘click’ happened for you after reading that bolded sentence.

All of the work I now do on a daily basis is purely revolved around completing Pomodoros. If I’m not doing a Pomodoro, I’m not working on the most important tasks I could be doing. And in order to achieve the big goals I have set for myself in this lifetime, I need to keep working on the important things to get there.

So it all comes full circle in a very simple manner: Every single Pomodoro I complete gets me one step closer to my goals.

In my last post I talked about the compound effect and how little things can stack together over time to create much bigger wins. Just make sure you keep hacking away at the little challenges consistently.

For once, I’m a little lost for words on what else to say here. It was just such an incredibly powerful realisation for me to think “the only way I will be successful is if I finish more Poms” and have my whole journey simplified in such a way.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, sorry for wasting your time with the last section. Hopefully my writing ability will improve in 2016. If you did get what I’m saying then I hope it simplified your journey for you as well.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

Update: I was interviewed on this very topic by Chris Winfield, sharing my daily productivity process.

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PIN’s: The Future of Private Link Building

What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.

If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.

When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.

Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.

I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.

I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It

This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.

Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.

Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.

The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased

It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.

The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).

There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before

There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.

This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.

‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results

Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.

After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.

I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.

Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too

We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.

This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar

It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.

Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.

They Have All The Answers

The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.

Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.

They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building

Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.

That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:

Guest posting for links
Using directories for links
Utilising private blog networks
Adding links to website themes
Adding do-followed links to widgets
They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag

That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.

Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.

Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.

The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.

Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.

But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.

Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail

As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.

When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.

While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.

Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.

The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse

If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.

In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.

That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalised, continues to work incredibly well.

“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?

Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.

I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.

I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.

PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can

When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.

You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.

While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.

I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.

Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.

My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.

I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
My title tag seems more relevant than half of them

Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.

It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.

All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.

This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.

I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).

This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.

This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.

Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.

In my exact words:

What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.

Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.

The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.

The Approach to Take

One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.

My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.

It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.

While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.

Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.

There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.

It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.

What the Hell is a PIN?

A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.

I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.

I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.

Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.

PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.

Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.

I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.

Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.

The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.

A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose

I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.

I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.

Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.

A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.

This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.

Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”

If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.

One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.

I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.

One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.

While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.

While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.

If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.

As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.

While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.

You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.

A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works

One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.

I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.

Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.

I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.

While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.

There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.

It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.

I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.

A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.

Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.

In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.

Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.

Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.

The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.

They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.

A PIN in Action

I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.

The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).

The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).

The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.

While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.

Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.

In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.

Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.

When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.

The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.

So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.

Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return.
This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.

The Types of Links Which Are Shared

I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.

If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.

The types of reciprocation that can take place.

You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
You can utilise a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilise for theirs
Offering website design advice
Utilising Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return

If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each other’s search engine rankings.

If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.

Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice

If you see the benefits of utilising a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.

A PIN Must Have a Leader

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.

My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.

In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.

The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.

Bringing Together Your Team

While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.

Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimisation.

If someone:

Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals

Don’t invite them to be part of your network.

I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.

A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.

If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.

You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.

As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.

You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.

Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.

A private Facebook group is another good option.

Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.

The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).

Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche

It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.

However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.

If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.

Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.

Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful

From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.

Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.

You Need to Know How the Microphone Works

And how to sing.

One of my favourite authors, Daniel Priestley, said the following in his book The Key Person of Influence;

You don’t need to know how the microphone works, you need to know how to sing.

He was referring to the technology behind the microphone and how, when it was first invented, your time would have been better spent learning how to sing than how a microphone worked, if you wanted to reach a lot of people.

When it comes to ranking in Google, I don’t think that’s the case. You need to know how the microphone works and how to sing.

There are going to be people who worry I’m encouraging armies of people to come together to take over the Google search results.

The truth is that I don’t believe people who can’t sing – in this case, can’t produce great results for search engine users – will have much long-term success.

There’s no point putting all of the work into your PIN if the end result is going to be a crappy website.

The third example of a PIN that I mentioned earlier now easily does in excess of over $100,000 per month. What I didn’t yet tell you is that they built a fantastic resource for their industry. The site doesn’t have many pages (less than 50), but each one genuinely solves a question that a particular searcher is looking for an answer to.

I don’t view utilising a PIN as a way to “sneak” up the Google results and send thousands of visitors to an ad-riddled website.

Instead, I see it as a way to help you start getting great content noticed that could attract natural links once it is.

I mentioned at the start of this article that I would likely weed out some of the audience of ViperChill. I want to make it clear though that I’m not trying to help people with shitty websites rise to the top of Google.

While I believe there is a great opportunity here, it isn’t easy. Turning the concept into reality sounds much easier on paper (or in a blog post).

The truth is that when it comes to making money online, most people are, quite simply…lazy.

They may be excited about this idea for a few weeks but if you’re going to use this to rank in an industry worth ranking for, you should be aiming for keywords that take a few months to get any serious traction for.

Links Aside, The Connections You Build Can Be Invaluable

I’ve already briefly talked about the other benefits this kind of network can have, besides link building.

You can connect with people who have a genuine passion for your industry who in turn spur you on to put more work into your site and help you improve your online ventures. Whether that’s giving advice on your design, your writing, your strategy or anything else.

Working online can seem lonely at times, especially if your offline friends don’t have an inkling to do anything online. When you’re aiming to make money from your web projects it’s nice to find other people on the same journey.

In my future of blogging post a few years ago, one of the most popular on the site, I mentioned how some bloggers had worked together to help grow their respective audiences in the same industry.

TechCrunch and Mashable grew incredibly quickly at the same time while investors were putting more and more of their money into web-based projects. They mentioned each other thousands of times.

Smaller operations – though still huge – like Copyblogger and Problogger would guest post on each others’ sites, promote each other’s products, send traffic to each other via their email lists and essentially enhanced both of their own images through their connection.

I took the time to actually figure out how many times some sites mentioned each other, which you can see in the graphic below.

While links were a key factor in all of these partnerships, I wouldn’t essentially class them as private link building. Most of the links didn’t include any specific anchor text and they weren’t to random affiliate sites or anything like that. All of them were trying to build authoritative online businesses and found someone with a similar passion on the same journey.

While TechCrunch and Mashable were almost in direct competition with each other, they still highlighted the stories that the other site got to first. Michael Arrington later sold TechCrunch to AOL for $25m. Pete Cashmore is still the CEO of Mashable though according to Politico.com, is trying to sell the site for around $300-$350m.

That’s a partnership that certainly paid off for both of them. Pete holding out six years on his sale seems to have been a smarter choice, however.

A Facebook Group to Find PIN Partners
For what is probably a very limited time only, I’m giving access to a private Facebook group where people can assemble together to potentially build their own Private Influencer Network.
I don’t want the comments here to be full of pitching opportunities, so let’s take this elsewhere to see what industries you’re working with. To be approved for the group you must leave a comment here with your Facebook name or put your Facebook initials at the end of a comment. Facebook will likely recommend the group to people who have no idea what PIN’s are and I don’t want to do a lot of moderating.
Don’t reveal your exact niche when you start a discussion, just simply zoom out of your niche and reveal a higher category that you would like to work in. You can find the group here (remember to comment to be approved).
Thank you, as always, for reading.

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Iron Man’s Fate in Civil War II Revealed

The Marvel Universe is currently experiencing a second Civil War. An Inhuman has surfaced with the ability to predict the future. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has made it her mission to apprehend individuals involved in those predictions before they are able to commit any foul deeds. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, disagrees and feels it’s a violation of the individuals’ rights. The two have been at odds since.

Marvel has released two new Iron Man series: Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man. The first series features 15-year-old Riri Williams. The second deals with Doctor Doom taking on the mantle of Iron Man. Both series take place after Civil War II and readers have only been given hints about the absence of Tony Stark. With the release of Civil War II #7, it appears we finally have some answers to Stark’s fate.

Warning: There will be spoilers for Civil War II #7 below.

The latest prediction showed Miles Morales (Spider-Man) killing Captain America. Carol immediately wanted to place Miles under arrest which lead to a group of heroes on Carol and Tony’s side fighting each other. Captain America decided to allow Miles to leave when he said he had no intentions of killing him. Trying to deal with the impact of the vision, Miles decides to go to the scene of the supposed crime to hopefully prove he’s not going to kill the Captain, who also decided to show up.

As the two heroes talk, Carol arrives and tries to convince Miles to go into protective custody with her. As she reaches out to him, everyone is surprised to find a force field appear in front of Miles. Tony Stark is there in a new and massive suit. Saying he gave her one last chance to give up her crusade, he pushes towards an attack.

After weeks of tension and fighting between them, things soon escalate. Carol delivers a massive blow to Iron Man in a fashion very similar to when Thanos killed War Machine in the events that kicked off this comic event.

What does this mean for Tony Stark?

A punch like that isn’t something a normal person can walk away from. In the pages of Infamous Iron Man #1, Doom discovered Stark downloaded his brain into a digital projection “in case [his] bodily functions failed [him].” In Invincible Iron Man #1, Riri Williams mentions Tony Stark is gone just when she was getting to know him. She also receives Stark’s digital form to serve as the A.I. in her suit of armor.

It’s not fully clear if Tony Stark is actually dead. Tony Stark’s recent girlfriend even had her doubts when Doctor Doom paid her a visit.

Comic book characters die and miraculously return from the dead all the time. What we do know is Tony Stark is out of the picture. He is no longer Iron Man and won’t be around anytime soon. Doctor Doom and Riri Williams will take his place for the time being.

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How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should)

I always run my affiliate links through redirects – also referred to as cloaking affiliate links – for several reasons: Running them through my redirects means I have a click count to match up to the one the merchant is reporting. Affiliate links are usually ugly and impossible to remember without doing a copy/paste. Redirects… Read More

The post How to Cloak Affiliate Links (& Why You Should) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How to Steal the Next Billion Dollar Website Idea: A Case Study

On the 15th of January 2008 the domain name Groupon.com went live for the first time. 2008 was also the year that IndieGogo became one of the first ‘crowdfunding’ websites. A year later, the biggest rivals of each would launch in the form of Living Social and Kickstarter.

At the start of 2012 Uber – previously known as Ubercab – started to expand internationally. Just a few months later, Logan Green would launch ride sharing competitor Lyft, which rode on the back of Uber’s success to a $4bn valuation. It’s no coincidence that success stories in new industries often come in pairs. In today’s report I look at how you can capitalise on a trend which could see you at the helm of the webs hottest startups.

At the heart of if this trend is the pivot, a technique ViperChill readers have used to make as much as $100,000 in a single week. Before we continue, I want to peak the interest of 66.1% of ViperChill readers and say this: If you’re reading this and you’re based outside of the US, your potential success with this method just went up tenfold. You don’t have to thank me later; some equity will do just fine.

24 Million Reasons to Pivot from the Best Startup Ideas

In 2010, Singaporean Karl Chong was visiting New York and noticed the rising popularity of group buying websites across the U.S. He saw such potential to bring this concept to his home country that he quit his investment banking job in America and convinced his brother Chris to join him in moving back to Singapore to start a new online venture.

It wasn’t long before the brothers launched their own daily deals site, Beeconomic (Be-Economic). It followed the exact same daily deals model you’re likely well aware of today. In December of 2010 – less than a year after the site launched – it was purchased by Groupon for $24m. The site was then rebranded to Groupon Singapore which Karl and Chris still work on today.

When asked about their success, Karl says, “We gained a first mover advantage being the first to start up in Singapore, allowing us to build relationships with premium businesses. Locals enjoyed our “sweet deals” and our subscriber base grew at hundreds per a day, thanks to our $5 referral program.

Beeconomic wasn’t the only deals site that Groupon ended up purchasing on their whirlwind buying spree. Other entrepreneurs from around the world thought they could apply the same concept to their own countries as well.

Looking to show impressive growth before their IPO, Groupon picked up a number of other country-specific rivals such as:

SoSasta, a daily deals site for India
Citydeal.de, a daily deals site for Germany
ClanDescuento, a daily deals site for Chile
Darberry, the leader in daily deals for Russia (which later became Groupon Russia)
Disdus, an Indonesian daily deals site
Crowdmass, a group buying site in Australia
Beeconomic which of course later became Groupon Singapore

6 months after the purchase of Beeconomic, Groupon went on to purchase Melbourne-based group buying site Crowdmass. The acquisition was not primarily based on their user base or revenue, but focused on sourcing more good employees to add to the 100-strong Australia team they already had.

I’ll cover a little later why this kind of purchase not only makes sense for the company doing the acquiring, but makes a lot of sense for you as a potential startup founder as well.

The $3bn Website Clone Factory Which Hires 30,000 People

The original title for this post was ‘How to Pivot Off Multi-Million Dollar Website Ideas’ and was based on weeks of my own research collecting data into the various companies that have successfully pivoted off ideas which had sent investors wild.

I literally changed the title in the last few hours after a restaurant conversation with Diggy where he said, “Today I was reading about this company who just clone other businesses and they’re making a ton of cash doing it.” I replied, “Dude, that’s exactly what my entire next article is about. Send me the link.”

The article he sent me was entitled, “What It’s Like to Work at a Startup Clone Factory“. It covered the story of Rocket Internet, a brand now worth billions of dollars majorly thanks to their shameless cloning of popular U.S startups and bringing them to other countries around the world.

Although I only read the story yesterday – it was released less than 48 hours ago – the name of the company sounded awfully familiar. I don’t know how I remember this, but when I wrote SEO and the Stock Market back in September of 2014, I covered a company called Zalando. I had focused on the German version of their operations but noticed “they’re also running a .co.uk version and even a .pl version of their site.”

Wikipedia best describes Zalando as being ‘inspired by US online retailer Zappos.com’ and as you’ve probably guessed, is a creation of Rocket Internet. They had taken the Zappos concept to Germany, the UK and Poland while building a brand that is now worth more than a billion dollars on its own.

Zappos is not the only website they’ve been inspired by as you can see in the picture below.

Credit: TheHustle.co, though I can’t seem to replicate this image

I’m very open when my post ideas come from other sources but in this case the timing is purely coincidental. It’s really weird to read a detailed report on something just as I was about to talk about it.

It turns out that everything I cover in this post – the concept of pivoting off successful startup ideas – is exactly what Rocket Internet do. They take popular US-based startup ideas, build clones of them for other countries and throw money at them until they succeed.

In the article Diggy was referring to over last night’s Khao Pad Gai, an ex-employee reveals how they fine-tuned their process in deciding which startups to clone, “We tried cloning Airbnb, but it didn’t work because it’s so brand and community focused. Even though we had a staff of 400 in 15 offices within two months, it didn’t work. Eventually we realized the best companies to clone were e-commerce businesses.

On how intense they were about copying the specifics of big websites, nothing was left to chance, “We’d copy a website exactly. Ollie would even hire a guy with a PhD to study the sites we were cloning. He’d send us a weekly digest on the company we were cloning. We’d get everything in that digest. If Amazon slightly changed their cart image or moved it just two pixels to the left we’d know and copy it. During our weekly calls we’d talk about how to replicate the site exactly.

If I continue with this section I feel like I would be cloning the original article (terrible joke, I know) so please do go and give it a read if you’re interested in learning more.

Now let’s continue with what I was originally going to share…

You Too Could Have Been Part of Expedia’s $3.9bn Acquisition of HomeAway

It’s not just in the daily deals space where we can reveal savvy entrepreneurs pivoting popular ideas from overseas into success on their own home turf. HomeAway – which was acquired by leading travel-planning company Expedia for almost four billion dollars just a few months ago – grew rapidly because it acquired much smaller, similar operations around the world.

In fact, they acquired so many smaller startups on their rise to industry leader that I’m just going to share their domain names with you. Take a look at this buying spree…

Cyberrentals.com
Greatrentals.com
Holiday-rentals.co.uk
A1vacations.com
Triphomes.com
Fewo-direkt.de
VRBO.com
Vacationrentals.com
Ownersdirect.co.uk
Escapehomes.com
Homelidays.com
BedandBreakfast.com
Escapia.com
Realholidays.com.au
AlugueTemporada.com.br
Secondporch.com
Travelmob.com
Stayz.com
Gladtohaveyou.com
Dwellable.com

They snapped up some of the biggest brands in Australia, the UK, Canada and Brazil who were all essentially offering the same thing.

Buying outside of their local area is something that’s clearly enticing to big US startups with a lot of money to spend. There are four key reasons why this acquisition strategy works so well for them:

There’s a team on the ground. They don’t have to go and register a new company, find managers and staff and train them on the entire concept of their new business. There’s a team already in place who understand the industry and its potential.

They have established partners. Whether that’s in the form of local shops offering deals or homeowners looking to rent out their homes, it saves time and money if you already have other people working with a company.

There’s an existing user base. Customer acquisition can be expensive. If you already have some users and an established brand in your local country that saves a lot of time.

Growth figures impress investors: Companies flush with cash are expected to start showing signs of growth, especially if they’re going to seek further funding rounds in the future. Acquisitions can be one way to speed up this growth and excite new investors with their potential.

After raising $250m in a single venture round in 2008, HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples told Inc.com, “There are going to be some great opportunities [for acquisitions] the next couple of years.

He wasn’t kidding.

AirBnb, a HomeAway Rival, Also Grew via Country-Specific Acquisitions

Airbnb, the popular place for homeowners to rent out their homes, didn’t get caught up in as much of a buying frenzy as the last two examples, they certainly used acquisitions to help cement their place as a leader in their field. Some of their purchases include:

Accoleo, a marketplace for students to rent out their flats in Germany
Crashpadder, a peer to peer accommodation site that grew to dominance in the UK
Vamo, an event discover platform that allowed you to book accommodation in multiple cities

Even Amazon, the online shopping powerhouse acquired the UK’s BookDepository.co.uk and Australia’s Abebooks.com to help speed up their international growth.

jCrush, The Jewish Dating App You Only Now Want to Know About

If you think this concept of ‘stealing’ popular ideas is just to create a company that could get acquired then think again. Huge opportunities to create a profitable business – whether you aim to sell it or not – arise any time there’s a new market sector opening up.

In 2012 location-based dating app Tinder was launched to the world and just two years later the company would announce they were now registering one billion ‘swipes’ per day. The success of Tinder, which was later acquired by the owners of Match.com, inspired a number of entrepreneurs to create their own spin-off with interesting angles.

Something you may not know is that the location-based dating app for gay men, Grindr, was launched three years before Tinder.

In the same year as the launch of Tinder, Dattch – now known as HER – was released to target the lesbian and queer (their own description) market. Though it took a while for them to gain traction they secured $1m in funding in 2015 to grow their brand.

They’re certainly not the only company to try and capitalise on the lesbian angle either, Findhrr and Scissr have to be two of the smarter names trying to get a piece of the taco pie.

It’s not only the niche that opportunistic entrepreneurs are targeting either; many have created their own twist from the general model we’re more accustomed to with Tinder. You’ve got:

LinkedUp, a career-orientated dating app that uses your LinkedIn account instead of Facebook (like Tinder)
jCrush, a dating app for Jewish people.
TatChat, a dating app that helps people connect with fellow tattoo enthusiasts
Collide, a dating app for Christians
Hinge, where You can only match with friends of your (Facebook) friends
Bumble, where only girls can send the first message

If anyone creates Marketr I want unlimited Super likes (why didn’t they call it Super swipes?) please.

The key of course is not only to be one of the first to notice a new trend and capitalise on it within a smaller niche, but to get people talking about you as well. I didn’t find the above examples by trawling through the App Store. I found them because they managed to get other websites talking about them.

$500M Says There’s More to Uber’s Competition Than Just Lyft

At the start of December 2015 Uber’s valuation reached a sky-high figure of $62.5 billion. The success of the ride-hailing app has meant that rivals across the globe have also been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to become the ‘Uber’ of their own country.

To name just a few examples, overseas rivals include:

Ola, the Uber for India
Yidago Yongche, the Uber for China
Easy Taxi, the Uber for Brazil
Go Jek, the Uber of Indonesia

These companies are raising some serious cash. Just three months ago Ola raised $500m to help them dominate the taxi space in India. They actually started before Uber and Lyft but aimed to work with current private companies rather than creating a separate entity with their own drivers.

Easy Taxi was much later to the game – starting in Brazil in 2011 – and has since received more than $77m in backing. They currently have 400,000 taxi drivers connected to their service.

The story behind Go-Jek is perhaps even more interesting. The business had been growing very slowly and was only a part-time distraction for founder Nadiem Makarim.

Then, as late as the middle of 2014, investors started asking him about the opportunity to invest in his business thanks to the popularity of Uber and similar services around the globe. That’s when he started working on Go-Jek full-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

ViperChill Readers Have ALREADY Pivoted to $100,000+ Success. Here are 5 More Opportunities

My blog post back in February of 2014 about the success of Viral Nova was one of the most popular ever on this site. Just one week after that post went live I highlighted the success of a ViperChill reader who had made $100,000 in one week by copying the model and taking advantage of Facebook’s traffic.

Five months later I shared three more success stories from readers who were changing their lives by creating their own version of the popular site with different angles (and focusing on different locations).

It’s not even something that was only successful in 2014. Just a few weeks ago I received an email from someone in Russia who is still having huge success with the model.

I check on his Facebook page now and then and I can tell you it’s as active as ever.

I have built one of the biggest brands in my industry by mimicking a lot of the Viral Nova model so I owe it to Scott de Long for being so open about his success. I’ve never thought about cloning a much bigger idea though, have you? Maybe it’s time we start.

Here are a few startups which could possibly make a great base to build off of for your own successful pivot.

FiveStars

On the back of a recent $50M investment, FiveStars has a concept that isn’t too far removed from Groupon but done in a way that Foursquare really should have taken advantage of. You download their app and it shows you businesses local to you that offer rewards and discounts for eating there.

The only problem? There aren’t many offers outside of the US to benefit from. Like most startups in America, they seem to be focused on the likes of Seattle and San Francisco before focusing on other areas.

Though already an established brand with 10,000 local businesses in the U.S. and Canada, they’ll no doubt be looking to buy up opportunities internationally to fuel their growth. Even if they aren’t, it’s a great concept that could potentially work in your home country if there isn’t a similar rival already.

Less common markets such as Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam and a few that spring to mind.

Boxed (and a recent $100m investment)

Just this month Boxed received $100m for their Series C fundraising round which brings their total capital raised to $132.6m. Investors clearly think that this new concept – the idea of being able to buy bulk sized versions of your household favourites – is going to take off in a big way.

Keep in mind that Rocket Internet believe the best startups to clone are those in eCommerce.

Right now the concept is just taking off in the US but again, I can see this working in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or let’s be honest, anywhere in the world really.

The offline version of these concepts in stores like Makro and Costco work incredibly well, so I would almost be surprised if it didn’t work online too.

GasBuddy

I mentioned in the introduction that if you’re outside of the US, the opportunities to have success with a spin-off tend to be much greater from what I can tell. The US is the world’s largest economy after all and with over 300 million people, you’re bound to have a lot of competition when it comes to startup ideas.

There’s no reason you can’t apply those ideas to your own country though.

One app that recently caught my eye is called GasBuddy. It allows users of the app to earn rewards by reporting the current price of petrol in their location. Then main use of the app is then to help you find the cheapest petrol near wherever you’re driving.

It’s such a neat little idea and something I could see working well in any country. The idea already has competition in the UK with ‘WhatGas’ and ‘Petrol Prices Pro’ as the leading apps but there didn’t seem to be options for other countries I checked.

OneRent (a smaller investment, but still with huge potential)

Just last week (January 21st 2016) OneRent raised $1m in seed capital to fulfill their aim of becoming a full-service rental management solution for landlords and tenants.

Where’s the opportunity? Well they clearly display on their homepage that they currently only service Seattle and the Bay Area before they focus on expansion.

From what I can tell the core services they offer include:

Property marketing which essentially puts your listing on 40 other listings sites
Tenant screening through background and credit checks
OnDemand showings of rentals, 24 hours per day
Lease creation
Rent collection
Property maintenance

I absolutely love this idea. If I owned a number of properties it sounds like a perfect solution. What a shame it’s only available in the Bay Area. Maybe someone reading this is in another major city like Amsterdam, Cape Town, Miami, London, Madrid, Oslo or anywhere else in the world with high property rental rates.

Let me go a step further and tell you the ten most popular Airbnb cities by number of listings. In other words, if you are based in any of these cities, there’s a huge opportunity for you with a similar model to OneRent.

Paris (43,800 listings)
New York (32,200 listings)
London (24,100 listings)
Rio de Janeiro (17,800 listings)
Barcelona (14,900 listings)
Rome (14,700 listings)
Berlin (13,300 listings)
Los Angeles (12,200 listings)
Copenhagen (11,400 listings)
Sydney (10,000 listings)

I haven’t researched other startups in this field enough to tell you this is a no-brainer, but the idea of someone taking care of rental showings 24 hours per day seems ingenious to me.

Flight Advisor

Not all of my ideas are going to just be based off spinning the location of an app or service. You can also take an entire concept and simply apply it to a different industry as well. You make up one third of my audience, America, so I made sure not to forget you here.

Hopper has raised over $21m to create an app that uses big data to predict and analyze when the best times are to book flights. The app can tell you whether it’s best to book your trip to Las Vegas now or wait three days, and even suggest that you should make sure you book the flight before a specific date.

While it obviously requires work and smarts to put this together, Hopper is consistently in the top 1000 apps on the entire app store in the United States, even though it launched a few years ago.

I could totally see spin-off versions of this working well.

What about a version that analyses hotel prices by monitoring the likes of Agoda to let you know when the best deals on rooms will be available.

Or how about a version for car rentals that looks at the prices of the likes of Hertz to help you get the best deal.

Think of anything that people like to shop around for and start exploring whether there’s a market for that.

6 Sources to Help You Find the Next Billion-Dollar Pivot

If pivoting off of the next billion dollar idea sounds like something you would like to try for yourself, here are some great sources of inspiration to make sure you’re first off the mark.

CrunchBase

First for a reason, Crunchbase is my absolute favourite resource when it comes to finding great niche ideas to capitalise on. It’s literally a dream come true for anyone looking to discover the hottest upcoming trends in any industry.

The reason Crunchbase is such a good tool is simple: It monitors startups that have received investments.

If a startup has received an investment it generally means they’ve came up with a new idea that is going to grow, and they’ve been able to convince someone else that the idea is solid enough for them to hand over their hard-earned wealth.

Just look at some of the investments from just this week that could give insights into future industries about to take off:

PokitDok received $35.08M to make healthcare transactions more efficient
Innovid received $15M to help advertisers create and measure video experiences on any device
Shuttl raised 20M to help transport the people of India in air-conditioned minibuses which are odered via phone apps
PepperTap received $51.2M for their India-based, grocery delivery service

There were many more investments around the world this week, but those four alone raised more than $100M with ideas that weren’t on anybody’s radar just a few short years ago.

TrendHunter

I’ll be totally honest and say that I generally enjoy this website for the browsing experience rather than getting too much out of it. I think the real value is probably found in their custom reports which are going to set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. I’ve never purchased one, but I’m sure the custom PDF’s are a goldmine to some of their clients like Kellogg’s and others.

While it is more of a ‘fun’ way to get ideas, they definitely can jump out at you. Most of the competing apps I found for Tinder, such as jCrush, were found on TrendHunter.

/r/InternetisBeautiful

Before I give you the link to this page I’m going to preface it with a warning: You can easily lose hours of your time if you don’t stay focused on the task of finding great website ideas you can spin off location-wise or industry wise.

A Reddit sub-Reddit, Internet is Beautiful showcases interesting websites and ideas that people have found online. To get great content that isn’t too stale I recommend searching by the top submissions of the previous month. This link will do just that for you.

ProductHunt

I mentioned in my last article that I find myself hearing about Product Hunt more and more and in the last few weeks that hasn’t changed at all. I think this is going to be one of the biggest breakthrough websites for 2016 just like Pinterest was when that first started out.

The page you’ll probably get the most use out of is their ‘Tech Collections’ page. While this won’t update as often as their Tech page, you’ll find a lot more ideas in one spot.

If nothing else, Product Hunt can be a great way to send thousands of visitors to your new creation if you truly get involved in the community.

A Somewhat-Hidden Kickstarter Page

Though I rarely fund projects on Kickstarter – I move around too often to have a dedicated delivery address – I do find a lot of inspiration in the hot products that make their way onto the site.

It’s easy to find the most funded projects of all time, but they’re likely a little ‘dated’ and not something you can really take much advantage of.

What you may not know is that there’s another little page on Kickstarter that is far more relevant and interesting for those of you who may be looking for ideas that you too can ‘spin off’ into other ventures.

This page allows you to see active listings (meaning within 30 days of being published) that are already funded. Meaning these are hot topics that the userbase of Kickstarter are excited about right now. And because it’s live, you can check back in weeks or months to come and find yourself with more ideas to steal.

Be Open to Inspiration

If you can’t tell from my Inc ideas series, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas and inspiration to take my web projects (or even just my blog posts) to the next level. This open-minded curiosity is something I’ve honed over a period of time and definitely not something I think I was born with. Though I do warn that if you take it too far your mind is going to be constantly seeking them out; not just when you feel like it.

I’ve personally set-up a system – which I’ll likely talk about in my next blog post – where I browse a certain succession of websites for a 15-20 minute period each day. I’m not there to read their articles but just to skim what is going on to see if any ideas jump out at me.

As I’m obsessed with cars (and equally depressed at their prices in Asia) I find myself reading a number of car blogs on a semi-regular basis. One site I follow is called Car Advice, which focuses on the Australian car market.

The site was founded by Alborz Fallah and was expected to generate around $7m in revenue in 2015. That’s interesting in itself, but what I find more fascinating is that Alborz has just launched a new site called BoatAdvice.com.au.

As someone who was ahead of the trends when it came to launching a blog on car reviews and now knowing exactly how to deal with car manufacturers, I sense that Alborz is betting on this being a very profitable new venture.

If you’re interested in the world of boats and fishing, there could be a great opportunity for you to follow his lead here. Even more so if you live anywhere near a harbour or coastal area where you could actually take the latest boats out for a spin if given the opportunity.

I could totally see this working well in Miami or Cape Town or anywhere else it isn’t too surprising to hear your friends’ boss has their own boat.

Set aside 10-20 minutes each day just to casually ‘scan’ the web to see what is popular and you might find these opportunities catching your eye far more frequently.

Is This an Unethical Tactic?

There are no doubt some people who are going to think this is not the most ethical of ways to make money online. I know that when I read about Rocket Internet copying websites down to the exact pixel I didn’t feel very good about it (you should see their Pinterest clone) . I think you can pivot from profitable ideas without having to steal the exact design elements of the site you’re copying.

On one hand, I can see how it would be disheartening for someone with an original website or app idea to see it taking off in another country or with a slightly different twist before they had time to get around to it.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a great service for end users (they wouldn’t be making money if they weren’t) does it matter if someone brought Zappos or Pinterest or Amazon to Germany before the big guys could do it? I sure wish Amazon shipped more products to Asia and I wouldn’t be mad at the slightest about an exact clone if I could finally get fast shipping on the products I wanted.

If I had a third hand, I would ask if there were any original ideas anyway?

In his bestselling book, Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kelon says, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Zappos may be a pioneer of focusing on selling shoes with incredible customer service, but they’re neither pioneers of selling clothes online nor incredible customer service.

Pinterest may have taken an approach to tagging interesting content in a new way, but Del.icio.us and Evernote might have something to say if you believe their core concept of ‘scrapbooking’ of tagging content is original.

When the market leader in mens grooming, Gillette, felt competition from shaving clubs they just went and created their own.

This little niche alone has quite a few funny pivots along the way. I had fun highlighting them with a different coloured font.

As long as you aren’t trying to duplicate a website design or trying to infringe on the location or exact angle of the ‘original’ idea creator, then I really don’t have too much of an issue with the potential of cloning. After all, the competition makes the average person win in the end.

Ideas Are Worth Nothing at All

When doing research for this post I noticed a number of examples where people wanted to talk about their ideas for web projects but they’re often very scared that people will come along and steal them. They’re scared of even pitching their idea to investors in case they don’t hand over any funds and instead pass the idea on to other startups that they work with.

The truth is that all of these ideas you have or will have after reading this post are worth absolutely nothing if you don’t do anything with them.

It’s not about having the idea, it’s executing on the idea and putting it into action.

You can say I got lucky when my ‘Please Don’t Kill Feedburner’ site hit the homepage of Hacker News but was I lucky in buying the domain, setting up a theme, emailing three bloggers for pictures of their cats and then dreaming up hashtags for people to use when sharing the site?

I have no doubt that this post – or the concept it represents – is going to result in a few project ideas hitting your mind in the next few days and weeks as the content here sinks in.

And to further show you how few people actually take action, think about that Pomodoro With Me app I mocked up a few weeks ago. I received dozens of tweets and emails from people who said they were “working on it right now” and would send me a demo as soon as it was done.

Guess how many I’ve seen? 1.

And it was only half finished.

I don’t know where your moral compass lies on this entire concept, but I for one will continue seeing where I can take new startup ideas and apply them to my own projects. If you do the same, I would love to hear about your journey.

I’m here every step of the way if you need a hand.

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Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review)

No matter how much people might say they hate pop-ups, they work when it comes to increasing subscribers to your newsletter. Period. Back in 2011, I began testing the use of pop-ups on various sites I owned. Everyone I knew claimed they found them annoying, but I kept hearing they had a huge effect on… Read More

The post Do Popups Work for Increasing List Sign-ups? (and an OptinMonster Review) appeared first on Sugarrae.

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The State of Link Building 2016: What I Learned Manually Analysing 1,000 Search Results

Do private blog network’s still work? Does a higher word-count help your pages rank better? Did Glen really spend 60 hours on this article? I hope to answer all of these questions and many more in my new behind the scenes report on the current state of link building.

I can clarify I did spend more than 60 hours of work on this article, yet the sad part for me is that most of that time can be summarized in a simple bar chart. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a good headline but I clearly failed at that, so let’s see if I did any better with the chart.

I Manually Analysed 1,000 Search Results to See How Websites Ranked

I’ve been guilty over the years of making generalizations like “private blog networks are dominating Google” or “natural link building is almost impossible in some industries” so a few weeks ago I decided that I would respond to my own sweeping statements and analyze how people are actually ranking their websites in 2016.

As you can imagine, doing this analysis manually was a very time-consuming process. I managed to overcome most of the monotony by seeing this work as a chance to discover more link opportunities for myself (and my clients). My private database grew by over a hundred rows which means that there were many replicable links in my findings.

Now, before the SEO world tells me how unscientific the following data is, allow me this one caveat: I agree. The following findings are primarily based on my personal experience and viewpoints. There is, unfortunately, no way to exactly determine which backlinks are most integral in helping a web page rank.

The Results

The goal of my research was simple: Which specific type of link was the most instrumental in helping a website to rank.

Of course, every website I reviewed of course received backlinks from a number of different sources but I wanted to discover which ones were helping that particular website the most.

Because this was performed manually – I couldn’t automate the process even if I wanted to – I understand that there is nothing exact with my findings.

There are said to be over 200 factors which Google use to rank websites and while links from other websites are certainly the most impactful, it’s possible that my personal views are not entirely what is helping these sites rise to the top of search results.

That being said, I’ve been doing SEO for 11 years now and much of that time has been spent on link building. I wanted these answers for myself, so there is hopefully some merit in the following data.

Enough with the writing. Here are the results.

That’s it. The equivalent of working two and a half days straight without taking even a one-second break mostly boils down to that single graph.

As you can see, what I consider to be ‘natural’ link building tops the chart. This really shouldn’t be too surprising since that is how Google is supposed to rank websites (for the most part).

I should add that I don’t believe 21% of these results I checked were ranking because of links. Some were on powerful domains like Youtube.com or Amazon.com and therefore were ranking primarily because of the domain the result resided on. These links were still analysed, with most coming under the mixed category.

Due to the industries I analysed (revealed further down) there’s also a chance that there are more ‘low-quality’ links then you would find with a much broader dataset. However, you’ll find I picked the terms I monitored for good reason.

There were two key things that surprised me with these results:

How low in quality the backlinks were to many top ranking websites
How few private link networks I uncovered

The second point was especially interesting to me as it feels like I’m finding private link networks on a daily basis. What’s probably happening is that my brain makes some kind of internal ‘event’ when I come across one and therefore I’m less likely to remember all of the times I didn’t find them.

Kind of like how when you purchase a new car you start suddenly seeing it everywhere yet you didn’t even notice it before.

More seasoned SEO’s will probably be interested in how I classified those links but for the most part, by ‘low-quality link’s’ I generally mean links that anyone can replicate with a high level of ease and they weren’t earned in any way.

Link Classifications

The six categories that I have chosen to split links up into are:

Natural
Press Releases / Articles
Poor Links / Spam
Mixed Links
Network Links
Guest Blogging Links

To clarify again that my decisions are based on what I believe the strongest links the site has are.

Natural

By natural I simply mean that while a webmaster may have a mix of links, they are earned links rather than those that appear to have been gained in order to increase search engine rankings.

Though SEO may be a consideration at times – such as utilising signatures in forum posts – they’re essentially the types of links that you would happily show a Google reviewer and not be concerned about.

Press Releases / Articles

Sites in this category derive their rankings primarily from using press release services which allow you to embed links or embedding them in article directories which allow you to post your own content.

Low-Quality Links

These are primarily links that people can build either manually or automatically with tools that were likely built just to influence search results.

The types of links here include things like irrelevant blog comments, forum profile pages, social bookmarking links and very often from non-English Blogspot blogs.

Mixed Links

Sites in ‘mixed links’ appeared to have a bit of every type of link without any certain type – at least to me – being a major factor in why the site was ranking.

Though not all here used guest blogging or network links, mixed means that they had some natural links and some that were clearly built for gaming Google.

Network Links

This is for sites whose rankings clearly rely on the ownership of a private link network (often known as a private blog network, or PBN). While I can’t be certain sites were utilising their own PBN, it’s highly unlikely an outside source did it as a form of negative SEO, and – let’s be fair – it’s very easy to tell what’s going on when you find a network.

Guest Blogging Links

Though many webmasters did utilising guest blogging, few seemed to benefit from it as their main source of links. In fact, I only found a handful of webmasters primarily benefiting from this.

I’ve Already Got the Data, What Else Can We Analyse?

Since I was already relegated to the idea that I was going to analyse all of these search results anyway, I decided that I may as well collect more data on the way in the hope it would produce some more interesting charts.

Once again I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from scientific. Brian has a much better analysis with 1 million search results if you want some broader results. My sample size is admittedly too small to set the SEO world on fire with the following graphs but I still thought it would be interesting to analyse.

In the GIF below so you can see that all of this data really was collected manually. Huge thanks to my brother who I roped in to help with the grunt work on this.

Where I have tried to separate myself from the likes of Brian’s data is that I’ve specifically monitored industries that you could make money in if you were to rank on the first page of Google.

With Brian’s data, I have no idea if those million search queries were focused on the medical field or other technical subjects which simply wouldn’t apply to what the majority of us are trying to rank for in Google.

The Clickbank affiliate marketplace was a big inspiration for my keyword choices since people are successfully selling products in the industries I monitored. Here’s a sample of the keywords that I analysed:

I am aware, as stated above, my search queries of choice would likely result in more lower-quality link profiles than the web as a whole but again, I wanted to look at industries that myself and ViperChill readers are more likely looking to rank in.

Number of Backlinks

We all know that backlinks aren’t created equal, but would the data support that?

I can see why Brian didn’t include backlink count in his own analysis: It doesn’t make for the most shareable of graphs.

The average number of backlinks to all results was 22,771. This is for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

As we can see, my data shows very little correlation between backlinks and rankings.

The simple reasoning here is: Not all links are created equally. Ten links from quality, relevant websites have a much greater impact than one thousand links from the same domain.

Referring Domains

On the topic of receiving links from varied domains, I predicted that comparing the number of referring domains to Google rankings should result in data that’s a little more conclusive.

The average number of referring domains to all results was 236.

While I again admit my sample size is small, this data matches pretty much everything else out there I’ve found in regards to the correlation of referring domains and search engine rankings. It basically shows that if you can get a lot of different websites to link to you, that’s going to result in higher rankings (for the most part).

Of course, there is the caveat that ranking highly gives you the chance of more webmasters linking to you, but let me just have my moment here with my first decent chart, OK?

Social Shares

I didn’t expect too much with this one but I had the data so simply decided to chart it.

The average number of social shares for all results was 3,823. Again, this was for the page ranking and not the domain as a whole.

The main reason I didn’t expect much from this graph – even if it showed a trending line – is because you can’t distinguish correlation and causation. You can’t show whether social shares helped a website to rank or whether they’re simply a byproduct of writing great content which would have attracted links anyway.

Domain Rank

Domain rating is a metric from Ahrefs which, according to them, “has the highest correlation with the Google search rankings. That’s why I always recommend that Ahrefs Domain Rank be the first SEO metric tool to check whenever you’re analyzing a website.

The average Domain Rank for all results was 63.

I added a trend line to the graph to show that there really wasn’t much change here at all. In fact, Domain Rank was almost perfectly flat across the results.

I imagine if I were monitoring far more ranking positions for each search result then we would see a trend, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here from page one.

URL Rank

Similar to Domain Rank, Ahrefs also gives a URL Rank rating to specific pages on a website. The majority of results in my testing were internal pages and not homepages, which makes looking at URL Rank (UR) more interesting to me.

The average URL Rank for all results was 23.

The results here are certainly a little bit more conclusive. A higher UR seems to have a good correlation with how well a page will rank in Google search results.

Word Count

There have been numerous tests to see whether longer content ranks better in Google so thanks to Word Checker I was able to run these numbers as well.

The average word count on all results was 1,762.

Again, the argument of correlation versus causation is relevant here. Are pages ranking because they have more words in them or because content with more words in it is likely to attract more links?

Personally, I argue for the latter. I’m far more likely to get links to an in-depth content piece I write rather than something short and sweet. That’s a trend I’ve seen on hundreds of other websites as well.

Behind the Scenes: The Link Building Tactics That Still Work Today

I decided to do put together this report on the state of link building as I’m a little tired of the same SEO advice being rehashed over and over. The thing about our industry is that anyone can start a blog, simply regurgitate what others have said and then instantly appear to be an expert on the topic.

I really like how Aaron Wall of SEO Book put it,

Most of the info created about SEO today is derivative (people who write about SEO but don’t practice it) or people overstating the risks and claiming x and y and z don’t work, can’t work, and will never work.

And then there are people who read an old blog post about how things were x years ago and write as though everything is still the same.

Since I started ViperChill 11 years ago I’ve been testing almost every theory I can when it comes to search engine rankings.

For example, I recently sent 1,000+ clicks to various search results (from around the world) to see if an increased click-through rate (CTR) would influence search engine rankings. Sadly my data didn’t show any noteworthy changes:

It cost me a few hundred dollars to perform this test and would have made a great blog post if there were any big shifts, but sadly I don’t have any data to support that idea.

I’m always testing, but there isn’t always something to say about my findings.

A Note Before We Get Into ‘Outing’

As I have mentioned in a number of previous blog posts, I will never reveal URL’s when looking at the backlinking strategy of small brands. My experience tells me that big brands will never be affected by my writing and I have proved that on a number of occasions.

I’m about to discuss the slightly shady SEO practices of both Houzz.com and Desk.com, companies both worth billions of dollars (Desk is part of Salesforce). I have dedicated entire blog posts to both of these companies before and there were no repercussions, hence I believe there is zero chance of them having any issues buried deep in a blog post like this one.

As I’ll mention in more detail later, I’ve seen that big brands can “get away” with shadier tactics as long as their overall link profile is natural (and abundant).

Billion Dollar Houzz Prove Widget Links Still Work

In April of 2014 I wrote a blog post about Houzz, the multi-billion dollar home design community.

To summarise much longer commentary, I revealed that Houzz were using their widget to unsuspectingly embed dozens of hard-coded links in the websites of those who used it. Their search traffic grew at a phenomenal rate thanks to the tactic.

Within 24 hours of my blog post about Houzz’s shady tactics going live, they removed all links in their widgets, as shown below.

Unfortunately I do not have a larger graphic for this (it was over two years ago that they had this design) but my prior research provides many additional screenshots.

The problem is that the links they embedded on webmaster websites were hard-coded so even when Houzz changed the widget, those links didn’t disappear and they still benefited from tens of thousands of links from thousands of referring domains.

As you can imagine, their search traffic at the time was through the roof.

Clearly someone from their team read my article and as stated, the hard coded links were removed in less than 24 hours of it going live.

Sadly, Houzz have (partially) gone back to their old ways.

As we can see, Houzz recently added back a link to /photos/ on every single widget their members install on their websites.

As per Google’s guidelines, widget links embedded in this way should definitely be no-followed.

Linking to their /photos/ page is smart as it’s essentially a sitemap to the rest of their website, funneling the “link juice” to other strong pages.

Thanks to SEMRush we can see that 7 out of the 10 most high-volume search terms sending traffic to Houzz are actually photos pages.

I am aware that widget links are not the only reason why Houzz are ranking for these terms but the whole thing is a little bizarre to me.

The three main things I don’t understand are:

  1. They already retracted after being caught before. Why do it again?
  2. Do they really not care about their users that they can’t put a no-follow on the widget?
  3. They are Houzz. They’re still going to get a ton of search traffic anyway.

The last point is the main one for me. It’s not like they’re some newcomer to the online design space and need to implement these sneaky tactics in order to rank higher.

They’re worth billions of dollars and are expected to IPO next year. Let’s see if the Houzz SEO team are still subscribed to ViperChill. I’ll update this post if there are any changes.

Footer Links Still Work

We already know this from my report on the 16 companies dominating Google in regards to owning a powerful network, but there’s sadly more to the story than that. Big media publishers are not the only ones who get away with putting footer links wherever they can.

In 2013 I wrote an article about how to get a link from SoundCloud.com. The answer today is still the same as it was back then: Give them some software to publicly use on their site and put a footer link back to your website.

Salesforce’s Desk.com continue to do exactly that.

Here’s the footer for SoundCloud (http://help.soundcloud.com)

Here’s the footer for JWPlayer (http://support.jwplayer.com)

Here’s the footer for Wunderlist (http://support.wunderlist.com)

The list goes on. There are over 1,000 unique websites sending links back to Desk.com with this exact anchor text.

Of course, we don’t have to guess who’s ranking first in Google.

Note: I removed the ads for a “cleaner” screenshot

This adds further weight to my theory is that as long as you have enough backlinks, you can ignore most of the Google guidelines and still be totally fine.

Marie Haynes has a great article about what is and isn’t “allowed” when it comes to footer links but this tactic certainly toes a very fine line.

Past Link Building Still Holds Strong Today

Even if you aren’t active on online dating sites, you’ve likely heard of Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid.

But what about Mingle2?

It claims 12 million users and is second in Google for ‘Free Online Dating’ yet you’ve probably never heard about it in any form of media.

In fact, you’re more likely to have heard about The Oatmeal.

That’s not a random connection. Matthew Inman started his internet career at SEO company Moz (named SEOmoz at the time) then went on to build the dating site in just 66 hours. His massive success in promoting the platform with viral content and quizzes would later see him sell Mingle2 to Just Say Hi. You probably know he continued to use his amazing talent for creating viral content at The Oatmeal.

For those who aren’t reading a line of text in this post, allow me to put that in graphic form for you:

Within a few short months of Matt creating Mingle2 it quickly rose to the top of Google for some very popular search terms. Today, 10 years later, the creative links he built are no doubt helping to sustain those rankings.

I don’t want to give too much analysis on this result because I actually think it’s one to watch for how creative Matt was in getting backlinks.

In fact I think if you have some spare time today you should go and analyse their backlinks in more detail. Matthew perfected the art of getting people to want to talk about his content.

As far as link building goes, let’s just say that what they were doing back then would definitely result in a brand being outed today. Those broken guidelines allow Mingle2 to keep their amazing search traffic.

11.7M Reasons Writing Good Content Still Works

For a few years now I’ve considered Steve Kamb (of Nerd Fitness fame) a good friend of mine. That may have something to do with how many Jaegermeister shots we drank together in Cape Town.

I knew Steve was receiving a lot of traffic from Google for his guide to the Paleo diet so I reached out to him to see if he would share any specifics. Especially since the blog post received links from over 800 domains.

Here’s what Steve said,

I wrote the article in Sep 2010 it looks like. In March 0f 2012, Google started to love us all of a sudden sending 76k views. April reached 100,000+ and then it slowly climbed up to a peak in June of 2014 where it was viewed 555,000 times.

Then Google must have changed something and it dropped all the way down over next 6 months to 100k-ish in Dec 2014, where we’ve kind of stabilized over the past 18 months. The pageview count for May 2016 was 87,000.

Steve kindly shared the following graph as proof.

You can click on the picture to view it larger

Even though the article is six years old and has dropped down a few places in Google search results, it still picks up links to this day. Getting real, “earned” links to quality content is far from a dead opportunity.

There are four core reasons I believe Steve’s article still regularly attracts links:

Reason #1: He already ranks highly in Google for the term so when people want to link to a guide about the Paleo diet, they see what is ranking and link out
Reason #2: Steve wrote one of the best articles on the topic. People simply wouldn’t be linking to it naturally if it wasn’t an incredible resource
Reason #3: The article is linked to in the sidebar of every page of his website thus sending it more pageviews than it would have otherwise received (especially since it was written so long ago)
Reason #4: He has built a loyal audience of people who genuinely love his content and want to support him in any way they can. It makes sense to them that when they write about the topic, they link to Steve.

Wikipedia external links
Comments on news articles (via actual news websites) with relevant stories
Opportunities likely found via links their competitors earned

It actually gave me a great idea for a niche to get involved in as well, so although the work for this blog post was immense, I’ve found a number of opportunities because of it.

Private Blog Networks Still Work Very Well

Being totally honest, I expected to find more link networks in my research than I did. Especially because I was monitoring the type of industries where this practice is likely to be more common.

Here is how an obvious network looks when you analyse their backlinks:

The example above is actually what I would call a “good” example. Meaning that they websites ranking and linking to each other are actually good sites and far more searcher-friendly than the typical blog network I am sure you can picture in your mind.

It simply provided a nice screenshot to illustrate my point into how these networks work.

Of course we’ve already learned that if you have thousands of links pointing to a number of websites you own, you can interlink them and dominate Google search results.

Update: Some commenters seem angry that I “only” found as many PBN’s as I did.

Two things to note: I found more than are in the chart above, I just didn’t rate them as being the biggest contributing factor in why a website ranks.

The number could also be lower because of people hiding their networks from Ahrefs. I may do a smaller version of this study again with something like Link Research Tools or Monitor Backlinks (I’ll have to check if they use their own network) which people are less likely to block.

You Can Get Dozens of .EDU Backlinks for $1,000

Ever since I started SEO at 16 years old and spent countless hours browsing the Web Workshop forums (no longer online) I’ve heard about the power of .edu (education / university) backlinks.

It makes sense that these links would pass a lot of authority because of the sites they’re coming from. They’re certainly not easy to attain naturally: ViperChill has over 100,000 links yet only 8 of them are from .edu sites.

I don’t even know how I received those 8, since the university of Calgary link to a blog post I wrote five years ago which no longer exists and Australia’s Newcastle University is somehow linking to me via pingbacks.

One tactic that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common in order to obtain .edu links is to offer a ‘scholarship’ on your website and receive dozens if not hundreds of .edu links to your site in return.

It’s certainly not new by any means. With a bit of sleuthing around you can see sites – clearly just offering a scholarship for a link – have been employing this for a number of years.

I’ve tried my best to be respectful to the site owner and not reveal their website but anyone who is using this tactic and thinks they’re doing so under the radar really has no idea what that phrase means.

As this is a behind the scenes report on what still works in 2016, I wanted to make it clear that this is still happening today and people are benefiting from it massively.

There will obviously be people who are pissed off I have “exposed” this tactic but to me there is nothing shadier then making students believe there’s a chance they could save money on their education yet they probably have no chance to do so at all.

Is there really anyone checking to see if a coupon website launched in 2016 is going to keep to their $3,000 promise?

Exactly.

While these guys are supposedly offering $3,000, I’ve found some offering as little as $1,000 and still picking up a large number of links.

The Future of Link Building

It would be wrong of me to write a huge report on link building without speculating on what the future of link building might entail. We all know that backlinks are a large part of why websites rank today, but will that still be the case tomorrow?

The SEO industry is fortunate to have enough bright minds that people tackle problems like this. My good friend Jon from PointBlankSEO wrote a great report to try and answer this very question.

In his conclusion, Jon makes an excellent point:

The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Today, natural organic search results are lower down in listings than ever before.

Mobile results are spaced further apart. “Map packs” in search results take up half of the screen on a desktop. Google’s one box tries to answer user queries straight from the results page.

I don’t see any major ranking competitor to links in the near future. The entire Google algorithm which provided better results than Altavista and Yahoo back in the day was built on links and 18 years later they’re still a key factor in why websites rank.

That being said, my main concern is where SEO will be in three to five years rather than what matters to rank. We’ll always figure out the last part. The first part is out of our control.

Teaser: There’s One Tactic That is Dominating Them All

Over the past 18 months I’ve found one link building tactic to be working incredibly well. It’s not brand new in the sense of “Wow, University’s give out links so easily” but in the sense of “here’s how to make all of these current options work even better.”

If I wrote about it, I would probably lose a large chunk of my audience, but that’s something I’m willing to do.

Next week I’m going to introduce PIN’s, a new way to conduct link building which could fit anywhere on the spectrum of whitehat to blackhat.

It’s a very risky topic to cover so for that reason I want to dedicate an entire article to it, rather than just add another section to this report which could be taken entirely out of context.

If you’re new to ViperChill, enter your email in the box below (or in the right sidebar) to make sure you don’t miss that update. I’ll send it out the minute it goes live.

Thank you so much, as always, for reading.

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How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit

Sometimes an AdSense unit won’t display an ad to a user for whatever reason. When an AdSense unit doesn’t show an ad, it leaves an odd amount of space within the content, and reduces my ability to monetize those pages – and I find that unacceptable. This used to be a much more significant problem,… Read More

The post How to Create a Clickable Affiliate Ad as a Backup for an AdSense Unit appeared first on Sugarrae.

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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

In the Academy Award-nominated film Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the varied choice of items we see on the shelves of supermarkets is actually a false presumption. Instead, that seemingly endless variety is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to reveal how the huge diversity we perceive in Google search results is once again a few large corporations controlling what we assume to be choice. More specifically I’ll reveal how just 16 core companies are dominating the most popular industries online and how that situation is going to get a whole lot worse.

To begin our journey down the rabbit hole together, I want to take you through a series of events which uncovered something I had never considered before about the industry in which I operate: Are the Google rankings I aim to get for myself and my clients actually controlled by just three hands full of companies?

Around two weeks ago I came across a post on Reddit about Hearst Media. I was unfamiliar with Hearst Media but very familiar with the brands they own such as Esquire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

The Reddit outing, which was shared on a new account, claimed that Hearst were using their powerful brands to “game Google” and rank a new website of theirs very quickly, using slightly shady practices.

Being an inquisitive marketer I had to check it out for myself. The quick summary is that Hearst clearly were (and still are) using their authoritative brands to point links to their latest venture, BestProducts.com.

While I expected BestProducts.com to be receiving a lot of traffic from the brands linking to them – which also include Marie Claire and Woman’s Day – I didn’t expect Google to have taken such a huge liking to them. Especially when the site in question had zero reason prior to be ranking so well (it was owned previously then the domain dropped a few years ago).

To give an overview of what was happening for those who are skimming this article, the situation looks like this.

The arrows in this picture represent links.

There are far more brands involved in this network, but we’ll get to those in a second.

As I stated earlier, I was far more surprised by how Google reacted to this.

Launched in October, They Now Receive More than 600,000 Visitors from Google Per Month

Here’s the graph that kick started the countless days of research I did for this blog post.

As we can see, the estimated traffic to BestProducts has shot up dramatically in the last few months. SEMRush is showing similar numbers, as we’ll get to in a second. With 62% of their traffic estimated to be coming from Google, that’s at least 600,000 organic (free) website visitors for the month of April.

I expect the data for May will be significantly higher, but I have to wait until June 10th to see (that’s when SimilarWeb confirm they’ll update their reporting).

So Why Am I Surprised?

Tons of authoritative sites linking to you is obviously great for SEO.

But as anyone who has been involved in search engine optimisation for a period of time might wonder, surely getting so many sitewide links in a short timeframe should raise a bit of a red flag?

Even if the links in question are from some of the biggest media brands in the world.

Here’s a few examples.

Esquire.com (Product Reviews)

Elle.com (Beauty Reviews)

Cosmopolitan.com (Beauty Reviews)

MarieClaire.com (Reviews)

PopularMechanics.com (Product Reviews)

Now, I will say that 90% of me thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, you’ll see the majority of this post is focused on why I’m surprised Google give the resulting website so much traffic.

Quite simply if I owned a lot of websites, I would be fine linking them together. If for nothing more than from a usability standpoint.

That being said, 10% of me is a little surprised that these link texts and locations are constantly changing. I think it’s a bit risky on their part.

As of publishing this post, Cosmopolitan use ‘Beauty Reviews’ as the anchor text of their footer to the site. Previously it was in a different placement and used the anchor text ‘Style Reviews’.

These are not static footer links that have been left alone (and not just on one site). They’re changing to different pages – and using different words – on a fairly frequent basis.

To me this takes the situation away from “they’re just linking to their own site” to “they’re doing a lot of tweaking to see which results in higher rankings.” You could argue they’re testing it for usability reasons, but you’ll see in a moment why I think they know a thing or two about SEO.

Before I get into that, I wanted to see if I could figure out when these links were added to their network.

Were they all thrown up at once and it took a while for them to have an impact, or was there some clear plan behind the links from Hearst Media’s various brands?

Here’s some of the data I managed to uncover on when each site first linked to BestProducts (I bolded those that linked on the same day).

PopularMechanics.com – November 5th
Esquire.com – November 5th
Cosmopolitan.com – January 1st
Seventeen.com – January 12th
RedbookMag.com – February 23rd
Elle.com – March 15th
CountryLiving.com – March 18th
WomansDay.com – April 5th
MarieClaire.com – April 5th
RoadandTrack.com – April 13th

For my own curiosity, I was glad I took the time to trawl through every screenshot on Archive.org to find these answers. It’s now obvious that the people working for Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Esquire had some conversion that went along the lines of, “Don’t forget, today’s the day we have to put those links to Best Products in the footer.”

As I said earlier, I don’t really care too much about what Hearst media are doing with their “link network” of magazine brands. I don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t think Google should either.

That being said, because I’ve done more research for this blog post than any other, I do want to add that they purchased the most successful SEO agency on the planet just a few years ago.

If you can’t read that because of my small post width (I’m working on a redesign), they paid $325 million for an agency that generated more than 60% of their revenues from SEO clients.

At the time of acquisition iCrossing were also the biggest search agency in the world based on revenue numbers. In other words, the staff at Hearst Media comprises of a large number of people who know a lot about SEO.

To me this explains the slow buildup of network links and the semi-frequent changing of URL’s and link text in their website footer.

I Have No Problem With What Hearst Are Doing. Google’s Reaction Is What Really Interests Me…

I’ve said it a few times but I’ll say it once more for anyone skimming the post: This is by no means an attack on Hearst Media. They own the websites so they’re welcome to do with them as they please. They also made BestProducts a rather attractive looking website.

Then again, I’m surprised at how well their strategy is working. I’m not naive – I know that authoritative links equal a good chance of increased search rankings – but I didn’t expect they would be outranking some of the biggest brands on the internet for search terms that can make them a lot of money.

From Zero to $583,000 in Free Search Traffic

We’ve already looked at the data from SimilarWeb, but the stats from SEMRush are interesting as well.

SEMRush pips BestProducts at ranking for over half a million dollar’s worth of search queries (if you were to buy them via Google Adwords) in a very short space of time.

Their Top Keywords According to SEMRush

Some of those incredible rankings they’ve achieved include:

hairstyles: 11th (450,0000 searches per month)
short hairstyles: 7th (301,000 searches per month)
best wireless earbuds: 1st (22,200 searches per month)
short haircuts: 9th (301,000 searches per month)
best running shoes for women: 1st (18,100 searches per month)
bluetooth speakers: 11th (165,000 searches per month)
lighted makeup mirror: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
best makeup brushes: 1st (14,800 searches per month)
haircuts: 7th (165,000 searches per month)
short haircuts for women: 6th (110,000 searches per month)

They’re still ranking for these terms, which is why I predict the SimilarWeb traffic graph will increase a lot when they update their data for May.

Their Top Keywords According to SimilarWeb

It’s interesting to see how different the data from SimilarWeb and SEMRush seems to be, but they’re at least right that BestProducts are ranking for what they state they’re ranking for.

best dishwasher 2016
best smartwatch 2016
best gaming headset 2016
best action camera 2016
best bluetooth speaker 2016

Hey, I did tell you all just before new year that you should be writing 2016 everywhere on your site.

I could make this page infinitely scrollable if I show all of their rankings, so I’ll just share a couple to show they really do rank.

While they aren’t a top result for this one it does show that they’re likely still getting hundreds of clicks per day for just one search term.

It’s certainly not just with BestProducts that Hearst are having a lot of SEO success though. Just look at how their brand is doing as a whole…

Hearst Alone Absolutely Dominate Certain Sectors of Google Search Results

Worried about ranking top three? Why not just take all of the spots.

Sadly, Google Search Results Will Never Look Diverse Again

At least not to me.

You may think Hearst are some kind of exception and partly, you would be right. However, they’re certainly not alone.

Purch also own some of the biggest sites online.

They all already link to each other in the footer of every site, but it’s my understanding that they were all fairly big ‘brands’ on their own before being purchased. Just look at the traffic numbers for some of those sites:

Toms Hardware – 51 million visitors per month
Top Ten Reviews – 17.5 million visitors per month
Live Science – 20.6 million visitors per month

I don’t have to go into their domain stats; you already know they have authority.

Purch and Hearst compete in many of the same industries and one of Purch’s sites – TopTenReviews – also ranks in my screenshot above for the dishwashers search query.

There’s no doubt they are watching the success of one of their bigger rivals and if they see that they can spin off new web properties into valuable entities, it must be very tempting to follow the same path.

Sadly, the more research I did for this post, the less and less varied Google search results appeared to be. Time after time I was able to trace back the top ranking websites to some of the biggest media companies in the world.

There are of course some I’m missing (especially outside of the English language) but these are the companies I found most often in search results across the board.

Click here to view a slightly larger image.

To show you I’m not being dramatic, let’s take a look at some actual search results I believe that these networks are dominating. They’re not just limited to one sector.

They’ve Taken Over Software

That’s a little bit of a long-tail example, so let’s look at something far more popular.

They’ve Taken Over Food

Image results were manually removed from this screenshot for clarity

And another…

For this screenshot I removed some Google images so I could fit in the search results

They’ve Taken Over Technology

I’m starting to feel like I was one of the only people who didn’t know about these brands.

They’ve definitely got a big hold on the technology industry.

They’ve Taken Over Gaming

Note: One Youtube result was removed from this graphic so I could fit in the screenshot

They’ve Taken Over Health

They’ve Taken Over Automotive

They’ve Taken Over Beauty

They Buy Out the Competition

They (More than Likely) Share Keyword Data Across Their Network

I can’t blame them for doing this, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

It’s not only the big broad keywords that send a lot of traffic they can share either. If you have similar brands, you should definitely be taking advantage of the long tail.

Why have one top search result when you can have two (or many more)?

These Companies Get $20,000 in Links Just for Buying a Domain Name

When Google search results are so reliant on one thing then we’re all a little bit at the mercy of whoever has the most money to throw at the problem.

Whenever these big brands start a new website the tech and news blogs share it with the world, and that means link acquisition.

Hearst’s Best Product Got Incredible Links On the Day of Launch

Here is Racked.com, ironically owned by another of the sixteen, talking about their new brand.

As Did Time’s New Breakfast Site

Even if you’re just writing about the first meal of the day, it’s notable to those in the tech space.

As Did IAC’s New Health Site

There are few better links to get about a new brand than a mention from TechCrunch.

It’s Clear That Domain Authority is More Important Than Ever

If you didn’t “catch” on to this after seeing how well BestProducts are ranking then let me make it clear: There are almost no backlinks from other sites pointing to the top ranking pages of BestProducts.com.

They do have some internal links – mostly from the footer of PopularMechanics articles – but very few. However, they have a ton of strong links pointing to their homepage and category pages, which is spreading the ‘link juice’ around their entire website.

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