Establishing Yourself on the Web
About Leaders, Followers, and other Minion
On the web, people tend to elect leaders just like they do in the real world. Most
people don't like to think, and most ideas are not very original. Often, the first person
in any space, or the first person to coin a new word, gets to own that market space and
build upon it a brand that is hard to beat. As time passes, people join these market
spaces and they become more competitive. This is what drives content quality, the ad
networks, and the internet economy. And it happens much faster than in the real world. For
example, when I created my site, Overture showed zero search volume for "SEO Book", and now the
term goes for over a dollar a click on Overture and AdWords.
From what I have seen, the single biggest factor for success on the web is syndication.
I had a friend (who was far more popular than I was) get denied the opportunity to write
articles for some sites based on the fact that people did not know him. Even though
those sites were topical publishing sites, and even though his articles were very good,
they didn't even care to look at his work before telling him that they were not
interested. People won't usually give your quality content a chance unless you build a
reputation first. The articles I write now probably are not that much different than what
I would have typed a year or so ago. The biggest difference is that I have tried hard to
build a reputation.
Learning, Posting, and Building Your Brand
I have had the opportunity to meet or talk to guys like JasonD, LittleMan, NFFC, and
DaveN. I recognize that on the technical front there may be guys out there
that know more than me. While stating random forum names may sound weird, the forum names
people use can actually become a large part of their brand. Most of the names listed above
are people who got into SEO years before I even knew what a search engine was. I also
think most of them were well known in large part because of their contributions to the
WebmasterWorld forum. I did not spend much time trying to build brand by posting in the
largest forums or networks, though, because the noise was so overwhelming, and there was
so much information, that I would have had little chance to succeed.
Starting From Scratch
When you first start out you have to work way harder than others just to barely get by.
Starting out from scratch, though, may make you more efficient in the long run, since you
cannot afford as much fat in your system as the established businesses can. When starting
anew, it is easier to do well in a few smaller markets than it is to try to dominate a
larger one. It is also easier to get noticed by participating in small communities and
networks. You can become a regular contributor to a few blogs and forums to help build
your brand, without the full level of investment or commitment that larger sites would
require just to get noticed. Additionally, this helps you learn things at a slower pace,
which makes information easier to digest.
Finding Your Niche
The competition in some markets is so high that if you are not exceptionally creative
or technologically gifted you will have to work an insane amount of hours to do well
(that's what I did). Either that, or to approach your topic from a unique angle. For
example, few people push Search Engine Optimization from a social angle, even though the
web is a huge social network (to worry excessively about machines that aim to emulate
users, and forget about the web users themselves, seems to me a bit absurd).
The trick is to somehow find a way to offer people a greater "signal to noise
ratio" than other sites, or create a system which enables them to do that. Google did
it, Slashdot did it, etc. We can emulate the actions of these large organizations on a
personal level. You can do that by consuming vast amounts of data and creating systems
that intelligently reorganize it for others. The trick is to add something to it. If you
are unsure of where you can or should start, you can go to a local community on a topic
(or a few related topics) and look at common recurring problems. Then, create more elegant
or better answers to those problems than they currently provide.
About Links, Popularity, and Becoming Successful
Links are just citations. Being original, funny, useful, or different helps to build
them. Saving people time or creating value builds a huge amount of links. Off the start,
you will have to work harder than the leaders in your field but, in the end, there is not
much difference between what you have to do to make $10,000 or $100,000 a year on the web.
The beauty of it is that when you get lots of support from within your community, the
'echo chamber' of people outside of your community will also find you and will help market
you free of charge. If you read, learn and write, enough market opportunities will find
you. If you spend a thousand hours saving a million people an hour each, there is probably
a way to build a business model around that idea. And people will help you.
About Losing Edge
Within any community you can only be a leader for so long before you either lose touch
with reality or burn out. While new people are always inclined to follow "the
experts" (thus helping them maintain their status), their continued success drives
them so far away from reality that, eventually, people will notice. Also, just like most
music bands and most book authors, at one point most web authors will run out of things to
say. Once they start to believe that anything they say or write deserves success, they
have lost their edge. They are putting themselves ahead of their website users. They
create add-on products which may not be as good as the first one, and overcharge for them.
They become less honest and their value erodes. Suddenly, they become the noise they once
replaced. Then, finally, someone replaces them.
- by Aaron Wall, author of the SEOBook
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