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On the subject of Internet Marketing

Tad Chef

October 15th, 2015.

Pinterest Optimization: Closer Look at Some of my Popular Pins


Marketers often struggle with Pinterest. Most Pinterest howtos are rather manuals on how to use “rich pins” or other features.

Pinterest optimization advice often boils down to things like “use hashtags” or “join group boards“.

Both techniques are typical for selfish marketers but often backfire. Here’s an actual closer look at really popular pins other than recipes.

You already know about Pinterest don’t you? It’s that site run by desperate housewives collecting recipes or revelling in depictions of dream weddings. I didn’t believe the Pinterest hype either a few years back. I mean I don’t cook despite my nickname: Chef. I already married but I didn’t even wear a suit and tie at the ceremony.

I’m not a woman you might want to add. Yet I tried Pinterest to find out whether I can build an audience there, and to learn about the potential organic reach it was rumoured to have.

Almost three years later I have more than 100k followers and sometimes dozens or even hundreds of repins (as reshares are called on Pinterest) on my images.

Don’t get awed by the huge follower number though. It’s all lurkers. Pinterest decided that because I’m an active user living in Germany I must be the ideal option for newbie users to follow. Now all these empty accounts run by people who logged in once and never shared an image are inflating my follower number but showing no engagement, predictably.

Thus the most interesting thing is not how I got the followers (which aren’t the same as on other social sites anyway) but how I was able to get some pins reshared numerous times.

Of course it’s a combination of many factors I can only guess based in my first hand experience.

I can’t offer you survey results or big data but instead real life examples and my explanation why I think these and not other images have made it.

Viral Pinterest spread may come in many different flavors:

  • You can have a large niche-oriented audience – for example people collecting images of architecture. Indeed that’s what I have.
  • You can rank well on Pinterest for particular images, boards or even user names. I did rank well for more than a year at least in an area with fewer competitors where I was an early mover.
  • You can get popular with old pins by now as a new algorithm is unearthing similar images of those you already show. With three years worth of shares I get a lot of that love.
  • You can get a lot of viewers simply by covering a topic many people like. Inspirational quotes are such an example. People browsing the default quotes category might notice you. Sometimes the wrong category might lead to broad sharing as well.

Let’s take a look at the actual pins. I have chosen a few of them based on popularity and the possibility of replicating them. You can predict success based on some aspects of these pins. Examples of such are

  • the category
  • the image size
  • the image form

Of course these can only work when the message and the depiction is inspiring enough. That’s what Pinterest inherently is about. It’s a huge collection of what people want, what they look up to and what they would like implemented to see in their own life.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 17.11.28

Inspirational quotes are one of the most popular categories on Pinterest despite the fact that not everybody is speaking English on the service.

Images that are bigger in height than width are better for Pinterest in general but with quotes it’s almost a prerequisite.

The “be brave/take risks” quote image is 500px wide but 750px high. That’s essentially the prefect size and ratio 1:1,5 for Pinterest simply because of the way Pinterest shows thumbnails.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 17.13.25

Even without the perfect vertical format and a category which is popular in itself, you can get hundreds of repins. This building above is a good example. Although architecture is one of the default Pinterest categories it’s not hugely popular (with a few exceptions)-. In most cases people love to repin lavish seaside villas with luxuriously dimensioned pools. Yet even these pins in most cases get dozens of pins rather than hundreds.

Most people like to aspire to lifestyles they can’t afford yet. There is a considerable group though that likes a both realistic and affordable way of life both in reality and on Pinterest. These people for example like ecological buildings, prefabricated homes for example, short prefabs. An extremely popular trend among those people are shipping container homes.

I was a shipping container enthusiast myself a decade ago until I’ve worked a month in one during summer. In short: It was hot. Even my laptop overheated. It was a very basic shipping container home with zero extra insulation etc. though.

By now there are numerous buildings worldwide that use shipping containers as basic elements but also add sophisticated padding so that at the end of the day you barely recognize that a minimalist modern home is made from containers underneath. The image above is such an excellent example.

Did I also mention that shipping container homes are much cheaper than other buildings and that they are also environmentally friendly? Yes, shipping containers can easily be recycled as buildings and are available by the millions. Thus whenever a home made of containers looks good without looking too trashy it gets additional attention from the treehuggers all over the planet.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 17.18.15

You don’t have to cover a popular topic. Even an unpopular one like cycling or bikes can garner a lot of attention when combined with beautiful women and ideally women also are already celebrities. Famous men also work to some extent but don’t get as widely spread as female cyclist depictions.

This image of actress Belen Rodriguez is proof of this concept. I pinned it mainly because of the neat cruiser underneath those beautiful legs yet I wasn’t sad to show the latter either. Like in this example ideally you get repins from several groups of people:

  • beauty oriented women
  • health-focussed heterosexual men
  • cycling fans and bike experts.

Last but not least celebrity hungry gossip girls will love that image.

I’m not a big aficionado of celebrity news but when they display an environmentally friendly mode of transport I’m glad to give them additional publicity. Did I mention that other treehuggers tend to act in a similar way?

Thus when dealing with a topic that usually affects only a minority you rather want to add something to your image that has a wider appeal and is suitable to the masses or at least a larger interest group.

Adding Star Wars elements is also a fool-proof way to get attention as another unusually popular cycling pin of mine shows:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 17.21.24

I’ve got pins that have been repinned thousands of times but are often exceptions to the rule. The pins above have become popular for reasons you can easily deduce from the context. In case you want to look at my popular pins yourself to get the bigger picture make sure to visit my profile over there.

* Creative Commons image by Hello Chaos

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 19.01.08

Joe Joe

September 21st, 2015.

53 Steps to Ultimate PPC Success for Small Business

53 Steps to Ultimate PPC Success for Small Business

Regardless of your industry, the tactics you can employ to make life easier for PPC management remain the same. This infographic (from us to you, with love) breaks down 53 considerations for Pay-Per-Click success.

If you want to share this infographic around with anyone who can use it, please feel free.



Tad Chef

August 12th, 2015.

What it Takes to Publish Actionable Advice like Brian Dean or Neil Patel

Asked what type of content they’d prefer most readers of requested more actionable advice and case studies like the ones published by

I know how they make it happen. Indeed I have met Brian in person a few times and he readily disclosed his “secrets” just like he does on his blog. Here’s what it really takes.

Neil Patel and Brian Dean seem to be the role models of modern business blogging. It’s not just – just look up some of the job adverts Problogger regularly shares on Twitter.

When publishers show examples of marketing blog posts they expect from you they will most likely point to at least one post from Neil Patel or his blogs.


Neil Patel, the ghostrider


Last time I mentioned Neil here was in the context of social media automation. You can do it when you have an audience like Neil has built over the years. Then you can even broadcast your latest content while you’re offline and people will love it despite that. They will be eager to share it while you’re asleep.

I haven’t met Neil Patel personally, I only know what he says in his articles. He tells us a lot by providing actionable advice frequently. Sometimes I get an additional insight from behind the scenes that may have not been intended. Neil is a very prolific blogger and his posts are of high quality as well despite the sheer number of them. He sometimes publishes several posts a week.

For a time I assumed that he just focuses on blogging while his teams (he owns two companies, Kissmetrics and above mentioned Quick Sprout) do all the other work so he doesn’t have to. Even then the sheer amount of posts and probable effort needed to write them was immense so that I was impressed.


Until one day another blogger complained that Neil Patel has stolen his article without providing attribution. We can safely assume that Neil Patel didn’t do it himself. He most probably employs ghostwriters. This is part of the secret of his writing efficiency.

Owning two companies and outsourcing a significant part of the remaining writing work is not the model everybody can copy. Thus I’d like to focus a little more on Brian Dean and his content creation success. Just like Neil Patel Brian Dean is a self-made man.


Brian Dean, the wild workhorse


Unlike Neil who started out in the early days of business blogging when competition was far less fierce and when corporations like AOL did not run the most influential “blogs” yet Brian succeeded in recent years. I have witnessed it almost from the start.

Then I had the chance to meet Brain in person. I only met him three times and we mostly chatted informally while eating breakfast I nonetheless got a clearer picture of what’s behind his success.

To make it short: it’s hard work. He’s very dedicated. He also works for himself instead of client work like I do. Also he only focuses on one project – his Backlinko site. Let’s be more specific though.

Brian’s success recipe is not only about hard work. It’s also about smart work. He not only works for himself and focuses on one project. He introduced a whole new blogging style. In a way neither the term blogging nor style is best suited to explain it.

In essence Brian writes a white paper or ebook each time and publishes them as a blog post.

Yes, you heard it right. While you and me maybe spend an hour to a few on a blog post Brian prepares and writes one article for dozens of hours, several weeks in a row. He has a few posts that took him like 80h to research and write.

That’s also half of the story. Brian not only invests extremely large amounts of time and effort for the content preparation and creation itself he also does hard core

  • keyword research
  • blogger outreach

for each of the posts.

First he closely watches market demand and surpasses existing content that succeed once by providing even better content (skyscraper technique). He then or even prior to it researches and reaches out to all the people who have linked to the existing or similar content already.

Once he has the topic he not only reads about it elsewhere and repackages the already existing knowledge about it. He tries it himself and implements all the advice he has read to put it to the test.

He will often start his messages or posts with a sentence like “Have you read this or that advice? It’s not true”. Consider sentences like “just create great content!” – He tested it and it didn’t work by itself.

Let’s recapitulate then: what are the crucial aspects of Brian Dean’s success?

  • enormous effort per post equivalent to an ebook
  • 50/50 division of content tasks/outreach tasks
  • thorough keyword research and improving upon competition
  • DIY real life examples taken from own practice not hearsay



What some people overlook are also the onsite factors that have a huge impact on Brian’s success. He has an opt-in oriented web design. His whole site is made around the idea to convert you to a subscriber.

Thus he doesn’t rely neither on social media nor on Google to get the word out. Both social media and search traffic are rather the result of his email marketing than the other way around.


Key ingredients of actionable blog posts

Luckily it’s not just a lot of work that make the posts of Brian Dean and Neil Patel so actionable and successful.

There are several key aspects of their posts you can mimic in shorter articles as well to some extent.

  1. Tackling actual problems we face online
  2. Citing studies and data from third parties
  3. Showing visualizations and other visual clues
  4. Providing real life examples with names attached to them

#1 is of course crucial. I always write posts reacting to an actual problem I encountered in my won experience. It’s important not just to rant, moan or complain. You have to actively seek out solutions that might be replicable by others. You are able to install Linux on your 100 year old wall clock? Excellent! Can others do it as well or do you have to be a genius?

Brian Dean is not a genius. Yes, he rocks, but he’s a regular guy like you and me. Thus you can copy his approach and methodology to reach similar results. Neil Patel as mentioned above is in a different situation. He grew to prominence back when it was easier and now has whole teams of writers to back him. Can you replicate that?

You can as long as you have some venture capital to spend. The average blogger can’t. By average I also mean myself. Thus don’t fret in case you don’t publish 5 long form actionable tutorials a week like Neil Patel. Maybe you can do it like Brian Dean and provide an outstanding resource every several weeks?


* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by firelizard5



Tad Chef

July 8th, 2015.

Content Promotion for Busy Business People


I know, creating content is already hard enough, but when you add promoting that content to the brief, and many give up from the start. They publish only occasionally and do not spread the word about it.

How can you make your content appear on the radar without spending hours per week on promotion?

Also: How do you promote without shouting “click here!” all the time?

You are not Seth Godin or Neil Patel


First off there are basically two ways to promote content by working smarter not harder. Automation and humanization. Sadly you have choose only one of them. Why? They contradict each other. When you read mainstream marketing blogs you will be inundated with advice on how to automate social media sharing.

Scheduling and cross-posting messages on different social media sites is quite often offputting though. You can only do it when you already have a large and faithful audience. In case your name is not Seth Godin or Neil Patel you can’t do it in most cases.

Guess what happens when I notice that a particular account is largely or completely automated? I stop talking to it. Imagine it in real life: would you talk to an answering machine or mailbox each and every time when you never get a proper response by a human being? No, after the third time most people will lose patience I guess.

I don’t stalk influencers or brands on social media.

I may be an exception but I even like to be able to reply to your newsletter mails. I can do it when Brian Dean writes to me but not with most independent musicians who put me on their list.

I downloaded their free album so they started to send me updates from Google-like do-not-reply addresses. I unsubscribed after failing to send feedback on the sometimes even broken mails I received. It happened three times with three different artists.


Dear Buffer, how are you today?

Just like in the early years when seemingly everybody in marketing attempted to flood social media with their self-submissions nowadays most marketers automate their social media activity using tools like Buffer.

I reply to your Buffer a few times by accident but then I will sooner or later notice and stop talking to you.

I may be a rather advanced user of social media you might argue. Average people won’t even notice which tool you use to share content on social media. True, they will usually notice that you aren’t very responsive though. Even non-geeky people are not stupid. They don’t like talking to walls either unless they are some kind of lunatic.


Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

It’s called social media for a reason. No, it’s not selfish media. People want to actively socialize with you. No, they don’t want to chat about your breakfast unless you’re a foodie but instead they want you to respond when they ask you something. It’s as simple as answering the “social media phone” as some pundits put it.

Luckily unlike a phone social media does not always need instant reactions. You can listen and monitor throughout the day and respond in batch. Most of us should be glad to be able to have something to respond to in the first place.


How to humanize your social media activity


OK, now that we know that automation is evil or at least ostracizes people we can focus on the real thing: being friendly in person. Didn’t we want to save time instead of practising social networking all day! Yes, true. Like mentioned above you can respond in batch to those who have mentioned you.

Of course you need people first who would respond to you. Nobody talks to strangers. It’s important to introduce yourself first. What’s the best introduction on social media? It’s a present. Bring flowers. In social media terms you can share other people’s content first.

Yeah, but isn’t that time consuming too? yet it is. You can streamline that too. Collect the posts that mattered last week and share them throughout this week. You can use free tools like

Just peruse the popular posts and take those that mattered to you and your preferred audience and plan how to share them throughout the week. Yes, you could automate that but then again you would lose potential friends. Instead you can select five to fifteen posts that matter to you and share them throughout the days.

Just share the posts you planned on Monday during the evenings when you reply to messages in batch.

Ideally start with the content you share (curate!) so that you are still around when people respond. React to the updates people have posted throughout the day. Then answer your mails or phone calls or whatever and then recheck whether some new social media interaction ensued.

Personally I schedule half an hour in the morning for SMO that is using social media for business and then in the evening I reply to the messages that ensued. I do it every day but on Mondays I spend longer on the content curation part. Sometimes I look up Twitter or Google+ in-between tasks as well, as a diversion.


Organic social media approach

Personally I practice a moderate form of the inbox zero type of approach where I spend half an hour or more each evening to respond to my messages, including those from social media and phone.

I don’t treat people differently just because they used a different tool to contact me. Yes, social media messages are probably less formal or even important in some cases but in the long run you can’t be antisocial and only respond to current clients or people who reach out to you by phone or mail.

Weak social media links (connections not hyperlinks) are often the most important ones when it comes to promotion on social media sites. The idea is that once you share others people’s work they will notice you as well. Some of them will check out your shares or onsite content and a few of them will even share something as well and/or follow you in future.

This is a very organic approach that works in reality but takes a while to unfold. Most marketers are in a hurry and do not want to invest time and effort. To speed up the process you can actually use Twitter lists to remember and highlight all those people who actually engage with you. I have done that in the past with private lists but decided to create a public list instead called engagers.


Engaging with the engagers


The engagers list features the few good people who really listen and respond to me on Twitter. There are many broadcasters in the marketing sphere, that is people or companies that use social media like radio or TV back in the days: just telling the world about what they want the world to know but never responding. Like mentioned earlier the rise of social media automation also leads to a growing noise level.

People who automate usually repeat a lot and share while they are are offline so that they won’t respond to your feedback. Automators usually won’t be around when you share your or third party content either. When you have no time to promote yourself so that you automate it you most probably won’t promote other people either. These non-responsive people use social media selfishly.
And it doesn’t make sense to follow them until their content is so unique and valuable that you want to. Again in case of Seth Godin you may follow him for the unique insights although you know that he will never even notice you because he’s simply not there.

Then there are the lurkers. They usually make up 90 or more % of any platform’s user base. What do they do? Nothing! In the best case they listen and never reply but in most cases they just started using a social media service once to rarely or never return. Ignore them like they ignore you. Sadly you can’t save lurkers.

I tried to convert lurkers to active users for a few weeks. I addressed them personally. I thanked them for following me. I asked them questions. Nothing helped. They do not want to engage.

When they follow you it’s their only action. They are downright rude by not responding but again, they are probably not even there anymore. They just followed you accidentally or because the site suggested you.

Showing love for those who care

When you can forget the

  • broadcasters
  • automators
  • lurkers

the few good ones left are the engagers. In recent weeks I have focused all my attention on them. I collected the few dozens of people who responded to my social media activity on Twitter. I will do the same thing on Google+ using circles. I just hope they don’t discontinue the feature before I can do it.

I had a secret best friends list on Twitter for ages and I always checked these people’s updates first but over the years many of them turned irrelevant to me or stopped being friends, just like in real life. So checking out their offtopic tweets just because we were close 5 years ago appeared to be counterproductive to me now.

That’s one of the best things of the engagers list. It’s public. No nepotism behind closed doors.

You can engage with the people and companies I have identified as active engagers already. They are very cool people in most cases: I’d like to highlight some of them here. I will write more in detail about the engagers in future. As of July 2nd, 2015 I have only 39 engagers on my list. Consider that I follow over 1.000 accounts in total!

I’m still testing but I can already recommend you some people who care:

Gabriella Sannino

Gab, as I like to call her (I’m not even sure I’M allowed but she never slapped me) was one of the few people who stayed on my best friends list for several years while remaining relevant an ontopic. She has at least three Twitter accounts she actively uses and is very supportive.

Ed Leake

Ed is one of the few leading agency types who get social media right. He is actively curating news and evergreen resources and likely to share your content when it rocks. He’s also responsive and likely to give positive feedback.

Dan Shure

Dan is the anti-automator who takes a stand by not automating social media at all. He’s even written a post on it: that’s even better than me. I tried automating here and there, mostly to no avail or mixed results. He’s also the opposite of noisy but when he shares something it usually matters.

Paul Gailey

Paul has a long history of being a connector. He will think of you when a topic matters to you or when a client needs your services. He already sent me interesting articles, warnings and at least one client my way.

Ashley Faulkes

Ashley is en excellent blogger. He also excels at personal (not public) relations. A few weeks back we chatted on Skype for at least half an hour and exchanged anecdotes of the secret life of business bloggers. He uses some automation but he also seems to be around a lot and he will talk to you.

Stellan Herr

Stellan is a prolific curator who will digest the huge onslaught of industry news from search, marketing and adjacent disciplines to serve only the news that matter. I always try to view most of his tweets to get a quick overview of what’s going on. He’s very attentive and will notify you of errors on your site.

Jeremy Rivera

Jeremy has been stalking me all over the place for a few years. He just can’t stop adding useful comments and sharing valuable insights. Whenever he starts a debate below you post you can rest assured that it will be a worthwhile addition. He’s been with Raven Tools for years but now is an independent consultant.


The linkaratis is a whole team of bloggers from the Page One Power Agency. They have been reaching out to me years ago already and we’ve built a successful business relationship ever since. I’d need to include at least three name from the team here, so I’d rather feature the whole linkarati account. They also engage during their #linkaratichat.

* The content promotion image has been provided by the illustrators of



Tad Chef

June 9th, 2015.

How to X-Ray Your Competition’s Backlink Profile to Steal Their Links


Even in 2015 Google still ranks websites mostly by counting and judging the incoming links pointing at them.

Not much has changed at the core of the link-based algorithm in the last decade or so.

Thus it can be very useful to determine who is linking to competing sites to literally copy or even steal their links. There are both simple and advanced online tools that will assist you with that task.


Useful site explorers

In my first post on how to x-ray the competition’s backlink profiles I took my blog as an example and used a simple tool, the free version of Moz’s Open Site Explorer to show how a competitive link audit using common sense could work. OSE will show you all links to a site and you just need to apply some common sense and SEO knowledge to find the gems you can copy.

For those who don’t see why a given link is better than another one, or do not spot the most successful articles easily there are other tools that can facilitate that.

Ahrefs, a company I have worked as blogger until recently – offers a set of new tools in its site explorer to check the most popular content on a site. The popularity can be assessed based on the number of shares and links in general or even based on traction on a specific social site (like Facebook or Twitter).


A handful of links analyzed for free

In the free version Ahrefs will only show you the top 5 results but that already is sufficient to show you some of the most important insights. When I look at my blog is already offers crucial data you can build upon. By changing the sorting priority (from Facebook to links for example) you can also see different pages on top so that the number of popular articles you can view grows.

In case you want to do such a competition audit more than occasionally you should of course consider using a premium plan.

For a start the information provided at no cost will guide you with enough actionable data points to begin copying your competitor’s strategy. You will soon “exceed the limit” in case yo want to test more than one site though. My own blog strategy is erratic at best but viewed with this tool it seems to make sense after all.


What’s really popular? It depends

Depending on how you try to measure popularity you get completely different results. For example based on backlinks certain pages might appear popular that did not get much traction on social media.

A post that rocks on Pinterest may be completely invisible on Twitter and the other way around.

The mostly adult female audience of Pinterest craves visual content so that my blog can only occasionally get some attention there due to the images I use to illustrate my posts. Content that works on social media even without the visuals does not necessarily draw links either.

Also different social sites get used to spread different content. Facebook where we usually connect with family and real life friends is for example less useful for spreading content about work related topics.


Top content based on shares across the board


The top 5 above are based on what Ahrefs calls “median shares“. It appears when you click CONTENT -> Top Content in the top menu.

That’s a metric that looks for the content that was equally shared all over the Web. It’s pretty accurate. #1 or “SEO vs SEO 2.0″ is my all time most popular post I think. It has been translated into numerous languages including truly exotic ones and has been shared over the years continuously.

#2 or “SEO has Evolved” has been widely shared by industry peers and even influencers this year. It has also been linked to by other blogs. The evolution of SEO as I explained it there has been obviously apparent to other insiders as well. When writing I didn’t even know whether it made sense so I was glad it did.

#3 or “Guest Post by Matt Cutts” has worked the other way around. I assumed it was evident that it’s a satirical blow to Matt Cutts and his condescending approach to bloggers. Most people assumed it was a real guest post by Matt though. I even started feeling like a liar. So the word spread on social media even without me promoting it.

#4 or “Content Strategy Mistakes” became popular because it covered content started when it was a fairly trendy but not yet much covered topic. The mistakes I covered were easy to agree on in most cases so that other content creators could also relate.

#5 or “Connecting People” has been successful on social media because I actively reached out to other connectors in the post itself. As connectors are the true driving force of the social Web the post has been spread quickly through them. Also the positive empowering message did strike a chord with many people I assume.


Improve and reach out

We have five articles here that have become popular for different reasons. The “SEO vs SEO 2.0″ comparison has been dealing with a true paradigm shift in the most scannable way.

Add something of value and reach out. While you could think that’s it impossible to copy the links or success stemming from it I have seen similar comparisons ever since, some of them even based on my own list, an infographic for example.

To get the same links I got here you could even approach the sites that link to my post

from all over the world and tell the that you have created an infographic about it. On the other hand the translations are several years old in many cases so it’s questionable whether the bloggers are still interested n the topic.


Analyze industry trends

The “SEO has Evolved” post is recent in comparison. I have published it at the beginning of 2015. I didn’t have a lot of time to elaborate on popularization yet but again you could even make an infographic based on my input and contact the people who already have shared or linked to my original post.

Just write me a message and we can do it. In case you don’t want to cooperate with me you can still summarize on video, translate it or express your won take on popularization to get some exposure from the same people including me most probably. You can also apply this to any topic. The evolution of the music industry or fashion or even food consumption could be prefect topics.


Ridicule those in power

Satire works well in many cases. It works best when applied to very powerful people who are beyond reach of criticism. Matt Cutts and the other Google overlords decide about the fate of millions of small businesses worldwide yet there is no democratic oversight over an institution that governs the access to online content according to its own secret rules.

Decrying guest blogging as spam was a typical top down measure designed to hit “the little guy”.

That’s why many outraged bloggers shared my post to show that nobody is without sin. My satirical post is based on a real guest post by Matt Cutts. It’s truer that the real truth in a way. The only thing satirical is that I’m not Matt Cutts. It exposes his hypocrisy very well though.


Choose your target

Just like with the other posts you can copy the writing technique and the person who gets ridiculed. Matt Cutts is “on permanent leave” as quitting is called these days at Google so he may not be a good target anymore.

Google is still or even more the source of frustration for millions of webmasters (who are now rather search slaves these days).

Just find the right time side with the underdog. Many people with thank you for that especially as most others will take sides for Google as if the multibillion dollar corporation couldn’t take care of itself.


* (CC BY-ND 2.0) Creative Commons image by Tambako The Jaguar


Tad Chef

June 3rd, 2015.

How to Let Your Dog Create Unique Headlines for You



The Web is full of “me too” content using the same headline formulas. The single most significant aspect of successful headlines is their uniqueness though.

People do not want to read again what they know already.

They do only for very specific reasons (to confirm opinions). In most cases you need to stir curiosity by offering something new others haven’t expressed in the same way before. Even a dog can help.


Surviving puppy insanity



As a dog owner I struggled initially to make time for blogging. A puppy needs constant attention if you know what I mean. Also it’s not just all cute and fun. I left the house at least a 12 times a day (and night). While being inside I kept cleaning the floor like some 24/7 facility manager.

I almost went crazy back in the days.

I had to reorganize my whole routine and reconsider a lot of lifestyle choices. It also made me a lot healthier in the long run or rather walk. Now that my dog is an adult for a few years it’s a whole different story. I enjoy walking the dog three times a day. I also am pretty fond of other activities.


Using advanced speech recognition

My dog can do parkour (run an obstacle course) and play Frisbee. It’s a Border Collie mix. Border Collies are well known for being intelligent and I have to admit it’s true.

Obviously everybody says that their dog is the smartest so you probably won’t believe me. Let me tell you then why I think my dog is so bright. She understands almost everything I say.

Scientists have found out that dogs can distinguish up to 250 words. That’s no joke.

I assume my dog has such a word power. It’s not just that she can follow numerous orders, even complex combinations of them while jumping around. For example I’d say “jump and go, jump again, jump back, stop, wait, jump here, jump there” in quick succession.

You’d think she’ll get confused after the third order or so but in most cases she manages to act accordingly. Remember that she jumps over quite high or difficult obstacles while listening to me.

When someone brags about their latest smartphone model I tell them I don’t need one because my dog has advanced speech recognition.


Obeying orders and reading between the lines

As noted above my dog not only obeys orders, at least as long as I reward her frequently enough with something tasty, but also understands what I say in other contexts. Yeah, I know, I sound like one of those weirdos who talk with their dogs. It’s not that.

It’s when I speak with other people. When I mention the word “dog”, “food” or my dog’s name (which is confidential!) she instantly listens up and comes over to find out what’s going on.

Besides obvious words my dog knows the meaning of most common words like “yes/no”, “me/you”, “go/stay” although I haven’t taught her.

I do not even need to say yes or no, a mumble is often enough or simply some gesture or facial expression. Basically my dog understands me better than anyone else it seems. There’s a reason why they say “man’s best friend” when they refer to dogs. Now as you can imagine having such a genius dog at home can also have disadvantages.


Outsmarting the smart dog

When you mention food for instance or even say “tasty” my dog starts running in circles, jumping around and emitting strange noises that sound rather like some tormented birds. Sometimes there is just no dog food available at that moment, or I simply work and have to focus. Thus we tend to replace common words and expressions with less known ones so that my dog does not eavesdrop on our conversations.

Recently it occurred to me that this dog trick is exactly the same technique I use for headline ideas.

I blog about blogs, social media and search for almost a decade now so that I have to look out not to repeat myself too much by now. Also the niche I cover has too many common words that are hard not to mention, just think about “content, links, tools”.

Some words are so overused by bloggers that I can’t use them at all by now. They have lost too much of their initial meaning and are only evoking stereotypes these days. Whole expressions are already useless, just consider a truism like “create great content”.


Even in case you decide to write an article about it you are up against major publishers.


Being specific but not complicated

They key to letting your dog help you with crafting unique headlines is not complexity. It’s about being more specific than usually. In daily life we tend to use the simplest possible words to  describe our daily tasks or formulae demands. You’d say “can you bring me the food” rather than “can you bring me the vegetables” or “can you bring me the cucumber, tomatoes and carrots”.

Using the most commons and broadest terms is about efficiency but also lack of competition.

When you approach a family member and ask for something you don’t compete against the rest of the world speaking at the same time. On the Web there are countless conflicting messages using the same or similar words. In case they are roughly saying the same, only the most respected sources will get heard.


Fighting for attention against the whole Internet

Saying vegetables or even naming them separately would fool the dog. He wouldn’t understand the latter two expressions. Yet on the Web it wouldn’t work either because it would be too complicated and wordy. You want to get specific but still stay concise and understandable.

Also on the Web you have to compete against myriads of others for attention.

Thus you can’t say what everybody else says (unless you work for the BBC or CNN) you need to add your own personal take on things. That’s also why blogging still works despite that competition. People do not solely want “objective” news, they need the assessment of specialists they trust.

Food is a great example here. When I search for something less obvious I already can witness the fight of authority vs uniqueness in Google:



Competing with authority sites

Please how the huge authority sites, here the BBC and BuzzFeed do not need to be very specific to show up on top. The BBC only mentions “fig” in their title tag and says “food” in general. My border collie could understand that. After hearing “good food” she would jump and run around like crazy as she knows both the words.

Please compare the generic BBC and BuzzFeed headlines (or lack there of) with the results from food sites

on #1, #3 and #5. To me number five is actually the best result because it’s the most specific one and already sounds very tasty. It stems from a specialist site focusing and vegetarian dishes. The other two less generic results are both food sites.

The smaller your site is and the more competition you have from larger ones the more specific you need to become. I wouldn’t click the “fig” result of the BBC in this case. #5 is ma favorite. What about you?

* Creative Commons image by Tambako the Jaguar

** Creative Commons image by Tommy Wong


Tad Chef

May 21st, 2015.

Formulating the Value Proposition so that People Convert Right on the Homepage



There is a lot of advice on how to reduce bounce rates, optimize landing pages and create calls to action. Yet

the most important aspect of converting websites, the value proposition gets seldom mentioned.

Ideally already your slogan contains it and your potential users are not forced to watch a long video or read a wordy text. Also sending your visitors down a link or two makes most of them disappear. How to convert people right on the homepage?


Value Proposition? Are you kidding me?


First off, what the heck is a value proposition? My products represent the value, I don’t have to propose to anybody! Keep calm and read on. The value is obvious to you because you deal with your products or services on a daily basis.

Outsiders, potential clients or online supporters may not even understand what you are talking about. In the worst case they might assume your whole industry is just a bunch of crooks and liars. That’s certainly a problem for us when it comes to SEO and wide-spread prejudice.

The value proposition is not a promotional aspect of your advertising.

It’s not a marketing gimmick. It’s the essence of your business. It’s the actual offer. It’s your unique selling point. Consider a brand like Rolls Royce for example. What’s their value proposition? A car? Probably not.

The car is the product but the offer is the luxury and the symbolism. After all kings and queens ride Rolls Royce limousines. Unlike a renowned brand most average businesses do have to explain their value proposition n their site right away or their visitors might disappear in an instant.


Your homepage is like a hotel lobby



Imagine that you run a hotel. You want to convert your visitor when s/he enters right away in the lobby. Make the lobby minimalist or lavish depending on what your business is about but don’t plan to show everybody around the whole building and suggest them dozens of rooms. Make sure the facade and the neon signs outside are already appropriate.

When someone enters make sure that the temperature is pleasant. I could on like that for a while but we have to return the more abstract realm of websites. At least here we don’t need heating or air conditioning. I hope you understand by now that

a potential guest does not need to inspect all of the rooms to stay with you.

In short the first impression counts. Especially as you assume that the people who arrive in your lobby are already likely to look for a room. They may look for a restaurant as well or a spa but most of them want a place to stay for at least a night.


You don’t have to explain what a hotel is to most of them. This may be different in case your business model is a bit less evident. In any case it’s important to clarify why they should stay with you not the other hotel around the corner or down the street.

I have worked for a few hotels in the past – that is I optimized their sites – so that I know how to differentiate. One of them was a design hotel with a very good connection to to main train station in town. You could actually walk over there. We stressed the two aspects. What is your unique asset others can’t copy easily?

  • What’s the unique flavor?
  • What’s the local specialty?
  • What’s the “killer” feature?

Try to fit that into a short sentence and put in big letters on your frontpage. Yeah, I know. It’s difficult. You’ll probably will struggle to word it in a concise manner. The outcome may sound more like a short paragraph. Then you need to cut all the unnecessary words mercilessly or at least try to prioritize certain parts by using different font sizes:



Testing your value proposition

You are probably familiar with A/B testing already. In most cases business people test whether a particular headline, button text or design gets more conversions than a previous one. Here again I have seldom witnessed test results or studies dealing with the impact of a changing value proposition.

How can you change your value proposition to get more conversions and thus probably more sales?

Well, just consider Ford. They were one of the first to attempt selling mobility instead of just cars. In an era where everybody owns a smartphone and can take part in car sharing without the need to own a car actually it’s about time to rethink the value proposition of car manufacturers.

Where I live (in Berlin, Germany) a lot of them offer their own branded car sharing brands. The foremost example is probably BMW which also owns the Mini brand by now. Thus you see DriveNow Minis and BMW’s seemingly all over the place around here. Also they not only stand around and block parking space, people use them a lot.

By changing the value proposition from something like “owning a cool car with a modern image” to “driving a car right now or whenever you want” BMW was able to adapt to the current market. It may be also possible in your area of expertise. Try different value propositions to find out how your company can adapt to the current trends.

* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by That Hartford Guy

** (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Jun Seita



Tad Chef

May 14th, 2015.

How Can Freelancers and Small Businesses Compete With Corporations?



These days “too big to fail” corporations rule the Web. These companies don’t pay taxes, monopolise markets and can crush any competition from average business owners or freelancers who can’t buy their way up into public attention.

You can’t pay for Olympic sponsorships? Here’s what you can do instead to stay afloat and even thrive on the Web. You don’t have to limit yourself to a tiny niche.


Corporations are slow and ugly but you aren’t

In fact the best way to compete with huge corporations is too mimic some of their strategies. That’s impossible you argue? Well, there are ways to act like a corporation without having thousands of employees all over the world. Also small businesses are much faster than companies consisting of so many departments that the left hand does not know what the right one is doing.

Corporations are marred by organisational inertia because of sheer size. You aren’t.

When blogging was still budding only enthusiasts did it. A few years later most leading blogs have been taken over by corporations, most notably AOL. Others have bought whole blogging platforms (Google, Yahoo) or created them from scratch (Facebook).

Yes, what most people on Facebook do is essentially what bloggers did 10, 15 years ago, posting short updates with a link or image. Of course it’s not just blogging.

Any business model proven to be successful gets co-opted by transnational corporations sooner or later.

It’s no wonder then that AOL took over later on when blogging was ripe and most blogs out there are owned by Google (Blogger), Facebook and Yahoo (Tumblr). AOL even fired the blogger who created and grew TechCrunch to be the biggest tech blog on the web: Michael Arrington himself. As long as you own your bog yourself, nobody will “terminate” you.


Corporations are different than small businesses and freelancers not because of size

Unlike what you’re told by the media and the economics establishment corporations are not even part of the free market. They do not compete directly with you. They dominate markets and you have to compete with monopolistic forces. You can’t basically beat them. It’s like an ant trying to fight an elephant.

It’s about staying afloat and earning good money without having to grow to the size of a corporation yourself.

One of the main capitalist myths is the one of competition. While corporations create cartels or simply monopolize markets by themselves we are told to compete against everybody else. That’s the mythical “invisible hand” of the market.Yet, with this mindset we have lost from the start. We are just providing the stage for a farce.

So while corporations are basically exempt from real free market competition you are not.

You are told to compete with everybody else. That’s insane! Yet, you don’t have to. There is no single force that can make you compete with the rest of the world other than you yourself. It’s a decision you can make. Do you really want to compete with everybody else or do you prefer to cooperate with people?


A capitalist market is not free



A capitalist market is not the same as a free market. It’s by no means free. Once you understand that you can adapt accordingly. Most people do not understand the set up of the capitalist market or do not want to adjust their belief system built upon decades of capitalist mythology.

There are numerous constraints in a capitalist market.

While the largest corporations have basically unlimited access to capital, do not have to pay taxes and can literally get away with murder you only have limited access to funds (the revenue you earn) can’t just move to a tax haven or commit crimes without getting into jail.

Google can dodge taxes. You can’t.

Corporations are basically top-down undemocratic bureaucracies.They are entitled to state support in many cases despite not paying taxes so that they can’t go bankrupt. They get “rescued” with tax payer money. This makes them not only slow but also complacent though. Whenever a new trend arises the largest corporations are usually the last ones to react.


We are free to market what we want

The people working for corporations are not free to do what they want. They can’t organize in an efficient manner but are subject to innovation-stifling hierarchy. At the end of the day modern capitalism is what the spectre of so called socialism always was in the West, a state supported planned economy only subject to internal power struggles, not to control by the people.

Luckily those of us who are real business people, not just corporate drones, create a parallel economy with a far freer market.

We still can decide on our own. We can choose what to market, where and how. We can even decide to cooperate without asking our superiors for permission. Ah, I forgot. We are the owners ourselves and have no superiors! True, even small businesses sometimes tend to become bloated and slow.

Having employees instead of working together with equals results in paying people who have no real interest in making their business blossom in the worst case. After all they are getting their fixed income no matter how effective they are at work. Without a fair share in the business, there is no real incentive to succeed. Without passion small businesses die unlike corporations. They are small enough to fail.


Create markets for yourself

OK, once you have realized that you don’t have to compete against the rest of the world and the only true competition you face is from corporations that are basically above the law you can start to act accordingly.  What does it mean? Try to use the same techniques as the corporations.

First off, corporations do not compete, they dominate markets we have seen.

They literally create markets for themselves to rule. No other company is allowed to build an iPhone. Apple even sued Samsung for creating a smartphone that looked similar even though the iPhone was not the first touch phone on the market. The LG Prada has been on the market much earlier.


Be different or ideally unique



How do you crate a market for yourself? By adding names and features others do not offer. Your name is John? Then offer John’s cupcakes in your cafe not just generic cupcakes like everybody else does with the same ingredients.

Make your own juices or beer with a specific flavor no one else can offer.

There you have it. Your own market. Sure, people can still drink their juice or beer elsewhere or even buy it at Tesco or Walmart. You don’t need to care. You just need to delight a small number of people who will want to eat your cupcakes every day. Maybe a year or two later even someone at Tesco or Walmart notices and offers a similar juice range but lower quality. By then you will have created many new tastes.


Band together with your competitors

Most small businesses are local in nature thus they do not compete at all with most of the other small businesses. You do not compete with colleagues who are far away even by capitalist standards. Even in case there are several similar businesses in the same street the amount of competition gets overstated. Just think restaurants. Many people will visit your street because there are several restaurants to choose from.

I witness that process right in the area where I live and work. This is a neighbourhood already very popular among tourists who are far more likely to eat out. We have several Indian restaurants in one block for example. There are German, Italian, Chinese or American (burgers!) places in-between and they are all crowded. In summer you can barely move along the sidewalk because everybody is sitting in front of the places and eating outside.

The same logic applies to fashion boutiques. They even publish whole magazines filled to the brim with description of the stores. Do they compete? No, they get more attention because they are in the same mag as all the other cool stores. Humans have evolved so far because they have banded together to hunt and gather. Imagine everybody hunting on their own. Some animals would probably enjoy that kind of hunting. Afterwards they would have something to eat.


Do not compete against the rest of the world


Now you might argue, that’s fine as long as you cater to a local audience in a brick and mortar store but how about online businesses? Aren’t we all competing for a few spots on top of Google, a few minutes of attention on social media, a little money spent in online stores?

Guess what. On the Internet, it’s even better. You are still locally bound even as a freelancer or small business operating nationally, internationally or globally. Myself I have clients from all over the world. I blog in English and thus have to compete with the above mentioned AOL and millions of blogs on Blogger, Tumblr and people sharing updates on Facebook. Isn’t that crushing? No,

there are hundreds of millions of potential supporters out there!

I get shares, links and positive feedback from all over the world as well. People translate my articles into exotic languages. Do I really compete with colleagues in the US, UK, Australia or India despite living in and working from Germany? No, the opposite is the case. I have people from the UK, Spain or even Pakistan sending me high quality leads to mention just a few recent examples.

Just like a corporation has its underpaid workers overseas you can cooperate with people elsewhere but without having to exploit them like Apple does. You can simply use social media to work together, messaging tools like Skype and Wickr or more advanced tools for cooperation like Triberr and ViralContentBuzz.


* (CC BY-SA 2.0) image by Matt Biddulph

** (CC BY 2.0) image by Michael Righi

*** (CC BY 2.0) image by Clever Cupcakes




Tad Chef

May 1st, 2015.

The Next Level of Blogging: Examples of Video-Channels by Bloggers


I have noticed that more bloggers are moving onwards to video blogging and cultivating an audience on YouTube.

Blogging is becoming visual literally.

Here are some examples where there is no need for fancy settings or a lot of preparation from two different niches: personal development and marketing.


The Hype is Over, Now Comes the Real Thing

I know what you think! YouTube? Video blogging? Are you kidding me? Do you want to sell years old trends to me as new? Well, no. The hypes of yesteryear have been long forgotten but nowadays bloggers really start to use video as a means of communications.

Over the years there were many obstacles to overcome when considering publishing videos.

Things like “it’s a lot of work, you need expensive equipment, attractive settings, high level editing” to name just a few. True, some people, especially those who can afford to hire whole teams for their videos are really creating content like this. Yet, a lot of people out there make videos with affordable cameras at home without special effects.

Yes, now that the hype is long over the actual shift takes place for real. Bloggers are seemingly not satisfied with only writing anymore. They want to talk with us and show us who they really are. I have found some excellent examples of high quality blogs that are successful on YouTube now.
Lavendaire by Aileen Xu


Lavendaire is a personal development blog and video channel run for roughly a year by the highly inspiring Aileen Xu. I discovered her channel just a short while ago after watching similar ones for a while on YouTube. Then hers got suggested to me. I subscribed after the first video.

Aileen manages to combine blogging and videos very well. Some other video bloggers tend to focus mostly on YouTube, build their audience there and neglect their own blog. Aileen displays her videos not only on the blog but also transcribes the most important points of each. She creates a short but already helpful blog post that can be read by itself or in combination with the video.

A good example of combining blogging and video is the Lavendaire latest productivity series.

Aileen offers valuable productivity advice on her blog without the fluff as text but also makes the video good to watch by adding extra context. Also note how she uses images for her posts so that neither text nor video are the only content. It’s usually an image of herself that appears to be a video still but has been apparently made in a higher quality than the video as a standalone photograph.

The videos itself are mostly recorded in her bedroom. She’s only talking to us while sitting on a bed. There is nothing else to see. Yet it’s perfectly enough. To be honest even less would suffice. An empty room and a wall are less distracting and let you focus on the face, voice and message.

Jay Today by Jay Baer


Jay Baer of Convince & Convert is a well known marketing blogger for years. To be honest he’s all kinds of things including best selling author, keynote speaker, consultant and coach. I just recently noticed his video channel which ran a series called Jay Today already for over 6 months when he covered the topic of search engine optimization by asking “Is SEO Still Relevant?“.

I expected another clickbait telling me that SEO is dead or something but couldn’t resist to click anyway. I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of trying to trick his viewers Jay Baer offered a very down to earth and matter of fact assessment based on stats from LinkedIn.

While the Convince & Convert blog is by now a group blog with several writers involved his videos are solely about Jay Baer personally and his take on things. No wonder the moniker of his video podcast is “Jay Today” and not “Convince and Convert Today”. Watch his introductory video. It’s just 15 seconds long and it’s filmed outside, maybe in his garden.

Mr. Baer manages to really intrigue us into watching more without any advanced technical voodoo. It’s just him, or mainly his face and his his way of speaking.

When watching a recent video you’ll notice that he got more professional with a sleek intro including music for example. The main focus is on him and his views though. He limits the videos to three minutes which is a wise choice. Longer videos tend to have a growing abandonment rate.

Rewild University by Kenton Whitman


Kenton Whitman published his Zen-inspired self-development blog already for many years and literally stopped a year and a half ago. Instead he focused on his monthly “Mindfulness Moment” email newsletter and recently on his video channel. I’ve been a regular reader for a long time despite the lack of popularity of his blog.

Kenton never went for spectacular lists posts or other more flashy marketing tactics that other self improvement publications have used frequently.

Staying true to minimalist Zen philosophy Kenton focused on a local “ReWild University” program instead of trying to sell books or become an influencer online. Nonetheless he started posting videos on YouTube a while ago and I subscribed to his channel after he mentioned one of them in his newsletter.

The ReWild University site a WordPress based itself. The videos he makes get embedded into a larger blog post explaining each issue in depth in text form as well. Kenton is not your usual nut job of survivalist or the noble savage he might look like. He’s combines the best of both worlds by using technology to make us aware of nature and it’s challenges.

He actually makes a living as a guide through nature who helps average people like you and me to become accustomed to nature again and gain back our self-confidence through it. After all we have lost a lot through civilization despite all of its convenience rather because of it. He covers everyday challenges too, like taking cold showers so that we don’t freeze in winter or trying to eat no sugar for at least one day (I tried both).

So the videos are made either outside in the snow or in the shower accordingly. In many of them he is just speaking though. No gimmicks needed. The “Sugar Challenge” is a good example of this simple technique. The only thing he added is the huge list of food industry names for sugar.

More Channels to inspire you

Koozai and Infinite Waters and two more excellent examples of YouTube channels. These two are already publishing much longer though and the connection between blogs and video channels is less apparent. That’s why I haven’t used them as the prime examples.

They are both pretty consistent and successful audience wise on YouTube so make sure  to check them out.

Koozai are our colleagues from the UK also doing marketing. Infinite Waters (Diving Deep) by Ralph Smart is a very popular personal development channel with more than 200.000 subscribers by now. That’s a lot even or that niche. Ralph adds videos almost daily. He simply speaks and smiles in them. Sometimes he records outside but that’s it. Not a lot of fuss here.

Koozai have added a lot of videos throughout the years. Some of them have tens of thousand of views. That’s a huge number for a niche topic like marketing. After all it’s just them talking in front of a blackboard.


The Risk of Dependence from Google/YouTube

Hosting your videos solely on YouTube is risky for various reasons. It’s not only about putting all your eggs into one basket. Some videos get censored for copyright reasons in some countries. Germany (where I live) is especially a bad place for YouTube users.

A lot of videos get completely demoted for containing copyrighted music when thy use it as the background sound.

So while audience building on YouTube is easier than elsewhere – after all the largest audience is already there waiting for content – you may want to spread your videos using more than one site or service.

JayToday is a good example here. You can view his videos using three different tools, YouTube is just one of them, iTunes is another and a mobile app the third choice. You don’t have to change the platform completely, just use different video sites on the Web, Vimeo and Facebook allow uploading and hosting videos as well.


* Creative Commons image by go greener oz.


Tad Chef

April 25th, 2015.

My Biggest Link Building Success Story of 2014


Last year I have published three(!) “biggest link building success” articles of 2013. Can I top that for 2014? Let me try. I didn’t write three “biggest” success articles to brag more last year. In fact

I tend to overlook my successes while I rather dwell on my failures.

Once I recognize there was success it’s hard for me to assess it. I succeeded more than once? Which success was the biggest? I can’t really say. Thus I cover more than one of them as possibly the biggest success. Judge yourself!


Success in numbers vs subjective success

I have had the single most shared article in my decade of business blogging published in 2014 with more than 4000 shares by now. No, it wasn’t on a mainstream publication. I usually got below 100 shares there.

So I covered this already in my first post this year dealing with the potentially biggest success. That one was obvious, after all the share numbers are public. Then I thought about the success that made me feel good the most.

Getting my “decade of SEO mistakes” post shared thousands of times was a bit embarrassing to say the least.

There was one kind of success I had that was not evident for outsiders while for me personally it was very uplifting. Is the subjective success less important than the one measurable by public numbers? I think subjectively felt success is sometimes even better. You can’t flaunt subjective success that much but it helps you to develop your strengths.


Is writing real work just like SEO?

For years I have written for client blogs about blogging, social media and search for often very low rates. I was glad I could write for a living because I love writing and especially blogging and I didn’t consider it real work at the beginning. Thus I was satisfied with almost any amount paid to me as long as I was able to do what I love.

Last year I finally raised my rates to what seems to be industry standard. I looked and asked around what other writers of similar quality and renown charge.

Yet writing for third party blogs, even for marketing publications, still doesn’t make you rich. Last year I still didn’t earn enough by blogging so that I needed to work additionally for actual SEO clients to finance my writing “hobby”.

In a way I had to subsidize my writing with my other proper client work.

Meanwhile I was a bit jealous of all the professional blogs that had custom illustrations for their blog posts. I knew that I couldn’t afford to hire an illustrator myself though. Instead I have used free images with a Creative Commons license like I have done for years.

Then one day a guy from emailed me with an offer. At first I thought it was just another outreach message. Outreach messages are perfectly fine but they require work on my part in most cases where I get very little in return. Yet Alejandro from Freepik offered to work for me for free.

All he wanted in return was a credit for the image. I always credit my image sources with a link so that would be no exception for me. I didn’t even have to think about that offer. You have seen Alejandro’s images on my posts ever since. I only occasionally used Creative Commons imagery after that.


How Creative Commons images can backfire

Don’t get me wrong. Creative Commons images (I usually get them on Flickr by way of Compfight) are wonderful once you find a good one. Compfight helps to find free images but they rather sell stock photography instead. Personally I ignore most stock photography or imagery. It’s mostly bland and full of stereotypes. I rather take real world images from photographers around the globe than to feature ridiculous stock photography clichés.

There are also issues with Creative Commons images though. As I have been using them for several years, some of their owners have changed their licenses to the good old copyright. I have located several of such images on my blog. I had to replace them or at least remove them.

Another issue is that some Creative Commons images have a “non-commercial” license. Different people interpret that license in different ways.

As I have no ads on my SEO 2.0 blog an I do not earn money from the blog directly I thought it was not a commercial use until one image owner actually wrote me an angry message. He did not like the metaphoric context I put his photo into and tried to wield the license as a weapon for me to remove it.

Apparently for some people a commercial use is already given when you publish a business blog dealing with business topics. Others consider ad revenue as sufficient to call it commercial use. So at the end of the day you basically can’t use Creative Commons images with a non-commercial license on your blog. You don’t have to resell the images or something. It’s enough that you’re not a charity.


The intrinsic value of link building

Long story short in 2014 I took another big step into becoming a professional blogger. I was able to charge rates equal to my client work in SEO and beyond (as SEO still sells the best despite all the rumors of its death). The reason why is also significant: I get approached by blogging clients now.

Until 2013 I had to apply to job listings like everybody else despite my “big name”, large audience and all the experience.

I got my work out there consistently and colleagues who often have known me for years through modern day relationship building have approached me. When people seek you out they are of course willing to pay more. You don’t compete with others that much anymore. You create your own league.

Now that so many people in the industry know me it’s far easier

not only to get recognized as a person but also to convey the value of your work. It’s not just the relationship building though. It’s the good old literal link building as well. Alejandro of Freepik approached me because a recommendation and link from a post of mine have so much value that I don’t even need to pay them for their work.

I “only” write for 3 to 4 blogs at once, including my own one, so that it’s not only about building links in the traditional “domain popularity” way. Freepik rather got several links from the same site. Nonetheless they were willing to provide me with custom illustrations to get the eyeballs as well, not just the link juice.

So there still is intrinsic value in link building, it’s not only about relationships

and all that hippie stuff I usually preach. It’s still also about getting direct visibility online. The link will be clicked by actual people, highly relevant audiences full of bloggers and Internet marketing professionals. They all need images.

I know this is not exactly the type of link building success story you may been looking for but it was important for me to tell it. It’s not just about getting hundreds of links using the latest tool or technique. Sometimes it’s such cooperation that makes the success big in a subjective way.

* The “biggest success” illustration has been made by my supporters from


Tad Chef

April 21st, 2015.

The 50% Success Rate Outreach Process Blueprint



Yes, I have done outreach occasionally myself as part of larger campaigns for a few years. Now that I specialized on outreach to bloggers, webmasters, influencers etc.

I reached a success rate of 50% recently. Yes, that’s five links/mentions or positive replies per ten messages sent.

How I did I achieve it and how you can replicate that process: a DIY blueprint.


Reaching out to strangers

You know what outreach is and how it works by now: approaching people on the Web out of the blue (that is without prior relationship building) to get publicity and links is not the best thing to do. You also know that it’s difficult.

You can expect a lot of people to ignore you, others to want money to write about you while some will not even understand what you want from them. Even those who send a positive reply can’t be relied upon. They often won’t link to you despite liking you and your offer.

Did I mention that it’s already hard to get through to strangers?

Thus I was very fond of myself when I finally reached a success rate of 50% in a recent real life attempt to get the word out about a new calendar site. This was, as it’s often the case with my clients, a small business even though it acted internationally.

The owner had calendar sites in several European countries like France, Spain or Italy and wanted to get links for his latest site that was geared towards the German speaking population (that’s at least three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland).


Small business outreach tends to be small as well

Not only the budget was small, also the topic didn’t really make sense for relationship building. Why would someone want to befriend a calendar site or become friends with a calender site owner?

Sure, you could create content on each and every holiday and send reminders or such but that would require a lot of effort. Nope, we needed fast action with clear objectives. Reaching out to relevant sites and blogs to announce a new calendar site at the beginning of the year.

In this low budget fast track case I offered my smallest package available.

The “Outreach S plan” is only about researching and contacting ten highly relevant bloggers and website owners. You may assume that such a small number is pointless from the start given the industry average success rates of such campaigns that range below 5%.

Ouch, that’s roughly one in twenty sites reacting positively. Yet, it’s not the case with my outreach attempts. I had often 3 of 10 people write back. Some needing clarifications while others saying “thank you for the heads up” and linking right away.


Without a value proposition don’t even start

Only your mother loves you because you are you. To convince other people to support your site you need to add some value to the equation. Here comes the so called value proposition. “Here I come, please link me” is not a value proposition.

A value proposition is something that is helpful, useful, entertaining, lucrative or all of those.

You may argue that your business is

  • helpful
  • useful
  • entertaining
  • lucrative

and thus everybody out there needs to link to you but that’s not true and you are of course biased. You may be offering the same thing as others do, why would someone want to link to you instead of the others?

Try to get into the shoes of the blogger/webmaster. What do they need you can offer them?

Of course money would be the most evident answer but that won’t work for link building outreach. Text links ads aka “paid links” have to use the crippling “nofollow” attribute according to Google so that they don’t work for SEO purposes. Alternatives are:

  • unique insights (studies, surveys, data)
  • high profile content (infographics, videos)
  • expertise (interviews)
  • freebies (tools, resources)

In some cases the site/tool you mention might be enough. This was the case with my client, who offered a free online but also printable calendar and widget. Why did this suffice? It’s because I’ve found bloggers and webmasters who covered exactly such services in the (recent) past and there was timely demand for it.


The most important part of outreach is not the message

The most important aspect of outreach starts before the outreach. Ideally you already know the people you want to send a message to. In case you don’t – just like with my “cold outreach” attempt – it’s crucial to address the right people. They have to be active, relevant and responsible for publishing.

  • A blog that has written 5 years ago about your topic but hasn’t published a single post in a year is dead or on hold. They won’t even reply for the same reasons they don’t update their weblog.
  • A blog that has mentioned a calendar in one sentence within an article dealing with something else is not relevant.
  • An occasional writer who has contributed a post a year ago but hasn’t written for the publication ever since is not responsible for publishing most probably. The individual will in most cases not even be able to update the old post.

In case just one of these things is missing you already lost.



How to find relevant blogs/sites?

I keep it simple. I use Google to find most of the people I write to. What do I search for? Nothing fancy. I start with the obvious search queries to find out how competitive the searches are and whether I can find someone to talk to already here on top of the Google results or a few pages down the line:

[calendar blog]

[calendar 2015 blog]

[calendar inurl:blog]

[calendar 2015 inurl:blog]

I refine the search by limiting the results to more timely ones: I click on search tools “past week”, “past month” and “past year”:


The top 5 look already pretty relevant as you can see to some extent. Now I only have to look them up and find out whether they really are. Then of course I need to get their contact details.


Talk to individuals not companies or teams

As mentioned above you don’t want to write to company or group blogs where the writer isn’t even able to add something to an existing article let alone publish a new one. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.

You want to reach out to individual webmasters or bloggers responsible for their sites or blogs.

In other words you need to contact the person who decides what gets published, creates that content and owns it. Company blogs with are the worst. You never get the right person to talk to. Even in case you get to speak to the writer s/he won’t be able to help you.

There are just too many people involved in the decision process. Even worse the internal hierarchy and goals will prevent them from linking out at all. Sadly most business do not help they just sell even in case a helpful gesture would be free like with linking out.


Outreach messages that don’t annoy

OK, now that you have 10 blogs/site that have covered exactly what you offer and found out name and mail address of the responsible owner here comes the easy part, the actual message. Keep it extremely short, as relevant as possible and as personalized as possible.

Many lazy SEO and PR practitioners tend to automate that process and they just clumsily enter a scraped name and URL to the message. I can spot such messages right away. Don’t start your message with “Dear Sirs!” or “Hello,”.

Both subject line and name have to be personalized to the site owner.

Let’s assume there is a fictional blog called Happy Blogging! run by Amanda Jones who has written an article called “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”. This is the info you need to have for personalized message:

  • Blog name: Happy Blogging!
  • Name: Amanda Jones
  • Mail:
  • Headline: Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars
  • URL:

Then the message would look as following:


Subject line: Calendar Post on Happy Blogging!


Hello Amanda!

While looking for resources on online calendars your article “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”:

stood out in a positive manner.

Did you know that there is a new free online calendar out there that is also printable? It’s available at

I’d love to see it added to your post. In case you don’t like it, I’d appreciate some feedback so we can improve it.


Your name, company and signature

As already explained in the “actual message” link above you don’t want to ostracize the blogger by using an obnoxious signature. It might be even problematic to reach out with the wrong name of from the wrong company. I’m not kidding.

For example people in the US might be annoyed when someone with an Indian name is approaching them because there have been many attempts at low level outreach from outsourced companies in India in the past. On the other hand using a fake name like some Indians did and call yourself John Miller might backfire as well.

Personally I have a very weird looking and sounding name for most people around the world including Germany. Yet the name looks real and not made up. This is by now an advantage.

That’s why I use my full name when addressing people out of the blue. In case they don’t like my name for some reason (xenophobia?) they are probably not ready for my message either. I also only use my name “Tadeusz Szewczyk” then. I don’t add the company in my “name” yet.

As long as I have been doing outreach as part of larger projects and campaigns I used the mail address of the client company to send out messages. This time I changed my mind and for efficiency reasons I decided to use my own address ( to send out messages.

It’s not only about efficiency though. True, some companies needed weeks to set up a mail account for me and then it still did not work properly so that I had to mail back and forth with the tech support guy.

My website is simple and friendly enough while not being overtly marketing oriented.

In short I don’t scare people by sounding and looking like a marketer or even worse search engine optimizer. I simplified my site copy so that everybody can understand it. I changed my wording so that it does not only cater to potential clients but also to average people who just want to know what I’m about. Now my outreach works better.

I can add a neutral signature to my mails without being afraid that the people will check my site out and leave

based on their prejudice. Remember most people hat marketing. Also the companies I write the outreach messages for are often very commercial. That’s why they need outreach in the first place as they do not use inbound techniques to get a healthy number of supporters.

My actual signature looks like this (with the exception of the mail address I had to change so that spam bots can’t crawl the original one):


Tadeusz Szewczyk,
Help with Blogs, Social Media & Search
+49 (0)30 60 98 62 38
Heckmannufer 7
10097 Berlin


In Germany you have to add a signature when you are sending out business mail. It needs to contain your physical address and phone number. I’d add them even in case your local legislation does not force you to do so. This way you can ensure that people are assuming that you are an actual human being not a bot and work for a real brick and mortar business ideally.


* Creative Commons image by Kalyan Chakravarthy






Tad Chef

April 8th, 2015.

Google Sabotage: There is No Such Thing as Negative SEO



Google opened the floodgates of so called “negative SEO” or rather Google sabotage with so called “unnatural linkspenalties and Penguin updates.

There are numerous ways by now that allow the competition to hurt your site in the results of the market-dominating search engine.

It’s really pitiful but I have to tell the world about it, especially as the search giant uses this situation to discredit the whole discipline of SEO as “negative”.


What is SEO? No idea? You’re not alone!


Studies from the US show that more than two thirds of average citizens do not even know what the acronym SEO means. Some even considered HTML to be a sexually transmitted disease.

“77% of respondents could not identify what SEO means.”

For those who know that it’s about Search Engine Optimization the majority rather assumes that it’s about SPAM or at least “manipulating” of search engines. It comes as no surprise to these people that SEO is actually negative. It has never had a positive connotation to the majority in the first place.


SEO experts calling SEO negative

Then there are the experts who read this blog and not only know what SEO is, but also practice it themselves without resorting to black magic. Even these specialists tend to repeat hearsay from others who tell them that links are unnatural or that SEO is negative.

Yes, most SEO practitioners even spread the word about how negative SEO is and try to prove that you can harm other websites in search results not only by links but also by other means. People oblivious to the topic who only scan such articles will only know one thing after consuming them: SEO is potentially dangerous.

Of course the skilled professionals refer to Google sabotage, formerly known mostly as Google bowling by old school SEO practitioners.

There is no such thing as negative SEO like there is no hot ice or dry water. True, you can sabotage competing sites in Google in manifold ways but false, you can’t negatively optimize for search engines.

Either you optimize and improve or you don’t. You can’t improve negatively. So why are SEO experts using such a paradox (in linguistics it’s called an oxymoron)? Well, most of us also say “unnatural links” as if natural links would grow on trees organically.


“Negative SEO” had its 15 minutes of fame in 2007

True, the term “negative SEO” seems to exist at least since 2007 when Forbes wrote about it in an article called – understandably – The Saboteurs of Search. So unlike the other paradox term that is used to demean SEO and is commonly used by Google – “unnatural links” – this term seems to be an invention of some self-proclaimed SEOs.

I have never heard of them despite a decade of reading about SEO other than in that article. Remember that our industry has no rules on using the term. Everybody can say s/he’s an SEO and nobody can prevent them from doing so.

Barry Schwartz confirmed the existence of the term a day later on Search Engine Land. He was still using quotation marks to distance himself from the term “negative SEO” though.

You won’t believe what happened next! Well, what happened? Almost nothing. Most people forgot about it. Google bowling has been mentioned ever since here and there but nobody really cared. Why? It was marginal at best. Also it was much easier to truly optimize sites and build links instead of trying to hurt your competition on Google.


So how can you sabotage your competition?

I won’t explain in detail (for obvious reasons) how you can harm competing websites on Google but even the article from 2007 on Forbes already lists 7 of them. I didn’t even know some of the terms they used but I know, and can imagine even more tactics to hurt your competitors.

Google bowling or pointing SPAM links at your competition’s website is the most known and obvious one. It boomed ever since Google sends out warnings of “manual action” because of unnatural or artificial links by way of Google Webmaster Tools.

You don’t need a PhD to engage in such practices. Just reply to one of those numerous spam mails trying to sell you dozens, hundreds or thousands of links for a measly sum of a few dollars. It’s certainly cheaper than optimizing your site the legit way.


Outing – Forbes introduces a widely used negative SEO techniques as tattling but by now it’s commonly referred to as outing. You have simply to catch your competition in the act of breaching the Google Webmaster Guidelines and report them in one way or the other.

You can snitch right away at Google or you simply tell the press so that they can raise enough hell so that Google has to act.

It works well, even in case of larger brands sometimes. Simply reporting paid links that lead to your competition might take a while or amount to nothing though. Of course you can combine buying links for Google Bowling and outing the competition then.


Google insulation – I’m not even sure that term has caught on but it’s about search result saturation. For example back in the days when I ranked #1 for the German phrase for search engine optimizer the largest economic weekly in other SEO practitioners got pissed off and started saturating the results with blog posts aiming to outrank me.

As it was just a niche and not that competitive before it worked after a while, especially as the huge number of leads from that magazine largely prevented me from optimizing my site further. I also used this technique for a good cause once, to outrank spammers collectively with other bloggers.

This is not even clearly sabotage, it depends on the context and intent.

In essence you just optimize third party sites to outrank your competition, which is legitimate. This technique is often used in online reputation management campaigns aimed at subduing bad press about a brand or person.


Copyright Takedown Notices – You can make whole sites disappear wielding the Copyright axe. Major sites like, Tumblr or Blogger (owned by Google) won’t ask many questions but instead simply delete your whole blog because of one or two copyrighted images.

You can even buy rights for an image afterwards and claim it’s yours.

Even in case the site comes back up later, a few days being offline are enough to hit you severely in Google and make you seem unreliable for the foreseeable future which results in downranking a few spots. This might be enough for your competition to outrank you then.


Copied content – Website scraping and republishing or manually creating duplicates by copying content can lead to so called duplicate content issues on Google. The search engine still struggles to credit the original publisher of content as the source in many cases.

Sometimes sites copying your content outrank you in Google as if they were the original and you are the copy.

Google doesn’t like to see the same content more than once in its search results so that copied content may quickly damage your site’s rankings. Even the BBC got a page specific penalty because of content scraped from their site by third parties.


Denial of Service – A so-called DoS (Denial of Service) or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on your site, that is someone bombarding a site with requests from numerous computers may results in slowing down your site, temporarily or permanently blocking access to your site.

The longer your site loads slowly or is down for good the more risky and unreliable you look to Google. By now Google can react quickly and show alternative sites even based on temporary high loading times. After all Google does not want make people to wait.


Hacking – Website hacking – in the sense of wrecking your site with malicious intent – as in infecting sites with malware may lead to getting blocked by Google. Sometimes Google will downright warn users from entering your site saying “this site may be hacked” right in the search results. When you’re site is down or infected for a longer time it might disappear from the radar altogether. Just like DoS attacks the hacking effectively damages your algorithmic reputation.


Spamming – Google does not value sites that seem to be abandoned because they have a lot of SPAM comments or forum entries for example. So you can harm a site by literally spamming them using comment spam bots.

You can simply invite SPAM comment by solely covering a topic that is often associated with SPAM. So in case you mention gambling, generic pharmaceuticals or NSFW topics you can bet that spammers will find you automatically and insert their comments.


The Fire this Time

That’s it for now. There are more techniques to sabotage sites in Google. I won’t mention all of them. I already feel bad about telling you so many. Most of them have been in the original Forbes article from 2007 so I didn’t start the fire.

There needs to be a public awareness of the current state of affairs on Google.

It’s not fun and Google can fix it with ease. Instead of labelling SEO as negative you rather need to call out Google for it. Why do they penalize websites for third party actions those sites have often no control of? Why penalize the victim for sabotage?


* Creative Commons image by Les Chatfield

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