How to Create Expertise

Every now and then I take some time away from my regular content generation to cruise through some of the online marketing forums or blogs and have a look at what’s going on. It seems every forum contains a lot of the same questions about what it needed to get a successful web site started.

The various experts will chime in with tried but true advice like “the money is in the list” and start with their advice in the middle of the process with list building. The problem that they often skip is getting the eager entrepreneur to answer the question: “Why would I want to be on your list in the first place?”

There are many enticements to get you to join an email list. There’s some promise of good, relevant content from blogs, or daily deals from a couponing site, or updated product and support information from whatever ecommerce site sold you your last video camera or laptop.

All of those are showing some sort of expertise. When you show up to a site, there’s got to be some depth to it to get your prospects to sign up for a list. The information marketers do this by giving “previews” of their teaching content with a couple of articles or a video and then asking for your email address “to get full access”. There’s the promise of more (and better) content behind the opt-in wall, but to get that they have to provide content that doesn’t totally suck on the front end.

For the ecommerce store, the list building may just be based on the “I like your products, let me sign up and hope I get a discount or coupon” impulse, but even then the ecommerce site has shown some depth in the number or quality of products that it is offering to get the prospects to opt-in.

Here's a good chart for the kind of content you can create.

If you’re just starting out, how do you develop that expertise? Here are a few tips:

1. Act like a college student writing a paper.

By this I don’t mean sleep till noon and hack 5 pages together to turn in at 3pm. What I mean here is do your own research and analysis on the topic of your new site and use that to create content. Take a look at the established authors in the field, academic journals, articles in current news magazines, and then write up a summary piece. How does the point of view of the Times differ from Newsweek on the topics? What do the academic journals say about it? What conclusion do you come to when you synthesize those points?

Grab the top 5 or 10 questions or broad topics in your niche and write out some really good content following the above approach. That will give you some really good baseline content.

2. Read, and comment.

Keep on reading. Find the blogs in the field and articles that touch on or relate to it. For every one, write up your own blog post giving your own quick summary (even 100 words will do), include a quote from the piece if appropriate, and link back to the original article.

For more link juice, go to that blog and add a comment to the article. Make your blog comment a 1 sentence summary of your blog post and link to your blog post (with something like “I’ve expanded on this idea a bit more on my blog post here.”)

3. Rinse and repeat.

Keep going back and seeing what the big topics and trends are and use that to create your top content, then do the current news topics blog commenting to inject yourself in the niche and get both links and traffic back to your site.

Once you’ve got the initial run of content and comments done, you’ve started to build your own expertise and should be able to start getting email subscribers.

Make sure you have a plan for what you’re going to do once you get those subscribers on a list. (I hope you’ve already started to figure out what you’re going to sell to them or what actions you want them to take once they read your next email.)

I’ve found in the past that building up your own point of view and expertise on a topic can lead to growing a community interested in the niche that will help you build a long-term business. It does take a good bit of work, but it’s worth it in the long run.

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When building out web sites for ecommerce and affiliate marketing, we run the gamut of promotion strategies from PPC (pay per click) on the search engines to link building using article marketing, web 2.0 sites, etc.

We’re always looking for more networks to test out and services to try so that we can offload and automate as much as possible.

This past week we took a look at The service promises to get links built using contextual links within their existing blog network. The sales page talks about building those links, not as blogroll links, but as links within both new and existing blog posts.

The idea of getting a contextual links added to an existing (and indexed) blog post looked really good. This is one of the link prospecting methods that we already use, so if that could be automated on this new network, then that’s great. They’ll also create new content around a keyword if it isn’t in their inventory. Again, this is good since new blog posts tend to get indexed quickly. Even if the post page is new, as long as the domain name has some age to it and the root domain has some page rank, then cool.

We signed up for the monthly minimum of $47 for 179 link credits. Those links are dripped out at 1 to 20 per day per keyword/URL combination you choose. You can also set the maximum number of links each keyword/URL combination receives.

All in all, that’s looking good. I wish I had a management tool like this to build into a self-hosted blog network.

We let this run a couple of days and then went to inspect the links. Most of the pages were new, but that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was these “new” pages were postdated to late 2010 (Sept, Oct, and Nov dates were popular) and the domains were all showing 0 or 1 DA in the SEOMoz toolbar. None of the posts were indexed in the big G. More disturbing was the fact that many of the root domains were not cached in Google and only had a handful (around 30 pages) indexed when the blog itself has hundreds of pages.

This link network is bad. The domains are all new with no page or trust rank, the content is all scraped and Markoved autogenerated content (but with a contextual link!), and the pages are not indexed and look like once they get indexed will not stick.

Grab some blogger blogs and some cheap domains for better bang for your buck.

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Use Your Creativity

Fledgling Internet marketers often make things way too complicated. I’ve seen lots of questions lately taking one basic premise (build a site with content about your niche) and they really over-complicate things. You know the type – the risk averse “I have to get this right on the first shot” type.

I was one of those early on when learning to play the piano. I would get halfway through the 2nd or 3rd line of a piece and miss a note. I’d have to stop and go back to the very beginning of the piece and start all over again. Once I got to the complicated section and messed it up, I’d go back to the beginning again. Eventually I got frustrated, slammed my hands on the keys, and walked away in a huff.

Once I got to playing sports, there was no time to stop and reset if you made a mistake – you had to just roll with it and keep on going. If you really screwed up on a play, you hustled to recover – and you learned.

My band director at the time also instilled the same philosophy in me. When you’re performing, you can’t stop and go back, so you just have to suck it up and keep on going. During practice, you work on the few difficult bars and go on.

So, what does this have to do with marketing on the Internet?

Too many people are like me learning the piano. They are so focused on getting it right the first time, that they don’t allow for screwups or learning. If you’re so afraid to make a post or launch a site that you’re sweating out the internal linking structure before you’ve even registered for your domain, then I’m sorry – you need to shelve those dreams of blogging in your underwear and stick to the 9-5.

Use your creativity and experiment, however, and there’s a lot you can do. Here’s an example that I saw in a forum recently:

The person is writing up a strategy / tips guide for a video game. They have URLs for all of the different characters mapped out and he’s waffling between having pages on the site about each character, or pushing those off to article and web2.0 sites to point back to the product sales page. There is also a concern that by having information about the characters the value in the guide (special moves, etc) would be lost.

Using a little creative thinking, you can do it all. Here’s a simple way how:

Johnny Cage has a backstory

Johnny Cage has a backstory

Use the blog or CMS to put up the product and sales letter. Create the pages for your characters and make each an “athlete profile” similar to the athlete pages on Or, look at this Mortal Kombat page for Johnny Cage. Just take out the “Special Moves” and “Finishing Moves” sections and you’ve got your content page minus any of the juicy info that you want for the guide.

Now, rewrite that a couple of times and you’ve got extra content to push out to article or web2.0 sites.

That’s just the beginning of what you can do. All of these games have some sort of backstory. Mine that backstory, use your creativity, and suddenly you have an authority site on that game.

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Getting Stuck at the Start? Just take some action

So many people are having problems just getting started.

This won’t make you tons of money, but will get you moving:

Take this idea and do it on your own blogs (blogger and some of the other sites will shut your account down if you’re doing too much affiliate stuff.)

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Expanding from a niche to wider sales

This is the big task that we’re working on right now.

The site that I’m working on is very successful at SEO and sales within it’s niche. While efforts go forward to solidify that space, the product offering of the site is being expanded to transition from the niche to a broader market.

The way that we’re doing this is putting the new product line in the site with their own category and then running through some basic keyword research on what it will take to get the products to rank. One of the target products ranks #13 on Google for it’s product name (searched for over 13k times/month) just based on the strength of the domain that the page is sitting on.

The next steps for the test is to run link building and promotion efforts for the product and it’s page on the site and monitor the results. The challenge will be to gain clicks from searchers who see the niche-focused domain on our result vs. the more general named domains in other results. Once we reach page one, the headline (title) and meta-description will become very important for gaining clicks.

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Video Marketing: Selling by Entertaining

I received an email this morning that did a great job of getting me to click through onto the store’s web site. They didn’t sell me on the product (because it’s not something I need right now), but this looks to be a pretty good idea to test out in other markets.

The email was titled “Best Soccer Goal Ever?” and showed me a video thumbnail. When I clicked on it I was taken to the store’s web site, where they showed the YouTube video of a really sick indoor soccer goal.

As I’m watching the goal and the replays of it, I notice the description to the left of the video. They have added a description talking about how creative the Brazilian players are and how much practice it takes to get this good. Then in the second paragraph they state that you have to have really strong leg and back muscles to be able to pull this trick off, and that world class soccer players all use some type of medicine ball workout.

The sentence about the medicine ball workout was linked to a specific medicine ball product (most likely their best seller.)

Now, I’m not a soccer player, but if I were one and active in trying to improve on my skills, I sure would have clicked on that link.

The video inspired me. The copy, while sparse, provided me a way to achieve some of the greatness shown in the video.

Something to test in your own markets.

BTW – Here is the video:

Sick, eh?

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Hammerfist Explained Video

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Amazon Spends $2.50 to Hook Customer Loyalty

This morning I opened an email from Amazon that was about a recent order.  When I opened it and read it I suddenly had renewed love for Amazon and vowed to make my next purchases from them.

All they did was give me $2.50

Here’s the text of the email (with the order information stripped out):

Greetings from

During a recent review of your order, we noticed that we now offer a
lower price on “[Product]” than at the time you
placed your order.

We value your business and have requested a refund of $2.50 to your
credit card.  This amount reflects the difference between the price
you were charged and the current, lower price.  The refund should be
processed in the next few days and should appear as a credit on your
next billing statement.

You may view returns and refunds by clicking the “Your Account” link
at the top of our web site, then clicking “Go!” next to “open and
recently shipped orders.”  Completed refunds will appear at the bottom
of an individual order’s summary page.

Thank you for shopping at — we hope you will visit us
again soon.

Many web sites and stores have “low price guarantees” where if you see the price of the item lower within 30 days you can go back to the store and request a refund.  Those stores bank on you *not* requesting the refund – they load all of the benefit of the risk reversal statement into the front end.

Amazon has totally flipped this around.  Instead of making me see a lower price, get annoyed enough to call a customer service rep, and feel like I’ve got to jump through hoops to get a couple of bucks back, Amazon took the initiative.  They showed that the value me as a customer and value our “relationship” enough to invest that $2.50 in me.  What they’ve done is spend $2.50 on a customer loyalty program.

Amazon already had a good place in my mind – they ship fast and the prices are decent.  Maybe I could get something for a couple of dollars cheaper at another site, but my buying experience has always been good.  Now they are way at the top of my list because they showed that they are looking out for me and will work for me proactively.

So, they took what could be a customer service hassle and part of the “cost center” and flipped it into a marketing and customer loyalty/retention expense investment.

I’ve been inspired and am already looking for ways to surprise and delight my customers with proactive, customer-centric programs.

Would this work for you?  How can you apply it in your business?  (Please leave a comment to let me know.)

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Get Your Web Site Reviewed

For the past few years I’ve been working just on my own business and helping out friends who I know are working on getting their online presence moving.

Over the past 10+ years, I’ve been able to see a lot of the right and wrong with how people approach their web sites.  I’m still amazed at the people who think that all you need to do is toss up a web site and the cash will start flowing.

Look, it’s just another marketing channel.  (For my business, it’s a marketing channel that accounts for close to 80% of our revenues, but that’s not just the web site doing it.)  You still need to put time and effort into a site to get people there so that you can close those leads into sales.

Part of me really likes the teaching aspect of what consultants do, but I’m not planning on opening up a full bore consulting shop.  What I would like to do is get a little more experience doing some site reviews so that I can better share some of my experience.

Here’s the deal – If you put in your name, URL and a little bit about what you want to have reviewed, I’ll do a site review for you for free.  It’s going to be about 10 to 15 minutes in length and you agree that I can publish the whole thing to this blog.  You’re getting a free set of eyeballs on your site and your top business problem, so others get to have a chance to learn from it also.

Once I’ve done the freebies and you want a private review, then you’ll know what my style is and if it’s worth anything to you.

I’ll pick 10 out of comments left here in the next week.  After that I’ll get them posted to the blog as screencapture videos.


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Coopetition – Making friends with your Enemies

So many people like to use the war analogies for business.  Back in the 80s and the time of leveraged buy outs, hostile takeovers and then like that may have made sense.  In my business life, it’s been more of the guy’s approach to sports approach.

You may be my enemy here, on this field of play, but I never know when we may be on the same team, so let’s keep it civil.

In a prior corporate life one of my products was competing head to head with the entrenched 800lb gorilla of the industry.  Our revenue line existed because of two distinct groups of people:

(1) people really liked us – they had bought into our “tribe” and (2) people that were glad we were not the 800lb gorilla.

Not in it for coopetition

Not in it for coopetition

What both groups either did not realize or suppressed was that our product was a rebranding of the 800lb gorilla’s product.  Same back end, same specifications and standards.  The only things that were different were the back end service and support, and the name that showed up on the customers’ credit card bills.

Why then did the 800lb gorilla work with us at all?  Weren’t we the enemy?

No, through the magic of coopetition, we were their partner and without us they would be without a lot of revenue!

Our two companies worked together behind the scenes to bring a product to our respective customer bases.  We worked against each other in the marketplace to gain customers, but we were not the only two businesses going after that product category.  We each had a 3rd competitor that didn’t work with us and was the mortal enemy of our “partner”.

Even though “Gorilla Inc” would get more money by keeping the customer rather than let our company “Tribe Marketing” get it, they really didn’t want “Arch Nemesis Inc” grab those customers.  Now, some marketing manager at “Gorilla Inc” got the idea that they could keep all of the customers for themselves and locked “Tribe Marketing” out of a few geographic areas.  The result – they did not get as much revenue or profit as they did in similar sized markets where they let “Tribe Marketing” play with them.

Any business can use the same ideas.  Look out at your marketplace.  Who are your “enemies” on the playing field?  Now, which ones are aligned with your view of the marketplace?  Those are the companies that can make good targets for cooperative partnerships.

Sure, you’ll still be working against each other to grab customers or sell product in about 90% of what you do, but you’ll also be able to leverage your collective strengths in that other 10% and use that to steal marketshare from a 3rd entity that isn’t aligned with what you do.

Coopetition is a funny little thing, because it turns the whole idea of a “zero sum game” on its head.  When you work closely with your competition in strategic areas, you both can come out way ahead.

What do you think?  What are some ways you’ve used coopetition to help out your business?

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