How to build a successful website

How to build a successful website

Yesterday, someone asked me for my best advice on how to build a successful website or blog. Here’s my answer, along with 6 useful resources for you.

The answer that came to mind immediately, was this: The technology that builds a successful website is not as important as your ability to communicate a useful message, in a compelling way, to the reader.

In short: Put the content before the technology.

The world is packed with great looking websites, which no one notices. That’s because the people who own those sites saw the need for their site to LOOK great, but they didn’t invest in great content.

Where to start?

If you want to create compelling content, the best way to start is to put yourself in the shoes of your target readership. Speak to them, in their language, about what matters to them.

For example:

  • Answer their questions.
  • Empathise with them.
  • Share useful resources with them.

And if you want them to get in touch with you, be approachable.

PS – Here are 6 useful resources, to help you write compelling content:

Are you 1 question away from 10,000 daily readers?

How to write great, creative content every day.

Get better results from your content, by removing these 3 words.

How approachable are you?

8 Tips to help you attract more readers, sales and business leads.

It’s all about doing the work.

Now, you’re on track to build a successful website. Just remember, content first, technology second.

From 0 to 60 in just 11 days!

11 eleven

I’d like to share some interesting feedback with you, which could really help you with your Internet marketing.

It started 11 days ago…

Just 11 days ago, I decided to redesign and totally rework the format of my Creative Thinking site. I chose to completely ignore the typical format used for blogging. Previously, the site used the more traditional, longer post format. The new format is based on an idea I had back in 2010, where posts could be made from the type of tiny updates you would usually just put on Facebook or Twitter.

Here’s how I have been publishing over the past 11 days, followed by some interesting results:

  • Posts are super short – way too short for SEO.
  • No SEO keyword loading.
  • Some content is curated.
  • Post titles are written in plain English.
  • Instead of adding a few posts a week, I added a few posts a day.

The reason I’m sharing this with you

By using that different, short, non-SEO format on my Creative Thinking site, subscriber numbers grew more in those 11 days, than in the 18 months previous! In fact, subscriber numbers are now 137% higher than they were 11 days ago.

And… it’s all human driven.

This means the growth of the site (and the tribe) is 100% in my hands… rather than being outsourced to Google!


It is entirely possible to create a new site or, as I have done, breathe new life into an old site, WITHOUT bothering about search engines or following their rules. By creating useful content and becoming respected for curating useful content, people, real people, will embrace your work and share your work.

No, I am not suggesting this approach is for everyone. It isn’t.

Yes, I am suggesting that if you have been dancing the Google dance and still not getting the results you want, a more human approach may be just what you need. This is especially the case, if you want to build a community or tribe around your work.

For more information, take a look at the following 2 posts:

Getting less traffic from Google? Here’s why it may not matter soon.

Stop writing for Google. Really. Stop it!

How NOT to improve your website or blog


Did you ever read a post by Seth Godin, which says how some amazing piece of software (or plugin), helped him create the most popular marketing blog in the world?


That’s because it didn’t happen like that.

In fact…

It never happens like that!

Like every top blogger I know, the success of Seth’s site had nothing to do with ‘special’ software or plugins. Read more here…

It’s always about great content, professionally marketed to the right people.

Average content, marketed in an average way, produces average results… no matter how many special plugins a site has.

Why there’s so much unnecessary software out there

Mel Brooks explains it perfectly with this joke. It’s about a guy who owns a tiny store in the middle of nowhere. A customer walks in and is surprised to see boxes of salt stacked on every shelf.

The customer says: ‘Wow! You have a lot of salt – how come salt is so popular here?’

The store owner replies: ‘Salt isn’t popular here. I can’t even remember the last time I sold any salt.’

The customer then says: ‘So why do you have so much salt in stock?’

The store owner looks at him and says: I can’t sell salt… but the guy who sells me salt can REALLY sell salt!

Salty software

That’s why there are so many people right now, with under performing blogs and websites that are packed full of salty software.

It’s generally of little, if any, value… but the Internet marketing experts selling the salt, are REALLY good at selling salt!

2 Reasons not to be a copycat writer

copycats, copywriting

As many of you were kind enough to point out, one of the world’s biggest websites ‘borrowed very heavily’ from a post I wrote last week. They did so with no reference to my original post and yet people spotted it immediately.

There are 2 useful lessons here, which I would like to share with you.

1. Copies seldom have the same impact as the original

Even though that site gets millions of visitors, their rewritten version of my post achieved just 30% as many social shares as my original.

Why? Because by padding out my points so that his post wasn’t an exact copy, the power of my original post was lost. He’d wasted his time. He deserves better than that. Time is too important to waste.

Had he started with my post, referenced it and then expanded on the original or added some new, relevant information, he could have improved my work and avoided the embarrassment that followed.

2. People notice

Within an hour of the rewritten post being published, people started contacting me via email, Facebook and Google+ to tell me. Although I decided not to join in (I found it interesting but unimportant), the conversations on social networks naming the author and site have created a bit of an embarrassment for them both.

Here’s the thing: Every piece of work we produce will get noticed, to a lesser or greater degree. If we do anything we are not proud of, as soon as we hit send or publish, it’s out there.

Thankfully, the opposite is also true

When you put your own work out there and share your own ideas, people value the uniqueness of your contribution.

It makes you stand out from the ‘ditto heads‘ who just agree with everything.

It makes you stand out from the copycats, who copy everything.

It makes you stand out for being you!

PS — Here’s some great advice from Steve Jobs and Picasso, on why it’s a bad idea to copy other people’s work.

Is Google’s SEO loophole hurting your business too? Here’s how to check

google problem

Google has opened the door to an aggressive SEO tactic, Negative Backlink SEO.

Here’s what it is, how it works, how to tell if you’re being targeted and how to stop it hurting your business!

Negative backlink SEO

Google now proactively punishes sites, which are linked to from sites with a bad reputation. Previously, Google only punished you, if you linked from your site to a ‘bad neighbourhood’. This included link farms, article directories, link exchange portals, etc.

Now, you get punished if they link to you – even if you know nothing about it!

So, your competitors or anyone who would like to hurt your business, can do so simply by linking to your site from dubious sites or directories. They can do it anonymously too.

The move by Google is supposedly aimed at stopping websites from buying links or exchanging links, in order to boost their search rankings. Instead, it has created a huge headache and Google is showing no sign of relenting.

Are you being targeted?

The only way to know if your site is being targeted, is to monitor the sites that link to you. There are lots of tools to do this, some you pay for others are free.

If you use Google analytics, you can set up a Google Webmaster account for free and it will provide you with a list of all the links it can see, which point back to your site (backlinks). You can access Google Webmaster Tools here. The benefit of using Google’s solution is that it shows you what Google can see and as Google is the hub of the problem, this makes sense.

I have also found other backlink tools often inaccurate, when testing them. There are over 107,000 backlinks to Jims Marketing Blog, with most backlink apps and programs only able to find between 10% and 20% of them.

Fixing the problem

Technically, this should be pretty simple. You find the toxic links using Google Webmaster Tools, then send the links to Google, using their Disavow Tool You can find it here. Google then disavows (or accepts you show no responsibility) for those links and stops penalising you. You then ask Google to reconsider the penalty it applied to you and hope for the best. Here’s how Google’s Disavow Tool works.

In reality, this can be a massive pain in the ass. New, toxic backlinks can be added to your site at any time, meaning you need to remember to check for new links, regularly.

Also, if you’re new to this, it can be hard to tell a valuable link from a toxic link. Some toxic links come from URL’s that look pretty normal and some genuinely great links come from URL’s that seem dubious. So, be very careful what links you decide to ask Google to disavow. Whilst you can reverse the process, it’s best to be sure before you disavow anything.

You can also email the site owner, to ask if they will manually remove the link or links to your site. Obviously, your success will depend on whether the site owner wants to help or even if the site linking to you is still being actively managed.

Google is not the only game in town

Google has never changed the rules as often or as dramatically as it does today. As I wrote a few days ago, many small business owners are seeing Google search traffic drop like a stone. I received dozens of emails from people following that post, whose businesses are suffering seriously from these changes. It’s a very real problem. One that Google seems oblivious to.

Thankfully Google is not the only game in town. It is just one component of Internet marketing.

So, regardless of whether you are being punished by Negative Backlink SEO or any of the other 3 changes Google has made recently, I strongly recommend you diversify your Internet marketing.

You’re not scared: You just need the right strategy

seth godin, fear

We live in a golden age of marketing, with amazing opportunities for you to grow a hugely successful business. So, what are you doing with it all?

Today, you can share your ideas via blogs, email and social networks and build a community of people, who are interested in your work and what you have to say. Moreover, you can do it for peanuts. When done correctly, this generates regular inquiries from highly targeted prospective clients.

What an amazing opportunity.

What does the typical small business owner do?

They decide not to build a community around their own ideas, beliefs and thoughts. Instead, they create social networking accounts for their business, then mostly fill them with the thoughts, links and work of other people. They start a blog, but fill it with generic ‘me too’ content that tells us nothing about them, their beliefs or ideas.

Yes, they get follower numbers, but no community. In fact, most people that follow them will know very little about them or their business.

I was prompted to write this, after hearing some very strong words on the subject from marketing thought leader, Seth Godin. I provide a link to the audio below, so you can hear what he has to say, in context (it’s around 7 and a half minutes in).

No personality, invisible conduits

During the 15th episode of Seth Godin’s Start Up School podcast, Seth called those who regularly share his content and the content of other well known experts (rather than their own ideas): “No personality, invisible, conduits”.

Seth continues: “These people aren’t showing the guts to say, I have a point of view. I have something to say.”

That’s a little harsh and very different to my experience of business owners. Very few of whom are gutless.

It’s not guts that small business owners lack

I disagree with Seth’s belief that it’s fear, which primarily stops people from creating their own content.

I started what’s now called Content Marketing in 1998, with my marketing newsletter. Over the years, I have spoken with countless small business owners, about building their business via email, then via blogging and social networks.

Do you know what stops them?

Here’s a clue: It’s not fear!

In the majority of cases, they simply don’t know what to do or where to start. It’s a strategy they need.

They don’t want to waste time just adding to all the noise that’s already out there. They want results. Let’s not forget, business owners have already shown the courage to start their businesses, often leaving ‘safe’ careers to do so.

When business owners know what to do and they can clearly see the direct commercial benefit of sharing their own ideas, most will get straight to work on it. They are not gutless – certainly not those I work with.


If you are not developing effective marketing assets online right now, stop what you are doing. Then, either learn how to build an effective content marketing strategy or hire someone who can show you exactly what you need to do.

Yes, feel free to share other people’s content, but remember to tell us who you are and what you think. It’s the latter, which creates community, builds relationships and drives marketing success online.

Getting less traffic from Google? Here’s why it may not matter soon

Less traffic from google, google traffic

If you’re one of many business owners experiencing a drop in search traffic from Google, here are 3 important changes you need to know about.

I’m also going to explain why I believe Google search traffic could be of less importance to your business soon.

The first change: Google changing the rules dramatically and often

For years, business owners have relied heavily on Google to generate online sales or inquiries. They danced the Google dance. They did what Google wanted. They invested heavily in SEO, either financially or by pouring their valuable time into making their site the way Google wanted it.

And it worked. Consistently.

Then something happened!

Google decided to change the rules dramatically and regularly. Suddenly, what worked, no longer worked. What was once within Google’s guidelines, was suddenly outside their guidelines. It’s causing a lot of small business owners a lot of pain, as they fall lower and lower down the rankings.

The best SEO experts are starting to figure out how to work with the new search engine landscape. If you can’t afford the best, it may be some time before the rest of the SEO industry catch up. However, this is not the only reason you may be seeing worse results from Google. It’s not even the most important reason.

Two far bigger changes are happening, which are lowering the value of organic (natural unpaid) search results – even if you manage to rank on the first page.

The second change: Google has made your organic search results less visible

At the same time as Google changed the way it ranks sites, it made those sites that do rank, harder for prospective customers to find.


By burying your organic search results below an increasing number of Google ads. Now, for many valuable search terms, your prospective customers will see a page full of ads from your competitors, BEFORE they see your organic search results. All the results in the screen below are paid ads.

For instance: On my MacBook Pro, I needed to scroll down the screen, past ELEVEN paid ads, to see the first organic search result! (See below)

Less traffic from google, google traffic

So, even if your SEO gets you the number 1 organic slot on the first page of Google’s Search Engine Results, it may provide fewer sales or inquiries than before, because that number 1 organic search position is buried under so many paid ads.

The third change: Google sends less traffic to sites than before

The third change, is that Google search may be becoming less relevant with fewer people using it. Google search traffic could be 30% down on last year, according to a huge study!

This report from buzzfeed looked at Google search traffic to leading sites, including: The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. In total, the sites it tracked have a readership of 300 million. That’s a lot of data. They found that between August 2012 and March 2013, search traffic from Google nosedived an incredible 30%. That’s a huge drop in such a short time.

However, it was expected. Here’s why!

The rise of social search

It seems that people are now increasingly asking their social networks for recommendations and answers. These networks have added a totally new dynamic, to the way we find information online.

Think about it. Which would YOU trust more:

  1. A restaurant recommendation from a trusted friend on a social network, who knows what you like.
  2. A restaurant that appears on Google via a paid ad or simply because they have good SEO.

It’s no contest.

Facebook has invested heavily in Facebook graph search, which was launched in March 2013 and looks set to eat into even more of the Google search user base. Other social networks, including Twitter and Linkedin, have search facilities too, which they are now developing constantly.

Why these changes?

Simple: Google is trying to make as much money as it can. There’s nothing surprising here. It’s a business after all.

Google has a near monopoly on search and is now leveraging that power, to get you to pay them if you want to be found.

Unless… you choose to take control of your Internet marketing away from Google and make SEO and SEM (search engine marketing), just part of your Internet marketing strategy.

Diversify your Internet marketing

This post from 2010 was largely scoffed at, when I suggested people should rely less on Google and use a wider, human focused approach to their online marketing.

Some listened to me. They started building their social networks, created communities around their businesses and stopped writing keyword optimised content for Google – choosing to write for humans instead. As a result, people now talk about their products and services and share their content all over social networks.

That’s an approach I recommend you at least add, to your overall marketing strategy.

In short: Stop relying on Google (or any one tactic) for the majority of your business. Instead, build a community (or tribe). Spread your reach and spread your risk.

You don’t have to ignore SEO, especially if you optimise for search terms, which few competitors buy Google ads for.

Just make sure your online marketing consists of more than keeping Google happy. Too many eggs in one basket is seldom a wise, long term strategy.

Content Marketing: Get better results, by removing these 3 words

3 three

In my opinion, there’s no real need to insert the first 3 words of this sentence into your newsletter, blog or social networking update. What you write is, by default, your opinion.

Here’s why I want you to reconsider using those words in your marketing messages, unless you legally have to.

Hands up time!

The reason I am sharing this with you, is that I just caught myself writing the words ‘in my opinion’, in a blog post I am working on. It immediately dawned on me how totally redundant those words are.

Moreover, they would have significantly diluted my message — just as they can dilute your marketing messages.

Why do we feel the need to say in my opinion, when we state our opinion?

I asked myself that question and here’s what I came up with: I think it’s a way to make a point, which is harder for others to attack. If I start a statement saying in my opinion, I have distanced myself from stating it as a fact.

For example:

  • If I say the new XYZ book is terrible, I am stating what I believe to be true. The book is terrible. Period.
  • If I say that in my opinion, the new XYZ book is terrible, I’m stating that it’s possibly a great book, but I thought it was terrible.

Of course, in both those examples I am giving my opinion. The thing is, that first statement sounds so much stronger. It tells you exactly what I believe. The second statement comes with a qualification, in case you disagree. Even though, as I said a moment ago, in both cases I am giving you my opinion.

The next time you find yourself about to dilute your message or soften a statement, by saying in my opinion, think whether you really need to use those three words or not.

A word of caution

Yes, there are legal reasons why you may need to put a qualifying comment before a statement, in some circumstances. Telling people that food at the XYZ restaurant is low grade dog food, without stating it as your opinion, could land you in trouble in some parts of the world.

However, if you are stating something you believe, as I have with this post, there’s no need for you to say, in my opinion. Those three words will almost always weaken your message. We know it’s your opinion, without you telling us.

If you can make your point without those 3 words, you get to express what you believe to your readers at a deeper, more intimate and maybe more honest level. This is especially useful for those of you seeking to position yourself as a leader or authority in your field.

Comment Liberation

Comment liberation

As long time readers will know, this blog has had a serious comment spam problem for some time. Today, I believe I have the best possible solution: Comment liberation.

I currently  attract around 3,000 automated spam comments every day, trying to bypass the various filters I have in place. I also get human generated spam, from people who manage to bypass the filters and need to be manually moderated. It takes a lot of time dealing with the spam problem and also the knock-on problems caused by the spammers.

The comment moderation time suck

I thought I had found a solution, but the solution itself has caused just as big a time suck as the original problem. The various filters I have applied to the blog to catch the spammers also catches legitimate comments and stops people every day from leaving comments. I then get emails from them asking where their comment is and have to get into the software, fish their comment out, add their ip address to a safe list, then publish their comment.

I looked at other commenting systems and each does some of what I need but none do everything. However, all of them offered an option for comments from social networks to be pulled into the blog.

This got me thinking

I then had a bit of an epiphany. I found myself asking better questions:

Why do I actually need to monopolize comments here on the blog? Surely it would make more sense to liberate comments, so people could make them wherever they want, without me moderating anything?

Even if I had zero issue with spam comments and trackback spam, I’m not sure it makes sense (for me) to hog the comments here on my blog.

Yes, hosting comments on a blog is a good idea and has a number of advantages for most bloggers. Here are just a few:

  • It generates more page impressions to their site, as those who comment or follow the discussion on their blog keep returning to comment or check for new comments.
  • It could help with SEO, as new comments may count as ‘frequently updated content’, something Google rewards.
  • If the blogger doesn’t publicly publish their email address or they get very few email comments, it’s a useful way for them to get feedback from a subset of their readers.

None of those apply to me:

  • I don’t need page impressions, as I have no advertisers to keep happy.
  • I don’t SEO the site beyond the absolute basics. I write it exclusively for humans and not robots.
  • I talk to readers about my posts daily on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
  • I publish my email address publicly and get feedback all day every day from readers (which I love).

Social networks have given everyone a voice

I connect every day with readers on social networks, something that wasn’t possible when I started blogging. Every reader now has an account with at least one social network, giving them a voice and a community to say what THEY think about what they read.

All this for less than 7% of the feedback I receive

It’s insane that I currently spend almost as much time dealing with comment spam and the issues it creates, as I spend writing blog posts! All this aggravation makes so little sense, when you consider that published comments on average, make up around 7% of my entire daily feedback from the blog.

Comment liberation

So, as from this post, I will be closing the comments here and opening up the conversation, by passing it over to you, to talk about wherever you wish. Social networks and email is, after all, where most of the conversation around my work has been for the past 18 months, anyway.

If you want to chat with me away from the gaze of your social network, you are very welcome to email me. My email address, is on every page of this blog. My full address and phone number are listed here.

Not for everyone

Not only is my approach not right for every blogger, I think it’s the wrong approach for the vast majority of bloggers. For example:

  • If your business model needs the additional page impressions that come from comments, this is not for you.
  • If you prefer to have the conversation hosted on your property, this is not for you.
  • If you write just a couple of times a week or less and have lots of time to moderate comments, this is not for you.
  • If you are just getting established and need the social proof, which lots of comments can provide, this is not for you.
  • If you don’t get regular emails from readers and need comments as a way to see what people think about your posts, then this is not for you either.

However, I truly believe this is the best way for me to provide you with as much value as possible. As you would expect, I will look at the situation over the coming weeks and let you know what my experience has been.

Clearly, if I find I have made a mistake, which is possible, I will try another solution.

Bloggers: Social search and the freedom to focus on quality

Social search is changing the game for business owners who blog and create content. Thankfully, it’s changing things in our favour and that’s what today’s post is all about.

Even the best search engine is flawed

Whilst regarded by many as the best search engine available, even Google search is extremely easy to fool and still often rewards frequently updated content, over high quality content. As a result, people like myself who find it easy to write regularly, and those who use super-smart SEO to game Google, often outrank far better writers.

The answer is here… well, almost!

Thankfully, traditional search is becoming less and less relevant, as social search, (recommendations from our social networks), soar. I can either go to Google or Bing and search for what a machine ‘thinks’ is a great article about marketing – or I can see what my friends, the people I know and trust, recommend.

Google themselves really get social search and have spent hundreds of millions of dollars (maybe more) on the development of their own social network. Whilst the Google team do not call Google+ a social network, it’s a place where you can network and share ideas with like-minded people. I connect there with almost 20,000 people and it certainly feels like a social network – a darn good one, too! You can join me on Google+ here.

Social recommendations from people you trust

Even if your prospective customers are not asking their networks for recommendations, it has never been easier for them to find what their friends recommend.

With the advent of Facebook’s social graph, you will soon be able to get that information extremely quickly. Twitter search and Google+ search are already there and make it simple to see what your friends recommend. The image below is a screen shot of what I saw, when I did a Google+ search, to see what business books were being recommended by people I know.

I trust this far more than a search result, which could well have been gamed.

social search


Freedom to focus on quality

I believe that those who have been put off blogging, because they either lacked the inclination to publish regularly or the time / money to get their SEO ‘right’, should reconsider.

I suggest they change their approach, so that they focus on publishing useful blog posts, when they have something useful to share – then share it on their social networks. If they are writing something of value, their friends will share it with their friends and a subset of THEIR friends will share it…

Ironically, if enough of their friends link to it and share it, it may also do well in search engines. This is especially the case if you use basic SEO (and you should).

For WordPress bloggers, I recommend Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin. It gives you the freedom to write exclusively for humans, whilst making your work visible by getting the basics right.

Google doesn’t own your voice!

Google is just a company, a huge and influential company, but just a company. Don’t give them too much control over what you have to say. You own your voice – not Google.

  • Tell us who you are and what you know.
  • Tell us how you can help.
  • Answer our most pressing questions.
  • Become a valued online resource.

The search engines may or may not ‘rank’ all that value. However, people will and it’s people who hire you and buy from you. It’s the model I have used here for almost 6 years and it works extremely well.