Search engine optimization isn’t always fun. There. I said it. I know some of you out there are thinking the same thing.
That’s why I’ve been such a big fan of Fraser Cain since he and I first talked about a year ago. Fraser has figured out an SEO strategy that cuts out the most annoying part – link building.
There are two components to successful SEO: optimized content and links pointing to that content. The first part (content) is straightforward. The second part (link building) is a pain, it takes a lot of time and effort, and it can quickly border on doing things that the search engines consider off limits.
Fraser Cain receives an impressive stream of 80,000 visits per day to his popular astronomy and space site called Universe Today. The beauty of this strategy is that it focuses 100% on quality content and requires zero link building.
Fraser was incredibly generous to share his entire strategy in this interview. We also talked about the special tool he created to automate much of this killer SEO technique.
Get a free trial of Keyword Strategy, the tool Fraser created and uses to attract millions of search visitors every month.
Read the full transcript below if you prefer text to video. You can also download the audio file if you’d rather listen to the interview.
Or, skip to the comments. I’d love to hear your take on Fraser’s approach to SEO and whether you’ve had much luck with either traditional or this new method before.
— full unedited transcript follows —
Corbett Barr: Hey everybody. It’s Corbett Barr from Think Traffic. I’m here today with Fraser Cain from Universe Today and Key Word Strategy. Fraser and I have been talking quite a bit over the past I’d say what year or so. Fraser first reached out to me as a nice gesture to give me a little bit of insight into what he was working on and since then it’s really come together. Fraser has a really unique aspect of SEO that I think you guys are really going to enjoy and he’s built that into a tool that can make your life a whole lot easier if you’re trying to do any sort of SEO.
So first off Fraser I just wanted to let everybody know that I’ve seen your search traffic numbers for Universe Today and it’s pretty mind blowing actually what you’ve done and we were just talking actually the first time I saw your numbers I think was two or three months ago at which point you were getting 60,000 visits per day from the search engines. That’s not per month, per day and you just updated me. How many are you getting now per day?
Fraser Cain: It’s about 80 now. I think I really got boosted in this latest panda update so whatever I was doing Google seemed to like it a lot better than what a lot of other people were getting so I did really well.
The neat thing about it is that three years ago I was getting about 3500 visitors a day and now I’m getting 60,000, 80,000 and the other cool thing about it is it’s built across literally millions of key words. So when you go into Google Analytics and you look at the number of keywords that people used to find your site I had – I guess it was February when they issued the stats or March – it was 1.3 million visitors from the search engines across 900,000 keywords. So it’s not just about really dominating any specific keyword. It’s about really having a really broad stable set of terms that people are searching for.
Corbett: So the thing I think really impress me about your technique which we can get into is the fact that it really doesn’t rely on any link building. When we talk about SEO like that’s the thing that people get hung up on the most is link building and anybody can build a page and optimize and so on but if you’re not willing to go out there and pound the pavement and create all this forum links and all this kind of stuff or do link building campaigns then it becomes kind of a nonstarter. People just dead end when they try SEO but your technique is really just about producing really great content and it’s something that you sort of discovered naturally right?
Fraser: Yeah. Right. So the traditional concept of SEO is these three things. You’ve got to make your site crawlable by the search engines so that people can find what you’ve got and you don’t have duplicate titles and you’ve got your canonical tags and all of that. It’s a very scientific process just to make sure that your site is accessible.
The second thing is to create the kind of content that people are looking for and then the third part is build links until your fingers bleed and you go crazy.
Well I just don’t do the third one. I just do the first two. You make sure that your site is really well navigable by people in the search engines. You make sure that the content on the site is great and it’s the kind of thing your audience is looking for, you don’t need to do the third one, the link building.
This is reinforced by Google. If you go and you look at the Google Webmaster Videos with Matt Cutts talking this is what he’s saying. He’s saying – people are like “What are some legitimate ways that I can build some links?” He says “Do some original research or create some material that people are really looking for or…”
That’s the kind of stuff that will naturally get you links. So you want to create the content that is as good as you can so that people are going to link to it naturally. Again I have, if you take a look at the University Today, I have millions and millions of links. I didn’t build any but they are just all there naturally.
So I think what you are getting at with the experiment… Yeah I happened upon this accidentally. I was driving in the car with my daughter and she wanted to know what’s the biggest star in the universe. I’m like “I don’t know. I guess I’ll look into it and why don’t I write an article when I find out what the answer is.”
So I went and I wrote the article what is the biggest star in the universe. We came to the answer and I put it on the site and any blogger who’s worked in this field knows this rise and fall of your traffic.
You post a new article, you get a bunch of visitors and then within a few days the number of visitors tails down and then you just set back to zero. So it’s this task were you’re rolling this rock up the hill and it just keeps rolling back down and you gotta start again from scratch every time.
But this article instead of rising up and then sinking back down, the amount of visitors coming to it just stayed exactly the same. So it was if every few days it was like I had a free ghostwriter who was writing articles on my website and bring in traffic and I found out that the actual traffic from this article was better than any other traffic that I had ever seen, that these people were likely to subscribe to my newsletter, these people were more valuable for my advertisers. So it was just a better kind of traffic than anything else I had.
So I thought we’ll see if we can make lightning strike twice. So I did an article about why Pluto wasn’t a planet and the same thing happened and still those two articles are some of the highest traffic articles on my whole website and they’re like three and a half years old and I put a lot of effort and work into getting to the bottom of the questions.
The realization that I really had is that you need to appreciate that a lot of people who are in the Internet, they’re looking for something, they’re actually typing in a query into the search engines and they’re looking for something and that stuff is gonna be related to what you’re doing and you have all those expertise. In your case you have expertise in growing traffic to a website. In my case I had all these expertise about information about space and I had internalized it. I knew all about the Apollo missions and all of the Mars missions and how many stars there are in the galaxy and that kind of stuff but I had never made it available on the website in any kind of organized fashion.
I thought I keep seeing all these searches so why don’t I just continue on and so now I’ve added thousands of pages to the site and each one sort of fills a niche for what people are looking for and it just adds to the traffic on my website and I found that the more of this that I do the more authority that it builds on my website and it just builds the traffic naturally.
I have no idea what keywords I rank for although I rank number two for universe. Other than that I don’t really know; 900,000 keywords is just too many. I think the big problem is that people get hung up on what is my rank for this keyword or that keyword and that’s the wrong thing to be thinking about. You need to be thinking about am I getting more traffic in the search engines. That’s it. If I get more traffic from the search engines then I know that what I’m doing is on the right track and the way you get more traffic from the search engines is you just feed them what they want.
Corbett: I’ve heard actually that up to a third of searchers every day are brand-new searches that have never been typed before but you’re right. I think people get really hung up on these trophy key words. They try to rank for big, huge… and it’s something you could say. It makes you proud but the amount of traffic you get from the word universe probably pales in comparison to the overall traffic you get from the search engines.
Fraser: And it’s more of how good that traffic is.
Fraser: So people who are searching for universe.
Corbett: Who knows what they’re looking for?
Fraser: Exactly. Right. But when a person is looking for space news about the space shuttle mission then they are more likely to subscribe on my RSS feeds or follow my Twitter feed or things like that so it’s just a more effective kind of traffic and then of course the irony is that in the end if you work on the building authority you do end up ranking highly for those higher terms.
Corbett: Right. So what’s the trick here? It sounds like I just have to write good content. So what’s the catch? What prevents a lot of people from doing this and what would make it hard for someone to take on as a project?
Fraser: Well I think it’s important to distinguish between blogging and what I’m talking about. I’m not sure if it really has a name yet. I think the content farm is an example of that done for evil where you take some long tail search terms, you outsource it to the Philippines, you find some person who is willing to work $.50 an hour and just write gobbledygook. That’s what’s getting punished.
But I think they’re encountering that same thing which is that there’s this huge hunger for knowledge and honestly a pretty mediocre amount of answers out there and it just hasn’t been worth people’s time to focus on these articles.
So I think that news on the internet, new information from blogging and all that comes from a publishing mindset where people say “I’m gonna write what I think is important.” And that’s very very important: an opinion piece, a news piece that’s all really really key. It’s very interesting to read. I love it and I write some of it.
But I think that that’s different from understanding that there are certain pieces of information on that people are looking for and so what you have to do is you have to identify and understand what people are searching for and then you had to put yourself into their mindset and say “If I search for that what would I want? What would be the thing that would just make me so glad that I had discovered it if I type it into the search engines?”
You look at every query and that’s where you start from. There’s lots and lots of tools that you can use to discover what people are searching for and then it’s a matter of incorporating that into your website in a way that makes sense in addition to the other stuff that you’re doing: the blogging, the social networking, the whatever service you provide.
So with Universe Today I provide news about space and astronomy all the way to shuttle launches, that kind of thing but I also provide all of these Wikipedia style information about what topics people are looking for and it all just kind of blends together and you see that play out.
I think that’s what got Huffington Post such a high valuation when they got sold to AOL is that people Huffington Post are absolute masters of this. They understand that every news article that they write they have to consider the search engine optimization rationale for it and feed that all in. If you look at their articles you’ll see what they’re doing.
So this can also play out both in just the news. It’s a matter of understanding is this a breaking news event you need to understand how searchers are going to be searching for it so that you can be in their eyes when they are.
Corbett: Right. So you built this process that you use that’s gotten you from 3,000 visits a day to 80,000 visits a day from the search engines. You built this process over a few years and you’ve written thousands of articles so you must have looked at if you’ve written thousands of articles that mean you’ve looked at tens or hundreds of thousands of keywords I would imagine. It’s gotta be crazy. How do you manage all that? This is what led to the tool that you created right?
Fraser: That’s right. It’s exactly right. So anyone who’s ever done this they know what I’m talking about. You go to Google Adwords External Keyword Tool and it’s this really great interface that Google provides, you put in some seed key words and then it comes back with details about related keywords and the amount of traffic that these keywords get. You could put in one simple seed keyword and it’s gonna come back with 800 keywords and they’re all gonna have traffic values.
Some people are searching for some keyword 5,000 times a month. Some people are searching for it a hundred times a month and only five people are searching for it. So that gives you a sense of what people are looking for and so what I just did was I built a database on my own home computer, on my work machine and then as I was working with Google tool I imported in just spreadsheet after spreadsheet and just built up this big database so there’s a list of key words that I wanted to target, the ones that I hadn’t yet and then also tried to group things to figure out what was really doing what so that I wasn’t doing the same work twice.
Once I have gotten the database I worked with a programmer Alex who’s my partner in keyword strategy. Once I got the database to the point that I was really happy with it and it was really saving me time I thought “Oh. This can be useful for other people as well.” So I talked to Alex. I said “Well why don’t we see about making a public version of this that’s got a lot more features, a lot slicker that can really solve other people’s problems as well because if it’s a problem for me it’s a problem for everybody who runs successful website.”
Corbett: I have to say I’ve used keyword strategy a bit over the past couple of months and I’m actually working on a version of the strategy that you’ve laid out here that you’ve used for Universe Today for my own sites and it’s really cool because not only does it pull in keywords which like you said there are some tools out there that can do that but it also connects to your site. You have some ability to connect my site and see where I’m getting traffic from and then match that up with existing keywords so I know which ones I’m already ranking for which ones I’m not, which ones you have suggestions in there telling me that I should be changing something on the page or linking to this page more and so it does all of these things that a good SEO knows that they need to do but when you start managing hundreds and thousands of keywords it becomes a real chore so this automates all that essentially.
Fraser: Yeah. You hit some of the highlights. When you sign up with the service we index your whole website and we then kind of dismantle your website and break up where all the pages are and then we’ll look up all the keywords that you’ve identified in your projects and you’ve got thousands of keywords and then we’ll match them so that you’ll go “Oh you’ve got an article on your website about building traffic and you got keyword building traffic so let’s connect them together.”
Then our WordPress plug-in for example will automatically link those topics on your website so if a person sees building traffic and they click it, it takes them over to your building traffic page. We’ll keep track of your rank for all the search terms that you’re looking. We track all the traffic that comes back to your website for all of the keywords that you’ve identified so if a person searches for Think Traffic, we can count the number of times that comes in.
We’ll keep track of all of your internal links. We’ll keep track of all the back links and help you identify any new ones although like I said I personally don’t build back links but there are a lot of people that like to so we can keep track of all that.
Yeah it’s pretty neat. We’ll keep track of your Twitter mentions, your Facebook mentions. You can have alerts sent to you by e-mail. So every little thing that an SEO needs to do we just tried to get that automated but it’s from a keyword standpoint. It’s that mindset. You’re like “I want to target 30,000 keywords. Here they all are. How do I get through them in a process that doesn’t drive me crazy?”
Corbett: Right and you also have a bunch of learning on the site I should mention. You have videos that explain how to do your process with the keyword strategy tool and also just over the past couple of months that I’ve been using the tool, you’ve updated it like I don’t know half a dozen times already. It seems like you’re coming out with new updates every week almost.
Fraser: We’re coming out with updates almost every day.
Fraser: Yeah. It’s the modern Internet dream. It’s me and it’s Alex. He’s the coder. I’m looking at it from the business standpoint and doing the writing and all the networking all that kind of stuff but we will think of an idea and within a day it will be working on the site.
Corbett: Pretty cool right?
Fraser: “We should integrate Twitter because that would be really useful.” And then we talk and we hash it out and we talk about how we want to make it work and then a day later he’s like “Okay. I’ve got it working. It’s hidden right now but if people want to check it out they can check it out.” Then we let people know.
I even had a customer I was talking to on Skype. He was letting me know what he needed it to do. I loved the idea. I brought in Alex into the conversation. We talked about it and Alex coded it up in real time and then added it to the system so that by the end of the conversation there’s a new feature on the system. The client was able to use it. We were able to use it and then I announced it and lots of people thought it was great.
But it’s just this new way of working. There are no boardrooms. There are no meetings. There’s no conversation. There’s just doing and I just love it. I’m a huge fan of 37 signals and it’s very much in that kind of real work mold.
Corbett: Yeah. That’s the agility of having a small company.
Fraser: Yeah. We’re already profitable. I think it’s really exciting.
Corbett: So there’s a lot to learn with the tool and I’m guessing the best way for people to sort of jump in and to really start learning the tool is to go through the free training that you have on your website and do you have some sort of a free trial or something? What are the details of the software?
Fraser: Yep. We have a 30 day free trial so you can come in, you can put in a bunch of projects, import keywords, watch it connect them up to your site, get alerts, it’s the full thing and then if you want to continue we’ll have different account options. When we’re recording right now I think it’s the price is $50 a month.
Corbett: Oh wow that’s very reasonable.
Fraser: Yeah but were gonna be changing the price a little bit, a lower version for people to just have one site but then if big agencies want to have unlimited sites we’ll have another price so the price can be different but we’re going to have a free trial for all of it so if anyone wants to give it a try 30 days. No problem. There are videos, there are screen casts videos that I do where I kind of go through the process but at the heart of it it really is identify key word, write an article. That’s the process.
Corbett: It does seem kind of complicated when you talk about all of it together but you’re right. It’s really all about looking for an opportunity and then filling that opportunity with content.
Fraser: Exactly. Really with the best solution that you can and that’s the key and that’s what content farms fails down is that they had identified what people were searching for but they weren’t up for the task of supplying the answers.
Corbett: In a legitimate way that will make people happy and someone could either write these articles themselves if they wanted to do it on a small scale or they can end up hiring writers to do a lot of these articles as well.
Fraser: Yeah. As long as you have a commitment to quality then I think whether you do them or whether you have writers working for you, that’s a newspaper right? You have writers who write for you.
Just to get philosophical I think that we’re at the point where publishing is starting to realize that what they thought people wanted to know is not what people want to know, that we come from this old new newspaper world where there was no feedback mechanisms, no way to know what people found interesting or what people were actually looking for.
So you just created a newspaper and you publish what you had to say and then you get some feedbacks and letters to the editor. “Why don’t you write more stuff about this and so you can fine-tune it?”
But now I think we’re realizing that it’s like this iceberg and so what people thought was this tiny little thin edge of the iceberg, this little part about search traffic is actually the huge iceberg. That’s the information that’s what content is and when you think about your day and you think about all the search query’s that you do, each one of those is an information request.
Some of them are frivolous. Some of them are for your business and you think about how you had to get better as a searcher to hunt down the information. “Oh I didn’t get the answer. I did a bad job on my search query. So I need to learn how to make better search queries.”
But actually the internet failed you because the answer wasn’t out there and the big answers are all there. Wikipedia’s demonstrated that they can provide the big answers but all the little answers are not there yet. “Is it a snow day for my kids’ school today?” My kids’ school doesn’t say it on their website but they should and if they did, the snow day status then that would be something that people could search and certain number of people. I’ll bet you when the snow is falling they’re all searching on Google to find out if the school’s closed.
So it’s about the people who are running the websites to take all these query seriously and to provide good answers for them and I think that this is gonna be the majority of what a lot of people in our business are going to be focusing there for a time. I just don’t think people even realize that it’s important.
Corbett: That’s encouraging because I think a lot of people feel like they’re too late to the party.
Fraser: The parties just getting started
Corbett: Yeah. Awesome. Well Fraser I have to say you’re always so helpful to me whenever I have a question and I think it really shows in your business. I know that you’re answering questions for people all the time and working one-on-one with customers and I’m sure that keyword strategy is gonna be a huge hit so I encourage everybody who’s watching this to go check it out. A free trial; there’s no risk to you and it might just lead you into this new world of massive SEO traffic without having to get a lot of link building activities going which is pretty exciting. So thanks so much for sharing with us.
Fraser: All right. Well, talk to you later Corbett.
Corbett: All right. Cheers.