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Do The Work

John Doherty —  December 4, 2012
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SEO is not about quick wins. I get asked all the time to “give us something that we can do now that will have a noticeable effect”. People, everyone, wants to get the most bang for their buck, and this especially happens in business where there is direct pressure to produce ROI. After all, no one brings in a consultant until they are unable to solve their own problems. At this point, your problems become mine.

If you’ve been seeking quick wins and they’re not working, what the heck makes you think that me giving you quick wins is going to fix your problems? Quick wins have not been solving your issues until now, so why do you think anything is going to be different with my quick wins?

Remember, doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results isn’t smart. It’s actually a sign of madness. Once you’ve gotten the real quick wins (which more often than not do exist) taken care of, now you have to put in the work.

Jonathon Colman started calling us to arms in his recent post We Can Do Better Than This, and Dr Pete challenged us with Why Big Content is Worth The Risk. Here are some examples:

Good Work Takes Time

I’ve mentioned this before, but let me show you some examples of content that has taken a long time to create, but continually drives great traffic, has good rankings, and helps with brand awareness for Distilled.

Excel for SEOs

My coworker Mike Pantoliano, who can do some awesome things with Excel, put together the Excel Guide for SEOs in 2011.

Mike told me that he spent over 30 hours on this one piece of content. To date, this thing has received:

* 235 linking root domains;
* Over 2,000 tweets and Likes probably (hard to know since we transferred URLs);
* Been mentioned in countless conference slidedecks.

Whose clients wouldn’t love this kind of exposure?

Linkbait Guide

We can also talk about Ed Fry’s Linkbait Guide, which he did during a two week internship at Distilled during Summer 2011. He shot videos, brought his cat into the office (I think), had a 3-d Distilled logo created, and put together this monstrosity of a document.

To date, this guide has received:

* 159 linking root domains
* Almost 1,000 tweets
* 244 +1s

Once again, whose clients wouldn’t love this kind of return?

Time Invested Wisely = Bigger Return

I’m always preaching to my clients that it’s the big things you do that have the biggest returns. We took risks with creating these guides by dedicating time to them, but they’ve had quite a payoff – between them, that make up about 1/10th of our overall link profile!

And don’t get me wrong, this can be text content in the form of well-research stories. This article from TheAtlantic has almost 3,600 linking root domains (z0mg!) –

Even for me, I usually spend a couple of hours on a blog post (though this one has taken considerably less). But the one that got the most attention and still gets links took me about 8 hours –

And if you’re an SEO, you know Jon Cooper’s linkbuilding strategies post, which I saw him tweeting about for WEEKS before it was published:

And this is what happened when DollarShaveClub’s video went viral. Check out that link velocity!

What about SEOmoz Search Engine Ranking Factors?

And Dr Pete’s Google Algorithm Change History, which he talked about in his big content post:

I’d love to see other examples y’all have of content that took forever, but paid off! I’d also love to see examples where it did not!

tl;DR – Spend more time, higher risk/reward, but when you get it right, the reward is sweet.

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

19 responses to Do The Work

  1. anthony pensabene December 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

    hey John, right.. even quick wins (a picture placed on facebook that gets a lot of shares/likes) is STILL better if a part of an ongoing strategy. “quick wins” conjures the image of a desperate business in need of a “fix.” you shake your head, hoping they recover from their addiction.

  2. I’ve got a brainstorming meeting with a client this afternoon, having persuaded them to invest in something a little more ambitious than normal. If we get it right I suspect it might be a big deal for their business.

    It’s good fun working on things that are a little less ‘safe’ than the usual.

  3. Spot-on thinking here, John, and I love all of the examples with the link and domain data.

    The thing that’s harder to measure is influence. For example, I loved Ed Fry’s piece on Linkbait for Distilled so much when I saw it that I used it as the basis for creating a set of guidelines and documentation for my company. Same thing for Phil Nottingham’s awesome works on video marketing.

    Sure, I gleaned some tips and tricks from a handful of other sources, but I wouldn’t have been so inspired to do the work had it not been for Ed and Phil. Big Content Done Well has big impacts that go beyond the reach of analytics.

  4. I agree. I convinced my wife to get the insurance for her restaurant from Simply Business because I loved a lot of the content Distilled had done with them.

  5. Reminds me of a Henry Ford quote that I’ve got tacked up at home:

    “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”

    Having a great idea is such a small part of the battle that true success comes from the ability to execute on those ideas. I know I can’t be the only one who shook my head when I saw Mike’s SEO for Excel post last year and thought “Damn, that’s so freaking smart…why didn’t I think of that??” Mike took a strong idea and turned it into an outstanding content asset and the returns it has gotten are a testament to the time/effort he put into it.

    Thanks for another great post John, can always count on you for some early morning motivation!

  6. Great post John. It’s so important to come to this realization, and it’s the clients that understand this that usually are the most fun to work with, and who I feel usually get the best results in the end! Any tips for getting the stubborn ones to see the light too?

    Anyways, great examples, it’s definitely the BIG works that do the best, and they make it all worth the risk when they go through. You could spend 40 hours working on “quick wins” and never get close to the amount of linking domains that you could get if you spent all that time working on one great piece of content!

    However, I do think there are always some fun “quick wins” – but they are so rare because they usually involve a lot of wit and timeliness. Here’s one of my favorite examples that came up right after the election: http://isnatesilverawitch.com/

    It was a brand new page, and has little design, but since then its garnered 125 backlinks. Pretty cool :)

  7. Hey John,

    Great post here. It’s interesting how far that content goes and how important it is to update and maintain it. I started fiddling with Google Docs and Import XML again the other day. Went back to Distilled excellent resource and found a question asking how I would like them to improve it.

    That’s great thinking. It shouldn’t just stop with creating it but should continue to improve it as a resource.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Ahhh! THIS! The best part about “special” posts is that you can refer back to them for more than a single sentence or snippet.

    The fact that we have almost all read or seen almost every link you post makes it pretty clear how far they have gone into our networks. These are the posts we all want to make but think “take too long.” Great reminder to just DO it.

  9. Hi John, great post. I’m a firm believer that there’s a direct relationship between time spent creating content and the amount of value it provides which in turn is directly related to how much attention the content receives. One exception may be rants that hit a nerve, but other than that, more time equals more attention-worthy content, period.

  10. Great article. Quick and to the point. The examples shared are much appreciated as well. I guess it really comes down to thinking about the bigger picture rather than those small, short-term sputters. It’s so easy to fall in the trap of small thinking rather than taking a crack at the big problems.

  11. So true. We’ve just finished our own piece of big content, a fair few hours went into this!

    http://www.NotProvidedCount.com

  12. Great article. With that title though I was expecting at least a mention of Steven Pressfield’s amazing book with the same title, Do the Work. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. I think you’d enjoy it.

  13. There’s so much fluff, thin content on the web these days. Everyone is talking about content marketing, but it has also caused many people to just pump content out without putting a lot of effort into it. We’ve had this conversation before… something about content farming and Pandas…

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