For episode 399 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast the special guest was Craig Campbell, an SEO consultant and trainer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Craig about the wide array of link building tactics available to SEOs today, as well as how SEOs can get into the potentially lucrative business of flipping websites. Here’s what we learned:
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
These terms are fairly self-explanatory and hearken back to the pre-Penguin and pre-Panda days when you could use a variety of spammy, manipulative tricks that were practically guaranteed ways to get a site to rank well on Google. As Craig noted, the terms are just labels that become less relevant over time as Google catches up with whatever it doesn’t like and finds ways to penalize sites that use those spammy, manipulative techniques to “trick” Google into giving a site a better ranking than it deserves.
The quality bar has been raised by Google to flush out the garbage SEO styles of work. Now, it definitely matters how you go about getting your links and how you go about creating and posting content to a site. There are still some very effective ways to cheat, and there are techniques that might fall into a gray hat area. The issue with these labels is that the ones who use the white hat SEO label tend to be self-righteous about it, as if they’re doing something better than everyone else. Craig has also seen with his own eyes SEOs who make a big deal out of saying they are white hat buying links right and left but will swear to the SEO community that buying links is the work of the devil. In other words, what people practice and what people preach can be quite different. Every SEO has a bit of gray in them, like it or not.
Stealing content is clearly unethical. Using massive page buildout tools if done well and strategically so that the final content is as natural as possible can work well and some might consider that falling in a gray area, but if used poorly will come off as spammy and manipulative. Private blog networks (PBNs) are badmouthed by many but if used well and with quality in mind can be very useful. A lot of these different tools can be white hat, gray hat, or black hat depending on how they’re deployed. A PBN can be a total garbage black hat site or it can be a site that’s trusted and authoritative with good traffic and well-deserved ranking that it can pass on and share with others. Basically, if a PBN is so good that Google can’t even tell it’s a PBN, then there’s nothing wrong with using it.
If you’re going to buy links, buy good links, quality links. If you buy links from a site that has thousands of links and is sharing those links to thousands of sites, what value is it really bringing to your individual site? Probably very little. That’s not a quality link and it’s just a waste of your money and everyone’s time.
Other Link Building Tactics
Google made it clear that it would de-value guest blog posts, which makes sense if the only reason it’s happening is for the link building aspect of it, but what about when it brings real value and authentic communication to a particular audience? And maybe a link comes along with it but that’s not the primary purpose.
Craig agrees that people should be able to work the PR side of SEO and be out there contributing across different communities in ways that deliver valuable content to uses, and they should be able to get some PR and SEO value out of doing that if it’s quality content. But it’s another thing for a site to buy crappy guest blog content. Again, it’s all in how any particular tool or tactic is being deployed and used. But by all means, use your knowledge and expertise in ways that delivery value and also have an SEO return for your own brand.
The biggest problem is when SEOs don’t want to put the time and effort into doing quality work. They want quick-and-dirty tactics that don’t take much effort to get the desired results, and that’s when they get on the slippery slope of doing garbage SEO work, which will eventually catch up with them because Google is getting cleverer at recognizing shoddy SEO work. Sure, it would be wonderful if you could just push a button and rank, but that’s simply not how it works. It takes real effort and hard work overtime to get results.
Buying and Selling (Flipping) Websites: How SEOs Make the Leap
Craig is a master at buying and selling websites, but how does an SEO make the leap into that market? For Craig, it came about because of a piece of advice a retiring acquaintance of his gave him. He told Craig that instead of applying his SEO skills to websites that made their owners lots of money but only paid him a tiny fraction of that money, he needed to apply his SEO skills in ways that would be a more direct way of making money. That’s when the light bulb went off in his head.
What Craig does is look around for sites where the owner is not good at SEO. There are many eCommerce sites that people can build up very easily with simple SEO tactics, such as an Amazon site, to generate around $1,000 month but they plateau there and then get disenchanted when they can’t seem to scale it up past that mark. But Craig can take a site like that, apply his SEO expertise, strategies, and tactics, and build it up to more like $5,000 a month. And it’s fairly common to be able to sell sites like that for up to 40 times their average monthly revenue. In other words, if he can buy a $1k/month website for $40k, scale it up to $5k/month and then sell it for 40 times that, you can see the potential here.
Of course, there’s a cost to scaling the site up as well. A real-world example for Craig was buying a site for $3k, spending $10 on content and SEO over the course of six months for a total investment of $13k, and was able to sell it for $136,000. This is really no different than flipping houses in real estate. You look around for website that’s got great potential and flip it.
Sometimes it can be as easy as taking a site off of Amazon, which only pays 3-4% commissions on eCommerce sales, and switching it to a private affiliate platform that’s willing to pay more like 10% commissions and literally overnight you’ve ratcheted up its monthly earnings and can sell the site for 40 times that new figure that was literally little more than flipping a few switches.
Some wonder why Craig works on the lower end of the spectrum but for him it’s what makes the most sense. Taking a $1k/month site and scaling it to $5k/month is very simple for him to do and still results in a substantial profit. But trying to take a $10k/month site and scaling it up substantially is a lot trickier and therefore a lot riskier. You have to figure out where the sweet spot is for you.
Part of why it’s so satisfying is that Craig gets to learn a lot about different niches, how to improve on the basics of affiliate marketing, and so on. You quickly learn what’s worth investing in and what isn’t. Why mess around with a site selling $20 products when you could work on a site selling $200 products? Why mess around with a site that’s got a strong seasonal effect when you could work on a site that makes sales all year long? Craig learned this lesson the hard way with a golf website that had great sales, but only for eight months out of the year and it was just dead for four months out of the year.
Craig has been flipping websites for five or six years and has probably flipped somewhere in the range of 70-100 sites. And the SEO work he’s doing on those sites isn’t anything fancy, it’s just doing quality work on SEO basics. Some go-to places you can go to find websites to buy include odys.cc (Craig’s premium domain affiliate and aged domain site), a private Facebook group called Flipping Websites, if you want a higher-end option where you’d be investing $40-$50k on a site you can try Empire Flippers.