When I was a young entrepreneur, I accidentally stumbled upon a strategy that would become the foundation of my thinking about SEO for years to come. The way the thinking goes is as follows: Pick one specialty area and become the hands-down expert in it by writing detailed articles about every topic in that specialty area over a period of years. By doing so, you will dominate the Google search results and be regarded by your potential customers as the thought leader in that space. Here’s the story of how I got there.
When I was 25, I had just sold my first company and decided to use the proceeds to buy a condo in Manhattan, where I was living at the time. I was thrilled; it was my first ever real estate purchase and all my fantasies about a dream apartment in NYC were out to play. For months, I scoured the Internet for the perfect condo, and had plenty to choose from with over 70 new condo buildings available at the time (this was in 2006, before the real estate crash). But there was one problem: I couldn’t really tell the difference between them. Every building had the same open concept kitchen, imported flooring, and high-end bathroom fixtures. All claimed to be in a fabulous area that was perfect for professionals and families alike. I didn’t know how to choose.
As a Google guy, it occurred to me that the problem was not in the objective facts – there had to be plenty of actual differences between the buildings – but in the information available on the Web. The reason these buildings seemed so similar online is because they had all used the same 3 or 4 marketing firms to write professional, shiny descriptions. The average sales copy on one of their websites went something like this:
Stunning new building on 49th and 5th. Brazilian Cherrywood floors adorn this jewel of a building, situated on a famed corner across from the NY Public Library. The kitchen is a dream with a Miele stove, Bosch dishwasher, and Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Needless to say, that kind of description is not particularly helpful to someone trying to get a realistic picture of whether a particular building is a good fit for them. It would be fine if I was already excited about the building and just wanted a reason to be sold; but I was simply doing research, trying to get to know these buildings. I was looking for real analysis.
The fact was, at that moment in history there was not a single source of honest (think Yelp-review-honest) feedback about each condo building. The closest thing to it was a real estate message board called city-data.com that had posts from people who had gone to look at some of the buildings and either had praise or, more likely, gripes about the apartments. But the forum only covered some buildings, and only some topics that were of interest to individual posters; it was far from comprehensive, and even further from being even-handed. Right then and there, a business idea hit me.
My idea was to pay people to go out, see each building, and then come back with an honest, detailed report about it. I would send their report to a writer I had hired whose job was to format each person’s impressions into a thoughtful, balanced blog post about that building. With 70 new condo buildings, there was plenty to do. When I was finished, my site would be the sole source of genuinely helpful information about every new condo building in Manhattan. And hopefully, buyers like me would appreciate it and recommend it to their friends, building me a user base of well-to-do potential condo buyers. If the idea worked and they began to truly trust my blog, perhaps they’d even agree to have me come out with them as their real estate agent. Therein lay my business model.
Well, I did exactly what I set out to, and within 3 months, I had reviewed all 70 buildings, warts-and-all. We overdelivered on our reviews, coming up with every positive and negative imaginable about each building. For example, if a building was located one block from a row of pornographic video stores, I made sure our readers knew about it. I also let them know if that same building had the best value per square foot, the most generous pool hours, or the longest bathtub. I was fair; but I was definitely not a shill for the buildings, and people found my style to be a breath of fresh air.
The business succeeded, earning the trust of upscale condo buyers and turning into a successful upstart real estate brokerage. A few years later, I sold it to a real estate company. But the significance of that experience went far beyond the company itself; it taught me the value of niche websites. You see, covering every new condo building in Manhattan and filling each blog entry with useful, original content caused us to rank very highly on Google when people were researching these buildings. Google had a way of knowing quality content when it saw it. And that meant traffic, and revenue, for us.
The reason that Google loved our content so much is the subject of other blog entries; but the important thing for you to take away is that publishing practical, helpful articles that people actually sit down and read all the way through is the key to success in SEO. Apart from that fact, and knowing some SEO basics like the importance of good titles, all you need to remember is to focus that great content on one niche. If possible, your whole website should be a testament to your obsession with one narrow topic, be it artisanal toast, compounding pharmaceutical ingredients, or the intersection of thought leadership and SEO.
Creating an exhaustive resource on new condominium buildings in New York City was the genesis of my obsession with niche websites. But the 10 years after that, when I started an SEO company and began working with clients in a huge variety of industries, is what proved to me that there is no greater SEO strategy then going super niche. It is better to be the ruler of a small kingdom than a mid-level bureaucrat in a mega-kingdom. Take it from a former real estate expert.