Posted by Dr-Pete
This post is a part of the “Starting Over” series, the story of starting a blog (MinimalTalent.com) from scratch. See the end of the post for links to the rest of the series.
Launching a new site is exciting, and it should be, but we sometimes let excitement get the best of us. After months of building and planning, it’s understandable to want to finally pull the trigger, but launch is important and rushing it can delay real success. This is the story of how I got Minimal Talent off the ground.
Goods news and bad news
Online marketing has evolved a lot in the past decade, and changes to search and social have brought good news and bad news for webmasters. First, the good news – it’s relatively easy to get a new site indexed in 2014, and even ranking for long-tail terms. You don’t have to wait for Google to discover you or pay a search submission service (remember those?). Unfortunately, the bad news is that ranking on real, competitive terms has gotten harder, and it takes longer. Why am I telling you this up front? You need to have realistic expectations, or launch will be an unpleasant and ultimately unproductive experience.
Alerting the bots
You can’t win if you don’t play – if you want to eventually rank in search, you need to get indexed. In part 1, we set up Google Webmaster Tools and created an XML sitemap, which can be great for discovery. Next up is to submit your site.
Yes, submissions services may be [mostly] [hopefully] dead, but Google does allow direct submission of new pages. Go to Webmaster Tools, select the “Crawl” menu and click on “Fetch as Google” – you’ll see something like this:
To submit your home-page, just leave the field blank and click [FETCH]. Your URL should show up at the bottom, and your “Fetch Status” should soon return “Success”. Once it does, just click [Submit to index]. There is a limit to how many pages you can fetch, but typically I only use this to launch a site or refresh a page that is outdated or isn’t getting re-cached.
Within minutes, I was showing up for a “site:” search (site:minimaltalent.com), with seven pages indexed (which was about right):
I promised this series would be transparent, so I have to admit that I messed up a little here. Apparently, Google had managed to crawl the site prior to my official launch, and had actually cached it a few days earlier (checked with
For me, this was no big deal, but it bears warning that, if you don’t want your site to be out in the world prematurely, you may have to take steps to keep Google from crawling. Google has a way of finding new sites, which can be good and bad, depending on your plans.
Later on launch day, I was also ranking for my tagline (“Misadventures in Minimalism”), on page 1 in the #2 position:
I’d highly encourage you to track a few non-competitive, long-tail phrases (and, if you’re a Moz customer, set them up in Moz Analytics). They may not seem sexy, but you’ll see progress much sooner than with competitive phrases. It’s important to know that your site at least has the ability to rank, in order to detect any issues early.
Link chickens & Search eggs
Which came first, the link chicken or the search egg? Ok, let me try again. If you want to rank, you’re going to need links, but you can’t get natural links if no one can find you to begin with. This is the fundamental problem of modern search marketing.
Yes, you can manually build links (and there’s a place for that, done well and in moderation). Sometimes, though, we get so hung up on the mechanics of SEO that we forget that there are plenty of other channels to get the word out.
Alerting the humans
In other words, it’s time to tell people you launched. I’m not one to broadcast every post I write to my friends, family, and tax guy, but launch is different – if you’ve created something you’re excited about, then tell people. Who did I email?
- Friends (IRL)
- Industry peers
- Private mailing lists
In most cases, the email was customized to the list and even the individual. These things are worth the effort. As a marketer, emailing my peers isn’t just about a few pageviews – it’s a way to seed social sharing and potentially even drive links.
The other way around the chicken-and-egg problem is taking full advantage of social. We tend to obsess about whether or not social signals (Tweets, Likes, +1s) have a direct impact on ranking, and when we do that we miss two important points. First, sharing equals visibility, regardless of what happens on Google. Second, sharing can drive links, and better yet, those links are editorial, or as we call them, “natural”.
I shared the initial site and blog post on my main Twitter, Google+, and Facebook accounts. Since this project naturally has a visual aspect (the parody logos), it was well suited to Google+ and Facebook sharing, which tend to benefit from strong visuals.
I’ve wanted to put some time into Pinterest, so I set up a new folder just for the blog in my existing account, re-organized that account a bit, and then pinned some of the logos from the first post. Again, this project is visual, so Pinterest was a good fit.
My social screw-up
Ironically, I did on Pinterest what I tell everyone not to do on social media. I went to an account I rarely use and just started posting my own content. Since I’m not active, and I’m not sharing anyone else’s content most days, guess what happened? That’s right – absolutely nothing. A social media account is not a dumping ground for your crap. I failed to participate, and it’s going to take time to make up that lost ground. Luckily, I’m more active on other networks, but give-and-take matters quite a bit.
You may be thinking that, because I have a strong existing network, success with a new project on social is guaranteed. I wish it were that easy. A year or so ago, I launched a personal project that soundly flopped. Part of that was in my execution and commitment, but part of it was that the topic was a bit far afield for my existing audience. One of my goals with Minimal Talent was to find a topic that could tie minimalist design into something my existing audience was already interested in – in this case, branding. Be aware how your audiences overlap (or don’t).
It can be hard to wait for results to come in, and patience is not one of my virtues. Luckily, Google gave us real-time analytics. While watching your numbers in real-time is an exercise in vanity most days, it can be very useful on launch day and during other big events. Are your social shares resonating? Which networks (if you stagger them in time) were most effective? Is it worth re-sharing on any particular network? Your real-time numbers can help make these calls.
I’m happy to say that I could actually see the needle move on launch day:
Fourteen active visitors isn’t going to make me rich, but it was definitely a start. At least I could tell that my social shares were leading to actual visits.
As the days went by, traffic from my launch and first post showed a pretty normal pattern:
Opening day was solid, with 383 visits, there was a tiny bump a couple of days later, and then little or nothing (the bigger bump on the right is the second post and sharing). This is the reality of most launches – sustainable traffic comes later. For now, you’re fighting for traffic post by post. If you expect launch day to be a benchmark of your day-to-day activity, you’ll be in for a very rude awakening.
I especially liked Moz Analytics overview of my first week’s traffic:
That’s right: PLUS INFINITY AND BEYOND!
Finally, I set up
Fresh Web Explorer (available to Moz Pro subscribers) – FWE lets you track fresh mentions of your site and keywords. Unfortunately, my brand “Minimal Talent” contains common words, and can trigger false alarms, but FWE also lets you track things like root domains. Here’s how I set that up:
You can use the “rd:” operator to find new links to a root domain. On the main FWE screen, just click “Show search operators” to see a full list of options.
It felt good to be finally off the ground, and now I had the tools to start measuring my progress. Next time – how I handled initial SEO problems I discovered and finally started ranking for more interesting terms.
Read the full series
Use the links below to explore the entire “Starting Over” series:
- Part 1 – Pre-launch
- Part 2 – Launch
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