The fact that I’m sharing this story may shock some of my beloved readers — after all, a large number of current LittleBizzy clients first found me via Upwork.com, the freelance marketplace that this post will in part criticize.
But since I believe strongly in transparency and “real life” case studies, here we are. So then, let’s continue…
Some of you may have stumbled across my recent excoriation of Upwork over at CollegeTimes, the life-hacking blog that I’ve helped to run for several years. My criticism of Upwork has received high traffic from around the world, with notable visits from some key offices located in San Francisco, California… and still, it continues to grow stronger, as #UpworkSucks becomes a hashtag on Twitter, freelancers begin trolling Upwork’s forum, and a new Change.org petition begs Upwork to return to its prior system after dozens of Facebook users demanded answers from the troubled company.
But the point of this post is not to pile any more complaints onto to the clearly overwhelmed Upwork crew and their thoroughly dysfunctional website; rather, its to take a quick look at the surprisingly simple process by which I came to rank #1 across dozens of Google regions for the (popular) search phrase “Upwork sucks” in less than 3 weeks.
“People pretend not to like grapes when the vines are too high for them to reach.”
― Marguerite de Navarre
I loathe pretenders. In this situation, there are many: Upwork pretending their website has not gone horribly wrong while insisting they are the next “unicorn” startup in Silicon Valley; freelancers around the world pretending that they either love/hate Upwork depending on the day; business owners pretending that Upwork is an (un)necessary tool for finding quality freelancers; and all 3 parties pretending that they either HAVE or DON’T HAVE control over Google’s search engine results (either as content creators, or as people researching the web for solutions to their problems).
In one fell swoop I was able to grab the attention of all 3 of these parties, and do with it what I wanted.
There are truly several angles that this quick case study could take… for example:
1. The ease of ranking highly on Google for targeted phrases
2. The sheer pointlessness of trying to censor the internet (i.e. Streisand Effect)
3. The importance of dealing with criticism, instead of avoiding it
(etc, etc, etc)
For our purposes, let’s quickly address #2 and #3 so that I can then show you how I ranked this article so quickly.
Some in the webdev world may recall the long and controversial life of NoDaddy.com which collected thousands of stories and evidence from GoDaddy customers in an effort to shed light on the company’s misdeeds and poor morals. We live in an age where, despite the revolutionary power of the web, corporations still attempt to control information flow and “brand reputation” like its the 1950s, registering domains like upwork-sucks.com and up-work-sucks.com in a hilarious, small-minded view that they can actually protect their company from internet trolls and other digital pundits (or in complete ignorance of the now hundreds of domain TLDs options that exist). NEWFLASH: you can’t censor the web! Transparency is the ONLY good policy in the digital age, where individuals on smartphones are both judge and jury when it comes to assessing your brand.
Note: you can still browse NoDaddy via archive.org, but don’t go farther back than 2007 (unless you like gay porn).
Negative reviews and critical feedback WILL inevitably emerge, but how to deal with that is best saved for another discussion. The point here is that it doesn’t require a special “domain”, or TV appearance, or millions of dollars to get a message out; it only requires a very well written article and minimal distribution effort to rank your message at the top of Google.
In short, here is the most simplified Google ranking strategy in the world:
1. Rank articles, not domains. This is likely the most valuable piece of SEO advice I could ever give you. This is by far the best kept secret in the SEO world, and something that I’ve been doing since 2009, when I grilled my Mac-loving friends on why they loved such “over-priced, under-performing” computers and then wrote an article in response. Don’t believe me? Head over to Google and type “why mac sucks” and find an article I wrote back in 2009 still outranking the entire internet. While it is of course possible to rank domains, it takes a LOT longer (especially after recent algorithm changes in Google) and is much more susceptible to Google ranking fluctuations in the long-term.
2. Compose a killer post. This is where I’m usually able to beat out 99% of the web, because 99% of human beings are extremely lazy and refuse to put in the proper time required to research, write, and format a high value blog post. But as you can see above, its an investment that literally lasts for years on end; a typical “power post” could take you around a week to research, compose, and optimize before you publish! If you are “outsourcing” your content generation to an agency or freelancer, there is a 99% chance they are not going to produce anything that gains serious online traction unless they are a professional writer with native English skills — and moreover, unless the identity and personal background of the article’s author is very clear, you are once again hurting your chances with both Google bots and highly judgemental web-savvy users. More than anything, choose your post title very carefully; in this case, I purposefully chose to rank for “Upwork sucks” rather than “Upwork review” in an effort to target those individuals who’ve had a negative experience in the freelancing world.
3. Incorporate recent events. I’m a huge fan of “evergreen” articles that retain their value and relevance for years into the future, however, it doesn’t hurt to include a few examples or recent events into your story. By being at least somewhat time sensitive, your post has a higher chance of being shared/distributed via social media, and it also creates more relevance and understanding between you and your readers. However, to keep an “evergreen” article “green” it will require updating every so often with newly discovered information or corrections to outdated sections of the page (see #5). In this case I was sure to mention some of my own personal experiences with Upwork (i.e. being called a “terrorist” by a client) along with other recent events that supported my argument by doing in-depth online research.
4. Strategically distribute. If you are one of those people who still thinks buying 5,000+ bookmarks or backlinks on Fiverr.com is a good idea, you’re completely out of touch. Google has long understood and penalized those who “spam” their way to the top, and buying backlinks or using automation software for spinning, bookmarking, sharing, or otherwise is not only a waste of time and money, but will also likely hurt your domain’s reputation. Instead, methodically choose just a few places on the web where you can post your article to a niche audience who would take interest in the topic and/or possibly re-share it. Whether this is a few niche forum posts, a few blog comments, or a few key social network shares, these are massively effective in generating REAL targeted traffic, not to mention huge respect from Google bots.
5. Welcome discussion/updates. If you police your blog comments like the TSA at Chicago O’Hare airport, STOP NOW! Active comments on a page are a key indicator to Google of an article’s popularity and relevance, not to mention it allows visitors to interact with you and provide you with valuable updates or other information related to your post. By allowing and responding to genuine comments (even when self-promotional) you are increasing the chance of more backlinks to your post, social media mentions, or just plain appreciation. If an important new development does arise (either announced in your comments or discovered elsewhere), be sure to update the content of your article appropriately with a notice.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of content optimization tips; stay tuned for more advice :)