While almost all the advice out there is to write good content and reach out, everything seems a bit more cutthroat in the trenches.
When traffic plummeted back in March, I had no idea what was happening. If you look at the IndieHackers interview I did back in June, I thought for a while that it was a negative SEO attack. I do think someone was purchasing "bad" links, but I think the bigger culprit was the core algorithm update that happened in March and then again in June.
Diving into the world of SEO since then, the "good" advice is all pretty consistent: fix any technical SEO issues and start building links. Start building links. That last one is not so easy. One of the grossest things I've come across since taking over IntroCave is the prevalence of paid links. I get emails every week or two asking if people can pay me to post articles. I'm not inherently opposed to that as long as the content is relevant (I've hired writers to write blog posts in the past, and this doesn't seem that different).
What I wasn't expecting with paid links is how many sites out there exist ONLY to post paid content. Most of the SEO tutorials recommend setting up Google Alerts and scraping backlinks to find out who's linking to your competitors. There's a ton of list articles like "Top 10 X" or "Top 5 Y" out there. In a "good faith world," I would reach out and send a blurb about IntroCave (to make their life easier). Having done this multiple times now, the response has always been: "sure, if you pay us."
When I get that kind of response, I assume the original post must've been paid as well. This sort of brings the whole ecosystem into view—those folks that reach out to me to ask for paid placement are hoping to find rubber stamp blogs who accept this kind of content. On the other side, people are building "blogs" specifically to accept this kind of paid content. The amount of human work and wasted energy that goes into getting things to rank higher on search engines is kind of revolting.
Future me might look back on this post and cringe about how naive I'm being, but (for now) I've been focusing all my "link building" activity on stuff that doesn't make me feel like a scumbag. So, what does non-scumbag link building look like at the moment?
Low Effort Social Media
I've been building tools and processes to help be more active on the IntroCave Twitter feed. Part of this is an acquisition strategy—more people paying attention to IntroCave is a good way to find new customers. But it's also to raise awareness. If I can grow IntroCave's "mindshare" (for lack of a better term), I expect more organic backlinks to be a natural outgrowth of that. The idea is to find places where users are talking to each other and make sure those users know that I exist. Reddit is also high on this list, but I'm currently focused on getting value out of Twitter.
High Effort Social Media
I have three large projects in mind that are pretty big from an engineering and design perspective. The idea with these initiatives would be to build something interesting that's worth sharing and post it to places like Twitter, Reddit, and Product Hunt. These are pretty ambitious projects, so I've got to do a bit more work figuring out which to do first and then figure out how to build them without falling to a complete standstill on the main IntroCave site. On top of the websites needed to host these ideas, all there involve a substantial amount of free content.
I signed up for Help a Reporter Out and have been trying to respond to 1-2 items each week as they seem appropriate. This is a pretty small niche, so I'm not super sure this is worth the amount of effort it takes.
I haven't rolled this out yet, but I'm in the process of building out a post-purchase email funnel. One of those emails is going to prominently ask for links back to IntroCave. It's not required, of course, but a lot of IntroCave users are YouTubers who are extremely familiar with the idea of getting what you ask for ("Don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe!").
It's possible that reaching out to blogs/articles is worth the time investment, but so far it's been a waste of my time. If I ever finish enough of my engineering backlog, I might get more serious about systematizing that kind of outreach.