If you are a small (or big) business and are trying to get your message out, one of the most important things you can do is see an opportunity present itself and seize it. I had such an opportunity last week and what follows hopefully will provide some inspiration.

As some of you may know I had no intention of launching this Local SEO blog until October 1 when I am making a presentation on community-driven local search at the SMX Local conference. Because the SMX site links to presenters’ websites, I put up a half-finished blog both to have something to link to and to start building some optimization points from having the link up for a while. Over the next couple of days I saw a few referrals from the SMX site, but was quite surprised when some time last Thursday morning I started to see a rising number of referrals from StumbleUpon.

***And don’t forget to read Andy Beard’s side of the story too.***

I quickly posted a welcome note to the Stumblers (always pays to be polite) and then started investigating the source of the clicks. I was pretty psyched to discover that Andy Beard, one of the bloggers I respect a lot and follow regularly, had found my site and posted a link to it on StumbleUpon. I went over to Andy’s site, found his contact info and emailed him a note telling him how much I liked his blog and thanking him for the link. While I really just wanted to thank him, I was also hoping he might respond by posting a link to my site on his blog. But as soon as I sent the email I felt a little brownosy. From reading his blog I knew Andy is not the kind of guy who suffers fools gladly. I expected him to ignore my note and it seems like he did. I went back to work, but continued to monitor my referral stats a wee bit obsessively. (Update: It looks like Andy actually did respond to me but that it hit my junk mail filter)

It then occurred to me that my soon-to-launch blog had just launched. A notable media outlet had acknowledged me and his audience was starting to check me out. I had a lot of work to do that day but I pretty quickly decided that a unique opportunity was presenting itself to me and there was no time like the present to seize it. I put my work on hold and started stragedizing.

Some of my favorite blog posts are those that provide real stats. I had seen Rand Fishkin make a business out of this concept and noticed that bloggers who gave information away for free often got much more back in return. I also had watched Jason Calacanis perform some masterful pieces of hype by tweaking some of the biggest names in the SEO industry on his own blog. Now Andy Beard may not be the most famous person in the world, but being acknowledged by him is the SEO world’s equivalent of being acknowledged by Britney Spears (well, maybe more like Kevin Spacey or someone like that – sorry Andy). So I decided that my strategy would be to keep the conversation going with Andy, even if it was a one-way conversation.

So on Thursday Sep 20th I posted an article on my blog entitled “The Power of Andy Beard & StumbleUpon”, detailing the 56 referrals that I had received from Andy thus far that day. My plan was to post the article on Sphinn in hopes that Andy would see it and respond in some way. I also added the names of some other prominent SEO bloggers and people who are active on Sphinn with a suggestion that they might want to see if they could drive more traffic to my blog than Andy. I made sure I linked to their blogs so they would notice the links. I had seen these kinds of challenges work once in a while. When I posted on Sphinn I even included an overt challenge to the readers with the headline “The Power of Andy Beard & StumbleUpon: How Much Traffic Can You Drive?”

The next morning I awoke to find that the traffic was still humming. I still hadn’t seen any referrals from Sphinn so I sent an email to about 20 friends and family whom I figured wouldn’t be too annoyed by a request for them to join Sphinn and vote for my article. I also edited the headline by removing the “How Much Traffic Can You Drive?” part deciding it was too obvious and would be sneered at by the Sphinners who would see it for the hamfisted ploy that it was.

Over the next hour or so my article got 14 votes, mostly from people I know (thanks Dad!) and a few from more regular Sphinn members. For every Sphinn member who voted I made sure I read their posts and voted for the ones I liked. I even left a few comments so they would know I was interested in their stuff (it helps if you actually are interested). I also added myself to their profiles as a “stalker” which I figured they would notice.

I started to get some traffic from Sphinn. Tad Cef, one of the other Sphinners I mentioned, even left a comment on my post. I checked out Sphinn again and was psyched to find that my article was now at the top of the What’s New/Most Sphinns So Far page. I also noticed my StumbleUpon traffic had cranked up. I checked out Andy Beard’s StumbleUpon page. He had seen my post on Sphinn. He wrote “Do you stumble people who link to you and flatter you? Would I do such a thing?“.

I was a bit embarrassed by this as I interpreted it as Andy calling me out for the asskisser I was, but the conversation had begun. I responded on his page, acknowledging my behavior but also trying to explain that I really did respect his opinion (I really do), and therefore shoving my head up his posterior even more. What I also noticed on his page was that a few more Stumblers were talking about the article.

I posted an update on my blog in hopes that some of the Sphinners would see it and get hooked on the evolving story. I went back to Sphinn’s What’s New/Most Sphinn’s So Far page and was disappointed to see that my article was no longer at the top of the page and had disappeared. Then it hit me. I clicked on the Sphinn home page and there it was – right at the top of the page now with 15 votes. Victory!

And the best part about it? The Sphinner who had provided the 15th vote which had pushed me over the top was none other than Mr. Andy Beard.

Now I don’t know what drove Andy to vote for me but my hunch is that he probably didn’t see the harm in having the words “The Power of Andy Beard” presented to the hundreds (thousands?) of people who read Sphinn every day. I also think he was genuinely amused/confused as to how this nothing story had become a story.

Over the course of the day I ended up receiving over 200 visitors to the blog of which about 20% came from Sphinn and 75% from StumbleUpon. Not huge numbers but when you are starting from zero these look pretty good to me. And my guess is many of those 200 are bloggers themselves who now know who I am and what I do (local search engine optimization) and may be receptive to having a conversation with me the next time I post something of interest. I suddenly have a community of 200 influencers (and growing – more traffic this weekend) who ultimately may be able to connect me with a much wider audience than I could have found on my own, some of whom may be future clients.

So what’s the easy-to-remember list (Sphinners love lists) for getting your blog to the top of Sphinn, or any other media outlet for that matter?

The Top 5 Maxims For Achieving Maximum Sphinn

1. Recognize an opportunity to get your message out when it presents itself and focus on it

2. Give away information that you know everyone wants to know

3. Attach yourself to a big shot. No one would have remembered David unless he was in the arena with a Goliath.

4. If you can’t ask your family and friends to help, you probably don’t deserve the help.

5. Acknowledge and try to get to know the new people you meet along the way as they are the ones who made it possible for you to really be heard in the first place (and you can only ask your old friends who couldn’t care less about search engine marketing to vote for you just so many times).

Thanks for making it this far. If you’re interested in following the story via my site stats check out www.localseoguide.com/mint/ . I am using Mint which Aaron Wall recommended as an alternative to Google Analytics. It’s pretty cool.

Ok I swear the next post is going to be about local search.

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12 Response Comments

  • Andy Beard  September 26, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Gmail tells me I replies to your contact form entry after around 11 minutes 😉

    I have just compiled a list of 10 reasons people might Stumble you if they are SEO or SMOs which will explain everything

  • Sebastians  September 26, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Well put. Can’t wait for your first article on local search. 😉

  • Michael Dorausch  September 27, 2007 at 9:01 am

    Great to start off your sphinning with a bang! Looking forward to lot’s of local SEO posts.

  • Andrew Shotland  September 27, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Thanks Michael. I appreciate the note. Looking forward to brain dumping on regular basis.

  • Gotan Raider  September 28, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Andrew, I think the most interesting part of your post is when you say: “I also think he was genuinely amused/confused as to how this nothing story had become a story.”

    Isn’t that the essence of buzz marketing in the economy of attention?

  • Andrew Shotland  September 28, 2007 at 7:29 am

    There is something a bit Paris Hiltonish about the whole episode so I think you onto something here with the “economy of attention” thing Gotan.

  • Eliena Andrews  October 14, 2007 at 10:11 am

    thosre are what i call sphinn tips.. Thanks for it


  • Andrew Shotland  October 14, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Just trying to share the magic Eliena. Thanks for stopping by

  • Army Kate  November 23, 2007 at 4:35 am

    If you ask me, there’s a method that works on any website like that, just have lots of friends and be active in the community.

  • Andrew Shotland  November 23, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Army Kate, you could have saved me a lot of time in writing that post! 🙂

  • Harry Watson  October 9, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Hey Andrew, Great post! You give great hope to a small online marketeer such as myself. Subscribed.