May 3, 2021

Expert Interview - Sherb Answers IM Questions

Thanks to everyone for the support that you gave to this content format. I'll do my best to get the top members of this forum to walk through their journey and answer questions related to their career.

Today we have in the seat @Sherb, whom I decided to make some questions related to his writing career and his opinions about SEO.

Give it a read. Totally worth it.

1. Can you tell us about your background? How did you get into this business?

I’m 28 years old, American, born and raised in the Southeast. I was born into a middle-class family. Dad was a nuclear chemist and is now a tax appraiser and going to be retiring in a few months at age 60. Mom was an incredible teacher, had an extensive education, and was well-loved amongst her students and peers. She sadly passed away from cancer a couple years back. They instilled a very hard work ethic for myself and my sister. We earned everything we got, although they made sure we never, ever went without. We spent many weekends in work clothes toiling around the property. They made sure we both got great educations and they we went to and graduated from college, as they had done.

While in high school, I started screwing around with Blogspot blogs. Some of them I made got traffic here and there. I would write short stories about my classmates and put them up online and they loved to read them, and would frequently ask for certain things to be included in future stories. In college, I cooled off from the online world for a bit to focus more on my studies. I still dabbled here and there, but didn’t do any serious IM work. After my wife graduated, she started medical school and would consistently be pulling 70-80 hour weeks between classes and studying. I needed something to fill my time, so I started working on a few websites.

While doing this, I posted about being interested in online reputation management. It was here that I was contacted by my first client, who referred me to my second client, and the list went on. I had perused Blackhatworld in some form or fashion since early 2007, and towards the end of 2014 into 2015, finally had the expertise I thought was needed to contribute something of value to the board.

I started diving deep into IM and SEO, and haven’t looked back.

2. Tell us a bit of your current projects, what are you working on?

I have left the online reputation management world for now, choosing to focus on the less stressful content writing while working on my own projects. I’ve got several travel and affiliate sites, the largest of which being my Iceland travel site that I have been working on when time allows for over a year. I’ve also got a 60-site PBN that myself and my web property manager handle the growth of.

I have several local service businesses that I plan to launch before the end of the year, outsourcing 90 percent of the work to outside parties and truly dive into the business world from a managerial standpoint.

3. How did you discover your talent for writing?

I’ll paste something I wrote back in mid-July: https://www.blackhatworld.com/seo/will-grammarly-help-me-with-english.1044152/#post-11227387

I got an old Windows 95 computer for my 8th or 9th birthday and it was so slow that it would only run Office. I spent my weekends from ages 8 to 12 chopping firewood, doing chores around the house with my parents and sister, and writing stories about tornadoes and FBI field agents and abandoned theme parks and everything in between. I put my friends in the stories and then had them read them.

  • Practicing constantly eventually got me to the point where I was winning essay contests.
  • I went to Disney World for a week because I won an essay contest.
  • I've got a shit-ton of trophies in the closet from spelling bees and speech contests and essay contests I won on the state level.
  • I got an all-expenses paid trip to Washington DC because I wrote a killer paper on how we should capture stories of WWII vets before they all die.
  • I spent my last two summers of high school on college campuses getting "the college experience" and learning advanced mathematical concepts... because I wrote a convincing application letter.
  • I got my college education completely paid for because I wrote a shit-ton of essays my senior year of high school and won over a dozen small scholarships as a result.

And now I make a six-figure income between writing I do online, for clients, and in my day job.

Knowing how to write is (to me) the second most important real-world skill you can have. The first being the ability to communicate and filter your thoughts into spoken words and actions.

4. What does a good content research process look like?

Researching the topic should not be difficult. Google what it is about, utilize the resources that your customer offers you from the get-go, and make sure you understand what is being asked of you. To me, almost as important as understanding the subject matter is understanding how it will be used, and tailoring your writing to meet the needs of your client’s website.

I have lost several-thousand dollar writing gigs because an article I provided was in a completely different style and tone than what the customer had on their site already. That is a mistake I will not make twice. If your content is going on a website for a doctor, you’d better provide non-conversational language and strong call to action, and have enough medical knowledge to not put in filler content that destroys the message being conveyed with unnecessary wordiness.

5. How do you research when you have to write for some unknown topic you don't have much knowledge about?

If the topic is not something I am familiar with, I treat it like a completely new learning experience. There isn’t much that is not exciting for me to learn about. I’ve written longform articles on things that most would dismiss as boring and uninteresting. Knowing I am getting paid for my enthusiasm and expertise on a subject, I dive deep and tease out the things that people can relate to. By the end of the article, I know enough to bring it up in casual conversation like I know what I’m talking about.

If the customer provides me with requested keywords as well, I pop them into Ahrefs and perform competitor analyses to gain further insights, as well as capture some potential longtime keywords.

6. What do you think the future has prepared for SEO?

Voice search, question/answer boxes, and the death of true blackhat SEO. While that will likely make some cringe, the truth is pretty apparent. Those who are successful in blackhat now either don’t talk about it, or are in the process of switching to a more white hat blended approach. Many different blackhat ideas are being patched up by website terms of service and caught rather quickly. A lot of the experts of yore I am seeing switching to more of an agency-style approach, or leaving IM altogether.

Dominating search results for profitable keywords based on SEO alone is starting to become a fool’s errand. I am seeing far more of a focus on quality over quantity, as people are looking to convert, not just capture an audience. Engagement, branding, longform case study articles and multimedia are becoming huge, and will likely continue in that direction.

7. If you were to start again from the beginning what would you do differently?

Start getting serious sooner. I spent a long time in college dicking around with e-whoring and cookie stuffing. While it was great in spurts, that time would have been MUCH better allocated to writing articles and starting to build solid affiliate sites. I get sad thinking that one of the affiliate sites I wrote 25,000 words on when I was 19 and then abandoned could have easily been something monumental now if I would have kept at it. And no, it’s not on archive.org. I’ve checked.

I’d also dedicate myself to working smarter, not harder, and tracking my spending and income on a project by project basis, not being afraid to let a project go when it was in the red.

8. What's your greatest fear you have for this business model?

For my current project business models? Regarding content writing, my biggest fear is burning out. I’ve seen it happen many times with my fellow high-quality writers here on BHW, and I’ve teetered on that precipice a few times as well. This is why I am currently outsourcing the content writing for my websites to local writers, and then performing a revision and posting from there. It frees me up to focus solely on my client writing, which is enjoyable and more rewarding regarding instant gratification (i.e. payment).

Regarding my websites and local projects, I fear the lack of scalability and sustainability in my business model, but that’s something I’m just going to have to deal with. Burnout with being stretched so thin is also an issue, but I like jumping from project to project based on what suits my desires at the moment.

9. What is the most exciting project you've worked on?

I’d say my Iceland project. I have been slowly working on it since returning from Iceland last May. Any time I put time into the project, it takes me back to that incredible adventure. My stretch goal for this site is to have the brand make enough money to finance a trip back to Iceland to spend even more time exploring that beautiful country.

10. What's the hardest thing about this lifestyle?

Managing work-life balance. Those who do this in addition to a full time job can relate, I’m sure.

Recently I’ve been pulling 70 hour weeks. While this is rewarding, it is also draining. It’s difficult to balance time spent on my day job with time allocated to my projects, while additionally making sure I make the time to manage the household and keep all the cogs in the machine greased.

This past weekend, I took Saturday off. I didn’t open my computer once. It was the first time I had done so in months, even when on vacation hiking in the mountains of Utah and Arizona. It felt great. I lounged by a great pool, ate some incredible food, had some wonderful conversations with some of my wife’s doctor friends, had a great chat with my dad on the phone, and fell asleep early with the wife and pup while the Wolf of Wall Street played in the background.

I went into Sunday relaxed, energized, and ready to pound through six straight days of 18 hours of various tasks.

Bonus Questions

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In five years, my wife will be a surgeon, out of residency and fellowship, and in her first year of making $3XX,XXX per year. By this point, we would likely be returning to Northeast Florida from Seattle to finally settle down. If I still have my full-time job at this point, and I am still enjoying my day-to-day, I will continue working. If things are getting stressful at work, but my projects have taken off, I will leave my full-time job to focus on projects.

I will ideally have stopped doing client content writing to focus on my own websites and local projects. If I could dive deeper into my photography hobby, that would be great as well. If I could be 30 pounds lighter too, that would be a huge plus.

What are some books that have changed your mindset?

Anything by Tim Ferriss. The Four Hour Workweek/Body/Chef, Tools of Titans, and Tribe of Mentors are all wonderful in their individual aspects. If you have not read them, I highly suggest you do so. Reading the five of these will completely change your tactics, habits, and daily routines, and put you on the path to supercharged productivity.

In addition, I also highly suggest:

Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker
Unfuck Yourself by Gary John Bishop
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid
Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Dark Half by Stephen King (I read this at age seven, and it really got me into reading and writing)
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I had shelves of knawledge before Tai made it a meme.

What is your thought about PBNs?

They don’t do much any more. I’m on my way to taking my “private blog network” one site at a time and turning it into pure and simple niche websites. Food for thought: When you sell links on your PBN, it is not truly private any more, is it?

A few years ago I took five sites that were a tiny PBN I bought from someone for far less than what it was worth, took the sites, scrubbed them completely, and rebuilt them as AdSense affiliate sites. Haven’t made much money on them, but that was four years ago, and these sites are public-facing, and Google has had no problem with them.

Everyone is too scared and paranoid these days.

What's the biggest pain point you've experienced?

Besides sleep deprivation and my dying lawn?

Spreading myself too thin. I’ve recently started needing to dial back the volume of content writing I take on after I missed some deadlines. I try to be timely in everything I do. I’m the guy who shows up at the five minutes before the time requested requested for dinner dates, hanging out, and work meetings. I’m not late in my real life, and I try not to be late with my writing, especially when my customers depend on these articles for their own projects.

It killed me to request additional time. But I swallowed my pride and did so. None of those customers had any issues with it, but I sure did. It was a wake up call that I need to stop putting so many eggs in so many baskets at the same time. Now I dedicate a solid 20 hours per week to content writing and 20 hours per week to my personal projects, responding to emails, and delegating tasks to outsourced help.

No man is an island.

What does your link building strategy look like?

I have some sites that I push through pure BHW review copies alone. Those sites are doing well. I have others where I have been experimenting with not pushing any links at all, and focusing on pure content and word of mouth. Others I have only added links from my own PBN. And some I have hit with juggernauts of spam from all directions.

The most successful thus far have been the ones receiving tender focus and a quality over quantity strategy. I recently gave one of my local writers the task of writing me 20 300-word conversational blog comment responses to a list of articles, and then handed them to an assistant to post under various accounts. These links are beautiful, and knowing that I had a role in them from start to finish is great.

I’m wanting to pivot some of my focus into manual outreach soon. I much prefer a site that has had years of TLC and solid traffic to the editorial sites that nobody ever looks at. Go to the authorities in niches that relate to your own, and build from there. Network, form business relationships, and start link building. Treat it like it’s 2010 again.

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