One thing I absolutely love about Nikola is his attitude, uplifting others and helping them grow. I am inspired by how he stepped into the digital world by learning everything independently with a strong determination. He truly is a self-made man.
Hi Nikola, How are you doing these days?
Hi Mudassir. Thank you for asking. I’m doing just fine. Also, thanks for inviting me to speak to your audience here at Blogging Explained.
It’s an honor and privilege for me.
I am curious, how did you step into the digital world?
My mother got sick at the beginning of 2015. I tried to help her by making money online (her treatment was expensive, and we were poor), but since I knew nothing at the time, I was unsuccessful, she died, and I was left with no job, a mountain of debts, and no real future.
Since this is Serbia and there are no jobs to be found here, I returned to the internet to try and master this making money online thing.
This time there was no time pressure on me, and I knew that I would succeed as long as I keep learning and improving every day, little by little.
That is what happened.
I found work as a Freelance SEO writer, and that job put food on my table. In the meantime, I also joined Wealthy Affiliate, which is a sort of school for newbies who want to become affiliate marketers (read this Wealthy Affiliate Review here for more info).
I studied hard, tried things, experimented a lot.
Some of it worked, most didn’t, but I was able to build up my blog from the ground up little by little.
Now it’s still not where I want it to be but I’m in the process of transitioning from freelance writing to affiliate marketing.
It’s exciting and a tonne of fun.
You mostly do freelance writing, right?
For the most part, yeah. I have clients and regular work, but I’m working on developing my affiliate marketing business in my spare time.
Overall I’m extremely busy but also very happy as I’m doing things I love.
How do you find clients?
In the beginning, I used to do mass cold outreach, and that landed me a few good clients. (I wrote about it here).
But now clients usually find me. I get more offers than I can handle, and they come to me, and I don’t chase them.
From there, it was pretty easy to convince them I’m the man they need.
What do you think are the major factors to rank your content on search engines?
Four crucial ones are:
1) Search intent. Search intent is not a ranking factor but a ranking enabler. Get the search intent right, and you might rank.
Get it wrong and you will not rank, even if you have everything else right.
For example, my HostGator Black Friday page ranks very highly for that term and a couple of others (HostGator Black Friday sales, HostGator Black Friday deals, HostGator Black Friday coupon…)
But it wasn’t always like that. I remember that when I first published it (and after the page had a bit of age to its name), it wasn’t able to crack the first page of Google no matter what I did.
That’s because originally, I talked about “Should you get HostGator hosting this Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” and I was promoting a competing hosting service, and people looking for HostGator Black Friday sales were simply not interested in reading that.
And Google knew it all too well.
2) Website speed. Your WordPress blog needs to be fast so people can load the page and stay on it.
If your site is slow and people bounce too often, then your site will disappear, and it will not rank unless you seriously speed it up.
Note: Being fast doesn’t mean being super fast. It means being fast enough to compete.
So the best way to check is to take your first 5 competitors for the keyword you’re targeting and put them into Google’s Page Insight Tool.
The average of their numbers is what you need to hit.
For example, my WPX Hosting Black Friday Deals 2020 page was struggling to rank. Even after I sent it as much internal juice as I could muster. Even after I’ve updated it a dozen times to make it, in my honest and humble opinion, the best page on the topic on the internet.
But it wasn’t ranking.
So I dug deeper to find out why and discovered that my page was SLOW!
Like super slow. 2x slower than the page ranking on the top.
So, I knew I needed to change that ASAP if I wanted to rank.
So I switched from basic Bluehost hosting to a much more powerful Siteground GrowBig plan.
And then I used their SiteGround Optimizer plugin to fine-tune everything.
The difference is like night and day and it shows in the SERPS.
My rankings significantly improved once Google recrawled my page and once they’ve seen that my page is much faster now.
Improving page speed is a low hanging fruit of SEO and I encourage anyone reading to pay ample attention to it,
3) Content- Your content needs to answer the queries to the best of your ability (does not need to be perfect and in perfect English) and you must apply basic on-page SEO to it (again- no need to go crazy with on-page for every post)
4) Links– You need links to rank, and links are something you can always use more of. So always be link building.
What perks you’ve been enjoying as a digital entrepreneur?
I have connected with wonderful people that I otherwise would have never met in my life. I truly believe that if you want to be successful in anything, surround yourself with successful people from that area you’re trying to improve in.
The Internet allows me to do that easily, and my blogger friends are the anchors that keep me floating and swimming to success.
Who are your most favorite influencers online?
I divide my influencer based on what they taught me and what skills I want to master at the moment.
For example, when it comes to combining affiliate marketing and SEO, Matt Diggity is king there,
When it comes to changing the mindset from building a niche site to building an online business Matthew Woodward has helped me a tonne.
And finally, I think email outreach belongs to the top 3 skills you can have as an internet marketer.
So I absorb anything I can find on the topic and this guide by Alexandra Tatchalova has taught me a tonne and a half – I really can’t recommend it enough if you’re interested in learning how to contact strangers by email.
Also, I recently discovered Eb Gargano and her Productive Blogging website. She focuses on teaching you blogging but her twist and unique angle are showing you how to get the maximum done with minimum effort, and how to maximize your success by working smarter and not harder.
Honestly, this topic speaks to me very much as I think working smarter is key to success. Especially when you’re a one-man team.
I also have a few of my friends I’d like to mention
- Enstine Muki
- Gaurav Kumar
- Lisa Sicard
- Janice Wald
- Jerry Huang
- Arfa Nazeer
- Navin Rao
- Philip Verghese Ariel
- Simon Zaku
There are way more of them but I trust you get the gist of it. I’m grateful for all my blogging friends and hope to have many more of them.
How do you structure a workday?
I get up at 5 AM and have my morning routine, which consists of exercising, reading advanced and interesting SEO material, and leaving comments on blogs.
This is my warm-up for the exciting day ahead.
After that, I tackle the biggest task of the day and don’t stop until I finish it. If I see that I can’t finish it in time, then I turn on the strategic mode and purposefully lay aside that most important thing, and I do everything else instead. Things that are not as important but still help my business grow.
Of course, I take breaks and have a scheduled siesta at around 12.30 PM.
After that, I work some more and finish the day with some light reading and preparing my to-do list for tomorrow.
Overall, I try to work as hard as possible while accepting that I’m not a machine and need to take strategic breaks.
1 biggest challenge that you feel?
Making daily plans and sticking to them. And not feeling down and semi-depressed when I fall to do everything I wanted to do for the day.
What are you good at when it comes to offline life? Do you find yourself in a hobby when you are not working?
I like to read. I used to read 2-3 books per day when I was a bit younger. In fact, reading is the thing that opened the world to me, and that lost me all my childhood friends, as none of them like to read, and some of them loudly boast of not having read a single book in their lives.
I’m glad I moved away from that group.
As for the genres, I like the classics and am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
I also like to watch movies (the classics again) and Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) Hair (Milos Forman) and Late Spring (Yasujirō Ozu) are my favorite movies of all time.
Quick tips to craft a single piece of content for audience and search engines?
Write for humans first so that you know when a person lands on your site with a question they will find the answer on your site and leave as happy soon-to-be-returning web visitor.
Also, don’t neglect basic SEO, and basic SEO is:
- setting up your site’s architecture in a logical way so Google can easily crawl your site
- doing basic on-page SEO
I say basic because you will see terms like TF-IDF, NLP, BERT… being thrown around.
It’s nice to know about those things but if you’re a blogger who wants to get visibility on Google- focus on the essentials first.
- Producing valuable content,
- Offering great UX (hint: tables of content and reading progress indicators are easy UX boosters)
- Making it understandable to Google with basic on-page SEO
- Building links and relationships
That is already 95% of all SEO you’ll ever need.
Do you find any mistakes that beginners do when it comes to link building strategy? If yes, how to fix?
Yes, I saw and still see a tonne of mistakes newbies make.
Here are some of them:
#1- Not having a strategy
Some bloggers think that content is all you need to rank in Google and that if you produce a ton of content, you will magically attract links.
Of course, this is not true and it leaves you wide open and susceptible to failure. Remember, you’re not alone and you’re competing against those that do promote and build links to their content.
So who do you think will win?
#2- You need only links
The other mistake is thinking that you can have a crappy site with horrible UX and still rank if you shoot enough keyword-rich anchors at it.
Of course, this is wrong and Google will find you out soon enough. How?
They measure user experience signals and if they notice that your visitors are fighting to get out of your site, then even a million backlinks won’t save you.
#3- Not having a solid site architecture
Good site architecture is nothing more than interconnecting your site in such a way that link juice flows from one end of the site to the other without difficulty.
And good site architecture is crucial to rank higher because it enables you to achieve the most with the least amount of backlinks needed.
I see most bloggers panic whenever Google announces an algorithm update. What’s your take?
Google does what they want and there is nothing to do about it. The best way to approach this is to invest in assets that will always work and will always help you.
Those 3 assets are
- Building links
- Building content
- Building relationships with influencers
You will always need content to be indexed and ranked on Google.
You will always need links because Google uses links to pick out worthy sites from the cesspool of “too much content too little added value”
You will always need to connect with influencers because they can help you achieve your goals faster. And the best way to connect with them is to help them first.
Can you share what SEO practices that have become old and not have to do anymore?
Don’t stuff keywords. You don’t need it as people won’t like it and will leave your site dejected. Google won’t like it as they have spam algorithms that hunt for such things.
So you can’t win with stuffing keywords. Instead, write naturally and be mindful of On-page SEO best practices.
Another technique is building PBN’s and trying to rank with them, I’m not saying that PBN’s don’t work (they do, and I see them in my niche all the time), but if you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t come near them with a ten-foot pole.
It’s because if you’re a beginner and you never ranked sites before, and you never built links before that playing with PBN’s is just wasting your time. There are a million ways things can go south and your time is better spent on improving your content and getting links via email outreach.
SEO tools you recommend to the beginners?
Yes, I recommend both free and paid tools.
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
These are the bare minimum you should be using but are also all you need when you’re starting out. There’s no need for you to buy expensive tools if you can barely pay for hosting.
- Internal linking plugin (I recommend either Internal link Juicer or Link Whisper. If you go with the latter make sure you use my Link Whisper discount code “nikola” to get $15 off your order).
- SEMrush (best for keyword research);
- OptinMonster (best for lead generation);
- Unbounce (best for landing page creation)
- Convertkit. (best for email marketing on a budget);
Ahrefs is amazing because they have the biggest backlink index and, as such, will find the most links for you to replicate. It also offers keyword research and content explorer functions, and both are pretty incredible.
I like Ahrefs so much, and if you can get only one premium tool, get Ahrefs, and you’ll be able to grow your blog traffic with it to no end in sight.
Final big question – Could you brief on how a new blogger should develop an SEO strategy from the beginning?
Your strategy needs to revolve around content and links.
So I suggest you divide the year into 2 halves.
First 6 months you can build up the content on your site. Try to publish 50 meaty posts (1500-3000 words) that each target a keyword.
What this will do is get you indexed for thousands of queries in Google’s index and also Google will get a feel for what your site is really about. So you will rank higher based on relevance.
But relevance alone is not enough.
You also need links
So second 6 months stop publish on your site and focus 100% on getting links to your site
Good and beginner-friendly techniques to use are
At this time, you’ll be building links in a randomized way. This means it doesn’t matter where you get them as long as the links are followed and point at your site.
These outbound links from different websites will bring in new link juice to you, which will then be distributed through internal links to all parts of your site.
Finally, after a year has passed, you will enter a new one with great experience in creating content; and solid link-building skills.
So then you’ll be able to start combining the two, and you can do them on the fly and as you go.
- Publish a post; promote it.
That is how you scale your site and traffic. But it will take time to learn to do all this stuff. It took me a lot of time too.
Thanks a lot, Nikola, for spending time to share amazing insights with us.
Thank you, Mudassir. It’s an honor for me and a privilege. I will be hanging around to answer any comments that come through, and yeah, thanks again!