An Open Letter to This Years Graduating Class

I remember going to work with my dad growing up. From the first time I saw his degree hanging on his office wall I began adding things up in my mind, and more importantly in my spirit. I don’t think I realized how much weight I was putting on that piece of paper all those years.

But in putting that moment of graduation on a pedestal, I was setting myself up for years of disappointment after graduation. Instead of telling you congrats (which you deserve), I’m going to write you the letter I wish I would have gotten back in college. I’m going to say everything that your parents, friends, and your teachers probably won’t tell you. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s the truth. And with that in mind, I give you…

To This Year’s Graduates

First off, congrats for making it through college alive. There were so many reasons you could have given up, quit, and done other things. You have learned a lot, but very little of it will help you in the next phase of your life. I know you went to college to prepare you for a job, but very few of you will actually use your degree from this point on.

What it will do is allow you is apply for jobs that other people can’t, demand a slightly higher salary, and in general make more money over the course of your life. There are so many great things about college, so hear me loud and clear, you did the right thing.

But you know all that already, you’ve been told it your entire life. We went to college because it entitled us to a better life. Sadly, that’s where most of the problems start. Do you feel like you deserve a high paying job? I know I did.

Here’s the problem, this isn’t the same economy your parents graduated in. This isn’t the same world your teachers in college grew up in. I will rarely say don’t take advice from your elders, but this is one subject where they simply can’t help us.

If you grew up in a time where water was always plentiful, how would you be able to tell someone how to live through a drought? I graduated in one of the worst job droughts in recent history. My parents had no idea what I was going through.

You need a job, and it’s time to go to work regardless of where it is. You have a college degree, but might have to work at a job that doesn’t even need a degree. Your first feeling the day you start working at a job you feel under qualified for can be pretty rough. I worked at 3 or 4 jobs after college that didn’t even need a degree. Hect, at times I thought about going back to jobs I had during school.

Doubt and regret can be powerful depressants if left unchecked. Surround yourself with positive people!

Having a job that doesn’t require a degree after college isn’t the end of the world. We just aren’t prepared for it mentally. As college grads we are ready for $65,000 a year, full benefits, and a brand new car. Here’s the facts, in all, 17 million Americans with college degrees are working at jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Nearly half of all college graduates are working at a job not requiring a degree.

The fact that you don’t have your dream job is bad enough, but we didn’t just promise ourselves a job now did we? The college degree means so much more than it should. We expect the job, and the job affords us the luxury of the other great american dream, buying your first house.

When you end up not making what you thought you would, you end up living where you thought you’d never be again. Of the members of the class of 2011, 85% of you will have to move back in with their parents after you graduate.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to realize that college isn’t the end of tunnel. You studied hard, and you will reap the fruit of your labor in the right timing. It just might not be when the moment you walk across the stage and get your diploma.

Now the real learning begins. So what should you look for in a job? Find someone who will do more than just pay you, find a mentor who will educate you. College prepared you to learn, something you will do the rest of your life. The real currency of your future isn’t your salary, it’s wisdom.

When I graduated all I saw was salary, and that is the worst possible way to evaluate the right job. The right job isn’t the one that pays the most, it’s the one that will teach and train you the most. The best job is the one with the potential for you to grow as the company grows. Preferably with stock options along the way!

Just a little secret about this. If you love what you do, stay humble, and surround yourself with people that value wisdom, you usually end up making a lot of money anyways.

I’ll say this one more time loud and clear. It’s not time to go crazy impressing your friends. I know you really want to show that your degree meant something, but that’s pride. You earned your degree, and nobody can take it away from you. That’s the value of it. Ten dollars an hour or a hundred thousand a year, your degree is still worth the same.

Want a big dose of humility? The median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2010 was $27,000.

This is a brain race, it’s no longer warm and fuzzy. If you hate education, lifelong learning will be a forced march. If you stop learning, you will become unemployed and unemployable very quickly.

Keep learning, never stop learning, and surround yourself with people that enjoy learning. See a common theme yet?

This isn’t just about you. At the risk of sounding too patriotic, America needs our help as young people. There are now almost 46 million people in the United States on food stamps. We are official $14,000,000,000,000 in debt, although the actual number is likely much higher. Get your finances in order, if you don’t believe me ask Dave Ramsey.

It’s time to get your head out of the clouds and get to work. I know you think that 4 years of college will now reward you with a lifetime of relaxing at a 9-5 cushy job, but me at 23, your sadly mistaken. The good news? If you read this, and took it to heart, you are now 3 years ahead of where I was at your age.

Want to know where you will be in 5 years? Ask yourself what your 5 closest friends will be doing in 5 years. If you think they will be doing pretty much the same thing, with pretty much the same problems, so will you.

The ROI of Advertising on Facebook

Experian Hitwise released a recent study touting that 1 Facebook fan = 20 extra visits to your website. They studied top retailers, and came away with the conclusion that since big companies are winning online, anybody can just as easily. I couldn’t disagree more with their blanket statements about Social Media, and thought they hid some key findings in their study.

Just like each business is different, all Facebook campaigns aren’t created equal. Understanding your goals and setting realistic expectations are much more important than knowing the value of a fan for Coca-Cola. If you are a small to medium sized business on Facebook, you aren’t going to see these same results. If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, you’ll see what I mean.

Building your fan base on Facebook, doesn’t necessarily translate into massive amounts of traffic back to your website. The Experian Hitwise study claims ROI on average 1 Facebook fan equals 20 visits. What they failed to mention is that this is more a multiplier effect than a baseline. Even if you don’t have a Facebook fan page, large companies can still expect to see thousands of visitors from Facebook on a monthly basis.

“Our data shows that for the top retailers, even if they have no Facebook fans they can still expect to receive on average 62,000 visits from Facebook each month. However….within retail each new fan acquired will drive an additional 20 visits to a retailer’s websites, which in turn will generate extra sales both online and offline.”

I want you to go out and try something sometime. Build a website about a random product or service, and then build a matching Facebook fan page. This website can’t piggy back of a similar brand already in existence, I want you to create something that isn’t on the map at all.

The whole point of ROI is to determine a set return so that others can follow a template approach. The problem is that unless you already have 62,000 people coming from Facebook every month, you’re going to have a difficult time proving the ROI in terms of visits to a website.

Facebook is designed to be a closed system that makes money off internal traffic. If I was an executive over in Palo Alto, I might refer to users leaving Facebook as leaks. Your incoming traffic means less revenue and time on site for Facebook. Think about that.

Google beat Facebook to one billion monthly visitors, but Facebook still crushes Google in terms of time on site. It’s this same metric that drives them to want to keep users inside their system longer and longer.

So if your business revolves around getting traffic back to your website, you’re fighting a losing battle against a company bigger, better, and stronger than you. So keep that in mind whenever you hear “Social Media experts” talking about Facebook ROI for your small business.

6 Ways the Hoth Builds Valuable Links to Your Brand

Today I was able to attend the Hoth‘s webinar about SEO link building. It was lead by Alex Pyatetsky, and discussed a wide range of topics surrounding link building. There were a few mentions of the Hoth and their product, but for the most part Alex stayed on topic.

I’m not going to discuss everything that was said, because a lot of it was introductory stuff, but I had a few good takeaways that are worth sharing. Alex came across with an interesting way to look at link building. Very similar to the way nutritionists use the food pyramid, he discussed a link building pyramid to maximize your efforts when creating links to a brand new or existing website.

There were three steps to this method, and all of them involved getting the quality, authority, and relevant links we know are vital for improving organic traffic.

Foundational Link Building

While most people want jump out of the gate running, Alex said that foundation link building was key to this entire process. Dominating your niche starts at the bottom, by getting authority links from your inner circle. He called this the circle of family and friends.

You can also recruit investors, employees, and people you have existing relationships with. These foundational links are the easiest to achieve, but they are the most crucial to your overall SEO strategy. Without a base of solid authority links, the next levels won’t be as effective. You will only be as strong as your foundation.

Online Activity

Once you get a good foundation, you can move onto to general link building, or online activity. This includes things like blog commenting, forum posting, guest posting, and paid advertising. This part of SEO link building is a little bit more difficult. You don’t have as much control over these links, and the weight they hold.

Most people want to immediately start with services from companies like the Hoth, but he said that would be a mistake. It was refreshing to hear such honestly from a link builder!

I found it interesting that Alex still valued blog commenting as an important part of the second stage of SEO link building. He stated that blog commenting is under valued by many people. His logic was that blog commenting still allows you to place choice, relevant links on pages across the web. These links can come from authority pages, and there are plenty of opportunities out there.

Another interesting blog commenting strategy was the, “be first to comment” idea. By being one of the first few people to leave a quality comment on an authority blog, you are getting the attention of not only the blogger, but everyone who visits the posts and browses the comments.

Alex’s strategy was the follow important thought leaders in his industry, and be the first to leave an insightful post that adds value to the original. He had some great examples of this working very well to his advantage. Here is a great quote from Alex’s thoughts on blog commenting…

It’s more than just link building for the sake of the link, its getting the attention of the right people!

Another good nugget was taking advantage of commenting Loyalty programs, who give the most frequent visitors a link back to their website. Commenting regularly on an authority blog can be just like adding a blogroll link that you have control over. That link is powerful and just as relevant to your niche.

Online Activity

For blog commenting, Alex discussed commenting tools like Comment Kahuna to help you find relevant content. The big theme for the second part of the SEO link pyramid revolved around relevant blogs, it was definitely a big them.

Another really cool point he brought up was paid advertising as a form of link building. Not in the sense that your are buying links, but that the best way to network online with a blogger is to buy ads on their website. I’m sure this is a technique they have used frequently for the Hoth, as I have seen their ads all over the web.

Once you are a paying customer you have an automatic in with them, which can lead to guest posts and further discussions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Here’s Alex on buying ads for link building again…

Buying ads is probably something you are doing anyways, realize that it’s important for relationship building, which will lead to quality links.

Surgical Link Building

The last part discussed by Alex from the Hoth was surgical link building for SEO. This includes social bookmarking, article marketing, guest posting. This is also I’m guessing where a large part of the Hoth’s business comes from. While I’m sure they would help with any aspect of your link building efforts, surgical building is their specialty.

This is the final part of your strategy, and luckily you have control over things like anchor text, location, keywords, and scale. Surgical link building is the difference between the winners and losers.

Risks of Automated Link Building

Beware of picking up link building software from an affiliate store Link building tools are great for casual pushes, but you just can’t game Google like that anymore. Sure you can build hundreds of thousands of links in a few days, but at that point you aren’t doing anything but hurting that website. The other unfortunate thing is that many of the bookmarking sites that come standard on bookmarking demon have been spammed to the moon and back.

These have all turned into bad neighborhoods on the web you definitely want to stay away from. So if you need something to submit a few of your best articles too in mass, go pick up a tool, but trust me it’s not going to make or break a website. The best way to build links is still time and effort, it just doesn’t come that easy anymore.

Summary from Alex @ the Hoth

Unlike some other surgical link building methods, The Hoth is safe to use on new sites, etc. The reason is because we model the authoritative link -> multi site syndication model. In other words, all of the links we build *make sense* to the search engines and we do see new sites rank just by using our product.

It would therefore be easy/convenient to conclude that its the only thing you need, for really solid, sustained rankings. However, as I mentioned in the webinar, this isn’t the smartest approach. Although you do get authority, relevance and popularity from a tool like ours, its not a replacement for the foundational authority of links like blogrolls from friendly industry blogs.

Likewise, although our links provide relevance through relevant content and anchor texts, they are not coming from root-domains that are relevant to your niche. Therefore, its smart to supplement what we do with the activities I suggest in the “Friends, Family & Fools” and “Online Activity” portions of the link building pyramid (the bottom & middle levels).

We have seen some people rank for over a year just using our tool, but it would be arrogant for me to say that everyone can achieve the same thing. Using the tool as part of a well rounded strategy (i.e. “The New Link Building Pyramid”) is a much more consistent way to achieve rankings, and much more stable for keeping them.

Part of a Bigger Picture

Think of this as the seasoning on your dish, you may have all the ingredients, but it’s that last pinch of salt that makes it happen. The problem is most link builder’s won’t be patient in waiting for this last step, and that’s understandable. We live in an instant results world where people want traffic and revenue almost overnight.

The temptation is to only build only surgical links, but without the foundation of link building, you might rank well but you won’t stay near the top. This can lead to huge swings in traffic, but also frustration Alex from the Hoth says.

If you just build surgical links you might rank, but your totally at the whim of the search engine. You’ll see volatility, and you’ll be pulling your hair out more often.

As the webinar came to a close Alex offered more great advice about your overall link building strategy, talking about going after the low hanging fruit, and then branching out from their. Link building can be a science, so stop reinventing the wheel. There is a smarter, more consistent way to build links for SEO.