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So I got busy and wrote articles. I did keyword research and found out what search terms people in my niche market used on Google and the other search engines. I used those keywords in my article titles and throughout the articles themselves. I wrote reviews around specific products that I promoted on my site. I integrated a blog into the site and invited visitors to comment on topics they found interesting, which added even more content to the site. I started a monthly newsletter, and archived each one as a separate page on the site, adding even more keyword-rich content for the search engine spiders to feed on.

And a funny thing happened. I started to get free visitors from the search engines. Just a trickle at first, but then more and more as my pages were indexed and added to the Google database. Pretty soon my site became known as an authority in my niche market, and other related sites began linking to it as a resource for their visitors. Soon even Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, was linking to the site from several of its outdoor recreation pages. Then, when my site hit 150 pages of unique content, the floodgates opened, and I started receiving thousands of visitors a day from the search engines, across hundreds of different keyword phrases.

Needless to say, sales went up accordingly. And they're still strong, more than three years later, even though I've done little more than routine maintenance on the site for the past year. During the summer months the site basically pays the mortgage on my house, all from advertising revenue and affiliate link sales, without me ever touching a product or processing a credit card payment. The site makes money whether I'm out fishing or book scouting or sitting at home watching the latest Kevin Costner movie.

Great, you're probably thinking, but how does this apply to my bookstore website? Well, I would propose that you do the same things I did. If you have a bookstore dedicated to a particular genre (and you should, because if you think you're going to win the search engine battle against heavyweight general booksellers like Amazon, think again) then put up content around that niche topic. If you specialize in science fiction, write articles about topics of interest to science fiction fans. Write biographies of SF authors that you feature. Write articles around a specific sub-genre like hard science fiction, science fiction romance, or SF from the Golden Age of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. Write reviews of the latest hot new titles or authors in the field. Start a blog, and encourage others to post their own thoughts and book reviews. Amazon has done this very same thing and they get tons of free content on their site from customer reviews.

If you don't feel like doing all that writing yourself, you can pay to have articles written for you on sites like Elance or RentACoder.

There you can pay someone in India or another English-speaking country to write a decent article for as little as $10 each, but be aware that they probably won't know as much about the topic as you do, and their writing will no-doubt reflect that. You could also start a forum on your site to generate content, although you'll probably need someone to moderate it or it will quickly become a magnet for online scammers and spammers.

Another option is to go to a article distribution site like EzineContent where you can re-print other people's article for free, as long as you include a link back to their site. The only problem with this is that Google and the other search engines now consider this "duplicate content" and won't give you much credit for having these articles on your site.

If all this sounds like a lot of work and trouble, you're right, it is. Free traffic is free only in the sense that you're not paying for it with money; you're paying for it with your time and effort. It's a lot easier to just put up a cookie-cutter bookstore website that has the same generic photos and book descriptions as every other cookie-cutter bookstore website.

Just don't expect to get a lot of free traffic from the search engines. They're reserving that for websites that provide valuable information for their searchers.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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