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Forget SEO – Get Found Online by Focusing on Brand Building. Here’s how.

28th January 2015

I am the founder of, a business online magazine covering various topics, mainly on small business and entrepreneurship. has been a great learning tool for me, as it has brought me through the highs and lows of my entrepreneurial journey.

The highlights have always been the Google slaps that brought my down from 4,000 visitors a day to, at that time, 400 visitors a day back in 2012.

In this blog post, I will share my journey with you using as a real life case study. I will also talk about the ways I take to recover from Google penalties and the exact methods I do for building the brand reputation, which has gained brand mentions from several big time media like Inc. and Forbes.


In the beginning…

Did you know about the global economy crash in 2007/2008? My personal economy collapsed during that time, and nearly collapse again in 2012.

The global economy crashed in 2007/2008, wiping out my offline business.  After the near-bankruptcy experience, I jump into the online business and make money online bandwagon.

Things were looking up – until Google’s algorithm updates, namely Panda, wiped out my main web business,, as well as 90 percent of my other sites, from the top of SERPs in some competitive money keywords.

At that time, I made $3,000 from Google AdSense alone. Per month. I know – it’s quite awesome for a blog.  But as AdSense click value is highly related to the quality of visitors (the top 3 in search engine result pages brings in the best quality of visitors,) my AdSense ads impression, clicks, CTR, EPC – virtually everything – went down with the drop in Google ranking.

Business failure

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet

The slaps didn’t end there.  My sites were hit with Penguin and the rest of Google Zoo. The reasons? One of them is this: I accept too many guest posts. And the grand finale? Getting slapped along with the network I joined for sourcing content, Ann Smarty‘s MyBlogGuest.

Ann and I have talked a bit about the situation, and we conclude that we’ve had enough with Google.  More on this later – read on 🙂

So, my sites were dying, and recovery was pursued day-by-day. I didn’t know what will work nor not.  I read so many SEO articles, and I conclude that while recovery is possible, it’s not easy.

In short, in the past two years I work hard in finding ways to recover from the Google penalties, and in 2014, I saw positive growth.  My sites are recovering – some better than the others, but we’ll get there.

But here’s the thing about the recovery: It’s not because of my effort in pleasing Google; it’s because of my effort in pleasing the most underrated subject of my sites: Visitors, readers and clients.

Feeling intrigued? Read on.

So, how did I do it?

If you assume that my recovery is largely due to the link disavow, link nofollow, siloing, and other SEO tactics, you assume wrong.

I did some much-needed action – such as disavowing bad links, nofollowing links in third party posts, etc. – but the recovery is mainly due to my shift to social media marketing, along with old school, back to basics marketing tactics.

The results? My was included in a list on several authority sites, such as Forbes’ Top 100 Entrepreneurship Websites in 2013 and Inc.’s Top 50 Entrepreneurship Blogs in 2014.

All while my Google rankings are barely recovered.

So, how did I do it? I’m focusing on content marketing, link baiting, reputation building, brand marketing and so on – doing the good, old branding and marketing tactics using social media platforms. Not stopping there, I do the old-reliable way: Building relationship with media and PR companies.


Let’s talk about those in depth, shall we?

1. Content marketing

I got my readership back because I publish articles on regular basis AND promote them on social media.  As a general rule of thumb, great content means nothing if nobody reads it; you need to promote it on social media platforms.

Here’s what I do: After I publish an article, I use tools like, IFTTT, Justretweet and SocialOomph for distributing social updates across my social media channels (I have dozens of real social media accounts in Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other popular social networks.)

Not stopping there, I submit my articles to top business and marketing communities like LinkedIn groups, BlogEngage, GrowthHacker,, and so on.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve got to do it. It’s all about survival.

2. Reputation building

Google doesn’t think that my site is reputable enough (hence the Google penalties and slaps!) But guess what, your site doesn’t suddenly turned into a joke just because Google thinks so (unless you build a rubbish site.)  If you believe that you are building a quality site, there’s more to your site’s life than pleasing Googlebots.

So, I (painfully) decided NOT to optimize for Google; I removed SEO from my strategy book.  I shifted my focus on people. Real people. Not Googlebots or any other search engine bots.

It’s a scary move, but I MUST take action, or else…

With that said, I no longer optimize my site for any keywords. I don’t care about my money keywords.  What I now care is this: Delivering value and be regarded as one of the reputable sources for my niche, which is small business/entrepreneurship in’s case.

Here’s how I do it: I give rel=”nofollow” to ALL existing guest posts EXCEPT those who are written by business leaders, entrepreneurs or top-level executives (CEO, COO, CMO, etc.)  I once shut down guest posts, but reopened the door for those coming from business leaders.

The idea is to have my content ‘endorsed’ by reputable people by having their name in the byline as Authors.  This way, my will be positioned as THE place for content published by business owners, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Business partnership

3. Building relationship with media and PR companies

This is perhaps the most challenging, yet rewarding thing to do: Building real relationship with media and PR companies.  The big question is: How to connect with them – and why?

Please allow me to tell you my why: Because business relationship matters, and who you are connected with will impact your entrepreneurial journey.

I once was related in web directories and in forums, I’m known as a link seller (even one forum member once dubbed me a “link pimp”.) Then I started to blog and I’m known as a blogger.

You see, what you do and who you are dealing with shape your entrepreneurial journey. As my and other sites are “dumped” by Google, SEO, link building, etc. have become meaningless to me.  I need to find other way to get my sites found – and the answer lies in media and PR companies.

I’ve received some emails from PR companies on daily basis. One time, I was approached by a PR specialist for a story pitch. We ended up having some conversations via email and we found that we are a match in personality.  We are not friends – yet, but we are definitely acquaintance.

We have worked on some publications – she sent me articles from her clients, following my guidelines (having the CEO ‘endorses’ the post in the byline.) In exchange, she ‘sponsored’ me to join a private database of journalist and media people and company. This is probably the best ‘deal’ I have in my entire career.

I’ve connected with some great media people and (virtually) meet with CEOs, CMOs, entrepreneurs and other prolific business leaders.  This alone has put my on the map.

Start afresh


There are many more things that I try to do for to get found online. And surprise, surprise, Google is not in my plan.

The funny thing is, when I was giving up on Google, my organic search is suddenly improving.  Perhaps my sends out some good reputation signals that please the Googlebots.  To be honest with you, I don’t know. But this proves one point: If you want to rank well on Google and other search engine, stop focusing on acquiring links and start building relationship with those who matter in the niche you are in.

And guess what? Links, mentions, and reviews are eventually rolling in.

So, get down to work: Do you want a better future for you and your webpreneurial journey? If so, stop relying on Google and start building professional relationship. It worked and it still works today.

Forget SEO - focus on brand building

Ivan Widjaya is the owner of, as well as the founder of several online businesses:, and He runs his business from anywhere, anytime he wants.

Cute business woman

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I build and manage blogs. I blog for brands. I have helped clients in getting found online.

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  • poonammankotiaPoonam
    Posted at 6:18 pm January 29, 2015

    Really Good Approach !!

  • Martin Lindeskog
    Posted at 7:38 am February 1, 2015
    Martin Lindeskog

    Ivan: Thanks for sharing you candid and personal report on how you have built your brand, without being under Google’s “spell”…. 😉

  • Nexsale (@nexsale)
    Posted at 11:47 pm September 16, 2015
    Nexsale (@nexsale)

    Even today where technology is deeply engrained in our daily life, we still prefer to do business with people we like and respect. This human to human business approach can’t be achieved through SEO and site optimization alone. No matter the technology, it’s the way you use it to genuinely connect with your audience and prospects that makes the difference. However, digital tools that enables you to increase customer experience, showcase the value of your products and services as well as gathering valuable data can be leveraged to build your brand and increase leads conversion without relying on Google.