1. It will likely take a lot of time.
If you are so lucky that the luck is literally squatting on your shoulders, your domain will likely gain traffic within a week or two. That is even more likely, if you already built recognition for your project in the real-world. People will come because they are interested.
On the other hand, if you are one of us, the common folk - you will likely have to spend months and months, building your audience.
There are few real shortcuts for a lasting, organic traffic. The only way to build a dedicated audience is to:
→ Create value - content, products, something others want or need.
→ Let people know - share, promote, tell everyone you know.
If you succeed in sharing, and people see the value on your product - they will share further. At some point, audiences take over the promotion responsibility from creators.
This snowball effect is the only real way to get a sustainable, growing audience. What about the ads?
2. Paid traffic is temporary - organic is forever.
I did it for knowledge. To see what happens (already kind of predicting what will happen.) To share it with everybody and stop you from spending your life savings on online promotion.
Early 2017, I read through several popular guides promising endless amount of monthly visitors - with just Facebook and Google ads (these guides are still there.)
Two things to learn from that little experiment (3 months, 5-figures monthly budget).
→ The promoted domain did get a significant amount of visitors. So these guides weren't exactly lying.
→ None of these paid visitors returned, ever. So these guides weren't exactly honest.
If that domain already had great content, or offered some value - and I don't think it did either very well - these paid visitors would have stayed.
But if a domain already has great content, or offers some value - it doesn't need ads in the first place, you will be getting organic traffic of interested visitors regardless.
Don't use Facebook or Google Ads as a lazy excuse, instead of sharing your project yourself. They are not a validation tool, neither will they build trust.
Ads on social networks and search engines are great for growth. But unless you already have an organic traffic, I'm afraid paid visitors will not be of much help.
3. Think global - act local.
When we create new projects, the vision almost always seem to be global. The product will help everyone, absolutely everywhere. And that is hopefully - true!
But, looking from another perspective, if the product targets everyone - it doesn't really target anyone. The scope is so thinly spread, the product becomes barely noticeable anywhere at all.
I remember a conference at which a marketing specialist spoke about his company's promotional strategy. What he concluded with, is that he regrets they did not limit the initial target audience even further. To target just a city, a district, or even a single street.
Promoting a new domain to everybody at once sounds amazing, but is unlikely to work.
Focus on a small, local group - search engines are more likely to display local content.
Focus on a single language - either English, or one most likely used by your audience. Google ranks multilingual content separately, this blurs the focus.
4. Helping others helps yourself.
If you start with a blank sheet, there are likely only two options of getting any organic traffic to your domain.
→ Bring traffic from the outside, yourself. And this has little to do with SEO.
→ Join someone already established. Guest posts, articles, expertise, favors.
→ Wait months until Googlebot luckily notices website's relevance.
So unless you already have an eager audience willing to visit your domain, playing with the big boys is usually the only way to go. Search engines determine website's worth and authority using the authority of other websites connected to it.
As for this - be sure to check points 9 and 10, before choosing the easy vs the hard way of building external links to your website.
5. Measure success.
It is partially optional, but very helpful. Helpful, unless you enjoy walking around blindly in the dark, waiting for luck to strike.
There are many tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMRush - tools that will let you see how your website is doing, day-by-day.
These tools will show you external links leading to your website, keywords you are recognized with, main traffic sources, etc.
Moreover - they also show the data for any competing or similar domains. And traffic sources that work very well for your competition, are just as likely to work for you (at least in the long run!)
6. Forget keywords - focus on content.
Keywords are this one buzzword SEO hackers seem to be obsessed with.
First of all, the idea of keywords is a bit dated - the "keywords" metadata was so overused by the "webmasters" of early 2000's, the current SEO bots just ignore it.
It doesn't mean keywords are not important. They are important, but in a very different way. Modern SEO keywords are determined by:
→ URL of your website - each subpage can also target different keywords in the url.
→ Title of your website.
→ Headings on your website - including all the headings, not only h1.
→ Website content.
→ Image descriptions.
The amount of keywords used does not matter. As long as the crawling bot can understand context from the website title and headings, it's sufficient and website will be ranked.
How high website will be ranked does not depend on the keywords though. Website ranking depends on the usefulness of the content.
This usefulness is expressed in the amount of external links leading to the website, coverage on social networks, and the visitor bounce rate.
If visitors find what they were looking for on your website, you will rank high on the keywords you declared.
If visitors find a wall of keyword spam and leave your website after 0.3 seconds, you are unlikely to reach the first page.
7. Use your phone for quality checks.
Starting July 1, 2019, Google uses mobile versions of websites to crawl and rank them. Note that this only applies to Google Search Engine for now.
What does it mean for SEO?
→ Visibility. If parts of website's content are not clearly visible on a smaller screen, Googlebot may ignore this content.
→ Accessibility. If website is inaccessible on a smaller screen, blocks the entire screen with ads, or does not work with touch controls - Googlebot may not be able to rank it at all.
→ Media Content. If videos or images on the website are inaccessible on a mobile device, they may not be used for ranking.
Before transitioning to mobile-first indexing, Google prepared several tools that help fixing common issues on mobile devices.
8. Make browsing easy for crawlers.
It seems obvious, but sometimes it may happen that one or more of subpages lose connection with the reminder of the website, or the primary domain.
If no link leads to a certain subpage, search engine has no way of finding it. To avoid accidentally losing valuable, ranked content be sure to use robots.txt or a sitemap.
Setup website index in Google Console and check whether the website structure is correct. It's best to do it before it is needed.
Websites, especially those content-based like news or blogs, grow rapidly. Using robots.txt and sitemap files to ensure that all content is visible to the SEO bots.
9. Forget buying links.
As mentioned earlier, ranking in search engines is determined by usefulness and relevance. The more important websites link to your domain, the more relevant you seem to be.
It may seem like a good idea then, to maximize the amount of links by purchasing them, especially as an alternative to usual paid advertisement. There seem to be many services that offer link placement on highly ranked websites. But is the light worth the candle?
The moral aspect out of the way, let me point out just two things:
→ This is still just paid advertising. If you do not serve quality content or value, your rank and organic traffic will not improve. Your bounce-rate may, at best.
→ Risk of blacklisting. If a search engine bot notices and verifies that you are linked to unrelated websites, and these websites sell links, you may get blacklisted. This means your domain will stop appearing in the search results.
This is especially important early on, when traffic is sparse. Buying links seem to be an easy way to get visitors, at first, but may cause a lot of trouble when the website grows and becomes a success.
Bought links can be found at any time in the future, and blacklisting may suddenly bring the organic traffic back down.
10. Go creative.
So what did work? How to easily build early, organic traffic?
Instead of the easy ways, both Google and my experience would suggest going for the entertaining ways to build traffic.
Creating new, interesting content - that is, content that's not only text and keywords - is not only fun, but also quite effective in traffic generation.
Search engine results these days are not only text. In fact, the top spot of search results is usually not even a website, but a strip of images, or YouTube videos. It takes less effort to watch a video, they tend to be more engaging than articles, and go viral far easier.
Making sure your relevant videos and images appear in search results can be a great step to building a dedicated audience for both YouTube account and your domain!