It seems like a new tool or technique comes out every day. A new social media tactic, a new SEO tool, a new online service that everyone thinks will be the next BIG THING.

We get distracted by the next shiny object and lose sight of the essentials - the key things we need to keep continued focus on in order to succeed online.

So, what are the essentials for success online?

Well, you could debate that question endlessly, but here are my three:

1. Create Great Content

The foundation of your online presence is quality content. Not RSS feeds to fill your blog with recycled content. Not articles created by content spinners. Not PLR content or thin articles with bad grammar written in the Philippines for $4.

We're talking about original, insightful content about something you care about. There are no shortcuts.

The fact is, publishing insightful, original content to your blog on a regular basis will do more for your traffic than any of the "tricks" Internet Marketers talk about and try to sell you. Your content can be written, it can be audio, images or video. The point is, Google is continuously tweaking its algorithms to ignore crappy, thin and duplicate content and reward the good stuff.

You need a base of content that expresses who you are and what you stand for on your blog or website in order to start building an online business.

I really like Chris Garrett's Killer Flagship Content as a model for creating great content.

2. Build Your Email List

Despite all the attention social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are getting, email is still the most powerful tool for connecting with your audience and boosting your traffic and revenues.

Are you building a list on your website or blog? Imagine this: on the average website, 70% of your visitors will never come back. (Just look at your % of new visitors in your analytics.) Can you imagine running a business where you knew 70% of the people who came in the door would never return? You have to work really hard to find another set of customers like that every day.

Building an email list to capture readers who are interested in your content and bringing them back over and over again is probably your biggest opportunity to build an audience and readership. Building a list does take some work, but the payoff is huge. Many blogs I know get 30% or more of their traffic from their email list.

So how do you build your email list? Here are a few key elements:

  1. Create a compelling offer. Offer something that is irresistible to your target audience. Like an eBook or video that answers some of their most pressing problems or issues. Spend $30 on a nice eBook cover. This is how you convince people to sing up for your list. (Having great content on your blog helps with this too!)
  2. Invite readers to join. Place your sign up form prominently on your blog. Some good places are at the top of right hand sidebar, and after every post. Even though they are effective, I don't like automatic pop-overs. I think tools like HelloBar are a classier way to invite users to sign up than the pop-overs some people use.
  3. Communicate regularly. Once people have joined your list, communicate with them regularly. If you don't, they will forget they signed up for your list and unsubscribe. And when you do communicate, make sure every email provides value. The key to a good email list building relationships. Email services like AWeber and MailChimp allow you set up a series of emails that your subscribers will automatically receive on a scheduled basis called Autoresponders. You can also use the Blog RSS capability in AWeber and other services to automatically create newsletters out of your blog posts. This way you can leverage the great content on your blog in your email newsletter, and keep your subscribers coming back to your website.

3. Engage With Your Audience

Ok, so I just bagged on Social Media a little bit and said email was better. It is. But here's the deal - the major search engine ranking factors are changing. Backlinks from quality websites are still key to great rankings, but engagement is quickly becoming another distinguishing factor rankings going forward.

So not only do you need great content on your blog, but you want to get your readers to engage with it. By engaging and sharing, you will naturally get more links to your site too. Here are a few tips for building engagement on your site:

  • Make it easy to share your content. Use a social media sharing tool like Digg Digg to make it easy for people to share your content on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. A recent survey showed that 40%+ of sites are not even doing this yet. The survey also showed that sites that make it easy for people to share their content got more social media engagement and more traffic.
  • Respond to *every* comment on your blog. People want to be heard. If they take the time to leave a comment on your blog make sure you respond to them! People are more likely to comment on an active discussion. If you are using WordPress, I've found that the Subscribe to Comments plugin is a great way to keep the conversation move along and bring people back for more comments.
  • Answer every email from your readers and email list. Many times people will respond to your email newsletter. This is a great chance to build a relationship with individuals on your list. Make sure you respond to people who take the time to email you.
  • Set up Google Alerts so that you know when people mention you online. Reply to Tweets, Facebook, and Google+. If someone retweets one of your posts, thank them. If they connect with you on Facebook or Google+ make sure to reciprocate.

Just like getting backlinks, engagement is going to continue to become more important to your rankings.

Ok, those are my essentials. What are yours?