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Your new book is called SEO For Growth and so to kind of kick it off, do you mind giving us an overview of what it’s about?
John: Obviously, the word SEO means we’re going to talk about search engine optimization, but we intentionally chose the word growth and, by the way, I have a co-author on this book, Phil Singleton, practicing SEO pro, but we intentionally chose the word growth because that’s a strategic word and what we’re really trying to do ultimately with this book is kind of raise the level of how people think about SEO.
It is all about how we think strategically now about search engine optimization and how it has to inform and integrate with many of the other channels for any of them to work effectively. Anybody who has spent 10 minutes trying to do some search engine optimization realizes that you can’t do it without great, consistent, a plan for content marketing, so that’s really what we’re trying to do. The subtitle of this book is The Ultimate Guide For Marketers, Entrepreneurs, and Web Designers and our belief is that all of those people need to be involved in the strategic thought process of how everything we do online is integrated and SEO is in some ways the glue to hold it all together.
Kelsey: Whenever I worked in companies, a lot of times the whole area of search was siloed and so it really is a process trying to get all these departments to work together and to realize how they can help each other, like sales and customer service, I always tell my clients are great resources for content and figuring out what people need and what they’re searching for.
John: There’s no question about that. In fact, a lot of these organizations really struggle today because they’ve got one marketing person who’s supposed to produce all the content about a product he or she doesn’t really know anything about and those engineers and customer service people and sales people are like fountains of content if you could just find the right way to channel it.
Kelsey: Exactly. It is a process for sure. Regarding when somebody talks about business growth, it sounds bad but a lot of times I don’t even necessarily think about marketing or think about search right away. A lot of people associate the word growth with sales, and so what are some areas that search specifically can help with business growth to kind of move past that mindset?
John: I think there are a couple. There’re some very tactical things I’ll talk about, but I want to stay on this topic of strategy because I think that some of the foundational SEO practices or elements actually help you do a much better job at understanding messaging, at understanding who your ideal client is, on understanding the journey they take, the intent that they have when they go out there searching.
A lot of times I think knowing that information and knowing the questions that people ask repeatedly and how they move from each stage of the journey is really one of the best ways for you to create an overarching marketing plan that is going to help you attract the right ideal client with the right message and it’s not just about, “Hey. We showed up on page 1 for this important search term.” I think it can help you identify the core messaging that you should be creating to hopefully attract that ideal client.
Kelsey: I agree because whenever messaging is consistent across all channels, whether that be sales material, your website, PPC ads, social media, it not only shows off your company as more professional but it also helps your messaging stick in your audience’s mind a lot better.
What are some of your favorite tools to identify that or whenever you’re working with a new client on search and outlining what their strategy is going to be?
John: There’s a couple that I love to use. It’s like there’s not one magic thing. It’s kind of like you’re making soup, right? You’ve got to put all these ingredients in and you don’t know what’s going to come out of it but a couple of the tools that I use very frequently. One of my favorites for keyword research is a tool called KeywordTool.io.
Probably my favorite attribute of that tool is that it will not just show you related searches to search terms but it will also show you the questions people are asking. I just really get excited about questions because I think they show so much intent. It’s pretty easy to figure out what somebody wants when they’re asking a question, but that’s one of my favorite tools.
I’m going to say this softly so not many people hear me. I love using Wikipedia as a research tool. Now, part of it is I’m an agency. I do work with a lot of industries that are not just marketing and when I’m trying to figure out an industry that I don’t know that much about, actually going to Wikipedia I can find the table of contents for a topic or for an industry can really reveal a lot of potential particularly content opportunities or themes or phrases that I might want to think about trying to niche down in.
Obviously, the Google keyword planner, although depending upon when you’re listening to this, who knows what date it will be, may become unavailable, but that’s still a great one. The thing it offers that nothing else really does is commercial intent, so after I understand the phrases that I think I want to optimize for or have my themes be for my editorial calendar, it helps me refine a little bit down to, “Oh, gosh. People are paying a whole lot for this variation as opposed to this variation so there must be some conversion going on,” so it gives me some clues that way. Finally, once I start getting down to the nitty-gritty and start saying, “Okay. What’s my content plan going to be maybe based on my keyword research?” I love BuzzSumo.
It’s basically a search engine that shows you very specific content for any search term but the key ingredient is how it was shared, how much it was shared, who shared it, where it was shared and that can really be some great information when you’re trying to get very meta down to what exactly should my content plan include.
Kelsey: I love Buzzsumo. We used it at SEJ and I use it for my clients, too. One tool that I just found out about that you might like. It’s called AnswerThePublic.com.
It shows you what people are searching for and it’s free and it has this man pondering life’s questions as you’re typing it in so that one’s been pretty cool, too. I also like using title generators so a lot of time they’ll have ideas that I hadn’t thought of, especially when it comes to creating content like RYP Marketing has one and Portent has one that I use, too, so a lot of good tools. Like you said, it’s kind of a soup, and you have to figure out what works best for you and your clients.
John: Yeah, and we didn’t even get into looking at link profiles using, say, Ahrefs or competitive research using a tool like Rival IQ.
What are some areas you see business owners lacking when it comes to SEO and hindering that growth?
I think the biggest one is a lot of times people practice SEO with the idea of, “Oh. I want to optimize for this term,” or, “I want this webpage to show high in the search engines,” and I think that what happens with that kind of thinking, and a lot of times it is very short-term thinking.
What we do is we do keyword research and we use that keyword research quite often to create an annual editorial calendar so we’ll block out here are 10 or 12 core themes that we know that if we come back to them 4 and 5 times or maybe even in many cases we’ll say, “This is going to be our theme for the month and so we’re going to have special focus on this keyword phrase or topics related to this keyword phrase.”
The idea is that in a year we will have built an asset that includes very focused content and maybe 5 and 6 pieces of content around a dozen or even half a dozen terms with the idea that now all of a sudden we have built an asset that can be used not only in SEO but with our sales teams and we can maybe repurpose into other forms of content that we can start recirculating so that long-term, we start showing up or building a bit of a war chest of content that will allow us to rank for that half a dozen key terms or those 10 phrases as opposed to really just coming up with the idea of the week that we want.
In many cases, we’ll write content and then we’ll say, “Okay. How do we optimize this,” as opposed to, “Here’s our optimization plan. Let’s write some content that fits into it.”
For us, when we do that it starts dictating. We get a lot of requests as I know you do for guests, people who want to contribute content. Now we can tell them, “Well, here’s what we want content on,” or we’ll go out and find guests for my podcast and a lot of times it will be related to the theme for the month so it just helps us keep focused.
Kelsey: You’re so right. I’ve talked to so many people. It’s kind of fly by the seat of their pants because they feel like they’re already behind so they think it’s more valuable to just jump in and go versus having a plan but I feel like now today’s internet users are so savvy that they can tell even if it’s subconsciously when something is just sloppily put together and it has an effect on how people perceive your business so even again, like I said, if it’s subconscious, if I go to a website and things aren’t laid out right, maybe some links don’t work, the content just seems random and not useful, that subtly affects my perception of the company. I’d rather see a company that maybe takes longer to produce things but when they publish something, and it’s great, that’s what I look forward to versus somebody that’s just chugging things out but they’re never really that good.
John: I think in some ways that is good news because a couple years ago it was just more, more, more. You got to produce every day. Now, I think people realize it’s okay to publish once a week. Heck, maybe once a month if it’s going to be something that is so valuable that people are going to share it, the search engines are going to appreciate, you are actually going to get long-term value out of it and use it as a resource in many ways. The bar is so high now regarding the quality of content that people are putting out there that in some ways it means we have to put out better quality, but the good news is I think people have realized we don’t have to put out so much quantity.
Kelsey: You’re exactly right because like you said when there was that push a few years ago, people are overwhelmed now. I feel overwhelmed just browsing through Facebook or maybe Feedly or Medium. I don’t even know what to read first because there’s so much content. I’d much rather spend my time reading one quality article versus trying to sift through and decide what I should be reading. Moving a little bit past content, I wanted to talk about a couple of other aspects of SEO, specifically local SEO.
I know since you work with a lot of small businesses, you probably deal a lot with local SEO. How does that tie into the concepts you outlined in your new book?
John: Everything we’ve talked about so far applies really to the local business. Now, there are certainly some more tactical, maybe even slightly technical aspects that come into play when we’re talking about a local business. The local business needs to be found when that person picks up their phones looking for a new beauty salon and so they have to pay special attention to a couple of elements. Certainly to Google My Business and Google Maps and now, of course, even Apple Maps, the things that make businesses show up when we’re looking for that local business. They have to pay, I think, potentially more attention to reviews in Google and in Yelp and in Facebook and in some of the places where people leave reviews today.
Kelsey: Another thing that I think a lot of people push regarding a local SEO strategy is link building, and I know that it’s a little controversial now I feel like because Google has frowned upon links that have been paid for, stuff like that. Sometimes guest blogging isn’t done the right way and it’s just to get a link so I’m curious to see what your approach is to link building and how you think it can be done in a good way.
John: I think that there’s no question the search engine’s realized how much abuse there was. They made that an important ranking factor and so people figured out how to abuse it so they’ve kind of swung back the other way and really gotten tough on what they see as bad practices, but I think that link building’s still an important factor but how you get it done, I talk about it as being much more like networking. You don’t do networking, or not effectively, in a spammy way, in a way that’s inauthentic and I think that link building has a lot to do with that same type of practice, that you start sharing other people’s content because it is useful and low and behold in some cases, they start sharing your content. Guest blogging is still one of the best ways, particularly for somebody that doesn’t have a lot of traffic, to get exposure to a new audience.
In a lot of ways, you have to think about a number of reasons that you might do guest blogging.
Again, I think the simple rule can be is if getting a link from somebody or linking to somebody’s content can benefit your prospects and customers today, then it’s a good practice so I think that’s my sort of simple rule of thumb for measuring everything that we do but it just has to be done much more like effective networking is done today, I think.
Kelsey: That’s a really good way to put it, that you should think of link building as networking . I haven’t heard that one yet.
I always like to ask how you stay current in our industry because obviously, you’ve worked very hard to build Duct Tape Marketing and you’re an author or several books. What do you do to stay up to date and see what the trends are?
John: I love this industry. I love reading about the new things so it’s not hard for me to stay very curious and so that part helps but because I interview a lot of authors, I must read some part of a hundred books a year. I have a feed reader loaded up with about a hundred blogs and I do a decent job at adding and pruning that to kind of hear some new voices. I’ve probably used social media more for that than really blasting out my content. It’s a great place for me to easily scan and see what people are talking about as kind of the next thing and the tools and of course, places like Product Hunt. A great place to see stuff that comes online that day, you can see it. It’s more of a routine and a process as much as anything and that process just includes going through and scanning and staying on top of things that are coming out that are easy for me to consume, easy for me to get to because I’ve set up a process.
Kelsey: That’s what I do. I just take about 20 to 30 minutes every day and just read through my Feedly so I don’t know what RSS reader you use but with Feedly, you can subscribe to groups of blogs that other people have set up if you have the paid account so there’s a bunch of them. A bunch of people have set up SEO blogs, marketing blogs, content marketing and so it makes it really easy to follow a large group of websites at once and stay up to date.
John: I used Feedly as well. I’ve been thinking 13, 14 years ago when this stuff first came on. We had Google Reader and gosh, there was another one. Bloglines was another one that was my original feed reader that no longer exists. In fact, neither one of those exist today, and so Feedly is the best answer, for sure.
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