Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about Search Engine Results and getting on page one of search results.

Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.

Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.

Paul: Great to have you.

Search Engine Results: Getting on Page One

Ed: Being on page two of the search engine results page is, is maybe not necessarily a bad thing.

Paul: Sure. But it’s not a good thing.

Ed: Sure. Think about it.

Paul: I mean, we’re lazy. Web consumers are lazy. So I dig a lot into the web and find things, and people are always surprised. “How did you find that?” Well, I go to page two and page three and page four and page five, and I tweak the query and I, I change the order of words and I…and all sorts of things. And they’ll say, “That’s how I should have asked the question,” because now I got the answer.

Ed: Bingo. Exactly right.

Paul: But a lot of people don’t do that. They don’t have the patience for that. So how do we, in a real world scenario, I’m, I’m an attorney. Uh, I do elder law, and I want to get more clients. And I’m coming to you for SEO and, and all the things that follow along. So if I get somebody there, you gotta worry about getting somebody there, is what do we do after that? We’ll talk about that in a minute. But really, I’m trying to understand SEO. So we do everything right, uh, and we get on page two.

Ed: Yeah. Are you talking about a real world example?

Paul: No, I’m not. I’m just making it up.

The Blessings and Curses of Page Two

Ed: So hypothetically. Alright. Dealing in hypotheticals is a tough one for me only because it’s entirely possible that if you were an elder law attorney in Beverly, Massachusetts, there may not be that many, and there may be so few that you’ll end up on page one of the search engine results. So this is hypothetical. However, even if it were page two, I would have to think if I was a visitor trying to find that elder lawyer, I’d be looking at a few red herrings, ads and mismatches on page one. So even if the SEO isn’t tweaked or isn’t tuned so that I’m looking at a result on page one, I’ll probably have to go to page two to search anyway. I may not be happy with that result, and maybe I’ll think that Google is failing me somehow because they’re not giving me a page one result, but it is incumbent on me, if I really need to find an elder lawyer in Beverly, Massachusetts, that page two isn’t so bad.

If I’m the elder law attorney, and I have a certain, uh, volume that I can entertain of business, being on page one could be a blessing and a curse.

Paul: Be careful what you wish for.

Ed: Exactly right. You just might get it. So I’m not saying you necessarily need to be satisfied but you have to think in the broader terms of what are you hoping to accomplish and what can you reasonably take on.

Paul: Certainly. That’s good business meeting to sit there and say, you know, I can, I can get 10 new clients or I can get a hundred. I don’t want to put up billboards everywhere and get too many clients and have to turn them away.

Ed: Sure. And you have to think about the type of business persona you’re portraying to the world. If you are a very loquacious lawyer, and you’re happy to speak to the public, and you have a public persona that’s more or less prominent compared to your competitors out there, then that’s an opportunity for you to do something like a podcast or to write articles or to even use something as — dare we say it? — Yelp, a review site, even though people think of that as for restaurants and hotels, nonetheless, Google respects Yelp positioning, and that can help your search engine results.

What is the weighted importance of SEO? Article Titles Matters.

Paul: If you had to draw a pie chart, how much is the SEO? Forget about content. Well, it has good content, we’ll assume. But the reason people are coming is because of SEO and the content that comes with SEO. That is one segment of the pie. And then the other stuff is all the other stuff. And we’ll… I’d like to dig into that a little bit of how you would direct that. But what? Is it 50/50? Is it 25% SEO and 75%?

Ed: To me, it’s increasingly become a concern, uh, to, once you be increasingly concerned with the value that you’re delivering, the value you’re conveying. I can use myself as an example. Let’s go back to the Fan Foundry blog. I’ll tell you a genesis story. It will take a minute.

When I begin writing my first few blog articles back in 2008, I had a, you know, more or less, successful career in marketing and sales leadership, and I thought to myself, “Well, there’s probably enough people out there who are on a different phase of the journey than I am who could stand to benefit from the thimble-full that I know. So let me turn this into a few articles and send it out there, and see how people consume it,” doing my experiments with my content.

One thing I learned early on — frankly, by accident — was using Google’s type-ahead search. You know how it fills the answer in as you’re typing? It’s kind of cool. It shows you other ways other people have asked the same question or similar questions and the results they’ve gotten. I used that. And I thought, “Ooh, you know, the best way to title this particular article on virtual trade shows is, ‘Are Virtual Trade Shows Worth It?'” Specifically that sentence, those words, in that order with a question mark on the end. I used that as the title for a blog article I had written the month earlier about trade, virtual trade shows. I didn’t title it that way. I changed the title, and boom. Suddenly the traffic just… It was an embarrassment of riches, frankly. For a one-month-old blog, I would say I was pleased and embarrassed, and I realized, “Ah-ha. The article title matters.”

Paul: So that’s an ah-ha moment. That’s a very important thing for our listeners. Google, what you’re going to be talking about, try and figure out what the questions are by what Google is going to suggest, and then use that in your titling.

Ed: Exactly right. Use Google’s own machine learning on how people ask similar questions and decide based on the results you’ll see in your type-ahead search which of those is the most effective title for you to use and write your title accordingly.

Paul: Is that search history queryable? I know you can type it in yourself, but I’m wondering is there somebody out there that says, “Here’s everything that’s being searched.” I know on Bing, you can get like the past 10 searches or there’s a catalog of the past searches for the past couple of hours or something like that. I’m wondering. That would be a really interesting vector to look into to see if that’s available.

Ed: Yeah. Well, I’m not a genius; if I’ve imagined it, someone else is out there either working on it or maybe it’s about to be delivered to us all anyway. What I’m speaking of is the notion that all those different variants on the question that you’re typing ahead then get presented to you in a graph that says the searches that got the best results are this particular one. I’m also a little concerned about that because if you, everyone stops us—, starts using the trodden path, it kind of levels the field, and now you’re in a watershed mark, and it’s table stakes and not a differentiator.

Paul: We’ll have to cut that part out. We’ll edit that part so nobody will know about it.

Ed: Okay. Yeah. I was never here.

Doula Search Ranking by Location Query

Paul: Were never here. I don’t even know who you are. So, okay. Let me give you a real world example. We have a client who is a doula. They help moms that are giving birth.

Ed: I get it. Yeah.

Paul: And she works all over the North Shore, southern New Hampshire, all that kind of stuff. And we want to do SEO for her. So we’ll use her as an example. How would you approach it? Because some people say, “I want a doula in Beverly.” Some people, “I want one in Danvers.” So what is the actual real work that we have to do? Do we make landing pages for Beverly, for Topsfield, for Danvers?

Ed: That would help matters, however I’m not sure you need a separate landing page for each one. But I think equally important work for that doula to be doing is to represent him or herself — likely herself, let’s just assume — to represent herself in such a way that anybody who is looking for a doula in the North Shore of Massachusetts lands on a landing page that says, “Oh, by the way, as a doula, I have working relationships and customer stories from people just like you who have used these facilities.”

Paul: Yeah. They’re doing that. They’re doing very good at that, actually.

Ed: Excellent. That’s great to hear.

Paul: But, if you go, “doula in Saugus,” she doesn’t come up. If you do, “a doula in Danvers,” she comes up. So there’s something in her content that is making her relevant to Danvers and not to Saugus.

Ed: Why do you suppose that is? I get that… Well, I’m going to draw an inference since I know the region. There are more robust healthcare facilities and delivery facilities in Danvers. There’s a hospital in Danvers. There isn’t a hospital in Saugus. So my thinking is if I were the tail wagging the dog, meaning the person doing the searching, I probably wouldn’t look for a doula in Saugus. I’d look for a doula near a healthcare facility. And so, just by dint of volume of searches…

Paul: So how would you test that? Because that’s what you’re saying, do experiments. How would that be an experiment? So Beverly, Linn, Danvers has a hospital… Lawrence…

The Difficulty with Words

Ed: Lawrence Memorial is in Bedford, in Medford, rather. There is a hospital in Lawrence, but it’s not called Lawrence Memorial.

Paul: Yes. Of course not. Yes, of course not. Just… It’s New England.

Ed: That’s why you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway, I guess. One of the tools that I’ve found is particularly helpful, and it may not work in granular case, but it has worked in the past, is to use Google Trends and look at the trends over time of people using search terms and phrases to find results.

I’ll draw a parallel example. I have a client who is in the luxury travel business. Specifically in luxury yachting, big boats, million-dollar boats that you could charter for a week or a month or a sabbatical.

Paul: Where do they launch out of? Anywhere?

Ed: Well, this particular client does not own a single boat. They are the go-between, the intermediary that helps. They’re worldwide.

Paul: Okay. So I can get a boat anywhere.

Ed: Right. So this is a client who, to use the phrase I used earlier in another podcast episode, was punching above your weight. She’s able to represent her business with a handful of staff all over the world because they make it a business to travel all over the world to actually, physically, personally, inspect the boats, the captains, the crew, the—

Paul: Okay. That’s part of their value.

Ed: It’s traveling all the time. So they delivered that value with the intimate acquaintance with not just the yachts and the crews and the charters and the marinas but the onshore excursion experiences and the amenities and everything there is to do about enjoying that yacht charter.

Punching above her weight in this case means she could be searched on and found anywhere in the world, even though her offices are in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, or other cities. It’s not as big a concern for the customer where they’re located as it is do they represent the type of business and the satisfaction because of all the great customer stories of Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on their website.

Paul: And is her SEO effective?

Ed: It’s okay. She’s not showing up always on page one of the search engine results for every single search query a person could do about luxury yachting. It’s just so rich and varied. For the New England region, however, she’s it. She’s all over it.

Paul: Why do you think that is? Because her address is in New England?

Ed: Entirely possible. If you look Boston yachting, there is a handful of Boston yachting, and she’s going to…been in the business for over 30 years. So there’s something to be said for being, just having longevity and having driven traffic over that many years.

Reputation: “How do we crack that nut?”

Paul: Sure. Do you think Google takes that into account?

Ed: I can’t imagine they would want to leave it out.

Paul: Yeah. I would agree. Okay. So for a newcomer, let’s say you had a client, you know, another company does exactly the same thing. How are they going to crack that nut? That’s really difficult.

Ed: That’s a great question. You really can’t make up history.

Paul: Right. I guess what I mean is how do they get good SEO or search engine rankings, I guess, is what we should call it.

Ed: Compelling content. Customer stories. It’s a gradual relationship-building process. Frankly, everything old is new again, when you think about it. How do people build a reputation? Over time. One grain at a time. There’s no shortcut to friends. There’s no shortcut to love, fame, fortune, reputation. When you’re naked in your grave, the only thing you have left is your reputation, what people think about you and what they tell about you, no matter how they want to tell it. The only way to build that is over time, one relationship at a time.

Paul: So let’s talk about that. So you’ve got either a new yachting company. We’ve got this doula. The doula has great stories, great testimonials. Is there anything to super-charge that? I mean, there has to be, I would imagine, a deliberateness of posting them, and posting new ones. Is that the bottom line is just keep it fresh?

Ed: Keep it fresh, but I think that prominent posting and judiciously but publicly promoting the customer stories is helpful too.

Paul: Give me an example of that.

More Help for the Doula – A Similar Success Story.

Ed: Alright. Let’s say that a North Shore healthcare facility has a good working relationship with this doula. Their blogs get, their articles get read. This doula could have a byline on one of their articles mentioned and with a link back to her website. So there’s somewhat…certain layer of the SEO. There’s the link from her byline. There’s the fact that she’s the representative on the content. One would hope there would be some photographs, right, group photos of herself with practitioners, enjoying each other’s reputation together, all the things that build credibility.

Paul: Okay. So cross-pollination, really working between organizations or websites and, uh, “I say something good about you,” and people see that and then go off and link it in your site.

Ed: Sure. Funny that you mentioned doula because I can bring to earth an experience for you. A few years back, through another business, a business colleague of mine, I was referred to a woman who lives in the Chicago area who herself had suffered from an amniotic fluid embolism, or AFE, which is until recently was, essentially, a death sentence. It happens that somehow or other, fecal material or material from the fetus travels across the placenta, causes poison reaction in the mom, and both the mom and the baby usually don’t make it, or one or the other doesn’t make it. So there’s a very, very high level mortality, very little understood. Her name is Stephanie Arnold. She had one in May of 2000 and, I want to say, 13. It turns out, both she and her son Jacob were born and are alive and fine only because she took certain precautionary steps in collaboration with the delivery facility. Her doctors made sure certain, unusual equipment was present during the case of the need for resuscitation, extra units of blood and on and on and on, extra precautionary steps that they took that they realize now, now ought to be pretty much what you should do in the case where there’s a high risk. It wasn’t an ordinary procedure at the time. Now it’s becoming pretty standard. So in Chicago land, all medical facilities are expected to do certain things differently than they did before, more than they did before in the case of a mother at risk.

But she started out by telling this story and also of her own survival and used that as a, if you will, an opportunity to help with the drive, the, the impetus to improve funding and research into amniotic fluid embolisms, how they occur and how to prevent them, how to warn, how to mitigate them. She also became a spokesperson for the Amniotic Fluid Embolism foundation, the AFE Foundation, headquartered on the west coast, became very close friends and good acquaintances with their leadership people. And so there, in your community, in the business and world in which your information is related or relevant, if you could forge relationships where you’re supporting one another’s business, that rising tide lifts all boats.

Paul: Yeah. Absolutely.

Ed: And if you can make that happen online, that helps people understand why you deserve the credibility and the reputation you have. And that builds confidence. Most people don’t buy unless they’re happy that they feel, feel confident that they’re making a purchase from a sound, reputable business.

Summary of Discussion on SEO

Paul: Yeah. That’s true. I think that’s absolutely true. So let me just rehash this a little bit. So we’re talking about SEO a little bit, and SEO is, I guess let’s define it. It’s the means by which we get a search engine to show us more quickly, sooner, at the top of the list, as opposed to at the bottom of the list.

Ed: That’s a good definition.

Paul: And that gives people, customers, users, visitors, whatever you want to call them, the opportunity to discover us, click on us. So we manipulate this ranking by optimizing our website so that the search engine will display us at a high level. Okay. So that’s fair. And you’re primarily saying you do that by writing good content, say something. Say something good and interesting. And in the area of local businesses, share that information with local businesses and have them say something or let them have you say something on their website. Build that relationship so that now the people that are out there — customers, potential customers — will see you sooner than later. “I never knew you existed.” You want to answer that thing, that question, so that people don’t have that excuse anymore. They can say, “Oh, yeah. I saw you on the web. I’m interested in talking.”

It’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. And we’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to thank you for being here for this first podcast.

Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.

Also published on Medium.