On Episode 89 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with SEO expert Jeremiah Smith. He’s answering the question “Is SEO always worth it?”

Sections

How Fresh Should Your Content Be?
Accuracy of Content to Searcher Intent
Commercial Intent
When SEO Fails Expectations
Three Parts of SEO: Technical, Content, and Link Building
Developing a Content Calendar
SEO Doesn’t Have To Take a Long Time
Go At Your Own Pace With SEO
Is SEO Always Worth it?
Call To Action
How To Call Customers To Action
Tools For Marketing Automation
Closing
More Episodes
Show Notes

Is SEO Always Worth It?

How Fresh Should Your Content Be?

Paul: Welcome to another edition of The Edge of Innovation. Today we’re talking with Jeremiah Smith with Simple Tiger. He’s the founder and CEO. So, you’re an SEO company.

Okay. So, you talked about this content as being key. So, an SEO plan – is this fair to say? – an SEO plan without content is not an SEO plan?

Jeremiah: Yes. Insofar as Google is concerned, that’s correct. I would say that that could be a broad descriptor of SEO as well because of Amazon clearly needing content, iTunes search needing some content. But yeah. Generally speaking, you’re absolutely right. If you don’t have content in your SEO plan, then you just don’t have an SEO plan.

Paul: Okay, then how fresh does that content have to be?

Jeremiah: That really depends actually. Freshness is a powerful tool where the content needs to be fresh. But if we think about who has dominated Google search results for the longest time, that’s Wikipedia. And a lot of the content in Wikipedia, though it is user generated and created and optimized and it gets updated frequently and stuff like that, there are pages of content in Wikipedia that have kind of sat there for a long period of time and consistently dominate.

Paul: Good point.

Jeremiah: So, we need to keep that in mind. I’m sure if we searched for The Declaration of Independence in Google, and we read it now – its’s probably on Wikipedia – it’s probably not much different than it was five to ten years ago. It may have changed a little bit but the freshness of that does not corelate to how well it ranks.

Paul: Sure.

Jeremiah: So, freshness is important but it’s a system of factors. It is almost kind of like saying something like, “Why do you like vanilla ice cream?” or, “Why do you like jazz?” That’s hard to answer, right?

Paul: Right. Yeah.

Jeremiah: It’s a system of feelings. It’s a system of things in you that cause you to make that decision. With Google, it’s not so much feeling but there are a lot of factors that are influencing it, and in varying degrees, that aren’t outwardly published by Google. They don’t give their full science away. They give an idea of their science away, so we have an idea. But we’re constantly reverse engineering to kind of nail that down.

Accuracy of Content to Searcher Intent

Jeremiah: If I were to give you my list of top-ranking factors, kind of reverse engineered, from what I’ve discovered through doing this, the first one on that list would probably be Accuracy of Content to Searcher Intent. So, accuracy of the piece of content that you have to the searcher’s intent to the keyword that they searched. So that’s really hard to determine. If you don’t have Google to use right away, but if you do have Google to use, which you do, then you can go ahead and search the keyword that you want to target and see what does come up. And you’re going to find that the searcher intent for content, at the top of Google, is kind of clear.

If you’re looking for best pizza shop near me for example, then Trip Advisor is probably going to give you the top fifteen pizza shops, but that’s going to be the organic listing. Google Maps is probably going to give you a few pizza shops that are highly rated and stuff like that. So, Google is ultimately going to do their best to figure out what you want based on what you’ve asked.

Paul: Yeah. Interesting. It’s a different way to think in some ways. You have to sort of think about how the organization happens. I liked your analogy of organizing the spice cabinet because you would organize it so that you could find it. And that’s very cool.

Commercial Intent

Paul: So now we talked about fresh content and that not being super critical. Because if we’re writing a story about Lincoln, the facts about Lincoln haven’t changed all that much. He was a certain height and he was the certain president and excreta, excreta.

Jeremiah: Right.

Paul: I can see that. Does the content have to have a churn to it, or does it have to have more? So, we’re not talking about Lincoln. We’re talking about the headphones we sell or the semiconductors that we sell, and so does that need to have an ever fresh look or feel really from a content point of view?

Jeremiah: It’s so frustrating to try to understand SEO sometimes or to, in my position, try to explain it because I hate when I get these answers, but it depends.

Paul: Okay. That’s fair.

Jeremiah: But I’m going to go into why that depends. So, if we are talking about Lincoln, everyone is pretty much going to say the same kind of stuff and very rarely is new information going to come out. However, if we are talking about headphones, that’s in the technology, retail space where things actually change pretty quickly. A new product comes on the market by Sony, another one comes on the market by Bose, another one by Sennheiser. It happens a few times a year, every year and everyone goes crazy about all of it. So, there’s a lot of new stuff happening in that industry and so there’s a lot of frogs leaping over each other there. So, if you’re going to play that game, you have just got to get used to being a frog playing leap frog there.

Whereas if you are a historian and you’ve written some really good stuff about Lincoln and you’ve published it, and it took you a while to get it out there. Well, guess what? You’re playing a game where a lot of people are not leap frogging each other. It’s just kind of sitting there. So, you’re in a lucky space if you’re a great historian and have written a long piece of content about that because you’re probably going to rank well, and you don’t have much competition to worry about. But then again, what is your commercial intent? What kind of money are you expecting to get for it? I hate to say that but at the end of the day, that’s where Google really starts playing commercial value, especially for me, a marketing agency.

Paul: Right.

Jeremiah: My clients all have a commercial intent with what they’re doing. In my client spaces we have a lot of competition. We have a lot of people playing leapfrog and we just have to help our client be a good racehorse, or I should say a good leapfrog in the game of it and grow some strong legs which comes down to building content, building links, ensuring user engagement is there, and that that searcher intent is accurate to the piece of content. So, it really depends on the space that you’re in, is the sort answer.

When SEO Fails Expectations

Paul: How do you see both good examples and poor examples of companies that sell the SEO magic, if you will, and then don’t fulfill the expectations? Because I would imagine, that an uneducated SEO buyer has unrealistic expectations.

Jeremiah: One hundred percent! And I see it way more than I’d like to. Unfortunately, it’s a situation in my industry where I’m kind of acting and serving as really an ambassador of my industry, to a world of businesses who have been burned by or have a bad taste in their mouth around SEO and working with an agency or someone who says they know anything about SEO. I liken it much to snake oil which sells the magic cure two hundred years ago, where some people probably do have the cure but their reputation and the likelihood that people buying from them, have been ruined by so many other people claiming they had the cure and being completely wrong about it.

And so, I think the same thing is true with SEO. I really work to try to take people into that new line of thinking and make that paradigm shift that I’ve watched you follow me through with the spice cabinet and Amazon and iTunes and showing that search engine optimization applies to a lot of things.

My favorite example of search engine optimization is using a library. Any one of us can go into any library in the United States that we have never been to and in a matter of a couple of minutes, find a single word, on a single page, in a single book, in a single section because of the way the library is structured, and books are structured with tables of contents and indexes.

So, I think really, we as a people in SEO, we owe it to the community at large to first be clear with everyone with what all SEO includes and is and requires to do properly. And then if you are a practitioner in the SEO realm in some way, pick an angle of what you want to specialize in and do it well. If you do want to be a generalist that’s fine. You’re most likely going to fall into the camp of doing a lot of consulting in a bunch of random tactics and tasks that add up to a SEO effort but ultimately, it’s a good idea to kind of pick a specialty like we have and zero in on it.

So, within the SEO space, we focus a lot on keyword research, content strategy, and link building. With that, we then produce content and build links and we find that according to our strategies if we do that properly, our clients just see really good results. And so that’s our specialty within SEO. But I only get to that after kind of laying everything out for my clients and showing them first and foremost what SEO is made up of so that they can feel comfortable and confident analyzing us and other agencies. It’s funny how many agencies go straight in, assuming that people know what SEO includes and then sell them on an aspect of it, and then the client buys it thinking that they’re getting the full part. The most common thing that we find is that a lot of companies out there claiming they know SEO, are just doing the technical portion.

Three Parts of SEO: Technical, Content, and Link Building

Jeremiah: If I break SEO down, I break it into three major categories – Technical, Content, and Link Building. The technical portion is, to me, as good as grading the property you’re about to build your house on and maybe laying the foundation. But that’s as far as it gets with technical. All the technical in the world is still not going to help you compete with really good content out there. It’s just going to help you have a platform to publish your content on and do it effectively. But you still have to publish the content and build links to the content. A lot of companies out there sell SEO and then just deliver the technical portion and the clients are scratching their heads because nothing is happening to their content, nothing is happening to their links. They don’t know anything about needing either one of those anyway but regardless, they’re upset anyway because rankings, traffic, and conversions haven’t improved. So, they fire the SEO agency and say SEO doesn’t work.

Paul: Right.

Jeremiah: So that’s the most frustrating scenario that I hear about all the time. And I have to take them and say, “Look, that’s just the beginning. You’ve taken the first step in a thousand step journey of building content and of building links.” So, that’s really what it is going to take to see the results you want.

Paul: The technical thing is like carpentry. It’s not terribly difficult but a good carpenter is worth his weight in gold.

Developing a Content Calendar

Paul: So, do you develop a content calendar? Or how deliberate is that? Or is it just, “I’ll write an article about this.”

Jeremiah: Oh, it’s very deliberate. So, we don’t espouse the idea of producing content for the sake of producing content or because somebody told you that you need to. Content ought to be produced to answer questions and problems within your industry that people are already asking. And if you do a good job of answering every single keyword with a solid piece of content, and maybe even a few different pieces of content attacking that keyword from different angles, then you’re doing a fantastic job.

I think one of my favorite examples of a content production powerhouse in the world is HubSpot. Of course, in my space, they’re very dominate. They’re a marketing automation platform. But if you look up anything about marketing, odds are you’re going to come across a HubSpot article at some point, that’s going to attack that very subject very well. Because they just do a good job of producing content. So, it needs to fall under a content strategy and that content strategy can begin in one place.

When we do SEO for a client, we will start a content strategy. We will deliver that content strategy, but that strategy document is just the beginning. We have what we call the content road map which comes after the strategy and the road map includes some of the things you referred to. A content calendar, where we say, “Okay, we have a calendar.” For us, it’s not like a schedule of two articles per month, every month. It’s more of we need to cover this list of keywords with content. Here’s how many pieces of content at the minimum we’re going to have to produce. Now let’s try to fit that into a calendar because a client only has so much budget. They can’t afford to have a hundred pieces of content written this month and neither can we scale up quickly and do that as effectively.

SEO Doesn’t Have To Take a Long Time

Paul: Let me interrupt. Even if we could scale and they did have the money, would it be wise to? Would it overwhelm?

Jeremiah: Actually, it can be. It can be wise to. So, there are some case studies in our industry of a few companies that have done that and we actually have a case study of a client who did that. On our site we have a case study for Segment where we did an SEO project and they had about a hundred and fifty pages that we did some massive optimization on very quickly. And we leveraged their internal content team, broke it out into sections, and we gave them a whole bunch of recommendations for those pages. They edited those pages. Then we built some links to those pages and then in the span of a couple of months, we improved their organic search traffic very fast, very effectively, to the order of about a hundred and twenty eight percent increase in organic search traffic. So, you can dump a flood of content on Google and if it’s well done and it’s according to a strategy, you’re going to reap the rewards and you’re going to reap them fast.

Paul: Well, that’s cool.

Jeremiah: The problem there is mainly too full. Number one, budget. It’s all manual. So, producing that content is not something that happens automated. I do not recommend any kind of automated content for SEO purposes. It might work in other capacities but from an SEO perspective, I don’t recommend it. So manual handwritten, hand edited, human content is key. And that takes time which costs money. If you pay someone to do it, and then scale, usually to get a hundred and twenty pieces of content quickly, usually one person can’t do that so we have to scale that out across a team of five, ten, fifteen people. Break it up into five, ten pieces each, something like that. And then we’ve got a scalable system to quickly build it. But that’s only if we have the resources in place. Where Segment already had a team of people that could handle that.

Paul: Sure.

Jeremiah: So, that’s a great example. I’ve seen examples where a guy named SEO Nick – He goes by SEO Nick, Nick Eubanks. He’s huge in the SEO community – He published a case study where he took a site and he built the site and built all the content, did all the keyword research, did all the content strategy and everything before launching the site. He had had the domain name but nothing on it. And he built all this and then launched on the domain name, and within like a month or two months’ time, had something on the order of a hundred thousand hits a month flowing in. Within a month to two months. 30 to 60 days. That is insane! And that required a massive effort, but I think he did the whole thing just to see first and foremost, how quickly you can actually show results from zero to one hundred with SEO and kind of break this theory that SEO has to take a long time. Of course, it took a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of money internally to produce all that content structure and everything, but once he hit publish, it just worked.

Paul: Okay, so now that’s great. I would not have believed it if you had not taken me through it. But if Nick had not done that in one big turn it on and it’s all there, if he had done the same thing but metered it out month by month, do you think he would have gotten to the same number of hits, or page views?

Jeremiah: Yes, I think he would have. I think he would have gotten the same number of page views. It would have just taken the total amount of time that it took him to hit publish on each one of those pages metered out and then the time for Google to actually index, simulate, and determine the value of all that content allowed to rank. So, Google can move very fast especially if Google sees a hundred and fifty thousand view urls on a site that is a huge site like eBay. Guess what? All of those urls can show up on Google within an hour or two. So, Google can move exceptionally quick. And all those pages, by the way, can rank because Google has a relationship with eBay that is like chocolate and peanut butter. So, we have to keep that in mind that that can happen. But then, the alternative scenario of spreading it out over a long period of time is why most people say SEO takes a long time. Well, because it took you a long time to do everything necessary for SEO to work.

Go At Your Own Pace With SEO

Paul: Right. Okay. Good insight. But that’s also somewhat of a comfort because it means if you go at your own pace, you’re not doomed to failure.

Jeremiah: Exactly. And that was one of the most exciting things that got me into SEO twelve years ago, or over twelve years ago. I was working for a small mom and pop shop who hired me to build their site and then after their site was built, they were happy with it and they wanted it to show up in Google. And I said, “Well, look. I don’t know anything about this new SEO thing. I’m going to teach myself here. I just discovered it. But if you guys don’t mind, I will spend every day practicing what I’ve learned, to try and get it to show up in Google well and we’ll see what happens.”

And I was very lucky and blessed that they agreed and said, “You know what? Yeah. Do it. But it has got to show results and if it doesn’t show results, we’re going to stop doing it.” So, I was like alright cool! So, I got to work on it and I spent eight hours a day inside a small mom and pop shop that sold ATVs and dirt bikes to retailers throughout the country, trying to get them to show up for the keywords they needed. And with a six-month effort, we added two million dollars onto their four million dollar revenue, just from organic search.

Paul: Wow!

Jeremiah: So, that dedicated effort internally, allowed me to work – and by the way, that was me teaching myself by doing this. That wasn’t even me knowing how to do it yet. – So, yes. You can work at your own pace with SEO and that’s probably my favorite thing about it is, whatever your pace is, you’re going to have proportional, directly proportional results to that.

Paul: Interesting! So, we’re going to shift gears here in just a moment, but do you think that we fundamentally interact with the world differently now that we have Google? I mean, I think the answer is implicitly yes, because if I’m doing anything…. That’s really a stunning fact. Adding two million dollars, adding fifty percent more revenue to a dirt bike company.

Jeremiah: Right, yeah.

Is SEO Always Worth it?

Paul: So, it’s like, wait a minute. What excuse can I use that I can’t do that in my company. I am a semiconductor manufacturer, or I’m a bicycle shop or I’m this or I’m that. So, I guess, if you’re trying to talk yourself out of SEO and you say well nobody that wants my products – let’s talk about the semiconductor stuff – is searching on Google. That seems like a silly thing to say.

Jeremiah: It’s a very rare scenario but it does happen from time to time. But it is rare.

Paul: So, can you think of a business that you would be able to call out that you would be able to say, “No it’s probably not worth doing.”

Jeremiah: And even with those, there’s an angle where you could show up because people are searching CFO headhunter, CIO head hunter, so there is still an SEO angle. You really – Aw man, I hate to give this answer – Again, it depends. It depends on the potential value or ROI that you’re going to get in return from doing SEO as to whether or not it’s worth it to do.

Now the general question of, “Are there industries where there is just no search volume?” That’s so extremely rare that I can’t think of one. I can’t really come up with a good example of one of where it wouldn’t make sense to do SEO because of search volume. But I think in places where ROI is key – small local realtors, small local interest sales people – that both work under agencies… So, like a real estate agent or an insurance agent that works under a major insurance firm. Those are examples where there is definitely search volume and it is cut through. And you want to talk about leap frog? Those frogs are killing each other to try and outrank each other.

So the value there in my opinion, for the small independent realtor or insurance agent, is not there from an SEO perspective. I would recommend going to networking events and talking to people face to face and stuff like that before investing in SEO for those types. So, I don’t serve those business models mainly because of that, because it just doesn’t work as well. So, that’s the most common scenario I think, is the cost to benefit analysis and breaking that down.

Call To Action

Paul: So, now, you get the people there, they’re viewing the content. It’s good content, but don’t you have to have a call to action.

Jeremiah: Right, yeah. The call to action needs to take people down the path also of becoming a customer so in some cases – I mean, you always need to have the option of becoming a customer quickly, kind of like the fast lane in self-checkout – But I think that there does need to be this slower option as well, where we’re carefully, steadily building relationship and nurturing our leads along into having a relationship with us.

And then, if you do it right, you have this staggered approach of different scenarios of where there is the long sell person, there’s the medium sell person and there’s the quick sell person. The quick sell clicks “Schedule Demo” or just hits “Contact Us” and calls a phone number and says, “I want to buy it. Here’s my credit card.” The medium sell says, “Put me on a demo. I’d like to look at it and then after the demo you’re probably going to have to send me stuff and I’m probably going to have to have some phone calls and answer a few questions.” And the long sell person wants to read blog articles and collect used letters and consider five different companies over the course of six months and things like that.

So, I think if you’re offering all those different scenarios then your SEO efforts are going to be best suited by already having those assets and opportunities in place. Because no matter where someone is at, in the buying cycle, if you’re bringing them in to that SEO topical source then you’re feeding them through a large funnel that you’ve set up, that takes in to consideration where they might be in their buying cycle.

How To Call Customers To Action

Paul: How do you, as an agency, help a customer deal with that? So, we’ve got the person to the site, we’ve got a “Buy Now” button somewhere there, but how do you actually, technically help them fulfill the call to action because that’s outside of SEO?

Jeremiah: Yeah, so helping them fulfill the call to action that I forgot to, I guess, mention. What I meant by taking them through that process of going through the funnel is the call to action can be a diverse set of calls to action. The most obvious call to action is buy from us. The medium term is going to be schedule a demo and that kind of thing where we’re maybe advertising the demo a little bit more on our site with content talking about what the demo is going to include and what you’re going to get out of it. So, we’re kind of selling that demo really well.

And then other calls to action, like on a blog such as when a person gets to the end of a blog article. HubSpot highly recommends putting a call to action at the end of a blog article that suggests another piece of content that’s larger on that same subject, that goes deeper into it, because if a person read all the way to end of that piece of content, they’re so heavily devoted and they’re right at the point where they’re probably going to be more open to reading more about that same thing. It’s kind of like a movie that ended too quickly and people are sitting there watching the credits, waiting for the last moments, the after credits scene to roll. They could have used more movie. You know?

Whereas, these people could use more content, so suggest an eBook or a white paper or a pdf download or another longer article, but in order to capture that longer article, I’m going to capture your email in order to give that to you. And I’ll just send that to you really quick. Also, you’re going to get a follow up email from me a couple days later with another piece on the same subject and kind of take you through the process of guiding you deeper into the funnel. So those are some calls to actions that we recommend at the very least. At the very least, capture emails on your site somewhere.

Tools For Marketing Automation

Paul: Do you implement that for customers? That actual conversion funnel? What tools do you use for that? What tools do you recommend?

Jeremiah: So, we don’t implement that for our clients. There are so many good tools out there and we try to kind of remain a little platform agnostic so we can work with whatever client platform they’re on. But we inevitably run into scenarios where we just don’t like the platforms they are on sometimes. And so, we do steer them towards something a little better. I always recommend HubSpot because they’re just a great tool. I’m not a HubSpot partner agency by the way, so I’m not getting paid to say that, just so you know. But regardless they’re a great platform.

However, they are very expensive, so we do like to look at some other platforms as well. I think Marketo is also great. Also, expensive but less than HubSpot. Sharpspring is the one we just signed up for and that we’re getting on to and I’m really liking it so far. It’s pretty interesting.

So, we will recommend, based on our clients’ needs, a platform. A lot of people don’t need, for example, a CRM. So, a lot of our clients have the nine dollar a month software product that you need to sign up for. And they’re not going to waste time putting somebody on a sales call. Also, nobody’s going to get on a sales call to buy that product. It’s nine dollars a month. That’s a quick credit card decision. You swipe and move along. So, for them, their marketing automation platform and the tools they need for marketing, are just going to be different than that of maybe an enterprise supply change management software. So, that is probably going to require a lot more of a sales effort. So, the calls to action are going to be dramatically different. And then the implementation of those calls to action, those conversion items, the lead caption on that is just going to be different as well.

Closing

Paul: Well, we’ve been speaking with Jeremiah Smith of Simple Tiger. He’s an SEO expert, and they’re an SEO agency. As you can tell, there’s a lot of value here in what he said. As you’ve been listening, we’ve been throwing out book names and different things you should go and look at. All of that will be in the Show Notes so I encourage you to look there. You’ll find links to Simple Tiger and a way to actually contact Jeremiah.

Well I want to thank you, thank you for spending the time with us and who knows, maybe we’ll have you back soon.

Jeremiah: That would be awesome! I’d be happy to come back! Thank you so much for everything, Paul. It was an honor to be here.

Paul: Alright, thank you!

More Episodes:

This is Part 4 of our podcast with Jeremiah Smith. Stay tuned for Part 5, coming soon! Jeremiah Smith will be sharing his business advice with us!

If you missed any of the previous episodes from our conversation with Jeremiah Smith, you can listen to them here:
Part 1: An Introduction to SEO With Jeremiah Smith
Part 2: SEO: Google & Artificial Intelligence
Part 3: SEO: How To Create Content For Your Business

Show Notes: