Of all the components of a holistic online marketing strategy, search engine optimization (“SEO”) seems to mystify many the most. And it's true that years back, the key to ranking well in Google was a form of dark art.
That's changed in recent years. Google's algorithm has gotten smarter, and is more distinctly tuned in to what the audience thinks is relevant and valuable for a given search term, rather than what we as marketers would prefer to rank well.
As my friend Rae Hoffman says, “Google doesn't want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites.” In other words, get traffic rich by creating content that people want and value first, and Google will make you even richer.
Another friend of mine, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, has just co-authored a book called SEO for Growth, and it's a completely up-to-date examination of what it takes to do well in search engines. I was honored that John asked me to contribute the foreword, and long-time readers of Copyblogger will see the natural evolution of tactics and strategies we've talked about for a decade.
Tune in for valuable tips on the modern practice of SEO. More importantly, discover how to execute on an SEO strategy that grows your business, not just your search traffic.
The Show Notes
SEO that Grows Your Business with John Jantsch
John Jantsch: Hey, this is John Jantsch with Duct Tape Marketing. For about the last two decades, I have been trying to save small business owners from themselves. Naturally, I am unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they're just not inclined to take one, and that's putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our free Profit Pillars course or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That's Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: You're absolutely right, it is time for Unemployable. I am your host, Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital. Unemployable is brought to you via the Rainmaker FM podcast network. Check out some other great shows over at Rainmaker.FM.
The show is made possible by the Rainmaker Platform. It's the complete digital marketing and sales solution, getting you covered with content, email marketing, automation, lead generation, and yes, SEO. Take it for a free spin yourself over at RainmakerPlatform.com. We've got a free, 14-day trial. See for yourself what Rainmaker can do for you.
I've been teaching people online marketing for over a decade. Of all the components of a holistic online marketing strategy, search engine optimization, or SEO, seems to mystify many the most. It's true that years back, the key to ranking well in Google was kind of a dark art. That's changed in recent years. Google's algorithm has gotten smarter and is more distinctly tuned in to what the audience thinks is relevant and valuable for a given search term, rather than what we as marketers would prefer to rank well. As my friend Rae Hoffman says, “Google doesn't want to make websites popular. They want to rank popular websites.” In other words, get traffic-rich by creating content that people want and value first, and then Google comes along and make you even richer.
Another friend of mine, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, has just co-authored a book called SEO For Growth. It's a completely up-to-date word on what it takes to do well in search engines. I was honored that John asked me to contribute the foreword, and longtime readers of Copyblogger will see the natural evolution of tactics and strategies that we've talked about for over a decade. Tune in for valuable tips on the modern practice of SEO, but more importantly, discover how to execute on an SEO strategy that grows your business, not just your search traffic. John, how are you? It's good to speak to you. It's been a little bit.
John Jantsch: It's been too long. I could visit with you frequently.
Brian Clark: We did some email correspondence there, but it's probably been at least a year since I've seen you in person.
John Jantsch: I think that's probably right.
Brian Clark: Yup. All right, so we're going to talk about SEO today. I don't think on Unemployable we've actually talked about SEO because there's so much else going on and aspects to cover, but of course it's critical. It always has been, at least as long as the web has been around. Before we dive in, how about for those who may not be familiar with you — there may be one, I don't know — talk a little bit about how you got started, how you got into small business marketing, and how that basically had to evolve into what is now the Duct Tape Marketing empire.
The Origins of Duct Tape Marketing
John Jantsch: I went to work actually for an ad agency right out of college and realized even after 4 or 5 short years there that I was unemployable. I started my own deal without any real plan other than I knew I could sell some work. I got some projects under the guise of a marketing consulting firm. I built that and felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I got a couple small business clients and I really loved working with them, but they were way harder to work with. They had the same challenges and problems — not the same budgets, of course, and not even the same attention spans as much larger organizations. At some point I said, “Look, if I'm going to work with small business owners, I've got to solve that frustration. I've got to come up with a whole new way of doing it.”
I developed a marketing system, as I called it at the time, where I could walk in and say, “Look, here's what I'm going to do. Here's what you're going to do. Here are the results we hope to get. Here's what it costs. Do you want it or not?” Pretty quickly I learned that in trying to solve my greatest frustration, I actually was tapping one of the greatest frustrations of most small business owners. It's actually hard to buy marketing services as a small business owner because there are so many people selling parts and pieces of it. The robocalls that sell this. An ad person that comes in and sells them that. They were very attracted to this idea of, “I know what it's going to cost. I know what I'm going to get. My marketing's the one thing that's out of control the most in my business, so a system sounds really good.”
That was really the genesis of Duct Tape Marketing. When I launched into this idea of, “I'm turning marketing — this service — into a product,” I decided I needed to give it a name that was more product-feeling. Duct Tape Marketing really was the name of my approach in some ways. That was so well-received, it really just became the name of everything. I filled my practice up working with small business owners, doing my thing, learning, refining, simplifying my system, and then saw that this online thing was going to actually happen. People would put their credit cards into the slot and buy stuff. So I started trying to document that system and sell it online as a course, and found some great success there.
I bumped into the blogging thing right as it was starting to happen. Really, this whole idea of what we now call content marketing and inbound marketing was something that I had been doing from day one. When it hit the mainstream, I guess I had a head start on that element, so that turned into several books, which now has actually also turned into a network of independent marketing consultants that license the Duct Tape Marketing system and work with thousands of small business owners at a time now around the world.
Brian Clark: That's an interesting solution to a real problem, which is, how do you make this work for the small business that doesn't have the war chest?
John Jantsch: Yeah, what's interesting is that, at the time, not very many people cared about those folks and that small business. There was nobody really gearing up to serve them, partly because it was very hard to until the Internet came along. There was a great gap in anybody addressing their needs.
What Drove the Decision to Focus on SEO?
Brian Clark: You're a bestselling author. You've written four previous books to the current one, and you largely focused on broader systems and processes for marketing and sales, if I can generalize. With this new book, SEO For Growth, you're really drilling down on one important aspect of the online marketing process. What drove your decision? I know you have a co-author.
John Jantsch: That's right.
Brian Clark: Tell us a little bit about that.
John Jantsch: A lot of what drove the decision to go into this topic was that I just felt people were still floundering. I think that SEO is now … The reason why we intentionally chose the word growth is that growth is a strategic word. We didn't say “SEO For Traffic” or “SEO For Clicks” or “SEO For Links,” it's growth. One of the things that I think is still missing out there is that many of the practices that go under the banner of search engine optimization are really strategic and need to be part of the strategic decision-making process. What I wanted to do with this book was to elevate SEO to what I think is the proper foundational position in marketing. You can't do SEO without content, and you can't do content without SEO. You can't really have an effective message or editorial plan or even advertising plan, for that matter, without thinking first about the implication of everything that you're putting out there and to whom.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's a holistic, integrated thing. I know Lee Odden preached that. We've been preaching that. You preach that. Again, you're a systems thinker, you're just drilling down here. I do like that — SEO For Growth — because the mindless focus on traffic continues to pull my hair out. We'll talk about lead generation in a little bit, because that's what we're doing here. I also like the fact that you said “the things we now call content marketing and inbound marketing,” because both of us were active in the late '90s trying to figure this out before anyone wrote books about this stuff. I know in 2006 when I started Copyblogger, I came out pretty hard on this. “Look, write for people. That's who you're actually aiming at, and Google's going to get smarter. I would not bet against Google.” I think you were one of those similar voices at the time. Some of the harder-core SEO people at the time scoffed at us.
John Jantsch: In some ways it was easy to do, because you could trick Google. They could show some incredible results very fast. In many cases not long-lasting, but they could show some results. When the other side is saying, “No, you've got to write every day for 6 months, and you've got to do this with it, and you've got to amplify it,” that sounds like work. When an SEO person says, “Oh, no, we can just do a little magic here. We'll buy a few links there. We'll get you in,” and voila, they're on page one. You can see why, a) people bought into it, and b) why SEO folks kept selling it, because it was an easier thing to sell.
As you've stated, we knew that Google would catch up and that the content would become such an important factor in every element of marketing. Can you imagine now, today … Obviously if somebody came to you and said, “I want you to optimize the four pages on my website,” you wouldn't get very far without content. You can't get very far in PR, in advertising, or in any kind of influencer marketing efforts without content today. Content is really the air that drives marketing, or I like to call it, “the voice of strategy.”
Brian Clark: Yeah. I'm still waiting for content marketing to just become marketing, because I am not smart enough to figure out how to do it without content. Let's back up here a little bit, because a lot of things have changed and I think that has also led to some misconceptions. For example, Google's move towards more natural language, voice search — the rise of that with mobile. You'll have some people say keyword research doesn't matter. Now, I'm of the position that keyword research is incredibly valuable market research, even if search engines didn't exist. I can look at how they think about something? That's gold, Jerry.
John Jantsch: We use keyword research. I think a lot of people talk about keyword research if they're just trying to rank one page or something. We use keyword research to help understand who our ideal client is, how they think, and what our messaging should be. Again, a much more strategic thought about it than just, “How do we get this one thing tweaked under the hood?”
Brian Clark: Yeah, the other thing that you'll hear a lot is that on-page SEO is an anachronism at this point. What are your thoughts on that?
John Jantsch: The problem with saying any one of these things matters too much or matters not at all is that I think there's so many factors that nobody can figure out what the math is on this stuff. For a remodeling contractor whose competitors don't do anything and who doesn't have any reviews and who has directory citations that are a mess, cleaning some of those things up that some SEO folks today will say, “Well, those are just little factors,” they could be huge factors for that particular business. I'm of the impression that there certainly are priorities, but I think everything matters. How many websites do you come across with small businesses where the homepage title tag is still ‘home?' I think making that little on-page tweak might actually help that business.
Link Building in 2016
Brian Clark: Yeah, I would suggest so. Now, I do want to talk about content and where we are at the intersection of content powered toward the prospect that Google also is going to love. I think that's tricky for some people. But before that, let's talk about the importance of links. Now, if you understand the history of Google, the departure that was made when Google launched was they didn't rely just on what was on the page. They took a different approach in which a link to that page was considered to be a vote for the quality or relevance of that page. Then the intersection of those votes with what's actually on the page — the Google algorithm, that's how it began. It was an advance at that time that, of course, was exploited through link buying and mass link generation.
John Jantsch: Anchor text spamming.
Brian Clark: Yeah, of course. Reciprocal link exchanges. You got to hand it to our industry, we are a creative bunch. We will find a way. Like I said, Google kept going, “Okay, we're going to knock that down and we'll that knock down, and the algorithm's going to get smarter.” My thing — even back 10 years ago — was I don't like to wake up in the morning and what I was doing for the last year not work anymore and now I got to start over. I was always a long-term guy. That turned out to help me, because Google did get a lot smarter. Link building in 2016, what works and what will get you in a lot of Penguin trouble?
John Jantsch: The obvious things get you in trouble is buying links and exchanges — even having links from places that Google has already said are bad places, bad neighborhoods. Those things — now you can't even touch them. Going on to Fiverr and trying to get fake reviews and all that kind of stuff has gotten cleaned up, fortunately. As far as what works today, I like to tell people that … Again, a lot of my advice sounds like work, which doesn't always make it the most invited advice, but a lot of link building today is very similar to how you would do effective networking.
Using the tools that are out there to find places that might be great for you to try to get links or for you to try to build relationships from. Sharing other people's content in an effort to have them potentially share your content — not in an arranged way, but in a reciprocal way that is very natural. Actually taking your content out there. When we work with somebody and they're just getting started in writing content and they have no links, a lot of times what we'll try to do is say, “Look, there's some other places that have great audiences already. Let's get really serious about guest blogging.” I still think — even though some people got a little gunshy because Google implied at least that guest blogging was a bad practice — it was always, like everything, a bad practice when practiced badly.
Brian Clark: When it was abused, of course.
John Jantsch: Still, getting guest content — here's where this whole integration thing has to be something that people focus on. If when writing a guest post, your only intent for writing a guest post is to get a linkback from that site, then it's probably going to have limited value. If, in fact, you are trying to generate traffic, you're trying to create content that you can use in other ways, you are trying to also get a linkback, and you are actually developing a relationship with another site or another author whose content will be useful to your community as well — I think when you think about them in all of those integrated ways then link building happens quite naturally as a form of networking.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I agree. There are firms that specialize in link building. The ethical ones — if you really look at what they're doing, it's a PR practice powered by existing relationships. Even within your company and within my company, it's our relationships with each other. If you've got something out that is high quality and relevant to my audience, yeah, I would probably consider it, even if I didn't know you. But the fact that I do know you and that you're not trying to scam me for a link, that's important.
John Jantsch: That's right.
Brian Clark: Right?
John Jantsch: That's right.
SEO and Content
Brian Clark: Then beyond that, which is a segue into content … Back in the go-go days of link baiting — now they call it clickbait because they just try to get you to click — it was a terrible name, but it was basically trying to create such valuable content that everyone's going to go into a frenzy and organically link to it. It's harder to do that today, but it still matters. The content itself is still the final determination. I don't care how good of buddies I am with someone, if they're putting out something that's marginal I'm going to have to decline.
John Jantsch: Yeah. There's no question. I think it's also — again, the bar gets raised every time. Every time Google makes a change, but also every time smart marketers figure something out. The bar gets raised in a lot of ways. Great content, long-form content, and lots of value in the content is now the price of admission if you want to get a lot of shares, you want to get a lot of momentum going. Over and above that, what you do after somebody visits that content and how you start to develop a relationship and move them logically along the journey that they're taking that started with them wanting to consume your content, that is, to me, where we are with marketing. It's certainly where we are with content. I think, to a large degree, SEO plays a big role in helping guide the journey.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I will say that if you're not in the content inbound online marketing space, which I've likened to a never-ending nuclear arms race where we're always trying to outdo each other and it's very competitive — but other industries aren't like that. You made a reference earlier that if you're a plumber or whatever and no one in your geographic area is hip to this stuff, you're owning it in Google.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Brian Clark: Rand Fishkin has the 10X rule. Your content, to rank better, has to be 10 times better than what else is out there. In our industry, that's hard. In a lot of other places, it's doable.
John Jantsch: I believe you were in Cleveland last week, weren't you, at Content Marketing World?
Brian Clark: No.
John Jantsch: You didn't go? Okay.
Brian Clark: This is my first year, first time I ever missed it.
John Jantsch: I was there, and I heard more than one speaker talk about that. “If you can't do 10X content, then you shouldn't do any at all.” I was like, “Well that's great in this little bubble of us content marketers.” But just as you said, for a lot of businesses in a lot of industries, nobody's doing anything, so something might actually be 10X in your industry, even if you don't know how to write the 2,500-word post that has tremendous value. Just producing something's actually going to give you a leg up.
Establishing a Content Strategy Using SEO
Brian Clark: Yup, absolutely true. Let's talk a little bit about establishing a content strategy with SEO as a main component. Again, we talked about this at the beginning, some people are just like, “I want to rank here.” Why? Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to do? What's your business objective after that? People are looking at me going, “What, are you crazy? I just want to rank number one.” No, it's so much more than that. That's why SEO is an amazing, targeted, intentional traffic source if you get it right. The type of content that you create actually matters because essentially this is an exercise in human persuasion beyond the ability to make Google happy.
John Jantsch: That's right. The way I line it up is I think today, the entire marketing foundation is just what we talked about. You have to have an ideal client in mind. You have to have that core message of value of why you're different somehow. Then you use content to be the voice of that strategy for how you're different, for how you can intentionally move people along the journey that they want to take, that we're no longer in control of. To me, building that strategy, that content plan, and then that what we call a marketing hourglass which is our customer journey — you build that first before you ever start talking about where you're going to rank or how you're going to rank or who you're going to rank for.
My favorite core SEO practice is — then we use keyword research like crazy in that process, because it can help us understand not only who our ideal client is, but it can help us understand their intent when they go out there looking. It could help us understand what their problems and challenges are, the actual questions that they are turning to search engines and asking. That process, I think, helps us understand — here's where I think a lot of people miss the boat. A lot of people may do that process and then they optimize their content for that buyer who has already decided that what we sell is what they're looking for. Now they're just trying to find the one.
Where I think people really miss the boat is that journey starts much earlier. That journey starts with them not really knowing what their problems are, with them not really knowing yet what the categories of solutions are. We have to get involved. We have to use SEO and our content to get involved in the journey at the point where they're asking questions that have nothing to do with our products and services. We have to connect with them at that point and help guide them to the point where they say, “You know, you're right. This could actually solve our problem.” I think that that's the part that is the nuance. That's the part that's the strategy. It's the part that most businesses miss. I don't care how sophisticated they are in their marketing.
Bringing the Prospect Along the Journey
Brian Clark: Absolutely, problems and desires. There's a whole range in some situations of initial questions and/or problems — depending on how you want to view it — before they're even getting to the point of, “Okay, which product or service am I buying?” That's where I think some people mess up. It's clear that with some products, especially price-driven stuff or more really urgent problems, which could be a plumbing problem — to go back to that — where great SEO is going to lead almost directly to a sale. In other situations it's only the beginning of the journey. You've got to bring them along to the point that they're ready to buy from you. How do you distinguish between those two scenarios, and what's your advice for the latter one, where you got to bring them along with you?
John Jantsch: The first thing is you have to understand where they are. What we try to do is say, “Okay, what are the questions?” I'll give you an example. I was speaking recently to a group of printing franchisees. I asked them, “What are your customers going out there and looking for in what we're calling the ‘awareness phase?' They don't know about you yet, but hopefully you're going to have them stumble on you if we were to write content for those people?” And they immediately said, “Well, is our printing competitively priced? Will we get it done on time?”
I said, “No.” Those small business owners — the first thing they're thinking about is, why is my business so hard to run? How come I can't make profit? Why is marketing so out of control? Those are the questions they're asking themselves as they go out and start looking for solutions. Our print business needs to be addressing those issues before we ever start, getting them to realize that, “Hey, your marketing could be far more effective. Your lead generation efforts could be far more effective if you used direct mail, for example.”
If all we're selling is direct mail before we understand the other challenges — the questions and their objectives at those earlier stages — then all we're going to get is the people that are looking for a better price on direct mail. I don't know if that example made sense or not, but that's … Our content, in a lot of cases, has to be addressing the greater global needs and challenges of our clients, so that they start to trust us and they start to know our content. They start to trust us because we're addressing their overarching needs. Then helping them understand through that educational process that, in this case, direct mail might actually be the answer.
John's Thoughts on the Connection Between a Solid SEO Strategy and Email Marketing
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's interesting. It's been at least a decade where the hardcore pay-per-click people … They're doing search marketing, which is traffic coming from search engines, but it's not the organic traffic. They realized that they would convert at a higher rate by getting someone on an email list and dripping them along, as opposed to going to the sale right away. What are your thoughts on the connection between a solid SEO strategy and email marketing, which is still the highest conversion channel?
John Jantsch: Yeah, absolutely. Whether it's paid or it's organic, we are today — and I'm not alone in this, I know a lot of people who do this. We are today trying to drive traffic to great content, have people find great content, and then have very personalized lead capture vehicles or content upgrades in a lot of that content. So that if somebody finds our blog post on “15 Things to do Before you Hit Publish on Your Next WordPress Blog Site,” we actually offer them the checklist for that too, knowing that people who come to that particular content then will probably be far more likely — and we see it all the time — to give us their email address for that specific piece of upgraded content that's connected with that.
That is absolutely the name of the game, personalization, creating better content experiences, and then segmenting that list member or that subscriber so that they are continuing to have a very personalized experience. The days of just getting lots of email subscribers and bombing them have gone. I suppose that's probably still more valuable than a lot of practices, but today I think really smart marketers are realizing that they have to take a much more personalized approach if they are, a) going to get subscribers, and b) certainly keep them.
Brian Clark: That's the absolute truth. The book is called SEO For Growth. It is available now. I had the privilege of reading it a couple months ago because John was very flattering and asked me to write the foreword, so thank you for that, John.
John Jantsch: Absolutely. Thank you.
Brian Clark: What's next? Are you going to stick with the SEO topic for a bit, or are you moving on to something else?
John Jantsch: I'm like you. Content, social, SEO — they're really just marketing. In some ways, I'm just trying to roll it up. I'm trying to use this as a lever to roll SEO into just being marketing. It's not like I'm going to go out on tour now and just talk about rich text snippets or something that is a part of SEO.
Brian Clark: Come on. That would be fascinating, John.
John Jantsch: I do believe that it's so important that my co-author and I are actually creating a certification for SEO For Growth, so that somebody can hopefully understand the marketer's viewpoint of SEO and see where that takes us. It really is trying to elevate the role of SEO to being a significant foundational element of marketing.
Brian Clark: Good stuff. John, thanks for stopping by.
John Jantsch: Hey, always a pleasure to visit with you, Brian.
Brian Clark: All right, everyone. Check out the show notes. I'll send you over to the SEOForGrowth.com site, the Amazon link for the book. I guess we should do the Duct Tape Marketing main site as well. Yeah, check this stuff out. It's good stuff. John's not the snake oil type. You can trust that even though it sounds like work — God, that's shocking — it will work. Anyway, take a look, and as always, keep going.