[05:04] So for the folks in my audience who aren’t familiar with you and your company, let’s start there. Who are you? And what do you do?
- Sure. So I’m a pre-sales engineer here at SEMrush. First of all, SEMrush is an all in one digital marketing software suite. We’ve been around for 12 years, starting in 2008, with like, two tools for SEO, expanded now to over 50 tools, ranging from SEO, PPC, social media marketing. Recently really focusing on content marketing and competitive intelligence, trusted by over 6 million marketers worldwide. So it’s really a go-to for any digital marketing needs for a website.
And in terms of my role, so I’m a pre-sales engineer. I’m in charge of training and on-boarding for new sales reps. Also working with the sales reps, and actually clients on their strategy within SEMrush—building more customized solutions. Overall, I’ve helped numerous businesses ranging from small start-ups to some Fortune 500 companies as well. So it’s been a great opportunity for me.
[06:11] Okay, cool. So thanks for making some time to come and share with the audience what they can do, to start getting some what I’ll call low hanging fruit from SEO. And as an example of that, my software company, we have this page that we show up for this long tail keyword, it’s called SOPs for— if you type into Google, SOPs for digital agencies, or digital marketing, or whatever, we’re pretty much the first organic result. And that gets us five to 10 leads a week, every week, week after week, and those leads cost us nothing.
So right at the beginning of the interview, I want people to understand that SEO doesn’t have to be this big daunting thing. You can actually literally use a tool like yours, go find a couple of keywords, put up a piece of content if you make—if you choose your keyword correctly, which we’ll get into in a minute, and you get immediate benefits. It didn’t take forever. So having set the stage that way. Let’s talk first of all about keyword research. What are some of the ways that people can find the quick wins?
- For sure. So, I’d say keyword research overall, is really central to all digital marketing, not just SEO. And when it comes to keyword research, I always say there’s three pillars or three main areas of focus. The first one being, looking at where you’re at right now, not starting from scratch, and building upon it over time. So I think a great resource for this that everybody should be using is Google Search Console. It’s free to set up. It’s from the source, from Google, showing you kind of what keywords are ranking for. Anybody can use it right now. And my workflow for a quick win within there is finding keywords where you’re close to that first page of Google because in terms of SEO and organic visibility, it’s really about being on that first page. And I’m sure everyone can relate, as being a Google search for themselves, you never really go to the second page of Google. If I can’t find my answer within those top 10 results, I’m probably going to retype the keyword, being a little bit more specific on what I need, in which case entail those long-tail keywords that you’ve mentioned.
But finding those keywords where you’re in positions 11 to 20, maybe you just need to revise that content a little bit. Put a little bit more focus in there. That way, you’re not starting from scratch and I think you’ll see much quicker results, quicker benefits, and more clicks and traffic driving to your site. So I think for anybody starting at that benchmarks out there is a great first approach to this keyword research.
The second being utilizing your competition, which I think everybody should be using no matter what business or vertical you’re in. Understanding what’s working for your competitors, what kind of content are they putting out there, what keywords are giving them a lot of visibility, and a lot of these leads. And getting ideas from that different content ideas, different targeting approaches—whether it be through PPC or SEO—can be huge.
And then finally, I think the most important is focusing on your audience. And that comes down to understanding what searchers are looking for, what they want, what you can give them in terms of value, and an answer for their different pinpoints here. And this is more pure keyword research.
So finding these long-tail terms as you had mentioned, which is simply a longer search query. These are great to find the target because they more closely reflect how people search the web. They tend to be more conversion centric, and they tend to be easier to rank for at the end of the day. So I think finding these long-tail opportunities that you can target, getting more actionable searchers to your site.
A great quick win there is focusing on question terms. I think it’s very popular for people to type questions into Google. And I think as a site creator, a content creator, these are great building blocks for your content—whether it be FAQ pages, or blog posts that simply address these questions. Giving a searcher an answer is really aligning yourself with the goal of Google, which is providing value to a searcher. And I think it’s a great place to start. So I think overall, it’s a little long winded, but these are gonna be my three main approaches to keyword research. At least starting out and building.
[10:45] So let’s unpack that a little bit. In the beginning, you talked about start using the search console, find where you’re ranking in position 11 through 20, and then improve the content. How can I use SEMrush? In case it’s not obvious to people what “improve the content” means? I’m sure SEMrush is going to be able to help me to do that, is that right?
- A ton. Yes. So I think search console’s easy and available for everybody. SEMrush gives you the next level analysis. It’s way easier to filter and find those opportunities. And we actually have reports that give you advice on how to better rank for certain keywords. Oftentimes involves you adding different semantically related terms to that content, ensuring that your readability is in line, your contents easy to be understood. It’s thorough enough. There’s a long enough word count, as well as some backlink opportunities, which I think we’ll discuss later, which can be huge in improving your rank and finding the right sites to link to you can give you a lot of authority for certain keywords.
[11:52] So which section? I’m looking in the SEMrush console right now. Which section would I be looking at, for what we just talked about?
- I would look at that SEO content template, within there. With that tool, you can enter a target keyword. Even a target location and device so you can get specific—if you’re a local business and care about that local SEO. It gives you quick loads.
[12:16] And now you also talked about studying competitors—see what’s working for them, what they’re ranking for. I’m kind of using this interview as a coaching session for me because we do use your software. Which section of the software do I want to go into spy on my competitors? Would that be—you tell me— gap analysis?
- Yes, well, there’s a lot of areas. But I think within that gap analysis, that keyword gap is going to be the go-to. So you can enter up the five domains in there. You can find keywords, maybe the multiple competitors are ranking and you’re not. And that’s a great place to start with content ideas, different keyword you can start to target by creating some new content.
[13:01] So you talked about link building as well. But link building, when I hear about that, I think—because I get requests all the time, “Hey, can you link here? Can you link?” and I ignore every single one of them. So how on earth, aside from making content so epic that people just want to link to it, how the hell do you build links?
- It’s tough. And it’s a pretty dynamic topic when it comes to SEO. At the end of the day, backlinks are still a major ranking factor. But you’ll hear Google themselves or John Mueller say, “You shouldn’t focus on building backlinks.” And what they’re really referring to is being manipulative in there, that’s some of that more gray hat SEO, and getting these links in kind of not approved way. Whether it be paying for links, or like you said cold outreach here, definitely not recommended from Google. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to build links.
I like the approach of content like you’ve mentioned. Building what’s called link magnets, content that’s so good that people want to link to it because it’s adding to the value of their own site. They’re giving value to their audience. But there’s some more actionable approaches within there that still involve good content. But at least you’re not waiting for people to come to you. You’re kind of putting your article out there.
And one that’s pretty popular is something called the Skyscraper Technique, where you actually find a piece of content that’s ranking pretty well, it’s getting a lot of links, but has room for improvement that you think you can build upon. And you essentially do that. You create content that’s even better than that original article. You add some more value to it. And you can actually reach out to the domains that link to the original, showing that you’ve added some value to it. You have some additional arguments or solutions to add to what they’re giving to their audience. It can be a really good way that’s relatively white hat SEO to gain some links.
Now, on top of that, I think directories are a good approach for a lot of websites as well. A good place where you can actually trade these manual links. And some of them have pretty solid authority sports. And I think if you’re a local business especially, it’s really important to look into these directories. For not just gaining links but also getting some more visibility on those map packs for Google, which is a good ranking factor there.
And you can actually kind of go into the competitive aspect of keyword research. You can do that for backlinks as well. We actually have a tool called the Backlink Gap, where similar to the keyword gap, you stack yourself side by side with multiple competitors. And we’ll show domains that are linking to both of your competitors, or three or four of your competitors, and not yourself. And at that point, it’s understanding what are they linking to. Are you simply just an email away at that point from gaining a link? Oftentimes, very low hanging fruit opportunities, I think these are some good approaches to it. At the end of the day, there’s no one right answer when it comes to building links. But it is an important ranking factor. It’s something you should—if you’re really getting serious about SEO, it’s definitely something you should be working on.
[16:19] So what about a strategy where you’re, let’s say you wanted to take advantage of, maybe Reddit? So you’ve been hanging around in the subreddits for a while. You’ve seen what people are talking about—you’re seeing the kind of questions people are asking about your topic so you produce this great piece of content. And then because you’ve been active in the Reddit community—which I’m not—but you’re able to post this piece of content in the community that you’ve already been active and helpful in. So that’s gonna get you one backlink, right?
- In theory, I’d watch—I’m not 100% sure about Reddit—but a lot of these social platforms aren’t treated as a true link in Google’s eyes.
[17:05] That’s where I was going with my question.
- Yes. So it’s more so—it still counts, I think. So social signals are definitely a ranking factor. I think it’s still very important because it gets the content out there, where then can be shared further. But I wouldn’t view that as a traditional backlink that you’re gaining, that you’re gonna see SEO results are good, or get that SEO juice into your site right away.
[17:29] Okay, so for that I need another blog or another website to link to me or a directory?
[17:36] Okay. Well, you did mention directories earlier. Is there a way within SEMrush for me to find lists of directories that would be good, or should I just be googling around for that?
- No, absolutely. I think we have a couple solutions there. One actually being from competitive research again. You can look at competitors and find sites that are linking to them that happened to be a directory. So that’s a great place to find a lot of prospects. On top of that, we have this Listing Management solution, which is more for local listings. But still in—getting these listings set, these are essentially backlinks that you’re building authority with Google to, then show your listing in map packs on Google Local searchers, which can be huge for any brick and mortar businesses as well.
[18:30] What section or tool would I be using for that?
- So two parts are under domain analytics. We have that backlink analytics. And this is really the go-to for backlink research, whether it be for your own site or a competitor. And within either that, referring domains or the backlinks report, you’ll be able to dive in and find some potential backlink prospects. And the Listings Management is exactly that. It’s a little bit farther down my tool drop down.
[19:03] Yep, I see it there. Okay, great. I’m still relatively new to the tool, which is why I have probably barely scratched the surface on what I should be using it for.
[19:16] There is indeed. You guys have been at it for 12 years. I’ve been online for 10, and I remember using it 10 years ago and I didn’t continue because I had no money back then. And now we’re back to using it again. All right, so following just the strategies that we’ve talked about before—so far by picking a few long-tail keywords, doing some competitor analysis, and building some backlinks, people are going to see results.
[19:47] Once they start to get some results, what type of monitoring—do they need to do any monitoring, or is it just kind of going autopilot, or should they be paying attention to this stuff? What’s that look like?
- Well, I think you should always be monitoring. I view it as, “What’s the point of putting in this work to try to see these improvements, and traffic, gain better visibility if you’re not going to be monitoring your progress over time?” So I think at the very least, monitoring your keyword rankings is huge. If you’re creating these new pieces of content, if you’re revamping old pieces of content, you want to see your progress over time, and ensure that the work that you’ve put into it is actually paying off. So it can be done in search Console. I think Search Console does a lot of really cool things, but it’s free for a reason.
SEMrush has a Position Tracking tool that can actually give you daily updates on these rank changes, while monitoring your competitors side by side. And you can even track down to a local level, the zip code, which can be huge if you’re more of a brick and mortar shop, or targeting a specific local audience.
[20:56] Where can I find this Position Tracking report in the tool?
- So that’ll be within our project section. This project section’s more so for your own campaigns, and your own site progress, and then there we’ll have our position tracking.
[21:12] Oh, I found it. Yes, I’ve got one of the projects, I’ve got set up for Flowster, my software company, and there’s position tracking. So visibility, 39.15%. I don’t know what that means. Maybe you can help me understand that? Site health, 67%, which means I guess we’re not doing a very good job of SEO so far.
- Not necessarily. I view it as there’s room for improvement. I wouldn’t be, there wouldn’t be like a pass/fail grade. More work can be done. But in terms—that visibility metric, is essentially, it’s scaled in such a way that if you’re in position one for every single keyword that you’re tracking, that’s 100% for perfect visibility there. So as you start to rank lower, it’s going to drop that. It can drop it pretty significantly. I think it’s more so monitoring improvement over time, and monitoring how you’re doing versus your main competition there.
[22:10] Okay, man. I got a lot of work to do. I’m not really enjoying this interview. You’re giving me too much work to do.
[22:17] Can you just do it for me?
[22:20] Okay All right. So in terms of tracking, if you had to pick three KPIs, what would they be?
- Tough one. I would say something like average position or visibility for keywords. You should just, monitoring your site, moving up in these Google SERP is huge. Second, KPI is really the pay-off metric. They should care about what this traffic is. Are these improved rankings leading to clicks? Is it leading to people arriving at your site? And within there, if I can add a subsection to that traffic, looking at user experience, that’s for these different cohorts or traffic that are coming in. Essentially, their time spent on page, their bounce rate, really trying to dive into. Is this content really succeeding? Is it captivating for this audience that’s arrived? And I think the third, would be a share between or split between backlinks and social shares. And that’s essentially, is your content resonating? Are people sharing it across the web? How big is the reach that you’re creating with this content? Probably more than three.
[23:38] This indeed, and I’m taking good notes here. All right. So within the tool, I’m assuming there must be some easy way for me to create these reports. So am I going to go to the report section for that?
- Yes. So I think two places: for directly measuring these KPIs for content that you’re creating, within that project section, we have that Content Analyzer. And part of that Content Audit, where it will look at these articles. It’ll pull in the main metrics of the article, like word count, what are the meta tag-h1 tag, author, if it’s relevant for the article. As well as some of these KPIs, like the traffic and user engagement, backlinks that you’re gaining, social shares that you’re gaining, and keyword visibility over time. And I think within there, it kind of groups it all together to allow you to easily measure and manage the success of this content that you’re working to create and revise over time. So I think that’s a good one, one-stop-shop to get all these KPIs for the articles.
If you wanted a more robust report, pulling in different metrics, our report section is very user friendly to create this. It’s basically a drag and drop model where you can pull these reports over, build them into this customizable PDF that you can then schedule, automate to be sent out. It’s a lot easier than a lot of more traditional dashboards, like something like Google Data Studio that I think involves a little bit more comfort in the tech aspect of like building web data connectors, and pulling visualizing data.
[25:23] Yeah, so I’m looking here. So create a new PDF report. There’s two report templates. There’s monthly SEO Organic Positions, Site Audit Report, Backlinks Full Report. So these are really just done for your reports. And for a given URL, I can say, “Hey, SEMrush. I want you to send me this report every month.” And that’s it.
[25:42] So that makes it easy.
- Cookie-cutter reports, ready to go.
[25:45] I don’t have any setup yet.
- …monthly, weekly. I definitely recommend it. I think it’s good just to monitor that progress, making sure it’s moving in the right direction.
[25:56] Yes, absolutely. Making a note right now. Set up some reports. SEO is not my strong suit. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview with you. Now that we’ve started to use your tool again, I want to gain, like I’ve got this powerful engine. And I’m not even leveraging yet, leveraging it yet. And so I’m hoping that the takeaway from this will help me be able to do that a little bit better.
- Oh, for sure. And I think just one thing to keep in mind with SEO, is that it does take time to see significant results. But once you develop a good SEO strategy, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. As you said, if you rank well for a given keyword, it’s leads that— you’re not paying for the [unintelligible 26:40].
[26:43] And I do want to remind folks that it doesn’t always have to take time. Like I said, we put up this page for the standard operating procedure templates for digital agencies. It’s not a long page, it may be 800 words or so. We never did any manual link building for it at all. It was really around. We picked a keyword that had a relatively low search volume, without a whole lot of competition. And we just created a piece of content that was better. And now it’s five to 10 leads a week, every week, which is pretty sweet.
[27:15] All right so before we wrap up, Rich. Obviously, there’s going to be lots of links in the show notes, folks. We’re going to be creating some Flowster workflows, all around how to use SEMrush to make it easier. So when you know, when you feel like I do right now, when you’re listening, and you’re like, “Oh, I want to do that. I want to do that”. But you don’t really know how to do it. We’re going to be creating workflows that allow you to be able to use the tool effortlessly without having to watch a zillion different training videos to learn how to do it. Before you and I sign off, Rich, is there anything else that you want to add? If you were interviewing yourself on this topic? Is there any question that I didn’t ask you yet that you think I should?
- I would add one more thing about competitive analysis here when it comes to not just SEO, but overall your approach to digital marketing. One thing I actually noticed yesterday, I did a keyword search for “reusable water bottle.” And I think this is a trend we see a lot happening now, especially for e-commerce where the search for that keyword, organically, you have Amazon of course, because Amazon’s gonna rank for every e-commerce keyword under the sun now. But the rest of the organic results were content, were guides “what’s the best reusable water bottle you can buy?” “best bottle your money,” and that was almost the entire first page of Google.
Whereas the more traditional manufacturers and e-commerce shops are running Google ads, and running product listing ads, they’re trying to get that sale on the SERP. So I think understanding that dynamic, and really taking that content approach to it, can pay off a lot for an e-commerce. So if you’re getting serious about organic, I know the phrase content is king. It’s old. It sounds like a broken record. But if you develop your content strategy, it really will pay off for your SEO some time in the long run.
[29:13] Feed that back a little bit, make sure that I’ve understood the takeaway that you’re trying to offer. So if the SERPs are full of blog posts, instead of product listings, and I want to rank, but I want to sell my water bottle, I should make a blog post? And within the blog post, I’m gonna have all sorts of links to my product listing where people can go buy my water bottle. But in order to have a chance at ranking, I have to look at the signals that Google is telling me and Google saying—because of the SERPs are all blog posts—Google saying we want to rank blog posts for this particular phrase.
- Yeah, essentially that’s where you’re competing with. Yes, so really building upon that approach, whether it be a guide, a comparison article, a list. But as you said, linking your products within that article that’s on ranking. It seems to be the trend, and I think advising or focusing on your content in that direction will have the biggest payoff for SEO.
[30:08] Okay, and this is not the first time I’ve heard this. I have done a number of interviews over the last year so with other SEO folks, and I’ve read articles here and there and watched videos here and there as I attempt to improve my skills in this regard, and it is something that I have definitely heard before. So Rich, thank you very much for making some time to briefly come and talk about what I consider to be some low hanging fruit, quick win possibilities, in the much bigger world of SEO, which obviously, we could talk about SEO for—they have conferences that last days. So doing a half hour forecast interview definitely does not cover it all. But that was not the intent.
So folks, if you want more information on the software tool, we’ll have special links in the show notes. We’ll have links to the workflows that we’ve created in the show notes, and anything else that I can give you that will allow you to essentially hack your way to a quick win in a shorter period of time, rather than a long one will be in the show notes. So again, Rich, thank you so much for making some time come and be on the show
- Awesome. Thanks, Trent. Thanks for having me.