The advent and popularity of the internet drove many businesses online. Much like physical stores, online shops need marketing to direct customer traffic to their business. One way of doing so is through paid advertisements. However, the cost of paid advertisements fluctuates and takes away from your revenue. So how can online stores gain more customers and increase profits without having to rely on paid advertisements?
Joining us in today’s episode is Neil Sheth – founder of Writefully and Bubbli Digital. He is a former investment banking project manager turned SEO Consultant and Digital Content Strategist. He helps businesses build their brands online utilizing SEO. One of his clients increased their revenue five-fold by six months after a well-thought SEO strategy!
Tune in to the full episode to learn about the basics of SEO and Neil’s tactics for building a solid brand presence online.
Click here to read transcript
[03:15] So for the folks in my audience who aren’t yet familiar with you, let’s start there. Maybe, just a quick introduction of who you are and what you do in the world.
- Yeah. So, thanks so much. So, I am the founder of a digital marketing agency, where our real focus is on SEO called bubblydigital.com. We help our clients to get to the top of Google by implementing SEO strategy. I am also the founder of a new content creation brand called Writefully, and that’s on writeful-L-Y, where clients can order content on-demand on a monthly subscription service. That’s what I’ve been doing in the world today. I started this journey in 2009. I was actually–I’ve got a bit of a strange background, Trent.
I was an investment banking project manager for 10 plus years working for companies like Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital, Accenture, and was launching businesses. I realized I just wanted to launch a business, and I was an entrepreneur for a very young age. So I did that evenings and weekends, and then got to the point where the businesses were growing, and I thought, “Hey, let me try and hire an agency”– only realizing that actually, I felt like I knew more than them, or I felt like I couldn’t let them have my project. That’s actually how I ended up falling into what I do today, which is trying to solve my own problem. I just went, “Hey, why don’t I just do this for other people,” and transitioned.
[05:00] Cool. Alright. So for the folks that are listening, here’s what you’re in for: I have asked Neil to share with us the story of some pretty remarkable results that they achieved for a client of theirs. What we’re going to do is we’re going to unpack the ‘how’, all the things that they did to achieve that outcome. So, hopefully, for you that are listening or watching wherever you’re consuming this, that you’re going to come away from this interview with some actionable tactics that you can actually go ahead and implement into your business if you had the free time right after watching this video.
So, let’s talk a little bit. Who’s the client? I don’t know if you can name them. If you can’t name them, just describe what type of business they’re in.
- Yeah, so the client sells —let’s say, without naming them— homeware products. So, it’s an e-commerce store with thousands and thousands of products. So, the client’s problem is, “How do I grow my sales organically?” Their focus, their marketing strategy was really focused on paid advertising. So they said, “Hey, Neil, we want to stop paying for every click and every purchase. How do we drive more sales organically?” That’s where we came in.
[05:50] The result that you got them was you 5x-ed their already fairly significant revenue in six months, right?
- Yeah. So we took the client on, and to be totally honest, especially in the organic space, we cannot predict how quick the client is going to get results. It often comes up in the SEO space a lot of how long can you, how quick am I going to have to wait until I get results? Or you hear clients say, “Hey, I can’t really wait two years to get this.” Often the case isn’t, it’s not necessarily a two-year thing. But at the same time, it’s very hard to predict. We, I have a gut feeling when I look at campaigns, and I say, “Hey, actually, you’ve got tons of opportunity here that you haven’t maximized. And I feel like it’s going to be quick.” But did we know we were going to do 5x in six months? Hand on heart, no. But it was thrilling to have seen the results that we got for the client in the end.
[07:29] Yeah, but they were pretty happy about it, too.
- Oh, yeah, for sure.
[07:33] Alright, so now that we’ve set the stage for the results, let’s talk. Let’s get into the meat of it, and describe their ‘before’ state, and then, unpack all of the things that you did to get the result that you just described.
- Sure. So the client is running a Magento e-commerce store. What I’m about to describe is not platform-specific. So, if you have a Shopify store, or you have a WordPress WooCommerce store, or any other store, please don’t think I can’t apply this. This is platform agnostic. So, that was the starting point.
The client hadn’t done any SEO. For those wondering what SEO is, it’s search engine optimization. “How do I get to the top of Google, organically?” They hadn’t done that. They had basically started their campaign many years ago by starting with 1,000 pounds a month on paid ads. When things were coming in, they would increase it to 2,000. When sales were coming in, they would go to 5,000. And sooner or later this client was dependent on paid ads, spending, I think at the time 20-30,000 per month on paid advertising, which was bringing in the sales.
It comes to a point where they go, “Okay, how do we take this to another level?” That’s one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is, “Holy crap. What if something goes wrong with paid ads? What if things just get worse–things just triple in terms of costs? Or what if Google goes down?” So, when I say paid ads, they were primarily relying on Google ads, and that was about Facebook ads as well. So, the client started to look at, “Okay, how do we start to build a brand here? How do we start to actually have people come to us not just based on price, but because based on quality, or our name and our customer service? How do we drive, in summary, how do we drive more organic interest in our brand and referral traffic?”
When you start to have that type of mindset and that type of conversation, you start to introduce the concept of SEO. Because actually, when you run an SEO campaign, it looks very much like those things where you’re building a brand. You’re creating content that your users actually want. Surprisingly, you’re actually thinking about your social. When you talk about SEO, people don’t think about social. But it’s because you’re building a brand.
So the client came to us and said, “This is our issue where–” I forgot the phrase, the phrase, he said, I still remember this to this day, because I thought I’m going to use that phrase in my marketing. And that’s actually selfishly why I remember the phrase.
[10:19] Well now today, you don’t remember.
- Yeah, well, it’s along these lines: he said, “Neil, I don’t want to be on the hook of Google for every customer that clicks on our website. My current strategy,” he said, “is pay more than clients to get more clicks. I don’t want to have that strategy anymore.” So we started to talk about SEO. I said, “Hey, you’ve got thousands of products here. You’ve got a huge site; you’ve got good content in terms of the product listing. You basically haven’t thought about letting Google in, organically.
It’s like having a house, right? You’ve built this amazing house. You’ve got your furniture. You’ve got an architect. You’ve got nice windows, doors. But you know what you forgot to do? You forgot to put a front door, and so you’re not letting anyone in. Everyone’s coming in through the window, through paid ads, because you’re just shoving them in and you’re telling them– but you’re not actually opening your doors to people finding you organically. So that was the conversation.
When we look at SEO campaigns, and you look at the length of time it takes to get SEO results, there’s things you have to factor in. Let me give everyone a bit of a summary of things that I look at when I look at speed of results. So the first thing is, how long has the domain, how long has the website been up? If it’s a brand new domain, if it has no history, it’s just naturally going to take a long time for Google to trust it.
If you think about that, that’s just like anyone actually, in business. If you have a new business, and you walk into a room, and nobody knows you, and you’re trying to sell something, it’s just not going to happen. You kind of have to go to that event multiple times. You have to get to know people. You have to have a sit-down, coffees. You need to talk rubbish, and talk about Netflix, and then, you’ve been letting people into your family, and all of those things before people trust you. Similar with Google. You start a brand new website; it’s just not gonna happen on day one.
Now with this particular client, I’ve already described, they’ve been doing paid advertising for years. They’ve got thousands of products. They’ve actually been operating online for many, many years. When I see that, that’s almost like gold for me. It’s great, amazing. The other thing is, so, that’s the first thing.
The next thing that we started to look at was the domain authority of a website. People are wondering, “What’s domain authority?” Here’s the concept. Again, let’s just use that same example. You walk into a room of, you’re new in business, you walk into a room and people are going, “Wait, does this person really know what they’re talking about? How many years of experience have they got? Where did that experience come from?” It’s actually very, very similar when it comes to Google and trying to grow the rankings.
Google’s business is built on the ability to choose the best possible answer, right? So what it needs to be able to do is find websites they highly trust so we can show that result to the person that’s searching it. So, again, brand new website is just not gonna happen on day one. But because this website’s been there for years, it’s called the history checkmark, right? It’s ticked that box, which is awesome.
Now, the other thing I was looking at is, “Who else trusts this brand?” So, for instance, Trent is speaking to me, “Here.” Now, if Trent recommends our company to his friend and says, “Hey, I trust Neil; you should go work with him.” His friend is now going to trust me a lot higher. So what Google’s doing, if we take that same example, Google’s going, “What other websites online trust this brand? If there’s a website that I already trust, trust this new brand, then the domain authority of that new website or that brand is going to be a lot higher than a brand new site that no one else trusts.”
[14:30] So those just to be clear, so the audience understands this, those votes of trust are essentially links?
- Right, exactly links. Exactly. So in practical terms, what that means is, if I have, let’s say, the BBC, which is a well-known news organization in the UK and globally. If I have the BBC talk about me like that, for my domain authority, is just, is insane. I will physically drop out of my chair if that ever happened. I’m still working on it. That’s what Google’s doing. It’s going, “Who else is linking to this brand?” If it sees a ton of sites, high-quality sites —this is the key, high-quality sites— and sites it already trusts linking to the brand, then the domain authority of that website is higher than a site that has very little links, right? So when we looked at my client, they actually had, because they had naturally been in business for a very long time, they’ve been trying to grow their brand, hustling, right? They’ve been doing paid advertising.
Over the years, if you’ve just been around online for a number of years, naturally you’re just going to be in different places. Even directories count to an extent. So, the domain authority of the site was actually okay. It was decent. We weren’t starting from scratch, right? So we’ve talked about two things here. We talked about, from a technical perspective, making sure your door is open to Google. We talked about domain authority.
The third thing that we look at is, what does this, has the site actually actively thought about their content from an SEO perspective? When we looked at this client, they hadn’t done any of that. They’ve very simply looked at the content from a paid ads perspective, i.e., “If I drive a click from this ad to that landing page, will they buy with the content?” Yes, fine. That’s as far as they had considered.
Whereas when you look at it from an SEO perspective, you look at the actual words, you look at the copy, and you say, “Has this been optimized for Google?” Right? “Has this been optimized?” And when we say, has this been optimized for Google, what I actually mean is, has this been optimized for someone searching on Google? Yeah. The answer to that question was ‘No’.
Here’s the situation I’ve got: I’ve got a site that actually, somewhat, is trusted by Google. I’ve got a site that hasn’t opened its doors to Google at all. And I have a site that hasn’t done any of that. It hasn’t really thought about any of the content from a Google and an SEO perspective. And so what that means, that’s a really good recipe. The other one was, it has a lot of history. It’s been around for a number of years. That’s a great recipe for a site that when they start thinking about SEO, actually, those results can be fairly quickly–especially with a site that’s got hundreds of pages, thousands of products. Because it’s a fairly large site. So that’s basically what we were dealing with. Does all of that makes sense? Do you follow me?
[17:51] Makes perfect sense. So now let’s dive into the tactics. What actions did you start to take to change the site’s ranking in Google?
- Okay, so let’s look at things in our control. That’s where we start all the time. So there’s two things in our control. One is the phrase is technical SEO. But I will explain what that means in a very non-boring way. For those that have gone, “Aw, technical SEO, I’m about to lose sleep here.” I will not put you to sleep, I promise. The second thing is optimizing the content for SEO. So technical SEO, in simple terms is opening up your doors to Google. What does that actually mean? It means going through the backend of the site, looking at the technical issues. So some technical issue examples could be 404 pages, right? Where you were a site is ranking or a site has too many 404 pages that actually just need to be cleaned up.
What is the goal of technical SEO? It’s very simple. It’s almost like having a house with kids. You clean your house on day one, and in seven days’ time —if you’ve got a house, if you’ve got kids— your house is just going to be a mess, right? It’s just gonna be an entire mess. You can’t even walk anywhere. In fact, if you put a blindfold on, you’ll probably trip up and endanger yourself. That’s what happens to sites that don’t take care of themselves, basically, a site that doesn’t look after itself, just over time, gathers junk, gathers mess. What does that mess look like? It looks like pages that were deleted but we’re not redirected: 404. What else does it look like? It looks like pages that were deleted and then forgotten about, and they’re just lost in the ether. Or pages that were redirected, but actually, they were deleted. And now they need to be redirected, which causes redirect chains. Now—
[19:52] Basically, what you’re talking about here is just running a broken link report. You can use a tool like ahrefs or SEMrush to run that report and find all these broken links. Is that more or less what you’re describing?
- Broken links is only one portion of it. There can be tens and tens of issues. So other issues could be meta issues, meta tag issues, you could have architectural issues, you could have indexation issues. I guess what I’m describing here is not something that someone can go into HRS. You can go to SEMrush. And you can go run a report. We use Screaming Frog as well, which is a crawler where you can crawl sites and see the issues. Actually identifying issues is one thing. Resolving it, strategically, is a whole other thing.
When it comes to SEO, and we have a training program as well, when it comes to SEO, we’re not it–especially if you’re running a business or you’re a marketeer, I would say it’s not in your interest to learn technical SEO. Because once you fix it, it’s one of those things it’s foundational. It’s fixed. It’s done. And then, you can move on with your life. And just like you clean a house every week or every couple of days, just maintain your website every six months, every year, right? Run a technical audit. Fix your issues.
The examples I’ve given you are things that people can think about. But there are a ton of issues that we can find. If it’s a small e-commerce shop, actually, you might be able to get away with it yourself. But my advice would be when it comes to technical SEO, get someone good. If you don’t have someone in house, just get a freelancer. Get someone else to run a one-off audit. Speak to us, whoever. But your time is better spent doing technical SEO right. Because there are a number of considerations. So that’s the technical SEO part. That’s the ‘let Google in.’
Coming back to this example, when we ran the audit, and we found their issues, and we found everything that was going wrong, the main issues that we found out–I reviewed some of the analysis before this interview, just to make it as specific as possible–we found a number of redirect chains. Basically, it was slowing down the site, and it’s just confusing Google. It’s using crawl budget. It’s telling Google to go down there. when actually you should go down there. You just want to optimize Google’s experience and you optimize Google’s experience, you optimize user experience.
That was one thing. The other thing is the site, because they had hundreds, actually thousands of products, it was indexing pages that were duplicates. So you also want to avoid that. You want to avoid having duplicate products, especially for e-commerce stores. And the best way to get around that is to do canonical tags, where you’re telling Google that the actual real version, or not the real version, but the master version of the product is on this page, and I am a child version so don’t index me. So these are the things you want to consider when you’re building out your e-commerce store. Avoid duplicate product listing.
Now, the other thing in our control–this is the second point that we worked on and it does lead on to duplication, is, “Is content, optimizing your content for your users and SEO?” What does that mean? It means if someone’s searching for ‘black sunglasses,’ and you have a category on your e-com store, and you sell black sunglasses, and you sell tons of black sunglasses, it might actually make sense for you to have a category called black sunglasses. Underneath that, you have all of your black sunglasses.
That might just make sense because the search intent, someone is looking for black sunglasses. They don’t know exactly what they want. They don’t know if they want Ray-Ban. But they just want to look at a category called black sunglasses. So now you’re looking at what people are searching for, and then you’re matching it with the content that lives on your site.
Now, as I’ve inferred here, before you do that, you need to be able to understand what people are searching for. Because if we find people are searching for Ray-Ban sunglasses—which clearly they are—then you have a sunglass store. Rather than having one store, one page, one category of every product, now you can strategically think of setting up your architecture in a way that Ray-Ban sunglasses has its own category. But it lives under black sunglasses so that people can filter down.
It’s very similar to, I mean, it’s no different to Google Drive folders or Microsoft. Just organization. That’s all it is. It’s architecture, organization. But it’s the most crucial thing. That’s actually where a big part of the gains came for this client, as well as the technical SEO. It’s doing keyword research using tools, HRS, SEMrush, free tools like Google Keyword Planner, Neil Patel’s got Uber Suggests. I think he’s got a paid version now. Or even Google suggestions. Go into Google typing in your store, and just all your products and seeing what Google suggests if you just want to find easy, free, quick wins.
Really understanding what people are searching for because once you understand that, you can start to lay it out on your site. And you can architecturally get everything right. And then you can take that down further and you can go okay, “How do I tell Google and how do I tell users this is a page about black sunglasses?”
Well, here’s an easy way to do it. At the very top of your e-commerce store, have a small block of text that describes what the page is about. Because whilst Google’s getting smarter and smarter with all its algorithm, understanding what visual images are–when it sees a black sunglass, like understanding that actually, we can empower Google even more by giving it the written word. Because Google understands that 100%, right? You can add some text at the top of your store. You can also add text at the bottom of your store. Top and bottom. You can make the bottom even longer. So the top might be 50 words, 25 words. At the bottom, you could go 200 words. Now you can start to bulk out your content. And encourage Google to rank your category pages.
Now, those are just the categories. You could, then apply the same methodology to your product pages, and create a copy that’s optimized. So product copy that’s optimized for the user. So it’s interesting, it’s engaging, but it’s also optimized for Google. Right? So this is what content SEO optimization looks like. That’s how you encourage Google to start ranking you and start to notice what your site’s about.
[26:47] So let me dive in with a question. You could, as you just described, optimize your category pages. But you could also publish a blog post that talked about black sunglasses. And you could have examples and stories and shots and videos. It could be rich content. And then, you could have all sorts of links from that blog post to either your category page or to your product detail pages. I think I know the answer to this, but I don’t think that is as effective as really doing a great job on your category pages. If that’s correct, why not? What’s the disadvantage of the blog post approach versus the category page approach?
- This is a great question. Just bringing back to this example. We prioritized the store pages, the money pages–which is we refer to–and the technical SEO. That’s what we prioritized in the first three to four months. We didn’t even touch the blog. A reason we did that is because those pages already existed. They already had history. They were already ranking somewhat on Google. When I say somewhat, I mean page 8, page 9. It’s not going to lead to any visitors. No way it can lead to any traffic.
But that for me is an area that we can dive into straight away, and we can match to a very specific search intent of someone looking for a black sunglass. Someone looking for a black sunglass is basically shopping around, who wants to see choices, right? So if you think about the person, the target audience, and what they really want, in your mind, it just makes sense. Now let’s validate that idea even further. Well, we could do is we could take the term, we can go to Google, and we can search for ‘black sunglasses’, and we can see what appears. If I see 10 blog posts, that invalidates what I just said. And it goes, “Okay, forget that. Let’s go create a blog post.”
[28:59] Yeah, that’s the answer I was looking for.
- That’s the answer.
[29:03] Yeah, if the existing search results are a bunch of category pages, you need to have a category page. If the existing research results are so for someone who had typed in black sunglasses review, maybe now we’re seeing a lot of blog posts in the search results. So you need to have a blog post as opposed to a category page.
- But one thing just to add, and hopefully, this doesn’t confuse people. But practically, when we’re working through this type of campaign, we are looking at, where are they ranking today? What could they improve today? So the terms that I’m going to see from the analysis are automatically going to be terms that are mapping to their category, product pages, to the existing pages. Did that make sense? So now I’m– the fallout of my analysis is keywords that the existing site could improve and when it’s existing, so we’re looking at the existing URL. So now I’m mapping one-to-one, the URLs to keywords.
That’s what you want to do. If you have a store, you’ve been around for a long time, you’ve got somewhat trusted online, you want to look at where are you ranking today. Work on that. Don’t go into, because honestly, depending on the niche, it can open up a can of worms in terms of ideas, blog, post ideas, product ideas, new categories. All of these things are cans of worms. And it’s all about prioritization and SEO. You can do all of these things, but you need to prioritize your time and resources.
[30:33] So let’s quickly summarize how we’ve got to this point so far. First off, make sure the technical SEO issues have been resolved. Clean up your house. Second of all, start looking at the keywords that you’re already ranking for. Maybe you’ve got some on page two. Maybe, you’ve got some on page three. What I’m hearing from you, Neil, is focus your attention on those low-hanging fruit opportunities first. Do your best to optimize to do the on-page optimization as best because that’s all within your control. You’re not dependent upon anybody else for help with that. You’re not dependent upon external links.
In this particular example, this store has thousands of products. It would have taken an immense amount of time to go and optimize every single one of those thousands of product detail pages. So at what point in time, after you have analyzed the low-hanging fruit, the keywords where you’ve got some rank already page 2, 3, 4, 5, what have you. You’ve done all of the effort that you can to optimize the category or product detail pages that are achieving those rankings for those keywords. But you still have thousands of other pages. Where did you go next? Did you go on a link-building exercise? Did you type deeper into the product portfolio? Did you create new category pages? What’s next in the story?
- Yeah, that is so well summarized. The way this campaign looks like is basically months of optimizing the content, making sure the technical is done, looking at the internal linking structure. It’s almost like, you’re building up, you’re building up, you’re building up. So you’re working on, let’s say, the first 50 pages, and you’re going through that. And then, months pass. Then, you go to the next batch. Then, you go into the next. And then, it comes to a point in time when we’re past the low-hanging fruit. It then opens up, and we say, “Okay, we’re past this point of, everything’s on our control. This is low-hanging. Now, where do we think the winds are gonna come from?”
This is now where we get into a debate and when we start to analyze. So there’s some choices that you can look at. You could start to go, “Do we want to go deeper on these pages that we worked on?” For instance, by going deeper, that might look like schema. So schema is a way to basically code up your data and tell Google, “This is what this page is about.” So for instance, for e-commerce stores, you can tell Google, “This tag is the price. This is the color of the product. This is the description. This is…,” all of these factors. The concept is, the more data you give to Google, the higher your chances of ranking.
Now, personally, we don’t necessarily jump into schema if the content not good enough, most agencies won’t do that. They won’t, they’ll go, “Let’s get the content.” So what we chose to do was we did a hit, like almost a sprint across content. Then we start to do the next layer up. So that’s one of the choices you could look at. You could go, “Okay, let’s take this a bit further.” The other choice could be, “How do we drive the authority of these individual pages?” In other words, “Should we get more links, external links going to these individual pages? Or maybe we need to do more blog content to drive the awareness?” So we need to go for top-of-the-funnel keywords where someone’s not necessarily looking for a product. But they’re going, they’re just searching around, they’re looking for—
[34:26] “I have this problem. I have a problem. I need to dig a hole. I don’t yet know that shovels exist. I just know that I need to dig a hole. So I’m Googling about, how do I dig a hole? And then I discover there’s a shovel. So now I’m shopping for shovels.
- Yeah. And in my example, the example would be, “How do I keep my home warmer?” Right. Then we introduced the product that way. So in our instance, we didn’t go the schema route initially. What we actually ended up doing was we said, “Okay, now let’s start to introduce blog content.” Because we weren’t generally not looking at campaigns. And my recommendation would be when you think about SEO, and you really understand it. In fact, on my YouTube channel, I’ve got a video called The SEO Compass. But when you really understand SEO, what you realize is SEO isn’t just about getting to the top of Google. It’s actually an amazing compass to building a brand organically online.
So when I say that, yes, we want to get the quick wins. Yes, we want to get to the top of Google. But what we really want to do is we want to help the client to build their brand organically online. That’s where blogs come in. That’s where having a great social media presence coming in. That’s actually where having a non-sales-y email newsletter comes in. And that’s what we ended up doing. So we went in the blog. We improved their newsletter. They managed their sales newsletter. We managed the non-sales-y newsletter. So we ended up sharing the blog content which was entertaining, fun. We did some cool gifts. We managed their Instagram, actually, which was a challenge. But it was cool because we rebranded it completely.
We started to share our blog content as well as offers and just news about their space. And suddenly, this brand went from this boring, old, kind of homeware company that sold these products to actually, they’ve got a voice. They’ve got a team. We showed their factory. We showed their warehouse. We actually showed them as being a company that is the number one brand in this space. It’s not just something they say, but we want you to kind of give the behind-the-scenes.
What’s cool about that is it sends user signals back to Google. When Google start seeing people sticking to the site, when Google starts seeing a presence outside of their own website, like, “They’ve actually got an Instagram channel or they’re actually tweeting. They’re actually got direct traffic coming from a different platform, i.e., email newsletter.” When Google start seeing all of that, it’s just like gonna snowball over time. Because the SEO is kicking in. There’s less junk on the site. The content’s good. It’s not spammy. It’s not duplicate content. That’s the other thing: we need to make sure all of your product descriptions are unique. Do not use, if you’re not manufacturing the product and you’re using someone else’s product, do not use their descriptions. Create your own descriptions. And hopefully, that’s a good nugget for people to take. But—
[37:36] I’m gonna go down the– I’m a big believer in email newsletters, obviously. I’ve been for a decade. This particular company made radiators to heat the house. Not the most exciting thing in the world. How on earth do you have an email newsletter that anyone’s ever going to read when your product is literally that boring?
- So it literally is that boring, right, on the face of it. But when you’re sharing advice about things, actually things that I didn’t even know about, the fact that you could have radiator covers. So I had no idea you could do a radiator cover. So if you’re teaching people it’s a major problem, especially with the audience that are buying their radiators. They are looking at, “How do I save costs? How do I save, how do I insulate my house?” Ultimately, to make this kind of broader and help people who are watching this or listening to this, if you really understand your target audience and their issues, if you start to look, not necessarily just at your product alone use, you just take your eyes a bit more broader, and you go, “This person, actually what they really want is this: they really want to save their costs. They want their house to be warm. They might even want their radiators to be a design feature.” This was actually one of the USPs of the client where they said that the concept is a radiator shouldn’t just be a thing that heats your home. It should actually be a feature is how the founder describes it in the property. So when you start to look at that, and you start to broaden your eyes, now you can fill your content calendar with tons of ideas that people actually will be interested in.
[39:35] I want to talk about link-building for a bit because it’s obviously very important. And it’s a huge challenge. And it can be a very monotonous task. Describe for us the method that you used to get links, in particular before you get in talking to how you got the links, let’s go up a little bit and talk about link building in general. What are some of the practices to avoid? Because a lot of people make a lot of mistakes, and then explain how you got the links.
- Okay. So, link building is an interesting subject. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Tactics have changed over the times. Before it was easier in the sense that any link would add value to a site. Literally, you could go to hundreds of directories, and get links from them, and suddenly your site will just fly off the roof.
[40:28] Do you use a piece of software today called the Best Spinner?
- I remember a software called the SpinUp. I don’t remember that one. But there was tons and tons of software just like that. Right?
[40:39] It was, like 10 years ago. It is the very fabric I did, I used to build these little micro niche sites and get them ranked. Just like you did in Amazon. But anyway, I digress. My apologies.
- No, no. I mean, it brings back memories of Warrior Forum. There would be tons of services selling link-building. I mean, I’m sure there is still. Now when it comes to link building, it is about the quality of the link. It’s in making sure it’s on a quality site, like it’s a site that actually exists; it’s a brand in itself.
[41:15] You can hurt your site by buying or getting links from the wrong place. So that’s what I’m getting at.
- Totally, totally. So it’s not about quantity anymore. So, for instance, spending hours doing an interview just like this, and getting a link in return is going to be a lot more powerful and important for your brand than trying to get 10 links from low-quality sites that mean nothing to you. When I say mean nothing to you, meaning, it’s a wedding site that’s talking about, I don’t know, link building that hasn’t, that has no relevance. And then linking to a link-building service, right?
The tactics that we’re looking at for this site, and here’s the other side of the coin: websites, bloggers, magazines, publications, they also understand the power of link building. Whereas back in the day, they didn’t. What that now means is these sites have now clued on, and they’ve gone, “Hey, hold on, we could charge for this. We could actually make money for this. Because actually, I’m driving some value.” So whilst this entire debate of, “Should I buy a link? Should I not?” My advice is this, my personal advice is: I would buy a link, if the site is genuine. It’s high quality. It doesn’t have spammy links. It’s got a good kind of metrics. We look at metrics on ahrefs. You could look at metrics on ATRICA, SEMrush, Moz. The article, the place where it’s linking from is contextual to your brand. That’s ultimately my kind of summary.
What do we do for this time? We do blogger outreach. So we might run a blogger outreach campaign where we go out to 10, 15 bloggers in the home space who have talked about home things in the past, and we would pitch articles. We would pitch ideas, and we’d say, “Hey, let’s create this.” Or, “Could you write about this?” Or, “Could you insert our link into this article about this client and talk about it in this way?” And so that’s what a blogger outreach type campaign—
[43:25] And you’re expecting to pay these bloggers to comply? You’re not hoping they’re going to write an article for free or give you an insertion for free, correct?
- Often we’re writing. Sometimes it could be. So we’re not necessarily going in there expecting to pay; we’re hoping not to pay. We’re often coming back with our tails between our legs, and then having to pay. But on occasion, the idea is like, it’s all about the idea. If the idea is so good, and it empowers that blogger’s audience, and they’re getting a free piece of content, and in return, we’re getting a link back to the client site, awesome. Job done, right? And often bloggers will come back and go, “Yes, happy to do this. But I would need a fee.” At that point. We’re kind of analyzing all of the metrics and the fee and saying, “Is it worth it? And then agreeing on that basis. So that’s one type of campaign.
Another type of campaign is almost like a digital PR campaign where we’re creating bigger pieces, interesting pieces. Maybe it’s controversial pieces, or it’s a wild post. We often call them wild pieces of content, where it’s called an infographic or a GIF. And now we’re running a blogger outreach campaign or an outreach campaign where we’re pitching this piece of content with an email that says, “Hey, love your content,” something personalized to them, “I’ve just created this would love for you to check it out.”
Then just trying to stir up the conversation on the back of that. Then on the back of that they might go, “Oh, I love this. I’m going to share this out with my people.” They might Tweet it, Pinterest it, or whatever. Sometimes they might even link to it naturally. On the back of that, we’ll see how the conversation goes and then go, and actually, by the way, even if they just tweeted it or social media shared it, that’s a really good win.
People say, “Does social media add value to your SEO? I would say like, I almost don’t care. I just think if you’re looking to build a brand, having someone share your content is a brilliant way. So for me, I’m like, “Yeah, that’s amazing. I’m super excited. If I can get anything further, that’s a bonus.” So how do we get something further? We might say to the blogger or the webmaster, we might say, “Hey, if you really like this, we would love to write a unique piece like an introduction for you.” And then you could, “How’s the infographic on your website?” And as part of that, you’re getting the link. They’re also getting a unique intro, and then we’re getting the link in return. So that’s just one way of encouraging the link.
[46:06] So the infographic, the same infographic, can it be used on multiple blogger sites as long as the intro and or outro is unique? Google’s not going to see that as duplicate content?
- Yes, because it’s an image where we’re storing the image. Then we’ve got a unique intro. And then, you’ve got a link to reference the credit. The credit of this infographic was to this website.
[46:38] And where do you if you’re, and I know, a few years ago, infographics were the bomb. Are they still as popular now? I don’t see them as much.
- Yeah, it’s not as, honestly, it’s not as easy as it used to be. So in the past, you could create an infographic, go to an infographic distribution site, I forgot the names, and almost publish your onto those sites, and then they just automatically get shared around. And without even knowing, you’ll find your infographic on a different website and being linked to on your website. So yeah, that was hands-off, right?
Whereas now, you really got a graft, push out there, and get, and try and get people to share it. So, in summary, I guess the last point, no, not necessary in summary. But the last point here is if you’re creating something that you want people to share and link to, you’ve got to start with something that’s really, really remarkable. Like something that just really is different, and is interesting. And so whilst we look at all these sexy clients in the beauty, health space. Actually, it’s easier to do when you’re looking at boring clients and boring industries, because those are the ones that need a bit of sprucing up, and it’s easy to add some energy to that type of industry than it is to a sexy industry.
[48:13] So I just want to share something that I recently learned and get your insights on this. So in my master– I’m in a SaaS mastermind group. And we have guest speakers coming in and talking to us about all sorts of things. And one of them was recently talking about SEO. And this fellow had gone on to, he started consciously focusing on SEO. And I think 2016 or so and, you know, his traffic is just gone up, up, up, up, up, up, up.
And the thing that he’s done, that I think a lot of people maybe don’t do, or when they first hear it.They think, “Oh, that’s crazy.” Like everybody else, he’ll go and write a great article, 2,000 words, 3,000 words, whatever. Maybe it costs him 2,000 bucks to get the article. But then he’ll spend $20-30,000 on link building. On the surface of it, people think, “Oh, my gosh, that’s absolutely bananas.” But if you think about overtime, what that, all those high-quality links, what that’s done to his domain authority, which has a compounding effect, because of what you described earlier in our interview about Google’s opinion of how trustable your site is. Well, think about it. He’s not on the paid traffic treadmill. So he’s getting all this organic traffic on an ongoing basis. So his investment in $30,000 worth of links for one, what I’ll call, or Brian Dean calls it a power page, pays dividends for a long, long time.
- Yeah, it’s something that we couldn’t–most clients cannot get their heads around that.
[50:04] But they’ll spend 20 grand a month on ads.
- Yeah. It’s because people are impatient. And to an extent, not even to an extent, fully, it’s out of your control in terms of the result. But as an example, I’m glad you shared that, we’re at the moment working to launch a new brand. We run around side projects with our content team, and we’ve just bought the domain, 1,500 pounds, going through trademarking, so checking, making sure that’s registered. I’m about to put the domain live, no content, nothing. I want to put it live to gather history. The other thing I’m going to do is I’m going to start link building. I might get a page on that site on that domain, and I’m just going to start link building.
Because here’s the thing. I hate the idea of publishing content and no one’s seeing it. Right? What I think about when I create content, and you know I recently interview you for my “How do you make money YouTube channel,” which is about to launch. But before I even created that, or I’ve actually now, haven’t even fully created the channel, I’m just running interviews. I’m thinking about distribution before creation. So I’m already, I’ve already got a plan around how I’m distributing that, and how I’m going to drive the views. Similarly, when you’re looking at creating content online, if you can get Google to trust you before you’ve published anything, now you’ve just expedited and increased your possibilities of your content actually ranking on day one or day two, or a lot quicker than when it’s sitting there published for many, many months, and no one’s read it, right?
I love that story. Because for me, I would quite easily drop 20,000 pounds, knowing that in a year’s time, or 18 month’s time, all of that money will start to pay dividends because my content will actually start to rank. And whereas you could pay 20–in fact, you could pay 20,000 pounds over a year actually producing content, but no one’s seen it. So for me, it’s not chicken and the egg. It’s just too obvious. But I say that being also, being very empathetic to people who don’t understand SEO, haven’t seen, just like you’ve seen it 10 years ago, they haven’t seen what happens when you don’t do that. And when you feel, when you can, when you can actually feel it and you can see the benefits of it, then I can confidently go, “Yeah, I’m going to spend 20,000 pounds doing that.”
Whereas if you haven’t actually got the experience of that, and you’re just taking someone’s word on face value. I am also empathetic that, to people who aren’t ready to make that decision. But I’ll often have conversations with clients where, and I’ll end in a sec–but I’ll have to have conversations with new clients, with brand new domain authority, with zero domain authority. And I’ll go to them. “You know what? I don’t want to do anything here. I just want to spend money on link building. You’re not going to get results for 18 months, by the way. But I just want to spend money on link building. Would you allow me to do that?” And on all of those conversations, they never go the right way. I get it. Which is why I try engineer that conversation in a different way, to show them the importance of link building upfront.
[53:49] Or what I was going to add to that, I think is that you don’t have to make the decision to spend 20 grand today. You could take a systematic approach to it and simply pay attention to your keyword ranking. Because I would think that most clients, if they spent a bit of money, and saw a lift in keyword ranking, and they spent a bit more money and saw further lift and keyword ranking, and they spent a bit more money, and continued to see themselves going closer and closer and closer to page one, getting them to continue to invest more money would be not too terribly difficult because there is tangible, measurable results. And they full well know that yeah, going from page 2 to page 1 is going to be harder than going from page 8 to page 6. But at least they know there’s going to be a substantial benefit when they get there.
- Yeah, I mean, and you can look at it on a step-by-step. I would say, in practical terms, if you’re starting with a zero domain authority, even if you start to incrementally do link building and content is just going to slow you down. So I rather go to extreme and do I would say, if you didn’t want to go the full whack, run a three-month link-building campaign, and then start publishing content. You’ll start to see a lot more results. But the caveat here is if you’ve already got Google to trust you, if you’ve got a good domain authority, actually, you need a bit of mix, depending on that siftness of your keywords, obviously.
[55:17] So Neil, we’re gonna wrap up here. For folks that would like to learn more about you and potentially work with you, the website URL is?
- The website url, so my personal blog is yourbrandfound.com, that’s where I share content personally. But if you need our help with copy and SEO content, then come check us out at Writefully, where we can help you with your copy.
[55:44] Very good. Thanks. Thank you so much for making some time. It’s been a pleasure to have you here.
- Thanks so much Trent, really enjoyed this. Didn’t know we were going to get into all this link building chat. So really appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
[55:55] Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, I would love it if you would take a minute on your favorite podcast listening app and like, rate, and review the show. Every time you do that, it teaches the algorithms that we here at Bright Ideas are producing some great stuff that other people should be exposed to, and it helps to expand the audience of the show. Again, I would thank you so much for taking a minute and do that, to do that. To get to the show notes for today’s episode, go to brightideas.co/370. That’s all for today. Thanks so much. Take care. Bye-bye.
Thanks very much for listening to the bright ideas podcast. Check us out on the web at brightideas.co. Alright. Show’s over. I’m tired.
Neil Sheth’s Bright Ideas
- Don’t Rely on Paid Advertising
- Clean Your Website and Optimize Your Content For SEO
- Categorize Your Content
- Make Use of Socials, Blogs, and Newsletters
- Value Quality over Quantity in Link Building
Don’t Rely on Paid Advertising
One of Neil’s clients sold homeware products online. They used to depend on paid advertisements for their sales. Eventually, they approached Neil’s agency to drive their sales more organically.
This client made the right choice because there are a few downsides to paid advertisements, namely:
- You never know when something might go wrong with paid ads.
- Costs of ads are fluctuating and might increase up to even triple the current prices.
- Your revenue is smaller since you pay for every product bought through ads.
Yet why do businesses still rely heavily on paid advertisements, given these downsides? It’s because they don’t see the value of building their brands organically, according to Neil.
“It’s like having a house, right? You’ve built this amazing house. You’ve got your furniture. You’ve got an architect. You’ve got nice windows, doors. But you know what you forgot to do? You forgot to put a front door, and so you’re not letting anyone in. Everyone’s coming in through the window, through paid ads, because you’re just shoving them in, and you’re telling them– but you’re not actually opening your doors to people finding you organically.”
The only drawback to using SEO to promote your business is producing results. The results you get from an SEO strategy will depend on a few things:
- How long your website has been up
- Your website’s domain authority
Relatively newer websites will not be trusted as much by Google since it lacks history. Your domain authority, meanwhile, is how much Google trusts your site.
Clean Your Website and Optimize Your Content For SEO
One of the main goals of an SEO strategy is to get your website on the first page of Google search results.
To get there, you have to understand that “Google’s business is built on the ability to choose the best possible answer.”
Neil’s SEO strategy involves two main tactics to rank his clients’ websites in Google. The first one is technical SEO, while the other is content creation.
Technical SEO is the key that opens your door to Google. It involves looking for technical issues such as errors and clearing these up. Errors can come in the form of:
- broken links
- meta issues
- architectural issues
- indexation issues
Neil likens technical SEO to cleaning a house and maintaining it. This tactic optimizes Google’s experience by easily directing it to the correct pages or links. Doing so also heightens your users’ encounters with your website.
Next, Neil discusses how you can improve your site’s content for SEO. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind:
- Duplicate listings are lousy content.
- Make your product descriptions attractive to customers.
- Do not copy and paste product descriptions from manufacturers. Instead, create your own.
- Having several unorganized listings can also make your site’s content suffer.
Categorize Your Content
Having many products but leaving them unorganized does not look good to both Google and your users. Knowing what people are searching for and presenting them in categories make it easier for them to access these products through Google.
One low-hanging fruit in SEO strategy is categorizing your content. For this, Neil recommends “really understanding what people are searching for. Because once you understand that, you can start to lay it out on your site, and you can architecturally get everything right.”
You can use both visuals and descriptions to empower Google’s algorithm to understand your content. Create short descriptions for the category and the products. When you do this, you can “bulk out your content and encourage Google to rank your category pages.”
Make Use of Socials, Blogs, and Newsletters
Your SEO strategy should not just be about getting ranked on Google. You can also use SEO strategy as a compass that leads the audience towards your brand.
Neil started handling their clients’ Instagram, maintaining a newsletter to share content, and blogger outreach campaigns.
Neil explains: “When Google starts seeing people sticking to the site, when Google starts seeing a presence outside of their own website, like, ‘They’ve actually got an Instagram channel or they’re actually tweeting. They’re actually got direct traffic coming from a different platform, i.e., email newsletter.’ When Google starts seeing all of that, it’s just gonna snowball over time.”
Your presence on social media and other sites acts as a compass that directs traffic to your website. It allows your brand to appear more reputable online.
Value Quality Over Quantity in Link Building
Link building is essential in driving traffic to the site. High-quality links are recommended since these would have content that is relevant to your business. On the other hand, having ten low-quality links is useless. If your site is featured in a link from another site that has no relevance to your products and services, chances are no traffic will be redirected to you.
Neil builds links through the following ways:
- Blogger outreach campaigns
- Content writing and sharing
What Did We Learn from This Episode?
- It’s wise to invest in an SEO strategy instead of relying on paid advertising.
- You need to clean your website and optimize your content to rank up in Google.
- Categorizing your content heightens the experience of Google and your users.
- Your presence in other social media and other sites contributes to your traffic.
- Building quality links is crucial in getting more traffic to your site and having more users visit it.
[02:51] — Neil introduces himself and how he became an SEO consultant
- Neil was an investment banking project manager before he started his SEO journey in 2009.
- He worked on his business evenings and weekends until it grew.
- Initially, he wanted to hire agencies to help his business grow. However, he found that he was more than capable of solving his problems.
- That’s how he fell into the world of SEO strategy.
[05:13] — Neil shares his client’s experience with SEO
- Neil worked with a client who sold thousands of products, including heaters, online.
- This client’s traffic mainly was from paid advertisements.
- They wanted to know how they can grow their sales organically.
- Neil introduced an SEO strategy to his client, along with the factors that can affect SEO results to manage their expectations.
[10:15] — Factors that you need to consider when looking at the speed of SEO strategy results
- Brand new sites will not be trusted by Google right away.
- Sites that have more history will have better domain authority.
- The more trusted sites link to your site, the more Google trusts you.
- Determine how optimized the site and the content are for Google and the users.
- When site architecture and content are optimized, it becomes easier for Google to rank your website.
[17:29] — Neil’s SEO strategy and tactics
- Identifying architectural issues in your site and clearing them up contributes to the site’s reputation.
- Creating content with keywords targeted to your users will make them find the products faster.
- Optimizing category pages declutters the site, which heightens the experience of Google and its users.
- The more good data is given to Google, the higher a page can rank.
[34:07] — Why SEO is a compass that builds your brand organically online
- Tactics for SEO strategy on this front include blogs, social media presence, and non-sales-related newsletters.
- The effects of this SEO strategy will snowball over time.
- When you broaden your view, you can fill your content calendar with exciting ideas.
[39:34] — Link building practices to avoid and do
- You can hurt your site by buying links from the wrong places.
- Buy links if the site is genuine and high-quality.
- Running a blogger outreach campaign is also a good idea.
- Create unique content if you want it to be shared.
[49:20] — Why an SEO strategy involving link building pays dividends
- Link building is a component of SEO strategy that takes time.
- However, it can be a better investment than paid advertising since it provides value to your site over time.
- You can do a mix of building links and increasing your domain authority, depending on your keywords.
Neil Sheth is a former Investment Banking Consultant turned Digital Content Strategist. After launching and growing businesses online for 10 years, Neil decided to help other businesses grow strategically online. Neil is the founder of Writefully, an on-demand copywriting service, and Bubbli, an SEO agency. He also likes to share online marketing strategies on his blog, Your Brand Found.