Episode 41: Standing out online: Small biz style


All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü and Gene Marks

With the buzz of last week’s chat with Wizard of Moz, Rand Fishkin still in the air, more SEO goodness was in order. So Andrew Eager, Director of SEO Strategy at Boostability, joins Elizabeth and Gene on Xero Gravity #41!

Right from the jump you’ll get an earful of insights on various ways SEO can help you climb the search ranking ladder, leading to more users and conversions. Topics covered under the SEO umbrella: thinking like a web user on your site, the right search terms, writing fresh keyword-focused content, title tags and repetition, a bit of the method behind the madness of the Google algorithm, and how it all comes back to customer service and transparency.

Plus, what chocolate chip cookies and A/C have in common, some good old fashioned yuck yuck jokes and Google My Business.

Small Business Resources:

Episode transcript

Hosts: Gene Marks [GM] & Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]
Guest: Andrew Eager [AE]

GM: So Elizabeth, I have a question for you: Why did Tiger Woods start studying SEO?

EÜ: Oh gosh — he was trying to search his ball out of the rough? I don’t know, why?

GM: No, to get his number one ranking back.

EÜ: Oh, yuck, yuck, yuck. Alright, I’ve got one for you Gene: Why did the SEO expert cross the road?

GM: Why?

EÜ: To get hit with traffic. Woo-hoo! Yuck, yuck, yuck.

GM: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

EÜ: Well all lame jokes aside, you’re tuned in to Xero Gravity, and we have actually learned quite a bit about SEO and how it can boost visibility for small businesses online. Last week we were lucky enough to chat with Rand Fishkin, the Wizard of Moz, and a bit of an SEO god. And this week we complete part 2 of our SEO series, with Andrew Eager.

Andrew is the Director of Strategy at the SEO company, Boostability. He shares the wonderful success story of how he helped his brother’s small business thrive, thanks to SEO.

GM: And we’ll have more from Andrew in just a moment.


Short podcast break


GM: Hi everybody, and welcome back. We’ve got Andrew Eager here from Boostability, which is an SEO search firm. Andrew, tell me when you were just a little boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, did you look up at your parents and say, “You know, Mom and Dad, when I grow up I want to be in search engine marketing?” Is that how it all started?

EÜ: [Laughs]

AE: No, no it didn’t. Probably because when I was 8 to 9 years old, Google had just barely come out. So no, I did not have that goal.
I think I was probably more of the astronaut type of personality.

GM: Well, okay, so did you get into it? I mean what finally got you thinking like wow, this could be a thing for me?

AE: You know, my brother started an SEO company. He was teaching SEO and I was poor and broke and didn’t have a job so he – going through college and everything — gave me a job and I would just video him teaching SEO, and I just fell in love with it. I loved the idea of making something happen, changing something on your website that would effect change in the search results and bring success. That started probably seven, eight years ago, and I’ve just been in the SEO industry ever since. I just love it.

EÜ: Did you have your own website when you were in college or even before that?

AE: [Laughter] After working with my brother; that’s when I created my first website, so yes I did have a website. I have several now, and I just create a new one every time I get a new idea of something I think I can market — and make another website.

GM: So you were a total geek at a very early age, right? You can admit that?

AE: Yeah, I can safely admit that, yes.

GM: Andrew, do you have to be a geek to really be good at SEO? Can the typical business owner learn or do you really think it’s a specialty?

AE: Man, that’s a great question. I actually have several brothers. One brother who does SEO, and one of my other brothers who is a business owner who does HVAC, heating and air conditioning. So I always look at him when I try to think of small business owners. But no, he does not have SEO knowledge. Nor do I feel like he has the capability of getting the techniques needed to do SEO. So I do feel there are certain aspects that require that technical knowledge, that geekiness that us SEOs have. But there are some things that small business owners can do — simple things they can do that could help them. I guess there’s a wide spectrum, but there are always something that a small business owner can do.

EÜ: And so what does it actually mean to optimize your site?

AE: Man, great question. If you ask an SEO there’s probably 100 or maybe even a thousand things that you could do. You could probably type into Google, 1001 SEO tips, and there’s some weirdo out there that probably a list of 1001.

EÜ: So if somebody has done all of these 1001 things correctly, what’s the result? I mean if you’ve done it well, what happens?

AE: The ultimate result in any optimization is first page, first position ranking on Google, for a given term. So if you’re a heating and air conditioning contractor in Utah like my brother is, you want to show up for certain terms that people type, something like “heating Utah” or “heating and air conditioning Utah”. So if you do those 1001 things correctly, yeah, you should show up number one.

GM: Do you have any specific customers that come to mind, any specific stories Andrew, of customers that are really doing it right when it comes to search engine optimization — something we can learn from?

AE: Yeah, you know, I’ll talk about my brother because I know about his business specifically. In the past SEO was kind of seen as the tactic for any business to get success from. Even a bad business could have great success, and I really think that that’s changed. And when I talk about bad businesses, it’s those types of businesses that are just out there to get money or scam people or different things like that. That really isn’t the place for SEO. So I think the first thing that a business should do is good customer service. SEO can’t compensate for just a crummy business. It can’t compensate for bad customer service or anything like that. SEO really just increases the exposure. So if you’re not a great business to start, you’re just going to increase that exposure into how bad of a business person you are.

So my brother is a great example; just a really nice guy. He treats his customers with great care. When he goes out to them he, just this last summer, every air conditioner that he went out and fixed, his wife would bake cookies and bring them over to the house. So he gives the cookies to the owner of the home that they’re fixing the air conditioner for. His business marketing plan is small business, kind of this neighborhood business, that’s out there to help people. And so baking cookies and bringing that over is part of his strategy. As a piece of SEO, that’s something that I can market. It’s a piece of excellent content and it is a fantastic business tactic. So those are things, in addition to SEO itself, like link building and writing content, that can be done. But it has to be coupled with an excellent business.

GM: In that example of your brother Andrew, where they bring cookies for their heating and air conditioning customers, is that the kind of work they were doing?

AE: Right.

GM: So what kind of SEO strategy did he design around that? Was it something using search terms of air conditioning and cookies, things, something like that?

AE: [Laughs]

EÜ: Warm and cozy!

AE: No, but I’m sure that if we tried to go after something like that we’d rank very well. No, it just really helped with having that piece of content available on his website, talking about what they do and what they offer on their actual website. Helping people feel more comfortable, getting them to rank in different things like that. So the strategy was writing excellent content — we call them keywords — so keyword focused. So “heating Utah” and “heating Salt Lake City Utah” are some keywords that we’ve targeted. And including those everywhere was the tactic. Then having some content that would make a user who came to our page a little more comfortable. That’s where everything else that the business owner — right, my brother— provided to really make customers feel more comfortable.

EÜ: On our last podcast we had Rand Fishkin on the line, and he was saying that one of the things that people don’t always get right is knowing which are the correct search terms to optimize for. So I’m wondering if you can tell us how you help your clients choose the best search terms?

AE: So keyword research was actually one of my favorite things to do since starting in the SEO industry, and still is. So trying to find those terms that you should rank for. I’ll give you an example of maybe one that that isn’t as great for local businesses: they want to target the very best terms, right? The largest search volume that they use with tools like Google AdWords helps to get a sense of search volume in different things. So my brother, he first wanted to target a term like “heating Utah”, which encompasses the entire state of Utah. But he only services, you know, maybe a dozen cities within Utah. So he doesn’t really deserve to rank for the term Utah, but “heating services Utah.” And that’s very key — one of the most important aspects— making sure that you deserve to rank for that term when you’re doing the keyword research.

EÜ: It’s probably more expensive to have “heating Utah” anyway, even if they can service all those areas.

AE: Oh yeah, and that’s the other piece. Small business owners — as I understand from personal experience — budget is tight. So selecting the right keyword, the one that’s going to give you the most conversion, the most users, that will actually purchase, is important. So somebody, you know, in some odd part in Utah or not even in Utah, would not click on it or purchase their business. It would be a waste of money. And it would be more expensive. So it’s kind of a double negative there.

If you look at the way that people search, especially when they’re buying products, they’ll usually search a broad term if they don’t know what they’re looking for. So if I’m looking for like an iPod, I would search iPod, and then I would look at all these different iPods, and find that I like a black iPod. So then I’d adjust my search later to “black iPod”, and I would do some more research, and then I would, keep on adjusting my search until I found the perfect search term— the 32 gigabyte black iPod with, I don’t know, special features.

AE: So what users do is they will continue to adjust their searches until they land on the final search, where they’re ready to buy and it’s there that you want to be: at the end, not at the beginning. You want to show up for the longer tail keyword, the one that after everybody has done their research through, when they’re ready to buy. That can translate to products and even services.

GM: So Andrew, everybody talks about it’s Google, the dominating force when it comes to search engine and search engine optimization. So number one is, what exactly do mean when you talk about a Google algorithm? Not only that, but how do we stay on top when Google changes its algorithms. What do you recommend to your clients?

AE: Yeah, that’s a great question. So Google’s algorithm is the very intense aspect of Google that makes Google who they are. It was when they were first conceived and created it, that their algorithm showed the best results, better results than any other search engine had previously. It’s that algorithm that made them as popular as they are. So Google’s whole purpose, right, is to show the very best results, and it’s that algorithm that keeps everything in check. Google has algorithm updates which they give funny names. There’s updates like Panda or Penguin, right these cute, you know, previously cute animals. Right now, everybody’s scared of Google because of their updates.

But, no, so you have the cute algorithms and updates. So Google and Panda are the biggest ones. They’re the ones that are probably the highest impact of updates. And then you have some of these smaller changes that Google makes. Google makes roughly just over 300 or 400 – I might be wrong, it might be upwards of 600. But they make many updates, hundreds of updates every year. It’s only maybe one or two that get recognized by the industry as a whole, and that’s the Penguins and the Pandas — the very large ones.

EÜ: Well, what are some examples of things that are actually included in the algorithm? What are the some of the things that the penguin or panda are actually measuring?

AE: So when Google was created, this might not be largely known, but they used to call themselves Backrub. Which is, I don’t know, I kind of like Backrub over Google. So they used to call themselves Backrub. And the reason for that — they were really the first search engine to look at backlinks — was that the links pointed to a website as a factor into ranking the website. So to answer your question, links are a huge factor in the ranking of a website. And then you also have the onsite content aspect which includes, you know, the page, the website quality, the popularity of the website and all of those.

GM: So what do we do Andrew as business owners, to keep up with all of this stuff? I mean is this something that your clients do, or do they rely on you to do this for them?

AE: Yeah, that’s a great question. To keep up on it, I would say for a business owner, you don’t need to, if you’re doing everything right. If you’re not trying to spam the Internet, you don’t really need to keep up on updates. I mean most of the updates that impact, large impacting updates and also those updates that require action, they actually make local or national news. I’ve seen them on news sites that I read. That’s very rare, but the other updates are just for us geeky guys to geek out and you know, for those spammers out there to be afraid really. So for a business owner, all you really need to do are just the basic things on your website. And if you do that and you’re not spamming — and I call spamming as anything that you would do a whole lot of — then you should be fine.

EÜ: And what are some of those things that you can do to actually create results?

AE: I think one of the biggest aspects is onsite. Google’s algorithm really looks at two factors, onsite and offsite. Your onsite is the stuff on your website. So the writing of the copy of your website, or the content; maybe making a few edits, some of those technical things that us SEOs do, like the sitemap. That would be considered onsite. And I would say that 70% of the success, and even upwards of 80% success that you see on Google, would come from the onsite aspects. So specifically, you know, Rand talked about those keywords and making sure that you know those. Any SEO strategy before you get started needs to have some of those keywords, some of those terms that you want to rank for. And making sure that those terms are mentioned in your content. Mentioning it in the title tag, the H1 tag.

And then in the content as well, maybe mentioning it a couple of times. We call it term frequency. Now, again, this is one of those where if you use too much of it, you’ve used that keyword too much, it’s not a good thing. But if you use it just enough, maybe once or twice within the copy of the page it should be good.

EÜ: I remember hearing stories about people having, like say the white background on their page, and then at the bottom they would just say that search term over and over and over in white font. And then they were getting blacklisted from Google. So where is that fine line between enough and too much?

AE: Man, those were the good old days, you know, as…

EÜ: Yeah.

AE: an SEO like those, it was easy to rank. Yeah, that is definitely too much, right? So a good rule of thumb is if it’s not good for the user, then it’s probably not a good thing to do. And that’s really what you should use as your judge. I’ve seen people, you know, between the 10 to 15% of the content on the website are keywords, and I’ve seen them have success. Normally for our customers, and we would tell our customers, somewhere between 2 to 4%.

GM: So Andrew, so a lot of SEO people tell me that blogging is really good for your website; having content linking to other websites that generate content for you. Like for example if I publish something on Forbes for example, and have it link back to my site, that will help my SEO. Is all that true? Do you tell your clients that they should be generating a lot of content? And if so, what kind of advice do you give as far as what type of content they should be creating?

AE: I think it’s changed over the years but yes, that is absolutely correct. You know, the phrase is “content is king.” And that’s been more true after each passing year. Onsite blogging for many businesses is the avenue to generate new content. I mean if you look at a plumber or a heating and AC guy who’s been in business for 20 years and really hasn’t changed any huge aspect of their business, how do they keep on generating new content — and that’s with the blog. Now the type of content actually might be surprising to some business owners, the type of content you should be generating for your business. A lot of the instinct of some of the business owners that we’ve talked to is let me just talk about me, talk about my services, and I’ll just post a blog about it.

Nobody wants that. Your blog can be posted to other places like on social media or through some other avenues like RSS or what have you. People don’t want to see more about you and your business. What they want to see is industry-related content. And that’s where a plumber talking about the five tips to stopping a leaky faucet would be more beneficial than that same plumber talking about his services, and how he stops leaky faucets.

EÜ: And with some sort of a click bait title, like top 10 ways to unclog your drain, you won’t believe number 4!

AE: Okay… [Laughs]

GM: But Elizabeth, how not to be a drip! Isn’t that a good one?

AE: I can tell you that click bait just bugs me so bad. Some of that like “I can’t believe number 4”, and then you just go there and you read number 4, and you’re like, yeah, I can believe it. That’s not anything special; it’s pretty annoying.

GM: You actually bring up a topic, it’s interesting you talk about click bait, Andrew. I mean there are some hugely popular sites, like BuzzFeed and Business Insider, that sometimes they’re accused of using click bait to attract people to their sites. Is click bait such a bad thing for a small business owner if they’re trying to get people to visit their sites and generate SEO? What is your opinion on that?

AE: The only thing that I would ensure happens, if you’re going to use click bait, you’ve got to follow through. So a different SEO might tell you otherwise or Google might tell you otherwise. But the bounce rate —we call it bounce — if somebody goes to your website and is dissatisfied with the content and immediately jumps off the website and back onto Google to start a search there: we call that bounce, and a bounce rate. If your bounce rate is really high, and if somebody sees this click bait and they’re the top 10 ways to fix a leaky faucet, and then they go to your website and you don’t list those easily for them to read, or you talk more about your services or anything like that, and they bounce, you’ll actually lose some of your ranking because of that.

GM: That’s amazing that Google can even track that and is paying attention, I mean…

EÜ: It’s part of the algorithm.

GM: We are talking about Google as well, and you know, some of my clients ask me Andrew about Google My Business. Is Google My Business worth it? Do you tell your clients to go and fill out the forms and be involved in Google My Business? Does it really help their search engine optimization?

AE: You know it does. The number one thing that we do for our customers — number one as in the first thing we do for our customers when they come to us — is ensuring that their information is accurate on Google My Business, and building that presence there.

So Google My Business really is the app for any business to be listed on if you’re worth viewing. They’ve done a lot of changes, a lot of design changes. I’m a little frustrated and many other SEOs are frustrated with some of the design changes. But the basics have remained the same. You want to make sure your name, address and phone number are accurate on that business listing. Even if you’re not a business that people will drive to or anything like that, you want to make sure that that business information is accurate.

EÜ: So given everything that you know about SEO and how people can really make sure that they’re showing up higher in these search rankings, what are some of the things that you wish you had known long ago, so that you could help either your own website or your clients’?

AE: You know, the one thing that I think would be most beneficial, and something I wish I would have known is really, you know — this isn’t a game. I always thought that SEO would be, you know, we’re gaming the system, you know, we’re tricking Google or anything like that. It really isn’t. The truth is that their algorithm is so good that you can’t game them, you can’t trick them like you used to be able to with the hidden text and everything with the keywords in there. So what it really is, is helping you shine. Being a good business online, that’s what Google wants to try to find. That’s what their algorithm is trying to find. So if you are being a good business online, and you’re sharing that information with quality content, that’s what you need. That’s S — that’s SEO in 2016 and moving forward — a good business strategy.

GM: So your brother with the cooling and air conditioning business, you’ve helped him with search engine optimization.

I’m wondering, what do you think he’s learned? What kind of mistakes do you think he’s made that other business owners might learn from as well?

AE: I think one of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen is choosing the wrong SEO company, going for the inexpensive choice, right? And saying, “Oh they’ll give me 100 links a month or you know, they’ll – they’ll prove this or do this,” and a lot of those are mistakes. You know you talked about my brother, and he has people calling him all the time, and this is the world of small businesses, right? They have people calling them and saying, “Hey, you’re not found here, I can do this, I can do this for you.”

And I think one of the mistakes was giving in to that and using a sub-par service that provided maybe a high number of links that were just really bad links. And not only is that a mistake by just throwing your money away, but if done to the extent that my brother’s business had that done, it could hurt your business with Google. It could get you delisted and take a lot of time and effort and money, to fix.

EÜ: And so for you in the business that you’re a part of now, were there any challenges that you had to overcome? I know Rand in our last podcast was talking about how some of the SEO companies have given the whole industry a bad rap, and so I’m curious how you have been able to overcome that with Boostability?

AE: I think what Boostability has done is a lot of transparency, and that’s what set us apart, you know early on. We use that to show our customers what we’re doing, not only the results that they’re getting, we try to improve the traffic with them and everything else. What it really comes down to is what am I getting for what I’m paying for— what links or what content. There are a lot of companies that provide that transparency, and I wouldn’t sign on to an SEO service without the transparency.

EÜ: Rand also had talked about how important transparency is to him personally. That it’s important to make sure that you’re signing up for an SEO consultancy or an SEO service that is going to be transparent with you.

GM: Well Andrew, this has been great. We really appreciate the advice you have been giving. Search engine optimization is so huge for so many of us business owners, and getting some input as to what we can do and recommendations is really valuable. We really appreciate the help that you have given us today.

EÜ: And thanks also for sharing the story about your brother’s company.

GM: Yeah, and tell him cookies and air conditioning, great keywords to use — that’s just my advice.

AE: Right, will do! I appreciate that and thank you both for having me on the show.

GM: Thanks Andrew.

EÜ: Thanks for joining us.


Short podcast break


EÜ: So Gene, are you feeling confident about SEO after our chat with Andrew?

GM: I’m never going to be confident about SEO, Elizabeth, I mean it changes all the time, it’s a confusing thing, it’s a difficult thing for business owners like me to get our arms around. But look, I mean Andrew’s advice was really, really good, and some of the tools that he shared to use to improve my search engine optimization on my site, were really some excellent suggestions. So, it’s a great conversation. I learned a lot. It just seems like it’s a continuous investment that you have to make if you really want to be proficient with SEO.

EÜ: Yeah, again, I always think back to the web course that I took. It was probably circa 2005, and I remember we were using Overture to figure out what the top search terms were. But back then it was really all about backward links, who else was linking to your site. People were doing those blacklist type of things, like putting all of those search terms hidden in the bottom of the webpage with the same color as the background, and all that kind of bad stuff. And it’s so much different now. It’s so much more developed, and there’s so much more that you can do to analyze what’s actually working.

And I also really loved how he pointed out that SEO cannot compensate for bad business or bad customer service. Like you still have to have an underlying case for the business, and you still have to treat your customers well. Because it doesn’t matter how many keywords you’ve included or where they’re mentioned, in the title or in the content or how much onsite blogging you’re going to do, it’s not going to substitute for running a good business.

GM: I agree, it was a good conversation.

So moving on to what’s been making news in the world of small business, Elizabeth, you know, we’ve been talking about it, what it takes for your business to stand out online, and I found a really cool story online just recently. It was on the Times of Israel. This guy started up a business, he’s a kid. He’s like a hipster and he wanted to raise money on Kickstarter to provide a care package specifically for Jewish people. And you know, it was $45,000 that he got in less than one day, and then he reached $70,000 and it became the most funded Jewish campaign in Kickstarter history. Now I’m not quite sure how Kickstarter classifies its campaigns.

EÜ: I didn’t know that was one of their categories!

GM: Kickstarter really is amazing with all this big data stuff. But the point is the kid came up with a really good idea and it was a huge success. He was going after a niche.A pretty cool story, don’t you think?

EÜ: Their video was so well produced and so funny that even if you’re not Jewish, you’re going to laugh, you are going relate, you’re going to tell your Jewish friends about it. And that’s something that I think small businesses need to keep in mind, is that video is really becoming a huge part of how people hear about small businesses, and how people have passed news around. So if you can get some sort of a video together that can go even in the slightest bit viral, like this one I’m sure did, then you’re sitting pretty.

GM: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And really, the gist of the whole story is just that. He was so successful on Kickstarter videos, he had a really, really great video.

EÜ: I wonder if he tagged his video so that it was showing up properly in various SEO type places, I mean you have to believe that there are SEO tricks for videos as well.

Well that’s it for this week. We’ll catch you next Wednesday with a brand new episode of Xero Gravity.




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