Today, I’m thrilled to have Brian Dean on the show. Brian runs the incredibly awesome site Backlinko.com where he teaches others how to get their sites ranked in search.
And unlike other SEO gurus out there who make ridiculous claims, Brian totally walks the talk. He’s got an amazing array of articles (and by array I mean 30 or so) that go into incredible depth and he ranks for super competitive keyword terms on the front page of search.
For example, just now, I typed in “how to generate backlinks” and guess who popped up? Now I actually have never met Brian in person. And usually I don’t interview people I don’t know personally but Brian is so awesome that I knew I had to have him on.
What You’ll Learn
- Why Brian decided to start a blog about SEO
- Brian’s main strategy when ranking a site in search.
- Where Brian promotes his content.
- Brian’s view on removing bad links and using the disavow tool.
- What’s working in terms of search engine optimization today
Other Resources And Books
Now if you enjoy this podcast please leave me a review on iTunes, and if you want to learn how to start your own online business be sure to sign up for my free six-day mini course, where I show you how my wife and I managed to make over 100k in profit in our first year of business. Go to www.mywifequitherjob.com, sign up right there on the front page, and I’ll send you the mini course right away via email. Now on to the show.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. Today I’m thrilled to have Brian Dean on the show. Now Brian runs the incredibly awesome site backlincko.com, where he teaches others how to get their sites ranked in search. Unlike other SEO gurus out there who kind of make ridiculous claims, Brain actually walks the talk. He’s got an amazing array of articles and by array I mean like 30 or so that go into incredible depth, and by incredible I mean these posts are ridiculous. He ranks for super competitive keyword terms on the front page of search.
For example, just now I typed in how to generate back links and guess who popped up in the top 3? Now I’ve actually never met Brian, but we were introduced by our mutual friend Divesh. Usually I don’t interview people I don’t actually know personally, but Brian is so awesome that I knew I had to have him on. With that, welcome to the show Brian, how are you doing today man?
Brian: I’m well. Thanks for having me Steve.
Steve: It’s funny, I actually meant to interview you last week, but we ended up just chatting for like an entire hour, and we had to reschedule this whole thing.
Brian: Yeah I know, but it was good because we got to know each other and then now we can just jump right in.
Steve: Now I can actually ask you the more difficult questions that I probably wouldn’t have asked you before.
Steve: A bunch of people in the audience probably know who you are already. If you wouldn’t mind just giving a brief intro about how you got started online, and the history behind Backlinko, that would be awesome.
Brian: I got to started online in 2008. I had just quit graduate school because I didn’t really like it, and I wanted to get a job. Unfortunately I quit in 2008 and this was right when the financial crisis was happening. Unfortunately because of that, I couldn’t find a job. I was leaving in my parent’s basement. I had no job, no money, no nothing. I think because I had so much free time, I came up with my first business idea. So I was like, wow I actually have an idea for a business.
Basically what it was, was sort of a search engine, but instead of typing in a keyword and getting 10 blue links, you type in a keyword and you’d get the answer to your question. For example, if you typed in something like how many calories are in an apple, it would just say 293 or whatever. I studied nutrition in school, and that’s what I wanted to make the search engine, a nutrition search engine where you just get your answers. This is basically what Google has now with knowledge graph. And to show you how naïve I was like Google just came out with this like 2 years ago, the biggest most valuable company in the world, just 2008 and I thought I could come out with it, do the same thing. Obviously it wasn’t going to happen.
So anyway, at this point I was still pretty naïve and thought I could do it. I went to a bookstore and I just grabbed my first business book off the shelf that I saw, because I knew nothing about starting a business, called the 4 Hour Work Week which is obviously very famous now. It was like a mind-blowing experience to read that book. It was crazy. It totally changed the direction of my life. Basically in between 2008 and 2013 from when I started Backlinko, I did a combination of things like freelance writing, affiliate marketing, a lot of black hat SEO, and I sort of learned the hard way from a lot of failures, how not to do SEO.
In 2012, that summer, I put the pieces together and finally created a site that ranked well and was way high, and it was a real branded site and made legitimate money. At that point I was really into white SEO. I had sort of dabbled in, in the past, but I never really had success. I always end up going to broadcast stuff. And it was my first time white hat SEO was working. I was like, this is cool. Let me learn more about it.
When I went to read more about white hat SEO, I couldn’t really find anything. Everything was all, things like create great content and you get links, and just basically create great content and phrase a million different ways. I wanted some good, actionable stuff and I couldn’t find it. I decided to create Backlinko basically to create the blog that I wanted to read. That’s why I started it.
Steve: It’s interesting though. Did you have luck with the black hat stuff in the past?
Brian: I had mixed results. I had some luck, but it never lasted long. I was really late on all the trends. Like whatever trend was happening, by the time I heard about it, I got in and it lost like a month. Whatever kind of loophole worked for a while, people were gaming it, the word finally spread, I heard about it and got in at the wrong time. Kind of like the stock market. By the time you hear of stock that you should invest in the stock, it’s probably too late. It’s the same thing with me and black hat SEO.
Steve: So just curious, those other sites that you used black hat on, are they still around or did they get killed by like the different algorithm changes?
Brian: They got killed. I had– I built over 200 sites during that time.
Steve: Holy crap, wow!
Brian: And they are all gone I think. I don’t even know, maybe not. But I haven’t checked.
Steve: That’s like one a week.
Brian: It was pretty prolific. At one point, I had like 150 active sites going. That was in 2010 and Google Panda wiped that one out. That was like one day all gone.
Steve: Oh my goodness. That’s crazy. Why SEO of all the possible topics that you could have written about because you are going up against like Mars [ph], Search Engine Land and some of the big guys and yet you outrank them today.
Brian: Well I think it did– I didn’t go into Backlinko thinking like I’m going to beat these guys because like you said, I’m one guy, running this blog on my home office. Mars for example has 200 employees. It’s like, wow, how could I ever compete with these guys. I didn’t really go in as I’m going to go head to head with Mars and all these guys. Instead I decided to focus on one little thing that I could write about better than they could, which at the time when I first started Backlinko I wrote all about link building. That was the one topic that I really focused on. Everything was about link building; the site was about link building.
That way I was remembered for one thing, and that was my differentiator. That’s really what made me different than other blogs because like I said, they did a good job with some things but when it came to link building, they were really lucking. I come in and fill that need. I didn’t think today that for a lot of these terms, a lot of these topics, I’ll also be competing with them outside of link building, but when I first started, I decided to focus on that one thing.
Steve: Let me ask you this, so you got Backlinko and it actually ranks for a lot of keywords related to search. Do you feel like now that if you wanted to expand into different topics now that it will be difficult on that particular blog?
Brian: That’s a really good question Steve. I think that it’s not that I’ve dabbled in it, so for example I actually see [inaudible 00:08:00] someone is on my door.
Steve: Okay, you want to go grab it?
Steve: If you are listening to this at six minutes 50 seconds, edit this whole section out because someone is at the door.
Brian: Steve, sorry about that. I do everything, put the phone on silent all that stuff, but that’s the one thing I don’t know how to shut off. All right, so I think– oh my god, hold on a sec. I don’t know what the person wants. What is that honey? No I looked them in already.
Brian: Steve? Sorry dude, I don’t what’s going on, someone keeps ringing my door bell, I’m getting like ding dong ditch over here.
Steve: You are a popular guy man.
Brian: I guess so, I think actually it happened kind of during the questions, so I think you just ask the question, right?
Steve: Yeah, so we were just talking about whether you could expand beyond back linking and SEO with your current blog, or we just start from there.
Brian: Okay so I’m going to just…
Steve: Yeah just start talking.
Brian: Okay, well Steve I actually have dabbled in this and tested it. And recently or no it wasn’t recent, it’s about a year ago, I started writing about conversion optimization. It was something that I was really interested in because SEO is great, but I also wanted to convert these people. And I realized I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about conversion optimization, especially when it came to conversions for blogs, so basically building your email list.
And I just started to test a bunch of different strategies and write about what I was experimenting with on the blog. And in terms of reception because there is a lot of overlap with people who are interested in SEO are usually also interested in building their email list, it was very well received and I do rank for some competitive key words in that space like list building.
Google doesn’t really care if you branch out into other topics. Of course for your core competency on your site I think from what I have seen you definitely rank better for the keywords that are more closely related. But if you created a single page that’s outside of your niche a little bit, and it’s really well received and has those signals that Google wants to see, they don’t really care what the rest of your site is about. That page is going to provide a good user experience for their users, so they are going to show it to a lot of people.
Steve: And do you plan expanding the number of posts on your blog to significantly higher than what you have right now?
Brian: Not really, so I mean I’m obviously going to expand it as I publish more stuff. But I don’t have a plan to switch to some like a weekly schedule or anything like that, because this really viewer post, but in depth has worked a lot better for me, so I’m just going to stick with that.
Steve: Yeah I mean just for all of you guys listening out there, Brian’s post, he doesn’t have a whole lot of them, but each one is like equivalent to like 10 blog posts in terms of depth. So that’s how he’s been able to just kill it in the white hat SEO world. So I want to get this question out of the way first, because a lot of — I have been approached by SEO agencies, a lot of my students get approached by these guys. What is your opinion on having someone else do SEO? Just curious what your opinion is?
Brian: My opinion is don’t do it, because it’s a mine field, it’s literally like a mine field. Like you can get to the other end okay, but the chances are very slim.
Steve: Yeah and I have a couple of stories to share too, like I have had buddies who’ve used outside SEO agencies and they worked in a short term, but then once Google changed the rankings their site basically tanked. And you never really know exactly what they are doing.
Brian: Exactly and if you don’t understand SEO, even if they show you everything they are doing you don’t know whether it’s good, bad or in between. So I think even if you are going to hire someone I recommend trying to do a series out that way. If you do hire someone down the road you can say, okay they are doing a good job, they are doing a bad job and you can separate the leaf from the chaff.
But if you’ve never done SEO and you are just like I don’t want to learn it, I don’t have time I’m too busy, I’m just going hire someone, it’s a recipe for disaster, because unfortunately most — not most, 90% plus of SEO agencies are just bad in the sense they’ll actually do more harm than good. There is about 7% or 8% that will give you a short term boost, but they won’t do enough to make it worth your time, energy, and money that you are giving them.
Because the agency models basically they don’t want to give you too good results in the first month, because then you are going to expect that for the next few months. If they double your traffic on month one, you are going to be like, wow this is amazing these guys are great. And they can’t follow that up with all the other months. So what they do is they purposely will kind of drip value so that you are increasing your traffic 10% month every month instead of getting a huge boost. That’s like 7% or 8% will do that which is good, it’s better than getting hurt, but it’s not really what you are looking for. And about 3% in my experience will care and they’ll actually do a really good work for you, so and yeah.
Steve: You used to work for one, right?
Brian: I used to run an agency.
Steve: Run it okay, yeah okay. So I’m just curious like can an agency really take the time and depth necessarily to produce awesome content that will actually get your site ranked? Like I can’t imagine an SEO agency writing the post that you’ve been writing.
Brian: It’s a good question, I have seen it done, but like I said it’s the 3% of the whole group that can do that, because what it takes is basically is a couple of things. One you need an expert onboard, so for example you run ecommerce site that sells some sort of high end coffee. You might be really knowledgeable about coffee, so the agency will actually have to work with you to extract your knowledge about coffee to create a piece of content about coffee that’s going be really unique, and it’s going to bring a lot of value.
If they just try to do it in house and use second hand sources and information it’s possible they can create something great, but it’s very unlikely. So you either need to have the knowledge or have them work with someone where they can hire an expert to consult with them on every piece of content. Because like you said one of the reasons people tend to enjoy the blog posts at Backlinko is because they are written someone who does a lot of SEO. I do SEO all the time. So I can write about that.
If I all of a sudden try to write about health and fitness, I know little bit about it, I eat healthy and exercise, but no means an expert, and I would have a hard time writing something that would stand out. It would just be like another blog post that will get lost in the sea. And if I hire an agency that wasn’t going to work with the expert, they are not experts, that’s type of content they’ll produce. So you definitely want an agency that’s going to be like, look we are going to work together and create something awesome, or we are going to hire an expert to create something awesome.
Steve: Yeah, and that doesn’t sound inexpensive either, right?
Brian: No, it’s definitely not cheap, so that’s the thing for everybody. I mean the agency is expensive for them. It’s not only do they need to get this expert on board which isn’t achieved. They need to hire someone to extract the knowledge from you if you are the expert or get an expert, then they need to write something amazing, edit it, sometimes have a costume designed, promote it, it’s really expensive for them to even do with their stuff. Plus they need to make money, right? So their margins need to make sense.
So I think for a good SEO agency to even talk, to even get a meeting with them, it’s only at least $3000 a month. And that’s just like the base, I mean that’s if you want to think out like one great piece of content a month, and they promote — create and promote it for you.
Steve: Okay, yeah that actually probably puts it out of the reach of a lot of small business owners I would imagine.
Brian: It definitely and that’s why I recommend doing it yourself because the problem is that three grand also is going to the 97% most of the time. That’s just you find the 3% that’s great, you can do well with the three grand assuming you have it to spend, but if you don’t definitely do it yourself. And even if you do I recommend doing SEO yourself.
So here is something I have sort of changed my mind over the years, I used to be like yeah agencies are good, they definitely come with their risk, but they know what they are doing. They know SEO and most small business owners just don’t have time to learn SEO. I have since changed that stance, I have just seen so many hurt stories of people who just hire agencies and have a bad experience. I mean it’s literally three out of 100 that say this worked out well. So that’s why I recommend doing it yourself even if you don’t have time.
Steve: So can we talk about what is and what is not working in terms of search engine optimization today. It sounds like you’ve done black hat and white hat, so it would be interesting to hear what you had to say?
Brian: Well you know what it’s funny Steve, I would say in April 2012 is when Google rolled out their penguin update. And that update basically targeted sites that had– that used manipulative link building. Basically people that used exact match anchor texts. So if you had a ecommerce product category page that sold coffee mugs, you would want to get all the anchor texts in every link saying coffee mugs, and that was really good for SEO.
And actually I just ran the biggest search engine ranking study ever of a million Google search results. And we found that the anchor texts still helps with SEO. So having that exact match anchor text still can boost your rankings. The problem is if you do it in a manipulative way, or you do it on purpose you can get penalized by the Google penguin update. I would say from that day forward SEO changed very little.
After that it’s pretty much all about creating the best resource that you can create, and getting links to that resource. For an ecommerce site it’s a little bit different, because very few people are going to link to product and category pages. I do have strategies for doing that, but for the most part with e-commerce sites what I recommend is they create an awesome piece of content and promote it, get links to it and then use that authority to funnel to their products and category pages and get those to rank.
That strategy works really, really well and it’s underutilized by ecommerce sites because most of them if you look at them they are just 100% product and category pages. And just no reason anyone would run a link to something like that unless you use some stuff we can talk about the moving method which is what I use for product and category page link building.
But even then you can only get a couple, this is not happening on a mass scale. So that’s why I recommend that piece of content and that’s basically what it comes down to in terms of what’s working is getting a lot of links to your site from really high quality sources just like it was back in the day. The only thing that changed in that 2012 was the links have to legit, they can’t be built in the sense like you can’t build profile links or blog comments or article direct to your links, all that stuff doesn’t work anymore. So it’s really hard to build links now, it’s tricky even if you have a great piece of content but if you don’t its next to impossible.
Steve: So let’s say you get a back link, do you even try to get your anchor text in there since you said it still works?
Brian: No, it’s not worth the risk. If I get it, the difference is when I get one I say great. Like I know that’s going to help me. But if I don’t get it, I just say I think it’s not — it’s better to look natural than to have anchor texts that’s really over optimized.
Steve: Okay, and so I would imagine then that you don’t really pay attention that much anymore about the links that you get, like how they kind of structure the link, right?
Brian: No, because they are more or less naturally, either someone links to me just spontaneously or I reach out to someone on email and say, you have this page that lists resources, I have good one, do you want to add it? That’s really over simplified, but that’s basically how outreach goes, and they add my link. And I don’t ask them to anchor texts or put it anywhere, I just recommend the resource and they put it in on the page however they feel like. And over time you’ll get some anchor texts in there that’s exact match, and overall look natural because it is.
Steve: Okay and so let’s talk a little bit about just in the context of ecommerce once again. So it sounds like your strategy is to write articles that kind of rank and build up your domain strength, and then that kind of just pushes the tide for all of your product and category pages naturally on your ecommerce store?
Brian: Exactly Steve, there is a little bit more strategy involved, but that’s the basic gist. But it’s not really articles because for ecommerce site it’s really difficult to get those links directly to products and category pages. So you have to create these ridiculously awesome guides, that’s what’s going to generate enough links that — the domain authority increase where you can rank on domain authority alone.
That’s basically how Amazon ranks, if you look at Amazon and you go — almost any keyword in Amazon and you grab one of their product pages that are ranking and you put it into a tool to look at how many links are pointed to the page, it’s almost always zero, almost always zero. But they are always ranking right for everything, annoyingly enough they are always there and it’s because of domain authority. But instead of just posting the resource, another extra step I recommend is to internally link from that resource to your product and category pages.
And here is where you can use exact match anchor texts it’s okay because of the internal. So if you have this category page for coffee mugs, that’s where you can have a resource, it’s like 50 things you never know about coffee. Inside that resource you can link back to your — whatever you mentioned like coffee mugs, just put a nice link back to your category page. That will send users directly to that category page, and it will boost the rankings for that category page and the product pages. Assuming you have all the other factors Google looks at, but that’s the most important one.
Steve: I actually take that a step further and I actually put a physical add to cart buttons on my content pages.
Brian: Wow, that’s cool so you close from the content?
Steve: I try to close, hey so I’m curious actually. So a lot of these fully hosted shopping carts, I don’t know if you are familiar with them like Shopify or BigCommerce. They basically if you run your own separate blog they force you to put on a different sub domain. So it sounds like this whole domain strength doesn’t work as well in that context right, you want everything in the same domain, right?
Brian: That’s true so yeah, sub domain is not ideal for that reason, because I mean Google is much smarter than it used to be. So I think they understand that the sub domain is part of the site and they treat it not like a sub folder. But it’s not which is a forward slash, so like if you had mywifequitherjob.com/blog is better than blog.myquitherjob.com. So I think now they are getting so sophisticated that sub domains are treated similar to sub folders.
But they are not really there yet because they are in a lot of ways usually some separate entity, that’s why they exist. Besides www, and that’s why people make them is because they are so different than the rest of the site, they need their own sub domain, that’s why people use them. So actually it does signify to Google and people that this is something that’s really different. So from an SEO standpoint Goggle views them the same way.
So it’s definitely not a deal, it’s something that’s a bit frustrating with Shopify because to create really nice looking content that’s awesome you need WordPress, there is no way around it. So at some level you need to install WordPress. If you have to do it on a blog self domain, it’s better than not doing it at all. If you can somehow hack Shopify or Magento or whatever you use into making the content look great, then go right ahead, I have seen it done, but it’s tricky. So that’s why WordPress is great because it’s out of the box, you can do a ton cool stuff to it, easy to optimize all that stuff that you can’t really do with a lot of the big ecommerce solutions.
Steve: Okay and so let’s talk about just ranking an ecommerce site or ranking an article. Like you’ve gone over several strategies on your blog that I have read through, but for the people who are listening what is like your – it’s still all about back links for most part, right?
Brian: Yeah, I mean well really it’s all about keyword research to start. So we’ve put the cart ahead of the horse a little bit because…
Steve: Okay, yeah let’s start from the basics yeah.
Brian: Okay yeah I mean link building is everything because the problem is even if you do all your keyword research right; you optimize your pages perfectly, if you don’t have links you are not going to rank. On the other hand if your keyword research is just okay, the optimization is so, so and you get a ton of great links, you can still rank. It’s like this old SEO saying, most SEO problems can be solved by getting more links. So that’s like technical SEO problems, on page SEO problems.
I think people shouldn’t rely on links to solve their problems, but the point is that it’s so powerful that it can help you overcome any deficiencies you have in other areas. So basically SEO comes down to three things. There is keyword research, there is on page SEO, and there is link building. And there is a fourth thing that’s becoming more important which is user experience signals, which we can talk about later which directly impacts ecommerce sites.
So keyword research is basically find the keywords as you all probably know that people search for. It’s an art and a science, it’s pretty — it’s almost as tricky as link building. And with ecommerce sites it’s especially important, because you need to know not only what products are people searching for and what volumes, but also things like the commercial intent, the domain authority, the competition, all that stuff, it’s important.
Steve: Well, let’s talk about that a little bit because you kind of tackled back linking for your blog which is a super competitive keyword, right? So what were your thoughts about going for that particular set of keywords I suppose to something that might be easy to rank for?
Brian: Well, at first I went for the easier keywords, so I think when you are starting out and you don’t have a lot of domain authority and other signals like Google may look at like your brand, how big your brand is online. That’s when you definitely want to go with this the longer tail keywords or less competitive key words, because it’s better to be number three for a long tail keyword than number 12 for a really competitive keyword. Because number 12 is basically number 80, it’s the same.
So when I first started I went over these kinds of longer tail keywords, and as the site built up authority I was able to tackle these more competitive keywords. And that’s basically the strategy that I also recommend that ecommerce sites and blogs do. So if you have a product that could be called a few different things or category that could be called a few different things, I do recommend going with the less competitive version if you are just starting out. If you have some domain authority already ranking for stuff, that’s when you can switch in to something more competitive stuff and see how it goes. You can always switch back later.
Steve: What tools do you use to determine keyword competitiveness?
Brian: I just use the moss bar [ph], so using the mass bar you can see the page authority and domain authority of the competition on the first page. And that pretty much tells you all I need to do; especially when it comes to ecommerce you can pretty much throw out page authority, because most of the pages will have hardly any, it’s a domain authority game.
Now that being said if you are somehow able to get a lot of page authority, it’s a competitive advantage for you. You can get that by getting links directly to the page or using that funnel link technique that I talked about earlier. That way you are the only guy in the first page with a lot of page authority, and that’s an advantage for you. But for most part I look at the domain authority as like how hard is this keyword going to be.
Steve: Let’s say you have no domain authority whatsoever, you are just starting out, what are some good guidelines for keywords that you should go for like in terms of number of searches and what you see on the mass bar?
Brian: That’s a good question; it’s hard to get specific numbers because every niche is really different. So for something like a B to B company, or let’s say even like something life insurance. Life insurance keyword that’s really profitable could get 100 searches a month, because every lead is worth a lot of money and every customer is worth a lot of money. On the other hand something like pillows probably gets a ton searches, but your margins on a pillow probably aren’t going to be that great.
So it’s hard to be like it needs to have like this many searches and the competition needs to be domain authority of this, it’s just impossible to say. Basically when you are first starting out…
Steve: Well, let’s just take a pillow example though — for example yeah.
Brian: Okay, in general the lower the better when you are first starting. If you could find the keyword in the pillow space that’s getting like any searches and has any commercial and it’s done in the sense that there’s AdWords advertisers bidding on that keyword which is a sign people buy when they search for it, then I go for that key word. If you find that it’s even a little bit competitive, I’ll try and stay away.
Steve: Do you have like a low threshold for the number of searches that even makes it worth your while at all?
Brian: No, especially for — and today because now Google is basically able to understand the intent behind their keywords. If you target a key word that say only gets 20 searches a month, you may say, well that’s not really worth it, but not only will you rank for those 20 searches, but you might also rank for several other keywords that are related because Google is smart now.
For example if you have like black throw pillow, that used to be considered a separate keyword than like throw pillows that are black. Now Google pretty much consider those the same keywords. If black throw pillows only get 20, you can also rank for this other keyword like throw pillows that are black that might be 10, another one that might be 30, another one will be a 50, and then all of a sudden can add up.
It also depends on the commercial intent of that keyword and how well if fits with your ecommerce site. If you sell pillows and you guys are like amazing at creating pillows and selling pillows, 100 visitors a month directly to a product page, someone who’s basically got their credit card in their hands, I wouldn’t shy away from a keyword like that. It may not seem like a lot, but it can convert really well for you.
Steve: What about in terms of using synonyms for your products in like the title tags or your H1 tags?
Brian: You can definitely do that stuff for on page. For the title tag I do recommend just going with the exact keyword as your targeting. Google will kind of take the synonyms from there; you don’t really need to do it. In terms of the on page stuff, yeah, that’s definitely a great place to use synonyms, and in the content especially in the H1 as a way to reinforce what the topic of the page is about in a way that’s not being spammy in trying like keyword stuff.
Steve: And what’s your view on just like category pages. Typically category pages on ecommerce store is just listings of products. Do you recommend some content in there also or it doesn’t matter?
Brian: I do, I definitely do because it doesn’t matter if you are Amazon, if you are the Amazons of the world or the Best Buys or the Zapples. But if you are just trying to have on your ecommerce site that can be a competitive advantage for you because most of these big commerce sites have too many category pages to even think about writing content for it. It can be an advantage for you to actually put some content on every category page. The flip side of that is that the point of getting — embedding the content is to get higher rankings which is to get more traffic, which is to get more customers.
And a lot of times putting content above before this is the last thing you want to do, because that’s actually going to hurt your conversions. You have to also kind of balance the two things. That’s why I do recommend putting content below the fold about that category. If you have the pillows, black pillows, on the bottom you have a little blurb about black pillows or something you put in a couch [inaudible 00:33:14]. That will help Google understand the topic of that page a little bit better.
Steve: No, okay. It sounds like if I can just summarize you, you want to just start out with easier to rank keywords even if they have lesser amounts of searches. And just kind of gradually build your way up to some of the more competitive stuff once your site starts getting more domain strength.
Brian: Exactly, and you start ranking for stuff. The domain strength, domain authority is a way to measure domain strength using Moss’s tools. It’s a great number; it’s usually pretty reflective of how well you rank. But it’s not an official Google number. You can have a domain authority of 100 out of 100 and not rank for anything. The most important thing is, is that number going up, but more importantly are you ranking for stuff. Are you getting organic searches that are around the keywords that you are targeting, are your pages high priority pages, are you are building lists, are you getting more traffic?
That’s shows that Google is starting to recognize your size, starting to show you to the users. Then after that happens for a while and you start having good success with those keywords, then you can start moving onto the more competitive stuff. But I wouldn’t just be like looking at this semi arbitrary number versus the number that matters, which is like how many people from Google are coming to your site.
Steve: Okay, I’m going to link to that article that you recently wrote about what’s working and what’s not. But it seems like from that article for the listeners who haven’t read it yet; long form content is what’s working the best these days, right?
Steve: What are your recommendations? So any post on ecommerce site should just go into great depth on whatever the topic is about?
Brian: Yeah, I do recommend that.
Steve: Okay, so for an ecommerce product though, it almost seems like some of the choices might be limited. Is it okay to start writing kind of tangentially about what you are selling?
Brian: That’s a really good question. It’s tough one, yeah you are right. Product pages are tricky, because the point of the content is to make the sale, not really educate as an SEO. Fortunately there are ways that you can do both with the product page. Now, one is to give more information about the product right off the bat. I feel like a lot of sites do this well and some don’t. If you go and you want to buy a pair of shoes, all the information you really want above the fold is like the size, and how it looks right and the price. You don’t really care much about it.
But for other products like a laptop, you want actually more content above the fold describing what its features are, why it’s different, not just a list of how it compares to other laptops, but really like what’s the deal with this laptop. Like why is this laptop around. Like is this Samsung the gaming laptop is for hardcore video gamers, because it has a really great graphics card and fast processor and all the stuff. That’s really good content for the user but also for Google. Then as you get below the fold which is usually what people are trying to learn more about the product, they are not going to buy right then if they scroll past that.
That’s where you can educate them and that’s where you can provide user reviews as a great way to add content to a page. You can add more information, you can add reviews from around the web as long it’s not duplicate content. You can write maybe some quotes that other people have said along with your own commentary. There’s a lot of opportunities with product pages, but the key is to know where to put it to not hurt conversations. Generally that’s just like with categories pages, that’s below the fold.
Steve: So it sounds like you are advertising like you are advocating the Amazon model, right? To have bullet points like right at the top and then in the add the cart button. At the way bottom there’s the description where you can get more in depth information about what you are buying.
Brian: Exactly, and I think Amazon does it pretty well. The only issue is like I mentioned is that for some products like a laptop, I would appreciate actually more information above the fold and they don’t always do a good job with that, or books. They are also don’t do a good job with that, just usually a blurb and then you have to scroll down to learn more.
A lot of times, maybe not for a laptop, but for some products where there’s some impulse buying, you can actually convert them right then and there. But you need to give them enough information to do that. And it’s also good for SEO.
Steve: It sounds like though that the long form content that’s basically how you’ve been able to get Backlinko to rank is really more fit for like a blog, right?
Brian: Definitely, but for product pages you can apply some of those principles and turn your 200 word product page into a 800 word product page for example.
Steve: Okay, but in the grand scheme of things, the product pages and the category pages are going to be harder to rank. And your overall strategy should be to put out really comprehensive post on a blog and link them over to your product and category pages.
Steve: Okay. All right, let’s talk about back linking which is your specialty. How does one –like what’s your best strategy today for getting natural back links. Let’s say if you run an ecommerce site.
Brian: It’s actually the same for an ecommerce site or a blog or a service based business. The first step is to create something on your site that’s worth linking to. That’s number one. So a lot of people– this is a mistake, I made one when I first started. I would try to get links and I didn’t have anything that was worth linking to, and of course I didn’t have a lot of success. So I emailed people, and say, “Hey will you link to me please, because I have this great article,” that wasn’t really that great compared to what was out there.
I think the first step is to create something on your site that’s worth linking to. I have a lot of students in my course that run ecommerce sites or work for ecommerce sites, and that’s how they’ve had success lately is creating great resource that’s like best in the world on that topic. Emailing people, and the right people and asking them to link which we can talk about more details in that. And then getting links to that page and funneling that authority to those product and category pages. That’s basically the step by step that works really well enough for ecommerce.
Steve: Okay, let’s talk about the outreach part, because I get emails like that almost every day and I don’t link out to anybody no matter how good the resource is usually, unless I know the person.
Brian: Yeah, that’s– luckily not everyone is like that or else…
Steve: Like I would link to your stuff because I know you, but if it’s just someone random approaching me, like I wouldn’t even consider it.
Brian: Yeah, there’s definitely two ways to overcome that problem. One is to actually build the relationship with the person or the people in your industry that aren’t direct competitors, which they are — in every industry there’s plenty of people that aren’t competing, that are for example bloggers that write about your topic. So if you have a site about coffee or ecommerce that sells coffee stuff, there’s tons of blogs about health, and there is coffee [inaudible 00:40:01] blogs and all that stuff that you can get foodie blogs, that you can get in touch with and build relationships with.
Then when you do down the road ask for a link, or a lot of times you don’t even have to if they like you enough, you can get the link pretty easily. The other is just to go the numbers game approach which is fortunately there are enough people that aren’t as picky about handing out links, assuming the resource is amazing. There are enough people locally like that. That’s how I build most of the links to Backlinko when I first started. I didn’t build relationships with everybody, it wasn’t impossible. I built relationships with the people that I thought were cool and doing cool stuff, and I got some links that way. But I also got links just from emailing a ton of people and saying, “Hey you have this page that links out to great resources, I have a great resource here.”
The key is really to make it a natural fit and find a way where your link adds value. For example, if I go to mywifequitherjob.com, and I look at one of your blog posts, and I’m like this is a great blog post that has a lot of comments, it has a lot of links, it should be perfect for my link. And I ask you to add my link to your blog post; you are going to be really reluctant to do it. It doesn’t really make sense for you to go back to an old blog post and find a place for my link and add it, even if the resource is great. The key is really to find pages where they exist to link out.
For example, resource pages, there’s tons of these. These are pages where the point of the page is to curate content that’s really good, and they link out to other content. That’s the whole point of the page. When you email them basically say, “Hey you have this list of resources, I have a resource that’s really good, you might want to consider it.” It makes a lot more sense and they are much more likely to do that, because that page exists for that exact reason. You are actually helping them by sending them your content because your link adds value to that page and makes it a better resource, because it curates another piece of great content.
Steve: I see, so on Google do you actually search for like resource pages?
Brian: Yes exactly. So there’s search terms you can use like, your topic in quotes plus resources plus useful resources plus helpful resources. They bring up these exact pages. They are in SEO main step because these pages have been around for like since the web started. People have been curating content, because right away when the web got big like there’s just so much content. People are like, well we have to find out — find the best of it and put it one place.
Even more now today, there’s so much more content even though search engines can solve some of the problems, people do want hand curated content. Content curation is really big for that reason is because there is so much, they want experts to be like, okay, here’s the best stuff about this, here’s the best stuff about this, here’s the best stuff about this. These pages are all over the place in every industry. If you reach out to them with an amazing resource and you ask them in a non pushy away, a lot of times you get your links.
Steve: Can you give me an example of a non pushy way of asking for a link?
Brian: No problem, so say you found — you have a great guide on your blog. You just published about 50 things in about coffee. And you find a coffee related resource page, actual real one that recently went down on my course that some post in the Facebook group was about tea. So they had a tea resource and there was some tea resource page. And they reached out to the lady who ran it and they were just like, “Hey I know you run this resource page about the best tea resources online, I just published this thing about tea, do you want to check it out?”
So by not even asking for the link right away, you are respecting them. You are not pushing anything, you are not throwing your content in the face, you are just saying, do you want to see it. That way, I like to do that because if they say yes, you can send it and if they ignore you, you can move on. And you never even ask them to do anything. If they say yes, then you send them the resource, they look at it and a lot of times naturally, they’ll put two and two together, like, wow okay he sent me this resource after looking at my resource page, maybe I should add it. That way, it’s kind of like inception. Like they thought they thought of it. You know what I mean? I don’t know if you saw the movie.
Steve: Interesting, watched the — I did today, awesome.
Brian: It’s kind of like inception, like they thought it was their idea. On the other hand, you can be a little bit more direct and say something like, “If you would add it to your page, it would make my day. I’d be thrilled if you added it to your page,” something like that if you feel like the message won’t get across that way. I’ve found both approaches work. You will be surprised how many people think of it themselves, but when in doubt you can always ask.
As long as you ask like that, you didn’t really push anything, you basically left it up to them, respected their decision yes or no. And you didn’t go, hey, you never had him before, add this fizzy content, can I have a link. There’s a little bit more of a back and forth and then you are leaving it up to them up saying, “Hey if you wouldn’t mind, if you would add it to your page, I’d be thrilled.” So it feels like their decision and there’s nothing pushy going on.
Steve: Just curious, what are your percentages when doing it to a cold person like the way you’ve done versus just building the relationship first?
Brian: If you’re really good at it like you have enough resource that’s really amazing which I think a lot of people underestimate how like crazy good it has to be for people to want to link to something. Because when I first started Backlinko, my first couple posts weren’t very good. Actually a lot of my earlier posts were really bad, but in my mind, they were great. When I showed them to people and try to build links, they would be like this is pretty good, but not really worthy of my page. In so many words they would say something like that.
That’s when I learned you really have to step it up for this sort of link building to work, which is the only link building basically that exists that works. You need to go and step it up. So I had to learn the hard way like really step up the content game. Even if you have like the best resource on that topic in the world period, like not just you saying it because you wrote it, but like really people think that. And you find exactly the right people, that’s a perfect fit. That resource page is exactly about your topic. You wrote about coffee, this is about coffee.
Then you find the person’s email, you find their correct email address and you email them the exact time they are going — they are likely to open it which is a whole another game. People that do a lot of link building, they focus on like when the email goes out to when they are awake more likely to open the emails [inaudible 00:46:27]. You don’t have to worry about that, it doesn’t make a big difference. We’re saying even if everything is done right, you are looking at about 11%, 10% conversion.
Steve: That’s actually not bad.
Brian: Yeah, and everything that goes that isn’t perfect after that chips down the percent. But if you just like blast, you don’t even worry about the page, if it’s decent fit, it’s about tea, and your thing is about coffee, and you think you have the right person, but you just send it to the contact form. You didn’t use their name, all that stuff; you can still get like 2-3%. But obviously the more you do in terms of the work beforehand to get to know the person and get to know everything, it’s going to be a lot higher. You can definitely get to 10%.
Steve: Okay, what about some other ways of getting your content out there. Do you use like social media, Reddit [inaudible 00:47:11], do you pay for ads?
Brian: I’ve experimented that stuff, but I haven’t had a ton of success with it. I think like anything in marketing, you kind of have to be good at it for it work, and I’m not good at it. I never really had a lot of success. The most– the best I did for content promotion is just building your email list. Because then every time you publish a post, you can email X amount of people however many you have in your list and they are going to open it. And that’s what even ecommerce sites a lot of times; they build the list that’s specific to their blog. Maybe these people will buy from them, maybe not.
The point is they are on the email list and you can send it to them. You can get really, really quickly potentially if your email is big, thousands of people to your content in an hour. And they’ll usually take it and spread the word, because they are committed and interested in you and your topic. So there’s no need to even promote your stuff, because even if you spend a lot of money on Facebook ads, just the numbers of people that are actually click on the post and go to your site compared to an email list is insane.
Brian: You’d have to spend like a couple of grand per post just to get as many people clicking. Those people aren’t going to be as engaged as someone who’s on your email list. So for me the biggest thing I did for content promotion is like get my email list used to hearing from me especially about blog posts, and also writing the blog posts, writing the newsletter emails in a way that gets them enticed to click through and read the blog post. And then when they are there, it’s the content job to convert them, at times they’ll write comments and sharing and all that stuff.
Steve: Let’s talk a little bit about just user behavior in terms of factoring into the search rankings. Are there any particular things that you do with your blog post to kind of keep them on your site long? First of all what are the factors, and then what do you do to promote them?
Brian: So it’s basically two factors. Like I mentioned Steve, there’s the keyword research and then there’s on page SEO optimization. Which is basically just have your keywords a couple times in a page and like you had mentioned using synonyms intelligently in places like your H1.
Steve: I meant like the user behavior.
Brian: No I know, I’m just saying, then there’s link building. Even if you just do those two things you are going got be good. But there’s this fourth user experience signals that Google is using more often. It’s becoming more and more important because it’s a great way for Google to determine if a piece of content is quality.
All this stuff that they are looking at with links and keywords and on page; Google’s job is basically saying this person is searching for this thing, we want to show them the best result for this search. How can we do that? What’s the best page? If you can make their job easier, they are going to rank you. If you can be the answer to that question, they are going to show you. That’s the real secret to SEO. Now, well there’s other ways of using that to do this now.
For example user experience signals, the number one is the click through rate of your result in Google organic search. So if someone is searching for like searches for black throw pillows and you rank number one, and no one is clicking on result, they are all clicking on two, three, and four, usually everyone clicks on number one. Google will say this page must not be a good fit for this keyword; we are going to drop it.
On the other hand if you are ranking number seven and you are getting a lot of clicks more than the typical number seven result, Google will say, hey people are really — they want to find this number seven result, why is it number seven? We need to make it easier for people to find, and they’ll give you a boost.
Steve: Does that imply that you should write your titles in a clickability sort of way?
Brian: It does imply that, and in fact I’m not going to imply, I’m going to say you should do it. So it doesn’t have to be the buzz fees style like and what happens next will blow your mind sort of thing, especially for ecommerce so it doesn’t make sense. But even things like an ecommerce title tag like say 25% can really dramatically increase your organic click through rate.
And if you are in doubt and want to put in your title tag or description tag, you can just get the AdWords ads around that keyword. That usually tells you everything you need to know, because those guys know from back and sideways what gets clicked on. And you could just take the elements that make sense for your page and put them in your title and description tag and you’ll usually get more clicks.
That’s a big one yeah, that one is used – I’ve seen case studies where it can make the difference between ranking seven and one, and I have my own experiences and experiments where I’ve ranked for keywords that just didn’t make sense. So for example, I had a page about a year ago that was ranking, targeting the keyword high quality back – no, yeah high quality back links, and the tile was how to get high quality back links. And because the page got a bunch of links from the links I was building, it started to rank for all sorts of stuff, not just back link related key words. It also ranked in the top 10 for the keyword how to get high.
Steve: Yes, I think I saw — you wrote about this I remember, yeah.
Brian: Yeah, I wrote a newsletter, wrote the same as email ones. And of course people that clicked on that result were like what is this? I mean I cannot and they would click the back button, people were searching for how to get high. And even though I was building more links, all the signals that Google wants to see like especially more links to that page, it dropped like a stone for the keyword how to get high.
It went from six to 12 to like 33 and 35; I think it’s on the fourth page now. And from my target keyword high quality back links is number one. So Google basically just based on that one user experience signal which was how long people spend on the page and the click through rate, they dropped it. So we don’t really talk about spending time on the page, that’s the other thing, it’s when someone clicks in your result how long do they spend there.
If they spend a long time on that page even if they hit their back button which is technically known as a bounce, you are still in good shape because it says, hey that person was reading, they spent some time there, maybe they got what they wanted and they hit their back button. But if they click on the result and hit back right away, that’s a clear sign that this isn’t a good fit. Despite all the other 200 signals a year, that one signal is enough to really show them this isn’t a good fit and they’ll drop you.
And that’s what happened with the keyword how to get high is that I ranked for that for a while. People were clicking on it probably less often than usual, because it said something about back links instead of the other keywords that you would expect to be around that keyword. And then when people did click on it they left really quickly, and Google dropped me. So that’s another thing you definitely want to keep in mind for product and category pages, but also for content pages is to really maximize the clicks you get, and then the people that stay on your site.
If you can do that, it’s a huge competitive advantage to be on the first page, because you don’t need as many links to rank and you compete against some of the big guys. In fact that’s one of the reasons that for a lot of keywords I can outrank these bigger brands, because they ignore these signals. They have all the other stuff in their favor, they have domain authority that’s way higher than me, they have page authority that’s way higher than me. They have brands that are huge that Google recognizes as big brands, and I’m this one man shop. And one of the reasons I’m able to do that is because I really focus on getting clicks on my result and getting people to stay there. Which is basically a lot of it is no real tricks, a big part of it is providing value so people want to stay.
But there is also things you can do like copy writing to keep people on your page, so compelling writing, so they’ll continue scrolling down the page, so basically they don’t get bored. If you could do those things you can have a huge competitive advantage over the people that traditionally you wouldn’t have a chance against.
Steve: Does that imply then that you should put in some sort of like podcast or video content on there to keep them on the page longer?
Brian: I’ve seen mixed results from videos, because the problem with videos is that it’s a big commitment for someone to watch. And a lot of times when they are searching Goggle they are not searching for videos or they would be searching on YouTube. So when they land on a blog post and they see a video, I’ve actually seen it hurt time on site. Because what happens is people start watching the video, they weren’t in like a video mood, and they’ll just hit the back button when the video gets displayed. They won’t stop the video and keep reading. On the other hand I have seen other people use it and have great success with it, especially with videos above the fold.
So a lot of people have the videos straight away, so they see it and they are like, wow, okay so this is a video and they can just scroll down and read the rest of the content or watch the video right away. That’s something I haven’t done, usually I have tested it like kind of half way down, put a video there and I haven’t seen that work. So it’s definitely very specific to like a million different variables, but I’ve seen people have great success with adding video for that exact reason.
Steve: How much work do you put behind your meta descriptions?
Brian: I put quite a bit just to optimize that click through rate.
Steve: Okay, and so you make it kind of the description sound really enticing for someone to click?
Brian: Exactly, so the never way of doing that it’s like AdWords ads for that keyword. Those people have really tested it to depth. So I just say okay so for example I had this post about list building that I didn’t have a good ton of description tag, my click through rate is really bad. And I was on the first page, but you know your page doesn’t have good user experience signals when it hits the first page and drops back to the second. Like if you go from like 8 to 12 or 13, then back to 8 and back to 13.
Now a lot of times I could just be like Google turned their dials on the algorithm, but I’ve also found a lot of times it’s because it’s just not a good fit for that keyword and they are trying to — they are kind of testing it out see how it performs at number 8, number 9 whatever, and then putting it back. I noticed that was happening with this particular post about list building.
So when I looked at the actual result in Google it was a mess. Like the title tag was cut off, it had too many characters in it, so it got cut off. And the description tag I didn’t put a description tag, so Google just pulled a random text out of my content, and just looked terrible. So I decided to strategically add content to my title and description tag that would get clicks. And I noticed that even though my content was about list building, and I know and you know that’s about building an email list, I dint have the words email list anywhere, it didn’t have the word email in the title or description tag in almost every AdWords I did. So I made sure to include the word email list in the description tag. I also noticed to use the words like build and grow and I didn’t use that.
So I threw those words in there. And I also just put words that I know people just loved to click on which is anything that’s going to promise fast results. So if you can say it works quickly, today, step by step, all those things that make things sound really fast, you can put — you’ll get a better click through rate. So I put these are strategies you can use today, so people understand this, it doesn’t sound like esoteric. Have a great newsletter and people will hear about it and they’ll sign up for your list, so like a real strategies you can use.
And when I did that my click through rate went up by a lot, and now it’s in the top five for my target keyword. Of course I build links and all that stuff, it’s not the only reason, but it definitely helped.
Steve: There is always this fine line between putting keywords in your title tags versus making it really clickable, can you comment a little bit on that?
Brian: Yeah it’s tough, honestly it’s an art. Because basically it gives you this constraint that you have to put your keyword in there, but you also have to write a title that’s compelling. The best marketers that do SEO really well can do both. But it’s definitely tricky, because in some keywords it doesn’t even make sense to write something good. A lot of times that’s where you just want to throw the keyword out of the window and write a title that make sense.
Steve: Interesting yeah, because when you said like keywords like step by step or quickly, I mean those stick a valuable characters in your title tag, right?
Brian: Definitely and that’s why a lot of times you can do all this stuff in your description tag. So you can have your title tag just — if you have a title that already has your keyword in it, that’s like for example this link building post, I don’t think I — I think it’s exactly the same as it was. It was cut off so I just cut it down so it fit within the limits, but it didn’t add any of this AdWords stuff to it, it was just as the title was and description is where I added all that stuff. But luckily the title was already compelling, it was designed to get clicks already from people tweeting it out on social media and stuff like that, it was designed to get clicks. So it’s just a matter of cleaning it up so it fit within the character limit.
The description tag was sort of just like didn’t make any sense, so I could do whatever and that’s why you put it in there. It’s definitely a tricky thing especially the title tag if you don’t have a lot of real estate there; you want your key word there. You probably want something else just to describe what the topic is, what you are writing about. And then you also may not have room for all this other stuff, and that’s where a description tag can come in handy.
Steve: Okay, this is actually something that I do not do very well. I should probably go back and re-write a lot of my description tags for all of my posts and make them more clickable actually.
Brian: Yeah, I can help you with that, it’s really especially helpful if you are on the first page because that’s where Google can get a lot of data to see how many people are clicking on it, and if they are — yeah and how long they stay. But especially how long they are clicking on it, how often they are clicking on it. And if you are on the first page they’re saying they get tons of data. If you are on the third page they don’t really know how many people are clicking on your result. But for those first page keywords, the ones you are already kind of like 9, 8, 7, I’ve seen that make a massive difference.
Steve: Awesome Brian, hey we’ve been chatting for almost an hour now, I didn’t even realize, the time kind of flew. I want to be respectful of your time, where can they find you, do you have any product offerings that can help people with SEO, just tell me where they can reach you?
Brian: Okay cool, so the best place to get more helpful actionable tips about SEOs is to head over to my site backlinko.com, and sign up for the newsletter. That’s where you get updates about new blog posts, but also exclusive strategies and case studies.
Steve: Awesome, and just a quick warning if you end up going to backlinko.com, you’ll probably stay there for a couple of hours just based on the content that Brian puts out there. So and his general mind tricks work, because I’m actually going to link to his blog even though he didn’t explicitly ask me to, so his techniques work.
Brian: Inception technique, it was your idea Steve.
Steve: Well, I like how you had these terms like that you use that are memorable. Like skyscraper technique or moving man technique, so this is like a new one, inception technique yeah.
Brian: Yeah, it’s a new one.
Steve: Cool man, well thanks a lot for coming on the show, it was a pleasure.
Brian: Sure, thanks for having me Steve.
Steve: All right take care.
Hope you enjoyed that episode, there are actually a lot of people out there who think SEO is dead, and it’s definitely not dead. You just can’t game the system anymore, and it’s to your advantage to follow Brian’s techniques, to get a source of free traffic in the long run. I know for our store SEO makes up about 30% of our sales.
For more information about this episode go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode116, and if you enjoyed this episode please go to iTunes and leave me a review. It is by far the best way to support the show, and please tell your friends because the greatest compliment that you can give me is to refer this podcast to someone else either in person or to share it on the web.
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Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.