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Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.
In today’s episode, we have Chris Dreyer with us. Chris is the CEO of Rankings.io and a niche marketing expert helping personal injury law firms dominate the first page rankings.
With awareness around personal injuries on the rise, more and more people are seeking out law firms to represent them in court. And this is where Chris Dreyer saw the potential and launched a digital marketing agency catering to independent attorneys and law firms.
All marketing channels can be beneficial with the right focus and for the right cost.
Thank you so much for having me! Excited to be here.
I was always very interested in anything. I’m a contrarian person; my mom always says I’m a rebel. So if you tell me this is how something’s supposed to be done, I would always look for an alternative way to do that thing. Even playing video games as a kid, if everyone played one specific character, I would play a different character. I was always a contrarian. I liked to take a different point of view for every approach.
My friends would say, I’m super competitive. My dad has this saying, “You only play the game to win”. Games are zero-sum, right? Whenever I play anything, whether it’s poker or agency life, a board game or anything, I’m looking at every single aspect of it to where I can gain an advantage over my opponent. And I’m really trying to win, it drives my wife nuts. But that’s what I do.
Absolutely, competing is fun. If it’s not difficult, there’s not that big reward. So I think you have to be uncomfortable in every aspect of your life or journey or business. And I think when something is challenging to obtain, there’s more gratification.
I just felt like when I went to school, I didn’t know what path I wanted to take. I knew that I wanted to honor my family and make them happy. And that’s why I went to college and got a degree in education. I was very involved in sports in high school and had a great love for the game of basketball. So, my original plan was to teach at a high school and then go up the ladder and then coach collegiately or professionally. That was my original goal, and I did get a job at a high school and I was the JV basketball coach. But there was this day in day out grind where I just didn’t feel satisfied. And this is really cliche, but I typed in “how to make money” online. And I found Ed Dale’s 30 Day Challenge to affiliate marketing. Now back in the day, there weren’t any courses. There were some forums like warrior forums and a handful of individuals on Yahoo Groups back in the day. Now it is somewhat equivalent to Reddit.
I think it used to be 10 bucks. When I received that initial payment, I knew $10 was not very significant, but I could see the opportunity. I thought now that I made $10. Imagine if I applied all my focus to this avenue. And that’s what happened. I got obsessed, I went all in, learned and consumed everything I could. And by the end of my second year of teaching, I was making significantly more doing affiliate marketing than I was teaching. So, it was a natural course and trajectory to go into affiliate marketing.
My first site was loseadoublechin.com. We ranked number one for double chin for three or four years. I ranked number one for Goji Berry when it was on Opera.
“How to stain concrete floors and stained concrete floors?” — I ranked number one for that for years. In fact, I was the number one Kindle Direct Publishing book on Amazon back in the day. Those were a few of the avenues. I even had stuff on pastry chefs. I had the best man duties at Kindle Direct Publishing book, and I had a generator website(Katrina) — that when all the Hurricanes were hitting the US, all of my generators sold out. We sold every single one available.
I normally have Ezine’s coffee mug here. I have hundreds of those coffee mugs that you would get as an author. And that was a good outlet for link building. They helped to build my rank and The Keyword Academy links. Then once Penguin came in and smacked those around, penalized everyone for the unnatural links, my affiliate income went from $15,000 a month down to 2000 overnight. I knew I wasn’t doing things evergreen and there wasn’t enough consumer value, that the effort to take those out of the grave and to rebuild them was going to be pretty significant. So, that’s how I got a gig at a digital marketing agency and where I got my feet wet in the agency life.
I rose to be their top guy, their top SEO specialist. I say SEO specialist, but I was doing everything – Pay Per Click, literally anything digital. Being honest and transparent, I didn’t think that they had the right business game-plan and I didn’t think that they were more sales-oriented and less on the technical skill. And I just thought I could do better. I think that’s a classic story of most technicians. Most specialists think they can do better and they start their own business and that’s what I did.
Attorney rankings.org. We launched it as a full-service provider because we’re trying to offer anything digital. We were trying to increase our top line. We would take on anything to generate cash and revenue at the beginning. We couldn’t be too selective because we didn’t have a brand, we didn’t have reputation, testimonials and case studies. Eventually, over time, we really developed that reputation for SEO. That’s my core competency in terms of like a digital skill and just kept niching down. We referred out all of our pay-per-click business and focused on SEO. We referred to all of our design and focus on SEO. The interesting thing is, even though individuals think that you’re giving away opportunities, we were actually creating them. Because of our focus on SEO, we could put all of our energy and all of our vision into making that the best service possible. That allowed us to create reciprocal, mutually beneficial referral relationships with these other agencies.
To some degree, all marketing channels can be beneficial with the right focus and for the right cost, because attention shifts, and there is arbitrage and what you would pay for one channel versus another. For example, right now, most individuals are doing away with radio. And people don’t even think about radio as much. The cost for those spots has significantly declined.
In the beginning in pay per click, everything was 10 cents a click, and now in the legal vertical — car accident lawyers, is $100 a click. It changes from time to time. From a marketing standpoint, from a unique selling proposition, I can sell in both ways. I sell the advantage of PPC. I can say, “Hey, let’s do pay per click because it takes time to rank your SEO. We can get immediate traffic.” Or I can say, “hey, you should do SEO versus PPC because in SEO, you’re creating an asset that compounds over time and it’s evergreen and permanent.”
You can play it either way. I’ve seen it in a lot of different directions.
That’s a good question. This can occur for some areas of law that aren’t saturated and aren’t as competitive. For the personal injury space where we live and breathe, everybody in those top results is using an SEO agency. So the moment that you stop generating new content, improving your website, promoting and creating content for those linkable assets and natural inbound link acquisition, you start to fall behind on something. Google likes fresh signals to the site. So I don’t know that you can ever become complacent in a very saturated niche. If it was “trademark attorney”, and you’re the only one in the city, or maybe there’s a handful, you could build a nice gap, a nice moat to where you invest elsewhere.
I like all channels for marketing, attention and impressions to build the brand. But when we make this comparison, the other thing that I like about SEO is that one landing page could rank for 2000 keywords. So, even though you rank number one for a particular phrase, it doesn’t mean you’re going to rank number one for all of them. This presents a lot of opportunities even on a specific keyword segment. Not to mention, other parallel areas of the law. So under personal injury, you could do really well for PI, but maybe you’re not ranking well for a car accident or truck or motorcycle or slip and fall. That’s where opportunities can really be created from an SEO and content marketing standpoint.
It’s actually a tactical strategy that we take. We try to create gaps, we try to create these barriers of entry. Everyone that’s working with an SEO agency is going to pull up a SEMrush, Moz, or some competitive analysis. They’re going to do a competitor backlink analysis to see where the gap is. So, the real trick is, what are the links? What are the things that I can do that they can’t replicate? That’s how you create a barrier of entry.
Absolutely. Even from a medium perspective, if you have a client that has a podcast and your competitors don’t, you can get those audio base links. There’s a lot of opportunities there. If they create a white paper and turn it into a PDF, you can submit it to PDF directories. If they have an exceptional case that has a lot of media attention, they can get big news publications now. They are not always do-follow links, but they’re still great trust signals. All these things can be used as a competitive advantage.
Yes, we do value-based pricing. Not entirely value; there’s input, output and value. Input would be hours and capacity; output would be units, which would be the number of links, number of articles. And then there’s value.
We do a competitive diagnosis. We call it an SEO discovery because we’re mirroring our audience, our audiences are legal. They do discoveries before they go to trial.
And I use all kinds of analogies here. Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice. Imagine your car wasn’t working properly and you took it to an auto shop and before you got out of the car, they said it was going to be $100,000 to fix your car, you’d think they’re crazy. Obviously, they didn’t even look under the hood.
That’s what we have to do. In every location, it doesn’t matter what the population is. It’s what’s the competitive landscape from an SEO perspective. What’s the Gap? What’s the target for links? What kind of content do we have to create? How many reviews do we have to acquire? All of those things go into pricing. And here’s the catch. You could have the exact same competitive strategy in two locations. But you could charge differently, even though you’re going to employ the same tactics on value-based pricing.
The value of a case in Los Angeles is more than it would be in Louisiana, or in California. That’s because they can get larger settlements in California than they can in Louisiana.
It’s always art and science. It’s always an estimate, but it is setting expectations. The most critical component of any relationship with a service provider is setting expectations.
We call it internally – “teaching our clients not to be crazy”. If they don’t set expectations, and they get upset because they don’t know.
Yeah, we do a couple of things. So our onboarding experience is really exceptional. You want to make that exceptional to counter buyer’s remorse to set those expectations and set the foundation. We set up all the goal tracking, we set up call rails. Our attribution is critical. We have those candid conversations with them. That’s the name of the game. You just got to be transparent. At the end of the day, they’re looking for an ROI in any marketing endeavor that they choose. A lot of agencies will try to fluff the numbers or not be as transparent, but that’s not a recipe for long-term success. There’s warmth and competence. Warmth is when you’re a nice person, they like working with you and those buying in a timely fashion. But you have to have competence too. If you have warmth and competence, it’s a complete recipe.
If you just have the competence and no warmth, they’re probably going to churn. If you just have warmth and no competence, they’re going to churn. You have to have both.
We lay out a full summary of execution for everything that we do. We have monthly consults. Sometimes, we estimate the forecast improperly, but sometimes we have some early wins more quickly than we anticipated. That’s just the name of the game, and guaranteeing a certain result is very difficult in SEO. Now that we have so much data, we’ve started to dip our toe in performance-based contracts for SEO. It takes a very strong understanding of the industry and market you’re in. Because with pay per click, you can do those types of things, you get enough data, you can see what the cost per acquisition is, your CAC. But it’s more difficult for SEO.
I’ll tell you a couple of different considerations for this. The first one is we only do the performance-based when not only our attribution is incredible, but the client-side attribution with their case management system, with their CRM, with their data is phenomenal. You feel confident, and we can do like a trailing 12. We have consistent data; we are more able to put a dollar amount on the actual signed case. Not the lead, we do a signed case. The other thing to think about is if you are the best and you know that they don’t have the option like you, then your risk of churning is less. Also, you can do things like crazy risk reversal. Pay within the first 60 days, if we’re not the best agency you’ve ever worked with, not only will we refund your money, but we’ll also pay for your next agency’s first month. Like who’s gonna take that up?
It’s tough. Because anyone that’s going to take that up knows they’re never going to work with us again.
Yeah, that’s a downside, particularly in the legal domain. I know that Arizona and Utah have some non-attorney ownership laws going into place, but a former agency owner, IM Bentley, creates those assets and sells the pay-per-lead. That is the downside. But if you’re comfortable with the relationship, if you’ve worked with them for a few years, then we honor those. It’s a mutually beneficial thing. It’s a win-win if we generate significantly more because they’re happy and they’re happy to pay more.
There’s a lot to that. When people think of productization, they think of delivery and just processcizing things that makes it repeatable. But the other thing that you’re doing is you’re improving profitability by eliminating waste. Waste is when you create things that aren’t repeatable. It’s a blank canvas and you always have to do things that are different. So you can create efficiencies that increase profitability. It also allows you to create a structure for your company for scale. So when you have particularly one service, you can take it almost in an assembly line type of manner, similar to a Henry Ford type of model. Even prefabrication could be external outsource companies or manufacturers, but we’re an EOS agency. We have an accountability chart. We’re set up by function. We have a hierarchy. We are a top-down traditional model. We are not a Pod. Pods have the advantage of cross-functional departments that have better communication and they can be autonomous. We use strategic partners and outsource some of our work to content production, some link building and have an outsourced partnership. The top-down hierarchy traditionally works a little bit better.
In our company, departments start from the left. Since we are a profit-first company, we have a profit-first finance department. Then we have marketing, which is attraction, then we have sales acquisition, accounts and operations. So it’s left to right. Our accounts department has its head up strategy communication, looking for opportunities, and it’s separated from fulfillment. If they’re involved in fulfillment, they have their head down, making sure work is getting completed. Then they can’t have their head up looking for what the client actually needs. So that’s why we separate them.
We’d like our account managers to manage up to 200,000 MRR per month. Now the size of our accounts could be anywhere from 4 to at most 10 accounts or maybe 12 at the most. So isn’t a tremendous amount of volume that you hear with other agencies where an account manager has 20 or 30. In some situations, we have an account manager who just handles 4, because the accounts are larger.
For us primarily, it is content ideation. On the strategic side of content selection, we look at what content needs to be refreshed, whether there’s keyword cannibalism, whether there is missing content. It’s very heavily focused on content. I would say when you’re looking at working with strategic partners, like us, for let’s say link building, what’s an account manager gonna say? Something like, “I want more links?” Backing up on a local perspective, what are they gonna say — “We want more citations?” They don’t have the ability to drive in those areas.
In our onboarding series of emails, we ask what is their preferred communication method. Is it email, text, phone or is it Zoom? We try to identify that, and we also try to establish a regular meeting cadence in the onboarding. It is critical. We ask them what day of the month, can they commit 30 minutes to an hour to plan and strategize. It’s not this ad hoc situation where you’re scrambling and trying to figure out a date that works for each other; it’s in the calendar. We also use Loom Videos a lot too. We try to keep our emails more condensed if they’re too long. Nobody wants to read a long email. Pick up the phone, jump on Zoom. In some situations, if the client uses Slack, we use Slack. if the client uses Slack. But for the most part, Zoom and phone.
No, during COVID last year (2020), we had a couple of pauses. But they came back. We’ve always had a really high retention percentage. I think that’s because of our background. It took me a while to get into the market and do sales. I was always extremely focused on delivering a high-quality result. That’s what has helped us retain.
There’s a lot that goes into this. Retaining talent is a big issue for a lot of agencies right now. We overpay probably by 10 percent, firstly. Employees get 20 days PTO at the start. I know everyone loves to talk about the unlimited vacation policy. Look at the studies, your employees actually take less time off with us. We encourage our people to take a week off. We do 100% health insurance. We pay every penny of it. We got the IRAs and things like that. We also do an all-hands meeting every month as a remote company. We have a kudos Slack channel. Perfect channel to kudos an individual based upon something that they did well or helpful.
We reimburse certifications courses, provide coaching, have them do a bucket list and try to help them fulfill their bucket list. The most important thing in all this is a culture built on radical transparency. So we discuss everything that we’re doing in the business and trying to accomplish.
I probably would have. I just had so much freedom. And there were so many opportunities. I’m glad at the trajectory I went on. I also had a really interesting poker career too.
I think all these experiences allow you to grow as a human and see opportunities that you didn’t know existed. That’s where books come into, raising those ceilings to see opportunities, but I’m not really sure.
I’m not planning to sell. I am trying to build something spectacular. We want to be known as the SEO agency of choice. We want us to have just our name resonate and ring out when it comes to reputation. So, if I answer what’s next. It’s actually funny, I told my President Steven Willie, I think this year has been too easy.
I said, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. On January 10th, we’re launching four websites, and we’re doing this giant campaign launch.” Because it allows you to focus. When you have this big challenge and huge endeavor, everyone has to get on the same page. It forces you to focus. Instead of launching one site at a time, when it’s a big challenge, it creates momentum and excitement.
That’s exactly what we have on the Trello board. It’s BHAG. It’s a big, hairy audacious goal. That’s what we’re doing
I’ve got a personal website launch. And then I’ve got a website launch for a podcast. We’re launching a second podcast with its own website. It’s coming out in January as well. We got a new rankings website with some really amazing creative, a whole new style rebrand. And we’re actually doing a fifth little launch that centers around a third podcast. The podcasts have been a great outlet for us.
The current one I have is PIM, it’s Personal Injury Mastermind. The second one is LawHer and it’s going to be focused on female attorneys and female entrepreneurs. The third one is going to be a law firm SEO. We wanted an outlet for specific legal SEO tactics that relate to rankings. We’ll have those three, we’re going to create a podcast network and use that on the megaphone.
We’re actually going to break out from PI, we’re going to do all legal SEO. We had that tough decision — Do we want to stay with PI and add additional services? Or do we want to stick with our core competency SEO? And that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to come down to a larger focus on sales and front-end marketing and building a brand. I feel very confident in our lead generation strategies so much so that I think we can do that.
I think it definitely will change with saturation. Doesn’t matter if it’s Google or Apple. There needs to be search engine optimization for your podcast to be discovered. The same goes for YouTube. So, it may change in its iteration.
What if the government comes and breaks Google up and there are multiple search engines? That’s an opportunity. Google also just released the indented listings. They had the passage rankings, now they’re doing these indented. I think there’s a lot of opportunities. When we looked at the decision, we kind of thought of it in two ways. One way, we have relationship equity — that flywheel relationship equity and PI, or we have our productized service — know how to make money, know how to deliver and do the other areas of the law. And we felt that it was riskier to just stick with PI because SEO is more secure from a service perspective than an area of the law perspective. So, I’m hedging by going into other areas of the law. Also, as an entrepreneur, I am heavy in investing. I’m big into real estate, and there are other streams of income from assets. There’s a hedge there too.
Being transparent, my biggest depression is health. I’m really trying to put more energy and focus there. My goal is to leave a legacy and to be a good husband and father. Yeah, that’s my main goal.
Very competitive person.
So I think I am proud of what I have achieved in my business.
Also, staying close to the family. I have a really great relationship with my family. That’s something I’m really proud of.
I love college basketball. I love Star Wars. Those are a couple of the two hobbies.
A little bit. I used to play for many many years. But I haven’t recently.
It’s painful to give one name. But because I have to, I’d say I really like 12 Pillars by Jim Rohn. That’s an amazing read in a day. It just always makes me feel good every time I read it.
Don’t pull that fire alarm in the apartment complex no matter how funny you think it would be. And everything’s gonna work out. Just keep learning, keep focused.
The social media network I’m most active on is LinkedIn. You can also visit our website rankings.io.
Thank you so much for having me.
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