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The Role of Backlinks in SEO: Driving Traffic and Authority

In Conversation with Gwen Beren

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Gwen Beren, CEO- of Illuminous Marketing, Inc. Gwen divulges surefire ways of conquering the challenges of Google updates, creating a dynamic brand voice, optimally utilizing AI tools in content creation and her keyword research strategy in an interview on E-Coffee with Experts.
Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

Success in SEO requires a balance of technical expertise, creativity, and strategic thinking.

Gwen Beren
CEO- of Illuminous Marketing

Hey, hi, everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show E- Coffee with Experts. Today we have Gwen Beren. She is the CEO of Illuminous Marketing, Inc. Welcome, Gwen, to our show.

Thank you so much, Ranmay. It’s great to be here. I am Gwen Beren, Illuminous Marketing, CEO. And as I’ve recently told you, we are celebrating our 10th year this year in business. And I’m very excited to be here with you.

Superb. Thank you so much. As we discussed, it has already been 10 years. So what inspired you to start this journey of running your agency? There must have been a lot of challenges initially in your early days. How did you work on all of that?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. Illuminous Marketing started with really just myself and my core competency in search engine optimization, SEO. The beginning days of starting on your own are always very challenging trying to figure out all of the things and wearing all of the hats for the business. And then at the same time, trying to keep up with all of the updates with Google and the search engine best practices and website technology. It has been an interesting road, but we have hit our groove. Our team has expanded a lot in the last 18 months as have our service offerings. As I mentioned, our core competency is SEO, but that touches so many aspects of digital marketing these days that we’ve expanded recently into website performance, content, and optimization that includes video production, video optimization, website hosting, and even into website development. So we are quickly escalating into a full-service agency still with a lot of SEO expertise, both in the technical SEO and on-page SEO areas, but looking at all of the factors that go into a great web experience for users now.

Superb. Good luck with that journey. I just want to say that your life is going to get more busier once you become officially a full-time digital agency. Good luck with that as well. Thanks. With the Google updates, like you mentioned, the recent update on the emphasis that is laid down on page experience and core web vitals, which impacted SEO, what steps as a business you took to improve the website’s performance, keeping those parameters in sight?

Yeah, absolutely. That starts, I feel like, with the web development and what elements you’re including on your web page. So if you’re going through the web development process thinking about those things ahead of time, thinking about video backgrounds and how you’re going to either host those or how you’re going to minimize those, what different experiences you’re going to provide for users when they are looking at your website on a desktop versus a mobile device. These are things that as marketers, we’ve been thinking about for a long time, but Google has forced our hand and making sure that those are top of mind when we’re starting from the planning stage of creating your website. When we’re looking at these different aspects and ensuring for our clients that their websites are meeting all of the best practices for core web vitals making sure that we’re using clean code, making sure that when we’re developing on WordPress, we’re not using a very heavy theme that’s going to require a lot of bells and whistles to make the functionality that we’re including on the website to work. But then we’re also looking at other on-page factors.

As I mentioned, image optimization, there are so many different aspects that go into just optimizing your images for your website. So making sure that those things are happening, making sure we don’t have a lot of animation coming in and out that’s increasing your site load speed. And then even down to making sure that you’re on a secure and up-to-date hosting environment and that we, for instance, provide our clients with dedicated server hosting and making sure that we have valid SSLs and all of those types of things to provide that secure environment in addition to that great user experience.

There are so many factors to look at actually. With the increasing focus on user experience and the heat update as well, how do you ensure that your clients’ websites meet these criteria and rank well at the same time on the search, is it?

Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the things that we work with our clients on a lot is making sure that we are defining their brand voice and their core values right up front. And that way we are creating authentic content for their users and not just for search engines, which is something I think that SEO professionals talk about a lot is we’re not just creating content for search engines. And this is where the blend of the art and the science of SEO come together making sure that you are looking at both of those aspects. So some of the things that we do to ensure are that we’re creating both that authentic brand content for our clients as well as creating something that’s going to be beneficial for their search results is we look at the full gamut of what’s showing up in the Serps and what different features are showing up there, who the competitors are there, what the competitive landscape is, looking at the intent behind those searches and mapping all those things into the marketing funnel so that we can align the types of content that we’re creating with the different stages of the marketing funnel.

And in that way, and using the brand voice, we’re creating that authentic content that is also authoritative and using their expertise to demonstrate that quality. With the advent of AI and all of the great features that come along with AI, we haven’t embraced using that for complete content creation for our clients at this point because we believe that to establish, the expertise, authority, and trust for our clients, that using AI for more of that idea generation and that content generation or give me 10 questions that people ask most frequently about X can get us to the springboard. But then taking our clients’ personal or business philosophies and applying those to the recreating, and then also applying it to the intent for what people are searching is the most effective way of creating that SEO content that you need and creating that expertise, authority, and building the trust with people.

Absolutely. You did mention brand voice, which is so critical in terms of understanding the business philosophies of the founders, the owners, and the businesses, and aligning them with the search. That is what is our job, apart from creating content and silos which either looks good, or sounds good, and it’s at the same time only for led search, to rank on search results and all of that. You mentioned AI, which brings me to the burning topic of AI, chat, and GPT. We all are in that storm right now. What is your take on AI machine learning? The impact it has on content creation and content writers overall. There is a fear around an industry of people losing their jobs. So as an agency founder, what is your overall take on it?

Yeah, I think it’s a complex issue that we’re all grappling with right now. And recently, some of the big names in AI, even Elon Musk, I think, was the big headline. But even Tristan, I can’t remember his last name, but with Twitter. And a lot of the AI thought leaders put out that letter about really pausing with AI. And while I don’t know if that’s going to happen, realistically, I don’t think that’s going to happen. However, I do think that they made a really good point in that letter, which was, do we really want to automate jobs that are personally and humanly fulfilling for I don’t know if humanly is the word but fulfilling for humans? Do we want to automate those jobs away? I find that AI is, again, a great tool for a lot of different things. I think that as an SEO, you can probably relate to sitting there and creating meta descriptions for a 300-page website or something like that and trying to come up with neat content. I think that there are some applications that we can use for content that isn’t that authoritative content, that’s something that will help people understand what your page is about and click through from the search engines.

But we have steered away from using AI for specific content creation. And a lot because I did take it a couple of years ago, so it’s advanced quite a bit since 2018, but I did take an AI for business applications course through MIT several years ago. And one of the things that you discover about AI is that it’s learning from all of the content that is already out there on the web. And so if we are just using those tools to regenerate additional content, it’s just regurgitating that information differently, in a different voice that isn’t maybe aligned with the brand’s voice. I think that the quality of the internet will decrease so much if just rely on regurgitated content. I think that humans have the unique ability and perspective to bring that critical thinking piece that machines just don’t have yet. And quite frankly, I don’t necessarily think that we should build all of that humanization into machines because then what’s our role? Yeah, absolutely. There’s a great place for it. And for a lot of productivity things, we can use it to streamline our workflows, to help us with I’ve seen an AI tool that helps us with scheduling out our day and doing our time blocking and prioritizing tasks.

In that way, I don’t think that’s the best use of my time in particular. But when it comes to critical thinking and expressing ideas and sharing information with people, I still feel that that’s best left to the expertise of our writers who can reflect our clients’ voices.

Yeah, absolutely, because it’s a lot more human than what people think. Sharing those ideas, creating those content, and showing your brand online. It cannot be just with something which is already there on the internet, letting it out and showcasing it in a streamlined manner. Because of those closed-room interactions that you have with the founders about their businesses, the emotions that they carry to the table in terms of explaining their businesses to us as marketers. How they started end of the day, it was all about conversion revenue. But what is that one problem statement that they figured out? That is how they have started their journey to solve that. One of that is when we think and talk and strategize and write and then rewrite, then make it public. All of that is a journey in itself. While AI can be used to like you mentioned, give me 10 different questions on this topic to initially give you that kickstart, it cannot be the final product ever. You need that human touch to give it that finish. Talking about strategy, SEO AI, and content are one piece, but when we talk about SEO, it’s much more than that.

The story, the larger picture. We also talk about backlinks, guest posting, directory submissions, and all of that. What is your take on what role backlinks play in overall SEO? How can businesses acquire high-quality backlinks, which they’re all striving for at all times? We improve the search rankings or get more traffic? What do you think about it from an illuminous marketing perspective?

Yes, for backlinks, we still believe that very high-quality backlinks that are related to your business and also that can contribute to that expertise and authority are extremely important for all of our clients. And so the things that we do to assist our clients with earning those links and also driving more traffic to their website from those high-quality pages, publications, whatever it might be, we’re constantly monitoring for different press opportunities and or different topics in the press that might relate to our client’s particular expertise. So this is where digital PR and SEO, once again, are blended and share a lot of the same values. We’ve gotten a lot of really good placements for our clients in different publications, one of which even started the journey of acquisition for that particular client. They were featured and they were an EMR that does health care software, and they were featured in a publication that was read by the business that ultimately ended up acquiring them. And so it plays such a great role in showcasing your client’s expertise and then also in driving that traffic and getting that larger business awareness. We often are talking to our clients about, whenever we send you a press opportunity, you must turn that around to us as quickly as you can because that is an important part of building your authority with search engines and also building your authority and brand awareness with anybody who’s paying attention to the article.

Absolutely. And talking about SEO and search results, it all starts with keyword research at the beginning when we get that campaign going. Not even going when we were on our drawing board trying to create that strategy, how do you go about keyword research for a fresh campaign or for a fresh client who has gotten on board? So what is your strategy around it?

Our strategy is, first of all, interviewing our clients and talking to them about keywords that they think they would like to rank for, and then going through an in-depth process of looking at their competitors’ keywords, fleshing out any variations, all of those things that have been staples of keyword research for the past two decades. But beyond that, there are some great tools out there that now allow us to also look at the intent behind those searches and figure out if is somebody just looking at this because they don’t know the definition of this word that’s associated with your brand, or are they looking at this because they’re looking for a service. What we do with our client once we have narrowed down the keyword list into a manageable list, we go through and look at the intent of each search. In cases where there might be a question about the intent, we do that physical Google incognito search to make sure that we’re interpreting what Google thinks the intent is correct. We go through that process with them and prioritize the keywords for their campaigns based on that.

We usually come up with a scale also for clients because it’s very difficult for them to rank on a scale from 1 to 10 how important this keyword is for their business. For some clients, you end up with all 10s, and then that doesn’t help you with prioritization at all. So we come up with a scale for our clients to help guide them in putting those 10 keywords really at a transactional level and having a local priority for those keywords. And then using our software, we’re able to calculate the client’s priority, the search volume, the organic click-through rate, and several different metrics go into setting the priority for which keywords we’ll optimize their website. So it’s a very in-depth process up front so that we make sure that we’re hitting those targets and setting expectations for our clients right up front.

Great. Then there are a lot of tools that helped us in this initial stage of research. What are your, let’s say, top three go tools for that?

Sure. Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog is the easiest snapshot to just get the whole overview of not only what’s happening on your site, but also on your competitor’s sites. We use the word screaming frog for our initial analysis pretty heavily. We love that tool. And then we use Moz’s Keyword tool. We find that’s effective in helping us get to the initial strategy for what we want to do for our keyword list. Then just get all Google Sheets. Getting those keywords into an on-page plan and making sure that all of the elements that are on those blending, actually some of the screaming frog data with the Maz data, and making sure that we’ve got a good optimization plan for all aspects of the site.

We can never get our love for Google Sheets, for that matter. We all can never get over that.

I know. It’s funny because I have a background in art, and so I used to be very against Google Sheets or just spreadsheets in general. I was like, I don’t want to look at a spreadsheet. I don’t want to do any of this. And now I can’t imagine my life without Google Sheets.

Without Google Sheets, right? And I’m sure your desktop, whatever, keeps tends to open at this point as well, if not more.

At least, exactly.

And one final one, before we let you go, the recent shift towards GA4, and that’s there. And is there and has been happening for quite some time now? So how do you approach tracking and analyzing user behavior across multiple devices and platforms? What are some of the key insights that you would want to share with our audiences tonight?

Sure. Yeah. So we, just as everybody has to, we’ve got what, less than two months to get onto Google Analytics 4.0. And for our clients, we found that it is very beneficial to be able to measure the engagement of your clients. And for one of our clients in particular that’s in the banking industry, one of their goals for the marketing department is to be able to report to their board how many mortgages, mortgage applications, and mortgages have been approved, as well as how the CDs, certificates of deposit they have. However, the bank website, that’s not where they’re processing the conversions and processing information. So in the past, cross-platform tracking had been very complex and very complicated. And what this platform is allowing us to do is get the information across the entire user journey so that we’re able to report in Looker Studio funnels for them how many of their marketing impressions are down to the conversions. And hopefully, we’re still working on implementing, but hopefully, the dollar amounts we’re reporting to because the flexibility of the new platform is so in-depth and gives us so much better visibility into that full funnel customer journey.

A board doesn’t want to look at a spreadsheet as much as we might like looking at this spreadsheet. The board does not want to do that. So being able to then pull all of that information from G4 into Looker Studio and show them this is the full journey. This is where we’re losing people in the funnel. This is where we’re seeing improvements, and this is where we’re focusing on driving traffic has been helpful to provide those visuals and make a real business impact for them because then their team gets more support in the activities that they’re doing, and when they’re requesting spend for additional digital campaigns.

Great. Superb. Thank you, Gwen, so much for that valuable insight. But before we wrap it up and let you go, I wanted to play a quick rapid-fire with you, if that is okay. Sure. That’s great. Great. What did you do with your first paycheck?

I went on a trip to North Carolina.

Oh, that’s superb. With a lot of my guests, they say that I’ve been trained, had to save, and stuff like that.

That’s right. My first paycheck, I started working when I was 15, so my first paycheck was a while ago.

Your next vacation?

I just got back from vacation to Arizona. My next vacation that we have planned right now is a camping trip in the Sierras for 10 days with my family and completely unplugging and enjoying the stream and some bears.

Superb. Where do we find you on Friday evenings post work?

The pizza place up the street with our neighbors. We have a great neighborhood where all of our kids play together. We can walk right up to the pizza place and grab a couple of pizzas and a couple of drinks and enjoy our Friday night.

Superb. Great. Once again, thank you, Gwen, for taking the time for this podcast. I’m sure our audiences would have benefited a lot from the insights that you shared about SEO. We’ll try and get hold of you for another more detailed one sometime down the line. Yeah, I appreciate you taking the time for this podcast.

Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Cheers.

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