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SEO Strategy For 2020

An Interview with Jake Bohall

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood speaks with Jake Bohall, Co-Founder at Hive Digital.

Jake talks about navigating through COVID 19. He also tells us about the Bootcamp he teaches at ASPE about SEO. he shares with us nuggets of his SEO expertise, thoughts on link building, and his approach to successful content planning.

Get to the point where you’re confident that your product or service is better than everybody else and then you have a really good argument for why you should rank number one.

Stormy Andres, President
Yokel Local
Hello, Everyone. Today, we have with us Jake Bohall, co-founder at Hive Digital. Jake is an instructor and also speaks at conferences. Jake, excited to have you today. Before we start off, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and the company for our viewers.

I’m Jake Baohall. I’ve been at Hive digital since 2008. Oddly enough, I started off as a client seeking advice from another agency and my future mentor, Russ Jones. I fell in love with the industry, fell in love with the constant changing environment, and then drove head along into technical SEO and link strategies. Obviously at the time, SEO was quite a bit different than it is today.

 

Now, the agency which I co-founded, we focus specifically on helping companies that we feel are making a difference in the world. This is a part of that we made in our model. I guess, probably four or five years ago, we don’t want to work with any client that we can’t go home and brag to our kids about that. I guess that’s a company that daddy helps make more apparent for everyone and amplify their voice in their message.

 

So at this point, we’re a small agency with 13 employees. My team, which is the SEO team that I lead, is the largest in the company. We’ve got six employees at the top of paid search team, a team doing analytics and then obviously like an executive and a support team.

How has the lockdown been? I know you love spending time with the three kids. I don't know how you do that and how you work. I have like two kids and I mean, it's difficult. But how has it been for the team?

Yeah, I do want to give a shout out to my wife because she also has a full time job and is somehow magically any up with being kind of like juggling the kids back and forth. The lockdowns, it’s been interesting. So funny enough when we transitioned the company in 2015, part of that involved moving to a remote work environment or a hybrid work environment. At the time, I had newborns. So I have three children, who are 14, 3 and 4 now.

 

So even though we went to remote, we had decided to keep a small office. So, that anybody at the company could kind of rotate in and out of the office just based of what was happening and what you might need to do. I tend to spend most of my time in the office. So the lockdown was kind of like a hard shock at first, because not only am I having to work from home with three children, my wife is also full time. It’s just kind of balancing that I think was the biggest challenge.

 

The team has taken it very well also. I think it’s important to kind of give a shout out to them.

Even though we had been working remotely for the most part, everybody in lockdown who I know is going through the same struggles that I am personally- just about being a teacher and a daycare and there’s thousands. All those things one time while also supporting all of my clients. The team has done a really great job tackling all of that as well. I think it’s just finding that balance and knowing when to cut your time and say today is over.  It’s time to go. Go play with the kids.

Right. Well, that does the biggest part. I'm sure you're doing well in that. You're also an instructor at ASPE, where you a lead bootcamp training course. Would you tell us the highlights of that course?

Yeah. So I actually started this course about seven or eight years ago. The goal is to in a matter of like three days to help people get fundamental knowledge of SEO. Some of the main areas that they should focus their attention and sort of communicating in their organization. It’s impossible to cram 15 years of experience and so forth in 72 hours. It’s actually 24 hours, three days of eight hour class.

 

The biggest thing is just making sure they understand those pillars of SEO. The base fundamental is that a crawler can discover all of your content. The second is that content is relevant to a query or the intent that you’re trying to search for the user. Then up in the go, the top of the pillar was just links and authority.  We’ve revisited that chart to add in another layer for user experience, to take into consideration what vitals and so forth.

 

The goal of that course is to make sure that those fundamentals are understood and how they impact SEO and impact your rankings. Then to get in kind of a taste for the things that you look for in each of those. Most importantly, I think, if you’re outsourcing to an agency or if you’re managing a team,  it’s really good to be able to understand what people are talking about it, to know what to look out for. That’s really the good goal of that course.

 

And then, that’s a bootcamp. If you need to dive in and actually get your hands dirty on things. There’s some extensions that we offer.

You have been in the industry for a long time. How do you see as SEO has changed?

Well, you know, it’s constantly changing.  When I first started in SEO, you could rank a blank page with enough links- No.1 for a competitive term. We had clients in the Mesothelioma space, credit card space and a lot of really competitive spaces that we ranked first page. It was all link development.

 

We maybe fixed the title tag and then built links and I didn’t care what the client’s web site looked like. It would be nice if I could get them to add in each one or something like that, but did it really matter?  We had a client that for a very competitive utility service, we were ranking three and four on different websites in the top 10.

 

It was working out great until they were an affiliate. So we actually outranked the company that they were, the brand they’re selling on their own brand terms. That was all link building. It was link farms, getting guest blog posts and directories and all the things that if you read about today, you shouldn’t do. So I think that is sort of a fundamental underlying transition.  As things become effective and a method to game the system for SEO, those things rapidly become ineffective. Because anytime you can gain that system, Google, you know, it’s a constant fight. They don’t want to be gamed as SEOs. We want our clients to rank number one.

 

So over the years, it’s a transition from things that I could do that were more aggressive at manipulating the algorithm. There’s a sector of SEO that still does that. But, for me and our agency, we’ve transitioned to more of how do we position that company, so that SEO is part of the fundamental aspect of their digital presence.

 

The underlying technical, the content strategies, looking at the search features and how to approach them and ultimately knowing that when Google says user first. If you actually focus on that, it’s going to be successful for you, remembering that Google is also a user, right? So, the crawlers experience and the user experience, you have to make sure you’re optimizing for both of those.

 

It’s a lot more about being a legitimate business and having great credible resources linking back to you. If you try to game it, you’re going to constantly be on a roller coaster. If you want slow and steady growth, you’ll win the race. And sometimes you’ll complain that guy who’s building all those blog links is not ranking you but, it’s short lived.

I think if you focus on your USP, you'll surely build quality content for that particular service or product you're offering. And at the end of the day, it's about getting a client onboard, whether it's a hook or a service. If you actually focus on your core strengths and build quality content around that I'm sure you definitely see the results.

Yeah. You know what? It’s interesting because for the longest time, we would have clients that would approach us and they would ask, can you write content for us? The content is important. Can you write those articles? And, we would write we tell them like, NO. I don’t know your business, I know SEO.

 

You’re supposed to be like the authority on this topic. How am I supposed to know what a flux capacitor is?  You’re the expert, I can help guide you based off of search interest and that type of thing like what content you should be creating. But in terms of writing, I am in no position, unless you want to teach me everything that you know or that the experts in your industry, you’re supposed to know or pay me to learn it. I’m not going to be able to write a better article yet.

 

So there are some ways that we can work around it, the good college kids to write some content if they’re majoring in that space. But generally there’s a big push for our clients to create their own content and then let us help them make sure that it’s friendly for the search engines.

I think that's the best and the right approach to do it. From the SEO point of view, you can do all the research, you can give them the guidelines, the outline. And once they write the content you can restructure it or rectify the language. But at the end of the day, they have to speak their heart out and they actually have to say that message to the user that they want to. They're the best ones to do it.

And if they’re not, I speak at a lot of conferences and I have this sort of running question and asking everybody in the audience. Raise your hand if you’re the absolute best at whatever service or product that you’re offering. There’s always like maybe one person that raises their hand for a number of different reasons. And then I’m like, OK, that guy deserves to rank number one, maybe. The rest of you go fix that first.

 

Get to the point where you’re confident that your product or service is better than everybody else and then you have a really good argument for why you should rank number one. But until you could do that, like why do you think you deserve to write number one? To fix your business model. So it’s funny because, of course, things changed over the years.

 

We’ve spent a lot of time helping companies fix their model as part of SEO to try to meet that same thing.  Not only just teaching them like you’re supposed to be the expert, but also helping them fix customer service issues and all kinds of other things that just create a bad experience. And they’re getting bad reviews. That’s like ranking is not going to fix that problem is just going to make a lot more people upset with you. So, we also fix business models as part of SEO, which is not what I anticipated when I first started.

How does your SEO process look like?

Yeah. The first step is like an audit where you’re assessing how crawlers can access your content? Do we have log files? What behavior is happening on the site? And then are we fully exposed to the search engines where we want to be? Are they getting the site quickly? How are they accessing all of our content?

So that’s like a technical audit that we start with. The next, the content on it. Looking at things like gaps with our content versus our competitors, topics that we should be writing about that we’re not and also looking at things that our competitors are gonna do. Lots of links, attention and social media and then wondering why not us asking those kinds of questions for the client and leading those content changes.

The core web vitals are new, so we’re developing that process. At this point we’re used to like the API is for Lighthouse and so forth to develop benchmarks for each of those core vital aspects like the Chrome user experience reports. And so we know across a sample of different types of templates on your site, what those benchmarks look like. So we can flag areas where you seem to be struggling and then doing something similar with competitors.

Again, the competitor gap is helpful in SEO and looking to see which types of templates or pages or sites are outperforming us. So that establishes a gold benchmark, it’s something that we need to be. Then we do the same thing with links. We look at the client’s existing backlink profile, make sure that we have nothing that’s creating any serious issues or concern from the toxicity that people talk about and then look at competitor links to identify gaps.

So if they have any great expense we don’t have and why? What kind of strategies are they implementing that are successful and that kind of neat the guidelines of what we would want for our clients? Can we emulate it? Then some of the low hanging fruit, like broken link building, unlink brand mentions and stuff like that. We can just get easy wins for the client and we develop a leaked strategy out of that.

It’s a combination of identifying technical issues, identifying content opportunities, identifying performance, user experience issues, and then looking for link opportunities and developing a unique sort of crafted strategy for each client on what we want to accomplish. I think that really set our agency apart at that point. We work with the client to assign responsibility. So instead of just pitching a project it’s like, here’s what you need.

What can you do that can I teach you to fish with this or do I have to do a drastic go fishing myself? Because for us, like we’re a small team. Our goal isn’t to implement the nitty gritty of everybody’s campaign. Our goal is to work with in-house teams and other agencies, to educate them, to give them over the hump and that type of thing so that they can do for themselves. Because, this is all going to change at some point. We have to focus our energy on identifying what’s important and how to develop strategies for people.

Right. Well, I totally agree. Analyzing the competition even for those content gaps or the links is the best and the first thing to look at and it does give results. We also recently tested another thing; after the core web vitals, E.A.T. I think now, Google is moving more towards presenting the best content in the best way possible.If the client obviously wants to invest time, we also do a survey where we ask our client's clients do kind of review the various pages of the website and give us an idea of what they think the website is providing.And then we kind of match that with the core values and the USP. That gives a kind of human angle that tools do not. Actually, it has helped us a lot without campaigns.

Yeah. Will Reynolds very much speaks about how that’s an approach that they take and I agree completely.

 

One of the things that we try to do, and that’s kind of where I mentioned that a lot of times in  SEO, we like fixing clients business models, because our goal is to rank the site better.  That’s when people write a check to us, like they’re thinking, I’m gonna write this check, my rankings are gonna go up. And then they assume that we live in a silo. So we start talking about things like, the conversion experience or just the experience of the site itself and how that plays a role.

 

And suddenly, we’re out of scope on the project. We’re trying to tell them how to run their company. But it’s very true you get that feedback from real users and you can identify really simple things. I had a client that sells widgets.. One of the first sort of challenges for them is that they just had a page like here’s all our here’s our widgets and is a fairly technical space.

 

So we were able to determine that users typically land on their site not knowing what kind of widget that they want. For us, it was like we need to build a tool like on our home page. This was a link building strategy, this was a concept strategy and the user experience strategy that all rolled into one. We need to build a really simple basically, a quiz that results in, here the widgets for you.

 

So, you know what application are you using it for or what type of material are you using with that type of thing? So they could present the user with the right products. Something that’s simple, that changes the experience for a user on the site. It makes it so beneficial that now other people link back to the site. They’re like, hey, look, I don’t know what kind of widget I wanted to go with. Oh you know check out, widget.com. They’ve got a tool that helps you figure that out.

I think that doing those types of real life reviews and meta screen recordings and things like that, can really help you understand what it is that your customers are trying to accomplish and where their struggles are. If you have an easier to use site you’re going to build links more quickly. You’re going to have blogs and social media and those things happen versus when it’s a miserable experience and people just leave and forget about you.

Right. How important do you consider internal links in your SEO strategy?

The internal link serves two purposes. The first is like just navigation for both users and crawlers so that they can discover all of the other content. The other is relevance. We have anchor text on internal links that gives some additional context and we’re eating to the meaning of those destination pages. So  if you had a page at the anchor to text privacy policy, the destination page’s privacy policy, it strengthens the signal that is most definitely what that page is about.

 

So having appropriate internal anchor texts, having a higher volume of links to those pages that are more important for your site creates like a natural tree of relevance hierarchy within the site. One of the reasons why breadcrumbs are such an effective internal linking strategy is because every single product links to a parent and links to a parent. So, the more product that a particular category has, the more internal links to that category receives.

 

As a result, the hierarchy of the site, that category seems to be more important naturally, as opposed to have navigation links the occasional here and there. Every page on the site is going to have the same number of links and look to be equally important. That’s just not reality. Every business has products that they care more about. We had a strategy that we implemented many years ago. We were scraping Google and rankings data to develop this.

 

Now you can pull the data out of the search console using the API. So effectively, what we do is, we look for pages and keyword combinations in which you rank the top of page two, ranking positions, eleven or twelve. Then we build out this classic, recent searches, widget or popular products which add some of that because you get segment by page type, once you get the data back. And then the home page on other pages, we create this block for popular products and for all of the items that we’re ranking at the top of page two.

 

We now have an anchor text because we know what the query was for impression in the search console, the destination, so we use that. If it’s a product, then we’re still putting like the product image and so forth. But just for the actual anchor text, we’re using the query that was being or the impressions and search console and this is second each project.

 

By simply implementing this widget, we’re able to see a number. This is just implementing widget grades. It’s automated. It now sustains itself because it refreshes data on a regular basis. Those things are ranking in position eleven and twelve before simply moves to position 9 and 10. You’re not going to get to number one with this, but you’re going to see enough of a shift. You’re going to get a greater impression share and typically greater clicks.

 

You’d be surprised, sometimes position eleven oddly gets more clicks. It’s getting a little more challenging now because we have some results pages with seven results. But the concept itself, both fundamentally works at improving your rankings by a few positions. But it really underscores to your question how important internal links are? If I can simply add a few more internal links to my homepage and then I see those destinations improve in their rankings, I think it’s irrefutable evidence that having additional internal links with optimized anchor text certainly makes a difference in your ranking.

Do you personally consider a limit to the number of internal links like a page should have?

It’s kind of a user experience discussion. So, I don’t think there are any hard absolutes and SEO for anything. Whether it’s keyword count, content, eight words on a page, characters in your title and those sorts of things? It’s like what works best for the user.

 

So when we’re doing this, we’re looking at between 5 and 10. We’re gonna place it on the home page and one of these little blocks. There are things that we do to get more creative. For example, we’ll look on a category page, we will run this API, but only because we have. Most eCom sites nest the products you’re under the category.

 

We would run the same script, but only look at pages within that particular product category. So if you land at the top of category A, like if you’re on the top of the tree on a category A page, we’re showing popular products in category A. Widget use the same exact method, but only siloed only category eight items. So, you can implement that at scale across the site with millions and millions of products and you end up with this subtle uplift that really can make a big difference to a client’s bottom line.

When you're planning the content of a particular page, Is that a particular strategy or a process that you follow?

Yeah. It’s funny because a lot of CEOs will go through some very laborious methods for kind of building insight for us. We try to keep it fairly simple. So, for whatever topic or intent the page is supposed to meet, which is the goal number one. Why do we need this pitch? What is the purpose of this page?

 

We use a combination of tools. They answer the public, market use, to look at with answer the public and say what are the questions that people would ask about this? And we literally go like we did in grammar school, where you create an outline with each of the questions. So, for a topic, we’ve got the who, what, why, when, where sort of breakdown. It’s like we need to answer all of these. You organize it in a way that follows the funnel path that you want for your users.

 

Then it’s a matter of creating imagery. So if we want to see mixed media on every page of possible, we gonna have a text, we need  bullet points, video, we would have images. We want to have some sort of tool or interactive and then obviously a call action.

 

So all of those things and further navigation either, to give a user the option to go higher up the funnel or lower up the funnel or lower down the funnel. So they can sort of self evaluate. Is this the right concept for me? Do I want to learn more about it or do I want to figure out what you know. What this is? what we’re even talking about? Maybe the content’s too technical.

 

So when we’re planning that, the outline is following the buyer’s journey and then leveraging all of the questions and trying to answer all the questions that we can find. I mission to answer the public, market use, and then obviously Google’s search result itself.

 

We will go and look at the search results. If we see there’s a knowledge box, there’s a map, there’s videos, there’s images. These are the people also ask questions. You’re showing up then, It tells us very clearly that Google has identified and invested in the idea that people searching for that particular term have this array of intent. Some of them want to watch videos. Some of them want to go brick and mortar. And so if we wish to rank number one, that result, it’s important that we convey to Google that we also need all of the intents.

 

We’re not just one little facet of this query. Somebody lends on our page, we will help them meet all of their intent, one way or another. So whether it’s in this case, like a place nearby suddenly appears on our page or like our location, we just need to make sure we have an address map embedded on the page. If there’s videos and we have video embedded on our page, we address some of the same questions and make a list and a FAQ section. Those are the things that we have found that are important when building out a new page for a client or evaluating an existing page that we want to rank better.

I think that will also help in ranking for rich answers, if you follow that approach. What about, refreshing an old page versus creating a new one.

I am firmly of the opinion that there is way too much content created on the web. You asked earlier about what’s the difference between old and new SEO. Years ago, we would literally there’s this tool. I think they changed the name of it, but it was, keyword shitter. You would put it in the keyword you want it and it would immediately just spit out like a thousand variations of phrase, match variations of that particular term. And then we would go out and  spend, auto’s spend those thousand pages, which is like keyword is a title. A couple of audio generated paragraphs of text to go with it and those would rank.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time with clients consolidating pages, not just because of strategies like that, but just because we have a keyword cannibalization. Google doesn’t show four and five results for a single site anymore unless it’s like a brand query specifically. So some of the benefit that we had from the sprawling on keywords is no longer effective. Any time I have a client who wants to create a page, we’ve got a pretty strict policy that first we’d look to see if there’s any particular client that we have currently that’s going to meet or touch on that particular topic.

 

That’s like this internal inventory. We do market users great for this because they inventory all of the content for your site.  You can type in a keyword or a topic and show you here are all the pages that you have on site related to that topic and kind of the scoring for it. Then you can identify instead of creating a new page can we improve an existing asset that already has age, authority and links and so forth.

 

I can improve this page to meet this new intent and it’s there’s enough overlap, then this page stands a higher chance of ranking for multiple things than if I create another highly related page that’s just trying to serve a slightly different intent. That exercise is also great because it helps you go ahead and identify it from a funnel perspective. What is related content or what are the related pieces that I should be both linking to from this article. Like my own content or landing pages that I should be linking out to from the new content I’m creating. A reminder to go back and update those other pieces of content to link to the new page that I’m creating.

 

So to answer the question, I always want to refresh all page averages. Again, we tell clients to diary every time we create a page to go ahead and set a date no matter what. Like on this date, I’m going to revisit this page and then make a decision on whether or not it’s obsolete. It needs to be deleted and redirected or if it’s something that we should just, refresh or leave as is.

 

Well, there’s actually a really great blog post that John Givings Glad’s, our Content Strategist at Hive wrote on our blog. I think it’s called the content lifecycle, it kind of goes through that exact process.

You're talking about content and link building. We all know that link building is very important. So I would like to know your thoughts on a few aspects which kind of might seem very simple. But still, a lot of CEOs have a difficult time in making decisions, either this or that. Questions like branded anchor text versus money keyword anchors. How do you plan the distribution?

It’s a great question. We typically don’t plan the distribution. We sort of set some rails on,  if we see that we are exceeding certain boundaries. We pull back our adjust strategy, it’s best to come back up. When we do an initial link audit for a client, depending on their budgets we can do more indefinitely currents or more high level. For those that we do, we evaluate competitors backlink profiles to look at both the dispersion of domain authority. It flows to their link, like there are pages. Their home page has more domain authority and as you go longtail to the site the curve generally looks like this.

 

We also look at all of the primary landing pages and look at the branded versus unbranded anchor text distributions. Again, not to establish this is our target goal, but to get an understanding of what is considered an acceptable pattern for the particular space. You can imagine the credit card or mesothelioma space.

 

If you look at the branded versus unbranded anchor text distribution, you’ll see it is skewed much higher in favor of money keywords. As you get into more informational type queries and less overtly commercial queries then you start to see that tails off to be a lot more a higher percentage of branded anchor text than unbranded.

 

You can also take a look at a tool that we have built. I think it’s on the removehim.com website. It pulls your backlink profile from miles and then evaluates both the raw anchor text for that domain like the anchor text of each different keyword phrase itself and also looks at the domain mozrank passed per anchor text because it’s not just the volume of links. When you’re looking at it you might also notice that for sites that are obviously manipulating the file. There is a much higher amount of mozrank passed on links with a particular anchor text than there are for sites that have been more natural backlink profile.

 

So when we start a link building campaign, we want to look for each of our competitors and see what are those thresholds like the sites that are ranking in the top five. Their thresholds sort of established that upper limit if like, we would never want to cross that threshold.

 

I think this is where that sort of approached SEO is really starting to shift for a lot of agencies. We don’t know what percentage of those backlinks have been disallowed, Google has decided not to give any credit for, just naturally and we’ve ran into this a number of times. You might see sites that have this incredibly high distribution of links towards money keywords and their ranking and then there’s no way that was acceptable.

 

They’ve obviously gone through the process of having a penalty attempt, disallowing a bunch of domains and that data ends up a bit skewed. So when I answered your question initially, I said, we try not to set any one hard boundaries for a number or percentage. We try to just set up rails and want to get as natural an anchor text profile as possible.

 

So we’ll work, for example, with a PR agency. We hope our clients have a PR firm, we can help coordinate with one. Before we do any type of money keyword link building we’ve got a very well established base of brand. We want Google to understand that the most important part about this business is who they are and not what they offer. Anybody can sell widgets  but not anybody can be Acme Widget Corp.

 

If Acme Widget Corp is the one that gets all the authority, then Google will say what is it about this company that makes them so successful? And then they’ll rely more heavily on the content and the relevance they find in the content they’re discovering to way that site for a particular keyword phrase and the anchor text of the links that were coming. So for every company, we want to establish as natural backlink profile as possible, focusing on brand and so forth.

 

Then reserve any type of attempts to manipulate the backlink profile in a more sniping fashion. So we need to rank for this particular keyword. We’re tapping out at position three or four. Our technical is perfect or on-site is perfect, we just can’t break this hump. We can see that the competitors are taking this approach to link building in this case like actively manipulating the profile. Then we pursue some more aggressively backlink strategies. But outside of that, we want to carry on with the brand and the experience to carry the link.

 

It sounds cheesy. It’s somebody who 10-12 years ago would take one hundred thousand dollar budget from clients for ninety nine thousand dollars on links. That’s not the way that I would approach it. 10 years ago I would be kicking myself and today it’s just not worth it. I think a lot of that, because our clients tend to care more about their brand and longevity and search results.

 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider spinning up a secondary website that targets particular keywords or audience for region purpose.  Have your way with it, but it should be for science and that it comes with great risk. So as long as you’re prepared for that hammering links, that’s your prerogative. Go for it.

Right. It's very important to be natural as well. I come across clients who say that we want to build 50 links a month and every link has to be a particular amount of DA and so much traffic. I'm like I'm sorry, I can't do that and they're like, but why?I had to make sure based on your current link profile and your site, even if you are kind of manipulating links the D.A. distribution has to look natural. So, absolutely, there are still people who are getting away with building high authority links on money keywords.

There’s definitely a place for that and I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend like it’s not something that I look at on a daily basis and make every effort I can’t emulate it in a way that I feel is defensible for my clients.

 

I had a very large client that I was working with.We spent many years building links for them. Then at some point, we had sort of a shift in some strategies at the company and this is five years ago or so.  One of the reports I gave the client. I showed them the domain authority graph. If I just looked at the dispersion it’s supposed to start here. You have a lot of low authority links and your high authority links are just a lower volume. That’s just normal. This is what happens in the wild.

 

And for them, they had an inverted V curve between D.A. zero to one, they had a very low number and at DA 20 their natural curve started. They ran several link campaigns where they were like, we don’t want any less than a D.A. 20.

 

So when we’re doing link building for a client, we no longer even talk about domain authority or MozRank or that type of thing. No offense to MozRank, there’s other metrics out there too but that’s the one everybody tends to use. We don’t really get into that because our goal is to get highly relevant links.

 

So ideally, they’re going to get traffic by real people. The actual flow of users through a link is a much better metric of the value of a link, whether or not the person purchasing a link from has done a lot of link building to their page in the past as well.

 

So, it sort of abolishes the pyramid scheme of things that continued to develop over the last 10 years. It really places it at its most important metric which is, do we get traffic through this page? Can we convert users, i.e. is relevant to the audience truly?

 

That’s where display campaigns are a fantastic method for identifying those, If you want to display campaigns and ads. Google place your ads wherever they think it’s topically relevant. Then you can measure which sites are actually generating traffic and leads through to your website.

 

You can go back, approach them and say you have a great article on your site talking about this.I would like to advertise directly or can I partner with you for a guest post? You just outtakes from the interview or something like that on your page. That’s a much more effective strategy because your prospecting is based on a proven value and you know that traffic and that link is not only relevant, but it probably put money in your pocket in addition to any contribution for link growth.

What about press releases? Do you consider press releases as a great way to build SEO?

No. I do not. If you are just submitting to the PR web sort of thing, you’re basically spamming the web, there’s no real benefit to that.

 

If you’ve got a really great piece of change in your business or you’re launching a new product or something, it’s actually press worthy. You legitimately think that by issuing this press release a reporter might see it and want to interview you, then I think you’ve got a really good reason to write a press release.

 

A lot of people think that sending out press releases is a really great way to build links. I did forget about this fundamental concept that once you have a link from a domain like you’ve pretty much exhausted your benefit from that to me.

 

So, if one great press release and it gets exposure, you have a link from all of these different outlets. Submitting a second press release and getting yet another link from that same site is not going to build you any additional authority, nothing measurable beyond what you already have. Most of those destination sites are going to be devalued by Google at this point. Why? Because they’ve been spammed so heavily in the past.

 

So you have to ask yourself the question, is there a legitimate business case for doing this press release? Is this an actual PR effort? If the first reason you do any type of outreach is for an SEO reason, then you’re probably doing your link building wrong. There is a saying, great link building is indistinguishable from great marketing.

 

It’s like any time you are trying to obtain a link or create a campaign for link building, there should be a one way to defend this to the search engines should it ever come back that way, this was actually a real marketing campaign. It should actually be a real marketing campaign, like a link or secondary byproduct.

 

So when we’re approaching link building for clients, it’s always about trying to find a strategy that’s going to be effective for them and growing their business and their brand and the exposure for whatever product they have.

 

That part of the sales pitches, we will get links from this. It starts with here’s a great piece of content or here’s a great idea. It’s going to convert people and make you look good.  By looking good, we’re going to get reviews. You’re going to get social buzz and get links and that type of thing. That’s a real shift in how we’ve approached CEOs and agencies as well.

How to recover from a penalty ?

Beg for mercy.  We’ve got to rebuild and remove them. There were either the first or second sort of link cleanup tool in the marketplace. There is a moral conflict because we had spent 10 years in length and then we built a tool to remove them. We’ve actually built the tool internally for us before releasing public.

 

It was just an ocean button inside of our link prospecting software. We had built this really cool platform for link building. If we got an email from a client saying, hey, is this your client? We would immediately go and hit that button and then it would blast everyone we had acquired a link from ask them to please take it down and we would pay them to do so.

 

When Penguin hit, we were like, everybody needs one of those buttons.  We remove them  so that everybody, obviously not our clients, because we had a solution for them already. We didn’t charge them for it. We remove them so that people could identify the links that were likely causing them harm and get the contact information, templates for emailing and so forth.

 

So if you get a penalty, step one is generally not to fake a recovery efforts, not to fake anything. If you are link building and you got caught, they know you stand out. Your yearly graph looks like something obvious has happened. They’ve got a copy of emails or just algorithmically you are toast. Unless you actually fix the problem algorithmically, you’re going to continue to get hit by the same problem.

 

For us, when we’re trying to help a client recover, it’s a very arduous process of evaluating on the backlinks and trying to isolate those that we feel are most likely under scrutiny because they look like they were placed by SEO. Immediately we throw those into a disavow, we submit the disavow and then we go out and start doing cleanup efforts, asking for those links to be removed.

 

We go ahead and file a reconsideration request stating we’ve evaluated our back file. Now we know what went wrong. We hired an XYZ agency or we had a rogue employee or like what we were doing, but we didn’t realize the consequences like that. That is a legitimate reason.

 

Small businesses don’t read the guidelines for Google. It is defensible for our customer in their reconstruction wise to say, we didn’t realize this was an issue. Now this has happened and we are suffering, we’re aware and taking our steps. We’ve hired XYZ company for clean up, we’ve evaluated all these links and disavowed them because we don’t want the credit for them. We understand you want to see us cleaning those up, so we’ve also begun this outreach campaign that we’re documenting the best we can.

 

Generally, Google is going to come back and say NO. They aren’t just going to say they get sorry. That’s where you can then come back to them and show cares, all of our efforts. The hardest challenge is that no matter if your point data from Majestic, Moz, Ahref and so forth, Google will always come back with some new links.

 

As an example, like these look manipulated. We’ve never seen before, they aren’t reported in the search console. They’re not reported anywhere. It’s just like what just happened?  So you end up playing this game of whack a mole, some edge case that somebody at Google is looking at.

 

That’s where the begging for mercy really comes into play. It’s just I’m doing the best I can and then knowing when to cut your losses. Depending on how able this is for you as a business. Sometimes it’s time to just move on, starting a company.

What are the biggest challenges you have come across during your SEO career?

This is a very specific challenge that I had. Actually, I was at popcorn and asked and I presented on this. I had a client that had user generated content. Basically, it was an art site and when a user upload art they could target however they wanted. So this client ended up with five million tags on their site. So they need all five million of these tag pages being indexed and crawled and a large portion of them was actually generating the majority of the revenue.

 

So I had to figure out how to kill a lot of those tag pages without killing the revenue model. some of these were random like, we have ship ships, sailing ships, ships, sailing ship sailing. All of these very ship hyphens sailing and all these types of things.

 

My mentor, Russ Jones, he was at Moz at the time. I reached out to him for help because we had to find a way to narrow this down. I tried everything from assigning paid search value to each of these keywords, identifying those that had a commercial value and eliminating those that did not. Using things like Mod Spell as a way to like just check for spelling errors and correct them. We did Porter Stimming or Romanticization to try to identify the routes for each of these to map them. Because it wasn’t just a matter of deleting.

 

We also had to delete them, redirect them, update the database and all sorts of stuff. We ended up finding a fairly clever solution. J.R. did this really amazing work with vector mapping to try to create associations to see which words were most closely related, so we could do clustering around those particular topics. After spending months and months of all of these different types of data analysis to try to resolve that, we had sort of like one of those, drinking a beer epiphany moment. 

 

Actually just to back up, one of the other big challenges was pop culture items, for example, keyboard cat in the dictionary. It’s not a thing, we had a lot of those sorts of things for pop culture references. So we have this training to be our moment and realize hey, all of the topics that we care about are going to be in Wikipedia, right? In some form or fashion.

 

Wikipedia creates a standardization with wiki data on every one of the topics that they have an article about. More importantly, if you attempt to browse a euro on Wikipedia with a misspelling or a variant, they will automatically redirect you to the final destination.

 

I won’t go into the details of how we may or may not have violated Wikipedia’s terms of service, because we didn’t. But, ultimately we leveraged Wikipedia to identify all of the commonalities in terms and basic clean up this five million tag database to about a half a million, like a legitimate. That was it was so incredibly fun

 

I had to rely on several colleagues for ideas as we just beat our heads against the wall, trying everything we could to solve what should have been or what seemed to be a fairly simple like a just a bunch of like rogue tags. How do we consolidate these? aside from manually sifting through them, which is impossible for the budgets we’re getting paid. We had to find a way to automate it.

I’m really grateful for them. There’s actually an article on Moz, It’s called Tackling Tag Sprawl that I end up writing with Ross and J.R. to talk about exactly how we went through this process. I think that was one of the biggest challenges, at least with a client. We’ve certainly had agency challenges with scaling and hiring and chasing money and all the sorts of things that have also been the big challenges. But, I think with the client, there’s definitely been one of our biggest challenge cases.

Well, Jake, thank you so much for your time. It has been fun speaking to you. I know we're short on time, but definitely I'll try catching up with you again soon.

Thanks so much, I really appreciate you having me here.

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