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Mastering Digital Marketing: Honest SEO Strategies, Insights, and GA4 Mastery

In Conversation with Jason Dodge

In this technically enriched interview, Jason Dodge, the Founder and CEO of BlackTruck Media, unravels the intricate realm of SEO and digital marketing. He dissects the dynamic nature of search algorithms, emphasizing the critical role of data analytics in strategic decision-making. From dissecting algorithm updates to championing honest search marketing, Jason provides a data-driven perspective that offers invaluable insights to emerging leaders and seasoned digital marketers navigating the complex SEO landscape.

Watch the full episode for more insights!

It’s consumer-focused. If it’s better for the user, it’s going to be better for the search.

Jason Dodge
Founder and CEO of BlackTruck Media

Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here. Today we have Jason Dodge, who is the Founder and CEO of BlackTruck Media with us. Welcome, Jason.

Thanks, Ranmay. I appreciate you having me on.

Great. Jason, before we move forward and pick your brains, our audience would like to hear more about your story this far and what BlackTruck Media is all about. How are you different from the agencies out there?

Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll give you a little background on BlackTrack. What BlackTrack does is I always say our claim to fame is we don’t build websites. We work with brands to improve their visibility online. And we do that through either SEO from an organic search perspective, or we also do it from a paid media perspective. Google ads, Facebook, Instagram, you name the social platforms are probably playing there. Content is a big part of that. And then everything is tied together with data analytics. So that’s really what we do. In terms of my background, I’ve been in the search space for almost 20 years at this point. So cut my teeth, this was even back in my college days when I didn’t even realize that what I was doing was a thing and that you could build a career out of it in the digital marketing landscape. But the business itself, BlackTrack has been around for 14 years. So 2024, we’re going to be celebrating our 15th year, which is a big deal. Certainly from a small business ownership perspective and how it started and how we’ve grown, that’s a big milestone for us.

So I’m proud of that.

It is indeed. 15 years is a long time. Since you mentioned that you had this passion and it evolved into a business now, can you please tell us more about your journey? What inspired you to start BlackTruck Media?

Yeah, it’s a fun story. I mentioned back in my undergrad days, that I was doing a lot of different things as it related to web development and search and content, didn’t even realize that it was a thing. I landed my first, I would say, professional gig outside of college and stumbled into the paint search side. And so really cut my teeth in paid search and PPC back in, man, that must have been like ’04, ’05. When you could buy a click for half a cent, right? And anybody who’s in it now will laugh at the fact that you could buy a click for half a cent if you’re operating any PPC campaigns today. But really, I would say that I did the usual agency in-house dance where I bounced around for a few years to try and figure out what it was that I wanted to do. I am probably a classic engineering student who dropped out of what business school route. I’ve always had a technical background, a technical mindset, and a passion for how things work and why people do what they do. And really, it was around 2009, I was working at an agency and unfortunately, I had a paycheck rebalance.

And so that was the last straw for me. I stepped out and started doing my own thing at that time. And originally, I was just going to be a solo churner. I was going to do it on my own, be a contractor if you will. And one thing led to another, realized that there’s a different way to do this. There’s a different way to approach this. What’s always been done in the SEO space and the unfortunate bad taste sometimes that it leaves in people businesses and brands. There’s a different way to do this to continue to instill trust and to teach people and educate people through the process. That was the launch pad for BlackTruck and the journey ever since has been good. It’s been growing.

Lovely. As you mentioned, with 20-plus years of experience, you have seen enough summers and winters and a lot of Google album updates as well. What are the strategies that you feel have evolved over the years and how do you see the industry shaping forward?

Yeah, is this where we talk about AI? No, I think that I’ve always been in the mindset and it’s a core value of BlackTruck and a part of our ethos is this idea of don’t freak out. The algorithms are always going to change. We all work, If you’re in the SEO landscape or you’re involved in digital marketing, what you realize is that this unfortunately is a very reactive industry. You can be as proactive as you want to and figure out do we need to turn left when maybe we should have turned right. Ultimately, the algorithm is going to continue to update, whether it’s micro updates or major updates like the one that we just concluded at the end of August here this year. But ultimately, I say don’t freak out. The algorithms are going to change and you have to see where the dust is going to settle before you can decide on A, did that impact the brand that you’re working on my website? And B, what are we going to do about it? If anything, do we need to? I’ve also been, I would say, on the side that if you continue to do things that are above the board, white hat, then ultimately you shouldn’t have a lot to do from a course correction perspective.

Now, we all want to push the envelope from time to time, and that’s really where I think things are going to bite you and you’re going to get nailed for it. If you look historically over the years, aside from a few of the major updates, if you look at the course corrections that Google did and the sites that were penalized for it and the reasons why, it might take people a few months, but you take a step back and go, Oh, yeah, I can understand why Google penalized them for it, or I can understand why they did or why the course correction. So again, my whole approach is don’t freak out. They’re going to continue to make changes. There’s going to be an ebb and flow to this. And if we’re being a good consultant and an advocate for the brands that we work with and an advocate for search and doing search justice, then don’t freak out about it. What’s the next thing we’re going to work on?

Yeah, absolutely. Before you react, you have to understand how much have you been hit and if at all. As you mentioned, if you have been on the right path like White Hat, SEO, and stuff, then you have to make those little changes that probably would suit Google’s algorithm versus turning up all day, and night to make it work on again.

Yeah, I think building off of two trends is currently shaping too. If we look at, especially as a group, I would say we Excel well in on-site, non-page SEO and content. That’s our core strong suit. If you look at all of the updates what are we up to now? E-e-a-n-t are additional acronyms there. A lot of that stuff makes sense in terms of the expertise and the experience.

And if.

You had been producing content in that fashion already or you were a truly authoritative source in it, again, that’s another one of those. If you look at it over a timeline, you go, That makes sense. Why wouldn’t you know? If it’s better for the user, it’s going to be better for Search. So one other piece of advice that I give clients and brands we work with as well as team members is to ignore the robot for a minute. Ignore the search engine for a minute. Let’s just put it over here on the shelf. That’s great. Let’s focus on the audience to whom we’re trying to communicate and what we’re trying to get across to them. Because if we’re writing a piece of content, whether it’s a blog article or a resource or case study or it’s a true product page or something like that if you think that it’s helpful for the user to make a buying decision or whatever it is, wherever they’re at in their journey, then yes, something about it. Put it there. If it’s helpful, put it there. If it’s not helpful and it feels like fluff, it’s probably fluff and you don’t need to have it there.

It seems basic and logical when I break it down that way. But in your experience and mine, how many times do you see it where it just gets overly complicated and people just go to the nth degree and try and stuff as much as they can into this? And that’s unfortunate.

You see, with this first thing coming in, it is so logical. I wonder why would you not be doing this earlier. If you have been writing good content, this is what it is. This is just an added jargon to the industry is the way I look at it. I might be talking about it. This is just an added jargon from Google and all the search teams will come up with this jargon. But this is so logical and I agree with you. Keep that algorithm thought process out when you’re writing the content, understand and comprehend that the content is going to be consumed by humans at the end of the day. You’re writing for them. If you think that someone is going to consume that content, all those algorithm numbers, and mathematics, which we all are mad about, are going to fall in place 90%. Just that 10% of tweak is all that you need to do. All these are jargon. Why would you not have something content that is not genuine and of high authority? And why would you not build your trust for that particular brand while writing that content?

It is so logical. If you have been doing good stuff, it was always there.

Yeah. You and I were chatting offline about it. I would say that if you look at your balancing now that I would say that it’s the balance between SEO and user-centered content or user-centered design, call what you will, both play hand in hand. Where you see a lot of this come out is when you shift between a consumer mindset and a business mindset. We know there are people that we only work with consumer brands or we work in the B2B space. At the end of the day, you’re communicating with humans. That’s who we buy from. That’s who we communicate with. You invest in a brand because somebody has communicated well, we buy into that. But from a search perspective, I had the opportunity to speak at Mouson this year, and this was the platform that I was going after or on, was Search to this day continues to be very consumer-focused. You can do a lot of different searches in different verticals and industries and niches and things of that nature. You’ll realize that it’s consumer-focused. If you see the results, if you see the paid listings, if you see what’s coming up in the air quotes in the top 10, it’s all very consumer-driven, which means probably those who work in B2B and SEO have also been thinking about it differently.

And maybe I might go on the record and say wrong, but we’ve been thinking about it much differently. We still focus on keyword volumes, but when you start to break down those individual keywords, you’ll realize a lot of those don’t matter. They don’t matter to the core audience and what it is they’re trying to solve.

Right. No, absolutely. As you mentioned, you’re buying from a human at the end of the day and you’re selling to a human as well. So both aspects of it, receiving and the other end as well are human. So it all depends on how you’re going to look at it. Google is going to operate in its way and will come up with something or the other every quarter or alternate quarter. But as you mentioned, I am completely on board with that statement of yours. If you are doing white hat as it is again a term, but if you are doing the right thing you just do not need to worry about those latest updates, whatever are they.

Yeah, they’re going to happen around this.

Absolutely. If you are doing it the way it should be done, at least 20% to 30% of your competition is facing real hard times with that update. So if you’re doing it right, you are staying that one or two steps ahead of your competition any which way. Google is doing that job for you.

Yeah, that’s a great perspective. I didn’t think about that. But to your exact point, you could take your top five competitors for a brand and maybe one of them is following suit and is doing the necessary updates, but the other three or four, they’re not doing it. Well, now it’s you and that next closest brand who are leapfrogging each other. It’s not the others now, it’s the other two or it’s possibly not who you think is your competition either in the search based on what that is. That’s the other common misconception. I think that’s that balance of, okay, who are you? We’ve worked quite a bit in the B2B space, so I can speak to that the most, if I were to ask a client for a brand, who do you typically compete within a bid situation, a job situation? That a lot of times, doesn’t align with what the serps say either. Absolutely. So you have to look at, okay, who are your competitors? Who are your competitors in search? And how do you balance that? That’s a huge conversation piece that people need to be having.

Yeah, absolutely. While we speak with a lot of clients on Discovery calls, we ask them to give us, while doing an SEO audit and other stuff, we ask them to give them the top three competitors. We keep that buffer for ourselves. We say that we’ll present the top five, or six to you because at best, what you think is your competition might or might not be your competition in the internet space for which you’re hiring us. You might think the shop next door is your competition. On the right, the shop on the left might be your competition, and never know. Let us find that because that is why you have paid us. Give us that leeway and buffer to find that competition. Give you that logic. This is why we think what we think. Then we can drive forward a strategy together to target this competition and probably focus on both sides of it.

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You toss a local search component in there and it’s completely different. Completely different. Absolutely. No, that’s good.

Absolutely. Also, since we are discussing this, I would like to understand your thoughts on the concept of honest search engine marketing. What sets it apart from other approaches?

Yeah, I would say that it’s a little bit of a word or a phrase that I’ve coined over the years, and saying that’s what we do at BlackTruck, is that we do honest search marketing. And that goes back to, again, the early days and we still have a lot of this out there, right? So think about this construct. Search is a mature industry at this point. Google is 20, what’s Google? 22 years old, something like that, right? Yeah. So Search has been around for a long time. It’s much more mature than social media marketing, etc., but yet still one of the biggest things that plagues us as an industry is people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Or there’s the black hat tactics that go on that start to get people in trouble. And in my 20 years of experience here, I’ve seen a lot of that where we’ll have a client that we’re not their first SEO group that we’ve worked with, and you really start to peel the layers back and you start to share with them the reasons maybe why they’re seeing what they’re seeing.

And you go through the page-to-page process and you look at the results you’re getting and you’re like, Yeah, no, we’re going to think about this differently. It might be a little bit of a longer road to get there. We’re not going to guarantee results because you shouldn’t be guaranteeing results in this. You can’t. And so really to me doing things honestly, is sharing openly with a client, with the brand, what you’re doing, and the reasons why, that’s what they’re paying you to do anyway. So why not share it? I’m a firm believer in putting your client to your brand, in this case, for an agency. So putting our clients and the brands in the driver’s seat of their data. They own all of that, right? They should own their Google Analytics account and their GE4 account. They should own their Tag Manager account, right? They should own their Google Ads account and their Facebook Ads account, all of that. But I can’t tell you still here in 2023, the countless number of times that we’ll experience it every single year where let’s say we take over an account and it’s not in our client’s name or they don’t have access to the data.

They don’t have ownership of the data. They don’t and it’s really unfortunate. I think it’s a sad state of affairs that either people don’t know because they’re told something different or they don’t know because they’re not educated on it. And I guess it’s just been our mission, and my mission certainly, is to make sure that people are educated on that and that it is yours, that is your data that needs to move with you as the brand. And the same thing from an SEO perspective on that side of it is, what are we doing and why? Why does this stuff matter? And let’s talk about that. And if you’ve built that level of trust, in my opinion, that just makes you a more valuable individual, right? Absolutely. That’s a relationship building. I am giving you the information that you requested, and I’m explaining to you why. That’s up to you whether or not you want to go deep and dig into it and whatnot. That’s why you’ve hired us too. That’s my approach to it.

Brilliant. Jason, you have been named as one of the Grand Rapids under 40 business leaders. I love that smile. What leadership principles have guided your journey so far? How can emerging leaders? We have a lot of entrepreneurs in and around. You must be speaking with a lot of them in the digital marketing industry, outside the industry as well. How can emerging leaders in this particular space, let’s put our discussion on the digital marketing industry, develop those qualities, and also grow and expand and scale up?

Yeah, no, it’s really and I appreciate the recognition of that. The 40 Under 40 was a few years ago, and it’s still one of those things that is coveted by me. Recently, BlackTruck was named one of 50 companies to watch in the state of Michigan, which is another big achievement for us, which means from a growth and retention perspective, we’ve done an excellent job of that. So I’m very proud of that. But I would say too, my journey and path to get where we are today too, is I’ve always said that I’m a work in progress, but you have to learn to lead. You can read all the business books you want about it. Some people are just natural leaders. I do believe that you have to learn to lead. You learned that somewhere, whether it was individuals who were early on in your life or later on in life or through life’s journey, you learn to lead from somewhere. A job experience, a sport, whatever you’re into. So for me, I’m continuing to learn to lead and continuing to make sure that our people have the tools, the technology that they need, and the experience and expertise to be good at their jobs and then get out of their way.

That’s what I should be doing. So what I try to do is there are a couple of different principles that I abide by, and one of them is leading with empathy. So lead with empathy and understand that people don’t live to work. Most people have a life outside of work, hopefully. Absolutely. And so you work to live, right? You work to sustain your lifestyle or whatever it is that you want to do. You need to make sure that you’re communicating that with your team no matter the size of your team. It could be you and one employee, it could be you and a contractor, it could be you and 10 people, 50 people. I think that the world needs more of that. Certainly coming out of the pandemic, hopefully, people have taken a hold of that. The other side too, that I have to say is that people need to be, I guess, not so much accountable, but I can’t read their minds. So really from an employee-employer relationship, you have to be an advocate. And that’s one of the things that we talk about even in our hiring processes, is you lead with advocacy.

If there’s something I need, I’m going to ask my team. And that’s that natural leadership role like, Hey, I need this. Here’s the thing I need. Here’s the reason why. But I also ask the same of our team. We have a smaller team. A lot of people are wearing different hats. We’ve got a lot of moving parts, but I don’t know if you need something if you don’t bring it up. And I always say to you, we’re all adults here. You have to be an advocate for the things that you need and want. And if there’s a direction you want to go and you want to grow, let’s talk about it. Let’s have a conversation. I think those are two good principles that I think emerging leaders and even older leaders, truthfully, can be rethinking how they lead.

Brilliant. Yeah, lovely. It was lovely speaking with you to understand your thought processes. But before we let you go, I want to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it. Okay.

All right, let’s go. All right.

Favorite sport?

My favorite sport is downhill skiing.

What was your last Google search?

What was my last Google search?

I don’t have a system.

No, I’m a garage guy, so I like to tinker in the garage. I wanted to come up with a DIY way to store funnels. That’s literally what it was. It’s probably on my other screen right now.

Yeah, all right. Where do we find you on Friday evenings post-work?

Oh, man. Friday evenings? You know what? It depends on the Friday. But usually after work, Friday is a lot of time spent with family. We have two small kids, so we just like to unwind as a family. Sometimes that might be a movie night and hanging out. Other times it might be even after that, after kids go to bed and stuff, I might catch a little time in my garage or watching a movie or watching TV. So just hanging out.

Great. Family time. Yeah, that is.

What it is. Absolutely.

Let’s say if we were to make a movie on you, what genre would it be?

Oh, man, what genre would it be? And I’m terrible and everybody on my team will laugh at this because I’m the worst guy to talk about probably TV and movies that are probably mainstream. So it probably would be a documentary, truthfully. But wouldn’t be a documentary or some drama, I’m sure. It would not be sci-fi or anything like that. It would probably be some more of an educational, right? If you look at the books I read, I don’t read for fun. I read for education. And when it comes down to watching a movie, I like to be entertained. But I also like to learn something in the process.

Super. Okay, the last one will not grill you any further. What did you do with your first paycheck?

Oh, my gosh. Well, my first job, was 14 bagging groceries, and the reason that I had the job and got the job was because I wanted a snowmobile. So I wanted a snowmobile and my mom said, I don’t have the money to buy that, so you need to figure that out. So I rode my bike to a grocery store, got a job, and bagged groceries. My first paycheck and then subsequent paychecks after that went to pay for a snowmobile.

All right. Superb. Lovely, Jason. It was brilliant speaking with you. I appreciate you taking taking our time and do this podcast with us. Thank you.

Yeah, thank you as well. I appreciate being on, Ranmay.



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