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The SEO secrets for 2020 - Interview with Jon Bentz

Hosted by Dawood Bukhari

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 first episode, Dawood catches up with the brilliant and astute, Jonathan Bentz, Senior Digital Marketing Strategist at Direct Online Marketing.

Jonathan shares his insights about the ever-changing and evolving SEO scenario and how to win the long term game. He talks about SEO best practices for a B2B business, using image effectively for SEO and SEO automation and a lot more.

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-Coffee.

Visual content like infographics is used for more than just engagement and referral traffic. It’s used for on-page SEO as well. With Google’s computer vision technology becoming better, Google is able to read more than just alt tags and image file names and understand what the image is about.

Jonathan Bentz, Senior Digital Marketing Strategist
Direct Online Marketing
Hello everyone, welcome to the first episode of e-coffee with experts. I think we have to get used to virtual meetings and e coffees now. I have with me today Jonathan Bentz. He is our first guest on this series. Jonathan is an SEO expert with over 15 years of experience in SEO and he works as a senior digital marketing strategist at DOM (Direct Online Marketing). Jonathan, before I talk about your experiences or your journey so far, it would be nice if you could introduce yourself and talk about what exactly you guys do at DOM?

First off, thank you very much for having me today. I am a senior digital marketing strategist at Direct Online Marketing. In my day-to-day capacity at DOM, I help clients grow confidently online and we generally do that through three major digital marketing strategies
– Search engine optimization
– Pay-per-click advertising
– Social media advertising

There are some other additional services that we provide that fall into those categories as well like analytics solutions, conversion rate optimization, Amazon services App Store optimization.

There’s a lot of subdivisions and tasks or strategies there that blurs across those three platforms but just about everything we do falls into one of those three buckets for me.

On a day-in day-out basis I work with the SEO team. I’ve professionally had a background in startups, agencies and corporate environments as well in my career history. I’ve experienced all of those working environments, goals and the challenges related to working in some of those environments and over the last four plus years at DOM, I’ve been responsible to help navigate the unique challenges and growth goals of our clients and help them get what they need more of from the web using SEO.

It has been an interesting journey for you, with a degree in journalism you started off with sports events copywriting and suddenly you've deep dive jumped into SEO .How did that happen? I mean was your hairline better before SEO?

Wow! We haven’t known each other that long, you’ve already taken a shot at my hair!

Yes when I first went to university at West Virginia University .When I first went there I went to journalism school and it was a contributor to The Associated Press. But that was at a time in history where post 9/11, just moving out of the dotcom boom moving into the digital age, “The web 2.0” age.

The things were moving online and if you were a journalist, a writer, the newspapers were shutting down and / or definitely laying off a bunch of their staff. So two years into college thought if I could work in the media? I could write but could I make a career in writing?

In 2004, my uncle, Bob Benz, he is the president of a digital marketing agency in Philadelphia called Purple Gator. In 2004 he offered me an internship and he was willing to pay me $10 an hour as a college student to become a marketing team member. I learned the ropes of SEO and he gave me an SEO book on a floppy disk and said,“Here, you’ve got four months to learn this and you’re going to come work for me for the summer in Philly”. No one had ever offered to pay me $10 an hour to do anything at that point in my life so that was a pretty big deal and I took it. He said to me at that time,” I think you might be able to make a career out of this” and what I didn’t realize at the time was that he’s gotten a lot of things right in his 30-plus years as an entrepreneur and he got he knew what I was going to do for my career before I knew what I was going to .Here I am 16 years later working for Direct Online Marketing.

Since you have been there since so long, you must have seen those good old days when anything could rank. We could do any kind of shady backlinks to make it rank and then suddenly after six months the site would go boom. We know a lot of affiliate websites. As a marketer I really want to discuss the kind of marketing you're doing now ultimately? What do you think has changed positively because I understand the kind of on-pages we do, the kind of content we create, even backlinks have evolved. As a marketer, having seen SEO from when it started to now, everybody talks about the negatives and SEO being difficult to sell right but what is the positive which you see from this evolution?

To use a cliché,” The cream now rises to the top” and while you can still do shady backlinking or you can still do some of these things and you may think you’re ahead of the algorithm or you may figure something out that works for a period of time but eventually the search engine’s going to course-correct.

Unless you want to get into the churn and burn of domain games and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s plenty of people that “flip websites” and they brag about it.
If that’s the way that you choose to go about promoting products and services online, no problem. But the brands that we typically work with and the campaigns that I get the most satisfaction helping grow are ones that are trying to build a brand or building successful web properties that stand the test of time. You can do that today without needing to resort to aggressive backlinking tactics or doing something “manipulative”. I don’t feel like that’s the right word because in our industry ,it’s our job to get our clients positioned and ranking and that’s what all of us do. Just all of us take different approaches to it but that to me is how the game has fundamentally changed. We’re getting further and further away from the websites with most backlinks winning and more and more into behavioral driven,intent driven websites. I know EAT is a polarizing topic in our industry but the best performing clients that we have seen have EAT for their authors or have EAT built into their websites and they’re the ones that are winning. They’re the ones that are growing and the clients that don’t have that, as a starting point we need to help them and build that up so that they can grow at making scale.

Google is changing in such a way that they want everybody to be on Google rather than on site. As a marketer, what would be a perfect mix or a package for a business who wants to build a brand name and play the long-term game but at the same time make revenue create a funnel. How should a business go about it?

First recommendation, just speaking about this from an infrastructure or a platform standpoint, there’s one or two ways that you can go.

You can either embrace the fact that Google is the industry leader and ninety percent of the search activity is happening there.

You can either embrace that and play well with Google or come in the opposite direction and not play well with Google and have a whole bunch of different platforms monitoring all of your stuff, we as a Google premier advertising agency we’re going to sound like we drink the kool-aid but we are very much in the “embrace Google and work with Google products” and Google Suite search console, analytics tag manager optimize, use these products to amplify your performance to monitor and amplify your performance.
Letting Google learn about your brand. That’s the best approach. Using Google my business if you’re a local company any of these tools that Google is making available to you for free, there’s going to be some exchange given to be able to use some of these tools but generally the tools are for businesses to help them grow will make you better and the information that you learn will make you better position your business to acquire more customers. If you are processing it correctly as opposed to taking the latter approach.

With the evolution of SEO, gone are the days when an agency could give you a package of 50- 100 keywords and share a report at the end of three to six months. Now, with google ads getting more places, doing plain SEO does not guarantee rankings. For a normal B2C client generating leads from a normal Google PPC or doing a normal Google my business can get you leads at a low budget client, it is easy in those cases but when I'm talking about a proper big B2B business where it's very difficult to just actually get conversions from SEO and some keywords. What is your secret mantra for B2B businesses who are just struggling out there?

I’ve done this a couple of times so I do believe that this works in the B2B space. In particular you need to have your pages broken down into three buckets for search.First, you have pages on your website about the service you provide.
For eg, in the SEO industry you have an SEO page, PPC page, social media advertising page. These pages are going to draw people, leads and prospective clients from all over the map. You might get a small business, an online publisher or a B2B big multi-million dollar company looking for an SEO services company or SEO service, so you need to be positioned for that. This is what I call the “Deciding Journey”. That is a term that a B2B sales trading company called Corporate Visions mentions a lot throughout their content. So as these different companies go through that deciding journey you need different pages on your website to cater to that deciding journey and so some of the easier examples just for pages would be, SEO services pages, blog posts about SEO but then you also need pages about specific solutions that you provide and you can do that a couple different ways. An example would be if you are an IT service provider and you provide cloud services then you want a page specifically about cloud computing. Even if somebody says they are looking for cloud computing services and you tell them that’s a concept. But if they’re looking for that solution then you need that.
The next element for B2B that I get really excited about, because it caters directly to the types of clients that you want to attract, would be building up industry pages. You see those a lot in navigations but you’ll have your services, solutions and industries.

The industries pages are high value even though they are low search volume. They are incredibly high value because you are attracting more of the clients that make sense for your business.

If I had to give a tip it would be that while evaluating your website whether, you’re in B2B or any other niche, if you’re looking for lead acquisition on your website, then check if you have these sets of 10 to 15 pages and if you don’t then that’s an obvious expansion opportunity for you to help you scale by working on packages and services and solutions that make the most sense for your business in industries that you already know.

What I understand from your conversations is, content is the key. You need to have good content otherwise you're not going to get conversions. So, as a business, how do you go about picking where to invest time on smart content and repurposing content or where you actually need to go and do a typical research. Let's say for example you just spoke about intent earlier and there's a keyword or a service for which I want to create a page, I would normally go and see the top and ranking pages, neglect pages like wiki but if all the other pages are not service pages, blog pages, I would see the number of keywords or number of words there and plant content accordingly but that requires time. So how are you able to do that you know make that choice of smart content versus actually investing time into content?

I take the lead.from the search engine. For us internally at DOM the mantra that we adhere to and hold ourselves accountable to is that for a page or asset that we have, does it serve Google based on the everything else that we’re seeing on the first page? Do we even have a piece of content to serve those needs and if we don’t then you’re swimming upstream. It doesn’t mean that you can’t rank for that keyword but the degree of difficulty goes up significantly. We have clients that have a homepage that they want to rank for an informational search and we can go against the grain on that but the turnaround time on success goes way up. You may be in a position where you need to be okay with not being the number one result of commercial page on the search result so we do a lot with that and I don’t think that’s a unique problem to DOM that is just a challenge that all in SEO space face, where you have clients who have this one page that they want to show up when they google it and it might not be the best page for the search intent and so the question is, do you create new content, do you link build to the page that the client wants or is there kind of a happy medium where there’s a blog post that gets some impression for that keyword phrase or a piece of existing content, a white paper and do we provide historical optimization and link building services at that page that meets in the middle and see that if we can rank that.
It’s always a case-by-case basis. Typically I make my decisions one of two ways, Does the client already have a page ranking for that keyword? Even if you’re in the 50s I’m more comfortable working with that page than building a page completely from scratch. I’ll check what can be done on this page that already ranks outside the top 20 or outside the top 10 what can we do to position that page before going off and creating something new. Then I check if we can do some historical updating, can we do some historical optimization on whatever page that is and give it a bump up. That would always be my first my first priority page to work on before getting into creating new content. I only create new content if a client had no footprint for it or no footprint for the keyword they wanted to rank for or if it was something related to their industry or niche but not something that they had touched on previously.

So that raises one more concern, let's say I have a service page which is already there with a keyword I want to rank on, but now if I do a research now see that the top 10 pages or the top 5 pages have different intent which means Google is trying to you know give results for that keyword which is a different intent so wouldn't this be as good as creating a new page for me? The URL is there but would it be as good as a new page or would it still be a part of smartly doing historical optimization using the URL?

At that point we treat every new URL like a landing page whether it is a blog post, transactional page or a service offering page. What we attempt is, as best as possible, to treat that page the way Google wants to run the content and then help the user take the desired step that we want them to take. So is it putting 30% of the way down the page, 60% of the way down at the page bottom, putting CTA points in to help that user take the desired action that you want them to take, get them to navigate where you want them to go or is it on a services page, do you need an FAQ where you can populate content. Presenting your pages to be that delicate mix of what Google wants to see and what you already have. How do we kind of combine those two hybrid. Those two in the middle so that when people arrive on your pages they’re getting what they are looking for as spiders arrive on your pages they are being served with what they want and expect to see. This is where the art of SEO mixes with the science.

How much of automation do you utilize to control the buyer's journey now that you have got a hook in front of him and you want to guide him into a particular direction so how much of automation goes into play?

We apply automation in some situations. Especially on the B2B side

the majority of our clients use an automation platform like Marketo or HubSpot or Pardot. They’re using it to get data into Salesforce or to get data into whatever CRM plan they prefer to use. So there are some situations where the automation isn’t done for you but you are predictably templating where the CTA’s are going to go. In other cases where we don’t have the direct connection from website conversion to CRM we can be a little bit more customized with our intent there. Our teams are very good with WordPress as are most SEO agencies, unless they specialize in a certain content management system. So whether we’re using block or we’re using classic mode or whatever version of WordPress that we’re using, as we review the copy of a page for the content or the text that’s on a page we have an idea if it is a good spot and that’s again more of an art than a science.
So we could apply the best practices to it but it’s harder to apply automation rules where you say, “We’re a third of the way down through the page, while talking about this subject. Now, do we send somebody to a case study, do we send somebody to a white paper or is this a point now we’ve gotten to a place where we convinced them that they need to take action and contact us today”. We do that a lot of a lot of time with our own content where we’ll put page breaks, we’ll put heading breaks in the middle. My favorite question to ask myself as I conclude a blog post is, what do I want this person to do next and provide them with the call to action to take that next step. If I want them to read more content about SEO, then they can click one of these three stories. Is this a place where I’ve conveyed our best case offering to have you contact us about it for a consultation? Or do I need to move you down into the next stage of the deciding journey by sending you to gated resource or a more a higher production resource to share with your boss or whoever and then through text through CTAs encourage the person to take that step.

Content is the key. When you are doing content in the form of text you can smartly plan it but when you are planning a beautiful piece of content using an infographic, what is the best strategy to plan pages where we use visual content in our SEO strategy?

Graphical content can be used in three different ways. We can use it to make the content more visually appealing and engaging. You can use infographic content whether it’s long-form infographics or its static graphics right where it’s summarizing what you’re talking about in a page. It’s a share worthy nugget that somebody can pull out of your post and then post on their own social media like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. We use it both for the purposes of engagement and for referral traffic.
We also use it for on-page SEO as well. We have the standard ways of doing image SEO for screen readers, make sure you have your alt text well-written and described, make sure that your file names are good.

One of the things that we have seen, especially since the emergence of position 0, is that Google’s computer vision technology is rapidly improving

Now when you put the dark text on a light background or you put the light text on a dark background and vice versa, they’re able to pick that up. And then image visibility, we’ve actually even been able to see them pick up on commonly used logos. One of our favorite examples of this is Amazon. In one particular case we didn’t use the word Amazon in the alt tag and normally we use the word Amazon in the file name for the hero image but we didn’t but in also we didn’t write the word in in character font we didn’t write out Amazon we just used their logo in the post and that image was ranking really well and showing up in image search and we got a ton of impressions for that image and so that was a tell to us that Google is able to read more and it makes sense with the featured snippet results that you see today. Google is able to read more than just alt tags and image file names and understand what the image is about. They’re actually able to visibly read the image today. Years ago, who would have thought that it was going to be a thing. We were all just focused on keyword spamming our images with alt tags and that was going to be the way that images were going to rank in image search. We’re definitely seeing images used for traffic potential and impression potential in the search results by designing them a certain way as well.

You gave us a lot of good material to try content wise but once the page is out there after the effort of creating that page whether its historical optimization or it's a brand new page, how do you consider doing backlinking on that page because a genuine off page, genuine blogger outreach definitely works and has value. How would you plan the link strategy once you have you know sorted out your content for a page?

First thing that we do before we ever go off site is building good internal links. It’s an SEO best practice but if you’re not doing internal linking and you just expect outbound linking to help you’re going to leave yourself short. We do heavily leverage internal link building because we have seen Google or rather search engines be a lot more forgiving or accepting depending on how you want to present it of exact match short tail anchor text inside your own website than they are outside of your website. Wikipedia is a fantastic example of this. We’ve certainly adopted that model and if a page mentions a topic that we can naturally place an internal link, then we do it. After that we look at link building that matters off page in a couple different buckets. You know your competitor set. For example if you’re in B2B content creation you’re probably competing with HubSpot or Harvard Business Review, you are especially growing a thought leadership or a consulting space and so when you compete with businesses like that, they’re your competitors for clicks even if they’re not competing with you for business. So you check what links have those pages acquired, what domains have they acquired links from and how many of those can we acquire.The tactics for the same can run all over the place, you can take a broken link building approach, an outreach approach. Next on the list is a site that is either high Domain Authority, Domain Score or Domain Relevance, regardless of who they have linked to in the past. For example, we would answer a Quora question and link to your resource even though that link might be nofollow because of Quora’s domain authority and Quora’s trust. You get two benefits, one a link from a page that Google is ranking and two referral traffic potential. Then would be high domain authority sites that are universally accepted and then you have sites that regardless of Domain Relevance, Domain Authority send keyword signals that are relevant to your keyword target. An example of this would be in the in the SaaS space, a newly created website, SaaS/helpers.org that could be a brand new website and it may not have a ranking footprint but you want to be placed there, you want to have some backlinks coming from that domain because it is topically relevant and Google is going to expect if you are a trustworthy source in that niche to have websites like that linking to you and so the tactics that we use to go about acquiring all those links can vary greatly but those kind of are the three major buckets that we look at for what sites are worth our time to acquire off-site backlinks to our to our clients.

Does it fit into one of those three buckets? Then that’s a site worth everybody’s effort and energy to try to try to get backlinks for, otherwise the domain that comes up in the report might not be top priority.

I agree. I have had clients telling me sometimes that the backlink which we have got it's not their money keyword and I tell them,” gone are the days when you want or direct anchor text to match your page and you think you'll get the juice.” It has to be natural even if it's a long and long tail keyword but if it makes sense you'll get the value from it.

What would your parting words of wisdom be for the marketers out there about doing historical optimisation smartly?

Don’t forget that Google has all kinds of history on you as a searcher, they also have all kinds of history on your domain and they like using the older stuff just as much as they appreciate the fact that you are creating new stuff. So, if you have a blog post or a piece of content that any kind of piece of content that you feel is dated, to Google it’s going to be more valuable to update that old piece that they’ve been crawling forever and they know is reliably going to be there and will forever cherish because they have it in the cache. It’s going to be a better investment of your time then just continually doing new blog posts unless you’re competing in the 24/7 news cycle in your industry you’re a trade publication. Before you jump into a strategy for blogging or for new content creation or whatever kind of media it is, take a look back at what you already have and don’t invent something new if you have something successful and that applies to the historical optimization topic. That also applies if you’re moving your website. Does your services URL need to change just because you’re redesigning in a new platform? If it doesn’t you can probably keep those URLs pretty close together. Do that instead of changing around your entire URL platform and then bogging everything down with redirects and link outreach that you need to do for reclamation etc. You’re saving everyone, your SEO consultant and your internal team and yourself headaches that could have a long-term impact.

Thank you for your tips on historical optimization strategy. I'm sure a lot of people are going to benefit from it.

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