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For this episode of E Coffee with Experts Matt Fraser hosted Mark Herre, CEO and founder of SEO Game. Mark discusses the evolution of keyword research and content development over time and along with his top strategies for enhancing a website’s search usability. Watch now for some truly insightful thoughts.
SEO will never die. Until there are website owners, who understand what it means to be number one SEO will be around.
Hello everyone. Welcome to this episode of E Coffee with Experts. I’m your host, Matt Fraser. And on today’s show, I have with me, Mark Herre. Mark is the CEO and founder of SEO Game, a performance-based SEO agency headquartered in Spanish Fork, Utah. He has over 26 years of experience doing SEO from the time he launched his company in 1996. When not working on SEO campaigns for clients, Mark enjoys spending time writing historical fiction books. Mark, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show.
Hello, Matt. Nice to meet you.
You as well. So, Mark, how would your teachers describe you as a high school student?
I loved my teachers in high school. I was a sports jock. So, the things I always enjoyed are the teachers that I could play football with and then they taught me math. I took the ball and hit the bigger players. So, they would just describe me as a go-getter, probably.
Okay. Right on. That’s awesome. In high school what was one of your favorite subjects?
Oh, definitely it wasn’t math. My favorite subjects were history, and later, I went ahead and pursued a master’s degree in history. I do write historical fiction books currently, it’s my passion to write. I would just gobble everything up. And that’s why after school I got a bookkeeping degree and an accounting degree. I really wanted to get a history degree. That afforded me time and that’s why I was in college again after I finished, I started doing history stuff.
So, how did you make the transition from those things into digital marketing? For instance, I noticed that you had a position at 10x Marketing back in the day.
At 10x marketing and a lot of companies, but before even any of that, I started my own company. But at that time, I was in college, I was in a liberal arts college studying history and political economy, and science. And my provost, who I went back to school, said I was making too much money with this internet service provider, ISP SEO company that I started within there and it started with the SEO game. In the promos and the president of the small college said, you’re making too much money, Mark, make us a lot of money. Because I was at the time living in Georgia doing SEO and lots of accounts in that early period in 1996.
That is like back in the day before CMS websites, HTML, and CSS. You must have seen a lot of things change. What was the difference between doing SEO then and now? Like, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
Well, lots of changes if you talk about the details. But what’s really cool is there is no change when it comes to the mindset of those who own websites. Today the same hotel owner, tours a cabin rental company in a tourist place. You know, I lived in St George and there was a lot of tourism with all the national parks. Every hotel wanted to be number one and every general manager and owner of those websites knew what it meant to be number one. Today they still know what it means to be number one.
So, yeah, people throughout the years, what I’ve always seen happen with shifts is, what people would ask me, isn’t SEO dead? And I say, are you kidding me? Not when you have the mindset of these website owners who know what it means to be number one, that will never change. So, SEO will never die.
Yeah. I don’t think it will ever. That’s very interesting. So, what was it that drew you, I mean you started off in a totally different field. What motivated you to start doing SEO back then and start your own agency?
Well, I was in college, trying to get a family set up. All the things that you would do when you’re about 28 years old. At that time SEO was going crazy. It wasn’t Google, it was how many search engines you can place me and there were few big bigger searches. I remember the day when Google came to be a big player, and I went to a group of these chamber board people. And I said, now here’s what you need to watch out for in 2000, you need to look out for this company called Google and they laughed me out of that room. They thought that was the funniest thing I ever came out of my mouth. I was there to add as an extra witness of where the future is for SEO and they thought that was a joke. Wow. Look where the joke is. It’s on them.
I had my own business and they didn’t particularly go in that direction. They still believed it in some other method way. And it wasn’t the way I chose. So, I continue to plug along year after year in my magic. Google is pretty much the mainstay. I love getting number-one rankings on Bing. I always love having conversations with people. I would say, hey, you want me to show you how I can get Bing rankings in a couple of weeks? Usually, if they’re open to it, yeah it was even a strategy that is important because edge and new laptops browsers are defaulting to Bing.
Are people not changing to Google?
I don’t think so. Well, how would you be if you don’t know how to do that? Every time I open up the edge it still so it’s just kind of a little fun thing. I just self-plugging away just like the browser wars of Netscape and Microsoft.
It’s interesting. That’s one of the biggest mistakes I think Microsoft has made. I think they’ve made two critical mistakes in their existence as a company. One, they laughed at the Internet, they didn’t think it was something to pay attention to. Internet Explorer 6 is said to be one of the worst inventions of the 20th century and I would agree. As a web designer it was a terrible browser to work with. I’m so glad they adopted chromium as a base, even though Firefox wasn’t very happy. And then they made mobile phones. Even Bill Gates said we did not put enough resources behind mobile technology, especially when Microsoft owned 98% of the market share when mobile devices first came out, going back to the pocket PC days and the PDAs and so on and so forth. And then Steve Jobs just came along and just cleaned the house. It’s amazing. But in that regard, like for an SEO perspective, like are there any other significant changes you’ve seen since Google’s come on that you can recall, like a specific algorithm update or something that really surprised you?
I love that question. Not only in the last four years have things been made actually a lot easier for SEO companies and the changes that have transpired. I mean, you can’t ignore now the search console site auditor check. That test is so critical now to get your front-end developer right into it asap. The score, even if it’s 80, get it to 100 as fast as you can. It doesn’t hurt to even focus on the key metrics at the same time. So, the core vital of these checks is standardized now. Well, I can’t even emphasize enough how easy SEO is now. I like training the digital marketers I work with, these are things you could definitely be on because I think the scores continue in the history, in the dashboards I work with, they continue to change and fluctuate. But you got to keep on it and that’s really the game changer in my opinion. What it is in the last three years. My company’s been focusing on it. When we do a quick 30-day trial and SEO on a performance-based model and I worked behind the scenes for about 20 or so agencies. So, they love knowing all of these partners I worked with, and enjoy having me. You are able to explain how it’s done so they could possibly do it on their own clients, maybe their grandfather clients that aren’t yet ready to turn over to me because there’s not enough budget to hire. It is like an extra vendor on the scene but maybe for you because I’m a perfect fit to get at that core vital fix and that site auditor and I’m still on some speed.
You know back in the day like the days of market samurai and keyword research seemed to be a hell of a lot easier to do. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in regard to keyword research and content development?
I used SEMrush and it’s just a quick way. But a lot of times you don’t get the data that you need, and neither do you get the data for other websites. So, you could always reverse engineer a competitor site to get some quick AI data, I can’t think of that, there are just too many ways that empirical evidence is out there that this empirical data can prove to an owner of a website, as well as the agency that’s overseeing that. It is too important for me to not use AI data because I have to use it and then share ideally, a good scope of the top 30-40 keywords before we get started on working on a website. But it’s not a done deal, I’m not trying to push an agenda with keywords. I think what’s not changed is just the simple tool of your common sense. There are certain keywords that are always going to get searched and AI might not pick up on those. So, I always just have to use a lot of common sense sometimes, human intelligence as well, I would say. That’s what I’m good at from 26 years since I started. Just Monday morning here, I’ve already got three or two orders to get a keyword on it for sites that are willing to get started with my services and so I’ve got to produce these keyword audits all the time and I better make sure they look really good. And keyword audits are not big long five-page things. It’s a one-page tear sheet that really has identified to the digital marketer that, yes, I have your best interest for this client. These are the top keywords. But has the client mentioned anything that’s more important, like we’re missing an extra sitting? There’s this plumber to h back, there’s this dentist implant dentist who wants to focus on the $20,000 plant versus the teeth whitening operation. So, I’ve got to always kind of interact with the client, with the agency to make sure I get it right. But I’m always looking for keywords that are common sense and human intelligence and you can’t ignore that. You can just send some lists randomly generated at SEMrush.
It’s interesting you mentioned artificial intelligence. That’s definitely been something that has come about in the last few years and has kind of been a game-changer. I’m not a huge user of SEMrush, so forgive me, but is that the artificial intelligence you’re referring to?
Yeah, like on a website. And if the website has any history behind it, it’ll spit out good data.
Yeah, I wasn’t aware that it was using personal intelligence.
That’s a great tool for it. There are other tools as well and I use them. But SEMrush seems to be on the top of my list, for my go-to use.
Are there any other tools you would recommend?
No. No, because I don’t use very many others.
That’s it. Again, I’m just trying to come up with trophy keywords. No, I’m not looking to get a long list.
So, for those who may not know what those are, trophy keywords would be.
The keywords that an agency owner or a business owner of the website would say. Man, if I could just be number one for these top 20. These are my trophy keywords. These are the ones that we really want and that’s what I always try to do.
Yeah, absolutely. Have you ever come across a situation where it doesn’t make sense to rank those trophy keywords?
How do you handle situations?
This morning a website said, let’s get started. They were a coffee company, that wants to be number one for the word coffee. This is a common staple and I kind of look at websites sometimes where the owner of the website says, hey, can we get number one for the word coffee? Let’s get started on this. And they don’t really have the budget. They’re just a startup of coffee. I don’t know why it’s just a general staple today that just came in today and I push back a little bit. I said, well, what kind of coffee is this? Is this like some coffee keyword that we can actually get, number one? because I look to keywords sometimes, if I could buy the product at the dollar store, go to Walmart, or if it’s easily accessible at Amazon, there’s like 20,000 vendors at Amazon all selling the same thing. I just kind of look at it and go, really? Do you want to be number one? Because they all want to take advantage of my 30-day trial. So, I’m a performance-based SEO, I never take in plenty up front. I have to perform. I can’t get the number one keyword in 30 days for the word coffee.
Interesting. So, what made you decide to go that road, a performance-based model?
With my pivot. Around 17 years ago, I was in an industry that was competitive, so I just wanted to gravitate where other digital marketers were, who were handling the entire book of business clients. And I was good at it and I already had a track record, a history of doing it anyway. Why not just aim to target all the agencies and digital marketing companies and offer a 30-day trial because guess what? There are already floating websites to me anyway, there I would say, get going. You know you can do this. So, all in put it on my website, and put my prices on there because agencies have a model and they want to work with vendors that make them look good. And I have a goal on my end to that find that will help them make them look good. And so, of course, I’m going to pivot to offer 30-day performance-based SEO based on the agency’s needs to look good and make a lot of money and never having to go back to bite them and having fun doing that when they’re making money when you know their client’s websites are taken care of.
What part do you think AI will play in the future for you?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I have a good answer about that.
Well, that’s fine. I mean, there are platforms out there that are enterprise-level like conductor. I can’t remember what it’s called. I know one called Quarter they are using AI for machine learning to go out and basically deduce and tell you what needs to be done. It’s quite fascinating. I mean, have you had any experience with AI-assisted content for doing SEO? It seems to be the big talk right now about whether you should use Jasper or Copy.ai or some of the other platforms that are doing AI-assisted content.
I really am not using much of that tool. The only tool I’m going to go back to is, I know Google is going to improve, content improve their site auditor. Search console is going to continue to improve and other companies like GT Metrics are going to continue to get bought out by Google. Search technology is going to get more standardized as long as those things are coming out of Google and saying you must adhere to and follow these principles and basically focus on these, that’s where I’m focused. So, again, I perform for a digital marketing agency. If they come to me and I haven’t had yet that experience where they said, Mark just like IP spoofing back in 1999 was a big deal and we need to figure out how to program IP spoofing. And if Conductor and Jasper and all of these other companies are coming out and if an agency says we need you on it, I’ll follow to what they want me to do. But for right now, I’m just focusing on the search console and GT Metrics.
So, what is your main focus then? I mean, the people who have kind of our industry have progressed over the years, in regards to being able to actually segment SEO into on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical. Which one of those three things, which is the one that you enjoy doing the most?
All of the above, any SEO company has to be focused on Google my business. Making sure that the websites are verified, whether it’s a national e-com or anything. They still have to have one, in my opinion. Then you have to have on-page and link-building all at the same time. So, those are the three core pillars of every SEO company, you’ve got to always do all three at the same time. Then the new thing that I just continued is I’m going to keep hitting it is the search console, the site auditor. So yeah, all of that has to be done at the same time. You have to know how to do it all at the same time.
In your opinion, what are the three main strategies to improve your website’s search usability?
Well, you’ve got to make sure that you’re working with the two main properties of Google, which are obviously YouTube and Google my business profile. And then you got to always do on-site and you always got to do link building. And how you do it always has to be unique, because every website comes to you with its baggage and every website has maybe a new start or an old start, maybe a lackluster start, maybe over spam start. For whatever reason, you can’t generalize. That’s what the strategy is today. It’s relevant to every website. So, we work on websites that are local, national e-commerce, and SAAS software. And, you know, they might even want to brand a little bit, too. I work on all websites that deserve to be number one. What’s great about the service that I provide that’s unique is that I can identify with every website, what the top terms of keywords are, and then without twisting arms, I like to produce a one-page keyword on it and then share that with the agency, let them know that I put my stamp of approval of these keywords and I can perform in 30 days. So, I have a 30-day trial that basically gets started. No rank, no pay for the agency and I take the risk right off the weight, right off the digital marketer’s hand and SEO companies. And then the job is done.
How do you keep up with the algorithm changes that have happened over the years?
Well, obviously it’s got to be easier. When they brought in the search console and the site auditor and that just the algorithms are always changing. Right. The biggest one is the Google my business listing. What Google giveth, Google taketh away. It’s my opinion, there are always going to be some fluctuations in keywords like the Near Me keywords. One minute we’re in, everybody’s getting them, and then boom, there’s an algorithm change. I think that’s one of the biggest changes I see when I’m managing a lot of websites. And my team lead comes to me and says the near me keywords are gone off the radar and we log in to the dashboard at Agency Analytics. And sure enough, about five or six clients had their near-me keyboards kicked to the curb. But some of the near-me stayed there. So, you’re just banging your head and scratching and pulling your hair out, wondering what’s going on? Yeah, just plug away and you get the stuff back and things tweak and change and get your near-me keywords back. That’s the only thing that I’ve seen in big algorithm changes. There are others, I’ve seen with local sites. There are things that change with editors at Google my business, at headquarters where they oversee and that’s a whole other game. But they’re getting really tight. They’re doing video verifications. They’re taking about 15-16 days now to verify websites. If there’s a question involved. And then 16 days later, they say, we’re sorry, we will not list this website, even though it’s a powerful company. I’m seeing a lot of that just recently websites that come to me and say, Let’s get started and they only got their GMB profile set up the day before. And so, there’s still a lot of things worked out at Google suspends, sometimes unverified, so that I’m seeing a lot more right now that’s the biggest thing that happening.
Did you have any clients hit with the Google helpful content updates in a negative way?
Probably, but I don’t have anything to share about that.
Oh, that’s fine. I thought maybe in general terms you could. What are your thoughts on SEO testing? There are communities that are built around SEO testing and even the website SEOtesting.com. People are doing their testing a while ago I guess it was Karl Rove that kind of brought about it and made it the normal thing, which she kind of paid a price for with Google. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t have any thoughts on that, really.
Okay, sure. No problem.
When I was thinking of testing. There are sites that are launching that are going to be under my purview pretty soon. I’m going to get started on some websites, especially this one website that isn’t in a testing environment. It hasn’t gone through all the switches. And there’s a lot of debate within the teams that I’m working with because I am a player with other digital marketers and they’re like saying, should we get it all optimized before we go live, or should we do it now? And I’m a big believer of just getting that website live ASAP. Let’s get that, let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s get the site number one. But forget whatever is going to delay that website. If we’re delaying it on media tags, then yeah, forget about it. Let’s get that website live.
Okay, cool. What are the key considerations you take into account when conducting a website on it?
Yeah, it’s back again to the keyword audit that I do to identify the top keywords. Obviously, the dental implant dentist is not going to work very well. If he doesn’t have a cost page, a full mouth dental, or all on for maybe even a dental implant page himself, He just has a drive-by content marketing because he’s just like got a FAQ page, here’s what we do and it just like a line of implants. And yet the dentist is like, I want that $20,000 client. I want to be number one for dental implants in San Antonio. And so there might be five pages of content that we have to build to get a dental implant for their top dental keyword.
What are your thoughts on pillar pages? Do you implement pillar pages for those keywords?
We build the cost on it. First of all, we’ll have to have more content than on the FAQ page. So, we’ll have a full dental implant page. We’re going to have to have maybe a city dental, it’ll have to be like San Antonio dental implant, it’ll have a centennial dental implant, cost page, full mouth dental implant and then all of four because those are the kinds of procedures that some people are looking for and they’re the kinds of keywords that when the client is interacting with that dentist, that’s your way to get that client to make the phone call. So, they get that customer in the door and the dentist can make $10000 to $20000 of that. And you know, you got to do that for every website that is there, I’m just using dental implants but that’s generally a similar thing that I see. You’ve got to build that page and you got to do it fast and know how to do it.
Lastly, What’s the big takeaway you want listeners to get from this episode?
My key takeaway is just getting to know you, Matt. We had a great conversation before and I’m looking forward to continuing to find ways to be a business partner. So, my takeaway with any digital marketer is that, if you’re looking for a white label, ask your company if they might be able to engage what I’m doing and see if there’s a right fit that fits into the model of your agency in that way that we could explore ways that we could partner together.
Absolutely. The partnership is key. Well, hey, if our listeners want to connect with you online, how can they do so?
Sure. You can visit me at SEOGame.com and you can find me on LinkedIn as well and we can have a conversation.
Right on. I’ll make sure to put out those links to your website and LinkedIn, in the show notes. Hey, thank you so much for coming to the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here and talking to you.
Thank you so much, Matt.
Have a good day.
You too, sir.
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