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Unveiling the Secrets of Successful SEO

An Interview with Steve Winter

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Steve Winter, Founder and President of Astoundz, an SEO Online Marketing Company.
Steve Winter provides valuable perspectives on successful digital marketing practices and the key elements that contribute to business growth and customer satisfaction. Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

It’s not all about traffic, right? It’s about quality traffic.

Steve Winter
Founder and President of Astoundz

Hi.

Everyone. This is Ranmay Rath on your show, E-Coffee with Experts. Today, we have Steve Winter, who is the founder and president at Astoundz with us. Welcome to our show, Steve

Look forward to it. Thank you for having me.

Great. Steve, before we move forward and talk about digital marketing at large and hear insights from you, I request you to introduce yourself, talk a bit about your journey this far, and also about Astoundz, your agency, before we take it forward.

Yeah. So I’ve been in the IT world for a very long time. I’m an old man here. I’ve been doing it for about 30 years. I had a company called Ergoz. It’s Ergoz.com, still around, was a managed services provider that we grew and I sold out about 12 years ago. And today’s probably one of the largest privately held managed service companies. So as I jokingly say, my IT habit feeds my real estate habit. When I sold that company, bought commercial real estate, and residential real estate, and still own a lot of that. And six, seven years ago, some guys approached me about starting an SEO company. And I said, no way, I get the same email as everyone else gets and I don’t want those. And they talked me into going and seeing it. And long story short, we originally licensed the methodology out of a group out of Dallas. And I said, Look, if I can sell five or 10 accounts in the first few months or whatever, we’ll make a run after this. And in the first six months, we sold 42 accounts. Anyway, long story short. So that’s how we got started. I thought seven years ago we were very late in the game and we can’t be more dead in the middle of it right now.

You only experience it once you keep your foot in it, right? Yeah. Agreed. And now you want to experience, in terms of your experience with the SPA, what key factors contribute to the success of a startup. And then today’s competitive market. And how do you identify opportunities and navigate through potential challenges there?

As I say all the time, sales cure all ills, right? And so from our standpoint, I had a lot of connections still in the IT world. I am involved in several high-end breakfast clubs here in Houston that is one person from the industry very overt out there about building business. And so I have a lot of connections. And very early on, I merged with another company that had been a 12-year web development company here and the lady who’s our chief marketing officer now, Lisa, has a large background, large network, and all that. She and I work on building the business in sales. As I’ve always joked, I’ve never been hands-on. I am not a hands-on technical person at all, but I’ve been in technology now for 30 years. So it’s one of those things that I hire good people around me that know it, that know it well. I can speak it and talk it to entrepreneurs and business owners and the such. I can speak technology in very plain terms where they understand it. I think that’s helped. And then as is with Ergos and with Astoundz, with our name Astoundz, it’s there because we want to astound you.

We want to make sure we do a great job in what we do. And especially here in Houston, Texas, if you do your job and you do it well, and as big of a town as it is, it’s a big small town, and word gets around on who does their work, who stands behind it. So if you’re selling and you can sell and then you hire properly and get good people around you in the service business, I think you can always do well.

Absolutely. As you mentioned, breakfast clubs, it’s all about maintaining strong relationships. Not only in terms of prospecting fresh acquisition but also in maintaining a strong relationship with your customers. It’s quite essential for your long-term success. In the end, it’s like we call repeat business the best business. What strategies do you employ to foster company loyalty and create a positive brand image for your ventures?

In both of these ventures, what I am always after and have been after is what I refer to as RIBIIs, which are recurring billable events. A little play on the baseball term, but that’s what we want recurring billable events. And so that’s why, yes, we do websites and yes, we do hosting, but the main thing we do is the search engine optimization work. And we’re after that recurring billable event. And with our agreements, we do not require any long-term agreements. We tell all of our clients, we want you with us because you like us and because we’re providing a good return on investment. And we have many, many of our clients been with us a very long time. And they will tell you that we are the least expensive salesperson that they can hire for hundreds to maybe $1,000 or $2,000 a month, depending. And it all varies and depends on how competitive it is and what you’re going after. But we are always a lot less than a salesperson, yet we can bring in as much or way more than a typical salesperson can. And when you can help the company grow, they tend to stick with you.

Absolutely. At the end of the day, it is a numbers game talking about sales on the revenue side of things. Once the numbers are adding up, there is no reason if you have a good relationship on top of it, the stickiness comes alongside. There’s no rocket science. People talk about a lot of repeat business. You should not have a leaking bucket. You should have recurring revenue coming in from a particular client, be it enterprise, or small-scale. But if you tick mark those small daily boxes, it’s just there. If you can just keep up your word in terms of what your pitch and what you’re delivering, it’s as simple as that. You did touch upon SEO, Steve. How do you approach competitive analysis in SEO for, let’s say, a new pitch or a new client that’s getting on board? How do you identify opportunities to outperform the competitive competition of competing websites in search engine rankings?

We use multiple different tools, but one of the biggest ones we use is Semrush. We’ll do a lot of keyword analysis there, and you use their keyword magic tool and different things to see what they’re doing, how they’re doing. We start with a questionnaire with our clients to find out who they think their competitors are, and what keywords they want to show up for, just so we get an understanding of their business. But once we have that, then we go and do the analysis and we’ll look at what are the volume keywords. And sometimes there may be a volume keyword, but it’s not their business. So that’s what you’ve got to… We talked about it. It’s not all about traffic, right? It’s about quality traffic. It’s about traffic that matters, but it’s about conversions. And so it’s identifying what are the true keywords people are looking for when they’re looking for their business, and then going out and then seeing how competitive is that keyword. We’ve got all kinds of tools out there that tell us. Not to mention the fact if you can see if people are paying for ads and spending lots of money on these keywords, you can tell very quickly how competitive some things are.

Then we go look at the competitors and we do competitive analysis to see what the competitors’ domain authorities are, how they’re doing, what size their websites are, how robust they are, how long they’ve been around, all that type of stuff, so we can see where we can and can’t compete in a timely fashion.

Absolutely. When you talk about businesses, if you ask them about their competition, they will just trust me, referring to the ones which they see. They are right in front of their eyes, especially local competition. But when we as marketers go and do our research, we find out in most cases that the online presence is being taken up by names that they do not even feel are their competition. And then they are taking the market share without the knowledge because they feel that the competition lies right there in their territory. And some names take up online presence and you’re taking up the market share without even them knowing it. That is why it is very important to educate them and make them understand how the online game is played and how you got to have that market share to have that quality footfall that you are referring to.

Yes.

You please elaborate more on some of the effective techniques and best practices that entrepreneurs should employ to optimize the website structure for improved search engine rankings?

Well, so we look at it. We say there are four legs to the stool. First of all, this is hard. You say for entrepreneurs, this is where I think you have to be smart. Some people are very technically astute, but a lot of them aren’t. Keeping up with SEO and what to do is not an easy game. We’re in it every day and it’s changing and it’s hard for us. As an entrepreneur, I think if you want to have an online presence and compete in the marketplace, you do need to find a good partner, number one. But what we do when we look at it is number one, your site has to be set up technically the right way. You have to conform to just the basic technical things. The analogy is you have a site map with a table of contents and you have what’s referred to as a robot TXT file, which tells Google of that table of contents, what pages you want to index, and things like that. And those are just basic technical things. Then you have your headings, your H1s, your page titles, and all these different things. And there are limitations on how many characters and all to do this stuff properly.

But that’s what you have to do, number one, is have it on a good platform. It’s got to be fast, it’s got to be secure, and you have to set it up properly. That’s number one. Analytically, then you have to go look at where can you and can not compete. If you’re competing against Home Depot and Lowe’s and you’re a small local company, it’s going to be hard depending on what it is you’re trying to do. And so you’ve got to see where you can and can’t compete. And if you’re going to compete on a local basis, are you going to compete on a national basis? And what budget do you have? And then the next one is the functional aspect of it is that Google still does rank on quality content. And even more so now than ever, you have to have really good content. And that content not only has to be in-depth, but we like having FAQs on there now because of voice search and all the things that are going on out there. So you’ve got to have good compelling content. And then last is that you have to have domain authority.

And so the only way to get that, or the best way to get it is with really good high-quality backlinks to your site. And so if you do four things, you can get there. But I’ve had some great analogies, like running a marathon. You can’t go run once and think you’re in shape, and you can’t go get in shape and stop running and think you’re going to stay in shape. And SEO is the same way. It takes time. You have to continually work at it, and you have to continually watch it to see how you’re doing and make sure that you’re doing the right things to stay out there. But it’s an investment and it is a long play game. You can do paid ad words and other things, especially in the interim in the beginning, until you can compete on the organic side. And then with local search and your Google business listing with your SEO and you’re organic with paid ads, you’ve got Google guaranteed depending on your business and different ways that you can get up there. And we’re not even talking about social media yet, but this is all just about search and SEO on how you can compete out there.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s an amalgamation of so many things that it keeps you on your toes. And you didn’t mention a very valid point at the beginning of having the right partner because it is changing every day and we are in it and we are finding it tough to catch up with it. And people who have the end of it are our business. For people who are running for something else, the bread and butter is something else, they cannot focus all the time to stay on top if you talk about their digital marketing propositions. And it’s nice that you touched upon link building for domain authority, for building that presence in Google size. How do you approach that as talent? How do you approach that link building in a way that goes beyond quantity and emphasizes the importance of acquiring authoritative and relevant backlinks that truly contribute to your client’s website and online presence?

One of the first things we do, especially with you, is making sure you have your Google business listing, especially if you’re trying to do a local search, and then building citations. And Make sure that citations are nothing more than your name, address, and phone number, but make sure it is consistent across the internet, across all the different listing sites. Because of all these listing sites, the Googles, the Bings, Facebook, anything out there that might have your name, address, and URL and on it, the more consistent it is, the easier it is for the search engines to know where you are. And all those, especially from these bigger search engines, are all good backlinks to your website. So we want to make sure that all the citations are correct. That’s our quickest and easiest gain. Beyond that, then we are going out and looking at industry-specific high-domain authority sites that we will go create content for and link back to these sites. And we do some of that internally. We do it with partners. We’ve got a two or three-pronged approach there to get good-quality backlinks.

Great. Talking about links, while we did speak about Tide tow, getting guest posts and good-quality backlinks can be challenging. Those genuine backlinks, earlier it was easy. You just play around with the quantity, but Google becomes smarter by the day, as we all know. What is your take on building those genuine, good-quality backlinks? How difficult is it? How should one go around doing it?

Well, like I said, again, you find a partner that can help you do it because to go do it organically by yourself, to go search companies and get them to do it and all that, it’s really hard. But what you’ve got to do is have a high-quality partner, and that’s what we’ve got that we work with with what we’re doing. And we have seen it. We’ve played around with different higher-volume backlinks with different things from the Fiver world and different areas that say they can do a lot of things for you. We always come back to get good, what we know, or high-quality content, and high-quality backlinks that we don’t run into any issues with them and help us. And we see that it moves the needle for our clients, especially on those terms that you’re either sitting on that second page or the bottom of the first page. And you’re trying to compete on competitive terms that we slowly build backlinks. And it’s like you were talking about Google, you can’t just go throw a hundred of them at it and all that.

Plus, you can’t afford it anyway, typically. But we build them out over time and sure enough, we see it slowly progress. And over 3, 6, 9, or 12 months, we can typically get to that first page.

Absolutely. In the beginning, we did discuss conversions being so important because those are the numbers that every business wants to see at the end of the month, quarter, or year. Talking about conversions, what are some of the most advanced ERO practices that businesses can implement according to you to increase their conversion rates?

Well, it’s something you’re working with all the time and doing different testing with and all that. But we’ve gone to… First of all, you want to make it easy. You don’t want people to have to search. And so on every page, we want to have where people can easily get to a form or a phone number, whatever it is to convert. And we try to keep things very simple. Once you get their name and phone number and email, you don’t need any more than that. You can get the rest of it later, but what you want to do is get them to convert. And we have newsletters. We’ve done different things where we’ll do different white papers and things and get people access to that. But really, it’s all about making it easy number one, to convert, giving them quick access to it. We also create better-looking forms. We try to put some information on there. It’s like on our own where we have our 100 % guarantee and things like that. The other thing that matters in different ways, and we may talk about this a little bit too, is having really good reviews.

Everyone pays attention to reviews now. I love it. Some of our clients say, Well, we don’t need reviews. We’re above that. It’s like, you say that, but everyone looks at reviews. And not to mention that, it also helps because we put from Google came out with an algorithm two or three years ago, an update called EAT, which was expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Focused more on financial and medical sites. But I think like everything Google does, it gets into every site these days. And so they’re looking for that credibility. Having these good reviews and then we have plug-ins that stream these five-star reviews on the homepage so people see right away that this is a good, trustworthy client, that they’ve got good reviews. And reviews are very important to manage and maintain from a reputation standpoint, but they also help from a conversion standpoint because people see that it is a trustworthy client to be able to convert and know that you’re not going to get spammed or get taken, those types of things.

I’m really glad you brought up on that point. I wanted to speak about it in our reviews. We have seen a lot of five-pointer ones which do not look so genuine. If you look at reviews like 4.3, 4.5 ish, 4.7 ish, and it rather looks more genuine versus all the five-pointers with just a few reviews and a very less number of reviews and reviews all five of us. No one actually writes about the experience that they might have had with the business and just leaves reviews, it shows that those might not be very genuine reviews, those might be fake, or whatever. What is your take on that? How do you feel? What should be the parameter of reviews looking more genuine to a prospective buyer?

Well, that’s what we create. Part of what we do is create a domain name reviews page that takes people’s rights. It makes it very easy to get to the Google review page for people to give Google reviews that we work with our clients on. But you look at us, I think we have a one-star review out there that is someone. The name was, it used to be anyway, I haven’t looked at it in the last few days, but it was anonymous. So they put it in as anonymous and was no one that we knew who it was. But on all reviews, we respond to all of them. When we ask our clients to write a review, we ask them to explain what their experience was with us. So if you go look as an example at our reviews, you know that they’re real reviews and we respond to every one of them. And that’s what we talk to our clients about good or bad, respond to the review, because it’s really how you try. It’s hard. And we’ve been very lucky, knock on wood, that we haven’t had negative reviews even from just the anonymity of the world out there doing it and all that.

But if we ever get one, our intention is always to astound our clients. And if we fall short, we want to make it right. We try to do right by our clients all the time. And I think if you do that, that’s where you can start to see if they’re real reviews or not. And it used to be easier maybe to game the system, but it’s not as easy now. And if people just see one word review awesome or great or whatever, then you know, yeah, maybe not so much. And that’s why I think people do pay attention and go and dig into the reviews a little more to see what’s real, and not real, and how they’re responded to.

Yeah, actually, on the contrary, I’m totally in which tells you if those reviews are like two, three-liners, people spend more time on it, going through it, understanding the review versus like you mentioned, awesome, very good, super, all these reviews, they actually do not look that real, even if those are, and I’m not saying that those are fake, but those are these reviews which analytics the experience of me purchasing or using your product or service, really leaves that impression on your prospective buyer’s mind. And then even if it is something which is not, let’s say, if I have a bad experience with your business, I leave a bad review, you go back, you fix up my experience, you sort the problem out. It can be anything around the package or whatever product service I would have taken from you. Then if I go back on your page and leave a positive review that, Hey, Steve fixed this, this shows that it is of much higher importance that even if anything goes wrong, this business goes back, takes care of it, and fixes it versus just leaving it that way. That shows more… It speaks more volumes about the business ethics that one has.

Yeah. I agree. Steve, I cannot leave you without talking about the burning topic of AI. We are all in this com of AI chat, the GPT part. What is your take on this? I know for sure it’s heading times ahead, but where do you think we are heading?

Boy, that’s a great question. And if I had that crystal ball, but we are talking to a lot of people in the industry that know a lot about it. We’ve been using it, right? I mean, we’ve used it for a long time just helping with content development and things like that. And it’s pretty phenomenal what it can do. There’s no doubt. And we were talking about it. There were some folks, there were articles out there today that Google is going to go away in 10 years. Well, first of all, it’s going to happen a lot quicker than 10 years. We’re going to continue to see a lot of change in the next 3 to 5 years with what this is going to do. How it’s going to bring back results. I think people still… Again, it’s grabbing information from websites. It’s grabbing information out in the big giant domain of all of these different things and bringing back results. But there is no doubt I think we’re going to get richer and richer results because of it. We’re going to have content and good quality content is going to continue to be very important.

But as much as I’ve been in this, and I’ve been in the IT world now for 30 years, and there’s a lot of things that I thought, boy, it’s going to change and we’re going to be out of business tomorrow and all that. But the one thing that I’ve truly understood is that a lot more people with a lot less knowledge than us are a lot more scared of technology than we are. And I think what we’re going to be able to do is learn it and leverage it and continue to do what we do in whatever fashion it is. And that a lot of the population is still going to need a lot of help. It doesn’t matter how smart this intelligence is. You’re still going to have to understand it and be able to figure out how to use it and all. But it’s going to impact how things are done.

Perfect. Steve, thank you so much for all your insights. But before we finally let you go, I just wanted to play a quick, rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.

Okay. Yeah. What was your last Google search?

What was my last Google search?

You can check it on its system. It’s an open-book one.

Nope, it was for fireworks for the fourth of July coming up, buying wholesale fireworks.

Nice. Your plans for your next vacation?

Scotland. Golf trip. Are you?

A night person or a morning person?

Night person.

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

What is what?

Let’s say we have to make a movie about you. What genre would it be?

What genre? Country and Western.

Okay, nice. What is the best thing that you like about your job, about your office, about this industry? You can pick anyone.

That we’re helping clients grow their businesses and we’re very family oriented around it. Our friends are clients and our clients are friends.

Okay, great. Last one. I will not drill you any further. Favorite book?

Favorite book. I’ve got a couple of them. One of them is The Go-Giver, which again is more of a sales book. I Like To Move My Cheese. I’ve had to reinvent myself two or three times. Good to Great are some books that I like. Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is my last one.

Great. Thank you so much, Steve. It has been a real pleasure hosting you. I’m sure our audiences would have benefited a lot from what they heard from you in terms of SEO, digital marketing, and helping clients at large to grow. A big thank you for taking the time for this podcast. I appreciate it.

You bet. Thank you.

Great. The next time we get on a more detailed episode, I would rather want your entire tagline, One Search, One Click, One Company to be visible in the background.

Yeah. I’ll do it with my whole logo back there. We’ve got a podcast room that I’m working on that it’s got too much light coming into it. I ordered some blinds and stuff like that so we can use that more often

Great. Superb. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

All right. You too. Thank you

Thank you.

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