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This episode of Ecoffee with Experts features Taylor Kurtz, Founder of Crush The Rankings, SEO and Business Professor. Matt got Taylor to share his journey from working at a law firm to becoming a self-taught SEO professional. Taylor further enunciated the SEO practices to follow and avoid to achieve top rankings and growth.
If you’re self-employed, stay hungry. Be driven to build your business. Be hungry even if you rank number one on your website, because someone wants your position.
Thanks for having me. That sounds great.
No, it was I got gifted the opportunity. As you said, my major was Sports Management, and my passion is sports. So that was kind of the industry I was planning to go on. But, as you said, also, I was working in law firms, and at that time, my boss, who was the owner of the law firm, had been paying an SEO company, and I, at this time, it’s like 2015, had never heard of SEO. And, which leads kind of in today’s discussion, his domain got blacklisted by Google. And I didn’t know anything about any of this. I was just told, okay, he’s not on Google anymore. And one day, he dropped a book like a literal. I just tacked it up recently, but a literal book, the size of a bible about SEO, is on my lap. And I’d ask him, what does SEO mean? And explaining search engine optimisation, he said, I want you to learn this.
I don’t trust these fellows anymore. And that’s kind of what I did. I just dove headfirst. And he gave me the resources to go to conferences and kind of network with people who enabled me to learn the right way to do things and things of that nature. And then I just saw the avenue after doing his SEO and helping him rebound. I just kind of saw the avenue of like, maybe I don’t want to do sports management, or my initial goal was to be a sports agent. And so that was, like I said, I had never crossed my mind to be an entrepreneur until that kind of made its way into my life.
Kind of what I was talking about. I had been working in a typical employee-employer situation my whole life and never thought of being my boss. It seems like a daunting task when you first consider it. I started working at that law firm. I saw an avenue, and I said, well, let’s run with it. And so that was the motivator.
Lots of challenges, man. Like initially, I’m very, very blessed right now. I can be a little more selective about clients. Of course, your checks need to be clear, but I focus on the relationships; at the end of the day, I focus on the relationships. I want to have the same clients for five years. I’m not trying to be acquiring clients constantly. And I lost my train of thought.
Yeah, but initially, like I said, I focused solely on SEO right now. We build websites and do web design to an extent, but exclusively SEO for the most part. But back then, I would take any work just because I had to get my name out there. I had to build my resume. I’m going to text at 2 am about social media posts with a typo, which is a little challenging. But at the same time, I was building my work ethic to the degree it needed to be to be a sufficient self-starter and get a company off the ground, as I would say, the biggest challenge. Not that I didn’t have a good work ethic, but work ethics are where I would say the routine has been critical to me overcoming challenges because it keeps my days consistent.
I did. A phenomenal opportunity. I had a woman named Mindy Weinstein; she learned and used to work probably a decade-plus ago under a guy named Bruce Clay. But I saw her speaking at a conference. And what caught my attention was she spoke about how she got a start doing content or something in a law firm like, not for law firms, in a law firm. And at that time, I was at that conference on behalf of a law firm. So, I very much saw-like, as I mentioned earlier, I saw this avenue, but I wasn’t sure how to navigate it. And I saw someone in front of me who had already done so. And so well, I don’t want to say I latched on to Mindy, but like the other speakers didn’t exist to me at that point. I saw a connection I needed to make. And I did. And she was very receptive to me. And that’s how I got into the speaking circuit. She was speaking, as I said, at various conferences, and that’s how I saw her. And I just kind of realised I admired her from a distance so much that I was like, Okay, I want to do that, I want to be on the stage, I want to do all this stuff. And so, I reached out to her once and said, I’ll pave my way. I’ll do all of this. If you just let me hold your laser pointer at these conferences, like anything. And she let me do it. And she would let me help people when they had questions. And then she introduced me to the people that ran the conferences, which has evolved from there. But she was so selfless in it all. And like I would 100% not be here without her. As I mentioned, my first ever SEO project was my boss’s domain getting blacklisted. And she was kind of hired to consult on that. So she held my hand through my first major SEO project, and we’ve remained in contact ever since.
Not read books, not take courses so much. I would say read articles and blog articles. There are certain ones I’ll give certain shout-outs; the search Engine Roundtable is one I check numerous times a day. Search Engine Land, who I’ve recently become a writer for, Reddit.com, to the end of all these, and Search Engine Journal that was like the three that I checked daily. And they enabled me to learn because you can go and take a course. But if that course were made in 2020, or even 2021, things would have changed. And these blogs are made daily. Like that’s how you learn what’s current and what you need to know now. And the second biggest benefit I ever had, and I would recommend to anybody, in my case, was the attorney’s website but had a guinea pig. Like, even if you just make a website where you’re like, I just want to try and rank for these specific terms that aren’t too competitive, like a trial and error. To have the trust to work on a website where he said, If you mess it up, just tell me you messed it up. And yeah, thank God, I didn’t mess it up. But I mean, to me, experience is the best way to learn. So get a guinea pig website, whether you can do that on your own or just as a side project.
Yeah, passion, whatever.
You’ve got to go through the trials and tribulations sometimes.
So yeah, as I mentioned, my boss at the time was an attorney. And his website was a first name, last name.com. And so, A- getting blacklisted from a pride standpoint was very frustrating because this is my name. And so he was very frustrated with that. He was one, especially in his market, where he did criminal defense law. He was the first to take SEO seriously and put it in his marketing budget, like the late 2000s product chosen seven, eight. And so, he ranked number one for about everything in the area. And then, suddenly, he’s not on Google one day. And like I said, I was so unfamiliar with it. I didn’t know anything about SEO. I didn’t know anything about Google and how it worked. I was a mindless user. And we never really got a clear answer from the company. And that was the most frustrating part. That was the biggest blessing to me because he let him go. It was like he told me if I did something wrong. And they wouldn’t explain.
No, they just deflected and deflected it. And so Mindy came in. And I’m in my tutelage, you could say. We quickly found out that, essentially, what had happened was that there was a ton, like 1000s of spammy links pointing towards this website. And Google had sent notifications to the Search Console about manual penalties and things like that, like you were under a penalty. And they were completely ignored, which that company has never acknowledged or anything like that. Thank you; you gave me a career I’m super grateful for. Through unusual circumstances, I suppose. But that was the source, just like sketchy link building. And not even responding or acknowledging penalty warnings and getting blacklisted; all they were getting were their domain. I don’t think they could have made a comeback today. Like it’s gone for good.
Now it’s last name lawfirm.com. And we migrated the whole website, and they are back significantly better than ever, but still, like, losing your name as a website’s a bummer.
Sorry, the blacklist happened in 2016. So it had been a while. He had been working with this company for seven or eight years. We got no explanation. So they’re either doing sketchy things to build backlinks, or else bots, or however it goes, they had built sketchy backlinks back to them that they never disavowed or acknowledged. But it happened for such a long period that they had 1000s of these links, like online Cialis pharmacies. Like this is spam and nothing of use. And Google warned them like we see all these things and never got acknowledged. So that was the source.
Most likely, yeah, or else, as I said, they’re just not ignoring nonsense links, as I mentioned.
I appreciate it all.
No, if you stop getting visits to your website and things of that nature, you’ll probably catch on pretty quick. If it happens, it’s not a subtle, subtle change by any means. For instance, this is how this came about when you’re in certain industries. It wasn’t my boss at that time. There are other attorneys in the firm. But attorneys specifically, I found, are very prideful people. And they like to Google their names sometimes. And for them to suddenly find that I’m not there can raise some red flags. So things such as that, or if you’re an eCommerce store, and sales just plummet, things of that nature, like very alarming business direction shifting changes, typically like you lose the bulk of your internet traffic as a result. So that would be the number one red flag to me, but if you’re on top of Search Console, they typically will in some way notify you as well.
This is the price I want to buy at or sell at, so when it hits, let me know things like that. But it’s a scary time if that were to happen.
So the first thing I do is confirm that it’s a penalty. Typically, if someone reaches out to me, their number one red flag is my traffic is gone or something of that nature. And so, as a result, that’s the biggest, as I mentioned, red flag. So typically, I want to confirm it’s just a penalty because it could be an enormous algorithm update, and you’re getting crushed by it because something’s out of line. For instance, today, Google announced the May 22 core update, the first major core update by Google this year. And so some websites are going to suffer, and some will benefit. And there may be no reasoning at all to it sometimes, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean just because your traffic dropped, it’s a penalty. So I always like to go in. Have you gotten any notifications from Google? Let’s look at the number one tool I like to utilise is the Search Console, Google Search Console. That will tell you kind of what’s going on. But as far as they’ll never tell you, Google, if you get a penalty of any kind, they’ll never tell you. Here’s the reason for it. Like you typically get a manual penalty, you’re alerted to a manual penalty. Sometimes there might be, like, slightly more details. But it’s never going to tell you to fix this, and we will bring it back. Never.
Well, my first exposure to SEOs was that blacklisting. So I learned, okay, one thing that they’ll do this for is this link practices. And then I just kind of like I said, I read blogs, one of my two, like big things to learn, I read the blogs, and I started looking at blogs, like what causes these penalties, things like this. So it kind of gave me an idea of like, here’s the most common issues, for instance, the same thing as a car, here’s the most common cause of this. So we’re going to check that off the list first. And probably eight times out of 10 when I go through a site that believes they’ve been penalised or penalised. It’s pretty clear what’s going on. Like, it is usually pretty clear. Either. Like my previous employer, they had an SEO company that used some kind of Blackhat or sketchy tactics. Or it could be something like; your website’s been neglected for many years; Google now cares about things like core vitals. And when last time you touched your website, those didn’t exist. Things like your website just might not be up to compliance with the mobile standard; all these things are changing by the day. So when you kind of has an idea, like a doctor, you’ve got a cough, let’s start checking off what it could or could not be, we go through that. And a lot of times, as I said, probably close to 80%. It’s pretty, pretty clear, and hopefully easy to clean. The other times, there’s sometimes a lot of digging involved. But typically, we can get to the cause of it. And unfortunately, as I said, Google is not even in the slightest going to hold your hand in the process. So you’re going to; you just got to try and address what the problem is. Fix what the problem is. And then it’s a waiting game. Is Google going to bring us back or not? There’s no submission, no acknowledgement that we fixed it, or anything like that.
The shortest amount of time was probably like, five, six days. Because at the same time, as Google has, I would imagine they have some sort of crawl budget, but they don’t crawl every page of your website every day. So if something is wrong with your website, they’re not going to notice if you change it at noon or 1 pm that it’s been changed. So it may not even get picked up until the next time it crawls, which could be tomorrow, two months from now. And there are certain things you can do to add it to the queue, encourage it to get crawled and notice these changes. But from resubmitting your search console. Well, submitting the sitemap, trying to submit a URL that may have been a problem to Search Console. So reindex it, reevaluate it, or add it back to the queue. Excuse me, but Yeah, that’s the shortest amount of time is just under a week, I would say. And the longest amount of time is a couple of months. And typically, it’s hard because you don’t want to overcorrect. Do you know what I mean? So, for instance, if someone has a problem, and you think it’s this, and you fix this, and it’s not back tomorrow, or the next day or the next day, it’s stressful because the client is stressed out, which translates to my stress. Like, I want all my clients to be pleased with what’s happening. But at the same time, we’re at the whims of Google in this scenario. So that can be a big challenge, I would say for sure.
I’d say the longest I’ve seen was post 60 days. And like I mentioned, after the first week or two, you’re like, well, was it not the changes I made? So now you’re looking at other things. And that’s where you can get into the problem of like, no, you fixed it, maybe it hasn’t been crawled again. And now you’re trying to correct things that weren’t a problem, and you are overcorrecting.
It’s a thin line. As I mentioned, there are Blackhat practices that lead to these penalties. And my boss was the one who taught me those terms. He said, always do everything white. Of course, I did, especially when you have paying clients like I’m never going to play games, as that company did or anything with people’s URLs. But yeah, what was the question?
But it’s one of those things where you’ll learn best practices. And as I said, bring me back. You learn how to do everything, white hat, and stay on top of these blogs. So you know, as of today, what is it May 26, or seventh sorry, but May 25. These are, as of today, what Google expects, whether it’s as far as mobile speed, whether it’s as far content, as far internal linking, or whatever it may be. So it’s very much like sports, where you just have to hope this play works. Kind of like, what you trust because you’ve done it so many times in practice, whereas you know this is the best way to go about each of these facets of the website. So if I were to go beyond this at that point, you’re overdoing it. At that point, it may come back. And then you get in trouble again for that extra stuff you did. Not in trouble to the point of penalty, but you may fall in the rankings for, oh, my gosh, is this keyword not in there enough? And you start stuffing it and things like that. So it is a fine line, but it’s just trusting your foundation and your knowledge and experience.
I’m very grateful that people have come to me post penalty. I also work with many clients and, as I said, have ongoing relationships. And I don’t know why I pray I don’t jinx it. So knock on wood. But I’ve never had an existing client suffer a penalty. And so typically, when these people come to me, they’re very, very, very concerned, I would say. So it’s very much a matter of balancing the psychology and do I ever, coming back to that you mentioned, that’s a very interesting subject for me because I don’t want this client to lose money. So I might suggest to them, ” Hey, maybe supplant this in the meantime. But at the same time, I’m the kind of person where if you’re paying for my services, I try to make it a point never to suggest additional money. Expenses. I’m not here to say, Hey, I think you should. Like sometimes, I’ll say, Hey, you should probably sign up for this specific thing. It would have great benefit to you. But I’m never here to like, Oh, here’s the problem, your solution is more money. Like, I try to avoid that.
Because when I first got in on that blacklisting situation, like even if someone’s so new to it, that was such a turn-off that like, man, you screwed this up, and your suggestion is, we pay you more? That was so mind-blowing to me. And so, regarding ads, it depends on your industry. The problem with ads is that it’s like a water faucet; if your money runs out, the ads turn off. Suppose you invest in SEO, outside of a penalty, or whatever it may be. In that case, you may have worked with me for two years, something dynamic changes in our relationship, or your ability to pay, whatever it may be. And we no longer work together; my work doesn’t just go away, as you should still be in the rankings tomorrow, the next day, and for some time. So I think SEO is the best ROI. So with a clear conscience, if there’s never a penalty involved, it’s hard for me to push a bunch of money into ads because it eats up that budget so quickly. But as far as post-recovery, sometimes you’ve got to do what you got to do. Whether ramping up an email campaign or getting more aggressive on social, you lost 70% of your traffic. So in the meantime, wouldn’t it be better to get 40 or 50% of your revenue versus 10%? If you can leverage that through add social or whatever.
The big one that everyone, even like real deal professionals, a big mistake that people make, and not reading those blogs, like even people who are real deal involved in this industry, speak at conferences, like very well respected, they have other things going on in their lives. And they may not be on such a micro scale, keeping on top of what’s happening daily, where that’s a big deal. Beyond that, the biggest problem I’ve ever seen with SEO, and it’s probably the most common as well, it’s just snake oil salesmen. People who’ll pump through clients like this don’t care if they get one check from you or 10; check your check to check. And like I said, I don’t want to be churning out clients, like I want to build that rapport, that relationship, and we’re on the same path, things like that. And so it’s typically when people come to me for SEO; it’s not coming out of a positive situation. So I try to go above and beyond with my transparency, communication, and letting you know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it and why I’m doing it. I told myself when I started this company, based on that blacklist experience and their inability to answer what they’ve been doing, is I never wanted to be asked the question, where’s my money going? And so I’m really on top of communication, but at the end of the day, many people come from negative experiences. So I think that people telling you to like, oh, I can get you the top of Google rankings in a week, or whatever it may be like, there’s a lot of people where you jump on websites, and you’re like, I see what they were trying to do. And this is a mess.
Well, you mentioned link building and keyword stuffing and scraping content, like from other websites. Typically, it’s like shortcuts not doing things the right way, going for these companies or whoever it may be individuals that do things this way. When it comes to clients, they want quantity over quality. And so they want the quickest turnaround. They may be using AI software to rewrite other people’s content and charging you hundreds of dollars for it, whatever it may be, but they’re doing sketchy things because they’re just trying to create revenue. And for me, as I said, it’s quality over quantity. It’s the exact opposite. So I think that’s really what it is and also just taking shortcuts like that sums it up. Taking shortcuts.
It’s not a relevant audience.
I am. I’m really into it. I saw the avenue and am grateful for what the avenue has afforded me. I had to do the leg work and make an effort, but can you repeat the question?
A long story short, as I mentioned, Sports Management is my background. Sports is my passion. I am a very competitive person. So when I got brought on by that lawyer to fix the SEO situation with no background, I was super in. I am a very loyal person. I was very loyal to him. I saw the goal of this is to get to number one as I saw it as a competition. Due to whatever reasons, I am not a professional athlete at the moment, but in general, I saw this as an opportunity to have a competition every day, even if it was self-received. The people that rank number one and I are at number three. They don’t know that Taylor Kurtz exists, but I hate that guy. I don’t know that guy, but I want to beat that guy. I am very, very competitive. So to me, that is the best part. It has afforded me the ability to be flexible and work for myself. But it fed that competitive streak. I do it even if I don’t feel like doing it because I don’t want to lose.
Mixed fact. I like learning about it because, as I mentioned, many people don’t. So a lot of time, I have to set myself apart. For instance, today, I know this algorithm update was announced three hours ago or whatever it was. On a micro level, I am very aware of what is going on.
Yes. I mentioned those three blogs, which I do check. But I would say my number one news source, even though it is typically the authors from those blogs, is Twitter because that is very up-to-date. If I see something unusual, I can Tweet that or text and say, hey, what do you see? Are you seeing something similar? It is strange to me. We have been, and when I say us, I mean the whole SEO team. We have been Tweeting about this is unusual for about a week or two now. Certain things are going on, and this volatility doesn’t necessarily add up. It seems like an algorithm update or something is going on, and Google announced this huge update today. So I would say that’s big, I like the changing landscape a lot, but at the same time, I would love to rest for a little bit. For example, I don’t need Google to be doing something every day. They don’t care if it’s Saturday. They don’t care if it’s Sunday. They don’t care which day it is. There are some months when the volatility is so extreme that the moment I am up, I am on my computer to see what’s happening.
As I mentioned, Search Console. It is my favourite for analysing traffic and things like that. Google Analytics is great too, but I feel like I get a lot of insights from Search Console. Outside of that, analysing rankings, I used SEM rush for a long time. I’ll be frank. I started using SEM Rush long before my company Crush The Rankings, and I used the authority. I have been researching other options lately. I am ashamed because I bought a few shares in the SEM Rush stock and am thinking about using them here. So that is not encouraging. Either way, they do a great job. And I have no complaints about their existing products. With SEM Rush, I would say the two top tools I use are SEM Rush and Search Console. My only complaint is that they have been expanding their offerings quite a bit. That is great, but I don’t use any extra stuff. So I would much rather some of this energy improved some of their keyword research tools, like these core elements you built your company on. That’s a bit of an extended answer. SEM Rush and Search Console are the top two for me right now.
Just stay hungry. That’s on so many levels. Stay hungry in your career if you are self-employed. Stay hungry with your drive to keep building your business. Or even if you are working on one website and you are ranking at number one, stay hungry because someone wants that number one spot. It’s so easy, whether through self-employment, being an entrepreneur, being an SEO, or even working inhouse or company in SEO, it’s so easy to feel like the job is done; I can rest. Which granted some days will be amply easier than other days. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go over your normal checklist. Don’t go over your normal standard operating procedure. Things may be number one, but people are coming after you. There is always room for improvement. Don’t rest on your laurels for a second. The biggest takeaway I would say is to stay up to date. If you are serious about it, stay up to date and stay hungry. As an entrepreneur, business owner, and SEO, all of the above.
I am on Twitter; it’s @realtaylorkurtz. So like my boss, I would love to have a first name and last name, but someone claimed the account in 2010 and never tweeted, not one tweet.
Twitter should have a policy. Almost like a statute of limitations. If you have been inactive for eight years, it’s a free game.
If it’s 2007, it’s fifteen years. It’s crazy. It makes me feel old. But that’s it. You can reach me at @realtaylorkurtz or just email me at taylorcrushtherankings.com. I am very into it. As I say, I am very competitive; I always want to stay on top of my game. So even if it’s just a question. I don’t bill people for questions. Remember if you start sending me paragraphs, but if you have a simple, hey, I saw you, and I called, I have a question about this. Things like that. I genuinely want to help people, and as I said, I try to emphasise transparency. And a big portion of what my business is, is I want to educate the client as well. Some of them don’t care. Some of them don’t want to hear it. They are like, I pay my invoice, and things are up. But others are like the more you understand what I am doing, the more value it has. It’s not just some background activity. And so that to me is a big one too. I want to help people, especially if they have been misled by other companies. I just hate that treachery.
I certainly appreciate it, too, man. It’s been an honor.
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