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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 episode, Dawood chats with Zack Duncan, President at Root and Branch Group Zack takes us through his in-depth knowledge about Google Ads, his SEO process and what’s latest in SEO. He tells us about google analytics and how to best leverage it for making your marketing efforts a success.
Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.
The biggest thing you can do with Google My Business is just to care. If you care what your customers think about you, the rest of it just happens naturally
Hello, everyone. Today we have with us Zack Duncan, President at Root and Branch Group. Hey Zack, nice to have you. Thank you so much for taking out time today.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here
Well, Zack, before we dive deep into SEO questions and start asking about your journey and experience, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and what you do at Root and Branch for our audience.
Sure. Root and Branch is a small digital marketing training and consulting company. We mostly do SEO, but also Google Ads and Digital Analytics. And when I say digital analytics, I’m primarily talking about Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.
For some of our clients, we manage digital marketing on an ongoing basis. Each month we’ll run some PPC. We’ll generate some content for their SEO efforts and work on some link building. We’ll revise and refresh existing content that has been performing well and has fallen off alongside the other things that will help increase the overall SEO performance. We do that every month. Then, we’ll track and measure our performance primarily through Google Analytics and send that to the clients, and as long as their ROI is positive, we keep doing that. And for other clients, we do some training. If they want to do some of that in-house, we help to set up the infrastructure, build the Google Ads account, and set up some of their search campaigns. But then, over a period of maybe 6 to 9 months, we’ll train them to manage it themselves on an ongoing basis. So it depends on what the client is looking for and what our capacity is, but that’s how we work.
Right, so because you have digital analytics as a proper service, so would it just be training the clients on how to use the analytics and tag manager, or is there anything else involved in the service?
So it depends on different factors. I am working on two projects these days. So one is a guy who is based out in Chicago and starting a local SEO agency, and he wants to be able to sell a full package for his local SEO clients. So that would include all the local SEO services, but also a reporting dashboard based on Google Analytics to show how many calls from your website did this generate this month? How many clicks on the email us link did it generate? How many forms were filled?
So for some of these things, you need event tracking and tag managers to set up. It was quite a small project that we built for him and made him videos to show how to do each of those things. Then I published them on our YouTube channel because, as he said, we negotiated on price. He said, “use me as a case study”. And I was happy as I was looking to make some GTM tutorial videos. That’s one example. Another one, there’s a bigger agency in town, and they’ve come on to take over this client. It’s a chain of a dentist with 30 something locations and they’re probably the third agency that’s worked on the overall container code and tag manager. So we can look at it. It’s a mess. And it’s associated with all these different Google Analytics properties. Some are universal analytics; some are GA 4. It’s crazy. So they needed some help trying to just figure out what’s happening here. How do we clean up stuff that we don’t need and get it down to a place where we’re just tracking the things that we need and not tracking the ones we don’t.
So that’s a good example of such projects. If it’s an advanced client that has their in-house GTM expert, there’s not much that we can provide that’s going to be useful to them because they’re already covered. However, what I’ve found is most people don’t know what they’re doing with Google Tag Manager. Most people don’t know what they’re doing with Google Analytics, either. A pretty good market in the small to the mid-sized business range, and even some large companies, might be running this stuff, but don’t know how to properly do it.
Absolutely. There is so much value in these tools if used properly. Sometimes you can find your low-hanging fruits — small things, which you can find looking at analytics properly and which many people don’t use. So, you are correct.
Have you ever used Google Optimized? That’s another one.
We have. Talking about local businesses, we work with an agency where the entire business is like local Google Maps, ranking on Google Maps. So, we have not published it on Rank Watch, but for that agency, we realized that reporting is going to be the biggest component in the service at the end of the day. Like if they onboard a lot of clients, then how do we manage it? So we developed a system within Rank Watch, where it’s not published; we’re just using it internally to generate these reports. But we have combined Google Analytics, use the rank tracking of Rank Watch. And, we have not done grid tracking. But for that particular GMB location, latitude, longitude within five-mile Radiance, we have combined analytics. Rank Watch rank tracking and tried to create some reports.
That’s cool. I think they call it the insights reporting in the back end of GMB. That’s great but sadly most people aren’t taking advantage of it. Every month you can see how many phone calls did we drive, how many direction requests, how many website visits? We have UTM parameters. In your website link, you can follow that all through to analytics and search console some things they don’t take a ton of time to do. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be pretty overwhelming for a client. I’m sure you found that with your clients, they’re like, look, “you guys are doing a lot of work”.
Yes, if you show the clients that we find so many people requested directions, you got so many calls, they say “oh, man, you’re doing a lot of work”. No, we’re not; we’re only doing some citations.
Well, one of the reasons why I think local SEO is so great to work with is its high search intent. I was putting together these statistics in my brain. It’s amazing. It’s something like almost 6 billion searches a day on Google, and around 46% have local intent. And then of those local intent searches, at least the ones on mobile, 9 out of 10 of those people will visit a business or call the business within the next day. So, there are so many searches, and these are people like, “let me spend my money with you”. And the way to get in that three-pack is like, do some citations, reputation management, and just have a good mobile-optimized website and then create some local content on an ongoing basis. It’s not tough, still, not many people are doing it.
Absolutely. Zack, what does your long-term vision look like? What’s next? How do you see yourself moving from here?
What I have found that I enjoy doing are teaching and training. The new clients that we’ve taken on are interested in that. That’s where we’ve had the most fun. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some of our other clients that we’ve had for a long time, we cherish them as well. But it’s a nice challenge, especially to look back from where we were in the beginning and see we’ve quadrupled traffic on the site over time. Way more leads. But it also gets a little bit old sometimes. So I think training provides the opportunity to always look at a new business which is fun.
And training is fun as long as you love doing it. It’s exciting as you get to work with a new business every day.
Yeah. And I’ll probably try to find a way to do both, because if it’s only one and not being able to be hands-on at all. That’s something that I would miss.
Zack, in training, do you have a particular target audience in mind? Do you focus on certain types of businesses, small businesses or only agencies? How are you looking at the training side of the business?
There are two audiences. One is traditional agencies, so they don’t do digital, but they want to. So there is an agency with about 15 to 20 people that I’ve been working with over some time. And after that process, they were able to sell some basic digital services. So, local SEO, we got them set up with Sign-up. I use Yoast personally, but they use Sign-up. They can sell local SEO. They can sell some basic digital analytics set up, so they can work with some clients. And they work with pretty big clients too to help them get their Google Analytics infrastructure set up. So it’s recording data properly, and some basic conversion tracking, and then some paid search as well through the Google Ads platform. So, that’s one type of client. Then the other type is generally a team of two to four people on their in-house marketing team. Out of which a few people are doing content, few are managing the brand, everyone is doing digital to some extent, but they don’t have a dedicated digital expert. That’s another type of business that I work with. For them, we figure out “how we can infuse SEO best practices in their content strategy”. This way you’re not just pumping out blogs every month, but you’re doing it thoughtfully. So that if you continue to create content around these topic clusters, and do the internal linking correctly, you’re going to get significantly more results in the long term than if you just keep doing this without being informed by digital principles.
So when you’re planning the marketing strategy for a client, how do you plan the budget across various platforms? For example, SEO versus PPC?
So a lot of clients come in with a perspective. Some people say we just need help with SEO or paid search, in which case it makes it pretty simple. But if it’s a blank slate and the client just wants to generate more leads. And they don’t exactly know how I would generally recommend a heavier investment on the SEO side because, in the long run, I’m convinced that’s what’s going to generate the most profitable results for them.
And the sooner you start and the sooner you start consistently executing against it and the sooner you get to the place where those results are paying back. So, let’s just say a 60-40 split or even like, two-third, one-third organic to paid. But then once the paid campaign launches, as long as there’s good conversion tracking in place and a client knows, “hey, a lead to me is worth $50. If we can generate leads at $50 or less, then it’s a pretty easy conversation with the client to say, “look, do you want to continue spending until we hit that ceiling and maybe leads become no longer profitable”?
And many clients will say, “let’s spend until we hit that ceiling”, in which case it’s less about managing to a specific budget. It’s more about how many leads their business can handle because they already know what they can profitably pay for one of those leads. Are they using a bidding strategy, like target cost proposition? Most of them aren’t. So, that’s another place where this type of stuff can be really fun and helpful. It feels like you’re helping people.
What does your SEO process look like?
We’re talking on-page, SEO or local or both?
For small businesses, like local businesses, the overall SEO strategy, not just the Google Maps; the overall site on-page.
So if it’s a local business, there’s going to be two things we do first. So one is going to be what you just said, Google Maps. And if they need a lot of help, if they have several reviews. But their overall rating is below 4. Sometimes we’ll recommend a review generation platform. So I’ve used one that I think is pretty good called Bird Eye. It allows you to upload customer records, and then you can send texts and emails to try to generate reviews. It’s not inexpensive, but the results are often quite worthwhile. Just because Google My Business is so important. So half would be getting Google My Business in a good place. The other half would be for citations like Yoast or Sign-up. So that nice name, address and phone number are consistent everywhere. And honestly, for some clients that’s all we do for local SEO — content creation, like, really nice, targeted blogging can be time-consuming to do well, because if we do that, we’re trying to figure out, can we create the best content about this topic, not just in this market, but overall. That can take a lot of time to do.
So for the clients for whom we do this, they tend to have higher value customers. So, some health care clients do pretty expensive elective procedures. That stuff seems to make sense. But if it was a restaurant, a pizza place or a coffee shop. We wouldn’t be doing anything other than GMB for their SEO.
Reviews are very important if you have two listings, even if one is ranking above the other. But if the second listing has more reviews, you will not get conversions as compared to the other one. We have used Repuso or …. I don’t remember the name to help clients generate reviews. But reviews are a tricky part because you can’t control them. The only thing you can do is try sending a request or tool to the clients to get reviews, but you still can’t have complete control.
I always try to tell clients two things. One, the biggest thing you can do with Google My Business is just to care. If you care what your customers think about you, the rest of it just happens naturally. Because if you get a good review, it will make you feel good, and you’re going to think that person says, “hey, we hope to see you again”. And that’s going to make that person happy. And it’s also going to make the next person who’s looking at your business reviews feel like they’re going to be more likely to choose you because they can see your personality in the business.
And if you get a bad review, you’re going to care, and you’re going to say, “oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry you had that experience”. “If there’s anything we can do to make it right, get in touch with us over here, at this email” to get them off of the platform, so they don’t say anything else. And sometimes, that works. But even for the people that aren’t moved by that, the other people who will be your future customers will see that.
And they’re going to be more likely to like you. I feel for businesses that care, it’s not very hard. But sometimes you’ve probably talked with these businesses that don’t care, but they’re thinking, “how can we make the Google algorithms think that we care”? But if someone’s upset with their experience, “honestly, we’re not going to talk to them”. And if we keep seeing the same themes come up in our reviews about maybe someone rude in customer service, or we’re consistently overpriced on one item compared to our competition. “But we don’t care”. “We’re not going to change anything ever”. Businesses with such thinking are generally not going to do well in local SEO. And that’s perhaps what Google wants because they just want to show businesses in that three-pack that will provide a good customer experience for people. So that when you and I are using Google, next time, we’re not thinking, “oh, maybe I’ll use Bing because Google gave me a business that couldn’t care less about me”.
Trying to rank for rich answers feature snippets has a lot of value. How do you strategize for it?
I agree and yes, we do that. So a few things, any of our on-page content, it’s going to be structured where there’s an H1 targeting the primary keyword that we want to rank for, and then a whole bunch of H2s. And for the most part, those H2s are going to be questions that people are asking about the main topic. Then, you get two to three sentences, maybe four sentences to answer that. And there is your featured snippet candidate. That’s what we’ve found has a success for us. If you use a keyword research tool to answer the public, it is a good one. I really like ask.com. It will show you what all of the related questions that people are asking or this specific keyword.
And that’s how we not only develop topic clusters but also will develop for a specific blog – “what are going to be the H2s that we target in this”. And that’s generally where we’ve had success with ranking for those featured snippets.
Well, talking about link-building. How have you seen link-building change over the years?
This is another one that I don’t do much. The only link-building that we do is we use Haro that helps the reporter out. And we’ve had some success. It can be frustrating because you can submit a number of different candidates, and you won’t get anything. But when you get one, it might be a domain authority of 70 or 80, something that’s going to be meaningful. So I would say our link-building approach is if there’s a client that tends to get a number of Haro-like options, we’ll do that for them. Otherwise, we’re on the lookout for monitoring mentions and any local news write-ups. Then we’ll be ready for “hey, thank you for this. Do you think your readers would benefit from a link over here to learn more about X or Y?” So that’s what we do. Not much in the way of proactive link outreach. Sometimes clients will have community or business partners that they work with, and in those cases, we’ll coach them like, “hey, this is great that you’re sponsoring this run or this other event in the community”. “Can you ask for a followed link?” Most people would be very willing to do it, but they’re probably not even thinking about it. So that would be the other piece of that, giving them some of those basic tools.
I understand. Local businesses normally do not spend much on a website by spending. A lot of them don’t normally go for a custom website. They would use a builder. Sometimes some builders are very bad for SEO. A lot of them have speed issues, which somehow are very difficult to work with. How has your experience been working with local businesses as far as this particular issue is concerned?
As far as their website goes? Well, most of the businesses that we work with do have WordPress sites, so they’re in pretty good shape. The clients where we’ve had the most success do have higher customer values, so they’re willing to spend a couple of $1,000 a month, sometimes for their ongoing digital marketing, sometimes more, and they’re willing to spend a few thousand dollars or more for their website. The clients that aren’t willing to do that, they are the clients where we find that we’re not going to be the right fit because it’s not going to be profitable for them. Let’s say if they have a coffee shop; unless it’s a really high volume coffee shop or they’re selling really high margin coffee, it’s probably not worth it to them to get a beautiful, super sleek WordPress site that they’re going to spend $8,000 on. It’s just not going to pay off. But if it’s a dermatologist, then it probably would.
There’s one business we had worked with, and they had a very old custom site. And it hurts everything. We were running some search marketing ads, and it hurt conversion there because Google gave all of the ads, like low-quality scores. It’s like your landing page experience is so bad. If you want to pay for this, click on X service near me, you’re going to need to pay 30% more than the competition just to get into the consideration. So we were paying more, and then conversion rates were way lower because the site speed was so low, and it just wasn’t a great experience. So for such clients, if it’s really bad, I would recommend that even if they’re not going to pay for a very nice site, you can do a Wix site that will be fine from an SEO standpoint. It’s not going to have the same functionality as a WordPress site might offer, but it’s not going to kill you.
I understand. Well, Zack, we are short on time, but I like doing a quick rapid-fire in the end. A quick rapid fire of 3-5 questions. And just say whatever comes to your mind. The first one.
Describe yourself in three words.
Optimistic, hopeful, and tired.
If a movie was made about you, what genre would it be?
Probably a comedy!
Are you a morning person or a night person?
A morning person.
Favorite automobile brand?
Well, Hyundai. I just got a new car and it was a Hyundai. Very reliable.
Well Zack, thank you so much. It was fun chatting with you, and hopefully, we’ll be in touch. And I’ll talk to you soon.
That sounds wonderful. Thank you.
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