Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Julia: Everybody, I am so excited to introduce to you, my friend, Heather. Heather and I met at a networking group way back, two to three years ago. And we’ve stayed connected because she is my go-to person on all things SEO. And I’ll let her introduce herself. But first I wanna just talk a minute about SEO. Right before this, Heather and I were talking about how people either don’t really understand SEO and just kind of throw the term around or they have a bad taste in their mouth. And so our goal with this is to kind of do some Q and A on it so you can walk away more confident in knowing what SEO is and whether you need it, and how much of it you need.

So Heather, tell us about you, where you’re from, your location, what you do for work. Anything you wanna talk. 

Heather: Awesome. Thanks Julia. So right, I’m Heather, I’m the director of partnerships here at Sebo Marketing. Sebo’s been around for, I think we did the math yesterday, it was 17 years? I’ve been with Sebo for the last four. And yeah, we specialize in all things Google. So pay per click advertising and then the dreaded SEO, or search engine optimization. I say the dreaded, because like you said, there’s a lot of people who know it’s important, but they don’t necessarily know what it is or what it does. Or I can’t tell you how many client calls or potential client calls or even just conversations where they’re like, that’s the black magic of marketing, right? Like it’s the voodoo…we’ve had someone equate it to voodoo just because they think it’s something where, you know, you’d kind of chuck your money into this dark hole, and then you hope that it does something, but hopefully in this podcast we can shed some light on some of the methodology and some of the science behind it and say that, yes, you too can do SEO and understand it.

Julia: And basically, Heather’s gonna explain all of the black arts to us now.  And so before we start, that is a really good point because I know that you and I have talked about, we’ve had clients come to us who have spent thousands of dollars with an SEO company and not seen results because the SEO company either promises things that they can’t deliver, and it does feel like they’re throwing money into a money pit. That’s one thing that I love about working with Heather is, she tells people this is what’s realistic and this is what we can deliver and isn’t over promising. So that’s one thing, one reason we partner with Heather every time we have people who need SEO.

So first off, Heather, I wanna hear how you became interested in SEO. Where did this come for you? 

Heather: Yeah! So I have a really, really long version and I’ll give us the short version for the sake of the listeners. But basically my degree happened. I studied at Brigham Young University here in Provo, that’s where we’re located is in Provo. And I had a public relations major. The marketing and the business stuff, the numbers, didn’t quite jive with me. And so I studied communications and I worked at a nonprofit for two years, a local nonprofit called Kids on the Move here. And at the nonprofit, I got to try a lot of different things.

I got to use my PR degree. I got to learn some graphic design skills, social media, fundraising, event planning. I mean the whole nine yards, because that’s what you do at a nonprofit. And so it was in that time that I started realizing, you know, we’d craft these really big campaigns. We’d, you know, we’d try to get volunteers or runners or fundraising, whatever it is. And at the end of the day, I had no idea what worked and what didn’t because I had no way to track it. So I started going down the data analytics/Google rabbit hole. And frankly, that’s when I got introduced to Sebo and I started doing the free Google online training classes that they have for analytics and Google ads. And I popped out here and now it’s all, I love it, Google  and that’s all that I do. 

So that’s how I got here is originally PR and then a little bit of everything. And then I realized if I can’t track something, I don’t know what’s working. And then I now do SEO pay per click.

Julia: That’s awesome. I don’t know if you know this, Heather and I like talk semi-regularly, but I feel like we always talk business. I also came out of the nonprofit world and did like the same exact thing where I got to try a bunch of things and I landed in social media. So how, and I feel like that’s like a common theme. So people who want to try things, if you don’t know what you wanna do, go to a nonprofit because they’ll let you do everything.

Heather: There you go. And it’s super interesting too, because digital marketing is such a vast and broad term. People ask me, what’s your experience in digital marketing? I’m like, okay, are we talking about social media? Are we talking about video? Are we talking about email campaigns? Because there’s just, there’s just so much to it. So that’s funny how you had a similar experience.

Julia: In the end, we can’t all be experts in everything because it is so vast. The reason we partner with Heather and she’s my go to for the all SEO things is because when people ask me about SEO, I just wanna like throw up because I’m like analytics, what? Becauseour team, we do analytics, but analytics-light to show that things are working, but we’re more creative and less, more content oriented. And so I think it’s just interesting how we can all land in different places. So yeah, let’s get into it. What is SEO? If you were to define it, how would you define it?

Heather: Yeah. So, I mean, literally, SEO is an acronym, it stands for search engine optimization. So, in essence, how do you show up higher in a search engine? And specifically, we’ll be talking about Google. I know there’s Bing. I know there’s Duck Duck Go, but the majority of people use Google. That’s what we specialize in. And so basically all the principles that we’ll talk about today extend to those other platforms as well. But specifically we’ll be regarding the search engine, the big all, know all, Google. 

Julia: Awesome. And so what are the different kinds of SEO? One of our team members asked what about on-page versus off-page? I know that’s one kind, but are there other kinds? Tell us about that. 

Heather: Yeah. So there’s two broad types and you mentioned them, on-page and off-page. On-page is referring to what you yourself have control over and power to do on your website, on your domain. Off- page is in reference to what we call the popularity component in SEO, meaning how frequently and who’s talking about you, and to what extent.

And so I like to use the analogy of having content, having your website optimized for a keyword, gets you in the race to showing up for Google and then having other people refer to and link to your content, moves you up in the race. So Larry Page and Sergey Brin, they, back in the day when they were creating page rank and Google, they related it to a research paper. That was the idea that got it started, meaning a research paper, the more it gets referenced, the more it’s used in other dissertations or research, the more authoritative it’s seen. And that general principle is what started the, you know, the beginning of the algorithm. Okay. If a website is being referred to or linked to, then it holds some type of authority, therefore it should be held in higher esteem. Therefore Google should rank it higher. So that’s a really, really broad concept. But yeah, that’s what that off-page is referred to. AKA, we refer to it as the popularity component. 

Julia: And so an example of that would be, say we write a blog post or an article that gets published in a magazine and they link our website. That would be an example of off-page SEO. 

Heather: Correct. 

Julia: Okay. Mm-hmm yep. What is like an example of on-page SEO? 

Heather: Yeah. On-page SEO, say for example, I don’t know why I use this example always, but corn dogs, just because it’s so out there, nobody really talks about corn dogs, but say you wanted to rank for corn dog-related terms, if I go to your website, or if Google goes to your website, there has to be corn dog content on your website. Meaning the first step that people think generally of how their website shows up higher is you type, you know, corn dogs into the query. And actually there’s a lot of stuff that happens before that.

So before you ever show up in Google, Google has to find your website. We call these bots or spiders. It has to crawl and index your website. So basically read all the content on your website. Then it gets stored onto Google’s servers. When someone then comes to Google and searches for corn dog related content, Google then checks its index and all its different servers to see, okay, what would be the best match for this search or for this query? Then it shows that search engine result page or SERP page, we call that in the business, the business lingo, and then that’s how it decides. And there’s a lot of other factors into what’s number one, number two, or number three, which we can go into later.

But in essence, that’s what happens. And so for your website to show up for any term, that term has to be on your website and frankly, in the right way as well. 

Julia: This is fascinating. I feel like I’m getting the dark arts actually displayed now. So for example, we worked on a collaboration for a client who was a profit first coach or profit-first accountant, specifically for landscapers. And so we built the website and then Heather came and told us how we should have really built it to make it rank better for SEO and part of it, from like my recollection, we had to like change some of the titles on things to make it more specific.

So part of it was the behind the scenes, like the headers and stuff like that. But also like the actual words, you had us include more mentions of landscapers and more mentions of bookkeeping and accounting and things like that, because then that’s what the bots are crawling. Correct? 

Heather: Correct.

Julia: Okay. Mm-hmm . Sweet. I feel like after this podcast, I’m gonna be able to explain this better. 

Heather: Excellent. 

Julia: So I would love to hear from you, what sort of results people can see with SEO? I would imagine based on what you’re saying, especially with the bots crawling and stuff like that, it’s not like it’s an automatic, here’s your SEO that we implemented and then tomorrow you’ll be first on Google, right? That’s not gonna happen, right? 

Heather: Yeah. Correct. I mean, in some cases I have seen it. But those are very, very, very rare. So those are more the exception than the rule. But it, frankly, and I hate, I wish there was a more specific answer, but all of it is, it depends. Because every website and every keyword is going to be different. So in the once in a blue moon situation, we changed the title tag. So we optimized the homepage of the client for their particular keyword. They created custom bone handles 1911 guns. I’m probably saying that all wrong, but I’ve typed it enough that I know it. I don’t know if it’s 1, 9 11 or whatever. And so when we optimized their homepage, we could see in search console, which is, we talk about in that blog that we collaborated on, but in essence, it’s Google, self-reporting what keywords you rank for, your average position, so on and so forth. 

But there was a marked difference from literally the day that we made those changes. And now they’re ranking on average on page one, just from those changes, plus some other of the off-page that we’ve done for them. But that’s an instance where you have really key real estate, especially on your homepage and other areas of your website where making those tweaks, rather than just saying home, whatever the default is of when you build the website, of using those key pieces of real estate for Google, that it can make a difference. But in the realistic sense of the majority of people who will be listening to this podcast, it frankly depends on how competitive the landscape is for the keywords you’re trying to rank for. So for example, Utah realtors, that is something that frankly, I say, “ere’s some best practices.” You can try what you want, but frankly, it doesn’t make sense to take you on as a client, cuz it’s just that competitive  unless you have a website that’s been around for years and years and years, and you have a marketing budget that is way more than the house that you’re trying to sell.  Then it just doesn’t make sense for you to think that you can rank number one for, you know, these really, really hot topic keywords. 

Julia: And this is why I love working with Heather because in the end, other SEO people will be like, yeah, we’ll take your money. No problem. But she’ll be really honest with everybody and say it is not worth it. And maybe there are other marketing strategies that you could use. And that’s one thing that I really respect and appreciate about Heather is that it’s about an integration of how SEO fits in with your other marketing and it’s not “instead of.” 

To that extent, like how much can somebody do by themselves? 

Heather: Yeah, so frankly, I mean, the majority of it you can do by yourself, it’s just a question of time and expertise, but in summary, you wanna get content on your website. You wanna make sure that content is optimized. So like you mentioned, making sure that that keyword phrase is in the title tag of your website, the URL, the H1, the meta description, the paragraph text, and then using whatever your network is, your means to get other people to link to that content. That, at the end of the day is the very, very, very oversimplified SEO strategy, is identifying the target keywords, creating content, optimizing that content, and then getting people to link to it. 

Where generally people have the most questions is okay, but where do I start? How do I know what keywords to target? How do I know if I even have a chance to rank for this keyword? And that’s where SEO experts can come in and be helpful. We have third party tools. The ones that we use currently is a AhRefs. It is a pretty penny to be subscribed to, but if a listener really wanted to take SEO and run with it, they could get their own subscription to that. Start tinking around, learn how to use the tool and then write that content. The thing that people have a lot of questions about is that off page element. How do I get people to link to my content? And that frankly could be a whole podcast in of itself, but at the end of the day, it’s using that network and often cases, there’s tools that you can use. We won’t go into this today, but Screaming Frog and some other tools where you can essentially crawl the internet to see who has mentioned your brand name, but they haven’t linked to you. And then we can go and solicit links for them. I’ve done that where I’ve wrote email pitches to people saying, “Hey, you’ve mentioned my client’s name. We really would appreciate it. We think it’d actually be beneficial for your article and your readers if there was a link to this client, do you mind linking to them?” We’ve gotten, we’ve won some links that way. I honestly forgot the question. So I’m gonna stop rambling.

Julia: No, that’s perfect. So with that, how much can we do by ourselves? At what point do you think somebody should hire an SEO expert? 

Heather: That’s a great question. I think it makes sense for someone to hire an SEO expert when their marketing strategy is, in essence, traffic. So if we think of very high-level concepts with marketing in your website, if you have a website that you’re happy with, that you know is functioning and that you want to drive more people to, then SEO is a traffic-driving strategy.

We’ve had instances with people where essentially they they’ve pulled the gun on SEO too soon and if you’re changing your website around, or, heaven forbid, if you’re changing your domain, don’t do SEO right? Until you’ve settled on a domain. Because that can be a headache pretty quick. So high level SEO is something where, okay, you wanna get more traffic to your website? We wanna get more clients seeing your website. We wanna get more leads. And so if you’re in a phase where you’re testing your products, or you are trying to prove concept, I would say, wait on the SEO and use other marketing strategies until you feel that you’re in a place where you can invest, you know, I’d say at least $500 a month in SEO to do it at a level that would make some type of difference.

Julia: And then I would add like, something that you mentioned earlier, there’s other considerations, like how competitive your market is, things like that, but that’s also where you could interview an SEO expert to find out how whether you’ll get the ROI on your investment.

How long do you think people should plan on investing in SEO? 

Heather: That’s a great question. So a common misconception that I’ve come across with people who are asking about SEO is they think that once their site is “seo’d,” then they’re done. And that frankly just is the wrong expectation and the wrong perspective with SEO, because sure, you have existing content on your site. That doesn’t always necessarily mean, once the title tag’s been optimized, once the metadata has been cleaned up, that then that piece of content is strong enough or even the right piece of content to rank for the keywords that you yourself want to rank for.

Oftentimes you need additional blog posts or you need new content depending on what keywords you’re ranking for. And so that’s the first misconception I wanna dispel, it’s not something where once you’ve gone through all the pages on your website, that Google can index, that you’re done. Frankly, I like to equate SEO as, not so much as a sprint, but like a race. As long as you’re running faster than your competitors, then you’ll have those rankings, but say you slow down your pace, they eventually will overtake you. We’ve had clients say, you know, after they leave us for a while and come back, “Yeah. We’re not ranking anymore.” Well, it’s because you’ve stopped. You’ve stopped creating new content. You’ve stopped building your website. You’ve stopped having those additional links to your website. Because a size component is also something that Google looks at. So how big your website is. Google likes websites that are constantly growing, meaning they like websites that aren’t necessarily stagnant.

But you and your team, you know, you have blog posts, you have podcasts, you’re creating new content and your website is growing over time, which is a sign to Google that this is a living, breathing organism that is helpful to the internet ecosystem, as opposed to something that’s just stagnant and done.

Julia: Oh, totally. So that leads me to my next question. If one of our listeners was trying to figure out who to hire, whether it’s an SEO expert, SEO agency, what might be some questions you would tell them to ask said-person to make sure they’re getting paired with a good SEO expert? 

Heather: Yeah, I would say at the end of the day, it comes down to transparency and it comes down to accountability. So I know a lot of SEO agencies, they’ll have you enter a long term contract because SEO is a long term strategy. Here at Sebo, we don’t do that. It’s all month-to-month because we don’t like clients to feel like they’re trapped in any type of, you know, situation that they can’t get out of. And frankly, it’s also to protect us too, because if we don’t like working with someone we don’t wanna have to. We don’t have to play nice for a year, but we do try to set the expectation up at the front that this is a long term strategy. And frankly, Julia, I say that on all the calls that I’m with and I still get people two months later, “You have no results on my website. I don’t know what you guys are doing.” And it’s like, I explained it to you as best I can, but this is just not something that you can expect to have a term. Frankly, again, it depends on how difficult your keyword is and how much budget you’re throwing at it.

But I would say at a minimum, it’s going to be a six month effort to see noticeable results. And I would say that’s in a very optimistic end. However, the benefits are long lasting cuz again, how much traffic and how many searches happen through Google. But it’s something that, if you’re talking to an SEO agency, making sure that that expectation is one clear and that you understand it.

And then finally how they’re reporting, whether it is what they’re doing or what the results are. So for example, there was a client that I worked with who was working with a previous SEO agency before. And it was interesting that, essentially the KPIs, or the key performance indicators that they were being reported to, or they were kind of comparing or showing us, because it was, “Ok, you’re gonna have content created for X amount of cities, but at the end of the day, how many of those cities do you actually rank for? Great, you have content. But what is that content doing for you?” 

At the end of the day, you want your organic leads to increase. That’s what SEO is all about. Having content, having your average position higher, having clicks visitors to your website. That all is great. But at the end of the day, if your organic leads isn’t increasing, then SEO isn’t helping you. So I would be making sure that you have a pulse on all those different numbers and making sure that you’re understanding exactly what it is that the SEO agency is reporting on, would be the two key things that I would say when trying to find an SEO match. 

Julia: Yeah, I think that’s perfect. And I think, what it comes down to me, is those expectations. If you have somebody who’s promising you the world, you should probably walk away. Not because they can’t deliver, but ask them for case studies, stuff like that. Because as we’re hearing, it does depend on a lot of different factors and it’s not an overnight process, unless it’s a very specific thing. And there’s no guarantees. 

Heather: Yeah, no, that’s a good point. And I’ve had some situations where, you know, we’ve given a bid or a proposal to a client, they come back and say, well, this agency has promised me double for half as much.

And that’s when I’m just kind of like, “You know, you get what you pay.” And those are oftentimes the people who I hear the stories of, okay, it’s three, six months down the road. They haven’t done anything for me! They were promised these content. They were promised these blogs or whatever, but they’re either poorly written or they didn’t happen or the back links are trash or whatever it is.

Right. And so I know there’s, frankly, we get it solicitations from other SEO agencies, you know, and our “Contact Us” form on our website or whatever. Yeah. Everyone gets them or, oh, we can get you so many links for this amount much. We never, ever, ever, I mean, I wouldn’t recommend those to anybody because they’re just Ponzi schemes. Can I say that? They’re not literally Ponzi schemes, but yeah. They’re jokes.

Julia: We get stuff like that too. We get social media course people who are like, “Hey, let us teach you how to do social media.” This is very not related to SEO, but we recently got one for office cleaning, which drives me crazy because I’m like, if you did any research on our company, you would know that we literally all live in different places and cleaning my office is, in essence, cleaning my house. Anyway, side note, side note. 

Heather, this was super helpful. I feel like I understand things better. Hopefully our listeners do too. Are there any other things that you would add about SEO? You can say no. 

Heather: Yeah. I think the first, the most important thing I would say for the listeners is understanding what keywords it is you wanna rank for, making sure those keywords are on your site in some way, shape, or form, and then getting access to your search console data or your analytics, right?

Understanding where you are and where you wanna go makes the journey. Again, back to my whole story of how I was in PR nonprofit. And then I was like, I realized I didn’t know how to track what was working, what wasn’t. Search console is a free tool that Google makes available for, you know, all websites. You just have to prove you’re an owner of the website. So there’s a small hoop you have to go through to get access to it. But that ultimately at the end of the day is going to be the most powerful first step for any business owner, cuz that will tell you how Google perceives your website. So what keywords are showing up on Google’s radar and if there is a misconnect between what you wanna show up for and what you are showing up for.

That’s a first, you know, plan of attack. Also, if there’s any indexing errors, meaning if Google comes to your site and there’s pages that have a piece of code or a setting that doesn’t allow Google’s bots or spiders to crawl your website, that’s where you’re gonna be able to see or know that.

There was a Google update last year, the core vitals, those are different signs that Google now has integrated into the algorithm. So how well your website performs on mobile. How fast your website loads, there’s other instances or factors as well that go into it. Those are also instances that will be reported on in search console that you can see basically, okay, is Google happy with my website? Is it not? And so those, whenever we do boot camps or whenever we do audits or whatever it is for clients or perspective people, that’s the first step we always have of making sure they have connection to that. And I would say frankly, of the hundred audits that I’ve done, 97 of them, haven’t had search console access, or have no idea what it is.

So just getting empowered with that tool, understanding that tool, getting comfortable with that tool you’ll then have the teeth and the empowerment to then, if you’re talking to an SEO agency, be able to know kind of what the heck they’re talking about and ask the right kind of questions to see if they’re, you know, if they’re full of hot air or not.

Julia: I think that’s perfect. That is great parting advice. And to everybody listening, we’ve thrown around a lot of technical words too. Like metadata, SEO, et cetera, et cetera. If you’re like, what the heck is Heather talking about? You should probably get in touch with her. So Heather, how can people connect with you?

Heather: Yeah. I mean, they can reach out to me. It’s just heather@sebomarketing.com, you can also look us up at sebomarketing.com. And then if you’re local, we do host bootcamps every other month; we have one coming up in a couple weeks. But this is, in essence, a class where we take you through the basic principles of what is pay per click, what is SEO? How do you access your website? Conversionary optimization. It was a class that was originally started for a client, so they would understand just what the black magic was going on to dispel some of that distaste. And we had a lot of success with that. And so we’ve now started, it’s open to everybody. It’s free. We buy you lunch. So it’s a great resource. If you wanna dip your toe into that. Again, we don’t have a Zoom online option now. So this is a shout out to the Utah county and Salt Lake County listeners. If they’d like to come, we can get them more information on that. There’s more information on our website, but yeah, I mean, Google us, you should find us. If not, then we’re not doing our job, right? But that’s, I think, the best way that people can reach out to us 

Julia: Sweet. Well, my biggest takeaway is that we have to make Google happy so that we can show up in the search results, but anyway, Heather, I really appreciate your time and I appreciate all that you’ve done today to explain all of these concepts to us and for us. So thank you, thank you. I appreciate it. 

Heather: That’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have, if you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and want to give us a rating or a review, I promise we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.

Also thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week and I hope you will be too.

In this episode…