Step into the fast-paced world of ‘Real Marketing Real Fast’ with me, Doug Morneau. Each episode is a power-packed journey through the twists and turns of digital marketing and website acquisition. Expect unfiltered insights, expert interviews, and a healthy dose of sarcasm. This isn’t just another marketing podcast; it’s your front-row seat to the strategies shaping the digital landscape.


Tips on creating more traffic and revenue with effective SEO by Jeremiah Smith

  • Google is now looking at something called user engagement metrics as the number one ranking factor, meaning it’s the strongest thing that influences the way your site’s going to rank in Google.
  • Within the past couple of years, Google has just kind of silently swapped out their algorithm-based engine with an artificially intelligent engine.
  • Links are really a big part of SEO and have been for a long time.
  • So it’s a little creepy, a little scary to some people, but really we don’t need to think of it as something that is outside of us thinking about us, as much as it is something that is being fed by us.
  • And one of the words in Google’s mission statement and brand promise is “information.” They want to organize the world’s information.
  • So what I like to do, is just to a large degree, let go and kind of trust Google.
  • He’s the Wizard of Moz is what they call him. He taught me so much about SEO just through his blog. He actually recently said that best practices used to be a thing, but now the new best practice is testing, A/B testing.
  • So, what I’ve found is that if we go back to the good old fashioned thing that still works with human beings, then it actually works really well for link building as well, and that is PR.
  • But those private blog networks are a mess, and they’re a scam. I see a lot of that kind of stuff going on. We have to be really careful and shield our clients from that

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[just click to tweet]


As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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Doug: Well, welcome back. Let’s listen to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today we’re going to talk about SEO, but we’re going to cover a couple different angles of SEO that we haven’t talked about before. One is the new user metric that Google’s using, the number one metric, which is user engagement. We’re going to talk a little bit about testing keywords, and then artificial intelligence and how Google is now using this as a key part of their algorithm, well not their algorithm but the determining factor of how your website and my website gets ranked.

Doug: So my guest today is Jeremiah Smith. He is the founder of a company called SimpleTiger. It’s a boutique digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO for startups. For the last 12 years, Jeremiah has helped companies like Segment.com, Shopify, NBC, MTV, E*Trade, LG, and Sports Illustrated to see significant gains in their search results, organic traffic, and revenue. During his time growing SimpleTiger, Jeremiah has seen firsthand how clients have been unsuccessfully burned by other agencies, or in the past confused by misleading SEO strategies. The SEO industry is plagued with lots of smoke and mirrors, black-hat techniques, and a lack of transparency. Jeremiah’s mission is to open up about what many other SEO marketers and agencies won’t share, the best practices and frameworks that actually work. So people ask him, “Well, why share this?” And he believes that transparency is much needed in this industry where confusion runs rampant. With a fully distributed team, SimpleTiger has helped venture-backed startups with everything to lose, all the way up to the largest companies in the world, get on the first page of Google. There is no one size fits all approach to SEO, like some would have you believe, but there’s a simple and effective right way to do it. So with that being said, I’d like to welcome Jeremiah to the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

Doug: Well, welcome to the Real Marketing podcast. I am super excited to talk to you today. SEO is I think a hot topic, or has been a hot topic, but it’s most often misunderstood. So I’m hoping, Jeremiah, you can shed some light on what are the opportunities for us as business owners or VPs of marketing to help our businesses be found and grow?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, thank you so much. First of all, thank you for having me on the show today Doug, I really appreciate it. You’re talking about a subject that is deep, near and dear to my heart. Search engine optimization is something I’ve been doing for over 12 years now, and it’s something I’m very passionate about, I educate a lot of companies on it, and yeah. I’m excited to dive into a kind of a framework to explain to your listeners how I see an SEO working generally, not spend too much time on that, and then just kind of dive into some of the newer stuff we see going on in the space right now.

Doug: Why don’t you start us out with where we’re at today?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, that sounds great. SEO, just to give everyone kind of a brief, quick understanding, 2000 foot overview, SEO I really see it being made up of four major components of activity. We see keyword research being the first part, we got to figure out what kind of keywords we want to go after. Technical structure and audit stuff, so make sure the site is technically organized, it’s structured well, good server configuration and things like that, because that’s how the search engine is going to access your website, and that’s got to work properly. Also, users want to get a good experience while sitting on your website, and if things are broken or loading slowly, that’s going to hurt your users, so it’s also going to hurt you from SEO, which I’ll get into in a moment, how user engagement plays into that.

Jeremiah Smith: And then the next category is content. Content strategy is a really big component in search engine optimization. The whole idea here is that ultimately you’ve got to be providing some kind of content because that’s ultimately what people are searching for. Even if I’m looking for a product that I want to purchase, I’m not just looking for the product, I’m looking for information about the product, images of the product. Things that are going to convince me to purchase the product. So content comes down to that. Then the next and final category that we look at is what I call offsite. Offsite typically refers to links pointing back to your site in most cases. If you’re a local business, then business address citations and stuff like that start to apply, where your name, address, phone number show up all over the place, that helps Google trust you more. But that’s kind of a rabbit hole itself.

Jeremiah Smith: Links are really a big part of SEO and have been for a long time. They’ve recently been kind of usurped, though, by some new metrics that are pretty interesting. I would like to kind of get into this new metric of where we are right now. So to answer your question, Doug, there’s your back story of SEO. But where we’re at now, is Google is now looking at something called user engagement metrics as the number one ranking factor, meaning it’s the strongest thing that influences the way your site’s going to rank in Google.

Jeremiah Smith:  So what is a user engagement metric? What does that mean? When somebody searches a keyword on Google, and then they click on let’s say your site, maybe you’re third or fourth position in Google, and then click on your listing and they come into your site. They look at your site and they see the content, and they start to scroll, and they’re reading. They click a few buttons, and they go to a couple of other pages, and they highlight some text, and they continue reading. That user is technically what we call engaged. So they’re engaged with your content. They’re clicking through, they’re moving, they’re looking at stuff. They’re spending time on the site, a few minutes maybe.

Jeremiah Smith: Whereas, if they perform the same search in Google and they came to your site, and immediately, let’s say the site was taking a long time loading, or it looked ugly, or the content wasn’t relevant to what they were searching for, and they quickly clicked the back button or just close out the tab and get away from there. That’s a poor user engagement metric. They were very un-engaged. It did not please them, right? It did not connect.

The content did not connect to the search term that they searched. Google is monitoring that real time, and deciding real time, if your content that they showed is relevant to the keyword that their searcher searched, based on that user engagement level. So the more engaged a user is for a keyword that they searched on your site, the more Google thinks that your site is relevant for that keyword. So that is now playing into Google’s artificially intelligent engine and helping them make the decision on what’s actually going to show up, which I can get into much deeper.

Doug: Well, that’s super exciting. I’m listening to this … I don’t know, listeners, what you guys think of that but I’m thinking wow. As a marketer or as a business owner, if people aren’t engaged in your site, it doesn’t matter where you ranked, they’re not going to convert and buy if they’re just going to bounce off or not find what they’re looking for, so this really is a win-win for the business owner to make sure they’ve kind of got their ducks in a row and they’re meeting the expectation and the needs of their visitors, and they get rewarded for doing that by Google.

Jeremiah Smith: Exactly. That’s what excites me so much about it. It puts the control back in the site owner’s hands, and in the business’s hands. It also rewards those who are creative, who are thoughtful, who are listening, who care about their customers, who are empathetic, and who know how to answer tough questions. This is all stuff that the tiniest of tiny businesses and small consultants and site owners can do, that big brands can also do, but big brands have to put work into it just like you do. So it’s a level playing field, which is part of why I got into SEO, to begin with. I saw it being something that was not necessarily the same as advertising. Small companies could pop up in Google just as well as big companies and steal market share, so that’s exciting.

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[just click to tweet]


As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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Doug: Yeah, it’s really cool. You’re right. It’s leveled out the playing field. I think sometimes if the companies are too large, they may be built on a platform or they’ve got all this legacy data, so it’s a huge amount of work to convince them to re-orient that, and then to actually implement it, where a smaller site that maybe has a hundred pages or so, is going to be a lot easier framework to change.

Jeremiah Smith: Exactly. Then when you weigh into that, the other commonality that we tend to see is big brands sometimes have a harder time of listening to their customers than smaller brands do. I think it just comes with the nature of the environment and the company. You think about being in a massive family if you’re in a huge family … A friend of mine is in an Italian family, and it’s, you know, 150 people at every family get-together or whatever, and it’s loud madness at everything. It’s so much fun, but oh my gosh, you can’t even hear yourself think. So people don’t get listened to there, right?

Doug: No. And if you’re not quick, you’re not going to get fed either.

Jeremiah Smith: Exactly.

Doug: So where do you see things moving then? We have this world that’s changing just at breakneck speed, and we’ve got every time I turn on my computer there’s a new tool that’s saying, “Hey, do this and we’ll get you, clients.” So where do you see this moving with SEO?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, so with SEO, we have seen a shift in the past couple of years. It was almost like a silent shift, where, oh man, 20 years now Google has been using pretty much the same algorithm and has just been making updates to the algorithm and adding little bolt-on tweaks and hacks and fixes to that algorithm. And it’s great, it’s really cool, but that algorithm still works as a very cause-and-effect functional item. It takes in a set of inputs and just, based on its calculation, there’s your output. Simple as that. That’s pretty rudimentary. It’s, to a degree, kind of a calculator. It doesn’t actually do any thinking on its own, it doesn’t do any analyzing on its own, or anything like that.

Jeremiah Smith: Well, within the past couple of years, Google has just kind of silently swapped out their algorithm-based engine with an artificially intelligent engine. To a lot of people that may sound abstract, and they may be like, “Well, what’s the difference? Isn’t it the same thing? What does that really mean?” An algorithm sounds like artificial intelligence to us, because it seems so complex, and it oftentimes can be. In the case of the Google page rank algorithm, it really wasn’t that complex. Basically, it just looked at how pages around the web connect to each other, and link to each other, and shared authority with each other. Then the flow of that authority was where the optimization came into play, where we need to clean up your site and make it to where, if you get a link from forbes.com, the authority of that domain flows into your site really well. Then Google can access it. If the keywords are there, you’re going to rank. You know?

Jeremiah Smith: So that was like circa 2007 SEO, right? Which is around the time I got into the game. It was easy back then, by the way, because we were playing with a really simple calculator. But now what we have is an engine that is actively thinking, analyzing, monitoring a variety of different items, and at any given moment, you might not know just on what level you’re being graded. You don’t know if it’s looking at your link authority, you don’t know if it’s looking at your content, or what. But we do have some ideas based on some of what we’ve seen. This is another part that’s fun about SEO, is anyone who does SEO is constantly trusting their ability to reverse engineer probably one of the best-engineered robots in the world. And by doing so, then figuring out what people ought to do to play with that robot.

Jeremiah Smith: So what we’re doing is we’re noticing things as I said a moment ago, user engagement metrics are now leading the show. Well, for 18 years, since probably 1998, Google had links being the driving force of ranking in Google. Then about two years ago, we started seeing a shift where links suddenly started to have some really weird effect, where you could have really strong link authority but someone with no link authority at all could come up and just outrank you. That was really weird, really strange. Then we started seeing that happen more commonplace, and more naturally, for everything from generic head terms like men’s suits, all the way down to very long-tail terms like Hugo Boss black pinstripe men’s suit. I use those examples all the time because it’s easy [inaudible 00:12:49] to understand the difference of. Any marketer could look at those two and say, “I want that second person, whoever searched that second, that’s the one I want because they’re ready to buy.”

Jeremiah Smith:  So we’ve seen a shift in that because this artificially intelligent engine now is, like I said, monitoring user engagement metrics. It’s learning our tastes, it’s paying attention to what we’re doing. To be honest, it’s following us at such a high rate of speed, that it’s trying to then be able to predict and forecast what we want to see and show it to us before we even ask for it. That’s what Elon Musk alluded to in a documentary I saw on the topic of artificial intelligence. He was talking about how Google, now as you start to type in a question, it answers the question for you before you finish typing it because it knows enough about humans and what we say. “You’re probably asking me this question.” It’s assuming a lot, right?

Jeremiah Smith: So it’s a little creepy, a little scary to some people, but really we don’t need to think of it as something that is outside of us thinking about us, as much as it is something that is being fed by us. We are feeding it that information. The only reason it’s able to give us that answer is because of how many of us have told it that question and then have provided the content that answers it. So it’s just copying and mirroring our patterns and what we’re doing. So that ought to get your most keen marketers who are listening, to get their ears to prick up a little bit. It’s listening to you, and it’s going to give your users what they want. You can play with that, you can work with that. That’s exciting, you know.

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[just click to tweet]


As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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Doug: Well, they’re doing the same thing now if you’re a G Suite user. You get an email, and before you respond they click in to read your email, and it’s already given me several suggested replies that I can just click on and hit reply.

Jeremiah Smith: Right. Yeah. That’s a little scary too.

Doug: With the AI, the way that it’s working, is this … is it focused … I don’t know how to ask this question properly. Is it focused on the user experience on the site, or is it focused on the user who’s actually doing the search? So is it learning from me, so what am I typing, what am I looking for, what are my habits, really what am I trying to articulate in my search? Is it helping me search better? Or is it working on the site side? Or both?

Jeremiah Smith: It’s definitely both. It starts with you though, and it’s most concerned with you. It’s least concerned with websites because while it might sound crazy, there’s a very finite amount of humans on earth, where there are an infinite amount of websites being created. We’ve got machines creating websites now, just churning stuff out, at a clip that humans can’t do. At the end of the day, they’re only as valuable as the people say they are. So Google is more concerned about the people, for sure, than they are the websites and their index. That said, what you can then expect is how you interact with any Google product, or anywhere you’re being tracked by Google, is going to inform Google on how to better give you an experience.

Jeremiah Smith:: So what I like to do, is just to a large degree, let go and kind of trust Google. A lot of people are afraid to do that in my space, and a lot of people don’t trust Google in my space, and that’s cool. I understand why. I see why they don’t trust it. It’s just a style, actually, that I prefer to play with, is trusting Google and see where it gets me. It’s worked really well for me. Some other people who, like when Google rolls out an update they’ll make an announcement, and some people in my industry will say, “Well that’s not really true. That’s not really what’s happening. They’re saying that, but that’s political-speak for this.” And it’s fun to hear that, because I’m like, “Oh, you know what, they’re right.” So there’s always fun banter about whether or not to trust Google and things like that.

Jeremiah Smith: But really, as I said, Google is trying to follow us and customize us the world and the web to our tastes. The reason they’re doing that is it’s in their mission statement. I’m a big branding guy, so when it comes to branding, I trust a brand to do what they say they’re going to do, and boy does it force them to uphold it if they start to break those rules. Because that’s the key to branding, is you are making a promise. If that promise is not being kept, you do not have a good brand. Simple as that. You’re a liar, and nobody wants to be a liar. With Google, their mission objective early on, in the ’90s, was to organize the world’s information and make it freely accessible. So it’s a very simple mission objective. They’ve done a heck of a job.

Doug: The way that I used to explain it to people because I’m not an SEO guy, said, “Google just wants to provide the best experience for the user. So when somebody’s looking for your company, product, or service, and they type something on the keyboard, Google wants to make sure that what they get is the very best result based on what they’re searching for.”

Jeremiah Smith: Right, yeah. The experience is huge in Google’s eyes, but it doesn’t just stop there. The experience specifically for Google … See, in a brand statement, in my mind, every single word is critical. Every single word. And one of the words in Google’s mission statement and brand promise is information. They want to organize the world’s information. So a lot of people focus on the make it freely accessible part, but they don’t focus on the information part. Then when they talk about like, let’s just talk about for a moment Google versus iPhone, or Apple, you know Google versus Apple in terms of phones. Well, if you want a phone, like a physical phone, I think the iPhone is fantastic. Everybody’s got their different preferences, totally cool. Everyone’s valid in that argument because it’s a preference thing. But when it comes to data, information, Google all day, right? I mean if I’m going to search for anything, it’s not going to be an Apple product. As the App Store is okay, using Apple Maps is all right, but Google is way better at data. So their whole thing is information, so making the information freely accessible to people.

Jeremiah Smith: They are also learning a lot about what user experience is, but they’re still using the information to do so. So they don’t just have incredibly intelligent engineers that know exactly how to engineer the best user experience for you, they have engineers that know how to test to find the best user experience for you. I recall a test where they were running click-through rate assessment on a very large scale of all ads on the entire Google network, which is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of ad-click revenue per year. I mean, billions of dollars per year in ad-click revenue. So what they were doing is, in this particular test they were testing over 200 different shades of the blue that you click on on the link on the Google ad. They were testing that blue text, they were testing different shades of that. Over 200 different shades. They quickly determined, through just a couple days of testing, that this one shade of blue got them the highest click-through rate. So they just changed all their ads to that color blue. It was that simple. You and I didn’t notice it, because of 200 shades of the same blue? I mean, oh my gosh, I could never detect all that. But-

Doug: That’s what’s so cool. I’ve talked lots of times with different marketers, and we’ve interviewed several marketers in our podcast. We talk about testing, and the reality is you need enough data to test. So you know, sometimes people are going, “Well I don’t have enough data.” Well, simply, you’re going to have to spend some money in advertising to get enough people through your site. So there’s the example of like you said, they control all this data and they can make a change in a couple of days, that something that we as business owners or marketing guys just couldn’t test. We couldn’t get enough people through the site to make that decision.

Jeremiah Smith: Exactly, yep. I love that suggestion, you said it in one brief sentence, that I wish so many more marketers would capture and understand that we talk to. You need to run some ads to test some data to get some intelligence, and then apply that intelligence in areas that are much harder to test. Like for example, we’re talking a lot about testing in SEO because we’re kind of forced to now, with this artificially intelligent engine. I may tell you that this keyword needs to go in your title tag, and then I do the same thing on my site, and it works great for you and it fails for me. Well, that’s strange. That never happened before, but with an artificial intelligence engine, it does.

Jeremiah Smith: So now we have to test stuff. Well, SEO is hard to test in, because it takes a long time, the results are slower. They are organic, so you have noise. We don’t necessarily know what influenced that change. And so it’s a little tricky there, so I’m often steering people in to, well if you don’t know enough yet to be dangerous, with SEO, then we need to go run some ads. Unfortunately, we don’t do ads at my agency, so I steer clients to other paid search avenues and stuff like that. Yeah, I think that’s the direction things are going. If you’re not testing you’re not marketing, pretty much, nowadays.

Doug: Yeah. That applies in so many different media. We talked to somebody just about doing some joint ventures, and I said, “Well, before you want to go pitch somebody on doing a JV and sending out your offer to their list, you better know your numbers for your sales funnel and how it converts, because they’re going to want to know how much money they’re going to potentially earn.” So like I said, spend some money. Are there new tools that you guys have developed, or something that’s proprietary, that allows you to do this testing and take that data? So if I’m doing a multivariate test on maybe a couple of content pages to see which is converting higher, how do you take that learning? And how do you guys implement that and give that feedback to the business owner?

Jeremiah Smith: Sure. So because what we do is so human-oriented to begin with, and we drank the Kool-Aid many years ago that we need to provide something that is sensational to the user, if we go under that guise then it’s much easier for us to actually usurp a lot of testing when it comes to content, and links, and things like that, and go straight into just hard recommendations. Because we’ve got enough data to make really clear decisions. Without enough data, you really are just kind of guessing. For us, the data and what we’re testing and learning on is actually at the keyword research level. So once we figure out a few things at the keyword research level, execution from there on is very straightforward for us. It’s very black and white. We then take these keywords and we look at what’s ranking. Let’s just ask Google, and from there get a really good idea of users are enjoying and what Google is enjoying simultaneously. So then we say, “Okay, well now we know what people want to see. Can we outdo what’s already been done with our content? Can we do it better in our category?” Testing is kind of almost our foundational element.

Jeremiah Smith: Then there is this new area of testing that people are playing with that’s really exciting to watch, where within the SEO realm, you’re testing implementations on your site to see which one gives you the best lift. A couple of examples of this are, Distilled is a company that has a product called ODN, Optimization Distribution Network. I’m not paid to suggest this, they’re actually a competitor agency to us, but I’m happy to bring their name up because they’re doing really cool stuff, and they’re an awesome company in the industry.

Their tool, the ODN, it actually allows you to test a multivariate scenario of different SEO best practice implementations simultaneously. So you put a bunch of things out there as tests, like title tags, for example, let’s put three or four title tags out there for this one page, and let’s see which one of those gave us the best lift. Then once we have an idea of which one gave us the best lift, that’s our new title tag. Then we apply that same philosophy to the other pages of the site, and we start seeing a net lift, ideally, throughout the site. Then let’s go back to the drawing board and do that again with other elements on the page. That’s what ODN is working on.

Jeremiah Smith: They have a competitive product, or a competitor out there, called RankScience, which is one that we’re looking into using, that’s just a tool for SEO companies. It’s really good, does the same kind of thing. It’s more developer focused, I would say. It’s probably a little harder to use, but it looks really really good. A lot of what I’m hearing about it, people are making some great gains with it.

Doug: That’s really cool. We’ve done multivariate testing for, say, ads landing pages, so if we take a look at the landing page as separate. But I never thought of the title tags and SEO side. It was always about okay, try this image versus that image, try this color versus that color, this text versus that text, this shopping cart versus that shopping cart, and let the computers figure out which one converts higher. So now what you’re saying is, while that still all exists from a human conversion, now you’re looking at the metrics of what’s going to give you the highest lift based on what we can’t see, which are the title tags and meta tags, the descriptions, and the keywords.

Jeremiah Smith: Right, exactly. It allows you to test stuff that for a long time have just been sacred cows in the industry. And it’s really funny because through doing that, people have actually shown that they are just, you know … they’re not what we thought they were. You know, this best practice for a long time was title tag needs to look like this, meta description needs to look like that, heading needs to look like this. And actually Rand Fishkin, who’s kind of one of the founders of Moz, he’s the Wizard of Moz is what they call him. He taught me so much about SEO just through his blog. He actually recently said that best practices used to be a thing, but now the new best practice is testing, A/B testing.

Jeremiah Smith: That’s painful to hear, I got to be honest, but it’s so true. We actually have to be testing now, which is a lot more work, costs a lot more money, a lot more effort. You have to staff people, you have to have processes for it and everything, but boy is it effective. It’s the direction things are going. Because with this artificially intelligent engine, you can’t as easily predict things. You’re going to have to put stuff out there, see what it likes, and then go that route.

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[just click to tweet]


As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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Doug: Well especially in the ad space. I’ve talked to a couple of guys recently that are talking about AI for designing ads, so I was looking at how does that affect our business and our clients? What’s the upside? Where’s the potential threat? The reality is that the old concept of us sitting around a boardroom and coming up with a strategy, and going, “This is your strategy, now we’re going to go to market,” is gone.

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah.

Doug: It’s more like, okay, so this is the basic strategy, but in terms of execution, we’re going to use AI to develop a thousand versions of this ad, and we’re going to apply money to every one of those versions and we’re going to let the computer figure out which one converts.

Jeremiah Smith: Right, yep. Exactly. I mean it feels like we are exploring the ocean, to a degree. It’s like we come across all these new creatures all the time, and all these weird physical forces that defy the laws that we thought, you know, nothing could defy and stuff like that. It feels like that sometimes. Part of what’s fun about that is that it is new all the time, so if you’re just getting into it, you’re not as far behind as you might think when you hear someone like me who’s been in it 12 years. I’ve just so happened to have developed a relationship with Google to where I can have that closeness and that kinship with it, that it’s easier for me to kind of understand it in a more intuitive way. But there are things going on with Google that a brand new person this year into SEO could learn, and immediately be effective, and compete right alongside me. That makes it fun, that makes it kind of democratized to a degree.

Doug: Well, I’m going to shift gears, because I took a look at your site, and before we started recording I told you that I noticed a couple of things that really stood out on your site that I haven’t seen in SEO or an SEO site until I looked at yours, and that was link building and digital PR. I’ve never seen the two of those put together in the same sentence and never seen them like that on a company that provides the services that you guys do. So do you want to expand on what is that?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Within SEO, we’ve briefly talked about link building and how that’s one of the strongest effective ranking factors and has been for a very long time. It’s not the strongest anymore, which is kind of sad to say, but at the same time, I totally understand why, regardless. Link building really comes down to having other sites that are relevant to your site linking to your content and helping establish you as an authority figure on that subject. That’s kind of basically what you’re doing with link building. There have been so many different tactics for ways that people build links around the web that have been played out and all this kind of stuff.

Jeremiah Smith: If you think about it for a moment, really, yeah it all makes sense to get links from other relevant sites, that can’t be too hard because you’re just talking about placing a link. But you have to remember that the gateway to get these links on these other sites is the people that control those other sites. You have to somehow get them to go to the site and add a link, and it’s got to make sense and be relevant, and not hurt them. And if then you think about the fact they may be getting approached by thousands of people via email every day — that’s a bit exaggerated, but that’s how I feel, I swear — when they get worn out and they’re not going to link to anybody. That’s just not going to happen.

Jeremiah Smith: So people have come up with all these crazy tactics to build links. Everything from forum links, and just mentioning your brand name over and over again in forums, to going on other people’s blogs and just writing comments and linking your name to the website, to all these just crazy tactics. Private blog networks, and all this stuff. Link wheels. Ugh, it’s a mess. It’s garbage because it’s all an attempt of businesses to try to systematize doing this part of what leverages against a ranking algorithm, getting your site up into the rankings. So by systematizing that too much, what we’ve done is we have spooked Google off into, well let’s just go into artificial intelligence land and really piss everyone off. So great job marketers, by abusing link building so much.

Jeremiah Smith: So, what I’ve found is that if we go back to the good old fashioned thing that still works with human beings, then it actually works really well for link building as well, and that is PR. If I get the right people to say the right thing about the right product, and they just so happen to have an authority about that product or about that business or in that industry, then it matters. It matters what they say. And if I’m able to actually say something compelling and give it to them, and they can mention that and cite me as the source of that information, then it’s a very legitimate three-way win. The user wins because they got the information for free by reading the publication. The publication wins, because they get the view and the ad credit for the ad they showed when the view came through, so they’re getting revenue from that. Then the actual business that they link to themselves get the credit because guess what, that actually matters in the ranking algorithm that this link is pointing in, because people are going to follow that link and come read it, and it’s going to help user engagement at the end of the day. So people are going to be engaged with this kind of line of thinking and this series of content links.

Jeremiah Smith: So we’ve just found that PR is just the no-BS method for building links and for helping clients with SEO. At the end of the day, at least you’re getting PR, right? Worst case scenario, you’re doing PR. Best case scenario, you’re doing PR and dominating organic search. For us, that just works extremely well. It’s something that’s easy for me to sell because you understand it. You get it. It makes sense. And then for some people they’ve kind of slapped themselves in the head, said, “That’s so obvious. Why didn’t we think of doing that a long time ago?” I’m like, “Yeah, I know. It works, it works really well.”

Jeremiah Smith: The only difference is that you’ve got to make sure that the information that you’re providing is within context, of course, which you’re going to do. You’re probably not going to try to talk about something outside of your industry on your blog much. So that’s one part. Then the other part is that you’ve got to have some kind of information that’s going to be sensational, or enjoyable, or desirable to an editor or a contributor at a publication, so that they’re going to grab that piece of information and say, “Yeah, I want to include that in the story I’m telling.” Then they go ahead and link to it. So that’s what you’ve got to make sure you’re doing. So long as you’re doing that, it’s going to work out swimmingly for you.

Doug: Yeah, no, I think it’s a great approach. We’ve used PR for ourselves and our clients over the years, and as I said, I’ve just never seen somebody in your space say, “Hey, this is a good fit to kind of tie in your SEO. Take advantage of this.” It’s not one thing does all the heavy lifting, but it’s a number of things that help move the sales dial.

Jeremiah Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. I think one little tip on that, so if you’re hearing this and you’re like, “That is brilliant. I’m going to get into it, I’m going to do it,” and then you’re thinking, “But where do I start? How do I do it the best way? How do I do it right?” We like to control all the dots in the game so that we can connect them ourselves. A link is definitely two dots having to be connected, but the dot on your end is your content. That’s something you got to be really careful and responsible about and take very seriously. Build a good quality content strategy and get serious about the content that you’re building. I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, people always say content is king. It’s always been, king. That’s always been the case for marketing. Marketing is content, it’s never been anything but that.

Jeremiah Smith: So that said, make sure that your content is something that is going to be desirable to the editorial publication or something like that so that when you do that outreach, your likelihood of getting a good link is better. There is a very marked difference in the performance of our clients that come through, for the ones that control their content themselves but don’t really buy into our good content strategy or something like that, and just kind of go their own direction with producing whatever they think about or want to write on their blog, versus those who really give in to a good content strategy. Whether they write the content or not, I’m not concerned about.

We produce content, but our clients do too. It all comes down to a content strategy. If that strategy’s really good, and you’re answering those legitimate questions that users are asking Google in the form of a keyword and stuff like that, then it’s going to be much easier when you go pitch that to a publication for them to say, “Yeah. That’s a good piece. I will link to that.” So you have to think about them too in that regard.

Doug: Yeah, and that makes sense. In this case, the publication, so looking at your site some of the guys you’ve worked with, so if it’s Entrepreneur magazine, and I’m pitching them, they’re going to go look at my site and see what sort of content have I produced. Is this a site that they would want to be associated with? And if the stuff that I’ve got up there is stuff that I’ve outsourced, that’s just poor quality, and there’s no value there, they’re not going to engage.

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly right.

Doug: So in terms of SEO working with companies, whether it’s owner-operator or you’re working with somebody in the marketing department of a larger company, how much is done for you and how much is the actual company doing? So if we were to work together on a project, how much work do you do and how much instruction are you going to give us to make sure that we’re supporting what you’re doing and not making it more difficult?

Jeremiah Smith: Sure, yeah. As an agency, we work with all sizes and types of companies in the SaaS community specifically. Now, I’ve worked with all different types and sizes of companies, generally speaking. Everything from media, to e-commerce, to retail stores, to local businesses, to professionals, everything. I’ve worked with everything. But now, we just work with software-as-a-service or SaaS companies. We just do SEO, so we don’t do anything else.

Now in order for that to work well, what we’ve seen is that what’s going to determine how much we do versus how much they do, which is definitely going to affect cost, that requires them to have people in-house. Those people are usually a developer who can implement technical recommendations we have, a content person who manages their content at some level, whether that’s on the blog or the whole site in general, whatever. Somebody who manages their content and gets content produced. And then if there is a social person, somebody who runs their kind of organic social elements, so not talking about running Facebook ads but actually managing Facebook, like answering people’s questions that pop up, and interacting with people, sharing stuff, things like that.

Jeremiah Smith: So if those three people exist on the client’s side, we’re going to have a real strong project that’s actually not going to be too expensive, to be honest, because they’re going to be carrying a lot of the weight. We’re going to be giving them a whole lot of stuff that they can do. But that’s about, I would say, a little less than probably 50% of our clients. The other 50% at least are clients that have maybe a developer on contract or something that can help implement stuff, but they don’t really have a content person. Or they have a content person, but this person doesn’t get content produced as much, they kind of just keep things cleaned up and edited on the site, but they’re in charge of other stuff in the company too. They may be more of a general marketer, so they can’t just own content all day long, which for some companies can be a full-time job, for real. So what we do is we actually have a team where each one of those people exists on our team, and they exist at a real strong consultative level. So we can kind of rent them to you a little bit.

Doug: That makes sense, yeah.

Jeremiah Smith: So our content manager comes in and lays out a content strategy for you, works through it with your content team or person, and ultimately if that then needs to be executed and you want content produced, we staff writers through hiring subject matter experts in our client’s industry, who also write. We give them a creative brief and we walk them through. “Here’s how we write for this client. Here is what they want to say and here’s what they do not want to say. This is the stuff we need to focus on and everything, and these are the keywords to use. Here’s the strategy.” And then that writer goes off and produces a piece, we review it with the client, and if they love it gets published. That’s most cases in regards to content, it’s kind of 50/50 whether or not we write the content or they write it.

Jeremiah Smith: But when it comes down to the PR component, it’s almost 100% us. Very few companies actually want to manage their own PR or do that in-house. It makes sense. It’s not easy. You’ve got to be a pretty big company, and have a really good grasp of how to manage a PR effort, in order to do it internally yourselves. It also doesn’t necessarily look good for you to be doing your own PR all the time, because it looks kind of like you’re always asking for something. Whereas as an agency, we’re in this kind of a lucky third point of view, where we can, first of all, make sure that you, client, have the good content that will work.

So we’re removed enough from the problem that we can tell you that this is a problem and you need to fix this content. So then we get that fixed, then I can go and easily pitch that to a third-party publication or something, who’s then going to link to you and start that relationship because you indeed do have good content there. So we just find that that works better.

Doug: Well that makes sense, especially on the PR side, but there are two sides to that. We’ve often worked with smaller businesses that are local, and we give them direction to do their own PR because the local media don’t want a PR firm calling them. That’s typically not where they’re at. They’re looking for local stories, local angles, hey look at what’s happening in the community. But certainly looking at some of the brands that you guys work within PR, if you don’t have experience it’s going to be a tough road to go down, take a lot of time to get it set up.

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah. That’s where, when we made the shift to working with just SaaS companies, a lot of it had to do with, well a lot of different reasons actually, but one of the reasons was that we had developed such strong relationships with so many people in the SaaS community, so that when we bring on a new client and we’ve got a story to tell, and they’ve got the good content on their site, guess what? We’ve got relationships out the wazoo, and we can-

Doug: Yeah. And they trust you.

Jeremiah Smith: Yep. Yep. We’re going to pitch something, and if we’re going to pitch it, it better be good, because we have a reputation with these publications, also. I have actually gotten into discussions with clients, and I’m like, “Look, I’m not going to do PR for you on these pieces of content, because they’re not good, and I have a reputation to uphold. So if you’re not going to get serious about improving your content on your site, you’re going to lose me as an agency, because I’m not going to hurt my reputation.” So they see that, and they really listen, and they invest. That’s a very rare scenario, by the way. SaaS companies and the clients we deal with, by nature are just so cool and so awesome. It’s really fun work.

Doug: I want to respect your time. I could have this conversation for a really long time because I’m enjoying … I’m learning, taking notes at the same time, so listeners I hope that you’re picking up some good tips and some ideas on how you may want to rework or rethink your current strategy. What’s one of the things you’re most excited about in the next 6 to 12 months?

Jeremiah Smith: Oh man, actually this is funny, but we’re working on an online course that we’re putting together. I’m going to start teaching people basically how to do what we do as an agency, because we talk with a lot of companies that just, they’ve got the heart, they have the capability, they just don’t have the know-how to do what they need to do to get to the point where they can afford to pay us as an agency. I know that if we could just teach them, they would get there. Then they would trust me, and then they would be primed and ready to come in and be one of our best clients. So I see this opportunity to put together this online course to teach people SEO, and specifically SaaS companies. So we’re working on a SaaS SEO online course with me as the teacher, and I am stoked about that. That’s my big goal for 2019, is to launch this online course and start getting people on it.

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As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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Doug: That’s super cool. I’d extend an invitation that when you’re at that point, that we should have another conversation.

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, that sounds awesome. I’d love to.

Doug: What’s some of the bad advice you hear in your space?

Jeremiah Smith: Oh, man. Too many people are still using private blog networks. A private blog network, by the way, is when let’s say me. I go out and I buy a bunch of blogs, or I build a bunch of blogs, and each one is on a different subject, or maybe they’re all on the same subject if I want to be a niche private blog network. But the whole idea is that these are different domain names that all link to each other, and there are all these blogs and they link to each other.

Then I as the owner of this private blog network, I go out and get links built back to my blogs, so I pay for those, or use other blog networks, or whatever, to establish my blog network as an authority kind of team, or kind of mob. Then I take that private blog network and I start pitching it to other businesses, and say, “Hey, we can get you links on these sites right here. It will cost this much for a link,” that kind of thing. And start selling links in an effort to help them with SEO, or under the guise of it being an effort to help them with SEO.

Jeremiah Smith: But those private blog networks are a mess, and they’re a scam. I see a lot of that kind of stuff going on. We have to be really careful and shield our clients from that because a lot of clients are receiving that kind of requests, especially when they start doing really good content assets. When your content gets better, then people get hungry because they want to sell you links. They’re like, “This is going to be easy. This is going to make us look great because we’re linking out to these awesome resources. We’ll never get caught,” you know?

Doug: Until you get caught.

Jeremiah Smith:  Until you get caught. Yeah. And boy, you may not even know you got caught. It just really really hurts. We see a lot of that happen. That’s very frustrating. I see too many SEO companies stay focused on just the technical aspect. A lot of people still think SEO is technical. I think SEO nowadays is less technical than it’s ever been. There was a time when I could just literally clean up your HTML code on your site, and you would rank better. That is not the case nowadays. I’m not going to say technically is not useful, it is still very useful.

We do technical audits for clients all the time. If your site doesn’t load, guess what? You’re never going to show up on Google. So technical is still important, but it’s got its place. You hit a plateau in SEO performance with technical very quickly, whereas with content and links you do not hit that same plateau. I would say if your SEO agency is constantly harping on technical stuff, hit them up with some questions about content and links, if you’re not happy with the results, and just see where that goes.

Doug: Where do you see the industry going with AI?

Jeremiah Smith: So with AI, I really think that our … I’m hopeful that our index is going to get better, and what we get from Google is going to get better, because I think that they’re listening better. I think that where Google is concerned, we’re going to be learning a lot more about people, kind of en masse. I’m excited about that. That’s kind of scary and exciting at the same time, because of you know, the stuff that happened kind of the last couple of years with Facebook and everything out there. There’s a lot of AI going on there as well. I think AI insofar as search is concerned is fun and exciting. I think AI outside of that is very scary in certain realms. It’s powerful and awesome in some areas, but it’s also extremely dangerous in other areas, so.

Doug: Two last questions and I’ll let you get back to serving your clients. Who’s one guest I absolutely have to have on my podcast?

Jeremiah Smith: I’m sitting here thinking about this. I really feel like my good friend John Doherty would be a great person to have on your podcast. John is the founder and CEO of a company called GetCredo, getcredo.com. Really cool guy. He’s been in the space as long as I have, if not probably longer. Really interesting. Comes from a lot of the same kind of background stuff as I do, but then also has some really interesting and fresh perspective on things. I think he would talk about a lot of stuff that I probably didn’t talk about here today that’s really interesting. He’s worked with some huge brands and has a great experience. I think it’d be cool to hear what he has to say.

Doug: That’d be awesome. Where can people track you down? Where’s the best place for them to find you, and reach out … aside from your website, which just before you answer that question, I just want to give a quick shout out. I noticed a really interesting button. If you go to Jeremiah’s website and look, there’s a note at the bottom says Read a Quick Note on our Integrity. So very cool that you guys are very transparent and clear about how you operate and how you work with your clients. So over to you, where can people track you down?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, thank you for that. I’m happy you discovered that little nugget down there. It’s like an Easter egg on our site. We should make it more prominent probably, but yeah. Yeah, you can definitely reach out to me through our website, simpletiger.com, but I’m on Twitter every little once in a while. I’m more in monitor mode on Twitter, I read a lot. I very rarely interact. I’m not a typer, a writer as much. I speak a lot. I talk a whole ton. I’d say hit me up on Twitter, it’s @jeremiahcsmith on Twitter, or you could follow us at @simpletiger on Twitter. That’s always a great way to get in touch.

Doug: And then obviously your website?

Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, yeah. Our website, simpletiger.com. And again, we are focused on doing just SEO for SaaS companies. If you’re looking for anything else, anything that’s close to SEO, or your company that is not a SaaS company, I’ve got places I can send you that I highly recommend, that I would personally make introductions and stuff. So let me know. But if you’re a SaaS company looking for SEO, I mean that’s our space. So we’re the people for you.

Doug: Well, super cool. Hey, thank you so much, really appreciate how generous you were with your time and the information that you shared.

Jeremiah Smith: Awesome. Thank you so much, Doug, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it. I’d love to come back sometime.

Doug: So there you go, listeners, if you are in the SaaS space or knows somebody who is, now you’ve got somebody you can refer out. Then we’ll be looking forward to the online course coming to teach you how to get started. They train you up to be good clients. So thanks for tuning in. We look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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As far as effective SEO is concerned, Google is now looking at user engagement metrics as the number one #ranking factor.

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"Innovation isn't just thinking outside the box; it's about setting the box on fire and building something extraordinary from the ashes."

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