Let’s get to it! My questions and comments are in bold.
There’s this story on your website about how Search Engine People got started. Tell us the story — how did you get involved?
Besides teaching English as a Second Language at the French Centre de Langues Internationales Charpentier (CLIC), I had taken up building and promoting websites. Much of my informal SEO education came from discussions on the Cre8asite Forums (recently bought by Jim Boykin) with brilliant people like Ammon Johns, Kim Krause, and Stockbridge Truslow – to name but a few.
Soon after joining the forum as a moderator I was contacted by an employee of Jeff Quipp, the founder of Search Engine People, to ask if I was interested in doing some work for them.
Jeff built out the company so fast that soon after he needed me full time, not working on or for other clients. After consultation with my wife we decided to go that route; I joined Search Engine People full time and have never regretted it.
Was it difficult to convince clients of the value of SEO in the early 2000s?
No. The need to appear well-positioned in search engines was pretty clear to most people. The question “can you do it” was more on their mind. SEO can be a snake oil service industry depending on whom you engage. Our work was such that we experienced year-over-year growth based on referral clients only. Until we opened additional offices throughout Canada we even never advertised; business grew that fast.
Let’s talk about your blog. You have put together this army of guest bloggers (including me!) who write on SEP… how did you do that?
SEP’s internal motto is win-win-win: the client has to win, the employee has to win, and SEP has to win. The same principle drives the blog: the reader has to win, the writer has to win, and the blog has to win.
Writers win by appearing on the blog, building their authority and name. Search Engine People is Canada’s largest search services company. We regularly appear in the national press and our blog is among the few large, influential, and trustworthy SEO sources.
Readers obviously win because of what we publish. The key focus in our communication with writers is “actionable”. It needs to translate into “so how do I…”.
The blog wins because there are always new writers. Some have been with us since the beginning of guest posting while others come, establish their name and soon after write me to say “business is booming, it’s too busy, I have to stop posting”.
How do you manage content on such a prolific blog? I know you’re pretty hands-on yourself – how do you edit so much content, manage your editorial calendar, things like that?
For the writer, everything has to be easy. My motto is that posting on Search Engine People should at most be an extension of your work – but never work.
So the framework I use is: calendars, reminders, buffers, pipelines, and Windows Live Writer.
You need to have an overview of who appears when. That’s your calendar.
You need to send out heads-ups, reminders, so a writer knows “oh yeah, that’s true, I should write a post about….”
Writers have their own lives, their own work, their own business. I have to respect their time and the quality of their life so I have to create buffer time to take the edge of a deadline. Our deadlines are one week before publication while our reminders go out 2 weeks before. That’s smooth. That helps in writers not having to think “oh shit oh shit oh shit!”
Everything is in a pipeline: asked, waiting for post, reminding, follow-up, etc. When I remind someone of a deadline the next step is following up: did that post come in? I use ActiveInbox in Gmail to set Waiting For statuses but there are many ways you can manage this.
Finally, Windows Live Writer is the god-send piece of software that makes working on posts in a sane environment possible. Without it I think I would be humming a lot less during my work.
Why is blogging so important for SEO? And how can a really small business with no full-time marketing people do this?
Besides doing actual business, blogging is the single best high impact activity a business can engage in.
- Blogging creates an ever-growing amount of content, interlinked, that address almost any and all search queries any of your potential customers could ever have.
- Blogging honestly, openly, shows “we know our stuff and we’re good at it – so good in fact that we can tell you exactly how to do it yourself because, really, our expertise isn’t built on trying to keep things a secret”. On SEP we tell businesses exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. That helps establish us as a source of authority and drives business instead of driving it away.
- Blogging pulls away your “About Us” corporate speak and has you sit down with your customer and say “so OK, here’s what I was thinking”. That’s the type of rapport that sets the tone for follow-up online interaction on social networks.
And any company can do it, no matter the size, no matter the budget. In fact, the lower your budget, the smarter you are in investing it in a permanent and permanently growing resource like your own blog.
Starting can be as easy as taking your common replies to customer emails and turning them into blog posts. These things don’t need to consume your only free afternoon; if you can tell me what you want to say, you can write what you want to say – in minutes.
Let me repeat this, because I love it so much:
“In fact, the lower your budget, the smarter you are in investing it in a permanent and permanently growing resource like your own blog.”
What about social media? Is it better for SEO if you focus on one social media site and do it well, or if you spread yourself across the popular sites, and maybe be able to spend only a little time on each?
Up to a point, search – SEO – mirrors the real world. The normal world. What’s better in the real world, to spread yourself across all popular channels if only a little bit each? Or to focus on one or two channels and own those?
Just follow the “should I be on?” framework, loosely based on Chris Brogan’s simple presence framework.
With all the Google updates this year, what is it you think that small businesses should focus on most in terms of improving their search engine visibility?
Content and humans. Make astonishing content that delights people. Figure out what your prospects crave, and then have them gorge on it.
Search engines are codifying word-of-mouth. They’re figure out how to read and interpret time on page, time on site, tweets, likes, shares, follow-up visits, repeat searches and corrected searches. Delight humans and they will power your rankings.
I asked Lisa this same question, but I want to hear from you too. Right now, there are so many social media platforms and tools that ostensibly make things easier, and there is so much expert advice on what marketing activities a small business should be doing. What do you think is the most important marketing activity a small business should focus on?
Blog: this is your place for great content. It’s your home on the web. Move in, make it cozy, invite people. People will help you spread the word.
And what’s the one SEO metric they should keep an eye on?
What’s your conversion rate? How can you improve it? Don’t guess: A/B test it.
What are your favorite online tools – social media, productivity, or anything else?
- Gmail with ActiveInbox; Streak for CRM
- Evernote (can’t stress that one enough) using their Clearly extension in Chrome
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a small-business entrepreneur?
Spend time with your family and friends. Now. Nothing makes up for it; nothing. Fix the time and times at which you work; set boundaries and schedule your free time. Don’t think in “to do” items; think in outcomes, in results, in end-goals. Think in value.
But most of all: family and friends first.
Thank you very much for doing this, Ruud. Now I have to go call my mom and make plans with friends for the next weekend!
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