Nathan Gotch on SEO That Works in 2018
If you read up on SEO, it seems like everybody is obsessed with links, and for good reason: backlinks have been the biggest factor in getting a page to rank. Nathan is here to say that while links matter, going into 2018 you need to broaden your focus.
In our chat, Nathan lays out why the search landscape is changing, what that means for your SEO strategy and your business, and shares the specific tactics he is using to continue to rank for competitive keywords without 100s of links.
When you’re building a real business, you can’t take the risk of using grey- and black-hat tactics and if you follow Nathan’s advice, you won’t have to.
Background leading up to today
- What do you do at GotchSEO and how did you get started?
Link Building in 2018
3 Steps to better results with fewer backlinks
- Fix all technical errors
- Develop a strong site architecture
- Produce valuable content
5 Factors of high-quality links
- Keep it relevant
- Let authority sites be your friend
- Focus on real websites
- Distribute your anchor text intelligently
- Let your backlinks live in clean neighborhoods
- What type of content can earn these high-quality links?
- When are guest posts worth the effort for 1-2 links when compared to a “Skyscraper” that attracts many links?
- Is it important for sites to continuously put out a high volume of content or are occasional bigger posts “enough?”
- How long does it take to start seeing results?
- 3 Steps to better results with fewer backlinks
Challenges going forward
- What ranking signal do you see being a bigger factor in the future?
- How can businesses keep up with these changes?
Parting advice for founders
- What is the first step a found should take to get started with SEO?
“Rapid Fire” Questions
- Who do you learn from?
- What is the biggest challenge facing your business today?
- Where can listeners go to learn more?
- 7 SEO Experiments That WORKED!
- Keyword Research: 7 Real SEO Experts Share Their Secrets
- Brian Dean
- Ryan Stewart
- Matthew Barby
- Nick Eubanks
Where to learn more:
To hear more from Nathan, head to his blog at GotchSEO.com where you’ll find in-depth posts on nearly every aspect of SEO. If you want to get more structured training, then check out the Gotch SEO Academy. And if you’re looking for somebody to do all of this for you, he also offers White Label SEO.
Andy Baldacci: Nathan, thanks for coming on the show today.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. Thank you. I'm super excited to be on, Andy.
Andy Baldacci: So you're the founder of Gotch SEO. What exactly does your business do? Obviously, it has something to do with SEO, but I'm curious from your perspective, how would you describe the services that you offer? And then how did you actually get started with it?
Nathan Gotch: In its current state, Gotch SEO makes money in a variety of ways. The first way is through white label services. So basically, offering services to other SEO marketing agencies and these are micro services, so maybe a blog or outreach service where we go and acquire length on relevant blogs or citation building service or even a premium link service, where we go out and acquire on Forbes or Huffington Post and that's all white label. So basically, what happens is we do all the fulfillment and then we send the report over to the agency and it has no branding or anything like that so then they can send it off to their clients. That enables them to scale their agencies a little bit more and focus more on the sales side of things.
And then my other big revenue source is my SEO Training Platform, which is Gotch SEO Academy, and that just offers a variety of courses in SEO. So our main course is a White Hat SEO Mastery course, where we just go from point A to Z on how to go through a whole white hat SEO strategy. And then there's some other micro courses as well that we'll be coming out with. But that's our pillar course that we started out with.
And then, I still have a couple clients left over from my SEO agency, which is really how I got started.
Andy Baldacci: I see.
Nathan Gotch: But now at this point, the other two revenue sources have completely outgrown my SEO agency clients, so I've just slowly been letting them go.
Andy Baldacci: When did the whole SEO journey start for you, at least blogging publicly about what you were doing?
Nathan Gotch: Well, I actually got my start in SEO when I was still in college, so I was a senior in college. This was 2011, 2012. I don't really remember. I stumbled upon SEO because I was basically just looking for a way to make money online, so what I did was I created a blog because some program that I bought, I think the program was called Web Colleagues? And looking back on it in hindsight, it was a really terrible program, but it gave me the ideas that I needed to get started. I went out there and I created a baseball pitching blog because I was a baseball pitcher in college. I created that blog and that was basically the catalyst for me learning how to do SEO and for me making my first couple dollars online.
And then from there, I just started creating more niche websites and a variety of different niches. And it was weird because I wasn't really doing it to make money. I was kind of doing it just to get better at SEO, if that makes sense. Because my end goal was to start getting clients and doing SEO for businesses. And so that's actually the way it ended up going is I created these niche sites. I got a lot better at SEO and then I was able to start bringing on clients. And then for about three years, probably from 2013 until about last year, I was doing pure client SEO work. And at the same time I was also blogging on Gotch SEO about basically what I was finding, doing SEO for all those businesses. So …
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, sorry.
Nathan Gotch: No, go ahead. Go ahead.
Andy Baldacci: Well I was going to say it's amazing to me a lot of times you'll see more the accidental entrepreneur. You'll have people stumble into what they do through luck, through some random project they're doing, something catches their eye, whatever. But I like that talking with you right from the beginning, you're like, alright, I'm going to play around with SEO but it's only because I want to get better at this because I know this is a valuable thing that I can offer eventually to clients.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, that's exactly the way I thought about it. And I knew I could have taken the niche site route and I probably could have made a good income doing that, but I knew it would take a really long time and I didn't really have a lot of time when it came to my finances. (laughs) So I focused on client SEO because that's really the fastest way to drive a lot of revenue fast. You're collecting payments up front and you get a lot of cash flow, which allowed me to invest that cash into other areas, which now I'm able … I'm diversified in my revenue sources because I was able to get that cash flow from clients.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. So, let's fast forward a bit to today. And we're recording this near the end of 2017 and I'm sure, even just looking over your blog, private blog networks were a big tactic you were talking about a few years back, and just overall the scene in SEO. What works and what doesn't is constantly changing, so let's focus on today and from my perspective as someone who's always kind of interested in SEO, never gotten too, too deep into it. It's something that on-page SEO is something that, especially today, can't be overlooked but what is the most, I guess, I don't like using the term sexy when it comes to marketing coz I don't think this stuff is sexy. But the most appealing aspect of SEO or the thing that people talk about the most is link building. And it really just does seem to be the life blood of SEO.
But it also attracts a ton of differing opinions on how to do it right. And so, in your opinion, coming into 2018, what is the correct way or how at least would you approach link building?
Nathan Gotch: Well, it really depends on what your level of risk you want to take on. If you're someone who doesn't care about the risk of getting penalized by Google, then you may wanna focus more on the gray hat method. Gray hat methods may be the blog networks, things like that they certainly do work but they do come with a lot of risks. Or you can focus on more white hat based link acquisition strategies. And for me personally, the way that I do it is I focus first, and this is the very first thing I focus on, is creating great content assets.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Nathan Gotch: And I always start there, I never start with link building. I always start with the foundation. And so, there's really no reason to be going out there and acquiring backlinks unless you have a strong base on your website. Because if you're just building links to, let's say you have an e-commerce website, and you're building links to just the home page and the category pages and the product pages, well, it looks very unnatural.
Andy Baldacci: Right.
Nathan Gotch: And it looks a lot more natural if links are being acquired to a really valuable piece of content. And so, when I still had a lot of clients and we were doing a content-based approach, we would always create a great base of content assets. And then we would go out and acquire links to those content assets, with the intention of trying to build their website authority, which makes SEO a lot easier when your site gets stronger.
The big thing that I'm really trying to get people to think about going in 2018 is to really stop focusing so much on acquiring backlinks.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, because Google is really at a point where they are just analyzing so many user signals outside of just traditional link building because before links were the strongest factor. There was no question whatsoever. You cannot rank without backlinks, most of which super uncompetitive. But now, I'm ranking pages without even a single backlink. And the reason for that is because I'm creating really great content assets that also have great users signals that are basically acting as validation for the value of that content. And so, there are many, many user signals that you can think about but some of them are dwell time. So, how long are the users staying on the actual page? It could be … Is the user visiting a second page? Or are they just bouncing right off til they land.
And then also the other big thing is goal completion. This isn't necessarily proven but there is some evidence that Google can see goal completion. So goal completion can be like someone comes from search, let's say they're searching for backlinks. They land on my back links article and they subscribe to my e-mail list. Well, that will be a goal completion.
And that increases the level of trust for your website, the more that happens. And the opposite is true with if people are landing on your site and they're never goal completion, then there might be an issue there.
Andy Baldacci: I see.
Nathan Gotch: There's a lot of that stuff going on. Before, SEO used to be a lot more simple. It used to be-
Andy Baldacci: Yeah.
Nathan Gotch: Create a keyword target page. Go out there and acquire links, doesn't really matter the quality. But at this point, it's a lot more complicated. You have to really be focused on … The way it really should be is focused on giving an incredible user experience on your website first. And giving great content that adds value to your prospects and then acquiring links that are actually high quality.
Andy Baldacci: I see. [crosstalk 00:09:37]
Nathan Gotch: Go ahead.
Andy Baldacci: There's a lot to unpack there. Right out of the gate, Google has always said publicly, it's all about, "Don't try to game the system, try to make great content." But when they were a bit less sophisticated in terms of the algorithm, it was just so easy to game, it was almost silly not to. And for the longest time, like you were saying, the quantity and quality of links has been the strongest signal because that's something that they can measure pretty well and it does happen naturally. If you do create great content that people want to consume then they're also going to wanna share it. Then other people are gonna be talking about it. And in doing that, you're gonna get links.
So, that part makes sense. And hearing you talk about the user actions. How did you describe that again?
Nathan Gotch: Just user signals.
Andy Baldacci: And so hearing you talk about that, it goes even deeper into the reason why you need to create content that people actually want to consume. And so, one quick question I just have is, do you need to have Google Analytics installed on your site for Google to be able to pick up on these things? Would you say it's a detriment to not have Google Analytics on your site, if you're using some other tool for analytics or metrics like that?
Nathan Gotch: It's really, really hard to know because obviously, I don't have internal data from Google. So, of course I don't know. But you can assume at least … This is the way I try to think about things when I'm trying to figure out what my course of action should be. I just assume that Google knows almost everything.
Andy Baldacci: Okay.
Nathan Gotch: So, whether Analytics are installed or not, they probably are tracking you in some other way.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Nathan Gotch: And so, either through Chrome or whatever Google products [crosstalk 00:11:29] you have installed.
Andy Baldacci: Oh, I didn't think of that.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, so basically, you have to be off the map with Google completely for them to not be gathering some sort of data about your behavior online. And that's very hard to do because they're pretty much everywhere. (laughs)
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, no. I didn't even think about Chrome, which is super obvious now. Obviously not everybody who's visiting your site is using Chrome. But a big portion will be that whether or not you have Analytics, whether or not they have some way to peer into the backend of your site, they're gonna just see what everyone is actually doing because people are using their browser.
Nathan Gotch: Exactly. There's some proof. Well, I wouldn't say proof, it's more an [inaudible 00:12:16]. But when someone bookmarks a page on Chrome, that is actually a positive user signal. Because it's showing that they're actually gonna go back and read that or they saw some sort of value in that. So, Google is tracking. Basically, anything that happens on Chrome, they're tracking.
Andy Baldacci: Right.
Nathan Gotch: And of course, they're gonna use that for their algorithms.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, obviously the black hats will always try to find ways to game this where maybe they'll be using bots to simulate views, and start making bookmarks in Chrome and start doing whatever, sign-up for the e-mail list, all of that. But it's almost at a certain point easier to just create good content. And for my audience especially, which is made up of software start-up founders, they're not gonna want to risk their business on black hat or even gray hat tactics. They want to build truly a brand and to that you need to put the user first. So, I'm curious, what are some of the ways that you've been able to optimize those user signals? How have you made the content more valuable and more accessible and whatever else the users truly want?
Nathan Gotch: Well, it all starts with identifying the right keyword to go after for your particular business. And then once you do that, you have to basically figure what the searcher intent is behind those keywords. So, this is where it gets a little more trickier because the traditional notion is that when you identify a keyword, for example, I found backlinks, as my keyword. What you wanna do, according to a lot of data that's been out there, is you wanna create a really piece of content. And that's pretty good approach for most keyword. It doesn't necessarily apply to every single keyword. The reason is because of searcher intent. So, for example, someone searches for, how to build backlinks. Clearly, they're looking for information on how to build backlinks. But if someone searches for, buy backlinks, they're looking to buy backlinks. (laughs)
Andy Baldacci: They want a quick thing. They want something right away.
Nathan Gotch: Exactly. Or if someone is looking for, SEO audit tool, they're looking for a tool. They're not looking for a 5,000-word article. They're just looking for a tool that's gonna audit their website. And so, one thing that I tell a lot of people that are in my course, my SEO training course, is that pretty much the only thing you should ever copy your competitors on is searcher intent. And it's really simple. You just find a keyword, you go to the first page and look at those 10 results and how they're fulfilling that searcher intent. Because clearly
Andy Baldacci: I see.
Nathan Gotch: They're ranking because they did it correctly. And so, that's the only thing I ever said that you should copy. So for example, SEO audit tool, if all 10 results are SEO audit tools then you probably shouldn't create a long form article or anything like that.
Andy Baldacci: That makes sense.
Nathan Gotch: So, that distinction is really important because a lot of people will hear blanket advice like, "oh, just write 1800-word articles." And that's not always true.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Nathan Gotch: So, that's one thing that you have to do is identify the right keywords and make sure that you're going after keywords that your website is actually capable of ranking for. So, my website Gotch SEO, I can go after really short keywords like backlinks or anchor text because I have a lot of authority. But if you're a brand-new company and your website has no backlinks, it has no drive, it wouldn't make sense to go after those really head based keywords. It would make more sense to go after longer tail keywords. At the onset, get some quick wins and then as your website builds authority, you can start going after the more competitive keywords.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. And one of the things that when I was looking at your site, and I remember the email I sent to you to get you to see if you were interested in the interview, was because I came across this when I was dabbling in SEO at least three years ago, and you put out, I think it was just called, "The Anchor Text Bible". So, I've been familiar with your blog for quite some time, and you've put a ton of great content. But one thing I have noticed is that it doesn't seem as though frequency of content is your top priority. You're not obsessed with putting out a ton of decent quality content, which a lot of companies, a lot of blogs, are doing. It seems like you're trying to go a lot deeper, and when you do publish content or update content, try to make it of an authority piece than just a standalone kind of quick and easy blog post. Is the advice that you need to publish weekly, daily, whatever to get results in SEO, is that no longer accurate?
Nathan Gotch: Definitely. It's no longer accurate, and I don't even think it was accurate in the first place. If you're focusing purely on an SEO content strategy that's trying to drive organic search traffic, there is absolutely no correlation to creating more content is going to generate more organic search traffic. It just doesn't work that way because, sure, if you're a super authority website like Huffington Post or Forbes, you can pump out a lot of content and rank pretty well because it's such a strong website. But if you're a brand new business, like I said, without a lot of authority, you're gonna need to really try to create amazing content and focus on just creating the absolute best content for whatever keyword you're targeting. Actually, really just creating the best page for whatever keyword you're targeting.
For me, personally, the way that I do it is when I identify a keyword, I try to create something that's different and better than what is currently ranking on the first page. Once I feel like I've done that, then I track the results, I do all the necessary promotion and link acquisition to push stuff to the first page, and if I feel like I'm not where I need to be, I just add more to that content because clearly it's not adding enough value to get me to where I need to be. I just really focus all of my effort on ranking these solo pages because there's really no point in me going and creating a new piece of content that's targeting a new keyword if I haven't even ranked for the first one.
And that's just the way I think about it. Of course, there are many different ways to go about creating content for SEO purposes, but for me, personally, I've always found that really focusing on these keywords and doing everything I can, either from a link acquisition standpoint or beefing up the content or adding more value to the content or adding more media types to the content is always the better ROI in the long run.
Andy Baldacci: It's interesting because I recently, five months or so ago, joined up with Groove, which makes simple help desk software, and our growth has come entirely through content, but a minimal part has been from SEO. It's been just from building an audience by publishing content that people share and engage with, and it helps lead them to our product. That's still a valid content marketing strategy, so I did like that you had some qualifiers that if you're producing content for the purpose of SEO, frequency doesn't matter because there are some times where it does, but as we've been digging more into SEO, and I've been thinking about it, we have two blogs pretty much. We have a startup journey blog where we've just kind of as a diary talked about what we've worked on, what experiments we're running, what works, what doesn't, just the lessons we've learned as we go on. And that is something that, just by the nature of any journey, is ongoing. It's something that new content is just a natural fit for.
But on the customer service side of things, a lot of those posts should be evergreen. If we're trying to say these are the best practices for email support or for whatever the topic, it doesn't, in my opinion, make a ton of sense to just keep putting out new takes on that and just adding to the backlog of content. It would make more sense to have a standalone resource that you continuously update as you improve. More of a library rather than just putting out new stuff after new stuff. Does that seem like we're on the right track in that thinking?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, that's exactly right. That's why I made sure to specify that SEO based content is much different that a content marketing approach, because that quantity based approach does work for content marketing. You can look at something like Gary Vaynerchuk who puts out insane amount of content. To even try to compete with him is just insane on its own, but it shows you that doing that, adding a ton of value on a quantity based approach, does work across many different platforms.
But as far as SEO performance ranking purely in the search engine and just focusing on that and creating evergreen pieces of content, it's always gonna make more sense just to focus on creating really great pages around a single keyword or very closely related keywords. It just doesn't make sense to … Let's say, for example, email support. I wouldn't make sense just to be creating a bunch of little micro-articles about that single topic. Not only from a ranking perspective, but also from a resources perspective, because if you're creating those little pieces of content, that means you have to acquire links to every different page that you create. But if you had just one page, you only have to acquire links to one page. That page will build a lot more authority and will rank a lot easier in that way.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. And yeah, it's something where when you go the next step, too, is that it's also for the users. If they're just trying to figure out what can they implement in their business to offer better email support, they don't want to have to … it might almost trick the user signals because they're clicking onto a lot of different pages, but at the end of the day, they don't want to have to read five articles when you could just condense it down into one resource that they could consume and just walk away knowing what they need there.
Nathan Gotch: Of course, yeah. It's almost disturbing how simple SEO can be when you really just step back. A lot of people over complicate the whole process, but it's really as simple as just getting as much value on that keyword as possible and basically just tapping it out as much as you can and then getting the necessary links from other relevant sources that are gonna build the authority. For me, personally, and this is the strategy that my company's been using for a long time is when we create a page around a keyword, we don't acquire links until absolutely necessary. We try to get it as far as we possibly can in the search results before we acquire links. Once it's hit that stopping point, let's say it's stuck at maybe the 12th position right off the first page, then we know that, okay, it needs a little bit of juice to get it to where it needs to go. But for the most part, if we can rank these pages without links, we're gonna do it because, honestly, at this point, and it's been this way probably about two years, links are very, very expensive. The ROI of acquiring backlinks is … It makes more sense just to go out there and buy Facebook ads for the same amount of money than it does to buy one single link.
I actually have an SEO experiment series I have for not just SEO Academy members, but I also offer seven of those videos if you sign up for, it's just like an email series. But in the seventh video, it's all about an experiment I did where I created a page around the keyword "buy backlinks". I used that one earlier, but it's actually a real example. I created a page around "buy backlinks", and I wanted to see if I could rank it without backlinks and only use Facebook signals, and that's exactly what I did. I spent $500 boosting this post and driving a ton of Facebook traffic to this article for "buy backlinks", that keyword, and it ranks number one for "buy backlinks" without any backlinks.
That was a big experiment I did, and it was quite the game changer for me because I'm like, man, if I don't have to invest in backlinks, why would I. There's no reason to. If I can rank without them, there's literally no reason to because a lot of link acquisition comes with risk even when you're doing it the right way. If I don't acquire any links, I really have no risk at all.
When it comes to SEO, the only thing I focus on is what's gonna bring me the best ROI. If I can get a better ROI driving Facebook signals or whatever signals outside or backlinks, I'm gonna do it.
Andy Baldacci: That's interesting. As someone who a significant portion of your business comes from a lot of it is link building on some level, how do you approach that with your clients? Obviously, you're primarily working with agencies and not the end client themselves, but how would you recommend to someone who is looking into backlinks? How should they approach that? Is it simply just do what you guys are doing where build out the page as good as you can, see where it goes, and when it plateaus decide if that's good enough, or is there more to it than that?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, it depends on the business. For example, a lot of these agencies are working with really small, local companies like a local plumber or some sort of really small one person business, so they're not gonna be able to create these monster content [crosstalk 00:10:26] nor do they have the time to do that. If you don't have the resources to create really great content or really great pages, then you have to make up for it somewhere, and that's gonna be probably acquiring more backlinks.
It's kind of a balancing act depending on what the business is, but, of course, I'm always gonna recommend creating the best pages that you can around keywords, but if you can't do that, it's just not possible from a resource or time perspective, then the approach should be to try to build the authority of the website through link acquisition. Of course, that can be done through guest posting or broken link building or scholarship link building, all kinds of things you can do that don't involve having to create content assets as your way to attract backlinks.
Andy Baldacci: Right. One thing I wanna talk about is digging into that a bit more. I think at this point, we've done a good job of making it clear that there's a lot more to it than just building links and what needs to be done beforehand to really lay the groundwork for success in whatever way you're trying to apply SEO in your business, but when the links are necessary, and I think in a lot of my listeners, especially in the software world, a lot of the terms that are gonna be driving the relevant traffic to them are very competitive, and some level of link building is likely to be necessary. I could be wrong on that, but that's just what I'm assuming.
Assuming they're at that point and they do want to build some links, you mentioned a few different options there. One of the things that I've been trying to wrap my head around is that when you have the classic skyscraper method, when you have the broken link building where you're going to almost build a skyscraper for a page that used to exist but didn't anymore, has a hundred links to it, reach out to all those people and try to get a bunch of links, whatever. You have these tactics like those that you create one piece of content and they attract many links. Obviously, attract is underselling it a bit. You have to go out and promote it, you have to actively try to get those links, but then you have the guest posts, which you're pretty much writing one piece of content in exchange for a few, one to maybe three, links from that. How do you decide when it's worth the effort to go after those pretty high effort, one-off, I'm gonna write this post for your site to get a link back? What kind of calculus goes into when that makes sense?
Nathan Gotch: If you're just starting out, it makes sense to invest your time tapping into other people's audiences through guest posting. Guest posting comes with a variety of benefits. Not only are you gonna be getting a link, which is important for a new website because you need to start building some traction, building some authority, but also just the fact that you can tap into other audiences that can drive referral traffic to your website, which, if you're doing it the right way, you're focusing on blogs that are relevant to your business, that could be perspective customers that you could convert into an email subscriber, maybe even convert into a customer for whatever you're selling.
There are a lot of that come to guest posting. Also, another indirect effect is that you're building authority in your industry when you guest post, especially if you're a completely unknown business, it's really important to start building authority on a brand level and even on a personal level. The founder goes out there and starts guest posting, his name's gonna start showing up a lot more, and he's gonna start to build his authority up lot more in that way.
Yeah. I'm always gonna say that building a base of content assets that have the ability to attract backlinks should be the priority, and that's where most resources should go because ultimately when it comes down to it, you wanna build up your website because that's your business, and you wanna build that up. That's where the bulk of your resources should be going. But when you're completely new, you should definitely be trying to get the word out there about your brand, and one way to do that is through guest posting. That's pretty much the easiest way to do it.
And then there are some other things you can do. You can do HARO. I don't know if you've heard of that, but Help A Reporter Out. That's another way for a new company to get more exposure on relevant websites or authoritative websites. There are many things you can do at the beginning, but in the long term, creating those content assets, while they may not attract a ton of backlinks in the beginning when you first publish them, in the long run, if you continue to promote them and continue to improve them over time, they're gonna attract backlinks, and that's gonna build your authority.
When you're thinking about SEO, you really have to think long term. You can't just think about, "Oh, I just spent 40 hours creating this piece of content. Why is it not ranking, and why am I not making a milling dollars?" It just doesn't work that way, unfortunately. There's a ton of up front investment, and it takes a long time to see a return on it, but when it does, it's a really, really nice return. Yeah.
Andy Baldacci: I think there's a few things there, that I mean … the first is that a lot of what we are talking about is, we might be phrasing it as link building, but ultimately it's not just about the link. It's not just about that SEO signal. It's what you were saying with guest posts, is that, you should look at that as a way to build your own authority. To get out in the space. To tap in other people's audiences. Those are all things that can help with SEO for sure, but they have benefits of their own. It seems like as SEO, as Google has evolved, it really is important to not take the kind of black hat, gray hat approach where you are trying to game it. Don't just think about the links. Think about what you are trying to do to really build a brand around your company. Just through that it's going to help yourself in the search results. Does that seem a fair way of phrasing it?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. That's exactly it. I can tell you from a personal experience when I played around with black hat and gray hat stuff, it wasn't very fun. It was really hard. I was getting results doing that stuff but it was always high stress.
The biggest thing that I've made that's already been a few times on my blog, but if you're using private blog networks, for example, I think the biggest detriment of doing that isn't the risk, but all it … the fact that you're working on a skill and you're using a strategy that isn't actually valuable. You're just creating … it's all artificial. It's not helping your business from a brand perspective, or anything like that. It's all just pure manipulation and it's just not worth it. It's not worth doing that because if you're really trying to build a company and you're trying to build a brand that people trust, then you should be going out there and getting exposure on real websites, not fake ones. It just doesn't make sense honestly, from a completely business perspective. It doesn't make sense. So why, when I kind of shifted my thought to thinking about, okay, how can I grow my company through SEO that doesn't involve artificial links or manipulation. That's when I saw the greatest growth.
Andy Baldacci: No, it's interesting and I think especially when your goal is to build a real business, which for my listeners, that is their goal. You need to take that step back. It's so easy when you're studying SEO, when you're really learning about this, that you can just get bombarded with tactic after tactic and all these different strategies. But when you take a step back and figure out, okay, what am I actually trying to do? What is Google actually trying to optimize for? And while there are going to be signals involved in the making of those decisions, what is the end result that they want to have their users experience and if you can create that quality content that answers the questions, that matches the searchers intent, then in the long run you're going to do well. It might be annoying when you see someone jump up with some kind of shady back links, but at least, in most of the industries that we're in, the big players aren't doing too too much of that. But it still can be easy to just kind of get lost in the weeds like that.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. It's the type of thing where you can't control what other people are doing.
Andy Baldacci: Right. True.
Nathan Gotch: Really, that's why it ultimately for me, I never care if one of my competitors is doing gray hat stuff because that's their own problem. I'm not going to worry about that because all I can do is really focus on my approach and my strategy and trying to focus on what SEO strategies are going to work, not just today, but also five years from now. That's kind of the way that I approach it.
Andy Baldacci: Say for listeners who have an established website, they've probably been blogging a bit, not crazy actively and probably not getting amazing or the most traffic, but they have something out there. People know who they are. If you look at the actual metrics, there's some domain authority there. So it's not just like they're starting a website from scratch. If they do start to focus more on building out that foundation and building out that valuable content foundation and start really building out everything around that, how … I know there's no answer to this, as far as, how long will it take them to start seeing results. But how do they at least know they're on the right track? When should they start seeing some movement in the results pages? How can they make sure that they're moving the right direction and not kind of moving too slow about it?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. It kind of depends on your level of skill when it comes to SEO. If you've never done SEO, it probably again take you a little bit longer. If you have some experience it may take you a little bit less time, but really all that I can say is and I'm used to giving this answer because I wouldn't for three years climb to the opportunity, how long is it going to take me to rank and start getting more customers to search? It's a very common question. But it's kind of based on what you're doing. If you have a website that does have some authority and you are going through the process of creating great content assets, then you can, between two to six months, is a good time frame for most pages to rank. But it also depends on the level of competition for that keyword. There's just a lot of variables that go into it, for me to be able to say an exact amount of time.
But the one thing that I can say is you just have to constantly measure your performance and use the right KPIs. Back in the day, you used to just track keyword ranking. They use to be the way to determine how effective your SEO has been. But now, at this stage, because of how many different keywords that Google can tie in to a single phrase, you should be really focusing on organic search traffic growth. If your traffic isn't growing, then you need to be a little concerned about what's going on.
Really, at this point, the only KPI that I really use is organic search traffic in Google Analytics. But I do still track individual keywords just to kind of see where they are. But it's funny, at this point, you'll target a keyword and you could be on the second page for the keyword that you're actually tracking, but you can still be getting a ton of organic search traffic to that page because of all the long-tails that are related to that keyword. That's why it's important to track the organic search traffic because if you're just focused purely on, "I have to rank this one exact phrase," it will probably drive you insane. Especially if you're targeting local searches. It gets a lot crazier because you're having to deal with geolocation and all kinds of personalized results that go on.
Andy Baldacci: I didn't even think about that.
Nathan Gotch: No. That's why keyword rankings are a little spotting at this point because there's a lot of personalization in the search results. That's why it's really important to track organic search traffic. Of course, after that track, how much of that organic search traffic is actually converting into customers? Because that's really what-
Andy Baldacci: Do you mind if we go a few minutes over?
Nathan Gotch: No, that's fine!
Andy Baldacci: Okay, cool. I'm just taking a note of the time so that I can edit that out.
But, it's something where it has been more difficult to really dive into the exact metrics, as it's harder to track what keywords people are coming to a site from. I think having some directional guidance, of just looking at overall organic search traffic is a great tip. Obviously, in my opinion, you still want to track the keywords but like you said, you don't want that to be the be all, end all and just focus on that because … Was it … one of your blog posts where you mentioned, I think, ranking for PBN and you showed the search volume for PBN, but then you showed how much traffic was actually coming to that page. Was that you?
Nathan Gotch: Yep. That was me.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah. There is just so much else greater than the single keyword that if that's all you're looking at, you're going to be missing a lot. Nathan, we covered a lot. One question I want to ask to kind of start wrapping things up a little bit, is just with how much the industry has changed and with how much the tactics that are effective have changed, what do you see as kind of the future going forward for SEO? What will SEO look like in the next few years?
Nathan Gotch: Well, the one thing I know for sure and this is not just something that's going to impact SEO, but it's gonna impact marketing in general is voice. Voice search and anything related to voice is going to have a really huge impact on, just really, everything that if you're a marketer, you're doing it as a marketer, or a business, you're trying to market your business. Voice is a big deal and the one way to leverage that from an SEO perspective is … and I know this is really hard from a resource perspective and logistics perspective, but for me personally, any page that I'm creating, I'm not just creating a long form piece of content. But I'm also creating a video for that content. I'm also creating an audio version for that content as well.
I'm really trying to leverage all the media on that single page because, honestly, video, as you probably know, is really going to be the future of content consumption. It pretty much is already here. Most people are digesting content through video and audio. It's going to be catching up very, very soon. Not to say that people are just going to stop reading. People are going to continue reading, but that's why it's so critical to have all three forms of content digestion and media types on one page because everyone digests content a different way.
Most importantly, Google is going to be looking at those things as well. If they're trying to determine what page to rank because they have two pages. One page has a 5,000 word article, the other page has a 5,000 word article, but one of those pages has both audio and video, the other page just has an article. Who's going to win in that? Obviously, it's going to be the one who is adding more media and depth to their content. Also, from an indirect perspective, when you have video and audio it actually increases the dwell time of that page. Which, as I said before, is a positive user signal. There's just a lot of good reasons to do it, not just from an SEO perspective but also just from a general content marketing perspective as well.
Andy Baldacci: That makes perfect sense. For the busy start up founder that has been listening to this, has kind of had their mind blown on what they thought SEO was like and now after hearing you talk, have a much different perspective and they want to make some changes in their business but don't know where to begin. What is just a good first step to take, to kind of get things back on the right track for their business?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. If you're ready to start doing SEO, the first thing you should do is just do some deep keyword research. Just use … really, you can use many different ways to find keywords. Obviously, the most obvious is to use the Google Keyword Planner, but there are some more advanced ways you can go out there and find keywords such as going to forums. Using Ubersuggest.
I'll just say real quick, the way you use forums is just go to relevant forums so you can just go into Google and put SEO plus forum or fitness plus forum. Then just look at the categories. The way that, that forum is laid out and then go deeper and look at the threads. What are people talking about? You can find a lot of topics in there and this is something that I teach in the Academy.
But a lot of people when they start doing SEO, is that they just go into the Google Keyword Planner and look at the search volume for a keyword. Of course, that's a good idea, but there are actually other ways to validate keyword ideas because sometimes you'll find a keyword and you'll throw it in the Google Keyword Planner and it will have no search volume. Most people would be, "It doesn't have search volume. Well then I'm not going to go after it." But that's actually a really bad idea because you have to remember that Google doesn't have data on every single keyword that's ever existed.
Andy Baldacci: True.
Nathan Gotch: They have a lot of data. No doubt about it. But there are things that they are missing and one way to validate keyword ideas is, if you find an idea in a forum, look at the amount of user engagement around that topic. If there's a lot user engagement around that topic, then you can basically figure out or figure that it's going to have engagement in the search engine as well because if people are interested on the forum, they're probably going to be interested in a search engine as well. That's one thing that I do. I use a combination of those two things. Targeting keywords that actually have search volume in the Google Keyword Planner, but also targeting keywords that don't, but have that user engagement as a validation method.
Andy Baldacci: That's an awesome tip. That's something where I hadn't even thought of that at all. Do you have any articles, or an article on your site that goes more into keyword research?
Nathan Gotch: Yeah, I do. It's more of a round up. It's seven SEO experts give their favorite keyword research tips, but I can send that to you.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. I'll make sure to get that linked up in the show notes. Before we do say goodbye, I'd like to just ask all my guests a couple rapid fire questions. And I know … the first one is just, I know that you learn a lot through experimentation yourself, but if you were to name a few people in the space that you also have learned from working or continue to learn from, who would those people be?
Nathan Gotch: I would have to say the people that continue to impress me as far as SEO are Brian Dean. Who I think you said you interviewed, right?
Andy Baldacci: He will be coming up. I interviewed him … but, it's scheduled.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. He's the master of creating incredible content for SEO. He's just the man. He just understands it and I've learned a ton from him. Then also, I don't know if you know who Ryan Stewart is? He's the founder of WEBRIS.
Andy Baldacci: Okay.
Nathan Gotch: But he is very, very good. He's very systems oriented. He's really good at building systems for SEO purposes and he runs a really good SEO agency. I've actually been sending my prospects to him. That I don't want to work with at this point because he wants to build a big SEO agency and that's just not my thing. Then, let me think who else … I'd say Nick Eubanks is the other one. Have you heard of him?
Andy Baldacci: I have.
Nathan Gotch: Yeah. He's very good at technical SEO. Then, Matthew Barby, who I think is the head of SEO at HubSpot. I'm pretty sure that's the position, but he's also really good as well. There are a lot of good guys out there honestly, but for me personally, I've just kind of found that I learn the most when I'm actually in the weeds, doing it myself. I can read all day, but unfortunately that's not going to get me anywhere because if someone says, even those guys as qualified as they are, if they tell me, "Hey, x strategy is working." How can I really know that it's working without actually testing it myself. That's just kind of my approach.
Andy Baldacci: No. I don't blame you. I think that's a great approach. I think it will be helpful for people who are just starting out to always have people that they can lean on. Whose advice can kind of give them a kickstart but as you kind of become more sophisticated yourself, you still, like you're saying, you want to check it yourself. You want to have your own framework and then obviously listen to what other smart people in space are saying, but don't just take that at face value. You always want to dig a little bit deeper. The last question, though, is just, right now it seems like you've, in the past couple of years reshaped your business a bit. Today, going forward, what is the biggest challenge that you're facing at Gotch SEO?
Nathan Gotch: Oh man. That's a good question. I think business is always a challenge, but for me personally, I feel I've kind of gone as far as I can, as far as SEO goes. I just understand it. I know how to drive organic search traffic. I guess the real challenge for me is focusing on the other facets of business and that includes diversifying my marketing methods outside of SEO. Focusing on acquiring customers through Facebook ads and even focusing on customer experience for my SEO training platform, which is something I never really had to think about when I was just doing client work. Those are the challenges that I'm constantly dealing with, but all those challenges just make it better. Make your business better. I definitely welcome them.
Andy Baldacci: Nice. Well, Nathan, it was great talking with you and before we say goodbye I want to make sure to give you an opportunity to let listeners know where they can go to hear more from you because you really have given us a ton to think about and I think if people are curious about SEO, they're going to want even more. If they do want to hear more from you, if they want to check up at Academy, what are the best places then to go to do that?
Nathan Gotch: They can just go to my blog, GotchSEO.com. I put out a new piece of content, usually about every month. But when I do put it out, it's pretty in depth. Then if you want to get more premium based training, more structured training, then obviously Gotch SEO Academy is a good resource for that. Then outside of that, we offer white label services that can help you scale your SEO efforts a lot easier, once you have the resources to do so. Those are the things.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. I'll make sure to get all that linked up in the show notes. Nathan, thank you again so much for your time. It was a lot of fun chatting.
Nathan Gotch: Of course! Thank you so much Andy.