Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can seem confusing and mysterious. And the SEO industry seems to have more scam artists and spam emails than the weight-loss industry. But we all want to rank on Google to get free organic search traffic to our websites, especially for relevant keywords, because of the high potential impact on the bottom line. So what works and what doesn’t in SEO? And do small Ecommerce sites have a chance against the big players like Amazon and Walmart?
Michael King is the founder and CEO of iPullRank and has been in the SEO space since the Wild Wild West days in 2006.
Michael King: I mean, search in general is just such a powerful channel, but organic search, it just has that compound effect that you’re not going to get from paid media.
Izach Porter: all right, you’re listening to the Deal Closers Podcast, brought to you by websiteclosers.com. A show about how to build your e-commerce business to be profitable, scalable, and one day even sellable. I’m Isaac Porter, and on the show today, we’re talking all about a topic that can seem confusing and sometimes mysterious, but if it’s done right it can be extremely impactful to your bottom line. This is search engine optimization or SEO.
We all want to rank on Google to get free organic search traffic to our websites, especially for relevant keywords. But the SEO industry seems to have more scam artists and spam emails than the weight-loss industry. So it’s a challenge to truly know what works and what doesn’t, or even if as a small business, we can compete against the big players. With me today is someone who’s been in the SEO space since 2006 and can help us navigate what we really should be doing to rank. He’s the founder and CEO of iPullRank, 2020 search marketer of the year and author of The Science of SEO. This is Mr. Michael King. Hey, how’s it going today, Mike?
Michael: Fantastic. Thanks for having me Isaac. I’m excited to be here.
Izach: Yeah, yeah. Really glad to have you on the show. SEO is something that I think is increasingly important. A lot of the D2C brands we’re working with, have seen really big challenges with their paid traffic. Some of the faces we’ve had on the, on the podcast earlier this year some experts who are kind of Facebook marketers, and talking about the challenges that occurred with the Apple iOS 15 update last year on the Facebook platform. And so it seems to me, a good SEO strategy is, has always been important, but maybe now is more important than ever. And so really was excited to talk with you about this.
The early days of SEO were, were pretty wild. So what do you remember back from the mid two thousands?
Michael: I mean, I think they were even more wild than when I got into it, you know, by the time ’06 came around, it was still pretty wild, wild west. Like where I worked was an SEO agency that I can only really describe as the chop shop at this point. You know, the extent of what we did like, I didn’t really understand what I was doing at this point because I’d never done SEO. And so it was so much about just like shoving keywords into meta keywords tags, and the extent of your link building was like, you know, typing in your target keyword with the words Submit URL after it and things like that.
And so you were doing a lot of things that didn’t necessarily work that well, because you know, the industry was still kind of new. And then there were people that knew how to escape the edges of the algorithm, doing things like you know, buying links and, and putting, you know, white on white texts to get more on the page and so on.
And so it was so much more about that stuff than it was doing something really of value for end users. A lot of times, even nowadays people would be like, oh yeah, we got to make SEO content. That’s what it was, like tricking robots and so on to get to your page and think it’s more valuable than other people’s pages. Things have evolved dramatically since then, you know, with some of the key algorithm updates that Google rolls out like Panda, Penguin, those were just significant game changers that made SEO far more like proper marketing than what it was before.
And for me, it’s actually been great to go through that evolution because, you know, I want to do much cooler stuff. Like I want to be, you know, the Don Draper of SEO, not some like random person, that’s just shoving keywords on the page. And so it’s really opened up the opportunity to do things that are far more interesting, compelling, and it’s far more about content strategy and content marketing than just like knowing little tricks at this point.
Izach: Gotcha. So you’re talking about the art and the science?
Izach: Yeah. So, so tell us the story of iPullRank. how did you start your own SEO agency?
Michael: I started it after, you know, a number of years of doing all these thought leadership things like speaking all over the world, blogging for a lot of people, and so, you know, when I came into it, I was somewhat popular, right? Like there were people who were like, I’ve been wanting to work with you, but I didn’t want to work with the agencies that you worked at before. It was, you know, a good kickstart, like one day I decided I wanted to start the agency.
Two weeks later, I had two clients, you know, it just kind of kept snowballing from there. And that’s not to say it was easy, cause you know, I’d never ran a business before. Like I ran SEO teams, but running a business as you know, is just far different and there’s a lot of bumps in the road, but you know, we very quickly were able to start getting great enterprise clients and it’s just kind of snowballed from there.
Izach: Awesome. So our audience is mostly small to mid-size e-commerce business owners. Realistically, do they have a chance to rank against, you know, Amazon, Walmart, other kind of retail monsters out in this space?
Michael: They do. But you know, it’s got to be on certain keywords, of course. Having more expertise around a certain product yes, you can beat an Amazon, but it is certainly not easy, right? Like you can beat them in the long tail of course pretty easily, and then you’ve got to grow to the midterms and ultimately the head turns, but the head turns are going to be far more difficult, just because they’re going to require far more authority to get there. And so if you’re a small business, I mean, it’s like anyone else tells you to just really focus on that niche, build the greatest content possible there, and then really just promote that, build all the links to that so you can be more effective there.
And we see it every day, you know, you’ll, you’ll look at a surf, you’ll be like, wait, how is this site beating Amazon? Or how is this like beating Walmart, or whatever, and then you really look a lot closer at it. You’re like, oh, they like really invested in making content, building these topical clusters around this concept in a way where Amazon just can’t really truly be competitive, just because of that level of specificity.
Izach: Gotcha. That’s pretty cool. Really interesting. So look, I see two kinds of businesses that are getting ready to exit that we work with, for quite a while. We’ve got businesses that they’re brand owners, they’ve got a product, you know, something that they you know, have some, maybe some IP around and they’re spending 40 to 60% of their revenues to drive paid traffic to their site.
That’s on one extreme, and then the other extreme we’ve got the same type of companies, consumer products, business that owns a brand that spending close to 0% on paid traffic, and they’ve done a lot of work on content. Can, can somebody with a small to medium-sized business it’s spending, you know, the majority of their earnings on, on paid traffic, could they, you know, what’s the business case for them to invest in SEO, and does that pay dividends over time?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, it’s exactly what you’re describing. Like you’re spending so much of your money on paid media, and then you turn that off and then your customers evaporate, you know, whereas with organic channels, you’re building something that compounds over time, right. And I’ve seen, there’s a study probably like five or six years ago where they compare paid search specifically against content marketing. And so paid search is going to be like a fixed return, right? Like you spend $5, you get $10 and it’s always going to be that way, as long as you continue to optimize. Whereas every content asset that you put out that ultimately is optimized will continue to grow, you know, the five becomes 10 becomes 15 and so on.
And then over time, it’s going to surpass whatever you’re doing in paid media. And then you just really look at paid media as a way to augment that. So I would definitely recommend that anyone who’s doing, you know, primarily paid, take like 20% of that budget, throw it towards SEO, throw it towards content.
And then over time, you’re just going to see, you know, the returns be exponential and then you can get to the point where you’re optimizing across channel, right? Because if you don’t paid search and organic search, it’s that halo effect when you’re on the first page, like people see you in both positions, they’re more likely to click on you in both positions.
And then when you can start doing things like search remarketing and so on and, you know all your retargeting and so on, it just makes everything far more efficient because you know that people came to your site on that search intent. Whereas when you’re looking at something like social media, like someone could have clicked on your result, just cause it’s like, oh, this is an interesting infographic and they’re never going to buy something.
I mean, search in general is just such a powerful channel, but organic search, it just has that compound effect that you’re not going to get from paid media.
Izach: So, so why isn’t everyone doing it?
Michael: Because it’s hard and it takes time. You know, the reality of it is like, if I tell you like, hey, go start doing content marketing and go start doing SEO, you know, it’s going to take, it could take six months to a year to 18 months, depending on the space that you’re in. Especially if you’re a new, small business looking to start from scratch.
And the reality of it is most people don’t have the time for that. Like, you don’t have the time to invest in something that’s going to take 12 to 18.
Izach: Right. I think you’re exactly right. I think that’s, it’s, you know, it, it, it is somewhat of an art and there’s a lot of science behind it. I think the, the paid traffic, you can start up an e-commerce brand and open up a Facebook account and a Google ad words account, and you can start driving traffic to your brand. You know, really on day one.
But I think the missing link for a lot of these businesses and the pivot for a small business to become a medium business or a medium business to become a large business is starting to make those investments in SEO, starting to drive organic traffic and, you know, over time that reduces the customer acquisition costs for the brands, which creates a more sustainable business. But it is, it is something you’ve got to kind of take a longer-term focus on, I think, or at least that’s my take. Do you agree with that?
Michael: Oh whole heartedly. And you know, again, like most people are just like, okay, cool. I want to spend this $10 and get the 20 back and keep doing that, which is finding great, but you know, if you want to see those exponential returns, you’ve got to think long-term with it as well.
Izach: Yeah, so can you give us a couple tips? So what should our audience be doing, you know, call it the next three to six months, to start to improve their rankings, right? Maybe they don’t get that optimal place, but just, just take an iteration of a step forward in, in a better position.
Michael: Yeah, I would say, you know, considering that these are largely smaller businesses, it’s really a focus on the content, right? Like make sure your site is technically sound. I mean, I’m going to assume if we’re small businesses, we’re talking about Shopify sites and small WordPress sites and things like that.
There’s a variety of tools that can support you in those efforts. Like, you know, if you’re using WordPress use WordPress, Yoast SEO. There’s now a Yoast SEO for Shopify. So using those and really focusing in on your page speed. So if you got a developer that you can work with, you know, just work with them to get those themes as tight as possible and you know, get your site on a CDN.
So once you’ve got those basics handled for these types of sites, really just dig in or your keyword research in your content and then figuring out like, what are your mechanisms for promoting that content? Because at the end of the day for Google, links are still the name of the game. Like how are you going to get people to link back to your site without doing things that are against Google’s guidelines. And that’s really going to be, you know, building up that audience, reaching out to sites, influencers, things like that, and getting them to promote your assets for you so that you end up getting more of those links.
And so link building can also be done with paid media, and I don’t mean again, buying links. I mean, putting your content in front of the people that you want to link to you using ads. So Facebook ads are great for this, targeting journalists, targeting bloggers that have specific interests that are related to your content. And really just getting that content out is like, you know, the best thing you can do, but there are also things you can do to the content without building a lot of links because you know, the way that Google works, there’s a variety of different aspects or, or ranking factors that are effectively just scored in a giant equation.
And there’s different weights for different components of that equation. So if you optimize your content in the way that Google expects, meaning that not only are you using the target keywords, but you’re also using what are called co-occurring keywords, or the entities that are related to these different concepts, it’s going to be considered more optimized and it’s going to rank even better, even if you don’t build a ton of links.
The key thing I’m saying here is that you should really just dial in on what the keywords that your audience are looking for, and then optimize that content accordingly, using tools like Phrase or Surfer SEO, or any number of tools out there for doing this type of content optimization and, you know, build those links and put a stake in the ground and say, well, I’m going to do this for 18 months. And then at the end of that, you will definitely be driving a substantial amount of organic traffic.
Izach: Very cool. How about on the, on the keyword research, any tools that you recommend that are kind of user-friendly for a beginner?
Michael: I’d say SEMrush is like one of the best tools that you can use because you know, the fact that you can put in your domain, you can compare it to other domains and it’s going to show you the keyword. And that’s also going to show you the keywords that you’re currently ranking for. So that’s always incredibly valuable. Like, I don’t think we’ve done keyword research without that tool for about five years. So I definitely would recommend that people check that.
Izach: Cool. So let’s, let’s talk a little bit more about, about link building, you know, so yeah, I’d say link-building used to be kind of a short term, but somewhat risky strategy for SEO. Does that, does that still apply, and are there other strategies out there that you see people implementing that you think, you know, have risks and maybe what, what are some of the risks?
Michael: Well, there’s a lot of risks related to link-building. That’s just a reality because most people want the shortcut for link building, which is like, reach out to a company, give them money and get me links. And Google is just against that, right? They’re also people that would build their own network of sites and link back to their site.
And, you know, that’s considered like a link farm, and there’s just all these different ways that people built links that Google is against. You know, there’s a variety of ways that are in their guidelines. So things like reaching out to websites and doing what’s called broken link building. So if a page has a bunch of links pointing to it, you have a page that still exists, is better.
And the page that has links to it no longer exists. You just reach out to all those people, still linking to it and say like, hey, this is gone, why don’t you link to mine? It’s much better, right. That’s like an easy way in because they’re already linking. And all I got to do is update the link and that’s like, it’s being a good steward of the web if you’re doing things like that.
Google has come out against guest posting, but like, how are you going to stop guest posting on the internet? People publish things on the internet, who are you to say there’s a guest post and this was not. So I don’t necessarily recommend doing guest posting for link building because then you end up going on lower tier websites and things like that.
I’m more say like, hey, why don’t you reach out to sites that are related to your space that are like high quality site, that are also driving traffic and, you know, write something of value for those websites and this isn’t the same as guest posting. This is, you know, working with someone to publish something of value.
Whereas guest posting is like, you know, 500-word blog article, that’s kind of related to what you’re talking about on your website, one stock image. And it’s like, you farmed it out to somebody on Upwork for $5. Like I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about doing actual, high quality, editorial work with these publications and then also linking back to your website. So definitely do that.
You know, also just like your social following can be super valuable for link building. So what I mean is you know, let’s say you’ve got a bunch of Twitter followers and what you can do is you can compare, you can download that list of Twitter followers, look at their websites, and then compare that to the list of sites that are linking to you.
So like maybe you pull it from Ahrefs or SEMrush or Majestic, whatever tool and just do a V lookup. And whoever’s not linking to you that follows you, reach out to those people and say, hey, you already have a relationship with my brand, why don’t you link to me? So those are the three tactics that are scalable and can work quite well.
Izach: Awesome. Great stuff, man. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s good, really good value. So I was, I was checking out your website, iPullRank.com and you’ve got some, some great case studies on there of different types of services you provided in ways you’ve worked with your clients.
One that kind of caught my eye was the the case study about the Google algorithm update and you know, how you help that client kind of recover and then increase their organic search traffic, I think by 500% year over year. So what are some of the, you know, what are some of the success stories or what’s one reason success story that you’ve had that kind of comes to mind?
Michael: One client who for five years got hit by every single algorithm came to us, and we not only recovered the traffic that they lost, I think they grew like another 80%, year over year. And they’ve continued to grow. We’ve worked with them for, I believe like four years now. And we just did the case study recently. That’s why it’s top of mind.
And for them, you know, it was really like digging into the technical components because the site has hundreds of thousands of pages. It’s like a, you know, a site in like the car space or whatever. So, you know, for them, it was largely like, okay, how do we fine tune the internal linking? How do we fine tune the content a bit?
Cause they had a lot of likes, kind of auto-generated content. Like how do we improve that? But I think the site that you’re talking about was actually a smaller website. It was a lawyer site, I believe. And they’d gotten hit by one of the early Panda updates. And so what we worked with them on was one improving their content.
You know, like improving existing content cause they had a bunch of pages that it was like, you know, here’s the question, here’s the answer. And the answer could be one sentence and so we actually would build those out to make them more of what we call like 10X contents and like 10 times better than whatever else is out there.
And so they saw recovery and then we also did some UX things that kind of sit on improvements for SEO, but also improvements just from like a conversion rate optimization perspective. And so ultimately their traffic went up, the conversion went up significantly as well. So yeah, I mean, you know, everybody’s situation is different as far as like what specifically needs to be done.
But the process that we’ve worked through is pretty much the same, like what is the audience need? How does that align with the continent exists? What optimizations need to be made? What net new content needs to be put out there? And then how do we further close the loop on understanding by building the right reporting?
So we can have the insights that we need so we can continue to optimize further, cause it’s very easy, like do something once and then say, okay, it looked like that work. You know, we like to segment sites in certain ways so that we can really get to the meat of what’s performing. And what’s not, if you just look at the site in aggregate, you’re going to miss out on the key insights that allow you to get more out of what you’re doing.
Izach: Another question that comes to mind is, we’ve got listeners who are thinking about hiring an SEO agency. What should they be looking for and what maybe are some like red flags to avoid?
Michael: Yeah, red flags or just any lack of transparency, you know, if you get someone that’s like, okay, yeah, we’re going to build links for you. And they don’t tell you where they’re getting them from how they’re doing it. They don’t give you any like sense of reporting around the links, that’s going to be just don’t even move forward with them.
Also, if they’re just super cheap, you’re not likely to get good value out of that either. Like if you’re going on fiver for SEO services, you might as well just burn your site down already.
Izach: Just, burn, burn your money, man.
Michael: Yeah, just like delete the whole thing. It’s fine. But what you should be looking for, of course, are case studies what their process looks like.
A lot of people like to look for, you know, do they specifically just work in my vertical, and that can work, but it’s not, it’s not a requirement. Right? Like I said, the process is generally the same, if your approach makes sense, like again, like I said, we do everything, looking at your audience for us, looking at your space, leveraging your expertise about your space, and then everything else is the same. Like it’s keyword research, it’s auditing its consecration and so on.
But yeah, the case studies are going to be really important and some people are, they need to be able to like get to a space of giving you an NDA so they can go deeper, but I would recommend that you do that. Like, you know, my case studies they’re unbranded for a reason, but if you, if you get so to a point with an NDA, we can walk you through step-by-step like, here’s what we did. Here’s the actual analytics, not like the pretty version that we put in the screenshots and so on.
And so you want someone that’s going to be very transparent about how they do what they do otherwise you’re just don’t know what you’re in for. And you want to get that clarity as much as possible before you move forward.
Izach: Yeah, it makes sense. You just wrote a book. I’m not sure if it’s been released yet the science of SEO. can you, can you talk about that a little bit and you know, what where do we get it and what’s it about?
Michael: Yeah, I’m actually still writing the book. It’s not out yet. It’s coming out through Wiley publishing and really what it is it’s like a computer science book for SEO, because most SEO books are business books. They’re just like, hey, this is a marketing function and here’s kind of how you do it. I want it to really get down to the meat of how, like, how does this work from a perspective of information sciences machine learning, you know, all the things that are behind it because it’s very common in SEO for us to just be like, you asked me a question and I was like, oh, it depends.
What I wanted to know is what does it depend on so that we can have a very clear understanding of what we need to do and why we need to do it because as the algorithms are updated, you know, it’s we don’t know what Google is doing exactly, but there’s like a whole series of fields of computer science behind it.
And there are new engineers added to the team contributing to this on a regular basis. So if we pull enough things together, we can get an understanding of what is this and how does it work so that we can have a more clarity.
Izach: So how can our listeners connect with you?
Michael: I iPullRank.com, ipullrank on all the social platforms. firstname.lastname@example.org. You know, I’m pretty easy to find because I do SEO.
Izach: Awesome. All right. Well, that was Michael King founder and CEO of iPullRank. You can connect with him on Insta at ipullrank, Michael King on LinkedIn. He’s on Tik Tok and Twitter under ipullrank. And of course ipullrank.com.
Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the deal closers podcast brought to you by websiteclosers.com. If you like the show, be sure to rate us, write a review, press the follow button and share it with your network. And of course, if you’re looking for help selling your e-commerce business, be sure to visit websiteclosers.com. This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence. I’m Isaac Porter. Follow me on LinkedIn and we’ll see you next time on the Deal Closers Podcast.