[00:00:01] Jonathan Greene: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the inaugural issue of the SEO Domination podcast. I’m responsible for that name. I wouldn’t be surprised if my boss makes me change it, but there it is. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to get you traffic that will convert highly for which you do not have to pay. Sounds sexy, I like it.
[00:00:22] JG: My guest today is Emma Valentiner. She is one of the brightest minds that I’ve encountered in the industry space at SEO — absolute killer, super gangster at SEO, all things SEO, she’s amazing. Every interaction that I’ve had with her has been enlightening for me personally, and if you know me, I’m not easily impressed. So Emma, welcome [and] thank you for being on the show today.
[00:00:45] JG: I’m going to start with the hard stuff if that’s cool for you.
[00:00:48] Emma Valentiner: Bring it! Following up after that introduction is going to be something, but yeah let’s do it.
[00:00:53] JG: Alright, I don’t beat around the bush. It’s go time, so let’s get it in. Why should I care what you have to say?
[00:01:00] EV: Totally a fair question, and I say this as somebody that’s worked in digital marketing for a bunch of years. You’re going to see a lot of social media gurus and experts and ninjas etc.. So. So yeah. Fair question. I’ve worked with a lot of clients and a lot of different niches, [including] e-commerce, SaaS companies, financial services, web-based applications, [and] editorial, and managed to get them page 1 rankings for really valuable keywords that they didn’t have to buy in paid traffic.
[00:01:35] EV: We’ll call out a few just for fun. So for a fairy garden company, we’ve got them outranking major industry retailers. They’re outranking JoAnne Fabrics, Walmart, Amazon, Big Lots, and getting [the] organic traffic equivalent to $77,000 a year in paid ad buys. Not bad for a small company.
[00:01:56] JG: You said it was a fairy what?
[00:01:56] EV: It’s a fairy garden supply company.
[00:02:00] JG: That’s awesome.
[00:02:00] EV: Yeah, it’s super niche, and I had no idea that this existed before they were a client, but [it’s] really charming and an interesting niche. It’s very competitive, which is surprising for gardeners, but I guess that’s a thing.
[00:02:14] EV: Financial services, that’s another niche that I’ve worked in. So with a recent client, we increased organic traffic by around 450% over six months. Added over 5500 new Google rankings and 700 of those were on Page 1 in that same time period. And then developed a mid-level feature page that garnered about 120 new rankings, and I think about 15 of those were high-value page 1s.
[00:02:40] JG: So suffice it to say, you sort of know what you’re doing here right?
[00:02:44] EV: I do. I do. A little brush off my shoulders a little bit, but yeah.
[00:02:49] JG: Oh wow, we’re going all the way back to The Black Album. That’s circa 2006 Jay-Z.
[00:02:51] EV: Yes!
[00:02:52] JG: What’s up Jay-Z! If he sees that, Jay-Z, you should hire us — we’re amazing. Just kidding. So let’s get into the topic I wanted to talk about on-page optimization, and we’ve got a wide range of people probably who will tune in. I have a bit of a following in the paid traffic space, so you can expect people who are not SEO gangsters to show up to this, but also we’re sort of targeting SEO practitioners and business owners with some background in SEO. We kind of have to cater to all speeds here. So I just like to ask you: what is on-page optimization? What is it specifically that you do?
[00:03:33] EV: Specifically, I use the elements that we have at our disposal — page titles, meta descriptions, H1s, other headers on the page, content that’s on the page, image alts — all of these elements to let Google know what this page is talking about. And the more clear that is for Google, the better chance that you’re going to have a ranking. I mean, there’s obviously other factors at play, [such as] the strength of your web site — web site relevancy is also really important and certainly something that we think about — but the majority of my job is making sure that primary keywords, secondary keywords, and related terms are on there in the appropriate places, so that Google knows what your page is about.
[00:04:13] JG: That’s cool. Did you see the comment Mike Sims made? “Emma is the true SEO gangster.”
[00:04:15] EV: Your check is in the mail!
[00:04:16] JG: That’s awesome. Can you give me an idea of what kinds of tools that you rely upon in the performance of your on-page SEO optimisations, and what kind of data are you looking for?
[00:04:33] EV: In terms of the tools, I use CanIRank’s Improve My Rankings. It’s my go-to tool. It has keyword volume in there, which is super great. It has the value of the ads if you were to buy them, so that’s also a good indicator of what to be targeting. It also includes related terms once you run the reports, so that’s something that I really rely on. In terms of checking in with where we’re doing, how we’re trending on things, I use SEMRush a lot. I use Moz, but not quite as much as I have in the past. Google Trends is another one, if it’s a client that has a seasonal keyword situation happening. So one of our clients was an adventure travel company, and so they would do adventure travel around events like Fiji Pro or the Quiksilver surfing events. So we use Google Trends to find out when people were searching for those, [and] we push those optimizations out about 6 weeks before those events happened, so that we’d be sure to be on page 1 when people were searching for those keywords.
[00:05:37] JG: That’s cool. So it does have obviously a technical component to it.
[00:05:42] EV: Yes.
[00:05:42] JG: But how much do you rely on the content quality? How much does content quality matter?
[00:05:46] EV: For me, my background is as a copywriter, so content to me is pretty near and dear, and something that really helps me in this job. It’s not enough to include the keywords and their related terms. Even in the right elements, you’ve got to give people a reason to stay on your page, and if you’re not giving them quality content, they’re not going to, and they’ll find somebody else. But especially this is important for web sites that the Google term is “life or death”, so things like financial information, insurance information, [and] health information. These sites are held to a higher standard in terms of quality. So if you don’t have high quality and you’re in that bracket of clients, you’re going to have an even harder time ranking on Google. Content quality plays a really important role in this.
[00:06:37] JG: Cool. So tell me the difference between creative content and SEO content, and which should I really be focused on as a business owner?
[00:06:47] EV: I mean, my true feeling about this is it needs to do both. And you can do that. It does take a little extra effort, and there are companies that do this really well and there are companies that [don’t]. I would say as much as possible creative content that is SEO optimized.
[00:07:08] JG: That makes sense. Sort of what I expected. I think gone are the days where you can really game the system. There’s so much advancement in terms of algorithmic science and artificial intelligence and the way we parse and relate to data. The days when I started it was… 2000. Yeah, 2000. I was one of the early guys on the Blogger platform and when Google came into its own, it was enough to just simply get in there and keyword stuff articles and just write keyword dense topics that are related to the keywords for which you wanted to rank, and that was how they racked and stacked the results. I think the industry at large has evolved beyond that. They can almost discern your intent now.
[00:07:53] EV: Yeah. That’s really where it’s going.
[00:07:53] JG: Yeah, if you try, you know they’re going to deprecate you.
[00:07:57] EV: Yeah. You can’t you can’t game the system. I’ve talked with people about this a lot. You’ll have a lot of people that have old school SEO best practices in mind, but it’s not enough to just do keyword stuffing, nor is it a good idea. It’s a bad user experience, first of all, so people are going to get on there and bounce off your page because you’re not meeting the intent that they’ve made that query in. But also related terms really plays heavily in Google rankings right now. So if you’re talking about the island of Fiji, you want to include “tropical” or “beach paradise” or words like that the let Google know, “OK, they’re talking about the island of Fiji versus [they’re] talking about the water”, you know?
[00:08:38] JG: That’s a great tip. How much does content length factor into all this?
[00:08:45] EV: This is a matter of great debate on the internet. I would say obviously the longer performing content — the longer the content, the slightly better it performs. But there is an edge to that. I say [that’s] probably the better approach for it because content takes a lot of time. There is a big investment in terms of research and development and drafting it and all that stuff. Your resources might be limited on that front. So I think in terms of content, [you should] look and see what the competitors are doing. What are you trying to rank for, and what’s their average content like? If you’re below that, try and write enough content to meet the average. And if you’re above that, don’t worry about it.
[00:09:27] JG: So really, it just comes down to producing enough quality content that people are going to care about. And again, subject matter. What about keyword research? Has that gone by the wayside? How much of that should we be doing and how heavily does it factor into what we’re trying to accomplish?
[00:09:46] EV: It factors in big time. It’s part of my process on a daily basis, because depending on where your web site is at, whether you’re new, whether you’re established, [and] what your competition looks like. Even though it might make sense to you to go after this super high-volume keyword and, no lie, 120,000 searches a month is really appealing. But if you’re going up against massive competitors with very high site domain, you’re going to have a really hard time getting any positions with that. So going after keywords that might have less search volume but [are] much less competitive, that to me is much more valuable. Adding up five or six keywords that you know you can get, even if the search volume is a little bit lower, that adds up pretty quickly, whereas going after that one massive keyword that you can’t get, that’s kind of a waste of your time because you can’t get that ranking.
[00:10:44] JG: Yeah, so more of a death by a thousand cuts…
[00:10:46] EV: Exactly, yeah. Build an army by one person at a time.
[00:10:51] JG: No pun intended. That was not a joke. Anyway. Sorry. So Can you rack and stack for me the the on-page elements that are the most important? Which one should I be really focused on? [Can you] maybe give me a top 5?
[00:11:08] EV: Yeah. So page title: super big. Meta description: fairly important. The URL, and the H1. That’s actually 4, so not even that much to deal with. The best practice is to put the primary keyword at the front of all those items. Google knows really quickly, “OK, so if we’re doing lighted fairy houses, the page title will be ‘Lighted fairy houses…’ and then whatever related terms I want to fit into my 60 characters if I can.” And then the URL would be “lighted very houses”. The H1 would be “lighted fairy houses”, and the meta description would start with that too. It’s really clear to Google, “OK, they’re talking about lighted fairy houses.”
[00:11:49] JG: Yeah, that makes sense to me. Most of this stuff is just diligence-based, you know, common sense, and are not short-changing the process when you’re creating content. Making sure that alt tags are in place and things are referenced the way they’re supposed to be. Not rocket science but there is nuance to it. Case in point, a lot of people will get in there and start messing around with their on-page optimization, and their rankings will actually drop. Have you seen that a lot, and why is that?
[00:12:17] EV: Oh, if it doesn’t drop, then I’m a little bit nervous and I’ve done something wrong and nothing’s been cached. That’s really typical. It happens in almost every single optimization I do. It takes about two to four weeks for Google to properly cache a page. The smaller your web site is, the smaller crawl budget is, and the longer it’s going to take for them to do that. That’s why we see those rankings drop. All of a sudden you’ve changed something on the page that Google’s not recognizing anymore, and they don’t yet recognize you for this other keyword that you’re going after. There is a little bit of flux. Don’t be surprised if that happens, that you’ve done something [wrong] because you’re changing things. [With] optimizations, you can always tweak it and fix it. That’s one of the things I like about optimizations. If you’ve accidentally over-optimized for something that you can’t really rank for yet, you can go back and change it. I mean, it’s a fairly forgiving practice. Obviously if you’re really nervous about traffic, you want to be a little bit more conscientious about how many changes you are making on the site. But it’s fairly consistent. It’ll drop and then it’ll raise back up higher than where it was before. And we support these efforts with promotions activities as well, and that will help get to ranking faster too.
[00:13:31] JG: So a good piece of advice would be: don’t lose your mind when you start doing this stuff and your rankings temporarily go down.
[00:13:39] EV: Yeah, that’s totally normal.
[00:13:41] JG: The long play. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Yeah, that’s great advice. I wanted to go ahead and sort of poll the audience and see if there are any questions or comments that people wanted to ask you while I got you. We have a few more minutes. I’d love to go ahead and do that now. If you guys have any questions, drop them in the comments. Rachel Mac made a comment: “That makes me feel better. So people shouldn’t panic when that happens?” Yeah absolutely not.
[00:14:08] EV: Yeah, don’t panic. I mean, you’re welcome to if you feel compelled, but there is no reason for it, and I think you’ll be really happy with the results.
[00:14:16] JG: Right on. So if you have any questions for the SEO guru of the day, go ahead and drop those in here now, and if not, we’ll banter for a few minutes and call it quits. That was amazingly insightful. I think people, in general, who rely upon paid traffic tend to completely neglect on-page SEO.
[00:14:37] EV: I think paid traffic is really a known thing. You put in the money and you get some traffic from it. But for a lot of companies, particularly startups or small businesses that are really struggling to compete against these massive web sites, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, for those kinds of companies, being able to find reliable, organic traffic that they don’t have to pay for is hugely beneficial for their businesses, and a way to get in front of people that they otherwise normally wouldn’t because they’re priced out of the market.
[00:15:12] JG: Right on. So A.J. asked the question here — I’ll show you on screen — “Any things to note for e-commerce optimizations?” That’s a great question.
[00:15:21] EV: Yeah, that is a really great question. E-commerce is a really interesting fish and slightly different from other kinds of optimizations that you’ll do. There are a lot of best practices for e-commerce, just in terms of how the page looks [and] the kinds of things they are including. If you include any kind of schema, if you’re sharing reviews in your search results, if you’re sharing pricing in your search results, these are things that can help improve the click-through rate. So definitely stuff that you want to consider when doing e-commerce. I’d also consider looking into information on CTAs for sure. That’s always really helpful. If you’re including a Buy Now button, is Buy Now the right terminology? Is our color right? That kind of stuff. Is it popping out from the page or are people having to search to find it? And then also including links to other relevant products on the site. I think Amazon does a really great job with this. Obviously they’ve had years and years to perfect it, but if you’re on a page and you’re looking at a certain book, they are like, “Hey, these other two books are also searched by people looking for this book.” So I think keeping that in mind in terms of, “I’m selling them this. What else can I get them to put in their cart?” So that’s kind of a good thing to think about with the e-commerce.
[00:16:34] JG: Yeah, that’s totally great advice. Maybe we’ll take one more question here, maybe two. John wants to know: “How much does the game change when you’re trying to optimize a community-driven site where you don’t have total control over the content? Is that a similar strategy or are we talking chess versus checkers here?”
[00:16:58] EV: I don’t know if it’s chess versus checkers, necessarily. It’s a challenge. I’ve worked with clients where they’re really particular about their content. And so obviously I try and work with them to explain why I’m making the changes that I’m making, and I’m really transparent with clients in terms of what changes I’m making so they’ll always get, after every optimization, a really clear list of what I’ve changed and why, and access to the reports that I’m viewing so they can see the data that I’m seeing. I think if you’re struggling with getting these content changes on a community board, if there is a potential for creating new feature level pages that you can optimize and then optimizing the home page if you’re able to do that, those are things that are going to help a little bit. But obviously not having complete creative control is going to be a challenge. So it’s really more of a need to explain to the client why it’s important. That’s usually easier.
[00:17:56] JG: Yeah, absolutely. So Mike wants to know: “How do you continue to stay ahead when competitors are also frequently optimizing and improving their pages?”
[00:18:05] EV: It’s a constant — I don’t want to say “battle”, but it’s a constant dance. And that’s the nature of things. Everybody’s in business and trying to get their share of the market. I think pay attention to what your competitors are doing. But don’t be reactive and look for other opportunities. For fairy gardens, for example, the fairy garden niche keywords are very competitive. So every time we change something, the competitors change things, and it’s a much of a back and forth. So we’re starting to look outside of that niche bubble, so [including] things about landscaping, gardening, gardening supplies, artistry and gardening, things like that. Really thinking out of that niche and getting into broader keywords that might not necessarily mean that somebody has an intent to buy, which is really what we go for initially, but introducing them to the idea of fairy gardening, because we already know they’re interested in gardening. So that’s kind of one way to do it.
[00:19:07] JG: All right. That’s a great answer. I think smart expansion of the scope of what you’re doing to include crossovers and demographic switches and all kinds of different interesting stuff definitely keeps the competitive and keeps it interesting.
[00:19:21] JG: So that’s it. You have been brilliant. I’m really grateful to have you on the show. You earned yourself 30 seconds of free time to tell me about whatever you want. We talk about your dog or whatever you want. Go for it.
[00:19:35] EV: Oh, my dog, I could talk about her for ages. Yeah. So my dog is a pitbull named Peaches, who’s very sweet, a little bit loud, and I’m so grateful that she didn’t jump into this conversation. She’s taking a nap. So thank you Peaches for that. And what else would I say? I would say give optimizations a try. It does take persistent effort in terms of seeing those rankings turn around, but just choose a handful of keywords, choose a page or two from your site, and give it a go. It’s an incredibly valuable thing and a great way to save on your budget if you have a really small marketing budget. So it can’t hurt you to try.
[00:20:12] JG: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to have you. So I want to leave you guys with this thought along with Emma’s parting thoughts about trying optimizations [and] trying SEO. If you’ve never tried it, the barriers to entry can be a little bit difficult. There’s a lot of jargon. There’s a lot of industry-specific knowledge. So what I’m going to encourage you to do is go ahead and go to CanIRank.com and check out the software tools that they have to offer you. They are free, no credit card required to download those or to engage with those tools. There are web based. Go ahead and give that a try. It’s smart, it’s AI-driven. A lot of the problems that people have early on in the game are [that] there’s too much data and analysis paralysis ensues. The folks over at CanIRank are really brilliant about this and they have solved that problem with artificial intelligence. It will not only tell you what you need to do in what order and what the highest impact things that you can do are; it will also spit out detailed instructions around to do that. So if you’re a noob, if you’re new to the game, it’s a great foray into getting organic traffic for which you don’t have to pay. It will ultimately convert very well. If you’re paid traffic guy, when you turn that traffic off, the benefit stops. But when you build SEO and you build organic content, the benefit never stops. It works while you’re sleeping. I know you guys are “work smarter, not harder” types, so this is an excellent place for you to start with that.
[00:21:41] JG: We’re going to do this every Friday at 2pm. Emma, thanks once again for joining me. It’s been fantastic. This is a great first episode. I feel like you dropped a whole bunch of gold nuggets of wisdom here.
[00:21:53] EV: I hope so. I really like optimizations. I’ve seen it work for countless clients, so I’m a believer.
[00:22:01] JG: Awesome. Thank you very much for your time and look forward to speaking with you again. You guys all have a good weekend. Happy Friday. Grumpy Cat says what’s up. Everybody, be safe out there and enjoy the summer. We’ll talk to you guys soon. Thank you