How to Create a Bulletproof SEO Strategy with John Doherty

John Doherty has been doing SEO for a long time.

About a decade, to be exact.

And he’s done it for big brands like HotPads and Trulia Rentals.

So when John agreed to join me for an episode of Demand Gen Chat, I was excited to hear what he’s learned about SEO over the years.

Check out our chat here (full transcript below):




Cconnect with John:

twitter: @dohertyjf Credo Website:


Mentions from the episode:



Emil: Thanks for joining me today, John.

John: Emil, thanks for having me, man. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Emil: So today we’re gonna be talking a lot about SEO. You have a super solid background in SEO, so I figured we’d dive in deep there. But before we get into all the SEO stuff, I know you’re pretty active on Twitter and I saw that you’re going on hiatus this month. Why and how’s it going?

John: Yeah, you’re right. I’m very active on Twitter. I’ve built up a big following there over the years and yeah, I decided, July 30th of this year, that I wanted to take the month of August off of Twitter. For a bunch of different reasons.

Some of it is just Twitter feels like it’s become kind of a cesspool and not really a place I want to hang out too much. And I would literally say that like I was or am addicted to it. Like they’ve done their job of making their product “sticky.”

John: And it’s like, “I’m so tired of this.” And also there’s a lot going on with my company at this point, lot of big projects going on. I was like, “I need to focus, I need to get some creative work done.”

So it’s like, “I’m just gonna give it a shot.” I’ve had friends that have done it in the past and have really like reduced their usage. And I was like, “You know what? Let’s do it.” So I had my wife change my password so I can’t even log in.

So she’ll get me active back on September 1st, if I ask for it.

John: But it’s been really good, like I haven’t been on there in eight days now, or something like that. I’ve gotten a ton of creative work done, I don’t think I’ve missed anything.

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss’ information diet from The 4-Hour Work Week. And I’ve tried to do that in the past, I limit a lot of like news intake and such.

But you know, Twitter is just the constant rat race of “everything is important and nothing is important at the same time.” So I feel like I’m getting a lot better information now, seeing the stuff that matters and all the drama and stuff in the digital marketing industry on Twitter, I just don’t see it and I don’t really care about it. I don’t miss it.

Emil: Yeah. I feel … I’m gonna raise my hand with you, like I’m totally addicted to Twitter and there’s so many times where I’m like, “Why?” There’s times where it’s like, “This is awesome and I’m getting really good information,” and then times where I’m like, “Why am I on here?” And I just feel worse for having gone.

I think that’s a good idea. I want to try like a week-

John: And well the thing is … Yeah. I would recommend it. And there’s a trade-off to it as well, because I bet some of my best friends in the world, who are like in my [inaudible 00:03:50] on Twitter. Like we were friends on Twitter first and then we met in person, I got like …

Emil: That’s how you and I met.

John: Absolutely all of … Yeah, that’s how we met. Exactly. We met on Twitter and then we met in person in San Diego.

And yeah, I would say my business exists because of Twitter, because of the digital marketing industry and the SEO industry being active on Twitter. I built a good following there.

But I think I also lean on it as a crutch. You know, I have some bigger like industry that coming out. And I’m like, “Am I just leaning on Twitter as like a marketing channel when it’s not really?” And maybe I need to learn some other ways to generate business outside of this one social network.

So it’s kind of an experiment in that way as well. And too early to tell how that’s going but I’m at least getting a lot more work done. I feel a lot better, I feel a lot more creative. So, give it a shot I guess.

Emil: Yeah, I don’t think you’re gonna seriously miss anything by taking a month off. And like you said, it just gives you a chance to focus in other areas, so it’s awesome, dude.

John: And I have things like Nuzzel. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Nuzzel. N-U-Z-Z-E-L.

Emil: No.

John: That basically it … You authenticate with Twitter and it basically sends you the top five to seven links that your followers have tweeted the previous day. So I’m seeing the important news, like in the industry and broader, across politics and stuff.

But like all the other stuff that’s going on, in announcements and such that aren’t moving my business forward, I don’t see them. So I feel pretty good about that.

Emil: That’s good. I’m gonna have to check that tool out, sounds like a good filter to get rid of a lot of the noise.

John: Exactly.

Emil: Cool, so let’s hop in to some SEO topics. You and I were chatting earlier and you said, “Way too many people are bought in that they need SEO help, but that’s all they really understand.”

And they just come to you saying, “I need SEO help,” and they don’t even know what that would mean for them. So, I figure we could open up talking about like strategy and how do you even define your strategy before you go looking for SEO help?

John: Totally, yeah. It’s a great question. So in my day to day, basically what Credo does is I help business connect with great SEO and digital marketing providers. Agencies and consultants, I primarily work with agencies.

And so I get a lot of businesses coming to me that, at this point, if you’re online, you’ve heard of SEO, right? You’ve heard of “search engine optimization.” But most people are not professional SEOs, they’re not in it every day like I am and like a lot of people are.

And so they’re like, “Okay, we need to improve our traffic,” but they’re like, “I want to try it out and put a little bit of budget into it,” or “I want to like … I need to build links,” or they’re like, “Oh I just lost half of my traffic, and I don’t know why.” Right?

And so, they’re kind of … They don’t know where to go. And so that’s what I’ve tried to do with Credo in position. Credo and myself as that person to kind of direct them to where they need to go.

And what I tell people is, I mean A … or One: search engine optimization is gonna take awhile to start working. If you’ve never actively done it before, you don’t know what you need to do, you don’t know what your competitors are doing. So it’s gonna take you like … You get Audison, you do keyword research, all of that. It’s gonna take you time to get changes implemented on your site to build links and to create content, all of that.

Minimum three months to start seeing forward progress. Probably more like six to 12 before it’s making a market difference in your business.

So if you’re saying, “I need to grow my business double by next month,” unless you’re only doing like 200 dollars a month in revenue, then like … Okay, sure, let’s talk about that. But, you know, if it’s like plus, you can’t afford to work with an agency if you only make 200 dollars a month revenue, that’s beside the point.

But you know, it’s gonna take time. So if you’re looking for a short term, kind of hit of a traffic in revenue, put that money into advertising, make that profitable and then come back and invest in SEO. SEO is not an expense, it’s an investment.

Which a lot of people just see it as a line item, but actually you have to invest upfront in order to reap the benefits later. Just like affiliate marketing or even in your career, right? You’re not gonna be a director of marketing until you’re like six or seven years in.

Which means you’ve put in the work for six or seven years, right? You don’t have to do it for SEO that long, but at least a couple months of upfront investment before you really start to see the benefit from it.

Emil: Right.

John: So I always tell people, “Take a step back, don’t come to me and say, like, you know, Oh I need links, because you don’t even know if you need links, right? Like you don’t even know what’s broken on your site, what the strategy is for getting that fixed.”

So start with like an overall SEO audit. So it involves technical, it involves content, it involves looking at your competitors, it involves looking at links, what links you have, what links could you get, what links your competitors have, how are they building links.

All of those things, and you kind of set that strategy there and then that determines the budget that you need moving forward and how long it’s gonna take and where to invest in order to see what you actually want to get from it.

Emil: Right and I’m sure if your site, a newer site, hasn’t done anything, you’re gonna give them so much different of an audit or like tell them a starting point than a site that has millions of organic hits a month, right?

John: Absolutely. Yeah, so a smaller site, like let’s talk about a local website. Like a local restaurant or something like that. The way you do SEO for that is completely different than how you do SEO for a Zillow that has literally nine figures of pages in Google’s index.

Like they have a unique page for every single address in the United States. That site is enormous and it is like one of the most authoritative websites online. Very different work from like my local wings place here in Denver, in my neighborhood.

You know, how you’re gonna rank for that, in the Mat Pack, who your competitors are, that sort of thing. Very different strategies and different budgets being required, being put towards it.

So, a local restaurant will have … I don’t know, eight, 10 main queuers that are gonna drive business to them. Best wings in Denver, Wings Highlands Denver, that sort of stuff versus a stuff like Zillow that gets literally tens of millions of visits a month from organic just across a crazy long-tail of every address and all that stuff. Plus the head terms, very, very different.

Emil: Yeah. What about for like B2B SaaS? I’d say a lot of the people watching this are B2B SaaS companies. So for them, what’s a good place to start with their strategy? Their SEO strategy.

John: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I would say it depends on how mature your industry is and who your competitors are. For example, like the live chat industry.

Like you have the traditional ones like Olark and those forts, and you have some of the … I mean, they’re pretty well known now in our industry and if you’re in B2B SaaS you’re gonna know them, but you have like Intercom, you have Drift, you have all these different ones, and they’re very well funded and they’re very aggressive.

And so for most, if you’re competing against those and you’re just starting out, you’re gonna have a tough time being competitive against them. What I tell people is, if you’re just starting out or you’ve been going for a while, hopefully you’ve been leveraging like your founder’s story and teaching people … basically helping your customers solve their problems and putting out content around that as well.

So hopefully you have some links coming into your site. What I tell people is do the keyword research to split your site into two different pockets of keywords, types of keywords. Because you’re a transactional, so like live chat software is probably the one like Olark, Intercom, Drift are gonna want to rank for.

But then there are other questions about like, what is a messenger bot? That sort of stuff, right? That is an informational query and people that are trying to understand what is this bot thing, how do I use it … You know, is it for me? Who offers it? That sort of stuff. Those are more informational keywords that are gonna get people familiar with your brand.

So you need that combination there, you need the pages that’s dedicated to live chat software and messenger bot software and that sort of stuff. Then you also need informational keywords whether it’s a resource center or an active blog, that sort of thing, basically helping people …

Educating your potential customer about what it is that you do and how your software can help them solve their problem.

Emil: Yeah.

John: So I say like, launch those pages, recognize that it’s taking you longer to rank for those transactional keywords and then invest heavily in building up that informational content because then you can get them into your email list and that sort of stuff. Offer them content upgrades and you’re elongating your funnel and you’re gonna get a lot more potential customers that way.

Emil: Yeah, I’m sure you’ve had experience with, like you said, those transactional keywords. Those pages are just so hard to rank because-

John: So hard.

Emil: They’re super competitive and no one links to like a software page or a service page. So like how have you been able to get those to rank high?

John: Yeah, that’s a great question. There’s a bunch of different strategies that you can do for it.

Part of it is it’s just gonna take time, right? Building more links to your site, getting more branded links to your homepage overall is just gonna make your website stronger and it’s just gonna lift everything, it’s gonna help you rank better in the long tail and for those specific keywords, normally what I tell people …

So for example, like “live chat software”, right? Whether it’s Olark or Intercom or Drift … Links, your homepage is probably gonna be the one targeting that. Because that’s like the overall bucket of what you do. For some of them it’s marketing automation now, but you get the point.

So like, if you’re doing kind of like branded stuff, like press related stuff, your CEO’s being mentioned places, you’re doing different events and sponsoring events and that sort of thing, those links are gonna come into your homepage. So over time you’re just gonna rank better from that.

You have solid, on-page SEO targeting, your title tags, your H1s, your on page content, all of that good stuff. More specific, kind of lower down pages, like smaller features and that sort of thing. A: they’re not gonna be as valuable as your main head term keyword, “live chat software” for example.

So like “Facebook messenger bot software”, a lot less volume in that. So it’s not gonna be as valuable because there’s less volume. It’s not gonna be as hard to rank for, so you need fewer links, right? So I would say, A: when you launch these things do press around it to try to like get an influx of links coming directly to that page. So that right there will just help you rank better.

John: And then also, as you’re continually marketing your site, you’re talking about these different topics. Linking back to that page from the content you’re creating, that is hopefully also getting links. So that content gets stronger and pushes these internal links to those pages.

And then, you know, different things like more robust pages are gonna get better links, so having videos and having how-to’s and that sort of stuff on those product pages can also help you out as well. Because they are willing to reference it, because it’s not just like a, “Hey, join our free trial to get your first Facebook messenger bot” sort of thing, but it’s like, “Actually go to this page because it has information as well about Facebook messenger bots.” So that just makes it more linkable right there.

Emil: Gotcha. Makes a lot of sense. What about like … Let’s say you are venturing into something that’s new. So there’s not a lot of search volume around like a transactional keyword like “live chat software.”

You’re creating something new, it’s different, so the search volume isn’t there. Is it really then you’re really focusing on that non-transactional content marketing? Like traditional content marketing? Or is it like trying to find closely related keywords in getting people to click there and maybe do like corner churn? If that makes sense.

John: Yeah, that does make sense. So I would say it is, in that case, it’s a combination of things. One is it is gonna be a lot more around that informational content, and people kind of asking … Hopefully if you’re launching something new, you’re launching it because you’ve identified that there’s a need.

And there’s all these people asking like, “How do I do X, Y, and Z?” Or, “Is there a product for this specific thing?” So people are asking those questions, start answering those questions on your site.

And then, Rand Fishkin, who was the founder of Moz, has now founded a company called SparkToro. He’s a friend of mine, and he talks about basically the best SEO you can do is to build a brand. Right? So instead of people searching for … Like you’d look at Moz, and you look at SEO software, Moz has way more search volume.

Like their branded term has way more search … Even SEOmoz, their old brand, I think that still also has more search volume than SEO software. Right? So like the best thing you can do is invest into that.

People buy from brands that they trust, and if you’re a trusted brand and you rank number three for keywords that, even if it’s not like a ton of volume, like you should be ranking there because it’s relevant to your business. And other people ranking like one and two maybe have like, I don’t know, Wiki Answers and something else and then you’re number three and they’ve heard of your brand, they’re clicking on your listing instead of the other two.

So investing down and building that brand. I’m not a brand builder, by any means. I don’t pretend to be, you know, I’ve kind of stumbled into it with building my own company.

But I get a lot of people searching for Credo or get Credo, which at this point has just as much volume as I … you know, “best SEO consultant” sort of stuff. So I’d rather be like the go-to place for finding trusted providers than like another site that’s listing some SEO consultants on it.

Emil: Yeah. That makes sense. I’m totally with you, dude. I’ve never been into like branding, I’ve always been more like Demand Gen focus, SEO, ads and stuff. But you’re right. Anytime you hop into Google Analytics, or search console, and you look at the terms that are driving the most clicks, it’s always your brand by a huge margin.

So like, yes, some transactional ones, they can be helping you grow your reach in all that. But you’re right, expanding your brand and getting more people searching for your brands is like, that’s way more powerful. Can be way more powerful.

John: Totally, yeah. I’ve found some and there’s some interesting studies that have been done over the last probably two years as well that shows basically as your branded search volume increases, then like your non-branded organic traffic is gonna go up as well.

Because your basically a more trusted site and Google is starting to associate your brand as an entity and something that people are actually looking for themselves. So for example, SEO consultants, right? I don’t want people just searching for “SEO consultants,” I want people searching for “SEO consultants Credo.” Or “SEO consultants GetCredo,” right, which the brand is called Credo, people call it GetCredo because of my URL. Because costs way too much money.

But … bootstrap startup, man. Bootstrap, you know, tech startup.

But, I’d rather have people doing that and you can do things like that as well, right? Instead of like giving people a URL, just tell them, “Hey, search like this question plus my brand name and it’ll pop up,” and they click on that. And then over time, that can help you rank better.

Emil: Yeah.

John: So it’s all about associating your brand with these terms that you want to rank for.

Emil: Right. Didn’t Neil Patel, wasn’t he famous for that … Love him or hate him, gotta be interested in the experiments the guy runs. Remember he did the campaign on Instagram where he had a bunch of models holding up “Who Is Neil Patel?” to see if more brand had purchased?

John: Yeah.

Emil: Yeah, I think he actually helped a lot of his other terms. So that kind of backs what you’re saying.

John: It did. He did, yeah, exactly. Like it’s kind of a ridiculous test, you know? And he … I mean-

Emil: That’s one way to do it.

John: He pushes the limit, let’s put it that way. He’s a really smart guy. And he tests some interesting stuff, and yeah, he definitely found that. I know Rand’s run a bunch of those tests, he has a group of people that run tests like that so, you know, it’s an interesting new thing, a new development in the last couple year in the SEO industry.

John: But at the same time, I also don’t want to get it hung up on the silver bullets, like, “Hey, the new shiny object in the room,” right? Like at the end of the day, a good SEO is having a site that’s crawl-able, that loads fast.

Doing the keyword research and building the individual pages and targeting those individual terms, providing useful content to your users that people are gonna want to link to because it’s the best piece of content on the internet about that topic. And then building links to your website, you know, from authoritative websites. That’s how you’re gonna rank.

Emil: It’s true man, the basics are always like classic for a reason. They’re the building blocks.

John: Exactly, exactly. Don’t try to run before you can walk, right? And there are a lot of people out there that aren’t even walking yet when it comes to SEO.

Emil: Yeah. Would you say there’s some industries where it’s like look, SEO is not the right fit for you. I’ll use Chili Piper as an example, like we make tools for marketing and sales people. Super, super tough industry, there’s a lot of big players. It’s like, “Okay, is SEO the best play for us here or do we have to go through other options?” What’s your take on that?

John: Oh man, that’s a great question. There are definitely some industries where it is really, really hard to rank. And … you’re not going … And once again, this goes back to SEO being an investment, not an expense.

Where you have to recognize it’s gonna take you awhile to rank, because the terms are pretty competitive and they’re established, established people in there, maybe they’re well-funded companies, which as a startup you can move faster.

So, in some ways you have an advantage, in other ways they have the first move or advantage because they’ve been out there on the internet for 10 years building links and you know, they’re super strong.

So I think your strategy changes, so at first it’s a matter of informational content, bigger pieces of content that can actually rank for these bigger terms. And then over time, you start ranking for these more head terms that are directly gonna drive business to you. So in that way, what I tell people is invest in content, invest in building up that longer tail of traffic.

But at the same time, also be advertising against these keywords that you want to rank for. Because the data shows that if you’re ranking on the first page, organically for a term and you’re advertising against it, you’re gonna get paid clicks but you’re also gonna get more organic clicks. So it’s definitely a dual pronged approach there.

And there are also some industries, I mean they’re kind of more the illicit industries, right? The Ps – porn, pills, poker, like they’re are people that focus on those niches because they can be so profitable but I mean what they have to do to rank, like they’re turning through sites every couple months.

They have these crazy link schemes built out and they burn one site and they point all those links to another site and that site starts ranking like … Stuff they’re doing is insane and like I don’t want try to compete there. That’s nuts to me. So it’s just not gonna do anything for you.

So, yeah, there are those, but also SEO as an investment, it’s gonna take time to rank. So I wouldn’t say don’t invest in it at all, but set expectations for what you’re actually gonna be able to rank for. And how long it’s gonna take you to start seeing real results from investing in good SEO.

Emil: Yeah. That’s how I’m looking at it, I’m like I know it’s gonna take us a long time and we have to start investing now, even though we’re not gonna see the fruit of it for such a long time because we’re going up against some big people. But it’s like the longer you wait, the longer it’s gonna take you to see [inaudible 00:23:44] so you have to be invested in it early.

John: Right, exactly. And actually, one thing I would say that might be interesting to you is … So 2011, the Panda algorithm rolled out, right? Which basically targeted low quality content. I just pulled up your site and it got dark on me over here. So, it was targeting low quality content.

And over time, we’ve been seeing these rumors of like … People talking about “entities” and Google’s basically associating different terms with different brands and that sort of stuff. I saw yesterday, I think it was in an email or something, where a friend of mine where … Google has this “entity search” link now that he was uploading photos of people in the industry and Google will basically tell you what terms they’re associating with that person’s photo.

Emil: Wow.

John: So like Rand, it was like “Moz,” “SEOmoz,” “entrepreneurship,” his book title, like that sort of stuff. So basically like things mentioning Rand are also gonna be able to rank probably better for like entrepreneurship or SEO related terms, which is really interesting that like these topics are tied together.

One thing I have seen, actually, on my own site, I don’t think I’ve talked about this publicly, is so … I have a bunch of different … Here’s some inside information for you, something I’ve been realizing is … I have a bunch of different category pages on my site, right? I have the typical SEO agencies, SEO consultants, but then I’ve gone to the longer tail as well.

So SaaS SEO agencies, e-commerce SEO consultants, that sort of stuff.

I have some big guides built out on my site, like 10, 15,000 words without like “real estate marketing” or “SaaS,” I have the whole SaaS SEO guide. I launched that in April and two weeks later I basically popped to number one or number two for pretty much all the “SaaS SEO” related head terms that I’m targeting with those pages.

Emil: Wow.

John: So basically the search engine said … I’ve done for SaaS, I’ve done it for e-commerce, I’ve done it for real estate, I’ve done it for B2B. So like basically the search engines are coming to associate my site with these topics as well with these verticals as well as types of marketing as well.

I don’t rank as well for like Facebook ads related to stuff, even though like I’m doing the same sort of SEO for those, but my site isn’t associated with that topic.

So that’s an interesting thing to think about as well in keeping focused on a specific type as opposed to going super broad with your content.

Emil: Yeah. I mean I feel like topical relevance has been a sticking point in SEO for a long time, but I feel like now it’s starting to be more and more true, like you’re saying. Like Google’s getting better at understanding what sites are actually about and what their strongest in, keeping them a little bit higher rank in those.

John: Yeah. And how much trust they should put in them as well. For a long time, it’s been all about like … I mean links has been the currency of SEO, right? But a couple weeks ago, Google rode out their new search engine regulator guidelines.

So basically they have like 10,000 people reviewing different search results and looking at like, “Does a page deserve to rank in this sort of thing,” and that feeds their algorithm. They don’t have the power to demote a site because they’re like, “Oh this isn’t as relevant as it should be for this query, it shouldn’t be ranking this well.” But all of that feedback goes into the algorithm.

And a couple weeks ago, they released an update and basically it talked a lot more about trusts and also what they call YMYL queries, so “Your Money or Your Life.” And basically it’s like medical information and banking/financial information and that sort of stuff. They call it a core algorithm.

Basically a broad algorithm change started rolling out last week, it supposed to be finishing up around yesterday or today. And it looks like a lot of medical and financial sites were affected by it because they’re basically saying, “We trust WebMD, we don’t trust these other alternative medicine sites that we’re ranking for all these different terms.”

Emil: Interesting.

John: So I think they’re getting better at determining who is an authority and who is not based on the multiple factors. Links are included in there, I think, but I think there are a lot of other factors going in as well. Which is super interesting in kind of a change in how search has been working to this point.

Emil: Right. Yeah, I mean … Those are two areas where it’s so important for people to get legit information, like from good sources. That’s good to hear they’re doing that. I mean people have been able to game it with terrible information for the longest time. Like constantly.

John: A really long time.

Emil: Yeah. That’s great.

I want to get into link building a little bit. For anyone who’s done it, it is soul-crushing, it is hard.

John: Sucks.

Emil: It sucks, it’s hard.

John: It sucks.

Emil: And it only gets harder over time, right? Five, six years ago, you used to email somebody and say, “Hey, I saw you linked to this, I have something better.” You could pick up links that way, but I feel like that’s gotten less and less effective over time.

John: It has. It still works some, but it is less effective.

Emil: Yeah, the percentage of conversion rate just goes down and down and down over time. So, what are some methods you’re seeing now that still work for link building?

John: Yeah, good question. One of the best ways … I mean, when I think about link building, I think, “How can I provide the most value to someone else so that they want to link to my site?” Right?

So you know, if you’re writing like 400 word blog posts, like “there are like three ways to do X sort of stuff,” people don’t want that stuff. People want to link to original data, they want to link to basically like the canonical piece about that topic on the internet, right? This stuff takes a lot more time, a lot more money, lots more extra T’s to put together, and so that’s why it ranks. And that’s why other people want to link to it.

So, I would say, A: creating that content on your site, and then B: reaching out to people about it. It does help to also have a known brand to be like a trusted entity. It’s much harder to earn links, to get links, if you’re an unknown person in an industry or you’re working on a known site, versus you have a site that has been vouched for by influential people, you have their testimonials on your homepage, all that sort of stuff.

People are going to be like, “Oh, this is actually a legit company, I got this guy’s Twitter account and he’s taking a month off Twitter for the month of August, but he has 30,000 followers … Probably a legit person,” right? And so they’re gonna give you a link.

So there’s that. I also think guest-posting can still work really, really well to get links back, right? Providing like awesome content. I have a friend that runs or he’s the VP of Product at a well known hosting company. I’d be writing blog posts for them and they were like, “Yeah, we want like 700-800 words.”

I’ve been delivering them like 2000 word blog posts about these SEO related topics. And they’re ranking, they’re driving them traffic, I get like a byline link out of it. I don’t do it for the link, but I get one. So just providing that crazy-like outsize value right there is going to be it.

Not emailing some stock name, saying like, “I’ll provide you content, I promise it’s gonna be unique and blah blah blah.” If you’re saying that it’s gonna be unique, it’s probably not going to be unique. Like just at the end of the day, and that’s not the kind of person you want writing on your site anyway. So think about it as the person getting pitched, it’s like when I see that, I’m like, “No,” I just mark it as spam and move on.

So I would say like … And there’s some other ways, you know, just to build links like scalability partnerships if you’re like an e-commerce site, then you know, you can syndicate your listings or you can syndicate your products and sometimes get links back, that’s really … that happens a lot in the rentals industry and the real estate industries. That’s an interesting way to think about it.

In SaaS, a lot of like partnerships, like companies that you partner with or tools that you use will often link to you.

One thing I love doing, actually, that works really well for B2B and for SaaS overall is offering testimonials. So, you know, you use a product like say you use a male shake. Sujan Patel’s Total.

John: I’m sure you know Sujan. So you use Mailshake, right? You know Sujan would be like, “Hey man, I love Mailshake. Can I give you a testimonial?”

And companies are always like … Maybe don’t email Sujan, I forget who’s running Mailshake for him, but like use, find their email address. You know, reach out to them. They will be happy to take your testimonial and they will probably put it on their homepage and they will probably link to you.

But you’re offering them something of extreme value to them. And you’re being a real person about it, right? So that’s one that I love doing, it works really really well and people are super appreciate of it.

Emil: 100%. The partnership one, I agree with you completely as well. Like there’s people in your industry who provide maybe a complimentary solution to you. Like you guys aren’t direct competitors but your tools are maybe complimentary.

And doing co-promotion, co-marketing stuff, you form a relationship. It’s like, “Why not,” if they have good resources on their site like exchange … I don’t want to call it link exchanging but like linking to valuable resources they have and then them doing the same.

John: Yeah, I think the interesting thing there Emil, is that it … Links is like the least valuable thing you can get from a partnership. Because there are so many other ways, it’s like, to market your business. As you said, co-marketing, yeah, yes posting … You could maybe set up affiliate agreements.

Like there’s so many over ways you can use partnerships to to build your business as well. You know, new potential customers, and yeah if you get a link or two out of it, great. And yeah, I’m not gonna say that’s not valuable but there are lot of partnerships that are extremely valuable for you.

And also like guest posting as well, like you’re building up your name, right? Like you’re a trusted author. Within that space, you’re an expert and you’re a trusted authority within that space on that topic, and you can link to people if you’re trying to get more guest posts, you could say like, “Hey, I’ve written here, I’ve written here, I’ve written here, I’ve written here, I’ve been mentioned here.”

People are like, “Oh shit, he’s been mentioned in like Wired and Search Engine Journal and like, you know, Wall Street Journal.” All these different places and they’re like, “Okay, yes, I want that person to write on my site.”

Emil: Right. HARO, H-A-R-O, and Unlinked mentions, I also want to throw those in there. Those are always good.

John: True.

Emil: Putting up Google Alerts and people mention your brand all the time and don’t link to you and it’s … That one is like such an easy ask and most of the time people are like, “Oh yeah, I just forgot to link to you, no problem.”

John: Totally, yes. That one is awesome, so UnLinked brand mentions and also your name, if you’re like a founder that you’re out there doing stuff and people mention you, like make sure you have that set up. You can use it for reputation management but also for earning links.

And I love HARO, Help A Reporter Out, I use that a lot. I’ve gotten like crazy authoritative links from that. My one suggestion there is don’t just keep to stuff within your specific industry. Because we’re people, right? We’re people that do stuff outside of work, we have personal lives, we have hobbies.

I got a half page write up in a cannabis industry magazine because my wife and I give our dogs CBD dog treats in the car because he gets anxiety.

Emil: Okay. I’ve always wondered about the CBD dog treats. I’ve seen those too. I have a dog and I’m like-

John: They’re awesome.

Emil: They just [crosstalk 00:35:47] come out? They just like-

John: Yeah. We have a 90 pound, we think, black lab/Great Dane mix, he’s pretty anxious in the car. We give him like three of those before we go drive up to the mountains and he’s just like … He’s chill, he’s just like sitting there, panting and watching out the front but he’s not like trying to rush into the front or whining or anything.

Emil: Right.

John: They’re magical. I highly recommend them. And totally non-lethal as well. Like he could eat the whole bag of them, he’d be like super zoned out for a couple days but he could eat the whole bag and would be totally fine. Like non-lethal.

Emil: Nice. Total aside, I just want to like, yeah, I’ve seen those and was curious. So yeah, you said you mentioned you got a write up because you bought CBD-

John: Yeah, so someone was saying, “Hey I’m doing a story on this,” and I just emailed them and told them a good story around it. And I didn’t get any links out of it, it was actually in print. I have the magazine right around here. It’s like me and him like a big photo of me and him sitting in my old apartment in San Francisco.

It’s pretty funny, but like I’ve gotten links from Reader’s Digest, from US News and World Report, like all of those, related to like … I do some travel hacking with credit cards, so you know I responded to one about travel hacking, got written up in US News and World Reports. I forget, I think it was a working remotely one for Reader’s

Like I’ve gotten links from these crazy, authoritative domains from HARO, from talking about things … It’s not talking about digital marketing, but it’s like things that I do as an entrepreneur running my business.

Emil: Yeah, interesting. That’s a good tip for people, like going outside of just your industry.

So, we’ve talked about like agency and people can get it set up with consultant. What if someone comes to you and they’re like, “John, I want to set up an SEO team internally, I’m not sure how to do it.” What tips have you given people who’re trying to do that?

John: Yeah, that’s a great question, so the first thing I vet out is are they ready for that? Do they … The biggest thing there too, specifically talking about an SEO team, is … I mean, A: like what are their needs for their site and for their company around SEO? Like do they understand what SEO could do for their business?

And the investment that it’s gonna take to get there, like a good SEO consultant or a good in-house SEO is not gonna be cheap. Someone with like two, like three-ish years of experience, minimum $60K, probably more like $80K, if you’re in San Francisco and you want someone that has like six/eight years of SEO experience, you’re looking at a $120K, $140K easily. So like, it’s gonna be expensive.

At the same time, you know, $120K, that’s paying an SEO agency $10K a month for 12 months. So, it can even out. What I often ask people is, “Do you actually have the team in place to support it?” Like, if you have a website that’s built on angular.js, so it’s not crawlable, and there’s a whole bunch of technical stuff that needs to happen and you outsource it and you don’t work with that agency anymore, like … You don’t have the people, people are not resources I always say.

You don’t have the people, the team in place to support what actually needs to happen in order for you to drive traffic for that person to be successful.

So I say get that into place first and then hire a person to basically direct that strategy. And honestly, like an SEO strategist or like a head of SEO, SEO Manager, whatever you want to call it, they’re probably gonna still work with agencies and outside providers, because they’re gonna be so busy with like technical keyword research, link building, all that stuff that goes into it. Meetings, right? All those things.

John: They’re gonna work with agencies to produce content and you know, you’re gonna be working with developers to get things done. It’s like it’s not just their salary, there’s all these other costs that go into place as well, so what I tell people is, “Work with an agency or consultancy to determine your strategy first. What is it that you need to do? Where’s your low-hanging fruit? And where’s your long term strategy? And does an in-house person make sense for that?”

I’ve worked with a bunch of startups, a bunch of companies that I basically go in and act as their director of SEO. I’m part [inaudible 00:39:53] I’m part of all that stuff and then I don’t do much of that anymore, but I’d be part of [inaudible 00:39:57] I’d be talking with developers, I’d be talking with designers.

Planning out, scoping work, all of that. And then basically I work with those companies for 12 to 18 months and then I help them hire ahead of SEO, because I know within 12 to 18 months they’re gonna need one because there’s gonna be so much work on their plate that I’ve given them. They need someone internally, with the knowledge and is doing it full time, to manage those projects through.

Emil: Right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Especially like if you’re working with a company that doesn’t know SEO, they need that baseline education so that when they have someone who comes in, they know what to work with them on.

John: Exactly. And then they’re not gonna hire like a head of SEO and pay them good money and then three months later be like, “Where’s our traffic?” Right? Like they need to have their expectations set first about what all is involved with, you know? With good SEO.

John: But if it’s a bigger company, I’ve worked with companies that have like 20 person SEO teams. Which is pretty fun as well. And for them, at that point, it’s all about like organization and how do they structure their organization to work on different products and do they have the teams internally that they need, you know, design, development, engineering … I guess engineering and development are the same thing, but like you know, those different teams in place.

Like, do they have finances backing? Do they have analytics backing to know like to be able to measure and be able to tie it back to the metrics that matter for company? It gets much bigger than just like, “Are our canonicals pointing to the right pages?” Or like, “Are we fixing the 404s on our website?” It’s much more complicated than that.

Emil: Yeah, I can only imagine. I’ve never been a part of a company that’s doing millions, but it gets so technical and crazy. I can’t even imagine.

John: Yeah. Totally, it’s fine. When I was within Zillow group, there were like four full time SEOs on, now they have more, I think. There were two or three on Trulia, there was me kind of floating. There was one on HotPads. We had like, across all the brands, we had like 10, 12, 13 full time SEOs.

Emil: That’s a huge SEO team.

John: Super fun. Super fun, yeah. Plus development and all that. They basically had an SEO like their growth team, the SEO team on sat on the growth team. And so they had dedicated developers and designers and that sort of stuff and each SEO was dedicated to a specific part of the business. So rentals, for sale, new projects, that sort of stuff. So at that scale, it gets crazy.

Emil: Yeah, I can imagine. Dude, I’m gonna let you go, so let’s wrap up. Where’s the best place people can find you, connect with you?

John: Well I would say Twitter. But I’m not on there right now. But I’ll be back, so dohertyjf. D-O-H-E-R-T-Y-J-F, on Twitter. And then the Credo site is GetCredo. Those are, you can find me from all those places.

Emil: Nice. Yeah, by the time we drop this episode, you’ll probably be back on Twitter. Maybe a little bit less than you were before but you’ll be back on.

John: That’s the goal, that I’ll be back.

Emil: Well cool man, thanks again for joining me today.

John: For sure. Thanks for having me, Emil.

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