The truth is - SEO is really just really good marketing and understanding your audience. It's creating content that frankly resonates with your audience but also has demand, which is where keyword research comes in. The idea of manipulating Google and trying to do SEO to rank is where people kind of go astray.
But, if you look at SEO as just another kind of marketing practice that's based on understanding your audience and positioning, your website and your brand will be discovered. Your ideal customer will find you when they search for the parts or services you offer. If you can wrap your head around that basic understanding of SEO, then it becomes incredibly powerful.
Glenn: Welcome back to the show. Today I'm speaking with Garrett Mehrguth. Garrett, welcome to the show.
Garrett: Thanks for having me, man. Just excited to be here and chat with you and your audience. So, thanks for having me.
Glenn: It's totally our pleasure. The thing everybody wants to know though is, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Garrett: Yeah. So, my name is Garrett Mehrguth. I started Directive about five-and-a-half years ago and we're going out six years actually sitting here. We're a search marketing agency. So, we do SEO and PPC, primarily for mid-market and enterprise companies, helping them generate more leads. So, yeah, I mean, we have an awesome business. It's been really fun to kind of just grow and be a part of it as well as lead it. And we're having a good time. And yeah.
Glenn: Okay. So, I have a question that seems to pop up quite a bit when I talk to people, and that is this idea that SEO is this black box and nobody really knows how to actually do SEO well. Is that a myth? I mean, is it something that can be done well?
Garrett: Yeah, I think that the problem is when you try to do SEO is actually the problem, because the truth is SEO is really just really good marketing, understanding your audience. It's creating content that frankly resonates with your audience but also has demand, you know, where keyword research comes in. But I think the idea of manipulating Google and trying to do SEO to rank is where people kind of go astray, but instead if you look about as SEO as just another kind of marketing practice that's based on understanding your audience and positioning your website and your brand to be discovered by your ideal customer when they search for the parts or services you offer, I mean if you can do that, that's really the whole premise of SEO. And when you focus into that type of area, it becomes incredibly powerful.
Glenn: I really like that point-of-view because I think in the early days it was all about the kind of hacking, right, you know, how do I hack the system, how do I understand what the algorithm is so I can optimize specifically for that? And what I'm hearing is that it's more about let's just get back down to basics, let's figure out the language and messaging people want.
Garrett: Yeah, I mean, that, and how – like, when people are looking for what you sell, do you show up, are you discoverable? Like, that needs to be the most important part and for the longest time, people – and still actually today – people really focus on, does my website show up? Like, what keywords does my website rank for? But I've actually have a fundamentally different belief on SEO and I believe that it's about your brand. So, you have to ask yourself, does my brand show up when people are doing their research for what I sell? And because there are these things like, third-party review sites. If you're a local business, there's Yelp, there's Google My Business, there's Search Ads, there's TripAdvisor, there's all these different aggregators of data. And due to what I call the Yelp and Amazon affect, consumers have been taught to trust third-parties than to trust themselves, look at the reviews instead of trusting brands. And so, Google also recognize this. And the fact that we look up reviews before we buy a $5 break burrito has changed the way, obviously, we buy enterprise software. Like, we don't buy $250,000 software now without looking at the reviews. And so, really if you're focused on just your website, you're going to fail because there's keywords, like, top ERP software. So, if you're looking for an enterprise software and you searched top ERP software. No website actually ranks in the top ten. And so, it's now more than just about your website, because Google is saying that even in a lot of situations, your website is not the best answer to people's questions and so we have to really start to think about SEO as a brand play in order to understand how we can position our brand to be discovered, not just our website. And that's really the way SEO is changing.
Glenn: And so, what are the common mistakes that you see people – like, when people come to you as a client, are there some common things that it's kind of like the low-hanging fruit that people kind of should be doing that they're not?
Garrett: I think, you know, we're missing some of the fundamental concepts of how information is discovered. And that's probably the biggest one. I think a lot of times people think they can rank their website for a keyword without actually looking at what's ranking and realize, oh, my God, no individual website, like, none of my competition is able to rank. Maybe that's not because they're bad at it, maybe because that's not the type of information Google is focusing on with this type of query. So, really just understanding the search engine results page and what ranks where, I think that's a fundamental thing that a lot of us need to develop, myself included. I think that's something I still got to focus on. And then the other thing that I see a lot of times that we don't necessarily have right and we need to kind of adjust or learn is – I don't know I'm just like trying to explain this the best way – like, when you search for something, you have to have that actual page on your website. I know that sounds really simple, but like a lot of them don't have, like, the keyword we're trying to rank for, we don't actually have a page for. And it's actually that simple. So, a lot of times, like, we'll have these really great products with a lot of features and a lot of those features have a lot of demand. People are looking for the features of our product. But we don't have a dedicated page for each feature and so we're only able to take a small percentage of the market share, because we don't actually content to rank for the keywords that we're targeting when people are searching for what we sell. So, as simple as that sounds, I think actually building out pages for your different services or sub-services or products and features is actually a really important part that we miss a lot of the times.
Glenn: And how important is it with some of the underlying metatags? Is that still a thing? Making sure that you have all the proper metatags filled out with the right keywords in it, because obviously you can't really – well, you probably could, but-
Garrett: So, the big change there is, like, meta-keywords haven't been a thing for a long time. So, plugging things into what was called the meta-keywords section, doesn't do anything. But using the right keywords in your title tags and your H1 and on your on-page SEO, is, yeah, that's still a really important part of ranking for a keyword. In other words, are you targeting that term? I think, one of the other pitfalls a lot of people get into and I went through myself was, targeting multiple keywords with one page in our title tags. So, we'll try to rank for, like, SEO agency and SEO services for the same page. But the truth is you have to after one term for one page and kind of create that one-to-one ratio. And so, if you want to rank for another term, you really have to have a dedicated page for it. And I think the biggest thing is, we don't have enough filter and we aren't hard enough on ourselves a lot of the times when creating content. And what I mean by that is, we expect we can rank for a keyword just because we write an article on it. But the truth is that there is no barrier to entry to content marketing. And so, we have to ask ourselves, are we the best answer to that question? Are we the best piece of content on that topic? Do we most thoroughly answer the question? Do we have the fastest website? Do we have the best creative? And then lastly, are we the most authoritative; are people talking about us? Like, are we a credible source via how many links are pointing to us due to the authority of our content? And so, when you put all that together, that's really the crux of SEO. But a lot of times we frankly – we publish things that we ourselves wouldn’t even read; you know. And that's kind of – I think that's still – the issue is trying to do SEO as it's a game instead of doing as this really good content marketing that understands your audience and can effectively communicate.
Glenn: You know, somebody once described marketing to me as painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you start on one end, you paint it all the way through to the other side, but you're not done, now you gotta start coming back and repainting the whole thing. Do you look at SEO the same way? It's this constant process of just kind of tweaking and updating?
Garrett: Yeah. It's like, it's really just like an evolution of – there's so much you could do. And I think the best SEOs are able to prioritize. And so, as you get kind of done with our foundational stuff, that's when the creativity comes in. Like, hey, maybe you can run. Like, we know, for example, that statistical content earns links a lot more naturally than other types of content, because it's highly referenceable. In other words, if you're writing on something and you say something, you need to support your opinion, you usually need to support it with data. And so, people will look for statistics. So, they'll look for, you know, ERP statistics. And then that's a type of piece of content that actually naturally earns links. So, as you start to understand user behavior and the inner workings of how people create content online, then you can create content that's either more referenceable or more shareable or whatever that is, to hit your KPIs. But, yeah, it is kind of this never-ending journey that I feel like, you constantly are tweaking and developing and improving. And there's so much creativity, it's a very fun – in my opinion – it's really a fun kind of science and art.
Glenn: Right. It's blending the two. I'm curious, in terms of tweaking, how – and I know it's probably going to vary, right, depending on the industry, depending on the changes. But when can somebody expect to see some results? Like, if they make some changes, is this the kind of thing they're going to see in a day, you're going to see it in a month, you're going to see it in six months?
Garrett: Yeah. I mean, the first thing is just to understand addressable market. I think people kind of forget that part. So, they don't even necessarily fully understand the demand for their products or services because, let's say, you rank number one, okay. So, you rank number for a keyword that's really valuable to you, you're going to average a 28% to 30% clickthrough rate. So, if there's a hundred people searching it, you can capture 30% of the total addressable market by ranking number one. But then if you have a 2% conversion rate, you might only get one lead from that due to simple mathematics. And so, my point here is, like, when people want to know how long it takes, like, that usually is, like, it can take – I've seen it – it depends, like, if you're working with a highly authoritative enterprise brand and they've never done keyword research, they didn't have the right pages, they didn't do their title tags right and you kind of get the foundation right, you know, you can see success within 30 days, you can see it within a week, you can see it almost immediately. And for a newer startup that has no authoritative, no press, no one has really ever talked about, that could take up to a year or two. You know, we were in number one for SEO agency. And sometimes it goes to number two or number three, but usually we're number one for SEO agency. But that took me three years. So, it really depends on the competitiveness of a term, how authoritative your brand is, the quality of your brand, your content, your design. I mean, there are so many pieces that go into it. What I found is usually, as the company becomes more successful in a given space, so also does their SEO increase. So, in other words, like, the quality of your business and the quality of your SEO are oftentimes very connected, I found. And so, it's more about building a great business and understanding what content you need to have to position yourself to be discovered in your ideal customer person that's buying journey than it is about manipulating Google. And as you get that down really well, then it's about doing your press, like, popping on podcast, writing for a trade publication in your industry, creating content. Like, it's just honestly, SEO is just a summation of great marketing and then it's just about then being wise on how you want to be positioned and discovered for the products and services themselves. And when you kind of put that all together, you create a holistic strategy that allows you to grow your business.
Glenn: Garrett, you know, I love this conversion because I think it answers some of the nagging questions that a lot of marketers have around SEO. Particularly if they're not doing it well today or haven't seen the value from it. I am curious though, before we dig a little deeper into it, how did you get involved in SEO? What was your story that got you to SEO and creating the agency that you did?
Garrett: Yeah, I mean, I kind of – I was on Fiverr actually, so I was on Fiverr selling social media calendars for $5. And I kind of figured out how Fiverr's algorithm worked. I was getting my masters; I was playing soccer in college still. And, yeah, I was kind of just – I was applying to a bunch of different management consulting firms, like, Bain, Deloitte, Boston, McKinsey. And I didn't really get – the application I applied to other and I kind of just got an auto-response. And so, I decided, you know what, I'm going to start my own agency. I figured people assume that due to my youth, I would know the internet. And people who had money didn't know the internet as well, so they would pay me to help them essentially learn how to do digital marketing. And so, I kind of then try to find the channel that I thought had the highest ROI, so that I could charge the most for my services and I found that to be search marketing, SEO and PPC. And so that's kind of how I got into that. And I just kind of started on really small businesses, like, local businesses, trying to help them out, you know. And from there, started to work with mid-market companies and then eventually enterprise brands, just trying to do really good work for people.
Glenn: And what do you find is the value for somebody to outsource it to an agency like yours versus trying to build the capability internally?
Garrett: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a ton of value to try to build it internally, so I'm not like one of those people that says, oh, you have to outsource. Because what I found is that a lot of our clients have full SEO teams internally that we still consult with, you know, these are large brands that have a lot of competency internally. But I think one of the key values of an agency that's so important is, number one you get talent in the SEO space is really difficult. Like, it's taken us a lot of years to learn who the right people are and who the wrong people are. Like, as you can kind of hear from talking to us, we're not, like, Black Hat, we're not like, spammy and cheeky, we're much more strategic and tactical from an overarching, like, how to position an enterprise brand, not like, how to hack a startup to a thousand users, you know? And so, that's like a different approach, number one, to marketing. And it's really difficult to hire people in our industry, it's very, very difficult. It's also very difficult to train them. But one of the biggest things, I think, an agency is we get to see so many different clients, we get to see so many different experiments and so many different datasets, and say, okay, this is what we have seen work for B2B SaaS firms in your vertical, here's what we've seen failed, here's a crossing of 500 projects, when we do this, we know it outperforms this. That type of data and being able to work with so many different clients across so many different spaces is really impactful. I mean, we have over 50 full-time employees, you know, there's a lot of expertise, there's a full management structure, there's a lot of people that, like, if you were to build an SEO team, you would want to have an SEO leader on your staff, not just a junior level person. And so, the old out of fold org chart in search marketing with the right amount of strategic people as well as execution people, it's actually quite expensive. And then, everybody kind of have their specialty, right? There are some people that are better at lead building, there are some people that are better at content, there's other people who are better at technical. To build all those people into your org chart, you might just not have the traffic or the revenue or online sales or lead goals to justify that type of investment. So, bringing someone like directive in can make a lot of sense because we can start to bring in can make a lot of sense, because we can start to bring in a lot of different skill sets, a lot of different pieces. We always say, we're like a talent agency, right, we're a talent to help you accomplish your goals and to hit your KPIs and we can give you all these different types of talent on one account in a much more cost-effective way. That allows us to be pretty flexible based on, you know – because what the client's needs are month one is going to be different than month six, which is going to be different than month nine. But, you know, a lot of times people internally in-house aren't that flexible. And so, it allows us to align ourselves really well with our clients.
Glenn: And in general, have you found that if you're – I don't want to say optimizing for Google, but if you're doing all the right things that you described, does that work just as well, you know, if people are using Google as their search, if they're using Yahoo! I understand it's probably going to be a little different if we're talking about Amazon specifically and some of these closed environments where they're actually selling to you. But across multiple search engines, if you're doing the right thing for one, are you, by default, doing the right thing for them all?
Garrett: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the reality of – like, the market share is so small for other search engines – like, there's DuckDuckGo, there's Bing, there's Yahoo!, there's Google – you really don't need to focus on those, unless you're in like this massive, massive, massive market where essentially like the volume for your market is so large that even 3% of the total addressable market on Bing makes sense for you, because it's so large. But for most people there isn't like a different – like, you don't use different tactics for Bing than you do for Google. But you want to make sure you're set up on Bing Webmaster Tools – I forget what's even called now. Like, we really don't focus on it that much because it's such a small percentage of the market that we really – like that's not where we spend a lot of our time, at least on the SEO-side. On the PPC side, it's a little easier to just take your winning keywords and then bring those into Bing or something. But on the SEO-side, we don't focus on being as much, to be completely honest.
Glenn: Yeah. And, you know, Google has its tendencies, right, it tends to favor some of their own platforms, like, YouTube, etc. Do you see that there's almost an insistence to make sure you're showing up on each offering that Google comes up with?
Garrett: No, I think when you start – and that's like goes to my whole thing on SEO – if you start doing things for the sake of SEO, I think you're just really not prioritizing the right marketing tactics. I think you have to ask yourself, is my audience on there? Like, is my audience on YouTube? Do I think that my return from my time as well as my advertising efforts in a channel are going to be effective? Or do you think it will have diminishing marginal returns? In other words, the more time I put into YouTube, I won't get an equal or greater return out of the platform? You have to ask yourself that. And then, I think the truth is, is that marketing, we all should be doing a lot less, not more. In the things that are working for us, we should be doing better. And that goes for myself included. You know, we love shiny objects, especially in the SEO space, we love to chase the latest tactic and the newest trick. Instead of maybe spending three more hours promoting the piece of content, you know, or actually adding more creatives to an asset or – like, we just need to do better work as marketers, not more work. And that's definitely a pitfall I find myself in as well.
Glenn: I think that's so powerful, because in marketing we have this tendency to pick up something – okay, let's add this project and then let's do this and we're having this campaign and this approach and this medium and this, this and this, you end up spinning all the plates and you're not doing any one well, you're just kind of keeping them all alive, keeping them spinning. So, taking that step back, and you know, maybe what we do is we focus on a few and we just do them really well and then we can kind of come back and see, huh, alright, do we want to add something else now? So, taking that approach, whether it's SEO or other aspects of marketing, I think it's valuable advice. That being said, Garrett, if there was one thing that our audience could put into action today to really have an impact, in this case, on their SEO, what would that one thing be?
Garrett: I think – can I go through a couple of things?
Glenn: You sure can, yeah.
Garrett: So, information architecture. So, getting away from, like, if you go on directiveconsulting.com's website, you'll see – and this is something I just rolled out, for example, you'll see we're using more of a mega menu approach and that's allowing us to link to, like, core pages as well as sub-pages as well as core pieces of content from our menu. So, internal linking is really, really important. And so, creating a better navigation experience, not only for your user but also for Google, is a really important thing that I think everyone should be doing. And if you guys want an example, you can go to our website, we just rolled it out and one of the pieces of content we were trying to go after was called what is CRO? It's a very large term, it's competitive. We actually added to our menu and immediately went from top 20 to top 5. So, that's just one example of, like, adding something to your menu, because every page on your website is linked to from your menu. So, you're drastically increasing your overall internal links. Another tactic we've been trying that's called a glossary. So, Google wants to understand if you're an authority and how much information you have on the space you existed. And so, glossary is a great way to increase the overall information on your website. And it's usually more, like, definition type content instead of opinion and so it's easier to outsource that type of content and not lose quality. So, a glossary is a great way to increase the content on your website without having to do too much on the thought leadership or opinion side where you can sometimes get bad content when outsourcing. So, it's a really great way to do it. And then podcast like this. I think a lot of people are still trying to build the authority for their SEO through guest posting, which does definitely work, but people are chasing, like, Forbes and Huffington Post and these bigwigs. And if they were to really just focus on their audience and their industry. Like for me, I want to write for Search Engine Journal, I want to write for Moz, I want to write for WordStream, I want to go on podcast like this. I want to really speak to my audience and I found that that does a lot more for the ranking of my website and the authority of my brand and the awareness of my brand than going to, like, Forbes and the Huffington Post and Inc. and trying to get those links. And podcasts are great because the nature of a podcast is the host of the podcast is only as good as their next guest and so intrinsically, they need you to be on their show. And so, the success of your outreach is exponentially higher with podcasts than any other journal because the entire medium of podcast is based on interviewing. And you can get a link, obviously, from the show afterwards, you can reach out to the host. And so, that's what, like, I found to be the most-effective link building tactic right now is actually going on people's podcasts. It's also great for your brand. So, no, I think, you know, if you get those things done really well, that's huge. I think the last thing is just search for, like, what you offer. So, if you offer – me, like, SEO agency, search something like top SEO agency or best SEO agency or SEO agency reviews. And then go look at all the third-party review sites and pretend like you're your customer. Like, pretend like you're trying to find the best SEO agency and you're doing your research and ask yourself, like, does my brand show up? Is my brand a part of that conversation, a part of that journey? And if you're not, that's the most important thing you can do for your SEO. It has nothing to do with your website, it has everything to do with your brand. And just make sure your brand is discoverable when people are, you know, at the bottom of the funnel and they're trying to make a purchasing decision and doing their research. And if you do those things, you're going to have, you know, world-class SEO and it would be really a profitable channel for you-
Glenn: And should I do that in Incognito mode, so I don't bias the results?
Garrett: Yeah, you can totally do an Incognito mode. You know, I found either way you usually don't get terribly different results, but Incognito definitely will get you more pure kind of search engine results page. So, definitely recommend that. Yeah, I think the whole point is to just spend more time in the search engine results page and in the buying journey, and less time in your Keyword Tools and in your Google Analytics. Like, we spend so much time in our data and our analytics and our tools that we don't spend nearly enough time kind of in the shoes of our customers. And I think if we change that perspective, we'll do things that are more impactful.
Glenn: Well said. Garrett, if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do it?
Garrett: Yeah, I'm on Twitter: @gmehrguth; on LinkedIn, you can also or shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Yeah, feel free to go to our website, you can fill it out or follow me on Twitter, ping me on LinkedIn, I love to chat. And maybe there's an area I can support you.
Glenn: Awesome! Garrett, thanks so much for being on the show.
Garrett: Oh! Thanks for having me, man, it was great.
Garrett’s Bio: Garrett is the CEO of Directive Consulting, an SEO and PPC agency that helps companies do search marketing better. To reach Garrett, you can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Want to appear on AMP Up Your Digital Marketing? Contact Us and let us know how our listeners can benefit from hearing your message.