By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.
Most businesses are wasting a lot of money on search engine optimisation (SEO).
New Hampshire-based Jarod Spiewak, who is the founder and lead strategist of Comet Fuel, joined me in the recent episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast to talk about how they help entrepreneurs not waste money on SEO and still get noticed.
The SEO Challenge
Jarod considers SEO as a bandwagon marketing tactic. It has that appeal that everybody wants: Everybody uses Google to find anything and showing at the top of search rankings is part vanity and part revenue.
SEO is also “free” unlike advertisements wherein you have to keep paying for every click. However it’s not necessarily free to get there.
But while everybody wants it, the reality is that there’s a limited amount of space. Once you earn a position, it doesn’t mean that it can’t get taken away from you.
What he found over the years (mostly through trial and error) is that a lot of companies who are investing in SEO either make slow and expensive progress, or make good progress and have it quickly taken away by somebody else in their business space.
One of the biggest determinations is to have a brand that builds momentum, which then starts a snowball effect. As an example, he cited working with a company that did an internal correlation study and found that in cities where they have billboards, the click-through rate (CTR) was higher on Google. This shows that to have a more recognisable brand, you have to go back to the Psychology 101 of things — the things that people are more familiar with or drawn to.
This way, even if the company ranks lower, it could get more clicks than a competitor who has a higher position.
There’s also a so-called re-ranking. Here, a higher-than-expected CTR within a designated search position for a designated keyword may influence Google, telling the search engine that more people than expected are clicking on that particular result and that it should actually be positioned at a higher rank.
And it’s not just about traffic. It also facilitates an easier move through top positions because the performance is better than what Google would expect to see from other competitors.
These are just some of the benefits of having a brand, which makes it much difficult for somebody to compete against.
On Link Building
If you’re selling something, being on the front page of Google is not the only route to success.
Large companies certainly have distinct advantages when it comes to building a brand and putting up billboards. Looking at the link-building aspect of Google, these companies are going to attract more media attention at a far less cost. Sometimes, they can achieve it without even having to do anything.
On the contrary, smaller companies may have to try harder in order to gain that attraction.
However, for Jarod, it’s still possible to beat out bigger brands. It’s just that the methodologies that you have to use will be a little bit different.
If you go back to pre-Google, all search engines just looked at what you told them about yourself. And everybody wants to say that they’re the best at something.
Then, Google decided: What if we use other people saying that you’re good at what you do; that you’re a reputable business through the use of hypertext links? Using hypertext links allows users to click on something, which would then bring them to a different page or site.
Because if other non-associated sources are recommending a resource, it’s a stronger indication that that resource is actually good at what they’re saying — compared to them just saying that they’re good themselves. This is similar to how people cite sources in journals.
How Comet Fuel Chooses Clients
Comet Fuel profiles clients based on experience. Jarod spends a lot of time talking to a lot of different people in marketing or those who are in C-level positions.
He only chooses a business that he thinks is going to be a right fit for their company. A business that would take the suggestions that they make; a business that has the same wavelength as them.
If he and that business won’t agree with each other, no matter how good Comet Fuel is, they’re never going to make that connection.
Speed, Not Scale
During the episode, Jarod cited podcasting as an example to show the difference between a large and a small company.
Podcasting is a relatively new medium. If we’re talking about how to get large organisations into podcasting, the scenario would look like this: A certain employee reaches out to their boss and says that they should guest on a podcast. Then the boss says that they’d look into that — along with several other things.
The deliberation can take weeks, months, or even years. Who’s going to be the spokesperson? What if that spokesperson leaves the company? How are we going to record this? What are our key performance indicators? How can we get the budget approved?
If it’s a smaller company, you can directly talk to a decision-maker. You can book them and do the podcast as early as tomorrow.
In this sense, the speed of execution can massively outweigh the excessive amount of resources that another company has. It’s a matter of effectively deploying the capital. A big company would be investing in all the best equipment and making sure that it represents their brand. If it’s a smaller one, they’d be fine buying a $50 Blue Snowball and just popping on with a webcam.
This way, you can compete with a larger competitor. They’d probably be a lot more professional about it. But if you’re doing it at the moment, then you’re going to have a year of experience before they even start.
For the unnoticed entrepreneur, it’s actually speed — not scale — in the digital age that is a key success factor.
Going Mobile and Geography-Specific
With almost anything SEO, there’s some ambiguity about crossing over from desktop to mobile.
For proprietary reasons, Jarod noted that Google can’t lay everything out there for everybody to look into. But from his understanding and as how he would phrase it, Google has moved into a mobile-first index. This means that when they crawl most websites, they’d look at the mobile version first.
If you take out your phone and see how long your mobile loads, that’s what Google is experiencing. If you try how the navigation works, that’s what they’re also experiencing.
When it comes to locations, there are local, national, and global locations.
If you’re a national-based company that has several locations, you’d usually have some sort of location-based structure on your website. You’d also make it clear when it comes to what’s relevant to a certain geography. You might have different languages on your site, for instance. Or you might have different top-level domains.
The type of content that you’ll make then is all about intent.
There are contents that are not local intent-based — it doesn’t matter where someone is based out of. For example, if you saw a bunch of ants in your house, you’ll do some searching about how to deal with 50,000 of them behind your wall.
When Jarod did a search on this, the pest control article that he found was from a local pest control company that’s nowhere near where he lives. Because he didn’t search specific enough, Google just decided that that article was the best one.
If he’d change the search into what ant species are in New Hampshire, then he’d more likely find New Hampshire websites or any other article that other people have written about the topic.
One of Comet Fuel’s clients who are focusing locally is in the cannabis space. Depending on where you are in the US, the use of cannabis can be completely legalised. In some, it’s just recreational; in others, it’s medical. There are also places where it’s still completely illegal.
If they want to talk about getting a cannabis dispensary license, they’d have a general page about how to get a dispensary license at a high level. There could also be subsections or individual pages that will detail how to get your dispensary license in Michigan, California, or Colorado.
On Outsourcing Content Creation
SEO and public relations are always about content quality.
However, today, if you search for something that you personally know really well and look at what ranks on Google, you’ll often be disappointed in the actual quality of content. Most of the time, it’s fairly generic and it reads the same. If you look at the top five articles, you’d get 95% of the information. And when you’ll search for another article, you’ll find that it merely sounds spun.
Unfortunately, this is what’s happening quite often: People simply outsource content to a professional writer who isn’t necessarily aware of what’s happening in their space. It’s a lot cheaper to pay somebody to just look at what’s currently on the web and essentially rewrite in a way that isn’t considered plagiarism. The company will be legally fine and their content can rank.
However, it’s still no more helpful than everything else out there.
It’s considered more cost-prohibitive for you to have somebody who’s not only a great and engaging writer, but also able to learn about your industry. It could also be somebody who’s already involved in your space; somebody who’s willing to sit down with you to ask you questions and understand your internal methodology. Because your approach is different, it would be hard for anybody to write about how you do things without having a conversation with you.
For instance, an article on the web could say that hourly-based pricing is standard, but in reality, your business has never done that. So the content that your outsourced writer will write will only be irrelevant. Without that conversation and understanding, the only thing that you’d ever get is fairly generic content.
When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based content production, Jarod said that he’s not as well-versed. And at scale, it’s usually all enterprise-level stuff. It’s more about making basic content (e.g. writing about your store across different thousand locations).
How Comet Fuel Finds Leads
Comet Fuel has done a couple of things throughout the years in terms of finding leads. One of the more long-term ones is producing tools that they’ve made public and free. They’ve got agencies using their tools as their internal main tool, which has often led to leads coming to them.
Another is through the content they produce. Their company would have people reaching out, saying that they first heard about them a few years ago and now they’re ready to try and work with them. They also source leads from referrals.
However, what’s interesting is Jarod’s background itself.
Prior to owning an agency, he was freelancing for about six years via Upwork (the merger of oDesk and Elance). It’s his primary source of leads and he was able to build a very strong profile that’s still there until today. Now, he’s still getting people reaching out, offering four- to five-figure per-month contracts mainly because the profile was established enough.
Essentially, he just let things organically grow, turning something that is somewhere between an inbound and an outbound channel into an almost purely inbound channel.
Today, five-figure projects are being posted on Upwork. But when he first started on the platform, it was mostly administrative work, which has a lower quality and is cheaper. At the time, there were also very few US-based people offering medium to higher quality SEO services.
He aggressively used the platform and got a bit more and more competitive. Over time, the landscape has shifted as a lot of agencies started emerging (Now, when they try to hire somebody as a freelancer to help them with a specific task, it’s hard to find someone that isn’t an agency).
While there are a lot of lower-end people, there are also plenty of enterprises client-wise. One of the clients that Comet Fuel got to work with was owned by a company worth $15 billion. What they essentially looked for was a one-time engagement for an initial project. But there are also clients wherein they’ve had multiple six-figure contracts with. If you stand out enough to attract that kind of attention, you’ll find a good mix of opportunities out there.
To learn more about Jarod and his services, visit www.cometfuel.com.
This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.