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Sebastian: Hey guys, welcome to the SEO podcast. This episode, we have Brendan Hufford. Brendan, welcome to the show.
Brendan: Thanks so much for having me and I’m excited.
Sebastian: Yeah. So, you’re head of SEO at Click Studios, and you’re also the author of the famous SEO newsletter called “SEO For The Rest Of Us”. Is that right so far?
Brendan: Yeah, I’m famous on the internet. Yes, that’s where I work. I’m the SEO director at Clique Studios. I get to work with everybody from local Chicago businesses to huge venture-backed $100 million dollar venture backed startups. And the “SEO For The Rest Of Us” newsletter is really just to demystify SEO, and help explain it to people that feel overwhelmed and intimidated by it.
Sebastian: Right. So, I was going to ask, who exactly is the newsletter for? Is it for newbies or advanced people, or somewhere in the middle, or for everyone?
Brendan: Yes, I think so. I was a teacher for 10 years and before I went full time in SEO, one of the things that I’ve kind of learned is the value of being able to explain things and tell stories and actually market. Like everything is marketing so, I’m not just sending an email with tips, I’m telling stories, I’m hitting you with the hook story and offer and even if the offer at the end of it is just for you to implement the thing that I’ve taught, that’s what it is. And I’m still trying to, you know, you still have convince people to do the things you’re sharing. So, the newsletter is really just for creative entrepreneurs, people who have their own websites and either sell services or products. There’s a lot of other people on the list. There’s people who run SaaS businesses, but really, if you’re making money online, either with software or digital products, and you’re looking to get more traffic through your website, through content and things like that, the newsletters definitely for you.
Sebastian: And I’m just curious, why did you go for the newsletter format instead of say, a blog or a book or anything else like that?
Brendan: Yes, that’s a good question. So, the book is on tap for 2020. Right now, I’m doing a project called 100 days of SEO. Where in 2019, I’m producing 100 videos, 100 podcast episodes and 100 blog posts. That’s at –100daysofseo.com — That will merge over to BrendanHufford.com at some point but I want to keep it separate for as long as possible. It’s a cool asset that can be built kind of in a non-personal branded way. But yeah, so the book is on tap. And blog posts, to be honest with you, ranking for SEO terms, I want more of a connection with people and as much as a lot of SEO gurus try to look cool by saying “I ranked number one for backlinks”. Like they made a great living from that, but it’s very circular. Because I don’t want to invest all of my time on my SEO blog about how good I am at SEO based on my SEO blog about how good I am at SEO — it just creates this weird circle and that doesn’t feel right for me. It feels right for me to say, “I increased yea-over-year traffic 200% for this SaaS Company” or “I helped this local business, you know, quadruple their leads in 90 days through SEO”, which is really fast for SEO. Things like that really matter for me, because that’s changing lives, instead of just self-aggrandizing and talking about how good I am at SEO based on my one thing I’ve done. So, I don’t try to rank for anything SEO related. When I rank for stuff, I want to rank for things that are really going to help people like I’m putting out a guide soon about how to use SEO to grow your podcast. I think it’s one of the best ways to grow a podcast and that’s really important to me and I want to rank that versus trying to rank for SEO terms.
Sebastian: You mentioned BrendanHufford.com, that’s your freelancing business that you do on the side. For those of us who are trying to do that, how do you balance that with your day job?
Brendan: That’s a good question. The answer is poorly. I balance it really bad most of the time. Really, it’s just staying focused on — I have so much work at my day job, especially between clients. We also do our web design projects. Clique Studio is primarily a web design agency and our design clients, a lot of times hire us because of the SEO side of what we do. Because we have that — we employ me, an SEO director who works on every single website. When you’re paying a quarter to a half a million dollars for a website, you want to know that your organic traffic is not going to tank because some designer doesn’t care about SEO. And it’s whatever they saw on dribble lately that they want to implement. With us, I can tell you for a fact that your traffic is not going to tank and I’m going to do everything I can within the site architecture and all the technical aspects, the little bit that I can that might help your SEO, I’m going to do that. I’m going to pull content that I think is really good and needs more opportunity, I’m going to talk to my designers and say, let’s pull that into the homepage. Let’s pull our content closer to the front of the website and things like that. So, I have more than enough work at my day job. We also have just strictly SEO clients for Clique and then when I get home, it becomes a question of doing my freelance stuff — working with people, consulting, doing ongoing retainer work. Then also producing YouTube videos, producing podcasts, all of these other things. I don’t know, my wife would tell you that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to push as hard as I can all the time. I think it’s very much my nature to just like put the pedal down all the way. I’m like a really bad race car driver. I’m the race car driver that’s like really close to winning and just slams into the wall every time. I just have to learn to like, ease off the gas a little bit to be honest.
Sebastian: And do you have an ideal client or you just cater it to anyone who has the budget for it?
Brendan: So I found like a sweet spot with budget. For a while I was like, I want that biggest budget and everything else. And then I realized that with really big budgets, can come really big and sometimes unreasonable expectations. Expectations around, “I should be allowed to pay you 90 days after”. I’m pretty much giving these people a loan for 90 days. “I should be able to pay you late, I shouldn’t have to stick to the contract, I can extend the scope as much as I want because we’re paying you a lot”. I found the sweet spot in terms of billings that are good for me. In terms of ideal clients, I love working with people who are doing something cool. I love local clients. I love impacting communities, especially communities that I live in or are near to me. I work with some clients that are either in Chicago or within a couple hours of us and I love that. I get to help them employ more people and take care of their community too. But the ones that really light me up are ones doing really interesting work – the creative entrepreneurs, right? The people that are impacting thousands and millions of people on their blog and have huge email lists and maybe have an authoritative website already but are really looking at harnessing more organic traffic. Those are the clients that really light me up.
Sebastian: And are you getting your leads from, say the clients that are too small for Clique or are you getting through word-of-mouth or some other means?
Brendan: Good question. So that was something we talked about when I joined Clique. I said, “Are my clients your clients now?” And they were like “No, man there’s no overlap”. The clients that work with me at Clique, not only get access to our whole team, so it’s more than just me. They’re also working with us on web, SEO and probably paid advertising. So, they’re getting a whole suite of services. We don’t do much beyond that. We also have copywriters in-house and stuff, so there’s some content and copy work. But yeah, there’s no overlap and they don’t like toss me leads that are too small for them or anything like that. What we do is really, to be honestly with you, most of my leads right now I’m trying to think — some of them find me through my content, some of them find me through content, they hear about my newsletter, they sign up. But a lot of it, really-I’m thinking of who my most favorite and successful clients are right now, they’re people that just met me. You know I spoke at an event and somebody that I was on a panel with at an event knew somebody else who needed help with SEO and that became a great client. So things like that. A lot of that has come through just relationships.
Sebastian: Well, let’s switch to tactics now. As SEOs, we love to work with say WordPress for a CMS. But if you had to pick, what would you say the next best CMS to work with would be?
Brendan: I do love WordPress for a lot of reasons. I think if I had to — you know, I’ve never worked with things like Drupal. I’ve never worked with Drupal for SEO. I would say all of my clients have been — So, I can only speak from my experience. I’m not a fan of Wix for a lot of reasons. I would say Squarespace just because Squarespace is usually the platform people choose when WordPress is too much. So I end up having a lot of really cool, really creative entrepreneurs working on Squarespace and I’m totally fine with that. It’s not optimal in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to rank their website or do the right things for SEO so I’d say Squarespace.
Sebastian: Yeah, I agree. If you have to conduct an audit, is there like a specific tool that you use? Do you use a range of tools like Content King, or Screaming Frog, or anything like that?
Brendan: Yes. For audits, I kind of focus on Screaming Frog, Ahrefs and SEMrush. I like to put SEMrush and Ahrefs side-by-side just so people can see. It eliminates that like, “Well, that’s just that tools opinion”, when I can put them both side-by-side in terms of keywords and things like top pages, they can then see, “All right, this is confirmed across the board”. It’s worth paying for both of those every single month. And then, really the tool that I use the most is the tool we should all be using for audits which is Google Analytics. I can pull some really incredible data, get some good insights for them from there.
Sebastian: Do you do the same thing with keyword research where you bunch up other tools together or you have one specific tool like Keyword Revealer or something like that?
Brendan: Really, for keyword research, I use Ahrefs primarily. I try to keep things as simple as possible building up a big like tech stack and stuff. I use other SEO tools for the actual work of SEO depending on the client, but really, for audits I lean on Ahrefs for a lot of it just because of speed and simplicity and stuff like that. It also produces — some of their visuals aren’t great, that’s why I also like SEMrush, but I do really appreciate their visuals for the most part carry over really well like I can just show the tool to clients. I mean, when it comes down to it, we can all pretend like we have something proprietary but we’re all using the same tools for the most part. No tool is like 10,000 times better than any others. So, it’s really a question of, “Here’s what the tools say, now, here’s what I think you should do with this information”. That’s what they’re really paying for.
Sebastian: In terms of writing, some SEOs swear by optimization tools such as Clearscope or Surfer or Ryte. Do you use any of those writing tools as well when you’re creating content for them?
Brendan: It’s a really good question. I’ve got to know Bernard who’s the founder of Clearscope. It’s so funny, actually our head of content moved to San Francisco and she was living there. She’s was like “Hey, here’s this SEO tool, it’s called Clearscope”. And I looked at the report — the sample report that we got and it said that there was a certain article that I thought was trash and it rated it like an A+. And I was like, “We’re never using this tool, this tool is stupid!” And then I started talking to Bernard and I looked at it. Now, I not only pay for Clearscope for Clique Studios, but I also personally have an account because it’s so valuable in pointing out — really I just use it to — there’s a tendency to look at it as like keywords and stuff. Looking at what it actually is, which is entities from Watson and Google natural language processing, looking at the entities and seeing, “Oh, I have huge gaps in my content. I need to talk about these other aspects. Everybody else is talking about them”. Google expects to see it in there. That’s been absolutely invaluable, especially for clients and especially for whenever I’m working in an industry where I’m not a huge expert. All of a sudden, that’s-I mean, think about what you used to have to do, I would have to open 30 different tabs for the top 30 results, read each one, quantify what’s in them. That’s exhausting. I can do it in Clearscope in two minutes.
Sebastian: To wrap up the tool section, some SEOs talk a lot about where your WordPress site is hosted is really, really important. Do you find web hosting companies really vary between each host, or it’s not really that important?
Brendan: That’s a good question. Well, I can tell you, it does vary between each host. I was on HostGator for years! It was so embarrassing. And then I recently moved to Flywheel maybe about a year ago and they ended up sponsoring one of the projects that I’m working on. I’ve gotten to know their team really well, worked with a bunch of their content developers. Jamie Bell, one of the heads of marketing there, is a wonderful, brilliant marketer and they were recently acquired by WP Engine, so there’s some shake up there. I have a lot of friends that swear by Kinsta, but I find them pretty comparable. I’ve never used Kinsta myself. So, I can tell you that hosting in terms of rankings and speed and all the things is that make the internet good for humans, your hosting really does matter. So yeah, I think it does matter, I just prefer Flywheel right now.
Sebastian: Do you read any SEO books or blogs, or marketing ones in general?
Brendan: Yes. Well, I read things that I see get shared by people that I trust. What I’ve become most interested recently is, a lot of copywriting stuff, and a lot more around the content side of things has been really interesting for me. And I know this sounds terrible but most of my information that I get comes either through people or directly in a community called Traffic Think Tank, which I’ve been in for quite a while now. I went to their conference in Philadelphia and I really like Traffic Think Tank because again, it’s SEO stuff that actually works, not just like a guru blogger saying it works because it works for their SEO blog. Like it’s real information from real people doing the real work. And when they say like, “Oh, this is a really cool article”, I’m going to go read that. So that’s where I get a lot of it from to be honest.
Sebastian: Nice. Brendan, where’s the best place people can reach you? Is it Instagram, Twitter, email, LinkedIn?
Brendan: So, I’ve been playing around a lot with Instagram lately. People can find me there — “thebrendanhufford” if you want to see some behind the scenes. All of the insights and all of the interesting things I find, I don’t share on Instagram, I share that on Twitter. Twitter it’s just “brendanhufford”. And then honestly, if people want my best stuff, it’s BrendanHufford.com. You can check out the “SEO For The Rest Of Us” newsletter there. Also if you’re just getting into SEO for whatever reason you’re seeing this or hearing it and you’re like, “Hey, I need a foundation. What’s the first step that I take?”, I have a free challenge. It’s at 100daysofseo.com/challenge. People can check that out. It’s just a 5 day SEO challenge giving you, in five days, 75 to 80% of what I know.
Sebastian: Wrapping up, bonus technical question if you’re up for it. If you had to find the meta data and link data of say, a million URLs, how would you approach that challenge?
Brendan: I think if we have a million URLs, we have other questions. But, I don’t know, a million URLs is going to be far, far too much for Screaming Frog. I’d probably need to-I know I have a lot of friends that have Sitebulb and some other things. To be honest with you, I know this sounds terrible. This is such me dodging the question, but I’m going to give you the real answer. I would ask the question in Traffic Think Tank. I would ask people who have done bigger websites and more of those things and I will get probably 10 answers in 10 minutes and some really good insights of like, “Hey, it’s this tool and it’s this, but be careful because this tool tends to fail around that and you don’t want to have to run that report five times”. Yeah, I would just leverage my network, because honestly, off hand, I’ve never encountered a website or anything like that with a million URLs and me having to pull like that type of data. So, I would just ask smarter people, which I guess hopefully is a tip in and of itself.
Sebastian: Yeah, it totally is. Hey Brendan, really appreciate your time. Thanks man.
Brendan: Yes, thanks so much for having me on.