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Sebastian: Welcome to the SEO show. This episode we have Nat Eliason. Nat welcome to the show.
Nat: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Sebastian: So, you’re the CEO of Growth Machine, as well as some interesting side projects like The Writer Finder and Cup & Leaf, is that right so far?
Nat: Yep, that’s right. So, Growth Machine is my main job. It’s a SEO focused content marketing agency and then, we have a couple of projects that have spun out of Growth Machine, including Cup & Leaf, the tea Company and The Writer Finder, the writer matchmaking service.
Sebastian: Growth machine appears to be an agency with a heavy focus on content marketing. With that in mind, did you have a perfect client in mind or do you just take anybody who’s willing to pay you guys for that?
Nat: We found there’s a couple of criteria that make for a really good client. The biggest challenge with content marketing, especially with the focus on SEO is it’s a very slow process. It takes a long time for articles to start to rank on Google. So, we need to work with sites that can have the patience for those results to kick in, because you’re starting a search strategy from scratch. It might be like a 6-12 month process. The companies that we tend to get the best results for and have the best working relationships with are ones that are doing at least two to five million plus in revenue per year. Ones that already have another marketing channel working really well like ads or influencer marketing or something like that, and who ideally, have tried to do something with content and SEO in the past but it hasn’t worked out. Because they usually appreciate the challenges of implementing the strategy better, and they’re going to be more receptive to the time it takes to do it properly.
Sebastian: Did you get into this side of SEO because it’s something you enjoy doing or you realize this is what actually moves the needle a lot more so let me just capitalize on it while I can?
Nat: It was a little bit of both. I got interested initially on accident, where I had been doing some SEO on my personal site, had some articles starting to rank, and then was able to turn those into sales. So, I’d seen it starting to work on my own site, and then worked with a couple of other companies to help them. With at least one of them, I saw just how much revenue good content could drive and how much traffic it could create and the value of that. So, that made me much more interested in trying to do it at scale for a lot of different companies. That was about two and a half years ago. Since then, we’ve been able to really refine and build out that process into something that when given enough time and energy and resources can work very reliably for helping grow eCommerce businesses through something besides more ad spend.
Sebastian: So, you’ve got those side projects going, you’ve got the agency going, I know you have the podcast, and you just got married, congratulations, by the way.
Nat: Thank you. It’s been a busy few months.
Sebastian: So, you’re obviously maximizing your time as much as you can. Are you doing that by delegating all of these tasks and projects or are you using automation with software, or you just really enjoy working hard?
Nat: All three. I do enjoy working quite a bit and that’s one big part of it. We use a ton of software to automate a lot of stuff within the agency and our other sites, especially like building different automations in Zapier is a very common strategy for us. We run a ton of our processes through different zaps, to automate different processes within the business. Then hiring really good people to run the different parts of the business and who are better in the specific areas that need to be focused on than I am. So, we’ve got 12 people full time on Growth Machine, we’ve got one woman who’s focused on a combination of The Writer Finder and some of the other projects, we’ve got one person full time on Cup & Leaf, there’s a lot of people working on the different things, not just me.
Sebastian: Okay, well, let’s switch to tactics. Now, as SEOs, we love to work with WordPress as a CMS, but if you had to, what would you pick as an alternative to work with?
Nat: Probably Webflow. It’s really nicely editable, especially if you’re a solo site owner. If you’re doing it for a personal site or personal project, it’s really easy to edit and change things to get it the way you want it. And it’s a lot lighter weight and faster than WordPress as a CMS so, we’ve seen really good results with ranking sites using Webflow. I generally don’t recommend Squarespace and Ghost and some of those because we’ve seen typically worse results SEO wise from using those platforms.
Sebastian: Interesting–if and when you ever had to conduct an audit, do you use tools like Screaming Frog and ContentKing or do you guys have your own methods?
Nat: Yes, we use a lot of those kinds of tools. We use Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, Website Auditor, tools like that, and then just also have our own internal checklist for things that we can go look at on the site ourselves. But a lot of those tools do much of the heavy lifting for doing a technical audit of the site and I think a lot of the value in having a company do an audit is in their ability to make content type recommendations or on page recommendations for actual things to change as opposed to just finding errors because finding errors and broken things is really easy. The hard part is making good recommendations based on what you see there.
Sebastian: Obviously, creating content, you guys do a lot of Keyword research. You mentioned Ahrefs, is that what you use for keyword research? Do you use standalone tools like Keyword Revealer and all that?
Nat: No, we use Ahrefs for almost everything. It just seems to have the biggest database of information, especially with links and all that and then their keyword research tools are great. We’ve built a lot of processes around that. A lot of keyword research doesn’t have to be the actual specific search stats, they’re not that important. It’s the relative value of the search stats and the relative difficulty among keywords, not the absolute difficulty in volume. So, just using one tool that has good data and using it consistently, we found to be the best solution.
Sebastian: In terms of creating content, obviously, there’s some tools out there like Ryte and Clearscope which helps you with your SEO, does that help you guys a lot or not really as a content marketing agency?
Nat: It helps. It’s obviously not sufficient. Because with a tool like Clearscope, it’s very useful for helping you identify topics that need to be in the article, but you could also just paste the 50 keywords that it says the article needs into Clearscope, and it would give you an A+ rating. So, just having those words isn’t enough, you still need to be able to create a good article that touches on those topics. Plus, the thing with something like that is, as more and more people use these tools, they’re going to become less effective if that’s all you’re using. So, you need to be able to do more than just what the tool gives you. We use it as a starting point and we have our own internal guidelines for how to write for SEO, and how to create something that will rank. We give those guidelines to our writers, they use those guidelines in combination with what clear scope gives them to create the piece and then it goes through our internal, editorial and SEO review process before it gets published on a client site.
Sebastian: Obviously, some SEOs who want to do some shortcuts. They’ll use services like Textbroker, Express Writers and things like that. Is there any reason they should go with an agency like yours? What would you say are the benefits for them?
Nat: I mean, the thing with SEO is that it’s the most competitive marketing channel. Somebody could be on Instagram and they could follow 50 or 100 different fitness influencers, and they would see all of them in their feed. And each of those fitness influencers could post something about what to eat on a paleo diet, and each of their 50 posts about what to eat on a paleo diet would show up in their follower’s feeds. Google is different, because there can only be really one or two results for what to eat on a paleo diet that will show up in most people’s feeds. So, you’re looking at a channel that is significantly more competitive than almost anything else you can go after. The potential ROI is way higher too, because you’re not paying for continual exposure. You have an article on top of Google for two, three years to keep sending traffic but getting it there is quite a bit harder. The issue with using super budget solutions, like hiring cheap writers on Upwork or buying spammy backlinks or using a really bad linking service like The Hoth is it’s just going to make it way harder for you to compete with the actual good content and actually well linked content out there. And in many cases, you need to find writers who are going to charge you more than you are comfortable paying in order to get actual results. If you think that a high-end SEO agency is expensive, try hiring a low-end one, because you’re just going to be paying to redo that work later. Actually, one of our most common projects that we get, and actually one of our more successful types of projects that we get is somebody who hired a cheap SEO agency. They put out a ton of shitty 500 word articles, they didn’t do anything and now they’re saying okay, we just wasted six months and maybe $20,000 doing this. They’ll ask why isn’t it working. And we basically have to tell them, look, everything they gave you is trash. None of these articles are going to do anything for you and we’re going to have to rewrite all of them, and so it’s basically going to be like we started from day zero. You’ve got some domain age, that helps a little bit. And it sucks to hear that or have to say that, but that’s the reality of when you go budget with it. It’s basically just lighting money on fire. SEO is not — you can’t assume that it’s going to work because sometimes it doesn’t but it definitely won’t work if you’re going super budget and creating really cheap content.
Sebastian: Yes, my uncle always says I’m not rich enough to buy cheap stuff. Anyway, to wrap up the tactics section — a lot of SEOs, really stress over web hosting, do you find that that’s a big issue for SEO?
Nat: It is for a couple of reasons. One, if your site is slow, then that’s going to hurt your SEO performance pretty significantly. So, you want to make sure that you’re on a fast host. The other way it matters a lot that people don’t think of is, if you do your job well, your site is going to get popular and as the site gets more popular, it becomes a greater target for hackers and malware. If you’re on a cheap post, like Bluehost, or Host Gator or one of those. One, they’re very easy to hack and two, if you get hacked, they’ll basically just say fuck you and shut your site down and this happened to me. We sort of had to break into my Bluehost server to rescue my site and transfer onto another friends hosting company and just lost all the other sites on my Bluehost account. Because, I had an out-of-date WordPress plugin. Site got hacked, they broke in, they took over all my sites, redirected all the links to malware pages. Bluehost shut the whole thing down and basically said, you have to pay us $2,000 to fix your sites or we’re just going to delete them. It was like, all right, one, fuck you guys, that’s a really shady practice for you to do. They wouldn’t even let me hire my own guy to go clean it up. This is a very common story where a site gets popular, it gets hacked and then those $3 a month hosts end up just saying, well screw you. Because we’re making so much money from all these sites so we don’t care about you. So, what I always tell people is look, if you’re going to start a site, don’t get budget hosting. Just go to WP Engine, pay the $40 a month. I know you’re thinking, I’m not making money and $40 a month is so much. That’s three Chipotle meals. You can afford it. Get hosting that’s not going to screw you over later and you’re going to be a lot happier in the long run. So yes, WP Engine. If you do Webflow, they do the hosting for you, their hosting is incredible. Set up a CDN with Cloudflare or whatever. By a security plug in, something good. And however you’re doing your hosting, if you’re doing WordPress, make sure that it’s doing nightly backups and nightly plugin updates. Because something like 95% plus of WordPress hacks come from out-of-date plugins. So, you never want to let that happen on your site. Because the minute it does, you’re vulnerable. So yes, take take your website security seriously, folks. It’s not fun to wake up and find out that someone is like taking over your site and redirected your 300,000 visitors a month to porn and malware sites. Not a good time.
Sebastian: Don’t want to wake up to that, that’s terrible man. You sound pretty knowledgeable about all this stuff. Is it from experience or do you read a lot of books and blogs and podcasts and marketing?
Nat: It started with a lot of reading and blogs and podcasts, but I’ve been doing it for five years now so, a lot of it is just practice and being pretty immersed in the field. I think there’s a sort of like a hierarchy where you start with reading some stuff and then you start doing it and then you get the experiential knowledge. Then at some point, you just move into talking to people, because eventually, the posts and things aren’t going to be as useful to you and you’re getting into the finer details where it’s much more helpful to talk to people. So, at this point, I mostly just talk to other SEOs but there are really great blogs out there that you can read to learn a lot about this stuff. Brian Dean’s content is phenomenal. His blog and YouTube channel is pretty much the gold standard. Tommy Griffith from Click Minded is really good. We have a blog at Growthmachine.com/blog that you can check out. The guys at Grow and Convert, Benji and Davis, their stuff is really good too. So, I would definitely check out blogs like that. And a good metric for the quality is how often they publish, because there’s not that much to say about SEO and content marketing. If you find a marketing blog that’s publishing five articles a week about SEO and stuff, they’re probably shitty articles. I would look for people who are publishing max maybe once or twice a week tops. But somebody like Brian Dean, I think he only has 40 or 50 articles on his site. And he’s been doing that site for six years. You don’t need to read hundreds of articles, you need to read a couple dozen really good ones and I’d look for those.
Sebastian: If people want to reach out to you is Twitter or LinkedIn or email, the best way to reach out to you?
Nat: Twitter is definitely the best way. I’m just @NatEliason. If you can find my growth machine email or my email, you can email me there too. I’m not going to say it. You can look it up. I’m pretty responsive there but Twitter is usually the best place. I’m there all day procrastinating so hit me up there.
Sebastian: And bonus technical question if you’re up for it. If you had to find the link data of say, a million URLs, how do you go about approaching that?
Nat: If I had to find the link data for a million URLs? I think at that volume, you’re not really going to be able to use a lot of tools unless you pay a bunch of money for like direct Ahrefs API access. That’d probably be what I would lean towards is just paying for an API access that I can use to run the data through manually just like in a basic Rails app or something and get it that way. But when you’re talking about data at that scale, there’s no way you’re going to go out and collect all the data. So, you’re going to have to find somebody who already has it and then find an efficient way to pay for access to it and it seems like spying and one of the those APIs would be the quickest route to getting the data you need — quickest and cheapest I think.
Sebastian: Hey Nat, I really appreciate your time man. Thanks so much.
Nat: Yes definitely. Let me know when this is out so I can share it on the socials and everything and thanks for having me on.
Sebastian: We’ll do. Thanks man.