A Real World SEO Makeover – Andy Baldacci
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You understand the importance of SEO for your business and its online visibility. But just throwing up a bunch of blog posts and articles isn’t nearly enough to get the job done in today’s crowded, competitive marketplace. Instead, think quality over quantity.
Carefully crafting – and curating – your online content is vital to how Google perceives you and helps determine if your offerings are valuable to the people searching online. This includes adding quality links from well-respected and trustworthy sources, and being smart and calculated with your keyword research.
Rich: He’s the Demand Generation Lead at Groove, a software startup that makes simple helpdesk software for small businesses. I’m excited to be speaking with Andy Baldacci.
Andy: I’m excited to be here, Rich, thanks again for having me.
Rich: As we talked about before we got on, that is the shortest bio that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading before a segment.
Andy: Yeah. This was one where you asked me for that and I told you I’d get to it later, and you said you need it now. So I said, “OK, I’ll give you something”, and then I gave you a very little something. But it was enough, I think.
Rich: I think it was a tweet. It was a tweet’s worth of bio, so good for you.
Andy: Even without expanding the character limit, I think it would have fit.
Rich: Exactly. So that gives us an opportunity of me asking the first question. I know that you recently started working with a company called, Groove. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about Groove, how you go there, and what your role is there.
Andy: So I joined Groove a little over a year ago. And just a quick backstory on that, at Groove we make simple helpdesk software for small businesses that have outgrown email. The idea came about when our founder was at his previous startup and was having multiple people in one single email inbox support – and anyone who’s done that before knows it quickly gets very messy – so long story short, after that company was acquired he rolled some of those profits into Groove and tried to solve that problem. So we’ve kind of come into the market as what I call “the right size solution”. The simple tools that really don’t do enough compared to the enterprise solutions that do way more than most businesses need.
Prior to joining I was doing marketing consulting for primarily B2B software companies and had known some of the people over at Groove. And when the opportunity arose I jumped on it, so I’ve been there for a little bit over a year now.
Rich: So your title is Demand Generation Lead, what does that mean exactly?
Andy: So we actually have been kind of nailing down the titles recently. When I joined, the marketing team immediately doubled. They went form Len – who was the head of marketing – to me, and then also Ellen. So actually tripled in just two hires. So up until that point there wasn’t really much of a need for title for clear responsibilities. But over the last 6 months or so we’ve been trying to narrow down what everyone does and making sure we’re all working towards the same goals.
So as kind of the Demand Generation Lead, it’s my job to make sure the people that were actually getting to the site, to our blog, take that next step and move further down our funnel so that we can start engaging with them an eventually sell out product to them. So I’m kind of at that point where once they’re on the blog it’s my job to extend their journey with us.
Rich: Ok. Now if I understand it correctly, you’ve been focusing on SEO only for the past 6 months or so. What were you doing before then, before your focus on SEO?
Andy: So we’ve never had a sales team, we’ve spent more than maybe a couple dollars on ads but never spent more than hundreds of dollars on ads, we’ve grown organically through our content. But up until now it’s been a viral content approach. I don’t like using that word, but it’s been content that’s shared organically on social media, and that’s really how we’ve grown. We’re writing primarily about the topics that we knew people in our industry cared about, and we did it in a really transparent and vulnerable way so it connected with people.
But SEO is something we obviously knew what it was, but it was just never really our focus. So overwriting around 300 posts over the last 4-5 years, some of our posts to get great search traffic, but it was more by accident. And so what we tried to do recently is just be a little bit more deliberate about that and make SEO an actual part of our content creation process.
Rich: So Andy was there a pain point where you just said, “Hey, we should really be looking at SEO more carefully”, or was it just kind of like, let’s figure this out?
Andy: So when I came onboardsomewhat recently around that time, crossed the $500k MRR spot for our business,we had grown to that point again through our content but without being deliberate. We started to plateau, our growth had slowed.
Rich: Hold on, because it just took me a second to realize what you were saying. So you had just crossed the half a million dollars of recurring revenue per month.
Rich: Ok. I’m sitting there trying to go through all the TLAs – three letter acronyms – in my head, and then I knew what you were talking about. I’m sorry to interrupt.
Andy: I won’t throw any more of those out there without a definition. So yeah, we did cross the half a million dollars a month for revenue mark. But like I said, the growth had started to slow. And we knew that to kind of get past that plateau we would need to change what we’re doing. We couldn’t just keep doing more of the same. And when we broke down what we were actually doing on content strategy, the glaring hole was really search. So it all kind of was spared by the fact that we just weren’t getting the growth that we knew we needed to get to that next level.
Rich: Ok, alright. So once that happened, what were some of the first steps that you took as a company to refocus your intent on SEO?
Andy: Yeah, so one of the first things we did is just kind of figure out what does good SEO look like and what does that even mean. And as you know and all of your listeners know, when you search for that you get oceans of content about this. Some of it good, some of it bad, but a lot of it kind of in the middle and it doesn’t really add too much.
So we actually brought on an advisor, Matt Barby, who’s from Hubspot. He’s currently their Director of Acquisition, but before that he was a Global Head of Growth in SEO. So we leaned really hard on his expertise to come and jumpstart that. He just established kind of what our standards in SEO were.
And for us it came down to two things, it was pretty simple and we didn’t want to complicate it, we just wanted to do it. And so it was making sure we did proper keyword research first in everything that went out from us. And also making sure that we had some sort of on-page checklist that we could give our writers to make sure everything was up to those standards going forward. And that was the first step we did was just establish those standards.
Rich: Alright, so first I just want to be clear on something. So for every piece of content that you’re putting out into the world, you’re doing some type of keyword research on this. How much, how deep are you going? If you’ve got a new blog post that’s coming, are you doing some deep dive on this, or are you just spending like 15-20 minutes just trying to find out if there’s some phrases that you weren’t thinking of? Make me understand that, please.
Andy: That’s a great question. There’s a few different levels for us of keyword research. We still ae going to keep writing the content we’re known for, that really vulnerable more viral-orientated content. And for that it’s going to be a quick 125 minute keyword search to see if here’s some better wording we could use, to see if there’s any question we can answer, and things we can include in otherwise what we’re going to write.
Then on the other side of it though is the content that is primarily going to be driven by what people are searching for. And that will typically for a blog post be an hour of research in the early days. We’re getting a bit more efficient about it now.
And then we have some of the big resources that we’re going to put together in what we call the Groove Support Academy. And those are where we target the big terms, like “customer support training”, and breakdown all the sublets under that and create a much longer term content play around some of those. So it’s kind of three different levels there, depending on where we’re going with it.
Rich: So you keep on using this term that’s content that is “vulnerable”, and it makes me want to cuddle. So break it down for me a little bit more about, like, when you say “really vulnerable” and it goes viral, give me some examples of help desk content that makes you look vulnerable.
Andy: Yeah, so that’s actually kind of on the other side of things. One of the things we learned is that a lot of our content that was getting less traction wasn’t as close to the line of our core customers. So the support side of our blog isn’t going to be as transparent as vulnerable type of content, It’s really what we call he “founder’s journey”. Which is Alex – the founder of Groove – he’s writing about the trials and tribulations of starting, building, and managing a growing company. So he’ll talk about the failures, he’ll talk about the successes, he’ll talk about where he’s confused, where he’s trying to learn, and just really hold nothing back. Transparency is one of our core values, and that’s where that side comes in.
In the early days we grew by primarily selling to other startups who were at other stages than us. They had small teams, they maybe had one support agent – maybe two – and so by talking about those types of issues we had we were able to get a lot of these customers in. But as we grew and started moving up market, we realized that wasn’t necessarily the best audience for us anymore.
So we’re going to keep having that content where we’re sharing what we’re learning, but it’s now going to be geared towards companies our size or larger. And it’s really just talking about mistakes. And I guess the most recent one to talk about is when we posted on the blog that we need to put pause on this and we need to stop publishing on the blog – which is kind of a scary thing – and re-think our content strategy. And it goes into the fears of doing that, why we ended up doing that, what are our concerns are going forward, and all of that. And we really again just try to hold nothing back there.
Rich: Alright, so that vulnerable content is not necessarily about trying to get new business directly, it’s more just sharing that you guys are human behind the scenes.
Rich: So if you’re going to write a new post on that, you’re not going to be spending a lot of time on what are the best keywords, because it’s not necessarily relevant to top of the funnel audience getting.
Andy: Correct. We want to make sure that again, some of these things are still relevant to things people are searching about, but they’re not as directly related as some of the more obvious search things like, “How To Do x, y, z”. So we’re going to try to include things that people are searching for, but it’s not the primary focus.
Rich: Sure, understood. So that makes a lot of sense. And so then the other two types of content are; content that is more geared towards what is my ideal customer or prospect searching for, and you spend more time doing a deep dig there. And then just to recap your other type of content is you’re really creating a university for Groove and so that’s going to be going after some really challenging keywords. And for that you’re going to be investing time into that and taking a long-term look at that. This is an investment and we really want to own these terms on the internet.
Rich: So then the second part of this whole thing was a checklist of just some good practices that it sounds like you got multiple people writing for you – maybe internal, maybe external, maybe a mix – and you’ve just got certain things that they need to check off as they create this content. Is that my understanding?
Andy: Yeah. And so our writing team is all internal. Again, before we joined it was just Len and Alex had been doing all the writing and they had been doing it for years, so they didn’t have much process. So we needed to come in and figure out our content processes in general, but specifically for this it’s just a checklist of the basics. Of making sure we had the primary keyword in the title, making sure we’re using different headers. The really basic stuff, again it’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s just making sure we’re consistent and actually applying it.
Most of SEO, unless you get into the super nitty gritty, high value, high competition keywords, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You need to do the best practices and do them well, and that will get you pretty far.
Rich: Ok, so that makes a lot of sense. How did you decide what topics to cover / how did you uncover what the keywords or these questions that your ideal customers were asking?
Andy: So that’s something where I wish there was some perfect answer for this, and it’s really just trial and error. For us a lot of it would come down to pretty common SEO tactics where you’ll do competitive research and say what are our competitors ranking for, what terms are they covering that we haven’t thought of.
And then my favorite thing to do is just kind of fall down the rabbit’s hole. If I found this one keyword around how do you hire your first customer support agent, they you’ll see what posts are ranking for that. Then you’ll use a tool like Ahrefs, put in that URL for some of the pages that are ranking, and see what keywords those are ranking for.
It just can kind of turn into a never ending loop like that. So I would just kind of keep doing that until I felt like I had covered a wide variety, and then I would just take a step back and look at it without the SEO glasses on and more form a general contractor perspective. Say, ok, how can I group these together in a valuable way for our readers and people searching these topics to kind of cover everyone’s basis.
Rich: So when you say, “loop them together”, what are you envisioning? Like, are you writing a series of blog posts on how to hire your first customer service rep, or is there another method when you say the word, “loop”?
Andy: It depends. For that exact example, that’s one of the sections of the Groove Academy where we have a chapter on hiring. So within that we’ll talk about interviewing, we’ll talk about training, and we’ll talk about all the sort of subsections of hiring, because in my opinion at least, if we want to be valuable to our readers – and above all else that’s our goal – we can’t just write a 1,500 word article on how to hire someone because that’s just not enough.
So it’s breaking down all those other topics and then figuring out is this big enough to be a standalone course, could this be covered in a single article, and it’s making those decisions. Many that will be on the blog going forward will be those topics that are a bit more bite-sized, whereas in the Academy we’re going to keep putting out those larger, more comprehensive resources.
Rich: Andy, is the Academy free, or is the Academy behind…? Ok, I wasn’t sure. Because a lot of people use the word “Academy” and they mean it’s behind some sort of pay wall or something like that. And then obviously search is not nearly as important, so I just wanted to be clear.
Andy: No. So for us the Academy is free, we’ll have some kind of email opt-ins for different extras and upgrades and that kind of thing, there is no paid anything around it at all.
Rich:Ok. And you mentioned Ahrefs, which is one of these popular SEO and paid search pieces of software out there. Is there a reason why you like that one over say Moz or any of the other ones that are out there, like SEMRush?
Andy: Yeah. We spent probably too much time looking at all the options out there, and there’s a ton. Moz we thought was fine, it didn’t go into nearly as much depth for the competitive user as I like to do as Ahrefs and as SEMRush. And so at the end of the day between SEMRush and AHRefs it just kind of came down to a preference. Ahrefs seems like it was being kept more up to date and coming out with a ton, but ultimately between any of those more modern tools, it’s hard to go wrong.
Rich: Alright, good to know. I was just curious because I’ve had a couple of SEO people on the show and they both mentioned Ahrefs by name. So now you’re creating new content, are you also focusing on some of the old content that may be performing well, or maybe underperforming and trying to clean that up?
Andy: Yeah. So that was kind of one of the bigger things to tackle because obviously setting standards up front makes it much easier for us to produce high performing content going forward. But we had something like 300 blog posts that we had already written. A handful of those were generating good traffic, but again we knew we could get more from them. So the big thing we did – which took much, much longer than expected as most projects do – was just did a full content audit to see what opportunity is there for improvement, what are some of the bigger problems, and just kind of prioritize where we focus our efforts in getting some of that older content up to date, up to speed of where we’re looking to have it.
Rich: Ok, so one of the things that you had mentioned before is that you wanted to fix keyword cannibalization. Define that for me, and then walk me through the process of fixing it.
Andy: So for the audit one of the first things that we did was look at keyword cannibalization. And what that means is it just means finding pieces of content, pages on your site, that are both targeting – implicitly, explicitly – the same keyword. And the reason why that’s typically bad is because then they’re going to be competing against each other, and so rather than putting all your effort into having one post rank for a certain keyword, it’s not going to spread across multiple menus and it’s going to hurt your chances of ranking.
So the first thing you want to do was go through and find as many instances as we could and resolve them. And so the free tool we use for that is just Google’s search console. They have a new version that’s only been in beta for a few months, I think. It makes it super easy to do this, you just kind of put in a URL, export all the terms that it’s ranking for in Excel or whatever your spreadsheet choice is, and run some basic queries to find out where there’s overlap. And then where there is overlap you say, ok, which post is better.
Well I guess first you say, is this worth our concern. Is it some random, long tailed keyword that they’re both showing up on the 3rdpage for? If it is then it’s no big deal, but is this some term we care about and both of these are showing up on the 1stor 2ndpage. If so, is one of these demonstratively better than the other, and if so then we’ll combine them and 301 redirect to just pointing the original URL of the losing piece to that new one. And that kind of drives all of that link juice, search power – whatever you want to call it – into the single article. And that’s kind of the first thing to do.
Rich: Alright. This is fascinating to me because we have over 2,000 blog posts on the flyte blog and we’re actually kind of starting to think about the next iteration of our website/blog, so I’m fascinated by this because I’ve been writing since 2007 and I can’t count the number of times that I’ve written on email marketing, for example. And many times I’ll write something and then I’ll go back and I’ve literally written this article four years ago. And sometimes I just keep it up because blogging was a lot different 10 years ago than it is today, as well as SEO.
So I guess my question that I would ask you as my SEO guru would be, so I’ve got two things that maybe both compete for how to build your email list, at what point do I say, “Ok, both of these things rank, if they’re both appearing on the first page or two, why do I care because that’s 2 opportunities to gain visibility”? And if I am going to try and merge them, do I just literally kill the old one, or do I take the lesser performing one and take some of the best content and mix them together into an uber, ultimate post, and then turn on the 301 redirect?
Rich: That’s the first part of my question, I’ll pause there, and then I have more.
Andy: That’s a lot to unpack there. And again there’s not like one answer. If you are ranking #1 for that term and you have another article somewhere on the first page, I wouldn’t worry about it. If neither of the articles is #1, I would probably pay attention to it because if you have something like #2 or #3 or even just the middle of the page, it’s just going to be significantly easier to get one up to #1 than both.
But with that being said, our approach has been trying to figure out ultimately what are we trying to do with this piece of content. If we’re writing about how to grow our email list, what’s our goal, is there a real reason to have 2 pieces of content on it? Would the people searching for this be better served by just having one more thorough article on it? And a lot of times people kind of get the impression – because they’ve been told many times – that it’s all about volume and you need to publish every week or multiple times a week. And frankly I don’t think that’s good advice anymore.
Rich: “Anymore” I think being the important word there, because it was a very successful tactic 5 or 10 years ago, but I think things have changed.
Andy: Exactly. And nowadays I think it’s much better to have one article on a single topic and make it as thorough as you can. And if you do want to update it, great. Go back, revisit it, make some edits, update the publish date, and there you go. And if you look at some of the big sites like Backlinko– which is Brian Dean’s site – he doesn’t publish very frequently at all, but his page is consistently ranked #1 for some major terms because they are so well curated, well put together, and educational, that people stay on them longer because they’re better or people are going to link to them just because they’re more valuable than everything else out there.
And so for that I would say unless there’s a distinctive reason why the readers are better served by having these articles separate, I would combine them. And to do that it’s kind of depending on what’s in the two. You can mash them together, but probably the best solution is to take more the approach of a curator and say how can we restructure this to better use the elements to give the searchers and readers what they’re looking for.
And frankly, some of the posts can be worth your time to do that. So for a lot of ours that weren’t getting much volume and that the target keyword wasn’t that important to us, we would just take the old one down and redirect it without doing any updates. For others it’s now on a content calendar to say let’s take these 3-4 posts on this one topic and find the best way to combine them, even if it takes us a week of time for one writer to do it.
Rich: That’s all excellent advice. It’s something I think we’re going to be tackling bit by bit, even if we update the website, I think we’ll just keep the blog as is and then just tackle one post a week or a few posts a week just to start hacking away at it.
Now the second part of that question is, within email marketing or helpdesk stuff, there’s going to be at a certain point not just one blog post in email marketing, there are different aspects of email marketing in this example. So I might feel that it’s worth writing on how to build your email list, how to nurture your email list, how to handle unsubscribes, how to find the right images. Those could all be different articles, or you could turn it into one mega article. Is there a hard and fast rule on when you should be focusing on a different aspect, or do you just feel it kinda comes down to your editorial decision on how into the niche you want to get?
Andy: I think it ultimately comes down to that editorial discretion and just trying to figure out what you’re really trying to accomplish on the blog.
One thing, regardless of which direction you go, which I think is important is again when you are writing about all of these other related topics within email marketing – whatever that article or subject may be – you do just want to make sure that if they are different pieces of content and they’re on different URLs, that you make it easy for readers to find those other pieces of content that they are going to care about. And oftentimes it’s easier to do when you can have an index page and a table of contents for a course or kind of like an online book, something like that.
But it’s not that hard to do with suggested articles, related articles, just kind of the basic thing. But you do just want to make sure that if you are separating it out, you make it easy for readers to find content. Because one, it’s useful to them. But two, it’s one of the big signals that Google will look at as just how long do people spend not just on that page but on your site. And so the longer you can get them to stay and provide them more value, the better for everybody.
Rich: Now there’s a number of other things that you mention in terms of bringing old content up to these standards, but as we’re running out of time I want to ask you a little bit about creating an internal linking plan. What does that mean to you?
Andy: Yeah, so that’s something that I think we were approaching it the way that most writers do for people that are managing their blog, is that when you write an article, what other articles are related to this, and we add links to them. Some of those are ours, some of those would be other authorities in the space, whatever it may be. And now we’re just trying to again be more deliberate about this.
What we did was ranked all of our articles kind of by their potential. Like, if we got this to #1 or to the top 3 for the primary keywords, what kind of traffic would that look like and roughly how valuable would that be to us. This is a very back of the envelope calculation, you’re not trying to get exact, you’re just trying to get a general ranking of importance.
And then based on that we said ok, these are our most important articles, they should get the most links. And internal linking is something that’s often overlooked when people are talking about SEO, but it is definitely a signal that Google looks at and it’s one that you can entirely control yourself. So you might as well optimize that because it’s one of the only things that you really can. So for us what that meant is finding our most important articles – finding some of our least important articles – using a tool that’s called SiteBulb.com. We use them to kind of see where our links are going right now, and then just went through and had them closely match that potential calculation so that our top posts were getting the most links, our bottom posts were getting 1 link, and then in between it just kind of scales.
So it’s not a perfect science but it’s just trying to find what signals we can to show Google these are the ones we think the most important content on our site is, and also to make it easier for our readers to find that content by adding more links to it and because we also think it’s the most valuable.
Rich: Sure. And I know it’s very common when people create a new blog post to link to other blog posts or to sales pages/web pages on your site. It’s also not a bad idea if you’ve written in that category before is to go find those older well performing articles and link over to these new ones as well if you’re trying to give them juice.
Again, you don’t want to be diluting them, so maybe you shouldn’t be creating new content that’s going to compete with the old one, but if it compliments it then it makes sense.
Andy: Yeah. I’m glad you touched on that because that’s one of the things that I do is now when we publish new content, we do make sure to go back and add links to it. One, because you want to be found faster by search engines. But two, if there are other relevant articles, you want to make sure that they reference the most up to date content.
Rich: Makes a lot of sense. This has been great, Andy. I think it’s amazing what you guys have accomplished in just the last 6 months, and it’s obviously through this very thorough process. If people want to learn more about you or about Groove, where can we send them?
Andy: Honestly I’m not very active on social media myself.
Andy: I know, I know. It’s kind of a faux pas, especially on your show, but it’s the truth. But if you do want to get ahold of me you can just email me, email@example.com, and I’m always happy to chat about this stuff. I do try to be as transparent about what we are doing as possible on our blog, so for that you can just go to groovehq.com/blog. You can check out those courses that we talked about. If customer support doesn’t matter at all to you that’s fine, but if you wanted to see how we’ve kind of started setting things up, you can check out groovehq.com/academy, and that’s where all those courses will live, and they should be up in the next month.
Rich: Awesome. Andy, thanks so much for stopping by today. I really appreciate your time.
Andy: No problem. It was a lot of fun chatting Rich, I appreciate it.
Andy Baldacci is the guy to call if your business isn’t growing as fast as you know it should be, and you just don’t have time to increase your marketing efforts. His company is also very transparent in what they’re doing and why, and their blog is a great place to check in. And definitely stay tuned for their upcoming Academy courses aimed at providing better customer service to your clients.
A few resources mentioned in this episode:
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he has added “author” to his resume with his book!