Building a successful SEO strategy relies on 7 core elements, according to David Finberg of Peaks Digital Marketing. In today’s episode we’ll look at each one in turn, and give you specific steps you can take to improve your standing in each category.
Rich: My guest today is a top digital marketing expert who has been making websites since he was nine years old. In 2014, he founded Peaks Digital Marketing and has generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue for his clients. His passion is growing small, medium, and enterprise businesses with data-driven, ROI centered strategy.
As a digital Sherpa, he helps guide clients towards the best online paths for the success of their business. He believes that success is making an impact on other’s lives while being able to do what you love. Today we’re going to be exploring the core areas of SEO so that you can rank higher at the search engines, with David Finberg. David, welcome to the podcast.
David: Hey, Rich. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m excited to be here today.
Rich: So what type of websites were you creating at nine years old?
David: Well, for those of you that remember the dial up days, there were sites called geo cities and angel fire. There were these free website hosting platforms that you could create. And long story short, just making websites for friends and family. So my grandfather was a chef, he wanted me to make him a Chef Paul website. Another family member had a candle store, and they wanted some web design. So it really just started with friends and family. And you know, I was charging people $20 bucks for websites, and they weren’t anything pretty. But at the end of the day, no one’s websites were pretty back in 1998. So, yeah, it was a really fun journey to be able to start my skills with some web design at such a young age.
Rich: And $20 bucks for a nine-year-old back in the late nineties, probably you were the king of the playground at that point.
David: Oh, I was buying, I think probably model cars. I was into model trains, so every week my dad would take me to the hobby store, and I was ballin’.
Rich: Excellent. All right. So, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ve identified these seven core areas of SEO, seven places where we should direct our attention. And I want to touch on each one of them in turn. However, I am curious, is there an order of importance or priority here or does it rally depend on the business itself?
David: It’s really going to be customized to the business. Some businesses have really great content, but their web experience isn’t great, or their page speed isn’t great. There are a few. Out of these seven core areas, which are page speed, on page, content positioning, backlinking, you’re above the fold content or the content that people see when they first land on your site, the general UX and UI of your site, and reputation management. I would say the most important things are, number one is going to be reputation, right? You can’t go anywhere if you’ve got zero and one star reviews.
The second thing would be content. But there’s a couple third place ties are like UX, UI, page speed, backlinking. You actually have to be great at all 7 of these things to be competitive in today’s search engine marketplace. And it doesn’t mean you need to be perfect that these things, but we do want to focus on these in a way that ideally you can run an audit on your site and start to uncover areas where you if doing a SWOT analysis and discover we have great content, but our page speed is kind of slow. Or our content positioning is really great, but we’re just not getting the backlinks to our site.
By the end of this show you should be able to 1) be able to uncover some insights about where your site is at and what is going to be most important. And 2) there’s somewhat of an order of operations here with sites that are larger and maybe have already existing audiences and traffic and leads coming in. Things like page speed could be a really big game changer for you across the board. Between paid traffic, your social traffic, your SEO, all the way down to sites that have these great experiences, but no one knows about them. They would probably benefit a little bit more from backlinking.
So we’ll cover all these in detail and kind of keep things short and sweet so that there’s two to three actionable tips for each of these areas. And if you don’t mind, we could jump into page speed or one of the other seven areas. But I’d say page speed would be a good one to lead with.
Rich: I do want to dive into each one, and I’ve got page speed up here. So if you could just kind of explain briefly what each one is, why it’s important, and then maybe like you said, one or two action items that we can take that would improve this. So let’s start with page speed.
David: Perfect. So page speed is how fast your site loads. And one thing Google is looking at is how quickly can a user see something on your site, right? We’re so impatient. And so there’s a couple of things that you can do to improve your page speed. Oftentimes we’re uploading high resolution images from a design firm, or maybe our cell phone, a team photo, something that hasn’t been compressed, it’s actually two or three megabytes. Our iPhones and our Android phones take such crisp photos now, and that actually results in a very large file size.
So what we want to do is, a great place to start is audit your imagery and make sure that there’s some lossless compression. You can go to tinypng.com, which is a free service where you can just drag and drop images and compress them and upload them to your site. The second thing I would look at is your server, what’s the response time. You can go to Google page speed insights and just type that into Google. I think it’s web.dev is the actual address where you can run a page speed analysis, and it will actually measure how fast your server responds and what your loading score is and what are some things to improve.
So a lot of what your page speed is, and there are experts that can help you including experts in our team that can help you. If you have a great web developer, you can actually have them prioritize the loading order of the site to prioritize more of that above the fold content and really minify and speed up and compress parts of the site that are inherently slowing down that above the fold content preload or that load. And what that will actually do is give you a competitive advantage, like sites that are faster and convert better. They get more. Traffic. They rank a lot better. You’re going to have a lower bounce rate. And so we’re just impatient, right. Even though we’ve come a long way from 56k and now basically everyone has cable internet on their phones. We still want to make sure that we have a fast, seamless experience. And a user is actually going to judge your brand based on the loading speed of your site.
Rich: So from living in Maine that you may have really good internet connection while you’re at home or in the office, but there are a lot of places here in Maine where you have very low signal. So the bottom line is on your phone, which a lot of people are using to surf your websites, it’s still a problem. And 56k may seem fast in some cases when you’re in the wilds of Maine. So good information on page speed. Talk to me a little bit about on page SEO now.
David: So, on page is going to be things like your titles, your tags, imagery. So there’s kind of three best practices. And what we like to do is we like to do some keyword research and map different keywords to different pages. So if you have a page that’s about consulting, those should have keywords in the title that are about consulting. The meta description should be, “Hey, we offer widget consulting. XYZ service or consulting. And here’s some of the benefits and features” and make it a little emotional. Like explain to them what they’re going to get or explain how you’re going to empower their business and make them the hero in those titles and your descriptions.
And so there’s a huge opportunity if you haven’t created those meta descriptions, or those meta descriptions don’t have keywords, or if you just don’t know what the page should be ranking for. You should consider doing a keyword analysis where you can map out what are the different pages that we have. What keywords are these pages already ranked for? Or if they’re not ranking yet, what keywords do we need them to rank for? And then work some of what we call ‘on-page SEO’ into those pages. So name your title tag, put the keywords and the right descriptions and kind of levers that you want to pull to get the user to click, in the title tag in the meta-description. Make sure that your content has some of those keywords in there. Make sure that your imagery even has some of those keywords in there. So are you just uploading a super long file name that Photoshop generated or your phone generated, or are you actually putting some keywords that describe the image and describe the service that you were looking to market to and rank for on the page of the website. So that’s why we call ‘on pages’ on your website. It’s titles, tags, keywords, image, file names you know, things like that are really going to help Google understand more about your site. And inherently try to rank it for these terms, as opposed to maybe ranking it for something that’s more general or maybe just your brand name.
Rich: All right. So let’s move on to content positioning and strategy and planning.
David: Perfect. So, when you’re looking at your content it’s really important to have, I like to say a roster, right? Like, what is your 30/60/90 plan? What are the different types of content that you need to write? So maybe you offer a few different services. Are you blogging about all these, or are you really answering all of the questions?
So typically for those of you that are well-versed in marketing and sales, customers have pain points. And what we’re looking to do is digitize that. And so there’s probably a process where either your salesman or woman is walking through and they’re hearing these repeated questions. So, you know, going back to the consulting example or maybe another service. For Peaks SEO it’s like, what are the five questions that people have when they’re thinking about SEO? Well, how long does it take? Is my website good? Do I need a new website? Do I have enough backlinks flowing in? What did my old agency do? Or, I’ve never done anything, I don’t know what to do. What does a comprehensive plan look like? So these are just examples.
We’re basically taking the five questions that you hear on a daily basis in your sales process or in your business and digitizing that. And what we’re actually trying to go for is comprehensiveness. So Google rewards sites that have comprehensive amounts of content, not just a few blogs, a few pieces, a few of those five questions, like two or three. They’re looking for people that are comprehensively covering topics. And so what we want to look at is these are opportunities to position the brand as a thought leader. It’s also opportunities to rank a bit higher, and it’s opportunities to answer and provide value in areas that we already know prospective clients and businesses have questions about.
So whether it’s B2B or B2C, what are those five pain points, and how are we addressing those pain points within the content? And then at a higher level, what kind of content do we need to create, or do we already have, or we’re missing, so that we can comprehensively address all the different facets of our industry and different stages of the buying cycle. And so not everyone’s in the ‘I’m ready to buy’ phase. Some people are in discovery and vice versa. And so when you’re thinking about content positioning, yes, it’s keywords. Yes, it’s links and optimization. But really that’s, if you think of it like a cake, that’s just the icing on the cake. The substance and what’s going to actually keep people on the page and convert those people and show Google that you’re a thought leader. In the eyes of Google, they’re looking at your user metrics to see people are enjoying that content and are they dropping off or is the order of the content right. These are the questions that we want to ask ourselves as we’re looking at the data.
The long story short, thinking of it as a comprehensive strategy where you map out all of your content, you make sure that you’re addressing the different pain points and differentiators. Basically, different things that you know that you already are talking about with your clients on these pages. And that’s going to not only help the dwell time, it’s also going to help Google when they analyze your site. They’re going to say, “Wow, this page has a high searcher task accomplishment”, or “high likelihood of solving the user’s query”. And so I challenge you to consider, are we solving the user’s query, or are we just giving them a small piece or giving them enough information to make an educated buying decision? Are we just making ourselves the hero and talking about all the things that we can do. And so really kind of flipping it and putting it in the context of the user, and those pain points and your differentiators and value and how you can empower them, whether they buy with you or whether they buy with a competitor. They’re going to remember the information that they got from your site. Or maybe they’re just not ready to buy and we need to retarget the. It’s almost like water in the desert. If someone finds water in the desert, they’re going to go back to it. So, we’ll look at that content positioning from both the individual granular level and at a higher strategy level.
Rich: Yeah. And my takeaway from what you said is, Google is getting better at understanding user intent, and trying to serve pages that actually will answer the queries they’re getting. And our job as content creators, as marketers, is to make sure we’re answering the questions at every stage of that customer’s journey.
David: Exactly. Yeah.
Rich: All right. So let’s talk a little bit about back linking and what is the importance here? And maybe just explain it to everybody.
David: So backlinking is basically when one site links to another site. If you’ve ever inserted a hyperlink into a piece of content, that’s essentially a backlink. And so the way we like to think about backlinks, backlinks are like vouches to your website. If you have more backlinks linking back to high quality content and to great experiences, right? Google will start to pick that up as authority signal. So, or authority signals. So there are different types of backlinks there’s social backlinks, right?
You can get a free backlink from like Facebook and right. Just posting some of your blogs and content on social media, but there’s a reducing rate of return, right? Like once you get a backlink from one. You know that backlink, if you get two or three more, really doesn’t help you as much as getting a new backlink from a new site.
And so backlinking is an area that a lot of marketing firms struggle with. It’s also an area that a lot of marketing departments struggle with, and it really involves finding sites that already have authority and vetting them for links. And so there are ways to do this with press releases and other types of PR, where it’s almost like digital PR where you can go and get backlinks that way.
There’s also things like guest posting, which is kind of an older strategy, where you’re reaching out to different communities and adding value, maybe creating some blog content for them, things like that. And then there are your top tier backlinks that are going to take a lot of kind of finesse to be able to get in the right inbox of the person and really vet a piece of content that they’re going to want to post on their website.
And so backlinking is important just from the angle of Google’s looking for vouches and they’re taking that as a trust signal. So the more sites that link to your site, it must be great content. It must be a good experience. And so it’s really important to have some kind of outreach or backlink program where you’re consistently getting backlinks, ideally every couple of days or every week. But to start, it may be once a month or twice a month.
And so when you’re thinking about backlinks, it’s important to consider what is the sites traffic? What’s the sites, what we call the ‘domain rating’. Everyone has a little bit different way to describe domain rating. Domain rating is basically how many links does this site have to it and how much authority and traffic does it get? And what’s the credibility of this site. And so some people call it ‘domain rating’. Some people call it ‘domain authority’, depending on whether you use Ahrefs or SEMrush, which are different tools, or Moz. But long story short, it’s kind of an authority factor of a website. And so the goal is that you’re getting links from high authority sites with contextual content about your product or service. We’re not just getting links and then sidebar of some website or getting links from a site that really doesn’t have any credibility or authority but is willing to give you a backlink.
Rich: Right. So instead of these being votes of confidence, we’re really almost thinking you should be thinking about them as referrals. So if somebody with a lot of authority and trust and is contextually aligned with your content links to your website, Google is going to give that more value than some sketchy website from overseas that has nothing to do with anything and is just selling links.
So what we really need to do is find those contextual opportunities and get them to link to us, through whether hard work, or blogging for them, or like you’re doing right now being on a podcast. Because of course, we’re going to link over to your website. And I’m not calling you out on this, I do the exact same thing. But these are great ways. There are many different ways that we can start to increase those backlinks to our website. I do want to ask you about the reputation algorithm often referred to as EAT. Can you explain to us what that’s all about?
David: So yeah, EAT is expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. So that’s a newer Google algorithm, that’s maybe come out in the last five years, that is looking to analyze. It’s not just about the text on your page anymore, it’s about how likely is your brand to be trusted and help users instead of hurting users. And so then when you’re looking at reviews, you’re looking at reputation management, the most obvious thing is what are your reviews across all of your platforms. Do you have five-star reviews on Facebook but like Glassdoor has a two-star. And maybe an employee left a bad review, or maybe there was just some review from, there’s a lot of fake reviews that are out there and there’s a lot of real stuff. It’s not unusual for you to get a bad review here and there. So if you are in that bucket and you’ve got a couple of reviews that are unsavory, don’t beat yourself up. On the other end, we need to start addressing these things. And so Google is looking at your aggregate review rating. They actually have quality raters that go through and analyze the reputation and review of your website. And so that’s one component of what they call the EAT algorithm, expertise, authoritativeness and trust. It is a low hanging fruit for me. I consider it a low-hanging fruit. And for our team here, we consider a low-hanging fruit opportunity. In theory, all you need to do is start getting more opportunities to get feedback from clients.
There’s a difference between testimonials and reviews, which is another kind of side topic. Which reviews aren’t always solicited. Right? You can show people where to leave a review, but there shouldn’t be any coaching or opinion or conflict of interest in that review. This person should have bought or used your service or had an interaction with your business. And so platforms like Yelp might consider an employee review a conflict of interest. Or there may be a solicitation, “Hey, leave us a review on Yelp” and that person’s never been on Yelp and they just sign up for a profile and they leave a review. But that’s kind of the way that Yelp knows that these reviews are being solicited or how their algorithm perceives it. So different platforms will be harder to get reviews on. Like Google and Facebook are going to be pretty easy. You can also go for a third-party review platform like Trustpilot or Yotpo or Shopper Approved. These third-party aggregate platforms that will not only help you automate the review collection process, especially if you’re an e-commerce. Or if you’re an enterprise brand or small to medium sized business that sells a service, these are tools that can help your review collection process and make sure that your objective in the collection of these reviews.
Rich: Are there any things besides reviews that’s going to help us on that EAT spectrum?
David: Yeah. So to move to the next topic, your authoritativeness, what kinds of certifications, what makes your brand different? Are you qualified to offer this product and service? So if you’re a doctor, maybe you graduated from a really prestigious medical school, or you sit on the board of different organizations that are highly established organizations in your field. Or maybe belong to some community groups. It doesn’t have to be this huge, sexy thing, but we want to make sure that we’re conveying that expertise and that authoritativeness. And so things like seals, certifications, reviews, things that have to do with the education and quality of your treatment or of your product or your service.
So medical has their own, like, we do a lot of medical, and you know what we call YMYL SEO – your money, your life. Which are like any sites that can negatively impact your money or your finances or your quality of life. So finance, medical, these industries actually have greater degrees of scrutiny in these EAT algorithms. And so when you’re looking at your site, are you conveying, do you actually have a team that has enough credentials and experience to yield yourselves as accredited or authoritative. That’s kind of the first step. The second is, what kind of content are you putting out? And so are the people that are writing your content, are they speaking the language? Do they actually have enough credentials to write about these topics? Are you getting someone who just writes SEO blogs to write you a blog and they don’t actually understand the nuances of your industry, or don’t have the credibility to speak on some of these nuances, if it’s like a medical kind of business or a finance type business. And so, it does kind of go back to that quality of content, but it’s also down to the credibility of the business and the individuals on the staff of the business itself. And those are things that you can convey on your site, and of course your reviews as well. So do we have our reviews listed? What’s our rating? Do we have our Trustpilot seal on there? Are we a part of any organizations? In our bios are we talking about the expertise that we have? And there’s some other more advanced tips, but where I would start would be right there.
Rich: All right, sounds good. Let’s move into above the fold content. So above the fold is an out-of-date term. I’m just trying to brainstorm here, but it’s too early in the morning on what the right term is. Because ‘above the fold’ always referred to newspapers and what appeared above the fold. So what are we talking about when we’re talking about websites?
David: So yeah, above the fold is the same principle, right? And there’s different people. Some people call it a hero section, some people call it above the fold content. You know, our whole mantra is it’s some of the most important content on your site, right? It’s the first thing users see. And so optimizing that for not only keywords, but also making sure that you have something grabby, it’s kind of like a title tag or an intro to a podcast or an intro to a YouTube video. It’s got to grab people’s attention. Basically what people are comparing is, did I land on the right page?How often have we gone to websites where you click on the website and you’re like, I don’t think this is what I want it. The title tag might’ve been relevant, or they might’ve done a little rich snippet of one little excerpt of the content that was relevant. So your above the fold content is a really massive opportunity to improve not only your bounce rate and your user retention and make sure that you’re presenting users with messaging that gets them, encourages them to go through the rest of the site.
Google recognizes that you’re above the fold is extremely important as well. And so typically your titles and your headings and keywords above the fold, kind of optimization above the fold is really helpful. And so if you’re not taking advantage of your above the fold content and treating it like its kind of the top of the pyramid, you’re inherently missing out on some opportunities that could really help you from not only a conversion user retention perspective, but also having few keywords above that fold. And most importantly, going back to the page, making sure that the above the fold loads really quickly. These are things that are going to help your user metrics, help your dwell time, help people’s brains understand what these pages are about, with the goal of higher conversion and retaining those users.
And the more that you do that, the more Google says, wow, this must be a great experience for your user. So consider looking at your above the fold content. Do an audit and start optimizing your above the fold and find ways to really grab people’s attention. This doesn’t have to always be like an SEO keyword stuff, we’re not saying do that. But what we are saying is, do you have a nice hook? Grab the attention of your users and you can use Google Analytics to look at some of the pages that have higher bounce rates or lower time spent on the page and start split testing maybe with Google Optimizer, Crazy Egg, or Hotjar, some of these heat mapping and split testing tools, to see what changes can we make to encourage more retention and greater ranking ability or SEO ability of these pages, by not only encouraging user retention and incorporating keywords and other kind of SEO based content above the fold that will help rank.
Rich: All right. And let’s wrap up today with a quick conversation around UX, IX, split testing, conversion rate optimization, and web design. Which sounds like it could be seven podcast episodes in itself. But I’m going to ask you, give us the quick overview. Why is it important and what are some things that we can do to start making progress in this last core area?
David: That’s fantastic. So, the overarching question that I love to ask is, does your website reflect the quality of your product or service or of your brand. So the first step is like, does your website actually look modern, does it look like something innovative, or does it look like something from 2010 or 2000? So looking at other sites in your market, how does your UX, IX, and your design and the flow of your website compare. Is it a best-in-class experience or is it a subpar experience?
And so a lot of user behavior has to do with people’s affinity towards your website. And so that’s subjective, right? It’s qualitative, there’s some quantitative data there with your Google Analytics and the metrics on your page. But just like art, web design can be subjective. So what we want to look at are, what are the things that we can start doing to improve the quality of our site. And so what I like to encourage people to look at is, where are your reading lines? The UX, the IX, how is the information laid out? Is it jumbled together, or is it very busy, or is it calm? Is it some nice spacing and nice imagery? This applies mainly on mobile, right. It also applies on desktop. But most people’s desktop experience is pretty good, you’ve got more screen space, right? You have a little more area to play with. But on mobile, what does that experience look like?
And so if you’re not designing for mobile or your mobile experience really doesn’t match up what your desktop experience does or your website experience in general, doesn’t kind of harp on many of the other qualities that some of your other competitors in the market are doing, or what newer kind of… just like clothing, there’s different seasons of web design and how those seasons come together is like an overtime kind of thing. So over the last couple of years, people have been doing more light and bright websites, and more white space, more negative space. So if you look at Notion or you look at some of these other bigger brands, you’ll see that their sites have a lot of clickable items and it’s very organized and they’re not asking the user to do a lot of reading. It’s very scannable. It’s also very crisp and clean. And so again, these are qualitative things. But what we want to start doing is using tools like Google Optimize, Crazy Egg, Hotjar, and start with data that you already know. Like, okay, this page, what’s our highest time spent on the page. And what page is that? What are the pages that people like the most? Maybe it’s just the home page. Cool. Well, we should start making some observations.
And as experimenters, as marketers, we need to have some constant in the experiment. So maybe we do a clone of the homepage and use that as one of our PPC landing pages, and maybe tweak some of the copy and make moderate, risky enough changes that you can get some information, but not making five changes at once. Let’s just start with one change. And this is a total example, but it could be something like button color, or hero content, above the fold content. It could be the design of the page itself. You could go with a totally new design and test that design against your existing design to see if users are more compelled to interact with your brand.
And so there’s no one size fits all, as you said, right? This could be a whole series on podcasts, but the most important thing is that you’re collecting the data. So you’re using Google Analytics, Google Search Console, whatever tools that you have to monitor, Marketo, you know, whatever you’re using, making sure that you’re monitoring this. And then having an experiment, just like we did in school, where we have a constant in the experiment. So the constant is we’re going to leave everything the same but we’re going to change all the buttons, or we’re going to leave this page the same, we’re going to change the hero image, we’re going to change the hero content. And so what you want to start doing is becoming really great split testers and experimenters. And once you start gathering more and more data.
Like for example, we had a client fully accountable. They do some e-commerce accounting, and they had this page with one of their accounting experts on the page that was their opt-in page. Now the page looked great. It was converting pretty high. We were like, how can we get a better conversion rate. Everyone just worried about adding more leads to top of the funnel or ranking a little bit higher for SEO, and they’re leaving all of these users on the table. And so that’s where you’re split testing just your page speed. Right? You can get higher conversion rates and exponential factor that can apply to all areas, not just your SEO. What you want to start looking at are ways to improve. So what we did is we changed some imagery. We put a different above the fold content section. And we were actually able to triple, it went from, let’s say a 3% to an 8% conversion rate. And we’re like, wow, okay, let’s do something out right.
So it’s a continual process. It’s something that I just want to be set up for success. Sign up for a Google Optimize account, it’s free. Make sure you’ve got Google Analytics, and then let’s go through some of your data and say, okay, if we were to strategize around this and use data as a primary indicator of success, what do we know is already working on the website and how can we replicate more of what’s working and make some hypotheses or educated inferences around certain design elements. And then start testing those on the pages that aren’t converting.
Rich: Well, I think we’ve given people a lot of stuff to work on in this new year or coming up on this new year, so I’m going to pause you right there. But if people want to learn more, if they’re interested in you helping them with their SEO, or just want to follow you and your company, where can we send them online?
David: So check us out. It’s P E A K S, peaksdigitalmarketing.com. Like the mountaintop. You fill out a contact form, we’d be happy to give you a free 15–20-minute strategy session and uncover some areas or give you some insights so that you and your team, or if you need an outsource team, we can help you with that. And then David A. Finberg on Instagram and social media. We’re releasing new SEO tips and other kind of valuable insights that you can consume on a daily basis, so that if you’re slowly chipping away at these areas and you’re looking for a little bit more granularity, you can check us out and find more and more tips over the next couple of weeks.
Rich: Sounds great. David, thank you so much for your time today.
David: Hey, thanks so much for having me on, Rich.
David Finberg has helped thousands of clients to rank first page search times on Google, helping to grow businesses with his effective SEO & SEM based campaigns. Check out his website if you’d like help uncovering your SEO problem areas. And check out his Instagram for daily tips and other valuable insights.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.