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The Four Ingredients to Successful SEO – Dmitrii Kustov
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SEO is more than just stuffing keywords into an article or other content piece. If people aren’t searching for it and it’s not what you do, then don’t create content for it!  

According to Dmitrii Kustov of Regex SEO, there are 4 key ingredients when it comes to SEO and optimization. In this episode, we dive deeper into those 4 main ingredients, what you should and shouldn’t be doing, including the power of backlinks! 

Rich: My guest today is a data-driven marketing director who helps companies get the most out of their marketing budget so they can increase market share and revenue. Declared the ‘SEO rockstar’ by the American Marketing Association, he’s here to make sure that you’re prepared to succeed with your own search engine optimization. I’m excited to be chatting with Dmitri Cousteau of Regex SEO. Dmitrii, welcome to the podcast.  

Dmitrii: And thank you for having me.  

Rich: So, Dimitri, what is it about SEO that you like so much?  

Dmitrii: How many days do you have? All right. Well, so I am a very much data nerd. I love numbers. I love data. I love algorithms. Technically by training, I went to college for applied mathematics. So I always liked algebra, and anything done with math. So when I had an opportunity to dip my toes into the SEO world, a lot of the analytical part of it came quite naturally to me. So I just enjoyed it too much, I guess. And ever since then, I never stopped going forward.  

Rich: Excellent. It’s really funny that it was the math side of things that drew you to SEO, because as an English major, I’ve always been fascinated more with the words side of SEO. So I’m looking forward to diving into this and understanding more about your perspective.  

Now I know that you say SEO consists of four ingredients, so I’d like to start by naming them, and then we can dig into each one. So what are the four ingredients?  

Dmitrii: Right. Yeah. There are four major parts of SEO that have to be check marked whenever you are optimizing your website or the company you work for.  

So the first one, the big one, is content. It’s quite famous saying ‘content is king’, and that is still the truth.  

The next one is technical optimization of SEO. So make sure that the website is loading fast, that sitemaps are done properly, that crawlers and indexers can access your website and access correct pages, access them when it’s the right time, not too often, not to seldomly, and so on and so on.  

Then the third part is anything user experience related. User experience metrics are getting more and more prominent as signals for SEO and for Google specifically.  

And then the fourth part is backlinks. It’s one of those dark horses of the industry that has had some bad reputation in the past. But now, hopefully most SEO agencies and marketing agencies are doing like a white hat SEO, white hat backlink building.  

So yeah, those are the four ingredients.  

Rich: Awesome. Content, technical optimization, UX and backlinks. Let’s start with content. Now it’s easy to say, go out there and create content. But if someone who’s listening today has been creating content, but they’re just not getting any search visibility or tracks, what might they be doing wrong?  

Dmitrii: Any piece of content should have an intent. It should have intent to satisfy, as well. So when you are typing yourself in Google, whatever that phrase you can think of, let’s say, ‘what are the best running shoes you are looking to buy’. At that moment, probably not. You’re looking for some kind of comparison charts, maybe pros and cons, whatever suits you the best. Therefore the piece of content you’re going to be looking for is the content that’s going to have all those things, like comparison charts and pros and cons.  

And if let’s say you are an owner of some kind of online running shoe store and you are trying to satisfy that search query with making the content that is about some kind of generic running shoe descriptions, users will not be happy with your content. Therefore, when they go to your page, they’re not going to stay, they’re not going to read. Therefore, all your page metrics are going to go down. Google will realize that’s not what the users want. And then therefore you’re not going to rank as high as you would like to see. So you need to really think about intent and how you deliver it. And so that’s one thing that, unfortunately, a lot of SEO minds forget about.  

And then the second piece, which is kind of common and understood more easily, is you need to make sure that there’s actually demand for it. If nobody searches for whatever you’re optimizing for, then what’s the point. You need to optimize for the phrases that are being searched enough to bring business. Which, if you’re in a very niche industry, it could be those 10 people in the world. But you just need to understand the potential, is there another query that they could be optimizing for and creating content for that does not have just 10 searches a month, but maybe 10,000. And therefore you should invest your efforts, time, money, in creating that other piece of content.  

Rich: Dmitrii, if there’s already somebody out there who’s written some content around comparison of different sneakers, is it worth going after that? Is it challenging? Like what do we need to do if we already know, because who of us hasn’t found that there’s already an article we wanted right already on the web. What can we do in a situation like that, that’s going to help us with SEO?  

Dmitrii: Okay, so you need to understand your competition. If, again, example of the shoes, probably you’re going to be competing online. All you have to do is go and Google it -‘best sneakers’ or ‘best riding shoes’ – and see who comes up on the first page. If it’s the brands that invest a lot of money like some global brands like Nike, Adidas, and so on, then you need to realize that most likely they are spending five, six digits a month on SEO, optimization, content, and they have giant teams. Can you compete with those efforts? And sometimes you can just by being much better at producing quality content, or maybe you have a specific end goal that nobody else knows, and you could compete for that stuff. But if you are just writing another piece of content, there’s that whole interesting idea of 10x content, you know, make your content 10 times better than all of your competition combined. Then you might be able to compete even with much larger brands.  

So that’s how we always decide. Does it make sense or not based on the competition and business value? Those are two things as well. So if you’re selling the cups, does it make sense for you to write content about running shoes? Probably not, because there’s no business value. So take those into consideration.  

And some people even use a little simple formula of assign the business value from 1-10, and then competition difficulty from 1-10, and then combine those and rank your ideas, let’s say, for content. And yeah, that’s definitely going to help you. 

Rich: It sounds like from the content side, we need to focus on our customer intent, like what are they actually looking for. And we need to answer those questions. Is there enough search volume? And like for sneakers, there’s going to be huge search volume and you need it where maybe if you’re doing architecture, you only need a few clients a year, so you don’t need as much search volume. 

And then the last thing is you’re going to have to 10x the quality of anything out there. So if you are going and you’re competing in say Footlocker for this kind of sneaker example, and they’ve already got a chart, then you’re going to have to 10x the value of that chart. It could be video interviews, it could be your own research, could be anything, but you’ve got to be that much better than everybody out there who had a head start. That’s what I’m hearing from you when it comes to the content piece. 

Dmitrii: Exactly. Yeah. Just don’t do average stuff for average people, as Seth Godin says.  

Rich: Awesome. Okay. All right. Let’s move on to technical optimization. And what does this cover exactly? Technical optimization. You teased it a little bit before, but I’d like to dig a little.  

Dmitrii: Yeah, technical optimization, it is a huge world. In larger companies and corporations, there’s typically a team of people, or at least one, or even a team of people who are specifically doing SEO technical optimization. And it includes anything from how fast, your website loads, page speed scores, all that stuff, to making sure that accessibility and indexability of the website is correct. That things like robot tags, meta tags, insight maps, where you set the frequency when robots can and should crawl your website, priority of the pages, which pages are more important than others. So anything that is done to a certain extent with coding.  

And it could be things even like minifying CSS, JavaScript, and HTML files for your website. Or it could be let’s say you have images that are way too big. Like you forgot to resize them, and people are trying to load 10,000 pixels x 8,000 pixels images on their mobile phones. So it’s things like that. So it’s a large world, but it has a lot of impact, especially for websites with a lot of traffic. Because at that point it becomes number games. And if you’re a large type of brand corporation, let’s say Microsoft, or Nike again, that they have users that are trying to access their sites from every kind of device, every kind of network, every kind of country. And you need to just make sure that it loads fast, it looks right on all of those devices.  

However, I do want to mention this. If you’re a very small website, then you can pinpoint. Look at your Google analytics, Google analytics is a free tool, everybody can use it. And just look at the report for the most use devices to access your site. You can even go in depth and look at the resolutions of the screens, for example. If you see that 80% of people are using iPhone 10, well then just make sure that iPhone 10 is done perfectly, it looks great on iPhone 10 loads, fast and so on and so on. And then the other devices you can get to them when you have time, especially if you’re a small company, if you have limited resources and so on and so on.  

So I hope this answers the question, because again, I can spend three weeks talking just about this.  

Rich: Absolutely. So, just to follow up on a couple of things. So one thing that I’m hearing is, as an English major who loves writing content, this might be something where I’m going to bring in a developer – either an in-house developer or an external agency – to clean up my website and make sure that everything’s taken care of so Google can do the things that Google does. Correct? 

Dmitrii: Yes. And especially nowadays recently, I think it was beginning of July, Google finally officially announced that they are going to be using what they call ‘core web vitals’. Meaning basically loading speeds as official signal and they’re going to be paying attention to how they rank their websites based on that. Absolutely, that’s very important.  

And I was just a guest on another podcast, and your listeners can Google it, it’s called the ‘$700,000 in 7 seconds’. It’s an actual case study of our client. They’re a huge company, and literally improvement in seven seconds in loading speed brought them $700,000 in revenue a month. So, yeah, there you go.  

Rich: Definitely important. Now for a small to medium-sized business, I’m not thinking about enterprise level business here, but is this a one-time thing like a set it and forget it thing? Or is this something that we need to be working on constantly because things are always shifting? 

Dmitrii: The frequency of how often you work on it depends on how much new content to create. Obviously have like a set number of pages, five pages, you know, your homepage, about page, contact, and you don’t really add anything new, or it happens rarely. So here’s how I usually say it. When you create a new page, whatever that page is, or redo a page, just go ahead and run it through technical optimization steps to make sure that the end loads fast and stuff like that. So if you produce a lot of content or some kind of blog or anything to that extent, then yeah, you probably want to have a dedicated team, or again, the person who checks on that all the time. 

For smaller sized businesses, most of it, a lot of it, if you’re on CMS platforms, you might be able to do yourself. I have one of those love/hate relationships with WordPresses of the world. I like the ease of it, but I hate the way they’re built. Because basically they’re trying to come up with a solution, one solution for millions of people, which is in a sense it’s impossible. So it’s easy to start there.  

They even have some plugins for all those page optimization things and the modification and all that stuff. So in the beginning that should be more than enough. As you grow, just pay attention. And the things like bounce rate, for example, is one of those very important metrics. It’s from Google analytics and it’s, again, Google analytics is free. Look at bounce rate for certain pages. If all of a sudden those pages shoot up in terms of bounce rate, look at them and you can find out maybe something technical is happening to it.  

Rich: All right. Next up in your list is UX, or user experience. So why is this important to our search rankings, and what can we do to improve upon it? 

Dmitrii: So user experience is a huge industry, technically. And it involves everything. I want to go back to that first example of user intent. If you expect something, you land on the page and what you expect to see on that page does not match the mental picture in your head, you’re going to leave. That’s called user experience.  

There are other things like ability to find a certain button. You go on the website, and you can find their phone number, or address, or contact form. That’s also user experience. Things like loading speed, technically that’s all user experience. And basically, it’s how users experience your website. How do they behave on your website? And if you see something that you would not want them to – and it happens – that there is some kind of mismatch of expectations, intent, and so on and so on. And the reason it’s important is because again, recently Google announced officially that they are including user behavior metrics in ranking algorithms. So if a lot of people go through your website, then they leave right away, that’s not a good thing. If they spend three seconds on it instead of couple of minutes, not a good thing, and so on and so on. And all those metrics again are free and accessible in Google analytics, analytics, bounce rate, time on pages, pages per sessions, and so on.  

Rich: It sounds like my takeaway from this is that I should try, and again, it gets back to consumer intent that you mentioned earlier. I should try and focus on delivering on expectations for the person who’s coming to my website and make the experience as good as possible.  

And we’ve all had that experience, especially in a mobile device, where there’s a pop-up window we can’t seem to close, or it’s just the images keep on resizing, so suddenly my text is jumping all over the page. All those things are going to cause me to leave. And what I’m hearing from you is, Google pays attention to all that. And if they’re seeing that people are having a bad time, they’re going to start to degrade your rankings, your visibility at the search engines. 

Dmitrii: And I have a very specific recommendation for how to find out if your website provides good or bad user experience. Go ahead and pull up your website on your mobile phone and give it to your grandma. And then just observe. And that will tell you so much more than any kind of paid user case studies or user studies or research groups or whatever it is.  

And then also you can go another way and give it to your kid. So those two things will tell you so much more about your website than anything you can even think off. Metrics, data, whatever else. 

Rich: And probably a lot less expensive than hiring an entire team of user experience experts. Yeah. And lastly, you mentioned backlinks, links from other websites to our own. And I know that a lot of people see getting backlinks is a grind. So do you have any low hanging fruit suggestions when it comes to getting some of these insights?  

Dmitrii: Here I like to say, you get what you pay for. And in this case, it’s you get how much time you spend on it. 

Sure. There are some low hanging fruits, things like if you have a social media business page, makes sure that there is a link to the website. If you have a Yelp page, make sure there is a link there. So things like that, they’re more or less obvious, right? Those are the lowest hanging fruits, but the value of those things is quite low for the simple reason because everybody else can do it.  

So it’s kind of scarcity. The more scarce the type of the link is, the more value it’s going to bring. How many websites have a backlink from, let’s say, Forbes or entrepreneurial.com, or maybe some kind of industry like Tesla, whatever. Right? So the more scarce that link is, the more value it brings. And the more effort it takes to get that link, typically the better that link is.  

Rich: All right. And just for anybody listening who doesn’t follow this, there’s benefits to getting a link because somebody could be on another website, and they click on the link, and they arrive at your website. But we’re talking about these search engine benefits that Google and other search engines see these links almost as votes of confidence. And it sounds like the more difficult to get that endorsement from another website, the more value it actually brings with it. 

Dmitrii: Exactly. Yeah. What I like to compare backlinks to is recommendations. Like it’s literally another website recommending your website when they’re linking to it.  

And also, I would like to mention this – you kind of passed this really quickly – traffic or actual referral visits from third-party websites. That is important. Sometimes it’s actually more important than like the value of the backlink itself. And here’s the actual example. Let’s say you are in the business of selling pool equipment. If you have some type of link from a very well-known pool forum and they’re endorsing you, they’re putting your link in a prominent location. Because the audience of that website matches to the audience of your business, that referral traffic will actually bring sales. And in a lot of cases, that’s way more important than just having what they call high domain authority backlink. So you need to think about that when you do backlink prospecting. Because if you have thousands of links from the websites not related to your business, then what’s the point. It always has to be related in some kind of way. Otherwise it’s actually worse than your positioning in Google, because Google understands those things, they see if it’s related or not, is it paid or not, and so on and so on.  

Rich: All right. I think one of the concerns that a lot of small business owners and entrepreneurs have when it comes to SEO, is it just seems like there’s so much that could be done. And so if somebody is listening right now and they’re already feeling overwhelmed, what are two or three things that you would recommend to them, in general, that they should prioritize when it comes to increasing their search rankings, visibility and traffic? 

Dmitrii: Content. It’s always going to be content, and here’s why. We kind of covered everything already, it’s just not straightforwardly put up front. So without content, if you don’t write about cats, you’re not going to be ranking for cats. So you have to have content talking about whatever you’re in business for. That’s obvious and needs to be optimized of course. 

Then if content is done properly, if it’s that 10x content, it will attract people. When people see it, they’re going to be wowed by it. They’re going to be linked into it. “Hey guys, check out this awesome article.” They’re going to spread the word. Therefore those backlinks game becomes organic. The backlinks are being created naturally. And without great content you can’t have that organically building links by referrals, in a sense. So that covers already two of the points.  

The other one is when you create great content, you are mindful about what you’re putting there. If it’s an image, does the image belong there? Does it continue the story? Is it an oversized image or not? That takes care of things like loading speed and technical metrics.  

And then lastly, if you’re right about whatever the topic is, and the intent of the article matches the user intent, there is your user behavior metrics.  

So it all starts from content. If you write great content, that is well thought out, that is put together with kind of a bit of strategy and just thinking through it before you started writing, all those check boxes are automatically ticked. And they all work together, all these four parts of the SEO world, you can’t have one without the other. But typically in a lot of cases, 99% of the cases it starts with content. So yeah, there you go.  

Rich: Dmitrii, this has been great. If people are listening now and they want to reach out to you, they want to learn more about you, more about Regex SEO, where can we send them?  

Dmitrii: So the website regexseo.com. There’s a phone number, you can call us. There’s a contact form you can fill out. You can chat with us live as well. Or if you would like to reach me directly, I am on Twitter and LinkedIn and my handle is @digitalspaceman. You know, we are in Houston, all the space stuff and we are in a digital world. So yeah, @digitalspaceman.  

Rich: Awesome. Dmitrii, this has been great. Thank you so much for stopping by today.  

Dmitrii: Thank you for having me. 

Show Notes:  

Dmitrii Kustov helps companies pack a bigger punch into their marketing budgets with SEO strategies that deliver. Head over to his website to see how they’re helping other businesses maximize their marketing budgets, and definitely follow him on Twitter for more excellent tips and info. 

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.