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What does it really take to win at organic SEO? @baglady207
The Agents of Change

aocp-pinterest-christensen-bergeronHow can a small business with limited resources ever compete with the business giants when it comes to SEO? Fortunately, it’s not just about volume these days. Things like inbound links and a nice library of good content will determine the winner. And those are odds even a non betting person can get behind.

Concentrating on things like keyword research, link building, and on-page optimization will allow your business to build a marketing plan around specific keywords and phrases, that will in turn help you improve the quality and value of the content you’re creating.

Jennifer Christensen and Suzette Bergeron are the brains behind Bulletin Brands. Together they have honed a mostly organic approach to how they use SEO to build their business and can testify that approximately 95% of their new business comes from organic search alone.

Rich: Alright, I am here with Suzette Bergeron and Jennifer Christensen from Bulletin Brands. Women, welcome to the show.

Suzette: Thanks for having us.

Jennifer: Yeah, thanks.

Rich: For guys I just say “guys”, but I was about to say “ladies”, and then I’m like, I don’t think that’s politically correct anymore.

Suzette: When I was in college it was not politically correct, but it doesn’t bother me now.

Rich: Alright, excellent. Well you can call me whatever you like. So you guys are from Bulletin Brands, tell me a little bit about your business.

Suzette: So Bulletin Brands is a promotional marketing firm. We have three websites, Bulletin Bag, Bulletin Bottle, and Bulletin Basics. We sell custom printed reusable bags, custom printed  water bottles, and custom printed promotional products that are useful and practical. 

Rich: Excellent. Now I understand that you guys have been focused on your organic SEO. Why are you focused on that, and what exactly have you been doing?

Suzette: So we started with our niche website Bulletinbags.com and doing SEO back in 2008, and we got some initial traction with the bag site just through organic search, so we weren’t paying for Google Adwords, we were just getting organic traffic through our keyword research and such. And then that started to catch on and eventually it kind of took over the whole business, because now probably about 95% of our new business comes through organic search.

Rich: Wow, that’s impressive. Can you share with us one or two of the keywords that you go after, or is that competitive information that you don’t want to share?

Jennifer: Absolutely. So as Suzette said, we’ve been doing this since 2008, and back then was the time when a lot of people were paying $20 to get product links on all sorts of random directories and Google didn’t know any better but to kind of go with that. And from the beginning, we have always focused on content and things that our clients would be interested in, we do a lot with reusable bag news. For example, there’s a lot of plastic bag bans. So on the bag site, page one – as you know it typically changes from second to second – but custom reusable bags we do very well with – typically in the top 3 – also custom laminated bags. There’s a lot of retail inspired brands like LuLuLemon that do some really fantastic things with their custom bags. We’re finding clients really are interested in retail brand inspired products, either bags, water bottles, and other things.

On the bag site we’ve had great success with those, and then on the bottle site we do well with just the generic “bulk water bottles” category. Also, material specific items like “tritan water bottles”, “custom aluminum bottles”, and again we focus on content that is informative not just content stuffed with keywords, because Google has caught on and they won’t really give you any love for doing things like that.

Rich: Ok, so when you find those keywords that you feel are going to be high performing or you’re seeing them start to high perform, are you creating new pages for the products, are you optimizing the product pages themselves, or are you creating blog posts that talk about the “10 Best Ways To Customize Your Recyclable Bag”, or whatever the phrase might be?

Jennifer: Yes.

Rich: Yes to all three?

Jennifer: So yes to all three. You know, it really depends on the keyword. What we really try to do is make our content work for a specific keyword. So if there’s some very random keyword that’s doing awesome but it doesn’t really pertain to the way we choose to do business or the products that we chose to carry, then we won’t go after that.

So for example in the case of Triton water bottles – we have a very good selection of Triton bottles, it’s a material that we believe in – so as we’ve kind of grown in that category over time, we have pulled that category and created a landing page that has curated content from our blog post, and then that landing page is also of course optimized for that particular keyword. So it’s definitely a multistep approach.

The good thing is that the content exists on our site, so for example with Triton water bottles, we used to have where you would just click a link to look at all those bottles by material or you could bounce to our blog and you could read about Triton and a history of Triton. So what we’ve just done over time is that as our clients find us and look for that specific thing, we kind of meld into the landing page with featured content at the bottom of that page with some bottles that we think our clients might like.

Rich: Nice. Now it sounds like you’re doing a lot on the “on page optimization”, are you doing any “off page optimization”, are you doing any link building programs or doing guest blogging at other websites?

Jennifer: That’s a great questions, it’s definitely something that’s on our radar. It isn’t something that we’ve had the bandwidth to actively pursue right now. I do spend time where we’re all on social media, we’re all active on the internet, and I know Suzette and I both when we’re looking at things if we find something of benefit that we can comment intelligently on, I know that I will comment and add a link back to pertinent content on our site. But we don’t really actively do it right now as part of our strategy.

Rich: Ok. And I believe two of the three websites are WordPress, correct?

Jennifer: Yes. With a shopping cart.

Rich: And are you using any SEO specific plugins on these sites?

Jennifer: Yes, we use Yoast, and then also something called ADS MetaMonster, which more controls the page optimization and the Meta tags. So Yoast is for the content itself, as you know, and then ADS is for all of our product pages just to make sure we’re optimized there.

Rich: Ok. And obviously you know you guys have seen the benefit of optimizing your website and staying on top of the top of the search engines. 95% of new business I think you said is coming from organic search, which is amazing. How do you stay on top of all the changes that are coming with SEO every week?

Suzette: Good question. We work with a consultant, we meet weekly, we usually will have an agenda for the week, but we’ll kind of go through our keywords that we’re working on that week and what content Jennifer and our consultant have a production schedule for what she’s writing about. But yeah, it’s a process and it can be expensive – as I’m sure you know – everything recently had to get updated for mobile, so we had to make all of our sites responsive. It’s always a struggle to stay on top of Google changes and keep our websites up to date. But it’s really the core to our marketing, it’s pretty much the only marketing we do is search engine optimization. We just started to dabble in Adwords this year, but it’s clearly very important so we make those investments when we need to. It is our primary marketing. 

Rich: I think that’s great. I love how you’re using an outside resource, that’s not cheating or anything like that. You’re talking to somebody that has that insider knowledge, or is at least keeping on top of it. So when you say, “doing your writing”, is that the person you’re working with outside the team or is that Jennifer who’s creating all the content on your site?

Jennifer: Yeah, I wish that was somebody else sometimes. It’s me. Our consultant sometimes will make some of the writing tweaks. For example if we are looking at increasing or boosting a keyword and we can tweak a landing page for a homepage to make positive changes. But at the same time, you don’t want to make a change and then kind of end up losing all the momentum you had for what you just changed out of.

Rich: Exactly.

Jennifer: So sometimes our consultant will take a stab at light copy like that. But I would say 95% of the content on our site originates from me.

Rich: Alright, cool. So you’re having strategic meetings with her to determine the type of content, and maybe where it’s going to go, but ultimately you’re doing the bulk of the work.

Jennifer: Correct.

Suzette: We have thought about outsourcing at least part of it, but it’s difficult because it’s in our industry. We know our customers, and it’s something we probably could do if we found the right person, but it just makes more sense for us to do it just because we know our customers and we know our industry. Jennifer has been doing this for a really long time and so we know what we’ve written about in the past, what we can add to that, so we’ve just kind of kept it in house for the writing part.

Rich: Yeah, no, I totally get that. And it is a challenge, for sure. I’ve definitely read stuff from copywriters who obviously didn’t know the industry at all, and I’ve also worked with copywriters who are amazing and come in and interview everybody and get to really understand the brand and the voice. But of course you’re going to pay for that quality as well, so it’s always a balancing act.

One last question, how much time do you guys put into your SEO on a weekly basis on average? How many hours do you think you put into this?

Jennifer: We’re a relatively small business, so I would say we all wear a lot of different hats. But that is the primary marketing content management is my primary job here, and has been for 11 years. So out of a 32 to 40 hour workweek on a good week when I’m not pulled away like we all are doing other things, I would say 25 hours a week minimum, up to 40.

Rich: Wow, so this is a full time position then, as far as you’re talking. Well, part time to full time position.

Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely.

Suzette: And it’s not all spent writing, it’s also doing the keyword research with a consultant.

Rich: Right, but it’s not something you’re knocking out in an hour a day either.

Suzette: No. No it’s not.

Rich: So one other thing is, do you ever worry – and I hope I’m not putting the fear of God into you right now – do you ever worry that you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and all of a sudden Google is going to change everything and you’re going to be left out in the cold? Do you ever think about what you need to be doing in social, or email marketing, or webinars or tradeshows, and start to try and balance them with the marketing things, or do you just feel like this SEO train is something you’re going to ride until the very last station?

Suzette: I absolutely worry about it all the time. Of course things could change, and we have been doing this for quite a while and it hasn’t changed yet. So 95% of our new business comes from SEO, but we work really hard on our repeat business as well. So overall we’re about 50/50 –  maybe 60/40 – reorders are about 60% of our business and 40% is new business, so it’s not 100%.

So a lot of our other marketing efforts are email marketing, marketing automation, reaching back out to clients who have ordered from us in the past. Our third site is specifically designed to sell more towards existing clients, so there are other things happening in marketing, but as far as new clients, our focus has been on SEO. We started out doing regular sales and that kind of thing and really not that interested in going back to doing that again.

And we feel like everybody goes to Google first, if you need something you go to Google first. I don’t think that’s going to change, of course it could, but hopefully we’ll see it coming. I think the whole world will see it coming if Google suddenly goes away one day. But it can happen in any business, there are risks in any business.

Rich: Makes a lot of sense. Any last thoughts you guys want to share, anything you’ve learned from SEO or you feel like you kind of put it all out there for us?

Jennifer: The one thing I would like to share with people listening that might not be that familiar with SEO or might be kind of nervous or heard a lot of different things, is one of the things that we’ve learned from doing this a long time ago when it was all about just get your links out there anyway, it doesn’t have to be reputable, it doesn’t have to matter. Our web consultant says all the time, “it’s the long game”, and he’s absolutely right. You can’t write a blog post – even an exceptional blog post with perfect content – and then jump to Google 2 days later and see you bounce from slot #72 to #3. It just doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot of curated content over a great period of time to elicit change.

But the one thing that we’ve learned over the years of doing this is that you just have to stay that course. If we had deviated, that’s only detrimental. We’re getting smarter, Google’s getting smarter too, and they want to turn up good results for the people that are searching. So just stay the course, concentrate on what you know, don’t stuff keywords for the sake of doing it, be conversational, and ultimately we’ve seen competitors over the years come and go because they did whatever the fad was and then Google changed their algorithm and they were nothing. So just focus on what makes your company good.

Rich: Excellent, alright. For those of us that might be in the market for a bottle or a bag, where can we check you guys out at online?

Suzette: So Bulletin Brands has all three of our websites, so it’s bulletinbrands.com, bulletinbag.com is our reusable bag website, bulletinbottle.com is our resuable bottle website, and bulletinbasics.com is our promotional products website.

Rich: Awesome, we’ll have those kinks in the show notes as well. Suzette and Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today.

Show Notes:

If you’re interested in checking out Jennifer and Suzette’s websites (and products), you can find them at any of the following:

Rich Brooks is the owner of flyte new media, a digital marketing and web design firm in Portland, ME. He is the founder of the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference, and in his spare time he blogs, podcasts, and offers expert advice as the “tech guru” on 207, a local NBC affiliate news show.aocp-fb-christensen-bergeronaocp-fb-charles-chadwick