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Supporting image for The New Rules of SEO – @kcseopros
The New Rules of SEO – @kcseopros
The Agents of Change

Like many things in the business world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically since the early days, and continues to do so. Thanks to things like Google constantly tweaking their algorithms, marketers and content creators need to be crafty and smart with their SEO strategies.

 Gone are the days of just using your keyword phrases as many times as you could in your post or buying tons of backlinks to point back to your site. These days businesses need to take a more holistic approach to how they’re distributing the content. And that means carefully utilizing other social platforms, reputation management, quality backlinks, as well as strategic outreach opportunities.



Rich: Phil Singleton is a web designer, SEO expert, and an award-winning author. Since 2005 Phil has owned and operated a digital agency based in Kansas City. In 2016 Phil and John Jantsch – of Duct Tape Marketing – co-wrote, SEO For Growth – The Ultimate SEO Guide For Marketers, Web Designers and Entrepreneurs. SEO For Growth is an Amazon bestseller and has been listed as a Top Marketing Book by Mashable, Oracle, and the Huffington Post. It’s also been featured on MSNBC, Entrepreneur, and Search Engine Journal, as well as many industry websites.

Phil and John are currently entering the next phase of their partnership by offering a training and SEO certification program to marketers and web designers and creating a national network of certified SEO consultants. Very cool. Phil, welcome to the show.


Phil: Hey thanks Rich, so pumped to be here.


Rich: So I was telling you before we got on that I was checking out your book a little bit and I noticed in your book this line that kind of jumped out at me. And it said, “SEO is no longer about ‘tweaking keywords and getting backlinks’”. If it’s not about tweaking keywords and getting backlinks, what is it about?


Phil: That’s a great question. And again, we say that but backlinks are still a really important part of SEO in general. It’s just about quality and relevance instead of volume-based backlink building which is really what kind of drove SEO for the first 10-15 years of it’s existence. It was guys trying to work in backrooms trying to tweak things in websites and stuff with keywords and trying to do volume-based backlinking to try and really focus on those two factors because  that’s really what moved the needle for a long time.

And I think what ended up happening the last 4 or 5 years is Google had all these big companies out there – Overstock.com, JC Penney – that got called out and even penalized for trying to gain the system too hard, and I think that’s what ended up happening is people really were focusing more on trying to optimize for the search engines and not for the users. And then Google came out with these punitive algorithms like Panda, which really tried to focus on gaming content that was on the website, and Penguin which was another algorithm that really looked outside the website and tried to scrutinize the backlinks that were pointing back to the website to try to manipulate those rankings.

So Google came out with these punitive algorithms and they really tried to change behavior. And looking back in history, I think this was the one point in time from 2012-2014, where it really changed the behavior in terms of the way a lot of digital agencies and independent SEO consultants tried to get results for their clients. So they had to almost stop focusing on just those 2 areas and they moved more to where Google kind of had always wanted us to go which was “content is king”.

But again, before these punitive algorithms started to come out in force, a lot of people in the SEO industry snickered a little bit and said sure you say content is king but we really know what’s working. But again, when these things came out 4-5 years ago they said “content is king” and they really meant it this time.

And what I mean by that is people started getting a lot more credit for putting good content on websites. You start talking about things like reputation management, and getting reviews, and being active on social media and generating social signals to drive traffic to your website. Things like these appeared to start being weighed a lot more and maybe the backlink volume and the pure forms of search query to matching that search term on the website, those direct things started to take a little bit more of a backseat to some of these new signals that are emerging. 

So that’s kind of really what I meant is that when you start talking about SEO these days, we’re talking about really a more holistic approach to web design and making your website kind of the referral source for great content. And once you start distributing the content in various different forms across the internet, you start to generate the kinds of traffic and signals that Google is really trying to focus on more. 

And to me, to be honest, what it boils down to is people still think of SEO in terms of, “I rank well in Google, I rank highly and get the phone call or lead on my website”. Yeah, that’s still pretty much what I think defines a lot of it. But to me, I look at rankings almost as a modern digital marketing KPI. Because if you take into account what I just mentioned that it’s a more holistic approach to digital marketing, you can see that good organic traffic visibility, high rankings across a number of terms across related to your business are indicative to me of a good holistic digital marketing plan because those are the things that Google’s really trying to judge instead of just seeing how many backlinks can you go buy out there or how many times can you say this keyword phrase across the course of your website. So that part has really changed.


Rich: Alright, so let’s break that down because you brought up a lot of good points there. The first one is I totally agree with you, you didn’t use this word but it seems to me the search engines – really Google – has become a lot more nuanced. Like in the old days it was easy to trick the search engines. If you go back to 1997, if I said, “Portland, Maine real estate” 99 times and my competitors said it 100, they would win. It became over time a lot more nuanced where the search engines are behaving more like people.

And so I hear what you’re saying, focus specifically on this keyword on my homepage match the exact search that was just done, may feel a little outdated now because Google understands semantic search. They understand that when you say “plastic surgery” you might also mean “cosmetic surgeon” and things like that, they’re getting better. No longer are we just focused on getting inbound links because people found that inbound links help, so all of a sudden that became the focus of all their attention which doesn’t necessarily mean a better user experience, which Google claims that they’re looking for.

So your original statement of tweaking keywords and getting backlinks makes a lot of sense in terms of they’re not as important. So let’s talk about some of the things that have become more important. You’re talking to small businesses trying to figure out SEO today, what are some of the emerging things that are changing that you say, “here is an area that you should be paying attention to?”  


Phil: Well the first thing that we’re going to tell people – especially because we have this focus where we try to educate people through the book and that’s become a platform to educate and do some other things – but my core business, the way I’ve gotten into this, is really based on local regional search engine optimization, internet marketing and web design. So to me my approach to it is everything always starts with the website. It’s got to be the referral source for everything you do.

So one of the big things we see with small business owners is they still kind of treat their websites almost as digital brochures, and if they’ve got any great content they tend to put that up on social media. Where I say I think it kind of dies. Our approach is anything that you have or you create – especially your best content – you want your website to be the referral source and then you want to be sharing that content back out in your social media channels verusus just letting it sit out there one time on Facebook. So that would be the first thing is let’s focus on the website.

But even before we want to make sure we get the website right, our whole approach to web design in general is we think you basically need to start SEO and marketing before you do a web design or redesign. And everybody’s got a different way to skin a cat with Google or to try and get more search engine visibility or what have you. But our approach and what’s been successful for us is that we try and do the ideal client marketing research – and especially that keyword research – and user search research well before we start any kind of web design project. Because the idea is to figure out types of content your clients like to consume, how they search, what keywords they search for, and then try to build a reverse engineer, so to speak, a website around that search activity and your ideal client.

The problem that you see with a lot of web designers still to this day is they build a website as of it was a digital brochure or they’ve got a PowerPoint presentation to do and they want to say what they want to say and present it out there. And then down the road they try to do SEO later or think about SEO after the fact, when you can basically reverse engineer  the perfect racecar – so to speak – before you start hitting that first design mock up and start punching out the first line of computer code.

So that’s the first thing. It’s like everybody’s got to try to make their website what it should be, I think first it should be the referral source for everything that you do, And in my opinion you shouldn’t do any form of marketing without making sure that there’s some call to action or some trail back to the website. So that means you don’t just go do a TV advertisement and say, “visit us at abc.com”, you almost use force or incentivize them to go back to the website to see the rest of the commercial. Anything that we would do in terms of a digital marketing kind of approach and make sure some of those are linked up, even with some of the traditional advertising that you might do.

So #1 is going to be take a fresh look at your website, think about design or redesign if you need to, but make sure that that thing is your marketing hub because it kinda is anyway.  There is no such thing as referral marketing anymore. If you do referrals somebody is going to look you up inline, they’re going to check your website out, and it’s got to be in good shape in order to even count in those traditional leads you might get.

The second thing that I think is probably more important than anything in terms of the biggest bang for the buck is going to be – and this is my opinion – really focusing on testimonials and reviews. I think these are the most important things as business owners that we need to focus on, and really I think the most important thing just in terms of general marketing today, because this is how everybody buys everything. You go to Amazon and you want the choice, so you go to reviews to help you distance your #1 and #2 so you can figure out which one to choose. And I think reviews do that for everybody.

So any business owner that’s out there I think really need to focus on reputation and generating online reviews because in my opinion, if you think about it, they’re relatively rare. I mean you see them and we all make decisions based on the reviews that we see on the internet whether it’s on Amazon or a local search on Google or Yelp. But the companies that have reviews – even the ones that appear to have a lot of them – generally speaking that’s still going to be a very small percentage of the customers that those people have had.

And we all know that if we’ve done something wrong or ticked somebody off those are the ones that are easy to get. But the good reviews are actually pretty rare and pretty hard to get. You don’t need to hire an outside expert to help you get reviews, that’s something that people can put into their own hands, it’s just a matter of making sure you work it into your routine, send people to the right place and start being proactive about it. In our kind of local agency, every time that we focused on getting people more reviews and better review visibility, that tends to generate the biggest bang for the buck in terms of SEO. Because that leads to the holy grail. You show up on the first page for the search term and they your reviews and that social proof come up and that’s the second piece of it. That’s kind of the holy grail of search to me these days is just pairing up search engine visibility with very strong social proof.


Rich: Alright, you mentioned two things there, testimonials and reviews. Reviews, are you saying that these are the kinds of things that appear on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google? Are these third party site reviews or are these reviews of products that we’re selling on our own website?


Phil: I think it’s all places. For most businesses we work with we’re going to try to get them on third party review sites, but when I’m talking about reviews I’m actually talking about any type of social proof.


Rich: You mentioned Amazon, Amazon obviously is selling a billion products – not their own – it makes sense for them to have reviews. I’m a web design agency, or a pizza parlor, or a psychologist, or some other service professional, I’m not going to be having reviews of my work on my own website, am I?


Phil: When I look at reviews I’m looking at as many different variations that you can get. So you mentioned Amazon, can Amazon affect local businesses. I think it can. We always try and boil things back to the content marketing strategy, which is another piece of SEO. So let me give you an example of this. Clients that we have we’re going to say you’re getting a new blog and we’re going to optimize it and you’re going to have a content strategy. Part of that content marketing strategy is going to be regular blogging. Part of that blogging strategy is we’re actually going to create a series of 10-15 blog posts that at the end of that series we’re going to try to stitch those together into an ebook that we can then spin up into a PDF as a call to action on the website and as a Kindle to put up on Amazon.

So then Amazon will give you an author page that you’re allowed to put your RSS feeds on there but it also can give you a little bit of authority. So even in our case I do local SEO here in Kansas City. If you type up “local SEO” our ebook comes up through Amazon. We’ve basically found a way to use Amazon and generate reviews to try and again get some visibility and also show that some people have said that the content and knowledge that these guys produce is good.

So yeah, you want to try and get reviews every place that you can. So we want to focus on third party review sites first. Most businesses – especially local ones – that have physical operations are going to want to focus on Google. But all the other major ones you mentioned – Yelp, Trip Advisor – and even some of the niche specific ones are going to be important. But also we like to cherry pick some of the reviews we get from those third party websites and showcase them on the website.


Rich: So are you showcasing them like putting a tweet on your website and it actually pulls from Twitter? Can you do that with some of these third party sites or are you taking a screen capture and then sharing it to your site that way?


Phil: Some of them might be manual through a plugin, but a lot of times right now you mentioned were using tools out there like GetFiveStars. My favorite happens to be Grade.us, they’ve got what is basically a review funnel. You can create a little third party website to send people to. We actually print out cards for our clients that we can hand out at the point of sale, and then the funnel will then collect a good review and send them to the third party website and the bad review will collect on a form so that they can actually manage that transaction and hopefully turn those folks around.

A lot of those review funnels that you use – especially when you’re using a third party premium tool out there like Grade.us – they have the ability through widgets to be able to pull in recent reviews right onto your website. So things like that are a nice way to do it, but also I think sometimes people could just cherry pick the ones that we want and then maybe feed them up through some review plugin on a WordPress site to just kind of showcase some where we want to showcase them.

But also working with people that try to say… because reviews don’t just happen, they’re very powerful, they drive a lot of purchase decisions, but unless you have a system in place and you’re tenacious and persistent – and a lot of times you have to ask 2-3 times – so there’s got to be a system in place, and then you’ve got to find a way to distribute them and make sure you can capitalize on them.  So you ask people to put them on third party places and you’re going to copy and paste some of those on the website and places where you think it will help maybe convert a sale. And then also maybe follow up from time to time and try to make sure that you’re getting other places like LinkedIn and some of the niche specific sites like you would for doctors and lawyers and those type of things.

All these things I think really help. But more importantly than just only saying reviews help us convert sales and we need that social proof to make sure people can make the decision, I also think that in some shape or form – whether there is direct or indirect – these are another signal that Google is going to use to rank, especially the local businesses.


Rich: Sure.


Phil: And we see this already. On Google if you start focusing on accumulating good, positive reviews on Google Maps, you will see you’re going to have a much higher chance to show up in one of those map results than your competitors that don’t have them. So that is a direct ranking signal in terms of local search dan I think really important.


Rich: And to get those reviews, are you sending people to say, “Hey, Google my business”, then sending people to that page and asking them to leave a review there?


Phil: Yeah. We have basically a review funnel. So we set up stand alone websites – we have our own that is kcwebdesigner.com.reviews – and it’s just a simple little website that we ask to please leave us feedback. There’s like 5 stars and if you click one a form pops up that you can vent on that form and communicate to the business owner directly.

Again, when we’re working on these review strategies like this, part of it sounds like you’re just trying to stack the deck in terms of reviews, but really I think a good online reputation management like this where you’re using an online form where you’re getting access to the bad review before it gets posted, actually helps you improve customer service. 


Rich: It certainly can, yeah.


Phil: So you come on these stand alone, mini websites and they’re real simple, they’ve got a message, “please provide us some feedback”. You click 1 star, you’re unhappy, and a form pops up. You type into it and that email goes up directly to hopefully the business owner that will immediately address that problem and right the wrong that the staff did or maybe that they did.

A lot of times business owners don’t even know they had the chance to turn that lemon into lemonade pretty quickly and sometimes turn it into a positive review. And if they click that 4 or 5 star, then we can direct them directly to a Google My Business review page, or a Yelp page, or a Facebook page, or give people a choice of 2 or 3 places to go so they can decide on their own. But that to me is a really good way to direct people and make it super easy.

And then also a way to follow. Like I say, a lot of times businesses will ask somebody and 10 people will say “yes” and then they won’t follow up on it, or maybe one will follow up on it. Sp I think that’s where the persistence and tenacity and importance of having some kind of system in place. A lot of times you have to ask people 2-3 times to actually get that review to get in place, because most people had the intention to do it, but the last thing people want to do is have the pressure of having to spend the extra time to type something up on a review site when they just paid you a fair price for the product or service you gave them.

More and more a lot of these small businesses want to get them and they realize the importance of them, but there’s more of a burden of being asked on the consumer side. And let’s face it, if we  reviewed every product and service that we bought every day, that’s all we’d be doing.


Rich: Right.


Phil: But it really puts the emphasis on you have to be better than the next guy competitor, and you have to have a system in place, and you have to be persistent and tenacious about it. And if you do, you will get the rewards. There’s no client that we have that’s gone from zero to 50 or 60  reviews and hasn’t said this has totally transformed their business why didn’t they work on this earlier. Nobody gets a large amount of reviews and says this didn’t help. It’s usually a really significant help in terms of getting more leads and generating more business and converting more business.  


Rich: Cool. This has been fascinating but I do want to back up a little bit because we spent a lot of time on testimonials and reviews. We were talking about what are some of the things that people should be paying attention to now and as far as SEO goes you said to start with a website. Then we talked about testimonial and reviews. What are some other things that are maybe more important now than they were just a couple years or 5 years ago?


Phil: We kind of touched on this a little bit. I really do think blogging is super important. It’s a big pain point for a lot of businesses and a lot of websites because it’s a lot of work. But it’s one of these things that’s very similar to reviews and it’s just one of those things that’s got to be done. But then you do it right there’s all sorts of ways that you can kind of repurpose it and have it turn into other things that will help benefit you in many different ways.

So why is blogging really important? Well if you set your website up right, I’ll give you a technical example that most people are going to understand. Most ways we set up new websites today we want the website to have a unique selling position above the fold, so you know what this company does and why they’re better than everybody else. You also want to have a certain amount of content, maybe a few hundred words that Google can grab onto, because words and text on your page that are really going to help versus maybe a page that doesn’t have any content on it.

But another thing that’s really important for search in general is that you’ve got to have some way to incentive Google to visit your website again, versus again only putting your best content on social media and neglecting your website so none of the content of the pages change. So I think an important on pay signal for Google is one that you’re adding relevant content and building your pages out in a way that shows some authority in your niche but also growing the actual page count of the website.

But we also like to make sure that you’ve got some kind of blog feed on the homepage specifically, because that’s the one thing if you’re blogging on a regular basis for a business, you’re actually pumping that fresh content onto the homepage and giving the Google crawlers another reason to come and say, “Hey, this page has changed again this week”. So you have the benefit of growing the content on your website, increasing the content topics that you’re covering that are relevant to your site, you’re showing your users that you have some authority because you’re providing educational content. We use a plugin called {SNAP} Auto Poster

I’m a big fan for small businesses – and I’m sure there are a dozen other ones that do this – and we’ll plug up 10 social media accounts directly to the WordPress website, and then a soon as we hit ‘publish’ we automatically distribute that post into 5-10 different social media platforms. So again, just with one blog post you’re able to grow, enhance, improve the chances that your site is going to get searched for more search terms related to your business, you’re giving Google another reason to crawl the website.

You’re then establishing your website as a referral source for the authoritative information that you’re supplying through a blog post. And then now you’re also using your website to distribute it into your content distribution channels – which is what I would call them – but basically most are social media so you can repost them up on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and all these other ones that you might have a following on. You’ve basically done that through one single blog post. So I think blogging is a really an important part of SEO and content marketing and social in general. And again, there’s other ways you can take it.


Rich: Well I was going to ask about that Phil, because you actually mentioned there are SEO benefits to podcasting. And I’m not sure if this is related to the blogging thing but I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit about what is the SEO benefit to podcasting and how do we make the most of it?


Phil: So this is the one thing that’s gotten me really excited, podcasting in general. We wrote the book, John Jantsch my co-author, he’s had a podcast since 2005 so he’s an old school pro, he’s been doing it a long time. But I just got on board doing my own little podcast – I’ve probably done a dozen or so –  and what I found is when a lot of us…. Well we talked earlier about backlinks and doing some of the on page stuff, well I mentioned and I want to reiterate that I think backlinks are still critical to the important part of SEO. But it’s quality and relevance that are more important than anything else versus quantity.

So the way I look at it I think the golden link of backlink building is you really don’t want to have a third party backlink from another website that you can’t justify or that you can’t be proud of and that you didn’t pay for. I mean those are really the three things that I think if you can say that you’ve got another website. You’re going to pick up barnacle links from here but it’s still really important to do in backlink building.

So one of the favored ways to do high quality, high powered backlink building is to do the things that you were mentioning, but for a lot of folks what it boils down to is trying to create authoritative third party guest posting and get those posted up on third party websites. Either other industry websites or corporate websites or maybe news sites. 

But that process is difficult. It’s difficult if you’ve got to think about writing a high quality 1,000+ word authoritative guest post – maybe some of your best content – and they trying to do the outreach or even pay for the outreach to try and get that placed. The time and effort that goes through that is a lot of labor and a lot of time, but it does work and I think that’s one of the main ways that people do try and generate those high quality relative backlinks that do help move the needle as long as you’re doing everything else right.

So we get back into podcasting and how does that relate. Well if you think about podcasts, especially when you’re trying to get booked on shows as an expert in your niche, being able to get booked and sit down like we are right now and talk for 20 or 30 minutes is much easier than  trying to get a guest blog post placed. BUt the benefits are similar if not even better for on the podcast.

As an example, I’m booked and we’re talking and really I’m trying to bring my A game to you today to your listeners to try to help them have some actionable things they’ll think about or change when they look at their websites. You’re going to then post up show notes and  probably have some resource links basically earning a backlink back to one or two of my social sites. So I’m essentially taking care of guest posting strategies right here.

Now you do this this – a lot of folks don’t do this – they don’t do the transcript notes because they’re too long. But I think that’s an SEO goldmine because it’s great, it’s unique content, it takes a little bit of effort to put them together. One of the things that we’ve been doing – I’m not going to ask you to do this, but I’ve done this 10 or 12 times already – is a lot of folks that have interviewed me they just stop with show notes and they don’t go through the time and effort of getting the transcriptions done.

So what I’ve offered people is to let me transcribe them for free, and then I’d like to take those notes and post them up as a guest post up on the SEO For Growth site or what have you, and that ends up being kind of a guest post for the host as well where you’ve got this long, typed thing. And then they earn a backlink back and there’s  a second wave of us doing social media and all this kind of stuff we would do when the initial one comes out.

So again, for somebody that’s going out there and wanting to do backlink building that’s going to move the needle, I think being booked as a guest expert on a podcast is probably one of the most powerful forms of backlink building there is. The production value is high, you get show notes, you earn links, a lot of times the hosts are going to go out and amplify the show out to their social media channel, the guest is as well so you generate all this activity, and it’s almost like this mini launchable event.

Blog posts are actually kind of boring to some extent. But when you’re doing a show, or hosting a show, or getting booked on a show, these are things that are a little bit more exciting and have a lot more production value so I think by nature they are a more valuable form of content.


Rich: I’m definitely hearing that and I feel the same. It’s a lot easier on you and your time to get a guest podcasting gig than it is to do a guest blogging gig. It’s sometimes the same return but for a much smaller investment, so that makes a lot of sense.

Phil this has been great. I got to like 3 of my 12 questions so I know that there are other people here who want to dig a little bit deeper, too. Where can we find you online? 


Phil: My homebase in terms of SEO services is going to be kcseopro.com, and that’s kind of where a lot of that started. I’ve also got one called kcwebdesigner.com, I basically ended up splitting the businesses up because it became harder and harder to rank for one website so basically I’ve got two channels. But one of the main reasons that we’re doing the podcast tour – so to speak – is to promote SEO For Growth which is a book that John Jantsch, of Duct Tape Marketing, and I wrote late last year. And that you can find more about at seoforgrowth.com. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member of course you can get the book for free.

Come back to the website we’ve got a pretty cool 3 ebook bundle that we give away for free. One of them is from the guys at Yoast gave us a great, detailed website optimization book. We have one from Larry Kim of Wordstream. And I have another one I wrote with Duct Tape Marketing called, Local SEO. And those 3 ebooks are just free. Go get the free Amazon download if you’re an Amazon Prime member and then come back to the website and get the bundle for free. Of course you could pay for the paperback, too, if you wanted to.


Rich: Lots of options. Phil, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your expertise with us today.


Phil: Thank you.


Show Notes:

Phil Singleton has built a career on helping businesses drive more traffic and create better content through smart and insightful SEO strategies. Learn more about him through his website, check out his book, and find him on Twitter.

Helpful Tools mentioned in this podcast:

  • GetFiveStars – Reputation Management tool
  • us – Reputation Management Tool
  • {SNAP} Auto Poster – Plugin that automatically posts your published blog posts to

            other social platforms

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, creator of the Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference, and author of a new book, The Lead Machine. He loves helping businesses fine tune their strategies for digital marketing in the areas of search, social and mobile.