Every digital marketer could lecture you for days on the importance of SEO and why your business absolutely needs it in order to succeed in the online search game. But what they also should be stressing, is how to prove the ROI of SEO. Because after all, how can you improve on something – or even know it’s working – if you aren’t measuring it?
SEO consultant, Roger Bryan, helps us understand different marketing techniques and opportunities, with a focus on the data. The numbers don’t lie and they tell a great story, you just have to learn how to listen to them and take action accordingly.
Rich: My guest today is an SEO consultant who has worked with some of the world’s largest companies on their marketing efforts, including Microsoft, Goodwill Industries, The American Red Cross, MedStar Health, as well as thousands of local businesses. Over the last 23 years, he was number 40 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Most Influential Digital Marketers list. His past three companies have made Inc Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies three times.
He started, scaled, and sold three companies. His latest book, Data Driven Marketing, is an Amazon bestseller and it sold over 10,000 copies. Today we’re going to be diving into the dollars and cents of SEO with Roger Bryan. Roger, welcome to the show.
Roger: Thanks for having me, Rich.
Rich: So as I mentioned in your bio, you’ve worked with some of the largest companies in the world, as well as many local, small businesses. What do you see as some of the differences and similarities between these ends of the spectrum when it comes to SEO?
Roger: The biggest difference between the two ends of the spectrum is typically what you’re going to be asked to do. The larger the organization, the more consultive of a role you’re going to play. Where with small, maybe even into the SMB side, you’re usually going to take the reins and run the entire program.
Rich: Good to know. All right. So you described yourself as an “organic revenue optimization specialist”. What does that mean?
Roger: Well, really what I try to tell people is that the concept of search engine optimization has been broken for a long time. It’s not that it’s hard to rank websites, it’s just the purpose of doing so is sometimes convoluted when it comes to strategy.
We concentrate first on, where is the revenue going to be generated? Is it going to be phone calls, is it form submissions, is it an actual product being sold online? And then how is that organization making sales now so that we can do more of it. We don’t want to rank for a keyword for the sake of ranking for a keyword or even generating traffic. We want to figure out if there is a revenue source behind those efforts that we can build upon before we even begin to implement a campaign.
Rich: That definitely makes sense for a company that has been in business for a while and has some sort of track record. Have you ever been pulled into a project with a startup, and maybe they don’t know where the money’s coming from? What kind of advice might you give to somebody in that situation?
Roger: So I would definitely have to speak from experience on that. If we were going to be working with a smaller organization that’s just getting started with their marketing, we would likely need them to have a primary revenue stream being phone calls. That’s when we’re really going to find the most value. It’s something that’s easily measurable for just about anyone.
So let’s say that you have a local plumbing company or a roofing company. The first thing that I would do is I would implement call tracking software to see, am I getting phone calls? Where are those phone calls coming from? And then build upon that of how do I get more phone calls and measure the success of doing so.
Rich: Brian, just to take a kind of a sidestep here. For people who have not engaged in any sort of call tracking, can you kind of break down for us what they can expect or what they need to do to make that work?
Roger: Yeah, there’s a couple of different call tracking platforms that we really like, like CallTrackingMetrics or CallRail. They’ll give you a piece of code that you put on your website, and what that piece of code will do is it will populate a different phone number for each visitor that comes out of your website dependent upon the traffic source. You don’t need to be a developer to do this, you just put it in the header, and it’ll take your phone number. And if the person is coming, say from Facebook, it’ll show them one phone number. If they’re coming from paid ads, then we’ll show them another. If they’re coming from organic, it’ll show them a different one. This will allow you to understand where the people that are calling you are coming from.
Rich: This may be a super nerdy question, but with Google always paying attention to everything we do online and making sure that our phone number is always the same in every place, is there any negative connotation to this or any negative fallout from using a phone number that varies based on where somebody might’ve come from?
Roger: You do need to implement this correctly. So in your GMB listing there’s a place for two phone numbers. There’s the primary number, and then there’s an alternative. So the phone number that’s always been on your website and that you’ve used to register with Google stays coded on your website. And it stays as the second phone number on your GMB, giving it that continuity that doesn’t raise any flags with Google.
Then we’ll put a tracking number in as our primary. And then that tracking script will not actually change the phone number that’s coded on your website, it’ll just show different to visitors. Therefore, when Google indexes your website, it’ll all look copacetic, and everybody will be happy.
Rich: And this is another nerdy question. I know that when I look at my own Google analytics or the analytics of clients, that sometimes Google doesn’t exactly understand where the traffic is coming from, it drops it into direct or something. How does this software know where people are coming from? Or is there just some big categories and then maybe an ‘other’ category?
Roger: It’s interesting. One of the biggest pitfalls with Google analytics is still how a lot of traffic is designated as ‘social’, instead of like paid. You can use UTM codes if you’re running a really advanced campaign. Most smaller organizations can pre-program what those numbers represent. And for the most part, those platforms are pretty good at picking up where the data’s coming from.
We do get into UTM codes. If you have four or more traffic sources, you’re going to want to use UTM codes, which is just a little piece of script that shows on the URL dependent upon where it’s populated or where you direct traffic to, say in a paid campaign, so that it triggers that key that tells it, “Hey, when we run our Facebook ads, we put this UTM code that says Facebook paid traffic”. And then it shows up in our analytics and in our call tracking analytics, that that’s where that traffic source is from. It’s a little bit of extra work, but as you start running more traffic channels, you have to get into using UTM codes.
Rich: And a little while ago, Roger, you were talking about trying to determine where your best traffic is coming from. From a conversion standpoint, you mentioned sometimes it’s the phone, other times it might be an online form. Sometimes it might be a buy now button. So there’s call tracking. Do you have a similar tool for online forms, so that automatically businesses can have a sense of did this lead come from Facebook, organic search, paid search, and so forth?
Roger: Yeah. As a base, something that everyone can use for relatively little cost is Google analytics. They’re going to do a pretty good job with tracking forms. You are going to have that little bit of variance in the data of where the traffic sources are, which again, you can work through with UTM codes. But often we’re going to use something like ClickFunnels or Unbounce or HubSpot pages, and it’s going to have its own analytics tools inside of it.
To be honest, we don’t do too many form-oriented campaigns, because we have trouble measuring through to revenue. With phone calls we can measure the length of the call, we use software that listens for specific words in the call to give us a probability of whether or not that was a sales call or a follow-up call.
I like the campaigns where I can measure revenue output even if it’s on a variable rate. Maybe it’s not an exact number, but I know if I got a hundred phone calls, 70 of them probably converted, the average ticket price is $100, I’ve generated $7,000 in revenue. If I can’t create that type of measurement, which you usually can’t with forms depending on the business, then I tend to stay away from those campaigns. I need to be able to measure success.
Rich: So that makes a lot of sense for when you’re coming in and you’re consulting with a company. If somebody is trying to just get a little bit of this done themselves, they’re trying to understand where your approach might fit with their business. Do you have advice for that small to medium-sized business in terms of like, just trying to figure out where their revenue is actually coming from? You mentioned call tracking and obviously you can use Google analytics on your forms, but what other steps or advice might somebody take, who has never played in the sandbox before?
Roger: The best piece of advice is number one, you got to measure it. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Once you’re measuring, you have to review it. That’s usually the pitfall. Some people will get out of the gate, they’ll put up call tracking once a month, they’ll kind of look at it. The whole purpose of call tracking depending on the state and depending on the regulations that surround that – because they’re different in each state – you have to listen to the calls, you have to learn the length of the calls. You have to review every hundred phone calls and say, “Hey, how many phone calls convert?” Because that’s going to give you a metric to measure for future success.
So again, it’s 70%, which is about the average ratio someone would have after working with us for 90 days, which is usually up from around 10% or 20% of those calls are going to convert into paid customers. And then I know that that call’s worth $100. I know I can spend $35 to generate it.
So the second step after measuring, is using the data. Looking at it and doing a little bit of math, giving yourself an idea of what a lead is worth, so you know what you can go and pay for it.
Rich: And so once you’ve done this work, when you see where your revenue is coming from, what can you do with that information? What’s the next logical step?
Roger: Max out your credit cards and generate as many leads as you can and try to keep your numbers steady. I say that half-jokingly, but there have been times where a campaign will hit like a $1 in, $10 out. And it’s like, how much will they let us spend? And how fast will they let us spend this until it breaks? And that’s just marketing when you get something that hits that well.
But in reality, if you’re a local service company, you have to measure how much business can you handle now, how long do we need to stay at that level before we think about going to the next? And that is a conversation that comes up quite often, where a company is struggling and then all of a sudden, they’re maxed out. They’re like, we can’t handle any more calls. You’ve got to find that happy level and then always be pushing to try to do a little bit more.
Rich: So that sounds great. And when I hear words like that and the phrases you’re using, I’m always thinking about advertising. Because that always seems more like the advertising that the sales are going to come quick in the dollar management, but we’re talking about SEO.
And a lot of people look at SEO as it’s the long game, it’s slow moving. So how do you necessarily tie in SEO to all these things? Because it does seem like SEO takes some time to really take effect, where ads are something you can turn on or off as you wish.
Roger: No, and that’s a great question. SEO can take time. It usually takes longer if you start by trying to rank first, instead of going backwards from revenue. What we almost always find with the clients that we decide to work with is, once you’ve dialed in where that revenue is coming from and you’re measuring everything that you have, there’s usually one or two opportunities that you’re going to be able to cherry pick right out of the gate. A lot of times surrounding the GMD and the way that the Google My Business listing is being used, that can accelerate calls pretty quickly without having to redo a website, write a bunch of content, build a bunch of links by figuring out what that initial trigger point is. You save yourself countless months.
If you start by picking a group of keywords and then trying to rank for them, you don’t know if they convert, you don’t know if your copy is written well, you don’t know if you have a good offer. So I like local service businesses that are consumables. People need them, like when somebody calls a roofer it’s because they need a roof. When somebody calls a plumber, it’s because they need a plumber. It makes it a lot easier to know that if I can generate more calls, we’re going to generate more revenue.
Rich: All right. So you’re basically reversing the way that a lot of people look at SEO, which is awesome. So normally what we do is we say we want to be known for something, we want to get found for something we’ve done, hopefully done the keyword research, and we start from scratch off and creating content that we hope one day will really perform for us. And there’s definitely reasons to do that. I don’t want to dismiss that at all.
But what you’re suggesting is rather than start the journey from square one, is find out where you’re already successful and build out from there, shore up what you’re already doing, so that you can collect more of that type of business. Would you say that that’s accurate?
Roger: I would say it’s accurate, except for one part. I would actually disagree that the first version is viable at all. People still think that it is, and they’re still doing it. But I think it’s just a waste of everyone’s time and money to do it that way figuring out where the revenue is.
Now, if there’s a gap between, okay, I am at absolutely square one, so I have no revenue and I don’t know where to go. You don’t want to do keyword research and start ranking. You want to do competitive analysis and figure out where your competitors are getting all of their revenue from. And there’s tools out there, like SEMrush, Ahrefs, where you can actually get that data and reverse engineer them. Never try to figure this stuff out on your own. There’s so much data out there that points. It’s like pointing, “Do this right now and you will win.” But people just don’t listen.
Rich: All right. Now you mentioned a little bit about Google My Business. So let’s talk a little bit about how this approach of working backwards from revenue matters or impacts local SEO.
Roger: Google My business is the key to success in local search engine optimization. When you really think about it, what does Google want to do in all aspects? They want to control the buyer’s journey so that they can extrapolate revenue from their experience in using the search engine. They can’t do that on your website unless you’re running Google ad words.
So Google My Business was launched more than a decade ago as a free website, so to speak, that everybody gets that Google can now control. And they are pretty aggressive these days in controlling who has them, how they’re registered and what you can do with them, more so now than ever before. But when done right and with reviews and proper information and using the, Google My Business posting tools to put good content and offers out and with all of the right integrations, it is a very powerful tool. Couple that with the Google Guarantee Program that is out now in certain niches and it’s kind of a game changer.
You probably are not going to be a successful roofer in just about any market in the United States unless you’re part of the Google Guarantee Program anymore. Which is a very thorough program to get into. But once you have it, it’s a bid process for the phone calls and it’s at the top of the search engine.
So you have the Google Guarantee, then you have the ads, then you have the map, then you have organic. Organic has been pushed down so far in some spaces that GMB listing, coupled with a Google Guarantee Program, is really going to be the key to success in many niches.
Rich: Do you feel like, you mentioned roofing and painting, and there’s the Google Guarantee there first. Can you just speak for a minute about what the Google Guarantee is for people who might not be familiar with it? And then, do you see this rolling out to more and more industries over time as Google really tries to drive revenue from kind of their monopolistic grasp of SEO right now?
Roger: I love them, monopolistic
Rich: I couldn’t even say, did I say it right? I don’t know. We’ll fix it in post.
Roger: It’s the perfect word. It is going to expand and it’s already expanding. So the Google Guarantee Program, so for example, my wife owns a residential septic company. So they have to apply, they have to provide licensing that shows that they are legitimate. Then every person on their tech there, every technician on their team, has to have a background check done that interacts with customers. And then what Google does is it allows you to bid on phone calls. These are phone calls that Google is driving in, it’s what they consider to be qualified leads. And then you’ll get the phone call, and you’ll pay Google X number of dollars per phone call. And Google will guarantee that the service that you deliver meets to a certain standard up to $1,000, depending on the niche. And if it doesn’t, you can go to Google as the customer to get a refund for the services.
Now in that dynamic between the provider and the end user, of course you’re going to make sure that no one goes to Google and has a complaint. You’re going to bend over backwards to make sure that you get the positive review and that everybody’s happy because you don’t want to get kicked out of this program.
Now it’s a bidding competition. I know locally there are 55 roofers in our very small community that are using the Google Guarantee Program, between Cleveland and Akron, Canton, Ohio. Whoever can pay the most for a lead, wins, once it gets to that point. Which is kind of hard on the little guys, but that’s just the world that we live in with advertising.
Rich: That is a little disappointing. Not obviously anything you say, but just thinking about this and the way that this is going and how ultimately it will be the largest companies who can succeed in this world is a little bit disappointing for those of us who champion a small to medium sized businesses. but who knows, maybe with DuckDuckGo and Apple joining the search, maybe things will start to change over time.
Roger: Apple is big enough to disrupt.
Rich: Right. Of course they’re just like trading one giant company for another. Just one with better design skills.
Roger: And one that we pay more for their products.
Rich: Exactly. So we talked a little bit about organic SEO. We’ve talked a little bit about local SEO. I don’t know if you had any other tips or tricks when it comes to local SEO in this, but if not, I’d be curious to know inbound links. Inbound links are definitely a part of SEO. And just with all the data and knowing your KPIs, does this change the way you might go after inbound links?
Roger: We do definitely do this a little bit differently. When we start out with a new client, we’re going to do gap analysis on their authority score relative to their competition. And our first link building campaign is really going to be all about closing that gap. How many high authority links do we need to drive? If their authority scores at 20 and everyone else in their subgroup is in the 40 to 50 range, we know that we’re going to have to get some pretty high quality, high authority links to come into this website. Because once the authority levels, even some people like to measure the number of backlinks or the number of referring domains, I’ve never really found that to be necessary.
If we can get to par on authority and we put out better content, higher quality, a good using competitive analysis to figure out exactly what that means, and then we put a little bit of effort into syndicating that content out through social channels through other paid promotion platforms, so that we can get some traffic, that initial traffic there really is what gives a trigger to Google that this is quality content, and they’ll give it a little bit more love. But that doesn’t happen until we’ve got a couple other metrics in front of it, which is authority score and ranking for our brand.
Rich: All right. So I’m sure you’ve talked to certain businesses and they’re like, well, “Yeah, no, here’s where we’re making our revenue, but we want to get into this market”, or “We’re introducing a new product and service”. How does that fit into this model, or doesn’t it?
Roger: It makes it a lot harder. Now, if we’ve been working together for a year or two and you come in and say we want to go into this other vertical, and we’re part of the conversation about what the process is going to look like – which we’ve done numerous times in both the non-profit and the healthcare sector – it’s one thing. But if you’re coming to us with this winning platform and you’re like, “We want to launch this from scratch”. I would most likely tell you that we’re not going to be the right people to work with. because we can take data and accelerate it, but we’re not really the kick starters on things. There are maybe other people out there that can do it better.
Or in many cases, you internally can do it yourself. You can get the initial content up, you can put it out there into the world and see if it gets traction. Especially if it’s a brand-new product that you don’t have any test data on. Now, the one variable that would change that is if you came to us and said, we’ve got a paid traffic campaign running and converting like crazy on this product, and now we want to do SEO. We do have enough data to justify the efforts of bringing that up, but I don’t want to start with a product that has not even proven itself to be viable to the market. SEO professionals just can’t do that.
Rich: So you mentioned earlier about syndicating some content. And I’m just kind of curious about how you might recommend leveraging social or even YouTube? Which a lot of times videos will show up in some of the searches done. Do you ever say, “Well, you’re doing really well for these search terms. Let’s add in YouTube videos on this”, or “Your YouTube videos are doing really well, so maybe we need to add some more SEO content to the website on those same topics”?
Roger: Oh, absolutely. The places that we’ve had a lot of success with YouTube videos have actually been e-commerce products. Because the keywords are so cheap that you can actually expand your reach beyond your exact match or even your phrase match keywords and try to bring in a broader audience. Kind of like Facebook does with their algorithm prior to some privacy changes, so that you can reach a bigger audience at a low cost and figure out what else can convert. They work great directly to Amazon listings, where you get to tell the story, prove the function, and then put a link below to send them right over to Amazon. They convert very well on doing that. So, if you can put it out there, it’s no different than running ad words. You get a video, you find out what keywords are converting relative to what data you’ll be given, and then you go and create more content around that keyword.
And that’s a good strategy because what you’re doing, you’re starting where the revenue is, you’re working backwards from it. You’re not picking a random keyword out of the hat because you see it as a lot of search volume, not distinguishing commercial intent, and then going out and creating content. You’ve already got revenue from it. Make more of it.
Rich: One thought that I’m having as you’re talking about this, and I understand you don’t like taking on those kinds of new areas or companies that are just getting started because the data’s not there to do this. Is one way that a small business could to jumpstart this process is SEO takes a long time, but paid search doesn’t. So if you think you’re going to do something and you want to find out what keywords will actually convert to businesses, you could almost use paid search or paid social as a weight – well, more paid search – to identify what the keywords are that are going to generate revenue. And then you can start to build out an SEO plan based on that.
Roger: Oh, absolutely. If you are just absolutely at square zero, because what that’s going to do is it’s going to prove three things. Does the keyword have traffic? Does your website convert? And is the keyword scalable? Meaning, can you spend more money to get it? And when you get a yes to all three of those, then SEO makes sense.
We basically are usually jumping into campaigns that have already proven a lot of that data and then figuring out how to add rocket fuel on top of it. But $250 or $500 spent over a couple of weeks on Google ad words will tell you a lot about your business. Especially if you go and even in the local marketing space, into the click to call space if your space doesn’t have the Google Guarantee Program.
Rich: All right. Roger, this has been great. And I’m sure there’s some people out there who have some revenue already, and they’re interested in kind of maximizing their SEO. For those people who might want to reach out to you, where can we send them?
Roger: Yeah, the best place would be, in fact, I just published a new book called Local SEO Secrets, and one of the things that I’m going to do is I have a link on my page, it’s rcbryan.com/local-SEO-book. They can actually go and they can download the digital copy of this book absolutely for free. I’m leaving that up for a little while longer for the book launch. We took the whole core or the whole book and turned it into a course, so every chapter is there. It’s got a great community behind it of a couple of hundred readers that are commenting and we’re making changes to the book as they comment. And it’s created a living, breathing SEO manual for anyone from beginner to intermediate in the SEO space.
And in there they can, once they sign up, they can comment on chapters. We can have a direct line of communication. There’s a link to a Facebook group in there to talk about the book, so we kind of brought all the resources together for this one.
Rich: Awesome. And we’ll make sure we have a link to that in the show notes. Roger, this has been great. Love your approach to all this, and thanks so much for your time and expertise today.
Roger: No problem, Rich. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Roger Bryan understands that marketing is not “one size fits all”, and he excels at showing his clients how to reach his customers in a way that makes sense for them. Download a digital copy of his latest book for free!
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.