218: Modern Era SEO, with Will Scott | The New Marketing Stack

SEO permeates every facet of the modern business.

Local businesses need to be practicing SEO tactics to survive, and consumers depend on search results to make informed purchase decisions. But, as a salesperson, how do you position SEO to deliver a clear value proposition? And how does that change 30, 60, 90, or 120 days down the road?

All of your questions will be answered as we are joined by Will Scott, CEO of Search Influence, and a true pioneer in the digital space. Will launched his first website in 1994 and has been driving digital innovation in the space ever since.


George: It is the latest edition of the “ConquerLocal” podcast. We continue our special editions where we’re speaking about everything to do with the digital marketing stack for local businesses and we’re talking about every stage. And we actually might cover off a bunch of stages today because joining me on the line, he’s in Florida right now because he’s getting ready to run an Ironman on Sunday. But he hangs his hat in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world. Will Scott, the CEO of search influence. He’s probably one of the sharpest guys when it comes to SEO, started in the space in 1994 when he launched his first website and we are gonna bring him on the show to give us some insights into how to position SEO to your customer and also how to speak to the value proposition 30, 60, 90, 120 days down the road with those clients. And Will always have some great stories to tell. So we’re gonna get some of those and we’re going to fill you in on that world of search engine optimization. It’s all coming up. Will Scott, the CEO of Search Influence is next on the “ConquerLocal” podcast.

It is the latest addition to the “ConquerLocal” podcast. Thanks for joining us today. We have a special guest joining us from New Orleans, one of my favorite cities. And Will Scott, the CEO of Search Influence on the line. Will, thanks for joining us.

Will: George, thanks for asking me.

George: You know, we’re talking about the digital marketing stack that a local business needs to deploy from awareness through to, you know, your listings and your online reputation and your website and the ranking of that website, the conversion and then the advocacy that you need to get from your existing customers. And, you know, we would need to talk about SEO, who should I call? And there was just one name that came to my mind and that was you, Will, because I remember when you and I met about five-and-a-half years ago, I was speaking on a panel and somebody made some outrageous comment that was on the panel and you jumped in. And I think it was, “You don’t wanna respond to negative reviews because you’ll get negative keywords,” or I can’t remember what it was, but it’s some crazy bloody thing of not responding to a negative review, you didn’t wanna do that.

The SEO (R)evolution

George: Anyways, that’s how we met. And, you know, the purpose of this podcast is to help those sales reps that are listening to it as the training material that we try to provide on how to position this digital marketing stack. That’s our goal. And we haven’t really said it’s gonna be 6 episodes, 12, it might be 20 by the time we’re done depending upon who we’re able to bring in to speak to it. So today, let’s talk about SEO. And, you know, can you give us a bit of an overview of the SEO business and how it’s kind of evolved in the last five years?

Will: Yeah, thanks, George. I think the growth of the SEO business and the sort of changing of the SEO business from the time that I got into it. And for context, I put my first website online in 1994. So I’ve been doing this for, conservatively speaking, a long-ass time. The thing that’s most interesting to me is there’s a great scene in the movie “All That Jazz” where they dance to the song “Everything Old is New Again.” And I feel like that is just so relevant because whether we call it SEO or even now online PR or content marketing, it’s all of the same stuff.

George: Okay. So how is that that it’s all the same stuff?

Will: Will Reynolds gives a great talk in which he sort of shows how Google does things in response to what they believe are human behaviors. And then SEOs do things in response to what Google has done. And Will’s point is that instead of chasing Google, SEO should be chasing the human beings. So how do you answer the questions that they have? How do you help them get their job done? How do you help…in your case, how do you help a sales rep better understand the products that they’re trying to take to market?

So the last probably three or four years, I think there’s been a rhetorical shift from SEO to content marketing and sometimes to local search where people are talking more about how you show up well in maps and in other directory listings, something that your products do very well in helping. But this idea of SEO has perhaps become a little bit less popular than it once was.

The Value Proposition for SEO

George: So I’ve also heard it sometimes referred to as, you know, the voodoo of SEO, meaning that it’s hard sometimes to explain the benefit or what the ROI is. So if you were to sit down with a local businessperson and say, “I’m gonna help you with your SEO,” what would be the way that you would position the deliverable so that you can have that comfortable conversation 30, 60, 90 days down the road rather than an uncomfortable conversation where the client thinks they bought something that they didn’t get?

Will: It’s pretty simple. The art of SEO is being where the prospective customer is searching. So in a way back at the dawn of time, the Yellow Pages had a slogan which was. “We put buyers and sellers together.” In essence, what SEO does is puts buyers and sellers together online. And interestingly, depending on where you approach SEO, it may be at different points in the funnel. If you’re creating content that talks about a need that’s further up the funnel than the actual point of purchase, then you can be actually in the awareness phase. If you talk about things like Google listings and directory listings where someone’s actively doing a search and you want to show up on the map, that’s very much bottom of funnel, that’s transactional, they’re ready to buy. So I think that the way to position it and the way that we positioned it to our customers is you wanna be in the places where your customer is searching whether they’re just getting to know you or whether they’re at the point of purchase and there’s different tactics that work for each of those places.

George: So I have one VP of sales of a newspaper group, transitioned to a digital marketing company, I should say, that shall go nameless, but he very famously says you need to deploy onsite SEO tactics and offsite SEO tactics. Can we talk about both of those and kind of explain them so the sales rep can understand?

Will: I actually think that that’s a good starting point and I think it’s a tad simplistic. Traditionally, when we talk about onsite SEO, we’re talking about things like the title of the pages, the content on the pages. Some very low-level bit twiddling like naming images properly, right? All of those things could go into onsite SEO. And then some much more technical things like the use of schema markup to make sure that your addresses are showing up correctly and there’s schema for all kinds of things, schema for videos, schema for articles, schema for medical procedures, interestingly.

So while I believe that it’s a good sort of entry point to talk about onsite and offsite SEO, I think that when you dig down deeper, onsite SEO can be all kinds of things, some of which is very technical and some of which is marketing, right? The language you use, the calls to action, that sort of thing, those all in my mind are part of what a modern SEO wants to think about. Now I can dig deeper in offsite if you like. And that’s a place where I think, interestingly, and we use the Vendasta toolset for some of this, distribution to local directories would be an example of offsite SEO. The creation of content that you promote through PR websites and other places where you can get them placed, those are examples of offsite SEO. Finding reasons for other people to link to you, an example might be a sponsorship of a local organization, right? Those are all examples of offsite SEO. But like I said, it’s a good basic idea of onsite versus offsite, and then as you dig in, I think that the subtleties and nuances can make it something that you can have a really productive conversation about for years to come

George: So that, you know, you’re going exactly where I was hoping you would go with this. I think what the VP of sales was trying to do was to position it very simply for the local businessperson that doesn’t understand any of that. But what you started to dig into with the schema discussion…and I’ll tell you about something that happened today. I have a couple of clients that are actual end businesses because we of course deal through media companies and agencies and I don’t get to talk to too many hardware store people or a whitetail deer ranches or mortgage brokers. So I have a couple people that I deal with directly and there are people that I’ve met over the years in. And so I was talking to the marketing director, it was 33 mortgage brokers. She was going to have a meeting with her boss and her boss’s boss to justify the spend that she has against a number of tactics.

And you know, she was lamenting over it because she wants to do a great job and they don’t really know. They just know that they’re looking for some sort of result and they wanna see the till in the cash register. So we were walking through some of those things around schema and page load times and all the things that we had done to optimize their website, which, you know, excuse my French was a piece of shit when we took it over. And so pretty easy to show that we’re getting you more traffic and that the people that are coming to the website are spending more time and you’re ranking better on search. But you know, she was looking to have pages upon pages of information because she thought that more pages would show that we’d done a better job. How would you describe that call 30, 60, 90 days down the road for a rep to position it? So we’ve got our baby digital client over here, doesn’t really care too much, just wants to see some metrics, and then we’ve got the maybe a little more savvy customer we need to have a discussion with. Can we walk through both of those as to how you would do it?

Will: Well, I think that we have to help the customer understand for the first maybe 60 days an engagement like that you’re really kind of covering the bases. You’re managing the basic blocking and tackling of SEO. Can the search engines read the content on your site? Do the words and the language on your site speak to the searcher’s intent? So those are very much kind of basic stuff. And then next is, is your information accurate across all of the places where searchers might be looking and Google and other search engines might be looking to validate that you are who you say you are, right?

So those are, to me, the 30, 60, 90-day kind of discussions as well as do you have a means of telling whether or not you’re getting the results that you’re looking for? We have a phrase that we use around our office, which is, “Metrics that matter,” right? Because I can give you all kinds of metrics. I can flood you with numbers, but 99% of them don’t matter. And the one that I think your marketing director is gonna be most interested in demonstrating is does this tactic drive these leads, right? And then what’s my relative cost of this tactic relative to these leads? And that to me is, I think, you know, it’s a challenge for a lot of folks to do because they’re additive. Now paid search is easy, right? You flip a switch, leads come or they don’t come, you know if it’s working. With non-paid efforts, with organic efforts, there really is a bit of a cumulative effect.

Question Period (SEO Style)

George: So first off, setting the expectation that this is not a 30-day fix, it’s not a 60-day fix, it is 90 at the minimum or maybe even longer than that?

Will: Just this week, in fact, Tuesday afternoon we had a summit with one of our customers who has been a customer of ours actively paying us to engage in SEO for 10 years. And they’re still seeing value, right? That guy had 400 plastic surgery patients that you can attribute to SEO, and his cost for acquisition of each of those is considerably lower than his cost of acquisition of any other channel that he’s in. But, you know, it’s an ongoing process. And I used to have customers asked me all the time, “When do we get to stop paying you?” And I would say, only half joking, “When we’ve driven all your competition out of business and nobody’s graduating from school in your industry. At that point in time, you can stop paying us.”

Is the demand for SEO growing?

George: Now that is a great line. And it’s very true because, you know, the money that is invested in this tactic is a very low cost of acquisition compared to the other things that, you know, even compared to buying an ad campaign. So it’s really interesting. Do you think the demand for SEO today is higher than it was three years ago?

Will: So it’s a really interesting question. The answer is yes, but the interesting thing is that customers aren’t necessarily calling it SEO, right? In some cases, they’re calling it content marketing. In some cases, they’re even calling it social media marketing, right? Because the activity in social media and the content that one creates there could be considered as part of the bucket, which we would think of as SEO.

Should you showcase positive reviews on-site?

George: That’s a very good point. I have a question. Should I put my positive reviews of my business on my website?

Will: You know, people like me usually like to give the “it depends” answer. I think the answer is yes, right? I think that in certain cases the answer is yes. The reason that I think that is because there may be instances where you’re collecting reviews that don’t necessarily exist out on the review platforms, you know, Google and Yelp and TripAdvisor and Health Grades, and you may have great reviews from customers that don’t exist out there. And also, much of the benefit that Google confers to a business is based on the extent to which they look like a real brand. And so if I attract a user to my website and I keep them on my website, there’s a higher likelihood that Google is gonna believe that I’m a real brand, and one of the things that people are looking for is reviews from real customers. And so if you think about…back to the Will Reynolds example, if you think about helping the user get done the thing that they’re trying to do versus worrying about what Google wants you to do, then you would have some of those on your own website.

How important are GMB posts?

George: Posting on Google my Business, how big of a deal was that when they brought it out?

Will: It was a pretty big deal and we’re actually really in favor of having a regular posting schedule to the posts feature in Google My Business. Our rationale is that if you…you know, those cycled through over time, right? We used to talk this way about Twitter as well, is that part of it is because not everybody’s logged into Twitter all the time. If you’re not present with some regularity, then people aren’t gonna see your messaging. These days I tend to tell small businesses that Twitter is a complete waste of their time. However, that same kind of content, if you post with some regularity, a couple, three times a week to Google Posts associated with your Google My Business listing that has the same effect. And if you format your images correctly, you can use them for calls to action like, you know, come in to try one today, buy now, couponing, that sort of thing, which we know does have a big impact on people’s interaction with businesses.

What is the connection between GMB posts and rank?

George: So is Google going to rank you higher in search because you are participating with reviews on the map and you’re participating with Google My Business posts?

Will: So the real correct answer is no, but what’s going to happen is users are going to interact with you more through Google and Google is going to infer from that user behavior that you are a better answer to the question being asked. Google’s inference that you’re a better answer to the question being asked is a positive ranking factor, no doubt in my mind.

George: And the reason that it’s so important is because that’s the thousand-pound gorilla in the room. It’s the users that are using Google that drives that importance. So it’s interesting because I’ve heard people say, “I got to do it because Google ranks you higher,” but the reason is they got all the users and it shows that you’re interacting with a real business.

Will: Well, you know, and it’s a really nuanced answer, right? Because you could also just as easily answer yes and leave out all of the detail, the detail being it’s because of this and this and this, and Google wants to deliver to the advertiser, Google wants to deliver it to the user the best answer to their question.

What happens to inactive GMB accounts?

George: Have you saw in the last…if a business claims Google My Business, I mean goes through the steps, postcard, the whole deal, and then doesn’t touch the bloody thing for a year that it goes away?

Will: We have seen some disappear, and interestingly Google sends out emails every once in a while and says, “Hey, we noticed you haven’t logged into your account. Hey, we noticed you haven’t updated your listing,” and we’ll then turn them off. So I do think that there is a real business reason to stay active there.

How important are user signals?

George: Yeah. And then there’s this other piece. I was in Florida…see, you spurred me when you brought up Florida before we went live. I was in Florida about a year-and-a-half ago. We were trying to find this really good seafood restaurant that we found online, had some great reviews, but when we looked at the map, it said that it may be closed. And what had actually happened is there was some sort of construction on the road and people couldn’t get to the restaurant on the road that it is going towards. You had to do this big detour and they just basically said, “Don’t bother going there, it’s closed,” you know. So if you’re not interacting with those pages, and this just isn’t Google My Business, this is others, the user could impact your data.

Will: Well, and in fact, you know, we’ve heard from folks who work at Google that they treat that user data with almost as much credibility as they treat the business owner’s data. If they get a preponderance of signals from users there are different than what they get from the business owner, then that’s what they’re gonna believe.

Are local business owners becoming more tech savvy?

George: So it’s interesting, in your opinion, SEO is a bigger business today, bigger opportunity. Could that be because we have a group of business owners that are becoming a little bit more tech savvy?

Will: Well, I think, you know, the great news about having all of the sales efforts out there is that we tend to educate the market. So even if they didn’t go to a seminar, you know, even if they didn’t go to one of the sessions that you put on with your local newspaper and media clients, even if they didn’t come to one of our local university sessions, they’re gonna be educated by the people who call them on the phone every day saying, “Hey, this is important.” So I think that the demand is actually being driven a lot by the sales efforts. So if you can be the one who was there at the time of need and you can speak smartly about what it is that you’re going do to help, I think that the business owner knows they need it, they often don’t know where to go, and you know, it’s the savvy salesperson who’s there and who assures them that their experience in businesses like theirs says that that works.

Search Influence & Will Scott

George: So I didn’t get a chance…I wanted to leave it until the end here to ask about Search Influence. You know, you’ve been doing this for quite some time. You’ve got a great business there in New Orleans. Give us the 60-second plug on Search Influence and how things have been going.

Will: Well, we’re in our 13th year as Search Influence. We, as many companies that have been around that long, have gone through a number of iterations. You know, our vision is that we wanna have a positive impact on one every charged marketer and company whether they work for us or not. And to that end, we spend a lot of energy in making sure that our teams are the best they can be in the areas that they work. We, like you, have worked with media companies and newspapers, in some instances a backend fulfillment of their SEO and social media. And we’ve also developed products that streamline that process for other marketing companies. So we are ostensibly a digital marketing agency for whom a lot of our work has been in a white label forms for media companies and also a successfully managing fulfillment for companies that might seem to be competitive with us.

George: So the New Orleans market has been good to you because I think, we talked about this a couple of years back, you said it’s been good for you finding talent in that market.

Will: We’re not afraid to train and I think that that means that any market that has smart people in it is a good market for us. I jokingly say that we are the number one training organization for digital marketing in the Gulf South because oftentimes people will come to us, learn their craft, and then move onto places like HubSpot and fidelity in Boston, right? It is a good market for us. We’re finding more and more a need for greater professional maturity and so we’re hiring less at the very entry level, but we do still feel like that’s an important part of our role is add that knowledge regardless of whether it sticks with us or not.

Will Scott’s Favorite Resources

George: So I know that you’ve been running up a storm here lately over the last two years, but I know that that’s not the only thing you do outside of work. I wanna ask about what you’re listening to as far as podcasts are concerned, what books are you reading, you know, what blogs, where is will Scott going to learn the latest and greatest?

Will: A mentor of mine once said that nothing happens until something gets sold. And so for that reason, as a business leader, I do spend a fair amount of my time reading and listening to sales and marketing. You remarked on running, but there’s also swimming and biking in there too. The reason I’m in Florida right now is because on Sunday I’m gonna take part in Ironman Florida.

George: Nice.

Will: So, you know, so I’m a big fan of the “Cut the Crap” podcast because it gives you sort of great bytes of information on books that I think we all should probably be reading. And unless you’re an endurance athlete like me, you may not have several hours a week all by yourself with headphones in. And, you know, the other stuff that I’m absorbing right this minute, because this is my first full Ironman and I’m a little bit anxious about it, is I’m doing a lot, a lot of sport listening. I listen to one of your countrymen quite a lot, a guy named Triathlon Taren who’s in Winnipeg, I believe, which may or may not be colder than Saskatoon, I don’t know.

George: Well, on the corner of Portage and Main it is. Yes, they call it “Winterpeg” for a reason.

Will: Well, that’s a lot of my listening. I’ve also lately been…I just finished one of Deepak Chopra’s early works because I think it’s really important to manage the way in which you respond. My two top favorite books right this second are “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, and Ryan Holiday, this one’s a few years old and he looks at stoicism with a bit of a modern lens. And I joke that, you know, stoicism is basically that internet meme where you see something really tragic with the headline, “So this happened,” right? And that’s really what it is, is that anytime something happens, two things happen, right? There’s the thing that happened, and then there’s your response to it, right? Typically, you can’t control the thing that happened. All you can really control is your response to it, right? And then the other one is a book called “Born to Run,” which is this great story of this epic race with a bunch of American ultra runners and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

George: So interesting fact, when I first met you, you weren’t doing endurance races and things like that. You made a big lifestyle change.

Will: I did. I did. I like to tell people, “Don’t let your business try to kill you.”

George: And I can’t wait for that book, when you write that book, or maybe you’re in the throes of writing it right now, that story, because I think it’s quite inspiring and I see you online, see you running, I didn’t know about the swimming and the biking part, but a good for you on the Ironman. That is very, very impressive. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I know that you’re quite busy and you got a busy schedule. Search Influence is a juggernaut in that New Orleans market and you’ve got a lot of very happy customers. I happen to know a number of them and they’re very pleased with the work that you and your teams have been doing. I appreciate your insight. I think that there definitely are some nuggets in there for our audiences. They’re out talking about SEO and helping their customers find new leads and new opportunities. So thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Will: My pleasure, George, thanks for taking this on. It’s a great service you provide.


George: Well, always entertaining to speak to Will. I’ve had the privilege of running into him at conventions and seeing him speak. His content is always bang-on. And interesting, everything old is new again. And I think what he’s referring to, and he really dug into that, this content marketing thing and social media marketing thing, that is SEO. If you take that content and you provision it properly, it can help your rank because what you really should be concerned, don’t be concerned about Google. Be concerned about the people that are looking for your content and Google will be happy with that because that’s what they’re tracking is what the users are doing online. I was glad that he was able to dispel that myth that just by getting Google reviews and posting on Google My Business will get you a better search rank. He added to it, you get the better search rank because that’s where 83% of all consumers go to do their searches and that’s where they’re interacting with that content.

So again, you have to do the tactics to get the result, not necessarily if you do that Google is going to give you the rank. And interestingly enough, he talked more about getting your listings correct and making sure that you position it that in your first 60 days you’re just to cover the bases and there really isn’t gonna be a deliverable for about 90 days. And then that one piece that I thought was really inspiring with the customer that he has been working with on their SEO for 10 years is as long as you run all your competitors out of business and nobody else graduates from being a plastic surgeon at the university, you could stop doing SEO, but up until that point you better keep doing it. So very interesting and very thought-provoking from Will Scott. I think that as a salesperson, there are nuggets in there that you can take into your next call to position those tactics for success of the client and your success as the salesperson and the professional expert in the space.

We have more episodes. We continue to cover the digital marketing stack for local SMEs and SMBs. It is the “ConquerLocal” podcast and I really appreciate the feedback that we’ve been getting online through my LinkedIn page. That is the best way to get ahold of me is on LinkedIn, and I read every single comment that we get. I respond to every comment, even the spam of people saying that they’ll put me at the top of iTunes in their professional podcast promoters. So anyways, I read them all and I’m looking for that feedback. That’s actually where this series came from was from you the listener saying, “Why don’t you do something around digital marketing stack? Why don’t you bring in some experts?” That’s what we’re doing and we’re gonna continue to do it until we have given you all of the items that you need to be successful in positioning the local digital marketing stack to your customers. My name is George Leith. I will see you when I see you.

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