709: Unlocking SEO Success: Discover the Three Essential Pillars | Damon Burton

Podcast cover image: Unlocking SEO Success: Discover the Three Essential Pillars featuring Damon Burton
Podcast cover image: Unlocking SEO Success: Discover the Three Essential Pillars featuring Damon Burton

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Are you curious about how to beat a billion-dollar company at its own game? 

Meet Damon Burton, the mastermind behind outranking giants on Google. Over a decade ago, Damon achieved a remarkable feat by outranking a billion-dollar company on Google, igniting his confidence and paving the way for success. As the founder of SEO National, Damon has built an international search engine marketing company that has served Inc. 5000 and Shark Tank-featured businesses.

Despite starting his venture before the 2008 recession, Damon thrived during challenging times, tripling his revenue during the recent pandemic. He has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, BuzzFeed, and USA Weekly, helping clients achieve unprecedented success. Get ready to learn from Damon Burton on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast!

Special Audience Giveaway: Outrank: Your Guide to Making More Online By Showing Up Higher on Search Engines and Outranking Your Competition: https://www.freeseobook.com

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Unlocking SEO Success: Discover the Three Essential Pillars


Jeff Tomlin: Welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast! Our show features successful sales leaders, marketers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs who will inspire you with their success stories. Each episode is packed with practical strategies, as our guests share their secrets to achieving their dreams. Listen in to learn the highlights of their remarkable accomplishments and get tips to revamp, rework, and reimagine your business. Whether you’re a small business owner, marketer, or aspiring entrepreneur, the Conquer Local Podcast is your ultimate guide to dominating your local market. Tune in now to take your business to the next level! 

I’m Jeff Tomlin and on this episode, we’re pleased to welcome Damon Burton.

Over a decade ago, Damon beat a billion-dollar company to outrank their website on Google. To say that gave him an injection of confidence is probably an understatement. From then on he realized he was onto something great and went on to build an international search engine marketing company that’s worked with Inc. 5000 and Shark Tank-featured businesses alike. 

Having started his business right before the 2008 recession, Damon is familiar with navigating and growing a business during tumultuous times. As an example, he tripled his revenue during the recent pandemic. Since founding his company, SEO National, in 2007, Damon has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, BuzzFeed and USA Weekly as he helps big and small clients make more in a month than they used to make in a year.

Get ready Conquerors for Damon Burton coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast.

SEO Agency Built on Referrals, Storytelling, and Social Proof.

Jeff Tomlin: Damon Burton, welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast. How are you doing, man?

Damon Burton: I’m doing good. I appreciate the opportunity to chat. I’m excited.

Jeff Tomlin: Hey, so we’re talking about the world of SEO. So you built a business with no advertising per se, so that concept is foreign to a lot of people. So tell me a little bit about what that was like, and how you got going and what it’s like to not have to spend advertising dollars.

Damon Burton: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of fun stories along the way. So I’ll give you the crash course. 17 years into running an SEO agency built it to do multiple millions per year. And like you said, a little bit ironic, running a marketing agency, don’t really do a lot of marketing ourselves, so most of that’s built on referrals. So you build a good track record and you kind of get invited into the inner circle of other successful people. And then also a lot of social proof and storytelling and just kind of sharing my view on the world. And that kind of attracts like-minded people or people that begin to establish a relationship with you subconsciously. And when they need your thing, they hit you up. 

SEO Framework: Structure, Content, and Credibility.  

Jeff Tomlin: Hey, that’s great and best way to start a business. And I remember in our early days, we couldn’t have made it without building that type of footprint and getting a lot of referrals. The world of SEO is where I sort of got my start, a special place in my heart for learning how to optimize a presence for the search engines and being discoverable. One of the things that I’ve always found is having the right framework is critical to being able to work your way through implementation of any type of effective strategy when it comes to search. So you’ve got a three-part framework that you guys work on, can maybe talk a little bit about that?

Damon Burton: Yeah, no, you’re right. Your team is going to be as good or as bad as the processes that you define and provide them. And so there’s a lot that goes into SEO, but the way I’ve kind of distilled it down over the years is those three core pillars. So one is structure, how good or bad is your website built? Simple things like does it load quickly and is it mobile friendly? The second is content, you can only show up on search engines for what Google can read. So do you clearly articulate what you offer and your value propositions? And then third, it’s a popularity contest. Do other people talk about your brand, do they link to your website?

And so when you look at those three, most of your visibility is going to come from the latter two, the content and credibility, but that’s only going to be effective if you have a solid foundation for those two to lean on. So if you start with those and keep it simple, and then we can talk about algorithms and things like that, but if you just keep it simple on those three things, you generally don’t have to worry about the next changing, evolving thing.

Jeff Tomlin: That type of approach hasn’t changed a lot since the really early days and it seems to me like the fundamentals sort of seem core, but a lot of other things have changed around the approach. A lot of things have changed in the way that search engines approach their algorithms now. And so are there specific approaches, strategies or tactics you spend more time on today than what you used to do five, or 10 years ago?

Damon Burton: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think you’re the first person that’s asked me that in that way and content definitely comes to mind. Content’s always been a big part of the strategy, but it seems like marketers like to abuse things. And so if you look at what used to work, people used to put a huge ton of influence on backlinks, and a lot of people still do, but I think that that’s kind of being devalued because Google acknowledges that people are kind of manipulating the game with that. And so I’ve seen the external credibility and links still play a part, but it seems like it’s getting diluted and it’s being offset with content. And we’ve seen some people just absolutely crush it by being forward front heavy on content and a little bit passive on links where if you put out good content, you can attract links naturally. And so just that influence on that has definitely come to the spotlight over the years.

Investment in SEO depends on Competitiveness, Maturity, and Location. 

Jeff Tomlin: You emphasize with people that they should focus on trying to generate free business from search engines as opposed to paying for traffic from search. I guess, I mean, it’s a little bit of a misnomer because there’s a realistic investment that you have to put in to performing well in search. Maybe talk a little bit about that investment. I mean, obviously depending on the competitiveness of the category and the maturity of the business that you’re talking about, there’s different types of investments that are acquired, but in a typical type of business, talk a little bit about the investment that they have to make if they really want to be competitive in search today?

Damon Burton: Yeah, and you mentioned a great word, maturity because that has a big influence on the investment, also the timeframe on your return. So sometimes we can come in and if a website’s established and especially if they have historical content, but earlier I touched on how we got structure, content and credibility as the pillars. So sometimes if there’s a business with historical content in that second pillar, but that first pillar of structure is not the best, you got a slow website, it doesn’t have a good clean design, sometimes you can come in and just fix that structure and instantly amplify that content. So instead of the usual six months to a year, we’ve seen people break even in three months. And so as far as investment timeframe, there’s a lot of truth to the general reply of a year, and then you get what you pay for.

And so you’re probably on the low end for a good SEO 2,500 a month, and then it’s going to go up from there. I’d say an average is 3,500 to 5K a month. And the way that I look at it is you can kind of break down the competitiveness and the cost based on time. And so are you in a competitive market? Well, that requires more content or more assets, that’s more time and that’s more cost. Are you local in a city versus national, versus international? So all of those are kind of variables, but there’s some truth behind the year average.

AI Impacting SEO, Missed Storytelling Opportunities, and Standing out from AI. 

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah. Give me your take on where the future of SEO is sort of going. We’ve seen a lot of big changes in this past year, a lot of talk about AI, how people are using AI, and then how AI is actually impacting search itself and voice search and everything. Give me your take on the crystal ball and what do things look like to you when you look out a year, two years, three years?

Damon Burton: It’ll be interesting to see. Generally, my reply is probably anticlimactic compared to others because when we talk about those three pillars, you gave a great example of voice. So if we look in the rearview mirror at all the major algorithm updates, the big voice update, the mobile-friendliness update in 2016 or the huge super ones from 2011 and 2012 of Panda and Penguin, all of those were of those three core pillars. And so if we look at the mobile-friendliness algorithm update, basically Google’s just saying, well, which websites load quick and fast for a mobile device? Okay, so that’s kind of that structure pillar that has content that we trust and so content and credibility. So far, every algorithm you can kind of back into those three pillars. Now, what’s interesting about AI is if we look at AI as a standalone kind of thing, it depends on the industry you’re in. If you look at the, I got the celebration-

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, nice. I love it.

Damon Burton: Going on here with the emoji, I did the two hands up. So if you look at, depending on the vertical you’re in, if you’re in a knowledge vertical where your model depends on ads, display ads because you attract people for content queries, that’s been impacted greatly. But if you look at other categories such as commerce, it hasn’t had a huge impact because you can’t buy products from ChatGPT. And what I think a lot of people look over is the missed opportunity in storytelling because AI, I don’t have to talk about why AI is amazing, but I think a lot of people gloss over the fact that it’s making lazy people lazier. And so what that creates is an opportunity, if you can come in and tell unique stories and have value propositions, then you’re going to stand out from the standardized canned AI replies a lot of people are starting to lean on.

Misconceptions in SEO still Exist, but are Fading Over Time. 

Jeff Tomlin: Nice, nice. You talked a little about commerce. There’s been changes in the search engines over the years that have really impacted some different business categories like the changes in local search impacted a whole bunch of different local search categories greatly. What categories or industries are doing particularly well these days as compared to ones that may have been impacted negatively by changes that Google has made in the past?

Damon Burton: I could answer that two ways. I mean, one’s my direct experience and one’s my indirect experience that you just catch the hearsay through the industry. And so the hearsay is it’s always different. I mean, one example was a couple of years ago there was a big medical update. So industries that were in the medical space really got hammered. And if you kind of deconstruct why, it’s because Google, again is just serving those three core pillars, and there was a lot of artificially inflated content in the medical space. And so then they kind of caught onto the patterns of that and then crushed that. And I think that’s another kind of vote on the topic of AI is if you’re not leveraging quality control in your AI output, then you’re going to set yourself up for failure as well, for the same reasons, because Google has a head start in looking for patterns in mass-produced low-quality content, and there’s a huge chunk of the crowd in the SEO space that’s doing exactly that. But it just depends on what space you’re in and my direct experiences, I haven’t had a huge negative impact from algorithm updates because if you focus on just those three core pillars, you are less likely to get distracted by shiny objects and try and cut corners and you protect yourself from our long-term wins instead of short-term gains.

Jeff Tomlin: Do you see a specific set of misconceptions that keep popping back up? I remember, well, for the longest time there’s been a lot of different misconceptions people have about search and about SEO in particular. You can jump in and it’s something that you do to a page, you optimize it and you should see results. Are there misconceptions, big misconceptions that still exist today that you address on a regular basis?

Damon Burton: It comes and goes. I had the opportunity to do a book on SEO and one of the whole chapters is about this is about myths and falsehoods. And so there’s some that are consistent, some that have kind of faded for good a little bit more is the misconception of stuffing Meta keywords. Those have been dead for over a decade. Google literally doesn’t even look at Meta keywords. And so I don’t hear that one so much anymore, but one that actually came up just last week that I haven’t, I hear it every once in a while, hasn’t gone away, but I’m surprised to the depth in which some people still believe. So it’s not the masses, it’s just kind of one-off. But I had a lead last week that brought to the table a desire to pursue the path that their competition was going after, which was wildly inaccurate, and it was making 10 gazillion pages for 10 gazillion cities that were all identical in content, and all you do is swap out the city and the state name. So that one was surprising to see the passion behind that individual on that concept. So I don’t hear it as much in the masses, but you definitely get the one-off still.

Measuring Progress and Setting Realistic Expectations in SEO Campaigns. 

Jeff Tomlin: So speaking of that, as you’re implementing, I guess a campaign around SEO, and typically you have a larger or a longer-term program, so something you’re going to work on for a particular company for six months to 12 months, what are the measures of success that you have along the way? Ultimately, you want to drive traffic and the company wants its door to swing and it’s cash register to ring. So ultimately at the end of the day, it’s sort of about driving revenue, but what are the measures that you look at in place to know that you’re progressing on the right path and you’re finding success as you’re implementing an SEO campaign?

Damon Burton: You said the secret word, progress. So I’m glad we get to kind of come back on this topic because earlier I touched on, there’s truth behind the average of 12 months a lot of people talk about, but here’s a good thing for two audiences. One, if you’re a shopping, SEO, and then two, if you are an SEO agency, here’s an opportunity to help educate your lead. So what happens is a lot of people in SEO will say, “Wow, it takes a year, it takes 12 months,” but what they fail to communicate to the lead, and what the lead fails to understand is the realistic expectations and why it takes 12 months. And so it’s not like 12 months later, all of a sudden the switch flips and it’s raining money. The difference between that is progress versus monetization. So what that means is you’ll see your website increasing up the rankings on Google. So let’s say when you start, your SEO agency should do what I call a pre-SEO report. So after you go dig through the data and you find what you can monetize, you should benchmark where you currently stand, and so you can measure the progress of that. So let’s say you’re on page 10 for a handful of your keywords, you should see that move from page 10 to page eight and then eight to page five. So you can see progress in three to six months, six to nine months, but you probably won’t monetize it until it gets to page one because page one is 90% of the traffic. And so that’s the difference is do you have realistic expectations for that timeframe and have you been communicated as to why there’s a difference between the progress? So you can see progress, but you have to be realistic about monetizing it.

Jeff Tomlin: I love that you brought that up because one of the things that we talk about here is that a lot of agencies sort of fall down in holding the client’s hand along the journey and show them the actual progress that’s being made. One of the things that we say around here is that, “Hey, your agency needs a Domino’s Pizza tracker.” Not the pizza tracker, but this is the way that people are used to seeing progress. Now you order a pizza, you can see it going into an oven, it’s being put in the car, it’s on its way. Just ordering an Uber or getting something through FedEx, you can see all the way along the progress that it’s making to your door, and you don’t get the satisfaction from your pizza purchase until it’s in your mouth. But it is the same thing as a business, you won’t see that monetization until you get to page one. But it’s important to know and understand if you’re making progress or not. So I like that story. It resonates a lot with us here.

Damon Burton: That and proactively setting expectations is probably one of the single greatest things you can do as an agency and not, you said, hold their hand and you need to proactively hold their hand, and you also need to not be a yes man. And so if the client’s like, “Am I going to make money in two weeks?” “No.” And tell them why though. And so the more that you can get them on your side and educate them, the more they can help you help them.

Set Clear Expectations for Successful Marketing Campaigns. 

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah. Damon, if you had some takeaways for the crowd, what would they be?

Damon Burton: Expectations. Yeah, I mean, I’ll double down on the recent topic is you as whether you’re a shopping SEO or any marketing, no matter, there’s pros and cons to any form of marketing, and they all have great potential advantages. And so what you’re looking for as you embark on a campaign is educating yourself, and then you as an agency owner or a participant should educate your audience because the more transparent everybody has a clear understanding on what the processes are, the better the engagement, the higher the success rate, the better the retention. So make sure you either get clear expectations as a customer or you set expectations for your customer.

Get your Copy of Damon Burton’s Book, ‘Outrank,’ Available for Download on his Website.

Jeff Tomlin: That’s a great and poignant point because I remember reading a survey that was done a number, probably three or four years ago on client satisfaction with the different marketing agencies that they’re working with. And the number one problem that people voiced with working with an agency was misaligned expectations. And so that just reinforces your point, the number one probably most important thing that people could think about. Damon, if people wanted to continue the conversation and reach out to you, how do they get in touch with you?

Damon Burton: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. Super simple. DamonBurton.com. On there, you can get all my social contact. And if you want to jump into the world of SEO, you can also download a free copy of my book.

Jeff Tomlin: And name of the book?

Damon Burton: Outrank.

Jeff Tomlin: Outrank. Damon Burton, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the Conquer Local Podcast. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to join us here.

Damon Burton: Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity.


Jeff Tomlin: That was a great chat with Damon. Here’s a couple of takeaways that I noted. First, we delved into the 3 Pillar Framework for SEO Success—structure, content, and credibility. The structure involves factors like website speed, where content on the other hand is crucial for Google’s recognition, and lastly, credibility comes from building a trustworthy online presence.  This thinking grounds you in a timeless and foundational approach to search engine marketing.

Now, on the second takeaway, progress vs. Monetization in SEO. I like how Damon stresses the importance of realistic expectations in Search Engine Optimization progress and monetization. His proactive approach involves setting achievable benchmarks and educating clients about the timeline for results. Shifting the focus to progress over immediate monetization helps SEO agencies build trust, engage clients, and achieve long-term success. After all, SEO isn’t something that you do once and then you’re done. It needs to be an ongoing foundational philosophy on how you make your company and your content discoverable.

If you’ve enjoyed Damon Burton’s episode discussing SEO, keep the conversation going and revisit some of our older episodes from the archives: Check out Episode 627: Driving Business Growth through Effective SEO Strategies with Nic Padilla or Episode 624: Is Organic Reach Dead? Exploring Pay-to-Play vs. Organic Social Media Strategy from the Master Training Series.

Until next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome.

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