Season 1, Episode 7: SEO — The Gift That Keeps on Giving
In this week’s episode of Outsmart, your hosts Nicole Allen and Rex Petrill kick back and chat strategy with TEAM LEWIS Managing Director of SEO, Nicole Grodesky.
In this episode we discuss:
- How SEO integrates into an omnichannel marketing strategy
- Going back to basics to create long-lasting content that drives traffic
- The power in understanding and quantifying the value of SEO
Nicole G: Basically, one piece of content can just take off like wildfire. And that’s what happened with this particular client that called SEO the gift that keeps on giving. We had one piece of content that just took off and started ranking for a bunch of different keywords, and we just felt like that particular post just kept giving us traffic. It just keeps performing. And that’s the golden ticket right there.
Rex: Welcome back to another episode of Outsmart with TEAM LEWIS. We are your hosts, Rex and Nicole, and this week, we are thrilled to be joined by our head of SEO, Nicole Grodesky. And Nicole, you’ve taught me and countless other colleagues more about SEO than I knew there was even to learn. So, who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself and also where did all this passion come from?
Nicole G: My SEO career, if you can believe it, started in surf journalism. And that started because I was competing on a professional level. And I just saw that, like, oh, there’s a world champion surfer that is sitting next to me. Maybe I can interview that person and publish this story. And then that just evolved into creating a website, writing, and publishing my own content. And then someone that was helping me with the development of the website was like, hey, check out these keywords in Google Analytic, what’s your top performing article? And I was like, what? And somebody else actually showed me, and I was like, oh, okay, so if I write about, like, things that people are searching on, we’re going to get more traffic. And at the time, it was just like kind of an entrepreneur type thing, like, oh, maybe I could create my own business and make money, and I could be my own boss. And then I realized how much money you need to invest in content and how much traffic you needed to make money off, like, Google AdSense. SEO is definitely one of those things where you learn as you go, like, you learn from other people. It’s not really taught in schools. You kind of have to teach yourself, read a lot of industry publications, kind of see what everyone else is doing and talking about, and also just be kind of that scientist and put your hypothesis to work and test them and see what works and what doesn’t work. And I still do a lot of that. So that’s kind of, in a nutshell, who I am and how I got started. So, yeah, if anyone asks, I got started in SEO with surfing.
Nicole A: I love that your original passion, surfing, sort of led to this newfound career passion for you. That’s an awesome story.
Nicole G: Yeah, it’s crazy how it all ties together and then one thing leads to the next, and you’re like, oh, I have this full-on career, and it’s pretty awesome.
Nicole A: I’m curious, Nicole, you mentioned content, which obviously is a huge key to a successful SEO strategy. But one thing that I’ve heard you talk a lot about just inside our conversations is starting from a foundation of research. So, what role do you see research playing in SEO?
Nicole G: Your strategy starts with understanding how people are searching for things related to your industry, right? Whether you have a certain type of service or product offering, people are asking questions. I call it kicking tires. You know what I mean? Like, if you’re going to, everyone here does it right? Everyone here before they buy something, whether it’s tires for your car, new sneakers, a phone, even a water bottle, like, you’re probably researching things and asking questions. And so, understanding what people are searching for in Google to find your product or service offering is a huge part of it. So, you can do that using various research tools. You can look at your competitors. You can look at Google AdWords, the keyword Planner, which is what a lot of paid search people use. Google doesn’t give you that data and Google Analytics level, so it’s a lot of just kind of guesswork. So, you have to use your tools, and Google makes you pay for it. But they allow us to use Google keyword planner for free, so we have access to that data, which is cool.
Rex: With the research, with just all these different pieces, that SEO is a connective tissue across us because we can talk about Google in one sense, but we’ve had conversations just about the levels that other digital channels are playing into SEO and how they all impact people’s perceptions of brands and the research that they’re doing in products and things like that. So, at the risk of greatly oversimplifying it, hopefully not alienating all of our SEO practitioners, we typically see SEO bucketed into two categories. You’ve got technical SEO, things like the site tagging, page speed, site architecture, and then you’ve got content and keyword strategies like keyword mapping and content clusters and back linking. Technical SEO is crucial, and it could be its whole own episode. We could deep dive into that all day long, but that’s kind of table stakes and that everybody has to be doing it. You have to do technical SEO. There are kind of best practices that are accepted across the industry, and you have to be doing those things to be successful. The second bucket, though, I think, is where a lot of your expertise and the team’s expertise comes into play, is how do we take this strategy around content and keywords and really help clients understand. Just like back to your surfing example. You’re like, oh, man, these types of keywords are really resonating with the audience. This is what I should be prioritizing. How do you have that conversation with clients?
Nicole G: Working on the basics is what I call it in surfing. One day, I’m trying to do really technical things, sometimes it’s good to just get back to the basics. And I think getting back to the basics in marketing is like keyword intent, like top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel, and looking at content from that perspective. Also, we kind of have to get a little technical with the content side of things. When I say technical, I mean like, keywords have a difficulty score, and we have a domain authority, our website, that we’re trying to rank, and then the competitors also have a domain authority. And so that’s where it gets kind of technical. But it’s also very strategic. Like, okay, here’s a keyword that is relevant to our product or service offering, and it has decent amount of search volume. And when I say search volume, I mean people are searching for this particular keyword, and then it has a lower difficulty score, one that your website could rank for. So that’s where you get strategic. And sometimes I will lose clients on that one, I’ll be honest. But I try to take it from an educational standpoint of telling them why and here’s the search results. When you show search results for target keyword for your client and the competitors are showing up, that’s what gets them fired up. So, a lot of times it’s that kind of competitiveness that you’re like, we can write better content than this. Come on, guys, let’s do it.
Nicole A: I’m curious when you’re talking about, we want our clients to do well at their job and to succeed, right? SEO is sort of one of those tactics or channels, forgive me, that you really need to be patient and look ahead for the long haul when you’re looking at how to measure success. And I know that you had a client who recently said to you after you presented a report, they said something along the lines of, SEO is the gift that just keeps on giving, Nicole. So, do you agree with that? And why do you think that SEO, if it is a gift that keeps on giving, why is it often overlooked in marketing budgets? And how can we help marketers prioritize their organic search efforts?
Nicole G: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. That’s a loaded question. So first, the gift that keeps on giving means that, like, you know, if you were to compare paid search to organic search, right? It’s like paid search, you have to continually pay for that keyword to get visibility and get impressions and get clicks. Organic search, it might take a little while to rank for that particular keyword, but usually once you solidify a spot on page one of Google, you can consistently get rankings and traffic through that keyword. And sometimes when a piece of content is like a snowball effect, right, it starts to pick up even more keywords, keywords that you weren’t even targeting. Long tail keyword variations, like, basically one piece of content can just take off like wildfire. And that’s what happened with this particular client that called SEO the gift that keeps on giving. We had one piece of content that just took off and started ranking for a bunch of different keywords and we just felt like that particular post just kept giving us traffic. It just keeps performing. And that’s the golden ticket right there. That’s what you want to do. You want to build many pieces of content that perform that well, but sometimes you always have that one that just outperforms all the other pieces of content and it kind of sets the bar. So, you’re constantly trying to achieve success like that. And how to convince clients. So, a lot of times, people in general, everyone, don’t really understand the value of SEO because it’s hard to tie any kind of ROI to it. But I’ve worked on a formula that can kind of show the value of it, and there’s a way to estimate how much traffic you could get per keyword based on your inquisition. And you can also multiply the estimated organic search traffic by how much it would cost to pay for that click, and then you get a value for a keyword. So, if marketers thought of SEO as like, there’s this list of keywords that I want to rank for and know the value of it, and then you know the investment, and then you can kind of calculate an ROI. So, that’s one way to kind of pull back the curtain a little bit. I did that recently with a discovery call for a prospective client and they were like, wow, no one’s ever shown us that way of looking at it. So, I think it’s really important to understand the value of SEO and then also how it can impact your business. Right? There’s a lot of brands out there that have great domain authorities, good technical set up, like Rex said, but no keyword content strategy. They’re just writing a bunch of content and they’re not keeping track of their content and they’re not keeping track of the keywords that they’re targeting. And if you were to audit their content, you’re like, you’ve written about XYZ ten times, so you’re not expanding your overall share of voice and your overall reach if you’re consistently competing against yourself. And then therefore you’re not ranking for anything.
Rex: When you bring the data to the table, because in my day job as head of paid media, I would never counsel a client that continuously dumping money into paid search is going to be a better long-term strategy than owning that content. And having a clear content strategy that long term is going to pay off 1000-fold over a paid search strategy. Nicole, like you mentioned, we can show movement very quickly on paid, but it’s certainly not sustainable at the levels that the organic channel and the overall consumer behavior. And you’ve seen a lot of brands invest very heavily in their brand awareness and content strategies and then be able to effectively pull back on some of those branded paid search campaigns because it’s just not necessary. Because they’re ranking so highly for their content, they have such good authority and they have such good direction for how their content and how their audience is engaging with their brand that they just no longer have to invest in those more protective, basic branded search. And over the long haul, they can reinvest that, save money into other marketing activities, or expanding content, reaching out into new areas. So, it is harder because Marketers, Simon was on this podcast not that long ago talking about the role of the CMO and how they get one and a half to two years. We know that a long-term SEO strategy has to take years into account. Like, you have to be playing the long game. And that is not an easy, I guess, task to turn around sometimes to your leadership and say, no, trust us, in a couple of months this is really going to pay off. Every single time it does. And the reports and the ranking scores that you’re able to show are truly, truly impactful for a business. Much more so than just saying, let’s go spend $100,000 on a campaign that may live for a moment in time. And certainly, if it’s not executed well, it’s going to just die out and be a flash in the pan versus could you have maybe allocated some of that money to building a longer-term content, to how the audience is actually searching for people in your industry or in your brand space or things like that?
Nicole G: Yeah, absolutely. What’s crazy is I’ve come across that SEO kind of has a spammy tone to it. People hear SEO and they’re like, oh yeah, whatever, it’s backlinks, it’s Google updates, it’s dead. And I think bridging that gap of like, its organic search compared to paid search. SEO equals organic search, which also equals content marketing, content strategy, they’re all the same thing. To me, SEO is synonymous with content marketing. It’s the same thing, right? You can just boil down SEO to probably two things: content and links. But obviously it’s so much more than that. But if you have the right keyword strategy and you apply that to your content, yes, you’re going to need internal links, you’re going to need backlinks. It’s just really important that everyone’s on the same page, whether it’s your web developer, your branding person, your marketing person, your CEO, your CMO, everyone needs to understand the value of SEO and the importance of it. And when you make big, huge shifts within the organization, it’s like, okay, we need somebody to watch the technical side of things. We need somebody to watch the content side of things and just hold people accountable and just have it as one of those internal checklists. A lot of it is just really too just like communication internally and just everyone being on the same page. I think that helps too with SEO because I feel like sometimes people, even including myself, have felt like SEO is like this strange, weird thing, and I’m working in the dark. And the approach that I bring to the client is, I want to turn that light switch on. I want you to be able to see the strategy. I want you to be able to see the potential. I want you to see the value so that everyone’s on the same page and working towards the same goals. You can remarket within Google’s page search, right. Display network. Facebook, Instagram, right?
Rex: Yeah. Any channel. It’s amazing. I know that anything that we can bring to the websites is just another opportunity to engage and reengage with customers throughout the funnel and do it in smart ways. And just having that higher level of traffic that you’re essentially not having to generate through paid to begin with can massively boost efficiency in ROI.
Nicole A: Well, in telling that bigger story, too, Nicole, you mentioned SEO being kind of in spammy or in a silo or doing it alone in a dark room. But when you tell that bigger picture, it helps lend to the value the SEO really brings. And we talk a lot about this too, if we’re talking to a client about PR, oh, what good is your mention in Forbes if when someone goes to Google or just search for your company, you’re not even showing up on page one, right, or you’re showing up five companies down, or whatever the case may be. So, it’s really kind of tagging it in with an omnichannel strategy and telling that bigger story.
Nicole G: If you can own a certain aspect of your digital marketing, of course you want to do that, right? That’s what PR it’s more like own media. Right. But then you get placements, so you earn those placements. SEO is kind of the same thing. You want to kind of control that narrative, and you want to try to earn those rankings, but then you can also use that content. You’re going to probably earn those rankings anyways, so you might as well apply that strategy and then promote that content through your channels that you’re going to use during this campaign, whatever your campaign is. Right. And there definitely should be an always on aspect of SEO. You can have two articles a month or two pieces of content that are rolled up into a campaign that a company is running. But then you can also have two just always on pieces that you’re running. But you should always have a promotional strategy behind every piece of content that you’re writing. Promote it to LinkedIn, all your social media channels, maybe drive some traffic, maybe not through paid search, depending on your budget. But yeah, it’s really important to understand that you want to, like, be active off-site, but you also want to make sure that it’s tying into what you’re doing on-site, too.
Rex: Yeah, it’s having that connective thread across that content and having it work in so many different channels and work as hard as it possibly can. Worst case scenario is it’s a marketing communications piece that lives in a silo that somebody wrote about because it was interesting to them, versus how does it fit into the overall strategy and how to make sure that every other team knows that this great piece of content exists and how do we turn it into something that’s more useful for a longer-term play. How do you build it out into a campaign strategy? How do you take it and make sure that it is optimized for SEO and that people actually are craving that content. And the answer to the question that you’re hopefully answering through this piece of content. So, I think that is an incredibly crucial point that SEO can sit at the center of all this and connect all these different pieces from a content marketing standpoint that is often overlooked because like you said, Nicole, there are some people think like black hat strategies or things like that or artificially and we’ve all had those laughing conversations with clients to be like no, no, no – that’s not really what’s at stake here.
Nicole A: Question for you, Nicole, because I feel like we’ve been in a couple of these conversations before. With content now becoming more and more snackable and more visual too, where do you see SEO playing in? I feel like the definition of content is changing and the way that we capture users’ attention, and more and more we have clients who want websites that are incredibly visual and interactive and don’t have as many sort of pillar pages or don’t have longer form blogs attached to them. So how do you counsel clients who are looking for more of kind of the flashier approach to content?
Nicole G: So, we know that Google is all about quality content and how they define quality content. They have a whole guide on it. It’s really boring, but they straight up tell us like, here’s your quality guidelines, right? So, anything that gets a user to interact with your page to them is a quality signal. So, time on site, pages per visit, lower bounce rates, those are all tied into quality. So interactive content can boost your time on site, it can boost your average page per visit. So, I would say, yeah, go for it. Create some really cool interactive content with a keyword strategy in mind. Actually, creating interactive flashy content is an SEO strategy in of itself. You just got to make sure that you’re applying that keyword strategy to it. And then it’s also tying into what customers are like, basically tying into the funnel and the customer journey so that you can basically use that piece of content to help drive sales or leads, whatever your KPIs are.
Rex: Because we’re talking about interactive content and all these, we all know we’re not turning a blind eye to this, that anything that Google is doing has a massive impact in my world and paid and across the marketing landscape, and that they’re incentivized to try to make their products the number one go to for consumers, be it YouTube searches or things like that. So, anything that we can do for client’s sites to be more discoverable by these channels and making sure that you’re implementing those tags on interactive pieces, on photos, things like that, is incredibly crucial. On that note, what are you excited about in 2022 or beyond in the SEO space? Like, what’s next? We talked about automation on paid media and the privacy landscape, but what’s hot in SEO?
Nicole G: I’ve been doing this for over ten years now, and I think it’s honestly, the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Publish content for the user. So, I think that, again, it’s just back to the basics. Like, know your audience, know your user, know what they’re searching for, let them eat cake, give them what they want, and just keep feeding the beast. And when I say the beast, I mean Google Boom. Yeah, that’s SEO. And like, that’s never going to change. But I think what’s going to change is how people consume content, right? And so, creating that really cool piece of interactive content, you know, like, that’s changed more than just writing a long form, text heavy blog post, right? That’s table stakes. The long form, how to do answering questions with internal links, strategic internal links, driving to other pages, that’s kind of table stakes nowadays with SEO. Leveling up, that’s going to be harder, right? That’s going to be like more investment, because now you’re incorporating creative, you’re incorporating a video guy, you’re incorporating web development. Like, now it’s becoming more time intensive, more expensive. That’s more of an investment. So really understanding the value of SEO is going to be really important when it comes to creating that type of content. And then you’re really going to need to have everyone on board with it. So, I would say what I’m most excited about is seeing how that attitude towards organic search and SEO changes as the digital marketing world evolves. Are people going to start to invest in SEO again? Are people going to start to see the value of it again? And my feeling is yes. I think it’s going to be just as important as ever, and hopefully we’ll have our time again. I feel like it kind of peaked earlier in 2010 and it’s kind of flatlined, mostly because social media is so much cooler, right? Like, everyone wants to be dealing with influencers and be behind different kind of social media platforms. SEO just kind of has that not cool kid vibe to it, or it’s the cool kid that is too cool for school kind of vibe, and that’s not really how it should be felt and seen. So hopefully more and more people entering the workforce will want to get involved in SEO, because I do feel like it’s kind of hard. If I wanted to hire somebody right now to do SEO, it’d be really hard to find somebody, honestly that has experience. So, I think, yeah, there’s two things that I’m really excited about as far as content marketing, organic search, lead strategy, and SEO. People see the value and want to invest from the top down.
Nicole A: Nicole, I’m going to get you a shirt that just says be the beast. That’ll be your mantra for SEO in 2022. Feed the beast.
Nicole G: What do you do for a living? I feed the beast.
Nicole A: Yes, exactly. Awesome. Well, Nicole, thank you so much for joining Rex and myself on outsmart. I wouldn’t be surprised if we welcome you back in the future. I think there’s a lot more that we can talk about here. So, thanks for sharing your story, and we’ll see you in the office, hopefully.
Nicole G: Thanks so much, guys, for taking time to talk SEO, and I appreciate it. All your questions are awesome and look forward to chatting more in the future.