What's a quick, easy, inexpensive, and relatively painless way to establish thought leadership while also generating business?
On this week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, SEO expert and author Phil Singleton shares the strategy he uses with his marketing clients. In this detailed interview, he takes us through the process of developing a keyword strategy, writing blogs, creating an ebook, publishing it on Amazon Kindle (and even as a hard copy for order!), and then leveraging that as a vehicle for getting guest interviews on podcasts.
Sounds complicated, but Phil shows how simple and easy it can be.
Phil Singleton (guest): Hey, Kathleen. Thank you so much for being here. I'm so excited.
Kathleen: Yeah, thanks for joining me. Phil, tell the listeners a little bit about who you are, your background, and what you do.
(Here's Phil and I recording the podcast)
Phil: So, I guess I'm a web designer and SEO consultant. That's really kind of the core tactics we deliver, but it's funny, because I didn't come into the business with graphic designer code or anything like that. I actually studied in school to be in business and finance, and I thought I was going to work on Wall Street back in the day.
But yeah, I rolled out of school, ended up having to work for an insurance company, because I wasn't able to get that investment job that I wanted to get out, and it just ended up being kind of a miserable place to be.
Working in a cubicle, at an insurance company, it just really got to be very slow, and I quickly determined that this wasn't kind of the thing I wanted to do, but I didn't know what I wanted to do at that time, I just knew I didn't want to be in insurance.
So, I was looking around at all these guys that had been there for 20 or 30 years, like "This is not my destiny." In my early 20s, I figured I'm going to do something really drastic to kind of change the trajectory of my career path, maybe my destiny, and I just kind of packed up my bags one day and I moved to Asia.
Kathleen: Oh wow, where in Asia?
Phil: Taipei, Taiwan.
Phil: Where I spent 10 years, all together, and actually, I met my wife. I'm actually going back there to visit, end of this month. But it was great. It was a great experience. It really did change a bunch of things.
Long story short, towards the middle-end of my stint there, a software company ended up falling into my lap, more or less, and that's when I was really introduced to digital and Google, and really, the power of search engine optimization.
And things were happening back then. It was a consumer software company that sold DVD backup software almost all around the world. This was the early 2000s and I didn't know anything about software or marketing at the time. Again, I was just in the right place at the right time. Somebody needed me to run a company. There's a story behind that, but I'm not going to get into that, because we don't have the time for it.
But I took that opportunity -- took the bull by the horns -- and I learned very quickly that the revenues that were coming for us, a lot of it was being driven by affiliate marketing or cheap AdWords clicks. Back then, we would throw our hands up in the air if you had to pay 25 cents a click on AdWords. Now, it's like you can pay $25, $100 a click for some things. But I quickly learned that Google had a stranglehold on the purchase process for a lot of products back then.
This was more than 15 years ago. It opened my eyes, and long story short I saw the power of SEO and digital, and that really, the ROI trail, for me, led back to websites.
We ended up selling that company in Taiwan. It was a nice payday, but it wasn't like a buying-an-island-to-retire-forever type of thing. So, my wife and I moved back to the States to start a family, and I took what I learned in some of that software company experience that I had and I ended up doing this really strange thing where I had a barter agreement with this small company where I built a website on my own, not knowing anything about it.
This is 2005. I built the ugliest little one-page Microsoft front page website for this guy on barter, basically making a promise I couldn't keep, and long story short, within 60 days or so, I was applying some of the basic SEO things I learned DIY at that software company gig, and lo and behold, he started ranking. His phone started ringing. I'll never forget. He called me up one day and was like, "Phil, I don't know what you've done. You changed my business and you changed my life." For me, that was like-
Kathleen: Right. What is this black magic that you do?
Phil: Bang. Well, for me, I was 35 years old at the time, and it was like, "I finally know what I want to be when I grow up." It was the most professionally rewarding thing that ever happened to me. But secondly, I was like, "I can make some money off of this, right?"
So, that one barter thing back in 2005, from a guy that got a D in computer science in college -- I almost flunked out of it -- doesn't know coding, doesn't know graphic design, but I have since then been able to grow up a thriving digital agency, and I'm making a pretty good living off of selling websites, more from the computer now.
So, that's kind of how I started, kind of how I got here today.
Kathleen: You know, it's funny. Hearing you talk about this reminds me of the earlier stages of my career, because I started out in management consulting. I feel like the hallmark of a true management consultant is when somebody says, "Can you help me with X?" and no matter whether you can or not, you always say "Yes," and then you go and figure out how to do it, right?
So, that's very much a management consulting mindset. You hustle, and you make yourself and expert in that thing. Then you're basically getting paid to become an expert. Then once you've done that, you've got a platform to sell that service to lots of other people.
Phil: It's interesting that you say that, because I mean, yeah, that makes perfect sense, but when I got out of college, I was a high anxiety, scared little kid that could barely talk to people. Somehow, for me, going out to Asia and being able to adapt and make a career in another culture -- and maybe it was just a matter of getting older -- all of a sudden gave me a lot of confidence that I never had.
I think that towards the end of that piece, it enabled me to say, "Hey, you know what? I can throw whatever you have at me." I figured with this one guy, you know what? If I fall on my face and I can't do it, I'll go out of pocket and find somebody else to do it, but I'm going to try and make this happen.
But really, that one little thing where I pushed the envelope and made a promise I couldn't keep has made me ... It basically made my whole career, and I think you kind of have to do that sometimes, and that's kind of how I look at everything now.
Kathleen: You know, it's really funny that you say that, because you and I might have a lot more in common than we thought. I was pretty shy, and I'm still a big introvert, which I fake really well not being one. But I was really shy also, in college, and I actually went and lived in Spain -- in Barcelona -- for a year after college, and while I was there, I got a Eurail pass, and by myself, I traveled around Europe. You randomly make friends wherever you go, and it was a really interesting exercise in just putting yourself out there and getting over your own shyness.
Phil: Yeah. It changes you, sure.
Kathleen: Maybe that's the secret.
Phil: When I left back then, it was like, my parents freaked out, and from that day I left, they were always trying to get me back. But I looked back and I was like, it wouldn't have changed anything.
Kathleen: Oh, definitely. It was one of the greatest experiences for me as well.
Kathleen: Well, cool. Maybe everybody needs to go on ... I think the Australians call it a "walkabout."
Phil: Well, it's funny we talk about being an introvert, because I'm definitely, by definition, and introvert. It's not necessarily that I can't talk to people and I can't be animated. It's just how you're wired. I talk to people and go out, and I get really tired and have to go take a nap type of thing, but I hide it really well. But it just draws energy, you know what I'm talking about? If you're a true introvert, it's just those type of situations.
So SEO was great in the early days, because you could literally not have to talk to people, and move the needle for companies and never have to talk to them a lot, or go out and do a bunch of things.
Lo and behold, Google, for the first 15 years of its existence, was basic to actually get results on it. You could do a lot of back office things and not have to deal with people. So for the longest time, I had a website here, locally, that ranked forever. I never did a blog, I didn't have my address on that, I didn't have a face on it. It just ranked, and people would call me, and then we'd have little interaction. They'd sign up, and then they'd send checks every month and they'd see their rankings, and that's all that happened.
So, it was a great ride for several years, but then Google came back about five or six years ago and started to change the game. For the first 15 years of Google's existence, I mean, SEO was this one pie. Half of it was on-page things where you did things, whatever you could to manipulate the system to rank, ranking, you could get more pages, and just kind of tweak things under the hood.
The other half of that pie was off-page things, and when we talk about off-page, it was mostly link-building, volume-based link-building. Get as many third party links as you couldto point back to your website.
For a long, long time, there was some cat and mouse things. There were little changes where you had to find a new loophole. That drove SEO for a long time, and and introvert like myself could have a great business and not have to deal with people.
Then, about five or six years ago, they totally changed everything. They talked about content being king for a long time, but they never meant it, because we could do back office things and move the needle, but then, all of a sudden, when these punitive algorithms came out, they really started to put the bullseye on content.
I was like, me, that never invested a lot of anything else onto my site in terms of content ... now, I'm out there blog-posting, doing podcasts, writing books.
My face is everywhere, I'm developing my own personal brand. I'm making sure that my website becomes a marketing hub and it's a referral source for my content.
So, we got this whole inbound channel, and that's largely due to how Google, I think, changed their algorithm. Link-building and working on on-page SEO is still part of the pie, but it's just two slices now, right. It's the other thing.
So, that's kind of how I went from developing the agency into a traditional SEO, and it's really morphed into ... I think what we're all doing is more of an inbound approach, and you're starting to look at things more holistically because, for me, from my standpoint, that's how Google is starting to grade things.
They're going out and able to determine all sorts of signals right now. They look at your blog posts, they look at your authority, they look at your social media participation, how it links back to the website.
They're looking at your reputation and your reviews and these kind of things. All those things, when you wrap them up together in terms of SEO signals, just look like a digital marketing type of thing, and you got SEO to tie it all together.
So, I went from kind of that SEO thing and have kind of morphed into ... I think all of us, myself in particular, you have to ... The website's kind of the key to everything, so you have to have some ... Either have to be a web designer or have that capability, but it's all the other stuff right now.
We started off with the SEO angle and still, to this day, I think SEO is great if you have an SEO mindset, because of the way Google looks at things more holistically right now.
So, if you have that angle, I think that really helps. So we've morphed in from just looking in those SEO Google results to doing more digital stuff, because that's what moves the needle now and that's kind of how our agency has evolved as well.
Part of that, part of me being here today, writing a book, is all that stuff, right? It's getting out there, it's showing your authority, it's writing books, it's educating, and it's getting your message out. It's working on personal branding and working on things that demonstrate your expertise and authority. All things that you're familiar with, Kathleen, but it's funny how these things start off as kind of tactics, and they've diverged into this one thing right now, and we're all kind of meeting in the middle, where we are today, and that's kind of how I got here.
How Google's Rankbrain Has Changed SEO
Kathleen: It's really interesting. I was giving a talk to a group yesterday, kind of about this, what you just laid out, which is how Google has evolved and what that has meant for how we need to get found online. To me, one of the most interesting aspects in the last two years, which I think feeds right into what you talked about, is this shift from algorithm-based search results -- algorithms are mathematical equations, basically, it's sort of binary - you either meet the criteria or you don't -- to search results based on artificial intelligence, and Google's shift over to relying on RankBrain, which is its artificial intelligence engine, and how now, search engines are trying to approximate how we, as people, think, and looking at context so much more. I mean, it's just ... It's no longer a binary "did you check that box or not?" - it's very much qualitative evaluation of content.
Phil: Exactly, exactly.
Kathleen: It's fascinating. It's very hard to game that.
Phil: Yeah, the algorithms -- you mentioned RankBrain. I mean, I think they came out last year, and that was something they experimented with about two or three years ago, and now, when Google says, "Okay, there's over 200 ranking factors," they came out ... This was last year, let's see if I can point you to where it came from, but I'm pretty sure that they consider RankBrain one of the top three ranking factors of that pool of 200 or 300. So, they haven't totally unleashed it to RankBrain, but it's definitely one of the most important linking factors.
And you're right, it's hard to game, because it's going out there and pretending it's a human and trying to figure out predictive things based on search behavior and trying to reach out. It's no longer just matching a search query to content on a page, right? It's trying to understand the user, get more context, make better guesses, and really, deliver better results so that people use it more so that they can serve up more information and basically sell more ads through AdWords.
Turning Blogs Into Ebooks
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, this is one of the reasons I was interested to talk to you today. Given those trends, what it really means to me is that you can cut a lot of the noise out and just ...
As long as you believe that you will win by creating the best content on any given topic -- if you hold that to be true -- then you do need to truly invest in content creation. I don't just mean money, I mean time, effort, research, et cetera. You need to invest in making your content really, really good. But once you create that content, then you have an opportunity to take it and use it in a variety of different ways.
The thing that appealed to me about what you and I are going to talk about is that you have some very interesting approaches to how you use that content and how you build upon what somebody else might look at as "Oh, I've written this amazing blog. Done!" I think you've developed a process which is really great for not letting it just end there, and turning that into the gift that keeps on giving. So, maybe you could just talk a little bit about that.
Phil: Sure. This is one of my favorite things.
My first kind of job in Asia was working with a venture capital company, and I saw them basically being opportunists, and that's kind of what SEO started off as. I was trying to figure out hacks -- not necessarily cheats, but shortcuts in order to get yourself results so you can get the clicks and the phone numbers.
I guess at heart, I wouldn't necessarily call myself ... maybe a "hack" is a more politically correct word, but it's trying to find ways that you can do things one time and get 10 times the value out of it. I think that's the heart of all marketers, but especially SEO folks, because we're trying to get as many wins as we can for as little effort as possible.
When I started to get more invested into content marketing, it's about that -- it's trying to figure out the things that we're doing, how to make sure that we just don't do them once, or we do them once in terms of our process so we can get multiple wins out of it.
So, the one thing that I do for myself and for our clients right now is to really understand who your ideal client is and how they search.
Having that master list of keyword research is more important than ever, but I think sometimes people think of keyword research as being one of these either deprecated types of things for SEO, or even marketing.
I mean, Google is ... It's part of the purchase process right now for everybody, and it's all based on people saying or typing a keyword string into a box and getting results. So, we can't ever say that the words are not that important, because that's where everybody starts.
There's all sorts of great tools out there to get that initial list, and I think that's really, really important, because if you don't have the terms that people are searching for, it's really hard to know where the finish line is. I talk to people all the time that want to rank for certain things. They don't have any of the target keywords on their website.
Having that master list, to me, is really important in working with the client. Working to their sale, always trying to refine it and add to it and understand how people are searching is really important. Then you take that as the base to do the content that we've built on top of it.
A really important strategy for us is blogging. Again, that sounds a little bit old school, but I still think it's the cornerstone of inbound for us, and it's the most natural way to build out your website and work on long tail keywords or other types of things that people might be searching for.
A little tidbit right here is if you Google Search "quality evaluator guidelines," there's an e-book that Google gives away for free that they use to train an army of about 10 to 15 quality evaluators they have that literally just -- all day long -- type in search results and check the search results quality to test the algorithm and the AI and stuff.
Kathleen: Huh. That's interesting.
Phil: It's really cool, because if you download this thing, it's telling people what to look for. It's telling the quality evaluators what to look for in a quality website. So, it's almost like the blueprint to the algorithm, to me.
A lot of it has to do with things like showing expertise, authority and trust. In fact, they use that acronym throughout the little e-book that they have many, many times over. They're trying to beat it in the head.
But one of the things they specifically go over is to look for things like blogging and having authoritative content. It's right there. It's Google telling us. They don't put out a 160-page manual like this to train an army of people to grade their algorithm unless they have poured over every word of it.
So, when they say authority it gets back to that blogging piece. I think blogging's really, really important because again, it helps to show that you are an expert and have expertise in your niche. It helps you grow your pages out organically. It helps us rank for longer tail keywords, which is really important.
One of the things that's happened over time is that you want to be able to develop your own authority and personal branding; that's kind of where we're all going, and a great way to do that is to become an author.
A lot of times people are trying to figure out ways to recycle and repurpose content, but again, if you take stuff that's already out there and just try and stitch it together, it doesn't really work as well as something that's engineered strategically from the beginning.
One of the things that we do is, again, we're always working off that initial kind of target keyword base, and then working on a content calendar, which, again, a lot of folks do right now. It's part of best practice.
But we specifically try to create a table of contents so that there's 10 or 15 posts, and each post could be a stand alone blog post that goes out in a series, maybe one to a week, but at the end of that, we stitch it together into an e-book that can be used as a call to action on the website, which again, is not really exciting. But I think the more exciting piece of this is we really try and go and take that e-book and spin it up into a Kindle and make our clients authors.
Doesn't sound that groundbreaking here, but it's a really cool, shiny thing for a client that actually does elevate their authority and their branding. They publish this book, it gets up on Amazon, which has a ton of benefits. One is that it's its own search engine. Two, as an author, you now get an author page up on there. You can plug in your blog feed onto the author page, which then pulls your latest blog post off and you get a great series of links from that.
It's not a silver bullet, but it's another way to actually get scores from pretty important links, because of course, Google's going to index Amazon by the second. Your blog post will end up probably being indexed faster and you'll get some really valuable backlinks.
For the client, they're getting something now that's super shiny. You just made them an author. We do this all the time and you can just see it's different than if you just deliver them an e-book. When you make them an author and then publish them on Amazon, it kind of elevates it a little bit more.
Then we take that e-book for a lot of them that are more advanced, and then try and develop a guesting campaign off of it, because now they're an author. You develop a one sheet, and you start pitching them to podcasts.
All of a sudden, this is working into that personal branding piece, where they're getting to speak as an expert. They're then showcasing the book that they wrote. If you do this without the keyword research and the strategy in the beginning, then it's harder to take it down that path where you're getting all those extra benefits.
But if you think about it ahead of time, all of a sudden, you're doing all these things, and now we're working on things I think that really help.
We've actually taken it a step further, and this worked out really good for a client, where we made a book. This is an actual print book, so you do e-books, but this is a print book from CreateSpace. We got 12 lawyers together here locally to write a book, How to Hire Lawyers. They each wrote a 3,000-word chapter, and we had compiled it together and made all these guys offers, then made kind of a launchable thing.
The cool thing that worked on this one was, taking it a step further where it almost became the 12 guys that didn't really know each other, so they all of a sudden became their own little mini referral engine. So we did this. We made a mock-up -- all the things we talked about, all those benefits -- and made a separate website for it. Then we actually had an event. We brought them together and introduced them all. Now, all of a sudden they're referring business to each other.
Of all the benefits that they've gotten of it, they came and said the biggest thing is the business that they're getting from this kind of a combined book project. So there're all sorts of things. You can even take it further in terms of recruiting a little referral hub where they get all those other benefits as well.
So those are some of the things we're doing. Again if you do this in a one dimensional way then you can't get all the maximum benefit, but if you think about it strategically in the beginning, it doesn't take that much more work to get all things out of it. If you just line everything up in the beginning, you get so much more ROI out of it.
Kathleen: So I have a million questions I want to ask about this.
Let's go back to the beginning. This all starts with blogs and you talk about the importance of blogging for SEO. I would love to learn a little bit from you about what you consider makes a good blog post because I think that has evolved.
I used to own a digital marketing agency for 11 years and when we first got started, I had clients that could write 400 and 500 word blog posts and literally just simply by checking the box, would start to rank for things but the world has evolved quite a bit since then and now I think the companies that are blogging and doing really well with it, have taken it to another level. So I'm curious, let's start first with when you work with clients, what do you tell them about blogging and what makes a good blog?
Phil: So there's two ways we look at it right now. One is for whatever reason, longer form blog posts of 2,000 to 2,500 words plus, seem to be the ones that rank better, especially for competitive terms. Having those longer, authoritative posts really helps but it's not really practical or feasible for folks to be doing that. They may do it maybe once a quarter or a couple a year to invest in that.
The flip side of this is for our small business clients, having that 500 or 600 word blog post that goes out every week is super important because we get to target a keyword, and it goes on the website.
We use a plug in called Snap Auto Post, and when we click publish it goes out to like ten different social media platforms. So having that engine on doesn't work if you only have a blog post a quarter and you're not able to feed your social media.
In a lot of cases, for the smaller business, we're not doing a bunch of stuff. But having that weekly social media content going out and make people come back to it creates that cycle that's really important and you can only do it with the smaller blog post.
And again, unless you're really invested in the topic, you're not going to spend the 30 minutes or whatever it takes to read a 3,000 word blog post where you can get to the point.
I think both of those are really important. In terms of what makes a really good blog post, for me, number one is just very simply making sure that you're doing two things. Understanding that you should have at least one keyword that you are targeting for every blog post that you write, but not just for every keyword. The ideal thing for writing blog posts now is to never do it for SEO but also never do it without SEO in mind.
Phil: And that's the biggest mistake I think a lot of folks make because they figure "I'm just going to make this a trending topic and I want to get it out there." But just by changing a little bit of words in the title, in the URL, peppering it in a couple times in the subtitles, you make your post vastly larger on ranking potential for that type of thing.
So we tell people, "Hey, let's make sure that we make it keyword rich and that's part of the content calendar, but also make sure that you're writing about things that are trending." So use BuzzSumo and others out there that will tell you, "Hey, this is the type of content around this topic that's trending." But also here's the keyword that we want to go after that's got some commercial value to it, let's make sure that we work that in.
And then you just get a disciplined approach to every blog post. Really down to the basics. Being smart about the title. Again, it's got to be for the customers. But there's all sorts of ideal clients, and all sorts of ways you can naturally work a keyword in that will serve both purposes, and that's a big part of SEO in digital right now, is managing that balance.
Don't throw Google out the door, but there's always ways you can tweak the title a little bit to get more SEO value out of it, where it doesn't look spammy.
But then also just some basic things about just laying blog posts out like making sure that you're using subtitles. Google allows bullets and numbered lists, and they like to have images in there. You'll see a lot of times, when you type up things, "How to" or "Why." You're seeing a lot more information come up in position zero with the knowledge boxes. This has to do with how well your blog post is structured.
There's other things that matter, like getting links to it, how much it's getting shared in social media. But they love that extra structure in the post, in terms of a ranking factor.
So having an image in there, making bulleted and numbered lists, making sure that you're using subtitles in there... again, these things don't take a whole lot of extra time. But you'd be surprised how many blog posts we see that just stuck paragraphs and like a bold subtitle instead of one that's actually using a header tag. Stuff like that makes a lot of difference.
And also something that's really important for SEO these days, we've been talking about the last 12 to 24 months, is dwell time on a webpage. We don't have a 3,000 word blog post, but this is where I think podcasting really is beautiful as well.
Having some type of rich media on there which makes people stay on there longer -- like a Youtube video that makes sense on there -- and if someone ends up clicking on it, and staying on your page an extra 30 or 40 seconds, that's a huge engagement signal for Google, to see that dwell time increase.
In the old days, the SEO guys, we used to think about bounce rate. Now bounce rate really doesn't make a lot of sense. Instead, we're looking to see how long people stay on pages.
Anything you can do to keep someone on a page seems to directly correlate with higher rank of a page, so embedding audio is awesome and video, if you watch a video that's a lot of invested time. Somebody that clicks on that is staying 90 seconds or 2 or 3 or 5 minutes. That is a long time. But you can click an audio file on a blog post and you can sometimes end up staying a lot longer because you can go be doing other things. That dwell time increases. You don't have to take a lot of people spending that extra time to really increase the dwell time on the page.
So these are the types of things you can do on each blog post, if you are disciplined each time you publish. Again, you can vastly increase the ranking potential, just because you took those extra few minute steps to work these in.
Using Schema to Improve SEO
Phil: I'll give you a last one. This one is to also think about schema. I have my own plug-in for this but there's all those plug-ins in there. There's this extra layer of code that you can add to your blog post or web pages in general, that essentially enables you to tag the data and tell Google what it is, and give it more context so it doesn't have to guess.
A perfect example like this is you might put a review quote on your web page. Well, Google's not going to take that review quote, and say "That's a review quote," and guess that it is, and show that in the search results, unless you tag it as a review and use the tagging system that it has, to tell it what it is.
The more confidence that it has in that piece of content on your web page, the more chance you have of that result showing up directly in the search results, which increases your click-through rates, which again can help pull you up and get you more traffic and also help you actually pull your way up the search engine.
So, schema's one of those things where, it's a little out there, it's definitely an under-the-hood, kind of a geeky type of a deal. But there are plug-ins and things out there that are kind of field-based. The one I made is modeled after Yoast, where you go in there and just fill out forms.
Kathleen: And what's it called, the one that you made?
When you hear of schema, there's two things that people talk about. It's schema which is the markup language, and structured data which is the framework. So those are both of the words in there.
Google's like this alien from another planet. They see an animal. Schema helps you show where the anatomy of each page is, basically, and say, this is this, this is that. And it fits within that structure. The spider just comes right in and sees it, and it's more organized and it just increases the ranking potential.
The more you do this, the more chance you actually have to get in those knowledge boxes. On the side, the rich snippets, your event times start to show up, your star rating starts to show up in search results with the tag.
You get a better chance for those knowledge boxes at the top on position zero, so schema is not the silver bullet, but it increases your chances. And again it's not a whole lot of extra time to work that into your routine. There's a couple of boxes to fill out at the bottom of every page and, boom, you've increased all your chances quite a bit.
Kathleen: Very cool. Schema is something that I think is so interesting. I started researching it several years ago and it is one of those things that you could easily get overwhelmed by. So having plug-ins, especially if your site is on WordPress, check out WP... say it again?
Phil: Just go to Wordpress.org, and type in... there's a bunch of schema plug-ins, and I think ours is, it's been downloaded I think 130,000 times so it's one of the top two schema plug-ins up there for that purpose.
Kathleen: I like that you SEO-optimized the title of your SEO optimization plug-in. That's very meta.
Creating Your Ebook Outline
Kathleen: So one thing is creating great blogs. From what you've said, the important thing is to take a step back and before you just run and start blogging, to think about the long game. And so when you work with clients, you sit down, and before the blogs begin you've mapped out a whole outline for what will eventually become an e-book, and the blogs become part of that. Talk to me a little bit about that outlining process. What does that look like?
Phil: Most of the time we're usually starting out with some type of a how-to guide so that it positions the client as an authority in their space. We did one just yesterday -- an outdoor living guide for a hardscaping contractor. Or this is "How to hire a lawyer." So you're saying, "You're looking for one, I'm going to tell you how to do it," so, that stance is just like you're teaching or instructing somebody how to do it.
But it also gives us a great format, especially for a new client to be able to start doing these blog posts, where it lends itself to the whole process.
Here's what the process is, here's what it is, here's the materials, here's kind of the steps in the process here are the red flags. Here are the questions to ask.
Each one of those initial e-books we do for a lot of the clients almost follows that same guideline. They make great blog posts. In most cases if they haven't hired a professional digital marketer, they don't even have that kind of content on their web site.
It follows that pattern, where you've got these extensive how-to guides. Again, at the end we usually try to position it so there's charts and things in there that is positioning you against your competitors weakness. Framing them...
When you're saying how-to and how-to guides, it's great to be able to have that list of "should-ask questions," or even a chart. Because now you're making the other people, if they read the book, measure up against your client, right?
So that's the one that we typically will go after, is trying to create these how-to guides. Anything that helps people in the process. I think they have to be sexy enough to where somebody will download it. Pricing guides, anything that's got something in there that looks really, really valuable, that somebody would give up an email for would kind of be the next ones. And then try to frame around it.
But also sometimes when you're doing your keyword research or looking up, if you use a tool like, I can't think of the first one, but one's Answer The Public, right?
Kathleen: Yeah, I love that tool. It's so great.
Phil: Right? So that's a great way to come up with what things are people searching for in terms of how-to or guides. A lot of those questions, you can write whole books around.
So we'll look to that quite a bit, and we'll also look at the keyword research. My favorite one of all time is going to be Google AdWords Keyword Planner, because it's a free one, it's in AdWords, it gives you organic search results in their paid thing, because their whole thing is to make money off of AdWords. It's like 90% of their revenue.
Google gives you the answers in the keyword planner, which is awesome. So if you pull in enough data from your keywords, sometimes the way things pool together lend themselves to books.
The way they group, like the keyword searches, takes some of the guesswork out of it. It ends up looking like a group or a bucket of words or topics to go after. We just kind of use that to lead us into it, because we're always trying to create content for stuff people are actually searching for.
There is this piece of it, where if you're a thought leader, you're trying to put stuff out there that doesn't exist yet. But I still think -- my philosophy is -- you can still marry that thought leadership stuff that you would say to a captive audience into the things that people are actually searching for, and serve both of them.
You never want to just put out the great new ideas first without baking in the stuff in that people are actually searching. That's kind of how we do it.
Publishing Ebooks on Amazon Kindle
Kathleen: Now, let's shift gears for a second, because the piece of this process that I personally find the most fascinating I selfishly want to spend some time on.
You're doing the blogs, you create the outline, you write the blogs with the clients. You stitch it together into an e-book that might be gated behind a landing page on their website, which a lot of us do.
I work with a digital marketing agency, we do that too. But what you've done which I think is very interesting, is then turn it into a Kindle book. That's what I'd really like to spend some time on.
How complicated is that process? How expensive is it? How long does it take? What do you need to do to transform what might be a typical web page e-book into something that works well as a Kindle e-book?
Phil: Most of the e-books that we do are basically just going to be PDF's, so people use it in InDesign, or a lot of the ones that we're doing right now are just in the latest version of Word, which is nice because we don't need to update our clients, and save them as a PDF and they look great in thew website.
Then taking that next step into Kindle is really not all that hard. I guess some people could do it in-house. I didn't know where to go, so I just went out to places like Upwork. I think even right now, I'm not doing all of it myself, but there's places like Upwork, and Fiverr where you can have somebody take a Word document or an initial document, and format it into Kindle, for maybe like 50 bucks.
Kathleen: So there is a specific format that Kindle requests?
Phil: Yeah, and I think it's .mobi. There's a couple different ones, but most of the ones we get are .mobi -- whatever that stands for. I should know, but I don't.
So we write the e-book, we send it off to someone else to format for 50 or 100 bucks. It comes back to us. We've got the flat cover that we use. It's a two-stage process from there.
First one, is you go to Amazon Author Central, which is a subdomain. Just google it -- Amazon Author Central. It takes you to a subdomain, it's an Amazon service. Then you just log in with your Amazon account.
You're able to start building your profile, which is really pretty basic, in there. Put all your info. You can have a video in there -- and you want to do this for sure -- you want to take your website blog feed, and for WordPress it ends up being just your domain forward-slash "feed."
You take that, you just plug it in, and you're able to pull your latest blog posts onto it. But that's Amazon Author Central you use to set it up, and that's the first step.
The next step is to go on to Amazon KDP, I think it's Kindle Direct Publishing, where it's another subdomain. And there's just a step-by-step, WYSIWYG process of about, I think, 20 different things where you will go in and fill in the title, fill in the subtitle, drop in your page title, and your book description. It'll ask you on the page.
They'll self-assign you one of the ISBN numbers, so you don't have to do that. You upload your cover, you upload your book file, and there's a couple of things I think they ask you in terms of content ratings, stuff like that. Press publish, within 24 hours they'll approve it, and you've got it up in there.
Then you go back to your Amazon author page -- once it's published up on Amazon, through your author page, which is that other account, so there's two accounts -- and then find your book, once it's published and you can connect your author profile to the book, and boom, your book shows up and now it's cross-linked. Now you're a published author on Amazon. Boom.
And it's that easy for folks.
Some of this stuff, a lot of the hard work's already there. You're already doing the e-books. It's just a matter of converting it into Kindle and then uploading it.
The last one we just did, the lady, she owns her own landscaping business. She's ahead of the game in terms of really buying into this kind of stuff, which is great. But she did it almost on her own. We coached her through a phone call for 20 minutes, and she self-published it right up there. It's one of those things. They're so happy, they're an author now. They're telling folks about it.
Amazon's Print On Demand Book Process
Phil: The next stage for us then if it's long enough, is to take that Kindle, and leverage Amazon's Create Space, their own print-on-demand service, to print the books out. It's not a whole lot of extra effort. But you have to take that original file, have somebody format it into a print format version. Instead of using that flat version that you can for a Kindle cover, you need to come up with a book, front and back and the spine. There's a step-by-step process for it. But there's folks on Upwork or Fiverr that'll help you build a Create Space formatted cover. There's a little WYSIWYG process that takes you through even telling you how many pages does it have and helps calculate the spine width. It's really not that hard.
That's the other thing that people really want, and she wants. "Oh that's cool, an e-book. But can you get me one of these printed things so that I can hand it out?" Because that really feels like-
Kathleen: Like it's official.
Phil: Exactly. I got that. And sometimes what the coolest thing about all of this is, if you coordinate the effort like I've done with my own books, and some of my client books and you get everybody on board to beg, borrow, and steal, and coordinate the marketing effort, when the book launches, you can propel it to a bestseller status for a period of time.
That becomes huge.
On this one here, I'm showing you, you've got an Amazon bestselling sticker. So not only did I make all 12 authors in this case authors, I made them bestselling authors. I'm now permanently, our agency is now permanently part of the career bucket list milestones that they've made, and we made everybody really happy about that.
That's just out of coordination. Because the way Amazon's bestselling algorithm works is it's just based on how many people are buying stuff in a period of time. And it changes week to week. So if you do it strategically, not only can you make your clients authors, and yourself authors, you can actually make yourself a bestselling author, and all you need for it is to show a screenshot up in the top 10 of their bestsellers list, or hot new releases, and now you're a bestseller, which is a great way again to propel that and make you an authority, your branding, all that kind of stuff.
Because now I go out, and they're the only authors really in town that can go out and hand this to their clients and say, "We wrote this book. We're Amazon bestsellers."
That type of thing really differentiates you.
This is something that everybody can do. But I think for a lot of folks it seems so far out there. But it's not. It's so attainable, it's almost ridiculous, you know what I mean?
It's just a matter of knowing that it's there and knowing it exists and making that part of your routine.
But again, to me, it all comes back to just a little strategy in the beginning. Because it does become overwhelming if you try to think "I'm going to do all of that." If you're doing the blogging thing from the beginning, the book is being written in your normal course of stuff.
All of a sudden you've got the blog posts, and it just kind of starts to take care of itself. Whereas if you start to say, "I need to write a book all at once," it just seems like something that's never going to happen, because it's too big of a project to handle.
How Much Does It Cost to Self Publish on Amazon?
Kathleen: So a couple of really kind of tactical questions for you. First of all, is there any cost associated with going through this process with creating the Kindle book? Does Amazon charge a fee to get it listed?
Kathleen: No fee. Wow. So, you've got your eBook on your website, and you could, for zero money, make it an eBook on Amazon.
Then the next question is, you talked about algorithms on Amazon and how things get into the best selling list, and you mentioned a certain number of people buying the book. So, when you're working with clients, and they're loading these Kindle editions on Amazon, is it set up so that there's a price to get the book?
Kathleen: And how do you figure out pricing for that?
Phil: Well, some people put 'em up for free. I don't think they have the chances to rank like other ones, but there's two ways to think about this. One is, in this case, we've got the How to Hire Lawyers book, which we set the price higher on the book, because a big part of what they want to do is give it away, and when it has value like that, the giveaway is higher.
Kathleen: You mean the hard copy book is higher because it's hard copy?
Phil: The hard copy, but even the Kindle is set up the same way. You end up setting two profiles up, and then they kind of marry 'em together, if you offer a hard-cover and a Kindle.
The other train of thought is like this landscaping one we did yesterday. That is priced at $1.99 for the Kindle. So there is some value to it. If you want to buy it, it's really low, so it's almost a no brainer if somebody wants to buy it type of thing. At the end of the day, you're not going to make any money off of selling the book.
Phil: So, whatever fits your goal. For sure, if you had a $1.99 book, 99 cents, but if it's like $3.99 or $1.99 at least it's something and then if you had a good emailing list and say "Hey, do this, there's a coupon inside to buy it for $1.99" and she's got some like that at the end of hers.
It's like it's a 300 or 500 dollar off type deal where if you can, if you've got an email, some way to blast people and get those, even a small, relatively small number; a few dozens, or scores, even a hundred or two in sales, it can help propel you up that best seller list pretty quickly.
Kathleen: And then, so you-
Phil: But yeah, to answer your question, you set the price. You want to think about your end goal. You want it to be high so it's got giveaway value or low so you can sell a lot, maybe, you know what I mean?
Kathleen: Yeah. So you also talked about turning the book into a hard copy and being able to do that through Amazon.
Let's say I've done my ebook, it's on Kindle and I want to do what your client is doing and have hard copies to give away. Talk to me about the cost structure involved there. Obviously Amazon must charge something, is there a minimum number of hard copies you have to order, how does that pricing work?
Phil: Totally. It's so beautiful. First of all no, there is no cost at all. It is totally free which will blow you away. And the cool thing about CreateSpace is it's print on demand. So, even the book, we self-published SEO for Growth, which actually did sell a lot of copies, and we actually made some money off of it, but we did it through CreateSpace.
So, when I want to order copies of SEO for Growth it ends up three dollars per copy, whether I order one book or 300 like I did last week, because we're gonna do a seminar off of it. And it's just that, so it's-
Kathleen: So you said, how much is it per copy?
Phil: Three dollars.
Kathleen: Three dollars per copy. Wow.
Phil: This one ends up being like $1.50 or $2.00 a copy.
Kathleen: And that's the How to Hire Lawyers-
Phil: And that's your only expense.
Kathleen: Because its thinner?
Phil: Right. It's-
Kathleen: That's crazy.
Phil: It's crazy, it's awesome.
Kathleen: How come everybody's not doing this?
Phil: I don't know man.
I joined Duct Tape Marketing with John Jantsch. The first summit I went to, a guy that's now a good friend of mine handed me his book and I was like "Gosh, one day I hope to have my own book."
I mean at first I just wanted one to be able to hand out. It was the coolest thing ever. But I was like "You know what? Someday I'll be able to do this."
Well, he heard me talk on SEO, and he liked what I had to say, so he invited me on my first book project, which is was a best seller. Six months later I was a best selling author. And that really has changed my whole life. It's opened so many doors and stuff.
Phil: You just don't know how easy it is, because it seems so hard.
Kathleen: Well now everybody's going to know how easy it is, because we're going to tell them.
Phil: I've been telling this for a while and nobody really ... they still think it's hard to do, no matter what, but it-
He's a really smart guy and in the interview he talked about how he does these crowdsourced blog posts. And he does it because it saves him time, but, because he's highlighting the contributions of all these other people in the blog, it naturally lends itself to other people sharing the posts. And he grew his organic traffic by something like 600% in six months doing this.
He's like, "Not only is it easy, but you'll spend less time creating blogs if you do this than if you do it the normal way." And he goes, "And the crazy thing is," I'll never forget him saying this, "I tell everybody that I do it and I haven't seen a single person yet go and copy me."
Kathleen: So, you can lead a horse to water, right?
Phil: Trying to get a client to write their own blog post is hard enough. Then you're talking about trying to write a book and it's like ugh. But if you're there to do it and help them along, then obviously it works.
From Book Publishing to Podcast Guest Interviews
Phil: You know once I started doing this podcast guesting thing and seeing how much value that's brought to me and now I see not every client's going to want to be on podcasts. But the ones that really want to dominate and be the 800 pound gorillas, they get it and they want to do it and that's just kind of the next thing.
But it all comes from the book, because it's so much easier to get on shows if you've got something to demonstrate that you're an authority.
Phil: Something to basically pitch or a reason why you're doing a campaign. And a lot of podcast hosts don't know they get the one sheet, was it an ebook?
They look at the topic, they look at whether their audience will like it, they see you wrote a book on it, and for a lot of folks on some shows, that's enough to get people on their show as a demonstrated expert in that space. And then once they get some stuff it really does help elevate their authority, so again, it starts with a book, comes with a blog post, comes with the keyword research.
Kathleen: So that's the last link in the chain really?
The book gets published, whether it's a hard copy or eBook version, and then the last link in the chain is really you guys helping the, now Amazon author, get on as a guest on other people's podcasts to be interviewed. And not only does that then put them in front of the audiences who subscribe to those podcasts but it gives them backlinks and things like that from show notes and so that brings it all full circle.
Phil: What really blew my mind, which I discovered with the first podcast guest interview that I did, is that a lot of times people will show transcription notes on the page, but a lot of them don't. So the first one I was on last year, WP Chick who's a WordPress podcast, I said, "If you're not going to transcribe this, can I do it? Transcribe it and put it on my website as a guest post and give you a link back?"
Well now if you google 'SEO benefits of podcasting', the notes from her show rank number one globally on my website. I mean, this is gonna seem like it's another SEO thing and even on the podcast guesting piece, it's not just about the people listening to it, there's all sorts of little things you can do there to get 10X out of it.
Kathleen: Well I do post the transcript.
Phil: Good for you because that's what-
Kathleen: I mean, it's a no brainer. There are so many services out there and I just send the audio file out and it comes back to me two hours later, fully transcribed for-
Phil: And they're 3,000 to 5,000 words, so there's your long form post.
Phil: I mean, so for me, that's my long form. I structure it out, I put sub titles on, I put quotes, we'll put images on it, and looks like a blog post and they rank.
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean the transcription for this will be tremendously long, because it's an hour long conversation.
Kathleen: No, no, no. It's great. We had a lot to talk about right?
Kathleen: So, before we finish up, I have one question to kind of close the loop on this discussion, which is, tell me about, are there any kind of quantifiable results that you can reference in terms of the impact that doing this has on your client's businesses?
Phil: I think for sure it feeds into the, in particularly in the SEO, having them get into the rankings. This contributes to that, so I can't really always say that this is the book thing that happened to it. But, I can say that it does help clients, including myself, get on shows and the shows do have a lot of quantifiable results. There's some cases, like myself, and I've probably been on probably 60 or 70 in the last year, podcast guest interviews are my third biggest source of clients right now and I had no idea that it would help them.
And I started my own podcast, and people like what I have to say. You're listening, somebody's gonna ... somebody on your podcast is gonna connect with what I say and they're gonna subscribe to my podcast, because they like podcasts right?
So all of a sudden you pick up these subscribers and backlinks-
Kathleen: And so the name of your podcast, so they know what to look for?
Phil: And there's a little story behind that, right, where I actually named it that for a reason, because we tried to do a little bit of our outbound last year and failed miserably. But now when we got people calling up locally, at the C level, and saying "Can I have you on the Local Business Leaders podcast?" -- the response rates are a lot better than "Can we build you a new website?"
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah.
Phil: The quantifiable result for us and for me is getting actual clients off of it, getting the backlinks, seeing the traffic that comes off of it from the show and that kind of stuff.
And when we're doing this it's kind of hard to say, can you pull a piece out of it because we're doing the whole strategy and strategically when you're doing the keyword research and the blogging and the eBooks and getting up on Amazon, collectively we can just see that it's generating more leads and better, organic visibility.
And that's really, I think, the end result.
The best part about all this is, it doesn't take that much more work or effort. And the guesting thing is so powerful and it's like the client's doing your homework for you.
Phil: You get them booked, and now all of a sudden they're getting on shows, they're getting their backlinks for you, they're talking, they're spreading the message, they're doing the content and word is getting out. It's almost like they're doing some of the work for you and it's just huge, massive benefits on it.
There's that piece of it. I don't know how you quantify that piece of it, but the fact that you're helping elevate a business owner's personal brand and story in a way they can see -- it just really changes the game in terms of the relationship.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's tremendous. And from what you're saying, it's really about the doors that open and where they could lead you to, that the real value lies.
Kathleen: So interesting. I feel like I could go on and on ask you questions forever, but I'm sure you have other things you need to do. Before we close out, there are two questions I ask every guest and I'm curious to hear your answers to these.
The first is, company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now?
Phil: One of the things I really love -- and we've tried it and seen a lot of success with it in the last couple years also -- is the fact that Google is giving up a lot of search results, especially locally or at the niche level, to aggregators who put lists of "top ten best" something. It dominates local. I mean, locally if you search for anything you're going to see, depending on where you are, you're going to see Yelp or HomeAdvisor or Angie's List or Yellow Pages or maybe BBB. You're going to see half the results in some cases are coming up as top ten lists.
This top ten strategy, is very, very powerful in terms of ranking. A lot of them are pay-to-play in some shape or form. I guess they're seeing it somehow as being unbiased because they're showing multiple links to competitor websites that you would never see on the individual, the end seller's website. So, for that or for whatever reason, they rank really well and it's great because they work.
Not only do they rank well, but they've got that list where they've done some of the homework for you, so they end up generating a lot of leads for people.
So we started to develop our own top ten company and it's been amazing. I mean it really is, we've done one at the national level that ranks for a lot of really competitive things and helps generate leads for us.
At the local level it's just absolutely crushing it because it ranks number one for lots of different things. Best plumbers, best home builders, the best real estate agents. They all come to it, one, because they want to be on the lists and they ask you, "Can I be on a list?" and it's this third party thing that you have.
But also it generates leads for them where people are saying, if you get a call to action or you got a coupon or something, all of a sudden you're generating and it makes the clients really sticky now. Not only are you doing their SEO and their digital, you made them top ten and they get an award on something that actually outranks everybody else, that's something.
It's something that we're copying and it works, because it works a lot better when you can do it locally or you know, because we can put a lot more content and things there than just aggregating the things, but, the guys that are doing it out there, and you see this happening a lot, are doing it because it really, really works.
And so, pick any one of those that you see. Do a best home service, pick a home service in your city, in your metro area and type best or just type in whatever it is and I guarantee you you're gonna see 50% of the results being one of those top ten lists. Pick one of those and I like what they're doing, because it's working.
Kathleen: Yeah, you see that with marketing agencies too. We were just talking about that internally.
So, the second question is, obviously, the whole theme of our conversation has been around how much and how quickly digital marketing is changing and so I'm really curious how you stay educated and stay abreast of best practices.
Phil: I'm still always zeroed in on SEO, but for different reasons than I was before.
In the old days it was more about, "I just want to rank." But now, I don't look at SEO and Google just in terms of the results. I look as them being almost an important KPI for marketing in general. And I say that because they're trying to understand, they're using all these things like ranking and artificial intelligence to suck up as much information as they can about your organization, you as a person, and use that to rank.
So it's a much broader scope right now that following Google to some extent helps all of your marketing. I like to follow this one blog called SE Round Table. It's called Search Engine Round Table, so I think it's seroundtable.com. What those guys do is they follow the chatter from SEO guys that are in these forums, and he kinda aggregates in one place. Because Google doesn't tell you anything.
Phil: I mean they'll put general statements out there, smoke and mirrors and some of it, but the guys on the street, like myself, that really follow it and have scores of customers, I know from day to day if something happened on the thing and then I run to this one website where they collect the chatter and you see people, the guy that aggregates it, his name is Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Round Table, aggregates all this kinda stuff. And you can kinda see and bounce stuff.
And then once people start dissecting it then they'll tell you, you get some ideas of what things might have changed. Is it a backlink thing? Are they starting to count reviews more here? People seeing, focusing on social media signals and getting more different ones. So you kind of get a sense of what might be working from the people that are doing it on the street...
Phil: ...in an aggregated place versus trying to listen to a spokesman -- somebody that you can't really, you can't really take their word.
Kathleen: That's a good one. I haven't heard that one before, so I'm gonna have to check that out.
Phil: It sounds really geeky, but it's ... to me it's more about markets. If you look at SEO and Google as more than marketing now, you can get more insight out of it.
Kathleen: Oh absolutely.
Phil: Yeah, to what looks like just a geeky, little SEO site.
Kathleen: Yeah. That's great. So, I'm sure like me, people who are listening have a million questions they want to ask you. What is the best way for somebody who has listened today to get in touch with you?
Phil: I've got our main website that's kind of the little website that could, the kcwebdesigner.com, although since I've been doing more personal branding it's funny, I can't market myself as Kansas City, so I'm actually coming up with a different brand that's a little less City, Kansas City focused. But kcwebdesigner.com is kinda the little website that could, where I still post and where my podcast is and stuff.
Seoforgrowth.com is the book and everything that we do is in that book basically. There's a 1,000 word book called Art of SEO that really gets under the hood. I tried to take a lot of what we learned, boiled it down, and put some of our specific tactics in.
We get a lot of people that call us up with very little budget, and the book is "Here's everything that we do -- it's execute it yourself or hire us, we might be able to do it for better and faster, but you have to pay for it," but everything that we do is in that book.
So check out seogrowth.com and it's not one of these things that people go put it out there. I actually tried to put ten years of experience and how to shortcut people.
And then if you're into that podcast thing, podcast guesting, I mean we could talk about a whole show on that, but that's, that's the fastest way to great backlinks and personal authority.
Anybody can do it on their own. I think they should, because you can write the book, you can do ... everything you can, you can do on your own. Including self pitching yourself to shows and working yourself up the chain.
There's tons of podcasts now, and they're not going anywhere. Lots of them are looking for guests, and other ones, established like yours, probably get pitched all the time, but there's a lot of people that are starting them out that need guests.
Well, if you're just getting started and you have a good story to tell, you can start doing these on your own just by your own outreach and it's amazing how much great SEO you can do for yourself and your own personal branding if you go do some of your own stuff. But if you want somebody to do it for you, podcastbookers.com as we do it, there's other great ones out there. I've got a little bit more of focus on the SEO piece of it, because I think nobody else really understands the full SEO benefit. Most podcast booking things are pitched for a couple reasons but not necessarily for the SEO and I think even for the reputation management thing that we focus on, but-
Phil: ... that's the other place.
Kathleen: Awesome, well I will put links to all three of those websites in the show notes, so definitely if you're listening, check that out and you'll be able to learn more about all of these different ventures that Phil's involved in.
Thank you so much for joining me this week. If you're listening and you like what you heard, I would really appreciate a review on iTunes Stitcher or the platform of your choice.
And if you know somebody doing kick-ass, inbound marketing work please tweet me @WorkMommyWork because I would love to interview them.
Phil: Thanks Kathleen, you've been really gracious, thanks for having me on your show.
Kathleen: Great to have you.
Want to stay updated when the podcast is released?
Drop us your name and email address below and we’ll send you the show notes every Monday!
The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
Take your inbound strategy to the next level
Master the 7 principles of highly effective inbound marketing