With stiff online competition, one of the ways you could rise above is by showing up at the top of search engines. Nevertheless, this goal has been proven by many to be really tough to achieve. While that is the case, it does not mean it is impossible. In fact, in this episode, Michael Zipursky brings someone who can help you rank on the first page of Google. He interviews Stephan Spencer—a top SEO consultant and expert—to give an SEO 101 for consultants, sharing some great tips and tricks to build authority and establish credibility that will allow you to become visible on the number one search engine in the world. Here, he taps into creating remarkable content, link building, establishing social proof, and hiring and training team members. Follow along to this conversation to hear more of Stephan’s best practices and wisdom about SEO and growing your consulting business in general.
I’m here with Stephan Spencer. Stephan, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
Stephan, you are a three-time bestselling author. You’re an international speaker. You are considered a top SEO consultant. Your clients include very well-known brands like Zappos and Chanel, Best Buy, Volvo, and many more. You’re a regular at conferences and TV stations around the country, and you’re invited to talk on the topics of entrepreneurship, marketing search, health, and all these other areas that you’re into. I’ve been a big fan of the work that you’re putting out with a couple of your podcasts. Let’s go back to the early days what got you to become interested in SEO, which is Search Engine Optimization for anyone that’s not familiar with that term. What was the inception point or the starting point for you to become interested in this area of SEO?
It started in the ‘90s, even before Google. Fun fact here, do you know that Google wasn’t always called Google? It had a name before that.
No. You’ve got to tell me.
BackRub. Thank goodness, they changed the name. It’s a terrible name. I was doing SEO before BackRub. I was doing SEO when Infoseek, AltaVista, and WebCrawler and all those were around. Back then, we had to advise experts to create separate doorway pages for each search engine. What a ridiculous waste of time that was to create a version of the landing page for Infoseek, one for AltaVista, one for WebCrawler, and so forth. It’s such different days back then, but that’s where I started my SEO.
What were you doing though, as you got into it at that time?
I was running an agency. It was a web agency doing web development and design. I started that in 1995. It was my agency called Netconcepts. I started by dropping out of my PhD in Biochemistry that I was studying for at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I had not had any business courses, marketing courses, or anything. This was completely me winging it. What got me started was I built several websites in 1994 before Netscape. It was back when everybody was using the Mosaic browser. I built some websites for fun on the side while I was studying for my PhD. One was a website called Writers.net. It was for authors, publishers, and agents. The other one was Inn Site. It’s a bed and breakfast directory.
I also created a website for my department as I was studying for a PhD. In Biochemistry, there is part of the Biochemistry Department that was in the Institute for Molecular Virology, Bock Laboratories. I built a website for our Bock Laboratories for the IMV. I created some cool virus visualizations. They are spinning virus visualizations of things like reovirus and rhinovirus. I presented a paper at the Second International World Wide Web Conference in 1994. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, was the keynote. I met him briefly. I met a guy named Rob McCool. He’s a big deal because he’s the inventor of Apache. Back then, he was the creator of the Netscape server. Before that, it was NCSA HTTPd, one of the first web servers on the internet. The web server that runs most of the internet is created by this guy, Rob McCool. I met him and that was the first time I had heard of Netscape.
You come from a very technical background. You spent your time in the details, in the weeds, developing sites before people even knew what a website was. At the same time, you’ve built up this reputation. You establish yourself as an authority and an expert. People know the work that you’ve done. Take us inside your mindset around how you think about building authority and establishing credibility. What’s the thought process that you go through? Let’s dive into the mindset first, and then I want to connect to understand the actions you’ve taken to create the authority you have now.
I want to create remarkable content that’s worthy of remark, to use Seth Godin’s definition from The Purple Cow. I want to create not just remarkable content, but content that is highly valuable and worthy of people’s time and attention. That creates authority status if you do it well.
Give us an example. What’s one piece of content that you’ve put out that you feel is a good demonstration or example of this remarkable content that has helped you to create authority and to establish your authority?
I can give you a couple of examples. One is the SEO title tag plugin for WordPress that I created around 2007. At the time, Yoast SEO plugin didn’t even exist yet. People were using the All in One SEO pack, but there were a lot of features missing from that. One that I thought would be a great feature was a mass edit admin, so people could mass edit title tags across their entire blog and across the entire website from one page instead of going individually one-page edit screen at a time. It would take them hours if we’re talking about hundreds of pages. That was a valuable free resource that I created.
What came of it? When you did that, what was the result? What do you see in terms of the impact of your authority or your business?
It’s hard to exactly measure it, but we got a massive amount of links from it. All those links pointed to my agency Netconcepts.com. That lifted our rankings for all of our pages, not just for that particular resource. Also, because we were linking to our clients and many of them were using a technology that I had invented called GravityStream, which was a pay for performance SEO platform. We were charging on a cost per click basis for SEO, which is a beautiful thing, $0.15 a click. We were making bank. We were making seven figures from Zappos, for example, on a pay per performance basis. It was a win-win. They want as much traffic as possible and we were happy to provide as much as we possibly could. Our incentives were well aligned, but when we got all those great links because of that wonderful free plugin, we then monetize that by sending that link juice to our clients that were running GravityStream. They got their rankings boosted, we got a lot more $0.15 clicks, and we made a lot more money.
When you set out to create that, were you actively thinking of that connection, the monetization, the strategy, or was it, “Let’s create a cool tool and see what happens with it?”
It was more of the latter.
I’m asking because a lot of times, consultants look at this idea of content creation or intellectual property creation, and deep down inside, they know they need to do more of, but they don’t do it because they hear it takes time to create content, which is often true. The impact and the result that you can see from that content can take time to see the result. They hold off doing it because the rewards aren’t immediate. What would you say to people about that?
You’ve got to invest in building assets and not relying on paid search or Facebook Ads because you’re not building an asset. You’re making income. You stop spending money on those ads and then all that revenue goes away. With link-building and content marketing, you get to keep those links that you’ve earned. Thus, if you take six months off, you’ve created an asset beforehand that is continuing to pay dividends month after month, year after year, even if you go on a sabbatical. Think of this as you’re playing the long game. Most business owners don’t want to be out of business in a year’s time. Whether they realize it or not, they are playing the long game because they went into business. The hard facts of it are though that 90% or 95% of businesses are out of business within ten years.
What would you say to the consultants, either solo, independent consultant, or a small consulting firm owner? Many people have this belief that SEO is only for the big guys, it’s only for the large companies. Link building takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of money to do well. What advice would you have for the one person or the small firm in terms of content, SEO, and link building? What should they be thinking about? What should they prioritize? Where can they get the greatest bang for their money?
I would start with social proof. That is critical because if you don’t have social proof, then you’re forcing the prospect to do a lot of due diligence on you.
Define what you mean by social proof so that everyone is clear on that.
This comes from a book called Influence by Robert Cialdini. He’s the guru on persuading others and what the persuasion techniques are. One of them is social proof. I have a great interview of him on my podcast, Marketing Speak. Social proof is about showing that you come preselected. For example, I had a Dr. Cialdini on my podcast. That’s cool, but that’s not quite social proof. It’s not bad. What if Dr. Cialdini interviewed me about SEO? It will be like, “That’s pretty amazing. You must be a big deal then.” He didn’t interview me about SEO, but Jay Abraham did. I have an episode on Marketing Speak where Jay Abraham interviews me about SEO. I have multiple episodes of him. One was me interviewing him. He’s the godfather of marketing and he’s made his clients billions of dollars. Having him on my show is a big win, but having him interview me about SEO, to position me in that way is powerful in terms of social proof.
What do you then do with that? That’s one example and Jay’s a great guy. I was on his show as well and I enjoyed that conversation. I love how he digs into things and how eloquent he is and the way he describes layers upon layers and his words. What are some examples? Let’s say you’ve been on Jay’s podcast. What do you do with that? In addition to that, what are some things that people can do if they haven’t been on other people’s podcasts yet? What are some examples of best practices when it comes to establishing social proof?
Let’s say that that person is familiar with your expertise and your services, and they say something nice in that episode. You can excerpt that and you can put that on your praise page or testimonials page. Let’s say that you’re starting out and you don’t have any clients yet. This happened to me back in 2000, 2001. We were doing SEO, but only for our web development clients. We were building eCommerce websites and we were baking in SEO and they were making bank. It was great, but we didn’t get hired to do SEO audits by big companies who didn’t want our help with web development. When we wanted to break into that space and do it big, we decided to do a free audit for Target.com in exchange for a testimonial and use of their logo. That was one of the smartest things we ever did. They were super delighted with the audit and the results of implementing the audit and everything. They were over the moon. They got it for free, but that was the best use of our time because we got so much money in the door from people who said, “You work with Target.”Social proof is about showing that you come preselected. Click To Tweet
What I’m hearing here, and I’m also a very big believer in this, it’s using the examples of your past work experience with clients or whoever it might be, employers, different projects, whether you’ve been paid or not paid. It’s taking all of your collective experience with well-known organizations, or if you’ve been featured in the media and then making sure that you’re showcasing that, which a lot of consultants don’t do because they’re not comfortable with shining the spotlight on themselves. They don’t like to promote themselves and talk about what they’ve done. Yet if you don’t do that, no one else is going to do it for you. What I’m hearing you say, Stephan is it’s important to put all that front and center so that a prospective client doesn’t have to spend the time digging to understand what you’ve accomplished. You put it right at the forefront for them.
There’s some nuance to this and the devil is in the details here. If you get it wrong, it will not be effective. For example, you’ll see social proof above the fold on my homepage. You won’t have to start scrolling, in other words. You’ll immediately see a logo bar of as seen on logos. Harvard Business Review, Ad Week, I’m a columnist with Ad Week. I contributed to HBR. I have been on ABC, NBC, and CBS. All those logos are right there, front and center, without even having to scroll. That’s one example. Another is if you go to my results page, which includes case studies. I have to have case studies, problems, solutions, and results. Also, testimonials, some praise quotes from clients with videos, and the transcript of the videos, because a lot of people don’t watch the videos or they watch a little bit of it to see that it looks real.
Whenever possible, show how legit it is by having a video because putting a couple of sentences and then Betty M from Dubuque doesn’t look credible and believable. Have as much information about the person as possible, their headshots, their title, company logo, and the full transcript of what they said on that video. They can watch the video if they want or they can read the testimonial. You’ll see this all on my results page on StephanSpencer.com. Another thing is I use the yellow highlighting to bring forward the most important bits from each of those testimonials. People aren’t going to read a little wall of text with each of these longer testimonials so I need to draw the eyes to the most critical bits that if I put it in the right order, then it will tell a story. If I’m directing their eye with the yellow highlighting, they’re much more likely to read those yellow highlighted bits. If I strategically place these in order so that it tells a story or there’s a story arc to those yellow highlighted bits across the various testimonials, now I’m a great storyteller. All marketing is storytelling.
We have a lot of videos and case studies from clients and so forth, but we haven’t used the transcript with those videos. That’s something that I’ll look into. I appreciate hearing about that. We’ve talked about social proof. What else can people do? Let’s say someone has a website but they don’t get much traffic to it right now. Is there value in them writing long-form articles call them 1,000, 2,000, 3,000-plus word articles? Is that something they should do if they don’t have many people coming to their website or should they be taking that content and posting it to LinkedIn or whatever social platform their ideal clients are on? What would be the best action for them to take?
The answer is both. The strategy I would recommend is called the evil twin strategy. I can’t take credit for this one. This one’s from Andy Crestodina, but what you do is you do all your research and write a version of the article that then is for your blog. You then use the same research to create another version, which you publish somewhere else. For example, I write for Ad Week. I also write for Search Engine Land and so forth. If these outlets require exclusive content like with Ad Week, they had me sign a copyright assignment. Everything I write for them is theirs. It’s crazy, but I decided I want to work with Ad Week. I’ll agree to that. Normally, I would say no but it’s Ad Week. I have to use the evil twin strategy. I can’t just republish the exact same article that I wrote for my blog on to Ad Week. Here’s how it works. Let’s say that you come up with an article idea, you do the research and the headline of the article for your blog is The Ten Most Important Things that the Successful Consultants Do to Start Their Day. What’s an evil twin of that? What is the opposite of that? Give me another headline.
The Biggest Mistakes that People Make?
Yes. What’s the opposite of the best practices? The Ten Biggest Mistakes that Newbie Consultants Make When Starting Their Business. The way they start their mornings. We flip it. Instead of best practices, it’s the worst mistake.
The idea is rather than having to write two articles, you’re essentially taking the article that you’ve written and then repositioning the content to look at it from the opposite side.
It’s more than a little bit of paraphrasing.
It’s has to be quite a bit unique.
I’m not having to start from scratch. I’m using all the research and all the thought that went into the first article. I reuse all that and save me a ton of time in doing this rewrite. It’s pretty ninja.
You’re very content heavy. You develop a lot of content. You write for different places. You have your own blog and website, and run two different podcasts. How do you manage your time when it comes to delivering on-client projects, working with clients, and then working on building your business? Do you have a structure for that? Do you have set days and times? Walk us through what that looks like?
I believe heavily in leveraging the power of your team. I have multiple staff in the Philippines. I’ve got staff here in the US.
Are they full-time contractors? How do you engage with them?
I have employees and contractors. I have full-time and part-time. In the Philippines, I have multiple full-time people and in the US, I’ve got employees and contractors both full and part-time. Let’s take one of my people in the Philippines as an example. She’s working full-time. One of the things that she is in charge of is my social channels. My Twitter, my Facebook and Pinterest, and so forth. What does she do? She has access to my Pocket account. I love pocket. GetPocket.com is the website. It’s a bookmarking tool that you can log in from anywhere. It syncs across browsers and all that.
I give access to my Pocket account to my team. In the case of Trish in the Philippines, she’s going in there to see what I have bookmarked to see what she can include in my Twitter stream for the next week or two. This is super streamlined and automated. I don’t have to have calls with her every week to brief her on what I find interesting or whatever. I just add it to Pocket. This is what Tony Robbins calls NET time, No Extra Time. I’m already bookmarking stuff anyways because I totally got to read this. I’m also putting it in a place where it’s going to be found by my team. I have another person here in the States who writes my newsletter every week.
I have this newsletter called the Thursday Three. What she does, she goes into Pocket as well. She’s looking for the three things that I’m going to write about. She’s ghostwriting for me. What challenged me, what inspired me and what intrigued me. Those are my three things every week. It was loosely inspired by Tim Ferriss’ 5-Bullet Friday. People love this newsletter. I’ve not gotten nearly the response on previous newsletters. I’ve been doing email newsletters for decades. This Thursday Three thing crushes it. She finds inspiring, intriguing, challenging things from my Pocket and writes up a little write-up about it. She’s also writing the intros for my podcast. I have these little 1 to 2-minute intros introducing each guest. She writes those so I don’t have to. I outsource and delegate anything and everything possible. My podcasting, I hit record and hit stop, and I drop it into the Dropbox. Everything else has done, the show notes, transcription, checklist in PDF format. This newsletter she’s writing and occasionally we’ll review it, but a lot of times I trust that it’s going to be in my voice.All marketing is storytelling. Click To Tweet
Does that feature any of your own content?
It’s a mix of some of your stuff, but also a lot of what’s going on in the world, different authors, and things that you find valuable.
Plus, I have two podcasts and both of those week’s episodes are featured in the newsletter as well. A little quote from each one, plus the three things, what intrigued me, what inspired me, and what challenged me.
Let’s go back to your schedule. Walk me through how do you structure your typical week, because you’re still writing some content for Ad Week or other places and you’re doing your podcasts.
For the most part, I use ghostwriters. My team that’s writing the newsletters and that stuff, they’re also ghostwriting the articles too. If I can hand them a recording of me giving a talk, a PowerPoint, or whatever, they’re going to create the draft of the article. There’s this concept I learned from Robert Allen. It’s like, “You’re either a speaker who writes or a writer who speaks.” I am a speaker who writes. You give me a stage and no preparation and say, “Here are 1,000 people. We need you to fill an hour.” I’m like, “I’ll do it. Bring it on,” but, “Here’s the writing assignment. It’s 2,000 words and I need it by tomorrow.” I will agonize over that thing. I do not enjoy the writing process. Yes, I’m an excellent writer. I hate it. It’s not easy for me. I don’t get into a flow state nearly as much. I prefer to get stuff out of my head through an interview process or through speaking on stage. I immediately get into a flow state. If I’m talking to dead air, to a microphone recording a solo episode or recording something to instruct a team member to write an article about, it’s painful.
Did you learn this from an experience like where you were doing too much and you got overwhelmed? I see a lot of consultants who should be delegating more or deputizing. They should be essentially connecting the work they’re doing, not trying to manage it all themselves so they can get more output and greater outcome. They look at the bottom line. They look at the dollars that they need to invest and to spend. They go like, “I don’t know if I should spend more money.” What are your thoughts? How have you seen doing this impact your overall margin, revenue income, and business?
It’s a game-changer. I went from majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors to focusing on what I’m good at on my unique ability, and doing more of that and less of the stuff that was the time-wasters or the types of activities that are best delegated. One thing I learned in this process of shifting from doing this all myself, being what Dan Sullivan calls the rugged individualist to wearing so many hats, doing everything, to being a strategic delegator. One of the most important things that is contributing to success and delegating is delegating outcomes instead of delegating activities or tasks. I used to delegate tasks.
Take us more into that. What does that mean?
Let’s say I give an assignment to somebody. “Draft this article. I need it for an article I’m publishing on a website.” It would sit in a Dropbox folder somewhere until I reviewed it, which might be years. I have articles that are still sitting in Dropbox folders somewhere that I’ve yet to approve. I empowered my team after training them and knowing that they get my voice to publishing it. Do it, get it out there. I don’t even want it. I don’t know what I’m publishing on my blog because I don’t approve it. I don’t even see it. It shows up there. I’m tweeting 7 or 8 times a day. I have 1.2 million impressions per month. My reach on Twitter is about 140,000 followers. I have no idea what I am tweeting.
Does that bother you at all?
No, because I’m making a difference in the world. I’m getting important information out there. I’m a perfectionist, which is not a strength. That is a horrible weakness. Somebody who is a perfectionist is the same as having someone who has no standards. That’s what I was doing. I would agonize over making the article perfectly. I didn’t want to even have that mental anguish. I wouldn’t even go into the Dropbox folder. What would happen when I delegate the task, it would sit in the Dropbox folder. They get to tick off the little box in their sign out list that says, “I did it.” Hands clean, I’m done but it doesn’t count. It only counts if the article is published somewhere and it’s getting a result. If I delegate an outcome and I say, “I need this article published and getting leads coming in,” now they know what the end game is and they’ve not focused on, “Let’s install the wheel onto the car. No, we need a car that gets us from A to B.” If they do something silly like install the steering wheel in the back seat, that makes it hard to get that outcome of going from A to B. You can end up in a wreck. They need to begin with the end in mind, like the quote from Stephen Covey.
Let’s talk about hiring or training. For many people, that’s the fear. It’s going to take me more time to train them than I could do it myself and we both know that’s not a way to build something long-term. That’s not a way to create real value. Anything that you do more than once, you should be delegating or putting a system or process in place. You don’t have to do it yourself more than once. What have you found? Especially at the level that you’re operating where you’re having people write in your voice, essentially publishing it without you even seeing it. That would freak out a lot of people. They might say the wrong thing, make a mistake, but you have it working. What have you done? Any tips that you can offer around the training or the hiring process that has led to having a team that operates the level that yours does?
I have a lot. I’ll give you a few different tips. One is to have a screening process that you can delegate most of, at least. When I hire a new person on a trial basis, it’s somebody that was brought to me by my head VA. You might think, “That’s great for you, Stephan. You have a head VA. I got nobody.” At least start with a service like OnlineJobs.ph. If you’re trying to save money and you want to hire somebody overseas, the Philippines is a great place. A lot of people there speak good enough English. They’ll be able to help you with things like tweets and maybe drafting emails and things that you’ll probably want to review and tweak before it goes out.
How long did it take from the time that you brought someone you want to them being able to publish or to tweet multiple times a day without you reviewing the content they’re creating? From hiring to doing that, how long?
It was immediate because I was never involved in the first place. What I did is I had my team, my head VA or my head writer review the stuff, and then it would get published.One of the most important things that contribute to success is delegating outcomes instead of delegating activities or tasks. Click To Tweet
What about your head writer though? To get them to the place from hiring to producing content, are we talking weeks or months?
Weeks. If you write a good brief like a tone of voice brief, and there are some examples online. Mailchimp has an example tone of voice, a style guide Where it’s cheeky but not crass and all that thing. It’s documented what your tone of voice and style is for your writing. They have something to go off of. The biggest challenge for people initially getting started is not knowing how to find that first person and how to onboard them. I’ll give you some quick tips. Start with a service like OnlineJobs.ph, which is essentially the Craigslist of the Philippines for finding people and for those people finding jobs. You can post a job advert there, you can search through bazillions of job seeker’s profiles.
You could go straight to a recruiter. There’s a recruiting firm in the Philippines called Virtual Staff Finder. I use them. I mentioned Trish, she’s been invaluable working for me for years now. I found her in Virtual Staff Finder. It’s $500. What they do is they bring you the three qualified candidates that they have vetted and interviewed, and then you conduct a final interview and you pick one. If none of them are good, then you could say, “I need three more because these aren’t a fit.” I’ve gone back to them before and said, “I need three more.” That’s included if that’s needed.
When you make a hire, then you pay $500?
No, you pay $500 upfront. They’re committing to bringing you these three qualified candidates. If they don’t meet your standard, then you get three more. If after six, you don’t get one, then you’ve got to pay again and go through the process again or give up. I’ve found incredible people like Trish through Virtual Staff Finder. I prefer that over the do-it-yourself approach of OnlineJobs.ph, but there is a price difference. If $500 is all cost-prohibitive at the beginning, then you could sign up with OnlineJobs.ph, which is like $90 for a month or something like that. You hire the person on a trial basis, let’s say a trial project, three weeks or something like that. You might ask, “What about Upwork, Fiverr.com or something?”
I hate those services for this thing because there’s zero loyalty in those people. Somebody dangles an extra $0.05 an hour and suddenly the person goes to you. “I thought we’re in the middle of a project here?” They got a shiny new bobble in front of them. That’s why I much prefer to find dedicated people through OnlineJobs.ph or Virtual Staff Finder. In the US, there’s Craigslist. I go to multiple cities. I’m not doing this. I’m having my VA do this. She’s screening and interviewing first interviews. I do the second interview. This is all very streamlined. If it’s your very first hire and you want somebody who’s US-based or North American, that’s cool. Go to Craigslist, post to multiple cities. I’d say, college towns like Boston, New York City, Chicago, and so forth would be great.
Bigger cities, I’ve tried Madison, which is a college town. The problem with that is it’s not a big enough pool of people. We don’t get enough qualified candidates. I also include a little test inside of the job advert. I include a problem-solving riddle, which vets a lot of people because a lot of them won’t bother. It says right in the instructions, “Include the solution to the riddle in your email or we won’t look at it.” It’s easy to delete. “That one they didn’t follow instructions, delete.” You could also say, “Put such and such in the subject line.” If you don’t care about attention to detail, then ignore this. If you want somebody who cares about details, this is a game-changer. This in itself will make a world of difference in the quality.
I’ve seen another one where they’ll say in the job description, “Respond to this question with three sentences in blue colored font and this size,” like very specific instructions. It seemed crazy. If you’re looking for someone detail-oriented then that’s a great way.
It sounds crazy and it is a little bit crazy and that would turn off people who know that they are super employable and they’re a catch. They’re like, “In blue font and 13-point Helvetica? No, thank you. I don’t need somebody micromanaging me like a pointy-haired boss, standing behind Dilbert with his hand on Dilbert’s hand on the mouse. I don’t need that a grief.” You’ll turn people off like that. If you say something like, “Please put such and such in the subject line,” and they don’t do it, then you know that they don’t care that much or they don’t see to those kinds of details. Even better, get them to leave a voicemail. Say, “I don’t want to receive an email with your CV yet. I want you to leave a voicemail, no more than three minutes. I want you to cover X, Y, and Z in that voicemail.” You get to hear their tone of voice. You get to hear their enthusiasm and their phone etiquette. You get a lot of insight into the person. If you’re not the one doing that screening but you have somebody that you’ve delegated that to, it’s amazing.
You have three different offerings in terms of how you work. There’s done for you, done with you, and do it yourself. Take us through why do you have those three.
Not everybody is ready for my not inexpensive offerings. My minimum consulting retainer is $15,000 a month. That’s a lot for many people. Not for Volvo, but it’s a lot for a smaller business. If they want to work with the best with the guy who co-wrote the book on the topic of SEO, it’s a 1,000-page book. That’s another tip. If you have a book and it’s a good book, especially if it’s got a lot of pages to it, that is an effective big business card. The Art of SEO, third edition is 1,000 pages. It’s a little intimidating. If I hand this to a prospect like at a conference and I say, “Here, take this with my compliments. By the way, start with chapter seven because that chapter is all about content marketing and link building. That’s not super technical and it will get your creative juices going.” They’re like, “Can I hire you?” That’s music to my ears.
I know they’re mostly going to say that because this is daunting. This will make them go overweight in their luggage. They want to get that done for you solution. If somebody can’t afford $15,000 a month but they still want to work with me and they want to get coaching, but they want me to share all these pearls of wisdom with them and they implement. “The next thing I should do is get these video testimonials transcribed and then do the yellow highlighting.” That’s coaching and I charge $5,000 a month for that. It is affordable for a lot more people, but there are no results, no ROI if they don’t do the work.
They’re going through content that you’ve created and at their own pace. When I look at that, some people might be thinking, “Why not only do the $15,000 or $25,000 or $30,000 per month retainers with the big organizations? Why even spend some of your time doing the $5,000 a month or the $1,000 course or whatever? Why not be focusing in one lane as opposed to the three?”
One word, funnel.
Talk about that. What do you mean?
Let’s take the client Numerologist.com as an example. I’ve got a wonderful case study from them on my website. They’re very happy. They have a massive increase in their organic traffic but they started with a course. They weren’t sure about me. They got a referral and so forth and they were sufficiently impressed that they wanted to try something small. They decided to sign up for my SEO auditing course. He didn’t even finish it. He went through a portion of it and he’s like, “This guy knows his stuff. Let’s work together.” This was all part of our discussion. I had a sales conversation with them. He’s like, “I want to sign up for your course. I want to make the request.” The course is not inexpensive. It was roughly $5,000. He’s like, “If I end up working with you on a consulting basis, I would like that $5,000 credited towards my first month of consulting.” I’m like, “No problem.” That’s exactly what happened. We worked together for multiple years. That was a lot of money.The biggest challenge for new business owners is not knowing how to find the first-person on their team and onboard them. Click To Tweet
You might say, “What about the coaching? Why wouldn’t you have coaching in there? Why not have the course and consulting?” Some people want to pick my brain. That is a phrase I hate. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. If somebody wants to buy me a coffee and pick my brain. In other words, they want to steal my juice and I hate that. If somebody wants to essentially pick my brain and they’re willing to pay for it, it’s totally fine, $5,000 a month. Now we’re on call every week. It’s an ascension path or a funnel where if they want to escalate to faster outcomes and they don’t want to do all the stuff themselves. They want to let’s say, get me to do the audits and the keyword strategies and the link building strategies and all that. We got that $15,000 a month. Some of the people then elevate to the higher price model. After they start getting value, that proves the ROI for them and they don’t get any questions from their boss.
You talked about you provide a very comprehensive SEO audit to large companies and brands. One thing that you’ve experienced, which I know many other consultants have also experienced, you’ve put in all this work to do the audit. You deliver the audit to the client and the client sits on it. They don’t implement. What have you found? What advice would you offer to someone who’s in that same situation where they spend all this time to create this product that they know deep down inside can help the client and the client doesn’t take action on it? Therefore, he’s not going to be able to move to the next step of the engagement to do more work because they haven’t even started out. What has been your experience around that?
One thing that I have tried, which makes me more money and gets a better outcome for the client is instead of just offering a $35,000 audit, which is what I normally charge. It’s three audits in one. It’s a technical audit, content audit, and the link audit. I have broken those into three separate deliverables over three separate months and charge $45,000 for that. The technical audit is month one. In month two, I’m also answering questions on the technical audit as they implement it. We’re only doing this while this engagement is happening. That’s all they got. It’s three months. They are highly motivated to quickly implement stuff so that they can get their questions answered and have me oversee what they’re doing. Everything goes dark after the end of the three months.
Month two, I’m beavering away on the content audit. I’m having a weekly call with the team to review what they’ve been implementing of the technical audit. Month three, after I’ve delivered the content audit and working on the link audit, I’m also having the same calls with them, now going over the content audit and whatever remains of the technical audit that they’re having questions about and implementing. They know there’s a deadline here. Things are going to go dark. They’re not going to have that all finished in those three months. They only got the link audit and now they are highly motivated to engage me on an ongoing retainer basis.
That’s only the $15,000 a month after the $45,000?
Many of my clients end up signing up for the audits and then going to the retainer-based model or they immediately start with the retainer-based model. Guess what those first three deliverables over those first three months? The three audits.
Stephan, I want to thank you for coming on here and sharing some of your best practices and wisdom. I have enjoyed the conversation. I want to make sure that people can learn more about your work and see what you’ve been sharing, whether it’s your blog content, which you said you don’t create, but you can see how someone else has created that. You also have two great podcasts, one on marketing and then another on health, mindsets, wellness, and everything. You need to have those things to have a successful business. I enjoy that podcast called Get Yourself Optimized. Tell us where should people go. It’s StephanSpencer.com. Is that the central hub for everything or is there some other websites that you suggest?
That is the central hub, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll create a special page for your audience. Marketing Speak is the name of my marketing podcast so we’ll put it on MarketingSpeak.com and I’ll make a special URL, MarketingSpeak.com/zipursky. I’ll put in there chapter seven of The Art of SEO, which is all about content marketing and link building. It’s one of my favorite chapters. They’re all my favorite chapters, but that’s a great chapter for starting. I’ll put that in there for free. I’ll also include my SEO Hiring Blueprint, which talks about things like having a riddle in the job advert and putting trick questions into the interview process. That’s a powerful thing too. I’ll include what I call the SEO BS Detector, which is the trick questions that you can insert into the interview process. There’s only one right answer for each of those. It’s a way to discern if somebody is full of hot air or they know their stuff in terms of SEO. You can apply these same principles to any hire, a VA, a paid search person, a social media marketer or anyone.
Stephan, thanks so much for coming on.
You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to be here.
- Inn Site
- Institute for Molecular Virology
- The Purple Cow
- Virtual Staff Finder
- The Art of SEO
- Get Yourself Optimized
- SEO Hiring Blueprint
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