FOUND Friday

A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.


Topic: Developing an SEO and content marketing workflow that works, regardless of the size of the team.

Ray Grieselhuber, CEO and Founder at GinzaMetrics
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics

Adam Helweh, Founder and CEO at Secret Sushi
Gina Vasselli, Marketing Strategist, Fuel Interactive


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Erin: Good morning. Welcome to FOUND Friday. Thanks for joining the weekly series dedicated to search and content marketing. Each week we cover a new topic as well as do a quick review of some notable trends or stories from the week.

This week I’m excited to be joined by Gina Vasselli – please tell me if I butchered your last name – who is an Internet Marketing Strategist at Fuel Interactive in Myrtle Beach. We have Adam Helweh, founder and CEO at Secret Sushi, which is a digital marketing design and application development firm. We also have Ray Grieselhuber, founder and CEO at GinzaMetrics, a SaaS SEO and content platform dedicated to helping brands get found. I am your ever faithful moderator, Erin Robbins O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics and President of the Social Media Club, San Francisco Chapter.

Today, we’re going to cover how to manage SEO when you have a smaller team. We’ll cover things like how to handle updates to things like Panda and Penguin, ideas around prioritization, and how to make sure that you’re still showing ROI even if it’s just you.

Let’s kick this off with a question to the group. When we say “small team,” just how small is a small team in your experience?

Adam: One. One is the smallest, it’s the loneliest number I know, I know if somebody wanted to say that. In my opinion, we’re talking about anything from one to probably five or six in my opinion and SEO is likely not in their domain. They want to make their SEO work because it should but that’s not in their domain. That’s my opinion of a small group.

Gina: I would agree with that. I think one is obviously the smallest number. But I think at Fuel, we have a team of four, sometimes up to five if we have an intern or somebody like that. All of us do specialize in SEO but we also do PPC and e-mail marketing and sometimes some social stuff. It varies. SEO isn’t just the only thing we do, so that makes it even smaller.

Ray: I would even say less than one, it’s like a percentage of a human, because there’s a lot of single-operator companies out there and a lot of times those people are faced with figuring out how to do everything from fundraising sales, selling their product and service on top of SEO.

Erin: Definitely true. Gina and Adam, since both of you guys are helping clients with their SEO efforts, what seems to be the most common SEO request or pain point from these small sub-five-person groups?

Adam: I‘d say probably it always boils down to two different things. It’s either technical SEO, so having a clear understanding of the technical SEO side for those that are maybe less technically savvy. And then the other is of course content. We’ll get into it a little bit. In my opinion, that’s sort of the barriers between those two are breaking down a little bit, as well. But those seem to be the two camps but primarily leaning on the technical SEO side for the most part.

Gina: The biggest pain point for a lot of small teams is probably managing expectations with the clients that you’re dealing with and making sure that everybody understands what’s possible and what you can get done. The same thing, because you’re managing expectations, I think time management and when you’re split between – in our case, we have 40 clients and there are five of us at most – that’s a lot of time you’re supposed to be spending on all of your clients and it takes a lot of hours in a day up to try and manage everything.

Adam: Gina, I want to ask you based on what you just said there. You made me think of something when it goes to managing expectations. For instance, I have one client who says that as far as he’s concerned, SEO is black magic. I could see how for somebody it’s not their domain, a client might feel that way, would you say that managing expectations part of that is managing their understanding of what SEO is and does and then being able to give them a real world of understanding of how you’re helping them work on that?

Gina: Definitely. I think education and educating the client is a huge part of managing expectations. And we’re going through a lot of that now especially with a lot of the new algorithm changes and everything like that. The way SEO is done is changing so you can’t just let people continue to think that it’s sort of voodoo thing that’s happening behind the scenes. We need their help with it. We need their involvement, so they have to understand at least part of what we’re trying to do.

Erin: That actually brings up a really good point. Ray, since you actually provide an SEO platform, how is it that you stay on top of the sometimes daily updates that search engines are making so that the platform is relevant to your clients?

Ray: It’s a combination of three things. One is, I’m always just doing my own research, so I’ve always been studious in that regard. I really enjoy just checking out all the different things that are going out.

The other thing is our own data. I spend quite a bit of time looking at our own data, monitoring trends that we’re seeing from the dataset. We have a quite large dataset now so you can see things that are going to turn into long-term trends and, in some cases, long before maybe the end client would end up seeing it. We’ve can use that as a way to provide some insights back to them.

The other way, which is actually probably the most important in many ways, is client feedback. We’re always hearing things from our customers. They will ask me, “What do you think about this?” I was talking to a guy and he asked, “What about this new algorithm update that’s coming? Are we going to be affected?” Those sorts of things always force me to go back to the first thing which is to spend, as much time as possible, researching and staying on top of things.

Adam: Ray, a comment on that, regarding the Panda and Penguin updates. My observation has been that the people that are most effective are very small percentage. We’re talking a single-digit percentage in most cases and as far as I remember. Would you say that the folks that really have to worry about those updates, the critical folks, it’s really minimal for them initially, right?

Ray: Yeah. I think the type of companies that we saw that were most affected were companies that were not large Fortune 500-type companies, but they were smaller and, in many cases, startups, so they were growth companies. A lot of them had, from their business model, focused on transactions so they’re basically doing lots of different things in order to grow a number of those transactions for obvious reasons.

They weren’t intentionally and necessarily trying to do bad black cat things, but there was a common wisdom about the way you manage SEO at scale three or four years ago that seemed the right way to do things. Those guys just got hammered over the last year or two. They were trying to figure out what they had done wrong because they really didn’t feel like they were necessarily trying to do black cat to anybody but they got hit pretty hard.

I would say the scheme of things that was probably minority of sites but there’s probably also a very local and well-represented portion of sites in terms of online businesses because they’re businesses that are so close to transactional model and also rely on SEO so much for their [07:53 inaudible].

Erin: Taking that conversation a little bit, we’ll continue on this. Since there is an evolving role of content, social, etc. and you see that included things like Panda and Penguin updates, what do you think are some things that smaller teams can do to try to handle this evolutionary scale since creating content does seem to be a more time-intensive labor than maybe link building and things like that?

Adam: In my opinion, there’s really excellent post that came out. I have to show the link to you. But it was this info graphic that showed essentially the current lay of the land regarding SEO. It was so multi-dimensional. It wasn’t just about how you optimize the meta keywords and all that sort of thing. It covered how content should be properly done.

In my opinion, it’s about making sure that the different folks from different departments or the different roles, are working together because to me it’s a little bit UX. It’s a little bit – what’s the user experience like? Google with these updates have done, in my opinion, a really good service to their end users because they’re leaning people now into the direction of saying, “Stop trying to appease the robot. Start trying to appease the human.” It’s about user experience design, the tech side of the design so the actual implementation in the semantic code and all that, and then ultimately the content in marketing.

There are so many people that play an important role into it. If the technical person who’s implementing the semantic code and making sure it’s all optimized doesn’t work with the group that’s actually working on the content and understand the overall business goals and marketing strategy then they don’t have anything to optimize. Ultimately, the user experience folks, the work that we’ve done is we actually have worked with multiple parties in that case so that when the site is actually in the design phase and we’re talking about content, we may actually recommend to them slight design changes in order to make sure that the user experience is also in line. So when somebody comes, it’s not just that it’s optimized and show this great keywords and key phrases but that the experience feels like it’s something that is natural and not forced because you were really trying to optimize the page content.

Gina: I agree with a lot of what Adam is saying. I think the biggest thing that we have to do is get a lot of people, including clients, working together with you in order to help produce the content and make sure that what you’re doing is in line with what their overall brand message and their brand is really going for because you can’t just be going after keywords if they really don’t match up with what the brand is actually about. It doesn’t work in the long run.

The biggest thing that we’re running into that’s hard is when you have these updates coming out, when you have smaller clients – we’re talking with the 1%, a lot of the updates impact them – I think they wind of getting rolled out into the overall algorithm shift longer down the road, but it takes a lot longer for them to get rolled out across all the SERPs. And so, you have clients where you’re trying to do the right thing but there are other people who are doing better than them by using really old tactics that we know weren’t really what you’re supposed to do but they’re just not getting hit yet. That’s really frustrating I think for a lot of small SEO owners.

Ray: I think that those are some of the really core problems that have always been with the SEO just due to the nature of the business we’re in. Going back to the content creation problem, if you look at the history of probably the Internet marketing, creating high quality content is probably always going to be and always has been the number one bottleneck because it just takes a lot of effort. Creating unique content is obviously what makes the Internet as valuable as it is but doing that as well, especially if you’re a small business, that’s something that’s really hard to do. Obviously trying to do that and then also stay on top of all these different trends that you’re supposed to be monitoring is a huge challenge for people.

Adam: Ray, I had to add to what you’re saying about the quality content thing being challenging to people. I’d almost challenge us to ask, “Why is that?” In my personal opinion, the reason around that is because it’s an outward, looking from the perspective of the user has always been consistently difficult and has become little less difficult as everybody in social and all that stuff starts to root for thinking of the customer first and so on. But what I think the hardest thing is we’re in a transitional phase.

We’re all about broadcast and all about thinking that they build products that they thought that the customers wanted or basically almost did in a way just hoped that they could build it and that everybody would come based on spending a lot of dollars on advertising and marketing. Now that not being the case, the power is in the hands of the users and that quality content is not content that would be Ray’s favorite content or Adam’s favorite content but the favorite content of the mass of our audience based on a clear understanding and empathetic view of who that customer is, first and foremost, in my opinion.

Erin: I would say that for content that you’re talking about, why is it so had to develop quality original content? Ray and I are working as a small team of ourselves. There’s one thing to provide a service to other people, but there’s another for us to do our own SEO. When Ray was talking about somebody being less than one, like a fraction of a percent, a fraction of a person, what we’re also talking about is the amount of time that it takes to create deep, unique, quality content.

I can tell you that amidst working on other things, meetings, other aspects of the business, when there’s already a fraction of your time that’s dedicated to SEO that you really do have to prioritize the creation of content high up on the scale if you want to have it done and oftentimes in a five-person or less team or sub-ten person team, it somehow gets de-prioritized or things continue to break up into your day and it’s really hard to write a really good long thoughtful post anytime other than 10:00 at night or Sunday afternoon. Life just gets in the way.

I know that in terms of why people who are creating great content are doing so well is because it’s hard to do. It really is. It’s not easy to just pay somebody to do it all the time either because it means that they don’t have your unique voice, your unique perspective necessarily like your brands, best interest at heart, which is why I think sometimes it takes content marketing agencies a little bit of time to get ramped up as well because you really have to get them into speaking your voice as well.

Adam: Based on what you were just saying too, Erin, there’s a difference between SEO targeted content and maybe all the rest of the content that you might use for whether it be lead generation or sponsored content on some of the networks or trust building content and awareness based content because we’re talking about content that would be actively available, would be indexed for the right things and available to people who are actually using, for the most part, a search tool. We usually think of search engines for the most part and I know that in previous conversations we’ve had we’ve also talked about some of the other search things that are out there. I think it’s also distinctively thinking about those types of content.

Gina: The thing is that when you’re working with a small team, you end up not creating a lot of the SEO content because your time gets spent creating the other content, the lead generation or whatever. Unless you make it multipurpose, it makes a lot harder to get it done. I think one of the best ways to do is take stuff that you’re already doing and you already need to do and then re-jigger it and make it work for SEO as well.

Ray: From a pure SEO perspective, actually when I get asked questions about, “What you think about this?” there’s been some research and we’ve seen some of this in our own data as well indicating that one of the biggest shifts that has happened in the algorithms has been away from grading individual page on its own merit towards looking at the overall quality and to use the Moz KPI domain authority of the site. As you increase that overall domain authority, your aggregate rankings are going to improve for all of your content.

What that says to me, if that is indeed true, is that you can actually focus more time on creating that high quality content and not necessarily worry about creating these leaf pages that are over-optimized or just very well optimized for a specific keyword. I wanted to see what you guys think about that because that’s something that we’re starting to see it and it’s always good to hear the people’s opinion on it.

Gina: Just speaking for me especially, we’ve seen that for a long time with hotel sites. A big portion of our clients are hotels in the area. We’ve see that for a while where even not necessarily the page that you’re trying to rank, that you have all the keywords for, the page won’t rank but the domain, the main URL, will rank for a keyword. It’s something that we’ve seen for a long time.

So, yes, I agree totally. Helping out the domain overall, it’s not going to hurt your efforts obviously. I think that the more that you focus on that and focus on making that site overall match up with the keywords that you want to go after. Whether or not a specific page or whatever, I think you just need to have a broad strategy for the domain and have that match-up with everything.

Adam: There’s a rising tide mentality. Rising tide floats all boats. So when you think of things as a domain authority level there’s a number of things that can apply to that. There are some really good illustrations in this graphic that I’ll try to send over to you, Erin, so remind me.

There’s this domain level things and then there are page level things. In the past, like you were saying, Ray, it’s been less on the domain level things. Those things had less of an impact and I’m glad to see that they are having more of an impact in addition to even friends and sometimes the author of the post now is having an impact based on author rank and all that as well. Things are moving on a good direction, in my opinion, when it comes to the end user.

Erin: I’ll end with this last question for everybody. For somebody who maybe has let’s say 30 minutes a day or a few hours a week to spend on SEO that they can dedicate, what would you suggest are the couple of things that they should be doing with that time? Good one because everybody’s quiet.

Gina: Are we assuming that they already have basic stuff done? Or are we talking about starting from day one, never done anything SEO-wise before?

Erin: You can take it either direction. I’m sure that we’ve got people that fit into both of those categories.

Adam: Looking at it from a user experience perspective is important. Just this morning I had a meeting with a client and really what I ended up focusing on was taking a look at where we were linking from their AdWords ads and looking at their search results and asking: what is the expectation, the mindset of the person that clicks on this link? What do they expect to see on the other side? Is the language there? Is the right information there that makes that person feel like “I found what I was looking for”?

Looking at it from the user perspective and asking, if a user sort came from a search page, “Is the actual title tags, all the meta stuff that I have, leading them through the right expectation?” When they get to the page and then when they get there, does the page reinforce that same expectation? And when you look at that from a few perspectives, you might just do something really minor like change the meta information or just change the content on the page that they’re heading, which is what we did today. Just change a few headers in order to make it clear.

Gina: I agree with what Adam was saying. Another thing that you could do as well that I would stress to any client and what we try to get all our clients do is just blog. Any questions that you get asked more than three times, blog about it, write about it, get it out there because that’s something that people are looking for, obviously. I think using that time to create content that even if it just saves you time because then instead of answering the same question 50 times, you can just send people a link. I think that helps you out and it helps you out from an SEO perspective, as well.

Ray: I actually really agree with both of those. I think on the blogging thing, a lot of times what we’ll see is when we’re talking to people is there may be in different stages but in most cases pretty much everybody is overwhelmed by one thing or another. We’ll say just wherever you are, take whatever you’re doing right now and start small and figure out a way to start working out into your daily workflow. As you get better at doing that on a regular basis then figure out the next thing, figure out the next high priority item is, and start doing that too.

Like Adam said, if you’re focusing on the user experience all the time, that’s going to be really important. There’s a well-known user experienced specialist and copyright specialist that goes by the name of Stephanie Hay. She does a really good presentation where she talks about how everything you do as a business is really making a promise to your users and to your customers and then delivering on that promise. And every time you deliver on that promise through your content, through your product, you’re creating a more authentic user experience. Every time you don’t do that, conversely, you’re abandoning that opportunity to gain that trust.

As you look at SEO, the way it’s changing and as you look at content marketing and everything else, I think that’s really what people were talking about is figuring out a way to regain that trust of users by making a promise and just sticking to it. And as you do that from the businesses perspective, figuring out the highest, most effective way of achieving that on a daily basis.

Erin: We are going to wrap up our main topic portion of the show, but this is something we can talk about probably for an hour or more. Everybody’s information will be included in the show notes on the GinzaMetrics blog. If you’d like to get in touch with them, you certainly can. We’re going to move on to our lightning round where everybody gets a couple minutes to talk about a trend or topic that is top of mind this week. Gina, I’m going to let you kick it off. You’ve got two minutes to convince us that your topic is super important.

Gina: The topic that I think is probably top of mind for us this week and it’s something we already touched on is demystifying SEO in order to make it more approachable for small businesses so they understand what you’re doing. We’ve been working on a lot internally and it’s something that, when you are small SEO businessman that’s really important because you’re working with people who are good at what they do obviously, they run their own business, they’re smart people, but what you do isn’t what they do. Getting them to understand why it’s an important and how you guys can work together, that’s something that I think we’d been working on a lot and is important. It would be important every week. I could say that every week, probably.

Another thing that I’ve been wondering about is Google. I saw something that a lot of people were saying that they saw some changes in their search results. I guess last week and this week as well, Google is making some algorithm changes. It’s something I’m going to always be interested in and I’m wondering what’s coming down the pipeline, what I’m going to have to backtrack in six months and say, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

Ray: There’s a new story about Matt Cutts warning people about user-generated content or automatically generated content. It boggles my mind that people are still trying to do that. It’s one of those lessons that you think everyone would’ve learned but now, but apparently that’s not the case.

It does goes back to what we were talking about earlier. The reason that it exists is because it’s fundamentally challenging to create high quality content at scale. But I don’t think the answer to that is ever just trying to go and automatically create it.

The other thing that I’ve been doing a little bit of research about and hearing about this week is there are a lot more companies that are looking to go internationally. One of the things that people are really struggling with is trying to figure out when they go internationally, do they register country-specific TLDs. Do they work with the existing dot com and do a subfolder or subdomain and that sort of thing.

I think the prevailing wisdom relatively recently is that, if you look at it at an old school term page rank perspective, you basically keep everything on that main domain. A lot of people are starting to find now and have good results with this focusing on creating that country-specific TLD and loading a lot of content. But then that goes back to the challenge of how do you competitively create content in the language in the market that you have no experience thus far. I’ve seen some interesting discussions about that over the week and there’s probably some stuff on that in the news eight now too.

Adam: We touched on it a little bit today which is a clear understanding for me over the last couple of weeks about the power of the domain level stuff has in comparison to what it did previously, I think that that’s really important. It lets you breathe a little bit of a sigh relief because it actually isn’t always effective, in my opinion, and just be focused on these one or two big pieces of content alone. I’ll show you that link.

The other thing is related. I think it was an article on ad age or something like that where some agency was basically saying that for them and many of their clients that focusing on LinkedIn was far more important than pretty much anything else, that it was more actionable and they eluded to the fact that blogging for instance was low on their food chain in comparison to LinkedIn.

It was actually a popular post that was trending – I don’t remember where exactly it was trending – but I think what I’d say to that a little bit is, hey, I’m really pro-blogging. I think pro-blogging probably because for everybody else feels, generates a lot of content. Out of all the content you generated, content that happens to be on your website, on your domain, it cuts up a lot of different sort of that – again, it’s adding another to the bucket to the tide so that it rises.

For that to be outshined by LinkedIn and when people read an article about that, I think they need to keep in mind the context as to what exactly this agency says that they’re doing with their blog versus with LinkedIn or something like that. When you read it, it’s not going to confuse with things like if you want your site to be found and you want to really take advantage of SEO that, LinkedIn’s not going to do it.

If you don’t blog, you don’t create content, then what do you have to share on LinkedIn? LinkedIn just becomes a database where you can research but not a place where you can then go and distribute that content. It’s just keeping that in perspective. LinkedIn is an awesome place that I’m really bullish about over the next couple of years to actually distribute that content and to help organically be found through the content that you’re sharing.

Gina: Adam, do you remember what kind of business it was that was talking about LinkedIn being so successful and useful for them?

Adam: I thought it was an agency and I thought it was an agency talking about themselves but talking about also a few of their clients. That’s why just the way that it was stated was so definitive and it was just really, really awkward. They said it’s a passive place where everything else takes energy and is very active.

That means to me that they’re doing basically nothing on LinkedIn and thinking they’re getting value out of it and they’re losing out on building up the domain authority and all these other things they could be doing by actually being active with their blog, for instance, or sharing content. You can’t be passive on LinkedIn if you’re generating content elsewhere and sharing it on LinkedIn. That means you’d be being active on LinkedIn as well. I think there was some confusion as to what exactly they were trying to get out of whatever efforts they were trying to make.

Erin: We were excited then when people state their opinion as absolute fact. I think my last little bit for me this week is if you are working with a team of people, they’re contributing content, say blog post and things to your site, is getting a process in place and putting some things around there that allowed them to make the content good for both SEO purposes as well as other things.

A lot of times what we discover is that there’s nobody with an SEO hat on that’s moderating blog content sometimes in smaller organizations. So maybe there are three or four people contributing but they don’t know anything about adding their H1 tags or making sure that things are really set up in a way that maximizes the existing effort.

My tip for small teams is whatever you’re doing right now, if you do nothing else, spend one or two extra minutes and just amp up and make sure whatever effort you’re already putting in is maximized as much as you can. I know that it only takes a minute or two to just go in and make sure that your blog posts are really set up right. If you’ve already written a content, make that content get all the mileage you can.

That concludes this week’s show. I want to thank Adam, Gina, and Ray for joining us. Again, if you have additional questions for any of us, the information to get a hold of people will be on the blog later as well as in the show notes. You can watch this episode live on the YouTube channel every week or you can go back and replay old episodes.

That’s it for us. Thanks, everyone.

Gina: Thanks.

Adam: See you.

Ray: Thank you. Bye.

Erin: Bye, guys.

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