Few hard-and-fast rules need to be followed when marketing a business online. Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and search engine sales (SES) are three pillars that can boost website traffic and grow your business.
In this episode, Jean and Gaby Galea talk to Jared Bauman, co-founder, and CEO of 201 Creative, a digital marketing agency.
201 Creative helps businesses enhance SEO to produce more leads, SEM to supercharge growth by increasing awareness and demand, and SES to make real money and customers. Many agencies stop at the SEO phase, but it takes more to be successful.
Episode Highlights and Topics
- Specialties and Services: 201 Creative focuses on SEO, social media, email marketing.
- Target Audience: 201 Creative’s clients tend to be in small- to mid-sized creative niches.
- SEO Content Challenges: Approach to online marketing to grow businesses, drive traffic.
- EAT: Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are required to create content that ranks.
- Skyrocket Growth: Even without a SEO plan/strategy, be consistent and relevant.
- Content Translation: Language is predominant ranking factor, but location plays a role.
- Aged vs. Fresh Domains: Backlinks are less important, new sites take time to rank topics.
- SEM: Turn traffic metrics into leads to make more money and solidify brand message.
- Money Mindset: When to hire an agency – when there is an expertise or scale gap.
- SWOT Analysis: Evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Algorithms and Agencies: Know how to measure, monitor, evaluate data/executables.
About Jared Bauman
Jared Bauman is the Co-Founder and CEO of 201 Creative, LLC. With almost 20 years of experience in business management and digital marketing, he brings a rich background of both knowledge and experience in helping companies grow.
Hi, this is Gaby Galea. Welcome to the WP Mayor podcast. In this episode, we’ll be speaking with Jared Bauman, cofounder, and SEO
of 201 Creative. 201 Creative helps businesses in three main areas. First, they enhance your SEO producing more leads for your online business. Second, your SEM, search engine marketing. This will supercharge your growth by increasing awareness and demand.
Hi, Jared. Welcome to the podcast.
Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
It’s nice to have you on.
Great to be here. Thank you.
Today we’re joined by Jean. How are you, Jean?
Hi, everyone. I’m good, thanks. I’m excited to learn more about all the topics we’ll be discussing with Jared.
Me too. So, Jared, you’re the co-founder and CEO of 201 Creative. Why don’t you tell us a bit about your company, how it was formed, and what you actually do?
Sure thing. We are a digital marketing agency and there are so many avenues that you could specialize in or work with clients. We serve clients in three main areas: SEO, social media, and email marketing. Those are probably the three pillars that the company focuses on.
To be honest, the majority of the work we do is around more of the SEO topic, which is helping websites optimize themselves for search. Whether it’s on the technical side or it’s on the organic side with content and links. We’ve been doing that for several years now. Myself and my business partner have a long-standing background in marketing and have always used online marketing sources to grow the businesses we’ve been involved in. So it just made sense to start a company that just did that and focused on that for other businesses.
That’s great. So who’s your target audience when you talk about businesses? Is it small businesses or more towards the agency type of things?
I’d say small to mid-sized businesses. Our clients kind of stratified all the way down from a very small business or local business, a single-operator business, kind of smaller clients up to mid-sized businesses doing revenues in the $50–$100 million dollar mark.
I’d say that we tend to focus on creative niches so that can be anyone or business ranging from the creative space to the invention space to start-up space, so SAAS spaces—these types of products. But at the end of the day, small to medium-sized businesses are about where we’ve landed in terms of the type of clients we normally serve.
It’s mostly people selling products or is it also for blogs and these sorts of websites?
Yeah, we’ve seen quite a bit of it. At the end of the day, when you have a focus on SEO, you really are able to attract a wide array of clients because you can use search engine tactics to grow businesses from eCommerce, so selling products.
We have several clients who are a great case study that we tend to attract as an avatar, would be a client who has a product or several products that are doing really well on Amazon, but they want to try to move as many of those sales as possible off of Amazon and into a like a Shopify environment. So, we’ll help those clients there.
A number of service-based businesses, that’s a very common one, especially when it comes to local businesses. They’re your neighborhood veterinarian. Perhaps say a restaurant that has four or five locations, stuff like that. Then, content sites for sure, sites that are selling either SAAS or content in general. Then courses, education, consulting, and using content to drive that growth and that traffic.
Yes, that’s a really wide range of clients that you’ve got.
It is. I mean, I would think maybe down the road we’ll try to focus on a specialty and we’ve certainly been looking for that, but I think the benefit of doing SEO for a wide range of clients is that it’s very interesting and you learn something new every day. I mean, every time we take on a client, you end up somewhat becoming a bit of a not an expert, but you have to learn a lot to truly market them. It keeps it very interesting and fun.
Just to jump in, we own a digital product, and then we have two content sites. One of which is WP Mayor and the other one is my personal blog – which has grown somewhat of a reference in the financial space as in like personal investment space (I would say). These types of clients, which I think are also the main bulk of our audience. If sites like this come to you, what’s your process? How do you start? I also saw, which intrigued me that you guarantee some results. Is that right?
I think a lot of the challenges that I meet when speaking to other bloggers especially is that we all know we need to do SEO, SEM, and all this stuff, but many of us have just been blogging, maybe found some success. First of all, we don’t have the time to get into all this technical stuff and we don’t really know whether it pays or not. So for me, the biggest challenge was will I spend a ton of money on Google ads for example, which are a classic (I think)?
Money-drain for those who don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve heard lots of stories of people who’d spend a couple of thousand grand a month and then they got no results. So that goes out of the window and they never touch it again. I’m curious to see how you approach it, especially in the light of the guarantee that you’re giving.
Yeah, it’s a great question and frankly almost everybody that we end up speaking with that’s interested – I’ll use the term has been burned before and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they got in trouble or anything. They had a bad experience, whether it’s a bad Google ad campaign, or maybe invested in blog content that never went anywhere. I think that story almost shapes and provides a framework for why we are around.
My background, again, I mentioned earlier about how I’ve always used online marketing to grow businesses, but it’s honestly SEO. That was the one nut I couldn’t crack right out of the gate when marketing. We subscribed to the idea many years ago (my company) that if you just write good content then the traffic will come. That was a common theme that resounded around the marketing industry, and I’ll tell you that it never did come.
We had written hundreds (probably a hundred or two hundred) articles, all really well written, expertly researched on the topic, on point and the traffic never did come and it caused me to go down this rabbit hole of trying to determine exactly what was wrong there. To lead into your question, to answer that, the biggest problem that we see is that most marketing these days is done without a really, really solid plan in place. It’s usually done with the best of intentions.
But unfortunately, the way marketing has grown nowadays is that you really need to have a lot of specialists in your camp to pull it off successfully. If you want to write content, you need to be an expert or have an expert in your camp that publishes content that ranks nowadays. It’s not as easy as it used to be, if you want to run ads, whether it’s Facebook ads, Google Ads, you need to have an expert in your camp. If you want to grow your social media accounts organically – I can go on and on down the list. If you want to market to people via email and use webinars, trip wires, and upsells, all these things require specialization now.
That’s really where the role of an agency can come in and help is providing someone or an individual or a company with that specialized approach where there’s a subject matter expert that can actually tackle content writing whatnot. Sometimes that’s where people can end up getting a little bit burned and it comes back to the idea of having a plan and having a plan that you can stick to.
Setting a plan for a company is typically where we would start and almost always the most important thing, to the point where while most companies end up utilizing us to execute that plan. Frankly, with a good strategy in place, you can then go take that and plug in all the details around that. But as long as you’re on a good plan and you stick to that, that’s typically the most important thing and why we’re able to really put our namesake behind what we do and really provide those guarantees.
Okay, let me give you a different angle. In my case, I never did any conscious SEO of any type (I think). But my content was still really successful over the years. Granted, it took many years, I wasn’t really particularly looking for any success, it was just my personal blog. Then after four years it suddenly started to rank, get a lot of traffic, and drive affiliate sales. So to me, that was quite an achievement. But speaking to people in the industry, they’re telling me you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.
My question is, am I going to try to optimize things and waste a lot of money? I’m kind of in that dilemma. I’m happy to invest to grow it, obviously, and that guarantee particularly hits home with me because that’s exactly what I would want. Because I’m already successful, I’m already making money. But if people are telling me and I obviously know that I’ve done no effort, I imagine with some targeted effort, I would make better results. So, how would you approach that? Where would we start from?
Well, first off, congratulations on the success and you’re downplaying it, but I think you’ve probably touched upon the most important thing even without (I’m just taking words for what you’re saying) maybe a really solid plan for how to grow this website, you’ve grown it and you’ve grown because you’ve shown up day in day out, you’ve published good content to it for four years in a row.
Again, going back to where we see all the problems that happen around people that kind of get burned or come to us and say, well, this didn’t work, that didn’t work – a lot of times, it was a great strategy but it just wasn’t executed all the way out. Especially when it comes to an SEO strategy, a Search Engine Optimization strategy, these things take time, they really do. We’re seeing the time it takes extend longer, but the good news is the benefits will tend to last longer as well.
When it comes to your website specifically, chances are that a good strategy would allow you to skyrocket the growth. Typically what we’re seeing when we have a client that comes to us is that there’s a lot of untapped areas that you might have missed or areas you’ve delved into just briefly but haven’t doubled down on.
As an example, when Google likes and prefers your website for a specific topic. Where we find a ton of success and a huge recommendation I have for anybody listening, is if Google likes you for a certain topic, go out and write every single article on that topic. Write every variation that you can find, answer every question about that topic, build out every comparison about that topic, and really dive deep into the topic. Because right now, and this has been building for several years now, Google is hugely focusing on topical relevancy.
For example, that would be probably an area that we would immediately focus on with your website is we’d look at – out of all the content that you’ve written – what areas is Google giving you a lot of love? Where are you really killing it? Where are you ranking number one? Is there a certain theme, a central theme, or are there a couple of themes? And then we probably focus on doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on those topics and making sure that you covered every single topic so that you could lean into the topical relevancy or the authority that Google is giving you at this point.
That makes a lot of sense and for sure it would work in my case. You also touched on local SEO, which makes a lot of sense as well. I’m going to ask about global SEO as I call it. I’m writing for anyone, who speaks English though.
So my question is in terms of rankings, how is it determined? Is it by country or by language first of all? Have you seen many cases where say you’ve got successful content in English, can you easily enter new language markets, provided that the same product would apply or affiliate links would still work well? Is it an easy win (so to speak) to translate that content?
That’s a good question. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that question. That’s a really good one. I would say from our work, it’s by language. Let me tackle that from two angles, that’s a really good question.
I would say that the language is going to be the predominant ranking factor there, but the location is going to play a role in it. The location plays a role, this is my opinion, more from just the amount of search traffic that is generated from that country. Less because it is targeted or written in that country.
For example, most of our clients are in the United States. I can’t think of an example that isn’t the case when it comes to the global side of things like you called it. Most of them, their number one country for traffic is the United States. However, for the vast majority, their number two and/or number three countries are Canada and the UK. If you were to compare the volume of English-speaking citizens, I suppose, those countries would also be pretty high up on the chart in terms of English-speaking volume.
From what I’ve seen, it’s going to be based on language first and foremost and then the country is less important, even though it looks to be important. It’s most likely because of the number of people who are searching, therefore targeting, and therefore getting traffic to your site as a result of that.
It’s interesting. Here in Europe, in a way, it’s quite a big market, but then it’s also very fractured because every country has its own language basically. I see people from the US, of course, because I write in English -the UK, Canada, and Australia. But then there’s also these countries in Europe where I’m not exactly sure. Say Germany, I know most Germans would search in German. There are blogs which are entirely in German that are super strong. So that’s a question I get.
Since I’m already getting traffic from Germany, would shifting my content to German also drive up the rankings, or does Google prefer someone who’s been blogging in German for many years and it’s a German blog, so to speak?
I hate to give the classic SEO answer if it depends. But, in many ways, it would depend. It reminds me a lot when you talk to the category of people who own niche sites who focus on content sites that are monetized specifically and almost entirely through ranking. The topic of picking a niche comes up quite a bit and how far down do you niche down?
You want to write about bowling balls or bowling, let’s say, do you make a website that’s about just the general topic of playing games and then just write content about starting out with bowling? Do you make a bowling site and make content just about bowling, or do you niche down even further and make a website just about bowling balls?
You could argue both ways. You could argue that certainly a site specifically on bowling balls will probably rank quicker and maybe higher for bowling ball topics. But then, you’re going to run out of topics to write about quicker, and the amount of traffic you’ll get from that site over the course of time will be smaller just because you’re going to hit a ceiling quicker.
Obviously, if you just write about games in general and bowling is one of those games, while you have an incredibly high ceiling but you don’t have as much topical relevancy, so it’s going to take longer to rank for some of those topics and probably take a lot more work. That’s the way I tend to think about building websites in multi-languages or just building websites that target certain countries.
I have friends who do very well, for example, targeting Australia specifically, even though it’s an English-based country, they target and build websites on the Australian platform, they build websites targeted specifically to Australian products and Australian topics. They do very well, but their ceiling is capped because at a certain point, the number of people in Australia compared to other English-speaking countries is more limited.
I hate to say it depends, but either way, I think you can succeed. It’s funny you mentioned German, that was the example that I was going to give. If you want to make a site specifically focused and written in German and targeting the German market, there’s overwhelming data that would suggest that you would rank quicker than if you try to take an English site and target German-specific topics. But you’ll be capped with a ceiling because Germany isn’t as big because it’s just one country in Europe as some of the other bigger countries or bigger languages.
How strong is the domain authority and the general factors of ranking? Because let’s say I’ve got my site now has a good domain authority, but starting a new domain in German would have zero authority and that has to be built up. How much is that a factor? Or should I even consider buying an existing domain?
Good question. How big of a deal is authority? A couple of things are key to look at there. I would say the general topic of domain authority as it stands, which is typically backlink-related historically, is less and less important. That’s not to say backlinks aren’t important, but just the general idea of the power of a domain is decreasing.
We’re seeing it’s much easier to rank websites nowadays with fewer links in general than in previous years, I’ll say. That’s a very general statement. Now, there are a couple of things at play. The sandbox that Google puts a new domain in is extending longer and longer. We’re now dating ourselves here, but maybe 8–10 years ago you could launch a website and be ranking for a topic the next day. Those are the good old days.
Maybe four or five years ago, the sandbox was maybe 3–6 months. I’d say maybe four years ago, it started lengthening to six months and longer, and now we’re looking at nine months to a year. What we mean by the sandbox is, it’s the general term in SEO that when you take a brand new fresh domain and you publish content on it, it doesn’t matter how much content you publish within reason, it’s going to take nine months to a year before Google is going to start paying attention and actually giving you the kind of traffic and rankings that are naturally attributed with that content.
That is where people are running into challenges nowadays with websites. It’s very difficult to sit around for a year and wait to even see if the fruits of your efforts are going to pay off. With that being said, once you have topical authority with Google, it’s not that hard to rank nowadays if you continue to write topically relevant articles.
Going back to your space in the Finance niche and you clearly have topical relevancy amongst a bunch of categories or a bunch of topics, you probably don’t need a ton more links necessarily to rank for a lot more of those topics. And you’re working off of a domain that’s been around for a while, and so you could probably get stand to publish a bunch of content right now and rank it, generally speaking, without a ton more links.
Your brand new site though is going to be a lot harder for a year or so, and that’s where we’re seeing a real re-emergence of using aged domains or expired domains as a platform to launch a site or to get quicker traction. We’re seeing a lot of people have success with that, including some of our clients.
Another question before I pass the mic back to Gaby. In terms of niche, you mentioned earlier that it’s good to double down on what already works. In my case, it was a personal blog. I had a curious situation where I was writing about very different stuff about finance, sports, and expat life. Interestingly enough, most of these topics were working. I would have the top five articles from completely different niches.
What I saw was also, for example (just to give an example), I’m writing about life in Spain just because people are visiting. Life in Spain, maybe they moved from the UK, they’re also looking into where to start investing. They would also then visit my other articles about investing. This was all unconscious, it just happened that way. But I also see, maybe it’s interesting to combine different topics apart from what Google does in terms of rankings but from a visitor’s experience, I think it could work as well.
But my question really is whether Google penalizes having different topics or whether it helps?
It’s going to depend on the other topics that Google has to pick from to rank for that topic. I will consistently see a site when we’re doing research for a client or just poking around the internet because I’m always curious. I’ll consistently see websites that don’t have a certain topical theme or are not topically focused and their ranking for everything from a vacuum cleaner all the way up to how to invest in cryptocurrencies.
Does that defy what Google is saying? I would say this, it’s riskier and the template for success is much narrower. It’s a safer move and we’re seeing many more websites rank when they stay topically focused on a single genre or niche. The case studies of sites that are working that are off-topic or cover a multitude of topics that are unrelated are fewer and fewer, and they are also more susceptible to getting knocked down by a Google penalty. It’s not a penalty, I shouldn’t say. It’s an algorithm update. You wouldn’t get penalized for that because you’re not doing anything wrong.
A Google penalty would be a manual action or something like that. But an algorithm update we see more and more hit sites like that – more broad sites, sites that got off-topic. I’ve seen sites get hit by an algorithm update for being barely going outside of their topical expertise. It would suggest based on just looking at that was why Google knocked them down a little bit in the ranking.
Can you rank for that? Yes, I mean, you’re sitting there in Spain, and perhaps when Google looks around at the other content that’s available for some of the topics you write about, they’re saying, nope. You’re the best content out there, so we’re going to continue to rank you. But it’s not their preference. They’ve talked about they want to rank and prioritize sites that are authorities.
This is where we go back to EAT – Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Their algorithm increasingly wants to rank sites that are experts in that niche that are authoritative, that are trusted in that niche. You can, but increasingly so, Google’s looking for ways to rank content that is specifically (we’ll call it, for the lack of better words) ‘topically relevant’.
It is a bit sad to know. I’m talking about different things, I should focus on one.
Let me give you a quick example. We have a website, we have a client, and they sell apparel. Their mainstay is a certain type of product, it’s a woman’s product, and they own the market for that product.
Last year in 2020, they expanded into a couple of other products that are related in your mind but not related at all search-wise. You would assume that if somebody buys this product – Product A, the product their specialty in – that it would also make sense that they might be interested in Product B and Product C. It worked with the brand name, it worked across the board.
In early 2020, they started publishing content around this because they were selling it on their eCommerce store. As it worked out (I can’t say for certain), but in May of 2020, I believe there was an algorithm update and then in December of 2020 there’s an algorithm update. They got knocked back in both of those.
We went to them in early 2021 and said, hey, we would recommend that we try eliminating those new product lines from your website. I know that sounds really painful, at the end of the day, it’s up to you. But that still only represents about 15% of your revenue because it’s a new company product line. We’re seeing declining sales across the board in your flagship product, Product A, the one that you’re a specialist in. The one that you own the market for, we’re losing some really key rankings. We think it might be because we’ve diluted the topical relevancy and the authority.
Obviously, it’s just one example, but in the June and July 2021 updates, after removing all the content about those new products and just doubling down, updating all the content from Product A, and just returning the site back to being focused on Product A only, the site has skyrocketed and almost doubled where it was last year at this time.
It’s only one example, but it does remind me, we kind of went a bit all in with that client by recommending that because it’s a big deal to ask them to cut off a couple of new product lines. But in that case, it really did give us a great case study and an example of this topical relevancy topic.
What would be the solution then for the company? Just launch a different website to promote those products because they’re good products anyway?
Yes, that’s exactly right. They’ll do a great job with those products, and if they weren’t relying on organic search almost exclusively for their product sales, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. But in the case of a brand relying on organic search, we can really use it as an example of how Google looks at topical Authority and you’re exactly right, you’re going to have to launch another website or spend more time building up yourself as a more generalized product website before you start really kind of going all-in on another topic.
I assume news websites like newspapers would be an entirely different beast because they do write about politics, sports, and all these different topics.
Well, yes and no. Actually, that’s kind of funny. They are topically relevant. They’re topically relevant around the news. By the way, if they try to write about sports from an evergreen standpoint, from a standpoint on how to become a great football player?
Well, I don’t think they’d ever rank or they would have a harder time ranking because they’re not topically relevant about football even though they write about football because what they’re topically relevant for, what their expertise is in news. So, breaking news, transfers, who won this game, who’s out for six weeks with this injury – those types of topics.
It’s really interesting. I just wanted to loop back into what you actually do for your clients. We spoke a lot actually about SEO, so you actually dive deep into the actual content and had a look at it. Keywords research is something that was listed on your website, content briefs, and even article updates. So you do really get into there and get into the content. I’m now interested in the marketing side of things. What do you actually do for SEM?
You touched on it earlier that we have a three-phase approach, it’s a bit unique. A lot of agencies stop at the SEO phase and SEO is Search Engine Optimization. It’s about optimizing your website—everything on your website for search. It’s giving it the best chance possible to rank.
But that’s a bit like raising your child and giving them the best chance possible to succeed in life and then when they turn 18, send them out there and say, well, just float around a bit because we’ve given you the best chance, I guess you’ll probably just succeed at some point. No parent would say that to their kid.
SEO is the first phase, it’s a very fundamentally important phase, but I think a lot of agencies do their clients a disservice by just focusing on SEO. That second phase – once you’ve achieved optimization – is to focus on the marketing side of things, that’s the SEM phase. That’s phase two of three for us.
SEM is interesting because it’s really about taking all that traffic that you’re now getting from SEO. So you’re getting all this traffic to your content into your website, but a lot of times if you ask people who have succeeded on the SEO side they’ll say, I have that content but I’m not making any more money really or I’m not succeeding anymore. All these metrics look wonderful. My page views are up. All the different traffic metrics I’m looking at are better, but I’m not making any more money.
The SEM phase, phase two is about taking that traffic and turning it into leads that your company can start to sell to. It’s about solidifying the brand message in the minds of your traffic. It’s about weeding out in that traffic who is really your target market and who isn’t? It’s about identifying the three phases of traffic and making sure that you’re accurately talking to each one.
The top of the funnel content are people that are attracted to the top of the funnel. These are the ones who are interested in a topic that your brand serves. They’re not really interested in your brand or what that your brand sells yet, they’re just interested in the topic – the general topic. There’s then the middle of funnel content. These people understand the topic now, but they’re trying to make a determination about what they need specifically for them. Which of the products in this market do they need? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of each of those types of products?
Then there’s the bottom of the funnel content. They know the topic and they know that they need something in this topic. They probably have a pretty good idea of what they need, and they’re trying to determine if it’s your brand they’re going to go with or if it’s a different brand. Or maybe they know that it’s your brand but they’re between two of the products you sell or the services you offer.
Traffic looks very different across that. If you talk to a person who’s still trying to learn and investigate what it is that market you’re in and you try to talk and market the same way that you market someone who’s ready to make a purchase and they just need help going to the final stages, then you’re going to fail.
The SEM phase for us is now we have to have that traffic, we’re going to focus on building leads, segmenting those leads, and getting the right content to each of these leads based on where they are required, and then creating funnels through email and through retarget on social media to continually stay in front of them, nurture them, and get them to that bottom of the funnel stage were we can then sell to the, in the next phase.
It’s easier for me to visualize an eCommerce site. I’m wondering how it would work for an affiliate site. You’ve got content and you’ve signed up to a bunch of affiliate programs. How would marketing tie in there?
Great question. That’s a common one with affiliate sites. They’re like, I get traffic and I make sales. That’s typically how affiliate owners are taught to build sites, but let’s look at that. On a classic affiliate site, you’re going to have a variety of different types of articles. You’re going to have your informational queries – your how-to, your what is, your why does this do that? These very informational queries.
Whether you’re taking more of a question answering approach where you’re going to answer common questions in the niche. Whether you’re going after building big resources, how-to guides, those kinds of things. You’re going to have your informational content. You’re also going to have a lot of comparison content. This product versus that product. This informational topic versus that informational topic.
Then you’re going to have more bottom-of-the-funnel content. You’re going to have your buying guides, you’re going to have your comparison guides, you’re going to have your reviews of specific products. The way that you monetize each type of content can really differentiate how an affiliate website makes money.
The most common example nowadays is if people stick Amazon links on all of their content and they might also throw ads up there. That’s a good strategy, that’s a nice 80/20 strategy, I suppose. But what you can do to really take the same amount of traffic and double or triple the income is to segment in your mind and segment in your approach those types of traffic.
The informational content, that top of the funnel content, they’re going to work really well to not just have some ads on there, but also to build an email list from, build some helpful content that’s going to move them over to your email list. And then you can start funneling that traffic just like you would with an ecommerce brand into the middle and bottom of the funnel sales.
Those middle-of-the-funnel topics, the versus articles, that’s good to start sneaking in some affiliate links because some of those people are ready and we’ll be ready after reading your article to make a purchase. But that’s a great place to move them over to maybe a webinar, a live presentation, a recorded presentation. Maybe a podcast episode where you can really speak to them in a more one-on-one environment and help them move from middle-of-the-funnel to bottom-of-the-funnel.
Then the bottom of the funnel content is where you can move people from a low-paying affiliate program like Amazon and start to leverage some specific relationships with individual brands and move them into a much higher paying affiliate commission for yourself.
When we break down the monetization strategies for an affiliate site using this method of marketing, usually we can see a sharp increase in earnings for an affiliate site.
That’s really interesting. I never really thought of having different approaches for different content. That’s great. Jean, do you have anything to add to that?
Makes a lot of sense. I have another question if you don’t mind me switching topics a bit?
Again, I’m going back to the kinds of websites I’m used to where they’re run by either one person like me running my blog, or as a small team which is more like a software team. Whereas the WordPress products that we build where we have a product owner really who makes sure the site is in order. We got the designer to design the site. It’s a small team, budgets are not huge.
First of all, there are two questions. At which point should we consider hiring an agency like yours? Secondly, on an ongoing basis, do you see any particular part of the work that should be done by the website owner and other types of work that should be better outsourced for a small team specifically?
Agency-specific I’ll speak for ours. With a perspective mindset, I think you should approach an agency in one of two circumstances. When there’s an expertise gap or there’s when there’s a scale gap. I don’t think you should approach an agency, and I don’t think you should hire an agency when you’re just hoping to do better. Grow more, get there faster.
Expertise gap. Again, I spoke about it earlier in the podcast. Marketing is no longer a Jack of all trades kind of thing. I know because when I first started marketing 20 years ago, when I first started my first company, it was very much you would hire a marketer for your company. They would do all the marketing things. That doesn’t really work nowadays unless you happen to be in a niche that’s just very much specific.
Most niches, most spaces nowadays, most products, most services you need experts in your camp. So you’ll hit a stage where you have a gap where you’re looking to expand beyond the $500 a month you’re spending on Google Ads. And to do that and to get a good ROI, you need an expert on your camp to get ROI out of that added budget that you’re going to start spending.
Maybe you’ve written content and it’s done just fine because the content that you’re using is really just sending out your monthly email newsletter, but it never really ranks and you don’t know why. You’re trying to expand your business and you have a gap in expertise on how to write that content.
The first spot I think that makes great sense is to hire an agency is when there’s an expertise gap. The second is a scale gap, and that might be where you are nailing it. You’re ranking your content, but you just have a powerhouse of a content writer. They’re doing a great job but they can only crank out one article a week and that’s all. You need to scale that to achieve your goals.
You are attracting a couple of links a month organically and that’s been helping the website grow, but you want to take on some of your bigger competitors. You have a huge gap in links, you need scale, you need an agency to come in and build those links. That’s better than trying to hire someone and scale out processes.
Not always, but those are the two circumstances that I really recommend businesses think about an agency when there’s an expertise gap or there’s a scale gap. What I see from time to time is people are doing well and they have some money to burn, so they just come in and say, hey, can I just get an agency to come in and just do what we’re doing and do more of it? That’s a bit of a slippery slope.
It can work, but it can also lead to what we talked about earlier where you feel like you got burned or you might be wasting your money. Because in that case, there isn’t really a good direction for an agency to take you, and they’re just trying to mimic the results you’re already getting and that can be difficult. That can be tough, it can work, but it can be tough. What was your second question? I think I tackled your first but what’s your second one?
The second one was about when you have a small team, one person or small team that is not specifically running the website. Which tasks do you think they should either start doing themselves or continue themselves and which tasks should they outsource?
In my mind, I have, for example, monitoring rankings and competitors on tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs. I feel that’s quite an intimate part of knowing what you’re doing in terms of where you’re at in the whole market, right?
Even getting ideas for what to write about. I’m not doing it, to be honest. I know I should be doing it, but I don’t. But I feel that perhaps I should be doing it myself and if I hire someone, even if they see the data, they don’t know perhaps the links of yes, that competitor wrote about this topic, it would really fit in with my topic. It’s something that I would know better because I know this space. I’m not sure if this is correct.
That’s a great question. When you’re at the point where maybe you’re considering whether an agency would make sense for you, that’s a big decision already. Then you get over that hurdle and it’s like, well, wait a second, what should they do? I don’t have the budget to let them just do everything, nor do I want them to just take over everything. What do I have to focus on?
You can dive into it as deeply and as much or as little as you want, but my recommendation is to do a SWOT analysis of your efforts. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You’re going to look at not only your own team. Your own team could just be you. If you’re listening to this and you’re just a marketer of one, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Look at where you’re strong and then give an honest evaluation, look at where you’re weak, give an honest evaluation. Look at the opportunities that are on the horizon. If I were to have to double the amount of time and or double the budget, what would I go after? What are the biggest opportunities that I’m currently missing? Then what are the biggest threats to me? Not only right now, but also in the future. That would be pretty competitor-focused like you mentioned.
If you’re able to sit down with your team or just with yourself and really put some time and effort into listing out all the different strengths, prioritizing them, listing out all the weaknesses, the gaps, the areas that no one in your team is great at or that everyone doesn’t really feel powered in, look at the opportunities. If we had more time and more money, what would we go after? What are the big areas that we just feel like we’re so close to?
And then the threats, the areas that were vulnerable to, the gaps that we have are the areas that we can be taking them. If you look at it that way, usually it’ll become pretty clear to you where you need to plug the gaps and where an agency can come in and help you. We have a lot of success helping brands.
Typically, when we work with a brand, we don’t take on everything or close to everything. We typically start by taking on one to two areas. Maybe it’s article briefs. You have a writer on your team, that’s a Strength. They’re a good writer, that’s a strength. But an opportunity is that your content isn’t ranking for everything it could.
In that case, an article brief, which is where we come in, we do the keyword research about the topic, and we put together a brief for your writer that helps them optimize their writing to search. Make sure they’re using the right keywords. Make sure they’re covering all the topics that are relevant and necessary to rank. That’s where you take a strength and an opportunity and apply a product that an agency supplies.
Maybe a threat is that you’re doing really well in your space, but you have a couple of competitors that are gaining ground on you. Maybe you need to pick up the authority of your site. Just keep doing what you’re doing, but the authority of your site needs to go up. You need to keep pace with that. Maybe link building is something that you would have an agency come in and just take care of that threat for you while you keep doing what it is that you’re doing well.
Those are the different ways to take this SWOT analysis and then apply it to where an agency can come in and help you continue to do what you’re doing well, but maybe help you either scale or make up for an expertise gap.
From what I understand, anything can be done by the agency or by yourself? It depends on where the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are lying. That’s really the main thing that you need to do before making any decision, which makes sense.
For example, in my case, newsletters are another big thing that I see working for my competitor. But to be honest, I don’t like it because I don’t like having to do something every week. If I could outsource that, it would be great. I mean, someone can come in and write with a similar outlook on things and voice as mine. I think it would be very difficult.
It’s funny you mentioned newsletters. We just took on a client and one of the things they hired us for is to write their newsletters. I said, okay, send me over an example of what you’re doing right now. Is this what you want, are you happy with it? In this example, what do you want done differently?
They sent over the newsletter and they said, if you could just produce these types of newsletters, that’d be great. I said, oh, they don’t look very complicated. They look very simple, actually. You’re touching on some of the articles you’ve written, you’re touching on some of the trending topics in your industry, you’re touching on a recent client review.
Why is it you want us to do that? Basically, I think I admitted it to them. I’m not sure we’re going to add much to this because of what you want. They said, it just takes me three hours to put this together and I just struggle with it. I sit there and it takes me an hour to write the opening paragraph. I just don’t know what to say, it’s not my area of expertise.
I said, great, that’s just a scale issue. In that case, you’re wasting way too much time on writing a newsletter that looks pretty simple, but for whatever reason, that’s not in your wheelhouse, that’s not your expertise. But going back to what you said, the newsletter is very significant for their brand. They send out two a month and they get a great open rate. It’s really important that this brand continues to send those, but it’s not a good use of that person’s time right now.
I think that’s something I struggled a lot with personally – things that work but I mostly hate doing it.
For everyone listening, it’s tough. I mean, we work with about 25–30 brands a month, that’s our average. Doing that for several years now has given me enough perspective to say there are very few hard and fast rules when it comes to marketing a business online.
Going back to the newsletter thing, this newsletter they send us their stats, their open rates are fantastic, their click-through rates are fantastic. Other brands we will send out newsletters on behalf of, we will use the exact same strategies, the exact same tactics. We’ll have the same setup, the same systems in place, and they’ll get a tenth of the open rates. It’s very much specific to your niche what is going to work with, what is not going to work, and that’s where that strategy really comes into play and is very important.
Going back to the foundation, going back to having an approach that you stick to that’s strategic and well-researched. The biggest mistake that we see brands making is that they don’t have a good strategy and they don’t stick to it. They get shiny object syndrome or they hear that their buddy’s newsletter is doing great. They start sending out newsletters, but it was never researched very well in the first place. Their industry doesn’t need newsletters and doesn’t respond the same, so they get frustrated.
They spend all this time and energy on newsletters when it never should have been something they focused on. They should have been taking that time and focusing on what was already working for them and doubling down on it. Maybe you shouldn’t be doing newsletters. Maybe you’re just fine, and in your niche and your industry, what works really well is what you’ve already been doing and you just need to do more of it.
Always take all that with a grain of salt. We all get lots of great ideas in marketing. It’s important to go back to your strategy to execute it, to stay focused on it, and stick to it like you have for what, four years you said? Just continue to write content and continue to produce what you’re good at and what you’re doing well. There are always ways to improve but it’s working pretty well.
With regard to the Google updates – the algorithms and all that – could you give us an idea of what happened recently? There were two updates in June and July if I heard that correctly. When something like that happens or when you see a drastic drop in your rankings, how can one verify if that is indeed because of a Google update or because maybe it’s a general theme that it’s summer and people stop buying or researching your products?
Jared: Yeah, great question. The updates are coming thick and fast this summer. We had an update that triggered, I believe June 2nd or
3rd of 2021. This is a recent trend where Google actually tells us that they’re releasing an update. They usually tell us the morning of and then it rolls out later that day. And then the June update was a little different in that it took a couple of days before anyone saw any effects of it. I don’t know if somebody forgot to press the button over there before or if the social media team got a little punchy and hit the Tweet a few days early, but it took a couple of days.
What was odd about this one is they announced a subsequent update happening in July. I don’t think as an industry we could decide yet where they were calling it one update, the June/July update, or whether we’re discerning them as two different updates. They certainly appear to be related. My hunch is we’ll probably roll these into one summer update.
Then they’re also rolling out an have started rolling out in June and will take the entire summer to roll out a focussed update on what they’re calling a page experience update, which really is focused around mostly the site speed, the core web vitals, and an emphasis on site speed now in rankings really for the first time as a prominent ranking factor ever.
We’ve got a lot going on right now and it is a mess trying to keep track of what is related to a ranking drop from an algorithm update or what is related to seasonality. We’ve also got the world coming out of, going back into all this COVID stuff. Determining what’s happening right now with your traffic is a real mess. The topic of constant conversation over here inside of our agency.
Here are some factors to look at. It’s a little too early to give you a lowdown on the June/July update, and they’re getting harder and harder to interpret anyway because Google’s getting better at rolling in a lot of factors. But generally speaking, it is good to understand whether your traffic and a traffic drop are related to an algorithm update or related to something else.
I’d say, probably the easiest way to look at it is to examine your traffic and look for sharp drops overnight or in one to two days. That’s going to typically be the result of an algorithm update. It’s very rare to see a website that’s been hit by an algorithm update. It’s very rare to see that happen over the course of a week or something like that. And the best way is to compare the same day.
I always say, compare this Monday to last Monday. Don’t compare this Monday to this Sunday because you might be in a niche where your weekend traffic is much higher than your weekday traffic. You start deep diving, you’re like, oh my gosh, my traffic on Monday, fell off a cliff. It actually falls off a cliff every Monday because everybody goes back to work and they’re not gardening anymore. If you’re in the gardening niche, I’m almost willing to guarantee that your traffic on a Sunday is going to be higher than a Monday.
Understand how to evaluate the data, make sure you’re comparing the same day. Maybe the Monday of this month compared to the same Monday last month and you see a sharp drop, that’s typically most likely related to an algorithm drop. Another thing to look at is to dive into where the drop happened. A lot of times, most of the websites we see, they’re going to have 3–5 pages that make up the bulk of their traffic.
If you were to drop in rankings for one of your main keywords on one of your big pages, if you were just looking at it from afar, that could look like a big enough traffic drop to look like an algorithm update hits you. When in fact, all you do is go from number one to number five for a very big keyword on a high-traffic website.
Sometimes, it isn’t an algorithm update at all. Sometimes, you just have an article that has been ranking and killing it for a long time, a page that’s been doing great, or an eCommerce landing page that’s been really doing well and you (for whatever reason) haven’t been paying attention to it enough and it’s gone from spot number one to spot number five for its main keyword. That’s where the ranking drop is happening.
To bring it back, full circle, we have algorithm updates happening every couple of months now. It’s important to pay attention to because the way you react to that is going to vary whether you got hit by the algorithm update or whether it’s just a loss in rankings or loss in traffic.
And then finally it could be seasonal. Some brands, some niches are extremely seasonal. Summer, winter, I was looking at a website recently that was in the Christmas niche. I don’t need to dig too deep to know that that’s going to be extremely seasonal and probably crickets in March, April, May, June, and July. You got to understand the seasonal effects as well, and that just comes from your subject matter expertise.
In general, an update would affect your whole website and not just a few pages.
Very much. Almost always it’s going to be website domain on the whole.
I was actually going to ask you about the timeframe that people work with you, but I guess it depends on the services you’re providing if I’m not mistaken. If you’re doing something like a newsletter, I guess that goes on for quite some time. Whereas if you’re doing something like SEO, it’s more of a one-time thing, but I don’t know. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Can I tie into this?
Yeah, go ahead.
Coming back to the guarantee, let’s say we’re convinced now or there are some people in our audience who are convinced about what you do and you guarantee results. We come to you, how does that work?
Great question. Well, as you can imagine, in order for this to work, we’ve got to stick with producing the results. So we come up with a strategy and we have to execute that, and we have to actually execute it month in month out. We have to give it time. How much time is going to depend on the strategy that we have and the KPIs we agree on, KPIs being Key Performance Indicators.
Most of the time, because that sounds just a very big pie sky, where do we actually go with that? Most of the time, we look to work with a client for a minimum of six months. There are times we’ll work with local businesses for less time because typically it’s easier to get quicker results with local businesses. They’re a little bit easier to rank and to work with.
But most websites, even most local websites, we like to work at least six months. Basically, we’re going to sit down, we’re going to evaluate your brand, and we’re going to evaluate your goals. It’s a completely custom approach, and then we’re going to come up with the KPIs, the Key Performance Indicators. We look to target a 3X increase in that on the agreed-upon KPIs, and we look to do it in 6–12 months. Then we come to an agreement on that, come up with a plan, and start going for it. That’s what that looks like in brass tacks.
Typically, there’s a phrase, it’s always darkest right before the dawn, and typically that’s what months three and four feel like. It feels like we’ve been doing this for a while now and we still aren’t getting any great results. Certainly, on the SEO side, that is definitely how it feels. We like to get some quick wins from technical updates. Fixing some technical errors can have a nice quick impact. We like to get some wins from CRO, Conversion Rate Optimization, from really optimizing the funnel if there is one. But a lot of brands don’t have any of that. They just have a lot of articles and a lot of content, they don’t really have a full marketing approach yet.
In those kinds of cases, it can be many months before we’ve gotten enough of the components in place to start to see some good traction, and that’s often times those three and four months. That’s why we typically like to work with people for six-month duration or longer. Six to 12 months is a sweet spot. By 12 months, you should be seeing absolutely amazing results. I mean we have some brands that have 15X-ed in one year. Those are the really nice success stories, obviously.
That’s the typical process for how long to work with an agency. Whether you go with my agency or any agency, I think agencies oftentimes will not be given a long enough time period to really work. I think what you want to focus on as a brand is picking an agency that has a similar approach that you would take. That if you were building out the team yourself, the agency is taking a similar approach.
I think you should be constantly measuring and monitoring that the executables are being delivered, that’s really important. If you’re not getting the executables and they’re not being delivered accurately in a timely manner, then you do have a problem.
But if you agree upon a strategy, you have a similar approach, and the executables that have been agreed upon are being delivered, then I think time is your best friend. Because you agree on a strategy, you agree on the way to do it, and it’s being done. In that case, I encourage brands to give it some time. As long as you’re paying attention to those details, time is your best friend. We’ve seen over and over again that in that case, time ends up yielding results.
Makes a lot of sense. In terms of pricing, how does that work? How do you approach it?
We’ll take on clients for as low as $2000 a month. That $2000 can be spent across our entire suite of services. Most people are spending $5000–$6000, but again, lots of local businesses are spending $2000, sometimes even less. I mean, we’ll take on a client for less than that if we just don’t think that the amount of work that’s required to hit their goals is going to necessitate that kind of spend.
But as a benchmark, $2000 a month is the right ballpark to come in at and to put towards growth. And then like I talked about, that six-month time period is probably a good benchmark for a minimum amount of time it will take to get you where you want to go.
As for the initial call, how does the strategy part work where you come up with whether this is a good fit or not. I guess that’s the first step and subsequently the plan. How does that initial touchpoint work?
We do offer complimentary consultations where we’ll get on a call. It’ll be me, I’ll get on a call with you. We’ll talk about your brand, we’ll talk about your goals, we’ll talk about what you’ve done so far. At that point, I’ll be able to go back with my team and we’ll run a couple of reports and evaluate if we think we can actually achieve your goals.
Sometimes, people come to us and they have goals and we’ll say, we’re not confident we’re going to achieve those goals, or we are, but it would take this budget and if unless you have that kind of budget, we can’t confidently go after that goal. So really, it’s as much as vetting you as it is you vetting us. I think there’s a lovely tension there is that the initial call is about both parties vetting each other because we’re not just looking for clients, we’re looking for success stories. It doesn’t do us any good to take on a client that we don’t think we can really, really give them good results.
We’ll do a call and we’ll hear about your goals, we’ll hear about what you’ve done so far and what you want to do going forward. We’ll do some analysis and then we’ll come back and say, yes, we think we can take this on and we think that we can grow it to where you want it to go. Here’s a strategy that we think would work well.
Perfect, makes a lot of sense. Gaby, if you want anything else?
I was just going to ask, where can our listeners reach you?
Well, our website for our agency is 201creative.com. If you want to connect with me personally, probably LinkedIn is the best place for that. That’s just my name and I can give you all those links. If you’re interested in reading about some of the different techniques we do, we have a lot of blog content that walks through what an article update looks like, why you want to use article briefs, or things like that. You can satiate yourself with some of that content on our website as well.
Great, it sounds perfect.
Perfect. Thanks a lot for the informative conversation. I feel much more confident about working with agencies for sure. Not to sound obvious but I think for a lot of small players especially, “agency” always means a lot of doubt. Whether too much cost and too big for us, whether they really know things as much as we do because we’re really experts and want some small domain. This episode really put a lot of doubts to rest for me.
Yeah, I can’t speak for all agencies. Again, I’ve just started this agency a couple of years ago, but I’ve been running businesses for 20 years. Whenever I heard of an agency, I heard lots of money and lots of red tape, those are the two things I heard. It’s like you’re going to move at the speed of a snail and charge me a ton of money. That could be the case, but it doesn’t always be the case. I think it just comes with aligning yourself with an agency that has a similar approach to you and can get into a good rapport with you in terms of executables and the strategy.
Perfect, agreed. Thanks a lot, Jared.
My pleasure, guys. Thanks so much for having me on. It’s great to be here.