Many companies are working with smaller budgets these days due to Covid-19 and the associated financial crisis. Marketing teams are reworking their strategy to do more with less. The channel that works best for a small budget? SEO.
SEO is not a new marketing strategy. Many marketers have been doing it successfully for years. But if for some reason you’re not appearing on page 1 of Google, then now is the time to fix that. In this episode, Drew Neisser sits down with Geoff Atkinson, CEO of Huckabuy, to get his recipe for SEO success — especially for B2B marketing. Geoff explains the importance of quality content, solid backlinks, and proper keyword research. When all this is in place, Huckabuy software can come in and take care of all the technical gaps, and make sure Google actually sees and understands your amazing content.
Drew: So Geoff, SEO is one of those things that I think a lot of CMOs know is important, but it hasn’t been a priority, necessarily, at least in the last year or so. They’ve been working on brand, they’ve been developing their demand generations, they’ve been getting their content programs in order. Of course, SEO is there but why now do you think it’s so important that CMOs at least start asking questions like, “Hey, how’s our SEO doing?”
Geoff: I think that it’s something that should always be important, but now it’s becoming important because of all the budget cuts. Everyone’s taking a step back and they’re saying just what you mentioned, “How can I do more with less? How can I take my current assets and get more traffic and more revenue as a result?” It’s always important, it’s just highlighted now because budgets are getting cut, and when you cut a very paid-heavy marketing mix, you get a really big hit. If you were really strong in SEO before this, you’re probably going to weather the storm pretty well because the searches are still happening, people are still looking for things and that doesn’t go away, right?
If I had to cut my marketing budget by 50%, my SEO traffic really isn’t going to be impacted, so I think these types of crises make people realize how important SEO is as a channel and that over the long term, it’s really stable, it’s really successful, and it’s the best new customer-driver, so it’s come to the forefront of people’s minds in thinking, “All right, I need a long term strategy around this in order to really be stable and bulletproof.”
Drew: A recent guest of mine, they got a product in the market in seven days. Now, they had no SEO program for “business continuity” because “business continuity” didn’t exist as a searchable term more than a month ago. People weren’t really talking about it, so let’s take this as if you were about to launch a new product, and you had to start from scratch to identify the keywords and so forth. Where would you start if you were in those circumstances?
Geoff: “Business continuity” is a great keyword. I mean, it just started trending as a keyword March 11th, so that’s the fluidity of the search world. I always like people to start with keyword research. I know it sounds sort of mundane, but it actually can teach you a ton about your own business and what people call things that you sell and also can create opportunities. Say you found a keyword with really low competition but high volume, that was my story from Overstock and why we moved into the furniture business — at the time, all the retailers were big box retailers that weren’t playing online, so Overstock became this home and garden company strictly based on keyword research. I’m not saying to change your whole business model, but it’s worth looking at and refreshing, especially when there are trying times and people start searching for different stuff.
You might already have assets; you might already have pages and things built that actually could function really well in terms of getting rankings that are applicable for your business and driving customers. Some subtle tweaks to the hierarchy of the site, the navigation of the site, and written content can all of a sudden generate an opportunity for your company in the form of an SEO channel. I think a lot of it right now is honestly doing really smart keyword research and you’re not just going to magically rank for these terms, so you have to start thinking about how the site is structured and what pages to build and if you’ve built stuff already in the past, as you have at Renegade, for example, that’s very usable and can actually get customers coming in.
Drew: Before I invited Geoff on the show, Geoff and I started talking. As he was talking about SEO, I said, “You know what? Before you go on the show, why don’t you do some SEO for Renegade?”
We had been gathering backlinks out in the world as a result of some placements, to promote our B2B Brand Strategy Document we moved from nowhere to about page 12, and then we were on page 2 of Google.
At that point, we started to work with Huckabuy and, would you believe it, with a few tweaks — subtle tweaks as he’s talking about — within about a week we are now on page 1 and I think we’re currently #2 or #3 for “B2B Brand Strategy.” I’m not saying this was easy or happened overnight, because we had a lot of other things in place, but we were able to rank for that keyword. Now, recognizing that, let’s talk about it a little bit. That was good for us, but I would imagine a big company would want to rank for a lot of these terms, so it starts to get complicated. You can’t create a report like I did for all these things and then go out and get all that content, can you?
Geoff: Well, you were sitting in a really good position. Huckabuy, we are software, and we layered our software on top of your already great content, and it popped, which was awesome. It was great to see, but in a lot of ways you’d done all the heavy lifting. To have that content piece and the backlinks that you had, that was a great asset that we just made look really pretty to Google and they grabbed it and brought it up to the top. That’s what happens.
A lot of times you will have done a lot of heavy lifting but without expertise or in-house technical SEO, your content might not be working for you as hard as you’d like it to from an SEO perspective. That was a great example of really great content, great work already there, and then making some technical adjustments that made the piece more visible to Google. And that’s really all that Huckabuy did, we added structured data to the page, really good structured data. We did some things with your navigation I know of, and then, boom.
With structured data, for example, especially in the B2B world, you might have tons and tons of content assets, but Google still scratches their head as to what these pages are about. With structured data, which is the authoritative language that Google really likes to speak, you’re telling them the facts: this is a B2B Brand Strategy Document and you can give them the facts so, as a result, you start to get more SEO traffic from those content pieces.
I think most good B2B companies are already sitting on huge content assets, so my encouragement is, let’s just make it more visible, more understandable, and more digestible for Google, and you’ll start reaping the benefits of that just like Renegade did. You are a bit of a unique case in that that was a really nice piece of content that we got to work on but, yeah, that stuff happens, and it happens at scale across big companies like SAP and Salesforce. We’ve seen that happen there.
Drew: So, for a bigger company, you would — instead of in our case that we were just trying to rank for one word or one term to see if we could, and sure enough we succeeded — working with bigger companies, they could have a list of over a thousand keywords. So, is the goal in all these times, ultimately, to rank on the first page for every single one of them?
Geoff: It is. It’s always to rank #1, but it has to be done in a scalable way, so if you just pick keywords one by one and go after them, it works at a very high level like if you have a bread and butter keyword. Like, I bet Zoom right now, with video conferencing, they’re just driving tons and tons of revenue. At Overstock, for example, we had sheet sets and memory foam mattress-toppers because they were getting enormous amounts of revenue through them. When you get to those really competitive terms, you have to literally go one by one and have a strategy and backlink strategy on what you’re going to do.
But I like SEO that’s much more scalable, so how do we dynamically create pages? How do we generate pages with user-generated content so I don’t have to write everything? How do I leverage content assets that are out there?
I’ll give you an example of what we’re doing at Huckabuy. At Huckabuy, I’ve been on probably 40 podcasts over the last 12 months, and we decided to transcribe those podcasts and make that content crawlable and indexable for Google. We’ll give the transcripts to the podcast hosts and use them ourselves if we get permission, but there’s a way where I’ve already done a bunch of work that I can now leverage all that content in a crawlable way.
Right now, Google knows about these podcasts, but they don’t know the actual content. They can’t actually crawl a podcast unless you transcribe it and transcribing it allows them to now be able to see and index all that information, which is a really scalable idea. So, that’s one way that I like to think about it. What assets do I have that I can generate traffic across a huge number of pages instead of just one by one?
Drew: Yeah, let me ask you a question about that because I’ve recorded at least 180 episodes and we’re not posting the transcripts to our website — we do abbreviated Q&A’s. Is that a huge loss on our part?
Geoff: I don’t think of it as a loss. I think of it as a great opportunity. Why not? That’s great, hard work. You spoke those words, you asked great guests great stuff. Unless you’re listening, you don’t get that content, and Google’s can’t listen, so it’d be great for you to transcribe and make that information available.
Drew: Alright, so that’s an example where you’ve been on the podcast and you know those are generating organic traffic to your site. How about another? I think another example would be great.
Geoff: Alright, here’s a great one for B2B. The software company SAP opened up a developer’s central that was basically a Q&A, it was a place for developers to come in, ask questions, have SAP developers answer them, and ended up becoming an enormous piece of their site. They really hadn’t thought of it as an SEO opportunity, but Huckabuy came in, we added our structured data, we leveraged SEO Cloud, it’s now one of their top inbound drivers.
People ask a question about SAP software flow through this section of the site and it ends up generating tons of leads for them, believe it or not. There’s one that’s totally hands-off, just about, other than setting up this forum, essentially, and just letting developers ask questions. It grew into a really big driver for them and was an asset that they already had in place, but weren’t leveraging it. In just a couple weeks, structured data, SEO cloud, and some navigation optimization — boom — all of a sudden, they’ve got this jackpot of an SEO resource.
Drew: The way I see it is — you may already have the content on your page, you may even have some of the inbound links that you were looking for, but there’s something that you’re missing. I’m wondering, will they be able to see it on their own?
Geoff: Usually, the keyword research process is where the ideas start coming from. So, you know, start thinking about what you would like to rank #1 for. Just create a spreadsheet, try to come up with 10-15 things. Go to Google Keyword Planner, which is the best keyword suggestion tool, enter them in there, and hit “come up with keyword ideas.” It’ll give you a list of thousands, and then your brain will start churning.
If you do it as a group, it’s actually kind of fun, because you end up realizing all these epiphanies about your business, that people call things differently from what you’re calling them or you’re naming them. And that’s really where the idea generation starts, especially if you do it as a team. You’ll start to think about these keywords and how it applies to the content you have. Do you have a page dedicated to this keyword? Is it in your navigation? Can Google easily find it? Pretty logical steps, you know, that’s what’s so nice about SEO. It’s very logical. It’s very customer friendly and helps you learn about the business.
That’s where I’d start and that will most likely generate ideas. If you look at 1,000 keywords relevant to your business and you see the volumes and the competition scores, you’re going to start to think about content that you have, pages that you have, and optimizations that can be done, including some of these keywords in your header. I guarantee that the wheels will start turning and you’ll have some low hanging fruit to attack quickly.
Drew: I wonder, does a new product ever come out of keyword research?
Geoff: It sure does most of the time, being honest. Maybe not even a new product, but a new name for a product. This is one of the biggest mistakes I find CMOs make, they love to name software products or whatever the B2B product they’re selling some snazzy thing that they’ve just come up with instead of what it actually is. We went through this process with Concur. They have an expense management software, so we just called it that and, sure enough, they crush it now for all those keywords. So, absolutely, there are tons of product ideas.
Drew: I want to talk about that because, if you read our first B2B Brand Strategy Report, you’ll see that we push branded house, one major brand with a lot of descriptions, and part of the reason that we push for that is because of Google and the fact that you can’t afford to build all these other brands that people are going to remember and know.
So, if you can — and it sounds like there’s actually some real evidence as opposed to just conjecture — if you have a primary brand name, like Adobe or Concur, and then your sub-brands are all essentially functional, you still have brand, but you’ve made it a lot easier for people to find it. How much easier are we talking about, by the way?
Geoff: If you don’t call it what people call it, Google has no way of knowing. Here’s a really silly example, but 10x more people search for “sheets” than they search for “sheet sets,” and almost everybody online calls them “sheet sets.” So, at Overstock, we called them “sheets.”
B2B is probably the biggest offender though, you’ve invented a product so you want to call it your own name and, you’re right, you can still call it your own name, you just need to supplement it and give Google some direction on what this product does. It’s amazing how little time CMOs spend on this very important piece.
Geoff: Your average B2B company gets 64% of their traffic from organic search, and just to put that in perspective, their social generates 3% and their paid search generates 12%. That’s 15% combined vs. 64%, and just think about the amount of time spent on paid search and social vs. all the things we’re talking about today. If you really want to move the needle on a small budget, putting this time in and focusing on organic for a few months while the world calms down and this madness goes away, it’s going to be time well spent and move the needle a lot.
Drew: Interesting. So, it could be as simple as telling CMO’s to “take your snazzy name and call it ‘Expense Report ____,’” or whatever it is. And it happens when you do your navigation. If I say “products” and then I list these fancy names and I don’t also tag them with what they actually are, you’re essentially saying that these products are invisible. Is that right?
Geoff: Yeah, Google is going to have no idea, and that’s why, when we start working with B2B, they always get the highest growth rates. Google is literally just confused. They just don’t understand what the company is selling.
Geoff: Drew, I love your “Keywords and Cocktails” because that makes it fun. You suggested making it a virtual meeting where the CMO calls and you get your SEO person, or people, they pull it up, and we start going through the words. Keyword research doesn’t sound like something fun, but when you get into it, you learn a ton. The simple task of going through and picking your #1 keyword that you’re interested in, then looking at the volumes and the competition scores — you actually know exactly how human beings search for your product, and it’s probably not aligned with your website. It’s a really low hanging fruit, fun, team-building thing to do during times where everybody’s isolated. Get on a video chat at five o’clock, have a cocktail, and everybody brings some keywords and makes it like a little competition — who can have the highest volume lowest competition score keywords — then let’s go after it as a team and get that traffic.
Drew: It really is a team sport. I’ve seen that. We needed our web person, obviously, we needed content, we needed to write articles and get those placed in some cases. It was with the help of a PR firm that was excellent at doing that.
Another piece to this is radical simplification. If ever there was a time to simplify, now would be the time because you can’t afford to have multiple messages. You just can’t put the paid dollars behind it, so radical simplification means going through your product list and looking at them—if you have a drop-down menu product or service that you’ve spent a lot of time on trademarking and building names—then really thinking, do I need all of these? Are these visible on search? Or are we doing ourselves a disservice?
The brand person in me is going to say, “But Drew, that’s what makes us different.” No, I’m not saying your product doesn’t need to be unique and be informed by service. I’m simply saying that if you were putting extra energy into a sub-brand that someone can’t find, this is the time you’re really going to feel the pain. Think about differentiation, not on the sub-brand name, but on the parent brand name, and how you’re going to put all your energy into that parent brand, its value proposition, and its purpose on a very simple level. Then all these other products or services live under the umbrella on a more generically named, Google-friendly basis.
Drew: Geoff, let’s give some top three things. We’ve done the keyword thing, we’ve talked about some architecture, maybe you could just talk a little bit about what your software actually does and how it adds to the process?
All those are eliminated into a simplified version of the site, sort of like AMP, Accelerated Mobile Pages. A simplified version with structured data that’s cached at Edge using Cloud Player, so the pages load in 100 to 300 milliseconds. It just makes the site downloadable in a really quick way so that Google rewards you. We’re handling the technical side of SEO. All these other pieces though — we are not an agency. We’re a software product, so we make suggestions like we’re talking about here today. But this is really just about speaking Google’s language and giving them what they want. We call it “Google’s Perfect World;” let’s build a site so it’s just what they want. If you give them what they want, they reward you.
If you have to cut your marketing budget by 50%, your SEO traffic likely isn’t going to be impacted. Over the long term, it’s really stable, it’s really successful, and it’s the best new customer-driver.
It’s always important, it’s just highlighted during economic crisis because budgets are getting cut, and when you cut a very paid-heavy marketing mix, you get a really big hit. If you were really strong in SEO before an economic crisis, you’re probably going to weather the storm pretty well because the searches are still happening, people are still looking for things and that doesn’t go away.
A lot of times you will have done a lot of heavy-lifting as far as content goes, but without expertise or an in-house technical SEO, your content might not be working for you as hard as you’d like it to from an SEO perspective. But when Huckabuy adds world-class structured data to the page, a search engine can actually understand your assets and all that valuable content you’ve created.
When you do keyword research, you end up realizing all these epiphanies about your business — that people call things differently from what you’re calling them or you’re naming them. And that’s really where the idea generation starts, especially if you do it as a team. You’ll start to think about these keywords and how it applies to the content you have. Do you have a page dedicated to this keyword? Is it in your navigation? Can Google easily find it?