Episode 51 – SEO is still about quality and content

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Episode 51 – SEO is still about quality and content

person holding magnifying glass over paper and editing content

My guest on the show today is Jason Berkowitz. As a New York local and resident SEO expert, Jason is the man who keeps on top of the ever-changing search engine updates to ensure that the company’s methods are second to none. His early SEO career grew out of his own attempts to gain traction online. As he continued to research SEO methods to boost his own young business, he realized that what he was exploring was something that ignited his passion. Since then, SEO has become his calling. Years ago, he was a busy young entrepreneur looking to make a difference in the business he was growing at the time. What he found as he explored his options wasn’t just an understanding of SEO and online marketing—it was his calling. Now his work every day is to share the passion he discovered with others. He not only gets to help grow dozens of businesses, but he is also continually learning new and exciting things about Internet marketing. He also gets to work with a whole bunch of people who are some of the best at what they do. Jason can be found at Break The Web & SEO Services New York.

Highlights from this Conversation

  1. What has worked well for you?
    1. Overall SEO philosophy hasn’t changed much
    2. Create meta descriptions focused on conversions
    3. Off page SEO is still about backlinks, quality backlinks
      1. Bread and butter of an SEO
      2. PR helps
      3. Reaching out to relevant websites is the best thing you can do
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Old school SEO methods
      1. Social bookmarking
      2. Press Releases – only send out newsworthy PR
      3. Etc
  3. What are you excited about?
    1. Google Assistant can book appointments for you
    2. Voice search will tie in to local searches (think Google Maps results)
    3. Tools he recommends – https://ahrefs.com/

Interview Transcript

Adam: 00:02 Hi and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast; a podcast about non-profit digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in non-profit work, and 48in48, a non-profit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

00:25 My guest on the show today is Jason Berkowitz. Jason is a New York local and resident SEO expert. He gained his SEO skills when he was starting his young entrepreneurial company and looking to make a difference, and in exploring those SEO skills, he got better and better at it and found that SEO was his calling. So now every day he shares this passion that he’s discovered with others by helping them to get and grow their businesses through more exposure through search engine optimization.

00:54 Jason, welcome to the podcast. You want to fill us in with anything I missed in your bio there? There’s a lot.

Jason: 01:01 Thank you so much Adam, it’s a pleasure to be on here and I think you pretty much covered most of the nitty gritty. It’s all about SEO and sharing the knowledge of SEO with clients and marketing directors and marketing people all around. So you’ve pretty much nailed it on the head. The history is a little bit longer, but I don’t know how much you want to delve into that, but it’s kind of like a self-taught SEO experience – trying to rank my own business in Google and took off from there.

Adam: 01:25 Well, SEO is an ever changing game and so you’ve got to really have your finger on the pulse consistently to be able to do that. So I definitely am looking forward to hearing about what you have to share and then maybe I’ll even pick your brain a little bit about how you stay up to date with what’s going on with current SEO trends as well.

Jason: 01:25 Absolutely.

Adam: 01:44 So let’s dive in. So, related to digital marketing, and I guess for you related to SEO, tell us something that’s working well.

Jason: 01:56 For SEO perspective, the overall philosophy of SEO hasn’t really changed. Most people are familiar with on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO, taking action on the website and making the website more SEO friendly, that hasn’t changed. I would say the rules of what you’re doing in the optimization has changed a little bit. Like keywords; keywords aren’t the same as they used to be. I think, from what I understand, they don’t really have any at all difference in an SEO campaign, meta keywords. Meta description, what we’ve changed as opposed to being a very small, minute meta-description focused on trying to get your keywords in there, we’ve actually been creating meta descriptions that are focused on conversion, something to attract clicks as well while also getting some of the variations of the primary keywords in there as well.

02:36 That’s some of the changes that we’ve been doing on-page SEO. Off-page SEO, it’s really still about backlinks. I would say the quality of the backlinks, of incoming links and trust signals coming to your website, has changed. Quality is king as opposed to back in the day used to be about quantity. Backlinks still are the bread and butter of an SEO campaign. Making sure that you have better backlinks than your competitors from relevant authoritative websites.

Adam: 03:01 And it makes sense, right? Because if CNN.com is linking to your website versus, you know, Jimsnews.com, or I don’t know, whatever – don’t go to that website, I don’t know what that is – but you know what I mean, there’s a value there that automatically gets placed on CNN that goes, “Oh man, these guys are legitimate.” And so it makes a really big impact on your ranking.

Jason: 03:23 Absolutely. And if you have a thematic relevancy as well being transferred from the incoming link, the overall relevancy of that site is pretty much in your niche or in your industry. You definitely have more advantageous results coming from there as well.

Adam: 03:37 So I’m curious as far as link building goes, what’s the best way to think about that for an agency or for a non-profit or really anybody that’s trying to get their name out there? Is it to pick a niche and really own that niche and write in that and get published in some publications relevant to that? Or what’s your take on that?

Jason: 03:53 Definitely helps 100%. PR and SEO kind of work hand-in-hand. Trying to pick a specific niche per se, it’s hard because there’s a lot of different websites out there and there’s a lot of different niches, opportunities. Really reaching out to relevant websites, I would say, is the best thing. You could do this with back-linking, as a whole there’s a lot of controversy. So if you can do white hat tactics, “gray hat” or black hat tactics, reaching out to relevant authoritative websites that fit within your specific industry probably would be really ideal for you as well as from a PR perspective.

Adam: 04:31 Right. I like that. I mean, why not reach out to them? It doesn’t hurt to try to collaborate with other people and you’re not going to hurt them. It’s a great opportunity for both.

Jason: 04:39 No, absolutely.

Adam: 04:42 So, next question related to digital marketing, and again, SEO, for your perspective. Tell us what’s not working well that we can learn from.

Jason: 04:49 I would say some of the old school SEO methods. Surprisingly, there’s still a lot of SEO blogs that focus on tactics that worked very well probably back in 2007 which aren’t applicable today. A few have been in the SEO game quite a while. You remember article submission directories, social bookmarking. Blog comments could work if done naturally, if you have a natural blog comment and obviously the text of the link matters. Those are really kind of phased out, but surprisingly there’s still SEO agencies that are still providing these services: social bookmarking, press releases – press releases also are very controversial. If there’s something that’s newsworthy then a 100% send a press release. So some of the old school methods that I’m still surprised and still shocked that people are still going after. We have a lot of clients, they’ll come to us and say, “Here, do you mind looking at our current company’s SEO report?” And I’m baffled by what I’m looking at. It’s just hundreds and hundreds of directory submissions, search engine submissions, which are submissions to Google’s non-important competitors, all those hundreds of little, tiny search engines…

Adam: That nobody uses.

Jason: Yeah, and they’re still charging for it and that’s where I would say SEO kind of gets a bad rep. Whereas their deliverables aren’t providing results.

Adam: 06:03 Right, right. So scammy SEO practices really, at that point.

Jason: 06:06 Yeah. 100%. Things that aren’t working, it really comes down to those things as well as questionable tactics, whether you’re acquiring websites for the sole purpose of trying to game a system. It works but is it going to work in the long run? Probably not.

Adam: 06:23 Right, right. I don’t think that stuff’s worth it in the long run. I think you can have short term gains and have long-term losses and at the end of the day that’s not what you want.

Jason: 06:32 No, 100%, especially when you’re spending so much time, money, effort into something that’s not going to work in the long run. When we do SEO campaigns, we really focus on longevity and what’s going to work right now and what will continue to work in the future. And when you have a good idea of what Google wants from their – let’s say backlinks specifically, it allows you to really hone in on the ideas and techniques that you’re implementing in the campaigns itself.

Adam: 06:55 Right, absolutely. I mean, Google’s in the practice of providing the best content for what you’re searching for and so you’ve got to be the one providing the best content for what they’re searching for. That’s the whole point.

Jason: 07:06 Yeah. And that’s their focus, is to make sure that they’re providing valuable information. We all know they make their money through ads, but most of their user base – they’re aware most people are skipping the ads and going to the organic search results. And they know that if they fail to provide good, legitimate, valuable, resourceful information, people will just simply start losing trust in their search results and maybe go to Bing.

Adam: 07:26 Absolutely. Yeah. It was funny, I was at an event last weekend and somebody was searching and I noticed they were actually searching on Bing. It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone use Bing in the wild, I think ever. It was the weirdest – I almost kind of was like, “What are you doing?” But then I just let it go.

Jason: 07:42 It’s funny you say that, Bing actually does provide some traffic and it is quite surprising as most people tend to focus on Google itself. We have one test specifically where we’ve tried to see how we can penalize a website in Google and rank it high in Bing, just because they have different algorithms, and Bing’s algorithm is kind of Google’s maybe circa 2010. Just for testing purposes, of course. We’ve gone on websites penalized by Google, but ranked very highly in Bing and there still is a sizable amount of search traffic. I think the reason is because there was a default browsing going to Bing on certain things. For example, the old Windows phone, certain iPhones, I would say at a time we’re going to Bing; Bing and Yahoo, who share an index. So it’s definitely valuable just to consider.

Adam: 08:26 It’s really a fascinating point. I totally agree with you on that. There is traffic to be had there if you want it. It’s worth thinking about. So last question related to SEO and digital marketing. Tell us something you’re excited about?

Jason: 08:39 Well, I actually just saw this cool video this morning. I don’t know if you saw but Google announced a new update to their Google assistant that they plan on showcasing whereas the Google assistant could actually book appointments for you. You say – I don’t want to say it because I have a Google home – but you say the keyword to get the Google assistant’s attention, and you say, “Hey, book me-” and this is the example they used – “book me a hair salon appointment for Tuesday at 2:30 PM.” And they actually show a recording of their tests, of their system calling a local business and booking a haircut.

Adam: 09:15 Whoa, that’s crazy. So speaking of Google assistant, how are you thinking about SEO in terms of this whole voice activated world and voice search world. Are you starting to think through and account for that as well?

Jason: 09:28 Absolutely. I think that there’s going to be a tie-in primarily with local searches. So, if you say to Google, “Find me a plumber near me,” what Google will do is probably provide you with the result that is the number one in Google maps. So that’s what we think is the aim. I don’t think they’re a 100% exactly where they want to be yet, so things might change, but that’s probably going to be the intention is, obviously, the higher your ranking for related keywords — Google understands words in context. They understand that a plumber in NYC is the same thing as a New York City plumber or a Manhattan plumber. So being positioned high definitely increases your chances of being visible. That’s with a strict voice search. For example, if I’m doing my phone and I say, “Find me a plumber in NYC,” I’ll see Google map results. I’ll see the top three listings in Google maps right there, with their reviews, with the phone number, directions. Again, that’s just an example for a plumber. I don’t know who’s going to drive to a plumber, but, definitely -.

Adam: 10:25 Until you said that I was totally thinking. I was, “Yeah, that’s exactly how it goes.”

Jason: 10:29 Sorry to burst your bubble.

Adam: 10:30 That’s great. Well, I think that’s something for nonprofits to realize is that a lot of SEO is really, you’ve got to be hyper focused on local, because most non-profits have a local expression of what they’re trying to do and they need to really pay attention to those local results – those local map results and everything else so they can rank well for those.

Jason: 10:52 Yeah, and especially some, what we might consider national keywords, where you wouldn’t think that it would show local results. Even in the organic search results you will see local results at times, not only in Google maps. For example, one thing that we were looking up was financial services and we switched our location around to different cities around the US and it showed half national companies and half local companies in the organic search results specifically. So local definitely is dominating. And making sure that all your local signals are there: name, address, phone number on your website, or on your little different citation websites like Yelp, Manta, Yellow Pages etc. really, really helps.

Adam: 11:30 Yeah. And having your address in there and making sure it’s all set up correctly. And then, I think non-profits, also from an SEO perspective, can realize that – they need to realize that your search results are not the same as my search result, or not the same as my next door neighbor’s search results. Because search results are really a big conglomeration of browsing history and location and all sorts of other stuff that Google’s factoring in. And so, when we’re beginning to track these things – yes, we can track them, but these aren’t hard numbers. Just because I’m number two right now in my screen doesn’t mean I’m number two for every single person everywhere. And it’s just good to recognize that I think.

Jason: 12:07 Yeah, and especially if you’re using a rank tracker or a software that’s showing you your rankings overall as opposed to manual searches, none of them are going to be 100% accurate for exactly the points you just mentioned: browsing history, location, IP address, possible user intent. You know, if you search something beforehand and then go to a different search after, well that fluctuates the results differently. Many different things to consider.

Adam: 12:28 Yeah, it’s great. So I’m going to ask one thing and then I’ll wrap up with my notes here. Are there any tools that you would strongly recommend that a non-profit should check out related to SEO?

Jason: 12:41 Yeah, I’ve been plugging them a little bit lately so they should probably hook me up with something. Ahrefs.com. Or pronounced in their lingo: h-refs.com. And that’s become over the late years – I’ve been a subscriber over there since about 2012 – and they have backlink checkers, keyword research checkers, organic search traffic, so you can see where your website’s ranking for certain keywords, content gap analysis – there’s so many different tools. And I know that their team specifically is working really hard to improve the software and make it even better within each week. And they have a lot of good resourceful information. Their Facebook page has great videos, they actually just released a blog content marketing course for free. They didn’t have to do it, but –

Adam: 13:27 Yeah, I’ll check that out. I’ve got a blog, I need more blog marketing, so I’ll check that out. That’s fantastic.

Jason: 13:31 Yeah, they’re definitely my number one tool and we have paid subscriptions to a whole variety of tools. We always end up going back to h-refs, they’re definitely trying to make a change in the industry, especially from a toolset standpoint. And I definitely would throw my hat in the ring for them.

Adam: 13:47 All right, well I’ll check that out. It’s a new one for me, so that’s great. I’m excited to know what that’s like. Well Jason, let me see if I can recap what we’ve talked about so far. So, related to digital marketing and SEO, what is working well for you? You said basically overall SEO philosophy hasn’t changed, but you are focusing on creating meta descriptions that are focused on conversions. But it’s still about good on-page SEO practices and good off-page SEO practices. Off-page practices in terms of backlinks that are from high quality websites. You did mention that PR can help, but overused PR is actually a really bad idea. It needs to be genuine press releases, not funny duddy press releases – that’s not the best way to describe it, but you get my point. And just connecting with relevant websites to see if you want to share links to one another can be really helpful. Under what is not working well that we can learn from, you said old school SEO methods. So be aware of the SEO swindlers out there that are still doing a million link tree submissions and all that other crazy stuff, social bookmarking and all that. It’s not worth it at all. Avoid it at all costs. Really focus on good quality content, on quality links to your site. It’s going to make all the difference in the world. And for what you’re excited about: you mentioned first Google Assistant can book appointments for you, which is awesome. And then also we talked about voice search and how that ties into local searches and how local searches in Google map results can really have a huge impact on an organization’s ranking. And then a bonus tool you recommend: ahrefs.com, that’s A-H-R-E-F-S.com as a good tool to start with for for SEO practices. And like you also said, some good training courses as well.

15:31 So Jason, did I miss anything or do you have anything you want to add to that?

Jason: 15:33 I think you nailed it on the head perfectly, I have nothing more to add to that.

Adam: 15:38 Fantastic. Well, Jason, thanks for being on the show, man. I’d love to have you back and best of luck to you in your SEO endeavors.

Jason: 15:44 I appreciate it. Thank you so much Adam for having me.

Adam: 15:48 Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about non-profit digital marketing make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, Adam, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.

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