We all have the same headache when it comes to SEO services. What tools should you use? What link-building strategies should you employ? How do you select the right professional/agency for the job? Have you been asking yourself these questions? I’ve been asking them, too. And these are, indeed, important questions, since SEO is a strategic lever and many struggle to master it. In order to get to know the basics of SEO, I interviewed Craig Campbell, who is a real-deal marketer and has studied the subject far and wide. Spare yourself the trouble of learning through trial and error, learn from his expertise!
Please tell us about your background and how you became involved with SEO.
Craig: The truth about me and SEO is that it came about by sheer luck, I worked for a well-established office supplies company with a lot of local customers. I was not employed as an SEO or anything to do with marketing; I assisted with sales and helped drive business, too.
The owner of the company came across an SEO guy at some local networking event and was given all the usual sales talk (keep in mind it wasn’t anywhere as competitive back when I started as it is now). This SEO guy came in, promised the world, said it would cost something like £50,000 per year for SEO, and the owner of the company nearly fell off his chair. So that SEO was quickly shown the door. And I was trusted to deal with the new website, since I was the most computer literate person in the office at the time.
So, since I was enjoying the whole “managing the website” thing anyway, I went and bought some books on SEO and read them. After a couple of books, I asked my boss, if I could take an SEO course. So, we went online, found a training provider, and he agreed. The course was useless, but we didn’t realize that at the time.
After the course, my role in the office was to get more online orders: I read forums, blogs and more books, and I tried and tested things. I played on a bunch of testing websites, too. Eventually, I somehow managed to get some decent rankings for my company, then after a while I ventured out on my own, as I had more and more people asking me about SEO. I probably wasn’t ready to take on clients at the time as I wasn’t experienced. I was talking a good game, then learning how to do things after taking on a client, but had some success and built up business over the years. However, since then I’ve invested a lot of time and money in proper courses, as I have a keen interest in all things related to digital marketing. I test new tools regularly, I take new courses to see what they are saying, and I still read forums and blogs to ensure that I’m well up to date with the latest market trends.
I have a broad range of skills now: I’ve taken courses in graphic design, web design and ethical hacking, so I have a broad set of skills as an SEO, which seems to work very well for me. But the truth is I bluffed my way a bit in the beginning and learned on the job. There were no university degrees in marketing or anything like that at the time. I’ve probably wasted about four years learning from my mistakes alone. I’ve blown sites up and used tools I shouldn’t have, but I think any SEO will know what I’m talking about. You have to get to know the tools out there and what they do, otherwise you’re missing out. I wasn’t aware of all the opportunities and tools that were available to me at the time, because I didn’t know what was good or bad. So, in the end, I tried pretty much everything, which cost a lot of time and money. Back then, there was no place online where you could look up information like you can find in 2016. As a general rule, the information out there is conflicting, and there are so many tools that you may not know what to choose. I just hope that people who read my blog can be assured that they are learning about the best possible tools on the market. Also, I want them to get to know SEO without having to fight through all the misinformation that’s out there online.
Which SEO tools do you typically use for your link-building campaigns?
Craig: This is a question that is often asked, and where things become a little complex, as there is a wide range of link-building strategies. This interview is one of them. In this case, I don’t need any tools: to get a link, I just need to create content – manually type out answers to your questions, which will end up on your blog. But in terms of tools, a number of different ones are required; tools like LinkResearchTools, Ahrefs, Majestic and Kerboo are my favorites for seeing what the competition is up to and trying to establish what links they have that my clients don’t.
But for outreach, site’s like Ninja Outreach, BuzzStream and Pitchbox are great, if you’re reaching out to bloggers. These are just some of the many tools that can be used. There are new tools popping up all the time, but I tend to stick to the tried-and-tested ones that work for me.
Could you tell us which SEO blogs you read on a regular basis in order to keep up with industry trends?
Craig: I subscribe to a lot of SEO blogs — more to be nosey than anything else — but these blogs do tend to provide useful information, or another SEO’s point of view, and I like to see that type of thing. Currently, I read Neil Patel’s and Matthew Woodward’s blogs, both of whom also provide a lot of good information on their websites. You have to keep an eye on Matt Cutts’ blog just to see what’s being said. But I read and subscribe to many other blogs, too, to get genuine information. I also read up on a lot of competitors’ blogs as well to see what they’re saying. But there are, probably, a total of 10-15 genuine blogs that I keep a close eye on. There are a lot of bloggers out there who are probably very decent, but I know which information to trust. Still, I do read some blogs that I know are not that accurate; they just give me my own blogging ideas. There is a lot more on the LinkedIn publishing platform now. I read a lot of stuff there: I like a few people who regularly post some good updates and information.
You provide online courses to train people on SEO, PPC, and social media. What are the most popular skills your customers come to you to learn?
Craig: In general, people who come to me want to learn more about SEO, PPC and social media. A fair amount seems to be beginners who don’t know that much, so our courses allow them to learn the basics first and then go in depth and study other aspects of SEO services. But I do get a lot of digital marketing people who want to learn more about link building, the different strategies that can be used to build links. I also get lots of people wanting to know what tools I use for competitor analysis. It is quite worrying that a lot of agencies don’t even use the basic tools that are on the market. A lot of agencies don’t like paying monthly subscription fees for tools, but you can’t get that far without them.
So link building and tools are the two most popular subjects that are part of our courses. Research tools like SEMrush and Serpstat in particular are used for both SEO and PPC purposes, and there are other tools on the market today that assist with social media stuff like BuzzSumo and Sprout Social. So we go into detail on that type of thing and what these tools can do to assist with your workload and research. But, in all of our courses, we teach the very basics too, as a lot of the people who take them don’t know too much about any of these services, and learning from scratch is ideal.
What are the most widespread SEO mistakes and prejudgments shared by the people who come to you?
Craig: Doing this job — as you can imagine — clients come to you with all sorts of prejudgments about SEO, a lot of which are entirely wrong. A lot of this comes down to misinformation from other so called “SEOs” whom these clients have dealt with in the past.
One major prejudgment is that clients tend to think that once you rank a set of keywords on page one, that’s it. They think you move on to the next set of keywords, and their campaign will continue to grow arms and legs. They don’t realize maintaining rankings is as important as getting those positions in the first place.
I also hear of a lot of clients who think that if they stop SEO, their ranks will remain as they are (not sure why they come to that conclusion). If you were to take an ad out in the paper, you wouldn’t expect to see your ad still running after you stop paying. The same goes for SEO clients who have this impression that any of the resources owned and used to get them ranked remain, even when they aren’t paying. Your competition is also waiting to overtake you as well.
Clients think they can hire an SEO, leave everything to them and not have to do anything. Your clients’ input is always required if you want to be an online success. But I could devote an entire blog post just to clients’ misconceptions about SEO.
I think clients must look into SEO properly and understand that it is not a magic trick – it takes time, effort, tools, research, etc., and it costs money. Clients don’t understand that, to do the appropriate research, SEOs must pay a monthly fee for the tools they use. I’ve had clients try to get SEO for next to nothing because they don’t realize there is a cost to this stuff and think they are only paying for my time, which, again, is not exactly true.
You’ve mentioned that you try to educate your clients. Please share your principles for educating your clientele.
Craig: In my experience over the years, clients who have successful campaigns are those who have realistic expectations or a good understanding of SEO. I’m sure we have all had clients who have asked for SEO services, signed up, and then three days later asked for an update and an explanation as to why they aren’t selling loads of products or services.
That is just unrealistic; SEO won’t work in only a month or two. You will find that this type of client will jump to another SEO provider and then another… And before you know it, they have come full circle; they have no money left, and they ask you to help out. So I try to give clients a better understanding of SEO. I don’t give them false expectations, and I ensure they are fully aware of what’s going on.
If I take the time to do that, in most cases the client will work with me and give me the time required to be a successful SEO. Even to this day, I still get some clients who are like that, – clueless. Some of these people are beyond help, though. You simply have to turn down the work and allow them to find out for themselves.
What questions should one ask when employing an SEO?
Craig: This is something I get all the time. I get new potential clients trying to grill me all the time, because they have had their fingers burned by previous SEOs. If I was looking to hire an SEO or a company, I would want to know the following:
- How long have they been doing SEO — you probably want someone with a minimum of two to three years of hands-on experience.
- How they first got started with SEO — it doesn’t matter as long as they are passionate about it. This will determine whether they are going to be successful or not. You will want to see a couple of examples of sites they have ranked for competitive search terms: expect to see page-one ranks, I don’t consider page two, three or even further down to be good SEO. I also want to be able to contact those clients to see if that person did indeed do the SEO.
- If they are going to tie you into a contract — if yes, I would avoid them.
- How often they report — you should expect to see a monthly report on ranks, traffic, conversions and any other useful information.
- What you will get for your monthly budget — you will want to see work, content, link building, content marketing and outreach. You don’t need someone who looks at analytics all day and gives you a load of jargon that means nothing at all.
- How quickly you will rank — you don’t need someone who tells you that you will dominate your niche in a month or two. That’s not the answer you want to hear. You want someone who will tell you something like three to four months for local SEO, possibly longer for nationwide searches. In some competitive markets, it can take 9-12 months to get an active campaign in place that works for you. Anyone who does it very quickly isn’t someone you want to deal with.
- If they provide guarantees — anyone who promises a particular SEO result is someone to stay clear of; no one can guarantee anything because are too many variables, such as competition, how much SEO your competitors might be doing and many other things that your SEO cannot control. And for that reason, they can’t control who ranks above you.
These are just some of the questions you want to ask an SEO. I would also recommend that if someone is too cheap, you should probably avoid them. That said, there are a lot of SEO companies that are very expensive too, as they have higher overheads and more staff. It is also wise to ask if your SEO does any of your competitors’ SEO work: — it isn’t wise for an SEO to compete against themselves.
I know that you intend to quit providing SEO consultation services. Is this in light of a recent market trend, or is it just your personal choice?
Craig: I intend to do SEO for fewer clients, and focus instead on the training aspect of things. But this is more of a long-term thought, not something that is going to happen overnight. I will still look after some of the clients I currently have, but I want to focus more on my blog, my online training courses and doing some consultancy work.
This is not because of a market trend, there are millions of websites out there that need SEO. Plus, even in 2016, some people still don’t even know what SEO is, and every business needs an online presence. So SEO will always be required, but, personally, I want to go down that route as I’ve tried more of that type of thing and I enjoy it.
Someone once said to me: “Sit and do SEO and make people millions.” Why not do something that makes yourself millions. So, I don’t want a lot of SEO clients — I’ve been there and tried that. I currently have a small digital marketing agency that does well. I’ve tried to grow it in the past, but it’s not really what I enjoy doing; I don’t want to manage a huge staff. And it’s hard, because I’m an SEO and a business owner, and I’m trying to expand my training program as well. I want to gradually get more into training over time as it suits me as a person.
Plus, I think I’m now at a level where I’ve done SEO long enough to offer training opportunities; there really are few experiences I’ve not had in the SEO industry. You name it, I’ve had a problem with it. So I would like to think my knowledge and experience are something I can pass on to other people now.
Craig Campbell is a Glasgow-based SEO expert who has been doing SEO and offering a broad range of other online marketing services for 14 years. He also teaches online SEO training courses, as well as training sessions throughout the UK, helping others understand SEO while passing on other advice and tips that he and his team have learned over the years.