If you believe that you have value to add then add it. Step up, speak up and become part of the conversation. That is exactly what Stephan Spencer did. Stephan got a job as a mic runner at an internet marketing conference so he can get in for free. As a 24-year-old young guy who thinks he knows SEO and online marketing and conversion stuff more than the panelists and the speakers, he started to chime in on some of the answers. By the end of the day, he had this huge stack of business cards, two of which turned into at least $500,000 each accounts over the course of time. Stephan didn’t have a portfolio but self-taught himself different online marketing techniques. He is now bestselling author and an SEO expert whose work includes helping business owners increase their visibility on the web and generate traffic through SEO. He says you’re on to something if you’re creating something that is so valuable that people are compelled to share it, to link to it, to blog about it, and to tell people, friends, family about it.
Generating Traffic Through SEO: Creating Value And Comprehensive Content with Stephan Spencer
My guest is a business expert who started his career by talking his way into a conference he couldn’t afford, being thrown out the next day but landing his first client in what soon would become an eight-figure enterprise. My friend is a recognized SEO expert and bestselling author and CEO of Netconcepts, which he started in 1995. Stephan Spencer, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
I’m so glad you’re here, Stephan. I love the story that we started to chat about before the show began. Why don’t you fill us in on how that all happened?
This was when I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. I had just dropped out of my PhD program in Biochemistry. I stuck it out a few extra months in order to get a Master’s, which came in real handy in Biochemistry. I knew that there was a huge potential. A few months earlier, I met Rob McCool. He’s the inventor of Apache, which is running most websites on the internet. The majority of web servers are running Apache or Nginx but he created Apache. Before that, he created Netscape Server. Before that, he created the NCSA HTTPd server. He is an incredible genius. At the time in 1994, I had met him at the Second International Worldwide Web Conference.If you ask a better question, you'll get a better answer. Click To Tweet
I’d never heard of Netscape before. It was 1994. We were all still using Mosaiq as our web browser. I met him in a speaker room because I had done a paper that I presented at this conference on how to convey virus structure over the World Wide Web, not computer viruses, but biological viruses, spinning 3D type visualizations. I was smitten. I was enamored by the internet as a moneymaking venture, not just as a fun place to play and build websites for fun in my spare time as a graduate student. I decided I was going to drop out of school. I then started to realize how expensive it was going to be to start a business but I was determined to make it happen. I found this great conference called How to Market on the Internet and it had big name speakers. It looked like it was going to be perfect.
My target audience, bigger sized companies, were going to be there. I couldn’t afford it because it was over $2,000 and I had no money. I decided I would figure out a way to get in for free. Tony Robbins teaches if you ask a better question, you’ll get a better answer. A better question than, “How can I afford this conference or how can I afford this marketing expense?” is “How can I get this cool thing for free?” I got in for free as a volunteer and they put me on the job of mic runner. I had the microphone. It was pretty funny when you’re this 24-year-old young guy who thinks he knows SEO and online marketing and conversion stuff more than the panelists and the speakers. He happens to have a microphone. I started to chime in on some of the answers because I thought, “What about this?”
I did it in a way that was cute and value-added and everything. I wasn’t intentionally trying to upstage, just add value. I did tick off some of the speakers because at the end of the day I was uninvited from coming back for day two. By the end of the day, I had this huge stack of business cards. All these people came up to me and said, “You know more about online marketing than these guys up on stage.” I was upstaging people like a GM O’Donnell, the founder of Modem Media. He’s a big name at the time and I’m just this punk kid. I was just talking about different online marketing techniques and stuff. It was all self-taught. I had built websites on my own for fun while I was in graduate school. I didn’t have a big portfolio. I had a portfolio of my own sites, a bed and breakfast directory that I created and an author’s community called Writers.net that I had created a website for my department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
By the end of that day, with that big stack of business cards, two of those turned into at least $500,000 each account over the course of time, customer lifetime value over $1 million. I got that for free just by having a lot of gumption and a lot of sass. I don’t regret it but I was taken aback when I was uninvited from day two. It hurt my ego. I was not expecting that. In retrospect, it was all a gift. What a great opportunity that turned out to be.
You failed at being a mic runner. That’s not going to be your career path going forward here. I want to let you know.
What’s ironic about that whole thing was this organization that ran that conference, IQPC. They run lots of conferences and at the time they were doing a lot of different internet marketing conferences. They had all these different vertical type conferences. I’ve got a call, I don’t know how, but from another conference organizer at the same company saying, “We would like you, Stephan, to speak at this next conference called How to Market Educational Programs on the Internet,” because I apparently knew a fair amount about internet marketing for educational institutions because I had built a website for my department at the university. In retrospect, I have no idea how they found me but clearly, they don’t speak to each other because that one conference organizer didn’t like me and didn’t pass that on to this other conference organizer who asked me to not only speak at this event but also chair it and do a post-conference workshop.Good writing is creating something that is unique and has a unique keyword focus and hook to it. Click To Tweet
I was the most exposed speaker at that whole event because I was running the whole thing and I was terrible at it. I was atrocious. I have no public speaking skills. I had no training. I had never even gone to Toastmasters. I didn’t know how to keep people on time and keep things lively and fun in between sessions. I didn’t know how to introduce people in a way that made them sound amazing. I was just reading off their bios. It was not great, yet I managed to get more speaking engagements because what happens is these different conference organizations, they poach each other’s speakers. They’ll get a bunch of brochures of all the different events that the competitors are doing and they’ll call all the speakers and they’ll invite the speakers to their events. I started getting calls from IIR and these other organizations, WBR. I said yes to everything because I knew I had to master this. I sucked. I realized that, and the only way to break through was to keep at it until I nailed it.
Stephan, the lesson here for the audience and for myself even, is if you believe that you have value to add, then add it. Step up, speak up and become part of the conversation, which is exactly what you did. This has all happened back in 1995, it sounds like.
It was. My speaking career was launched on 1995 and I’ve spoken thousands of times since and I’ve gotten a lot better. I do keynotes and I crush it but it didn’t start that way and even after two or three years I’d still get mixed results. Sometimes I would do well with the ratings and the feedback. Sometimes it was not great and I would learn from it and I would just suck it up and keep working on it and improve the things that needed to be improved. I also got training and I’ve done a lot of speaker training. I’ve gone to Speaking Empire. I still go to get training. I’m going to Heroic Public Speaking, Michael Port’s program, and it’s something you always can upskill and improve.
Tell Michael I say hi and you know that Justin and I are friends as well. We travel in some of the same circles. I’m surprised we haven’t met up until now but I’m glad we did.
There are so many opportunities to up-level and develop yourself. Speaking is one of them. I’m a seminar junkie. I’m a big personal development geek. I have gone to tons of different seminars, just tons of stuff, Allison Armstrong and many of these people I end up having on my podcast too, which is pretty awesome. Not yet Tony Robbins, I hope to at some point but I’m working my way up there. I have had Byron Katie on, which is pretty impressive. She’s incredible. This is on my podcast, The Optimized Geek. We will geek out about up leveling your life and being a better human.
The Optimized Geek sounds like a show you need to check out and absolutely do that. Let me ask you a question. For the audience who are interested in SEO, I know that you are clearly an expert in this topic. For the average coach or consultant that has a website and writes a blog, what are they missing? What can they do to increase their visibility on the web and generate traffic through SEO?
There are so many things but we’ll start with a few simple basics. First off is to think like you’re trying to create something that is a comprehensive content piece and not just keyword stuffed with thousand words or trying to reach some threshold so that it’s “search engine optimized.” If you’re creating something that is so valuable that people are compelled to share it, to link to it, to blog about it, to tell people, friends, family about it, now you’re on to something. That includes being comprehensive in your coverage of that particular topic. Let’s say that you are writing about something boring like lawnmowers. If it’s a very surface level SEO version of an article, then you might put lawnmowers in the title, you might put lawnmowers in H1 tag, you might put lawnmowers in the first paragraph and then again in the third paragraph. Make sure it’s at least three times in the body copy and that’s a terrible article.
I don’t want to read it. I don’t think anybody would want to read it, and it’s not going to rank. If it does for some reason, it’s not going to stay there because machine learning is getting much better over time at Google and they’re going to be able to sniff out the stuff that’s written for search engines rather than humans. If you want to be the most awesome comprehensive content piece about lawnmowers, of course you need to talk about grass, lawns, lawn clippings, the garden, weed whackers, push mowers versus ride-on mowers, the deck and lawn furniture and whatever else that’s related to that topic. If you don’t, then this is a very surface level article. Don’t be surface level. Don’t be thin. That’s a thing that Google doesn’t like, thin content. Try and be comprehensive. Try to add massive value with what you’re creating.
Let me ask you a few basic questions about what you said. When you are thinking about these blog posts, are you trying to conform to a specific length of the post or does it not matter? If it’s going to be long, would you break it up into several posts and would you stack them under the same post or title? How is the way you see that?
Every article or content piece needs to have its own unique title because we don’t want to look like we’re serving a duplicate content to Google. Things that are duplicate are going to get filtered out because Google has a duplicate content filter. Google doesn’t want to show the same search results over and over again. The same title, same snippet, that looks not diverse. Google has this thing called Query Deserves Diversity, QDD. Most queries deserve diversity. If we want to stay out of the Google duplicate content filter, we need to create something that is unique and has a unique keyword focus and has a unique hook to it because that’s just good writing. You have a hook that is different from the other articles hook that’s different from the other articles hook. Every article, every content piece should have a hook.
It’s something that grabs people, makes them excited to read about it or to watch the video that’s embedded or whatever. You can have a hub strategy to it or an umbrella strategy, whatever you want to call it, but you have one foundational content piece and then everything that further builds on it is going to be linked to from that. Let’s say we’re going to have the ultimate lawnmower resource guide and we have the history of the lawnmower. We have the future of lawnmowers, a technology guide and prognostication. I’m just making this stuff up by the way.
I thought you’ve been comprehensively covering lawnmowers. You’re doing pretty good.
I don’t know anything about lawnmowers. I’m happy to pay other people to mow my lawn. How to not mow your own lawn and get other people to bring their own lawnmowers and hire TaskRabbit and stuff. You could have all these different content pieces that further augment and build on this foundational piece that’s more of an overview coverage of that topic. You feel like, “This is comprehensive.” If I want to know anything about the history or the future where things are heading with lawnmowers or how lawnmowers work or what’s inside a lawnmower, cut it open and deconstruct all the parts, it’s all there for me. Videos, infographics, SlideShares, listicles, top ten things and all that, it’s all there.
If it had the same titles or it had a lot of repeated content, that wouldn’t be very good. If it’s good for users, it’s probably in the end, good for SEO because it’s a dovetail effect. If you have an AI that’s so smart that it’s as good as a human at sniffing out whether the content was written for humans or not, which we’re heading to very quickly, then you’re going to get found out very quickly if you haven’t created something that’s adding value for humans, for the readers.We can wish and hope, but it's not going to do anything. Click To Tweet
What you’re then saying is you start with a foundational piece and that becomes a single post and then you release several posts thereafter with additional information as you’ve described. That’s different than what the digital marketer folks have recommended. They like to take a single post and then build on that on the same page. I’m wondering what your opinion is of that.
I like having evergreen posts. I don’t like seeing a URL with a date, a month and a year in it. That’s a bad way to go because you’ve dated the content. If it’s a year from now. Who’s going to want to go to URL that has last year in it? I’m not interested in that. I want new information. I don’t want last year’s information. You’ve got to have an evergreen looking URL and evergreen looking title. You haven’t put the date, the year or anything like that into the title. If you have, you’re going to update it to the new year. The Ultimate Lawnmower Guide of 2018 is fine until it’s 2019. Then you have to go and you update it to 2019. If you’ve created a new version and you put it at a different URL, now you’re starting all over again from zero and you have to build link authority for that new URL. That’s a bad idea.
Keep an evergreen URL and continually update that. That doesn’t mean that this Ultimate Lawnmowers Guide is going to be 10,000 words long. Who wants to read a 10,000-word article? I don’t know that many people. Maybe it’s 2,000 words or 1,500 words or something but It’s got links off to other pages and maybe there’s a top nav that helps you navigate to the different subsections where you are able to go through the history if you are interested in the history of the lawnmower. Personally, I’m not but if you are, it’s one click away. The future, some people are very interested in future stuff and some people just want their lawn mowed and they just need to know who I’m going to pay to make the problem go away. They are not interested in the future stuff but if you put it all on one page, it’s like trying to fit everything in the kitchen sink in there. I’m not into that. I don’t think that’s good for the user and I don’t think that’s good for SEO.
What you’re advocating here is inter-page posting. As you create a post, it lives on its own with its own date but you link to other posts. As you add them, you can go back to the first post and add the link of a new post that you just created so that you’re connecting the dots of all these different diverse topics under the same core topic. Is that right?
Yes, they don’t even need to be blog posts. They could just be WordPress pages and you have a structure where it’s a taxonomy you’ve set up where at the top level you have the ultimate resource guide or whatever you want to call it. Then you’ve got the history of, the future of, what’s inside, like practical considerations and the biggest myths and misconceptions about whatever the topic is, and so forth and so on. You can keep adding more content pieces. If they are posts that are part of your blog or they’re just pages within a WordPress category, subcategory structure, either one can work well for you.
Every post or page is like a virtual salesperson. If you have five virtual salespeople out there selling to whoever in Google, like all the searchers, you’re only going to get so far in comparison to your competitor who has 500,000 virtual salespeople, 500,000 pages in Google’s index and they’re not duplicate content and they’re not thin content. They’re all well-written. Many of them are foundational pieces like I’m describing. They’re going to crush you, so you have to compete with these competitors by outdoing them, being more remarkable, more awesome with your content. Each of these virtual salespeople needs to sing to the search engines for whatever the topic is.
Each topic is different because it’s not all lawnmowers, it’s the history of a lawnmower. That’s what you’re targeting with this particular article and then future tech, lawnmower future tech or lawnmowers of the future, whatever the keyword is for that particular page. It’s different than the overarching umbrella page, which is the Resource Guide for Lawnmowers. That might just target the head term of lawnmowers or buying a lawnmower or lawnmower reviews.
What you’re saying is original quality content is absolutely required and necessary. What you’re doing is you’re launching little balloons into the air and you’re hoping that they get picked up by this huge radar called Google. Is there something else we can do? Are there particular apps that you use in this process? Once we have this great content, we can’t just wish and hope Google picks it up. What else can we do and what would you recommend?
We can wish and hope but it’s not going to do anything. I do use quite a number of tools and some of them are free, some of them are expensive and some of them are overpriced. It just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s say that you’re trying to brainstorm and you have not written the content piece yet but you want to create an FAQ about the topic. Let’s say lawnmowers, I would turn to a free tool called Answer the Public. Answer the Public is amazing. It’s based on Google suggest, which is just as you’re starting to type into the Google search box, you’ll get autocomplete suggestions back before you even start digging into the search results. You’re getting suggested keywords. If you start typing lawnmowers, you just start typing the word lawn and you might get lawn furniture back as a suggestion and you could select that and then get the search results for lawn furniture.Be your best self. Elevate your consciousness and access the best version of yourself. Click To Tweet
This tool called Answer the Public will extract from Google suggest keywords that are popular with searchers that you can use to formulate an FAQ page, “How many horsepowers do I need for a lawnmower? What are the best brands of lawnmowers? What’s the difference in price between a push lawnmower and a ride-on lawnmower? How do I get my ride-on lawnmower repaired?” I’m just making these up. I have no idea what people are searching on Google for that’s lawnmower related that are questions. This particular free tool will extract those out of Google suggest and give you a nice long list of them broken down by how, what, where, when, why. Also implied questions or things that include prepositions like near or in or of or two or four, that’s a whole other list you’ll get as well. It’s cool and it’s completely free.
If you have a budget, then you can buy something like Searchmetrics Topic Explorer and that thing is amazing. What that will do is you put in a keyword like lawnmower and it will show you all these topics in a visual set of bubbles. I have no idea what it would have because I’ve never tried this with the keyword lawnmower but let’s say you put in avocado. I have tried it with that, it will come back with avocado toast and guacamole and all list of topics. The topic is different for the keyword. Google thinks in terms of what they refer to as entities, which are groups of keywords that are closely related to each other. It’s not necessarily a synonym, it’s just relatedness. It could be that it’s a singular or plural or it could be a different verb tense.
Those are very closely related or it could be similar, like bespoke and custom are pretty much synonymous. Let’s say a lawnmower and a weed whacker are somewhat different, but they’re related. They might be in a closely related topic space or they might even be considered to be in the same topic space. I don’t know how Google figures that out but I do know that the Topic Explorer is an incredible brainstorming tool to find all the keywords that you should incorporate into your article so that it is comprehensive, so it covers all the bases. It covers grass and lawn and weed whacker and all that sort of stuff. You see these visual bubbles of different topics and then you’ll see they’re color-coded and the semantic associations are conveyed by how close these bubbles are to each other and you can switch to different color schemes, different tabs in this tool.
You go from let’s say Semantic Associations to the funnel. Where in the funnel like awareness, consideration, purchase retention, are each of these topics? What kind of keyword is it? Is it informational, navigational or transactional? It’s a whole different color scheme for all these different topics if you’re in that mode. Competitiveness, the redder the bubble, the more competitive it is. This is a very cool visual way to explore the topic space around your subject matter and come up with a nice list of topics, which within those topics are tons of keywords. After you’ve added three or four of these topics to your little shopping cart, essentially, you then go into the content editor and it blows out those three or four topics into potentially several hundred keywords.
The must-have keywords, the recommended keywords, the additional keywords. As you’re typing in this content editor, it starts to check off each of those keywords with the green check and keeps track of how many times you’re using each keyword. If you’re overusing it, it turns red and puts an exclamation point next to it. You know without having to count words and without having to do anything other than just focus on your craft of writing, it tells you if you’re on track or off track. It gives your readability score. It gives you an SEO content score. It tells you the estimated reading level. That is super cool and expensive.
How expensive is it? Give us some price range.
I believe it’s going to be in the thousands of dollars.
Now I understand. It’s an industrial-grade professional tool.
I use it but I don’t have to pay for it because I wrote the book, so to speak, co-wrote it. They want authors of major books to try out the tools and have unfettered access to it. I’ve covered it in The Art of SEO. I love the toolset. It’s not just that tool, it’s incredible what you can do with Searchmetrics. You’d put in a competitor, put their domain in there and get thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of keywords that they’re ranking for, what the positions are and estimated traffic levels for your competition. It’s like you’ve almost hacked their Google analytics and Google search console but you haven’t. You’re just using the Searchmetrics Research Suite.
You did mention your book called the Art of SEO.
It is 994 pages.
What year was it written?
We started with the first edition in 2009. We’re now in the third edition. Each edition seems to grow exponentially. It didn’t start at 994 pages. This third edition came out in late 2015. We’re due for another update but it’s so much work. It takes a year, even two to do an update because it’s very significant. Even though it’s from 2015, I can tell you that the stuff you’re going to learn is still valid. It’s still applicable. We’re very careful to not do flash in the pan site type stuff that’s probably not going to work in six months. We’re very careful about that.
There are new algorithms that have come out or whatever that aren’t mentioned in the book that are just too new but that’s okay. You’re going learn a ton. My recommendation is because it’s an overwhelming book, it’s like trying to read the encyclopedia, start with chapter seven. Chapter seven is all about content marketing and it’s not overly technical. It’s not going to make your head burst or anything. It’s a lot of fun because you get to think about how to be remarkable and notable in your content marketing so that you get lots of links. If you like that chapter, you keep going. I’m sure you will like that chapter. In fact, I’m happy to give your listeners that chapter for free. I’ve already gotten permission from my publisher, O’Reilly, to do that.
I just want to get to what I think of maybe some of the core questions about who you are. I love this question because it shows readers a little bit about you that you may not have shown them before. Let me ask you this question and let’s start with this. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or a conversation with?
Abraham Hicks and I can tell you that I’ve never said that publicly. I’ve said on my podcast, on The Optimized Geek, that I’m a fan of Abraham but I don’t think I’ve talked much about Abraham. There’s this concept of the willing suspension of disbelief. I invite the readers to do that right now because there are things that we don’t understand. There are things that are beyond our comprehension, that are in the 99% reality. Those who study Kabbalah and teach it describe 99% reality is everything that’s not the physical reality, the stuff that we can see, touch, smell. If we are in the 1% reality and not experiencing the 99% reality but we can think about or be aware that there is a 99% reality and then this willing suspension of disbelief.Keep an evergreen URL and continually update that. Click To Tweet
I’m knocking on this table here and there’s a lot of space in between the atoms in this table that feels very hard and surface. Let’s just say that this is possible that somebody could channel an entity or somebody else who’s passed or who is not in physical form like we are. Maybe that’s possible. Maybe it’s not. Who knows? If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and say that there’s this woman, Esther Hicks, who is an amazing woman and she channels this entity that’s called Abraham. There’s more than one person or consciousness that Abraham is made up of, whether if this sounds new age-y and crazy or if it sounds plausible, feasible or likely, let’s just say it doesn’t matter. Let’s say that the content you get from this person is so incredible, life-changing, eye-opening, insightful and inspiring that it changes your life. That’s what I’m proposing is that you follow her. She’s incredible.
I love Abraham. If you go to YouTube and type Abraham Hicks into the search bar, you will be treated to maybe hundreds of hours of content, which is so incredible. I completely agree with you, Stephan. It, she, they are amazing and highly recommend spending some time if you haven’t yet done that. That is a great suggestion. You are the first person to ever say that, which is wonderful. Here’s the grand finale, the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I have this vision of me on Good Morning America or The Today Show with a New York Times best-selling self-help book that is changing millions of people’s lives. That’s what I want to do, inspire people to be their best selves, to elevate their consciousness, to access the best version of themselves however they want to see it. I want them to step into their best self and I want to be the catalyst for them to do that. I had an incredible life-changing experience. It started with me doing a fire walk and bare feet on 2,000-degree hot coals at a Tony Robbins event. In 2009, I was going through a divorce, I was unhappy, I was depressed and it was the best gift in the world that I was going through, that tunnel at the time, because I came out at the other end and I completely transformed and rebooted my life.
I’m literally unrecognizable from the person I was a decade ago. I looked twenty years older from photos from a decade ago than I look now. It’s pretty crazy, looks like Benjamin Button and it all started with that fire walk. If I can be that catalyst for other geeks like me, like who I was ten years ago and hopefully millions of them, I will feel complete.
We have a lot of common interests. As you may know, I worked with Tony directly. We built a company together and I’ve been to many, if not all of his events and I’ve done the fire walk as well. My fifteen-year-old daughter at the time did it with me and it was an incredible experience. Stephan, this has been such a fun conversation. I enjoyed it. Stephan Spencer, it was my pleasure spending time with you and I actually cannot wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
Likewise, it’s been such a pleasure.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Rob McCool
- Speaking Empire
- Heroic Public Speaking
- Byron Katie on The Optimized Geek
- The Optimized Geek
- Answer the Public
- Searchmetrics Topic Explorer
- The Art of SEO
- Abraham Hicks
- Abraham Hicks on YouTube
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