Welcome to The Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and today, this is going to be a fun interview. We’re talking with Brendan Hufford, and he is a marketing and business veteran who has since his first project in 2011, he’s founded and sold multiple businesses. In 2018, he founded SEO for the Rest of Us, and is currently the SEO director at Clique Studios. Brendan is passionate about helping businesses get more revenue, and profit from their website through SEO. I can I think go a little bit beyond that and say he’s the guy that I turn to when it comes to SEO, and he’s got tons of resources online. We’re going to talk about where to find those in a little bit. But he’s one of the few people that I think can make this really complicated topic clear, and we’re going to get that done today.
Brendan, welcome to The Unstoppable CEO.
Steve, thanks so much for having me. I’m stoked.
Yeah, this is going to be a lot of fun, mostly because we’re going to get to geek out on marketing for a little while, and that’s never a bad thing, at least for me. Tell us a little bit … beyond what we just covered in the bio, tell us a little bit about you, and how you got to this stage of your career.
Yeah. I think it all started when I was in college. For some reason we allow 18-year-olds to be like the worst venture capitalists ever, and take on … or the worst startup founders ever, and take on a bunch of debt to go down a path that they have no idea whether it’s going to work on not. So, at 18, I did that. I sat in the college kind of like … basically in my dorm room and just looked through the course catalog, and I was like, “Well, I guess I’ll just be a teacher. Like that sounds good,” just because that’s what kind of struck me at the moment. It’s like, “Well, I like school and stuff.” At 18, at a point in my life when nobody really trusted me to do anything, I decided to do that.
I went through college and became a teacher. A couple years into teaching, I was just like, “I don’t know if this is it. Like this is not … I was not trained for this.” I started kind of just like really putting … like just working, and then having my life outside of work, like most people do, where it’s just like, I … You know, it’s called work for a reason.
I started really pursuing my passion of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was just answering a lot of questions on forums and things, and very organically I just decided I’m going to start my own website on this topic. I was just putting out so much content on these forums, like answering everybody’s questions about whatever.
Started my own website, and one day some guy just emailed me… And this is, like you said, around 2010, 2011 … some guy emailed me and was like, “Hey, if I send you a bunch of free stuff, will you write about it on your website?” I said, “Sure. Like I love free stuff.” So, I got a bunch of free gear, and I wrote about it, and that kept happening more, and more, and more. I said, “Why don’t I just make the website where I just review gear, and make this like a little business, or a way to get free stuff, so I never have to pay for any of this again.” Because uniforms in Brazilian jiu-jitsu are like $200. They’re very expensive.
I did that, and I did that, and I then I realized that for like $50 these companies would invest $50 in a uniform in the shipping of getting it to me, I would make all this media, a blog post, a video, podcasts, like just tons of assets for them, and they would end up selling like a hundred uniforms, which would net them like $20,000. They would literally pay me … like they would invest 50 bucks, pay me no money, and make like 10 to 20 grand. I was like, “All right, this … the economics of this are off.”
So, I talked to some friends. I figured out importing, and exporting, and got contacts in China and Pakistan, because that’s the only place … We don’t have the physical machines to make the material anymore in the United States. They were gone a long time ago when the manufacturing went overseas. I figured out all of that stuff, and started my own brand, and grew that, and grew that. The whole time I’m still teaching. I was an assistant principal for a little bit. Just struggling, we had I think two kids. Now we’re around about 2015, 2016, and I have two kids, and I’m just drowning. I just didn’t know what to do. I was like, “I don’t know what it’s going to take to take this business full-time. I don’t know like how I’m going to do it.”
I saw a couple friends had their jiu-jitsu companies fail because like one guy’s factory in Pakistan flooded, and he had to like mortgage his house to pay bills, and it just freaked me out. So, I just decided these are profitable businesses, the review website was going great, the apparel company is going great, but it’s just time to sell. A friend of mine gave me really good advice. He’s like, “Why don’t you just sell it, and take a break for a little bit, and figure out what you want to do next.” So, I did that.
That sounds really clean and easy. It wasn’t. It was messy. It’s really hard to sell a business emotionally, especially for me when it was something that was like based in my passion. I was really selling a part of myself.
But getting through that, and taking a break, I realized that I had a really skillset in marketing. That’s what I was really good at, and that … a lot of other people were more passionate about jiu-jitsu, and better at jiu-jitsu than I was, but I was just really passionate about telling stories and creating a brand. I had a couple friends that were photographers, and they said, “Hey, we need help with SEO and marketing.” I helped them. We produced some really stellar case studies for them. I was kind of just growing my own little kind of consultancy or … I guess agency, because it was just me … or consultancy, because it was just me. Another friend was just like, “Hey, like why don’t you … why don’t you just go work at an agency and do both, and not live this double life of like teacher plus marketer, and have all of this stuff.”
About two years ago, as of today, I took a position as the SEO director at Clique Studios here in Chicago, as the head of SEO at our Chicago office, and I really haven’t looked back. I’ve just been doubling down on teaching, leveraging the 10 years I have as a teacher to teach everything that I know.
Yeah. You’re doing that with a vengeance right now as we record this, because you’re in the midst of what you’re calling the 100 Days of SEO, which is … I believe you’re publishing a video every day for a hundred days. I know what it takes to do that, and that’s a ton of work, and so kudos to you for taking it on.
You really are teaching a ton of stuff, though, not just there, in other places. But as you describe the kind of journey that you went through, building a business, and then selling it, and going through all of that, and then deciding to sort of instead of immediately go and roll all the dice on the next business, go and work in this field where you want to start the next business. With all of the kind of ups and downs that have happened along the way, how do you sort of stay focused and stay unstoppable?
That’s a great question. There’s a Steve Jobs quote … Here’s the thing, the short answer is I don’t know, day-to-day. It’s hard. It’s really, really difficult. I think what I’ve noticed is that a lot of self-awareness and like self-reflection has been helpful. There’s this Steve Jobs quote where he talks about how you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you just kind of have to keep going, and just know that somehow in your future these dots will connect.
Looking back into my past … and my wife’s been a great kind of person to help me put things together … that like I’m, A is like my nature, like I’m wired for resilience. She always says like, “That’s so weird that you never like gave up.” I was always … Steve, I’ll put it this way, I was always the worst kid that made varsity sports. I would make the team, I wouldn’t get cut, but I never like got to play. I was just the worst person on the team, and it was so … She’s just like, “I would’ve just quit,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t.”
When I bought my first jiu-jitsu gis, and the colors bled everywhere, and it was all of my money, it was like 2,500 bucks, which was all my money at the time, I was just like, “I don’t know, we’re just going to keep going.” She’s like, “You’re not going to just shut it down and do something else?” I’m like, “No, like that’d be crazy.” So, I think part of it is just this nature I have to be extremely resilient, but …
Sorry, go ahead.
No, I was just going to say that, I mean, I hate to make it that simple, but that’s a huge secret right there, is just keep going. You just wake up the next day and go again.
Yeah. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of mentors in my life, and surround … find like creative ways, like having my own podcast, the Entrepreneurs and Coffee Podcast, to talk to really smart people, and get life lessons from them.
Never Look Back… Always Keep Going
And then also just like really on a day-to-day basis surrounding myself with people that encourage me to keep going. I think the thing that I’ve done a really bad job of, I guess we could call it, self-care, or whatever. I’ve done a really bad job of that for a long time. I really focused on the work. I just kind of said like, “I don’t know what the results are going to be, but I know they’ll take care of themselves when I just keep doing what I need to.”
If I … Kind of like with the 100 Days of SEO, I don’t know how many clients I’m going to get, I don’t know how many people will buy my SEO course, I don’t know any of these things, but I do know that if I put out a prolific amount of content over the next five or six months, that it’s going to be really hard to ignore, and I know that good will come of it. So, instead of focusing on like all of these other metrics, on end-goal metrics, I’m just going to focus on the work. A lot of it has been that, and just by focusing on the work and attaching my emotions to the work, the thing I can control, and not the results, which I so often cannot, it staves me from like … it staves off a lot of like emotional roller coaster, and emotional ups and downs that you would experience when you are emotionally attached to the results.
That distinction, that separation, that you just talked about between sort of the process and the results, I think is probably one of the most impactful things that … and you may not have known it when you said it … but that we’ve covered on the podcast.
I had a similar experience when I started this podcast, because I actually delayed for probably a good two or three months. I’d had one before, and I delayed restarting, partly because I knew how much work it was, and I knew I needed to put a team in place, but partly because in that few months I couldn’t clearly see the results that were going to come from it. I finally just decided, “You know what? I’m going to do this, and over the course of the year, I’m going to talk to 52 people,” because we publish weekly, and I could … if we did more than that, I talked to more people, but I’m going to talk to at least 52 people who are intelligent, and interesting, and if I think carefully about the relationships that I wanted to create with it, then I know that it’s going to be good for the business. I don’t know how yet, but I know it’s going to be good for the business.” So, I just … I committed. I said, “I’m going to do it.” Now I’ve kind of … Now I’m at the point where, “Look, I’m just committed to this for the next decade. You know, every week, I’m going to be here, because I know I don’t know what’s coming, but I know something’s coming, and I know it’s going to be really good.” It’s really hard to do that though, for a lot of people.
Yeah, it’s not easy for me either. I’ve spent the … I mean, if we can just have like a real, honest, transparent conversation, I spend weeks, in even like the last week, like right on the edge of tears for no reason, just like right on the edge of just like losing it, constantly. That’s not good. That’s not healthy, but that is what happens when you don’t take care of yourself, and that is what happens when your Google calendar has … like the only open space in your Google calendar is a 30-minute block on like Tuesday afternoon, but otherwise you’re literally minute-to-minute blocked all week. That’s really great for like organizing yourself and staying productive and everything, but you also like lose your mind a little bit, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s been like really hard. There have been really hard stretches.
There was a period of time where I had built up like certain goals in my mind, like financial goals and professional goals in my mind, to be this end-all be-all. I didn’t even realize it when I was doing it, because it was so motivating. Then what I realized was when I achieved those goals, I was just like, “What’s next?”
Like people have … well, we make up these numbers, because we have to realize we come from a culture globally that loves the even, round numbers of like 10s. So, getting your first 10k in business, then getting to 100k a year, then getting to a million a year, what’s the … If you built up in your head getting to a million dollars in like new business in a year is the goal, what are you going to … what’s going to motivate you to go from like a million to 1.1 million? All of sudden you get there, and when you realize that it is hollow, and you realize that’s there’s nothing there for you, and all of your insecurities are still there, and all your problems are still there, like nothing changed, that can be really hard, and it can definitely slam on the brakes for a little bit.
Focusing on What Actually Matters
What was really helpful for me was just like taking a step back, focusing on what actually mattered, what did I actually want to do, what did I actually need to do, and just make smarter business decisions, getting people in my life … There’s a guy named Nick Eubanks who runs a really incredible agency out of Philadelphia, and he’s been really, really helpful with me, just like talking through some things. He’s got a program for it. It’s called 7 Figure Agency, but like the content in there … You’d think like 7 Figure Agency would be all about like here’s how you pitch clients, and here’s how you close people, but literally the first month we spent on like what matters to you, how do you want to spend your day, what is your high-leverage activities, things like that that you might not … that are not like typically talked about, and tend to get glossed over, but have really been the big levers that I have pulled that have been helpful.
It’s so interesting, we get into these businesses, and we often don’t do that upfront thinking, like the deeper thinking about, “What am I really trying to build here?” We just start building. It’s like we would show up to build the Empire State Building with some tools, and a bunch of steel, and no set of plans, and see what we end up with.
And I think that’s the reason why a lot of business owners have a really bad experience in business, where they get into it after a little while, and realize, “Hey wait, what did I just build? What am I dealing with here?”, you know?
Yeah, it’d be like architect who designed the Empire State Building being the one out there that’s like, “No, I’m going to be the one that puts in the rivets and the bolts.” Like no, like you shouldn’t be … Not just you shouldn’t be doing that. I don’t want to give callous advice of like, “You just need to hire,” because that’s a really hard thing to do, to hire the right people, but I think starting to understand what your high …
For example, something that I realized in the last six months in my work at Clique Studios as the SEO director is that the highest-leverage activity that I can do … While the core of my job is getting results for our clients, the best thing I can do within the organization is education. The best thing I can do is make sure that everybody understands how to use data in the work that we do, how to use … how to have like a really good understanding of how … what the SEO impacts are of a website redesign. That education is like the biggest thing that I need to focus on, versus like did I send an outreach emails for like a link-building campaign. So, it’s been things like really understanding what can I do that’ll be the catalyst to move this whole ship forward, versus like am I sitting in my seat like rowing the oars with everybody else.
Well, I feel like to get even to that level of insight it requires practice. You know, in the professions they call it the practice of law or the practice of medicine, because you’re showing up, you’re doing it every day, and the act of doing it, in and of itself, creates the expertise. It’s not that … Yes, there’s expertise through education and all of that, and there’s a baseline level, but really mastery comes from the doing rather than just from the learning. I think you begin to see where, like in your case, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for a little while. I now am really clear about where I have the biggest impact.” And you can’t necessarily see it until you’ve done it for a bit.
And made a lot of mistakes, too. I’m not a big … There’s a lot of like startup kind of phrases around like, “Move fast and break things,” and, “Fail fast and fail early.” It’s like, “Hey, that’s really cool, rich white guy who’s got a billion dollars in venture capital and all the like structural advantages in the world, like really cool that you can give that kind of advice, but most of … most people can’t move fast and break things, because when they break things, bad things happen.
All of these things that we tell … like, “Fail often.” Like, no, try not to, try not to fail too much. But like just the message gets switched. It’s like failure is not something … You know, “The more times I fail it means I’m closer to success.” No, it … Not always. That’s not how that works where you just screw up a lot and one day you’re successful. You have to learn from these things.
I don’t know, that was something I’ve like really taken to heart is just like, “All right, that went bad. What can I learn from it?” It’s been really helpful in keeping the momentum going forward, and allowing me …
I wish I could quote somebody and tell you who said this. There’s … I don’t know even know if it’s like a Greek story or whatever … of just like Sisyphus, who pushes this boulder up a hill every single day, and at the end of the day the boulder rolls back down to the bottom, and Sisyphus goes back and pushes it up again the next day, and it rolls back down. It’s kind of this like … it seems almost like self-defeating tale. What I heard on a podcast somebody had a dream or something, and they’re like, “I had this dream about Sisyphus. He’s pushing the boulder, and blah, blah, blah. But we zoomed in, and you could see he was smiling the whole time, like he loved it. He loved pushing the boulder up the hill every single day, and it was a gift for it to roll back to the bottom and get to do it again.”
Somebody that I would consider a mentor, this guy named Bobby Kim, he’s known as Bobby Hundreds. He’s one of the founders of a clothing brand called The Hundreds. He said like, “I just want to like be able to stay in the game. I just want to do well enough to just be able to keep playing the game every single day, and just … I’m just … just a privilege to still be in business.” That attitude of gratitude has been something that really helped pull me out of kind of that dark spot. It really I think is a big thing that helps me stay unstoppable.
The Worst Practice in SEO – and What to Do Instead
Yeah, I think that’s so important, and I appreciate you sharing that.
I want to take a quick break. We’re going to come back with more from Brendan. When we come back, we’re going to talk about SEO, because I know everybody listening wants to get more people to your website, you want to get more customers and more clients, and we’re going to talk about how to do that when we come back. Hang on.
All right. We’re back with Brendan Hufford. Brendan, let’s talk a little bit about SEO, and about marketing. I know folks listening probably all have websites, and they probably all wish they were like first page, number-one ranked for Google for whatever their particular golden keyword is. But I know that SEO has evolved a lot over that last 10 years, and I know a lot of the things that people assume about it, if they don’t have a true, deep understanding, aren’t necessarily true. Help educate us a little bit on the way we ought to be thinking about SEO.
Yeah. I think SEO … If you’re good at building relationships, you can be good at SEO. I think it’s the place where being really creative and interesting meshes with being really organized and really thoughtful. The best way to think about SEO is … I think that we have to get past some myths first.
The first myth, for better or worse … and this is, again, something that I did back in 2010. We thought that if we used an SEO plugin on our website, and we made the little lights green …That plugin for me was actually called WP SEO back in 2011. That was the plugin I was using. Yoast uses the same kind of … pretty much everybody does, where if you do the little things, and you make the little light green, you’ve done SEO.
The problem is that most of their recommendations make for really bad content, like using your keyword in the first paragraph. No, that’s like horrible copywriting. Why would you need to cram a keyword in the first … What if your first paragraph is only one sentence … things like that. First of all, plugins don’t do anything for SEO. They do a lot of great stuff for websites. They help you with sitemaps and all these other kind of technical behind-the-scenes things. They’re not actually going to help you rank. So, you can stress out over all those little minutiae things …
That’s really the biggest myth, is that doing what a plugin tells you to do is going to help you to rank. It won’t. Throughout all the studies that I’ve seen, and all of my advice, and I really stake my career on this, and how I get results for clients, is that it comes down to like the content on your website, is it really good for your audience, and then like do you have links from other related websites pointing to your blog pages, to your articles, and to like your homepage? That’s what matters the most, the content and the links. That’s the standout parts of Google algorithm. Google likes to say, “Well, like there’s 200 different ranking factors.” There are, but like what if three of them are 98% of that ranking factor? That’s what we find over and over.
When I tell people like, “All right. It’s content, and it’s things like that,” they’re like, “All right. Well, I probably have to be a really good writer.” You don’t. That’s the next kind of myth is like you don’t have to be a really great writer to do well in SEO, you just have to write how you speak, and then edit it down, and make sure that the way you’re speaking about things is the same way that your ideal client, customer, your ideal lead would talk about those sort of things. So, you don’t have to write … it’s not … we’re not writing a book report on The Scarlet Letter in ninth grade English class. It’s not … we’re not doing a freshman year book report here. Doesn’t have to be that kind of grammar, but it does have to be the same way that your … Good copywriting is writing about things in the same way that your audience does. That helps for SEO as well, because that’s the … the way they talk about things are the ways that they’re going to search for it.
Then the last thing is … the last kind of myth is just that you have to write a lot. They think it’s about like blogging every day, or blogging once a week, or something. I have websites that make five figures a year, and they have 20 articles on them. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality, especially when it comes to search. The way that we assess quality is does it actually match the intent of the search. If I’m searching for, I don’t know, blue running shoes, like what is the intent there? Do I want to know the history of blue running shoes? Do I want to know the history of Blue Ribbon shoes, which was what Nike was before it was Nike? Do I … what do I want? Well, I probably want to buy blue running shoes, you know want to see like comparisons of them. If I put in a Nike free blue running shoes, now it’s really buyer-specific. The intent changes.
So, matching you’re content, and matching your service pages, and all of these things to like the level of intent … I have a really … We could probably link it up in show notes, but I have a really helpful chart to help people map what their intent is, and then based on their level of intent, what they need to know. Like here’s what they know now, what do they need to know, and what do you need to tell them to push them further, deeper into an … like better awareness, better affinity, and things like that. You don’t always need to close them on the first kind of hit on your website, but what do they need to know to move forward. We can share that with them, but, yeah, I always think about intent being really the crux of the … once we get past the myths, the intent is really the crux of the conversation.
As you’re working with a business to sort of look at search intent, how do you begin breaking that down? I mean, I guess it would be very different for different types of businesses, but there are probably some commonalities across all businesses. For somebody listening, how would they begin thinking about it, because it sounds like that’s the place to start, rather than sitting down with a blank screen going, “What am I going to write about today?”
The Four Phases of Search Intent in Your Prospect
Yeah, absolutely. I always think about SEO as a campaign, right? “All right, we’re going to have a campaign. We want to have somebody who’s in this kind of audience move all the way through, and end up hiring us for what we do.”
I think some commonalities are … There’s really four phases that I outline for intent. There’s people who are searching for things where they’re problem-aware is the first one, the highest level, where they know what they have problems, but they don’t even know what type of solutions are out there. These are people googling like, “back pain,” or, “foot pain,” or, I don’t know, “ceiling is leaking.” Like they know … That’s so generic … but like they know they have problems, right? Even things like, “how to get more leads,” like they don’t know, or like, “how to increase revenue.” These are big problems, and they don’t know that a solution like yours exists.
So, if we’re going to use that top of funnel, and we’re going to rank for those terms, which are great, we need to show them in the … they need to know that a solution like yours exists. To sell them on that, at that highest level, you just really have to show you get their pain. You have to show like … As their reading it, they should be screaming like, “Wow, get out of my head. Like you know exactly what I’m going through. You know that like my sales team keeps telling me that the leads are garbage, and you know that like the web dev team is complaining because the sales team is telling them they need better conversions, and the web dev team is like, ‘We are converting,’ like … “, or whatever, like show that you know all of the turmoil that’s going on in their life because of this problem. And once you know their problem, where we want to move them down, at the end of that, they should know … by showing you get their pain, they should know that a solution like yours exists.
Now on the second level, so going from problem-aware to solution-aware, then they need to know that your solution solves their pain. A lot of people try to cram all of this into like one article, or into one sort of … That can work on a sales page, but not always. Typically, if somebody’s on sales page for you, or a services page, or they’re … any page that should convert, they’re not going to be like super high level. They already know.
This is something a really great copywriter named Hillary Weiss pointed out to me when I was writing the sales page for my SEO for the Rest of Us course. I was literally convincing people that SEO was a viable option, that it was important, and you should pay attention to it. She’s like, “Brendan, they’re on your sales page. They already trust you. You don’t have to sell them on SEO.” I was like, “Oh, I should listen to my own advice. You’re right. I don’t have to like …” You know what I mean? I was up here in solution-aware that they know SEO exists and here’s how it would solve their pain. They were actually a level lower. We have product-aware … or, sorry, problem-aware, solution-aware, where we’re just going to show them how your solution works, then into the third level deep is product-aware, where they know how your solution solves their pain. Now we just have to show them it’s the best one.
They know that like, “All right, cool. I’m going to … Your product is going to solve it better than anything else.” In my case like, “All right, I know I need an SEO course. Cool, well, why this one?” You have to prove you’re the best option. This is … Product-aware, I love articles around case studies, where it’s like, “Look, this is quantifiable proof that we’re the best option. Of all the solutions similar to us …” A case study is where you can show like we get actual results.
Once they’ve done that, the bottom level is most-aware. They know your solution’s best for them. We just need to seal the deal. They just need to know like, “How much does it cost? What is the next step? Do I book a demo? Do I get a call with a sales person? Do I just buy it right here if I’m ready?” So, moving people through that problem-aware, solution-aware, and having articles that speak to each one of those. What if I had four or five articles that were problem-aware that would then move people to another article that was solution-aware? Well, now maybe they’re ready to book a demo, or maybe they want to read more, so they move into a case study, and then from the case study we take them to the contact page.
Having that really smart funnel built into your website also shows search that you really understand this audience, and it also … you see like conversions go up on the website, all the business things. I think SEO is my kind of chief marketing channel, but really what I end up doing a lot of clients and stuff, and even kind of right now, is it becomes almost more like business coaching, where I want to like show you how this one marketing channel then fits into a really, really well-built website that’s fast, and works well on mobile, and all the things a website should be, but really one that gets you business results, not just keyword rankings, because those don’t pay the bills, you know?
Yeah. One of the things you and I talked about recently as you’ve helped us with our SEO, is thinking in terms of these content clusters or hubs. It’s almost as if when you have a particular topic, you can fit in an article at each of the levels of awareness then around that topic. Now you’ve got a really kind of cohesive little unit of content to attract people at whatever level. So, it makes it I think a really nice, compact way to approach it.
Yeah. The great thing about using like that cluster content model, is that once Google sees that one of them is doing really well, or Google like increases the rank for one of them, they all start to go up, everything that’s linked together. We don’t want to interlink a website to make it look like freaking Wikipedia, where every fourth word is a link to some other page. It’s just confusing. It’s a bad experience. Want to be really focused where we’re sending people on our website, but by interlinking all of those together, especially around like one kind of core ultimate definite guide on the topic, and then maybe from that definitive guide that’s more problem-aware, that covers the topic really high-level, move them into something that’s solution-aware, that’s then linked to product-aware, that’s then linked to most-aware.
What’s cool is if our big kind of problem-aware article starts to do really well in search because we’ve built some links to it, and it’s getting some traction, it gets good click-through rate in search, the solution-aware, product-aware, and most-aware, all the other articles in that kind of cluster and in that funnel, then get higher rankings as well, which is fantastic.
Yeah. It’s sort of like a rising tide lifts all boats-
A hundred percent.
… after a while, as you get it in place.
I want to tie together where we started this conversation before the break with what I know is true of SEO. It’s not necessarily something that produces immediate results. There’s this period of time where you’re creating some content, and you’re working on making the connections needed to build links, that you’re not seeing the results yet. Sometimes that can be hard to push through. Can you talk a little bit about how you have framed that and helped some of the clients you work with through that?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think a lot of SEOs have this like almost lazy attitude around SEO, where it’s like, “Well, it’s going to take 6 months for us to know any … 6 to 12 months, so we won’t really know right away, and blah, blah, blah.” It’s like I would rather not focus on time to results, and I would rather explain that as this is going to … this is 6 months’ worth of work. This is 6 months’ worth of commitment to a process. When you have people that are committed to a process …
And this is … I don’t want you to think of this as like me with my clients. Think about this with your team internally, too. If you’re listening and you have a team, this is how … you have to commit with your team internally that you’re going to commit to SEO for 6 months and you’re going to build out a 6 to 12-month plan of like, “Here’s how we’re going to pursue it,” versus just like, “Oh, you need to be blogging,” and then the next week, you know … We see this all the time with people we work with, where like they have a marketing person who’s like doing social, and SEO, and the blogging, and they’re running ads, and they’re doing like … but then they’re also in charge of like organizing the holiday party. I’ve literally gotten emails where people are like, “We didn’t get a blog post up this week because we had a big like party.” “What?”, like, “What?”
Okay. It’s like, “Well, you know, yeah, I know I have an MBA, but like I got tasked with like putting together this event.” “Oh, wow. Weird that they’ve .. . that that’s how they had you spend your hours this week.” I’m saying that to be silly, but it’s also true.
The thing is making a commitment of like this is worth it, but the work takes time. The results do take time as well, and that’s good, because once you earn them it becomes a compounding effect. That’s what I love. It’s not like if … With so many other marketing channels, it’s not always like if one does good, the next ones are going to keep doing better. You’re building assets. So, as one blog post picks up in Google and over time gets more and more traffic from search, well you … then they’re stacking kind of other articles on top of that, and it’s really, really effective.
But the way that I found to work through those times is to always stay focused … This is something we do at Clique with web design is we always bring it back to, “I know that’s your preference, but like what’s best for the user is this, based on our data, based on this expertise.” What I always kind of bring it back to with SEO is what’s the goal of the project. Is this moving us closer to the goal, or father away? If it’s moving us closer to the goal, then we need to do it, and we need to stay with kind of the plan. And as long as you understand how the goals of the project align with everybody else’s goals … You have this in big businesses, and even in small businesses with multiple stakeholders, you’re going to have people with different goals. “Well, I want this in the next six months. I want this in the next year. I need quarterly earnings to be up, and I need to explain it this way, and we have a budget approved for this amount of time,” all these different things. It’s easiest when you can speak to like how what you’re doing gets them what they want. This is Sales 101, right? We’re building the bridge between where they are now, and where they want to be in the future, and showing that we are the thing that gets them there.
I don’t know, I feel like everything is sales. Even after you’ve sold the client, you still continue selling them. Even after you’ve sold your internal team, you still need to continue to selling them every single day, every single week, and staying excited about what you’re doing. That’s where I found the most traction in working with our clients.
Yeah. I imagine that you always are going to get those questions, particularly from decision makers who are maybe a little bit distant from the actually work that’s being done, and maybe not fully understanding of it.
I know we’ve only got a few minutes left, and I want to be respectful of your time, but in the time that we have left, for someone who’s sitting here thinking, “Okay, I need to grow my business. There’s 50 ways that I’ve been told to do that, you know, because I read 10 articles on the HubSpot blog or something in the last week.”
Yeah, I know.
Your Marketing Mix and Where SEO Fits In
It can be really, really confusing. Can you kind of help them understand where SEO sort of fits in in kind of the bigger picture of marketing?
Yeah. I mean, first of all, if that’s where you are, I get where you’re coming from, because that’s where I am every dang day. I want to grow my Instagram following. I want to get more subscribers on YouTube. I want to get more views on my videos, and more traffic to my website. I want all of the things, too. I want to start my own private Facebook group for my ideal audience, and do all of that stuff. I want to start a podcast where I interview my dream 100. You know what I mean? I want to do all of these things, too.
It all has to be part of a bigger plan, and I think the biggest thing that helped me realize and stay focused in marketing for any period of time, because I’m somebody who’s excitable, and creative, and wants to do all of the things, the thing’s that’s helped me is just the idea that doing something now doesn’t prevent me from doing something later. Like if I choose to do SEO now, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do Facebook Ads later. If I’m going to do Facebook Ads now, it doesn’t mean that I can’t start a podcast later. You just need to do one thing, and see it through, and like set a baseline with a reasonable timeline of like, “When we will assess this, and when will we decide whether to automate it, cut it off, or like just continue, or maybe extend the test.” Have a timeline, otherwise things just dwindle on forever, right?
I think where SEO fits in a lot of this is … I guess it really depends on what your capabilities are now, and what kind of business you have. We have so many people come to us for SEO, and it’s like, “We could do it. We could probably do really well, but like what you really want right now, like based on what we just heard you say about your business, and your goals, and your internal team, and everything, is you need like paid advertising. Like you need somebody … ” And we do that too, like we can help with that, but they don’t need an SEO campaign right now. We need to get them enough revenue to fund an SEO campaign. So, if we can help them with pay-per-click for the next six months, and make them 20 grand, then paying us $5,000 a month for the six months after that, like we’ve already covered most of that. We’ve already paid for ourselves. That would be the smarter move businesswise, and we want people to be sustainable.
I don’t want a client that … I want clients that want to have the question answered like, “What am I paying you for each month? Like I want to know the conversions and what that means in my business,” because I can answer that question with SEO, and I love that, but I also think that I don’t want a client that’s desperate, or thinks that … You know, SEO is not the thing to start that you think is going to save your business. It’s not. If you’re on the ropes, don’t start an SEO campaign, because it’s a lot of work over a long period of time. It’s worth it, because it creates a strong foundation for your digital presence, where you’re going to … because you’re doing SEO, you’re going to do smart things. You’re going to have … make your website faster, you’re going to make it convert better, you’re going to put this content on there that’s going to be valuable for social, for paid, for …all of these different things.
So, I think it’s definitely in the mix, but one of the things as I’ve matured as a marketer, and thought more about … been more thoughtful about other marketing channels outside of SEO, is just simply how everything’s the same across each of them. Understanding intent, and understand levels of awareness, and what kind of media to make for them, it’s been really valuable. Obviously I’m still bullish that SEO is one of the strongest marketing channels, but I don’t know, I think like anything else, it just has to be in the mix, but it’s not something to dabble in. You’re not going to blog once a week for a year and get any sort of traction in search. It is something to focus on. So, I think if you want to do it, do it right, invest in some … get your team trained up, or get yourself trained up enough that you know who to hire, whether that’s a consultant, an agency, or hiring for somebody internal, things like that. I think that’s probably the best way to do it.
Yeah. I think that’s great advice. I appreciate you putting that in perspective for everybody, because it’s always … For most business owners who aren’t professional marketers, I think it’s sometimes difficult to make decisions about what direction they should go in, and you and I both know that at different stages of a business, different approaches are more appropriate than others, and so it’s always helpful I think when we can educate people around that.
I know you’re a busy guy. We’re about out of time. I want to make sure everybody knows where to find you. Where’s the best place for them to track you down online?
Yeah, I think two places. Number one, because of my skillset, if you google me, you’ll find me. If I … I know that sounds silly, but if you just google me, you’ll find me. Brendan Hufford … You could probably misspell it terribly, Google will figure it out. There’s nobody else famous named Brendan Hufford. It’s a unique name, and I’m good at SEO, so I should show up.
I think second is really my central hub is my website, brendanhufford.com. That’s a great spot. You can check out the SEO for the Rest of Us newsletter there. Also, we kind of mentioned the 100 Days of SEO project. If you’re an audio person, which you’re listening to a podcast, I’d highly recommend checking out … just go in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, and look up 100 Days of SEO. You’ll find the podcast there. That would be really, really valuable. If you’re like, “Hey, I want to check out some videos, too,” the videos are pretty entertaining. You can go on YouTube and just type in 100 Days of SEO and find those there.
But then also, finally, 100daysofseo.com is where we have the 30-day free One Ranking Away SEO Challenge, which is a great place to … a great way to just automatically kind of get an email every single day. They all move in sequence, so leveraging all of my background as a teacher. Not just to give you 30 days of random tips, but like moving in sequence. So, you’ll start at the beginning of 30 days with some super basic stuff, move you all the way through over the course of 30 days … again, one email per day, and it’s free, and really get you kind of just trained up so that you have a really good understanding of what’s going to work in search, and then how it’s going to apply to your business.
If you sign up for that challenge and you have questions of like specific stuff of like, “Hey, this is my business, how would this work for me?”, I love answering those specific emails. I can’t really be helpful if you email and me say like, “Hey, I’m thinking about SEO. What should I do?” I can’t … that’s too much. But if you’re like, “Hey, I’m literally speaking about this one specific thing …” Like if you emailed me, and you’re like, “Hey, look, I’m writing an article, a solution-aware article, for this kind of business. Like what would your thoughts be on that?”, I can be really helpful there. You can go to 100daysofseo.com, check out that challenge, and just kind of get those in your inbox. I reply to all of my emails really quickly, because it’s a problem that I have, so you can just kind of reply to those emails and I’ll answer you back.
Awesome. Well, Brendan, thank you for investing a little bit of time with me today. This has been fun. I know you’ve just got a wealth of resources out there, so if you’re thinking about SEO, go find Brendan on the web at brendanhufford.com. We’ll link all that up, along with the 100 Days of SEO in the show notes, and you can find those with this episode on unstoppableceo.net.
All right, man. Thanks for being here. Brendan Hufford, everyone. Thanks again.
Thanks so much for having me, Steve.