“Your goal is to create the most useful, relevant content, and then optimize it in such a way that a search engine decided to show that to somebody who has that intent.” In today’s cluttered market that’s easier said than done, for even the most savvy agencies.

Many of you may know my podcast guest John Jantsch as the “Duct Tape Marketing guy” but our conversation was very content and SEO focused this time around. John’s latest book, “SEO for Growth” goes a long way towards helping readers (agencies or business owners) understand the changes in SEO as well as how to implement all of those changes in your agency.  

In our conversation, John and I explore some of the key concepts in his book like:

  • The big changes SEO has undergone recently
  • Why you need to re-engineer a client’s editorial approach when you’re assisting them with an existing website
  • Some of John’s favorite web/SEO tools
  • Why content and SEO can’t be thought of as two different things
  • Big mistakes people make with SEO
  • How to charge for SEO and demonstrate ROI
  • How John uses an editorial calendar to plan and write all of his content
  • Why you need content built for every stage of the customer journey
  • Why SEO is all about consistency
  • Why backlinks are still important in 2017 and how to do them right without getting penalized
  • Resources that John recommends to grow your digital know-how

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of “Duct Tape Marketing,” “Duct Tape Selling,” “The Commitment Engine,” and “The Referral Engine.” He is also the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. His latest book, “SEO for Growth – The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers, and Entrepreneurs,” is changing the way the world thinks about SEO.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/john-jantsch/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. Why John Wrote this Book
  2. Content and SEO Best Practices from the Book
  3. The 5 Most Important Tools for Content and SEO
  4. What to Look for When Hiring a Content and SEO Person
  5. The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Doing SEO
  6. How to Create Good, Useful Content
  7. John’s Unique Approach to Content Marketing and SEO
  8. What Agencies Need to Know About Content and SEO
  9. Where John’s Passion for Small Business Comes From
  10. The One Big Thing You Should Take Away from John’s Book
  11. Immediate Action Steps for Getting Better at Content and SEO

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25+ years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan: Hey everyone, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency.

Today, my guest is someone that I suspect you are all familiar with and you have followed for a long time. John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing who’s really one of the first guys out there creating content, blogging, the whole notion of sharing what you know and letting that attract folks to you.

He’s written a ton of books, has coached lots of folks. If you’ve been to any marketing conferences, odds are, you’ve seen John speak, so I know he’s no stranger to you.

But what some of you may not be familiar with is that John just released another book, and I want to talk about that. It’s “SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs,” and if you haven’t read it already, as soon as you are done listening to the podcast or for those of you that multitask, you’re going to want to head to Amazon and get it because it is, I think, one of the best SEO books I have ever read in terms.

And I’m coming at it from somebody that A, who does it for clients, but B, just in the way it’s explained and how broad the perspective is, and so that’s probably where we’re going to spend most of our time today.

John, welcome to the podcast, thanks for being with us.

John Jantsch: Well, thanks for having me, Drew.


Why John Wrote this Book

Drew McLellan: What made you think that the world needed one more SEO book?

John Jantsch: Well, I think, to tell you the truth, the main thing is that I got tired of reading “SEO is dead” articles mostly by content marketers. I think that what has happened is SEO has significantly changed. Its location has changed. Where it sits in the continuum of marketing, I think, has dramatically changed, so not just the tactics.

That’s why we intentionally actually titled the book “SEO for Growth.” Growth is a strategic word, and I think that search engine optimization or at least some elements of it have to actually be risen to the level of strategy.

You no longer build a website, get some great copywriters to write the content for the site, and then go get someone to SEO it. It all has to kind of be done before you ever really start doing any kind of programming.

Drew McLellan: Let’s go back to that in a minute, but for a lot of agencies as you know, when they engage with a new client, the client already has a website, and so they don’t necessarily get to go back and start from scratch, right?

John Jantsch: Yeah.


Content and SEO Best Practices from the Book

Drew McLellan: So what are some of the best practices that you outline in the book when that’s the situation?

John Jantsch: Well, where you can actually get a little bit of a chance to go backward, so to speak, is to re-engineer their editorial approach. In cases where we’re not starting from scratch, we don’t get to build a site, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t make recommendations about how to improve it or what’s broken and how to fix that.

Drew McLellan: Absolutely.

John Jantsch: But we definitely would start with an editorial approach to kind of try to sell them on that. The editorial approach would be … Because in many cases, not only is their website broken, but they’re talking about the wrong things, they don’t really have content that is going to attract any kind of leads and so it’s all … Once somebody has decided to buy their product or service, it’s a nice place to come and find out what the price is or something.

When we re-engineer the content and SEO or at least present here’s the ongoing editorial account, in many cases, that dictates a little bit of a need to … You know, even for that client that just doesn’t want … They just got their website done 12 months ago or six months ago or something, it does give you sort of the opening for at least rearranging some things or adding some things on.

Drew McLellan: In your mind, what does that conversation look like? In your mind of best practices, where should agencies be moving clients to?

If their website looks like everybody else’s website to your point, which is their content is all about them, but it’s not about them in a way that’s it’s relevant to the buyer and all of the mistakes that we know all know our clients are making.

John Jantsch: I think one of the beauties of SEO or some of the tools of SEO, keyword research and things, the technology is such that we can present, I think, a very clear case for improvement to a website by simply demonstrating, look here’s what the person that you’re after, the buyer that you’re after, here’s what they’re doing when they turn to a search engine.

Here’s how their journey starts. Here’s the intent of when they go online to search, and they’re not finding you because you’re not addressing that intent.

I think that you can show them in black and white a couple of things. First off, you can show them the path. You can show them the search volume. You can show them the commercial intent based on advertising spend of other folks that are trying to win those keyword phrases.

I think you can also, in many cases, paint a very clear picture of what their competitors are doing, and I think that in my experience, those two components to demonstrate using data how far off they are in their existing design or layout and just what their competitors are doing, particularly competitors that are beating them in ways that are pretty obvious through the data, usually that’s a pretty compelling story.

Drew McLellan: Yep. And by the way, and I’m sure that the listeners, that it’s not them, but some agencies are guilty of this as well on their own website.

John Jantsch: Well, we have to have a whole other show now.

Drew McLellan: That’s right.

John Jantsch: Because, yeah, all marketers, all anybodies are guilty of the sort of classic cobbler shoes type of scenario, so no question.


The 5 Most Important Tools for Content and SEO

Drew McLellan: Are there tools that you think should be sort of on the radar screen of agency folks or are you pretty tool agnostic?

John Jantsch: Well, I guess my take on tools is that generally speaking for every category of thing you want done, there are five adequate tools.

Drew McLellan: Yup.

John Jantsch: We could list 25 tools, and I could tell people, yeah, get to know that one or get to use that one and figure out all the ins and outs and become a power user of that and you’ll be fine, because even if one tool improves, they’re their only product and so it’s more of what you can get comfortable with.

But there are a handful of tools that I personally really love and use almost on a daily basis. I’ll give you a couple of those if you’re interested.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, that’d be great.

John Jantsch: One of my favorite tools particularly for painting competitive scenarios, so it does actually give you some great data on what a competitor or a group of competitors or landscape of competitors might do.

But it’s also such a great sales tool because in pre-sales, you can actually show somebody where they … If you’re trying to promote content, and you’re trying to promote SEO and you’re trying to promote social media activity and you’re getting some resistance, you could demonstrate, hey, here’s the stuff we’re going to suggest, and by the way, here’s what your competitors are doing that that might actually suggest why they’re beating you.

Rival IQ is one of my favorite tools for that, nice reporting. From a content and SEO standpoint and a content research standpoint, whether we are pitching business or whether we’re just trying to develop editorial calendars for clients, BuzzSumo is one of my favorite tools.

Again, from a competitive standpoint, especially if you want to get a little geeky with the kind of the under the hood data is a tool called Ahrefs, so kind of the HTML code for a link, Ahrefs.

I use that to do keyword tracking on both competitors and clients and to do backlinks to try to … If I want to find out … A lot of times, we’ll get a new client and they’re not ranking for anything, and we’ll go do a backlink profile and find that that some SEO person had sold them a whole bunch of links from some Russian agencies and that’s why they’re not ranking because they’ve gotten penalized and things so certainly looking at that.  

But also using that tool to look at where opportunities that, if a competitor or if people that are ranking above you, it’s a great way to maybe get a sense of why they are and what links they have acquired that maybe you could acquire.

And then one of my favorites, because I’m a big SEO person, I believe in pay-per-click advertising in the right scenarios as well, but one of my favorite reports that Ahrefs can run is I can actually take the keyword rankings for a client, and it will match those against what they would have to pay to be on page one, for example, in advertising for that.  

And you can demonstrate based on the traffic they have gotten exactly what your SEO efforts have been worth to them, had they had to go on out and bought that traffic in the pay-per-click market.

Drew McLellan: Oh yeah, that is a great tool. I mean, talk about being compelling.

John Jantsch: Exactly.


What to Look for When Hiring a Content and SEO Person

Drew McLellan: Yeah. Yeah. You know, a lot of agencies struggle, so a lot of agency owners, SEO is not their schtick, right? They didn’t grow up doing it. They know they need to do it, and they struggle with hiring people who are good at this and so a lot of times, and I don’t know what your experience has been, but a lot of times, I watch agency owners hire kids, right?

They’re out of school, and they’ll have them get Google AdWords certified and a couple of other certifications, but there’s no sense of, as you talked about in the beginning of the conversion, there’s no sense of strategy around that.

If you were looking for someone to add into your team who specialized or was going to be sort of handling that, are there skill sets or knowledge bases that you would be looking for?

John Jantsch: Well, I think there certainly would be, but before I answer what those might be, a lot of why we wrote this book actually was for that agency that was going out there and just hiring. Whether they hired an unseasoned person or a kid as you called it, or they even hired an agency that specialized in that, I think one of the challenges is so many people advocate that.

It’s like, “I don’t understand SEO, so I’m just going to hire some of those geeks that say they do that,” and that’s where you really get yourself in trouble. I don’t-

Drew McLellan: Yeah, absolutely.

John Jantsch: … think there’s any element of a campaign that you can certainly delegate, but that delegation to an SEO firm needs to be, here is what we’re trying to accomplish and why. That certainly does start with strategy.

Now, they may actually come with the ability to create some things that are going to amplify your strategy and maybe even suggest some tactics some you are not aware of but you’ve got to be an informed buyer of any service that you purchase.

Going back to the skill sets that you talked about, I certainly want somebody who has, whether it’s through certifications or through just self-taught, you want somebody who understands on-page basics of exactly what Google wants to see in terms of how to optimize content that you would be producing or you’d be producing on behalf of your clients.

You certainly want somebody that understands, I think you want somebody that understands content and the role of content that plays in SEO, and that’s, I think, becomes a bigger challenge for a lot of folks is that we’re still disconnecting those two elements, it’s like-

Drew McLellan: It’s crazy.

John Jantsch: We’ve got our content people, we’ve got our SEO people, and they have to actually be lockstep, and I don’t know that that has to be one person, but they certainly have to be on the same page.

Drew McLellan: Right, they need to be working towards the same goal or the same recipe of here’s how we create content that is going to drive the results that we want.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and my experience, and again, I don’t want to offend any of your listeners, Drew, but my experience is the bigger the agency, the less connected they are.

Drew McLellan: Well, I totally agree. I think a lot of … I think that for the most part, especially if, again, you and I are stepping all over the toes of agency owners today, but especially if they’re over 40.

They really don’t have a strong understanding of this, which is again, I think why I said I think your book is one of the best books I’ve ever read on this because whether you did or on purpose, it’s written for people who don’t get it, and at the end of the book, they get it.

John Jantsch: Yeah, we were not trying to write a book that somebody who was a working SEO Grunt would go, “This is the most amazing thing. I didn’t know all this stuff.” This was really written for entrepreneurs and for marketers and for agency owners that need to be better buyers of this stuff.


The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Doing SEO

Drew McLellan: Yup. Yup. In your own experience and through the book’s content, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see folks making around SEO?

John Jantsch: Probably the biggest one is that we still call it web design, and that people go out and the first step, and this is in many cases, I would say that agencies understand the role of a website in marketing.

So they understand typically that the site should be designed with a persona in mind and that there should be some core message that they want to communicate that is going to inform the content or the page structures, but oftentimes, that kind of ends there. I think that’s one of the biggest things is that I really believe that SEO design and content have to really be working together.

It’s not a linear path, they actually have to … When we go look at a client where we are going to completely redesign their site or they don’t have a site that is working at all for them, one of the first things we do is keyword research.

Obviously we want to understand who their ideal client is, who they’re trying to attract, and we certainly want to understand, particularly if they have existing clients, what it is that those existing clients believe that this company does that is remarkable.

But before we ever start deciding what pages are going to go where or what pages are even going to exist, it’s going to be firmly based on our SEO structure.

Drew McLellan: Makes sense. Are there mistakes that you see happening all the time that agency owners need to have top of mind as they either are working with clients or they’re building out their staff or whatever?

Here’s one of the things I hear agencies talk about all the time, I’m curious. Agency owners struggle with how to charge for it and how to monetize it and how to demonstrate ROI. You have thoughts around that?

John Jantsch: Well, I’m not going to give you the answer that’s going to make everybody happy. My approach has been, for a long, long time, we create packages of services that we certainly tailor to the needs and the objectives of the client, but then we kind of bundle everything together in a monthly retainer based on the scope that we agree upon together.

That’s really just always been our approach. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for the client to … You know, you gave the example starting off where maybe we’re not doing the website design. Well, when we get in and we’re trying to do work on SEO, we find that there’s lots of challenges on the current, say, WordPress theme or something.

Drew McLellan: Right, right, right, right.

John Jantsch: So in order for us to do what we promised, we have to tell them X, Y, Z. It has to be done and so there’s always going to be room for project adds-ons.

I’m just a big believer in this idea of a repeatable process and a repeatable package, and it doesn’t mean that every client is identical, but the starting point with 70 to 80% of them is being able to walk in and say here’s what we’re going to do, here’s what you’re going to do, here are the results we hope we can get, and by the way, here’s what it costs.

That’s just been our approach so that’s really … I’m a firm believer. I preach that approach and so that … Ask me again next week and I’ll give you the same answer.

Drew McLellan: Well, especially with SEO because it’s not like you flip a switch and then you’re done.

John Jantsch: Right, and you know this, Drew, but I mean we don’t do SEO, per se. We do SEO as part of a foundational element of the entire marketing package, but that’s our model.

Drew McLellan: I don’t … Unless you’re an SEO shop, I think most agencies bundle it up with other things. They just really seem to struggle with do I charge by the hour? Do I charge by the result? How do I prove the results?

There’s too many things outside my control that impact the result. I think it all boils back down to, which again, I think the simple recipe is read the book, but I think agencies still struggle with understanding and explaining SEO to their clients in a way that their clients understand what they’re buying and why it matters.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I guess you talked about the ROI. The ROI comes down to traffic and keyword ranking and then obviously ultimately conversion, so there are some things that you can at least demonstrate we’re making progress.

A big key, of course, is to have a baseline when you start. You know, where are they ranking today? Why aren’t they ranking? Who’s ranking ahead of them?

And then it just becomes a little bit of keeping score on the improvement that you can make based on, again, based on what your objectives are. A lot of times, people just say, well, we want more traffic. Well, ultimately, they want more business.

Drew McLellan: Right.

John Jantsch: And so that traffic has to be the right traffic. In some cases, there are a lot of ways to get a bunch of traffic, but that traffic may not be that valuable.

Drew McLellan: Well, and at the end of the day, back to your point is it gets bundled with other things because what we’re really trying to do is drive leads and sales, and so SEO rarely is a standalone service, or shouldn’t be anyway, because-

John Jantsch: It shouldn’t.

Drew McLellan: … it doesn’t really deliver exactly, at the end of the day what the client really wants.

John Jantsch: Well, and we run into it everyday because SEO is probably the most … Well, people feel like they need it. Second to web design, it is the most searched for service particularly for small business, and it is, consequently, unfortunately the most abused, I think, because of that.

And so we run into folks on a daily basis that have bought SEO while they have no content, their website structure is terrible, it would never convert even if you sent people there, and yet they are paying $1,500, $2,000 a month to somebody for I don’t know what.

Drew McLellan: Right, exactly. Exactly. But I think we are in sort of the snake oil season of SEO, right? I think there’s just … I think too many people don’t really understand it. It’s difficult for people to lift up the hood and sort of see it unless they’ve got a reputable partner who’s helping them set baseline measurements and is giving them regular reports and showing them movement.

But also tying it to the bigger outcomes of the company which are probably “I want more test drives and I want to sell more cars” or whatever the thing is, right?

John Jantsch: Right, and I think one of the things we so often forget, and even as simple as it sounds and as silly as it sounds when I say this, I think it bears repeating, so many people think that SEO is about tricking the search engines into showing your content.

Drew McLellan: Right.

John Jantsch: Google’s objective, if we’re going to talk about Google along here, Google’s objective is, and it has never changed, it is to, when somebody turns to search engine and types in a phrase, is for them to determine what that intent of that search is and show the most relevant, most useful content possible. That’s it.

Drew McLellan: Yup.

John Jantsch: That’s never changed. Now their ability to figure that out and figure out how to rank one content over another, that is what has evolved. So when you hear all these SEO people freak out about, “Oh, Google changed the rules,” well, their objective has never changed, the rules have never changed. It’s just their ability to deliver on their objective has changed. And so I-

Drew McLellan: Yeah, they’re tweaking to get better.

John Jantsch: Exactly.

Drew McLellan: Yeah.

John Jantsch: Exactly. From an SEO standpoint, from a marketing standpoint, I think that that’s what you have to realize, is that’s your goal too is to create the most useful, relevant content, and then optimize it in such a way that a search engine decides to show that to somebody who has that intent.

That’s the entire game, and that’s why if we do come to the realization that that is the entire game, that’s why content has essentially become the way in which you … We used to joke about content being king, but it’s really air. It is what drives pretty much every channel today in some fashion. I’m not saying everybody does it right, but it certainly is the foundation for every channel.


How to Create Good, Useful Content

Drew McLellan: Well, and you have mastered the content and the SEO. I mean like you are constantly putting out useful, good content, and I have to think people ask you on a regular basis how on God’s green Earth do you do as much and create as much good content as you do. Is there a methodology or a secret or there’s 12 of you that we don’t know about. How do you get it done, John?

John Jantsch: Well, I do have a team of people that play very important roles, but it’s also, starts with a body of work kind of mindset. I can tell you what we are going to be focusing on in March and April and May and June and July.

We’re lining up podcast guests based on those topics. We’re lining up guest posts. We are finding places where we’re going to write based on that.

It all stems from our editorial calendar approach, but then the methodology is essentially grown out of what it always was, and that is just sort of an intense curiosity about paying attention to what’s going on and to what folks need and what folks talk about.

I mean, I have the benefit of either in-person or via email to be in contact with hundreds of small business owners each and every week. Some gave, sometimes, thousands when I’m in conferences and things, and so I take all of that and kind of run it through my lens of how can I be useful, how can I be practical? That’s really where our content comes from.

Now I used to write every single word of the content that went on my blog in the first probably seven or eight years. We now have a lot of guest content that is contributed. People have realized that’s a great way to get backlinks, authoritative backlinks, so we have a lot of people that want to write for us.

I have an editorial, I hesitate to call them team, but I have a couple of folks that actually even on some of my longer form content work with me to find resources, find examples, find sources, find studies, and so a lot of times, what I’m doing is just putting my voice on the content these days.

Drew McLellan: So you have successfully avoided the trap that I think a lot of content creators, bloggers, consultants have fallen into which is … I very, very rarely, when I read your stuff, very rarely do you ever talk about yourself or your work. You are constantly, again, the lens … If I had to characterize your content, the lens that it feels like you’re always looking through is, I wonder what people are wondering about that I could be helpful about? How do you master that?

John Jantsch: Oh, gosh. Now I’m blushing, Drew. I don’t know that I’ve mastered as much as … I will tell you, and now we’re going to go into the sort of zen component of the show, but I really do do this.

I started my business to help people. I like to think that on most of my good days, I wake up saying who can I help, and I love small business owners. I started Duct Tape Marketing out of, really, a frustration of trying to work exclusively with small business owners and not figuring out how to do it.

There’s something that really drives me about … I mean, it’s equal parts terrifying and gratifying, but about doing work for the person that’s actually going to write the check.

As sappy as that sounds, that really does drive a lot of my motivation. I didn’t do this to somehow become seen as a thought leader or to be an expert or to be famous in any way, shape, or form. I love doing this, and I’ve been doing it 28 years, and I still love coming to the office.

People sometimes joke and ask me what my hobbies are, and writing is actually one of my hobbies.

Drew McLellan: Right.

John Jantsch: So I think that that’s … If you want to kind of talk about the secret, I certainly love what I’m doing, I love who I serve, and I have fun doing it.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, I share that. I a