If you want to hear my crazy backstory along with a bunch of nuggets about marketing, business, and SEO of course, this is the episode for you. I’ll be sharing some things that I don’t normally share publicly. This interview of me is by my friend and collaborator Greg Merrilees for his upcoming book and was recorded at the beginning of 2020. You may already be familiar with Greg from episode 222, Secrets to a Persuasive Website — which was a great episode on conversion-based web design. Greg is one of the best web designers on the planet and I’m not exaggerating. He’s my go-to guy for any website I need designed. I think he and his team at Studio1 have designed 8 websites for me over the years, and I send all my clients to him.
Greg has pulled out from me some of my best stories, lessons learned, tips, tricks, and screwups. I think you’ll get a lot out of this episode. So, without any further ado, on with the show!
In This Episode
- [01:37] – Greg Merrilees interviews Stephan about SEO, marketing, and business. He explains why he focused on SEO and the backstory of his leap from employee to entrepreneur.
- [07:28] – Stephan describes how his business operates, including his marketing strategies.
- [10:18] – Stephan gives some tips on how to lead with value and measure it. He also mentions some of his courses and money-making programs.
- [14:27] – Stephan discusses creating an appointment and hiring funnel and how to use a website to attract and convert new leads.
- [20:45] – Stephan elaborates on why he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into just being an SEO guy.
- [24:19] – How to spot an SEO expert.
- [27:58] – Greg and Stephan discuss the importance of social proof and the ways to increase it.
- [31:31] – Stephan explains how long it takes to implement SEO and shares his success metrics.
- [36:45] – Greg and Stephan discuss boosting authority, increasing leads, and associating returns with SEO.
Stephan, why did you choose the SEO path? Is it a passion project? You mentioned that you did websites, but you did the websites and continued with SEO. What was the reason for that?
I didn’t ditch website development altogether. We still built out websites, but it was a relatively small part of our business, mostly around SEO consulting. The reason why SEO so jazzed me is it was an algorithm that I could reverse engineer.
I love figuring out how Google works, like poking and prodding at the black box. I figured out a lot of cool stuff, just tinkering alone. But, I wanted to leverage further, monetize that, and not just do a commodity business of building people’s ecommerce websites.
To me, SEO is so technical and so difficult. There are so many things in Google’s algorithm to rank a website. Why did you have a passion for doing the most difficult thing? What were you like at school? Did you have any interesting data and things like that?
I taught myself how to program as a little kid. I was really geeky. I taught myself BASIC. I wrote my own Bulletin Board System in BASIC before there were websites. This was in the 80s. I wrote a BBS and ran it on my home phone line, much to the chagrin of my mother. She picks up the phone, and she hears the sound of a modem. Somebody dialed into my BBS.
I also coded in Assembly Language. You would type in hexadecimal and encode in Assembly language. That was pretty wild. Then I got so socially awkward, geeky, and nerdy that I had trouble making non-nerd friends, so I decided to go cold turkey. I sold my Commodore 64, gave away all the software that I had accumulated, joined the track team, cycling club, and cross-country team, and just started becoming more of an athlete and normal.
I didn’t get back into computers heavily until I was in graduate school studying for Ph.D. in biochemistry and building a couple of websites on the side as passion projects. That’s when I realized I could go with it as a business. It was when I met Rob McCool at the second International World Wide Web Conference. He’s the guy who invented Apache, which runs most web servers on the Internet.
When he told me about Netscape, which I had never heard of because everybody was running Mosaic browser at the time, and I also heard Tim Berners-Lee, the world wide web inventor, give the keynote presentation, I was just enamored by it all. I realized that I would not make a big pile of money continuing my career path of biochemistry, becoming a professor, and all that. So I just ditched it all.
That’s amazing. Was it hard to go from being an employee to running your own business? How was that leap?
It’s an even bigger leap considering I wasn’t an employee. I was a student who had a job related to that. It’s called a teacher’s assistant or research assistant, where you get paid a stipend, which isn’t enough to live on, so you stop taking out student loans. So you get paid a little bit of money, but they expect unrealistic amounts of time and effort from you.
I had young children then, and my advisor expected me to stay at the lab until all evening hours. He’d get angry with me when I’d leave at 6 PM. We had a run-in, and he asked me to leave and start again at a different lab. That was the push where I decided, “Okay, this is it. I’m not going to continue down this path. I’m going to drop out and start a business.”
Was it hard when you started your business?Create an interactive experience on your website, not just a passive set of pages to consume or view. Click To Tweet
Yeah, it was hard because I had never gotten any training in marketing, business, entrepreneurship, or anything. All my classes were in the hardcore sciences.
Today, you’ve got an amazing business. How did you learn all that? Did you just read books and study? Back then, they wouldn’t have had webinars or online training courses. How did you learn all that?
I learned from books, reading on websites, trying things, and experimenting. I’m a tinkerer. I love trying to figure stuff out on my own. I never read the manual. Instead, I try to put the pieces together and make it work.
That is awesome. That stems back to childhood when you’re coding and things like that. That’s amazing.
Even when I was a kid, I was 17 years old, I had a car for $65. I bought it from a friend in school. I found an alternator from the same make, model, and year car at the junkyard. I figured out how to take it from the junk car and put it in the car I just bought. So for next to nothing, I had a car that ran. It’s pretty wild. I love figuring that stuff out.
That’s amazing, and you figured out your business. What does your business look like today? How many people do you have? You don’t have to discuss your income, but what level is it at these days?
It’s a seven-figure business. I have three employees. I have four or five contractors, and then I also use some different vendors. I’ve got some agencies and smaller businesses that help assist me, as well as individual contractors and employees. My profit is high for a business like mine. It’s 60%.
That’s amazing. Do you work from home? Do you have a remote team?
Yeah, I work from home. I have a remote team. I’ve always had a remote team since selling my previous agency.
I did the same thing. To me, it was the best choice ever, going from a brick-and-mortar agency to working from home, and the whole team works from home. It’s obviously more profitable. You’re creating a better life for your employees and yourself.
The most important is a better life for me. I found that when I had the agency—we had offices in the US, New Zealand, and China office as well—if I were to not come into the office, I would be way more productive. I wouldn’t get the door knocks like, hey, you got a minute, all these stupid got-a-minute meetings because they’re too lazy to save up all their questions for one longer meeting once a week. So it was just a productivity drain on me. It would knock me out of my flow state.SEO takes at least four months to a year from implementation to produce results, but it's a worthwhile process. Click To Tweet
I work from home more often, and then people would feel resentful because they’re there first thing in the morning, and the boss isn’t there. Many days, he doesn’t even come in. I have a management team. I had a CFO (Chief Operations Officer), and so forth. So it was a well-running machine that bred some resentment because the head honcho wasn’t even in the office.
When I lived in New Zealand and then four years into it with my wife at the time, and I decided to move to Christchurch, there was no office there. I would visit the office in Auckland once every couple of months for a day or two. I became a remote worker in my business, which was hugely freeing.
Not long after that, I took a five-month sabbatical from my business and completely checked out of the business. I did one speaking gig during that time. After that, I didn’t check my email at all. I was unavailable other than that one speaking gig. It was awesome. It brought me back from burnout.
That’s a real achievement. Most business owners want to go into business to have that freedom but completely go the opposite direction and end up working more. Well, it was done for that. You just mentioned speaking. How do you market your business these days? Is it mainly from speaking gigs? What else do you do?
Mainly from speaking gigs. I also get a lot of referrals. I’m also on the Moz recommended list, which is no small feat to be on. I was a shoo-in because the Moz founder, Rand Fishkin, is my co-author on The Art of SEO in the first two editions, at least. That was helpful to be on Moz’s radar, of course.
Those things generate a fair amount of business. Also, I write for Search Engine Land. I also contribute to Adweek. I just recently contributed for the first time to Harvard Business Review. Speaking, writing secondarily, also referrals.
One very instructive thing for me was creating a spreadsheet of all the different marketing weapons, all the speaking gigs, all the conferences that I don’t even speak at but still attend, the masterminds I’m in, ad campaigns and stuff. We did a full-page ad and Internet Retailer Magazine. All these different things, I wasn’t tracking the revenue from each of those.
Now we do that and went retroactively back through the last four years. I know every conference I’ve spoken at and attended, everything we spend money on to market the business and where the revenue comes from. That has been hugely insightful.
There are conferences I no longer speak at, even though I enjoy attending because it’s not worth the revenue. It doesn’t generate anything for me. There’s one conference, in particular, I’m thinking of that has generated no money for me. Four years of speaking every year, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a huge event. But for whatever reason, it’s not my audience.
It’s a really good tip for anybody trying to speak here and there or whatever means of marketing. You have to measure it to see what return you’re getting on an investment.
One thing that I do like about the fact that you are speaking and you’re writing for all these publications is you’re leading with value. You’re not asking for anything in return, you’re just putting in extreme value. Your years of knowledge are getting into all these publications and onstage.
That’s the reciprocity principle we teach people to have on their website, lead with value as well. So It’s important that you measure it and work out what’s working and what’s not.
Courses are a potential way to give your prospect a taste of how awesome you are and what kind of chops you have.
Do you do any online marketing, or do you have any other? For example, you do consulting and coaching for SEO. What about courses or any other money-making products?
I want to return to that previous question for a minute and say something else. I concur about leading with value. Give first, then get. The problem you end up with is if you give, give, give, give, you’ll end up with a bunch of takers.
A lot of bloggers have that issue.
You end up sharing all your gold with folks and not getting anything in return. It needs to be a give-and-take. There needs to be some back and forth. So lead with the value.
This was a mistake I was making. I was giving so much away on my sales calls that they would have many things to implement. One hour call, and then they wouldn’t need to close the deal with me. They wouldn’t need to sign a contract because they already have a lot of things to work on.
“It was very helpful. Thank you so much, Stephan. This was invaluable.”But no money and no contract. You have to strike a balance.
Yeah, which is easier said than done when you’re naturally giving. What did you do? Just stop giving away so much. Did you catch yourself going?
I got some coaching from James Schramko. He listened to a few of my sales calls and said, “Yeah, you’re just educating them. You’re not letting them conclude that they need to work with you. You’re not selling, so you must sell on a sales call.” So I’ve changed the structure so it’s not about the how-to but more about the what.
If I point out issues they’re having and say, here is something you probably didn’t know, but you have very little trust, according to Majestic or Link Research Tools. That equates to much lower rankings and accentuates the pain, or maybe they didn’t even know they had pain. They’re like, “Oh, this is another box I got to tick off.”
I got to do SEO. Like, “Oh, wow, this is costing me serious money.” Focus on the what, give them lots of value in that regard, but don’t give them the how-to. Don’t show them how to do it or fix the problem. Just show them they have a big problem. Big difference.
That’s a great tip. What about if they’re not a good fit at all? Do you have a vetting process before you jump on that long call?
Yeah, I do. I have my head VA do the screening process. First, the prospect must fill out a short questionnaire, and then she reviews that. She then decides to let them book a time on my calendar. Then I’ll have a call.
Sometimes it works better if the calls are shorter, like a 15-minute laser call, rather than a full 30 minutes. But if it’s a big lead, some multinational corporation, then a 30-minute or even an hour-long call is appropriate. There’s something else I was going to share about those two. We’ve built an appointment funnel.
Appointment funnel? Tell us about that.
We built that out in Infusionsoft. This is my team, of course. I’ve not logged into Infusionsoft in probably a year myself. It’s probably not something to be proud of. Anyway, I leave it to my team to figure everything out.
We’ve got this appointment funnel where, as I said, they must fill out a questionnaire. There’s a two-part questionnaire, so ask as few questions as possible to get them to supply their email address so we can continue the conversation. We don’t want them to get bogged down with, okay, here are 20 questions, and 15 of them are required because then they won’t fill it out at all, and I may never hear from them.
If it’s four questions, and one of them is, what is your email? Then if they don’t complete the part two questionnaire, then we start sending them reminder emails. That’s part of the funnel. They have to fill out the part two questionnaire, which asks things like, are you doing Google ads? How much is your spend on Google ads? Because that’s a great indicator of whether they have a budget for SEO.
After they fill out part two of the questionnaire, they get to the next stage of the funnel with approval from my head VA to book a call time in my scheduler. I use Acuity. I used to use ScheduleOnce, which is now OnceHub. Acuity has some better features that encouraged me to use them.
Anyway, that’s the appointment funnel. We have a hiring funnel we just built. That allows us to streamline the process of interviewing candidates or screening them, moving them through the first interview and then to the second interview, where I get involved. It’s magic what you can do if you know automation and have a nice-looking website to marry that up with all the information.
Success metrics are important because I want anecdotal evidence that something’s working. I’m a scientist at heart. I want to figure out what’s working and not working and get very granular about it.
Absolutely. Let’s talk about your website. When you constantly update it, which is excellent—some people leave their website forever—you see it as an investment tool. It is an asset. How do you use your website to attract and convert new leads?
First of all, I agree with you. A website is like a living entity. A website is never finished. This quote I heard very early on in the days of the web really stuck with me: “A website is something you do, not something you view.”
I like that. Yeah, take action.
I took that to heart. I wanted my website and any website I built to be an interactive experience, not just a passive set of pages to consume or view. That shaped how I saw the web and created websites over the years. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds of websites over the years.
You asked earlier about my strategy around courses, online training, and all that stuff. Courses can give your prospect a taste of how awesome you are and what kind of chops you have.
One client bought my course on SEO auditing at full price out of a webinar-only special or anything. He spent $5000 that time, but with the understanding that he might end up working with me on a consulting basis, I would credit that $5000 towards his first month’s retainer of consulting. That’s exactly what he did.
He loved what he saw from the course. He wasn’t going to implement it himself. He just wanted to hire somebody to do the audit for him. That started the whole ball rolling towards not just an audit but link building strategy, keyword strategy, YouTube strategy, YouTube audits, and featured snippet strategy. We did so much work for this guy, a fellow client of yours, a numerologist.
There you go. Yeah, excellent. I love Blair. He is great.
The journey started with an online course, our big one, the do-it-yourself SEO auditing course. But we’ve got six courses. These cover different topic areas. They’re not just on SEO. There is one on keyword research, which is very squarely in SEO, but we have one on conversion optimization called Conversion Mastery. We have one on social media marketing and one on authority building, and they’re all tangentially related to SEO for sure, but they cover different topic areas because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into just being an SEO guy.
That’s why I have a book called Social Ecommerce about social media marketing and not so much about SEO because I’m not the SEO guy. I’m a digital marketing guy who understands deeply how the web works and how to persuade people to take positive action.
You have a whole ecosystem, from high-level consulting and coaching to your courses and book. You’re leading with value with amazing content. You have two podcasts, one that’s SEO- and marketing-related, and the other one’s a different niche altogether, a passion project where you’re helping people up.
My best and biggest lead magnet is what you referred to as my thousand-page tome, The Art of SEO book.
Yeah, but in a unique way. I love that podcast, Get Yourself Optimized. I do listen to these both. You know I do. I love them. There is a lot there. You have different target markets as well. Some will want to hire you at a high level. Some will want to do a course. How do you cater to all the different markets? Do you have lead magnets for each one of those other products in your ecosystem? How does it work?
What ended up being my best and biggest lead magnet is what you referred to already as my thousand-page tome. I have it right here. I ended up giving a lot of these books away. O’Reilly gave me many, many, many copies. I worked out a special deal with them. This retails at $50, $49.99 on the back there, this thousand-page book, The Art of SEO.
I’ll bring 150 pounds of books if I speak at a conference. I don’t know what that equates to the number of books, 40 or something like that. It’s a very heavy book. I know the weight because I check that. I’m a million miler on United, so I get a certain amount of baggage for free. I can max out 150 pounds of books plus my regular luggage.
I end up giving a lot of books away at each speaking gig. People are very grateful, and they’re also overwhelmed by it. They’re like, I don’t want to read this. No offense, this is the bible, but can I hire you? Yes, you can. This becomes the most effective business card you can imagine.
Yeah, because it boosts your authority.
It does two things simultaneously: It boosts my authority; I’m the guy who wrote the book on the topic. Secondly, it’s so daunting that they don’t want to start. I don’t want to discourage them from starting.
I do tell them to start with chapter seven. It’s not overly technical. It’s all about content marketing and link building. It’s a great starting point, rather than starting chapter one and feel like you have to power through the whole book. Start with chapter seven. But then they don’t want to read and implement a thousand-page book. They want to hire the guy who co-wrote the thousand-page book.
That works like a charm. It’s really amazing. I have lots of other lead magnets that your team has developed and designed for me. My team and I internally wrote checklists, worksheets, workbooks, etc. I got one called the SEO Hiring Blueprint. It’s how to hire an SEO agency or in-house employees. It’s got all tricks in there, like how to have trick questions in the interview process, a riddle in your job advert that they have to solve to apply for the job and lots of good stuff.
I also have the SEO BS Detector, which has all the trick questions to insert into the interview process so that they don’t even realize that they’re getting these trick questions and if they don’t answer the right answer. The problem is, as a non-SEO person, you don’t know if you get snookered. You get this cheat sheet that gives you the only answers to these trick questions. If they get them wrong, they don’t even realize that they’re being put on the spot like this, that they get it wrong you politely escort them out the door at the end of the interview.
That’s another lead magnet, but they’re all for different target audiences. If you’re looking to hire an SEO, you will want that. If you are an SEO looking to upskill and want to consume my courses and all that, then the SEO tools lead magnet is a better fit for you. These are my favorite SEO tools, why, and not the obvious ones.
Yeah, understood. Different lead magnets lead through different funnels depending on their needs. You attract them with a lead magnet that will help solve their problem to eventually either want to work with you or do want to view courses, essentially. Nice.
People care about the results that you get for other people’s websites.
You’ve had a lot of clients and customers that have consumed your courses, or you’ve done SEO consulting, coaching for that sort of thing. What’s one case study that you’d like to share from one of your customers and show the results that you’ve got for them?
I recently added a case study section to my website, including some case studies of these clients. Thank you for all the great design help with the case studies. The typical case study has a problem, the solution, and the results. You’ve got to have proof points. You got to have screenshots, graphs going up to the right, and that sort of thing.
Here’s where the problem is. Most clients are not keen to share their results. They’re concerned about their competitors. Some clients wouldn’t even let me use their names, wouldn’t even let me include them on my client list, or mention that I work with them. So you negotiate this and hit them up when they’re on a high note, like when you just did something amazing for them, then ask them to be your website’s case study or testimonial.
I will pick one from my website here in a second. I already talked about numerologist.com, so that I might use somebody different besides them.
Another thing was a really smart innovation between the previous iteration of the website, which you guys also designed back in 2015, and the newest version that went live this year instead of having a testimonials section in the nav. I now have a results section because people care about the results. They don’t care about the quotes. They care about the results that you get for other people’s websites. So thus, extrapolating forward then to what’s that likely to get me if I hire Stephan?
You do have a lot of social proof, and I love that. It’s just a single word that shows the result more than just how good Stephan is. Then, within there, you organize it beautifully, with praise from thought leaders, case studies showing these amazing results, client testimonials, and your extensive client list. Still, displaying that in a tab section when you land on that page is neat.
Highlight the bits of the testimonials that you want people to read because there’s no guarantee they’re going to read any of it.
Yes. What a beautiful design. I wonder who designed that.
That’s partly the designer’s role to figure out, okay, what’s your client? What have you got to work with? When somebody like you that’s a world leader. You can guarantee you get a lot of social proof. So I’m trying to figure it out and organize it.
As you work to build that social proof out, you don’t realize it’s a multi-headed monster that keeps growing. With the 2015 design, which looked beautiful, I was happy with what you guys did. As I added more and more testimonials, that page got ridiculously long.
It became unwieldy and not easily consumed. Now we’re back to having something easy to browse and quickly scan. It’s not overwhelming. There are these load more buttons. You put your best praise, quotes, and videos in the viewed-up by default section, and then all the other ones in the load more.
You do something smart with that. It’s overwhelming. There’s so much. You highlight things you want people to read in yellow, which is clever.
I forgot where I learned this from. It was years and years ago. It’s a little secret weapon for people to connect with your story. First, highlight the bits of the testimonials you want them to read because there’s no guarantee they’ll read any of it other than the highlighted bits. Then you organize those testimonials so that if all they read are the highlighted bits, it tells a story.
It’s not a random order. It kicks them on a story arc. That works like Gangbusters. It really does help.
Also, if you have videos, that’s the best kind of testimonial because that’s not easily faked. On the worst end of the spectrum is the stuff that’s like, wow, this was an incredible thing that you did for me, Stephan, signed Bill W from Dubuque, Iowa. Is that even a real person? No headshot or anything.
Every testimonial has a headshot, has their full name, has their title, and has their company. Whenever possible, I get videos, and then I get the video transcribed because many times, people don’t watch the video, but they do feel comfortable because they saw a video there, but they didn’t watch it. So the whole transcript is there with the yellow highlighted bits to focus them on just the important bits that I want them to get.Don't share all your gold for free without asking for anything in return. Your work should be a give-and-take. So, lead with value and receive value. Click To Tweet
That’s smart. There’s no doubt. Your entire website is designed with the same approach where you’ve got a lot to offer, but it needs to be organized in a way that’s not overwhelming. People can quickly scan because you want to respect people’s time.
Your new website does that beautifully. It showcases your authority. It leads with how it backs up what you do with social proof. So there’s a clear path to make it easy for you to help people when they’re ready.
Yeah, thank you. I’ve figured out which case study I want to walk you through if you’re ready for it.
Yeah, go for it.
Okay. I’ve got so many great ones. It’s really hard to choose. It’s hard because I got multiple clients and a 500% increase in organic traffic.
Do that one, Digital Trends.
With Google ads or Facebook ads, you can start making money quickly, but you’re not building a long-term asset in the way that you are with SEO.
That’s not just Digital Trends; I did it for do.com. I also did it for numerologist.com.
Wow, okay. There you go. Crazy. How long does it take to get that result?
In those cases, it was about 12 months. SEO takes—so they say, even Google engineers say—at least four months to a year from implementation. You do an audit, you do a link building or keyword strategy, or whatever that’s a big strategic deliverable, but you haven’t implemented it yet. The clock hasn’t started running yet. Hire me for an audit; it takes me six weeks to produce that, then I deliver it, and then the clock starts once you implement it.
Wow, it’s a slow process, isn’t it?
It is, but it’s a worthwhile process. However, it’s one that you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Whereas with Google ads or Facebook ads, you can start making money quickly, you’re not building a long-term asset in the way that you are with SEO.
If I were to stop link building for six months and take another sabbatical, the business would still keep generating leads because the SEO would still be awesome. It still generates leads, but the link-building side of it would still keep going because there are links out there that people aren’t removing. They’re just sitting there on people’s blogs, and you have contributed to an asset that makes money for you month after month.
You turn ads off, and that’s it, you’re gone. But this has longevity. Let’s say you do work with a client for 12 months, and you get them a 500% increase, if you stop working with them, how long does it take for that to slowly die down? Or does it stay there for a while?
It depends on what they’ve implemented and what they haven’t. I’ve had clients who have stayed up there for a long period, but they’ve developed their in-house team. For example, I remember working with CNET, and I helped them, but they had a staff of 30 people just on their SEO team.
They didn’t need me ongoing. It was for a year-long contract or something. The head of SEO at CNET ended up referring Digital Trends to me. That’s how it works. They move on to other roles or companies, then the previous competitor is no longer a competitor, and then they refer you assuming you did a good job for them.
It’s a small world. People do move around. It pays to network and do a good job. That’s excellent. All right, that’s great. What success metrics have you gotten from your website since the new one went live?
Success metrics are important because I want anecdotal evidence that something’s working. I’m a scientist at heart. I want to figure out what’s working and not working and get very granular about it.
One of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker is, “What gets measured gets managed.” How do I measure success with my website, design, marketing initiatives, and so forth? I’m looking for leads. I’m also looking at traffic. But that’s not nearly as important because I could have a very small amount of traffic, but it’s the right traffic. CMOs, marketing VPs, conference organizers, and producers will hire me to do a keynote.
It doesn’t take very many of them. My website is far and away paid for. All the investments that I’ve made in web design with you and I’ve had your team design. I don’t know how many sites now for me, personally.
I could have a very small amount of traffic, but it’s the right traffic.
More than that, for sure. Besides stephanspencer.com, there’s also getyourselfoptimized.com. There’s passionsintoprofits.com, trafficcontrol.co, artofseo.com for the book website. We’re already at six. My wife’s website is orionsmethod.com. I’m sure there are several more.
Anyway, you guys do a gangbuster job on web design. It’s not just about design. It’s about conversion. It’s about getting an outcome. It’s outcome-focused design.
Because you have that authority, we need to showcase your authority. By doing that, even though it’s a small amount of traffic, that is all you need to come to your website when they see your authority immediately that you’ve worked with these amazing clients, and you get really good results for them. Does that entice them? Have you had increased inquiries since the new website went live?
Certainly, since I switched from the previous 2014 and earlier design to using you, I saw increased inquiries. I also see that with the addition of the appointment funnels, the automation and so forth, and going from a more basic contact us page to something that’s much more sophisticated that addresses objections, I learned a lot from Marcus Sheridan about answering questions that your prospects have and not trying to be all cagey about how much it costs to work with you and stuff like that.
I still don’t have a price list on my website, but at least I address questions about how much it costs to hire Stephan. I asked all kinds of questions about working with me, the scope, and everything else. I addressed all that. That’s on the new iteration of the website.
Has that increased the quality of leads?
It’s not just about the website design; it’s about conversion and getting an outcome-focused design.
For sure. The number of leads has increased since working with your design, and the quality of the leads and I get more serious inquiries about paid keynotes or paid speaking engagements, not that that’s a big focus for me. I do speak at a lot of conferences, but to speak at an event, let’s say the Association of Appliance Repair Professionals, I forget the name of the organization, but they contacted me to do a keynote at their conference, which I did end up doing. So it was not a huge deal for me to drive to do that here in Southern California.
I’m looking at success metrics in the form of email subscribers, podcast listeners, inquiries coming in from the podcast, and so forth. It’s all intertwined. If somebody starts by doing a search finding my site, then signing up for a lead magnet getting on my list, then they get an awesome newsletter, which I send weekly newsletter called Thursday Three.
It’s all intertwined. I can’t say that the design delivered this, the newsletter delivered that, the speaking gig delivered this, and so forth. It’s all of them. It’s all mixed. That’s a problem I have with SEO. As an SEO expert, I get this question all the time. How do I prove or associate the returns you will generate for me with your work because it’s very hard?
Because you’re also relying on external sources like your clients to produce quality content from that point.
It’s certainly that. I’m also reliant on them to do a lot of the heavy lifting. They have to have great products, great prices, and everything for the conversions to happen. But in addition, they need to trust that there are things that will happen that wouldn’t happen if they hadn’t hired me.
For example, they might get more interactions with their social media or be more effective with their offline media. The print ads, the billboards, and so forth will be more effective because they have great SEO. How do you associate that with my work? It’s hard.
I’m looking at success metrics in the form of email subscribers, podcast listeners, inquiries coming in from the podcast, and so forth.
It is. How I see it is you are willing, you see the value of investing in your brand, constantly ratcheting up your profile, and just making your online presence boost your authority to the level it is, but people don’t know that if your website sucks, right?
Right. There’s a distinction I want to make, too, about boosting your authority. That’s a ceiling in your authority. Once you get published in HBR, for example, you get all these great kudos. But something about being a celebrity takes you to another level. There’s another tier above authority, and that’s a celebrity.
Hiring a celebrity doctor to do your surgery on you is a lot different than hiring an authority doctor. The doctor who published all these papers is great. You certainly want them. But the celebrity doctor that keeps getting invited on The Dr. Oz Show, The Doctors TV show, Oprah, or something like that, that’s probably the doctor that you’re going to end up hiring because if Oprah trusts this doctor to keep having them on the show, then that person probably is good enough for me too—so getting a celebrity status.
Do you want that celebrity status? Do you want that yourself?
I do, not for ego purposes, but to help further my message and positively impact the world.
That’s why I’ve gotten 13–14 different TV appearances. And they’re not just about SEO. Most of them are not about SEO.
About geek things, aren’t they?
Yeah, because I have my podcast, Get Yourself Optimized. It started as The Optimized Geek. That was the name of the show. I have some geek-related TV appearances but also ones on foster care. You might think, foster care. Why foster care? It was because I was a foster child growing up for a few years in high school.Believe in business karma — what you give comes back to you. Genuinely care about the success and future of others, and everything will fall into place. Click To Tweet
This isn’t something I was very public about, not at all. But then I realized I could make a difference in the world by dispelling some myths about foster kids and the foster care system.
There is a lot of misinformation out there. I could dispel some of those myths and help. And also increase awareness about the need for foster parents. Even if you don’t want to be a foster parent, what can you do to help foster kids?
I have five TV appearances about foster care and foster kids. How does that help my business? I can use snippets from those TV appearances on marketing collateral in a roundabout way. I can use that in my sizzle reel, my speaker reel, or I can use it on my Seen On logos. If I had a TV appearance on an ABC affiliate, and it was about foster care, why can’t I put that as seen on ABC? It doesn’t have to be about SEO.
Most TV networks would not be interested in having you on to talk about SEO because that’s not a general interest. They want stuff that’s going to be good TV. Think about elevating your status beyond the authority to celebrity status or doing celebrity attachment, so attaching yourself to other celebrities. Whenever you’re in a green room hanging out, waiting to be on TV and see some big-name star, you say, hey, can we get a quick selfie?
They need to trust that there are things that are going to happen that wouldn’t happen if they hadn’t hired me.
That’s really smart. Using celebrities and trying to boost celebrity status by using others, but also doing unrelated things. As you said, nobody cares about SEO in the general public. Is that part of your plan moving forward to boost your celebrity status? What’s in store for the next couple of years in business and personally?
Part of my bigger mission is to have a New York Times Best Selling self-help book, to have an appearance on Good Morning America or The Today Show, or both, to talk about that New York Times best seller on the segment, and to sell lots of copies of the book and change lots of people’s lives.
That is awesome. Stephan, having you on this super-long interview has been an absolute pleasure. I hope listeners and viewers got a ton of value out of it. Before we go, concerning your website and business, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to take their website and business to the next level?
First of all, hire Studio1. You guys are awesome. I keep telling you and others that Studio 1 is one of my secret weapons.
You do? Thank you.
I’ve referred many, many clients to you. If you think about conversion-focused design, consider it like you’re taking that prospect on a journey. Whether or not they become a client is immaterial in this concept of preeminence that Jay Abraham teaches, where if your prospect is served better by being sent to your competitor, you should do that.
I believe in business karma, that what you give comes back to you. If you are all about the other person and serving them, delivering value for them, helping them, but not in a way that you’re just giving them everything like you’re a doormat, but just genuinely you care about their outcome and their future, then everything tends to work out. That’s my biggest bit of advice.
It’d be a spiritual way of framing web development, design, and marketing to see this as a spiritual gain and one where you’re just going to give, deliver value, create light in the world, and everything will work itself out.
I couldn’t agree more. That’s my golden rule in life. What you’re putting in is what you get out. It’s all based on karma principles, for sure. Stephan, it’s been an absolute pleasure interviewing you. Thank you so much, buddy. I really appreciate it.
You bet. It was a pleasure for me as well.
Thank you, take care.
Twitter – Greg Merrilees
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Greg Merrilees – previous episode (ep. 222)
James Schramko – previous episode (ep. 337)
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Marcus Sheridan – previous episode (ep. 93)
Rand Fishkin – previous episode (ep. 40)
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
- Patiently await results on my SEO strategy. SEO and marketing take time to produce results. Don’t expect overnight success, but stay committed to my strategy.
- Create a spreadsheet to track all my marketing methods, such as speaking gigs, conferences, masterminds, along with the cost and revenue of my marketing.
- Address clients’ pain points and the issues they may not even know they have to sell my products or services. This can help them engage and recognize the value of working with me.
- Qualify potential clients by having them complete a questionnaire on their current marketing efforts. This can indicate whether they have the budget for my SEO services.
- Develop a hiring funnel to streamline the process of interviewing and screening candidates. This approach can save time and helps ensure my team selects the most qualified applicants.
- Gather strong proof points to support claims when presenting to clients or on my website. This can include screenshots, graphs, and other visual aids that show my successful results.
- Surround myself with a talented and reliable team. Look for partners who have a track record of success, like Greg Merilee’s Studio 1 Design, for my website design and branding needs.
- Monitor efficiency within the team and the lead magnets through internally created checklists, worksheets, and workbooks.
- Download a copy of Stephan’s SEO Hiring Blueprint and SEO BS Detector for non-SEO professionals conducting interviews for potential hires. Using this cheat sheet, I can quickly identify inexperienced candidates.
- Checkout Stephan Spencer’s free resource on content marketing and link building, Chapter Seven of the book The Art of SEO.
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