Most entrepreneurs will regale you with their success stories, so it’s really refreshing when someone keeps it real and relates the struggles, missteps, and errors in judgment that they experienced along the bumpy road to success. From Google jail to losing a multi-million dollar account, Brent D. Payne, my guest on today’s show, has been down and out, but he managed to rebuild his reputation and his career to soaring heights.
Brent is a sought-after speaker and presenter, sharing his expertise at industry conferences and events worldwide, where we first met and became friends in 2008. He’s an SEO expert, speaker, and digital marketing consultant. I was excited to have a chance, in this episode, to hear about how Brent and his team have developed a way for AI to do your SEO at scale. He discusses with me their first publicly available tool, which optimizes all of the major content fields on every page of your site with only 2 minutes of work from a human. And yeah, we talk about Google’s wrath, which we have both experienced in our day! He’s a fascinating entrepreneur on the cusp of the AI revolution in marketing, so without any further ado, on with a great show!
In This Episode
- [00:43] – Stephan introduces Brent Payne and delves into his origin story, focusing on his journey in the business world.
- [07:26] – Brent’s story sparks a discussion, leading Stephan to recount his experiences, including a humorous incident as a mic runner and getting ejected from a conference.
- [13:51] – Brent takes us through his career evolution, from his Tribune days to the inception of his agency.
- [25:09] – Reflecting on the value of transparency, Brent underscores the significance of embracing challenges and sharing missteps as integral components of achieving business success.
- [38:21] – Brent shares how he started content writing for Groupon.
- [46:16] – Exploring the advantages of utilizing data to gauge page relevance.
- [49:03] – Stephan and Brent discuss the game-changing potential of AI across various industries.
- [61:39] – Stephan provides insights into the impact of the PagePerfect tool on the brand voice of the Get Yourself Optimized page.
It’s so great to have you on the show. Thanks for coming, Brent.
I love my conversations with you. You’ve always inspired me in business and my personal life, so I am pleased to be on your podcast. I appreciate your time and being here on the show, so thank you.
I appreciate you. First, sharing your superhero origin story with our listeners would be fun. How did you create such an amazing life and business for yourself?
I don’t know how I created such an amazing life and business. There are always more goals to be had. I started in Oregon. I was born and raised in a farming community. We grew onions.
My dad was a very hard worker, and he made it clear from age six that he just wanted us to do better than him and ensure our kids did better. That was his goal. At first, I was like, “Okay, that’s all monetary.”
Neither one of my parents made over $40,000 a year. We were not a high-income family. I would mow lawns in my teen years and give the money back to my parents to help make things work. I’d buck hay, and I used to clean out mobile slaughter trailers in 100-degree heat. Imagine how bad those things smelled.When you’re determined and focused, you’ll see powerful results. Click To Tweet
I eventually went to Weber State University for Technical Sales and Marketing. I got a role at Viking Technology selling memory chips for flash cards and digital cameras. I was sitting there with the CEO in 1999 or 2000. I’m like, “I want to take the dot-com business. Let me be the person that handles all of the sales, and I’ll be your number one salesperson of the year.”
That’s pretty aggressive to say at 23, but I did. He laughed at me and said, “Kid, you’re number 55 at 80 salespeople. There’s no way you’ll be my number one salesperson beating out CompUSA and Circuit City by this time next year.” I said, “Well, I think I will. I need amazon.com and 800.com.” He’s like, “Kid, Amazon sells books, and you sell electronics.”
Fast forward three or four months, no sales from Amazon. I’m dying to meet him, and I’m panicking. The clock’s ticking. He said that I was only a salesperson and he would fire me.
I met with Chad McFadden in Seattle at the old VA hospital, but he didn’t attend. It was a 3 PM meeting, and I was like, “Well, I cannot go home without meeting with him,” so I sat there until 7 PM. Chad came down the only bank of elevators. I stalked him online. There wasn’t as much you can find online of people like them, and I found enough.
I know what he looked like. I walked up and introduced myself. I told him I couldn’t leave unless it were an excuse. I put it on Amazon. He did it right there, which was awesome of him, even though it did blow me off. He didn’t meet with me for 30 minutes to 7 PM.
I thought I was done. That’s all I needed to do, just get the skews up. Everything would sell itself, and it didn’t. It wasn’t until about nine months into it that I realized I could sell many products by ranking well in the search engines.
I was ranked number one to number two for 32Meg, 64Meg, solid state floppy disk cards, SSFTCs, compact flash cards, and RAM chips that were popular in laptops then. I became obsessed then with ranking in the search engine. Instead of doing anything else, I dropped the market development funds with Amazon, which was 7% then, and turned it into a career.
What year is this?
It was 2000 by the time I got into the SEO side, it’d been the late 2000s. We got a $2.3 million order from Amazon for flashcards for two weeks’ inventory. Our CEO forced me to get prepayment on that, which was very difficult to do, but Amazon prepaid that order, and I had no idea what I would source it from.
We had no clue how to fill the order. I said, “Yup, it’ll be there in four days.” Luckily, it was a falling market, meaning the memory market dropped rapidly. The price was fixed here. Over the next three days, we bought with a greater margin as it went down, and then we overnighted on the second to the third day.
The last section of that order was me flying to a distribution center with a box on my lap in an airplane to finish the rest. It was awesome. Those things are so much fun in your early career, where you feel so passionate, excited, and invigorated about something.
I can feel your excitement. You’re on the edge there, like, “Am I going to pull this off.” It reminds me of when I started my business and talked my way into a conference I couldn’t afford to pay for. It was $2000, and I got in as a volunteer. I was a mic runner.
For many years, I was so embarrassed by this that I never told anybody, so now I don’t care. It’s got a good lesson there. As the mic runner, I decided to chime in and add my own two cents.
The mic runner always does that, right?
Not at this conference. That was not appropriate.Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Click To Tweet
Did you get in trouble?
Yeah, I got kicked out of the conference. I was not expecting it. It was devastating for me. But by the end of that session, and GM O’Connell, the founder of Modem Media, was one of the speakers, I feel he was pretty pissed. There was a panel of three speakers. They talked to the conference organizer afterward.
I ran circles around them by adding so much value because I had a microphone. By the end of that session, I had a stack of business cards, and two of those business cards turned into half-million-dollar accounts each. That was the size of the customer’s lifetime value.
I had no funding, no credit line, nothing. I was eating ramen noodles. I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. That was an absolute gift from God. I couldn’t believe that that had happened.
On the flip side, getting kicked out of the conference by the organizers saying don’t come back for day two did hurt my ego. I don’t regret it. It was a beautiful lesson and something where if you’re going to have the gumption to put yourself out in that way, do it because if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?
Right. When you go, you have less risk. You can be more forceful. I became popular on the Moz circuit when Rand Fishkin started it. That’s when I began to get some popularity. I ended up getting a job: two offers, one at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Also, a tribune, Seattle Children’s Hospital, paid a little more, but I wanted to go after the opportunity I thought had more.
It was just more challenging than ranking for diseases or conditions. I felt like the Seattle Children’s Hospital positively impacted the world, getting information for parents who needed to know about their children’s ailments. But I ultimately went with the Chicago Tribune because it was so fun. The idea of handling seven major newspapers and 70 broadcast sites was mind-blowing, complicated, and fun, and I went after that instead. The rest, as they say, is history. We got triple the traffic from there.
Carolyn Shelby worked at the Tribune as well, right?
Yeah, she was right after me. When I left to start Tribune, Carolyn took that role. I brought a team of superheroes and awesome people like Detlef Johnson. She did a great job managing it after I left, and I don’t know what happened to the stats. She was much more.
After traveling the world on Tribune’s dime, Tribune locked down all of the craziness of being able to do whatever I wanted all the time, so she was in the spotlight as I put myself during those times. Great times, though. The architecture there, the quotes that you see walking in the building every day, they shut it off from the public now, but it’s just a beautiful building to walk into and so inspiring.
What kind of quotes?
One of them was, “Do no small things because it doesn’t have the power to move men’s minds.” I’m not sure who said it. That was one I saw every time, and it got me every day off, more or less, doing big things only. Move items instead of doing small things that people may not care about.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
That’s awesome. Do you ever feel like those quotes or things you see in your environment were put there like the whole thing is a movie set, specifically put there just like everything else was put on the movie set? Did you ever feel like stuff like those quotes were put there for you, like this is a rigged game?
Especially after a hard day, yes. You come downstairs, in the lobby, and see one, like, “Oh, yes. Yes, that makes sense.” That one got me every day.
Yeah, that’s cool. One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt. “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
There’s something in Judaism that’s referred to as evil speech. It’s saying truthful things that are mean or unkind, and that’s really dark. It’s worse than lying about the person behind their back.
I would agree.
Anyway, you went from working for the Tribune to starting your agency. How did that happen?
I had an agreement with Tribune that allowed me to consult on the side. I was challenged a couple of times on that ability. I went through 12 different bosses at Tribune because of the craziness in the media industry then. Three of them said, “No, you don’t have the right to consult on the side.”
Luckily, I got writing from the company’s CEO when I signed, so I showed that letter. I would have never had the insight to do that had I not had issues with Viking Components, SimpleTech, the company I went to work for briefly in between, and even Targus, the laptop bag manufacturer, ran their ecommerce channel forum if I wasn’t already aware of how important it is to get something like that in writing.
I hadn’t done any consulting yet, but I wanted to. I knew there were a lot of rules in place not to allow you to do it, even on a work computer, on work time. There’s all sorts of stuff. And I was aware of this. Luckily, I got the right letter, and I could do it.
Legacy.com brought me on as my first client, even before I quit Tribune. It was awesome because I got to work at obituaries. It’s a huge obituary site. It’s a lot of fun just learning how to be a consultant. They’re very forgiving. It was very inexpensive, only $3000 a month for them. It was an awesome value for them that they got.
We don’t specialize in any particular area, although I’m well-known for news SEO.
When I left, I ended up grabbing three or four massive clients. I only had to make up $180,000 a year. I got that from Tribune, plus a bonus structure, so $240,000. It wasn’t that bad. I brought in three or four decent-sized clients, $7000-$10,000 monthly. All of a sudden, it just worked out for me.
I couldn’t do that today. Like just poof, I think I’ll start a lawn mowing company and boom, they start mowing lawns and moving on. But again, being young helped.
Sometimes things just fall together, and it did. Loud Interactive is still around 12 years later.
We’ve had a few bumps, but it’s been a very exciting experience. There’s no way I could go back to working in a company. I just can’t do it, which is sad because it limits my options.
You can create whatever future you want for yourself. Anyway, Loud Interactive has been around for 12 years. What kind of clientele and work do you do?
We don’t specialize in any particular area, although I’m well-known for news SEO. We’ve had several news clients in Orlando. Sun Sentinel was in there for a while. I had Washington Examiner for several years. I had some conversations and smaller engagements with news sites like local newspapers and stuff. I spoke at the national or the New York Press Association conferences for some years, even after Tribune.
I enjoyed the news SEO. (1) What I liked the most about it was the breaking news stuff, and that was always fun. I’ve done a lot of news SEO. (2) Ecommerce stuff. I love ecommerce. We’ve been doing ecommerce with different sizes of sites. Helene Bennett is a current client of ours that we enjoy. 5.11 Tactical is more on the right-leaning side of politics, and then I got heavily embedded on the left-leaning side of politics.
I’ve been on both sides and different political mindsets and stuff. The biggest client we’ve had to date is Groupon. They were massive. At their peak, they were $500,000 a month in deliverables. It’s the largest SEO client ever. I know you came close with Zappos and a few others.
Yeah. I had Zappos before the acquisition of my company, and then after, they came back a couple of years later.
I don’t know where this information is coming from. It’s coming from you. I’m sorry. But that was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, right?AI is a game-changer in the SEO industry. Leverage its advantages to minimize its inevitable disadvantages. Click To Tweet
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it, but I’ll say we made seven figures in nine months.
That was awesome. I’ll couch that by saying it didn’t happen for a year. But it was the peak. What was most of that tons of content delivery? Anything that is a feed, we rewrote. We rewrote a lot of coupon stuff. We rewrote some of the restaurant data that they had hotel data that they had.
I did this with all humans, no AI involved. Maybe it was there, but it wasn’t very good back then. That was that, and then we had link building. I did get into the whole link-building thing for a while, but shame on me. I fell into it. We did a great job creating what we call the Google It campaign and the Steal It campaign.
Google It was getting links for specific key phrases. We would get links from sites that ranked number 20 through 100. It was the Google It campaign.
The Steal It campaign was obvious: get links from places that your competitors are getting links from. It wasn’t stealing them. We usually got them, but stealing sounded better, so I’m stuck. We do that content and link building.
Again, we’d create a huge site. We love tens of thousands of URLs. It was over a million URLs in certain areas. The fun part of that was we got written up. No one knew we were handling Groupon. I couldn’t say anything about it. I was locked down on the contract for two years. I couldn’t say anything for two years, but I can talk about it now.
Moz and SCJ both came out with the fastest-growing websites in the United States during that time. Groupon, specifically Groupon coupons, is a core portion of our business. I was like, “This is amazing.” I couldn’t say anything for two years. I was like, “Oh, so painful. You have this amazing nugget you can’t say anything about.”
It was fun, and then I screwed it up, man. I screwed it up. It was a six-month contract that we ran for five years. My ego got to me 100%. Every six months, they have a challenger. I initially put in much work to ensure I kept winning that contract.
As the five years went on, I just didn’t care. I said, “Yeah, of course, they will pick us. They’re going to like us.” I got my butt handed to me. I asked, “What do you mean by choosing someone else?”
I like it, but our numbers have been amazing. They’re like, “They’ve been great. You lost the bid.” I’m like, “Can I bid again?” They say, “Yeah, in six months, you bid again.” I’m like, “Okay.”
I kept all my stuff right for six months, and I’m bleeding to death. It was just painful. We did not win the contract six months later because I’m sure the SU farmers did a great job. After all, they appreciated the business more than I had gotten to. That is a huge life lesson, man—a huge life lesson on keeping clients happy for a long period.
There are more lessons there, too. Let’s unpack that for a minute. That’s the most expensive lesson you’ve ever learned, right?
By far, yeah. It was an extremely life-changing painful lesson. It took me two years to climb out of it. It was akin to my divorce. It was that emotionally painful. I’ve happily married a Marina. It has been for almost 12 years. But I divorced in my late 20s, which was just as damaging.
Did you have to lay off a bunch of staff?
Keep clients happy for a long period.
I laid off everybody. I’ve now brought many of them back, at least the key components, but I am too afraid to hire them as full-time employees. I have them set up as contractors, even though some make $15,000 a month. But still, I was resistant to that commitment.
Stephan, I cannot believe some of the people I’ve rehired, and I’ll leave it mute on the names. They were so loyal to me that even after the great fall of 2018, they were so loyal and wanted to work with me so much that they were willing to forget or forgive the pain I put them through during that period. They’re committed.
That loyalty and love, you can’t buy that. That’s just what happens. I’ve got four or five, depending on how you want to look at it, team members back. I just tell them, guys, I don’t want to screw up your life again, so you know what, it’s month to month. We have been having an awesome three years now of massive success.
I’m making more personally than I did in 2018. Different models, fewer hours, things like not spending $2000 on stupid lunches and stuff with the team like I used to. The top-line revenue is not quite there. We did $2½ million last year, and the year we peaked with Groupon was $6 million. We’re growing and trying to get back to where we were.
Any marketers out there that are entrepreneurs take a lesson here where you need to fight for that business every single time. That seems very rudimentary, but psychology starts to play after years and years of having a whale of an account like that.
Yeah, you can get complacent. Correct me if I’m wrong, but hubris is the word that comes to mind.
Hubris, for sure. That’s what my wife, who has a master’s degree in English, said. The hubris for us was outrageous back then, just outrageous. I felt it, and I should have. It was good for me as a person that it did fall. It changed my life, and in some ways, definitely for the better. But financially, it was painful for about a year and a half.
Yeah. Thank you so much for being so open and vulnerable about this because many business owners only want to share their successes. That’s not really how you help people.
You can’t buy loyalty and love.
Trust me, I will get help from the other people involved in the business for being this open. But it’s who I am. Other people need to learn from their mistakes. If you want to be honest about what you’re doing and the positive things in your business, you have to talk about the areas where you’ve messed up.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. I’m more willing to put them on my sleeve, and then we’ll talk about the good stuff we’re doing. The road is never perfect, man.
Nor should it be. It’s perfectly imperfect. It’s all by design. You don’t have to repeat the class if you can grow from those mishaps and mistakes. Because if you don’t learn, you must repeat the class. That can often be more painful than the original.
I told my wife during those times, I was like, “Well, I guess this is what an MBA does for you. You don’t make mistakes like this.” She’s like, “Yup, got it.” She stuck with me the whole time. We learned a lot about our marriage during that period. We learned a lot about our kids, about our family, about whom we thought were friends. We learned a lot of stuff.
We discovered that even the people we thought we could never face again when I did face them, they’re open arms in love. I said, “Wow, this is the right team.” We’ve got that now, and I’m excited about it. It’s not 16 people. It’s 5, but that’s okay. We’re right-sized, and we can expand when we need to.
Good for you. Another learning lesson we’ll share, or stories here, because I know you got in trouble with Matt Cutts. Before you share your story, I got in trouble with Miley Oye at Google. This is SMX Advanced 2008, a long time ago. It could be 2007. It was the first SMX Advanced.
The one in San Diego?
No, it was in Seattle.
Okay. Mine was a year later in San Diego, but go ahead.
Okay. Miley came up to me after I’d given three or four sessions. She said, “Us in Google, we’re thinking about having you teach some stuff on SEO like run video and stuff, but now we’re not.” You blew it. I don’t know what you were thinking with those presentations. The one on link building was the one that got her ire up. She’s like, “Yeah, but you blew it. That door is closed.” I’m like, “What?”
If you want to be honest about what you’re doing and the positive things in your business, you must discuss the areas where you’ve messed up.
I had a similar conversation. I was supposed to meet with the Swiss team at one point and one of my travels abroad to do. I did a speaking conference in Sweden, Norway, and somewhere else. It was in the Netherlands.
It’s all on one big travel week. I didn’t make the train the next morning. I didn’t make the train. I was out late with everybody. God knows what we were doing. But I was out with Bill Hunt, Motoko, and Bill Hunt IV. We’re just having our time.
We weren’t even causing a stir, just having a good time, staying up late. I never thought it was more than just a tour. Rather it’s just a tour that I felt like I was imposing on them to do a tour. It was like, “I don’t want to piss these guys off showing up.” I just sent an email late that night. “Hey, I’m not going to make it tomorrow. I appreciate the opportunity to see a tour, but I will pass.”
We found out three months later they would vet me for being one of the Google Webmaster Tools people. I was like, “Oh, come on, that is unfair. You need to tell me what you’re doing.”
This whole side-door stuff to evaluate people is just weird. You would have done that if you had known that you wanted to back off on some of your link-building campaign presentations. If you had known that, Google would have loved you more. I don’t know. Maybe you can’t say.
Knowing what I know now, it’s all perfect. Perfectly Imperfect, right? I wasn’t meant to get in bed with Google, even not as an independent person, because I wouldn’t have ever taken a job at Google. But to be a representative or an instructor for Google, I would have taken it as an opportunity, an independent contractor kind of opportunity, but it wasn’t meant for me. I’m grateful for what happened.
I don’t regret anything that I presented. None of it was black hat. Some of it was a gray hat, but it wasn’t stuff that I was actively doing or any of my clients were doing. Here are some interesting ways of finding link opportunities, or here are some outside-the-box ideas for garnering links that you probably would never have thought of.
I got lots of kudos for opening the kimono or sharing stuff nobody else was discussing or even thinking of. I don’t regret it, but it came out of left field what the response was from Miley. Anyway, whatever, it’s what it is. I want to talk to you about Matt Cutts for a minute.
Here’s my Matt Cutts story. It was SMX Advanced San Diego. It was 2009. I discovered the use of Amazon Mechanical Turk and the drop-down menu that Google suggests, and I was having fun with it. I had some clients in a really difficult space. Health insurance was one of them. I was just putting health insurance in our company name. You’d just type in health insurance. Our company name showed up.There will be two kinds of businesses by the end of this decade, businesses that are using AI at their core and businesses that are out of business. – Peter Diamandis Click To Tweet
It was awesome. People loved me. I called it skipping SEO. Just skip SEO, like don’t even do it. Just do this one thing, pay me a decent amount of money to do it, and we’ll skip over it.
I was used to being an in-house SEO. Remember, the company was only a year or two old. I was still doing consulting on the side. I wasn’t even straight-up consulting it. Then I decided that, again, Hoover’s got me. It is a theme for me.
I was like, all right, well, this is fun. I’m going to mess up Matt Cutts. I was like, “Matt Cutts loves Brent Payne.” Matt Cutts loves weird, different things. Nothing wildly inappropriate, nothing illegal, or nothing libelous. It was just clearly a joke.
(1) I pissed off the industry because other people used it. I will not mention the names, but we’re talking top 10 people in the industry, and they were livid. I got the side talk about, “Hey, what are you doing? Why do you mention this stuff? This is a lot of money for a lot of people. You just blew it.” I’m like, “Sorry, I didn’t think about it that way. I still had my full-time job, so I didn’t know how it impacted other people with the side consulting thing I was doing.”
(2) I got the conversation from Matt, where he was mad and upset. He was like, “Why would you do this?” I’m like, “Dude, it’s a joke. Come on. It’s just fun.” If you Google my name and type in Brent or Brent D. Payne, you will get zero suggestions after that name today. This is 13 or 15 years later if you do the right math.
That is insane that that’s what they did. I was treated like a porn query with literally no completions after my name, and maybe a change with Bard because I was looking at Bard recently, and I don’t seem to be as penalized in Bard, although they don’t mention me as an SEO. With OpenAI, they mentioned me in the top 12 mentions of SEOs when you asked for a list of SEOs. I’m not saying I’m the number 12th. I’m just saying that in an order. I make the list before it starts repeating itself after about 95 entries.
(1) Google has a long memory, which is painful. (2) I was just joking around. I would calm down. (3) I got interviewed by the New York Times for it. You can still Google my name, which is great. The New York Times has an amazing archiving policy, but you can google Brent D. Payne New York Times or Brent Payne New York Times maybe, and you’ll see an article that says, “You can’t say that on the internet.”
It’s a verifiable story from The New York Times. That’s something that I just made up. It’s just fun to have this in my history. I’m upset that my name has been blocked or treated like a porn query for the last 15 years, but that’s okay.
They might let you out in 15 years.
Maybe. Who knows?
AI overlords might let us out.
Right. I’ve heard rumors since then about conversations that happen internally. If half of them are true, that’s fun, so be it. I do get a few referrals from Google. We have gotten referrals directly from Google for about a year, so I don’t know where it’s coming from inside the org.
You have a mole.
Google may sniff it out now and clamp down on this. I shouldn’t have said that, but we’ll see what happens. I did get some referrals from them, just not as many as I used to.
And some of these techniques for manipulating Google suggest they still—
No, they don’t work anymore. I’ll tell you, you can still do it, but the amount of effort you have to put into it to spin up a bunch of retail IP addresses, the residential IP addresses, varied enough, and get all this stuff involved, it’s just a lot of work. You’ll see it sometimes in the Ahrefs keyword and Semrush keyword date. Some SEO is currently clearly messing with it because it’ll say, “Best SEO,” and then the person’s name or something.
“That’s cool, good for them.” I just stopped doing it. It pissed off so many people. I was irritated that they got so upset about a joke. It was fun. Come on. There’s my history.
There’s no sense of humor there for certain people.
They’re more serious. I do like my relationship, specifically with Gary. I have a good relationship with John Mueller, but both guys are always great at the conferences when I see them. I knew Miley for a while; she was great, but I don’t know the rest of the team. Spliff is one I want to get to know, eventually.
Miley is gone from Google. She left a long time ago.
Yeah, she left years ago, like a decade or something. Anyway, there’s some history on me. I’ve got to get my hands dirty in several different ways.
And you wouldn’t change a thing, would you if you could?
I probably wouldn’t have lost Groupon. It would have been nice to keep that.
But you wouldn’t have gotten a lesson, and the lessons are priceless.
I would be in a much worse spot personally if that continued. I’ve got a lot of kids. I’m focused more on the family now than I ever have been. I got to transition the company towards something that will end up being AI-focused instead of dozens of bodies thrown at something. We’re going to focus more on AI solutions.
I got to transition the company towards something that will end up being AI-focused. We’re going to focus more on AI solutions.
We have done about a million dollars a year in content for a long time, five or six years now, starting with Groupon, moving on to cars.com for a while, and a few other places.
You have a team of writers, not just from the 600 writers you came from.
Yeah. I am very blessed in that it came from my Tribune days. Remember that while at Tribune, I ran around like a chicken for those five years with my head cut off, preaching the SEO, my mantra to everybody.
I visited all 70 locations of the newsrooms at the TV stations. I repeatedly visited the seven newsrooms of the newspapers, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Daily Press, and all these others. It’s in the thousands of journalists. I trained over those five years.
When I had a project for Groupon that I needed to do, which was mainly rewriting coupons, restaurants, and hotels, I just put out a Facebook message and said, “Hey, I need a hundred writers to write content.” All you need to do is take a pair that already exists and rewrite it. It’s super easy; anybody can do this. I paid them between $12.50 and $17.50 an hour, depending on what they were doing. And they loved it. All of a sudden, it started.
They told their friends how easy it was to do it. They started rewriting it. All of a sudden, we expanded into writing fresh content and then expanded into blog posts. We just grew this organic SEO-focused content organically, which isn’t always the best content on the page, but it did the job. It got it to rank well. We’ve had a lot of success with that over the years.
Over the past year and a half, it’s been a pain in the ass. You’re just managing all the writers and things that come in, setting up the blog posts, the outlines of the blog posts, and then the 30-day content strategies. All of a sudden, I was buried in content work. I was like, “Okay, that’s fine.”
I started asking clients. What is it that you guys are looking for? They’re like, “We just want this.” They’d show me something from a web form. I’m like, “That’s all you’re looking for?” “Like, yeah, that’d be great.” I’m like, “Well, it’s getting easier.”
The content itself, the writers were still creating 2000-word blog posts because that’s what we need to rank well truly. We weren’t doing the 500-word stuff. I realized it’s a lot of work, a lot of people.
Paypaling 600 people monthly is a lot, and contracts to ensure that they don’t steal content and deal with just so many different personalities. I was running a lot of work. I fired everybody, but I kept this content team the whole time.
ChatGPT became popular. I’m not saying it came out. I’d looked at it at 2.0. I was like, “This is crap.” I’ve looked at Jasper a thousand times. It doesn’t help that much. But once you get into it, you’re still spending four hours building a blog post.
I get what they’re doing, but I want to have awesome content quickly, at scale. How do I make this happen? I took my wife’s spring, knowing a lot about English. She was an English teacher for several years before I met her.
I leaned on other people that I knew that were professors of English. For example, I had some ORM clients that had run colleges, and they helped. They build out like this is how you should write. I said, “Okay, great. Can I get the bots to do this for me?” And it took a lot of work.
AIs don’t do exactly what you tell them to do, which fascinates me. It’s scary and fascinating at the same time. You can’t just code it. Excel spreadsheets, you put in a function, it’ll do exactly what you say what you tell it to do. But with AI, you tell it something, and it does it.
For example, we wrote 15,000 URLs worth of content at 450-600 words. It is 15,600 words. I read through it, and this took a week at the time. It wouldn’t take us that long now, but in January, it did. It was a joke. I didn’t tell it to put a joke in there. It’s a really silly, stupid joke.
I had to rewrite all of it. It took another week to get it done. It costs me more money for API calls and all these other things. It cost me a few thousand dollars for it. What happened? I got rid of the joke. I just had a problem.
PagePerfect allows you to optimize your entire site for 50¢ a URL.
Anyway, that was our first foray into it. We found that the clients were happier with the content from the AI than they were with our writers. I wasn’t paying them a hundred dollars an hour or something, although I was paying $25 an hour towards the end.
I realized we could get AI to do this, but it’s not like I’m hopping into ChatGPT 4 and saying, “Hey, write a blog post about Milwaukee SEO.” No. We are grabbing information from the internet. There is lots of data from the internet, 30 results deep information. I am giving that information in a prompt for a particular key phrase, taking that key phrase, and breaking it into a blog outline.
We have 24 different steps inside the blog outline. We then take each aspect of that blog outline. We query that on the internet. We pull back the top 30 search results for that. We then have it create a section just about each one of those.
We iterate through this 24 different times to create our long-form content, which costs a lot of money. It takes a lot of time. I have multiple ChatGPT 4 API keys that we use. That’s how we get through it.
I was like, “Okay, that’s great for long-form content. I charge 5¢ a word for it. Maybe that’s too low. Perhaps that’s too high.” I used to charge 30¢ a word for the human written content. I was like, “Well, we can do that. Can we do optimization across an entire website now?”
I wanted to know that because Google’s helpful content update sent something resonating to me. It judges you across the domain for all of your domain’s content. What I learned through 15 years, 20 years of ecommerce expertise was the site’s focus on the 90/10 rule, the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the revenue comes from 20% of the products. Ninety percent of the revenue comes from 10% of products, whatever it is. It’s something close to that, depending on what type of industry you’re in.
That means they’re not spending time on the majority of the domain. That’s what concerns me. I said, “Well, let’s see if we can fix that.” We are now able, through PagePerfect, to optimize the entire site. Title Tags, meta descriptions, and H1 tags are exact.
We research. We pull API calls from SEMrush and Ahrefs. We may or may not scrape the internet for information. We pull all this data in, look at the URL to determine on-page relevancy, and pull back this data to decide. We select three key phrases to focus on based on what I would do per URL.
I used to do it manually for the top 3% of the catalog, and then we set a template for the next 20%. The other 80%, we wouldn’t touch at all. If you run any type of SEO for any ecommerce site, you know that this is exactly what happens. We did it, and we got great results. I can’t quote the results yet, and I can’t do that yet.
I want a high-quality product that allows SEOs to feel comfortable using a tool that will make their job much easier.
We have great results across multiple clients. We focus on the fact that we did the entire domain. The helpful content update has domain-wide. Google set us a domain-wide impact. If we do SEO on the rest of the pages, you would never touch for only 50¢ a URL. You’ll see a massive return on what you’re getting here.
I got some pushback on some of the logic. I pushed back on some of the logic. I asked the AI, which the finisher is ChatGPT 4, but there are a lot of things that happened. Many decisions are made well before we get into OpenAI that help lead to the prompt that is generated, which is dozens of pages long, to feed the prompt. It creates prompts to generate the output.
I’m stoked, and I’ll just make it quick. It’s done 80% of the work that I hated doing. No one likes to do title tags or write meta descriptions. If they do, I’m sorry. This tool is not for you.
Their job is not going to be around for very long.
Right. I don’t know. Maybe it will. PagePerfect allows you to optimize your entire site for 50¢ a URL. We did if you don’t put it in your URL list, which people begged me to create. It took us three days to add that feature. You can add your URLs if you want. But if not, we go top-down by what’s indexed in Google and probably your most relevant pages. That’s what we’re doing.
I love it because it’s leveraging AI. AI is as big as the internet. What’s your opinion on AI, Stephan?
It’s a fad, just like the internet.
Yes. That’s what my boss said.
Glenn McCusker quoted it.
Yeah, AI is here to stay. I love the Peter Diamandis quote I’ve repeatedly mentioned on this show. He’s the co-founder of Singularity University, founder of Abundance360, and author of many books on the future, including The Future Is Faster Than You Think.
His quote is this. “There are going to be two kinds of businesses by the end of this decade, businesses that are using AI at their core and businesses that are out of business.” I completely agree with that. Even a local lawn mower and a dry cleaner will have to use AI or go out of business because they won’t be able to compete with those that do.
We’re trying to give this tool to anyone who wants to use it. The price was expensive, but I’m the one that made it, so whatever. My dad, when I was a kid, made an onion weeder. Again, I’m a farmer born and raised on an onion farm in Oregon. My dad built this weeder, which weeded between the rows of onions.
If you’ve ever seen an onion farm, there’re long rows of onions. They’re close together in the middle, farther apart on the sides, and close together like pairs or triplets. Dad would weed the middle of it with an onion weeder. He welded it himself and put it on the back of the tractor. He cut off a discus or something to do it.
It did 85% of the work at the end of the day. We had to weed in between the different onions for the rest of the stuff. It was hot, with 105-degree temperatures in northeastern Oregon, pulling weeds. I got pictures of me out there and weeding. It was painful work. Why do all of this yourself when you can get most of it where you need it to be?
We’ve had four clients implemented so far, and none of them have dropped. All of them have gone up. Some have gone up a lot, others have gone up a little. But the larger URLs you have that are untouched, the more your domain is dragged down from the helpful content update.
Why didn’t you name it Onion Weeder?
That’d be great. We were talking about different ideas and names. I didn’t want it to be directly related to Loud if we wanted it to be a standalone entity eventually. It just came up at PagePerfect.
It was available, so I bought a bunch of different perfect domains. They got Blog Perfect for creating blogs. That’s multiple blogs.
We will create a 20-day to 31-day content plan based on keyword research, keyword clusters, and a hub and spoke scenario. That will be called Plan Perfect to get the plan, so planperfect.ai. It may work right now.
Blog Perfect is going to be helping you to create all the blogs for those 31 different content plans. We’re going to have Compose Perfect. In Compose Perfect, we make one blog post. All of these tools are two minutes of work at the most.
It’s not like Jasper, but it takes hours to get through blog posts of themselves. This takes two minutes.
Many people say, “Oh, it won’t be good. Try it. It’s a $10 minimum charge, allowing you to look at it. I did it for you.
I love their jackets. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a commercial from them. I’ve been unplugged from TV ads for almost 20 years.
Yeah, I don’t want TV ads. Before we go into specifics, I’d like to hear what you see as the durable competitive advantage. The term I learned from Warren Buffett is called a moat. It’s what protects your company from getting some competitor ripping off your idea and duplicating it, replicating it. What is your durable competitive advantage?
Twenty-five years of SEO expertise on a line-by-line basis is what you’re getting with what we’re doing. I challenge anyone else to make their tool, and that’s fine. Let us all battle which ones rank better and get better results. I wrote mine exactly how I have been telling clients to do stuff over the years.
It’s changed over the last 25 years, but that’s what you’re getting today. Nobody can beat that. Anyone else can build it from whatever mindset they want. This is made from SEOs.
Everyone on my team was all SEOs. You know some of the names, for sure. We built it with how we make 85% of our work go away. This is how we do it. We’ve tested it with some clients who were very kind to do it, and we got great results. I checked it myself.
It’s taken us six months, Stephan. That’s a long time, especially working every day on it.
Google should remove stuff if you want it removed from the internet.
Isn’t what you submit as a prompt to OpenAI, ChatGPT public information or at least available to OpenAPI to reuse?
You got to read those terms and conditions. It’s important. Everything you put into the form is publicly available information. We don’t ask for Google Search Console data. We don’t want to ask for any proprietary information. If you want to optimize your competitors’ website forums, go for it. It’s all publicly available.
We also get a voice doc from this whole thing, brand voice doc, which we get by crawling your website, the number of pages and doing some fancy prompting. It takes us about 60 to 90 seconds to get together a brand voice for you, which everyone’s blown away with. Like, “Wow, that’s exactly what we do. How did you know?” “Well, we scraped some of your best content, looked at it, analyzed it, and looked for certain things.”
Another one we’re going to have is Voice Perfect, where you can look at inclusive content as well, making sure that you’re writing content that seems inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community and not having any racial issues inside your content.
We like to put some excluded words in there. We’re adding content or adding the field for competitors. Sometimes the AI will write about a competitor on an ecommerce site. It’s the last thing you want. We’re going to put that in there. You can put a whole list of competitors’ URLs in there. Then we’ll find all the different brand names for those URLs and create all those stop words in the content. That’s what we’re doing on that side of things.
We’re trying to think ahead. Having 20-plus domains of the current Loud set of clients to test this helps. It allows us to get some real-world knowledge back of what happens when you try and push it live.
Do you think ChatGPT can be used for ORM purposes? Have you been big in the online reputation management space?
Yeah, it’s easy on that side. You can use it both for good and evil. On the good side, it helps you to speed up the creation of content and gives you a lot of smaller domains that will be relevant to the person’s name or company name. You can use it for that. But it can also be used nefariously, where you just make things up about another Brent Payne that doesn’t exist, like Brent Payne country music star, for example, that may or may not truly exist. He does, but there’s a fun riff for a second there.
You could do something like that. You can set up a persona of what the person is, feed it that information, and then get a bunch of false positives on a name. You could cover up some stuff if you wanted to in the ORM space. That’s only if you’re passionate about it in the industry.
Google should remove stuff if you want it removed from the internet. You’ve already gone through the legal, rigorous roar of the system. Why should you be punished for 20 years after you’ve already paid the fine, spent the time, whatever happened to you?
We decided as a society that the punishment for this crime is X number of years and X thousands of dollars. If you pay that, you should be done, and yet for 15 years, 20 years now, some people continue to pay a massive price, whether that’s someone who gets a DUI or makes a mistake in judgment. It’s not right.
I’ll always fight Google in every possible way; if that means making up fake people online to help someone move past the mistake they made seven years ago that they already cried and went through the emotional pain for, then yeah. I will do that—lesser of the two evils in that case.
Until Google wakes up and says, “Okay, our EU policy should be used worldwide because it’s the right thing to do.” The right to be forgotten is what the EU calls it, and we should have the right to be forgotten in the United States. Just because of freedom of the press does not mean that people should be punished for decades after they make a mistake.
AI will change our lives in the SEO industry.
These people can be punished for something they didn’t even commit. The coverage can be about their arrest, but it was a false charge. They’re led out, and that thing stays in Google forever because it was just about an arrest and not a conviction.
Yeah. I’ve had people that got two DUIs in one night. They went through the process. Either they were found guilty or won’t, depending on who the client is, and that should be the end. There you go, that’s what happened.
On the flip side, I’ve had people have a lapse of judgment on business stuff that it is not that big of a deal, but they continue to get out of that and show up at the top. I’ve had some companies that try and throw individuals under the bus repeatedly for years, and these individuals just want to move on. They’re not even part of that organization anymore, haven’t been for two or three companies, and they have to justify every HR interview. That’s just sad and wrong.
But I want to share something that your PagePerfect tool generated, and it’s the brand voice for Get Yourself Optimized. I’m just going to read this. It’s pretty short, but it’s pretty good.
You speak genuinely and authentically, providing valuable information while remaining relatable and friendly. You use a lexicon that’s easy to understand yet rich with knowledge. Your tone is positive, educational, and inspiring. You communicate complex ideas simply and engagingly, making your audience feel empowered and motivated. Your language style is conversational, informative, and uplifting. You are Get Yourself Optimized, the leading source of knowledge and inspiration for personal growth and life optimization. That’s spot on.
Thanks, man. We’re working hard trying to get this stuff right. I want a high-quality product that allows SEOs to feel comfortable using a tool that will make their job much easier. That means we’ll have to change our lives.
This AI will change our lives in the SEO industry, and I know that. Let’s leverage it for the advantages because the disadvantages will run us out anyway, so we could leverage it to get the advantages to hopefully wash out somewhere close to where we are now. That’s what we’re doing.
Awesome. All right. If our listener or viewer wants to work on their page optimization using your amazing tool, pagePerfect, where do they go? If they wanted to hire your agency, where would they go?
Pageperfect.ai, as well as much of other things. We’ll have somethingperfect.ai in the future, but pageperfect.ai is out there now. Feel free to check it out.
If you’re interested in hiring us as a traditional SEO firm, we’ve been doing it for a long time now, 11 years, and we are happy to help you guys on a monthly retainer basis. You get all the tools we already create free of charge when you become a retained client with us, so happy to discuss those at loud.us, or just email me. I’m pretty easy to find online. I’m happy to get you guys set up.
Stephan, always a pleasure. I appreciate it. Have yourself a great rest of your day. Thank you very much for having me.
It’s such a pleasure to reconnect with you. I look forward to seeing you again soon, hopefully. Listener, I hope you apply some of this stuff. At the very minimum, at least start playing with ChatGPT on at least a weekly, if not daily.
Start getting some experience under your belt. Otherwise, you’re just going to be leapfrogged by your competition. We’ll catch you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
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About Brent Payne
Brent D. Payne and his team have developed a way for AI to do your SEO at-scale. He will discuss their first publicly available tool, which optimizes all of the major content fields on every page of your site with only 2 mins of work from a human.