Episode 206: Michael Fertman explains the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization

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October 14, 2019

Our guest today is Michael Fertman, a marketing consultant who runs The B2B Marketing Group based in New York City.

In today’s episode, Michael explains the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

If you are looking to have your website ranked higher in search engine results, and SEO is a bit of a black box to you, then this episode could be a good place to start.

You can learn more about Michael’s work on his website, theb2bmg.com.


Will: Hello, Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael: Hi, Will, thank you for having me today.

Will: So, Michael, thanks for coming on the show to talk about search engine optimization. You’re not like just an SEO guy. Before we kind of get into that, where I ask you to kind of give me a 101 on search engine optimization. What independent consultants need to know. Before we get into that, give us an overview of your practice.

Michael: Sure. So I’m a independent consultant operating as B2B Marketing Group, and my career has all been in B2B product marketing, product management, and marketing. Mostly in the SaaS technology world and also in the professional services world that we’re in for larger professional services firms. And so I position myself as a revenue growth consultant for B2B, SaaS businesses, primarily that are VC-backed.

Will: Yeah, and I love the way you kind of described it to me earlier, as you really focus on B2B for companies that have a zero cost of goods sold. You’ve really defined your niche in a way that one would expect a professional marketer to do. So, you know, it’s so important to have a fishing line. We’ve talked about that in other episodes with David Fields about really getting a fishing line, and yours is a great example. So if we have some time at the end of the show, maybe we can talk about some of the other pieces that you do.

Will: Just one little segment of what you would work on would be search engine optimization, but like to explore that in some detail. So, myself, a lot of my listeners will have a website that they’ve put together. Maybe they got some help. And almost every day, you get two or three people reaching out on LinkedIn saying, “Oh, let me help you on search engine optimization for your website.”

Will: And we know we would love to get more incoming leads. We’d love to get more organic search, but it’s kind of hard to know what to do. I’ll turn it over to you. Kind of give me the 101 on what’s the 80/20 on what an independent professional should know on how to optimize the website for doing better to show up in search.

Michael: Great, Will. Thanks. So it’s interesting in that while SEO isn’t generally the primary lead channel for people like us, I have found in almost every client I’ve worked with, and including myself, that there’s low-hanging fruit to do just what you said. The 80/20, the handful of key things that will boost your search results.

Michael: And probably one of the most important things that comes up front… you’ve kind of talked about it, I think, in your very first podcast… is about naming your company and choosing your name. And I think it can be that the name itself can be informed by the positioning you’re going to do for SEO and vice versa. So I think what’s very important is to define a niche in terms of your keywords that will help you be found by your customers, and that really narrows things down for you. And I think of it as, what do you do, where do you do it, and for who, and it really helps you to have that depth.

Michael: So, for example… and I’ll just use myself as an example… I’m a marketing consultant, but that’s a pretty broad category. So to be more easily found, I think about well, where am I a marketing consultant? And I’m in New York. And who do I do it for? And I do it for B2B SaaS companies. So when I think about what we would call a long tail search term, it’s on a B2B, SaaS, CMO, in New York City. And if you were to Google that, you’ll find my LinkedIn profile comes up number one, and two different pages from my website are going to be number two and number three. And again, the more specific, the better.

Michael: So when I think about people on the phone, I would imagine almost everyone would consider themselves a strategy consultant, or many will. Well, what kind of strategies and operations? Is it marketing? Is it sourcing? So operations’ strategy, but what industry? Is it consumer goods? Is it manufacturing? Is it the chemical industry? So you know having that really nailed down for yourself makes a big difference, selecting your niche, being specific.

Michael: And now when we get into the actual what are we going to do and implement? It starts with your domain name. Like, for me, my domain name actually doesn’t quite cut it because I couldn’t buy it, B2B Marketing Group. And so, in my case, I don’t even have that going for me. It’s theb2bmg.com. But if you’re able to kind of weave it into your domain, that’s very helpful.

Michael: Then on just your home page, you most definitely need just the lead on that page somewhere above the fold that Google is going to pick up, is a phrase that explains what you do and for whom. So, in my case, marketing strategy for B2B SaaS companies. Right? Something like that.

Michael: Then as you consider what is underneath that, right… So if I’m a marketing strategy consultant, who do I do it for? Or what are the different aspects of that? And I’m just throwing out some terms that are relevant to me that people might search for: go-to-market strategy, pricing strategy, digital marketing strategy. And it really helps then to have a separate page for each of those, and what happens is your URL, right, will be something like b2bmarketinggroup/gotomarketstrategy, /pricingstrategy, /digitalmarketingstrategy. And what appears in the URL is very powerful.

Will: So then if somebody is searching for go-to-market strategy, if that’s actually in your URL, that will tell Google that sort of… Google will give you extra points if it’s actually part of your URL, what someone searches for.

Michael: That’s exactly right. And this is an area that you’re not going to be alone. Many other people will have done the same things. But what’s fascinating to me actually is… and especially for what I’m going to talk about next… is how few companies actually do that. It really is the 101. It is the 80/20. That I will go into a company, in a business, that sells whatever widgets they sell, they just haven’t done it. In B2B, consumer, they have to.

Michael: And what is also fascinating… And I think this is important for people getting started and just doing a website for the first time. If you pay somebody to do it, the agency’s never… I have never seen an agency that develops websites that takes the SEO into account when they’re building it out. And it’s specifically the area I’m about to talk about in a moment. I guess the point is that it’s kind of on all of us to at least know these basics, and make sure that they’re being taken care of.

Michael: So I’m going to talk about the two really important pieces that you can almost do if you don’t want to do any research, and you just know how you want to be positioned, and you’re not going to think about, “Well, how many searches are on these different keywords?” and you’re just going to get to it. What I’m about to tell, you can do in two or three hours or less, and once you’ve decided, you know, what it is you want to be found for. So should I jump into it?

Will: Let’s jump in.

Michael: The next part?

Will: Yeah, let’s go.

Michael: Yeah. So there’s a term metadata, and it’s the information that you don’t see on the website. But if you were to actually, like in Chrome, go to the view, developer, view source, you actually can on any website see the code that the browser is looking at.

Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael: But you don’t need to do that, but I’m explaining that’s what this is. The way it manifests itself, in the day-to-day, is if you do a search on anything, right, you see a headline. In the 10 results on that page, you see a headline, and then you see some text underneath. And that headline is the single most important thing that you can control that will have the biggest impact on your SEO. You know for the amount of time you put in and the amount of a boost you’ll get, it’s absolutely critical.

Michael: If we go back to the what I do, for who, and where, to the extent that all three of those items are in your headline, and what it’s called behind the scenes… All right, so the extent that those three are in the headline are going to have the biggest impact, and particularly the what and for who. The where is a little less important. And by the way, Google kind of picks up on that because somewhere on each page, you’re going to have your address and that kind of information anyway.

Michael: So it’s called a title tag. And most people here will have most likely your website. Your website is in… done in WordPress or in Wix. And each of these have a very easy tool to be able to actually change that title tag. In fact, if you have a WordPress site, typically there’s a SEO plugin called Yoast where you can change this. So let me stop there and see if that kind of… What I’ve said so far makes sense.

Will: Yeah. So you should have this title which is something… A title tag, which is hidden to normal view, but you can look at it if you look at the… kind of the developer to kind of get it. Give me a couple examples of a good title tag.

Michael: You know the best way to find them is to do a search and see what shows up, and what’s ever on page one, those are some of the best. Right? There’s another piece to it, by the way, which probably bears a discussion, maybe a completely separate discussion around optimizing your LinkedIn profile for SEO, which I’ve done.

Michael: So when I enter B2B, SaaS, CMO, my LinkedIn profile is what actually shows up at the top of the page. Number three is my website, and what it says is, “New York City, B2B SaaS marketing, B2B Marketing Group, consulting.” So the term CMO isn’t actually even in my title. However, there are other things I’ve done that make that pop. And then my AngelList profile shows up on page one as well.

Michael: And I’ll give you another quick example which is… There’s a term that folks use that is a fractional CMO. And so if I do B2B, fractional CMO, NYC, which is very specific. Right? I’m going to get my LinkedIn profile number one, my company LinkedIn profile number two, my home page number three, my AngelList number four. And now how often is that search done? Not often, but when it is, I show up at the top.

Will: Yeah.

Michael: And as a side note, it shows that it’s a great… It’s an absolutely fantastic product demo when I’m on the phone with somebody talking about SEO. Right? I’ll say, “So here’s an example. Just Google, B2B, SaaS, CMO. I should be in the top three.” I know I’m going to be number one. Which then is self-fulfilling because people click on it, and so that tells Google that when people do that search, that my result is a relevant one, and those are the things Google looks at.

Michael: So there’s that headline. There’s also the body underneath those two words… Or excuse me, the body underneath. It’s like two lines. That is important too because that’s where you tell people what’s on this page, and then people decide whether they want to click through or not.

Will: Okay. So if we’ve built a website, the key is we should be… You know maybe we built it. We had someone build it for us. You should check that developer code and look at what that title tag says, and look what the body says, and make sure it includes all of our keywords and our fishing line kind of stuff.

Michael: That’s right. Because here’s what they’re going to do if you don’t tell them otherwise. And it’s especially on those other… You know it’s not the home page. So for the about, as an example, it’ll say, “b2bmarketinggroup/aboutus.” Well, that’s not very differentiating to Google. You know about anything. So that’s not the right title tag. Whoever’s developing your site, it’s just going to automatically kind of show up that way, unless you do something different, and it’s those additional pages where you can make some headway.

Michael: You know an example for myself was I found at one point that if you googled me, Michael Fertman, my website didn’t necessarily show up in the results. So I simply, on my About Us page… I changed the tags to make sure I would show up, and so in my case, I added my name to it. It seems simple enough. Even though my name certainly appeared quite a bit on my site, it wasn’t there.

Michael: And in my case, the name of my company helps the SEO, right, because it’s B2B Marketing Group. You know that gives me a big head start. So like my About Us is B2B Marketing Group, consultants, and then my name.

Will: Let’s go to the next topic that you’d laid out, internal tagging. Tell me about that.

Michael: This is the next piece that is easy. It tells Google quite a bit, and will get you a lot of great results. There’s a term called anchor text, and that’s when you see the words that actually appear in a hyperlink. They tell Google a lot. So if, for example, I want to be found for marketing strategy, and there are links to a specific page, and the links say, “Marketing strategy,” that is going to boost your search engine optimization for those terms and related terms.

Michael: There’s another thing that we can’t see at all, which is the photos on your page. They can hold metadata as well. And behind the scenes in WordPress, Wix, or any of those tools, you can add metadata to those photos. It’s low-hanging fruit. It’s easy. It’s fast. You know it’s the next biggest thing, so to speak, that you can do.

Michael: So on a page, every photo should have a tag that includes the keywords you want that specific page to be found. And you don’t want them to be… Multiple photos are all the exact same metadata. But you can spin it around, even just changing the order of the words. This is something no one’s going to ever see with their eyes, but Google will see it. So it’s not important that it’s a real phrase, but that you got the right words in there.

Michael: And then the other piece then is to… Let’s say I have six pages in my website, just a brochure [inaudible 00:18:35]. And I have a page that’s on pricing strategy. Well, on every other page, if I mention pricing strategy or some spin on those terms, I’m going to put a hyperlink on those that point to that page. So if I have six pages, all five of the others will ideally point back to that sixth page using similar terms, so that tells Google that’s what that page is about.

Michael: If you’re blogging, once you’ve done the basics, as you blog with each blog post, it gives you greater opportunity to do this. Each blog post is actually its own page. And so this is kind of a basic rule of thumb is, every blog post, you should have two links pointing to other posts or pages in your website. You should have two other pages on the website linking back to the blog on the topic that the blog is about.

Michael: And this next piece is not necessarily well-researched to the effect it has. But if you have two links out to, let’s say, sources you use, and that those sources… you want them to be very high traffic, relevant websites that are… For example, if you’re a fractional CFO, to link back to CFO Magazine. And then there’s this concept of… That the links open in a new window that are important because you don’t want to send someone off your page. You just want to open up a new window.

Michael: I would say that blogging is by far… You know once you’ve got the basics down, I think that’s the most in your control and has a very big impact. I worked for a company, AlphaPoint, and we wanted to… This is an obscure term, but we wanted to be found for real estate tokenization, and we had three different blog posts related to that, and it boosted us immensely from not appearing at all. So those are the things that are well within our control.

Michael: And then the last thing that’s also well within our control is just having your business listed on various directories. Manta is one that’s free, your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile should all link back. And then one little trick is to post slide shares on… there’s a website for… I think it’s… It used to be slideshare.com. I don’t know what it is now.

Michael: You could post presentations, and then what you do is at the end of the presentation, you have links that include those keywords that you want your pages to be found for, and you have five different… You know learn about pricing strategy, and that’s a link, and it goes to your pricing strategy page, and so forth, and that’ll boost you.

Michael: Those are all within your control. The very last thing I would say is… I mentioned blogging in general, but before you publish those posts, see if you can get them posted somewhere else instead. So if you’re a fractional CFO, and you wrote a great post, maybe it can be a guest post in CFO Magazine, or something like that. And that’ll really get you a nice boost, and you’ll reach a new audience, and you’ll be boosting your own personal brand by doing so.

Will: So how important is it to have inbound links, to have other sites pointing to your site?

Michael: Well, that’s the other part of the 80/20. Right? So I gave you the 80% of the result you get for 20% of the effort.

Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael: It’s those external links that will move you immensely to get from the… But that’s the 80% of the effort to get you that extra 20%, so it’s very hard to do. There are firms that will say they can help you with link building and that sort of thing. I find that, in our world, it’s not very helpful. It’s the real world blocking and tackling of having people, other sites, refer to yours that are in a… What I would just say a very real way. Whether that’s being on a directory of certain kind of consultants, having a relevant trade association link back to you either because you wrote a blog for them, or because you’re someone they write about. Those kinds of things… Having some of those will be the most powerful.

Michael: There’s another thing I didn’t mention in terms of keywords that is also something to consider in blog copy and copy on the site is, not just what you do, but what problems you solve. A very fun word that people are always searching for is like template. I’m looking for a pricing calculator template. I am looking for HR compliance checklist. Checklists and templates, and if you do those in the course of your work, and then you post them as content that people can get from you, they’ll attract a whole separate, additional group of folks.

Michael: But these are things, I think, I consider kind of the 201. We could certainly explore all of those. But what I was trying to cover today was the things I can do this week that will boost my standing. And by the way, in picking those handful of keywords, those aren’t going to be the only things you’re found for, but by staying focused, iterations of those terms, will be kind of where you get most easily found.

Will: One question is, if you pick a competitor firm of yours or find another firm that maybe seems a little bit more sophisticated than your own firm, is there a way to find out what keywords that firm is really targeting, and how that firm is being found by people searching? So then you can say, “Oh, those keywords-

Michael: Yes.

Will: They’re selling the same stuff as I am. You know they’re smarter than I am, so let me just cheat and like copy what they’re doing and try to tackle the same keywords that they’re tackling. How do you go about that?

Michael: A lot of people use a tool called SEMrush, semrush.com. I use something similar called ahrefs.com, and the name of that’s actually the beginning of every piece of metadata. It says, “ahref” in HTML behind the scenes. That’s where they get their name. And I use it where I can enter any website name, and what I will then see in the results, to look at their organic search terms, and I’ll see all the terms for which they rank, the average position of that rank, and the number of monthly searches for those terms.

Michael: Like so for me, there’s a company that’s much bigger. That kind of positions themselves as… They position themselves as “fractional CMOs.” It’s called Chief Outsiders. Right? So I’ve looked at what they do. And in fact, when I first did my site, I didn’t know as much as I do now. I did it like four years ago. And it’s time for me to change my keywords because I now see… Now that I’ve started using these tools, they’re better terms than the ones I’ve been using. And the way I’ve discovered that is by looking at the competitors, seeing where they rank, and seeing the amount of traffic.

Michael: So then what you do is… Then you look at those pages. You look at the metadata that they’re using. You look at what they’re writing about. And probably what’s even the most important actually is seeing… and this is part of the 80% of the effort to get that last 20% is, what are outside websites… Which ones are pointing to them? And it gives you a sense of who you might target for a guest blog post, or to find a way to somehow get mentioned on their sites.

Will: So your tool will tell you… You pick a competitor, and you can find out all of the other websites that are pointing to that firm’s site.

Michael: Yes.

Will: Okay.

Michael: Exactly.

Will: All right. That’s pretty cool.

Michael: So, yeah, and this is the kind of thing where someone like me… It’s still kind of almost 101ish for me because I’ve done it so often, that I could look at another site. I can see how they rank relative to mine. I mean just as an example like Chief Outsiders has 815 websites pointing back to them. Another big agency that’s in… That does B2B is Heinz Marketing. They have 2,000 websites pointing back to them with 51,000 links. I mean I can’t compete with that as an individual. The way they get there is they write a lot of content, and then they get found for it.

Michael: So while on that topic, I could just tell you that the easiest, best way to get pointed to by many other firms is to have some unique statistic that you’ve researched. That other people will want to use in their own articles. So they’ll refer to… And I don’t have this. But in a study by B2B Marketing Group, they found that 15% of SaaS businesses have trouble pricing, or whatever it may be. That’s not a great example.

Michael: But I know because I’ve written a lot of white papers, that I have found where I’m trying to find a specific fact to back me up, and I’ll… What I’ll end up finding is 20 different articles refer to a specific statistic, and they all point back to one particular page because they’re the only folks who’ve come up with that statistic or factoid that’s backed by research. So to the extent that you find something like that, that you can publish in a blog post, that’s data driven, things like that will get you a lot of backlinks and referring domains without you necessarily trying so hard to get them.

Will: So either do some original research, have some unique statistics, or more broadly, just have some useful stuff on your website that people actually want to read and recommend helps obviously.

Michael: Yes.

Will: All right, fantastic. Well, Michael, we could… I know that SEO is just one small sliver of what you do, and we could spend more time talking about other areas, and I’d actually love to have you back on the show to talk about some of that stuff. I know our time’s up right now. And we’ll definitely include your website in the show notes, and thanks so much for being on the show.

Michael: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.