SEM, SEO and data – they’re the holy grail of the modern marketer’s strategy tool kit. Yet, the struggle to understand and effectively implement them at a tactical level is all too real.
This week on The CMO Show, hosts Mark Jones and JV Douglas are joined by Aaron Agius, managing director at Louder Online – and an expert in just about every field of online marketing. “It’s not just about throwing links at an average website and thinking that’s all you need,” he said when talking about the realities of SEO and web-based marketing.
The struggle that modern marketers face is trying to marry online marketing and data-driven decisions from a strategic point of view, to tangible results and tactical processes, Agius told Jones and Douglas.
“A really basic strategy that’s highly effective is create content that answers questions and solves problems in your industry,” Agius said. “If you’re doing that you’re going to be providing value so it’s as simple as that.”
Adding that, “In order to rank well you need links from great sites, in order to get links from great sites you need great content, in order to have great content you need a good strategy behind it and a good message and good story.”
Tune in to learn about the mistakes you could be making in online marketing and how to overcome them in a simple, cost-effective way.
- Louder Online blog
- 19 killer content marketing campaign strategies to drive massive traffic by Aaron Agius
- What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM? By Hubspot
The CMO Show production team
Producer – Megan Wright
Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee
Design Manager – Daniel Marr
Graphic Designer – Chris Gresham-Britt
Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Mark Jones (MJ)
Aaron Agius (AA)
Mark: In the studio today we have Aaron Agius, founder and managing director of Louder Online, and a friend of Filtered Media, welcome Aaron.
Aaron: Oh, and thank you for having me.
JV: Aaron, you’re a real expert when it comes to helping companies understand where their position is online and how they can improve it because we make a lot of crazy assumptions about how successful we are at promoting ourselves online don’t we?
Aaron: Definitely, and do a lot of stuff that also doesn’t move the needle. So there’s a lot of people going in a lot of directions that are not going to get results for them.
Mark: It strikes me that when you say I need an SEO agency – it strikes me a lot of people think they know what that is, you know, I’m going to go and get me some SEO. In your experience when they come to you with that question or that statement what do you say to them?
Aaron: We have to go through an education piece letting them know that, SEO is not what it once was, it’s not just about ranking at the top of Google. There’s so much more that goes into it in terms of having the right content, having something of value that you’re trying to get out there, having valuable, assets on your site that people can link to. There’s a lot that goes into SEO or online marketing that has changed over the years.
Mark: What you’re saying is that we’ve gone from just this “I need to be at the top of Google” to questions about “who are you and what are you doing”.
Aaron: Yeah, look SEO used to be something that you’d do to a website and it’s now the result of having a good business and being a good business.
Aaron: And, you know, in order to rank well you need links from great sites, in order to get links from great sites you need great content, in order to have great content you need a good strategy behind it and a good message and good story. There’s a lot that’s built into it now, it’s not just about throwing links at an average website and thinking that’s all you need.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve heard this described as the sort of technical hygiene work, right, so making sure there’s no broken links, and SEO agencies used to sort of sell this technical solution, right?
Aaron: Yeah, there’s definitely still a technical piece, that’s never going to go away but it’s not something that you do non-stop, you know, you do it when you’re in the first month of an engagement, you’re going through and making sure the hygiene factor is there, everything is set up right, there’s nothing slow or broken or bad or non-index-able or crawl-able.
JV: What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see committed again and again when it comes to SEO?
Aaron: Ah, there are a lot of them. I guess the most common ones are spam linking and using agencies that’ll do low value spam links and thinking that a link is a link is a link and, you know, doing an average blog comment link somewhere on a website is going to be the same as getting an editorially placed link on, you know, Forbes or Huffington Post or, you know, a huge website like that. They’re going out there and they’re finding cheap services that’ll do thousands of links, and guaranteed links, and it drives them towards a penalty and they’re getting kicked out of Google.
JV: Tell me about these penalties because there’s been a few times over the years where, I guess people have tried to game Google, and add tags or add different elements, to their websites and ultimately it’s become a failure. What’s going on there?
Aaron: There are quite a few different types of penalties you can get…
The most common one is the, manual penalty for unnatural links. So what that is is, exactly like you said, people trying to game the search engines and building loads of blog comment links or directory links or low value links that provide zero value to a visitor or you know, and do nothing else but try to game the algorithm. So Google’s come out and said – yeah, you know they’ve got their different ratios, their ways of investigating it, they’ve got a manual spam team, they identify if your site has these low value links and you can get penalised in one of two ways. They’ll either give you a partial penalty in which you won’t be able to be found for any of your target keywords but your brand name will still stick around the front page of Google usually.
And then they’ll give you the feared site wide penalty which is that you won’t be found on the first sort of five plus pages of Google for your brand or your keywords.
JV: It’s like being condemned to corporate exile.
Aaron: It destroys businesses, yeah.
You’re out of the index and so many businesses were just relying on that as their source of traffic and, you know, all their eggs in one basket sort of thing. I’ve seen so many businesses destroyed by it, it’s horrible.
Mark: So what’s the difference between SEO and then SEM in that context?
Aaron: Largely around the paid spend, SEM around sort of ad words and your paid ads, versus SEO being your organic rankings on the front page of Google.
You can’t buy your way to the top of the organic, listings. You need to be, doing the right thing, being the better business, it’s the whole competitive landscape. It’s actually what I enjoy about it more, and it’s an auction system in terms of getting your ads to the top of the ad section. The correlation between the two, – they’re not intertwined. If you’re doing ad words it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any more successful in SEO.
Aaron: So the connection is simply that they’re both ways of driving traffic through Google to your website.
JV: So in addition to sort of links that are poorly structured or irrelevant or effectively spam what are some of the other really common mistakes you see?
Aaron: Over optimising websites keyword stuffing on pages, trying to create data for the search engines as opposed to people.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve actually seen that with plumbers where they say, you know… Now servicing – and then they list like twenty suburbs or all of Sydney right on their front page. And you’re like oh…
JV: They’re quite clever about it but when you read through it you’re thinking hang on that actually doesn’t make any sense. Can Google figure that out, that you’re doing that?
Aaron: Yeah well look the thing is it works in terms of black hat SEO works and spam links work…
JV: Yeah, black hat SEO, I love it.
Aaron: It works until you get found out. And it varies depending on how aggressive you’re being. I don’t condone it, I don’t think it’s okay, you can, you know, wipe out businesses like I said before.
Trying to throw keywords all over your site that doesn’t make sense to the end user just because you’re trying to attract search traffic and…
Aaron: Yeah, you will get found out. There’s a lot of different algorithm updates that happen all the time, some key ones, there was Penguin around links, Panda around content and, you know, in terms of the Panda update around content that was going to be another answer for your question before, what’s a big mistake that people are doing, they’re just creating content for the sake of content.
You will get found out.
JV: So how do you create good content, what is good content when it comes to SEO?
Aaron: It’s the sort of content, as far as I’m concerned, that people naturally want to share and link to through their own websites. If those two things are happening and people are reading that content, and want to engage with it, you know, comments, sharing, those sorts of things, then that’s typically a sign for me that that’s good content and if it’s providing value to the reader then that’s content worth writing.
Mark: This has been part of the narrative for quite some time but more intentionally saying help me build up my audience, yeah, help me actually build the number of subscribers, you know, to my newsletter or get more leads in the door, all that kind of stuff. There’s been a greater connection between the content production and, if you like, the end results…
Aaron: Yeah, well I mean SEO is definitely a part of it, you know, it’s – it’s the whole SEO content marketing, they’re all sort of one and the same and…
Aaron: Yeah, in terms of content, the strategy, a really basic strategy that’s highly effective that we use is, create content that answers questions and solves problems in your industry. If you’re doing that you’re going to be providing value so it’s as simple as that.
Mark: Now we’ve kind of been talking about this but is there a very quick list of dos and don’ts in SEO? So we kind of summarise part of what we’ve been saying and I’m sure you might think of other things.
Aaron: Don’t do link spam and don’t use cheap agencies or cheap outsource agencies. Another thing that really grinds my gears is people using, the agencies that’ll give you set packages and so here’s ten keywords that we’ll focus on for you for five hundred bucks or fifteen. I mean a good 90% of, traffic that we see on almost every website comes through long tail keywords not these head terms that people try and focus on. So a good campaign is built around let’s make sure that you’re creating content for all of those long tail keywords over a long period of time and your head terms. So anyone that focusses on those sort of, packages, you know, rubs me up the wrong way.
JV: So long tail keywords, what is that exactly?
Aaron: Keywords that, are four/five keywords long.
JV: Like phrases?
Aaron: Yeah, phrases, so, like a twenty four hour emergency plumber in Sydney… There’s a lot different search volume behind that compared to plumber Sydney, right, there’s going to be a lot more for plumber Sydney but this is a lot more specific, it’s geo-targeted, it’s time sensitive, there’s a lot more specificity behind that search. But it’s going to have fewer searches behind it and there’s going to be so many more of these long tail keywords out there that you’ve got to be targeting as many as possible, i.e. have a content strategy.
Mark: Yeah, then the dos.
Aaron: Definitely have a content strategy…
Mark: Ding, yeah…
Aaron: Do white hat link building. Sustainable white hat link building that it’s going to keep you out of harm’s way.
I think those are the two really key things, keep your site optimised, don’t over-optimise it, set it up once, make sure you’re on a fast loading website.
JV: What about when you’re looking for an SEO partner what are the red flags? Like you mentioned these sort of packaged services as being a potential red flag, what are some of the other red flags that people need to be aware of when they’re looking for partners that really should warn them to stay away?
Aaron: So any SEO agency that has no focus on content, is an old school agency. It’s hard to do the job you got to do in the right way if you’re not doing any focus on content. So that’d be a red flag for me. Not doing link reports, showing where they’re getting links from, how they’re getting links, because if they’re hiding links then they’re likely to be doing the wrong sort of link building, yeah.
There’s a lot of companies who’ll say we use proprietary methods that we can’t share and so on and so forth, and I’d be running for the hills.
It’s not a cheap process, not a cheap service but it’s really worth it.
JV: What about for some of your smaller micro businesses, Google, we’ve had it described here as the real estate agent of the digital age, you know – they’re the ones that sort of give you position and give you location which is crucial if you’re a smaller business. How can they afford or get access to the sorts of smarts they need in order to ensure that they’re in the right position when it comes to search?
Aaron: If there’s no budget there for it there’s a lot of stuff they can do on their own.
Aaron: There is a lot of different local associations that you can get links from that you can, help sponsor or help work with, in order to get links back to your site – they’re decent for local businesses.
And then guest blogging. So if you’re writing for your own website, which you need to be, you know, have a company blog, also reach out to relevant sites around the web and say hey I’d love to contribute a piece and send content to them. In that content link back to relevant sources, one of which would be your own website. There you go, your link building is taken care of, use a nice, reliable platform that’s great for SEO like WordPress for your website.
JV: So tell me a bit about your background because the whole idea of working in SEO really hasn’t been around for all that long.
Aaron: I didn’t intend on getting into SEO specifically, and I’m not in SEO anymore, I’m in online marketing…
But I intended on getting into online marketing initially. So my wife and I were in Thailand and we were on an island, we’d sold our houses and we were sitting there on four months away and thinking we needed to find a way to be able to do this permanently, as in live on a cheap currency and earn a strong currency. So the whole geo-arbitrage sort of play. And, my wife was in marketing and I was in IT and we thought there’s people making money online, there’s people doing it. So we came back to Sydney and she supported us for a year and about four months into that year I was learning everything I could about online marketing trying to stick it all together. About four months in, ah, we made 40 cents online one day and, we were jumping around.
Aaron: I was going nuts because, what…
Mark: Was that through Google or something?
Aaron: Ah, affiliate marketing, so yeah driving Google traffic, through to, a hotels and accommodation website.
So what we knew then, why we were so excited is that we knew that if the internet is almost infinitely scalable and really highly automated can be, so we knew that, you know, we could take that and grow it to something big and the very next day we made $400 online and it just continued on from there. Eventually people saw us doing what, we were doing for our own websites and said well you could do that for us, tell me how to do it for us.
So the consulting arm opened and we went from small business through to the biggest companies in the world like Sales Force and IBM, etcetera.
JV: Well this is the thing about online marketing too, is that as much as you’d like to it’s not something that you can be a specialist in while you’re doing all the other things associated with your business because the algorithms are constantly changing, the technology is constantly changing, it really is an area that you need to bring in an expert, and I’m wondering when it comes to being an expert in online marketing how much reading do you have to do on an ongoing basis? Like this it’s constant research isn’t it?
Aaron: Yeah, it’s unbelievable amounts.
Aaron: I spend a lot of my time just reading new posts and new, forums – just whatever I can to stay on top of things and someone in any agency someone needs to be doing that to be staying on top of everything that’s going on in the industry.
Mark: Which is a good launch point to my next question which is what’s next?
I guess because we’re asking about the next big thing in terms of from a marketing perspective, a CMO perspective, what are they looking for, what do you see coming in terms of how they want to engage with this broader content world?
Aaron: I see personalised delivered content in the right way when it’s done successfully is going to be amazing.
Mark: Right, and I’m wondering how many from your perspective, how many, you know, marketers do you see really getting their head around that idea?
Aaron: I see many getting their head around the idea and very few actually being able to deliver on that. There’s a lot of people that are coming to us now saying that we want that all-encompassing process, that strategy, the fact that the blog is not just a dumping place for PR or, you know, where we’ve…
JV: Quick, got to write a blog…
Aaron: Yeah, yeah or three to five hundred words and, you know, but actual proper content that’s built around a brand and a story and it fits in with a bigger strategy.
It is, the hardest bit is that there are marketers that are understanding those risks and I think it’s like a generational change as well, people are understanding that but then trying to sell that into the C-Suite is where they run into brick walls.
Mark: So give us an overview then of the tools that you need, if you’re a marketer looking at this space what should you be doing?
Aaron: How about just the tools I use, there’s a lot of tools.
SEM Rush is great, you use AH Refs for, link profile audits. Ah, we use Deep Crawl for a lot of technical audits, and it goes through a website and finds every single problem.
We use, a lot of our own tools that we’ve built around content for content audits to be able to pull data from analytics and, be able to map it across to say that this type of content and this length of content gets the best results and we can develop some really good data around those, audits.
Mark: Excellent, well there’s some great tips there. It also strikes me that, we’re actually talking about a real focus on data driven SEO content brand strategy, this roll of analysing the data that we’ve got has taken centre stage, what are your thoughts on that?
Aaron: I love it.
Mark: Says the data guy, right.
Aaron: Yeah, look the only thing you can base anything off is real numbers, and it really maps out what we do in terms of our content strategies and our direction with our link development and how we’re going to market our clients’ sites.
It’s the feedback loop, it’s not, we think this content’s going to be good, it’s proof that it’s going to be good, that it has been good in the past and that it’s going to drive results.
Mark: Now there’s some really awesome advice in there and thank you for your tips as well.
Aaron Agius thank you so much for coming in and spending some time with us, all the best with Louder…
JV: Mm-hm, thank you so much.
Aaron: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Mark: We’re nearly out of time but Aaron something that we like to do here is twenty one questions, you don’t want to do this do you, I can see…
Aaron: No, no I’m up for it.
Mark: We’re going to ask you – it’s twenty one questions, it’s rapid fire, so I’ll ask one and then JV’s going to ask one, you ready?
Mark: What are you grateful for?
Aaron: My wife and family.
JV: Do you like rain?
Mark: In the movie of your life who would play you?
Aaron: No idea, Johnny Depp.
JV: Beach or mountain?
Mark: What’s your greatest career fail?
Aaron: Oh, working for someone else, I’m really bad at it.
JV: Chocolate or strawberry.
Mark: Best ever career advice?
Aaron: Follow your passion, you’ll turn it into something valuable.
JV: Summer or winter?
Mark: Who is your hero?
Aaron: I – no, I’m out, sorry.
JV: Scrunch or fold?
Mark: If you weren’t a marketer you’d be a…?
Aaron: I was a fireman.
Mark: You were a fireman?
Aaron: I was.
JV: Oh this gets better.
Mark: Oh see now there’s something I didn’t know about you.
JV: What did you have for breakfast?
Aaron: Bacon and eggs.
Mark: What would you rather have had?
Aaron: Wow, I was pretty happy with bacon and eggs, I had salmon as well so that was – I was, yeah, happy with that.
JV: What was the last conversation you had with your parents?
Aaron: About my mum’s 60th birthday.
Mark: If you could change one thing about the marketing industry what would it be?
Aaron: To get rid of the crap and focus on what matters.
JV: Can you ride a bike?
Aaron: Yes, and a unicycle.
Mark: Oh, bonus points for unicycle. What’s your greatest frustration?
Aaron: Not having enough time to do everything that I wish I could do.
JV: Dogs or cats?
Mark: Touch – touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell – which would you sacrifice to save the rest?
JV: What’s your favourite book?
Aaron: Oh, too many but I will say a pivotal one was the Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris.
Mark: And if you had to change your first name what would you change it to?
Aaron: I like my first name. I’ll go with Mark.
Mark: You don’t meet too many Marks these days, it’s a very Gen-X kind of a name, yeah. I’m calling it classic.