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Eli Schwartz Product-Led SEO Interview

In this interview, Eli Schwartz discusses product-led SEO, quality content, keyword alignment and PR strategies, and more.

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I am happy to welcome Eli Schwartz, a Product-Led SEO expert to the EMJ Podcast. 

In this episode, we get insights from Eli Schwartz on business positioning and strategies to help your website copy be relevant to online users.  

Today’s Guest

Eli Schwartz

I am extremely happy to welcome Eli Schwartz, a Product-Led SEO expert, to the EMJ SEO Podcast.

You’ll Learn

Here are some of the questions I asked Eli:

  • In the Strategic SEO chapter of your book, you gave some insight into how business owners with no customers could run a survey to get deeper insights into what customers wanted. I was hoping you could tell our listeners about this.
  • In your book: you talk about Product-Led SEO as “Blue Ocean SEO”. Can you please explain what this is to the audience?
  • In digital marketing, there is always talk about niching down. Can you please explain how Product-Led SEO does exactly this with customer feedback?
  • Can you explain how this can shift the direction of the products or services the business is offering and its online content?
  • For businesses who have content online, how do they adapt to a Product-Led SEO strategy?
  • In your tactical SEO chapter, you talked about “Quality Signals” and “Contextual Relevance” related to backlinks. Could you provide more insight into what quality backlinks are in 2023 and the importance of topical relevance on the referring domain and page levels?
  • In your book, you talk about attracting links with a PR approach. Could you please explain what this means to our listeners, how they could take this approach, and why this is a better approach to most link-building strategies?
  • I would love it if we could talk a little bit about the end-user experience from queries in Google and the types of content they might expect to find on a website.
  • How do site owners showcase the correct content and content types for different stages of the buyer’s journey, and how does that all match the user’s query on Google?
  • Can you share some of your breakthrough moments in marketing and SEO?
  • Did any of these aha moments completely shift how you approached your business and marketing?


To learn more about Eli, check out his about me page on his website: https://www.elischwartz.co/about.

To learn about Eli’s book on Product-Led SEO, please visit the following page: https://www.elischwartz.co/book.

Product-led SEO Book By Eli Schwartz

Eli Schwartz BIO

Eli Schwartz is the author of Product Led SEO. He is an SEO expert and consultant with over a decade of experience driving successful SEO and growth programs for leading B2B and B2C companies. He helps clients like WordPress, Shutterstock, BlueNile, Quora, Getaround, Mixpanel, and Zendesk build and execute Global SEO strategies that dramatically increase their organic visibility at scale.

Website:     https://www.elischwartz.co/

Other Podcasts Eli Has been On: https://www.elischwartz.co/podcasts

LinkedIn:      https://www.linkedin.com/in/schwartze/

Twitter:      https://twitter.com/5le

Instagram:     https://www.instagram.com/byrule62/

Episode # 3 Transcript

[00:01] Announcer: This is a call to all current and aspiring entrepreneurs. How you market your business can be the difference between whether or not you succeed online. But don't worry, we're here to help with current strategies, tips, and tricks that you can apply to your online business or business idea. This is The EMJ podcast with your host, Matt Hepburn.

[00:30] Matt Hepburn: Hey there, breakthrough nation. Today we're going to drop value around SEO and organic search. Our guest today is Eli Schwartz, an SEO expert, author, and consultant who provides global SEO strategies that dramatically increase organic visibility at scale. I'd pay attention to this one. It's going to get hot. Welcome to the show.

[00:51] Eli Schwartz: Thank you for having me, Matt.

[00:53] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely. It's an absolute pleasure. Your book is an absolute joy. Had a pleasure reading it twice. The first time I kind of skimmed through it and went, well, I have that experience. And the second time I went, let me go into this in a little bit more detail and just look through it very much. And I found a lot of gems in there. I found a lot of gems and found a lot of alignment with kind of my working experience of where I've gone in the enterprise world. And I was fascinated. And there are a lot of different terms and the way you've done SEO that I have not done SEO. And one of the things I would lead in with as a question for you is one of the things you've really talked about is the customer data that you get from the business. Owners really need to get to get a really good understanding as to the intent of what the customers are looking for. And this can totally shape and change the paradigm of where the business is focused for listeners. If you could go into a little bit about this and explain the importance and how they might go about doing that, that'd be fantastic.

[02:12] Eli Schwartz: Yeah. So that's a great question and thank you for reading the book. Thank you for having me here.

[02:17] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely.

[02:18] Eli Schwartz: I got to say that if I would have known so many people are going to read the book, I would have written it differently and I would have incorporated, like, more viewpoints in the book, like proofread it. But I didn't really, like, solicit any feedback of, like, hey, you want to be interviewed for the book? Because I really didn't think I was writing a book that so many people would read. So I'm so grateful that it resonated with people. Absolutely inspired me to probably write another one, but that's to be determined. So as far as your question, I'd say it's important to really split the intent behind understanding customer data and the tactics behind understanding customer data. So the intent behind understanding customer data, I think that a lot of marketers, too many marketers and especially people within SEO roles, and I don't think people in SEO should necessarily be in marketing, but they are. But I think there's an especially a big problem when it comes to SEO is that they don't understand the customer because they're too focused on SEO data. They're too focused on keywords, they're too focused on analytics, and they're not putting their customer hat on when they're doing their SEO, when they're doing their marketing. So yesterday I had a conversation with the company and they were like, well, what kind of keywords should we write? And what are our blog posts should be? And I said, do people even buy your product from search? Do you know what they need? And that's the intent behind understanding the customer data. You have to create content, not just content for keywords, but content that resonates with where your potential buyer is in your buyer's funnel to bring them to the next stage, depending on what the product is. If it's $100,000 SAS software, they're probably not at the bottom of the funnel. If it's a ten dollar widget for your phone, they're probably at the bottom of the funnel. So really, you have to understand where the customer is in your funnel. Now, you can put your finger in the air and try to guess at it. But my tactic, and this is the tactic behind the intent, is to really understand the customer. So gather that customer data. So I think the easiest thing to do is to talk to your customer to really say, hey, and this is a great one. I've talked to females that worked in male oriented businesses and males that worked in female oriented businesses, and they look at data and they incorporate what their manager's Tad said to them, incorporate what the company says to them. Like, have you actually talked to your customer? Do you know how your customer is going to look for this kind of thing? So that's what I mean in my book. When I talk about survey data and talking to customers, talk to them, ask them, do you use the Internet to find this kind of thing? And if you use the Internet to find this kind of thing, are you using social media and just like, scrolling for recommendations? Are you clicking on ads? Are you Googling or Binging or whatever search engine you're using and then educating yourself and then deciding to go directly to the website? Or it is, but really understand that process. And I think that's what's missing too often is that the person that is doing this marketing and building the marketing doesn't really understand the customer because they have not tried to sit in their shoes. And one way of doing that is to talk to the customer. There's really you can do person on the street interviews and talk to an actual customer where you could do a survey. And when you do a survey, the intent behind the survey is not to do this super scientific sample size survey. It's really, if you understand the concept behind sample size. So you get rid of any margin of error and you reduce your margin of error. However, when you're creating a product, your margin of error should be really large to begin with. So you're creating a product that resonates with all Gen Z. So you want to talk to enough Gen Z that six out of ten. Gen Z said the same thing. It doesn't really matter whether it should have been seven out of ten or five out of ten. Actually five out of ten would be 50 50. But you get what I'm saying. It really you have to get enough information like, oh, this is good, now I understand how to create my content. It's not like I need to know the exact word and I really need to forecast this. So my prediction is perfect, I know who's going to become president next year. Totally doesn't that's not necessarily so a survey could really be a ten question survey, which you ask a bunch of people to answer and if they all sort of answer the same thing, that's good enough. You didn't need to scale that up to a proper sample size. If they answer different things, then maybe there was a new market there, everyone's answering something else. Maybe you do have to scale that up and get to appropriate sample size. But really, like, what I have found with these kinds of things is you're going to hear the same thing over and over if there's a market there.

[06:51] Matt Hepburn: So for businesses that are kind of struggling or they're just coming online, maybe they don't have a large customer base. You talked about different ways that businesses could actually do a survey. Could you tell the listeners a little bit about that? That be would fantastic.

[07:09] Eli Schwartz: So you don't need to do an actual survey. So like and the easiest freest survey would be to use Google Forms. Just ask a bunch of questions. There is like a little bit of methodology to writing a survey so you get useful answers. I'd say like, not everyone knows how to do that. I happen to spend seven years in a survey company, so I know how to do that. The basic thing is when you ask the question, you want to make sure the answer you get is indicative. And you know what it is a big mistake people make with surveys is to ask a double barreled question do you like when it's sunny and warm outside and someone answers yes. You're like, Was that sunny or is that warm? Because yes, double barreled. So avoid that. The next thing to really avoid is just to ask useless questions over and over. I find that people ask what's your gender? If it really doesn't matter for the product, then don't ask that gender. Basically you don't want to ask you these questions. But then again, I don't know that you necessarily need to do a survey. If you can go into a party and go to a bar and just ask ten people that are in your potential market, and you get data. Really, the important point is, are you gathering data or are you just guessing? Keyword research is just guessing, in my opinion.

[08:20] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, absolutely. For the companies that are not willing to physically go into a bar and do that, would you put Paid behind it? But then you're using keywords to actually target those specific users, but would you put Paid behind it in a specific way? Maybe going very broad.

[08:40] Eli Schwartz: So I actually always recommend that businesses spend as much money on Paid as possible before they ever do SEO. And the reason is because Paid helps you quickly determine product market fit, quickly, helps you determine your messaging, quickly helps you determine your ad copy. So if you do SEO and again, you're just guessing, you're like, this is what my market wants. This is what resonates with my market. And I know and everyone doing SEO knows it takes a long time for this to happen. They just have to get built and then indexed and then ranking, and then traffic needs to come in before you can really make a judgment call. It takes many months. I've seen it take two years. I've seen it take three months. Really depends. We're not talking about launch a single blog post and see where it goes. I'm talking about launching a product and really seeing if people search for this kind of thing. So if you do that with SEO and you're wrong, so you spend all this time and you're wrong, or if you're wrong, you actually won't get any traffic. So you're sitting out there waiting for results. And the fact that you haven't gotten traffic is actually the answer that you don't have product market fit or you don't search market fit, but you're like, well, I'm not indexed. I'm not ranking well enough, so I'm still waiting. So you continue to waste time. Whereas if you do this with Paid, you instantly, almost instantly know. Do people look for this kind of thing? Does this ad copy resonate? They land on this landing page. Are they willing to pay this price? Do they sign up? Do they turn? You get that full picture really quickly, within a month. You'll know, is the pricing right? Do people churn? Are the problems with the offering? Do they complain to customer service? Like, you get all that with SEO. It just takes too long. So I look at paid in any kind of paid So, like, social paid too. It's just a great way to learn about your customer and a great way to build your offering that you can then scale to search. And the best thing about Paid and search, definitely Paid search is it's the same person. It's just one's higher on the page, one's lower on the page. That person doing that search and clicking your paid ad could also click organic. So it's not like, well, the persona that clicks paid is not going to translate into the organic persona. No, they're the same. So if you figure out how to nail product market fit, how to really nail that search market and paid, you can nail it in organic. If it's not there, you'll find out quickly it's not there. And paid it.

[10:55] Matt Hepburn: No, that's awesome. I'm actually going to move on to your Blue ocean SEO, which I was really was amazing in the book. And if you could kind of explain to the listeners what product led SEO is and what the blue ocean SEO is. And I think their question is going to be once we get further down that funnel, is I've already got a website, I've already got content, how do I switch, how do I pivot to what this is? Right? So that's kind of where it's going to go. But I'm going to let you lead with the solution of product led SEO. I love the example in the book that you gave of the medical clinic that was pivoting based upon.

[11:46] Eli Schwartz: Yeah. So essentially what product led SEO is and how it differentiates from the way everyone typically does SEO is that product led SEO is you're building something, a tangible something for the search user. Where most people do SEO, and I touched on this earlier, is they use keyword research to build a content. They say they're building content for the user, but they're building the content because there's a keyword there and that's their SEO. A couple of problems with that. The biggest problem with that is that anybody with the same access to the keyword research hrs sunrush, they cost $120 a month, couple hundred dollars a month, depending on what you pay. Anyone can afford that. Most people can afford that. But then there's so many free keyword research tools. So if you're using Google Trends, it's free. Google keyword planner. That's free. So anybody who has access to the same research can build the exact same content. And by the way, AI content is the same thing. By lowering the cost barrier, everyone now has the same thing. So with your SEO strategy is I use keyword research. I'm in the widget space, and I'm going to build a bunch of content about widgets, and I'm going to be better because I'm going to have more content, or I'm going to be better because I'm going to have better pictures, or I'm going to be better because I really know how to build backlinks. That is not a strategy. That's just tactics in a vacuum. The second problem that I've seen with this, and I've been doing SEO for a really long time, is in almost every case, on something good. This doesn't work. So I come up with like, my blue widget. I want to make a blue widget and I'm better. I'm going to have better links. I'm going to do all that, and this is how much traffic I'm going to generate from it. I'm going to be ranked number one. You're not right. In most cases, you predict that you're going to do it, but you don't. Because search is organic. There's lots of rules that go into who's going to rank for what. Just because you think you reverse engineered it doesn't mean you actually did it. So those are my big two problems with the way a lot of people do SEO. It's like throwing a lot of things at the wall. It's and then you get a bunch of traffic. It's not sustainable. Instead, I like to think about again, what I call product. With SEO, you're creating an actual tangible product for the search user. You referenced the example I used in my book around the medical site. I'd rather talk about something which everyone can understand if they haven't read my book. Of course you could read my book, but Zillow is a great example. Zillow built a product that can only be arrived at by the search user, or initially could only be arrived at by the search user. So any user in the world that's looked, or sorry, in America that's looking for the valuation of their or their neighbor's home or whatever home, sometimes they drive down the street and look at a big house and I Google it and see how much it's worth. But anybody is looking for that kind of thing, you're not going to be paid for that. Social would be nearly impossible. You'd have to pinpoint someone's geotarget and figure out to show them that particular house. The best way to arrive at that is organic. So they built something for the organic user who's looking for the value of a home. That's the search asset, that's the product. So I like to think about any business that can do the exact same thing. What is the product that you're creating for that search user? Is it a video library? Is it a library of content? Is it a simple glossary? There's always something. And now bringing that into Blue Ocean SEO, some people think of Blue Ocean SEO as zero search volume keywords. Blue Ocean SEO is so much bigger than that. A zero search volume keyword is a single keyword or a single topic. Blue Ocean is really doing exactly what Zillow did and saying the way Zillow monetized, and they still monetize is with mortgage and real estate leads intangible products. So when Zillow started, they could have said, oh, the top keyword in our space is mortgage and mortgage loan and refi and all that. So what we're going to do is we're going to have better content. Instead, what Zillow said is, why do people want to get a refinance? Why do people need to get a mortgage? They need to buy a house. What's the best way to buy a house? Understand what it's worth. So they built a product for that search user, which then funnels all those people into the core product. So it's really deeply understanding that core search user and really understanding that product. Now, Zillow could have done a zero search volume keyword. Those have always existed. They could have said, well, it's mortgage Rehy for military mortgage refi for senior citizens. Like those might be zero search volume keywords, and they could have just created content around that. But instead they created a blue ocean, which is just I didn't invent the term blue ocean. It's based on a book, Blue Ocean Strategies, which defines a red ocean as a place that's highly competitive. So you're a food delivery service or you're a food truck, and everyone else's food trucks, you need to be different by having different food or better prices or better location, but essentially you're just a food truck. Or you could upend that entire model and be something completely different and not be a food truck. You could be a delivery service, which let's say when those came out, that didn't exist. So that's the blue ocean. So this book talks about it. It's written by professors. It's sort of dry. I adapted this towards SEO, which is everyone else that's going after mortgage is building content around mortgage loans. Instead you're going to build content around the values of houses. They started that over a decade ago, and they still dominate. And I think in every space you could potentially be in, there's an opportunity for blue ocean SEO. Even better than that, every blue ocean SEO then becomes a red ocean. So lots of people try to do the Zillow thing, which then creates further opportunities for Blue Ocean. So it's endless because as users get trained on this concept of I can find this on search, then there becomes other things that they want to find in the search. And that's why I think search will never die. And that's why I think TikTok will never overtake search, because unless TikTok does specific search, but videos is just finding videos and getting educated passively by videos, I don't think we'll ever take search because this is the best way of, oh, I really want to find something. And Google is not building content around that. They're just indexing content towards what people are looking for. So there's always a blue ocean and there's always an opportunity to create a product around this blue ocean, provided that there is a search market. So search isn't always a fit. Two thirds of the conversations I take with potential clients, I tell them not to do search. I tell them to just do paid. So B to B. I don't think there's a huge market in B to B for Search because it's not part of the typical behavior for a business to say, well, I need a new cloud provider of security. I'm going to use Search, and, oh, you're ranked number one. I'm buying you it's. Really? They're going to go to trade shows? They're going to fill out leads. They're going to answer inbound calls. They're going to answer inbound emails. That's how they discover that the other place there isn't any search is if something's too innovative. So if you have a new innovation on transportation, for example, now you have a flying car, and you think you're going to create search volume around, how much gas do I need to fly from point A to point B? Yes, maybe people will search that. Maybe you'd rank number one, but nobody looks for that because nobody knows that you can fly. So you really need to have the demand already created.

[18:48] Matt Hepburn: This is established market, established demand.

[18:51] Eli Schwartz: And then we're not talking a zero search volume keyword. We're talking like, people have to care about this. So if there's a fit for SEO and there's a search market, I think there's an opportunity to create product Led SEO. The best product Led SEO is scalable, like Zillow, where you can scale to every house and programmatic. So you're not really writing manual content, but there's always a product. It might be 100 pages. It might be a million pages. It might be 10 million pages. But really, you want to think about what's the product I'm creating for users, and not one off pieces of content. Because if you do one off pieces of content, all you're doing is we're writing content, right?

[19:22] Matt Hepburn: So the programmatic is a schematic that you're setting up, and it's all based on data, right? We're going back to the data set. So it's all as good as the data that you get.

[19:37] Eli Schwartz: Programmatic. You could still be writing content okay. If you were to compete with NerdWallet is a great example. NerdWallet creates an insane amount of content, which is not scalable and not programmatic. However, their programmatic content still wins the day in many cases. So if you want to know what is the top credit card for cash back, that's actually a programmatic page. They take the data around each credit card. They merge together, and they have a little bit of content around it. That's a programmatic page. They probably also have a super long blog post about, like, what's the best credit card of 2022? That is, you know, cash back and all that. But I'd say, like, it's very easy for them to rank on just that programmatic page. The same goes for if you're in the medical space. So you might need a really detailed blog post about, like, this is how you should exercise and care for your body. But you could also just aggregate symptoms for, like, having if you're having a heart attack, that's programmatic page. So based on a data set, but the more you merge different data sets in, the more unique your page becomes. Zillow again, is a great example of that. Zillow pulled in multiple government sources. Again, the stuff was all available. They paid for it in some way or another. But they pulled in multiple government sources to then create that programmatic page. So they didn't take one, two, three main street and write a piece of content on it and say, this is a house on one, two, three main street. It's made out of stucco. It's this. They pulled in the tax data to know what the house is like, how many square feet it is. They pulled in the school from another database. They pulled in the pictures from the realty database. Like they built this whole page out of different pages altogether, and they created a unique asset. So I think, again, if you're creating a product, there's always opportunities to do that. Just think about all the government data that's locked up. Think about all the university data that's locked up. Think about GoodRx is a great example of this. They built so much drug data and then they link in all the pricing data. There's so many different spaces you can do this, where if you envision the product now, you're pulling in data that's useful to the user.

[21:45] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, not only is it useful, but it's quality content, right? I'm going to kind of pivot this over into one of your chapters. I think it was the tactical SEO chapter. You talked about quality signals and contextual relevance. And I think that how this is being built. This is really giving a lot more information, even though it is programmatic, the way it's built, and especially with the Google Eat algorithm being updated recently to include experience. This is pretty fantastic, the whole strategy of how you're basing this. Do you have any comments on that? Or can you add to how this product led strategy actually lends towards more relevant content?

[22:43] Eli Schwartz: So I don't know that it's even the concept of relevant content. It's so targeted if you do this right, it's so targeted for an exact user. You know your user. I'll give you an example again, a company I was talking to recently, they sell something that is targeted specifically at fitness enthusiasts, but they're writing generic content from Keywords. They're using Keyword Planner and ahrefs and SEMrush. Right. But they can only sell to that fitness enthusiast. They only want to sell to the fitness enthusiasts. And their product is very expensive, and they're measuring themselves by rankings and like, oh, well, we're doing well, and you're not doing well if you're not converting on converting specifically for that audience. So it's not that you need to be relevant. You can be relevant if you sell that product. Everyone that searches are relevant, but that's useful. What you really need to target is understanding the funnel and targeting the content that's the exact fit for your audience. And it goes back to how we started the podcast, which is you need to understand your audience. So in their case, in this company's case, they at least knew it was a fitness enthusiast, but I recommended that they really drill into, like, what prompts the fitness enthusiast to want to even search for this kind of thing? What brings that fitness enthusiast down that funnel and buys it once they arrive at the page? Because that's how they can drive more conversions and SEO pays off for them. Now, suppose that fitness enthusiasts did not use search. Then they shouldn't be doing SEO. Yes. Their rankings, yes, the results are there, but it's not a conversion channel. If those people aren't there, they happen to be there. So they just need to figure out how to capture that. So I don't think we really need to focus on relevance. You focus on your audience and going back to eat. I think eat is very, very overplayed within search. Okay? You could have the lowest on paper eat signals, but still be the most relevant for your audience because you are the brand, you're an authority. So I think throw out all these concepts behind Eat and just focus on building a brand. And when you focus on building a brand, that means do people in your industry, do people in your audience recognize you as a brand? That means you're getting mentions, not even links, right? Google can see mentions. We don't know how many of these things factor, but they see that the words are like, oh, Kleenex is mentioned in this article. So everyone's mentioning Kleenex doesn't matter whether they link to Kanex.com Kleenex as a brand. So they can see that kind of thing. Obviously they're reading the content. So you want to be a brand and that's eat, right? So instead of thinking about these, oh, I'm going to tweak, I'm going to get a better profile picture of me with a headshot instead of me in a bar because it improves my eat score. Well, you could be in a bar if your brand is in a bar, if you're brand. Right. So it's really about being the brand and not worrying about the specific metrics of what might go into an eat score.

[25:30] Matt Hepburn: So part of the book, actually a lot of the book, you are talking about just giving Google's users what Google wants. And that really has always been the case, that Google wants to give the users the best experience. So it sounds like you're tying all this stuff back just to the users to give the users not only their intent of what they want, but the best experience, and that will win the day.

[25:57] Eli Schwartz: Yes. So ultimately, again, with all the stuff happening about Chat, GBT and AI in general, google is an AI company. Google is absolutely an AI company. So we can't talk to the Google Assistant the same way you can talk to Chat GPT, but it's there. It's under the hood. I live in the Bay Area where five times a day I see a self driving car made by Google. By waymo, the AI that goes. Into that. If you're a conspiracy theorist, then there's a driver holding the steering. If you're conspiracy theorist, you're like, they're faking it. They're really not driving. I don't think so. Google has driven more miles, sell autonomously than anybody else, more than actual car companies that have been doing this for a long time. So they are making AI decisions. They're very complicated AI decisions. Like if you think about this from the computer standpoint, if you see an object flying through the air, how do you know whether that's a ball that's going to continue on the trajectory or that's a bird that just can go any different direction? If you see a car going really slow in front of you, how do you know whether that person is texting temporarily going slow or whether that person is slow? And then you change lanes. So I love watching these cars change lanes and make left turns and right turns and stop at stop signs, do all these things. That's crazy AI. So if you find a temporary hack in Google, great, take advantage of it. Sells much ****** or fishing and bitcoin. But if you're trying to build a sustainable business based on hacks and you're not really satisfying the user, you can bet that in a very short amount of time, the AI will catch up. And it's a continuous machine learning algorithm, which means that when people talk about engagement scores, I don't know that Google can really factor in engagement on a specific result on a specific website. There's probably not enough scientific data there. But on a global scale, if everyone lands on your website and immediately bounces, that will factor in because it's a continuous algorithm and it trains the algorithm. Which is the best part about the way all this works is that everyone's always looking for like Gary Ilish or John Mueller to leak a Google secret. I don't think anyone understands the Google algorithm anymore because it's trained itself. So the way something might work in the healthcare space is not at all going to work in e commerce because it trained itself. The way something works around Valentine's Day is not going to work around Christmas because it trained itself and it's continuously training itself. That's the AI. So if you're trying to beat the algorithm by beating something you found in the algorithm, like some hack, the AI is training against you because it's using users to train itself rather than the algorithm and best practices. And like every time Google updates the best practices, to me, these are just things that you should know to begin with and focus on your users. And I think eventually you will win if you don't win right now. The other thing that I think is really important to call out on this topic is that the majority of websites, if I'd had to hazard a guess, it'd probably be like 80% to 90% of websites in the world do not do SEO. They don't know how to do SEO. They don't know what exists. Think about the tax authorities in most countries. Think about the parliaments. Think about the health care, the CDC, their SEO is not good, but it's good enough that we can find the CDC. So they're not doing SEO. So Google's algorithms have to account for, hey, this is a government website, but it's not a gov. But it is official source. This is the city's website. It's not a gov, but this is the official source for that city. We need to make sure that comes up, number one, for knowing when the garbage is going to get picked up, right? So Google algorithms are accounting for so many things that don't include SEO, because they don't know how to put SEO in there when you do SEO. So now you can actually make sure that those corner cases don't work against you. But I don't think that if you neglect some things, that's fine. Whenever I play on my own personal websites, I never do redirects. I just want to see when Google will pick them up, because it's fine, right? If I don't rank I don't rank. I'll still get the traffic. They'll still find my website. This will get to me. Now, if a page is driving a significant amount of revenue, and I don't want to find out what happens if I'm wrong and I don't want a month long hiccup, then I'll redirect it. But in general, Google figures these things out. When the parliament of a country does a redesign and picks up a new CMS, and no one ever tells them they need to do a redirect, google needs to figure it out fairly quickly. So their algorithms account for that. So when it comes to all of these things, that's my view in that AI, the machine learning and the algorithm is mimicking humans. And it's not perfect. It's far from perfect. There's so many holes in it. But don't focus on the holes. Focus on the user.

[30:52] Matt Hepburn: No, I love it. I love it. And I think I've been doing SEO for almost 13 years now. And I think the first two years, I was trying to get around Google, and then I threw up my hands and I said, I don't care about getting around Google. I just want to give Google what Google wants. What is that? You know? And so I think a lot of SEOs could be better served by understanding what that is. And that is actually a better experience for the Google's users.

[31:23] Eli Schwartz: If you're doing SEO for 13 years, then you experience the panda algorithm, which I learned a ton, and I'd say it's probably been since panda, the first one or two runs of Panda, and the first run or two of Penguin. Penguin, which is a really long time since Google did a fundamental algorithm shift that removed websites from the internet in a way that most people can tell since then. It's a continuous improvement process. So the same way, and I use this example in my book, you have a cell phone, and for Android, they update it once a month. But there's constant little improvements. In the iOS, they update frequently, there's little improvements, but they're not algorithm updates. They're just, they patch bugs. So when they say, Google says we do hundreds of algorithm updates a year, or thousands of algorithm updates a year, that's what they're doing. They're just like, oh, that didn't work as planned. Just going to fix that code or remove that code. Now even when they do a fundamental shift, we don't really notice it because the algorithm is continuously improved. I think when Panda came out, the algorithms weren't good enough to be like, wow, all these people are spamming all this content, and algorithm just doesn't not to get rid of it. So we're going to apply a specific rule. And they got it wrong. I think it impacted like 20% on the web. They got it wrong and it removed a bunch of websites that shouldn't have been removed. So they updated and finally they figured out like, okay, we found the exact fingerprints of really spamming crappy content, we're good. And then they can continue to improve that. They didn't need to shift the whole web. And also they scare so many websites. This is not the way that you're going to do things. They were specifically taking Demand Media, and the first run of it did not hurt Demand Media, but the second time they nailed Demand Media, and you don't see that, like, how stuff works. What's the website? Ehow. That's what it was.

[33:06] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, I remember that.

[33:08] Eli Schwartz: You don't see that stuff anymore, right? They nailed it. And no one's going to build an ehow right now. So I'd say it's been a really long time reading articles, all that stuff, all that stuff was gone, right? So now Google did their helpful content update. I think it would have been cool if they would have knocked out this content. But you don't really see like a fundamental shift to the web where you have articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and CNN about like billions of dollars have just shifted between companies. Because Google updated algorithm, it's a footnote. Every time they update the algorithm, certainly sites get removed. And like, it impacted 12% of searches. There was a company I consulted for where they have billions of pages, they're UGC site. And every time the Algo updated, they lost crazy amounts of traffic, but their revenue grew because their better pages started surfacing better, because their better pages were competing against people that were spamminger than them. But their spamming pages got removed from the index. So I think for the most part, and a lot of what you see on Twitter and on LinkedIn, these are good SEOs doing good work. They don't really see themselves getting penalized. It's the bad SEOs. It's the blackhead SEO. There's super dirty ones. I don't hang out there, but I assume that's who's getting nailed. But they're always getting nailed. Just sometimes google needs to do a big update. So you probably remember those days like pandam, penguin, where there was a lot of people on social media being like, oh, my god, our business is done. But I don't think you see that at scale that much anymore.

[34:34] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, I can remember working for a specific lawyer who was doing exact match domains. So when the EMD update came, which was amongst all that, he lost most of his rankings. But part of being an SEO and part of working for other businesses is they have specific processes of what they're doing. And you're being told sometimes how you are to do business. Right. So it's really aligning yourself with the right businesses and how you want to be known, right. What's your reputation? Along that note, you've experienced a lot of these changes. You've been in marketing for a long time. You've built your business as well as work for other companies. What have been the AHA moments for you? What have been the major shifts or the breakthrough moments for you?

[35:31] Eli Schwartz: So going back to panda algorithm, that was a big one for me. So prior to panda, I was a spammy SEO. I mean, at a budget to buy links, created all sorts of certificate content. I built my own super spammy sites, generate a lot of affiliate revenue. I actually had a site where I was ranking on Sarah Palin. When Sarah Palin ran in 2008, I was ranking on her name. I still have the site, but she lost her congressional run. So that website will continue costing me $12 a year until she tries to run again and I'll do something I was ranking on that. Bought a bunch of links for even got real links. I was ranking for contact sarah Palin. Got all sorts of hate mail. So did all the spamming, dirty SEO. Panda was what taught me that that wasn't the way to go, because the company I was working for, we lost 65% of our traffic that one morning. And we were a venture funded company. And everyone was like, wow, we built our entire company on quicksand. Like, we came up with an algo hack. We had duplicate content all over the place, fault links all over the place, and we lost it because we didn't deserve it. So that was a fundamental shift for me and really how to think about SEO properly. We're building for users. These hacks aren't good. They're not good for users. They may work temporarily, but if you can't talk about them at a conference publicly, then they're probably going to destroy you when they get caught.

[36:54] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, that was wrong.

[36:55] Eli Schwartz: Absolutely. The second AHA moment for me was when I went to survey monkey and I wrote about this. In the beginning of my book, I knew all my SEO best practices. Like I was trained by panda. Essentially, I learned how to do SEO properly because we've got all the traffic back and I get into the survey monkey. I went from a 20 person startup to 100 something person. Real company, raised real money, and I had all my SEO best practices. And engineers just said, no, we're not going to do that. To me, it was about, well, I need to win. I need to do what I had to do, what I was hired to do. It was about learning all those soft skills, about how to think of SEO as a product, how to not accept the best practices, but accept the second best practice. And over the long term, I've built a business with them that generates two thirds of global revenue, a couple of hundred million dollars a year from SEO. But that started with not putting my foot down, saying, you must 301 redirect it. It really came down to, well, you're not going to do this right now, but I'm going to earn political capital by doing this other thing. And I think soft skills are so much more important. It's why I called my book product with SEO. I think that SEO needs to think about it being a product. I think SEO needs to think about being a part of the big picture. We're so much more valuable than anyone really thinks. If you look at Google's revenue, they generate $200 billion per year from Ads. Whatever the click through rate is on Ads, whether you want to say that's 10%, whether you want to say it's 20%, conservatively, let's say the click through rate on Ads is 20%. Five times that number is going to organic at a minimum, right, of all the clicks. So if $200 billion goes in Ads and the value of $200 billion is whatever, we're talking trillions of potential dollars or organic. But yet SEO sits in the corner reporting to like a marketing marketing manager, reports to the Director, reports to the Senior Director. Yet we're commanding all this and just not articulating enough.

[38:53] Matt Hepburn: I'm going to tie right into that. So one of the parts of your book which I totally can relate to was last touch attribution, right? And actually having an attribution, or if you don't have that last touch attribution, at least going down to a conversion of a form completion or whatever it is. What is that? Completion and being able to show those KPIs up towards management, whether it's quarter over quarter or year over year at year end, whatever, it might be really critical. And those are great. But if you don't have the buyer's journey down and the right content associated with the buyer's journey, you have conversions, but they may not be relevant conversions. So I love where you're going with from the beginning, really about where they're in the journey. Where's the intent? I cannot tell you how many times I've been given keywords as the focus, keywords from some marketing manager. And I go to check on the intent and our direct competitors, nobody's there. It's something completely different. I'm like, no, you need to change what you're doing. It needs to be refocused towards where there actually is search volume. And my struggle as an SEO has always been there's always been a direction from the business. They don't want to go with a product led approach, they want to go with a keyword approach. So that is a struggle. I think that a lot of SEOs are going to and a lot of education leading up. But one of the things you just touched on, and I'm going to Pivot, which I loved in your book, what you talked about quality links through PR and how that's going to be the way to go moving forward. And if you could touch on that.

[40:52] Eli Schwartz: That would be great. I'd love that. It goes back to my earlier point on brand building. Right? Can we get a bit on this podcast? We've all bought some links and done some guest posting, but if you've ever looked at one of those reports that have come from those agencies and you look at them and it says, here's a DA 80 link. And then you go to the website, it's like digital news in Australia today. It's got a DA 80, got a really nice homepage. And you start scrolling through it and like, post number one is like some crypto thing. Post number two is pet insurance. Post number three is about a funeral home. This is disgusting. This website exists just for SEO. Or if you see the expired domain strategy where you go into a site and you're like, oh, wow, this is like a DA 60 link. And you go to it, it's like a limousine website. And this is an actual example, it's a limousine website. The reason is DA 60 is because they used to drive limousines for celebrities and they got the celebrities to endorse them and give them links. But it's a limousine website. And then like in the home page on the footer, it like links to your product and your brand. Right? We just talked about how Google's AI engine, so the same way you reverse engineer the same, you look at this and you're like, this limousine website has no relevance on this product, I'm sure. And then you look at the links coming to the limousine website and you're like, all these celebrities on their websites or whatever profiles on their MySpace profile has no relevance to limousines. So you're passing through all this, but you paid for that link because of the 80. That's useless. Instead, I prefer, again, Google's AI engine and they're really smart. Instead, I prefer to really think about links as PR. If you're buying links, you want to be in the place where those links are generating positive PR for you. So say you could buy a link from TechCrunch and that cost you thousands of dollars. We don't know whether that link passes value. Maybe TechCrunch thinks they put a no follow on it, which I don't really care about. But whatever it is, you get that link from TechCrunch. It's not that you're getting the value of the link and you think it'll improve your page. You're getting a link from TechCrunch. So now on your home page you can say as mentioned a Techrunch in your pitch deck you say as mentioned, TechCrunch on your LinkedIn profile cited a tech crunch. There's a lot more value to that. Now if Google happens to trust that link and it provides SEO value to, all the better. But I really prefer to focus on PR because you're getting the most bang for your buck. And I also think, again, we're going back to eat and building a brand. That's what brands do. Google is looking for these kinds of signals. So focus on brand. Some of those links will count, many of those links will count. But if you focus on just backlinks and just domain authority, I think most of them won't count. And the algorithm is there to hunt that. Didn't Someresh launched a new tool recently where they can help you identify these PBMs and help you identify the link ref and who links to who SEMrush did it. Some rush is not Google. Google can do the same thing. And I've had friends on the Google search quality team. This is what they look at. They can see a PBM the same way you can reverse engineer a PBM by going into SEMrush and ahrefs, they can automatically do that thing. So that's why again, I don't think buying links in 2022 2023 matters. I really think focusing on PR and building really good, a really good brand, really good way of people talking about you will translate into SEO more than anything else you can do. And by the way, just from a link perspective, I've seen websites rank without any links at all.

[44:25] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely no, I love it. Do you have any more breakthrough moments that you wanted to share?

[44:42] Eli Schwartz: Probably the biggest breakthrough moment I've had in the last couple of years was when my book came out and so many people emailed me and told me that they had the exact same problem because I figured as much, but I had no way of finding that out. It's just amazing to know there are so many people like you just said, banging their heads against the wall, wanting to do something product led, wanting to do something, not spammy. And their boss and their clients are just like no, focus on the keyword. So I love that the industry is shifting and going in towards building products and building quality something for users.

[45:14] Matt Hepburn: Absolutely. It's hard, especially on enterprise businesses because their products are already built, right. They have product specialists. And so if you're in the enterprise sector or even a midsized business, they already have a direction where they're going. And what I see with this product led strategy is that if you're letting the users telling you what they need, the strategy for the whole business might shift right, based upon what that is and then how you monetize around that. So I think the business has to be open to that. And if they're not open, if it's very siloed, a very siloed business, I think that's hard. I think this is going to be a much easier strategy for smaller businesses to take to understand that they can be nimble in how they change, but then they can own the market and then they can compete with larger businesses because they've built all this content out.

[46:14] Eli Schwartz: I wouldn't give up. If you're in a larger business, the potential and opportunity is so much bigger in a larger business. It just thread the needle tighter and yeah, I think you'll win.

[46:23] Matt Hepburn: No, I'm not giving up. I'm not giving up. But it's just more bureaucracy in larger enterprise businesses for sure. Yeah. Well, this has been fantastic. I think there is a huge amount. We're going to absolutely link to the book. Did you have any other products or promos or anything you wanted to talk about?

[46:47] Eli Schwartz: I got a few things. So my personal website is Eli schwartz.com, but in keeping with my theme of Google figures things out, you could just search Eli Schwartz. You'll probably find me. If you don't, you can find me on LinkedIn, which will likely be ranking and then I have a podcast with Kevin Indig contrarian marketing podcast, which everyone should check out hopefully by the time this airs. Well, a bunch of episodes worth listening to. And I've just launched a job board. So for the last couple of years I've been super passionate about helping SEO level up and other marketers level up and find other jobs. It's with a company called Pallet. There is a way for employers to pay to have a featured job, but I'm not doing that right now because I don't have that many employers. So completely free. I'm still doing the manual curation just I have this job for now. I'll give you the link for the show notes where I'm not doing this in Google Sheets and I had to hire a VA to help me do the matching. So this should be a lot easier. But if you're looking for a new job or you're looking to hire anybody, I have job board totally free. Don't monetize anything. I just love helping people and seeing people level up. But apologies if I do end up monetizing in order to add only the hiring, in order to just thin it out a little bit. So I don't have that many jobs to match people to. But I really love being here. Thank you for having me. I hope the podcast takes off and becomes the next Joe Rogan show.

[48:06] Matt Hepburn: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Our whole goal is to give tips and tricks from people's, entrepreneurs who are successful, all the struggles they've gone through, and give those insights so people can not necessarily have to go through all those issues themselves. So this has been amazing. I love the book. It's definitely worth reading a second time. So thank you so much for writing it and looking forward to the next book.

[48:35] Eli Schwartz: Thank you. All right.

[48:37] Matt Hepburn: Fantastic.

[48:41] Announcer: Are you ready to break through to accelerate online business growth? Then join our email list@https://podcast.focusvisibility.com so we can keep you up to date with the latest strategies, tips and tricks that you'll want to know. Also, please don't forget to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. This is The EMJ podcast with Matt Hepburn, and we'll see you next time.

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  • Matt Hepburn

    Matt is the founder of The Focus Visibility Podcast. Matt has over 14 years of experience in search engine optimization. Matt has worked with various enterprise businesses, including Mend.io formerly (White Source Software), John Hancock USA, SEMrush, Commvault, and iCIMS. Matt has also worked in large and small agency environments, including Martindale Hubble, WebROI, and Search Interactions. Additionally, Matt brings 14 years of consulting on organic traffic issues that affect businesses.

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