How I see it there are three types of SEO; you either work at an agency, client side or on your own as a freelancer. Working in agencies and client side are the most common of the three so I was interested to hear that Steve Morgan had recently left agency life and set up business for himself. Mine and Steve’s business paths crossed a few years ago and I thought it would be useful to hear what his experiences have been like so far.
How long have you been working in SEO and where did you start out?
I’ve been working in SEO for 4.5 years (since early 2009), starting out at Liberty Marketing, my brother’s company. I was the second person in and when I left about a year ago, it was up to about 15+ staff, so it’s done well, especially during the recession. Just goes to show the demand for online marketing and SEO, even during times of austerity!
What made you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve considered self-employment for years. In addition to my brother starting Liberty, my parents run an IT recruitment agency, a Spanish rental property business and my dad’s also a landlord. So you could say that my family’s no stranger to entrepreneurship and I’ve grown up seeing that way of working firsthand. They’ve been a big inspiration. But the reason I decided to do it now (1-2 months ago) and not years ago is simply because I’ve felt more confident now. The timing seemed right.
Did you already have clients established beforehand?
Not quite, but a fair few people I knew through networking, etc. had approached me asking if I did freelance work. While working at my last full-time job, I said no, because I didn’t want to work a 40 hour per week job and then do freelancing on the side during evenings and weekends as well. But it got to the point where I thought to myself: “hang on, if I leave the full-time job, there’s probably enough potential work to sustain this as a full-time, on-going thing.”
What do you consider to be the advantages vs disadvantages of the working environment
In terms of advantages… I love the flexibility, the fact that it doesn’t have to be a 9 to 5 thing if I don’t want it to be. I’m quite happy that I can take a random weekday off but then make it up by working on a Saturday, or something like that.
In terms of disadvantages…Security is very important to me, so it’s been difficult adjusting to the fact that one month I might invoice a lot and another month not so much, based on the amount of work that’s going on. Also, I’m no stranger to working from home, but I’ve found that the novelty soon wears off and it can be quite lonely and boring, so I’ve made the effort to move into a co-working serviced office environment (Welsh ICE in Caerphilly), which is about a 20-minute commute from my home.
What were the main struggles (if any) of setting up as self-employed?
It’s getting your head around everything that’s involved from a day-to-day admin/accounts point of view. I like to think that I can do a good job at SEO and PPC, but sorting out contracts, expenses, invoicing, HMRC, accounts and everything else? It’s quite overwhelming. It feels like you have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades (juggling finance, management and sales as well as the work itself) while still being quite focused on your ability to do the work well.
How did you decide on business name and logo?
I went with Morgan Online Marketing for a few reasons:
- “Morgan” because of the George Foreman analogy: “I put my name on it.” Everyone knows SEO doesn’t have the best reputation, but if I’m putting my name on the line, I’m hoping people will realise that I’m serious and not dodgy (unlike some companies who sour our industry). It’s also a typically Welsh name, and Welsh businesses love to buy from other Welsh businesses! We’re a patriotic nation…
- “Online Marketing” because it’s less restrictive going forward, if I decide to do social media, email marketing, etc. as well in the future. Calling it “Morgan SEO” would be pushing myself into a corner if I did want to branch out.
That said, I’ve already had a business advisor tell me he doesn’t like it because “it’s not sexy enough,” haha! Oh well, you can’t please everyone!
Regarding the logo, there’s a logo designer I’ve known for years who I’ve wanted to work with. I told myself that if I ever started my own business, I’d definitely hire him! He wasn’t cheap, but I’m a strong believer that you get what you pay for. A friend of mine had a heart-attack when I told him how much it cost, but then again he did think I should’ve just gone with someone on Fiverr…
How do you plan to market yourself to build up your client base?
I already have a strong network in South Wales (or so I like to think), so I’ll make the rounds with networking events on a frequent basis to keep the momentum going. I used to be a member of BNI (a weekly breakfast networking group), so I might re-join my old chapter or seek out a new chapter to join. Also, my blog (SEOno) currently ranks on page 1 of Google for “seo cardiff”, so I’ll try and keep that going or try to get my separate freelance site to rank as well/instead.
What would your advice be to others thinking of doing the same?
I knew it’d be tough, but it was still a lot tougher than I thought it’d be.
Make sure that you have money saved by, as you’ll be paying for lots of things to begin with (e.g. logo, website, etc. – unless you do them yourself or get friends to do them for cheap) and if things are quiet to begin with as well – in my first month I invoiced £0 and this month looks like it’ll be quiet on the invoicing front (because projects are really only starting out), so I might not breakeven for another month or two yet. Oh and don’t assume that if people say “I’ll definitely work with you if/when you go self-employed” that they will!
Firstly I just want to start by saying this is NOT another blog post preaching that simply good content is the answer to guest blog posting, it’s really much more than just that. What I want to talk about is how I’ve seen a shift in what works and what doesn’t when using guest blog posting and hopefully those insights will help others deliver better results and not waste time in methods that no longer work. With Google’s next big Penguin Update 2.0 on the horizon its going to be essential that these tips are implemented into your strategy otherwise you run the risk of devaluation or even penalties.
The way people guest post content on blogs has changed, for the better I think, recycled content is especially something I’m glad to see the back of – so for that I suppose we should thank Google. The way links appear in blog posts has also changed (still changing for some), no more service/product specific anchor text plastered multiple times on link networks increasing exact match percentages. While a minority will see these updates as obstacles in making their jobs harder others will see opportunity and progression in a tactic that’s on the cusp of being “not allowed” by Google.
For me there will always be a need for guest blog posting, it’s just part of the blogger community and spirit; it’s like getting asked around to a friend’s house for dinner – who turns down a free meal with people you like? So I firmly believe there will always be guest blog posts, but the way people use them for SEO will have to evolve.
Here are some of the ways I’ve already started to change the way I approach guest blog posting, not only do I get better results than before but I believe most of these points will future proof this method of link building.
1. Creating good contact lists
There are some great ways of getting in contact with bloggers, such as My Blog Guest but the way I find most effective (by no means new) is just using simple Google commands – there are litrilally thousands of potential combinations for every industry. One in particular that works extremely well is to use “inurl:word1 intitle:word2”:
What this command does is return results that includes “guest-post” in the URL, there are many other combinations you can use like “write-for-us” or “guest” etc. Then the second part of the command refers to a word that appears in the title of the page.
How this command differs from others is that you know that each blog that you contact will have done a guest blog post around the subject you’ve searched for – it’s much less like cold calling than just approaching bloggers that just have content on the same subject as you. Bloggers will be familiar with the type of request, understand the principle of what you’re after and be more inclined to participate.
2. Sending the right emails
Perhaps the most important part of guest blog posting process is actually communicating with the bloggers. Being a blogger myself I can tell you right now I get so many emails every day, most of them trying to sell me something or offer me a thingimijig I don’t need. The best tip possible is “get to the point”, seriously, that’s it. I did a test last year looking at the type of emails I sent out and the success rate – you can see the results below:
During the test I got a much higher success rate (post live) when I sent emails to bloggers with just one sentence asking if they still offered guest blog posts. No fluff, no praise and no examples of previous posts and writing styles.
Besides writing short emails it is massively important you find out a bloggers name; it’s really not that hard, it’s often on the homepage, about us page or contact page – if not there then check the domain info out or read a number of the bloggers posts and comments.
The last point in this section could be controversial but don’t mention you’re an SEO/link builder/content marketer etc. Not everyone will be honest here but based on experience you will get better results if you just include your name along with company name and contact details on a signature.
3. Quality Control
This part of the process will require a certain amount of experience and self control. There are often occasions where you’ll find blogs that very obviously offer guest blog posts to everyone (usually visible in the bloggers main menu). While this will increase your success rate considerably the best way to approach this is to look through the bloggers content archives and answer the following questions:
- Does the blogger upload more guest blog posts than his/her own content?
- Do the other guest blog posts link to commercial webpages?
- Do the posts use a lot of exact match anchor text?
- Does the blog charge for guest blog posts?
- Are there obvious paid links in the side bar?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions I would personally not bother contacting a blogger as it’s more than likely the content published on the blog will offer little or no value now, and almost certainly none in the future.
A list of criteria my team and I use will often concentrate on the following metrics as positive signals that a blog is worthwhile approaching:
- Does the blog have a limited number of other guest blog posts?
- Does the blogger have an active social following i.e. facebook, G+ or Twitter?
- Do the bloggers blog posts (and guest posts) receive genuine comments from readers?
- Does the blogger make a real effort in creating content for their users?
- Does the blogger have content indexed in Google?
If you answer 3 or more of these questions with a “yes” then I usually find you’ll get a good quality guest blog post published that will not only generate a good link back to your site but also an array of positive social signals.
4. How to avoid Penalties from Guest Blog Posts?
While the “off the shelf” answer to avoid penalties is to “create great content” it’s more complicated than that; a very good piece of content, given to an inexperienced link builder for outreach could lead to negative signals and be detrimental to your campaign. They could add too many links in the content, have a high percentage of exact match anchor text or even send out the same piece of content to multiple bloggers.
The way we should be approaching this type of activity is to create as many positive signals as possible in each blog post – making it hard/impossible for Google to think what you’re doing is not valuable.
- Link to your competitors – as crazy as it sounds it makes sense. I’m not saying link to a competitor for the sake of linking but if there’s a genuine reason then don’t hold back. Whenever I write a genuine blog post it’s very rare that I’ll only link to one external website and it’s ever rarer if I link to a page that’s sales focused. A nice way of linking to competitors is to look at what content they’ve created that is community driven, such as blog content or social campaigns. If Google’s algorithm does develop further to tackle links in guest blog posts then having 3-4 external links pointing to similar websites that are relevent to the page content shouldn’t give a negative signal but a positive one.
- Create bespoke content – if you really want to create a blog post that will genuinely add value then include assets like videos, infographics and images that have been created specifically for your guest blog post. This will of course increase the cost of performing guest blog posting but making sure the content is bespoke for each blog will usually ensure good pickup, links and social signals – all strengthening the value of the link back to your website.
- Link to your Google+ profile – If you’re writing good content then credit yourself (or your writer) – it shows authenticity to both users and search engines, also with the development with Google Authorship it just makes sense you start including the link.
- Invest in big content – If you invest 30 minutes into a piece of content it’s highly likely that the returns are going to be low, if any. If you have a resource at your disposal then spend anywhere up to a few days creating something worthwhile. Content that has been heavily invested in looks like it’s been heavily invested in and readers are smart enough to realise this – while your output in terms of quantity might be less, the returns will be much higher
- Anchor text strategy – simply put, exact match links strategically placed around content (even good content) looks unnatural and is likely to raise flags with Google, not to mention too many exact match links are likely to trigger Penguin devaluing the links anyway. Link using brand terms, keyword + brand terms, every day phrases and URL combinations – again it’s actually what you’d do naturally anyway.
5. Maintaining Blogger Relationships
An area often overlooked by smaller companies and agencies but if you create a good piece of content for a blogger and they receive lots of visits, social shares and links then they will want to work with you again. While the SEO value of another link from the same domain may be less than from a new domain it is again a positive signal to Google that your website is trusted (and being re-linked to over and over again) – this kind of behaviour is also a pattern that happens naturally.
Don’t keep your relationships with your bloggers to that of online only, host offline events and invite the ones you’ve worked with. Meeting bloggers face to face and involving them in your brand will lead to much more than the occasional link and while many will deny it a large number of bloggers will still ask for money or incentives – offline events are a way of getting around that problem (and keeping within Google’s guidelines). To me the initial guest blog post is similar to a first date – you want to leave a good impression, you want to be liked and you don’t want to be the one that does all the chasing!
It will take you more time but your results will be far more valuable and sustainable
Taking all these points into account, which is by no means quick or easy, you will start to see much more value come from guest blog posting. Not only that but you should be future proofing a link building technique to help increase your organic visits/revenue and rankings.
Just a small observation this morning in the United Kingdom – if you conduct a search with a “name” + “company name / website” you will get a new similar searches layout in the search results:
Depending on how many organic search results there are for each person seems to dictate how high up the page break appears; i’ve seen it appear as high a position 4.
Could this be the start of blended or extended search results, lets wait and see..