Create an unstoppable SEO Strategy

Developing an SEO strategy is a huge undertaking from keyword research to backlinks and everything along the way. Find out how Tim LaBarge created an amazing SEO strategy in which his company owned 8 of the top ten spots for their ideal keyword. In this must-listen episode, he breaks down SEO into a simple and easy step by step process for improving your ranking on google search.

TRANSCRIPT

Kyle: (00:00) Welcome to the summit. This is Kyle Hamer, your host. And today I am here with my special guest and good friend Tim Labarge. Tim, how are you today? Hey Kyle. How’s it going man? You know, uh, better than I deserve. How about yourself? Doing all right. Just a,

Tim: (00:16) you know, it’s a lovely Thursday night at home. I’ve got my, a got my canine here hanging out with me on the couch, ready to do a ready to chat, SEO

Kyle: (00:25) dads and dogs and talking SEO and nothing gets better. Right. Love it. That’s awesome. Well, Tim, you’re the marketing manager over at construct connect and you have a pretty extensive background inside SEO. So I thought maybe you would just tell us a little bit about yourself cause we’re here to talk SEO.

Tim: (00:41) Yeah, sure thing. I actually got my start in SEO is I was really, I actually a a liberal Arts undergrad in college and uh, all I knew is that I, I like to write and I like to be creative. So I said, hey, I should do marketing. Um, but the first job I got was a really, really small shop and I basically had to teach myself everything. And a lot of what I found we really needed it at that company was some help in organic search. We didn’t have a lot of budget, we were really small. So I thought, you know, how can we drive demand and drive opportunities? And, uh, you know, I thought the same thing that a lot of people think, which is we should focus on SEO. Um, so I spent a lot of time, uh, in that role teaching myself SEO, getting comfortable with, you know, how to create a content strategy around SEO and really had some, some really good success with our blog and a couple of, you know, kind of downloadable assets and things like that.

Tim: (01:46) Uh, so from there I jumped into another role as actually an SEO manager. And that was at an agency in Cincinnati where I was working with a lot of global, nationwide retail brands. Thinking about your, a lot of footwear and clothing. Puma, Hugo Boss, Elie Tahari, Cole Han, Rockport. Those were, those are some of my bigger clients. And that was where I really dug in and got familiar with SEO on a, on a nationwide scale. So that was a great learning experience for me. Got really deep into it, used a lot of SEO enterprise software. It was really what I ate and breathed for a period of probably five years. So,

Kyle: (02:38) you know, I actually didn’t realize that you start off in a small shop doing SEO. What, you know, just just out of curiosity, what’s the difference between SEO to small shop versus an enterprise shop? I mean, what’s the, what’s the fundamental difference there? Is that,

Tim: (02:53) yeah, probably the biggest difference is the way that you’re going to target your audience, right? So think a small shop, you are going to need to be a lot more niche. It’s just like, it’s just like a small shop how they go after you know, the marketplace, they have to be more niche. They have to be a little bit better than you to differentiate in some way other than just being bigger. And stronger. So, at the nationwide level, you’re talking about trying to, a lot of these brands I was trying to rank for the term men’s shoes or, or polo shirts. Like these are really, really competitive terms that everyone wants to rank for. And with those big shops, you’ve got the backing and you’ve got kind of the site authority to be able to do that. Small shop, you’ve got to be a little bit more guerrilla warfare, right? Really think about how can we pick these different niche corners of the market and take those with our content and SEO Strategy?

Kyle: (04:00) Well, we’ll get more into that in a minute. But you know, one of the things that I think, uh, is oftentimes missed on podcasts for listeners in situations like this is they don’t really understand the talent of the person on the, on the call or on the, on the show. For me, I’ve had the privilege of sitting in a room with you and actually viewing what I think is an SEO masterpiece. Would you mind sharing for the group, the uh, the SEO masterpiece that you put together based on, I want to say a fairly competitive keyword?

Tim: (04:32) Yeah, sure. So this is, I believe you’re referring to, this was probably a year or two ago, maybe 2017 in the spring and across a number of different, so this was at construct connect where the main service provided was providing project leads. So construction projects, if you’re looking for construction projects, that’s what we wanted you to realize we could provide. So we had a couple of different domains and actually the way it worked out, you know, by the way we built the sites and the way we concentrated on our keywords, we actually had for the term construction project leads, we owned 8 out of the 10 organic listings plus I think who are three out of the four paid listing. So you’re looking at, you know, if you have 12 spots on the first page, we had probably 9 or 10 of them. I mean it was, there was really a really small chance that if you were going to convert, you are going to be a lead. You were coming to us for the term construction project leads. So it was a, it was really, a masterpiece. Kyle. Thank you.

Kyle: (05:48) Well, look, I it, felt like a masterpiece, uh, you know, think about, don’t hit your head. But um, for me like I’ve, I’ve never seen anything like that where you walk in and a single entity owns 8 out of the 10. Now I’ve seen that, like if it’s an Amazon or a, I’m trying to think of some of the other big ones. Maybe you’re typing in a Facebook, you’re looking for a specific person. You’ll see those large behemoths rank. But I had never seen that on a smaller or mid size business, so I was, was really, really impressed. But I would imagine, you know, given that given all the tools you were given, it didn’t start up as like, hey, this is a masterpiece. You had to build somewhere. So for our listeners and folks that are out here, how do they begin putting together a strategy to reach the holy grail of being on the first page of Google?

Tim: (06:44) Yeah, yeah. That’s what everyone wants to know, right? That’s the, like you said, that’s the holy grail. So really a good way to think about it if you’re just starting to learn about SEO or you know, a little bit, but you’re not sure quite how to build a strategy is to think about, there’s this concept of what’s called the SEO Pyramid and it’s, it’s really four categories of elements that you can focus on to drive that SEO strategy. So you start with your foundation, right? You start with, start with your base, which is you need to have a site that search engines can read. That’s, that’s really what it comes down to when a search engine, they don’t have eyes, right? They’re crawling the code they do when they crawl the code of your site, they need to understand what you’re talking about. And I need to be able to go from page to page and understand the context.

Tim: (07:36) And you know, this actually reminds me of a story from when I was working at the agency with these retail brands. A lot of them were using a software that auto-generated all its URLs and it was all numbers and letters, right? Random strings of numbers and letters and think about if you don’t have eyes you can’t see what’s on the page. All you can do is read, you know, and you’re starting with that URL. And the URL is puma.com/one two three four five ABC doesn’t tell you anything. But we created a work around where we can edit that. So all of a sudden said puma.com/men’s shoes. That makes a lot more sense, right? So that’s where you start. You start with your, building blocks, like your URL structure, your site maps. So you can submit a site map to Google that says, Hey, here are all the links on our site and here’s how they’re connected and here’s how you read our site. It’s almost like the index or you know, a summary of a book. If you open a book and you’ve got the index, Google can read that and, and understand it. So that’s kind of your, your foundation. That’s where you really need to start. If you’ve got a site that Google can’t read, it’s going to be a, it’s going to be tough sledding for ya.

Kyle: (08:53) Now that you know, Tim, when you, when you talk about a site that Google can read, there’s a couple things that come to mind here based on experience. First question I have is, can Google read any website that’s out there?

Tim: (09:06) Well they can read anything. Well, the couple caveats here, they can read anything that’s in code, right? Like, you know, html or whatever, whatever the languages you’re coding in. But you can hide certain pages from Google. There are ways that you can make sure that you’re not visible. If there are certain pages that you just want to be internally facing or you’re working on them, you don’t want to push them live yet, you can do a no index, is what’s called a, it’s called a no index. And that means that Google will not publish that site, out onto the web.

Kyle: (09:44) Right? I mean, I understand that. I think I’m probably more curious for the folks that are listening who are like, alright, I, I fired up a Wix site or I got a WordPress site and they started, started typing in stuff, you know, uh, you moved from Hello Dolly or hello world, whatever it is that we’re in the streets, you with two. Why is it Google finding me? Does it, does Google automatically crawl your site? Does, does being automatically find you? How, how do you get found after you’ve, you’ve built your first site?

Tim: (10:14) Yeah. Well, there are a couple steps to that, Kyle. So, um, one a great way to do that is, you know, you want to set up a, what’s called Google search console and also a bing webmaster tools. I believe that’s what it used to be called. I don’t know if it’s still called webmaster tools, but, uh, but you’ve got these two sort of hubs, right? And if you, if you utilize these tools, you create an account, you can submit your site. That’s where you can submit your site map. Uh, if there are issues with your site, you’ll get alerted through Google search console. Uh, and that’s a great way to tell people like, Hey, I’m here. Uh, you know, I am a real live site run by a real live person. And then they start to, to notice you and you can actually see in Google search console, it’ll tell you whether or not they’re crawling the pages on your site and which they’re crawling in, which they’re not in which they’re indexing in which they’re not. So if they’re not prioritizing pages on your site that you want them to, you get visibility to that and then you can start to turn to build a strategy around that.

Kyle: (11:20) No, I mean this sounds like a lot of learning. When’s the right time to actually let Google know that, hey, I’m here. I mean, you’ve talked about URL structure and do I let him know that I look at it or not? And do I have site maps like holy buckets? Like, when’s the point in which it’s, it’s the right time for me to actually tell Google or being, hello, search engine, my website is here.

Tim: (11:43) Right. Uh, you know, there’s not too much downside to getting out there early. I the, you know, the biggest I guess is, you know, maybe somehow someone finds your site and there and they’re like, what the heck is this? And you know, they first over whatever reason to remember your name and then when they hear about you again, they’re like, that site was garbage. Like, I don’t want anything to do with it. Um, but from a search engine standpoint, you’ve got a, you’ve got the ability to, you know, you can put yourself out there when you’re maybe call it 75% of the way through building your site, and they can start to start to look at your starting to start to understand it. And then you can, that’s the beauty of the web, right? It’s dynamic. You can, you can improve along the way. Uh, you know, the, you’re not gonna do too much harm that I’ve seen by, by getting out there early because most of it can be rectified. You can request a Google re crawl your site, things like that.

Kyle: (12:44) Right? Well, you know, look, and I’m familiar with the pyramid, there’s one piece that that we haven’t touched on just yet. I mean, we talked about creating a site, but what’s really critical URL structure, getting, getting ourselves submitted to the, to the search engine so they can find us. But, but beyond that, there’s, there’s really a foundational piece that’s most important. What is that?

Tim: (13:05) Right? So, yeah, once you, once you have a site architecture that you are competent, Google can crawl, then you move into the next layer of that pyramid, which is keywords, right? Everyone thinks about keywords and they think about SEO. So you start to think about, hey, if I’m, you know, that’s what we thought about at construct connect. Hey, you know, what’s our, what are the keywords we, we think are important to us? Okay. Construction project leads, you know, that’s what led us to that, to that masterpiece you mentioned. But this, this keyword portion of the pyramid is really where you start to solidify yourself as when it comes to this topic, this keyword, this phrase, we are important and we are, we know what we’re talking about. We can provide value here. So you start to build up a bunch of, um, what I would call kind of keyword brainstorming, right?

Tim: (14:04) You start to think about what are all the terms that we want to, uh, want to focus on. Back at when I was working at this agency, for example, one of Rockport is really big into comfort is one of their value props. So we had a whole list of keywords, probably close to a hundred of them, all about comfortable footwear. Um, you know, what are all the different ways we can talk about comfortable footwear for men, for women, for children, comfortable dress shoes, comfortable sneakers, you know, what are all the different ways we can talk about that? And then you can start to work that into the pages and the, and the site structure that we, we’ve already built kind of at that foundation.

Kyle: (14:47) Yeah. But I mean, okay, great. But I, you know, I sell software, a service or you know, I sell baseball caps. What do I care if I index for underwear? Where do you get the keywords and identify what’s, what’s the most important thing for the business? Yeah, it’s really good.

Tim: (15:04) Back to a, you know, this is where you, you almost get a little bit into content strategy and content strategy is a little bit higher up kind of on this pyramid, but these keywords and this creation of this, this keyword strategy should not be done in a vacuum. This needs to be a conversation between, you know, your SEO manager and really the rest of the marketing team. You should get the input of, of people who have maybe visibility into the strategic direction of the business so that as you’re creating this keyword strategy, you start to, uh, you know, you’re starting to go after the terms that are, are going to be beneficial in the short term, but also maybe you’re building a foundation for, for something that’s going to be coming down the road. Um, does that answer your question?

Kyle: (15:53) Yeah, it does. I think the biggest challenges is how do you identify what those keywords are. I mean just cliff notes. I mean we could spend two hours on keyword strategy and I understand that, but for somebody starting out, how do you quickly identify, you know, is, are there, are there a couple of nuggets of tricks that helped you get to the, to the top of the page for this, you know, your holy grail of holy crap pages? Yeah, there are, there are definitely tools out there that are obviously

Tim: (16:21) paid tools. There are some, a lot of free tools as well where you can, start to dissect, you know, what is kind of the landscape within search. So for example, if, if I’m selling, you know, construction software, there are, there are paid tools out there, or sorry, free tools out there where I could type in a couple of terms like, you know, construction software or construction project leads or you know, um, construction technology, things like that. And you can see what the landscape looks like to understand, okay look, you know, you can, you can even do this just by going to Google and searching yourself without a tool. You could just go type in construction technology. Okay look, you know, here are three, four, five, you know, multimillion dollar a hundred million dollar organizations who own this space for the term construction technology. Probably a good indicator that that’s going to be a tough one for you.

Tim: (17:26) And you can start to work towards it, but you can start thinking about, okay, if construction technology is really important to us, how else can we talk about this and do we need to be a little more kind of like when I talked about working at the small shop, how can we talk about this in a way that’s going to corner a piece of the market as opposed to just going after that term construction technology. Maybe it’s particularly construction technology for a certain type of role or for, you know, construction technology for Texas or for Ohio or for estimators or for, uh, you know, contractors. You can, you can start to build a strategy around what they call long tail search, which gives you a, a better opportunity to, uh, to rank and appear and, and, you know, start to, to drive some traffic through SEO.

Kyle: (18:20) All right, so I built my site. I told Google I was here, I told them what creek keywords were important to me. Why don’t I have traffic? Why isn’t I am not showing up on the first page? What’s the next step, Tim?

Tim: (18:34) Yeah, so you want to make sure there are probably one more good thing to touch on in this sort of second layer of the pyramid is how you target those keywords on the page. There are probably five or so areas where you want to make sure these keywords are appearing and uh, as as really good indicators to Google that this topic is important to you. Uh, so you’re talking about your page titles. So this is, you know, what appears, if you search for something in Google, the big blue link, that’s your page title. So you want that to have some mention of your keyword. One of your probably core primary keywords in most cases if you, if you kind of filter into your secondary keywords, that’s fine as well. Um, but, but you really want to drive it home in your page title. That’s one of the key indicators.

Tim: (19:36) Same with your URL. That’s a really key indicator, which is why at the agency it was, it was such a disadvantage for us to not be able to put keywords into our URLs. So those, those two places are key. Then when you get onto the page itself and to the content of the page, you’ve got your headers, right? You’ve got your H1s and your H2s and your H3s. This is kind of the next tier, right? When you get from titles and URLs is kind of the, uh, the top line, right? Need to be there in terms of keywords. Then you move into your headers, make sure you’re targeting the keywords there. Then you have one layer down into the text. And here’s where I always suggest people get a little bit more, not just using the same term over and over and over again.

Tim: (20:20) A, it’s a bad user experience. And B, Google can start to pick up on you trying to stuff the keyword in, but really just a start to, to be a little more contextual, uh, with your keywords. In this case, Google will pick up on it. It’s pretty smart these days. Um, but those are, those are really some of the key areas where you’re going to want to, uh, to get your keywords onto the page. And then Google starts to really think, okay, this guy is for real. He knows what he’s talking about. Let’s, you know, start moving them up the board.

Kyle: (20:54) Awesome. So, all right, so, you know, we’ve, we’ve stack ranked, we’ve got our keywords. I still don’t have traffic. Tim, what’s going on? Yeah, I mean it’s, so go ahead, says easy does hard, right? What’s next, right?

Tim: (21:08) Yeah. So these, these first two areas of the pyramid, which has kind of the bottom half of the pyramid, this is foundational stuff, right? This is, these days. This is really table stakes. I mean, it’s your, it’s your SEO one-on-one. Like it’s great that you do it. If you don’t do it, you’re in a lot of trouble. If you do do it your you basically. Okay, cool. You’re at the table now, man. Now what? So, uh, so then you, you move into the third tier of this pyramid, the third of, of four tiers. So this is where you get into really what drives a lot of the actual ranking position, which is your site authority. So how strong is your site, right? If you, if you look at, if you look at, for example, if you look at puma.com, it’s a great example, really strong site. If you look at Kyle Hamer’s athletic apparel in Houston, Texas, uh, you know, your site authority, you’re not gonna kind of stack up next to Puma cause they’re going to win out.

Tim: (22:18) You’ll get there someday, but one sneaker at a time, buddy. But so how does, how does Google decide, right? How did they say, hey, this site is stronger than this site. They do this largely through backlinks. So what backlinks are are, you know, if you, uh, on your site, if you link some texts, you put a URL, right, a hyperlink to another site, another domain that’s a back link. You just backlinked that other site. And what Google sees is, hey, all these backlinks are essentially votes. There are all these people who are telling their readers, people coming to their site, hey, this guy over here, he knows what he’s talking about. Go check out this article and go check out this product. Go check out this page. And that’s how they start to determine, hey, there are all these links. Go into Puma they’re for real.

Kyle: (23:17) Okay.

Tim: (23:18) Kyle Hamer in Texas, he’s got, you know, he’s doing pretty good. He’s got a couple of hundred links, but it’s just not on the same scale.

Kyle: (23:26) So I’m going to, I’m going to interrupt for just a second tho ugh, because Gary Vee is selling case with man Gary Vee is selling case with, yeah. Well you think he’s capitalizing on some link juice from somewhere else? Could be. Yeah. Well, one day, one day that he’ll get a new pair of shoes. Today’s not that day.

Kyle: (23:46) Today’s not that day, but it’s not that day.

Tim: (23:48) and hardened close to all my expert advice. You might get there.

Kyle: (23:51) Well, you know, or when, when you know what you know, what is it? What is it I say is do what you do best and outsource the rest. And in this particular case, I don’t think I got SEO down buddy. Um, but you also have a full time job. So I guess I’m stuck. There you go. So look, and, and here’s the, here’s the part that I think is most interesting about the, about the pyramid. Tim, what we’re going to end with is actually where most people start.

Kyle: (24:18) after you’ve built your links or you’ve started building your legs and you’ve done your keyword research and you’ve got those on the page and you’ve told Google that you’re here, what are you supposed to do next? What’s the icing on the cake?

Tim: (24:29) Yeah. So the kind of the pinnacle right of, of SEO, when you get to the top of the pyramid, you are, you are SEO. Self actualized is this category is called social. But, uh, it’s really all about user engagement, right? It’s all about social media, getting people to engage with your site, getting people to share it, talk about it, get excited about it, you know, talk about it with their friends and, and Google sees all this as it happens online, Google pretty much sees it. So, um, and yet what, what people, they get it backwards, right? I think you’ve you, that was a great way to put it. As they flip this pyramid upside down and they say, Hey, I want to create a viral video. And they go out and they create a video and oh shoot, it didn’t go viral. Why? Well, it’s because they’re missing the first three steps to this pyramid.

Tim: (25:24) So, so yeah, the, the very top of this is, is, you know, you’ve got a strong site with a strong foundation that Google can, can see and read and access. You’ve got a sound keyword and content strategy that you follow because of that. People see the value that you provide and they start to link to it and you start to move up the rankings as a result. And then once you reach a point that enough people are sharing and linking to and talking about you, that’s when you get to the, to the top of the pyramid. And then things really, really start rolling. So, all right,

Kyle: (26:06) maybe I buy it, maybe I don’t. There’s a lot of people that are way more successful in SEO than I will ever be. You know, there are a lot of folks out there that are fly by night, claimed to be growth hackers. We can help you rank on Google’s page within the next 30 days. Is this something that you can growth hack? Is this something that can be done quickly or is that really more a fluke? What, what’s your take on that?

Tim: (26:31) Yes. So a little bit of a two part answer. Yes, it can be done quickly. But the second part of your question is no, it’s not sustainable. Uh, I’ve, I’ve never seen it be sustainable because what happens is Google’s, their whole goal, all they want to do with their surgeons other than make tons and tons of money from Adwords, all they want to do with search engines is get people to the right place. Cause if they get people to the right place, they’ll keep coming back to Google. They’ll keep clicking on ads, they’ll keep getting paid. Right. But, but that’s their whole idea is they want to create a good experience that when you type something in, you find it. So if you have quote unquote growth hackers or what’s typically called kind of black hat SEO going on on your site, it, it may work. You know, it may happen in 30 days and you may be on the first page of Google for, you know, a couple of months.

Tim: (27:39) But what’s going to happen is eventually Google is going to see that, hey, there’s not really value here. They’re gaming the system and typically those, those sites get penalized. Um, so yes, go put it, put it in video game terms. What’ll happen is, is at the end or during at some point Google will look at you and say, oh, we were playing mortal combat fatality, right? Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, uh, yeah, there are, there are a variety of ways that Google keeps up with this. There will always be black hat SEO going on out there where people find a loophole and they exploit it and then it gets closed. It’s, it’s inevitable that it’s, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. And once you’re blacklisted that getting back in Google’s good graces is, is a joke. Yeah. I mean you almost have to start over.

Tim: (28:43) Yeah, I was gonna say you, you might be better off building a new site from scratch then trying to rebuild the reputation unless you’re one of those nationwide brands that’s going to have all that, all that sort of SEO juice pull in for you to get you back up there quickly, you are going to be in some big trouble. So just to step back through the pyramid for us, step one thing we have to focus on at the beginning, really simple, really quick, Tim, is step one is accessibility. Make sure Google can read your site. Step two, step two is keyword research targeting content strategy. Make sure your keywords are on the page. Step three, step three is make sure the content you’re creating is valuable and quality enough that people want to link it and they want to share it. And you’ve got a strategy that’s going to allow that to happen. And step four and step four is self, right? People love you, they want to talk about you. And at that point it’s a snowball and it just keeps on rolling.

Kyle: (29:49) Awesome. Well Tim, this has been fantastic. I appreciate you sharing the SEO pyramid with us. Uh, get a, you know, taking a few jabs here, uh, tonight and uh, enlightening us on how we can begin our journey to creating a Google found content. Rich SEO ranked website.

Tim: (30:11) There you go. That’s the, uh, that’s the moneymaker.

Kyle: (30:14) All right, Tim, Tim, uh, if somebody wants to get in contact with you, if they have specific questions, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Tim: (30:20) Yeah, they can find me on Linkedin. I’m married, Tim LaBarge, it’s La Capital B, a r g e and I’m in Cincinnati, Ohio in case there are any other Tim LaBarge posers out there. So you should be able to find me on Linkedin, but if you want to contact me directly, you can always do that as well. Just through email to Tim.R.LaBarge@gmail.com and we can chat SEO or whatever else you want.

Kyle: (30:49) That’s awesome. So you’re LaBarge in charge. I like it. Exactly. There you go. Well, Tim, thank you for being here tonight and thank you everybody for listening. We will post the SEO a pyramid on hamermarketing.com/blog where you can find this easy to follow, hard to implement. Guys, thanks for listening and we’ll be back next week.