We interviewed Nate Shivar and we discussed the future of SEO and what are the SEO techniques that are working best for him. He is a digital marketer with a lot of experience. You can learn more about Nate on his website, or better let him tell us something about himself.
Are you ready for some super useful SEO tips? Without any further ado, here’s the interview.
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Here’s the text version of the interview.
1. Introduce yourself. How did you start doing SEO and what do you do now?
I’m Nate Shivar from Atlanta, GA. I’m the President of Shivar Web Consulting where I develop digital publishing brands, including ShivarWeb.com where I do a lot of marketing education. I also work with several clients on SEO and content strategy and co-host the Bamboo Chalupa Digital Marketing Podcast.
SEO is an interesting industry because you don’t necessarily need to sit down and decide to “do” it. I’ve been starting and running small personal websites since the early 2000s and did a good bit of SEO through those experiences. I started doing SEO professionally in 2010 as a freelance consultant with a focus on local SEO.
In 2013, I went to work as an SEO Specialist for Nebo Agency in Atlanta, GA doing SEO for a wide range of clients from small local businesses to Fortune 1000. From there in 2015, I went full-time building Shivar Web Consulting.
2. How do you see SEO 5 years from now? Do you think backlinks will remain to be the most important ranking factor?
Wow – 5 years is a long time in SEO terms. To give some perspective, 5 years ago, Panda still hadn’t rolled out – much less Penguin.
But I think there are a few trends that will continue to accelerate.
First, I think that SEO will continue to be more of an essential component of a range of disciplines rather than a standalone discipline. For example, your digital PR strategy will have an SEO component. Your content strategy will have an SEO component. Your web development plan will have an SEO component. Your content promotion plan will have an SEO component. It will be a fundamental skill that everyone should know.
I like the analogy of the designated hitter in American baseball. Hitting is something everybody on the team should be able to do. You shouldn’t leave your hitting to one person. You might have an expert to put in a key spot or to help coach the rest of the team, but it’s really something everybody should be doing to win the game.
Now, whether organizations and agencies will have an SEO expert to advocate for SEO considerations or whether they train their teams on SEO – that will depend on their resources and strategy. But either way, it’s a trend that will continue.
Second, as a corollary to that trend, I think current SEO Specialists will need to either dive deep into a single specialty like local SEO, content promotion, or technical SEO or they will need to become true generalists and learn skills like paid media, PR, social promotion, etc. There will be less of a role for people who can do basic technical, basic on-page and basic link building.
To your question about links, I do think backlinks will be the most important ranking factor. I think that’s simply because links are a pretty good proxy for human judgement. They are fundamental to the web.
Now, there is a caveat. I think links will have the largest overall share of all ranking factors, but there will be a lot more ranking factors in the future. So in an absolute sense, links will be less important.
A website owner will no longer be able to get some links and rank. They’ll need to have a lot more in place to warrant a high ranking for key terms.
Additionally, I think Google will continue to evaluate links with more nuance. The days of ranking #1 with a PR6 link and rich anchor text are gone. Google will continue to get better at looking at page relevance, page quality, link context and other signals. Getting links will be important but much more nuanced than it is now.
3. What’s your favorite technique to do email outreach? Share your tips with our readers.
My favorite technique by far is Siege Media’s 2-step approach to outreach.
As anyone who has done content promotion or link building before knows, there is a lot of noise on the Internet. Whether it’s bad email addresses, getting the wrong contact, confusing someone with a cold pitch or not finding an email at all – there are a million ways to waste time doing outreach.
The goal of 2-step outreach is to send a short simple email to see if an email address is legit; to see if you have found the right person; and to get your prospect to buy-in before you pitch them on your content/link opportunity.
Once they have said that they are the right person and would like to see your [link asset], then you pitch them whatever you’re pitching.
You’ll save tons of time and get higher overall conversion rates.
My 2nd favorite technique is more of a call to fundamentals – follow-up. Always follow-up. Just because you are a Gmail ninja doesn’t mean that your prospect is. Be courteous, and give them some time, but always follow up.
4. Link building in competitive niches, how would you do it? Do you believe in link building or link earning?
For link building in competitive niches, I think you have to look beyond just getting more and more links. You have to look for ways to get high quality links that your competitors cannot get. You have to build a moat so to speak.
If you are working in competitive niche, you have to assume (and will see) that if a link is easy for you to get then it’s easy for your competitor to copy. Anyone can do a backlink search and find industry listings, profile listings, brand roundups, or list pages. Sure, it’s still absolutely essential to do that. But if you get a unique editorial link – that’s different and harder to replicate. With that perspective, I think I’m on the side of “link earning.”
That can mean a lot of different strategies in practice. It might mean a PR push. It might mean a skyscraper type content & promotion approach. It might mean coordinating business & marketing programs so that you can leverage them to get links. Or – as I’ll talk about in the next question, it’s about rebuilding and reclaiming broken but unique editorial links. Either way, the goal is to get links that your competitors cannot easily replicate.
5. What’s your favorite method to build backlinks?
My favorite method to build backlinks is broken link building. When executed well, it’s a win for everyone involved. You get quality editorial links. Website owners repair broken links and give their users a better experience and search engines get to crawl a more intact web.
For SEOs, I think broken link building solved several problems.
First, it solves the risk problem. Creating content assets and finding potential prospects is a big risk. I’ve written about ways to prequalify your content ideas, but there’s no way to really know if something gets links until you build it. There’s a risk there.
However, if you re-build something that has already gotten links in the past the you know for sure that it works. You have proof. Plus, you can use a backlink checker to build a list of all the websites who link to the broken asset to get a very warm prospect list.
Second, it solves the creativity problem. Creating content assets requires a lot of creativity and resources, especially if you are making something that is truly link-worthy.
I wrote a post on how I approach broken link building, but basically I think the key is breaking out each part of the process and scaling it.
Really make your backlink checkers work for you to dig up a broken link asset that will give you scale. Use Internet Archive and your own research to build an updated, relevant, unique asset that can stand alone. Then use the 2-step outreach method I mentioned earlier to rapidly get feedback.
6. What type of backlinks are working best for you now? What links everyone should avoid?
Right now, I’d say that broken link building and creating reference resources that few people have written on before are working best for me.
As far as links that everyone should avoid, I’d say don’t buy expired domains for the purpose of wholesale redirects or creating a small private blog network. Yes, I know some SEOs are saying that it works (and it may right now). But I think it’s short-term, spammy, and disrespecting to the end user.
In a way, it’s the spammy way to do broken link building. And that’s why I think it’s essential to do all the steps of broken link building rather than the shortcut of buying expired domains specifically for the links. It’s just too easy of a footprint, and not what users or Google is looking for.
7. What’s your biggest SEO accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment was getting a content strategy implemented for a client I had at Nebo Agency. The client was a small, upstart cell phone brand – competing against giants like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile…and dozens and dozens of others.
We had a small budget, no assets, but plenty of freedom. I worked closely with our content team to develop a content strategy defined by my keyword research and broken link opportunities. I also worked to get their blog on a subfolder from their subdomain.
For keyword research, that meant mining questions from consumer forums, Amazon, Yahoo! Answers and other platforms. I then ran the questions through Keyword Planner to surface questions and related keywords with lots of volume. We found hundreds of new keyword themes that were directly related to cell phones, but necessarily the “buy cell phones online” vanity keywords. I also mined for broken link assets that we were able to re-build and complement the content strategy.
Within a few months, we had more than doubled their organic traffic. I worked closely with our Paid Media team to get retargeting on our new audiences and ended up doubling their conversions and revenue over the same period.
My lessons from the experience were to venture away from vanity or common sense keywords that everyone wants to rank for. Go for keyword themes farther up the marketing funnel where there is less competition and more volume. Make sure you are getting double bonus with every content piece – it should be able to stand on it’s own in the SERPs but also give you plenty of outreach opportunity. Lastly, key technical changes matter. Moving the blog to a subfolder helped us consolidate all the content and new off page signals to the single subdomain with product pages. It was a big accomplishment for me and our entire team.
8. Has any of your websites ever been penalized? How did you recover?
None of my sites or my clients’ sites have ever received a manual penalty. However, several have certainly been hit after Panda updates. A couple had indications of Penguin hits from work done before I started, but they also had plenty of other problems.
For the Panda hits, both were ecommerce websites with lots of products. We focused on scaling up unique content, aggressive canonicalization and better internal linking. All of these fundamentals that should have been in place before I came on the accounts, but also a reminder how SEO was done in the past (links, links & more links!) and a reminder of where it’s headed (links as part of a more integrated whole).
Within a few months, we were able to get organic visits to product pages back up. It’s tedious and requires a consistent execution of fundamentals. I think the real challenge is keeping clients on board while climbing out of the traffic trough.