We are back with another great SEO interview. This time we have with us Sean Smith the co-founder of SimpleTiger. Sean started doing SEO in high-school. He has consulted big brands like Best Western and Holiday Inn. Let’s jump into the interview because there’s so much to learn from Sean’s experience.
1. For those that don’t know you yet, could you introduce yourself?
Definitely! My name is Sean, I’m 23, and I’m just a techie that grew up in a small town in GA in the burbs’ of Atlanta. I always considering myself more of a city kid than a country boy, but I picked up the best of both worlds over time.
I started doing SEO actually through my brother. While I was in high school Jeremiah (my brother who is now also my co-founder at SimpleTiger) was working for an agency in Atlanta named 360i, one of the largest in the world at what we do. He was working on clients like NBC, ETRADE, and a number of other companies that made insane resume material for him. He had different ideals though of how things should be done in the industry, and that didn’t really jive with the higher-ups at 360i so they went their separate ways, still on good terms. Anyways, he had built quite a network at that point and had a ton of large clients that he was doing freelance work for under his LLC “JCSmithConsulting LLC” at the time. Me being an utter geek, and always interested in what my bigger brother was doing, I wanted to get involved.
At that point he gave me a few books to read, pointed me toward the Moz (then being SEOMOZ) blog, and told me to read up. After a while I knew enough that he let me get involved on a freelance basis paying me to do some consulting for his clients while I was still in high school. After graduating high school I went headlong into the industry, skipping college and moving with Jeremiah to Florida I quickly got a job at an internet marketing agency in Sarasota called GravityFree. I was 19, and I was able to work with some very large clients, and develop my skills in every regard from a business perspective to just a general knowledge about the industry at large. We had a very tight-knit team, a great focus on high-output from a small team, and we did a great job of succeeding for clients.
I, like Jeremiah, saw things from a different perspective than the agency though, and after a while we parted ways and I created my own freelance practice. Jeremiah and I merged our freelance businesses, created SimpleTiger, grew quick, hired some new employees on, and are scaling today while consulting small scrappy startups to Fortune 500 clients. It’s a fun ride!
2. SEO in 5 years, how do you see it? Will backlinks continue to be the most important ranking factor?
Yeah, SEO 5 years from now I don’t think will look much different than SEO today, some people will roll their eyes at that statement, but I have a point. Google is looking for the same thing now that they will still be looking for in 5 years time. It’s not going to change. They want to understand the organic interest in a topic, understand objectively what best solves that issue, or answers that question, then rank it accordingly in their engine. The factors you mention might change, but the goal is the same, so ultimately, we just have to adapt to what achieves that goal best.
I think link metrics are one of those things that just easily shows relevance toward the topic, if multiple people are vouching for something and pointing to it as the authority, it probably is the authority. Google will continue to seek out link spam, and continue to discount it, but link metrics will continue to be a huge influencer. I think more closely to the point, editorial links will be the big kicker. Now that Google can look at the contextual relevance surrounding a link and give a link more equity if it directly pertains to that query, that will be far more influential. Site-wide footer links, no – editorial links, yes.
That being said you have other factors that will continue to grow in relevance, such as social metrics, tweets, Facebook likes, Facebook shares, +1’s, things of that nature, those will continue to grow and be huge.
I think the real wrench in the chain is what happens when the 10 links don’t matter as much as they used to. When things become more based on social community, as they have more and more recently. Or when things become more dependent on a different interface, such as AI. When you have Google spitting out the data that you’re trying to rank for directly within their SERPs, that’s going to be an interesting thing to deal with.
These things will be the biggest game changers to search in the next 5 years, and meanwhile we’re still talking about links like Google’s SERP is the end-all-be-all of the search and answer interface.
3. How do you do email outreach?
Come original. It all starts with being able to truly connect with someone, it’s not a matter of hacking the engagement. If I don’t think you’re being original in your outreach, I won’t respond. I don’t mean to sound cocky about this, but I think I’m about as hard as it gets to interact with through email if I don’t know you, so I’m a pretty good benchmark for this. I have a very fast archive-reflex. I’ve done a ton of template outreach in the past, and I can spot it from a mile away. I’m actually quite embarrassed of some of the template emails I’ve sent, just don’t do it.
Have some sort of script, that’s fine, but really the script can be as simple as the goal you’re trying to achieve. Change it to adapt for each person. Make it custom, make it count. If you’re doing outreach to hundreds and hundreds of people, perhaps you’re not going after the people you really should be. Perhaps you’re focusing on nailing a ton of low-hanging fruit instead of pushing to get the one email response that would offset the other 1,000. Go after people who you can honestly connect to, try to be as original and straight-forward as possible, and don’t waste their time, get to the point.
If I see an email that has four paragraphs in it, I shutter to think about reading it, even if it’s from a client, so if you’re cold emailing me, anything over 3 sentences is too much. Also, people aren’t dumb, we understand the basis that you’re trying to benefit from everything you do, and we understand that there is sometimes mutual benefit, so try to communicate how what you’re proposing is mutually beneficial, and make sure that it actually is and isn’t just a waste of time for the person you’re reaching out to. If it is, don’t even bother, or offer something more with your own time.
4. Link building or link earning?
I believe in both, first off. Building links is earning them, and earning them is also essentially building them. They’re the same thing. That being said, the mentality that I agree with a bit more is the “earning” whereby you’re putting out a lot of content that deserves to rank, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to hustle your ass off to make sure it’s successful. You have to amplify your message, you have to promote, you have to be a go-getter for things to take off. You don’t just publish and wait, that’s not how it works.
Competitive niches are easier to build links in than uncompetitive niches because it’s easy to find inspiration, it’s easy to get PR and mentioned because the topic has to be somewhat popular to be competitive, and simply put there are more opportunities to leverage in a competitive market than there are in a vacant market. I’d say it’s harder to market in a vacant market because you literally have to build the market knowledge, and create the demand, that’s a much harder task. My favorite article on that actually was on Medium from the founder of Slack as he was addressing the entire company about their marketing struggle and what they have to do to become successful. Slack didn’t enter a “competitive market” they created a market that they dominate and have since spawned multiple competitors, yet they still dominate the market. That’s a lot more interesting of a challenge than simply out-ranking the guy across the street. That’s easy.
5. What’s your favorite method to build backlinks?
Editorial content, for sure. It’s the biggest bang-for-your-buck in my opinion, it’s easy to do if you have a creative way of positioning it, and it involves talking to people, and it gets people talking. That’s the best of all worlds. My favorite way of saying it is “The fastest way to build your audience is to adopt someone else’” and that’s what I like to do.
6. What backlinks bring you the best results and what links you should avoid?
Editorial still, I’d say avoid site-wide links, directory links, stuff like that. It’s pretty common knowledge now but you would be surprised by how much it’s still being used. I’ve had campaigns that focus entirely on removing these kind of links instead of building new links, and you’d be surprised by the results that they’ve generated for clients who just didn’t understand that the things they were doing, or that their SEO company was doing are the wrong things to be doing.
7. What is your biggest SEO accomplishment?
I don’t know if it’s my biggest accomplishment exactly, but my campaign with JotForm was a pretty fun one (here’s the case study: http://www.simpletiger.com/jotform-saas-pr-seo-case-study). The pace of that campaign stood out the most. We usually don’t guarantee results quickly, and we didn’t in that campaign, but the results we did have given the scope of the project was fantastic. We set out to outrank their competition for one specific keyword, we ended up doing that while increasing their site-wide traffic by 30% over the course of 3 months. They gained tens of thousands of new customers in a month, and it was just a huge win across the board. I’d say that’s probably my biggest accomplishment just because it was one of the most fun campaigns I have had the pleasure of working on. Was it the biggest client I’ve worked on? No, but it was the energy behind it, the goal that we set out with, and how well we were able to achieve that goal that set it apart. It was just a clear win across the board, and those always feel good.
8. Ever had a website penalized? Did you recovered?
I’ve been brought on to help fix websites that have been penalized, but my sites have never been penalized, no. We have helped clients that had nefarious link practices prior to working with us recover with disavow campaigns and by building their trust metrics back up, things of that sort. It’s always nice when we can help a new client out of a trench then show them the right way to do things. That builds a life-long relationship that I wouldn’t trade for every black-hat tactic in the book.