NFG Rockstars & SEO Education with Adam Chronister

C: Our guest for today  is Adam Chronister. Hopefully, I’ve got that name right, Adam.

A: You’ve got it. You’re one the few that actually can pronounce my last name, so congratulations.

C: That’s one of my pet peeves, is guys with funny names because I normally always get them wrong. But Chronister, it is as it seems. So for anyone who’s not yet stumbled across you Adam, can you give us just a bit of a background as to where you’re based, what you’re doing, a bit about how long have you been in the industry for?

A: Yeah, absolutely. I have been in the industry since around 2009, based in Spokane, Washington, in the States. My background’s actually software development. However, I learned early on after college, that I didn’t really want to be a software developer, but I loved everything around software; web design, development, all that stuff. But quickly realized there were plenty of much more intelligent developers and designers than I was. So it left me thinking, what’s next?

A: Around that same time, I really got interested in digital marketing. I was working for a software agency at the time, I was a project manager. They had no marketing presence and being a startup, and being young and a hustler, I was like, “Hey, I see you guys have no marketing presence.” I’m like, “I could do something.” And they’re like, “Sure, whatever. No-one’s doing it.”

A: So that’s how I got my start and I’ve been really doing it ever since. I’m more on the client-side, so do mostly client work. No real specific focus or niche. I guess there are a few areas that we tend to cover just by experience and some of that’s the travel-related, but we don’t specifically niche ourself into any area of focus. We’ve done everything from small mom and pops to enterprise-level companies.

C: Interesting. It’s amazing, the people you run into, and you get a bit about their background and how they got into it, and there’s never two stories the same. It’s always some weird-ass way that people get into the industry and end up making a career out of it. Yeah, it still baffles me, how I got into it, but yeah it’s fun.

A: Yeah, it’s one of those industries where I think you need a lot of cojones to get into SEO because you can’t really go to college for it. I mean I guess there’s, “courses now for SEO“, but I laugh when I see those. It’s a different beast and so for me, even though I don’t consider myself a cutting edge software developer, I still have the hacker mindset. And I think it really takes a lot of that mindset, whether you’re in development or not, to be in this industry and to survive.

C: Yeah and talking about all that stuff, we obviously bumped into each other in Anaheim.

A: Right, right.

NFG Rockstars SEO Conference

C: So I have obviously seen you about online prior to that in various groups and other places, but how did you find the event in Anaheim? How did that go for you, just on a personal level?

A: I loved it, yeah. It was a great opportunity. Somehow I missed last year’s event and so I was really bummed out about that, planning to go. I think I got first introduced to the SEO rock stars and NFG groups through the SEO signals lab on Facebook. But this year I was like, I’m not missing it. It’s not one of those things that’s widely advertised but I was beating down the door to get there. Ironically, my wife was bugging me about bringing the kids to Disneyland. I’m not a huge Disney fan myself, so I was kind of dragging my feet. But then I got the announcement it was going to be in Anaheim and I said, “Guess what? We’re taking the kids to Disneyland.” So, they got to do their thing, I got to do my thing and it was a business write off, everybody’s happy. So, of course, got to meet from and learn from a number of awesome presenters, yourself included.

C: Yeah, it was certainly a first for me over in Anaheim. I’d heard a lot of people talking about the event previously, and they said it would be more suited to me and the kind of things I talk about, and I kind of shrugged it off. I’m like, “Yeah, yeah everyone says that.” But having experienced it now and met the bunch of guys there, and not just the speakers, the people in the crowd were as knowledgeable as some of the speakers. Not just saying that, but I think it was truly one of the better events that I’ve been to.

A: Yeah, I agree 100%.

C: As I say, you get to meet everyone, it’s a smaller event, not well-publicized but you get to spend a bit of time with everyone. Yeah, great just picking up small bits here and there from various different people. Then you go away with a whole bunch of ideas and that’s what it’s all about. Yeah, I can’t speak highly enough of the Anaheim. It seems like a long time ago. I know it was only three weeks ago, but it seems like a lifetime ago.

A: Right. I just started following up with people. One of those things where you’re at conferences and you’re like, okay I’m going to follow up, I’m going to go through my notes, and I just started doing that this week, kind of pinging people and saying, “Hey, loved the talk.” That kind of stuff. But yeah, it seems like it’s been a month or so now, but it’s only been a number of weeks. But I agree with you, most of the events I’ve attended in the past have been like your SMX events and now I feel like I’ve been missing out on the real information and really the networking that’s out there.

A: So I agree, this is probably one of the better events I’ve been to and definitely the networking. As you mentioned, I learned as much from people that weren’t speakers as those that were. It seems like everybody that was attracted to that, and it’s not a huge conference but everybody that was involved, you have to be in almost a sub-network in and of itself, just to, I guess, be familiar with that event. If there are events in the future from any of those two sides of the camp, I’m definitely in for sure.

C: Yeah, I hope they’ll invite me back next year, and I can speak again because I wasn’t sure what to expect this time and didn’t really understand the audience. But I think although I got a lot of good feedback from my talk, I think I could do a lot better next time around as well.

A: I think it was well-received. I think people enjoyed it.

C: It was still my first time. I wasn’t sure what level the audience was at, hadn’t really met anyone in person. So I was like, what angle should I go in at? Obviously the talk was well-received, but I think now that I understand the level of people there, then if they give me another crack at it next year, then hopefully I can do even better again. As I say, I want the excuse to come out there but even if I don’t come as a speaker, I’m pretty sure I will be forced to come along just as an attendee for sure.

C: Talking about the Anaheim event and stuff like that, you were saying that you learned a lot. Was there anyone person in particular that you gained a lot from and what was it you actually gained? Or, was it just a whole bunch of small, little things from different people that accumulated to some good ideas for yourself? What was the stand out for you?

Best Takeaways at NFG Rockstars

A: Yeah, there was two takeaways. Obviously there are some really cool hacks, and those are the stuff that are really sexy. Not only some of the cool stuff that you threw out there, but I think Clint Butler had some really cool just stuff that he is doing that’s just cutting edge. So, that stuff’s always really awesome. Looking to implement it. I took away some really interesting stuff on the local side. I would say that’s one area where I feel like I’ve not been as strong, in the local marketing.

A: We do have some local clients, it’s about 50/50. So took away some stuff there and already starting to implement that. But I think the larger stuff that I took away is … Lisa has a talk and then Kevin, a couple of the presenters there and a lot of their stuff was more procedural. Nothing they said in my mind was groundbreaking, but it was very practical and it really kind of got me thinking about re-working out processes and realizing that by doing that, you’re usually leveraging that organization and reducing the amount of work and repetition that you need in the business.

A: That’s particularly the case and the biggest challenge, I think, for people on the client-side is, creating systems so that you can leverage more of your time, pass more fees onto your client, have a better product. I think that’s the biggest practical take-away but of course, there’s a lot of more gray hat, black hat stuff that I’m definitely going to be toying with when I have the time and opportunity.

C: No, I think I would agree with you. I certainly felt that from what I’ve gathered from the event and stuff like that, that certainly these guys out there are literally automating the shit out of everything.

A: Exactly, yeah.

C: Literally everything. Stuff that I didn’t even know could be automated has been automated. So yeah, that was eye-opening. But as you say, it depends on where you’re at in your career and what your knowledge is like. There was something for everyone there. Yeah, great event. So if anyone’s ever looking to go to a real good event, where there’s going to be plenty of takeaways, whether you’re like Adam, doing client work or whether you’re like me, doing affiliate stuff or whatever, there’s always going to be something there for you. Even just the contacts alone as well, is probably worth the money. So yeah, great event.

C: Did you stay on after that to go to Disneyland?

A: No, we came a couple of days early, so I did about a half-day in Anaheim with the family. Enough to get a flavour of Disneyland and then the rest of the time was just at the conference, and then we jetted back home. I had some friends coming out of town, so didn’t get to stay as long as I would have liked. Now I’m kind of kicking myself, I guess there’s the third day that … I kind of misunderstood the direction of that but now getting more information I’m like, “Man I should have stayed for that.” But next year, for sure.

NFG Rockstars Mastermind

C: Yeah, I think the third day, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Obviously I wasn’t at the event previously but it was a lot of guys just sitting around the table, shooting the shit, no cameras. Just advice, constant advice. So yeah, it was good. I think you probably did miss a trick if you didn’t go for that third day but you live and learn.

A: Right, right, right.

C: Obviously time doesn’t always allow you to stretch it out and enjoy it for the full duration. People have got other commitments and stuff but I think probably 30 or 40 guys hung back for the third day and then the rest of the people went away Friday morning and whenever. Most likely similar to yourself. But yeah, as I say, great event. I ended up going to Vegas after that event.

C: I went along to Pubcon. I didn’t particularly set out to go to Pubcon as such, but I thought while I’m there I want to see Vegas and enjoy a bit of sunshine, so I popped along to Pubcon after it. But two different types of events in my opinion. Pubcon’s always good for networking and stuff but I don’t think the knowledge and stuff is the same. Two different types of events, as I say. But yeah, Vegas was also good and enjoyed my time in America. My first time in America so it was a lot of fun and getting to meet guys like you in person.

A: I think it’s always good to meet people in person. It’s weird talking to people online and then you bump into them in person. I done that with a lot of people at NFG as well. Jordan Pierce, and Mike Pierce, and Clint, and Steven Kang, and all of the guys. I’ve seen a lot of the guys about online for many years and then to … and you get this weird perception of people and then you meet them and you’re like, “Jesus, they’re not like that at all.” As well, it’s strange. It’s a strange one.

Good to Network at SEO Conferences

C: Yeah, I mean that was my original motivation for getting out there, was really just to put, not even a face to a name, because I’ve interviewed, not interviewed but done round-up posts for a number of folks. So I’ve got to know them through their work, through their expertise, of course, some networking through various groups online. But really getting that face to face I think helps. It definitely adds a new dynamic and let’s be honest, sometimes this business can be challenging, whether you’re doing client or affiliate stuff. I wouldn’t be in any other business, I love it, but it’s good to connect with others in the business.

A: Not only do you learn from each other but just having, I guess that support group. I don’t know what it’s like where you’re at but there are very few knowledgeable SEOs in our town. I have one friend, we always joke because it’s like, if all of the top SEOs in Spokane were in a bus and it got hit by a car, that would basically knock out the whole local industry. That’s not far from the truth, so it’s good to reach out to others that are in the industry and get just that networking.

C: I think personally, I’m from Glasgow in Scotland and I think it’s pretty much the same. There’s a handful of good SEOs here, and the rest are just playing along. There’s a few agencies and whatnot, but hand on heart, in the whole of Scotland there’s probably five or six guys that I’ve actually met. There may be more guys that I’ve never met, and I’m not aware of their work but there’s certainly not a huge amount of them. They certainly don’t network and talk to each other, and all that kind of stuff. They kind of hide what they’re doing and whatever, which is fine, I get it. But yeah, it’s one of those. It’s good to meet other people and just bounce ideas off people or just be able to pick up the phone or to text message someone and just say, “Listen, what do you think of this?” Or “I’ve heard about that.” And yeah, as you say, a bit of support and encouragement sometimes because it can be a boring-ass job sitting in front of the computer.

C: So that’s why I thoroughly enjoy the travelling, and networking, and partying, and stuff like that. Although, I didn’t do too much partying in Anaheim.

A: Well yeah, you were on another time zone with a toddler and gosh, you’re a brave man. I’ve travelled internationally with kids once and I don’t know if I want to do it again, at least with the young ones. That can be challenging, that’s for sure.

C: It was. My kid’s eight months old now, and and people talk about jet lag that it’s awful, but when your kid’s little, it’s different.

A: Oh yeah, it’s a whole other dynamic.

C: He sleeps and eats at his UK time whilst you’ve got to wake up and go and speak at a conference and talk to people, it’s hard going. Then everyone’s drinking all day and all night, and I’m falling asleep there. Yeah, it certainly was hard. Something I could have probably handled slightly better without the baby being there but I quite enjoy taking the wife and the baby around as well, and they can get to see all these places as well rather than just me. We make it into a bit of a break. And why not? It was 30 degrees and it was a great place. So yeah, it was good but a little tiresome. I’m still knackered just now. I’ve actually suffered the reverse so I only came home to the UK on Sunday.

A: Oh wow.

C: And I’m suffering the reverse side where I keep waking up at like 1:00 AM and that [crosstalk 00:19:09] where you are, ready to do work. I’m working from like 1:00 AM until like 6:00, 7:00 AM. Then falling asleep and I’m struggling to get out of that pattern this week. But I’ll slowly get myself out of it. But yeah, that’s the only downside to travelling about. Especially going to the other side of the world, it’s the time zone buzz, and especially when you’re getting old like me.

A: Yeah, I get it. I get it for sure.

Is the NFG Rockstars Ticket Price Worth It?

C: But no, as I say, it was a great event and some good takeaways from it, as you say. But other than that, was there anything else that stood out for you at the event? If people are saying, outwith the talks and all that stuff, is there any other reason why you would pay? Because obviously you pay a premium to go to these events and you hear a lot of people saying, “There’s no way I’m paying X, Y and Z.” I don’t know what the price was but, “I’m not paying X amount of money for that.” What would you say to people who have that mindset? Because obviously you’ve invested in a ticket there, and hotel accommodation and travelling. So there’s at least expense for you there. What I don’t understand, well I do, I kind of understand it, is a lot of people won’t even spend 200 bucks on a course, nevermind what you spent getting to the event and travelling, and obviously your own time as well stuff like that, an investment from you.

A: That’s the thing I always tell people. People that know me know, outside of SEO, my wife and I do investments, we do real estate. Last few years I’ve been getting heavy into the stock market. But the one thing I always tell people is, you have to invest in yourself. It sounds cheesy, it sounds cliché but that’s the best investment you have. Really, if you’re going to start investing, “investing”, you need to start first with yourself, if you have a business, then invest in your business, and then worry about all the other stuff. Stocks, bonds, real estate, all that stuff.

A: But if you’re not willing to invest in yourself … and that’s what these kind of things are, these events, they’re investments. Look at this now. So, we connected at the conference. I think you’ve been in some of our round-up posts, and now we’re doing a podcast. So, none of this would have ever come about if it wasn’t for me being willing to invest money and time to go to an event, learn, network. So, people need to really start to understand the value of opportunity cost. Not only in their businesses but just in their own personal ecosphere so to speak.

C: Typically, after the event, yeah maybe it’s a premium, I guess it’s fairly comparable to me as far as what I paid for other conferences. But I don’t think they really … and I probably shouldn’t be saying this but they probably didn’t charge enough, to be honest. I mean, when you’re looking at the value of what you get. So, that’s definitely something to keep in mind. Now there are conferences out there and there are events where they’re just trying to take your money, and you don’t end up learning anything. So it’s not that people should be discerning of what to invest in and I’ve actually wasted … there was one year I spent, gosh, I spent probably upwards of £10,000 and I’m not even joking, in workshops, seminars, mentorship programs and a lot of it probably, some of it was probably wasted. But the mindset behind that is what keeps you going. So really it’s a mindset thing and at the end of the day, that’s the key, is having a mindset.

SEO Education and Appetite for Learning

A: In this industry, if you don’t have an appetite for learning, just get out now. I mean honestly because it’s an always changing environment. When I was studying software development, it’s like by the time you get out of school, everything you learned is obsolete. Well, SEO is two times as fast as that, and there is no curriculum. So, I would just say, if you don’t have the mindset to learn and invest in yourself, you’re probably in the wrong industry and probably should find something else to do.

C: But for a beginner, guys that are entering the industry … and obviously you’ve come from a software background and obviously software’s not SEO but it’s kind of similar where it’s an up and coming thing. When someone designs software the buyer doesn’t really know what they’re buying and it’s the same with SEO and whatnot.

C: But how would someone who is following your advice in terms of investing in yourself, how do you identify the good from the crap? How do you make these choices as to what’s a good conference and what’s not? Because as you say, you paid, in the grand scheme of if we want to compare the prices of NFG Rockstars to say, some of the other conferences, the price is five times higher for NFG and that can be off-putting to some people.

C: What you don’t want to do is pay a premium and you get something useless. I’ve been there as well but I’m just curious to know, how do you identify? Do you just accept that you’re going to get your fingers burnt and robbed at some point, or are you looking at something else? How do you identify the good ones?

How to Identify the Best SEO Courses and Conferences?

A: Yeah, it’s a good question and I don’t have a perfect answer. Again, I guess I can only take it back to traditional investing. If you think of investing in yourself, it’s a lot like investing in maybe the stock market. You’re going to find some investments that are going to pay off and you’re going to find others that are not.

A: But if you’re continuing down that path, eventually the good’s going to outweigh the bad. So, that would be one thing is again, you’re not always going to strike gold with everything you do. But on the flip side, there are ways to tell where you want to get embedded with a community, a conference, etc., and that’s by really understanding who it is that’s there, maybe it’s the speakers, or who the audience is, what the takeaways are. So those are the kind of things that I look at.

A: With this conference, I’m familiar with a lot of the people that were there, through my own online associations. So I already had some background on the conference. Whereas, conferences I’ve done in the past have been really just a lot of shills from larger companies and stuff like that.

A: Of course, even in those I’ve had opportunities, like a number of years ago I went to SMX Blast and didn’t learn a ton from the conference itself, but it was through that, that I got to hang out and party at the Google headquarters. So, had I not been there at that time, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

A: So, it really is all how you take things away from it. But honestly, the biggest value from any conference, whether it’s one like we went to or larger, it’s not usually the talks, it’s the networking and if you go in with that in mind, I don’t think you can really lose. Just figure out ahead of time, do a little bit of research, figure out who’s going to be there. Maybe connect with them ahead of time and say, “Hey, I see you’re going to be at X conference on this date. Love to buy you a beer or coffee.” That’s where you’re going to get most of your gold and that’s just about any kind of industry conference you go to, that’s what people say is, the true value is at the after parties and the networking events.

C: At the bar.

A: Exactly, yeah.

Plan your Networking at SEO Conferences

C: I now start to hear, and this is no joke, one of my mates came to an event. I’m not going to say who the mate is or what the event was because I don’t want to name names but my mate came to one of the events and on his iPad he had the names of people that he wanted to talk to about specific things. So he went to this event and started to go look for people at bars to get them drunk, to get the knowledge out of them. So people actually have strategies going to conferences around who they’re going to get drunk and get the information from. Which is quite funny actually but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

A: Well, if you have to justify … That’s the thing too, I like just going to conferences and letting things fly. Just go with the flow. But if you really are at a point where it’s a lot of money to get to a conference that you got your eye on, and you need to justify that cost, then go ahead and justify it. Say, “I’m going to this conference and the goal is to generate five leads or generate a connection with these people because I know it will give me ROI.” So if that’s what you have to do to trick your brain into investing in yourself, then I say more power to you.

A: But you also learn a lot of interesting things. Here’s a perfect example. One of the few people I know here locally in town, and this is the kind of stuff that happens. So, he’s one of few SEOs in Spokane that I recognize as being top of the game. So we actually met in Silicon Valley, at SMX West conference and ironically I overheard him talking about a town close to the area, and I’m like, “Wait, you live there too?”

A: So, we literally live probably 20 minutes from each other, never had met, never knew of each other’s work etc. And met at this conference in California, and we’ve done multiple projects together. We collaborate, we still get together and talk shop. And that would have never happened had I not just been there, right time, right place.

A: So, those kinds of things happen all the time. Ironically, at another conference that we went to, this is a funny story. He was at the bar and met with basically the head of SEO for a major auto dealer, and this is a company you would recognize. I’m not going to say their name. But she, after a couple of beers, confided in him that she didn’t know how to rank a website. We were both blown away by this. We’re like, you got to be kidding me. This gal’s getting … who knows what she’s getting for a salary, but she admitted to him, she didn’t even know how to rank a website. There are those happenstance things that happen, that you just can’t reproduce outside of those kinds of environments.

C: I think you’re spot on. But out with all of the learning and investing learning, and all the other stuff, do you spend time doing online courses or is that a complete waste of time?

A: I’ve done some. Honestly, this goes back into you don’t have to spend tons and tons of money to get a good education. I’ve found a lot of free materials just on YouTube. So there’s plenty of people sharing content out on the web for free, yourself included. I watched before I’ve seen you live I watched a number of your talks. I’ve done some decent you to me courses in the past when I wanted to brush up on pay per click marketing. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for this kind of stuff. I’ve always seen RLI, so there are few things that I throw discretion out the window when it comes to money, and it’s basically books, travel and these kinds of events. And those kinds of scenarios … not to say money isn’t a barrier, but I typically will look the other way for those things because I know they’re going to pay dividends.

A: But, you can get started learning a ton just by figuring out who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t and following their stuff, and kind of parsing it out from there. So that’ll get you pretty far just in and of itself.

C: Yeah. I think for me, the key is not to follow too many people as well, because I would say in the first probably five to seven years of my SEO career was probably following the wrong people and too many of them. So one guy would say something and I would fully stop what I was doing and follow what that guy was saying, and implement everything he was saying. Then another guy would say something, which would … I was just doing double, treble work and it’s just counterproductive. So I think following a select few would be my advice to anyone who’s looking to not go to conferences but maybe look at people who write books or do online courses, or things like that.

C: As I say, there’s some great stuff out there, as you say for free as well. There’s some good paid stuff as well but the thing that’s rife in our industry, in particular, is 95% of what’s out there is complete and utter bollocks. Including books and everything. People are writing books for fun now because they want to be able to say in their LinkedIn profile that they’re an author. That’s what I’m seeing, just people want to say, “I’m an author.” As if that’s a cool thing. Great for someone who’s written a book and that’s doing it for the right reasons, and offering value back and stuff, but I think there’s a lot of guys out there who want to say that they’re an author because it looks good or it may seem impressive to them, or whatever it may be. So I would always encourage people to beware of that stuff and always check people’s track records out and stuff.

A: Yeah, that’s a good point.

C: I think you get a feel for that anyway.

SEO Education not always as it seems?

A: I think there’s a lot and it’s not just in our industry, it seems like online now that you have people that are, they’re making all of their money teaching you how to make money. Which in some extents and some realms that’s fine if you want to do that. But you get a lot of these “gurus” that only sell courses and that’s all they’ve ever done. So, that bothers me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of people that sell courses that they’re legit. So parsing those two scenarios, I think is the biggest challenge because anybody with a nice retargeting campaign can make themselves look like they’re the latest guru for whatever. So I would just be leery and make sure that, hey if somebody is selling a course on something, make sure that they’re not just experts on selling courses, that they’ve actually done what they’re teaching from bolts to nuts, and in that case I would say go for it.

A: So that’s the biggest challenge is see, is you get a lot of people that are hungry and new. Be it in our industry or others, like social media marketing, or home flipping, whatever it is, and they’re hungry but a lot of them get taken by people that really haven’t done what they’re teaching. They just are good at selling courses. It doesn’t hurt to figure out if somebody’s selling you something, whether it’s a car or a course, or even like what we do with agency work, get referrals. Say, “Hey, I’m interested but I don’t want to waste my money. Can you connect me with a few of your clients that would give you a good word.” I don’t think there’s any harm or foul in that. Whether you’re somebody selling a course, or doing SEO, or building a website, it’s fine to check references.

C: Yeah, 100%. One thing I’ll go back to is when you say that people are doing good retargeting and they are making all their money selling courses and they’ve never done anything else. I’m now starting to see a wave of people who slag people who just sell courses, as if they’re not selling courses, but they really are selling courses. It’s insane guys deliberately making videos mocking someone who sells courses because they’re full of shit and all that kind of stuff and then they’ve got some course off the back of that.

A: Oh my gosh. That’s brutal. That doesn’t even make sense. That seems like the height of hypocrisy. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against courses, I’m just about finding the right courses and unfortunately, there is so much … it goes back, our industry is plagued with this. There’s so much misinformation and so finding out and separating the signal from the noise is, I think the biggest challenge.

A: Along with you, I was on the “white hat path” of learning where everything that came out through say a Moz type company, I would believe it but then I would never see any fruits of a lot of the stuff that was being promoted out there. It’s funny because I’ve come full circle. Back when you could do black hat and black hat was basically white hat, it was kind of the golden era and then there’s this kind of middle ground where it’s like, okay now there’s this new thing called white hat and inbound marketing, and everything is nice and pretty, and has a bow. Now I’m kind of full circle where, almost gray hat.

Google is like communist Russia?

A: I think that’s also the biggest challenge we have now too. I was talking to someone the other day and I’m like, “Google is kind of like communist Russia where anything you do is against the law or against their rules so people don’t even listen to the rules anyway because it doesn’t matter what you do, good intent or not, you’re breaking them.” So, I think unfortunately, they’ve created an environment where people are starting to kind of see through the veil and be like, “Look, I could try to play by your rules and honestly if I could trust that environment, I’d be happy to but unfortunately, I just can’t.” So it’s funny because I’m seeing a lot of people come full circle where their hats, quote unquote, are getting darker by the day.

C: Yeah, it’s weird. Even if you get those white hat guys that strictly say they’re white hat, I do a lot of black hat talks and stuff, and these guys are always like, “Yeah, that was really good shit.” And they want to dig more. They’re like, “Tell me more about this. Tell me more about that.” And you’re like, “Dude, what happened to your white hat shit?” And they’re like, “No, no. Fuck that stuff.”

A: Threw it in the trash.

C: So as you say, there’s a lot of people who still follow that stuff, but they don’t see the ROI from the work that they’re putting in, and they’re working like absolute dogs creating evergreen content and all this kind of bullshit and hoping that the tooth fairy’s going to send over some links or whatever the going spiel that Google are telling people that actually happens there. You’re going to have a long wait doing that stuff. I’m very similar to you, I went the full circle. Started off as nothing more than just a CD spammer and then started to try and become more professional and try and do things properly, and never really seen any benefit to it. So now it’s just full on breaking rules and just hoping for the best really and trying shit out and forgetting about what Google say.

C: As you say, they don’t want us pissing on their carpet, so to speak, and we’ll tell you that everything’s illegal regardless of how small the things are. You broke something, you’re going to get penalized, or you’re going to be slapped by an algorithmic update, or whatever it may be. You just can’t do right for doing wrong. Yeah I think you’ve just got to use your common sense and say, “To hell with this. Let’s just do something to make some money in the short-term and …

A: Yeah. Well that’s a challenge too. Not only do you have small and mid-size type people in the industry that are throwing out all this stuff, but then I have the onslaught of the big companies, the Googles and then the Google-backed purveyors of “truth”. It’s a real challenge. So that’s the other thing I would encourage people is, keep working at it and anything you listen to, whether someone sounds reputable or not, take it with a grain of salt and actually test it out, and find out what works for yourself.

A: I mean, even with a lot of the artificial intelligence stuff that’s out there and with Google’s RankBrain etc., just because someone says something works, it may work for them but, especially on the service side, if you’re in a different industry, what works for them may not work for you or your target clientele because there’s a lot of divisions, at least from my understanding in how RankBrain works.

A: So the more AI that gets rolled into this stuff, I think the more division you’re going to have between a whole be all end all type strategy. That’s where things like testing and experimenting and also getting in and figuring out what’s really working for people. The stuff that they’re maybe not publishing in mass, because that’s where you really start to break some ground.

C: Yeah. But what I’m curious to know about, is obviously talking about you’ve come the full circle, and you do a bit of this and you do a bit of that, obviously, you’re still doing client work. Do you tell the clients that you just do a bit of this and a bit of that or do you say I’m white hat but do black hat stuff? How do you pitch that to the client-side of things?

SEO Clients, How to you tell them your Black Hat?

A: Yeah, it’s a good question. To be honest, most of our clients, if I go into black hat or white hat, they may have heard those terms, but they really don’t know what the difference is. So honestly, unless the client brings it up, I don’t really go into what is “black hat” or “white hat”. I have a good answer prepared but it honestly comes up a lot less than you would imagine. At least it has for me.

A: Most of our clients, they don’t care whether it’s SEO or social media marketing, or what have you, they just know that they have a business and they want to grow their business. They want to bring in ROI and so as long as they can do that and do that consistently, they’re happy. For a lot of our clientele, they’re mid to small size start-ups and so I’ve just never really run into an issue.

A: I do a lot of stuff that is, I guess “white hat” but I’m not opposed to doing things which are questionable, as long as I feel that the level of risk and the mitigation paths are apparent. There are ways to mitigate even stuff that Google may not necessarily approve of, and fix those things. But on the flip side, how many of us have known people that have done stuff, at least what they thought was by the book and they’ve been penalized or flagged? So, just because you’re doing what you think is white hat, or maybe you’re not even really doing any marketing at all, maybe you’re just running your business and Google decides one day that they don’t like your business because maybe you’re in the payday loan business, or maybe you’re a holistic medicine practitioner. You didn’t do anything that was black hat, you just happen to be in the target of what Google deems not approved.

A: I guess the take-away is, you can get screwed more than one way by the big capital G. So why not try to do what’s in the best for your business to grow it? And that’s our strategy. We never really want to put clients at risk and we’re going to do our best to do that but for most of our clients, there’s only upside by investing in digital marketing. So, that’s our objective.

C: It’s interesting. I just was curious to find out … because I used to have an agency and this was eight years ago, ten years ago or whatever, and you used to have people saying, “Don’t want any of that black hat stuff though.” And all that kind of stuff, and you had to say, “Oh no, of course we would never run risk to your site.” And all that stuff and of course you were doing stuff that potentially could risk the site anyway regardless. But curious to know if that was still a thing when you were dealing with clients on a day to day basis.

Any Manipulation is Black Hat SEO

A: Yeah, I mean normally what I tell people, the few that have asked, I just say, “Look, anything you do to try to manipulate the search engines is technically black hat. So if I create a blog for you, a blog post, and it could be the best-articulated blog post that’s really relevant to your industry, but if in the back of my mind, I’m writing this with the intent that it ranks, that’s technically black hat.” So, when you explain that to people, they understand. You don’t have to be running Snook Links or Scrape Box or all this other stuff to be “black hat”, you know what I mean?

A: Again, this goes back into what we were talking about earlier where Google’s made it so hard to play by the rules and actually have it make sense that you have to turn a blind eye to at least some of that stuff if you really want to have a chance.

C: Yeah, as you said earlier, you’ve got to try and test stuff for yourself and find out what actually works and what doesn’t, and take it from there and implement what you feel might work.

A: Well, the other thing then is, you look at a lot of the data that’s out there, and it seems like, this is my theory is that, especially with the introduction of RankBrain and other things, it seems like there’s a lot of stuff that’s come full circle. It seems to me like, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to uncover the man behind the curtain, so to speak, that a lot of these algorithm updates are almost circular. So, things that worked years ago, all of a sudden are starting to work again, even though those tactics are “black hat”.

A: So the threshold of your keyword density and stuff like that, there’s a lot of people talking about that a lot more now it seems than they did four or five years ago. So it’s just ironic to hear some of these things that people are finding in their test and so to me, it seems Like Google’s just trying to constantly move the target. Maybe just to disrupt in how people in our industry give up. But if you’re good at doing the backwards and engineering the analysis and there’s a lot of good resources for that these days, you’re always going to have an opportunity to rise above the fold because we’re, at the end of the day, just dealing with algorithms.

C: Yeah. Thinking about it, if I was Google, and I was the decision-maker in terms of how we’re going to stop all these SEOs gaming the system as such, it is, it’s just to throw confusion into the mix. Something that worked really well two, three years ago that they have now made not work, why not bring back in because people are not looking in that area anymore. I got penalized for that two or three years ago so I’m clearly never going to try that one again and you just forget about it and look for … because I think, in my opinion, people are often, in SEO, looking for something that’s not there. They’re looking for the next big trick. And sometimes I think you just have to do the core things that have always worked and not focus too much on stuff that’s only going to give you a little bit of value.

A: Yeah, I think it’s all just a game of kidology with Google. So I would tend to agree with what you’re saying there. They just fuck about and try and confuse us all, and putting myself in their shoes, would I do the same thing? That’s exactly what I would do. I would lie through my teeth any time anyone was questioning me and I would just throw confusion to all of the guys out there, and just make things work then stop them from working. Yeah.

A: Well at the end of the day, I understand that you can introduce advancements, you can bring artificial intelligence into your sorting algorithms, and you can roll out things like schema mark-up and different syntaxes, but at the end of the day, a lot of the stuff that you could utilize, if you were Google or another search engine, a lot of it comes down to the same core things. You have links, you have user signals, traffic signal, all these things. So, they can only rehash the recipe so many times. So that’s why it’s good to revisit some of these things and that’s what it seems like people are finding. Like, “Wow, I notice having a higher keyword density is more relevant or seems to be more relevant than it was three or four months ago.” So, I think a lot of the stuff comes full circle and it’s just all about testing and backwards engineering. What’s working and rolling that into your own systems.

C: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s a wise way to look at it and I think you’re very much on point with the way you think. That’s the way I think as well and I tend to agree a lot with what you’re saying on that front. It’s just weird how there’s only so many changes that Google can implement before they run out of ideas. Yeah, but as I say, we’ve just got to keep on top of it and continue to find out what’s working.

A: Yeah, absolutely.

C: And fill our boots for as long as we can.

Kyle Roof

A: Kyle Roof, I don’t know if anyone can find it but he’s actually a fantastic speaker as well. Not only is he a super smart dude. He did a talk, I think in Dallas, and I watched some live stream of it. He made just an amazing case, an argument for why SEO will never go away. I’m not going to be able to articulate it as well as he did but if you ever get a chance to get a hold of that talk, certainly do because his whole bent is, as long as you can see what’s working and have ways to backwards engineer it, SEO will never be dead. It was an ah-ha moment for me because it’s like, that’s true. We don’t know what the secret sauce always is, but we know in this niche, with this keyword, or this theme, these websites are ranking. So, that’s a data point we can reference and replicate, and as long as that environment exists, SEO will never be “dead”.

C: Yeah. You hear a lot of people saying it’s dead, and I think it’s very much far from it. Google want it to be dead, but we’re still fighting away and still bringing in a hell of a lot of traffic through organic search. So long may that continue.

A: Right, right, yeah.

C: But, sadly we are out of time. That’s been 55 minutes, which is not bad.

A: Wow.

C: Hopefully, we’ve offered some great value in terms of where to learn and how to identify different things and invest in yourself and everything else. But for anyone who may want to seek further advice from you or reach out to you, or talk to you or whatever it may be, where is the best place for people to get a hold of you?

A: Yeah, so probably the best way is just through our agency site. It’s Enleaf, that’s E as in echo, N as in Nancy, leaf-like a tree. So enleaf.com. They can reach out there via the contact form. We have a number of tools there as well. So just throw that out there. A couple of tools that we’ve put out to the community, some website graders, headline analyzers and some other tools that are rolling out. So it’s a great way to get in touch with us, see some of our work, take advantage of some of the tools that we put out into the community. We also have a number of informative and interesting blog posts, some featuring yourself. So, that’s probably the best way. They can also reach me directly at Adam (at) enleaf [dot] com.

C: Perfect. You should probably tell people more that you’ve got these tools by the way because I had no idea that you were rolling out tools.

A: Yeah. None of them are groundbreaking but not to belabour the point, but basically I find tools that are out there that maybe are missing one or two features, and I’ve rebuilt them and redesigned them. But yeah, there’s a number of tools. I have one more tool that’s rolling out here soon, which is interesting. It’s a keyword research tool. But yeah, it’s just something we’ve been doing, small little tools to help the community, help make your job a little easier. All of them are free of charge, and so, yeah, take advantage of those.

C: Interesting. I’ll definitely have a lookout and do more research and see what you’ve got to offer, and while you’re playing them down, I’m sure there’s some decent value there, or you wouldn’t be spending the time rolling them out. So I’ll have to take a look for sure. Thank you very much for joining me.

A: Thank you, yeah.

C: Hopefully, we’ll maybe get you on in the future as well and talk about different subjects. Maybe more about tools or whatever. So yeah, we’ll definitely do that, but for now, thank you very much for joining me.

A: Oh, my pleasure. Pleasure’s mine.


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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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