Optimize Episode 005: Jeffrey Trull on Scaling Student Loan Hero to 1 MM/Visitors Per Month, Optimizing for E-E-A-T

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Jeffrey Trull for the fifth episode of the Optimize podcast. Jeffrey is an SEO veteran and agency owner with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He was employee #4 at Student Loan Hero and played a pivotal role in building their organic search strategy, which ultimately led to the startup being acquired by Lending Tree for a reported $60 million. In episode #5, Jeffrey and Nate revisit Student Loan Hero’s SEO journey, chat about Google's E-E-A-T guidelines, and discuss how you can create link bait to generate thousands of backlinks organically.

Jul 5, 2023

Learn More About Jeffrey Trull 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreytrull/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffreytrull 

Website: www.impactfullymedia.com  

What to Listen For:

2:44 Jeffrey's background

4:45 Jeffrey path — from building his own finance blog to working at Student Loan Hero

6:58 Student Loan Hero: The most expensive 301 redirect of all time

8:34 Jeffrey reflects: Changes to organic search and SEO Since 2014

10:02 Rebuilding Student Loan Hero in 2023: Crazy or doable?

11:50 The importance and value of search intent

13:28 Launching an agency (Impactfully Media)

16:10 Jeffrey talks about building link bait 

20:38 What is fantastic content?

21:47 The benefits of refreshing previously published content

24:01 Legacy publishers: Parasite SEO or expanding markets?

26:50 AI content: A viable strategy?

30:31 What does a piece of content cost in 2023?

31:53 What is an effective outline?

33:38 The death of SEO? Impacts of Google's upcoming UX/UI changes, and E-E-A-T

35:16 AI-generated snippets

37:12 Page views don’t equal dollars

38:48 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:00:00

I think that Google is going to really lean a lot more on E-E-A-T and particularly people's expertise and experience in certain areas. I think that's what's going to matter most, right? You know, in theory, like if someone's publishing on a large website and doesn't have good experience or expertise, I think Google is not really going to promote that content, even though it's on a big-name site. I think that's the future. Google can recognize expertise a lot better than it used to, and I think that's only going to get better. So I think those publishers that can really have people that demonstrate that expertise and experience in those areas are really going to be the ones that win in the long run. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Hi, and welcome to the Optimize podcast. My name is Nate Matherson, and I'm your host. On this weekly podcast, we sit down with some of the smartest minds in content marketing and SEO. Our goal is to give you perspective and insights on what's moving the needle in organic search right now. Today I'm thrilled to sit down with Jeffrey Trull. I know Jeffrey back from his days at Student Loan Hero, where he built and scaled an incredible organic search strategy, which ultimately led to that bootstrap startup being acquired for a reported $60 million by LendingTree. Today, Jeffrey is the founder of Impactfully Media, a content marketing and SEO agency, and Jeffrey is one of the best in high-competition verticals like consumer finance. In our episode today, I'm excited to learn more about his approach to building organic search channels in competitive industries and get his thoughts on what is working in SEO and what isn't working, and where we go from here as the landscape changes. We've got a lot to cover, and I'm excited to get started. 

Ad Spot:

This episode of the Optimize podcast is brought to you by Positional. At Positional, we're building tools for content marketing and SEO teams. We've got a great selection of tools for everything from content optimization to keyword research and technical SEO, and you can visit our website at positional.com. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Hey, Jeffrey, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast. I'm excited to chat today. 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

Thanks, Nate. Super excited to be here. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking) 

You know, we've known each other from afar for many years now. Obviously, I was a big fan of all of the work you did at Student Loan Hero, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little jealous for many years watching you scale that website and the organic strategy to what became, I think, the largest blog in the student loan space. And I, myself, was also building a blog in the consumer finance space. And I'd also be lying if I didn't say that I took some inspiration from all of that great work that you did at Student Loan Hero. So I'm excited to chat about that today. First off, I would love to learn a little bit more about you and your background. How did you get into content marketing and SEO as your career path? And what are you working on today? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:02:44

Yeah, it all started for me probably around 2010. I just started learning about blogging, like a lot of people, and got intrigued by it. Not going to lie, I was intrigued by the idea of making money from blogging and being, like, a full-time blogger or something like that. I started off a blog, personal finance blog, actually called Money Spruce, and I was just publishing my own articles on there with personal finance tips, things like that. It was pretty general and kind of generic to look back on, but I learned a lot along the way and really got interested in SEO while I was doing that. I was like, “Oh, wow, this is a pretty interesting way to get traffic. You can basically get free traffic from Google if you can figure out how to do it right.” So I really started trying to learn SEO, really intrigued by the idea that there's this algorithm that controls who gets traffic and who gets what rankings in Google. And I just really liked learning about that. I have a very analytical background. I have two engineering degrees, so I'm not actually really a businessy person or, like, a writing person. I'm an engineer, so I'm very analytical. I like kind of the details of things: tools, all that kind of stuff. So I really started learning more about SEO, getting more into kind of the content marketing side of things just beyond writing and really, you know, started working with clients and pitching the fact that I understood SEO, understood keyword research and how to optimize posts, and things like that. That really snowballed into a freelance writing career. And then to my time at Student Loan Hero, I was a content strategist and content director there, and now as a SEO and content marketing consultant on my own for Impactfully Media.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:04:11

Yeah. And I found that an engineering background is actually pretty common. When I'm talking to some of the best in content marketing and SEO, I think these folks tend to be very process driven, very detail oriented. And I've actually found, like, quite a few folks in my network with this kind of formal training in engineering have gone on to become great SEOs and content marketers. How'd you make that jump from building your own personal finance blog into working with Student Loan Hero? Did you start working with them as, like, a consultant first or a writer, and then ultimately you went on to essentially own the organic search strategy?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:04:45  

Yeah, I mean, it was a pretty gradual change. I was doing my own blog for a while, and then I started taking on freelance writing clients on the side. So I was writing blog posts for a lot of clients for a few years before that. Just, you know, anything about credit scores, student loans, debt, all that kind of stuff. Andy at Student Loan Hero approached me about writing for them. And it's kind of a funny story. At the time I was really sick of personal finance writing. And I was like, “Oh man, like, I really want to get out of this area. Like, I'm so sick of personal finance, and it's just a grind doing all these articles." I was like, “Well, I'll just pitch him a really high rate. And if he says yes, I guess I'll do it.” And so I pitched him a higher rate than I normally would. And he did say yes. I'm like, “All right, well, I guess I'm writing for this Student Loan Hero site now.” And so I actually ended up kind of liking it. I really liked working with Andy. He was really supportive and helpful and not overly demanding. After being a freelance writer for them for about six months, they offered me a full-time role to be the fourth full-time person at Student Loan Hero and to come on as a content strategist — so basically manage the whole blog publishing and SEO strategy for the company. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

How big did that blog ultimately become? I know you were there for a number of years, and I've seen the traffic on Ahrefs. From your view with that first-person data, how much traffic were you guys actually driving to Student Loan Hero at that peak moment, right before you sold the company? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

In terms of organic traffic, I can't remember exact numbers, but it was pretty close to a million unique visitors a month to the site. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

That's amazing. 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

Is that? 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, a million visitors a month from organic search, especially in a highly competitive vertical like consumer finance. That's incredibly hard to do and also really, really valuable. And I think we saw that when Student Loan Hero was ultimately acquired. One of the interesting things that's happened since the acquisition is that LendingTree ultimately ended up 301 redirecting the old Student Loan Hero site over to their primary domain, which I think maybe you had joked about, or somebody else had joked about, as the most expensive 301 redirect of all time. Was it a little bittersweet to see all that hard work and building ultimately get rolled into another domain, or did you feel good about it when you'd seen that news? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:06:58

Yeah, I'd say very bittersweet. I’d put a lot of heart and soul into those blog posts and the traffic and everything that went with it for years. So it's definitely hard to see it disappear overnight. It's kind of a weird feeling that hundreds or thousands of pages of content, and I don't know how many millions of words, that would be … are suddenly just mostly gone or maybe transformed or something like that to a different website. But it's pretty bittersweet and pretty … just, like, a strange feeling to kind of have that work kind of no longer be out there anymore. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, but I do think, like I said, you did an amazing job. And I know it was a rather large team at Student Loan Hero behind the organic search operations and scaling that channel. How big did the organic search team, including writers and editors and strategists, ultimately get when the company was ultimately acquired? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:07:51

Yeah, it was about 30 people. It was 25 to 30 people on the team at that point. So grew quite a bit over about three years from basically just me being the only full-time person to a full-size team, I guess you could say. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

I know, like, you first started in content marketing and SEO back in, like, 2011, 2012. Does that sound about right?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:08:12

Yep, yep, exactly.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:08:13

How has organic search changed in the last 10 or 11 years since, like, you first started building or thinking about organic search to where it was maybe in 2017, or to where it is today in 2023 — like, what has changed, what things are the same? I'd be curious to get your thoughts on that, given you actually have a longer perspective than I do. 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:08:34

Kind of the obvious one is there's a lot more content out there, right? A lot more competition. And I think, you know, most points in time you could look and say that, right? And so that's kind of a continuous trend, but I think it really is true these days. I mostly still work in the personal finance and financial services spaces. And there's just a lot of big players in those these days that are competing for what feels like, you know, every keyword, every question people have, anything you can write about. You know, I look at, like, NerdWallet and their student loan section, for example, and it's like, I feel like they've tapped out every idea that there is to write about student loans in pretty much every perspective. And if you're going up against sites like, you know, NerdWallet, Forbes, Credible, big sites like those, LendEDU as well. It just feels, like, really hard, like you're really fighting an uphill battle if you're a little guy. And again, I think that's been the case for a while, but I think it's even harder now. Back when I was at Student Loan Hero, a lot of the times we were the first to write about a lot of content, right, back in 2014, 2015 — or at least the first to maybe do a really good job. So I think the competition is just really ratcheted up. There's a lot of big players now that you're competing against. And if you're a newcomer or you're a smaller site with a limited budget, it's just going to be that much harder. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:09:44

Would it be crazy to try to rebuild a Student Loan Hero today in 2023? Of course, it'll be a different domain name, like Student Loan Pro. But if you and I were to start a new student loans–focused website in 2023, would it just be impossible, or it would just take a lot more capital and a lot more time? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:10:02

I think it would take a lot more capital for sure, and time. I think kind of going about it the same way, I'm not really sure it would work either. I think Student Loan Hero was just very broad. It was geared towards anybody repaying their student loans, right? Which I think a lot of student loan content is out there. I just don't think that strategy works that well for a lot of newer sites these days. I know people always say to niche down and really think about an audience or not be super broad, and I think that's probably more the case than ever if you're starting a new site at this point, right? Because you're just going to run into the big guys. I do think Google is favoring a lot more reputable sites these days as well. There are times when Student Loan Hero outranked the Department of Education website, which was, like, pretty wild. You're outranking a .gov website. And I just don't think that stuff happens as often anymore. So I think it's a little bit different landscape in how Google treats things, too. So I don't think I would try to create a Student Loan Hero website, exact same way today. I just don't really think it would work very well. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:10:57

One of the things that I think you did an incredible job of at Student Loan Hero back in, like, 2015, 2016, in those years, as we were also building a student loan–focused website, was I think you guys did an amazing job of matching your content to individual search intents. Like everybody is talking about search intent in 2023, but I feel like back in, like, 2016, like, a few people were talking about search intent, but it wasn't actually something that, like, I spent a whole lot of time thinking about or talking about with our team. But then looking back, like, you guys did an incredible job of ranking, like, a very large number of posts for very, very specific queries. And you didn't run into, like, the standard issues of keyword cannibalization, at least from my view. So how did you think about, like, search intent in 2015 and 2016? And then how are you thinking about search intent today with, like, the clients you're working at with Impactfully Media? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:11:50

Yeah, that's a great question. That's something I think about a lot and I think is just crucial to the work that I do and the clients that I serve. And yeah, it was a big deal at Student Loan Hero. In terms of search intent, you know, it was really in terms of thinking about, you know, what … how can we best answer this question for who's asking it? Like, what's most helpful? What questions are people asking, and what do they really want to know? I mean, from the search intent aspect of it, it's like, well, what do they ultimately want to do, right? I think, you know, there are a lot of queries about student loans, like there are for any topics, and people want to know the answers to questions — things like that. But if you're running a business, you have to think about search intent and, like, how that person might convert, right? How might they turn into a customer or client? Something like that. So we looked very closely at, like, you know, what is this person trying to do? Really trying to get inside the head of the person who's searching. You know, what is their ultimate goal? What do they want to find out? Because a lot of people have, you know, surface-level questions, things like that, right? They want information. The end of the day, you know, they want to … maybe they want to refinance their student loans at a lower rate, pay them off faster, maybe they need to get on an income-driven plan, something like that. They don't really want to just know that surface-level answer to how to do something like how to call my student loan servicer or something like that. They really have some further intent behind it in terms of what they're actually trying to solve. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:13:08

I do want to know a little bit more about the work that you're currently doing with Impactfully Media. What led you to ultimately going from, like, an in-house team and contributor to, like, branching out on your own and launching, like, this agency? What led you down that path and, like, how has it been going so far? And how do you work with your clients at Impactfully Media?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:13:28

Yeah, after about three years of being full-time at Student Loan Hero, I left. I left a little before the company ended up being acquired — which I didn't know at the time I was leaving that was going to be acquired. So that was a really cool surprise a few months later. But I just kind of like working with smaller teams. Student Loan Hero grew a lot. It was up near 80 employees when I left. And obviously when I started, I was the second full-time hire, not counting the co-founders — the fourth person altogether. So it was just like a really different dynamic. I kind of, like, I don't know … maybe being a big fish in a small pond is more of a way to put it for me. I just kind of enjoy that aspect of it. And I like kind of having my hand in a lot of different buckets. You know, I kind of like doing all different kinds of content marketing, things like that, and collaborating with other teams. And that just becomes harder to do, I think, in a larger organization, right? It's like, you get a little more specialized into one area. So I think it just was time for me to move on. So I started doing consulting, which I had been doing a little bit before Student Loan Hero. So it was kind of a natural fit just to slide into that. I was definitely open to other opportunities and things like that, but ended up working with some clients that I really liked. And yeah, it's been five years since I've started that consulting route. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah. And when you're working with clients, do you do everything from, like, link building to content creation and technical SEO, or do you specialize into, like, one area of content marketing or SEO? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:14:49

Yeah. So I don't do everything. I mostly specialize in content creation with the purpose of getting SEO-driven traffic to the site. So basically helping clients figure out what topics should they write about, how should they write about them, how to pass those instructions along to an editorial team, how to optimize the page, things like that. I do touch on technical SEO at times. I'm not a super coder person or something like that, but I can definitely, you know, identify problems and all that kind of thing. But I really focus in on that area. It's what I'm best at. There are plenty of other areas that I could get into, and I'm just not as interested, not as good. So I just kind of leave it at that. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:15:27

And last question about Student Loan Hero before we move on. I think you did an incredible job of building, let's call it, like, link bait — like, content that was designed to accumulate backlinks in a really organic way at scale over time. We always talk about backlinks, and I think people tend to focus mostly on guest posting or building links to resource pages via outreach, or maybe even, like, data-driven content. But what I noticed at Student Loan Hero, you did an incredible job of just picking up backlinks, like, the old-fashioned way — by, like, actually creating targeted content. So I'd love to learn, like, a little bit more about that process you use to accumulate backlinks through, like, link bait, and which ultimately led to, like, Student Loan Hero becoming one of the highest-authority websites in the industry. 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:16:10

Yeah, I think a lot of it was really thinking about, you know — it seems obvious maybe — but thinking about what do people want to link to or need to link to, or things like that. The kind of need to link to was actually … the big one for me was with the student loan debt statistics page, which was probably my biggest success of my SEO career, which gained like about 4,000 referring domains, 13,000 backlinks. Basically, you know, just looking at, like, what are people linking to out there, right? And there's a lot of news stories about student loans and people are always throwing around, like, debt numbers and things like that. Like, you know, $37,000 is the average student loan debt. And I'm like, I noticed that, like, reporters are linking to all different sources or couldn't figure out where to link to or things like that. It was a hard-to-find statistic. I'm like, “What if I just make a page that has this, and I'll probably get some people to link to it because it'll just be easy to find, all the information's there.” And sure enough, it worked. It was mostly all natural links. And we didn't really have to do that much work after kind of building a few initial links and getting it going. So I think it really comes down to thinking about what people want to link to and what kind of stuff is really helpful for people. I think it sounds very simple, and I think it's harder to do than it sounds. It's a lot of kind of researching, looking around, and really understanding the space that you're in really well. There are definitely some shortcuts to doing it and kind of figuring out. And I think there are definitely ways you can look at what other people, what other sites, already have content with a lot of links to it, and kind of doing that or doing better — if you can actually do better than something else that's out there that might not be that good. But yeah, I think it really, really comes down to considering what the need is in terms of what people need to link to. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, just to recap for our audience, Jeffrey was talking about a student loan debt statistics page on the Student Loan Hero site that they created as link bait, essentially giving journalists or other bloggers something to link to when sourcing within their pieces of content, whether it was, like, a statistic on average student loan debt or average loan size or one of the many different statistics in the student loan industry. And they ultimately built 4,000 — it sounds like, Jeffrey — backlinks to that page over time, which is just an incredible number of referring domains to a single page on a website. That's amazing. Transitioning on a little bit from your time at Student Loan Hero, back over to the agency side of things: When you're working with your clients — a question I always get asked by the startups that we're working with or talking with is “What is the best way to work with an SEO consultant or an agency?” Maybe you already have an in-house growth or marketing team. Maybe you already have someone who's on the team writing content, and you're looking for, like, some additional resources or expertise to bring in as part of building that strategy. From your view, working with your clients, like, how do they work best with you? Or maybe more broadly, how do you work best with an SEO agency that you bring in to help supplement the work you're already doing? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:19:07

Sure. I'm pretty biased, I think, in this way, but I'm more of a fan of the “done with you” than “done for you” type of model. You know, a lot of agencies offer “done for you” services, which I think sounds great, right? It's like, you just pay them, and then they do the work and you don't really have to worry about anything. In my experience of working with those agencies, it doesn't always work that well. And I think the main reason is, they just don't understand your niche or your industry as well. I think, you know, there's a lot they can do to get to know it, but not all of them take the time to really get to do that. And I think, you know, at the end of the day, this is the quality of the work they output. Let's say it's a blog post or something like that. It doesn't end up being as good, right? It falls a little flat, stuff's generic. They might look at competitors, they might just kind of copy it. So I think working with an SEO consultant or a content marketing consultant or whoever works a lot better when you work closely with them and realize it's kind of a give and-take relationship. You can't just kind of give them some stuff, give them a little bit of information, and then expect they're gonna go on for months and years creating amazing content or doing whatever you've hired them to do. It's really a, like, kind of relationship to work together on something and really build something together. I think that's the best way to look at it. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:20:17

Whenever I'm working with our customers, I always tell them, like, “You need to create fantastic content.” But it's often hard to define, like, what is fantastic content. And I know you mentioned, like, one of the big things you work with your customers on is creating content. And so from your view, like, what is a fantastic piece of content or, like, a piece of content that will perform really well in search engines? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:20:38

Yeah, I think this is kind of the philosophy I've had for a while, but for any kind of query or question or problem that someone might have, I think a great piece of content is one that answers the question really completely and concisely. So completely being, you know, what other follow-up questions might they have? What are some other areas they might run into? What questions didn't they know they had that might come up? How can I answer those, predict those, and answer them within the piece of content that I'm writing? And I think doing it concisely is really important, too. You know, there's been a trend in the past of writing content that's just really long. For a while, that worked really well for SEO, having these, like, 3,000-, 4,000-, 5,000-, 10,000-word pages, and that was kind of the default, and it was like, who could have the longest piece of content, right? And that would be the best, right? Well, I don't think that's really being rewarded in Google much anymore. I think it's really a matter of the highest quality, and I think it really comes down to answering questions well, not meandering, not putting fluff in there. So to me, that's the best piece of content. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:21:35

Yeah, and what do you think about going back to previously published content and reworking or improving it? Is that something you have spent a lot of time on? Is that something you would prioritize as part of building a strategy? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:21:47

Yeah, absolutely. I think this is definitely a major pitfall of content creation, right? Is that people create content and just keep doing it without thinking about any of their old content. I can see why, right? It's like, all right, well, that piece is already out there. Why would I spend time updating that when I can create a new piece of content and target a new query or a new audience or something like that? And that's where a lot of people get stuck. I think updating content is hugely important. I try to update every piece of content — I would say, like, top 100 pages of a site or something like that, or anything that's driving conversions or whatever, I try to update that at least once every six months. For your top pages, probably even more frequently than that: one, two, three months. It's super important to update that, keep the information super fresh, make sure everything is correct, because any of those issues, I think, could definitely result in a drop of the ranking and a drop of traffic. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:22:38

And I think you and I have probably both seen it. Like, whenever you go back to a piece of content — maybe from, like, six or nine months ago — and you go and tweak it and update it, you get, like, an initial bump; like, regardless of if those edits or changes you made were actually helpful, Google seems to want to, like, test or, like, prioritize your piece of content again. And having made those edits, is that something you've seen and are still seeing in 2023, where if you go back to a piece of content and you make some sort of change or edit, like, there tends to be, like, a quick bump or an initial, like, shake-up in terms of the rankings for that piece in a positive way? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:23:12

Yeah, it definitely can happen. I mean, you're definitely not guaranteed to do that. And I think some sites take it too far by trying to, like, update every day or just update the date and not update the content. And sometimes that works, even. I don't think that's like a great long-term strategy, but I definitely see it happen where content does initially go up in ranking and hopefully it does stay there, right? That's the whole point of updating content and making it better. It definitely can happen. It definitely does happen. So, you know, I encourage all my clients to update their content regularly for that reason. It's like, you can't take your rankings for granted either and that you're always gonna stay there. It just doesn't work that way, right? You can lose rankings, other people create content, other people come along and they write better things. So if you kind of just are sitting on your heels, you might lose traffic. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:24:01

Yeah, and I'm about to go on a slight rant, but I'm sure you've seen it in the SERPs, the influx of — I don't know if I wanna call it parasite SEO or something else, but there's been, like, a large number of traditional publishers who have gotten into like the finance vertical in particular, sites like Forbes or US News who weren't traditionally focused on the finance or personal finance vertical, but they're using, like, their domain authority as a way to rank very well, very quickly, for keywords in these very valuable industries. And as part of my rant, I'd argue that, like, the quality of the content that they create is often not as good as maybe it would have been at, like, a Student Loan Hero or a site that actually knows this topic really well, but they're getting outranked by these traditional publishers who just have a large amount of domain authority. I'd be curious to get your perspective on this phenomenon. I'm not really sure what to call it, but I'm sure you've seen it. And do you think this is something that's going to get more prevalent in the years ahead, or something that Google's thinking about actively as something maybe that's not as helpful for their searchers?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:25:07

Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah, I mean, I get exactly what you mean. Forbes has been the bane of my existence for many years. I do think their content is a little bit better than it used to be, just to be fair. I think they've ramped it up a bit, but before, it seemed like kind of any contributor could jump on Forbes and publish something and instantly be on page one of Google — so very frustrating there. I think it's quite prevalent today, though. Everybody's looking for areas to expand into, right? And these big publishers, it's easy for them to do it. They just need a little bit of domain expertise. They can attract people. They have money. By attract people, I mean writers to write for them. I think it's, you know, definitely a trend is every site seeks to continue to grow. Going forward, though, I'm not so sure, like, I'm that concerned about it. The reason why is I think that Google is gonna really lean a lot more on E-E-A-T and particularly people's expertise and experience in certain areas. I think that's what's gonna matter most, right. You know, in theory, like, if someone's publishing on a large website and doesn't have good experience or expertise, I think Google's not really gonna promote that content, even though it's on a big-name site. I think that's the future. Google can recognize expertise a lot better than it used to, and I think it's only gonna get better. So I think those publishers that can really have people that demonstrate that expertise and experience in those areas are really gonna be the ones that win in the long run. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

I totally agree with you that, like, having actual experts writing actually great and helpful pieces of content is the way that you win in 2023. I'd be curious to get your thoughts on AI-generated content. And is it something you're using? Should I be using it as, like, I'm building my websites? What are your thoughts on AI-generated content as part of a content marketing strategy?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:26:50

Definitely a big topic these days in the content marketing world. I have pretty mixed feelings on AI myself. I'm definitely not anti-AI content, but I'm definitely not all in on AI content. The way I like to look at it is, I think AI is most useful these days for creating better content and using it to help create the content, but not leaning on it too heavily and not letting AI basically write an entire article that you're going to publish. I think right now AI tools can generate, like, a pretty good, like, low- to mid-quality article, and even then they probably need a lot of editing before you really publish it. I know there are sites out there that have published just straight AI content. I think they got hit pretty hard by some of the recent Google updates, but there are tools that can generate, like, a pretty good article, right? It's kind of scraping the web. It's creating kind of, maybe, a summary of what other articles are out there. And then, you know, maybe someone spends like an hour or so to edit, fact-check it — definitely have to fact-check this stuff — and they publish it. And I think it creates, like, a decent article on pretty generic topics. So, that said, I do use AI-generated content sometimes. Some of my clients do as well — however, always heavily edited and fact-checked. Typically do it for, like, more general topics. It doesn't work that well for things like thought leadership and those types of things, which I think is its biggest weakness. Any clients I'm using it with right now, it's a minority of their content, for sure. It's nowhere near 100% of their content. So I do use it. I definitely think it'll get better over time. But also I think, like I just mentioned, I think expertise matters a lot. And AI just can't have that level of expertise that a human can.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:28:29

Yeah, I think Google, too, has been, like, shouting from the rooftops that, like, you should include a byline and an author bio, like, on each piece of content you create. And I guess if, like, someone who has, you know, a credential or a license or a degree is willing to put their byline on a piece of content, whether it was written by themselves or written by AI, then I think that's a signal to Google that that piece has been fact-checked and vetted and actually is a high-quality piece of content. And I agree with you: I'm certainly not the anti-AI guy. I have seen it being used pretty effectively by very large sites as a supplement to the other 95% of content they've created on their websites, and I also think that low-quality content isn't a new thing for Google to understand. There's been a large amount of low-quality content on the internet for the last 20 years. And I think Google has done a better job of filtering it out. I think its job's only going to get harder, though, with just this massive influx of content. Like, I talked to a startup the other day that legitimately published like 600 articles to their site in one day that were all generated with AI as a starting point to their blog. And I don't think that's the right approach. I think, like you said, making sure that it's fact-checked, edited, it is high quality, it's really important, especially when you're in a very competitive industry that can have a very big impact on someone's life. The last thing we want is to be publishing content that would be inaccurate or unhelpful or actually damaging to a reader. As part of your process of creating content with your clients, I know from my own experience that content and high-quality content is getting more expensive and has gotten more expensive over the last six or seven years. What does an awesome piece of content cost? If I was putting my budget together, and I'm about to build a budget of 100 pieces of content for my site, what should I expect to pay for that content? And I know it varies depending on industry, but I'd be curious to get your thoughts on, like, what sort of budget I should be thinking about for those new pieces of content I'm paying for. 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:30:31

I'd say it probably starts around $1,000 when you include kind of everything that goes into it. So I'm assuming it's an SEO-focused piece of content — you know, the research, the keyword research and doing all the strategy around it, outlining those types of things. I think for a really great piece of content, there are multiple people involved. So of course there's the writer, right, who's writing the content. So that's one cost right there. There's at least one editor, maybe two people working on it. So there's additional costs for that as well. Perhaps there's graphics and things like that involved, you know, stock imagery or custom imagery or things like that. That's another cost right there. And then I think, too, for certain types of content, there's also the cost of promoting it, right? So social media, doing outreach, those types of things. So if you really look at all that, the costs really do start to add up. It can go up quite a bit more from there. So I think it, you know, it does unfortunately cost a lot to generate this kind of content and, you know, not everybody has to spend that much, but I think that's generally a fair expectation, as you know, the $1,000 to $2,000 range, but it can definitely go up from there. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

When you're creating great content, I know you mentioned, like, outlining and briefing as part of the content creation process. In your experience, what goes into an outline? Like, what is an effective outline that we can ultimately give to a freelance writer or someone who's creating content on our team?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:31:53

I think really what can go into, best go into, an outline is, if possible, having someone with direct experience in that area, being able to contribute to the outline — like, that really knows what questions people are asking firsthand, you know: customers, clients. That is, you know, can they provide insights on kind of the questions that people have? And aside from that, you know, you can look at people also ask questions in Google and harvest questions from there, include those, I think it's really just making sure that it's really comprehensive information, you know — what else, what other topics are other competitor, competing sites answering, or what else they have covered in their article. Not to say you just copy things, because that doesn't work well, but really thinking critically about what the biggest questions are that people have, how to point them in the right direction. I think how-to content is super important. So getting people instructions whenever possible, step-by-step if it makes sense. So really thinking about how can you help them take the next step in terms of whatever they need to do. So I think whenever you can convey that to a writer and an outline, that's super helpful. Writers don't always have the same level of knowledge or expertise within an industry or area or topic that maybe someone else at your company does. So I think including as much of that detail as possible and who you're trying to help is a really good way to structure an outline. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:33:07

I'm sure that you've thought a lot about the changing organic search UX and UI. I know Google's released that new generative search experience, and a lot of people on Twitter at least are saying SEO is dead. And so if I'm putting my budget together and I'm prepared to spend, let's call it, $100,000 or $200,000 over the next year building out the blog on my website, could that ultimately be a waste of money? Is SEO finally dead from your perspective?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:33:38

It could definitely end up being a waste of money. I think that's pretty much true though for anything related to SEO, right? Nothing's guaranteed. And I think there's more uncertainty than ever around that now, despite people saying this every year after year, SEO is dead, right? And obviously it hasn't died at this point, but is this the biggest threat yet? It could be. So yeah, there's no guarantees, but I think that doesn't mean that SEO is dead either. I think there are still ways that people will get traffic through content. I think it just matters, you know, how you think about it. And if I was gonna spend 100,000, 200,000 or more dollars on that, I would definitely be spending it on people with good E-E-A-T expertise and direct experience in those fields. I think that's gonna matter the most. I think with Google's new search, that's the kind of content that they're gonna display alongside their AI answers are from authors who have that experience. So I wouldn't be wasting the money generating, you know, 600-plus AI articles and publishing those and doing those types of things. I think that kind of stuff might work in the short term. And if that's fine with you, go for it. But in the long term, I definitely think low-quality stuff is going to get pushed way down in Google. And so I would elevate quality even more. And I'd start by doing that with who's writing the posts and hiring the best possible people to write the posts. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

And everyone's asking me, how do I get my content included into that new giant featured snippet at the top of search results? And I don't have a great answer. So I'm going to ask you, how can I get my pieces of content included into those generative AI responses or large featured snippets that Google might be including into searches everywhere? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:35:16

I mean, we don't really know for sure yet, right? We have some guidelines from Google and things like that. But again, I think it goes along with what I just said about experience, expertise, and those factors. I think that's what's going to go the furthest. I do think also having somebody who has expertise and that can really speak on it is going to be the hardest for Google to replicate with AI, right? I think AI is not a person. It doesn't know real things. It hasn't done actual, you know … hasn't gotten a mortgage or something like that, right? It can only know what it knows by reading the internet or whatever. And so having people that actually, you know, are working in the mortgage industry or something like that, they're just gonna have knowledge that AI is gonna have a lot harder time replicating. And I think that's the kind of content that Google's really gonna feature, is stuff that's complementary to the kind of informational answers that AI can give, people have real experiences. And there's a lot of video content and things like that with people demonstrating those types of experience they have and stuff, too. And again, AI just can't replicate those kinds of things. So I think that's the kind of content that's going to do best and show up highest. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

In some sense, what you're describing feels like journalism, essentially, like, getting real sources, doing the research, getting expert commentary that, like, an AI couldn't find or generate being new. And then including that, especially in industries that are actively changing, like the student loan industry, for example. And speaking of video, is video something that you're thinking about or prioritizing in the work that you do with your clients as part of creating content on their sites?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:36:46

I don't do a lot with video personally. I, like, advise a little bit on video content and stuff like that, but I don't actually do any video production. But I have clients that do it, and they've had good results with it. I think it's definitely something I'll be looking into more in terms of how it relates to AI results in Google and seeing, you know, does that have a bigger impact than maybe it does now? Is Google really preferring that kind of content? Definitely read a lot about it in terms of these new AI results. So I'll definitely be keeping an eye on that.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:37:12

And as far as, like, your day to day goes, there's a lot to do, like, every single day when you're building an organic search channel. And there are a lot of things that I've found are a total waste of time, things that I'm spending time on that don't actually move the needle for me or for my websites. What are, like, one or two things that you think are just, like, a total waste of time or just not worth spending time on as you're building one of these strategies? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:37:35

Yeah, I think the biggest one for me is I see a lot of sites just trying to get any kind of traffic they can in low-competition areas. So I think, you know, I'll see like a site say like, “Oh wow, like, I could write about like a celebrity or something, right?” Like Kim Kardashian's big in these right now. Let's put an article about that or something like those areas or just something else that's like a really low competition keyword, but doesn't have anything to do with their business. And then they end up getting traffic, but the traffic is pretty much useless and has no value. I've just seen this from a lot of sites, that their top-performing page is just something not related to their business at all. And I think it feels good to get a lot of traffic from a keyword or from a page like that, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really help accomplish any business goals. So I really think websites should really focus on content that has high intent, content that converts, and not kind of this other stuff that they can publish just because it seems easier to get traffic to it. So I'd say that's the biggest waste of time. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:38:36

Yeah. Page views do not necessarily equal dollars. Jeffrey, I've really enjoyed this conversation, and if it's okay with you, I would love to wrap things up with a quick four- or five-question lightning round. Does that sound good to you? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:38:48

Sure, let's do it. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

All right, so my first question is, what's your favorite tool? What tool are you using most? Maybe what tool's most valuable for you on a day-to-day basis? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

My favorite tool is still probably Semrush. I just really love using the tool. It has so much information inside of it. Definitely the best keyword research tool I've ever worked with. There's just a lot of information there. I find it really easy to use. I could probably spend all day in there just researching different competitors and things like that because there's just so, so much in there. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Yeah, speaking of competitor research, how much do you use your competitors as, like, inspiration for those keywords or topics that you go after?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

I would say I use them a lot. I think it's super helpful for finding gaps in your content. You know, it's the first and easiest place to look is seeing what other competitors have written about that you haven't covered yet. Definitely a great place to go if you've already produced a lot of content and you're kind of wondering what to write about or to cover next. So yeah, that's a huge one for me is looking at competitors and studying their websites and their keywords and that kind of stuff. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Should we be buying backlinks in 2023? Does it still make sense?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

0:39:51

I would say yes. I kind of think you have to be competitive in some areas. I know a lot of people don't like that answer, and I don't really like it either, but I think just from what I've seen, that's the reality. I think people should be very careful about how they go about it and very conscious and tread lightly in an area, because you can get caught, you can get penalized. Google has more algorithmic penalties these days, for sure. There's a web spam algorithm update back in December. But I think to be competitive in certain areas, you just have to, and you're just not gonna be able to build links to certain pages naturally. You're gonna have to buy them. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

What does it cost to buy a backlink in 2023?

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

I would say for a good backlink, probably, I don't know, $300 to $600 for a decent one. It can go way up from there, $1000-plus, depending on the site. So you're definitely looking at in the hundreds of dollars for the most part. Depends on if you're doing it yourself or you're outsourcing it, but if you're outsourcing it, hundreds of dollars. If you're doing it yourself, maybe a little bit less.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:40:48

Okay, and my final question is imagery. Is it worth creating beautiful graphics or visuals to incorporate into your posts, or is that just a waste of time? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

I would say absolutely yes on that one, actually. I'm really so sick of stock photos. I can't stand it. I hate including them, but it's obviously a lot easier to use stock photos than use real photos. And I think if you can even take it a step above that and create charts, graphs, images, things that are interactive, that kind of stuff, it's really gonna help you stand out. So I would say absolutely yes, if you can find a good way to use graphics and imagery in your posts. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Well, I've really enjoyed this conversation. I learned a lot from this conversation. I definitely think our listeners will, too. How do people get in touch with you? If they wanna learn more about Impactfully Media or follow you on social media. How do our listeners get in touch and follow along with all the work you're doing? 

Jeffrey Trull (Speaking)

Sure. So my website's impactfullymedia.com. I'm also on LinkedIn. You can just search for Jeffrey Trull. That's probably where I'm most active these days. And yeah, those are the best places to find me. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

Heck yeah. And we'll definitely include that in our show notes too on our website. You'll get a backlink from us, I promise. So for all our listeners, if you want to get in touch with Jeffrey or work with Impactfully Media, we'll include a link over to his site in the show notes. But thank you so much, Jeffrey. It was a pleasure to do this with you today.

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Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

We used to create outlines for our posts, either by paying a consultant $75+ each, or by spending 1-2 hours researching and creating each one ourselves. With Positional, we can create the best outlines for our target keyword clusters and get alternatives within a couple clicks.

Louis-Victor Jadavji
CEO & Co-Founder at Taloflow

Positional has proven indispensable in our SEO strategy. Its rapid optimization capabilities for our blogs led to noticeable improvements in search rankings within a month. From planning to making our content better, it’s like having a teammate. Our team loves it!

Varun Varma
Co-Founder at Typo

Positional is a must-use tool for any growing startup that cares about SEO. It's simple and easy to use but as powerful as anything out there. Plus their customer support is next level.

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Positional has been an amazing addition to our SEO and Content team's workflows, enhancing our overall efficiency. We particularly love using Auto Detect and Internal Linking on a daily basis!

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SEO Manager at Klay Media

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Co-Founder & Head of Marketing at Warmly

As an SEO novice, Positional makes it easy. I can quickly go from keyword research, to clustering, to content outlines, then go focus on just making good content. I felt like it helped bridge the gaps between what would’ve taken 3 or more tools in the past.

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The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

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Positional has been an amazing addition to our SEO and Content team's workflows, enhancing our overall efficiency. We particularly love using Auto Detect and Internal Linking on a daily basis!

Lindsey Barnes
SEO Manager at Klay Media

Nate and the positional team are the best of the best in SEO, content marketing, and helping you grow your organic traffic. The combination of their expertise and the SEO and content tool they’ve built has allowed us to build a scalable content engine. Reach out to me anytime for a testimony. They are truly phenomenal.

Alan Zhao
Co-Founder & Head of Marketing at Warmly

As an SEO novice, Positional makes it easy. I can quickly go from keyword research, to clustering, to content outlines, then go focus on just making good content. I felt like it helped bridge the gaps between what would’ve taken 3 or more tools in the past.

Kevin Galang
Head of Growth at Definite

The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

Nate Lee
CEO and Co-Founder at Speedscale

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

tq-karl-hughes-podcast-internals
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

We used to create outlines for our posts, either by paying a consultant $75+ each, or by spending 1-2 hours researching and creating each one ourselves. With Positional, we can create the best outlines for our target keyword clusters and get alternatives within a couple clicks.

Louis-Victor Jadavji
CEO & Co-Founder at Taloflow

Positional has proven indispensable in our SEO strategy. Its rapid optimization capabilities for our blogs led to noticeable improvements in search rankings within a month. From planning to making our content better, it’s like having a teammate. Our team loves it!

Varun Varma
Co-Founder at Typo

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

tq-karl-hughes-podcast-internals
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

We used to create outlines for our posts, either by paying a consultant $75+ each, or by spending 1-2 hours researching and creating each one ourselves. With Positional, we can create the best outlines for our target keyword clusters and get alternatives within a couple clicks.

Louis-Victor Jadavji
CEO & Co-Founder at Taloflow

Positional has proven indispensable in our SEO strategy. Its rapid optimization capabilities for our blogs led to noticeable improvements in search rankings within a month. From planning to making our content better, it’s like having a teammate. Our team loves it!

Varun Varma
Co-Founder at Typo