Optimize Episode 004: JH Scherck on How to Move The Needle in SEO, Technical SEO at Scale, and Optimizing for Buyer Journey

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with John-Henry Scherck for the fourth episode of the Optimize podcast. JH is the founder of Growth Plays, an SEO consultancy focused on B2B content strategy. As a foremost expert in B2B content marketing and SEO, he frequently serves as a growth marketing consultant to high-performing SaaS companies. JH has worked with a number of incredible startups like LaunchDarkly, Hopin, Lattice, and Heap among many others. In episode #4, JH and Nate chat about mapping buyer journey's, building an SEO channel to will actually drive additional pipeline, technical SEO at scale, and how organic search is and isn't changing in 2023.

Jun 28, 2023

Learn More About John-Henry Scherck

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JHTScherck 

Website: https://growthplays.com/ 

What to Listen For:

2:35 J.H.'s background

4:51 J.H. on why he started an SEO & content marketing agency

8:21 What makes content marketing & SEO channels so powerful for B2B or SaaS companies?

13:00 How to measure SEO campaign success

15:35 Conversion rate optimization

19:10 How long does it take to build a meaningful organic search channel?

23:19 How important are backlinks in 2023?

30:52 J.H.'s commentary on how to think about topical relevance & authority

34:00 What does a piece of content cost in 2023?

40:06 The importance of technical SEO & internal links

43:09 Does anchor text matter In 2023?

45:17 Is SEO dead? What are the impacts of Google's upcoming UX/UI changes & SGE?

50:24 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:00:00

I think having a real brand, being a real company, being a company that gets in the news a ton and is heavily cited, layering SEO onto that through, like, fundamentals, and using SEO as a platform for product marketing and thought leadership concepts and demand generation works a whole lot better than just, like, kind of this game of cat and mouse where you're, like, trying to get a lot of links, trying to publish this, like, what is topic modeled content and building topical maps or whatever. Like none of my buyers care what that stuff is. They just want pipeline. But if they have the bigger revenue engine figured out, building a content engine inside of that company is not that heavy of a lift, and it's a pretty quick time to value.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:00:40

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 John-Henry Scherck. J.H. is the founder of Growth Plays, a content marketing and SEO agency focused on helping venture-backed startups and growth stage businesses in the B2B space. He's worked with a number of incredible clients like Hopin, Heap, Lattice, and LaunchDarkly, and has helped them drive many millions of dollars in pipeline through SEO. In our episode today, I'm excited to learn more about his approach to building organic search channels in competitive B2B industries, how he measures the value of the SEO channel with his clients, and to get his thoughts on what's working in SEO, and where we go from here as the landscape changes. We've got a lot to cover, and I'm really excited to get started.

Ad Spot:

0:01:29

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)

J.H., thanks so much for coming on the Optimize podcast.

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:01:59

Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure to be here. Glad to be a guest.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:02:03 I know we only have 45 minutes, and so we're going to move relatively quickly, but I'm excited to talk to you about everything from technical SEO to how you work with clients and scale their organic search channels in the competitive B2B space. And also it'd be great to get your thoughts on how SEO is changing from here. I know there's been a lot of changes with the new search UX and UI and AI generated content, and so it'd be great to unpack all of that in the episode here today. But as a starting point, we'd love to learn a little bit more about you. How did you get into content marketing and SEO, and how did this ultimately become your career path with Growth Plays?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:02:35

Great question. I started out when I was in college. There was this guy, Chris Franco, who's still doing YouTube channels and whatnot. He runs his own performance marketing agency as well. And he started this website, and it was a music website, had a little bit of politics stuff on it as well, and it was run on WordPress. And I first started out writing for it, and I was like, “Oh, I have no idea what I'm doing.” And then I was just not a very good writer. And then I kind of got into the WordPress side of things, explored that a little bit, and that led me down this rabbit hole of, like, “oh.” And the site started getting quite a bit of traffic, and I didn't really realize what was going on. We were selling links for Beats by Dre headphone affiliates and whatnot. I knew search was gonna be pretty big, and I was working at a PR firm as an intern and didn't love that. And I would see these, like, job postings in the height of the recession, like 2008, 2009. Chicago was rocked by the recession, where I was living at the time. And there was just, like, all these job postings for SEO, and everything was going to Google. Like, that's where everyone was doing. And at that time, like, search was really different. Like, I remember a few years later down the road — like, we got a lead from a website that used to have funny pictures of cats. And, like, the amount of people that just searched for, like, cute cat pictures or whatever: it was through the roof. Like, a lot of that stuff's gone to social. But at that time, search was just, like, how people navigated the internet, and there weren't these, like, reactive feeds that people just spent their time on. So there was a lot of just, like, that search was, like, the focus of the whole internet at that time. So I just put together a list of all of the agencies in the Chicagoland area that were doing search and just outbounded each and every one being like, “Hey, I will be a unpaid intern. I just wanna learn how to do this.” One agency got back to me, and they were like, “Yeah, you can come on in.” And they started me real small. I was working on, like, dog walker, local SEO websites and whatnot, and just, like, whatever I could get my hands on. Got me certified in analytics and trained up, and I kind of entered the agency world from there. Moved on to a bunch of other agencies, went in-house, and then started this company after some experience both in-house and agency side. But yeah, man, got into it through a blog in college and then just … I knew search is where the internet was moving, and I wanted to be a part of it. So I just did a little outbound and got my foot in the door.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:04:38

Heck yeah, I love that. And so it sounds like you've gone from an agency role into an in-house role and then back into your own agency. After having had those in-house roles, what ultimately led you to say, like, “I want to go out on my own and launch my own agency and Growth Plays”?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:04:51

I think when you're a vendor, there's a difference in how you can execute. And I think, like, I was spending a lot of time in meetings, and, like, it wasn't that it wasn't worthwhile; it just wasn't what I wanted to be doing. Like, we'd be redesigning the website, and I had to be involved in every meeting or launching some new subdomain and not, like, really creating growth. Like, I got pulled into all this other stuff that just, like, happened to impact SEO and the website. And I really wanted to just build my own thing, not be responsible for a lot of the minutiae that comes with being in-house. Even though that stuff is important, it just wasn't what I was passionate about. And I really wanted to do my own thing. So I got started, and I realized that there was kind of a gap in the market between what agencies sell and what specifically B2B businesses need. I think SEO agencies tend to focus a lot on activity and not necessarily on value creation. There's a lot of things that you can do to kind of spread out a retainer. And this does not apply to the agencies I work for. I work for some best-in-class agencies, by the way. Like, I love, like, Builtvisible … back when I was there was SEO Gadget and Seer, best-in-class agencies. But so I'm not speaking of them, but really, like, I think there is a … after hiring a bunch of agencies and working with a bunch of other folks, there's a move of, like, let's build a 12-month plan. Let's have that plan, so that when it comes time to renew, there's a lot left to do and a lot more on our plate. And there's not really a focus on upfront value creation, more of a focus of long-term, this channel's really long-term, and we're gonna be working on it for long-term, we're gonna do lots of little stuff. And what I found being in-house is it's really about big strategic needle-moving things and not so much the little stuff in the background. That's why I take big issue with “Oh, we're gonna build four links a month.” Like, who cares, man? Like, I want 4,000 links. I want 40,000 links. Like, I don't … and it's not gonna come from, like, manual outreach. It's gonna come from building a company that people want to cite and want to put in, and that's why I think, like, SEO also works a lot better if your company's got a lot of real stuff going on. I think it's very hard to, like, create growth in a silo of the internet where, like, you're just doing your own thing. I think it's very tough to, like, try and do SEO for a company that doesn't have product marketing figured out, doesn't have branding figured out, doesn't have the design figured out. So I realized if we were to partner with companies that are probably gonna be successful with or without SEO, SEO is gonna be very successful there versus these companies that are like, “Oh, we need the channel to work for us because that's our big bet.” I want a company whose big bet is just “We have unstoppable momentum.” You can layer SEO onto that pretty easily, and there is a lot of companies out there that have that momentum. So we kind of geared the business to partner with companies that, like I said, are gonna be successful regardless of SEO. And I think that's also what Google wants to elevate. Like, not these companies that have figured out how to do really good outreach. That's not necessarily what's gonna lead to the best experience for the end user when they find that product through search. I think having a real brand, being a real company, being a company that gets in the news a ton, is heavily cited — layering SEO onto that through fundamentals and using SEO as a platform for product marketing and thought leadership concepts and demand generation works a whole lot better than just this game of cat and mouse where you're trying to get a lot of links, trying to publish this, what is topic-modeled content, and building topical maps or whatever. None of my buyers care what that stuff is; they just want pipeline. But if they have the bigger revenue engine figured out, building a content engine inside of that company is not that heavy of a lift, and it's a pretty quick time to value. So that's really, I'd say, like, what we focus on or what I focus on with this consultancy.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:08:09

Heck yeah, and I know you focus on B2B, largely B2B businesses. What makes content marketing and SEO such a powerful channel for B2B or B2B SaaS companies in particular?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:08:21 With B2B, one, the problems are usually a little more complex than, like, getting a mortgage or buying a car — like, something like pretty transactional. So when someone's trying to solve a complex problem, like, if we were to take it to, like, cloud migrations, there is so much that you can learn about cloud migration, so much you can prepare about cloud migrations, and you can take it from, like, “What is my problem?” to “What are my next steps?” and give people, like, a framework to follow or a process or a webinar that walks them through migrating from one cloud to another and really create these journeys where you unlock hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue. So it's, like, you're not just gonna get people to sit down and buy. Like, we work with one company that's in the, I'd say like ERP and procurement and payment space. And it's, like, it's a wall-to-wall enterprise deal. Like, no one is just gonna, like, search for it and buy the product. And I think that with content, what you can really use that for is audience development and getting people to trust you for the long term and stick around. And I think, like, search — at least in, like, upmarket B2B — is really moving from a place of “Get your offer in front of people, get them to fill out the form, get them into a sales meeting” … like, just like really transactional stuff. So much of the buyer journey happens before they ever talk to sales. But what I like about content is you can get someone's contact information and nurture them for the long term. The thing with SEO — if we're just gonna call it out — SEO content has a very specific framework to it. It is very top-of-funnel, very, like, it gets everyone on the same page, explains the issue, and then walks people through the benefits or why it's important or the best practices. It's built in this manner that's easy to skim and scan. And to be more successful in it, you typically need to include commonly related ideas, and that are also linking to very accessible things that are designed to rank in search. So someone who lands on the page and has no context to what you're talking about can get educated and solve for their job to be done. The thing I really like about grabbing someone's contact information and moving them to demand gen flows or your newsletter is you don't need to play that performance game anymore. Once you've captured their contact info, you don't have to do, like, the “what is my category” or “best practices for this process,” and you can send them that messaging that really matters for you and is authentic and doesn't need to perform in an algorithm — it just needs to connect with your buyer. So I think where search is really moving to — I'm answering questions ahead of them even being asked, sorry about this — but where I think search is moving to is, like, providing value, maybe giving out a template or a webinar or a framework or a short-form video or whatever it is, some exchange of value where the contact information is exchanged or people decide they wanna subscribe and follow along with your content because they like it so much. And then transitioning away from the search-focused content to content that just is unique and lands in their inbox that people really wanna share through social channels and with their peers. I have not read a “what is my category” post and been like, “You guys need to check this out. This is wildly good.” It's super-boring content that helps you understand the issue. I think search … there's some other aspects of search, like helping people with referential content. We work with one company that does some work in the tax automation space, and it's, like, that information is quickly changing. You need to look it up. The websites from government entities that host that information are very tough to navigate. So having a great content experience where people can get the taxation information they need to go about their job to be done — like, that's an excellent use for search … like, an excellent channel for search. It's just, like, where does that loyalty come from? So it's, like, along with that content, we need to have, like, “Oh, these things change all the time. These tax guidelines get updated. Like, follow along with our newsletter and get, like, the latest breaking news that'll impact your workflow.” So I think, like, you need to kind of attack, like — where search is going at least — is you need to kind of think of, like, what, beyond this page, like, what value can we keep providing these people where they're gonna want to become our audience member. And once they're actually, like, subscribed to your audience and reading your newsletter or watching your videos or whatever it is, when it comes time to buy, you're top of mind and it's, like, they just, they wanna join the party. So I think that's really where it's going. Less of this, like, transactional thing — and this is for upmarket B2B stuff. We work with one company that's in the voiceover protocol space, like, office phones. That's hyper-transactional. People land on a page, they buy it; they search for the thing, they need it right then. I recently had to do something with a government body where I had to fax them something. I found a digital fax machine online, spent all of 20 seconds in the purchase process. But if you're looking for an ERP replacement, if we're talking, like, 100K deals, they don't happen because you found a page through search. That is part of the journey, but people aren't just opting in and putting their career on the line because they found something because it ranks in Google.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:13:00

When you're working with your clients, do they measure the success of an SEO campaign or strategy in terms of closed pipeline? Is that, like, the KPI that, like, you are shooting for or, like, the teams you're working with are shooting for when they're building this channel?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:13:14

That's such a good question. I don't think it's my job to close the deal. I think it's my job to create pipeline or at least drive form fills that create pipeline. Because if you know what you're doing, you can just drive a bunch of awful form fills, and then they just don't convert. I'd say it really depends on the company as well. Some companies care way more about ... I like to gear it around pipeline and say we're not responsible for closing the deals. If the deal gets qualified and it becomes a real opportunity, that's on the rep to close that deal. But I'd say overall pipeline influenced is a big metric that we look at. And of course, we do want to see those deals close. We want them to close, but I'd say ultimately the amount of pipeline demos generated that actually show up in our real demos is key. One of the most illuminating things for me was when I was in-house, I was like, “Oh man, we're crushing it. We got all these demo requests. We got all these signups.” And then when I went, I see — when I was agency side, that was my opinion: like, “Oh we're just doing so well.” And then I went in-house and I was like, “Oh, half these people never show up for a demo; a lot of the credit card information is fake.” The Google Analytics tells this very rosy story where, like, no one churns and everyone shows up for a demo, and it's just like, “Oh, we got all these form fills; this is amazing.” And then when you actually get into it you're like, “Oh, the amount of value that trickles through this funnel, depending on how leaky it is, i can be very small at the end of the day.” Once I realized, like, “Oh yeah, not everyone shows up for a demo and, like, sometimes these are just, like, fake form fills” — that was a very illuminating process for me.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:14:32

Yeah. I always like to say page views don't equal dollars, but in this case it sounds like form completions also don't necessarily equal dollars. I spent, like, the first seven years of my career marketing financial products online using a personal finance blog, and to convert a customer, typically all we needed to do was show, like, an ad for a personal loan or a credit card in front of them — and they would click on it, and they would convert. It was a very simple buyer journey. But then over the last few years, as you know I've spent more time in, like, a more complex B2B industry, and I found that, like, that buyer journey was a lot more difficult. It was a lot harder for you to actually turn into that demo or that free trial into a paid customer. And I know it's not necessarily SEO, but I'm sure you work with some of your clients also on, like, conversion rate optimization or, like, moving that visitor into an actual, like, closed lead. What are some of, like, those big mistakes you see like your customers or other companies in the space make when it comes to conversion rate optimization, especially in those, like, highly competitive and highly complex industries?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:15:35

One thing I'm a really big fan of is tools like Calendly, where a sales rep can book a meeting right then and there and, like, get on the call, versus an SDR having to be like, “Hey, what time do you want to, like, get that meeting booked?” on the form, like, right after you get the contact info. I'm a big fan of that. I think that leads to more meetings being booked overall versus kicking that to a later stage. You know, this is just … this has nothing to do with SEO, but kind of a prerequisite to, with us, is we need a company to have their mission, vision, and strategy baked out. And if a company can't go to a conference, have a booth, and take someone who is a fit for their product that walks up to their booth and be like, “Hey, what do you all do?” and turn them into a lead, we're not gonna be able to do it with search. We really need to understand what makes people get excited, and how do we do that? And I think a lot of companies approach SEO as one of the first channels they go after. And I think that's typically a mistake. You should be able to make a lot of other … like, outbound should work absurdly well. If you can't take your messaging, get people to understand what you're doing through emailing them, and get meetings that way, it's gonna be pretty tough to test search to get meetings through pulling visits through SEO. Like, I like to make sure that, like, a sales process is really dialed, in the language that they use to get leads excited and turn them into opportunities is dialed in, and then transferring that knowledge over to, like, the web copy and what we're doing. And I think a lot of folks in search kind of go after, like, what has a lot of volume. And what we find is, like, that those super high volume plays — like, you know, business intelligence tool or whatever —when it's so unspecific and there's tons and tons of people searching for it, it's like you should ask the company, “How many accounts can you really sell into? Can you sell into 200,000 accounts a year? Because if so, if we have a page that's doing 200,000 visits a month, like, is that the right audience for you? Or is that way too broad? Is that students looking for a definition?” With SEO traffic, when you're going for these, like, what is this or, like, very broad, coarse-grained terms that drive a ton of traffic, a lot of that traffic's not qualified. So I think going for the real specifics of what you do and instead launching a lot of different pages that speak to the specifics of what you do, versus having all of your eggs in four different landing pages, that's really what I tend to recommend is going for the specific and converting folks on their specific needs and pain points, versus “we're the best BI tool.” I'd say going to the specific and being able to speak to specific pain points that map to the term that the person is searching for is a way to convert more folks on the page versus just using pop-ups or chat or whatever on, like, highly broad, high-traffic pages.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:18:15

Yeah. And I know you work with a lot of venture-backed clients, and I know you've invested in some companies, and I've invested in some startups as well. And I know that everyone right now is thinking about growth, but also thinking about, like, the cost of that growth. And one of the things that I love about content marketing and SEO is that it becomes, like, a really durable and high-margin channel over time. Like, it takes, of course, a lot of upfront work and building to build it. But then once you've built it, it can continue to drive, like, top of funnel for many, many years into the future. But right now it seems that, like, a lot of the startup founders I talk with are all of the sudden thinking about content marketing and SEO as, like, another channel to pursue. And one of the questions I always get asked is, like, “How long does it take?” And so I guess I'm going to ask you that question. Like, how long does it actually take to build, like, a meaningful organic search channel or at least get, like, some signs or indications that it's working well for a business?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:19:10

And I'd say I'm gonna answer that with a question — that's, like, “How much attention do you demand?” If your content — if, like, what you publish demands attention, let's take this out of venture-backed world and go to SEO world, which we all know and love. Like, Brian Dean at the Backlinko site that sold to Semrush — like, every post that dude put out was a heater, and people cared about what he had to say, and he demanded attention online. And I think if you have an audience already — like, if you can carry your audience from social, like, if you're good at the LinkedIn and then you bring that over to your content — it's gonna work a lot faster than just, like, starting net new with no audience and no list. And so, like, if you can email folks about the content you're putting out, get more visibility to it, and you can do some sponsorship stuff as well or some content distribution work. But I'd say, like, trying to do ground-and-pound link building to rank for competitive terms when you don't really have any content engine and you don't have anything else going on … Ii it's like, “Oh, we're doing content marketing,” and that just means, like, we're doing SEO, then it's probably going to take a really long time because all you have to offer people is, like, search-focused articles. If you have an audience, if you have good content, if you have, like, content in different formats that people kind of use as, like, a playground and go and explore, and it's just a matter of, like, layering SEO in to an already strong brand with product market fit, it's gonna go very fast. It could take a quarter, and then you start seeing some pretty solid results. But if it's just, like, we're doing SEO, we don't really have a message that's bigger than the keywords we're going after, we're mainly answering common questions in search and then saying, “Oh, we've got a demo that you can get at the bottom of the page,” we don't have unique POV, we don't have anything to challenge the space, it's gonna take a really long time because you're not exceptional. From what I can tell, working with a lot of different founders in a lot of different stages, the founder is not a marketing-focused founder or a founder who gets how people buy things and how sales works, and they're more on the product side or the engineering side. They view content as this switch that you turn off and on. And it's not. It's like, “Oh, we're doing content now.” And it's like, “Well, what kind of content; is it any good? Do people care about it? Do people want to read it? Or is it just something that you publish that you hope people visit through search that you hide in some section of your site that no one can easily find?” And then, like, you think that's how you're going to grow this company? And it's, like, who's writing this stuff, too? We're really … I can't speak to the client that it is, but we're really lucky to work with this one customer that has hired an industry analyst who does a lot of their content. And it is, like, this person knows the space, the space has been their life for the last decade. They can talk about trends in the space, and they're not just mashing together five other articles that they found in search and then being like, “Oh, also the category we're building is a trend.” They have real thoughts, and they are super connected to their industry, so if they publish something, it makes waves. That's where you wanna be. This idea that you can just publish stuff in a silo, it's gonna start ranking, and then people are somehow gonna find this, and they're somehow gonna buy from you: I think is really disconnected from what actually works. And if you look at Drift, Drift started doing SEO after they kind of got social on lock and people just were paying attention to them and couldn't get away from them through LinkedIn or wherever. So I think, like, if you have that going for you, if people actually already care what you have to say, search can be very, very quick. If no one cares if your company lived or died and you don't have anything to talk about and you're just, like, kind of doing the channel, it's gonna take years; it may never work. And it probably shouldn't ever work because what you're doing is boring, and it's not gonna help people actually solve problems. It's just you trying to execute on a channel so you can get pipeline. There's very little actual value exchange there. You're just, like, doing activity that you think will lead to more traffic. So I'd say it really depends on how good your overall marketing engine is, not just, like, can you do content and SEO. And this gets, like … I can imagine it's getting some pushback in the comments because, like, some people are working on local dog walker sites or whatever, like I was 10 years ago. And it's like, yeah, getting five links is, like, what you need to make that business work. But when you're competing with, like, the SAPs and the NetSuites and the Salesforces and the HubSpots of the world, it's not about, like, getting five links and writing 10 articles. It's about being, like, demanding of attention online and being worthy of that attention. And that's what can make it go a whole lot faster. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:23:12

How important are backlinks in 2023? And is it something that, like, you're actively spending time on with your clients? 

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:23:19

All of our customers should be able to acquire backlinks at scale and on autopilot. Like, they're — they do a lot of other stuff than just what we're doing. Like, I don't like focusing on backlinks because it's not something we can really control. It's just something that we can kind of coax and sometimes be successful. And the amount of effort spent to get a couple backlinks, it would be better to put that money into making the content more shareable and more promotable and earning those links naturally over time. We have a piece we did with a company called SignalFire that ranks for the term “creator economy.” The URL has been changed, but if you go to the original URL, it has over 2,000 links pointing to it because it is the best piece of content on the internet about that topic. It's been cited by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal. I was actually listening to the tech news briefing podcast one day and they cited the intro in that article. And I was like, oh, that's awesome, that's good to see. We have a case study coming out with Mode real soon; I'm excited to share that. And it's like, it doesn't matter. Like, they've been around for a long time; they are an established incumbent on the internet. Me or someone on my team getting five links to a page, it could help on, like, a per-page level. If you write stuff that is worthy of links, if you have a little bit of authority and you start ranking, it is gonna work its way up to the top. And you can definitely ask for a few more. But again, like, I don't want five links. I want 500 reaching out manually to get 500 links. Like, what's the going rate of a link right now? Like, if you were to pay a vendor to find a good one — like, $500 or so?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:24:40

I don't buy backlinks. But when I was building backlinks at scale at our first company that we started, we had, like, two full-time employees building backlinks every single day. And we, like, regularly analyzed our costs per backlink acquisition, but we looked at what we were paying them. So what was our payroll cost? And for two junior employees who were building backlinks every single day, day in and day out, through guest posting, resource pages, things like that, we got our cost per link acquisition in around about 250 bucks.

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:25:08

Well, you're really good, though. Like, you're really good at what you do. And most companies, to hire headcount at a company and be like, “Oh, this person's gonna be our backlink builder” — I can't imagine; you would have to be deep in the weeds in SEO in a company. You need to be a Monday.com or something like that, where it's, like, tons of people are looking for this, it's a somewhat transactional sale, and the more links we get, the better we do. We should have a ton of links already, and I don't think five is gonna move the needle necessarily, and I hope that if we don't … if our content doesn't earn links over time, it's probably not that good. This is just, like, different stages of maturity, too. If you are super early stage and content is a big bet for you, and it's, like, you know, the more visits you get to this page, the more revenue you make, go and promote it a little bit, get some links. But I just feel like tactically building links to each and every page that you create is such a time suck, and it's pretty expensive. And it's like, when you think about, like, oh, it's, like, $200 per link or $300 per link, OK, and we're getting what, like 10 links to a page? We spent an extra $2,000 on budget for that piece of content and made it something that is just, like, demonstrably the best thing out there. Building manual links kind of creates this, like, war of attrition, where it's just, like, how do we get, like, a few more? And I want content that blows the other stuff out of the water, where it's like, we're just not gonna be able to compete with this — from a quality perspective, from an information perspective, from a design perspective. And I think that is how you build a moat, versus asking for five links, because anyone can ask for five links. Not too many people can get 200-plus links on autopilot coming to your site that you don't have to manually ask for. That's my take on it. Yes, it has some value. Tactically, it can make some sense. Big picture, I'd like to not need it.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:26:46

Yeah, and by the way, building links full-time — like, day in and day out as your full-time role — is a miserable job. So thank you to my former employees who are now off to much more exciting things in their careers. If they're listening, I appreciate the hard work from 2015 to 2019, because it is a really tough job to, like, go into the office every single day and commit yourself to building backlinks and then trying to justify, like, that value to the company or to, like, a single page. It is quite hard. But for us, in my previous career, the most scalable way that we built backlinks was through data-driven content — so publishing interesting studies and reports and surveys, because these are the things that would go viral and accumulate many hundreds of links. And you didn't always hit a home run, but you could pretty regularly hit singles or doubles that would accumulate like five, 10, 15, 20 links. And I'd be curious to get your perspective on this. I think from my view, one of the things that has changed in search from when I first started in this space is that I actually don't think the number of links to a particular page actually matters that much. I think it did back in, like, 2014, 2015 — like, you could build a lot of links to, like, that one, like, high-value or money page on your site, and that would work. But I don't think that's nearly as effective in 2023. I still think links are important at a domain level to get your website in the running. And before we move on from backlinks, do you think links at a page level still matter — or more generally, just links to an entire domain matter more than at a page level?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:28:14

So it really depends on the industry you work in. We work with a company that's in the VoIP space — like, Voice over Internet Protocol office phones. That is pretty link focused. And it actually challenged some assumptions I have when I was looking in the search results. I was like, “Oh, it's very much like this page with 200-plus links pointing to it is crushing it, even though it's pretty low quality.” So I think that there's a certain amount where it does definitely move the needle. I'd say shout out to Grindstone, Grindstone SEO. He's a pretty black hat guy, not the right fit for our customers, but the dude really knows what he's talking about. He always preaches about relevancy. Like, relevancy is really what matters. And I care about the network that I am linked in. I want, if we're working in the procurement space, I want links from every site that talks about procurement, that procurement people read and try. And it's like, when you think about links, I want links from the sites that have audiences of people that can buy our product. I don't really care about, like, links from random stuff or links that are going to be for, like, tangentially related things that don't really matter for our business. Like, back in 2014, when I was at WP Engine, we did this thing where we hired an agency to do it. They did a great job on it, but it was basically, like, about security — had, like, nothing to do with WordPress though. Got hundreds of links. Didn't move the needle for the business because it was just, like, interesting. Got write-ups, got write-ups in real newspapers, but it was just, like, a ton of links about general security stuff. Nothing about WordPress security, nothing about managing websites. Did not move the needle. So I'm much more geared towards, like, relevant audience, getting links from sites that have relevant audiences where the referral traffic could come and actually buy your product. I think that's a very good litmus for, like, do we want this link or not?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:29:43

Yeah, I think that's a really good point. When we were building backlinks via data-driven content, we always had to tie our stories back to consumer finance because that was the industry we were in. But once in a while, we would get a little distracted. And so while we were publishing studies on, like, student loan debt by state or credit scores by state, once in a while we would get distracted. And we had published an article comparing, I think, Tinder versus Bumble, and which one was a better fit to ultimately finding your significant other. And this story, an article on a website about consumer finance, ended up picking up like hundreds of backlinks. And we were like, all right, we can't get, like, tempted into this game of writing very engaging stories that aren't actually about our business. And so we did work pretty hard from there on actually tying back all of the research reports we were doing to our core topic. And I think over time, like, Google's gotten increasingly good at, like, identifying, like, topical relevance and topical authority, as well as, like, search intent. How do you think about, like, topical relevance and authority when you're building out, like, a portfolio of content for your clients?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:30:52

I think that there's this idea of, like, “Oh, you should have a page for, like, every keyword and every and, like, cover the topic fully.” And it's like, who decides what a full topic is? Like, I'm not gonna publish every single thing that we could possibly publish about one topic just because it's, like, found in a keyword tool. Because we don't have unlimited bandwidth — like, this idea that we can just keep publishing things forever, and everything's going to matter. The more we publish on this topic, the more we're going to rank better for all the topics. That's a very hard thing to justify when the money is actually spent and the ROI isn't there. It's like, why did you write 40 posts about things that don't really have that much relevance to us? So I really try and figure out what are all the things that we could write about this topic? And then what are the things that are actually going to lead to qualified visits? And I really try and focus on, like, what are the most impactful things that really matter for the business? Where if people land on the page that are searching for this idea or this concept or this topic, they have a problem that this product can solve for or, like, one of our downloads can solve for. And we can get them to the next stage of their journey, versus, like, high bounce rate traffic — a lot of, like, the what is or, like, best practices posts. They have their place, but they're oftentimes, like, not serious action takers. It's, like, people that are just browsing ideas. I want, like, very realistic problems. I think that can come with, like … templates are always a great thing to give out — kind of, like, to give people to get to that next step. So I think, like, if this can align to a template or a white paper or a webinar, we can capture their contact information and help them solve their problems. That's a much more — I'm much more focused on building that out first. And if it's like, yeah, we need a page for what is product analytics, or what is this thing where we can really, like, define the category … like, I do think with the what is concepts and, like, defining a concept, there is some power there. It's just so top of funnel. With one company that we work with, we know using some attribution data — like, we know senior decision makers read this what is page. So we've really geared it towards “How does this category impact your business?” And “What is, like, the bottom line going to be?” It's really about like, what is the most powerful cluster of content that you can create for your business that's gonna lead people to take action? So I'm much more focused on, like, what's the qualified traffic? Yeah, we may try and define the concept. We may try and give people a tutorial on the concept or something like that if it's technical. But I'm fine leaving some things out if we know they're not gonna be the most important drivers of value.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:33:19

Yeah, like you said, there's only so much time and only so much budget, especially right now. And a question I'm often asked is, what does a piece of content cost? In your experience with your companies in B2B SaaS and B2B more broadly, like, what are they paying for a piece of content? Or what does it cost them generally to create one internally?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:33:40

I mean, this is really good. I mean, it's a tough question. It's like asking how much does a house cost or how much does a car cost. Like, it's a very … it's, like, how good of a car do you want? And who are you trying to pick up in this car?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:33:51

I want a really good car, and I'm selling to a technical audience, and that blog post is 1,800 words.

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:34:00

I mean, 1,800 words, I'd say, like, depending on how technical it is, and if you need to have code samples or SQL queries or whatever in it, we're talking potentially 25, sometimes a little bit less, sometimes a little bit more. But we've worked on things, we've worked on hubs of content or whatever that probably had 18, 20 pages in them. Even when there's quite a few pages and you feel like you should get a discount on bulk, it still costs $40,000, $50,000 to get that all out the door. And that's just, like, what are we paying the writers? We're not thinking about, like, who needs to review this? Who has to get this live? Like, who needs to QA it? Who needs to set up, like, the design template or whatever inside of the CMS? It's much more expensive than people think. Like, content has a lot of costs to it that I don't think people calculate into it. So I'd say, I try and take it towards what's the value we can create. And I try and focus on that with our customers of, like, OK, if we get this much traffic with this kind of conversion rate, and we can get that for the next three years, is that piece ROI positive or not? Because some of these things — like if we're going into a space where we're trying to rank for, like, “Kubernetes performance monitoring” or something like that, I know you know that one. Let's just say, like, I'm guessing most of the sites on that homepage that rank for that because it's an established topic that is for a very online audience, you're going to need 40, 50 links probably to get on the board for that one or else you're gonna have a hard time cracking through to page one. Maybe if you're, like, a really authoritative domain, if you're like a Red Hat or an IBM or a New Relic or something like that, you can get there a little bit easier. You know, an earlier-stage company, you're gonna have to really invest in that content to beat out those incumbents, and I think that's something that folks don't always consider. It's like, it's not equal. Like, if you are David going against Goliath, if you're David you need a Goliath-sized piece of content to compete with the incumbents. And that's why I often tell companies that reach out to us at a really early stage — like, at their seed stage — like, “We wanna start doing SEO,” I was like, “Oh, you should do other stuff first” … where the overall authority of your website is not strong enough, where you're fighting with one hand tied behind your back, and after you raise a series A or a series B … one of our customers just raised, I think, their series B or C last week, and the amount of links to their site doubled. Some of those links will go away, some of them are syndicated, but a lot of press came into that site, and it just increased their overall authority. Everything that wrote them up was talking about the space that they're in, what they're doing, what their vision is, that use the keywords that they wanna rank for in the write-ups of the post. That gives you such an advantage. So if you're early stage, like with Gremlin, when we did that Chaos Monkey thing, they were pretty early on, and we had to do an outsized amount of effort to compete with BMC and some of these bigger sites that were out there. The cost of content and the effort level is directly relational to, one, how fast do you want to go? And how early are you? — are kind of, like, two factors that factor in, or they're two different variables that factor into the pricing calculation.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:36:38

Yeah, I think for our article on Kubernetes monitoring, we paid about $3,200. And that was written by, like, an actual expert. The guy’s written, like, textbooks and knows the space inside and out. That keyword haunted me for two years. We could not crack the first page for that keyword despite having what I think was the largest Kubernetes blog. What was also extremely frustrating about that keyword for me is I did build links to our page, so I probably built between 15 and 20 links. It still didn't really work. I think we got stuck on the second page. But then one of those guest posts that I wrote that linked over to our page is on the first page for “Kubernetes monitoring.” So if you Google “Kubernetes monitoring,” you'll see a guest post that I wrote about Kubernetes monitoring on the first page that has no links to it, despite linking to my page, which is on the second page. So I'm not sure what to make all of that. Yeah. So tell me, what did I do wrong? Like, I created a fantastic article, I built a link to it, and then the guest post that I wrote that's linking to my piece is on the first page, but I'm on the second page. Like, what could I have done differently? Or what did I do wrong?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:37:41

So I think this is something that I … and, like, this is not like a client-friendly answer. They don't necessarily like hearing this one. But I think, you know, when we got into the game, it was very much a system of inputs that led to clear outputs. It's like, “Oh, we build the links, we make the pages, we get the rankings, we get the traffic.” And I don't think that's really the case anymore. And I think, no matter, I think there's much more of a feedback loop with user experience now, and it's like, if people come to the page and they do not get the answers they want and they then back out and go to the result below you or the result below that, and you're not — you're giving off some signals that, like, when people land on this page, they're not getting the information that they need, I do think you get removed from the search results pretty quickly. There's definitely this trend of, like publishing stuff, it doesn't have great engagement signals, and then it goes down pretty quickly. Like, I've seen that quite a few times, especially on, like, programmatic plays. There's less of an ability to detect … like, to diagnose why this page won't rank. Like, there's so many complex variables with ranking and search now, that being like, “Well, we built the links, the page has a high score in these tools that measure topic relevance, and, you know, we've got a very clickable title tag” or whatever — if people aren't having a good experience post-click, I don't think you're gonna rank for long. That's why I like thinking about things at a more macro level than diving into individually how to make this page rank better. I'd rather improve internal linking across the board with your lovely tool. Or rewrite all title tags to try and improve click-through from multiple pages at once, versus being like, how do we get this page where we want it to be? I think it's very hard to take specific action. That's also why when it comes to rank tracking, I don't really like tracking individual keywords. We do it, but we roll those up into a category level and then do, like, market share by category instead of, like, how do we get to number one for this thing? It's like, well, that could be very difficult to do. It could be that, like, irs.gov ranks number one for that, or nih.gov for working, like, a healthcare space, something like that. And it's just like, we're not gonna win that one. But how much market share can we get for the entire category of keywords that we're going for? So that's why I like to focus on the bigger picture, because oftentimes, moving the individual things is somewhat out of your control, but I feel like if you get the motion together and you execute consistently with the right process, and you're pushing things out there that is high quality, you will win over time. You may not win for the exact things you want to, but if you zoom out, you will be moving in the right direction.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:40:06

There are so many things for us to unpack here. We might need to do a part two in, like, a year from now. But I know you mentioned internal linking, and I know that is something that you work on with your clients. How important is internal linking as part of, like, a technical SEO strategy or a technical SEO audit?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:40:22

Man, I think it's huge. I think internal linking is such a contextual channel where it's like, the context that you're working in is very important to how you execute. And for us, it's like, we've worked with some sites — like, we worked with one company that I'd say legitimately invented large parts of the internet or, like, how the internet functions today. They've been around for a very long time, they're public, they're great, we have a great relationship with them. They have so much authority that if we can just, like, add 50 links to a page from other pages on it, it will rank. So it's about, like, it's more about, like, adjusting their internal linking structure to point to the things that we want to point to. I don't think it's very important early on. I think there needs to be a clean crawl path. All the content needs to be discoverable and indexable, easy to find, not using JavaScript-based pagination and things like that. I think internal linking is really important, but beyond that, internal linking should also be a form of user journey mapping. If someone lands on your Kubernetes monitoring post, if all it's going to do is just, like, answer the basic questions about Kubernetes monitoring, that might help some folks. But what I would want to send them to is, like, the next things that are really relevant, like troubleshooting misconfigurations with Kubernetes or something like that; that is why they're looking for monitoring. That's going to help them dive deeper into the topic. So I think internal linking can take someone from like, “Hey, I know how to search for this broad idea.” And then you can be like, “But are you actually looking for these deeper, more nuanced things that maybe don't have a lot of search volume behind them?” And I think we get a lot of questions about, like, “Hey, what keyword do we mash into this totally baked out post that's great content, but we want search traffic to it?” It's like, ‘Well, search is a horrible distribution channel for this thing. This isn't meant for search, it's not meant for a search audience, but we can take our search content and internally link to it and make it pretty prominent.” I have a carousel of related posts in the middle of the post — add, like, related reading, not at the very bottom, or, like, put it in the sidebar of the post or something like that, and get people to click through to the things that we actually want them reading, versus the things that get a lot of search traffic. So I think you can kind of use search traffic to funnel, and search traffic plus internal linking to funnel, people to the posts you actually care about and want them to engage with that are gonna allow you to show off your product and your value a lot better than, like, what is my category.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:42:33

Yeah, totally. People always ask me, like, how important internal linking is, and I think it's very important. And the first thing I always say is, it's helpful for your readers. Like that's the first step is it'll just help people navigate your site, it'll keep them on your site longer, it'll show Google all of that quality signal across your pages as that user goes through that journey. So at a minimum, internal linking is just helpful for your readers and ultimately converting customers, and I think like you said, it's helpful for indicating to Google which pages you care most about. Last quick question on internal linking: How much does anchor text matter when you're thinking about the internal links across a website?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:43:09

It matters in the sense of, like, you should be priming people about what they're going to get out of the page with the anchor text. I think it's fine to deviate from the top five keywords you see in Google Search Console, but we were working with one site, and they had a lot of content about one particular topic on their website. And what we found is — I'm trying hard to be vague enough so I don't identify who it is, but also clue everyone into this, so bear with me here — they had a lot of content about this one particular topic, and what we found is, people would just link to these pages with the topic word in there. It was just very vague anchor text where all of these pages were about the same topic. There were variations of that topic — like, long-tail terms, different — they were using the same anchor text … didn't really clue readers into what was going on, and then the ranking kind of got muddied over time. And this is very circumstantial, anecdotal, not causal. I think that unclear anchor text over time led to Google not really knowing which pages should rank for which terms. So I think, like, having clearly delineated, like, “What is this content about?” and “What is the job to be done of someone who would be accessing it?” and making that clear in the anchor text — not only is that a good user experience, but that clues Google into, like, what is this content about and what should it potentially rank for in search, versus just, like, linking to it with the word monitoring tool or finance app or whatever you're gonna do. Like, is it how to choose a finance app? Is it a finance app buyer's guide for, like, a various list of tools? You know, best practices around, like … there's a lot of different ways that you can go into that. So cluing people into the specifics of the article with the anchor text, I think is really important.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:44:40

Yeah, keyword cannibalization is an issue that a lot of our customers face when they have a very large number of similar but different pages that might address different search intents. And I always say to them, like, when you're thinking about your anchors, you have to also think about, like, the search intent that you ultimately want that page to rank for, because I think Google has gotten increasingly good at understanding, like, the context and anchors around internal links. All right, so before we get into the lightning round, I have to get your thoughts on the new UX and UI of Google search or where search might be going. What do you think? Is SEO dead? That's what I've seen on Twitter at least a few times in the last week.

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:45:17

Yeah, it's dead, and everyone should stop doing it. Just leave it to me. I think people have always been quick to call out that Google's gonna die. I've seen this story a lot, and I think for certain topics, like the generative AI stuff, could eat into search. More ChatGPT than the generative AI experiences from Google — I have the thing enabled in my personal Google account. And it's very underwhelming. It feels like a featured snippet. If I ask it complex questions — I've actually been asking a bunch of Kubernetes questions — it tends to dump me back into search results pretty quickly. It's just like, “Oh, hey, just take this stuff.” And it's going to improve over time. I still think Google is going to ultimately need to send traffic to other websites, and they're not gonna … like, ChatGPT can get away with saying some pretty weird stuff, and it's not the end of that brand. Like, Google can't have wildly wrong things. People will react to it and hold them accountable for it, so I think Google's gonna be a little more cautious there. If all you need is, like, a generative AI answer for a very basic thing, you probably weren't gonna be the best visit anyway. Like, I think this could really eat into like page-view-model-based businesses, where they're running, like, ads, and that's their whole business model, is getting more page views and doing arbitrage on traffic and things like that to get more page views. Those types of businesses where it's just traffic in, money out, and it's very little value per visit: those could see a lot of pain. Same with calculator websites. It reminds me of when a featured snippet for time zone changes came out where it was like, “It's this time in LA, what time is it in Abu Dhabi?” Got a call from a company that was like, “Yeah, we're a time zone website, how do we beat this?” And I was like, “Oh, you don't, this sucks — like, you should do something else.” And probably wasn't, like, my best job as a salesperson. I think that there's no use trying to fight it; you should try and figure out alternative paths to getting traffic where, like, a simple snippet is not going to solve the problem of the user. And that's oftentimes like, “How do I take action? How do I do this thing? What are the next steps?” And being the place for taking action versus, like, getting an answer to a question is where I would, like … is where I coach my customers to go. But again, this goes back to, like, we're all playing on rented channels that we don't own at all. Same with, like, LinkedIn — like, LinkedIn can go away in a day … like, organic reach is already kind of going down from what I understand from folks that are pretty heavy on that channel. Same with, like, Facebook ads: they used to be very effective, and then Apple changed how they allow you to track users, and now those Facebook ads aren't as good as what you actually want right now. That's why I think, with all these channels, we don't own them, and I think the best thing that you can do is build an audience of people that you have a direct relationship with, where you have their email, and you can send them whatever you want, whenever you want. And it's like, search should not … like the idea that, “Oh, we're just gonna get a bunch of touches from these people over time, because they're gonna search for things related to these problems, and then they're gonna buy” — you may not have that. That one visit may be your one chance with that person in a few years. So gearing more towards building an owned audience instead of just relying on search is this firehose of traffic that's never going to be turned off. That's the mental shift I'm trying to work on with a lot of our customers. But who knows what's going to happen? I'm not very impressed by the generative search experience. So it's, like, if people aren't impressed with it and it takes a while to load, and it's just, like, a bigger featured snippet, I don't see it killing what we do. But I do think there's a chance for less traffic to come in through search over time, over the next couple of years. John Cooper wrote a very dDoomer article on it. It's worth reading. He's got a very negative take on where this is all going, but I think it's worth getting his perspective. He's a very smart dude. I'm not as worried about it as some people, because I think if it's not just about search traffic, if you actually have something to say that people want to follow along with, you're gonna be able to cut through that.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:48:56

And I'm sure if you haven't already been asked this question by some of your customers, you will be soon, but how do we get our pieces of content into that giant featured snippet that might be coming to Google searches everywhere? Is there a way that you're thinking about, like, optimizing for that featured placement, like you would, say, a featured snippet back in like 2016?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:49:17

I haven't put too much thought in it yet because it's not in general availability. I've played around with it. I think it's gonna be less about, like, can you make snippet bait or whatever you wanna call it or whatever. I think it's gonna be more about, like, are you synonymous with this topic? And I think it's probably gonna be less of the job of search. Like, search is definitely, it's gonna be important to, like, have a crawlable website and have content that talks to buyer problems and covers the industry that you're in and whatnot. But I imagine, like, Google probably has their own ideas of, like, who owns this topic and who's central to it. So I imagine if you search for, like, identity governance or something like that, like, Okta is going to pop up in that featured snippet because they own that topic. So I think, like, being the category leader and being the brand that gets mentioned along with that, you know, that collection of keywords or those topics, that's probably … and, like, having a lot of links that point to your site that also mention those topics — I think that's probably what's gonna go into making you rank in search: like, dominating the topic online in a way that isn't just, like, your brand having search traffic, but is, like, people cannot escape your brand when they research this thing. That is what I think will lead to being in the generative experience.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:50:24

So I think I've got about seven or eight questions as part of this lightning round. Are you ready? 

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

Yeah. Okay. 

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

So AI content, should we be using it, and are you using it with your clients?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:50:35

As a writing assistant, not as a writer.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:50:37

As far as backlinks go, do you think they become more or less important with this new search experience that Google might be rolling out?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:50:44

It stays the same.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:50:45

As far as tooling goes, what's your favorite tool in the SEO space or the tool that you find yourself using most often with your clients?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:50:50

The thing I use the most is Ahrefs by far. It's a very good tool. The other thing I'd say that we use is Data Studio. The tool interfaces are not good. Most tool interfaces are very complex. Making things executive-friendly through Data Studio is what we spend a lot of time on. So I'd say that tool to kind of make the data relatable to folks that don't come from an SEO background. But when it comes to like a ground-and-pound SEO tool, there's a reason they're at a hundred million ARR and are, like, a small private — or, like, a not too large privately held company. The product is very, very good.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:51:18

Do Core Web Vitals matter? Is that something that you're ever worried about?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:51:23

If they're really bad — like, I don't think Lighthouse is a perfect produced tool. I don't think the scores are perfectly thought out. They've gone back and forth on it a ton. If it's impacting user experience, it matters. The page loads slowly or it has rendering issues. Yeah, it matters, but, like, bumping yourself up from a 96 to a 100 is not a good use of time.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:51:43

Should I ever trade backlinks? I get these emails all of the time. And sometimes they're from like series D late stage startups that want to do a backlink swap. Is that ever something worth doing?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:51:53

Not if it can't scale.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:51:56

And what's one thing that you see SEOs or other agencies spend time on that's just a total waste of time.

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:52:02

When it comes to waste of time, I think that there are a lot of tools that we use that tell us, like, how healthy is this site or, you know, it's, like, Ahrefs has an auditor, we use ContentKing, which is a very helpful tool. Ignoring what the tools say and going with what you know will provide value and being fine with, like, an 87 or whatever it is — like, it's … those tools do not equate rankings. So going with what you know will provide value versus what an automated tool can pick up. Like, there's certain things with the Webflow platform that you can't adjust. It's just like, that's how Webflow is, and that's a trade off you make with using Webflow. Does it mean that Webflow sites can't rank? Absolutely not. They rank absurdly well for a lot of stuff. Those sites are very performant, but there are some SEO best practices that they don't necessarily adhere to. That's fine. You need to optimize what you can instead of worrying about what you can't. Be like, well, the tool says 87 — like, who cares what the tool says? Are you making money? Are you getting traffic? Well, are you getting traffic, and does that traffic make you money? And are there big technical issues that confuse Google? If that's the case, you need to address those, but if not, you can let small fires burn. I think letting small fires burn is like actually one of the core strengths of a good SEO, instead of, like, overreacting to everything and leading with what the tools have to say.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:53:16

And I know you're into wine. What's the best bottle of wine that you've had lately and why?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:53:20

Best bottle of wine I've had recently was the 2021 Chardonnay from Hirsch Vineyards. It's a California wine. It's, like, not too buttery, oaky. It's a nice, light Chardonnay. It's really good for the summertime. It's a little bit on the pricier side, but if you're having, like, a nice celebration, having some people over: wonderful bottle.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:53:37

I've really enjoyed doing this episode with you. I've learned a lot, and I know our listeners have too. How do our listeners get in touch with you if they want to work with Growth Plays, or where can they find you?

John-Henry Scherck (Speaking)

0:53:47

Yeah, just go to growthplays.com and fill out the site, but I'm very active on twitter.com, which is not a known channel so I need to start a newsletter soon; I'm working on that. But twitter.com is where I hang out online, and then growthplays.com if you want to work with us.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

0:54:02

Well, I'll definitely be subscribing to your newsletter when it goes live. And at a minimum, you'll get a backlink from us in the show notes. So when we publish this podcast episode, you'll get a link back to J.H.'s website, as well as his Twitter handle, which I also definitely think you should follow. He's got a lot of great information there. I get at least two or three talking points each week from following him on Twitter. So, J.H., thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

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Matthew Busel
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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.

Matthew Busel
Co-Founder at Whalesync

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SEO Manager at Klay Media

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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