It was a great honor to talk with Neil Howe about the developments regarding SEO and how to use trust triggers. These triggers encourage people to buy. At the same time, I took the opportunity to discuss some of the SEO myths that are out there that scare many online marketers and business owners away from making the right business decisions.
Welcome to the Trust Factor radio, bringing you interviews and insights to unlock the power of the subconscious mind to create authority, credibility and trust with your host the authority architect and bestselling author Neal Howe.
Neal Howe: Hello and welcome to the show this is your host Neal Howe and today my special guest is Carlton Smith. Carlton is the president of Flagstone Search Marketing and Flagstone Search Marketing is a Google-certified partner agency based in Birmingham Alabama. Flagstone focuses on SEO and PPC campaigns, social media marketing, custom WordPress website design and Google Maps optimization. Founder Carlton Smith has been focused on digital media content for sixteen years and has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital and International Expeditions.
His content has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Engadget, Business.com, SEMRush, Inc.com, and the Chicago Tribune. Welcome to the show Carlton Smith.
Carlton Smith: I’m happy to be here, honored to be here.
Neil Howe: I am very excited to get all your experience and your knowledge from you today about SEO and digital marketing, so let’s get to it. Tells a little bit about yourself, you’ve been in business for quite a while here doing this, how did you get started?
Carlton Smith: Well you know I started out really on the content side when I was in university at Alabama. I started going down the internet rabbit hole, I was very young then and I was actually looking for fish bootlegs and grateful dead bootlegs, so that’s next how I went down the rabbit hole and graduated with a degree in journalism.
I was writing for newspapers, wrote for a newspaper in Colorado and then shortly for the London Times this was in the late nineties and you know at the time I just sort of saw the writing on the wall for print media and at the same time I happened to be getting more and more interested in coding and you know building websites is something that I just started tinkering around with on my own at night. And then fast forward a few years I ended up working for Time Inc. and specifically Southern Living magazine and you know I started seeing that a lot of these smaller companies were out there beating us in search and I never could really understand that you know.
So this is around 2007, so I started you know trying to reverse engineer what was happening with SEO and why our websites were you know consistently getting beat out and so you know they made me the first person in the in the entire company that had a title centered around SEO. So I was the editor, the senior editor of Search Engine Optimization, so I gave tips to you know all of the magazines like real simple in Southern Living and Coastal Living and you know that’s when I really started understanding the industry and working at it. It was still a very young industry then and then you know SEO people and Pay-per-click people were definitely not on the same side and they were viewed as you know very different disciplines and if you were if you were in SEO you didn’t even you know bother with learning much about Pay-per-click. That’s all changed very much so you know after I worked for… after the publishing empire sort of crashed in 2008 I went to work for a travel company International Expeditions and that’s where I really learned the Pay-per-click side.
I was managing a fairly large budget there, I got my certification and I really saw the immediacy and the results that PPC could deliver very quickly. So I feel like you know things for me really came full circle there because you know I learned how to how to utilize Pay-per-click and you know couple of years after that, after moonlighting a lot I went out on my own. So I’ve been… Flagstone’s passed its five year anniversary back in February. So that’s great.
Neil Howe: Well excellent so let’s get it, yeah I want to really get into the SEO part of it but I want you to talk about Pay-per-click like first because you know that’s two different strategies but like you said they all kind of work together now including you know the maps, the social media marketing as well as you know the branding and the website design. What do you like about Pay-per-click marketing because as I know there’s a lot of people that you know swear by it and that’s you know one of the only things that they do because it’s those immediate results.
Carlton Smith: Yeah I mean they’re you know you touched upon it it’s the immediacy of it, you know you’re able to control what is presented on Google. Often times what Google displays on SEO is you know you can control it to a certain extent but sometimes they’ll pull you know different meta descriptions and you know you just don’t have things exactly the way you want to present them. So with ad copy there’s definitely a way to present your message and really these days the way Google has changed the search results it’s even in in some ways even if you’re number one you’ll be half way down the page you know because if they’re showing the maps listing then they’re going to show the map results first and then they’re going to show two ads and then you know position number one organically can be a scroll down for somebody who’s on a mobile device or a tablet. So SEO is not everything, Pay-per-click gives you a chance present information the way you want to. Also I would recommend every company bid on their own brand terms because often times your competitors are bidding on your brand terms. So if you’re not, if you don’t have at least somewhat of an AdWords campaign to protect your brand searches then you potentially are having searches stolen from you by the competition. I hope that answers your question there.
Neil Howe: Yes Pay-per-click one of the good things about that I see a lot is you can really understand your metrics. So you know if you spend x amount of dollars you’re going to get you know x amount of clicks which leads to x amount of calls and you can really look at it but it does get kind of expensive especially if you’re dealing with the kind of clients that you are with which is in the law niche.
Carlton Smith: Yeah, yeah that’s you know some of the most expensive cost per click of you know any industry, insurance, legal and pharmaceuticals are up there in the top three. Yeah that’s you know but it’s also helpful for your SEO strategy because you know with Pay-per-click campaign you can test, you know you can see. Often times we make assumptions with SEO and you think that there’s certain search terms that you know that that squarely represents your business when in fact if you run a Pay-per-click campaign you can see well maybe these you know these terms drove a lot of traffic but you know we’ve really got nothing out of it in terms of calls or you know contact form request.
So the good thing about Pay-per-click is that you can fail fast with it and you can see what’s working and what’s driving a lot of the traffic and what’s converting the traffic and that’s very helpful because SEO is a long term strategy and that’s why the two of them work pretty well together. You can see how to optimize and it could help your SEO campaign in terms of you know SEO will take several months much of the time to really see if active results. So you need something to do in the meantime, Pay-per-click is really helpful with regards in that.
Neil Howe: So many of your clients are in the law niche, what kind of problems are they having and you know what kind of strategy do you make for them to get them the result that they’re looking for?
Carlton Smith: Well it does depend on what kind of attorney they are, I mean you know a car wreck lawyer or a personal injury lawyer they’re probably facing the most difficult of problems in that you know they’re going to have the highest cost per clicks. They’re going to have the highest competition but yeah I would say all attorneys are facing the same issues and that’s just you know you have to have money to market and you have to have a pretty robust money for marketing.
It’s just its tough if there’s no, if there’s nothing there then it’s very tough for me to do the work. So that’s really more why I like to focus on medium sized law firms because you know they’re very small or solo or law firms it’s very difficult to make things happen because you know the cost per clicks are so high and the cost for you know let’s face it as SEO is very expensive too because SEO requires you to have a very well structured website, it requires you to have solid authoritative content that produced on a regular basis.
It requires some social media marketing, it requires some link building, so it’s not free but yeah I would say the competition is just so fierce for law firm’s especially in search because if you Google divorce lawyer Atlanta Georgia, the first page is oftentimes going to be filled with either advertisers or directory websites. The directory websites are taking up a lot of space in search and by directory websites I mean OVO or Fine Law or Martin Dell you know all of those companies out there are competing to list attorneys on their websites and you know quite frankly my opinion of those is that they don’t work very well at all and they’re constantly after the lawyers to try to get their business.
So you know they’re usually any law firm is fighting off at any given time you know they’re being solicited by many, many different companies who you know who want to sell them SEO, Pay-per-click services you know quick and easy solutions and they want to charge a premium for it. So I think a lot of times what my clients have the hardest time with is just discerning what’s true and what’s actually going to be helpful. A lot of times with my clients I’m in a very… they trust me as a consultant to help them weed through a lot of the things that are coming their way on a daily basis and very fast.
Neil Howe: Yeah and that’s a great position to be in, a position of trust, they will take your word for it and before getting to your own website which really you have a lot of things on your website that say trust when somebody lands on that. Will talk about that in a minute but talk to me about the Google Maps area of the search results page because that seems to be one of the main areas that you know people click on these days, is that working well for lawyers?
Carlton Smith: Yeah it does and it can but you know it’s one of those things that it’s always going to be relative to the searcher and there’s a variety of factors one being where the searcher is when they search. So you know if someone is searching for a Birmingham attorney, they’re going to be you know Google’s going to first look at where that person is and they’re going to deliver results based on that. They’re going to deliver results based upon whether they’re on a mobile device or a desktop and you know often times it will be, it will splice down to if you’re on a Wi-Fi connection versus you know cellular data.
So I think it’s very effective but you know it’s also something that can oftentimes be hit or miss. So I focus usually on any given campaign you know about 30% of it will go towards local SEO and local SEO is much easier because often times the strategy is you know working on citation building, citation correction thing like that you know making the website, making sure there are markers in the web site to help Google determine location, schema data is very helpful for a local SEO. I’m not sure if that answers your question but you know local is very important but not the end all be all in terms of SEO.
Neil Howe: No I was just wondering if for these attorneys that might not have the same budget as you know the mega million big names in the city, is it easier for them to work on not local map.
Carlton Smith: Yeah that’s a good way, yeah I would say yes that’s a good way to phrase it. I mean it is what I would call low hanging fruit to work on your local SEO because you can certainly piece together a strategy and when I say citations what I’m referring to are you know these are business directory websites, you know that’s going to include Google my business, that’s going to include being local, that’s going to include MANTAS or MapQuest you know these are, there’s hundreds possibly even thousands of these business directory websites where you know you can go and usually for free enter your business information and you want that to be you know totally consistent on every one of these websites. You know you want it to be a company name comma LLC. You don’t want it to be company name without the LLC, you want to make sure that it’s consistent, you want to make sure that it’s 123 main Street, either Street spelled out or ST. You just… you want the phone number to be consistent, so you want to be consistent across the board there and get on as many of those websites as you can and there are services out there that will do that for you like [inaudible 17:13]. I think you know I think [inaudible 17:16] is pretty costly for what it does and I think any small law firm that wanted to bootstrap it or do it themselves can you know could either you know it’s in their power to do it personally themselves or they could probably have a clerk or you know somebody do that for them and you know find their user tool like Bright Local to pull their competitors citations and find okay well here’s a hundred websites that one of my competitions website is on and so I can go on to all of these sites and add my citation information. So yeah that would be a very effective means of winning in local SEO and you know something that doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s really just more attention to detail, data entry, type of strategy whereas organic SEO there’s a lot more that goes into the algorithm there but yeah.
Neil Howe: So those are some key things that you have to do to rank on the map you know what else does a business have to do on a day to day just to keep up with their SEO? Is contents key? I know you started with content marketing many years ago.
Carlton Smith: Yes I would say it is, I would say what’s changed about it is you know it needs to be authoritative content now and a lot of times I’ll find with clients that they may be doing, they may have a blogging strategy but they’re not really utilizing it and they’re just sort of pumping it out mindlessly, it’s not long enough, it’s not informative. I would rather see somebody work on you know instead of let’s say five or six short blog posts that don’t really inform somebody very much, I would rather see them take that and work on one very authoritative good piece.
Maybe something that you know instead of a smattering of five different blog post around divorce and DUI, maybe produced you know the ultimate guide to defending yourself against a DUI, something like that or you know the layperson’s guide to an amicable divorce. Something along those lines maybe it’s you know at least a thousand words, maybe two or three thousand words, maybe they take that content and they package it up into an e-book format, they might use that as part of a content marketing strategy, you know maybe that has a drip campaign associated with it but in any event it’s what I would call a pillar piece of content.
I think every website needs a few pillar pieces of content and that helps your SEO strategy, that helps my SEO strategy for clients because you know I can actually go to other websites and build links to these pillars pieces of content, because you know what Google wants to see and what happened with something like the penguin algorithm update was they caught a lot of websites that were doing spammy link building and you know any time a website is linking to your service page you know my SEO services page or a law firm’s divorced service page, it just doesn’t really look natural but if you’re getting links from other websites and they’re linking to actual authoritative content you know like the e-book or you know the amicable guide book to divorce that’s going to look more natural and they’re going to do that because it’s actually helpful, it’s a good thing the link too. So once they get those links to that pillar content then you actually, you know you actually link to your service pages from that pillar content page. Does that make sense?
Neil Howe: Yes it does.
Carlton Smith: Yeah you’re distributing links used. So that’s a very simplified strategy that I will do with an organic SEO campaign as you know we want to create a really just awesome, kickass piece of content that other websites are going to want to link to and then Google is going to see that link and you know it’s going to look natural. It doesn’t look like you’re trying to gain things and then you know you use from the pillar content page, you link to your more important service pages or what I would call your commerce pages, where you’re directly selling the service that you provide but you know just to go out there build links to service pages, it just doesn’t look very natural and that’s where a lot of websites got in trouble years back with you know doing on artificial spammy link building.
Neil Howe: And of course most businesses aren’t going to take the time to you know write a thousand, two thousand, three thousand words on a particular subject. You said they need a few of these pages, how many of those pages do they need on their site and how often should they be contributing content to their website?
Carlton Smith: Well I mean start with one, you know one or two I mean it doesn’t take a lot to be honest. I mean you can have one or two of those and then you know continue with a more of what I would call a regular blogging strategy. Ideally I think somebody produces one or two of those pillar pieces of content a year, but like I said you know one is enough if that’s part of your lead magnet strategy. You see a lot of websites that offer that, they have the lead magnet and if it’s a lawyer and you know he’s only focusing on one or two practice areas then you know it’s enough to have one or two and then supplement that with regular blogging strategy.
The to blogging strategy helps too because you know you can promote those pieces to social media and so that’s also a way to you know build some signals with social media and you know one of the sort of secret sauce things that I have that I do is that you know we can build a syndication network for somebody so that every time a blog post is published, it’s sort of amplifies it creates links via the RSS feed to you know different web 2.0 websites that we set up. Does that make sense?
Neil Howe: Yes.
Carlton Smith: Yeah we’re amplifying it with more social signals, so that’s you know like I say when I say someone’s not utilizing their content strategy you know often times I’ll come up and have a consultation with a new client and yes they’re blogging regularly but they’re not really doing much with it, you know they’re not promoting it on their on their social media channels and it’s just kind of going into a vacuum.
Neil Howe: Right it all works hand in hand, you know the SEO, the content marketing, the social media you know you’ve got to use it all too really get the most effect. Now we’ve talked a lot Carlton about people should be doing but what are some of the myths about SEO that your clients come to you with?
Carlton Smith: Well they’re both different you know I would say number one that the thing that I usually caution people with the most in the beginning and that is you know that it’s easy and it’s going to take you know something that can be accomplished in a short amount of time and it’s not. Usually I almost even try to scare people away and say you know it could take as short as you know five or six months, in some cases it could take more than a year. So you know it’s something that some people think is free and they’re attracted to it because they think well you know it’s less expensive than Pay-per-click. Well if you’re going to do it right it’s not cheaper than Pay-per-click but it is a long term investment.
So you know a lot of the work that you put in can you know can be a long term asset. So I normally try to try to caution people most on the amount of time it takes and I try to never sell the results because I say these are things you should be doing any way. So I don’t I sell results with SEO, I don’t deliver ranking reports anymore, that’s something that can get you in trouble very fast and it’s also very hard to find anything closely resembling a universal search results. So again you know I think I touched one at it earlier but it’s going to depend on where the parson is searching, their search history, what device they’re on. So if I deliver someone ranking reports you know oftentimes what they see can be very different. So we’re sort of looking at larger metrics like organic you know that the gross organic search referrals things like that but really what I’m selling with SEO is these are things you should be doing any way.
You should have a well-constructed website that loads really quickly, you should have a secure website, you should at https on your website, it should have quality content, and it should tell people where you are very quickly and easily. So most of the things that that comprise SEO are things like I said that people should be doing anyway.
Neil Howe: Alright well talk to me about some of the things that are on your website because we briefly touched on earlier you know these trust triggers that you have in the website, right at the top I know it says you are a Google partner agency what does that mean?
Carlton Smith: Well that just means that I’ve passed the Google certification exams you know that’s for Adwords, for Google Analytics but it also means that I managed a certain level of spend with Google on a monthly basis and I believe that number is ten thousand a month. So that’s what puts me a partner status with google, it means that my competencies are trustworthy enough for them to list as a partner Agency.
Neil Howe: And then you’ve got under your resources the 28 Popular SEO Misnomers is that one of the lead magnets that you give away?
Carlton Smith: Yeah, yeah I would say that that’s definitely a lead magnet and it’s something that I published really to just help people and you know try to dispel some of the myths that they might have about SEO and try to help and build a little bit of trust and authority on my end.
Neil Howe: And then something that really stands out is the featured in Forbes and Techno and Inc. and Huffington post and those things that we talked about you know in your intro. What do you recommend for a law firm that is trying to put some of these trust triggers as well on their website?
Carlton Smith: Yeah I mean that’s something that I think you know it’s good to position yourself as an authority and a lawyer might want to go for you know trying to contribute content to his local bar association, State bar association there’s always myriad of legal publications that a lawyer might want to write for and that’s you know that’s a two prong strategy, really a three prong strategy. One is it’s a really good way to Maximize exposure you know with those publications, it’s a great way to get a high quality link you know it’s a niche link from another website. Google sees that and then you know third it’s just it’s great it’s great PR for them, it’s a great way to promote yourself and be seen by another audience.
Neil Howe: Definitely something to write about, give us some examples Carlton of some of the businesses that you’ve worked with. I know you have these on your website as well but you know what kind of issues were they having when they came to you? What were you able to do for them and ultimately what is the outcome for them? Is there anybody that stands out in your mind as a great success?
Carlton Smith: Well most law firms, let’s take a law firm for an example but you know a lot of times they will come to me and they don’t have a very well-constructed website, you know I can quickly run a search audit, a website audit on someone and you know see that there’s a lot of things missing from their meta tags, you know they’re lacking schema data. So maybe the website is not constructed very well, so usually my first order of business will be to rebuild them you know a very nice custom WordPress website that loads very quickly and optimize all the content there in. Add to the schema structure data that they need and you know that law firm, what I’ll be doing on a monthly basis with that client is managing their SEO, their Pay-per-click, their local SEO, their content strategy and their social media strategy as well as you know putting them on a very secure hosting platform and finally analytics you know.
What most of these firms lack, what any small business seems to lack is the time and the ability to look at their analytics and see what’s working. So how I will set up the analytics is I’ll promote, I’ll say we use a company called Corel. Corel’s a great form of call tracking so we can see exactly how many calls are coming off of the website and where they’re coming from. Corel will send notifications that say you know call from Google organic, call from Google Maps, call from Facebook you know it’ll tell us exactly where their conversions are coming from. So that’s very important and that’s I think that’s probably one of the more valuable things that I provide is you know the ability for them to see what what’s working and what’s not because for me it’s important to show them what’s happening, because you know when I’m sending invoices month in month out people need to be constantly reminded where a lot of the conversions are happening.
Neil Howe: Definitely and it seems like you have a very well rounded strategy for these businesses using the SEO, Pay-per-click, the social media marketing and just putting everything together. If somebody is looking to have you have a look at their websites Carlton and see how you can help them what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
You’ve been listening to the Trust Factor radio with Neil Howe, to learn about the resources mentioned in the show and to listen to past episodes go to thetrustfactorradio.com. To get a copy of the book the trust factor, go to thetrustfactorbook.com. If you are ready to act now and build your authority, credibility and trust schedule a consultation with Neal at theauthorityarchitect.com.