Two types of SEO

After spend­ing a year going from zero SEO to a sig­nif­i­cant source of inbound leads and a healthy num­ber of first-page results, here are my tips.

6 min read


SEO Zen Ideas

SEO can be baf­fling, espe­cial­ly if you’re new to it.

If you’re con­fused by duel­ing SEO pros on Twit­ter or Red­dit, won­der­ing if you should hire some­one (despite the bad reviews), unsure where to start, etc., this is for you.

The com­pa­ny I lead mar­ket­ing for was built with­out a heavy focus on SEO. They had con­sis­tent high-qual­i­ty low-cost lead vol­ume from oth­er sources, so SEO was not a top pri­or­i­ty.

In 2018, how­ev­er, we had some aggres­sive growth goals. I was con­vinced we need­ed some focused con­tent cam­paigns which would rely on SEO as a crit­i­cal part of the con­tent pro­mo­tion. The results? Our growth was enough for the com­pa­ny to rank as the #4 fastest grow­ing com­pa­ny in a state with a cel­e­brat­ed busi­ness and start­up ecosys­tem. Our SEO efforts got page one SERP for the small clus­ter of top­ics and key­word phras­es we tar­get­ed. This includ­ed many num­ber one results and even cap­tur­ing the cov­et­ed Google Fea­tured Snip­pet for a few.

I’ve includ­ed a sam­ple of our results below.

Google Search Con­sole report on one of our main key­word phras­es.
Note how our spot­ty intro­duc­tion even­tu­al­ly evened out with a page one aver­age using basic SEO tech­niques.

Our team does not yet include any­one ded­i­cat­ed to SEO, nor did I hire any SEO con­sul­tants. If you’re just get­ting start­ed with SEO, here’s what I’ve learned.

Do you need Olympic-grade SEO, or just enough to not be SEO-foolish?

SEO can be super com­pet­i­tive.

Like cut­throat, mon­ey­ball, Fight Club com­pet­i­tive.

If you’re new to the are­na, that can make it pret­ty intim­i­dat­ing. (Lurk on Black Hat World for a bit to see what I mean.) It’s not uncom­mon to see experts lock­ing horns over which advice is gold­en and which is trash.

Moz is great! Moz is for suck­ers.”

Neil Patel is awe­some! Neil Patel is a sell­out. Neil Patel is only for nubes.”

What I learned is SEO is a crap­storm.

The unfor­tu­nate truth is, with­out SEO, you’re leav­ing a LOT on the table. But it’s con­fus­ing. How can any­one make sense of it all?

Well, I now break SEO into two cat­e­gories.

  1. Entry-lev­el SEO
  2. Advanced SEO

Not know­ing which camp you fall into can cause prob­lems.

If you decide to out­source your SEO. What lev­el of SEO are you expect­ing to get? What lev­el are you pay­ing for? Are you and the con­trac­tor clear on the results you expect? It’s hard to know what advice applies to your sit­u­a­tion. (Note: there are MANY more con­trac­tors capa­ble of Entry-lev­el SEO than there are who can tru­ly com­pete at Advanced SEO.)

In the end, how do you know you are spend­ing the right amount of mon­ey, man­pow­er, and time for the results you want?

Which type of SEO do I need?

Here’s a secret: most com­pa­nies do lit­tle if any SEO.

Which means for a lot of mar­ket­ing teams, tack­ling SEO at the entry-lev­el is going to deliv­er the ini­tial results you need.

Think­ing you need to do advanced SEO if you don’t can be drain­ing, over­whelm­ing, and make you think SEO is impos­si­ble. I’m con­vinced that many mar­keters new to SEO wait too long to tack­le SEO cam­paigns and ini­tia­tives.

This isn’t real­ly sur­pris­ing. For the unini­ti­at­ed, it’s like step­ping into the octa­gon.

There are times that I’ve been that mar­keter.

But not every place online is a dark alley with SEO nin­jas hid­ing around each dump­ster and fire escape.

Many web­sites, com­pa­nies, and key­word phras­es don’t have much com­pe­ti­tion at all. Or the pre­cise key­words for spe­cif­ic prod­ucts and ser­vices. I’m not just talk­ing about long-tail key­words either.

To tell if you’re swim­ming in an SEO blue ocean, start by Googling your com­pa­ny, your prod­uct, or your cat­e­go­ry five or six dif­fer­ent ways.

What do the results look like?

Lots of Fea­tured Snip­pets and spon­sored ads? Do you see your com­peti­tors or ads with your com­pa­ny or prod­uct name in them?

Wel­come to the octa­gon.

competitive red ocean SEO octagon

Only a few? None at all? One or two com­peti­tors? Then you can prob­a­bly make a TON of head­way by incor­po­rat­ing basic, sol­id SEO tac­tics on your site.

The good news? These SEO tac­tics are not a secret.

If I just need the basics, where do I start?

If you tru­ly need Advanced SEO help, seek out an expert. Look at before and after results from oth­er clients. Ask them to brag.

Then ask them to tell you about clients they have lost, and go inter­view them.

There are some awe­some SEOs out there. Expect that they will be expen­sive.

Entry-Level SEO Resources

Here are some resources that have served me well and which will cost you noth­ing:

Go to the source and make sure you’ve read about SEO from Google.

If you use Word­Press as your CMS, your first step should be to install the free Yoast plu­g­in. (This will be rec­om­mend­ed by most of the resources below, but deserved its own men­tion.)

Next, I love Austen Allred’s no B.S. approach to action­able mar­ket­ing insights. His arti­cle SEO is not Hard is a great resource if you’re start­ing out.

Also, despite dis­agree­ment about the qual­i­ty of many SEO gurus, there’s more or less unan­i­mous kudos for Bri­an Dean at Back­linko. His arti­cles What is SEO, and Why Should I Care? and The Defin­i­tive Guide to Key­word Research are great places to start. And in 2019 he released his SEO Mar­ket­ing Hub—a great free resource to brush up on core SEO top­ics.

@cmo_zen rec­om­mends dig­i­tal mar­keters spend some time get­ting famil­iar with @backlinko’s SEO Mar­ket­ing Hub https://backlinko.com/hub/seo #mar­ket­ing #SEO Click To Tweet

Using tips from these authors, I was able to build an SEO check­list used before pub­lish­ing any­thing relat­ed to the top­ics we want­ed to rank for. In no time, these core basics were baked into every blog post and web page tem­plate we used.

That’s all we need­ed to start get­ting con­sis­tent, page one SERP results for our rel­e­vant key­word phras­es.

As a bonus, going through the exer­cise of nail­ing down your basic SEO puts you in a much bet­ter posi­tion if you end up hir­ing an SEO pro onto your team or look­ing to out­source.

So, what do you think? Are there resources you’ve used to step up your SEO game? Where did you start with SEO? I’d love to hear more about your expe­ri­ence in the com­ments below.


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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Published by Chad Jardine

@chadjardine is the CMO @goreact, an edtech company making game film for the classroom. He teaches graduate finance course @uutah and is the coauthor of Pillars of Inflection: Seven Fundamental Strategies for Explosive Company Growth. He accepts a limited number of consulting engagements each year.