Matt LaClear: Eric K. Ward, I appreciate you taking the time to hop on the telephone and answer a few questions for small business owners about link building.
When you first agreed to do it, I almost fell out of my chair., because you’re a freaking rock star in the world of link building. I feel like I’m getting to interview a young Brando or Elvis Presley.
You’re awesome man.
It was an awesome, awesome privilege studying all of your content throughout this challenge I created, the Shoot for the Moon Challenge.
I know this interview is going to be beneficial to the small business owners or SEO Agency professionals who are listening. So, welcome!
Eric Ward: Well, thank you, and thank you for that complimentary introduction. I consider it an honor you mentioned me in the same sentence with Brando or Presley, but I’m not the young Brando. I think you can call me at this point, a very much nearing middle age Brando or Presley.
In both cases, that means I need to go on a diet.
Matt LaClear: A young Brando. You’re aging well and are super grounded.
Eric Ward: It’s interesting, Brando and Presley ended up larger than life; literally.
Matt LaClear: Yeah, you’re handling your later years…you’re about the same age as I am so you’re not that much into the later years. But they didn’t handle their 50’s and 60’s very well. Did Elvis even make it to his 50’s?
Eric Ward: No. I hope that I will handle my 50’s very well.
Thank you for having me on the show. I’ll do anything I can do to try to help with my answers. I certainly don’t have all the answers. If I did, I’d be retired. But as a one-person business, who is determined to stay that way, with six mouths to feed, I’m never going to retire.
At the same time, it’s still fun for me because I’m very selective about the kind of projects I take on.
One of the services I started offering, just in the last couple of years, is merger and acquisition counsel because people are buying websites because they’re tired and frustrated of not being able to figure out the right combination to get their website to convert or rank.
So all of a sudden we’re seeing mergers and acquisitions and people are buying the wrong sites. Or they’re buying the wrong assets.
I’m finding myself doing a lot more stuff where I have clients asking me, “we’re looking at buying some websites. We’ve narrowed it down to about 20, could you look do some of your analytics and tell us which ones should we be taking the strongest look at?”
I don’t mention that service on my site because I’m nervous about it. “So and so was going to write me a huge check and then you recommended he back out of the deal because you said all my links sucked, and now I’m done. See you in court!”
It’s never dull. All of these years later, there’s always something new related to links coming around the corner. I enjoy it tremendously.
Matt LaClear: It is fun work. We’re about the same age, and you’ve been into link building a lot longer than I have. It’s fun because there’s always something new to learn.
That’s what puts a lot of small business owners off is that there is always something new to learn. A lot of the people that are listening to this interview are coming right off of my Shoot for the Moon backlink training series. Many of which will listen to this interview before checking out my course.
Can you explain to those listeners what link building is?
Eric Ward: One of the easiest ways to demonstrate what link building is to a small business owner is to ask them to pull up their website on their computer and watch what they do.
They will either have to know enough about a web browser to tap into the location bar and type in their web address or click something to get there instead.
If it’s the latter, that thing they clicked to get to their site was a link.
People share links on Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter, YouTube, Messenger, Skype, blogs, forums, websites, and a plethora of other places.
It’s the way we find and share stuff on the web, whether it’s the new episode of Spongebob, pizza coupons.
Or if you’re a small business person with a dental practice with five dentists, it’s a way that you can help new clients learn about your business practice. Because how are they going to do that online if they don’t already know your URL because they heard it on a radio ad, or saw it on your tv commercial.
How else are people going to get to your website? They could search for you on Google or Bing. There’s also other ways that they might find you via links.
If you’re in Knoxville, TN like I am, you’re a dentist and a runner. You might choose to sponsor the Knoxville Marathon. Now when another runner fills out the form to sign up for the marathon on the website, and they get their confirmation screen that says, please print this up and bring it with you. Enjoy your stay thanks to our sponsors.
Bingo, Bango right there is how you can have everybody from Domino’s Pizza to a plumber to a dentist, and that’s a link. It has nothing to do with Google. It has more to do with branding at that time than anything else.
At the same time, when you start to replicate and multiply this and start to talk about the process of weaving yourself into the quilt of any web content in any local marketplace, that’s where those links start to occur, that’s where traffic starts to come that doesn’t originate from a Google search.
For me, the greatest joy I get from small businesses is helping them to rely less on Google. Yeah, take what Google will give you. Maximize whatever it is in your local listing profile. Claim your Google business listing. Do those things. Make sure your citations are correct. That’s the stuff every dentist can do.
Matt LaClear: Let’s take that a little bit further. So, link building is the ability for other people to find your business online without searching for on it on a search engine.
How much impact does link building have on how the market perceives a company or the owner of that company?
Eric Ward: It can have a huge impact. I understand why you use the word link building; we could potentially swap out the word “building” for development and call it link development.
We could also take that entire phrase, “link building” and call it “awareness building” of your online business. I’ve never been a big fan of the term “link building” because it makes it sound like links are cinder blocks or bricks, and we take mortar and bricks, and we build them.
Ultimately where this all started with Google was that links were a personal recommendation from a human. Or the online manifestation of a page or a document or a research study, or a paper or a website that somebody found useful and wanted to share with others.
They could do so through the hypertext protocol that allowed them to create links.
Since I started my business four or five years before Google existed, links to me were intended to be a way to help people find what they were looking for online.
So, when I look at the perception of a business based upon the links, would an owner of a bakery want to have a link on a strip club’s website? Does he or she want people associating their bakery with that strip club?
The links a business has to their website tells a story about that business. And that story will read either like a rap sheet or a college transcript.
Your links tell a story about your website and Google can read that story. How you want people perceiving your business can be directly affected by where Google finds links, citations, mentions of your business in the online world.
In my opinion, the answer to the question is, how much impact…it’s hard to put a percentage on it because I think it also varies depending upon the industry of the business.
One thing I’m positive in saying is links have a dramatic impact on how algorithms and your prospects perceive your business.
Matt LaClear: I like what you said. Awareness building. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that. That nails it right there. If the right people become aware of your business, it just makes sense that it’s going to make a significant impact.
Eric Ward: If you and I sat down and we decided to build a website, and we created a bunch of HTML pages, and we agreed to store them on a desktop machine in your office. We had the bandwidth; we had the savvy to install web service software, everything we needed to do.
But let’s remember that we created a bunch of HTML documents. We just stored them on a large computer in our office. Those files are no different than Microsoft Word or Excel documents that you also have on that same machine.
A web page is invisible until somebody is unaware it exists, there’s no awareness of that page until someone knows its address.
Now, take it one step further. Even if the potential visitor knows its address, it’s on your computer, on file C://mydocuments/mywebsite/mattsawesomenewpage.html. That’s meaningless to anyone unless you also installed web service software on your computer.
Once you’ve done that and the potential visitor knows the path because you emailed it to them, you won’t need a domain name for them to access the files.
One thing so many people completely lose sight of is a website and all of its individual pages or videos or pdf docs or whatever are completely invisible until somebody knows they exist.
They don’t exist until somebody links to them or until someone tells them about them, or until a search engine crawls them.
Matt LaClear: Well, the last I checked, invisible sites don’t earn the type of revenue most business owners are looking to generate. They’re invisible.
That’s a perfect answer to what type of impact does awareness building have on business. It has a huge impact.
Eric Ward: Oh my gosh, it can have a massive impact. It can, in my opinion, especially if you’re setting up a business designed to succeed based upon online traffic, based upon online visits.
It is probably the single most important issue you’re going to face. If you’re a 25-year-old business, and finally decided to launch a website, I would say link development, or awareness building certainly is still important.
The beauty of that is it’s not like you’re going out of business if the site does not produce traffic right away.
If you’ve existed and were successful before you were ever online, to begin with, that’s the perfect scenario because now you’ve got some time to get it right, online.
If you’re launching a website online only and you have to drive traffic to your business online only, and your business model is based on Google sending you traffic. I’ve got some bad news for you. The likelihood of your success, in my opinion, is going to be driven 100% by the vertical that you’ve chosen to go into business.
If you’re going into business into something highly competitive like a golf e-commerce site you need to figure some things out.
Sure, you love golf, are semi-retired, and have thought about starting an online business for a long time. So you open up an online golf superstore.
You register a new domain called everythinggolfunderthesun.com and are ready to begin selling a product line.
So I’ll ask you the question, just out of curiosity because it sounds awesome, How many of your products can I only buy on your site versus any other site, including Amazon?
If you say, well, none, everything I have, you can buy somewhere else. I hate to say this, my advice to you is typically going to be, don’t do it.
There are better ways than trying to compete against companies that spend millions of dollars every single day to sell golf equipment.
If you’re a dentist, and you hired an SEO agency to build you a website, and the owner of that company told you that you need to start a blog and add content to it regularly.
You have to blog; you have to have fresh content. Search engines love new content. Your answer: ‘I don’t have time to blog; I’m a dentist.’ The agency replies, ‘we can do that for you, sir. All we need to do is charge you $200-$300/month, and you’ll always have fresh content on your website for the search engine.’
Ok, great, what articles about dentistry matter? Here’s an example for you.
I’m going to do a Google search on “how to floss your teeth.” I know how to floss my teeth. I’ve been flossing my teeth for 50 years. Ok, well, gosh, there’s only 600,000 results for how to floss your teeth. Do we need 600,000? Not only that, Wikipedia has one with pictures.
The top result is from Colgate. How are you going to compete with Colgate? There’s a video in position four. There’s your hero.
There’s a dentist in Hermosa Beach, California who is at position four here on how to floss your teeth. The reason I think he’s there because he took the time to put together a minute and 45-second video on how to floss your teeth.
That video illustrates another thing about Google, they want to display video content in their search results.
But if you’re a dentist in Knoxville, TN and you call me, and I can not, in good faith, say you need to write an article on how to floss your teeth.
There’s already half a million articles about that and competing against those numbers is going to be murder on your patience as well as your pocket book.
Instead what you have to do is identify content gaps, which is a term people in our industry use often. It’s just a fancy way of saying you have to find something which somebody hasn’t written about or done yet.
Let me explain.
Matt, you and I talked about it, kind of jokingly, but it also might make sense. We talked about if you’re a dentist, order in bulk about 500 of those little tiny containers of dental floss.
Then call the local radio and television stations and tell them that two weeks from Friday you’re going to have the first annual “Floss Toss.” To participate, all anyone has to do is drive up into our parking lot, and we’re going to come out to their window and toss them a tiny container of floss, and they can then go on with their day.
Matt LaClear: I love it.
Eric Ward: The Floss Toss is just funny enough but also valuable enough that it might get some human interest. If you have one public relations bone in your body, you would be able to take some time to send out some emails to radio stations and newspapers, mommy bloggers in town, and let them know that you’re about to host the first Annual Floss Toss.
That is the kind of thing someone will cover. The beauty of the web is when I say cover that, whether it gets covered on radio, or television, or online, that’s the kind of event that turns into links online. That wasn’t necessarily your intent in the first place. The other thing is, even if it doesn’t, it’s an incredible public relation opportunity.
Put a sign out front. Spend $20 on a banner that you can probably get at FedEx Kinkos. “Don’t forget, this coming Friday, from Noon to 2 pm, the first Annual Floss Toss.” With a cute drawing. Hire some college kids to create a logo for it.
I’m telling you, this stuff works, I’ve been testing this on similar campaigns for as long as I can remember. These things turn into online mentions, publicity, and attention.
Sometimes the difficult challenge here is getting a client to buy-in. But when you show them a Google search for articles about flossing your teeth and say, there’s 645,000, do they want to be 645,001 with Colgate sitting in the top position? Is that article or blog post going to help them? Is it going to generate any publicity for them?
Or, should their blog post say something about the first annual Floss Toss? They could write 400 words on what it is, and why they’re doing it. Then invite the media via your blog post, as well as place a few phone calls and emails.
The other thing is, they could have someone come out there with an iPhone and film it. They don’t need high production values for that. They can upload that video, and now they have a new content asset for their site. Then take it a step further and suggestion, because it’s free, that the client creates a Youtube channel.
The Floss Toss wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to pull off either. Even if nobody showed up, the dentist’s staff could hand out the extra dental floss to their patients.
Matt LaClear: One of the big problems with creating content, and a lot of people don’t get this, especially small business owners when they get into content creation, is you can put all the effort in the world creating excellent content, but then you have to go out and promote that content.
Can you image encouraging potential link prospects to link to, “How to Floss your Teeth” blog post? That’s just not going to happen.
Eric Ward: If I were a dentist, do you know what I would write? I would write a blog post, “The 20 Worst Pieces of Advice I have Ever Read About Flossing your Teeth.” That’s the kind of thing that no one’s writing.
By the way, that’s another trick that I will use. I’ll try to brainstorm an article, and I’ll ask myself, “Gee, I wonder if anybody’s ever written that?”
I’ll think through, what would the title be to the article? Let’s say we’re running a small business and we make pies based on an old family recipe. What’s our content going to look like for something like that?
Well, first of all, we have something immediately visual. Can you imagine doing any content asset where you didn’t show the pies?
It might be something like, this Thanksgiving, serve your family, the best pumpkin pie, they have ever tasted. Or, a 75-year-old recipe for pumpkin pie courtesy of the Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop.
Going with what you said a moment ago, it’s invisible, even when you click post in your management system for your blog, if you use WordPress like everybody else does, now it’s live on your website.
If you set your site up correctly, it’s now the lead post on your homepage, but it’s still invisible unless somebody knows that article exists. So you still have to figure out a way to promote it.
That’s the challenge that every small business faces, and, in my opinion, there is no standard fixed answer where you can say, “here are the 27 different places where you’re going to go to promote this article.” That’s where the puzzle comes in.
Now we have to decide who the people that are most likely going to care about this are.
It is a Thanksgiving related article, are there any other companies that we could potentially partner up with that aren’t competitors?
Ham and Goodies specialize in selling unbelievable ham and side orders. What’s to stop the owners of these two businesses, the pie shop and Ham and Goodies to putting together a joint promotion?
Whether it’s two pumpkin pies for the price of one, or whatever it might be, and then it might make sense for you to issue a press release and very carefully find 20 news outlets in Knoxville that would be most likely to care.
I can guarantee you that somebody in Atlanta, they don’t care about a local promotion in Knoxville about a pie company and a company that specializes in Ham and Vinnies. They don’t care.
On your website, you write a blog post about this upcoming special promotion. Now, on your website, you also have a new section called, our partners. Because Ham and Goodies are going be your first partner, but you’re going to have a second one, and a third one, and a fourth one.
You’ll find partners that aren’t competitors, and you’ll also now be weaving your site into that quilt that represents your local city and town. So real business connections turn into online partnerships into links.
Matt LaClear: Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for on this call, I know you need to run Eric.
As an owner of multiple small businesses, I know Link Moses is a steal at $8 a month. Come on. If you get one tip out of it a year that you can make money with, it more than pays for the entire annual fee of the newsletter. It’s a complete no-brainer.
Eric, why should small business owners be reading your newsletter LinkMoses?
Eric Ward: Matt, I think that LinkMoses is good for small businesses. It actually might be better for the small companies than larger ones because some people think at that price point, it won’t be helpful.
But the reality is, it can be extremely useful for a small business because it will help them see the great diversity of opportunities that are out there for them for promotion, awareness building.
There are link opportunities included in every issue, but they’re not appropriate for every type of business. That is one of the points I want to make with that newsletter. I want to show people that there are so many different strategies that you can deploy for your business, depending on what kind of business you have.
I would very much suggest for small business owners giving it a try.
Matt LaClear: Ok, I love it. Tell us about your consultation services.
Eric Ward: As far as my consulting services go, you can see on my website that I offer consulting services.
The reason I chose to do that is the companies that provide link building services, that provide any linking strategy development that I’ve seen out there, there are so many of them that charge so much they’ve priced themselves to a point where they’re not even in a realm where a small business can consider.
Link development, content publicity, promotion of your brand in the online world is something that is tough to scale as an agency. What are they going to do? Have 50 people in cubicles each with ten clients each?
Just how much passion are they going to have for any particular customer? If you hire them, you’re going to just be a number, for the most part, and you’re paying a fortune for them.
I offer a 75-minute call, and you’ll see the pricing on the website, I think it’s very reasonable. Some people have told me I could charge more for that, but I don’t want to.
My goal with that call is we do live screen share, and I record it, so you’ll hear your voice and my voice. You’ll see what I’m showing you on the screen.
My goal is to analyze your site from a linking perspective, promotion, and publicity perspective. Looking at what your competitors are up to and finding content and strategy gaps to take advantage of that are in alignment with the strengths of that small business.
At the end of the call, you will come away with an actionable blueprint of specific tactics that you can go out and execute. That for me at that price point is exactly the type of thing I designed so that it would be helpful to small businesses.
Rather than those small businesses feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I have to sign up for something I can’t afford, without really knowing if it’s going to help me.” Before you know it, they’ve spent $20,000 on four months worth of link building services that didn’t assist them at all.
I know this is happening because someone will contact me for a consulting call, I’ll look at their backlink profile, and I’ll say, “Tell me where these links came from, and how did this happen? Were you involved with this?”
And they’ll say “No, this is what my agency did for me.”
And I’ll ask, “What did they charge you?”
“Well, I was paying $6,000 a month for x number of links.”
I don’t have the heart to tell them, but I try to convey to them that for the most part, everything they paid, they were on the hook for three months, they just dropped around $20,000 for nothing. For something that won’t help them with click traffic, will not help them with branding, will not help them with Google organic rankings.
I wanted to design a consulting approach that would be actionable, affordable and something that would help small business owners understand that links aren’t things, links aren’t little nuggets of something that you stick in a slot machine, and then if you get lucky, you’ll end up ranking higher at Google
Links have so many different things they can do for you. In addition to, and along with potentially helping you with Google. But most people just really don’t see it and especially don’t see it for their specific site and their particular niche. My goal is to help them with that consult to see that.
That was probably more than you wanted to hear about it. That kind of sums up why I think that’s a service that might make sense for some of the listeners out there.
Matt LaClear: Eric, that clears up a lot of things. Thank you for sharing. Thank you again for the interview.
It’s been a pleasure; I look forward to networking with you in the future and doing further projects with you.