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How To Get Free Business Leads from Google. Entrepreneur MBA Podcast 1.6

Every business owner wants new customers so how can your company get free leads from Google Search? Joe Giovannoli is the founder and CEO of 9Sail, a search marketing firm that helps businesses get found through online search engines like Google. Joe talks with Financing Solutions host Stephen Halasnik about how to get started with Seach Engine Optimization (SEO). 

Today’s topic – what will it take to get free leads from Google, though as explained later, nothing in this world is free. Joe’s company and this podcast is geared toward companies that haven’t implemented any kind of search engine marketing. While they might have heard the term SEO before, they might not be sure of what it is or the impact it could have on their business.

Joe Giovannoli is the founder and CEO of 9Sail, a search marketing firm that helps businesses get found through online search engines like Google. Joe started his first company in 2011 – Out There Marketing, social media marketing firm providing social media services to small business who, at the time, were underserved. Joe has spent entire career in the marketing world, working with mom & pop brands to Fortune 500 companies. Joe is a board member for the Entrepreneurs Organization New York City Accelerated Chapter and is a very active participant in the organization. Joe is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for hockey – a huge Devils’ fan.

Starting with the Basics

Joe started with an explanation of the two basic terms – SEO and SEM.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Act of optimizing one’s web presence to attract traffic through google. All the actions that go into that content creation, back-linking, all play factors into the way that Google ranks a company within their algorithm.
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)- Has a connotation of including paid search. SEO is the organic side and SEM is the paid side. Though SEM can also be defined as the combination of organic and paid search.

Stephen explained that simply when you search through Google, and you type in whatever word you are looking for, the first two or three are SEM and the bottom two are paid search. So that’s a different method of marketing – and of course it’s not free, though Joe’s company does help with that. 9Sail also works essentially with the SEO side. The six to eight results that come after the search where Google is indexing a website, even if the site has something the person searching might like. Today’s discussion is natural search – SEO. Which is free, but a company may potentially need to bring on a firm to help.

Stephen started the conversation by asking Joe what a company needs to do if they want “free leads” but don’t necessarily understand SEO. What would that client need to first think about when approaching a firm like 9Sail?

Joe advised that it first depends on the industry. For an example, within the professional services industry, first thing is to find out what kind of customer are they looking to attract? Somebody hyper-local, or within five miles of their office or dwelling?  Or perhaps a more regional play or mid-size local, which would include a couple of counties? Or Statewide?  Most people say everything and 9Sail will try to reign them in and help them understand what their market is. 9Sail will do some research on who the competitors are in the space and start to understand what they are ranking for – that’s first and foremost what 9Sail does. They really need to understand what keywords they could and should be ranking for in order to drive traffic and drive business.

9Sail also looks at what buyer-intent is. Google searchers will have something in mind, whether trying to find a product or service provider. For example, someone could be looking for a law firm in Manhattan based in the financial district that does entertainment law – an example of an actual 9Sail client and one in which it can be a very competitive space. A lot of different ways people can be looking for certain information and there are a lot of buyers. There’s the entertainer, maybe an actor out in California looking for representation in New York for a shoot.  Entertainment law is a great example because they were able to do research around some of the competitors in their space and they identified some of the key questions people were asking Google.

In the past couple of years, Google has come out and said that most of the queries are in the form of a question or a sentence. From their standpoint they needed to answer people’s questions. 9Sail needed to find out how what content was necessary for the law firm in order to rank higher for entertainment law or anything entertainment law, NYC entertainment lawyer. If you google them now anywhere in New York City, they are the number one result. There was a lot of competition in that space because several of the bigger law firms in Manhattan also had attorneys that did something in the entertainment space or with those contracts. This company had an opportunity to really produce a lot of content, which is what they committed to. Their attorneys produced a lot of content which helped them ultimately to rank very quickly.

The Content

Joe continued to explain that content can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. A podcast would be considered content. The content used in the entertainment law firm example was written content. Blog articles, guest blogs, or writing a blog for somebody else’s website, are all examples of written content. It can be a static page or a landing page. Anything with written content. This law firm was producing numerous pieces of content on a monthly basis. All of that content essentially helps Google to index a company and figure out where that company belongs in their cataloguing of key words.

So if the example client is writing a bunch of blogs on how to find an entertainment lawyer or questions to ask an entertainment lawyer or where one can meet an entertainment lawyer, these are all pieces of content that answers some serious questions that get asked consistently and will ultimately lead to somebody clicking on the content to read it. Which then tells Google they are a trusted source of information and Google will start to show their content more.

When asked if most of 9Sail’s clients write their own content, Joe explained that it depends. 9Sail does have a content writer in house and for certain industries they will write the content. For legal industries and the accounting space, those are typically industries they recommend that they have an associate write for them, the managing partner or one of the partners. Or they bring in a specialist legal writing company. Reason being is that there is a lot to know about the legal space and they should have some background in legal in order to write for it. 9Sail does help guide and give topics an keywords and examples to help set them up for success.

However, 9Sail will write content for other industries, for example the construction space. Mainly the home contractors and HVAC to help them get their message out there. Most of their customers, small to mid-size range, don’t really have a marketing person on staff. Or they do and they are too busy to write the content and it’s easier for 9Sail to handle it since they have all the research and keywords. Joe recommends writing two to four pieces of content at 1,250 to 1,500 words per piece a month. This is enough to answer multiple questions. For some companies or business owners, that’s a heavy burden.

When writing the content for clients, 9Sail interviews customers, gets their take, does the research and then uses what they call the “Skyscraper Method”. The Skyscraper Method works by taking a specific topic, looking at top ten ranking pieces of content, taking away what they think are the two – three best things from each and then putting them together into one article. That one article then is the top of the skyscraper. Look at Google’s top ten organic results as the skyscraper and that one article now sits at the top because theoretically, they have now written a better piece of content than all of those individual pieces. That’s just one method.

Getting Started

Stephen asked Joe if all industries are competitive at this point with SEO. Joe said some industries are underserved, but no matter what one might search for these days, Google has an index for something. Whether or not these people are doing an inadequate job of doing their own SEOs is another question. There are certain places in the country and in certain states that websites are ranking because they have been there for some time. They might have some content or redone their website recently and that gives them a slight edge over their competition but there are some industries where it is very simple for 9Sail to make some changes and see results. For example – commercial roofing space where amily companies passing down or a younger crowd that’s about to start their own commercial roofing company. There’s some growth in the amount of content creation these companies are doing, with more appearances in podcasts and guest blogging where this industry is starting to pay attention to their online presence.

If someone wants to get ahead of the curb – they can quickly start doing quick things like SEO and being aware of their social media presence and their employer brand. And there’s a lot of things in that kind of space and it is an easy opportunity for someone to grab market share. Stephen asked if someone just started writing articles, if they would be found by Google and Joe answered it depends on if their website was setup for SEO.

There are 100+ factors that Google looks at on a regular basis when they crawl a website. Things like title, the clickable link to your content, and meta-tags, the two-sentence description detailing your content. Ideally, Google will recognize the right setup, key words, and consistent content posting. SEO also consists of outside sources linking to a website, called a back link to validate that others trust the site as an authority on the subject. Google ranks on a 0-100 scale on trust and authority and that essentially dictates how valuable the content is on a website. Search Engine Journal said for this year, 2020, that well-written, long, optimized content is going to be very key to the growth of the SEO of a website. But it’s important to also remember there are other factors that go into it. Just doing content is not enough.

Stephen’s companies have been very active, some of the first, in SEO – dating back to 2007. It’s one of their lead generators and his advice is to get started. Financing Solutions has over five hundred articles with four posted a month. It is very important to just get started, especially if generating leads is important. One of the key things that Stephen has seen with Google is that they look at the age of your website. Joe confirmed that he has seen something similar, in that it seems Google looks at the age of the domain, or how long your website name has been in existence and if the same person has owned that domain, and the age of the website. Though, Joe says, it is never too late to start, even if your competitor has been doing SEO for years. Just because they have a strategy, doesn’t mean it’s a winning strategy, just means they are doing it.

Stephen further commented that it seems as if Google doesn’t want one company dominating a space and that they changed their algorithm for what they are doing for searches. Quality content is outranking aged content and self-serving content. When Financing Solutions started writing content, it was very self-serving, a lot about Financing Solutions. Now Google is looking for longer, quality content. It used to be over 500 words, now it seems that they are valuing 1,000 or 1500 words. It seems it might be harder to be self-serving with longer content.  

Joe agreed, stating that Google is all about informational content. They tell customers that if their websites don’t have the calls to action to help them convert a lead, if they feel that they have to sprinkle in that they’re great and doing this or that, then they are doing it wrong. The key to content is to rank, first and foremost, and second is to answer a key question. A person will click on a ranked article, read what they were looking for, then stay or move on. However, that questioned was answered and Google recognizes that.  

Generating Leads

With Financing Solutions, Stephen said, they write longer, less self-serving articles now to draw people to the website. As they are reading the article, there is something that follows the article so the readers know they can apply for a line of credit in two minutes and get an answer. The idea is that they may not read the whole article, but because Financing Solutions was indexed and the reader got there from Google, they might see the financing option after reading the first one or two paragraphs. If a company can’t get leads, they can’t survive. Stephen noted he was a “big evangelist for the idea that if your company can’t generate leads and you can’t do it effectively and economically, then you’re either one in a dog eat dog world fighting against your competition or 2, you’re just not going to survive. So I’m a huge proponent of the idea that you have to have some kind of lead generation and it can’t always be a sales person pounding the phone.”

Joe said that all the major online marketing players would agree, optimized content is key. At the end of the day, once a company gets in the rhythm of writing the content, they’ll realize the power of it and realize how easy it is. Clients have commented that now that they have started SEO, they recognize content for blogs when multiple customers ask the same questions. Customers and clients are really giving the material needed if the same question is being asked by every single prospect. Chances are, they have googled that or written that into a search engine somewhere to understand what they are looking for and if a company’s article is ranking for that, they’ve already done half the work.

This gives the company leverage, because a ranked article suggests they are the authority in the space. Content is so very important. Again, Joe cautions, understanding that that is not the only factor. You aren’t going to write an article and immediately get found. “Free leads” come from hard work – writing the articles, getting the back links. However, by putting good content out there, a company could start generating traffic with intent. Stephen added that SEO is a great bonus to small business owners because it could be easily outsourced for a relatively low price.  Joe agreed and shamelessly plugged in a company 9Sail works with, Content Bacon, for how easy and effective outsourcing SEO can be for a small business owner. With the right onboarding process and quality content, groups like Content Bacon can save a business owner valuable time since they will only typically spend maybe ten minutes per article to approve or send tweaks.

And, as Stephen pointed out, having outside lead generating strategy can save the time and headache associated with hiring the “go-getter” needed to generate those leads. Stephen was really drawn to SEO after he realized it could help him provide leads to the sales reps so they could focus on closing the deal. Which is a very different and easier skill set to train than it is to say to someone go make a hundred sales calls a day, potentially also leading to burnout syndrome. It became one of their strategies – SEO, SEM, Direct Mail, even these podcasts are a good way to get leads while providing good content at the same time. Joe added to that point that this strategy moves a company away from needing a “unicorn of a salesperson” to a processed order taker. They don’t need to do all this work finding the leads – going to networking functions, though Joe still recommend going to those networking functions – but it is a lot more efficient use of time. Speaking with people that have already expressed an interest by filling out the form or taking a call.  Companies are going to have a higher close rate and a higher percentage of efficiency on their time working with people that have expressed an interest versus not.

Getting to the Multiple Benefits of SEO

Another benefit of using SEO for Stephen was that it never shuts off. Once a company starts getting rankings, even if they cut back on SEO, they still get residual leads. Versus direct mail strategies, which are typically tossed out. Joe mentioned it is the same with paid services – they are pay to play. Joe cautions his clients against paid searches as a lone strategy because one that company stops paying, they are no longer on Google’s radar. They recommend bundling paid with organic.

There’s a lot of value in the data 9Sail gets from the paid search and they can test key words which can later be infused into the SEO if it works. Joe continued by saying, the “website is the hardest working employee, it’s 24/7 365 and if a lead comes in wouldn’t it be great to wake up and have an email from a lead or have it dump into your CRM and use that information, such as their website to do all your recon before you call them. And you haven’t even had your first cup of coffee yet. SEO doesn’t just drop off, it’s not pay to play. We don’t recommend you go too long without it. Especially if you are in a competitive space – people are doing it in their business as well.”

As their time together started to end, Stephen asked Joe if the listeners are listening right now and think it makes sense and want to bring on firm, what should they look at?

Joe answered with a few bullets.

  • Ask where is the work being done? Now that you understand the basics – the content, backlinking, updated website maintained – ask where the work is being done. Some firms send work overseas to rely on for knowledge and your customer experience may not be ideal. You may have to wait up to 48 hours due to time differences to have questions answered. They may still do great work, but may not be as responsive and bought into what your company is trying to do.
  • Understand how you will be tracking performance. Traffic growth is not enough. Organic traffic increase is great and should be an indication that things are moving in the right direction, but you need to understand what they are looking for specifically. We always tell our customers we are fully transparent – one of our brand promises. We do really in-depth reporting down to this is what we are seeing from a page flow perspective, which is when one person enters one page and exits the same page. Are we seeing a drop off on the same page every single time – are we seeing a really large majority of the traffic die on the same page? This is the sort of stuff we want to look at because these are the kinds of things you want to fix. There’s obviously something wrong with that page or the people on that page aren’t getting what they need so they are leaving. Understand the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) or what metrics are being measured in order to measure success.
  • Ask about industry experience. You want somebody that is going to have some experience in the space. Some companies develop basic templates to reuse with every customer. We have seen multiple web design companies that use the same template for every law firm and that isn’t necessarily a good structure. That means when someone goes to a web page for a law firm when they are looking for a law firm, they are seeing the same thing over and over again and they are turned off by it. Being unique and being different is important and we have a couple of areas that we specialize in. We are in a data space, not in a creative space. Look at creative strategies to win but look at the data and what supports that data. Look at understanding they have some industry experience, but they have some knowledge in other areas of the business as a whole. A winning strategy is not hyper-focused on intent keywords, but rather things that are going to be top of funnel, informational things. The only way you are you are going to get those kinds of results is by having someone that understands how your business runs

Stephen further suggested that, while SEO companies were great at increasing site visits, the business owner is ultimately responsible for turning those visits into leads. He recommended using lead reports from the company for monthly comparisons and meetings to see why traffic numbers might not be matching lead numbers. Joe expanded by saying companies like his do more in depth reporting so business owners can provide them their data and 9Sail does the heavy lifting with the math to put it all together.

Stephen ended by telling business owners to start with writing the articles, get an SEO company, learn as they go. He then thanked Joe and gave him the to tell listeners and readers how to get ahold of him at 9Sail. For more on Joe and 9Sail’s services, one can visit www.9sail.com or can call at 201-362-1185.

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