Sean Smith is the cofounder of Simple Tiger, a digital marketing firm that has been on Credo since the beginning. They specialize these days in startup marketing, especially SaaS companies, helping them get traction through SEO, content, and promotion.
In this video Sean lays down some of the most common SEO and content mistakes he sees startups making that, when corrected, can drive huge growth.
John: Hey there, everyone. Welcome back. Today, I have with me Sean Smith who is… I don’t know if your title technically co-founder, but he’s one of the Smith brothers that run SimpleTiger, which is a remote digital marketing agency. Sean actually just moved to North Carolina with his wife. His brother, Jeremiah founded the company about eight years ago and lives down in Florida. So I’ve been connected up with the SimpleTiger guys, with Sean and Jeremiah for a while. They’ve been a fantastic partner for Credo, and Sean is a super smart marketer. And I’m really stoked with what we’re gonna talk about today. But Sean, why don’t you tell us, just give us a quick background to yourself, and tell us a little more about SimpleTiger and kinda what you focus on?
Sean: Yeah. So as you said, I’m one of the co-owners of SimpleTiger. I grew up doing SEO from the time I was 15 for all sorts of different kinda companies. And me and Jeremiah put our kinda clients together and then started actually growing SimpleTiger, like, legitimately about a few years ago, four or five years ago. And it’s been a pretty wild ride ever since. We’re up to about 10 employees. And I’m just having a lot of fun with it, working with some clients that we were huge fans of before and have had been very humbled by some of the projects we’ve gotten to work with. So having a lot fun there. We do… our whole motto is simply effective marketing. We wanna make sure that we’re doing the 20% that yields 80% of the results, that we are simplifying it so that there’s just so much noise out there that’s really tough to get to at what actually makes sense and what actually affects change in your search engine optimization. And so that’s what we try to focus on, is simply effective marketing, simplifying that conversation, making sure it makes sense, and then working on what actually tangibly lands a result. So that’s pretty much our ethos.
John: Love it, love it. Yeah. And so today, we wanted to talk about, we were talking up before you got on here, about basically, at the end of the day, startup content marketing. So you are talking about how you’ve worked with a bunch of e-commerce sites and start-ups and such recently. They may not be huge websites, right? But it’s a B2B SaaS company, they typically have, like, 10 pages or something like that. But they might be blogging and creating content and all that sort of thing. And, well, you said that you’ve noticed a trend recently. What was that trend?
Sean: Yeah. So one of the trends that we’ve been noticing recently with a lot of these newer sites, that actually might even be pretty well established, but that are having problems ranking, that come to us for that guidance, is really that they don’t know how to optimize either their content structure of their website or their link architecture of the website. And actually, the two interplay a lot. And so, something that we’ve really noticed is that they will either not have the right content for us to optimize and for users to latch onto and to actually get to rank, or they won’t have…they will be kind of taking a very shotgun approach to linking to that kind of content. And they won’t have any kind of real direction and a specific route that they think the customers should take to get to that content. And thus, Google is not taking that route, and they’re not prioritizing it properly. And that leads them to not really being able to rank as high as their competitors and things like that. So…
John: So let’s take a step back. So if we’re talking about a B2B SaaS company like a Credo or someone like that, right? Or just a straight, like, SaaS software tool, there’s obviously want people to convert, right? But there are people at different levels in the, you know, in the funnel. So how do you just start off balancing the…you know, these are conversion oriented pages, this is, like, what we do and who we do it for. I’m sure you guys do some of that as well, right?
John: Who are your personas and, you know, content management for realtors or, you know, or whatever? Like, targeting those different personas, but then, you know, you’re more talking about, like, it sounds like the editorial content side, right? Or are you talking about like an e-commerce product?
Sean: Both, actually.
Sean: Yeah, both, actually. I mean, from a products level, categories level, down to even the industries that… Say, like, a software and service company might be trying to appeal to a few different personas. And they might be, like, different industries that they might be trying to talk to, but they have no real page that actually optimizes for those industries. They’re not talking to those industries directly, basically because they have no content to actually do so.
Sean: They might be through blog content, which is still good. And that’s important, and that needs to be optimized properly as well. But actually, in legitimate, like, landing pages, essentially, on their site, that are actually just normal pages on their site, but they’re just not optimizing those properly, or not even utilizing them at all.
John: So tell me more about that. I mean, you gave me like an e-commerce example before we got on.
Sean: Yeah. So one example that I really like to always point to as a good example of how to do it properly is Square, which is pretty interesting to me. If you actually go to, like, Square’s website and scroll down the page, you will see that they have these different industries laid out that are very specific, and they are very well keyword optimized. So you’ll see, like, they have point of sale systems for barber shops. They have point of sale systems for general retail. They have point of sales systems for whatever it might be, health food stores, etc. that are very specific, and they’re kind of targeting towards their personas that they know will actually utilize their services. And they have…what they do is they have, on their home page, you get to the bottom, there’s a navigational structure right there where they link off to all the different pages that really make sense for their different personas. And then whenever you click on any of them, they are very well optimized for that specific audience. So they kinda get to the core with imagery and with the written content and what their concerns are for each of those different kind of clients, for those different personas. And then they pretty much loop in the conversion at the bottom.
Sean: So not only is that a good way to get more traffic, but it’s more…a better way to get higher intent traffic that is more likely to convert, that is already looking for that specific use case.
John: And you kinda split up those… Yeah. You funnel people down in so they land on the homepage, right? Like, all business owners have heard of Square, right? And so they can go from…. And Square is different from, like… Well, I guess Stripe has, like, a card reader now as well. But I haven’t really thought about this actually being competitors until just now. But with Square… Yeah, you know, they land on the homepage, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. I’m an e-commerce shop.” Like, “I didn’t know Square is an e-commerce,” right? And they get on, down into that, like, directly from the homepage and then there’s stuff down the footer. And yeah, I guess it makes sense for, like, e-commerce as well. I mean, I even do this on Credo, right? Where, like, I start people just on, like, the, you know, SEO company’s page. And then they go into, like, SEO consultants or SEO agencies.
John: They can also say they’re in real estate, and then go to, like, actually, I need SEO for real estate, right?
John: And so they can go that page. I wanna work with a consultant, not an agency, and get to that page.
Sean: Exactly. And it’s funny that you’ve actually mentioned Stripe. Because we actually have a client that is a card reader for Stripe, and we actually got them and….
John: They’ve got physical product.
Sean: Yeah. And they actually utilized that exact strategy and basically, in a similar way to what Square was using, but for them and for their personas, and it worked really well so far. And they were very small. Whenever they started with us, they were a one-page website. And they could target their overall keyword, but they had no way of targeting more long tail keywords and more high intent keywords that are like that. And so by doing that, you open up many different opportunities to get just more consistent traffic from different areas.
John: So what point do you think a business should really think about doing, you know, building out this sort of architecture, right? If you’re like, I mean, you know, when you’re just starting off, like, you’re just trying not let your company die, right? It’s kinda like when you have a puppy, you’re like, “I just gotta keep him alive for six months.” And then, like, you’re good to go. Or like…and I don’t have kids, you don’t have kids, but, like, you know, I imagine… My sister-n-law just had a kid. Like, I imagine it’s the same thing. Same thing with the business, where you’re like, “I just can’t let this thing die, right?”
John: And initially you get further down the road and, you know, mine’s going for almost two years and I finally was like, “Okay. This is the information that I have, the data that I have. This is what people are searching for.” But I could have done the research, but I wouldn’t have had, like, the product or the inventory, right? People on the platform to really make use of that feature.
Sean: I think that…
John: So how do you think about that?
Sean: I think that there are a few different things that you really said that are really interesting to me. I think that the first is that you have to keep it alive. It is more of an investment over time because these pages aren’t going to rank initially. You’re going to build them, and then they are going need love and nurturing, essentially the same way that a baby would need.
Sean: You gotta feed them. Yeah.
Sean: But you’re going to actually have to either build links to them or just give it time for them to acquire links. And you’re going to have to be writing content, either on your blog or publishing it somewhere else that utilizes this content and actually kinda spreads it, and makes it a little bit more promotional to people. You can use social ads to kind of make that get boosted really quickly. And that’s something that I really recommend because they’re high impression for a low cost. And then if you target them well enough, which you can get super creepy with targeting and social ads.
John: Targeting. Yep.
Sean: You can make them very effective as far as the traffic that you do, even though you’re getting a large amount of traffic that isn’t as high intentive, probably, as, like, Google Ads.
Sean: However, with that, there is the other thing you said, which is the data side of it. So you have to actually know what ones are actually important to you. You actually have to know… And that comes the easiest through seeing what customers are already utilizing it.
Sean: I think that something that… Square’s side, they have just an insane amount of data that they can see. You know, you have 100,000 people who were using it in this way, and you have 50,000 who are using it in this way, and what not. So with that, there’s a lot of data that they can utilize for that. I would say that you should be doing a bit of keyword search around that, and just figuring out what opportunities are around you. You know, you could look into competitors in the space, if you have any, which you most likely do. Even companies that say that they don’t, they actually do.
John: They do. Yeah.
Sean: And it’s in some different form, maybe not exactly like what they’re doing specifically. But you can kinda utilize the old ways of maybe doing what you did, and see what kind of competitors were doing then, and what personas they were going after. Figure that out, get an idea of it. I would say you should go after it before you’re necessarily ready. Because if you’re ready for it, and then you do it, you’re gonna be starving for it by the time it actually kicks in.
Sean: So I would say doing it before you’re really ready. It sounds weird, but that’s actually the best strategy to go for, is that you should do it when you have kind of enough data around the customers that you already have, coupled with some keyword research, some competitive analysis. And then coupling all of that together and trying to push those out. And that comes down, I would say that comes down to… The link architecture is just really, that’s pretty straightforward after you know the content and the keyword targeting. The link architecture, you just wanna make sure you’re not just sending out 200 links from the homepage and to every single corner of your website all at once. You wanna make sure that you’re prioritizing the most important things in your top navigation that are actually going to give you conversions and revenue. And then, you know, the content is the hardest part because you just have to get that right. And it doesn’t mean that that’s not subject to change, you might add a persona or two every couple of months or something like that.
John: It’s not static.
Sean: I would definitely start with something though. So I would start with a couple, or few, at least use cases. I think personally, that, like, the whole single page website trend has been the worst thing for SEO, but also one of the best things for SEO as far as like, people who come in and expect that a one page website is going to rank extremely well for everything that they need, gives people who are well optimized a good opportunity. But also, people who come in thinking their one-page website is going to rank really gives SEOs a good opportunity because they actually have work to do.
John: So by one-page website, do you mean like, literally it’s like one landing page, or do you mean like, an AngularJS sort of implementation, like a PWA?
Sean: Kind of both, honestly. I think that there…. we get a ton of software companies that come into us that have single page websites, and I mean legitimate single page websites.
John: Just one page. Yeah.
Sean: That are like, “How do we make this optimized? And how do we rank?” And so we’re like, “Well, you get off the one-page architecture, and you actually build out some other pages to actually optimize. So… sorry about that, the dogs are going crazy. But the remote…
John: You kept him alive.
Sean: Yeah. Kept him alive, that’s for sure. But they, you know, they want to have this one-page website because it looks really good. But, I mean, you can get the same effect with a multi-page website. And I think that that is kind of a crux that people fall into, that they don’t really realize is negatively affecting them as far as, like, page optimization and stuff like that goes.
Sean: You could still have a blog on a one-page website. And you can push people off to a blog, and you can optimize that with content, which is still pretty good. But it’s not the best of both worlds.
John: With different intent and all of that as well.
John: Higher traffic, but lower conversion.
John: Yeah. And then that involves more full-funnel, Facebook, you know, Facebook pixel, retargeting ads, which so many companies are not doing. I’m like, “Why not?” You get clicks for like two cents.
John: But, yeah. So that’s really interesting. So how do you… I’m sure you’ve run into because I’ve run into it and you work with a lot more, like, tech companies than I do. I just talk to other founders. But, you know, there are a lot of people… There are a lot of this like, design first companies, right? I think we could talk forever about, like, what, like, part of the company kinda owns the, you know, like, gets the final say, right?
John: There’s, like tech companies and marketing companies and business companies and design companies, right?
John: So, you know, often people will be like, “Well, that’s gonna, like, that’s gonna, you know, screw with our design.” Right? Or like, “That’s gonna change our user flow,” right? “So, like, why should we, you know, do these SEO things,” right? “Why should we SEO our website?” Which, if you’re watching this and you say that, don’t say that anywhere. You know SEO is a long term thing. Where do you take that discussion? Because I’ve heard a lot.
Sean: Yeah. It’s a fun topic. I think I learned that really early on in my career because I was working, my first job as an agency that was a design agency primarily.
John: I remember that.
Sean: And they had a tiny marketing segment of the business, that actually grew to be a pretty big marketing segment by the time I left. But I think a key point and memory for me was whenever I was trying to, like, ram home SEO best practices on certain things, and the designers and developers thought that I was trying to just gimmick their sites up and that it wasn’t…
John: Doing tricks.
Sean: Exactly. And it wasn’t… They said that it wasn’t what the users wanted and stuff like that. And so really, my frustration kicked in there around… I knew what the users wanted because I had user data and I had keyword data. And it’s a fine balance between what are people aesthetically going to be pleased by, and what are people actually going to be able to see. And then bringing that together to where it’s the best of both worlds so that you can make the aesthetics look beautiful. Like, I care a lot about design. I’m a design geek and so I…
John: I can tell that from your apartment. Yeah.
Sean: The Daft Punk and.. No.
John: That’s right. Yeah.
John: Doing it right.
Sean: So… Exactly. But so they have… I wrote this whole article, actually, about this, that there was this whole point that I had to really earn their trust along the lines of I wanted to make sure that the thing that they were so prideful about, that they were designing and putting all their time into in their emotion into to make look beautiful and be what they wanted it to be, I wanted it to actually be seen. And I was like, “Do you actually want this to have the result that the client needs, which is to make revenue?” And so I think that they… It doesn’t need to be like, the buck stops with X person. I think that needs to be for the either owner of the company or, the project manager itself to decide where the…
John: Or the team of directors, yeah.
Sean: Yeah. Whatever the role may be that’s handling the overall project and the scope of the project, they need to be able to have that call. But I really think that it needs to be a marriage between the designers and the developers and the marketers, to really see this is the goal from a design perspective, This is what we want to make happen. This we need…
John: This is how our design is going to help us further reach that goal. Yeah.
Sean: Right. And then this is, you know, these are the technical limitations from the engineering department. And then these are the things that we need to implement to actually make it be seen from a marketing perspective. So with all those in mind, and nobody taking just a huge ego’d-out role in that, I think that you can really reach a very good common ground.
Sean: We have had client, like, projects where we come in and the client is really concerned about that side of things. And we have to lay that notion to rest, that we’re just going to try to pound through things that are just bad looking, just from an optimization standpoint. I think that that’s just a completely bad way of looking at it. If you actually look through, like, the Square site, in that example too, it is beautifully designed, has a great amount of copy that is well designed as well. The typography really plays well, yet it has a good bit of copy that search engines can latch onto as well. And it’s, from a technical perspective…
John: End users. Yeah.
Sean: Yeah, exactly, and end users. From a technical perspective, it’s very well setup. It’s very well structured. And the marketing, the actual targeting from the marketing department was spot on. So I think that that is a perfect marriage, like, shown right there.
John: Totally. And it goes back to that. I mean, we, you know, we kind of hinted it at it, but I think it’s important, you know, as like… And hopefully, there are a lot of like, you know, business owners and, you know, and such watching this that, you know, it’s not necessarily like, “Okay. How do we SEO our website? How do we design our website?” But it’s like, “What’s the goal of our, like, of our company? Like, why are we, you know, actually building this thing?” You know, at the end of the day, you know, e-commerce… I mean, yeah, you’re building to make money, but also, like, to sell. You know, to sell products and to, you know, help people find the right products to do whatever they’re trying to do.
John: And so like, that’s, you know, that’s where the buck stops. It’s like if this isn’t gonna get us closer to that then, you know, then we’re not…
Sean: Then why are we doing this?
John: Right. Then why are we even doing this? But then also, it’s like there’s so many different… Like, I’ve learned this in building a company. You’ve learned this in building a company. There’s, like, there’s the development side. There’s the design side. There’s the content side. There’s the marketing side. Like, there’s the, you know, there’s the business model side. Like, there are all of these different parts that have to play in together. And it’s really like… I’ve started talking about the outside conversation, as opposed to, like, all right, like, SEO guy, do your SEO thing. And designer person, do you design thing. Make it look pretty. Right? But it’s like, actually, how do we meet all these different goals? You know, like, they are five different goals within that, that then go up to this one top goal of, you know, getting more customers, getting more of the customers that you get to buy, you know, all of those things.
Sean: Yeah. And honestly, in designing my own site, or designing our own site internally, we’ve run into that problem ourselves multiple times, where we’ve thought, “Well, this is well targeted from a keyword standpoint or just in general.” But it just doesn’t look right or it doesn’t feel right. And so we’ll break it from a marketing perspective to make it look right, but then we notice that our leads start going down. And it’s like, “Well, that’s not exactly right. So we need to adjust it a little bit to make it look better, but also perform the function that it’s actually there for.”
John: Totally, totally.
Sean: So, yeah. That’s…
John: I think that’s… I’ve definitely found that, you know, useful, that you get outside of… Yeah. I mean, you can launch a page that it’s, like, you know, SEO for start-ups or something like that. But, you know, if the person that’s looking for, you know, for that, like, you know, a director of marketing of start-up, you know, they don’t know anything about SEO. And then you’re just, like, direct conversion oriented and you’re teaching him anything, you know, what are you doing? Or, like, in my case, like, if I don’t allow them to filter, you know, off the page… Like, I have actually removed filters from a lot of my category pages a few weeks ago. And just today, I was trying to find something and it was like, “Man, I really wish I still have filters on here.” Right? So like, you know, from the user perspective, it’s like, “That really matters. I’m gonna add it back in.” You know?
Sean: Yeah. Yeah.
Sean: Some of those things you don’t really realize are very important, that actually are. And so I think that you need to back a lot of that with the user data as well, which we do multiple different things to do from a CRO perspective that I think really help, that should be coupled. I think that that really, that’s a good point as well, that after you get… Or, you know, maybe even simultaneously to while you’re producing these kind of pages, like, that you need to optimize and that could be focusing on these different personas and stuff like that, and you’re putting them in the right navigation and everything. You really need to actually do some really good user testing, and figure out how they’re converting, where people are stopping. And do your research into what the personas actually do care about specifically.
Sean: So like, if they’re going to respond very well to social proof and stuff like that, which usually always happens, it’s really important to have that on there. You don’t want to… Especially in our case, when they’re going to be signing many-thousand dollar contracts, to not have any kind of results shown or, like, any kind of past experience with other clients on there. That would just have people like, “I don’t know.”
John: Totally, totally.
Sean: Like, you know?
Sean: So that’s something.
John: Well, I think that the search engines have also kinda given people that do SEO a gift in that, like, we’re seeing very positive correlations between time spent on the site, quality of the site, with rankings as well. So like, it’s actually, it’s kind of all coming in. And people debate that all day, and I’m not interested having that debate because the numbers say it is. And so, like, so it’s making us be, like, more holistic in, you know, marketing and building businesses.
Sean: Right. And that comes down to even small things, like something that we’ve ran into recently, where clients read that meta descriptions don’t affect your SEO rankings, so they don’t even pay attention to them. And they just have a bunch duplicates or they don’t even have any, and then that’s just being pulled in programmatically from Google and they’re really crappy. And so they’re not getting the click-throughs that they need, and thus, Google doesn’t see that people are clicking on their leads or their links instead of other people’s links.
Sean: They don’t think that their page is as qualified, so they’re not ranking it as high. And so even though this thing doesn’t have a direct ranking factor correlation as far as keywords goes, it does have a direct keyword ranking factor as far as when people are people actually clicking on it. And what is the use case that… Or like, how are users actually reacting to it?
Sean: If they’re not reacting to it, then sure, Google doesn’t wanna show that. They don’t want to show a bad impression. They want to show only the best impressions as far as what people are actually interested in. So, you know, I think that it’s really dangerous that there is a ton of information out there that people act like, is so like black and white. And I don’t mean like, black head or white head. I mean just, like, there’s so much gray area as far as what the actual effect of certain things comes down to. And that’s one of those cases, where it’s like there is an actual direct conversion oriented effect that happens there, that actually turns into rankings.
Sean: And so it shouldn’t just be so easily negated as something that they shouldn’t pay attention to. And so much content out there actually does say stuff like that. So that is something that, like, to our company again is, like, something that we really want to simplify, and make sure people understand, and to bring in the right information. I would say like 80% of our job is education around that kind of stuff
John: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.
Sean: Yeah. Because, I mean, to the most part, like, we can fix somebody’s site, but if they don’t understand what we fixed and they just break it the next month anyways, what does it matter?
John: Yeah. Totally, totally. So let’s start to wrap this thing up. Where do you go to… I mean, there’s like content out there that isn’t, you know, it was maybe relevant five years ago, right? But like, where do you go now for, like, this sort of, you know, this sort of content to read more about this? Other than your own blog, of course.
Sean: Yeah. I would say to your blog, first and foremost, obviously, because you’ve been there and done that, and also work with a bunch different businesses and agencies from a higher level, that work with other businesses as well.
Sean: Yeah. You have ton of information that people wouldn’t really be easily able to get, that you share really well. I would say that, you know, some of the other ones that… I used to read hundreds of blogs. Like, I remember I used to have a list of just a ton. And now, it’s come down to just a couple, really, where I’ll read Moz a lot and keep up to date with the information that’s there. And I don’t take it all as gospel either. I think that’s really important, that you should be approaching everything with a why and testers kinda mindset as far as that kinda of stuff goes. Because at the same time as I say that whole ranking factor thing, you know, Moz releases ranking factor surveys every year. And, you know, with that not being one of them essentially, that that could be misconstrued. So I think that, you know, I’m honestly…this might sound weird, but I’m consuming a lot less SEO content these days and, consuming a lot…
John: You and me both.
Sean: And consuming a lot more just leadership, and kind of entrepreneurship and business-specific kind of content, that is a lot more oriented at, like, what businesses specifically need to grow. And then relaying that into what I know that we can do from an SEO perspective.
Sean: I definitely think that it’s still extremely important keep up on your technical, like, chops and your capabilities as far as SEO goes. So we’re definitely doing that. I have employees that are much better at SEO than I am, I would say. But that’s kind of what I’ve been consuming more and more. So things like Tim Ferriss’ blogs, and podcasts, and stuff like that are always something that I pay a lot of attention to. I’ve been listening to a lot more podcasts lately, like Hack the Entrepreneur and stuff like that, which I actually was just recently on. Hopefully, that should be published sometime soon, which will be pretty cool.
Sean: But some of those kinda things that I just get a lot of value from. Hearing specifically from the actual customers that I would be going after too, and hearing their concerns specifically. So like, I listen to a lot of different, like, software and service podcasts because they’re a huge client chunk of ours. I read a lot of stuff about just e-commerce struggles in general because that’s our other biggest, probably, client persona.
Sean: So getting really well acquainted to exactly the needs of those different segments. That’s something that I’ve been paying attention to a lot recently.
John: Awesome, awesome. And where can people find you online if they wanna know about this or check out SimpleTiger?
Sean: Yeah. So you can reach us at simpletiger.com, as well as follow us on Twitter, for sure, @SimpleTiger. We’ve been getting really active on Twitter. We actually have a video series that we’re probably going to be… well, we already announced it, but we’re probably going to be pushing it out sometime soon. We’re trying to get a lot of video backlog going.
Sean: And so that will be really cool. They’re with Jeremiah, my brother, and the founder of the company is…he’s the host of it.
Sean: And he’s really charismatic and all over the place too with his movement, so they’re entertaining. But for me personally, @snsmth on Twitter.
John: Sean Smith without the vowels.
Sean: Basically my name without the vowels. Yeah.
Sean: So edgy. But, anyways…
John: Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Awesome.
Sean: That’s me.
John: Awesome, man. Well, thank you for being on. I appreciate it, and I will speak you soon.
Sean: Yeah. Thank you.
John: All right. Bye.
Sean: Have a good one.