Automating some of the tasks that are carried out as part of an SEO campaign can give you a competitive advantage and also help those who are stretched in terms of resource. But with Google seemingly cracking down on any form of scalable, relatively easy form of link building, is it still possible to automate tasks by using APIs?
I put this, along with other questions to an SEO and API fan Matt Beswick.
Q) Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, how did you get into the weird and wonderful world of SEO?
A) Completely by accident! I started out developing Facebook games in late 2007 and stumbled across a formula that really took off. We went from 0 to 150,000 daily players within a few weeks which enabled me to leave my job and start Hidden Pixel. From there we just had a natural evolution into running marketing campaigns for clients and SEO formed part of that.
Q) Can you tell us a bit about the team at Hidden Pixel?
A) We’re a fairly disparate team based all over the world who, other than our developers, work from home. We have copywriters out in Ireland and the US, a designer in Amsterdam and Romania, a dev team in Ukraine, and outsource any process work via oDesk.
Q) You run an integrated web design and marketing agency – how do you ensure that designers and developers take SEO considerations into account when putting together a site?
A) Unfortunately it comes down to micro-management and, so far, I haven’t worked out a way of getting past that. There’s definitely a process of ongoing education and our developers are pretty much set now (Google haven’t indexed a dev site for at least 6 months!) but everything still gets fully briefed, documented and checked to make sure there aren’t any balls-ups.
Q) With the recent changes Google is making, is it not becoming virtually impossible to automate link building activity?
A) For brands, thankfully, yes. You can still semi-automate a lot if you have the correct processes in place but even well templated outreach is now giving diminishing returns. That’s how it should be though, isn’t it? Old school directory submissions are equivalent to sticking your business card in as many phone boxes as possible and hoping that someone sees it.
The really interesting thing I’ve noticed recently is that some of the most outspoken affiliate marketers are slowly but surely starting to admit that their software isn’t working as well as it used to and there’s no at least an element of manual outreach needed. If they’re saying that then the tide is definitely turning!
Q) What does a typical SEO report look like for you? what data is in it?
A) Reporting is definitely a weakness for us, which is being addressed at the moment. We use a mixture of Raven Tools, Google Analytics, AWR, and Excel… but I wouldn’t honestly be able to say that our reports are anywhere near as good as they should be. Give me a month, though, and they will be!
Q) How do you deal with ‘that’ SEO client – the one who refuses to allow access to their site/action recommendations/do anything in the least bit creative/funny/interesting?
A) We either don’t take them on, or we get rid. Seriously – if the client won’t work with you then it’s not worth keeping them on. As a business owner turning down a monthly retainer is hard to do but it works out better for everyone in the end.
Q) What are the metrics/KPIs you agree on when doing client SEO work?
A) If at all possible, traffic and sales / enquiries. You can send ranking and link reports until the cows come home but at the end of the day, for most, it’s all about the bottom line.
Q) Why are you not using the Copify API?? 😉
A) I knew you’d ask that… and I’ve got nothing but an apology. We’ll rectify that soon 😉
Q) You have written about SEO APIs extensively, but if you had to choose one along to recommend, which would it be?
A) The SEMRush API has saved me hundreds of man hours in competitor and keyword research so that’s the one I’d also go to first. Either that or Majestic, purely for the speed and amount of link data you can get.
Q) SEO reports have historically been focused on tangible elements such as X number of directory submissions, articles etc. Now that it is more about creativity, how do you convey, and most importantly justify that to clients?
A) We’re really, really lucky with our clients. Part of that comes back to pre-sales as we spend a lot of time finding out about the business, making sure the client knows what to expect, and showing them examples of the kinds of content we’ve done in the past and the effect it can have.
We justify it by showing the results we’ve had for other clients, educating our new ones as to what they can expect, and gently moving them away from the thinking that SEO is about the kinds of things you mentioned there.
Q) What standalone SEO tools do you use/recommend?
Q) How do you negate the risk of relying on APIs in terms of the consequences of a service going down?
A) APIs, like any other tool, are just there to make life easier. If you’re automating anything with an API it should be because you’ve got a manual process that you need to speed up so there’s always an alternative.
Q) Is SEO becoming a dirty word?
A) No – I think it’s going the other way. Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed more and more businesses shying away from the low quality, low budget, SEO and starting to understand that it’s a genuine marketing channel that you need to invest in.
Q) Are you still guest blogging?
A) Yep, and this hasn’t really changed for us at all. For smaller clients we do some mid-level guest blogging and for larger ones we go for the big wins. If you’re writing great content that’s going on sites that generate referral traffic then you can’t really lose.
Q) I’ve got a site I want to SEO, but I have literally no budget, what is your number one, free SEO tip?
A) Make great content 😉
I’ll wait a couple of minutes for you to stop headbutting your desk.
In reality if there’s one tactic that you could still do with no budget it would be guest blogging. That isn’t just because of the links but also the other opportunities that are generated, and how much you learn about the importance of building relationships.
Q) Who would be your dream SEO client and why?
A) This is a great question! As a business owner I want to pick a brand with a 6 figure budget but I also love working with smaller companies. Either way they need a great product as that makes life infinitely easier. Either McLaren F1 or Sonos would be cool.
Q) Who are your favourite ‘SEO rockstars’?
A) Haha! I’ve been lucky enough to spend some drinking time over the last few years with a lot of the ‘rockstars’. If I was giving out awards it would be Rand Fishkin for inspiration, Wil Reynolds for making you just want to go out there and get shit done, Hannah Smith for content, Phil Nottingham for video, and Paddy Moogan for links and being the most genuine, solid guy you’ll ever meet.