Ask Me Anything Session with Cyrus Shepard

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Cyrus Shepard

Cyrus Shepard was my special guest in my Facebook group White Hat SEO – Learn It Now on March 1, 2017.

Here’s the link to the original “Ask Me Anything” session discussion in my White Hat SEO community.

You can join the group  for FREE!

Q & A with Cyrus Shepard

Here’s the full transcript of the AMA:

Question: If you had to choose just one, except for paid advertising, what would be your number 1 content promotion technique/strategy?

As we know, content is king, but without a good promotion strategy, it’s nothing.

Cyrus Shepard: The answer I can put into one word. It’s very powerful, yet few people leverage it to its full extent. It costs nothing and it’s been around since before the internet.

The answer is: ask.

Simply asking influencers and pseudo-influencers to share your content works better than paid promotion. But we don’t do it. The reasons that stop us:

1. We don’t think we know the right influencers
2. We’re intimidated to ask for favors
3. We don’t want to spam folks with pointless requests

Let’s start with the last point. If you are creating valuable content that actually helps people solve problems, you should never be afraid of spamming folks with pointless requests. If your content isn’t up to the standards of sharing with influencers, perhaps you need to work on your content first.

It helps when you have a large network, but you don’t often need to know influencers well in order to ask them to share. While it’s best to have a pre-existing relationship, sometimes a simple “@“ message on Twitter is enough for a retweet (but certainly a DM or email is better if you can swing it).

Finally, if you are intimidated asking for shares, get over yourself. If people don’t want to share, they won’t. No harm done (unless, of course, you persistently ask folks to share sub-standard material).

Steve Jobs, and many other successful business people, attribute their success to simply asking the right people for help. You’ll get a lot of “no’s” but you never know who is going to say yes.

 

Question: My question is in the competitors analysis what is the primary criteria you take on consideration?

Cyrus Shepard:  The major thing I look at in my competitors is the successful content they have produced. I’m primarily looking for 3 things:

1. What have they produced that is successful?
2. What drives their traffic?
3. What have they missed?

BuzzSumo, Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMRush are good tools for these tasks.

Basically, I want to replicate what’s working for my competitors by making even better content, and filling in the holes that they may have missed.

 

Question: How can a freelancer or a small digital marketing agency can sign a contract with a Fortune 500 company? I think that almost everyone will be interested in this. 🙂

Cyrus Shepard: Not totally my area of expertise, but I’ve worked with a small handful of Fortune 500s on a limited bases and I know a lot of individual consultants and small agencies that have done so.

The simple answer is this: for many, you attract the big clients the same way big agencies attract them – by being known to the client.

I’m likely biased because myself – and a lot of people I work with in the SEO world are highly visible – but this is the hard work that pays off. Writing blog posts, giving away knowledge for free, speaking at conferences, an active social media presence – are all attractors that bring in clients of all stripes.

It can take years to build up visibility as a speaker, but there’s a much lower bar to crafting well-researched blog posts and presenting an attractive, professional website to capture leads.

Big agencies have dedicated business development staff and sales folks who are hard to compete with, but all agencies have “reputation” which nobody owns, and which you can fight for with all of your might.

 

Question: What’s the number one characteristic you look for when qualifying a client? What about an employee?

Cyrus Shepard: Clients:
1. Can I actually help them? Am I the best person for this job? Often, I’ll refer them to somebody else instead of taking the job.
2. Do I like them?
3. Can they pay? 🙂

I’m very fortunate in that I can be very picky with who I work with. I don’t accept clients often, but it’s worked out well so far.

Employees:
This is harder. In my current company we only have contractors – nobody full time. The upside is we can see how we work with people without a big commitment. In past jobs – such as Moz – I’m likely to interview a LOT of people before picking someone based on culture fit. Sometimes I’ve made the wrong call. Still trying to improve in this area.

 

Question: What’s the best way to approach big websites within the SEO industry in order to become a contributor to them? I am talking about sites such as Moz, SEL, SEW, SEJ, etc. Is there some “recipe” which can increase your success rate significantly?

Cyrus Shepard: Great question! I used to help manage the Moz Blog for years, and saw a lot of content come across our desks.

The irony is: these publications are HUNGRY for good content, but it is so hard to find. For every author that gets published, 10-20 get rejected because their content simply isn’t up to snuff.

Here’s what I would recommend:
1. Offer something unique. So many articles are rehashed, or lack a strong marketing “hook” to make them interesting. Data and case studies are obvious winners. Polls and surveys work too. “How tos” about a new Google feature are almost always good – especially if the subject hasn’t been covered before. Roundup posts are iffy. Avoid covering topics that have been covered before. Offer something free to the reader – a new tool, a cheat sheet download, a spreadsheet for calculating spend, etc. Avoid obvious self-promotion. Give away your knowledge for free, because you’ll be charging for the execution later.
2. Comprehensive posts. If you are a new author, 4-500 words looks like an amateurish college essay. Go big.
3. Unique images and visual assets. HIre a graphic designer. Even a Fiverr designer is better than nothing. Avoid stock images and memes. They look cheap.

Editors often want to see the post before they commit. Keep this in mind and create your post first. Ask for feedback if they reject it, and you are free to shop it around to other publications. There are sooooo many SEO pubs that accept guest posts that you can use to build your portfolio and social media presence.

Let me know if you have any other questions about this. Happy to follow up.

Follow up: The thing that bothers me with this approach “create your post first” is that I can never be sure if they’ll approve the topic. And yes, even if they don’t like the topic I can always publish it somewhere else. However, if I really want to get published on this very site (say Moz or SEL) isn’t it too risky to write the post first and ask them if they’re interested second? By risky I mean that I might have to write dozens of posts that might never get published on the sites I write them for. That’s lots of wasted time and effort. How can I avoid this and increase the odds of them saying “yes” to my pre-written topic? I know you said I should make sure it’s unique but still, that might not be enough…

Cyrus: First of all, I hope you aren’t writing dozens of posts that don’t get published.

I totally see your point, but the truth is your chances are about 500% higher if you have actually written the post. And if they approve it first and then it sucks, they won’t publish it anyway.

If you don’t want to write the post first, it would be helpful to at least have an inkling of the original data, process, ANYTHING that you can show the editors to build a post around.

Yes, it’s a catch 22. Lots of people write posts that don’t get accepted. Not going to lie. It sucks. The worst case scenario is you have a post available to publish on your own blog – which isn’t that bad.

Follow up: Thank you for another awesome answer! It totally makes sense and I must give it a try. So far I’ve had a decent success with giving a few topic suggestions and adding a few links to my previous publications but your advice will be much better, I’m sure. I am mostly concerned about sites like Search Engine Land which don’t seem to answer to pitches although they have contributor guidelines (http://searchengineland.com/how-to-become-a-guest-contributor). Any advice here? I am sure they receive tons of applications but still. Should I still follow your advice and send an article upfront? I filled in the form a few months ago with no success.

Cyrus: It’s almost always better to email the editors directly if you have a specific good piece of content. Typically almost never mind. Do some sleuthing or use tools like voilanorbert.com to find email addresses. (Hint: it’s usually “first name”@thirddoormedia.com ) Here’s the staff page to figure out who to contact: http://thirddoormedia.com/team/

 

Question: What’s the best link building technique works fine with ecommerce site?

Cyrus Shepard: 1. Even though Google (and here in the States, the FTC) have cracked down on promotions and free giveaways, I find they still work well. Make sure your bloggers properly disclose that they receive free product in exchange for an unbiased review (or contest, giveaway, etc) – There is some risk in this strategy if folks all use followed links, but it’s still a strategy I would use today.
2. Fake, funny products.

 

Question: What advice do you have to someone like me who hasn’t been working in SEO for long and is looking for a long, successful career in this sector?

Cyrus Shepard: Let me tell you how I got my start. I was building websites and trying to learn how to market them – that’s when I discovered SEO.

My first client was an accident. My wife’s company had a terrible website, so I met with one of the owners as a favor to tell him how to increase his traffic. He watched my presentation and offered to pay me a monthly fee. I almost tried to talk him out of it – at this point I had only been doing SEO for 2-3 months!

That’s how I got my first client. It didn’t pay much, but I learned a ton. I’d say other things that helped me:

1. Working on my own sites
2. Working with small local clients for not much money to build up my experience (don’t do this very long)
3. Very important: Building an online presence by publishing SEO articles on Moz and my personal site. Here’s the very first article I published: https://moz.com/ugc/increase-conversions-by-fixing-https-errors
4. Building my personal branding through my website and social media
5. Attending and eventually speaking at conferences.

Hope that helps!

 

Question: What would be the best way to rank a site for a particular language and state?

Cyrus Shepard: Mmmm… My first question is if this is a duplicate of another language/area – one where hreflang would be appropriate? Or is this more of a local service SEO question?

Even so, I find a lot of power in internal linking, linking to the page with (always) varying anchor text that includes the location. This is especially powerful for location-based keywords.

Sorry for the short answer – simply think I may need more information.

Follow up: Well the site is about offering a server to the internet users on that state. More specifically its about offering host servers. I plan to launch the site this month. The problem is that I can’t really get backlinks for it since the IT Field is lacking on my country and the only good sites are TV-ones and its hard to get backlinks from them.Since the language is not English. I can’t really build backlinks from English sites since that would raise a flag on SERP. My competitors rank only with site age.

Cyrus: Sounds like you have a link problem, and can likely beat your competition if you can figure it out.

Maybe not the answer you want to hear, because link building is hard, but I’d take any link you can get. I’d work the local media and local bloggers and community sites. Any angle you can work. Can you give away something free? Can you sponsor something? Can you do something for attention?

Make yourself stand out, no matter how hard, and reach out to folks for links. It’s backbreaking, often frustrating work, but the benefits can last for years and are well work it.

 

Question: How is SEO and content different from growing a site from 0-100k visits per month vs 100K to 1M per month. Or is the strategy and tactics the same?

Cyrus Shepard: I’d say exactly the same.

The challenge, of course, is that as a new site you don’t have an audience. You have a harder time establishing relationships with influencers, and getting folks to take you seriously.

That said, the challenge of creating compelling, shareable, high traffic content is exactly the same. In fact, some small sites do it better than the big ones. It’s a challenge that never ends no matter how large you become.

Oh, I should add that another advantage of a big site is that as you grow you can leverage site architecture, internal SEO and existing links to further grow your traffic – but that is the reward of getting there!

 

Question: How can a business owner ensure NAP consistency in the absence of any tools like Moz local to do that in a market like India?

Cyrus Shepard: Great question. The truth is, while tools like Moz Local do a great job of getting you started with the local aggregators, almost any professional local SEO agency will want to perform a manual audit. And these are a lot of work – sometimes tedius, but totally achievable in any market.

Smarter people than me have written about this, so I’ll simply leave a few links to some good resources would should get you started.

https://moz.com/blog/finding-and-building-citations-like-an-agency

https://moz.com/blog/ultimate-local-seo-audit

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1o7FvLi2HxWFxhlqlE3OxxyDyxskzgnX5fnWsYnFzP_E/edit#gid=0

 

Question: How do you stay on top of trends? What are your ‘go to’ resources?

Cyrus Shepard: 1. Twitter. 100%. I use Twitter professionally, and am very careful about who I follow, managing and trimming and adding people every few months to stay relevant.

2. Private email groups. If you don’t know of any, start one. Slack works too. Find 10-40 people in the industry and invite them to a private sharing and support forum. Works great.

3. Facebook groups. Many exist. Some won’t let you in, but it never hurts to ask for an invite.

 

Question: Will the SEO industry still exist in 20 years?

Cyrus Shepard: Not like we know it – probably in 3-5 years time. Things are going to change drastically due to 2 reasons:
• Google machine learning obliterating traditional SEO signals
• New devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa changing the way we search – most predominantly through voice activated conversation

I don’t know what SEO or marketing is going to look like in 3-5 years, but I know it’s going to look very different than it does today.

I don’t believe we’ll see a significant increase in social signals. Backlinks will continue to be influential, but many argue that we’re moving towards an SEO world without URLs (see Cindy Krum’s recent presentations if you are interrested in this). Think PWAs – Progressive Web Apps. In this world, two signals are going to rule: Content + User Engagement.

 

Question: What should we keep in mind for successful local business SEO?

Cyrus Shepard: Great question, although not my particular area of expertise. The only thing I’ve seen work time and time again is very, very extensive NAP audits and follow-up work for consistency. I’m not talking about 5-6 aggregator sites, I mean looking at 100s of sites for NAP consistency in a process that could take weeks. It often takes 4-6 months to see results, but it really works and trust me, almost NOBODY does it right, expect for a few very specialized Local SEO agencies.

It varies by country, but you basically start with lists like these: http://www.localvisibilitysystem.com/definitive-local-search-citations/ and go through ever single one of them. It’s exhaustive work, but it works.

Also, lots of natural positive user reviews, but you already know that

 

Question: How frequently would you ideally change the keyword strategy and SEO foundation for one of your clients?

Cyrus Shepard: Every few months (sometimes more frequently) I reexamine the keyword strategy for my major websites.

The primary way I do this is looking at the difference between the keywords I’ve optimized for and the traffic Google actually sends me. Google Search Console is good for this. Oftentimes, it’s easier to optimize for the traffic you’re actually getting than the traffic you planned for. You can also discover new opportunities this way.

 

Question: How does an ethical SEO keep their faith in pure white hat tactics when things like paying authors, buying links and some PBN’s still work very well? I have had this battle with myself for years. Everyone says, wait and they will get hit – but it’s been 15 years. How much longer do I have to wait?

Cyrus Shepard: To be honest, I think it’s in the risk you are willing to take. I personally have no ethical qualms with non-spammy black hat methods, but I don’t employ any simply because of 1) Risk and 2) They rarely make the web a better place.

I also believe the success of these black hat techniques is often overstated. For every PBN you see working, Google has likely penalized 20. Buying links and authors may be less risky, but I find it’s hardly ever less work than simply doing it the white hat way.

Reading sites like Black Hat World, I’m amazed at the effort folks go through to get a few black hat links. For the same effort, I could build something of value that will last for years, I can easily sell to someone else, and I almost never have to worry about it being penalized.

But if you have the stomach for it, and you don’t mind paying the consequences, maybe you should go for it. Just don’t create spam, because nobody likes that.

Follow up: Please elaborate on why paying an author not white hat?

Cyrus: Paying authors is totally white hat, but Google’s guidelines indicate that paid links and relationships must be disclosed. And oftentimes links nofollowed. As always, shades of grey

 

Question: If you would start all over with learning / doing SEO where would you start?

Cyrus Shepard: Wouldn’t change a thing 🙂 Let me copy/paste my answer from above. This is exactly how I would do it again. See bottom of answer for additional info…

Let me tell you how I got my start. I was building websites and trying to learn how to market them – that’s when I discovered SEO.

My first client was an accident. My wife’s company had a terrible website, so I met with one of the owners as a favor to tell him how to increase his traffic. He watched my presentation and offered to pay me a monthly fee. I almost tried to talk him out of it – at this point I had only been doing SEO for 2-3 months!

That’s how I got my first client. It didn’t pay much, but I learned a ton. I’d say other things that helped me:

1. Working on my own sites
2. Working with small local clients for not much money to build up my experience (don’t do this very long)
3. Very important: Building an online presence by publishing SEO articles on Moz and my personal site. Here’s the very first article I published: https://moz.com/ugc/increase-conversions-by-fixing-https-errors
4. Building my personal branding through my website and social media
5. Attending and eventually speaking at conferences.

Addendum: I admit, I got very, very lucky early in my career through my relationship with Moz. I got a customer service job with them and was quickly promoted to do SEO for the site. It literally advanced my career 10 years. Suddenly, my job was TEACHING people how to do SEO, which taught me a lot. I ended up reading a lot of Google patents and studying ALL THE TIME. It’s hard to replicate this experience in the real world when you’re dealing with clients and trying to get by, but teaching is definitely one of the best ways to learn.

 

Question: How did you take your SEO game to the next level?

Cyrus Shepard: 2 Things:
1. A variety of websites+problems to solve is essential. SEOs with lots of clients often have the advantage of simply seeing more scenarios and learning more from them.
2. Relentless experimentation. For this, you typically need your own site or be in an in-house environment where you are allowed to make mistakes. I firmly believe successful SEO is rooted less in best practices, and more in relentless experimentation.

 

Question: There is a popular claim “Content is king” meaning that content of the site decides it’s popularity. On the other hand, the opponents of the claim state that backlinks are a lot more important. I personally think that the truth lies in the middle, backlinks carry a lot of weight, but there is no reason to link to anything other than a great content.

Cyrus Shepard: Content is King, but the User is Queen, and she rules the Universe. Which means, at the end of the day, you have to satisfy the user query. This goes a long way despite whatever content or links you may have. And if you satisfy the query, this may earn you links as well.

As a content guy, I always start with content, because it’s easier than link building and I enjoy the challenge of creating link worthy material.

 

Question: I’m wondering where to get the best, most up-to-date SEO information. Where do the big names in SEO go to stay up on current trends in SEO?

Cyrus Shepard: The folks I follow on Twitter is a great place to start: https://twitter.com/CyrusShepard/following

Honestly, this is where I get 90% of my information. In the old days I read a lot of Bill Slawski and read original Google patents, but they don’t come out with those so often

 

Question: As we all know that after leaving moz you are building affiliate site but you can easily build an SEO agency and outsource work and earn millions with your reputation then why Cyrus Shepard is busy in the construction of affiliate sites,

Is it for passive money or you need rest for starting something Big New thing.

Cyrus Shepard: Couple of things:

I still do SEO consulting, though admittedly not much and I’m very selective about clients.

The reason I do web publishing with an affiliate+advertising revenue model is because:
1. I love creating content
2. I love owning the content that I create, instead of helping other people get rich with my content like I did for years.
3. Passive income is wonderful. I was too sick to work for several months last year, but because my websites run almost automatically, my income didn’t take a hit.

While I respect my friends like Mike King and Rhea Drysdale who have built great and profitable agencies, I’m simply not an agency person. I’m very protective of my time and I like it when my time belongs to me, and not my client.

Hope that answers your question!

 

Question: Is there one really effective SEO strategy which is still effective and underused?

Cyrus Shepard: Three or four come to mind:
1. The existence of real-world business information. Local businesses employ this in SEO all the time through citation building but even a few regular signals for web-based businesses can add signs of legitimacy.

2. Smart internal linking. Too big of tactic to go into here, but wayyyyy to many sites end their internal linking strategy in thier navigation, when this is only the beginning.

3. Structure. This is going to sound so simple and obvious as to be ridiculous, but I’ve been increasingly impressed with the power of structure in formatting web pages. Yes, I’m talking about headers (H1, H2, etc), paragraphs, section tags, lists, bullets and more. Google has been talking about this for years, but how many SEO audits do you see that go beyond H1 and subheaders? This is increasingly important as Google uses structure to pull featured snippets out of webpages.

4. Optimizing for the traffic you have, not the traffic you want. See this post: https://moz.com/blog/single-best-seo-tip-for-improved-web-traffic.

 

Question: If one wants to scale their SEO business (get more clients) what’s the best way to do it if you don’t want to grow big in staff? I am thinking of focusing on a small niche in a particular country and stick with it. This way I could get as many clients as I need (without any conflict of interest of course) and still be able to have small staff but with a better profit. Does this make sense? How’d you do it?

Cyrus Shepard: This reminds me of how Glen Allsop (ViperChill) first became big – by selling SEO services to a very specific niche. He also had a small staff but was able to scale simply because it was a very streamlined service sold over and over again.

I don’t remember the specifics (you may be able to find it on his blog) but I believe his main marketing technique was case studies. If you sell Auto SEO, then Auto SEO case studies are going to work really well with anyone in the auto industry. This is so much different than broad-based agency case studies because the target client doesn’t necessarily have much in common with the previous client.

The only challenge that remains is getting the case studies in front of you leads – FB ads, direct sales, or whatever you choose. In the states we have a lot of agencies that work this way because the markets are huge – mostly auto, law, medical. You may have an advantage because you’re limiting your geographical area and may not have as much competition.

Hope that helps with what you are thinking!

 

Question: How can an idiot succeed with schema.org ?

Cyrus Shepard: In my experience, schema is not going to give you a major ranking boost, but it is helpful especially for earning rich snippets and often generating a higher CTR – which can also help rankings.

My general advice is to mark up everything you can using JSON-LD. Don’t invest so much in markup that you neglect other areas, but mark up what you can in a reasonable amount of time.

Test everything using Google’s structured data tool. Here’s a bookmark javascript:void(window.open(%27https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool?url=%27+window.location.href,%27_blank%27));

 

Question: What does the SEO community need to be a more of a great community ?

Cyrus Shepard: Wow, interesting question. I actually think SEO is one of the greatest communities there is. Granted, I haven’t been exposed to too many others, but this is an industry built on sharing! The major players in the space all cooperate with one another (Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Majestic, Raven, BuzzSumo, etc, etc) You can learn almost everything for free online. Places like Moz and Inbound are great places to discuss and comment, and Twitter is a wonderland.

How to make it better? Not sure, but it probably means being an example of the change you’d like to see. Share, participate, give away knowledge for free, and be nice to one another.

Thank you, Cyrus for the amazing and extremely valuable AMA session! It was an honor!

Here are Cyrus Shepard’s contacts:

Website: cyrusshepard.com

LinkedIn: Cyrus Shepard

Twitter: Cyrus Shepard

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