Steve Toth

 

Source: SEOSignalsLab

Pick His Brain!

I’d like to introduce one of our members, Steve Toth, for our next ‘Pick His Brain’ session and I want to thank him for the participation.

Steve wears many hats and he has been doing them well.

He is currently the head SEO strategist of Freshbooks, operates a successful SEO newsletter site called seonotebook.com.

Generates enterprise-level leads via LinkedIn, manages clients for his own boutique agency, and gives lots of great advice in our community.

Due to his wide range of experience, he is the right person to ask questions related to SEO and managing SEO operations.

If you have any questions on enterprise SEO, marketing, and operations, feel free to pick his brain.

Here are the rules.

1) I’ll let the thread go on until he asks me to stop. Theoretically, this thread can continue until the FaceBook stock value goes to zero.

2) Please, no snarky remarks. I will not tolerate any intentional negativity. We are here to learn from each other’s successes and strategies.

3) Please do not PM him and bother him. If you have a private question, ask for his permission on this thread when appropriate.

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Table of Contents

What would be your strategy for Mobile SEO for a client when 60%+ of his audience is still on Desktop?It’s more a B2B play for the desktop.

I would suspect it’s an older audience, so to confirm that I would look at their demographics in GA and raise font and button size to increase conversions.

Would do this on desktop and mobile, but it would be especially effective on mobile because it’s a smaller screen.

In terms of SEO and content, I don’t think I would change too much. I’d obviously want to keep the same content on the mobile version.

It would be more of a UX play.

Part of the reason why I really like B2B for SEO clients. I think it will be more profitable that B2C long-term.

I also feel like people are way more likely to ask their friends for B2C product recommendations vs. B2B where people turn to Google.

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How would you structure an SEO team? What are their operation roles?

Great question. I’d want one person who’s responsible for overall strategy (me).

-Technical SEO Manager (someone who’s good with Excel and Python as well ideally)

-Dedicated designer and front-end developer

-Content writer

-Link builder

-CRO Manager

This would be a lean team for a large company. I’d want the writer writing in WordPress and pumping out SEO content on a weekly basis.

Then have the designer brushing things up and the developer enhancing posts and building tools.

Would you say this team would be best in house or can it be done by Trained VA’s?

Best to be done in-house for sure, I think roles like technical SEO and CRO manager might be tougher to find VA’s for, but I may be wrong.

How it is like to join such big business as Freshbooks lets say “in the middle of the process”? Did you change a lot from the very beginning or it is a game of small wins? Is it hard to convince the marketing team to do SEO changes?

When I joined FreshBooks, I literally started from scratch. I didn’t have one gdoc to go off of. So it was a blank slate.

It was challenging working in-house developers when they have to field requests from different parts of the org — obviously because SEO is the most important

So you need a lot of patience.

We had been working with an agency and just prior to me starting my position they made a terrible recommendation to redirect 50+ pages into one page.

I watched it unfold my first week in my seat, saw the redirects happen, couldn’t get the team to reverse them before Google crawled the pages.

Our traffic to our main landing page plummeted and it was very stressful. So over that whole time my patience was really tested.

We ended up making a full recovery and then some, but that experience taught me a lot.

We ended up firing that agency and started working with experts who specialized in very specific areas of SEO.

To answer the question about convincing, in the summer of 2018 we pitched the executives for an incremental budget increase.

I had a tshirt made that read “$EO” and it worked and we have done really well with it.

How much SEO work does Freshbooks outsource vs. things are done in-house?

We have a pretty lean SEO team in-house (2 people me on strategy, my colleague Wesley on technical).

A lot of that is going to change next year based on the success we had this year (2x organic traffic YOY).

I’m a firm believer that you are only as good as your network.

So I’ve definitely leveraged people from the group and basically tried to work with experts in their respective disciplines, with me orchestrating the work from those vendors.

I have learned a TON in the process and I’m extremely thankful for it.

Earlier this year we launched 550 articles based on People Also Ask questions around accounting.

We hired 5 contract writers to come in for 3 months and pump out the content. There’s no way we could have done that with an in-house team.

What was the average length of article for those 550?

1200 words.

What was your publishing pace? Did you just get them up ASAP? Do you maintain a regular flow of new content since the 550?

Launched them in batches.

Started with about 20 a week.

Got to about 200 that way then released them all after that.

I consulted people in my network prior to making the decision.

It took about 7 months for them to gain major traction.

Really starting to ramp up now.

How did you prioritize which to breakout to an individual article and which ones to roll up together?

We spent a lot of time going through a seed list of accounting terms.

I wish we had been able to use https://chrome.google.com/…/lmcnlmlocdlfnojgmeplmmjhkni… to pull the PAA questions, but this was back in late 2018.

We organized them all according the categories on the blog.

When we grouped them together, we created jump links for all the related questions that had lower search volume than the title.

Here’s an example of how one of the jump links looks in the SERP, it’s driving significant traffic.

https://www.google.com/search?q=are%20banks%20required%20to%20report%20large%20deposits&oq=are%20banks%20required%20to%20report%20large%20deposits&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l3.12529j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

I think we’re the third result.

We wrote these blog with featured snippets in mind, but are revisiting the strategy based a technique I created that I’m discussing on https://seonotebook.com.

What did your boss say when you doubled traffic?

When I interviewed with the VP Marketing I asked him “if I was completely successful in my role one year from now, what would that look like to the company?”

He said 2X organic traffic. I was happy to deliver on that promise P.S. Pablo Rosales also has a script if you just want to use Chrome to pull the PAAs.

Does Freshbooks have to deal with periodically, sudden spike of Google zombie traffic (non performing search traffic)? If yes, how do you tackle the issue systematically?

We have an upgrade prediction model created by our data scientists.

They are able to tell the likelihood of an upgrade early on in the users journey (based on their actions in the app).

So if we find that someone is a zombie, we cut off that trial earlier and free up those resources.

How are you using LinkedIn to find prospects?

I don’t do any cold emailing.

Have used Sales Navigator to connect with marketing managers and directors (my audience) simply to get them into my feed.

I post a lot and have been able to get a lot of trending posts.

So I also add all the people that engage with my content and a few that view my profile.

My target is mid-large companies, so I’m usually dealing with a marketing manager and not the business owner, acting as a consultant.

How do you constantly come up with things to post and not run out of ideas?

I have an “always on” mentality and am a content creator by nature. If an idea comes to mind, I always note it down. Ideas come from real life.

Like the other day my client introduced me to his team as “our SEO guy” so I turned that into a post that depositions agencies (who I see as my competitors): https://www.linkedin.com/…/stevetothjr_seo-realtalk…

Could you share more about your LinkedIn strategy, if that’s not a bit off the SEO topic?

Gonna repost the same comment above: I don’t do any cold emailing.

Have used Sales Navigator to connect with marketing managers and directors (my audience) simply to get them into my feed.

I post a lot and have been able to get a lot of trending posts.

So I also add all the people that engage with my content and a few that view my profile.

My target is mid-large companies, so I’m usually dealing with a marketing manager and not the business owner, acting as a consultant.

What are your thoughts on current berth update how it changes the game?

I think BERT will open up the possibility to get more specific content discovered.

So very detailed content that answers specific questions will be more discoverable.

I see this as being a big win for people who understand how to produce SEO content.

One tip I would offer is that if a topic is too specific and you don’t think there will be a lot of volume.

Write about a broader topic and use jump links for the more specific/nuanced answers.

What are your experiences: which seo techniques work best at the moment, what doesn’t work at all anymore?

Optimized content, backlinks and internal linking will always work.

What doesn’t work? Probably any links that will be marked rel=”ugc” in the future.

SEO vs. paid ads, what has brought more ROI for Freshbooks? Why do you think that is?

SEO has a much lower CAC (customer acquisition cost) than paid search.

We created a page that earned a traffic value of $42,000/week. Avg. CPC * clicks to the page in GSC. Here’s how I did the calculation: https://www.evernote.com/…/AsA…

It has to do with increasing competition for paid ads. We have new players come in an drive up CPCs then abadon things all together.

Then we have huge companies like SAP that buy ads for our main keywords and you just know that their ROAS is crap and they don’t care (their form is like 10 fields).

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So yeah, it all has to do with the Google Ads landscape and competitors driving up costs in a race for marketshare.

When working on a new project, what is it that you prioritise? As in, what should be done first, second, third.

My ideal project starts with me testing a keyword for conversions using Google search ads.

If the keyword converts at an acceptable rate, I move onto ranking the content.

I tune that content using my own skills and then use Cora to do adjustments on an ongoing basis.

I’ll build out supporting content based on People Also Ask questions, build links into them, then internally link to that content.

You can use this internal linking template I created:
https://docs.google.com/…/10rbO8O7qXMhvsZlmEsXH…/edit…

For a new business, I use Scheiler Mew’s GMB roadmap, you can find it here:
https://www.evernote.com/…/AsBapLYS3KBBkaPUgncprgszG1OL…

What is your opinion on nofollow on internal linking? I see many WordPress sites using this, but this makes no sense in my opinion, but how are you going about this?

Sounds like a really bad idea.

I have heard stories of people who have changed their site to a themes with nofollow internal links and had their site plummet.

In terms of pagerank sculpting, I haven’t truly tested it, so can’t really give an opinion.

Have you found any SEO tools to check to see how well an article is optimized for search intent? I recently had a backlink company say one of my articles needed to be better optimized for search intent…. Do you have any processes, checklist, SOP or tool for this?

Interesting question. Ryan Stewart had a good video recently where he basically talked about checking the SERP to see what the results are saying.

He used the example of how to get rid of pimples and he pointed out that all the articles were about “how to get rid of pimples fast.”

And that if you’re not mentioning speed, you’re not going to match the intent of the SERP.

So I would say defintely checking the SERP to match intent is very important. Though this is not scalable.

Another think you can do is pay attention to your CTR in GSC and make tweaks towards the intent and see how you can postively impact CTR.

I don’t have an SOP for this, but it seems like it would be easy to create. I will see if I can find that Ryan Stewart video in a bit.

Here’s the Ryan Stewart video I was referencing https://www.facebook.com/hellowebris/videos/2949072678455319/

What is the best way to have a conversion for an ad that promotes professional services (tech)?

Thanks for the question, but I’ve never run LinkedIn ads, so it’s hard for me to answer the question.

Where do you suggest they should start knowing that there is Freshbooks as their competitor?

I would always start with the SERPs you want to rank in.

Note down all those sites, check Top Pages for all of them in Ahrefs and see if you can create content that’s ideally better than theirs.

How do you see the future of SEO?

Google taking up more real estate on the SERP/wanting to answer all questions on the SERP.

Recently saw a post by Kayle Larkin featuring two list-based featured snippets (almost guaranteeing a zero click SERP).

I don’t think we are too far away from having a lot of informational queries showing a page full of featured snippets.

Does this mean SEO is soon to be dead? Absolutely not.

I just think that it’ll be harder for businesses to start from scratch and the time it’ll take to rank may appear be cost prohibitive.

Especially to the new business owner who’s never done it before and has a lot of competition.

Whereas affiliates get it, they understand the slow burn, but even then I see a lot of larger affiliates prefer to buy properties that are already performing and take them to the next level?

Personally, I only want to work with sites that have competitive DR in their niche.

Ideally, they’ve been around for sometime, they have a strong natural link profile, but haven’t structured/tuned their site for SEO.

To me, those are the easiest wins where you can make a big impact and they definitely exist. So that’s where I see the future of SEO for me, anyways.

What role would you be looking to fill asap for a startup agency?

Tough question, with only these details, but I’d want to find someone who is either connected or willing to go out into groups and make connections.

I believe you are only as good as your network.

If we’re just speaking practically, my first hire would be a writer who really understands how to ideate topics and write for SEO.

Have u used seo autopilot or ranker x or something on similar line to create web 2.0 and all other random links?

It’s not something I do for my clients (med-large size businesses) but I have friends who use it and say it works.

Personally, if I can be successful without them, I’ll do that.

How are you using LinkedIn to drive enterprise SEO leads? Cold outreach?

I don’t do cold outreach, I do however connect with anyone who is a potential fit for me.

I have taken a lot of time to make my profile as strong as possible.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevetothjr/

Whenever I see that my profile views are down, it usually prompts me to think of a post to bring it back up.

I think with enterprise clients, it needs to be a slow burn.

I’ve started using some of Marty Marion’s teaching especially in terms of depositioning your competition.

You have been on fire lately… great material… and I am honored you include some of my positioning / de-positioning in your approach?

I need to work on my own positioning a little more.

Still seeing if it’s possible to create a category with the big shift away from agencies at the enterprise level.

Do you still see opportunity selling local SEO to franchises and multi-location businesses?

Still huge opportunity, though I don’t do as much local SEO at the enterprise, franchise level. It’s been a few years.

I’m much more passionate about traditional organic than I am about local.

I’d probably partner with people who are better than me at local if I was to take on a client. Again, where your network ends up benefiting you the most.

Do you think that words in sidebar/footer (if we have a lot of partial keywords in these parts of the site) have impact on overall keyword density on a certain page?

I would be less concerned about the keyword density on a certain page, especially because it sounds like the sidebar/footer text is either global or part of a template that used multiple times.

I would try to get those keywords out of there since they’re probably confusing Google because it’s seeing it on every page.

In essence you’re creating a bit of competition with every page using those elements.

Another thing about that is that there’s density in terms of the article, but also keyword density in terms of all the code that makes up a page.

The latter probably matters more.

What skills/knowledge would you recommend new SEOs learn and get experience with? For the next years (future proof)?

-How to test or at least become familiar with testing.

-How to use on-page tools, how structure the content of links you build effectively.

-How to internally link in a way that can funnel the most link juice into a set of pages.

What copy in SEO/ads and how many stages are there to the funnel for a. SaaSproduct like Fresh Books? Do you use paid ads as well?

Go high-level I know you can’t spill proprietary secrets.

We use lots of paid. We don’t really broadly break it down in terms of top, medium and bottom funnel.

We look at what stage the business is in and content can differ wildly according to that.

How long does it take for someone to become a long term client on average is a better question

I can’t go into further detail here due to confidentiality,

Do you outsource? And how much work do you outsource? And on what rates do you outsource?

I think you have to. As for specific rates, I will usually pay above market rate for a person’s country if they have the right experience.

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Tips for young people who are about to start there own SEO agency.

If you’re young and don’t have a lot of experience.

I’d say you should rank your own website because no one is going to believe you’re any good if you don’t have the experience to prove it.

The other approach is to go for super low cost clients and just go hard on sales, but these types of clients can often be a huge pain to deal with.

So maybe work on your own site and work your way up in terms of the size of clients you service.

When starting a new site what do you use to map the structure and content?

I like plain old Google Sheets.

I also use draw.io but there are probably better solutions.

For planning internal linking and blogs I use this sheet that I created https://docs.google.com/…/10rbO8O7qXMhvsZlmEsXH…/edit…

If I have a company I want to rank and I have a lot of domains around their business – is it better to point them all to one website, or build a site on each page and link them all together.

I think you’re better off focusing on one domain otherwise your link budget is going to be spread too thin.

You have your own boutique agency and also you work as an inhouse SEO. is that by choice or coincidence? how do you manage both roles? how many people work in your agency? curious to know because sometimes I would like to go back inhouse and would love the security of a fixed paycheck, but on the other hand having an agency and my own people is cool as well. and combining seems like a great thing (never actually tought about this).

The boutique agency came out of the success I had at FreshBooks.

I was freelancing a bit before had one recurring clients and the occasional one-off project.

I’d pass any leads onto my friend and earned a commission, but when we ranked #1 for a 200k/mo keyword and doubled total organic traffic YOY it took it to the next level.

Word got out, someone did a a video case study on our success and it led to a bunch of opportunities.

I also turned up my LinkedIn presence during this period.

I’ve had a lot of trending posts for the #SEO hashtag and I believe it has helped me rank well on LinkedIn and obviously made me a lot more visible.

The agency is me, 4 part-time contractors, a VA and some partners that I work with mainly for link building.

I manage the the strategy while they do the execution.

I try to delegate as much work as possible, I prefer to hire skilled people vs. train them because I don’t have the time.

That might change in the future, but that’s how it is for now.

I like the security of a full-time paycheck. FreshBooks is 10 minutes from my home and offers a lot of flexibility in terms of hours and time off.

So it’s been great.

The other part that is absolutely invaluable are the connections I’ve been able to make spending the FreshBooks budget.

I’m on a first name basis with so many amazing people and I’ve leveraged a lot of those relationships for my own business.

How would you communicate to a company what they are missing by not investing in outsourcing SEO or someone trained on staff to do SEO? I am the self-taught solo, SMM (producing all content including video) , creative director, website manager, “SEO” person, marketing strategist and every other digital and creative hat for a 32 clinic multi-state physical therapy company with 350+ employees. They will not spend one dime for SEO other than a WordPress plug-in.

SEO takes a backseat and I am not sure how to communicate what a mistake it is not to make this a priority.

I would say let’s pitch them together! Half serious / half not, but honestly I would say that you need to show them results that were achieved on a large scale.

Literally show them a screenshot of a GA or GSC on an account with massive growth, then walk them through how it was achieved. I’ve leveraged the work.

I’ve done in order to win big clients doing exactly this. They really just need to see it for themselves.

From A to B in X days and what the steps were.

Another great thing you can do is deconstruct competitors using a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush.

Hope this helps and feel free to reach out if you need more personalized advice!

What’s your opinion on services like The Hoth? Would you recommend them or other similar companies to businesses looking to improve their content and add external links etc?

I’ve never used them, but I trust Glen, so this might be worth the read https://detailed.com/the-hoth-review/

As your company does a lot of ad spend ..do you do a lot of split testing on the SEO side too?

We split test all the high traffic pages, like the homepage and pricing page.

We’ve done some tests for SEO-specific pages, but looking to do more in the future now. We use Optimizely.

What’s the distribution % for the split tests? And how do you define high traffic? Any specific volume? What pages will be omitted from the split tests? Any criteria?

50% (if I’m reading that right).

We try to choose pages where a meaningful sample size can be achieved in a relatively short timespan.

We omit any pages that have an additional offers. If we’re running a sale, we’ll suspend regular tests unless they’re related to the sale.

Have you tired the distilled ODN split testing tool too? This can optimise at the SERP level.

No, but would love to.

What’s the minimum amount of traffic goes into spilt test? Any specific numbers of sample size vs short timespan testing?

I would say at least a couple hundred visits per day for us, but you can also test in paid search and apply that learning to organic.

What did you learn about personal branding by launching Seonotebook and quickly growing it to more than 1K lists?

I learned that it’s not easy.

Initially I was just planning to release very quick notes that I took down.

It turned into spending least an hour or more putting together each note. I often start from scratch each week.

People need high quality stuff if they are going to stay subscribed.

Last last thing is that you always need to be promoting. Creating assets (like internal linking template) helps a lot because they travel.

So I plan to do more of that in the future.

What are the quickest SEO wins for large enterprise sites?

Technical audit since most of that stuff can get approved quickly.

But really there are so many wins for enterprise level clients, because a lot of the time they just need to create the content and it’ll rank.

What do you recommend to use for a technical audit for an enterprise site?

If it’s a large site a cloud-based crawler like DeepCrawl or OnCrwal will save you some headaches.

But not all enterprise sites are huge, so Screaming Frog usually does the trick.

What are the less conventional items to check when trying to understand why a competitor is outranking you? When meta content, on-page content, quantity of links and technical soundness are right, but they aren’t moving the needle, where do you go from there? (if it changes your answer at all, this is a SaaS situation).

This is a really good question.

I would probably perform a “site: keyword” on your site and the sites that are ranking ahead of you and look at how they’re covering the topic compared to you.

I would also pick up on their internal linking patterns. In my experience, sites that cover a topic from multiple angles usually have great visibility in the SERPs.

Even better when there are strong and relevant backlinks going into all the content and it’s internally linked in a logical way.

What did you do for customer attrition at FreshBooks? Any marketing or loyalty programs in place?

There’s a team called lifecycle and their job is to nurture trialers and also do winbacks.

One of the leading causes of churn is dunning. Simply when a person’s credit card expires and they don’t renew.

CMSEO Mastermind… you in?

100% yes!

 

 

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