Digital Marketer Interview Series with Tadeusz Szewczyk
Tadeusz Szewczyk has more than 15 years of experience in online publishing.
For 5+ years he’s been known internationally for writing here on SEO 2.0 and blogs of Datadial.net, Positionly, Ahrefs, Hubspot, Google Blogoscoped among others (from About).
How did you start out as a marketer?
To be honest, I do not consider myself a marketer, I’m rather an optimizer or popularizer. Marketing is rather focused on advertising and sales, which is a pretty limiting scope for me.
I optimize sites for people, even if they don’t buy. That’s also how I started out.
I’ve been building websites since 1999. Until the end of 2003 when the so called new economy crashed, I lost my well-paid job as a web developer at a large Internet agency. We were building websites for the likes of Siemens or Adidas.
Then I decided to go solo because working for unethical corporations in an agency hierarchy was frustrating me.
I had to code the same boring HTML stuff the corporate execs could agree upon. Also I had to promote nuclear energy conglomerates my friends were protesting against in the streets.
I wanted to decide myself what I want to do and who to work with.
The demand for web design wasn’t that big anymore, so I was looking what else businesses wanted and they asked for Google optimization, so I taught myself.
Looking back, what is your hardest struggle when it came to delivering results?
It’s probably about dealing with client expectations. In the early years I had no idea what my work was worth and I charged very little.
Ironically the less people pay you, the more they want. The thinking goes something like this – low cost means low value.
I made them rank high on Google for a few bucks, but they weren’t satisfied. I have clients that still rank #1 from the optimization I did for them in 2008.
These days I charge more so that clients are also more respectful.
How did you get your first client back then, and what kind of service did you do for them?
I just looked up job boards online and found that one. Back then they weren’t even specialized sites for freelancers.
As I was already a blogger before I tried to sell the client a blog and regular content creation, but SEO especially in Germany, was all about manipulation during that era so the client wasn’t really interested in all that “useless” content.
I guess I was a bit ahead of the time.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
For many years I was an analytics addict. I would look up when the Google bots came, which keyword ranking brought the most visitors each day etc.
So ranking on top and seeing the traffic stats was the reward. Today I don’t watch the traffic on the street in front of my store to determine my success.
I rather look at the few people who contact me and want to work with me. It’s who they are and why they came that makes me happy.
They mostly appear because they have read some of my writings. I even had a Zen master from Asia asking me for help after he found my Zen of SEO article.
We have a lot of readers who are bent on becoming freelancers, aside from freelancing how else can someone earn online, and what is your advise?
Freelancing is not really a career. It’s just a stepping stone. Unfortunately I realized that too late. You can’t freelance forever.
Why? You basically sell your time. Your time is limited though. Thus, you need to become an entrepreneur as soon as possible. You don’t need to hire people or build a factory to do that.
On the Web you just need to change your mindset from selling your time to offering solutions.
A solution you provided in one hour may be worth 1000 hours for someone else, so exchanging time for money is pointless.
Thus, you need to create your own products and scalable services. You also need to earn money even when you’re sick or spending time with your family.
Ebooks, WordPress themes, apps – there are many things you can build once and sell for a long time.
If you were given the chance to build your career all over again, what would you do differently so that you will achieve your dreams faster?
I’d probably charge more from the start and would not work for friends for free at the beginning. I’d also would start a blog with a business model in mind instead of just creating content, socializing like crazy without having a clear idea on how to make money from that.
On the other hand who knows where that would have worked at that time? I guess your mistakes are part of your path. You can’t just beam yourself to the destination like in Star Trek.
How is your typical work day structured?
I start my day with workout. Invigorated after this I look up inspiring content, things like architecture, art, design, self improvement space exploration – things that get me in a positive mood.
I don’t read the “news” with all it’s Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. When you start your day with Ebola, ISIS and Donald Trump you will be depressed not productive.
Then I go on with reading industry news and also select a few valuable items I will share with my followers on social media.
Then I start with the more creative tasks. I try to mix different tasks. For example, I’d start with a blog post, then do a website audit and then some blogger outreach.
I have slots of 30 to 60 minutes I work on a single task and then switch so that I don’t get tired too fast with doing the same type of work for too long.
In the evening I perform the simpler tasks, like looking up messages (mail, social media, phone). I then decide which to act upon immediately and which to plan for the next day or week.
Can you tell us about a time where you had to put in significant effort up front and then wait a long time for success?
Oh my. With me SEO 2.0 ebook. I started writing it and ran out of money faster than I thought so I had to take on client work again and write it in my free time. It’s been years! It’s still not published.
What recently-developed marketing strategy, technique or tool interests you the most right now?
I’ve developed the concept of popularization and am really keen on using it. The whole optimization for people idea is really groundbreaking despite what Google optimizers and marketers have been telling us all along.
It’s like growth hacking, but without tricking people by technical means to sign up or something.
It’s a whole new approach where Google, Facebook and other gatekeepers have to basically promote you in the end instead of you working for them by giving them content and selling them your friends.
I’ve got a prominent social network that wants to use some of my most creative techniques to expand its user base without stupid ads etc.
Can you tell us about a project you’re most proud of from your past work history?
My cycling blog over at bike-blog.info has been initially created for a client several years ago.
After two years and once the client ranked already with their main site they decided to move servers and while at it they simply “forgot” the blog and weren’t able to restore it.
I then saved it and recreated it on a new domain. They simply didn’t understand why they need all that content and the new domain “didn’t even have PageRank!” so they dumped me.
It’s thriving ever since and still ranks #1 or #2 for [bike blog] on Google.de despite not being updated for months sometimes.
What is your primary marketing goal when it comes to delivering results?
Good question! It depends. In an ideal world I ask the clients what they want and then we decide which KPIs to look at.
Sadly, most clients are rather interested in specific tasks and pretty short-sighted results. For example, when it comes to outreach everybody is only interested in immediate links.
Nobody cares about long term relationships that usually yield many more links in the long run.
Personally I always consider some sort of ROI I think.
For example a recent client paid me 1100 Euro for outreach and got 7 editorial links from genuine quality blogs and sites.
In case you’d pay for such links to rent them you’d need to pay around 50 Euro monthly for each. That means that by sheer market monetary link value the client has his money back within 3 months.
Given the fact that he earns a lot of revenue with his site the ROI is probably much higher.
What type of links do you believe are the best links to get?
Organic in-content editorial links from active publishers are the best. I don’t believe in “high PageRank links” from blogs that haven’t published in a year.
What SEO Tools do you have experience with and which ones do you prefer and why?
I have some kind of experience with a lot of tools by now. Over the years I have used and tested many of them. Yet I always prefer self-reliance.
It’s like Micheal Martinez of SEO-Theory.com says: a fool with a tool is still a fool.
What kind of “white hat link building strategy that scales” that you recommend? (What makes it your favorite one? How to execute it properly?)
The above mentioned relationship building is the most scalable white hat link building strategy. Outreach is ultimately just begging for attention and a shortcut.
What you need to do though is to become friends with your industry peers first. Then after a while they will be more prone to listen to you.
Ideally, your peers start to spread your content and link to you on their own then. Sounds impossible? I have done that for several years for my own blog over at seo2.us.
It’s my favorite because it works like human relations have worked for a million years. You are friendly to people and people reciprocate on their own.
Sure, not all of them do, some even try to spit at you, but who cares. You only need to socialize with friendly ones on the Web.
To build relationships properly, you need to forget your sneaky link building agenda and act like a human being. Be friendly, supportive, be yourself.
The rest works by itself. Do not focus on the people who ignore you. Ignore them too. Celebrate those who acknowledge you.
My best incoming links (even traffic and referral-wise) are from people who I engaged with regularly already years ago.
A link is just a technical manifestation of a relationship. People rarely link to strangers. They link those they know and trust.
How do you scale this favorite white hat strategy of yours?
The more friendly I am, the more link love I get back.
When I tend to become selfish and link out less or share too much of my own content I notice a change quickly. Promote others and miraculously you will be promoted.
What is more important: Onsite blogging or content marketing?
IMHO blogging on your own site is the foundation of content marketing but you probably mean spreading your content and activity over third party sites? It’s not black and white.
You need find a balance that works for you. What certainly doesn’t work is neglecting your won site and creating great content for everybody else.
You need to have a strong foundation on your own blog.
What is more important; rankings or converting traffic?
Again, that’s not a black and white binary opposition.
Usually proper rankings lead to converting traffic unless you rank for off topic keywords or your site is so ugly that most people bounce.
In these times rankings can be only a temporary solution though. You need to build a loyal audience using tools you control yourself, not Google, Facebook or other gatekeepers.
Among the Google algorithm updates what is the most challenging one that you’ve encountered?
Both Panda and Penguin were very challenging even for me. You’d think a squeaky clean white hat SEO like me would get spared by almighty Google but no.
What is the most important stage of SEO for you and why?
It’s like asking which body part is the most important. You need all of them. Losing some won’t kill you but what kind of life is then? A much more difficult one to say the least.
If there’s one SEO Guru you’d recommend who and why.
Oh my. I could provide you with a huge list. My time is limited today. That’s why I will recommend only one: Brian Dean of Backlinko – the man who has inspired me most in recent years.