Ross interviews John Espley, Chief Connector at ConnectionSkills.ca about his work with small and medium businesses and how businesses connect with SEO, link building, and online marketing overall. The discussion often touches on the merits of networking and how connecting with people online and offline has an impact on SEO and a business’s overall success.


Here is a transcription of the episode for your convenience.

Ross: Hello and welcome to SEO 101 on webmasterradio.fm, episode number 396. My name is Ross Dunn, I’m the CEO of StepForth Web Marketing. My special guest today is John Espley, Chief Connector at ConnectionSkills.ca. Welcome, John, especially to the first video show we’ve done I think, maybe the first anyway.

John: You got to work on the talent. There’s far better-looking people out there than me but I’m happy to be here. Good to see you there, Ross.

Ross: You, too. Just so people know who John is, our history’s significant, I’ve known John for over 10 years now.

John: Longer.

Ross: Actually, yeah. Anyway, we met at the Chamber of Commerce in Victoria and he’s very active in the community. Through the Chamber, I got an opportunity to work with him. What was your official position at Accent Inns?

John: Director of Marketing and Communications.

Ross: I was very lucky to have been chosen by John to help with a local hotel chain, to help with their online marketing and we worked for a number of years together.

John’s now—I’ll let him explain in a second what he’s doing—but he’s the master of networking and no, it’s not a networking show but there are so many aspects that do cross over. I thought it would be a really interesting interview and fun, too.

John and I get along well, another John that I get along with. I should note that John Carcutt can’t make it again today but in this case—because we’re recording on Thanksgiving—Happy Thanksgiving to all our American listeners. I hope you’re having a wonderful day. As many do know, we do record beforehand, so I hope you’re having a fantastic day. We all need that these days, nice family day, socially-distanced family day, how does that work?

Let’s get ready, John. What do you do at connectionskills.ca?

John: My focus is on teaching people how to connect, whether it be through networking in person—which is not right now—online, massive, massive part, and certain marketing strategies as far as communication goes. It all comes down to those connections though, no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re connecting to an audience or connecting to an individual. I work with people in small companies, and offer profits, and just how to do that.

Ross: Awesome. I can only imagine they need a lot of help in that area and everyone can learn from it. I’m always learning, we’re always learning but when it comes networking, I’m sure you’re learning all the time. You just never stop, right?

John: That’s the one thing I enjoy about networking is learning from other people. It’s my favourite thing in the world.

Ross: I’ve been doing so much listening to lots of podcasts and I love some of the lines you hear. One of my favourites now is if you’re the smartest person in the room, get the hell out of that room. That wasn’t how they put it, that’s my version, but you shouldn’t be there, you should be in a room where you’re learning. Thankfully, I go to my office and I’m always not the smartest person in the room because I hire great people.

John: If I can add something, if you think you’re the smartest person in the room, time to look in the mirror, my friend.

Ross: That is true. If you really are in a room and you’re not picking anything up that you don’t know, then I think that’s part of, and really what it gets down, the essence of it all. You want to be learning a lot. I think that’s very cool.

I got that from a book called Bluefishing and it’s a fantastic book. I take notes as I read, or in this case, I’ve got a little really, really old audio recorder and like I got to do this and I got to do that. I practically filled this thing after just a few chapters. The guy is brilliant. Anyway, a classic digression. I’m good at those.

We’ll jump quickly into your past, working with you at Accent Inns. Tell me a little bit about how that started and what we did together, just an overview.

John: When I took over the role as Director of Marketing, one of the things I needed to do was update our online presence websites and I did a lot of research. We’re going back quite a ways here, so things were a lot different than they are now.

As I was trying to figure out how do I really make a difference? How do I do something better than the next guy? I try to make our little change stand out. I’m a generalist, not an expert like you, Ross, but as a generalist, I understood that SEO had a very specific value and a specific set of training and focus.

When I was talking with all these different web creative companies to help us, of course, there was a lot of we can do it all, we can do it all, we can do it all, and I just didn’t necessarily have the confidence or didn’t feel that they could really do it all. Certainly creative side, fantastic and good technical skills there.

What I did is I found a creative company that I really liked and liked how they work, and then I ended up hiring StepForth Web Marketing, again after lots of research and talking to lots of companies. I had two separate companies working together on the same project which I think was a first of its time back then because nobody else had ever done that, at least in our region, but it worked really well.

Your company worked great with Radar Hill at the time, the other company. You solved the problem that I had at the beginning. So many websites when people launch them—I don’t know if it’s still true—but back in those days, you’d launch a website, then you go back and try and fix all the mistakes, and try and add the SEO as you went along. Where the method that we put in place was how do we plan for SEO? How will we plan for all these things that are going to be coming up and put that in the initial launch?

We hit the ground running. We started ahead of the game from an SEO perspective far better than any others I’d seen. That’s really where that all came about.

Ross: That’s a good plan, something that I try to preach. It’s like trying to tell my kids something, yeah, dad, whatever. I tell the people like yeah, obviously I’m coming from a very biased perspective but it is important that when you’re doing design, that you think of SEO and get it built in from the ground up. Thankfully, the problems I see these days aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be. A lot of the platforms that are out there—WordPress being the most common—have a fair amount of SEO built-in and you have to do some pretty bad stuff to mess them up completely, but I see that.

I’ve said this many times in the show before from my perspective and I’m sure the client, too, but when they come to me, they’re all excited, they’re so proud, this is their new baby, look at this great website, and I’m like he looks fantastic. But you should know there are a few issues that we’re going to have some problems with.

I haven’t had people quite cry, but close, it’s heartbreaking. It’s very rare obviously but they usually put a lot of money in these things and some design companies aren’t as ethical as others. Sometimes they put $10,000, $20,000 into these sites that are highly-programmed, custom platforms. Omg, I’d quote my daughter, she’s always saying that. It’s insane just how much money they put in and these things aren’t workable from an SEO perspective.

That’s one vote for using a platform like WordPress which everyone can work with. It’s not perfect by any stretch, none of them are, but it is open, it’s all over the net, there’s tons of people that can work on them, they got SEO built into a degree, and it helps a great deal.

John: Correct me if I’m wrong though, even though these programs are out there to help you, you still have to understand and take advantage of some of the things that they will suggest, or offer, or recommend, whether it’s you or the program doing it, while the people again don’t understand why or how they need to take advantage of that. Coming from the creative side of the equation, I’m more on the marketing side there, I find a lot planned on the communication side without necessarily thinking about the SEO implications. Again, that’s where it’s good to have someone advise you. Programs, yeah, you’re right, they’re a lot better than they are. I’m a connector, so there’s nothing better than having an expert whispering in your ear, hey, this is what worked and this is what hasn’t.

Ross: Different perspectives, it just makes you sit back, because we all get a little bit cozy in our positions and think that we’re on top of everything but, God, I get humbled all the time. This is especially my market. Oh, my God.

John: Before going on the show, we talked about thinking you’re the smartest person in the room and my line is that you think you’re the smartest person in the room? Look in the mirror because there’s so much you can learn, period.

Ross: There really is. We’re talking about WordPress and we’re talking about some of the mistakes people make when they launch their new websites. Sometimes they do it from the perspective of, okay, we’re rebuilding a website. We’ve already gotten a presence online now. Accent Inns already had a website so we had to ensure that when that launched—again for the listeners that’s the hotel chain—when that new website launched that there had to be redirects from the old pages to the new pages so that they wouldn’t end up going to an old page that they bookmarked, or they went from another site because there was a link to it, and then go to a broken page, nothing worse than that. You end with some pretty bad conversion points there. They’re not going to stick around.

The next part was planning the whole strategy of how to get the visibility that Accent Inns needed. I think the keyword research was one part, and in this case, it’s different localities and that was another tricky bit. A lot of our listeners have local businesses and getting found in their locality is not easy but I could imagine doing it in multiple places.

I know you had an experience with Google Local at the time that was half-ironic, or typical I should say.

John: Google, to their credit, has improved some things since then but going back then when you were getting set for the maps and local SEO, they were far too specific. I live in a region that has 13 municipalities but to the outside public, it’s Victoria or Greater Victoria. Of course, when you’re in a tourism business, you’re marketing the people from outside your locale, what are they looking for? They were looking for the city of Victoria or the city of Vancouver, again another one that has multiple municipalities but Google, at that time, was no, no, no, wherever your address is, that’s where you are.

We were in Saanich in Victoria, for example, or Burnaby and Richmond in Vancouver. It was quite the challenge and even you, at the time, you said this is an interesting one, Google hasn’t updated here, and so a ton of research, a ton of connections, and really a fight, we fought the good fight and we won but you need to be aware then.

There’s two stories, number one is making sure that you’re getting updated and getting recognized for how people are going to be searching for you, that’s really important, just don’t take everything for granted. If something isn’t going right, whether it’s Google, Bing, whatever, don’t be afraid and elicit the help of an expert if you can, but don’t be afraid to fight the fight. Don’t just sit back and say that’s the way it is. They’re changing all the time and how are they changing all the time? Because people are bringing these things to their attention.

Ross: Listeners of the show know how much I bitch about Google Local. Again, as John said, it’s improved significantly but it’s so far from good, it really is, but you have to raise the issue with Google. It’s very difficult to get a hold of anyone especially now during COVID because they’ve had curtailed staff and service but you still have to try, you have to try. There are great places to do that, by the way. Anyone out there who has issues, obviously, reach out to me and I can do what I can to help but there are also fantastic forums like localsearchforum.com. Joy Hawkins and the crowd there, they do an amazing job of helping people. You can just put in the issue you’ve got and they’ll take it up to the top and try and get it fixed, not always free of charge, but sometimes. It’s really awesome. I’m very impressed with that community.

There are places to go, you don’t have to just sit and just take it. Although Google would like that, it’s all about the money for them. In fact, one of the things that I was—I don’t complain all the time but I’m doing it a lot today—to John was complaining about Google Photos. For those that don’t know, if you’re a Google Photos user, they have since decided that it’s no longer free as of next year, not immediately but we’ve got a bit of time. There’ll be maxes, there’ll be caps, you have to pay for things.

It’s just another slap in the face to people who have trusted Google and said you know what? Screwed us on Google Buzz, you took away Google Plus, you don’t use Authorship anymore, all these different things just fell just because they gave up on them or they moved on. I’m like okay, they can’t get rid of Google Photos, it’s working for them, it’s keeping people on their platform. They’re not getting rid of it but of course, they’re charging for it and there’s just really no reason for it. How much money do you need to make? I know, that’s a silly question to ask a capitalist company.

John: You’re not talking to someone that’s in the top 1%.

Ross: No, likewise. Anyways, it’s disappointing to many, many, many people. I think they’re going to have a hard time getting traction on new products because no one trusts them anymore and they shouldn’t. They’ve screwed a lot of people.

John: Correct me if I’m wrong, I hear some of the audio devices that you’re asking for help these days are actually using Bing as opposed to Google. Is that not a trend? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Ross: Perhaps there’s a little trend. You don’t hear much about Bing but I am hearing a little more here and there. That’s something since my funnels of news are generally Google-focused, to hear anything about Bing is a surprise.

You’re probably more in tune with that than I am because again I’m just so Google-focused but I think that’s great. I’ve been a proponent of having more search competition for years. It’s sad just having one big guy that’s taken over. That’d be nice. I miss the days of AltaVista, Lycos, and Infoseek.

John: Yahoo.

Ross: WebCrawler. Yahoo is technically still around. It was so amazing, so much variety and so much fun from an SEO perspective. We got to do so many things, and learn new things, and the parties were great when we got to conferences because all these guys were there and it was a little bit of just competition. It was good, it was good energy, it was good energy.

John: There is a catch though. Certainly listening to your podcast is valued but having someone on your team, a contractor, that can help you with that because those trends, they still exist, they still happen out there in the world, and there’s no way the average business owner can keep track of all. No way. You need someone that will.

Ross: We barely can, it’s a struggle. I was thinking of the data prospect on the phone—it was a sales call yesterday actually—and we were just talking about how things changed and I said back in the day, I felt like things were changing fast but oh, my God there’s just no comparison. Now it’s insane how fast things are moving.

For example, social media was something that I thought, oh, I can take that on, it’d be fun when it came out. Try and do that now and do SEO. Doing both and doing them really well is exceptionally difficult. I don’t have much time or interest, thank you, in doing both, it’s just way too much.

On that note, let’s take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to jump into a little more about dealing with small businesses and asking John about some of the questions he gets on a regular basis.

John, what kind of common questions do you get from small-medium businesses that you work with?

John: There’s a couple of things, one revolves around a website. You think this would be standard now how important a good quality website is, but I still get businesses—especially we talked before the break about social media—they think they can do it all through social media.

As a marketer, I don’t care if you’ve got good social media, you’ve got great traditional, radio, TV, advertising, the website is still your hub. It’s where people go for information. Ads can only have a snippet, you need to drive people somewhere. You need to have that website as the hub where you’re driving everything. And then when it comes to SEO if we’re talking about search, ta-da, you got to have the website. Everything else you do supports that but the website is the hub. So many still don’t understand how valuable that piece of property is.

The other fun piece that you’ll love is when I’m talking to them about their website and all the different factors of SEO, SEO what? What is that? Search engine. What’s a search engine? It’s amazing. Again we think it’s like eating or breathing, you just know you got to do. No, the average person still doesn’t quite understand how this whole world of the interweb works. There’s a lot of work to be done out there just in education.

Ross: Not to regress too much to the last conversation about websites but one of the things is picking the platform you use if you do pick one. Please don’t pick Wix. Scott will be very angry with me if I ever said pick it. Scott’s our senior SEO. If you’ve listened to a show, you’ve heard him before as one of the co-hosts occasionally. Wix is very easy to use as a platform but from a SEO perspective, it’s painful beyond comprehension. Yes, it’s gotten better. They’ve got ads out there about how much better they’ve gotten, but one of the main things about any successful website these days is it has to be fast loading and that’s becoming more and more important. Wix is one of the slowest out there and you have no ability to change that. It’s a completely close platform and there’s simply nothing you can do about it.

We go, okay, this sucks, we did an audit on your site, you’re in real trouble, it’s very slow, can’t do anything about it, let’s move on to the next thing. If you try and compete… good luck.

John: Like an ad from the outside, don’t use your brother’s cousin’s friend, do your research. Every second person on the street builds websites nowadays. There’s the few that really know what they’re doing and can do a good job, that’s who you want to hire. You don’t have to spend near as much now. Back in the old days, you were looking at $50,000, but you don’t need to do that now, you only need to spend a few thousand but put those few thousand where it belongs, really do your research on who you’re hiring.

Ross: And plan, get a strategy together before you build the site.

Back to what you were saying about how a website’s so critical. Listeners, you’re going to hear a lot of propaganda from search engines, from sites, saying that go ahead, use Google websites, build your website with Google. I’m just going to use them as an example but there are other ones out there that are pushing us. It’s just trying to build everything on Facebook, you don’t own that, you’re completely pooched if they change something on you, and as we just talked about, Google does that on a regular basis and they don’t care. They pull a rug from under you. They’re making money, that’s all they care about. I hate to say that because I know that’s not always the case and there are some great people there but the fact is that’s the engine, it’s all about money.

I worry about people who are building anything on a Google website, people who use Google AdWords Express, that’s where Google manages your ad words. No, don’t give them your credit card and say, hey, manage the money I’m spending on you.

When we had to go in there and look at those programs and see whether or not they’re functioning, it’s just scary. I’m sure they’re getting a few conversions, some people are like, yeah, it’s great, they’re doing such a good job. Do you know how much money you’re losing? They just don’t manage it that well, they can’t, they just can’t scale. Maybe there’s the odd person that does but I have not seen a really well run AdWords Express campaign. This is not an AdWords show but I want to mention that. It’s important that you know that.

If you’re going to use a platform instead of Wix, by the way, Squarespace—I’m jumping all over the place—but Squarespace, I don’t want to miss that, is if you’re going to have to use one, not a bad alternative.

John: Certainly if you’re doing e-commerce, you’re selling items, then that would be my choice.

Ross: If it was e-commerce, I’d pick Shopify, but Squarespace is definitely a good second in my opinion. WordPress for design is the best in my opinion, too.

If you are going to do a website as well, don’t go with cheap hosting, don’t go with dirt-cheap hosting unless you’ve done a lot of homework. There is an emerging ability for websites to be really cheap—we talked about in earlier shows—Automatic Platform Optimization from Cloudflare. Again this is very cutting edge but you can technically have a $10 a month hosting package, and pay $5 a month to Cloudflare, and they will host your website, and they will make sure it runs like a hot damn. It’s amazing that that’s even an option now. It’s not perfect though, not perfect at any means, I still haven’t been able to get our site to go much faster using Cloudflare. There is no one-fix for everyone.

One of the things that we were talking about a while ago as well I think was our last phone call was about backlinks. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

John: It’s funny, it’s something that I confirmed with you is the value of backlinks for building the reputation of a website. A lot of people have steered away from it or don’t understand how that works, and again don’t go out there and buy all this cheap, yeah, we can give you a thousand links and everything. That’s crap. It has to be quality, it has to have credibility. It’s funny in a world of technology that we are, and I love how that slips over to my world from networking and connecting, some of the best ways to get backlinks is to talk to people and I ask them to say, look, your site and our site, there’s some synergy there, how about we do a link back and forth?

Ross: I got to […] for you, John.

John: Again in your blog post or whatever, there’s ways to do it. But the importance of that is huge, and you’ve confirmed that for me as well. Even this generalist has got that one figured out.

Ross: I had a really interesting sales call yesterday and in this case, I had put in the proposal to them that they consider link building. The person interviewing me justifiably said I’m not sure we really need it. Please do tell me. In fact, I hate link building. I hate it, it’s so much work, it’s extremely expensive, and it’s frustrating as hell. I prefer authority building, creating amazing content, creating the things that naturally build and attract links, just build buzz naturally. It’s fantastic, it’s the best way to go, you’re guaranteed to do much better unless you’re talking $2500 per link which there are ones out there that will make a big move on your needle.

In this case, it is an adventure tourism business, a luxury one, and they have so much content, they have so much jaw-dropping nature video. It’s designed to build authority, people will want to share this stuff. I said wonderful, ignore that part of my proposal, we don’t need to do link building but you do need to do authority building and you need to plan it and make sure it happens. Oh my God, that’s 90% of it. It’s like having an idea. How many people have ideas? Nothing happens until you actually make them happen and get them done, then you can maybe see some benefits from them. It’s just like having a content plan in front of you is great, it’s a fantastic start, but if you don’t do anything about it, actually build them, you’re not going to get anything out of it.

I know that was a big part of Accent Inns. You guys did a great job of working on content and building on a regular basis. You’re doing so many things for the community, that was a great way of building local links as well.

John: It ties back to social media. It’s one thing to put out your content, and people like it, and then that’s fine. But when people share it, when people spread that content around, that’s really where the value is as far as SEO or reputation management, if you will.

Ross: Do think of link building as an option, but first, think of the best way to build it. If you can do it for authority, do that. You don’t have to be the writer, you can hire writers, there’s a ton of them out there, definitely not all of them are good but you can easily see their work. Then just do one trial with them, try articles, see how they do. If there’s a lot of editing you need to do, maybe move on, unless it’s very technical and you know that there’s a certain amount of training involved.

John: It’s still funny. I still see articles out there where people are trying to just load them with keywords, so their credibility just goes. If you want a credible site or company to link that to you, come on, write for real. That’s what I’d say.

Ross: Exactly, all right. I’m going to write down that note so I can bring that up in a second here. Write for real because that is a good comment before we take a break here. Write for real. I missed the other one, I’ve already lost it. See, that’s the problem. I got to write these things down.

Let’s take a quick break. When we get back, we’re going to talk about writing for real, there’s something to that, and I want to share that with you.

Welcome back to SEO 101 on webmasterradio.fm. I’m Ross Dunn, CEO of StepForth Web Marketing, and we’re continuing this episode’s discussion with John Espley, the Chief Connector at ConnectionSkills.ca.

This is fun but I’m glad I could get you on. This is a whim. You know what? You should come on the show.

John: I love it.

Ross: Yeah, it’s fun and we’re trying to do more guests in this. It’s invigorating.

John: Audience out there, when Ross first started doing this, I would often call in and give him a hard time but for real, they were hard questions but I’d pick on the poor guy, so he’s paying his dues.

Ross: It was fun, it was always fun, can’t forget. We did live (shows) then and now it’s much different. These days you just don’t need to do that, so it’s a little less painful.

Writing for real, keywords, that was the other part. First of all, yes, do some keyword research, we’re going to do some marketing and do some planning. We did it for Accent Inns, you’d recommend it to any business I’m sure, but what most people don’t know is they’re still stuck in the past. Hey, I get it because that’s really what most of the content still talks about.

Google’s smart enough now that they can see a semantic relationship between keywords. Like you just said, don’t load a page full of keywords because you want a rank for them, write naturally about what you know, and hopefully what you’re talking about, what you want to post your site is something you already know. When you write about that, you’re going to naturally use those words and if it’s a well-written article, it’s just going to exude that topic, it’s going to deserve that ranking.

Dana Lookado — rest in peace, she was just a wonderful part of our community. She said you have to deserve the rank, you have to earn the first ranking. There’s no way just to get it, you have to earn it. By creating great content and being really clear about what you’re doing and what the content is about, includes the multimedia. Jam it up a bit, get something in there that’s not just text – that makes a big difference.

I know this is going too far back but maybe if you can remember what was from Accent Inns, what has been the best content you’ve seen since that you know has worked well for someone, or maybe from your website?

John: Again coming from the more traditional side of things, if you talked to any reporter or traditional media, it’s all about the stories. You’re trying to provide information, you’re obviously trying to provide content that links back to what your offer is, but try and do it in a way that tells a story that interests people. Again from a marketing perspective, you want people to share to say that’s a good article, you should read this. If it’s just a bunch of jargon, no, no, there are certain technical sites where that’s how they speak, okay, but for the rest, 95% of the world, you want to tell a story. Why does this matter? Why does this subject make a difference? How will it affect you in your business, in your life, whatever it is? That’s how you’re going to get a chair and that’s going to add more credibility, more people share and engage, that helps everything that you’re doing.

Ross: That’s true. So many thoughts. Don’t disable comments if you can in specific areas where you’re doing writing and stuff. Commentary could be great. Yeah, sure, you might get the odd troll, you can deal with that. But when you get someone who actually asks a great question, not only can it add value to the content you’re writing but it can spark a new idea for another piece of content.

John: Can we talk about trolls for a minute?

Ross: Yes, please.

John: With Accent Inns and another company I worked for, I was Director of Marketing for after that, we’ve had situations where we put out a blog post, there’ll be somebody that goes on there and makes a comment. It was just way out of left field, like where are you coming from?

But the best part, if you do your job right and build a loyal true following, I didn’t have to say anything, my audience went after them. Not only is it fun to watch but again I think that adds real credibility to your site when you’re being defended, you don’t have to defend yourself. Others out there that have credibility in the subject matter are defending you. If you do it right in the first place and build that loyal following, those trolls don’t stand a chance.

Ross: It’s true. I don’t need to add to that, you’re right, it’s dead-on. I’d like to add about keyword research—and it’s something that we’re doing at StepForth now and it’s very interesting work—is if you’ve already gotten an established website, you have some rankings, perhaps you’ve already been doing content over quite a while, there may be gaps in your content, gaps in your targeting. What we’re doing these days is content gap analysis, it’s really neat. What we essentially do is we take a variety of competitors, doesn’t have to be direct competitors, but similar businesses that would probably write similar things and you would get rankings that you would love to have, even if you were in their location, that’s what I mean, they could be in a different location entirely, so not direct competitors but they’re still very real. We look at what they’re ranking for and what you’re ranking for and we try and see where you aren’t, they are, and where there’s a lot of volume in terms of searches and traffic and we go, “wow, look at that, that’s an amazing amount of traffic, you don’t even have an article about it.” Hello! Let’s write about that.

We’ve done essences of this before obviously on a regular basis we work with clients but it’s really cool to look at a report and then influence your content plan. Think of that, you can do those easily yourself using Ahrefs or all these different platforms. I say easily coming from my perspective, yes, it takes a bit of work and it takes knowledge but it is really interesting what you can learn from it.

John: It’s basic business 101. Sure, you’re hoping to get some of your own direct clientele but let’s face it, you need to try and steal clientele from the competition. You got to figure out why are those people going to that company, to that business, and then how you do reach out to them. It’s simple.

Ross: A lot of people have done this using link building analysis. They’re like, wow, this person’s got links from this guy. I didn’t have that link. Oh, maybe that’s why they’re moving up and they get that link. The same concept applies to content and it’s arguably not quite as important as link sometimes. It really depends on your market, but it is a huge part of your pie, you want to have both of them, and want to look after both.

One of the things that happened for us is I discovered a competitor had rankings that were better than us and they kept out maneuvering us. We weren’t working hard on ours, but I still like to try, keep up once in a while. I noticed that he got a link from a local tech source that talked about different tech companies. I’m like wow, it’s this much money to get it? Because this is like a membership – I paid for it. Our rankings immediately went up, not in minutes, but within a week. Wow, that was really easy! It can be that simple and you stop tearing your hair out, and it’s just a matter of just paying attention, and reading up, and listening to SEO 101.

John: It’s again funny going from the traditional human connection world to the tech world, who you know and who you’re associated with matters, offline or online. So, when we talk about directories, you talk about memberships, that usually means the directory and being involved. Yes, having the right memberships, being involved in the right associations adds credibility to your organization, both offline and certainly online.

Ross: I want to try and tie this in because I’m fascinated by the networking world. I’m a networker from afar, I’m very happy with that, I’m very much an introvert but if I want to get more connected in my city, let’s say, what are your recommendations to the listeners who want to do that and get more connected?

John: Within your local region?

Ross: Yeah.

John: The first thing you have to understand is who’s your target market and break that down. Don’t just say it’s men. Okay, what kind of men, what do they do, what ages are they, what do they like for a hobby, so on and so on? You got to break it down.

Ross: How do you find that out? How would they find that out?

John: There’s many different things but you can do your online research to see companies or products that you think are going to be in the same market as you, look at who their customers are, that’s the competitive side of things. Another way is focus groups. You can do focus groups without hiring big agencies and all the rest but you can just ask a group of people. Again, associations are a fantastic way, get involved, talk to people. Then as far as getting connected in your local community, look at those associations, which ones are doing something that will not only add credibility to you but also make a difference.

Work with your values, who you are, because again it’s who you’re associated with that matters. Whether it’s a charitable group or whether it’s a business group like the Chamber of Commerce or your local Chamber of Commerce, get involved in those, and talk to people. Do both your online research and do your physical connection research.

Believe it or not, you can still do that through Zoom. Even during COVID, I had built and grown my network tenfold through Zoom. That doesn’t always have to be in person. I love that part of it but you can do it that way, so both sides.

Ross: Awesome. That’s really valuable for people who want to get more perspective, get some visibility in their local space. That networking will lead you to opportunities to build connections for direct business as well as potentially profile on a website, or an ability to speak somewhere. That speaking gig will be advertised and there’ll be a link to your website, a charity organization where you’re helping, you’re sponsoring, again that becomes a link but it also becomes a phenomenal opportunity to build business and goodwill. It’s just nice, isn’t it?

John: If I can offer one tip, I believe in getting involved. I’ve been on many boards, been the chair, president of several but be real careful, don’t just join something and get your name out there for this will get me credibility, this will do something for my ego. Because if you don’t get really involved, that will come back to haunt you. Your reputation will go what you thought was high and eventually you’ll be dragged in the mud because, hey, this guy or this gal didn’t do anything, didn’t help at all. If you’re going to get involved, make sure that you get involved and then the benefits will come. Karma’s wonderful, it happens. Do good for others, it will come back.

When I teach networking, I talk about empathy. Having empathy is a key factor for networking but don’t fake it—and I hate to use this analogy—but don’t be the old-fashioned used car sales, don’t fake it, be real, be honest. When you’re getting involved in something, make sure you have the time and the expertise to do that.

There’s nothing worse when you talk about speaking engagements and how many seminars and conferences have we been to and there’s some speakers that you talk about, you share, and then others you go why the heck did I waste that out? Sometimes, it’s easy to sell yourself as an expert and not be one. Be real careful about that.

Ross: One great opportunity I had—thanks to you—was the Charity in Changing Times. That was so fun. We did two road trips.

John: Three.

Ross: Three road trips—oh my God—where we went across British Columbia and did speaking about how to improve businesses and it’s changing times. Imagine doing that now, my God, how things have changed and that was a blast. It was easy to have empathy for that because it was helping every type of charity try to navigate this crazy internet and that was my angle anyway and then we had someone who’s doing social media. It was so much fun, it was just a blast.

John: The one joy of that is we all have to get knowledge, go to school, and get training. I’m always doing that, I’m always taking a course or something, but we had several comments when we did ask for testimonials or reviews after these events. We had people that said I learned more on that day than I did in my marketing course because they were connecting with those people who were in the trenches. People like you, people like me, we brought in people from local media, wherever town we were in, we brought in all these experts that are living and breathing it. They were taking what you learn from academia if you will, and then here’s how you apply it or here’s how you don’t apply it in some cases to the real world. Again, that’s the best advice I can use.

People listening to this podcast, that’s one great way to do it. They’re hearing from experts who live and breathe this stuff as opposed to just reading it in a book.

Ross: Books these days get outdated so quickly, not always. It obviously depends on the topic but I’m so glad for podcasts. I love them obviously. I love doing them, I love listening to them, I listen to a lot of them. It’s pretty cool that we have the ability to do this now, just get out there and reach the world and it astonishes me. Hello, listeners in Australia. Hello, listeners in the UK. It’s amazing, Thailand, we have people listening from everywhere. It’s amazing.

With that in mind, I know you’re really locally-focused—tie the show up here—but if someone wants to work with you, you can work with them from anywhere you can.

John: Oh, absolutely. It’s funny with Zoom. I laugh when people say I’m all zoomed out and it’s not as good as regular. I’m one of the best when it comes to walking in a room and connecting with people. I love people so much and it works that way but because of Zoom and the ability for people to attend events from anywhere, I have connected with more people from a distance than ever before, and the conversations have been fantastic, and the follow-up has been fantastic. Yes, my business side, I’m more locally-focused but that doesn’t mean I can’t—because I do a mentoring side of it—I can’t mentor someone from anywhere. Thanks to technology and right now Zoom, it’s been fine. You need a bounce, everything matters. You got to work everything for all it is so don’t complain about it, just make the best happen.

Ross: Yeah, I think it’s great. Again from the introverted part of me, I get to be social this way and I get to be off and pack my computers again and I don’t need to get all gussied up with a tie and all that, no thanks, it’s great.

John: I love it.

Ross: John, is there anything you’d like to share with our listeners before we tie up the show?

John: Back to the old statement, just be real. My favourite saying is—I said this before COVID but it’s important now for sure—if we all watched each other’s backs, we’d never have to worry about our own. Take care of each other out there, whether it’s your SEO and building your links or just helping someone that’s struggling on the street. Take care of everyone.

Ross: Awesome. Great way to end it. On behalf of myself, Ross Dunn, CEO of StepForth Web Marketing and my special guest, John Espley, Chief Connector at ConnectionSkills.ca. Thanks for joining us today.

Last week, I did read a testimonial from iTunes and I’m going to do that anytime that anyone posts one. No one’s posted it yet, that’s okay, it’s been a week but when you do, you get some airtime. Please do post a testimonial about the show and I’ll be happy to mention the testimonial and your business. It’s great. We need to build some there. Again, I don’t understand why there’s only one showing, maybe because I don’t use Apple, it’s just trying to deny me but I don’t know what’s going on there.

Remember we have show notes, newsletter, you can sign up for at seo101radio.com. I should note this is very important, we are now professionally transcribing each episode so you can get actual notes from the entire show and listen. Read it all if you want. It’s going to be a big help I think to many.

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