In my third SEO interview on the Ahrefs blog, I talk with Matthew Barby, an extremely talented digital marketing consultant with a ton of reputation in the industry. His posts got published on industry-leading sites like Search Engine Land, Moz, and Search Engine Journal. We talk about SEO, brand building, content marketing, and Matt’s journey in the online marketing field in this interview.
So, without further ado, let’s head straight over to the questions.
Q: Hello Matt! Welcome to the Ahrefs Blog. Would you like to give a self-introduction at first?
I’m the digital and content strategist at Wyatt International, a lecturer for the Digital Marketing Institute within their search marketing professional diploma and post-graduate courses, a blogger and all round digital marketer.
Q: How did you get started with SEO and how long have you been practicing it?
I first got into SEO around 7 years ago when I was at university. I started by playing around with affiliate marketing, black hat SEO (and all that kind of stuff) to try and make a quick bit of cash. As time went on, I moved more into the content marketing side of SEO and use all of my knowledge of the more technical sides of SEO in order to get results.
Q: What has been your experience so far holding mostly top positions in the SEO department of several renowned digital marketing agencies in the UK?
That all clients are different, and all agencies operate differently. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced internally is scaling up SEO processes in a way that didn’t compromise quality but also increase profitability. This is something that a lot of agencies go through at one time or another, but the main thing to focus on is employing the right people. This isn’t easy in the digital marketing industry because great SEOs are few and far between but if you find the right person, make sure you invest in them from an early stage.
Q: You’ve been giving more and more importance to digital marketing as a whole that includes other forms of online marketing than just SEO. How do you think some of the other forms like content marketing and PR actually help in a site’s SEO?
The biggest mistake that a lot of people make is that they look at things like social media and say, “social signals don’t have a direct impact on SEO rankings.” Yes, this is true but it doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Having a solid social media strategy will improve the online reach of your content, which will increase the likelihood that someone will pick it up organically and link to it. Taking a more indirect approach to SEO can pay dividends in the long term. Of course, this needs to be combined with direct ranking factors, but diversifying your strategy is important because, if anything, the search landscape is moving too quickly to place all your eggs in one basket.
Q: Google have been increasingly intolerant towards guest blogging as a way to build links, and in turn, I think, made a lot of general webmasters (who are not necessarily knowledgeable about SEO) skeptical about even high-quality guest posting. But you still write for a bunch of different industry-leading publications, and even smaller sites about inbound marketing. What’s your take on this?
I think that a lot of people misunderstand what Google are referring to with guest blogging. If I’m writing an article on Moz, Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Land that has a link back to a piece of my content, it’s a world away from me plugging a link into an article on a blog that nobody visits and has little to no authority in the eyes of Google.
Like with anything, there has to be a level of moderation, but if you take the approach of sending link signals that are from trusted sources, you should be fine.
Q: Your personal site currently ranks on the first page of Google for ‘digital marketing consultant’ and a bunch of other very lucrative terms for anybody who’s into digital marketing. Did you specifically target a few keywords or it happened kind of naturally as you kept on growing your site and it naturally accumulated links over time?
The answer here is a combination of yes and no. I’ve had a few top tier keywords that I’ve specifically targeted, but by and large I’ve focused on creating a ton of long-form content that will organically earn links and gain me a nice spread of keyword rankings.
It’s important to understand opportunities that you can take advantage of in the SERPs, map out a list of ideas and use this within the content creation process. I then just make sure that all of the pages within my site have a good structure, etc.
Q: You also run FindMyBlogWay, which basically covers a wide array of topics related to blogging. What’s the history about that – how did you grow it till the stage it’s at today?
It isn’t actually a very glamorous story to be honest! Around a year and a half ago, someone on my Facebook feed messaged me to say they’re looking to clear out a few domains that they had kicking around. I checked out the link profiles of them and found FindMyBlogWay.com with a ton of great links and a good age to it – for the price of $50, I snapped it up.
Now, initially I thought that I would just use it within an SEO campaign that I was running at the time (as a 301 redirect), but instead decided to use it as a testing ground for all the little SEO tricks I wanted to apply to my campaigns but didn’t want to risk it on live sites… so, I set up the website (coded the template myself from scratch because there were a few things I wanted to test from a dev side), wrote up a few articles and started the ball rolling.
What I didn’t expect was the reaction to the content I was publishing. The first few posts that I went live with gained a ton of social shares, organic links and ultimately, traffic. I decided that it might be worth investing a little more into FMBW so I started to build a community around it. A year later and it has loads of links, an active social following and over 1,000 newsletter subscribers. Not bad.
The only problem with Find My Blog Way is the brand. I HATE the name. This is one of the reasons why I’ve taken the decision to migrate everything into MatthewBarby.com so that I can place all of my focus into one area (you’ll already notice that the content has been moved). So there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere!
Q: Even if link building is not and was never your primary motive, you’re still an experienced guest blogger. Can you share a few lessons about it that you’ve learned over the years? Would you recommend SEO professionals and agencies to still leverage guest blogging for client sites?
In short, yes. I do a lot of work within the B2B sector and thought leadership often plays a part within a large number of my campaigns. Gaining coverage within industry publications is often the goal here and guest blogging is a great way of doing this. The main thing that you need to decide before embarking on an all-out guest blogging assault is whether the website that you’re looking to place an article on will actually have the capacity to drive through a significant amount of relevant referral traffic.
Within all my SEO campaigns, I don’t just chase links to improve rankings; I chase links to drive sales (or any other form of conversion I’m working to).
Q: How do you see SEO evolving in the next few years?
If I’m completely honest, not a whole lot. There’s always tons of articles being written by people that claim the next big change in the search engines but the reality is that although the way you go about things like link building have changed, the basic principles of SEO haven’t changed:
- Work on developing high quality, relevant links back to your website.
- Develop content that’s relevant to your niche.
- Ensure all of your webpages are optimised to their full potential.
Blah, blah, blah…
The main thing to remember is that every campaign is different. There isn’t a one-fits-all strategy that will get results. You just need to be able to adapt and evolve as an SEO to each new situation you’re placed in (like any other form of marketing).
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the best ways to build/earn links in the present time without violating Google’s guidelines?
I could easily write build great content here but it doesn’t really add any value to anyone reading it – plus, that’s a bit obvious. I mean, if your strategy was to build mediocre content then that would be fairly odd.
My advice here is to build links carefully and as naturally as possible. What I mean by this is that you should consider the types of website that you’re building links from. Near the beginning of a campaign it can be tough to pull in those high authority links but it’s this stage when it’s most important. Work on building a platform of authoritative signals so that later down the line you’ll have more of a buffer to work with when you’re bringing in some ‘not-so-authoritative’ links.
Q: Can you tell us about some off-beat ways that you’ve leveraged content marketing either for your own websites or for clients?
I really like working on big content pieces. These are the forms of content that will earn organic links over time and be a great link building asset when it comes to building credibility and brand awareness in the long term. One pretty cool new example that I’ve just worked on is this web app for eCO2 Greetings Ecards.
Q: If you could only use 10 tools and services (except for most common ones like Gmail or Twitter) for all of your digital marketing work, what all will they be?
- SEO Tools plugin for Excel
- URL Profiler
- Keyword Snatcher
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
Q: How important is to build a persona or a brand for yourself online in case of digital marketing aspirants?
It’s incredibly important. I’ve spent the past 2 years working particularly hard at raising my profile within the industry and although I’ve still got a long way to go, I’ve built a solid community around my content and myself as a person. The biggest advantage that I’ve found with this is that I don’t need to waste any time of lead generation – the people that I work with are those that approach me because they want to work with me. They’re already sold into my philosophy so the relationship is built in the way that I like and there is trust there from the beginning.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Five years is a long time. I’m still only 24 at the moment and I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved so far. That said, I’ve got a long way to go to achieve what I want. My next steps are to work on developing a suite of tools that can be used by content marketers, SEOs and pretty much any other forms of digital marketer. The first of these should be released soon, so follow me on Twitterand Google+ to hear about it first 😉
That’s all, folks! If you have any questions or anything to say about this interview, feel free to drop a comment below.