By Ryan Boog
The whiz entrepreneur, SEO expert, and creator of marketing tools like KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg weighs in on how the world of marketing is changing - and why a user-centered approach is the only way you'll survive it.
Neil Patel is one of the most renowned names in the marketing world. A serial entrepreneur, angel investor and digital marketing specialist, he co-founded Crazy Egg and KISSMetrics, tools for online marketers. Neil has shared his years of successful marketing expertise at over 100 web marketing conferences.
In short, if you haven’t heard of Neil Patel, you’ve undoubtedly been affected by his expert marketing techniques as a consumer!
Listen to our interview with Neil!
You can also read the transcription of the 8 questions we asked Neil below.
Ryan: You’ve advised big names on their SEO strategy, including eBay, Dell, Amazon, Microsoft, and Fortune 500 companies. These are mega-companies! How do you maneuver your SEO campaign through these harder jobs?
Neil: Once you get the contract, the funny thing is with these bigger guys, it’s actually really easy to do SEO, and the reason being, when they’re that big, they usually already have a ton of backlinks, they have a lot of press, they’re typically publically traded companies, whether they do good on their earnings or bad, millions of people link to them without them doing one little thing, right? So, the thing is, when you’re trying to really provide results, you need to do more on-page than anything else.
Now, the hard part about navigating that is that there’s so many departments that deal with these sites that you’ve got to get them all pretty much in one room or on one phone call, and you've gotta outline what they should be doing from an on-page perspective, and you have to give them changes, page by page, template by template. The reason I use the word template is that a lot of times these sites are templatized because they have so many pages. But the key is, it’s going to take a long time to get these changes made just because of the size of the company.
But once you do, you have to create a “standards doc,” like an SEO standards doc, what they can or can’t do when they’re modifying the site, and best practices that they have to follow. That way, when new people come into the organization, or the developers make changes, they don’t override what you did previously. That is the trickiest part. Without that standards doc that you provide them at the end, everything you did for that company will get erased within twelve months if you don’t provide them a set of guidelines and standards that they have to follow.
Ryan: Do you have any type of penalties? What if all of a sudden you notice them start not going by the standards doc?
Neil: You have to let them know; you can’t really do anything, right, because they’re the ones paying you. All you can really do is you tell them, "hey, you guys are breaking it, and you need to follow it." But you've gotta to get them on board, because once you get them on board and they see the traffic increases, they’ll typically go by the standards/guidelines document, but the moment they are not seeing increases, they’re not going to do it.
Ryan: A lot of businesses struggle to market themselves, whether they think their industry is not “sexy” enough, or they simply lack the time or creativity, or some other excuse. A lot of freelancers and businesses fail at SEO, or produce lackluster results (which is opposite of your track record). What are people doing to shoot themselves in the collective foot when it comes building successful SEO campaigns?
Neil: Sure, what’s going to end up happening is, you’re going to end up shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t go out there and actually do the stuff that’s the hard work. A lot of people when they’re trying to do it, they’re lazy. They don’t really do much of the branding, get them out there, get traffic through SEO and stuff. When they hear about it, they think, “Oh, crap, we’ve got to do what everyone else is doing.” They’ll typically be like, “Oh, who can we find to build links for us?” Or they’ll look for those quick-hit solutions. Those quick-hit solutions aren’t long-term. Sometimes the quick ones can create short-term results but they don’t work in the long run. You’ve got to end up doing the stuff that really helps your potential customers.
I'll write detailed guides. I’ll write an advanced guide to SEO. I’ll just give it away for free. It creates a ton of natural links, thousands of Tweets. I’m not doing anything for it other than the fact that I’m saying, hey, here you go, it’s totally 100 percent free. I’ll try and create more and more of those things. But the best thing that these guys need to do is focus on creating good content. It doesn’t just have to be text. It could be videos, webinars, infographics, whatever it may be. The thing I’ve found that works really well: a lot of companies are more likely to do webinars. Webinars actually help sell products but at the same time they’re educating the market. You can actually knock two birds with one stone because you can educate and sell at the same time. And those things are pretty popular via Twitter, Facebook, getting backlinks, all that kind of stuff.
Ryan: Great answer. A lot of people don't see that, and I know that some people shy away from doing the hard work, but you've got to do it.
Neil: There’s no shortcuts. There used to be shortcuts five years ago, but they don’t really exist anymore these days.
Ryan: With the Internet growing astronomically and ads bombarding the user right and left, it’s becoming more difficult to stand out amongst the competition. I saw something the other day that said "Information is cheap, and attention is expensive." What techniques do you use to ‘cut through’ to the user and connect well?
Neil: The thing that you have to do to connect well with the user... I think it just actually comes down for me to messaging. There’s going to be all this other stuff, even some stuff on their own computer that you can’t control. But if you can actually go out there and just create really good copy, optimize for conversions, all that kind of stuff, right? Figure out what resonates with them and provide it. You can usually find that kind of stuff out through surveying, so you’re surveying them, what else would you like to see, what would you like to purchase, questions like that.
They'll end up telling you what they want versus what they don’t want. You can then modify copy, web pages, all that kind of stuff, and then grab their attention.
Ryan: Internet marketing has been called a moving target - the tools and platforms are always changing, social media’s constantly making changes, and Google puts out algorithmic updates all the time. How, in your opinion, does a marketer keep their head above water in such a rapid-paced climate?
Neil: The way the marketer keeps their head above water is not to worry about the changes. I, myself, don’t worry about social media changes or algorithm changes. If you’re actually doing what’s best for your customer, typically you should survive in the long run.
Think of it this way: Google isn’t making algorithm changes because they’re trying to trick SEO’s. They’re making algorithm changes because they’re trying to provide the most relevant results to users. If you also do what’s best for users, even if you don’t rank the best in the short run, in the long run you should come ahead because that’s what the search engines are trying to do. So if your interests are aligned with their interests, typically you’ll do well, and that goes back to doing the hard work, creating the detailed guides, webinars, infographics, right? Just providing a ton of value and building that brand equity.
The same thing goes for social media sites. Again, they’re typically trying to do what’s best for their users. If you also try to do what’s best for their users, you should win as well. So don’t worry about algorithm updates, and stop trying to take the shortcuts, but instead align yourself with their interests, which is typically what is beneficial to your customers, and you should succeed in the long run.
Ryan: You’re an incredibly successful professional - but do you ever slow down? What do you like to do to recharge and unwind from everything?
Neil: Hang out with friends and talk about business, so my unwinding is still relaxing with fellow entrepreneurs and talking about business. I relaxed yesterday for two-and-a-half, three hours, and me and my friends were just shooting the shit about business and ways to grow, and stuff like that. That’s what I do to unwind.
Ryan: What are your favorite techie gadgets for personal use?
Neil: I'm not really a gadget guy. I’ve had the iPad and stuff like that. The only one that I probably use gadget-wise is... have you heard of Control4? Control4 deals with home automation. They have a lot of gadgets, but I’ve been using that in my home for years now. It’s kind of cool, cause it does everything, I can turn on my electronic fireplace, adjust my heating, open and close my blinds, setting my TV’s, not on just timers, but alarms. So that way when I wake up in the morning, the blinds slowly go up, the TV turns on, and it slowly increases the volume. You can do fun stuff with Control4. It pretty much automates your whole home.
Ryan: Industry leaders have all sorts of different personality types. You've seen it all across the board I'm sure with the conferences you've attended. Have you taken the Meyer’s-Briggs test, and do you know your personality type? Or at least, are you an introvert or an extrovert? How would you classify your personality?
Neil: I've never taken one of those tests. I would actually say that I’m an extrovert. I love being around people. I love not being by myself. I can’t be by myself. I think that’s a lot of the people in the industry. Especially when you’re around people who are like yourself, you definitely come out of your shell and communicate more.
Ryan: You’ve traveled all over. Sometimes you visit a place, and there's just something about it. It isn’t necessarily because of a memorable monument or landmark. It is just that when you leave, for some reason that place has left an imprint on your heart and you just kind of want to go back immediately. Which place in the world has left its place on your heart that you would just want to go back and visit for a little while? Any specific reason why?
Neil: I would actually say, not really, but maybe London. I just love the place. I actually love more so, and I know this is kind of a weird answer, but I love the architecture of the city, and more so, like, it’s an old city, so it’s amazing to see how they re-architectured the city from what it used to be like a hundred years ago to what it is now, and how they actually adapted in a pretty efficient manner, because you have to end up doing so, right? I kind of see it like business where the longer a business is around, you have to make changes, so how can you make changes without disrupting the flow of the whole company?
Just like in a city like London, they have to make changes, they have growing pains, seeing change over time. But you have to make changes without disrupting people. People still need to get to their jobs, they need to go into the city they live in, where they eat. It’s kind of cool to see how - people talk about doing this with companies, but no one ever really respects how cities developed. That’s a much bigger project, and that’s a harder thing to solve for.
Ryan: Any final words for up-and-comers?
Neil: If you’re an up-and-comer, keep at it, and keep cranking away! Theres no better solution than hard work!
That’s it for our interview with Neil. Thanks to Neil for his time and sharing his expertise with us. Check out Neil’s blog at quickspout.com.