Working with SEO involves discovering where the opportunities are and exploiting them. But in overcrowded markets, those opportunities are not as available as before. So what can you do? We talked with Daniel E. Lofaso, CEO and Founder of The Digital Elevator – a results-driven SEO and content marketing agency – to figure it out.
Please present The Digital Elevator to our audience
The Digital Elevator is an SEO and content marketing agency with a focus in the SaaS, healthcare, and fitness industries. We worked with a number of other industries as well as the local SEO sector.
Digital Elevator has been around for over 10 years and we also have a pretty strong web development department to complement SEO and other things. We also do a little bit of pay-per-click. Those are our core focus areas.
Suppose I have a small business and I want to create SEO articles without being so niched. Do you think there’s still room to grow and catch the first page and the first positions or is it overcrowded?
It’s definitely getting harder every single year and I think if you are going to compete, you really have to know what keywords to go after. Keyword software will provide you keyword difficulty metrics which should definitely come into play for your topical strategies.
If we’re working on new campaigns or if somebody’s figuring it out on their own, they really have to understand that there might be some opportunities for “low-hanging fruit”, so to speak, where it’s maybe not super high volume, but low difficulty.
There are sometimes opportunities in that regard. But if you’re a small business and you’re in a really competitive vertical, I don’t know if I would necessarily invest in SEO, because you really have to know what you’re doing. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself “can I compete? Can I rank with this?”
If you don’t know enough or you are not working with an agency or something to answer that question, you can spend a lot of time and money getting nowhere. That’s unfortunate, and may discourage small businesses, but it’s reality.
What would be the solution? Would it be long tail?
The solution is definitely more long tail. Everybody’s in a competitive vertical nowadays and we can’t all compete with Forbes and the big media sites that can publish anything and rank, right? You can’t just go after the generic keywords, but what we do and what we recommend for small businesses is to go after top, middle and bottom of the funnel type searches and those have different kinds of intent.
Top of the funnel are for example how-to informative searches. Those are generally really competitive because they bring the most traffic. At the same time, there’s the least amount of intent to purchase something.
Then, you have the middle of the funnel, and that’s a little bit more commercial in intent: For example, “what is this versus this?,” or “how much does XYZ cost.” People are understanding there’s a solution out there and researching the solution generically, but not on a brand level basis.
And then, bottom of the funnel, which might be more of that long tail, are searches that are very transactional in intent and nature. There’s way less volume than the top of the funnel searches, which is not as sexy to people in terms of SEO, but is more functional because those are the real searches that are driving revenue and sometimes there’s opportunity there.
Again, it depends on the industry and keyword research. It’s not always attractive to go after something that has a thousand searches per month versus maybe the root keyword that has 10,000. So, yes, I like the long tail. Use it appropriately in an overall strategy.
What are the main misconceptions that people and even clients at first have about SEO?
I think people still have the idea that, for most industries, SEO takes 6 to 12 months and not really seeing that it takes a lot longer. This is generally for people that have never done SEO, not people that have some sort of foundation.
I’d say that it usually takes 18 months to 2 years, and I guess the results have to be defined, right? Results can mean lead generation. You can see a lot of SEO gains per se in data quickly: traffic going up, page views are going up, visits, bounce rates, whatever you’re looking at in analytics, and that showcases that SEO is working, but it might not be translating to phone calls or downloads or revenue depending on your business model.
For a lot of our clients, it’s more 18 months, 2 years, pretty big investment and committing to something great long-term.
Clients want results and if it’s quicker, better for them. How do you manage their expectations?
That goes into our discovery conversation initially. We kind of start from the end and then make a recommendation. When somebody comes to us and says “I want SEO”, we ask what their goals are, how many clients they want, what’s a client worth for them, what’s SEO going to cost compared to that, how long it is going to take for them to get there, what does the competitive landscape look like, what does it look like if we maybe explore pay-per-click or paid social media. I’ll just try to reverse-engineer what their goals are, and then present them what the best recommendation is from our standpoint.
Sometimes it’s surprising for people to hear from an SEO company that maybe they should do a mailer or maybe just advertise in the local magazine. But it’s all about return on investment and people’s tolerance to spend money, right? You need to have a budget and most small businesses don’t have this unlimited budget to just blow on everything. Because it has to work, otherwise they’re not in a good spot.
What are SEO content marketing trends to which we should pay attention in 2022?
I think there are obvious ones like video. It’s easier than ever to get into video, but it’s still a roadblock for a lot of people, because they sometimes don’t really know how to edit, or get it up there or promote it. It’s like a little bit of an extra step for most people.
Secondly, Google’s emphasis on EAT – expertise, authority, and trustworthiness – is becoming increasingly important in terms of authorship. I think COVID reinforced this a lot with the fake news thing, and has definitely scrutinized websites that don’t have expertise behind them.
What I mean by that is: if you’re publishing content, there should be an author behind it, not just a company or editorial team as the author. That author should have an author page. Hopefully, they should be well-versed in the topic they’re talking about, with third party links that reinforce that they are in fact somebody credible in the industry.
This is more important in industries like finance and healthcare. But it’s a consumer thing as well. I think websites that can showcase that expertise from authors, authority and trust are going to excel in the future, not just from a Google point of view, but from a customer point of view, and with clients who are looking for that differentiating factor of where they’re going to send their money for partnerships.
The third trend is Artificial Intelligence and automation. It is easier to get into it, but sometimes lacks that good human element. For example, there’s a bunch of content writing services that will write content for you and they’re not super unique. It just means that there’s more and more content that’s going to be published on the internet. So, what do we got to do to stand out? You can take that automation for data or helping you start content or maybe a study in your industry or something that’s very unique and nobody else other than you can do.
Do you believe that specific industries and sectors have more potential than others when it comes to looking for keywords?
Yes, I definitely see a lot of overcrowding in certain sectors, and it tends to be the ones that are the most lucrative. Finance is really difficult for several reasons. There’s a lot of big brands that are educating people on finance, and obviously it’s a lot of money and banking and finance. So, that’s a really difficult sector to tap into.
Healthcare is also super saturated. Google has partners it trusts for healthcare, and they refer back to that data, from Cleveland Clinic or like Harvard or some of the top hospitals. Google puts that on the top of its list.
I think up-and-coming industries are the easier ones to tap into from a SEO standpoint, because there’s not a lot of saturation yet. If you can get on top of that before a bunch of competitors do, then you might have a leg up there.
For example, we did and continued to do a lot of work in the streaming industry. Companies like Netflix or the companies providing software and infrastructure that power such platforms. It’s obviously a very big industry right now. That’s an example of an industry in which SEO still has a lot of potential and not too many brands have yet dominated it.
If somebody can recognize that, get in early and create the content before everybody else, there’ll be a time advantage that other brands might not have, even if other brands are creating better content, more links, or if they are a bigger brand.
So, I think there’s definitely an opportunity for more young, interesting industries to create content that might serve a different, newer audience. There are tools to see what people are talking about and what’s trending, so maybe use that to your advantage when creating content.
What are The Digital Elevator’s plans for the next 3 to 5 years?
I think it’s going to get harder to stand out as a brand. Old-school digital public relations are driving a lot of brands right now, like media exposure, local media exposure, trying to create newsworthy type content, trying to get featured on the news and merging that with SEO, so that you have this really great kind of content marketing machine on your website that serves those levels of the funnel that we talked about earlier.
And then maybe doing unique industry studies, which the media tends to love and then if you can do outreach to them and get picked up here and there, then you’re going to have your “press marriage” and Google loves media mentions, which tend to help rankings a lot. It’s nice to showcase that on your website as a kind of credibility factor.
That’s probably where things are going. I think SEO is going to get harder and harder. I think brands need to be prepared to have their marketing in multiple buckets and not just rely on one.
You’re going to have to do SEO well, you’re going to have to potentially invest in pay-per-click, especially if you’re a local small business and you want to get out of your little normal geographic bubble. You’ll probably have to be present on social media, whether that’s LinkedIn, if you’re B2B or, all the up-and-coming ones, depending on what kind of industry you’re in.