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Cultivating the Cornerstone of Success When Doing SEO at Scale

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The In Search SEO Podcast Community Question of the Week!

SEO Community Question #43

Summary of Episode 43: The In Search SEO Podcast 

In Search SEO Banner 43

The legendary Stephan Spencer joins us to offer a truly holistic, if not downright spiritual look at doing SEO at scale and doing it successfully!

  • The role of team building when doing SEO at scale
  • How to find the right team for the right SEO tasks
  • The actions you can take to develop your SEO team the right way

Plus, subdomain leasing…. Are you kidding?! 

Before we start, we have some big news. We’ve released our Schema Markup Generator tool! This is a FREE tool that lets you generate, test, and validate the code for Person, How-to, FAQ, and Article markup! Did we mention it’s free!

Head over to the Rank Ranger site and look for the tool under the resources tab at the top of the page!

On the Absurdity of Subdomain Leasing [00:03:32 - 00:14:15] 

This week, Mordy rants and raves about what has to be the stupidest idea he’s seen in a long time: Subdomain leasing. What is it? Subdomain leasing is when company A, whose own site may not have a ton of backlinks or authority says to company B, "Hey, Company B, can I pay you so I can siphon some of your authority and ranking juice by using a subdomain on your site for my content?”

For example, a recent Search Engine Land article discussing this topic showed that a coupon site was leasing a subdomain from CNN. That’s right, the news site. The URL was coupons.cnn.com. Now the coupon site is "supposedly” receiving all the ranking power that comes with the CNN site.

Where it gets insane is when you click on this URL, you land on what appears to be CNN’s website as you see the same header and CNN’s logo, but underneath that header template is a listing of coupons that you would normally see on a site like RetailMeNot.

This is insane! Is CNN so desperate for cash that it’s willing to turn its well established and high-ranking website into a street corner prostitute? Why would they do this? They have no idea what the leased domain will do with their site. For all CNN knows, the coupons domain could post all sorts of craziness or do all sorts of crazy things with the page. Is CNN willing to take that risk?

Now, technically, this nonsense is not against Google’s guidelines, which boggles Mordy’s mind considering some of the things that are against Google’s guidelines!

Two months ago, John Mueller was asked about domain leasing and he said: "The other aspect that always plays into these kinds of configurations on websites is when it comes to quality. We try to look at the quality of a website overall. So if there are particular parts of a website that are really low quality, I don't know if these are like really low-quality coupon sites, for example, where the coupons are essentially just the same thing as everywhere else on the site or everywhere else on the web, then overall that could be degrading the quality of that site a little bit.”

To translate, and to quote Mordy, "Google is going to demote the crap out of sites that do this as soon as they get the algorithm adjusted accordingly!" And you know what? Mordy thinks Google should! According to him, if you’re implementing domain leasing on your site, that means you don’t care about your site. If CNN is willing to sell itself for a couple of bucks when they don’t even need it, why in the world would we, as users, think they’re in the business of providing quality content?!

In the case of a big bomber like CNN. Google will still consider them as a news authority, but it will call some of their content into a higher suspicion which will have an impact on some of their rankings overall. It’s like adding a bit of water to a cup of orange juice, it dilutes the overall potency.

Why is this an issue? Because the most important thing John Mueller said was, "The other aspect that always plays into these kinds of configurations on websites is when it comes to quality. We try to look at the quality of a website overall.”

As you may know, Mordy is all in on the idea of Google profiling your site and seeing if what you’re putting out aligns with what you claim your site is. And Mordy’s pretty darn sure CNN doesn’t claim they’re offering their users the best coupons for a back hair beard trimmer!

SEO at Scale from a Team Perspective: A Conversation with Stephan Spencer [00:14:15 - 01:06:18]

[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]

Mordy: Welcome to another In Search SEO podcast interview session. Today we have with us a living legend. He is the co-author of The Art of SEO (among many other titles). He is the host of two podcasts, Marketing Speak, and Get Yourself Optimized. He’s a prolific SEO speaker. He is Stephan Spencer!


Stephan: Thanks for having me.

M: I have to say you’re just a fascinating person. You’ve been in the industry since its infancy. You seem to have a wonderful inner-balance and harmony to you. How did it all come about both professionally and personally?

S: That’s a great question. I was going through a dark time in my life in 2009. I’ve been going through a divorce. I’ve been working in the SEO industry for a while by then. And I was just not feeling super resourceful. Certain friends of mine, in a two-week period, told me to go to a Tony Robbins event. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I thought it wasn’t a coincidence that three different people recommended him. And that started my whole journey of personal transformation. I did a whole life reboot over the course of those next 10 months until I became totally unrecognizable to the person I was previously to the point where I will show up at SEO conferences and people wouldn’t recognize me.

That physical transformation was just a small part of the whole transformation as a couple of years later I went to India on a Tony Robbins’ platinum trip. I ended up meeting my wife through that platinum partnership. Also, I got a spiritual awakening from that trip to India. It was a monk who touched me on the head and gave me a Deeksha, a oneness blessing. It was almost like an out of body experience. I felt this deep connection and calm. I went outside and saw all the trees and grass in this brilliant green like a cartoon. This started a whole spiritual transformation for me. I’m big into Kabbalah now.

I do have two podcasts, one is on marketing, and the other is about personal development, spirituality, productivity, and biohacking podcast. It was just an incredible journey and I wanted to share it with a wider audience. I’m also working on a book about that journey and how we live in a friendly universe.

M: Wow, what an incredible story.

The Forgotten Essence of SEO at Scale 

From that, let’s go into something more mundane, succeeding at SEO at scale. Before we get started, just to make sure our audience is up to speed, what does it mean to do SEO at scale?

S: If you have more than a million pages to your site and you have numerous sites in your portfolio or you’re in the business of acquiring sites or online businesses or brokering them, or you’re a VC or a private equity firm that works with portfolio companies and they work on multiple platforms and you want to roll out SEO across to more than a small number of pages, and you don’t have the ability to humanly touch each page individually. There’s just no way to do this at scale. Those are the kind of issues that to me are interesting to solve.

M: One of the things I see a lot when people talk about SEO at scale is automation, technical considerations, and site structure, but I want to go in a different direction and talk about team development. When you’re running a large site or multiple large sites there needs to be an overarching strategy as part of doing SEO at scale. To what extent do you think of other factors like team-building play a roe? Where do they fit at doing SEO at scale?

S: It’s the cornerstone. For example, one of my clients owns 1,800 websites. They have a big internal team and work with a lot of agencies, freelancers, and companies that aggregate freelancers. It’s an interesting problem, but the thing that is the foundation of success in that scenario is having really solid SOPs (standard operating procedures). Transforming those SOPs from big documents that people only read once to ones that people operate within a daily process by utilizing tools like Process Suite that make these interactive checklists and the prerequisites are baked into the process. It makes the SOP into a living document.

You have to think of who’s on the team and who needs to be on the team, what the success metrics are for each team member, what the handoffs are where the first job ends and the next begins, what are their roles, responsibilities (roles and responsibilities are different things), get their buy-in, maybe even get them to write for themselves their roles and responsibilities, and give them guidance.

Do a Value Determination Process. I like to use Dr. Martini’s process for determining your values hierarchy. Let’s say you know there highest value is family, world travel, or religion, then you can map that highest value to their roles and responsibilities. For example, let’s say you have a VA (virtual assistant) on the team who does travel bookings for you and their highest value is world travel. You can teach the VA how to get the best tools online to make their trip cheaper and they will feel engaged, they will feel functional ownership. Functional ownership means to make your team members feel like functional owners and not like they’re renting a car that they don’t care about and will beat it up or not wash the car. You make them feel like they’re owning their jobs.

The E-myth Revisited and Beyond the E-myth by Michael Gerber are both important reads. If you don’t want to try and fix your existing business by building all the systems and so forth into it, then you want to start over with a skunkworks company, or NUKO, and build your systems and SOPs into that business first. That is a much more viable strategy.

When you do all this, getting that team structure, sitting them on the right seats on the bus, and that will set you up to win. Whether you are trying to scale millions of pages or just want a 100-page website that has serious revenue for you. Whatever the size of your business, whether a solo consultant or a marketing manager, this all applies. How do you scale without using ideas from Impossible to Inevitable (functional ownership)? That’s the basis for success. It’s not using the right SEO tool or checking the right metric.

M: Wow, I feel like I’m definitely talking to the right person about this topic.

I want to jump back on a more meta question. When looking to build the team or when creating a functional workspace, how much of that starts not only with your team members’ values, but how much does it start with your values as the team leader?

S: There’s that expression that s**t rolls downhill. If you don’t have great values, or you’re all into shortcuts, or loopholes before they close, that's a virus that spreads through the company. It’s very important that you get your head straight in terms of why you’re doing something. You’re not going to change a 1,000-word blog post to 3,000 words just to better monetize the page. Instead, if everything you do is underpinned on the idea of value creation, you can think of how can I create massive value for the readers, for the community, for the world, and to reveal more light in the world by going from 1,000 words to 3,000, by doing it cost-effectively, getting the monetary value I need, and all the while doing massive value creation. It’s not just about gaming the system.

M: Speaking of creating value, when you start hiring people, how do you bring that value to the employee? How do you foster that self-fulfillment/self-efficacy to your employees?

S: I want to understand what drives them and every one of my staff people has to do the Value Determination Process on Dr. Martini’s site. They also need to do other assessments like a Strengths Finder so I know their top-five highest strengths. Then they can work on their biggest strengths and you’ll set them up for success. People want to feel successful.

B. J. Fogg, one of the top behavior change experts in the world, came up with this concept that there’s an emotion that no one came up with a name for and he just named it. He’s coming out with a new book called Tiny Habits and we’re doing a workshop together at Sandford on October 1st. This emotion that he named is called Shine. Shine is the feeling you have when you’re successful. People stop using apps that make them feel less successful. In everything that you do with your team, are you instilling more shine?

Marie Kondo wrote a book called "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It sold millions of copies and she now has a show on Netflix. Her concept is all about sparking joy. If you hold a book in your hand that’s on your bookshelf and you’re trying to understand if you should give it away or hold onto it and you’re just holding it in your hand without opening it. Does this spark joy in your life or does it spark dread? If it doesn’t spark joy then get rid of it. If what you’re doing to manage your team member isn’t sparking Shine, then you’re not being a good leader. And it’s not just to align with their highest values because of course you’re doing that with them at the very beginning and checking in with them on a regular basis with performance reviews. But the mapping of their highest values to their job functions is something you do at the beginning of the job and then you check in with performance reviews. How am I doing at tapping to your highest values with what you do on a day-to-day basis? Then when you’re doing team meetings, ask each person to share what’s exciting them, what they’re up to, and what challenges they’re facing, personal challenges too. People are humans, they’re not robots. You have to really and truly care about them.

M: Yeah, those are some amazing points. I feel like, as a society, we have forgotten what it means to exist. And I think that’s what you mean regarding joy and shine that there’s a certain sense that you’re tapped into actual existence and one of the ways to fulfill that is through work. Work, oddly enough, is a spiritual thing and it’s a monumental task to cater to, culture, and foster.

S: It’s funny you say that. Three days ago I spoke at Affiliate Summit East and one of the things I said was that business is a spiritual game. That really struck people. I think of business as a spiritual game or discipline where you’re out there in the world either revealing light or not, adding value or not. If you’re just trying to exploit the loopholes, then there’s no lasting value. If you don’t have the customer’s, client’s, or visitor’s best interests at heart you will lose, it’s just a matter of time. Any business philosophy will say this. For example, look at what Jay Abraham teaches regarding the concept of preeminence, "If the prospect is better served by being sent to your competitor, you send them to your competitors.”

M: Right. It’s a different notion of winning.

I have to ask, when looking at a new employee, how much are you looking at their knowledge and skillset vs. how much are you looking at their disposition or values/attitude?

S: I’m looking at a number of things. A person’s values I can’t change. I do this test called the Honesty test. Let’s say I ask in the interview process, "Tell me what you think is the most important attribute for this position. Is it attention to detail, creativity, honesty, dedication, or technical acumen? Which of those five is the most important attribute? The only right answer is honesty because you can’t train honesty when you bring someone on board. If somebody doesn’t consider honesty as a very high attribute, they’re going to be cutting corners. They’re going to be surfing Facebook or buying things on Amazon for personal reasons while on the company clock. You’re not going to fix that.

You can’t have somebody who doesn’t feel a sense of ownership or personal agency, not a go-getter, they don’t feel responsibility, i.e, response-able, able to respond. And it’s not just understanding that it’s your duty or obligation to do this thing, it’s a higher level than that. True responsibility is about being the cause of the matter. If it needs to be done, it needs to be done and if not by me then by who?

I remember a workshop where I learned this concept of responsibility and I had this breakthrough in the men’s room during the break. Next to the sink is the soap dispenser and it was empty. There was enough to get the tiniest bit out. Now the previous version of me would try to eke out the last amount of soap and then get back to the workshop. But I felt responsible because I knew that somebody after me was going to be affected by this so I found the hotel phone to contact housekeeping and I called and said that the men’s room was out of soap.

You want to screen for people that feel they are responsible. These skills are so secondary. If someone who is a Liberal Arts major who gets around fine on the computer, but doesn't know all of the SEO tools. If they’re hungry to learn, motivated with a personal passion, and they answered the right value questions including honesty, then they’re in. We’ll do a trial period with trial projects to make sure they’re good at the job, but in general, that’s the type of person we’re looking for.

And I hate when people lie to me. If you don’t know something, be honest about it. If you don’t have a favorite SEO tool, you can say "I don’t have a favorite SEO tool because I’m new to this space, but I’ve been reading Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal, and I’ve been reading your book and I’m on Chapter Two and I really like x, y, and z in that chapter.” So with that, I’m cool with, but don’t lie to me.

M: That’s just a good lesson in life across the board, don’t lie to people.

To go back on something you said, in the SEO space, there is a large chunk of people in the SEO industry who don’t come from a technical or data scientist background. Myself, personally, I came through the content end. Do you think one of the unique traits of SEO is the ability to assimilate people who are not coming from a technical background into the industry? On the flip side, is one of the major tendencies or traits to have when coming to the SEO industry is that drive to learn? More than other industries?

S: I think the personality trait of being hungry to grow is the type of personality you want to employ in your company. And if they have that then you’re set because you just need to make sure they have the tools and the upscaling available to them. Things like going to conferences, accessing online training, etc. I have a 20-hour online course on do-it-yourself SEO auditing. If they’re finding these tools, finding these resources, even the free ones, it’s great. I just want to see that hunger is there. Again, I am looking at their strengths as well. I’m also looking at their conative abilities. You can test that with the Kolbe test. I, for example, am high as a quick starter. I’m great at starting things, but not at finishing which is why I have a team. I want to focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses, which is where my clean up crew comes in to do all the implementation and grunt work after I developed the strategy for a content marketing campaign.

That is what you’re scanning to see if they’ll be a good fit. Not just sitting the right people on the bus, but sitting the right people in the right seats.

M: Let me wrap up with what you said before about developing the team and moving them long. One of the things I noticed was the way we analyze people in the workplace is very quantitative and results-oriented, yet we sort of forget to look at the person themselves with what they need to grow and develop. How do you properly develop your team and team members so they can be where you want them to be?

S: It goes from being activity focused to outcome-focused. Once you and the team are outcome-focused the game changes. The need to have quantitative measures drops, not completely, but it becomes more qualitative.

For example, let’s say you’ve been delegating tasks to ghostwrite some articles for a website you’re contributing to. You have a ghostwriter who writes three articles a week and he keeps on delivering quantitatively, but there’s no functional ownership. There’s no understanding or buy-in to the bigger picture. As the business owner, if those articles don’t end up being published then they’re worthless. Quantitative metrics are irrelevant because there was no result. You, as the leader of the company or team, are obligated to delegate the outcome, not the tasks. When you do it becomes more about the qualitative and not the quantitative where your writers will have that sense of ownership and agency in their destiny because now you got them to buy into the bigger picture. And their questions of why do I need to keep contributing to this website, what’s the value, what makes it relevant to the company and myself will all start to make sense.

And now you don’t have to babysit every step of the process. Before, it might happen that a writer drafts the articles, but forgets to submit them to the editor for proofreading. In that case, they were task-oriented and not focused on the outcome. Now, they’re more focused on achieving the outcome.

M: And it’s not possible to manage things that way. If they’re not bought in and not looking to drive home what they’re doing. You’ll never be able to micromanage them to the point where you feel happy.

Optimize It or Disavow It

M: Since I haven’t mentioned SEO tools…. You can either have too many tools, too much automation, or too many people on your staff. Which is worse for proficiency? Which is worse for producing SEO results at scale?

S: Obviously, I’d choose too many people. There’s the old adage, "Too many cooks in the kitchen.” Or even better the adage, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” You’re going to end up with a camel with too many team members. There’s also Parkinson’s law at play which says that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The idea is that if you want something done fast and efficiently, give it to the busy person and give it to them with a very aggressive deadline. If you think they’re really busy and you give them an extra-long time to work on this, then they will take an extra-long time to get it for you. But if you say you need it by Friday, you will get it by Friday. Parkinson’s law works. But if you have too many team members then you have the opposite happening and it’s going to be a trainwreck.

M: Thank you so much, Stephan!

S: Thank you for having me, Mordy. And for the listeners, if you are interested in using my approach to hiring and screening candidates or team members, I have an SEO hiring blueprint and an SEO BS detector and I’ll put both out for the listeners at www.marketingspeak.com/insearch/.

SEO News [01:10:25 - 01:16:39]

Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines New Updates: Google has again updated its Quality Rater Guidelines. The changes include new content falling under the YMYL (Your Money Your Life) umbrella. Also, Google seems to want sites to distinguish between content created by the site itself vs. content that comes from an outside source.

Competitor Ads Found in Local LIstings: Google was spotted showing a competitor-based carousel at the very top of a Local Panel. Meaning, the competitor carousel appeared above the featured business’s very name!

Auto-DNS Verification in Google Search Console: Google has introduced Auto-DNS verification! Google is partnering with a series of domain name registrars to help expedite the verification process.

New Top Movie Picks Carousel in Google Search: Google is rolling out a new movie SERP feature. For queries like, what to watch, Google is showing a ‘Top Picks for You’ carousel which brings up an overlay of shows you can swipe through.

Fun SEO Send-off Question [01:16:39 - 01:20:38]


Which reality TV show should Google star in? 

For Mordy, there was an easy answer: Big Brother. Not that Google is the generally ignorant, overly sexualized 20-something, but that Google is Big Brother itself for obvious reasons. Sapir answered with The Bachelor where all of these different domains are competing over being on Google’s SERP.

Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.

About The Author
In Search is a weekly SEO podcast featuring some of the biggest names in the search marketing industry.

Tune in to hear pure SEO insights with a ton of personality!

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