Source: SEOSignalsLab

Pick His Brain!

I’d like to introduce one of our members, David Klein, for our next ‘Pick His Brain’ session and I want to thank him for the participation.

David is the real deal when it comes to digital marketing.

In 2006 he was discovered by Matt Cutts at Google who taught him SEO and then promoted his work as a role model of white hat SEO and link building.

Over the past 13 years he periodically would meet with Matt Cutts at Google over lunch and discuss SEO.

In 2008 and 2009 he helped Facebook with their Marketing when they were getting started with Facebook Ads.

Over the years he has helped Experian, Survey Monkey, Chipotle and many others.

In 2015 and 2016 along with his company TallBox he helped PlanGrid a silicon valley, Sequoia Capital and Y-

Combinator funded startup. They just sold for $850 Million.

David has been a longtime member of SEO Signals Lab and says it is pretty much the only place online he goes to discuss SEO.

If you have any questions related to running an agency, enterprise SEO, and using Adwords as an SEO research tool, please feel free to pick his brain.

Here are the rules.

1) I’ll let the thread go on until he asks me to stop. Theoretically, this thread can continue until the FaceBook stock value goes to zero.

2) Please, no snarky remarks. I will not tolerate any intentional negativity. We are here to learn from each other’s success and strategies.

3) Please do not PM him and bother him. If you have a private question, ask for his permission on this thread when appropriate.


Table of Contents

What’s the most valuable thing Matt Cutts taught you about SEO?

People hate this answer, and it applies less now than it did.

We had multiple long talks about this over a decade.

1. Google Organic’s goal has always been to give the user exactly what they were looking for at that moment.

You will notice that I said Google Organic’s goal. Google Organic is a noble beast, but it’s cousin Adwords (Or google ads) has very different motives.

2. Matt Cutt’s was and is my friend. When I got married last year he sent bocce ball sets and other lawn games for the kids to play at the wedding.

He is a nice guy.

He never did it for the money.

He really cares about humanity and the planet.

He didn’t lie.

When he was running the search engine people accused him of lying constantly.

The truth was, he didn’t lie. He had no motivation to.

I listened carefully to what he said privately and have done incredibly good at SEO because we did exactly what he said you should.

What’s the biggest or most common mistake people make when using AdWords for SEO research?

They assume they know but they don’t.

They don’t start broad enough. Multiple modified broad match adgroups so you don’t miss the right keywords.

They don’t really investigate who and what their audience is really looking for.

If they do any market research they just see what “everyone says” instead of segmenting the responses based on other answers to let you know if they are a good potential customer.

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Who was the most interesting client you’ve worked with?

Facebook. They seemed like a really cool company in 2008 that was going places.

I had no idea just how big this was going to get.

Small conversations we had back then have turned into planet changing aspects of the software.

What would you recommend that a new service based startup (that is purely online as opposed to bricks and mortar) concentrate on first in today’s marketing climate? AdWords? Facebook ads? Seo? Other?

To do SEO before you have done Adwords is foolish.

In the early days we had a company pay us over $100k over a years period to get them to rank for THE keyword.

We got them to around spot 3 which we and the client considered would be a huge success by the end of the year.

The client was actually angry. He said it was a big failure.

The reason was the ranking had not brought in any revenue.

The reason was that he thought this was a converting keyword that would make money. In fact it was not.

If we had done Adwords testing at the beginning we could have validated that this was, or was not a profitable keyword. (or more accurately a not profitable search term)

What sort of budget would you recommend for Adwords to do the testing and over what period of time?

It depends on the industry. The big factors are the cost per click, what percent of that intention will buy your product, and how well you already know that customer.

It is very common for a a few dozen clicks to start to give us some actual solid insight.

After 100 clicks we usually know a lot. After 1000 clicks if we ran our tests well we know a ton.

Here is the kicker. If a click is a buck and all goes well, you might be done after $300 and ready to get real conversions.

If the clicks are $1500 each, yes we have played in that industry, and if conversions are bad, we are talking spending over a million dollars just to get to the starting line.

You need to pick a pond that is the right size for your budget and skill level.

Your keywords are going to be about $3 a click in the US, not sure about AUS, but I would guess less.

So if managed well a $100 would let you know if you know the right keyword.

$500 managed well would let you get a ton of insight on your customers if someone knew how to do market research well.

$1000 or $2000 of clicks could give you great insight into your customers.

Can you share Google’s definition of “White Hat SEO”?

I can tell you about the spirit of it. I can not remember who used the term first, either Matt or maybe it was me, but the term is mother test.

If you show the details to your mom and she thinks it looks spammy then it fails.

If she likes it then it probably would be considered white hat.

Matt loved this link building we did at WordCamp around 2007.

He talked about it on his blog and other places. It had nothing to do with chiropractic, but it was fun and helpful.

Then later when we got more topic specific, I would explain to Matt our link building methods and he liked them.

I always figured if you would be comfortable showing Matt Cutts your link building, then it was white hat.

What’s your view of black hat SEO and where are they headed?

I have been good friends with a lot of hard core black hat guys since the beginning.

Google keeps getting smarter. I have had some brilliant friends go to work there.

They have one of the best AI systems in the world.

The question I ask myself is, “Do I really think I am so smart that I could build links (or other tricks) that the team at Google and their AI could not figure out?

I have seen people rank terms using black hat techniques and do well for a while.

But for the terms worth millions to billions of dollars, do you want to invest all that time, energy, and money on building assets that could be destroyed by

Google seeing a footprint or someone on your team or contractor sending an email to Google explaining your PBN?

Our SEO is becoming more and more tied in to incredibly strong content. Black hat activities just endanger the whole investment.

I have some decent sized investors who have been looking at businesses to buy with me and have us build up their marketing.

Many are being sold by very well known brokers.

So far every single time we find one with good numbers, when I dig in I find they were cheating somewhere and we have walked away from the deal.

Can mommy-blogger links still work or are they just a waste of time and money?

Sure. Being a mommy blog has nothing to do with it.

The inbound links and user activity on their site, and especially on the page they link from, and super especially how the user interacts with the link to your site.

That’s what makes the difference.

For competitive niches is it necessary to run adwords to achieve good organic rank? Like we usually see most of the Ecoms doing this…?

I don’t have hard evidence on this. What I do know is that every year Google uses more and more user signals to effect the rankings.

About 7 years ago I could see that eventually it will be almost entirely user metrics that effect rankings.

Remember Google Organic has always focused on the user finding what they want.

Running Adwords gives you an incredible science experiment to control which users come to your site, and watch how they interact.

This data can be optimized for user behavior for a specific search term.

This is a lot of work so it would need to be for a site where you are spending a lot of time to improve rankings.

If your site is really, really incredible and users stick and come back, then driving paid traffic there to “prime the pump” and show that user activity makes sense.

To send a lot of users to a crappy site is just going to show Google that your site is lousy.

How do you meet with big companies?

Get my suburban washed the night before, put their address into my phone… ohh…. you want to know how I first meet them?

So far entirely by referral from someone else.

For example I got introduced to Survey Monkey by a guy who started as an audience member of mine at Pubcon, then became a friend, then he introduced me to upper management.

In our current immediate gratification environment do you think that “pay for performance” SEO contracts are the future of the industry?

I would never do it. I would build the site myself and own it afterwards.

I literally was talking to Mike Rhodes about this while this AMA started. It is difficult to nail attribution of where the client is coming from.

We do a lot of cross platform attribution where we are answering the question, “Where did this client really come from”?

I was on a call this morning where the client is sure all the people hear about him and then within 3 days they become a paying customer.

With the cross platform attribution we put in place on the first customer we looked at we saw that they had found him 2 years ago, then finally last month became a paid client.

If you can be that confident you can rank the site, then do it yourself and sell them the leads.

How do you charge big companies, like chipotle or Experian, for your services? What did you do to get appointments with them?

The intros were through long time friends who were connected. Experian was through a close friend in marketing who knew and trusted me.

Chipotle was through a friend who was a manager there. First get really fricken good at what you do.

Then make sure everyone knows about what you have accomplished.

Our fees are usually in the $10k to $30k a month range. We have charged as much as $50k a month.

If I am really in love with a company we sometimes charge less. For the big guys it is $15k to $30k a month for SEO.

When agencies promise to get a site to the front page of google (either ASAP) or within 3 months, how are they doing this? Black hat? How can a white-hat SEO agency compete against those that practice black hat?

Oh my god you met Henry Winkler!

When I was like 7 years old I ran into him playing with his son at a water park and hung out with them for like an hour.

Right when he was most famous as Fonzie.
You look really clean cut and sharp in your photos.

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You can get real clients, the kind that pay you $5k a month or more.

Don’t even talk to the ones who are discussing cheap fast SEO. Dig in deep and become an expert in Adwords AND SEO.

They mesh together. Then charge low fees and get a ton of experience quickly. Put in the hard work so your confidence goes up.

Then when someone says to you, “Well Bob the SEO says he can get me page one rankings guaranteed in 3 months”, you can say.

There is no way anyone can guarantee that. He’s probably cheating.

You probably won’t work out as a client for us and walk away. (all of that is overly dramatic but you get the idea.)

The real key still is knowing the basics that you can learn here, and then getting real links.

Getting real links comes from amazing content and good PR and sales. I can see you are capable of that.

Any advice on keyword research? Which tools do you use? If you don’t mind sharing.

I live and breathe keyword research. Favorite tools are SEM Rush, AHRefs when we use the API, Christoph’s Link Research Tools, and the best one of all,

Advice: Use Adwords as a keyword research tool and figure out what keywords, (Search Terms for those who understand) actually convert and make money.

Then go after the keywords that make money.

Link research tools is the only tool to use for removing bad links, Detoxing them.

Lot of debate on this page today about ‘links’. Would love to hear your opinion on the relevance of links in 2019 and beyond.

I predict they will become less important over time.

Google was genius the past few years to realize that a link that never gets clicked on is probably value-less.

Get real links to real pages from real users really looking for data on the subject you are trying to rank for.

With SEO what are the top three things one must do and what are the top three things one must not do?


1. Test in Adwords to know what keywords are actually profitable.

2. Focus on making the best page on the internet about the topic you are trying to rank for that will also attract links from the right people.

And that users will love. That should be more important than conversion.

3. Close the deal with the customer by retargeting visitors and closing them through Adwords and Facebook ads.


1. Cheat.

2. Stay focused only on SEO. You miss the big picture of marketing, the user journey, and conversions.

3. Ever get lazy or stop studying.

How do you see voice and image search changing SEO? What content would be best for those types of emerging technologies?

How exciting huh? I have some data under NDA with Google that I can not disclose.

But could you imagine if they really could understand what the user was thinking about.

How would you do that? Think of all the ways you could check if a user was interested in the content.

In the end Google Organic wants the user to find what they were looking for.

In the very long term build toward that. Build a brand and a set of content that really helps people with something major in their lives.

Can you discuss how you utiize MAPS AND GMBs into your SEO Strategies?

I don’t now.

But back when I had the chiropractic office we discovered that all one needed to do was have the mailing address closest to the main post office of the city you ranked number one.

When I told Google about this within a month they changed the algo, LOL.

Can you share with us the importance of Crawl budget and how to use them effectively?

I have never run into a snag with this. I assume a site like could run into snags with this.

Curious, have you or anyone else reading this ever run into an issue with this?

What’s your SEO advise for a tiny market (the seed keyword is less than 1200 searches / month) for a local security physical product, local market, when there are 100s of suppliers, manufacturers competing for it? We use Adwords for the time being.

I am curious and would love you to explain more.

If there are literally 1200 searches a month and 100s of suppliers, why would you want to be in that market?

I am hoping it is an extremely expensive product, or that you have a unique advantage agains your competitors.

Adwords these days get’s more and more clicks than it ever has with so many Adwords listings on page.

1. I would definitely make sure that your site helps the users find what they want better than any competitor.

But your description does not make that market very attractive, so I am assuming you have something special?

I have seen some White Hat pros essentially say (in sum, my paraphrase): “Just stop trying to ‘do SEO’, build great content, a great site with a great user experience and the SEO will take care of itself”. Do you agree with this view at all? To what extent?

There is great truth to that. It depends on the competitiveness.

We have gotten to number one for 2 word travel terms, free credit report, facebook advertising, and other tough keywords.

To win with those you need to be incredible for the user, and optimize for google, and get the right links in volume.

If you want to rank for something easier like Best Adwords company in Milwaukee for HVAC, you might not even need links if the content is good enough.

According to you what is the best way to sell blockchain development services?

That is a shocking question to be asked. In 2017 I did a ton of research on this and spent some money on Adwords to figure this out. LOL.

I never built anything with it. Are you looking for work for yourself or building a company to provide developers?

What do you see as the future for SEO? What are going to be the major shifts?

Here is the crushing answer. Matt Cutts and the Google organic team in my opinion have been one of the most ethical, good for the world groups that have ever walked the planet.

They literally have freed countries in my opinion.

I wrote about this over a decade ago:…/two-matts-google-wordpress…/

But the Adwords side of the company is mostly in it for the profit.

Money is more important than the results and you see it in how Adwords is built and run.

Google has allowed Adwords to push the organic results further and further down.

This unfortunately has made SEO become less and less valuable for most niches.

I believe Google optimizes this and will continue to do so until the user base starts to drop.

This is one of the reasons we have put so much focus on Adwords.

It allows us to control more of those searchers. It is where Google has been heading and I expect them to push harder in that direction.

Big SEO conferences like Pubcon which is where I got my start seem to have 1/4 the attendance they used to.

There are not the huge $100k parties at SEO conferences anymore.

My opinion is that with all the great keyword abilities we all have, that after learning SEO, most of us should expand laterally and master Adwords.

Those of us who know both are un-stopable.

Where do you see FB Ads heading, in the next 2-3 years?

I expect that the ways you can see Facebook ads will continue to expand.

The inventory of available impressions will go up and up.

The win on this now is often creating content that is loved and keeps the user on the platform.

Then retargeting those that show a good interest in the topic.

The big sites want you to make content that keeps you on their site and engaging.

Do you think google maps is going to be 100% pay to play making local SEO somewhat obsolete?

If they push it too far then people won’t trust Google as much.

You end up getting the tourist location restaurant syndrome.

If you are in a crowded tourist destination you can pretty much guarantee that the restaurants with the big flashing signs are going to have lousy food or at least be overpriced.

After a while of only clicking on Adwords ads, you start to look elsewhere for better info.

I think Google has pushed the organic down too far and will have to adjust it back a bit.

But since Adwords is mostly what you see now, we have mastered it as well.

Is “white hat” nothing more than holier than thou people trying to influence SERPS and therefore against Google’s T’s & C’s?

” Holier than thou” to me implies that someone is being a jerk when they criticize others work.

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I just love Google (organic) and want to play by their rules and win.

If Google organic started proving to me they were being dishonest since Matt Cutts left, then I would stop caring so much.

Adwords has already shown their cards to me that they care more for profit than user experience.

I am currently building up an Amazon-based affiliate website, which is doing not that bad for being only few months old. My goal is to sell it by the end of next year for around 6 figures. What are your tips for maximizing the amoung I can get besides the usual using of marketplaces such as empireflippers etc.?

Make every piece of it easy for someone else to take over.

Don’t build anything into it that you are not comfortable having the buyer see.

Turn everything into systems and get yourself out of it. Otherwise when you sell, you just created a job for yourself.

Find some successful Amazon sellers and work with them to improve each others situation. It will make you both more valuable.

Do you have any tactics and advice to build links to product pages?

We have played with this a lot.

What has won are very related pages with amazing content and links going to them, then build wikipedia style links from the great content to the product pages in natural ways.

We have also had some success with building heavy, heavy content pages of about 500 words explaining how to buy, use etc. a category of products.

Then below the content listed out the products including more detailed info with each one.

They end up looking a bit like an Amazon page.

Those are still tough to build real links to compared to an amazing page of content, but they can get some links if your “buyers guide” is helpful enough.

What is the future of blogs and adsense niche websites. Do you think building very useful adsense monetized niche Websites has a bright future?

A blog is just a name for continuously making content.

I don’t like using that concept because it makes posts look old and out of date, even if you update them.

So using wordpress, making pages, and continually updating them is smarter.

Ad sense is usually a terrible way to monetize as Google takes a big piece of profit. Start with a product that you can sell or leads that you can sell.

Then build your site around that. Establish who your customer is and that they will buy and the price before you start.

Make sure you have multiple, 4 or more buyers lined up first.

What are some of the profitable ever green niches you think that works well with adsense. Could you name some.

I personally would not work with Adsense. Your English is great.

You can interact with U.S. companies, Indian ones, or anywhere and come up with someone who really needs leads.

I like selling expensive things myself, especially B2B. Is there an area you have specialized training or experience that gives you an edge?

How to rank a site if i am not good writer ? Here comes PBN?

Play a game you can win

Or Find partners to team up with to play a game you can win.

Can you please give a brief overview of what’s seed keywords and making long tail keyword from it for contents marketing.

If it is an important keyword, then use a short main keyword and run Adwords to it and verify the customers convert.

Then if this is a very profitable site you can even test longer keywords the same way.

Then put in the effort to build the page. I am not sure if I understood exactly what you asked.

Can I ask you some more about your keyword research process ? You’ve already explained how important it is to run some Adwords to identify the most important keywords to target, the ones that will actually convert. But I wonder is there anything else you do before that, or during the Adwords campaign planning stage, to help identify buyer intent phrases ? Is there anything else you do to narrow down the list, before spending anything on PPC ? (For example, something that you might look at is the CPC value, to quickly zone in on the most commercially valuable phrases. But of course, this is too simplistic on its own, since there are many factors that affect the cost-per-click.) I’d love to get your thoughts on this or your process in general during the research stage.

Great. Here is another question that people hate the answer to.

I can see from your comment that you dig in, care and ask the questions. You just might do this.

If it is really important to know, or you don’t have a lot of experience with this market, them call them.

Find some leads or customers, then call them. Ask them a ton.

What’s the best way to find keywords to target without AdWords?

Go after the closest generic term, not the brand. Say you are selling Chevy Suburbans, (my car), but they won’t let you bid on the brand names.

Then I would run adwords ads for large luxury suv, largest suv, or or keywords like that. I would do my research on those visitors.

When analysing a clients backlink profile looking at the likes of authority, trust, citation flow and various other metrics, it is rare not to find any links that are unnatural. I have always taken the view of a small percentage of unnatural links amongst 100’s / 1000’s natural links in itself shows a natural backlink profile, vs that of a 100% natural profile does that make sense?

I have spent a lot of hours analyzing crappy links.

About the only thing I can tell you for sure is that when we removed hard penalties on big sites a huge part of the work we did was finding, analyzing and disavowing bad links.

We use Link Research Tools Detox tool. The Google engineers and AI are very smart.

That would make sense what you are saying.

What we do is sort them in order of horribleness, hand analyze, then disavow by domain starting with the worst ones first.

If the site is doing well, we never disavow more than a few percent of the domains linking in per month.

If the site has a strong penalty on it, then we might disavow 10 or 20% of the links per month.

What are your thoughts about EAT as a ranking factor? Any tips on how to improve it?

Google always wants what the user wants. We have won for over a decade by making pages that are clearly the most authoritative page on the internet on a given subject.

Users like pages like that, so the small percent of real readers actually stay a long time.

People who link will be more likely to link to a page like that. Manual reviewers, if they are doing that, will also be impressed by a page like that.

When we build a page for link building, we literally watch the client and others scrolling down the page.

If they don’t say WOW! or some other stronger word, then we go back and improve the page until they do.

#Question 1: They say the reason why new sites wouldn’t rank even for low competition keyword is because of the “sandbox theory”. Going by this theory “when is a new site expected to start gaining traction”? #Question 2: Does redirecting a domain to another domain ( in other to power it up ) boost ranking? If so, is there a limit to the number of “domains” that can be redirected to a “specific domain”?

1. Over the past 5 years each time we went really hard on link building and SEO on long established sites, we generally started seeing results about 6 months in and then revenue went way up at about 10 months.

One site I did from hand registering in a fairly easy .edu area also followed the same path.

Got to spot #1 for: BLANK Education, after about a year.

“Does redirecting a domain to another domain ( in other to power it up ) boost ranking?”

Yes without question it sometimes works.

I have a friend who has a multi million dollar business that he has run for over 10 years that only sells these and sells hosting for them.

Using these can create a pattern. “How come 25% of the links going to that site come from sites with expired domains that came back to life in the last year?

If I can figure that out that quickly, then Google engineers thought of that a decade ago.

If you did it, and the site was important, I wouldn’t do that with more than say one domain.

You could ask my buddy though who does these in mass if you have interest. Just PM me.