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Sean interviews SEO expert Jacob Kettner on the best ways to get your local business found on Google, how to get more online leads, and the major factors that affect search engine optimization.

Learn more about Jacob: https://firstrank.ca/

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Sean Corbett:
Today we’re going to talk about a topic that basically nearly everyone seems to want, which is to get ranked higher on Google, but you don’t want to listen to me. You want to listen to an expert. So today we’re going to be joined by Jacob Kettner. Jacob’s the owner and founder of First Rank Search Engine Marketing, which is one of the largest SEO agencies in Winnipeg. He specializes in helping local businesses get found by their ideal prospects online. So Jacob, thanks for joining us.

Jacob Kettner:
Awesome. Thanks for having me, Sean. I’m happy to be here.

Sean Corbett:
Let’s jump right in. Why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background and expertise, basically why people should listen to you about SEO?

Jacob Kettner:
Sure. It’s probably the only thing people should listen to me about. So I got into this industry about nine years ago. I started off with an e-commerce website and I was selling backyard patio furniture and fire pit tables and stuff. We were doing everything with paid advertising and it was working, but I just saw that there was a huge opportunity for getting free traffic from the search engines. So I started getting a bit deeper into it and we did some SEO for that business.

Then I started having friends reach out to me, hey, can you help me with my local business? The local business scene, which is kind of where we specialize now is… was so under saturated at the time. Less competitive, easier to get faster results for cheaper, that were actually more meaningful because people shopping e-commerce, they’re shopping around looking for things. In local business, if you need your furnace repaired, you’re going to call the first guy that shows up.

So we ended up… we put together… we threw together… I threw together, it was just me at the time, an agency site, we ranked for Winnipeg SEO in about three months. We’ve been top of the SERPS for that for going on eight years now and then it basically just grew from there.

Now our real specialty, like I mentioned, is local service based businesses that are kind of targeting a local audience. Our firm now is 15 people, basically we focus a lot of our time on research and further developing and reverse engineering Google’s patents and whatnot. So it’s kept me in my nerdy area where I like to live. So we just keep developing new processes and figuring out better ways to do things.

Sean Corbett:
That’s great. So you said you’re mostly focused on the brick and mortar businesses. Yeah, small businesses essentially.

Jacob Kettner:
Primarily we do. We do work with some e-commerce and SaaS, but it’s primarily the local businesses.

Sean Corbett:
Perfect. So before we get into more specific questions, I think we should maybe just take a step back and ask you, really high level, how does search engine optimization actually work?

Jacob Kettner:
Great question. So very high level, everyone wants to over complicate it. It’s about, we got to build links, we got to do all this stuff. Very simple concept. Google’s objective is to make as much money as they can. They make money from people using their platform, right. Clicking on ads, but if nobody’s using their platform, they don’t make money. People use their platform because they provide the best search results.

So our objective is to make client websites, or make your website, the best website for a specific query. What is somebody actually looking for when they’re searching something in Google? How do we make the website the best answer for that and how do we communicate that to Google? So Google primarily is looking at what’s on the website, what’s the relevance of the content, are there specific pages for the specific services that a business might offer?

Then they’re looking off the website at how does the rest of the internet interact? Do people mention this business? Do they link out to them? Do they reference content that’s on their site or are people sharing their blog posts? So there’s that, often referred to as off page SEO element, of what is the authority of the site, off of the site.

Then the third main area is the technical. So that’s largely page speed, mobile responsiveness, looking at how does the site actually function? Is it providing a good user experience for users? So you take those three things and you put them together and you really provide the best experience and Google will reward you for it.

Sean Corbett:
Now, just to go back to that, the off page SEO that you mentioned, would you include, say, socials, review sites, even forum mentions in that?

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah. Really any mentions, as long as they’re authentic. What got popular many years ago, and not to go too far down a rabbit hole here, but in the early days of Google, a lot of software was developed that would auto-post links on forum signature links. That stuff can actually hurt you more than it helps you, but definitely authentic mentions where people found value in something on the website and referenced it in a forum or on social, absolutely counts toward building that authority with Google.

Sean Corbett:
Nice. So now getting into some specifics here, I know that Ryan and I get asked a lot of times can we do X, Y, Z thing with SEO or can we help, or can we refer them to someone like you? I hope you could maybe cover some of the biggest misconceptions that a small local business often has about what either helps or hurts them on Google.

Jacob Kettner:
You know what, I’m actually going to give you a couple of answers here. First is probably just too narrow of a focus. This is something that we actually talked about just before we started recording, but basically saying the SEO is, I’m a lawyer in Winnipeg. SEO means ranking number one for Winnipeg lawyer. Absolutely that’s part of SEO, but it’s such a narrow focus. Really the focus for most businesses, the end goal, isn’t to rank at the top of Google. The end goal is to get more traffic, get more leads and make more revenue and grow their business.

So to do that, looking at more of a multi-channel approach is, what are our options for getting in front of people when they’re making that buying decision and when they’re searching for a solution for their problem? Looking at, what are our options in each section of Google’s page? What can we do in Google ads? What can we do in Google maps? What can we do with the actual website? Is everyone looking for Winnipeg lawyer or are people looking to solve specific problems? Do they need somebody that can help them? Maybe a divorce lawyer. Maybe it’s more specific than that. Maybe they need a custody lawyer for a common law case and people get real specific.

So thinking instead of myopically looking at where do we rank for our main service, it’s how can we build a strategy where we are providing value again in all areas of the search results and also for different search intents?

That’s probably the main one there. Loopholes would be number two. So that would be… I actually got a third one for you too. Number two is trying to trick Google, because there’s a lot of, and again more popular in the past, but there’s a lot of ways that you might get short term gains for long term pain. And SEO is really not about tricking Google into ranking something that shouldn’t rank, it’s about building that presence and authority and offering that value and being what Google wants you to be. Because if you find the loophole, it might work for a while, but long term, you’re not in line with what Google really wants.

Lastly, my number three here, I kind of addressed in number one, but it’s so many people I talk to and this kind of goes into Google ads, which is part of search engine marketing. It’s, say, we don’t want to do Google ads because nobody clicks on the ads. I have this conversation all the time. I scroll right past the ads. I don’t click on them. The beauty, we recommend anybody that’s doing an SEO campaign to have an integrated Google ads component to it because first of all, anybody that doesn’t click on the ads doesn’t cost you any money. So you’re just getting a free exposure that they saw your ad that you only pay if they click

Sean Corbett:
A little billboard at the top of the search, if you will.

Jacob Kettner:
Exactly, which actually, there’s some studies that show that it can increase the number of people that will click on an organic listing below the ads, if they see the ad. That’s just a huge thing where, and again this isn’t about Google ads, but the people try it they’ll run a smart campaign and they’ll spend a bunch of money and it won’t work. Again, completely different topic, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, Google ads is a great platform in conjunction with the maps and organic section and everything else. That’s a few misconceptions.

Sean Corbett:
For sure. And sometimes, in the past, we’ve seen people actually muddle the two up or maybe their provider was not being totally clear with them and they were saying, “Well, you want more traffic? We can get you more traffic.” Then we found out that they were just running generic Google ads and same deal as you said before: traffic, not leads, or traffic, not qualified leads. Then they’re going, okay, well, they don’t even know that that was Google ads. They just thought it was SEO. So now it’s super confusing.

That’s part of why we’re trying to talk to guys like you, is to make it clearer for the listeners of what’s going on. I really want to highlight two things, guys, that Jacob said there. And one of them was, that if somebody is promising you amazing, perfect results with tricks and sneaky tactics, and oh, it’ll be really fast and all this kind of stuff, probably they’re gaming the system. It’s probably a red flag.

The second one that was really interesting, because I’m a copywriter and marketer for a long time by trade, you were saying that the customer will tell you, “Oh, I don’t click on ads.” Well are you selling to yourself? Are you like the people that you’re trying to sell to?

So I would suspect from what you said, maybe you can correct me or confirm it, that if someone’s going to work with a guy like yourself to get the best results, they better be out there talking to their best customers. Not assuming what people are looking for online or thinking, but what words their actual customers are using when they’re searching online.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah, even one step further, setting up what’s called conversion tracking on the website. So you can track if somebody makes a phone call, that can be tracked. If somebody fills out a form, that can be tracked. It can be tracked back to how they came into the site and what they searched. So to look back, definitely talking to customers and getting feedback is a great way, but a lot of this data is available in tools like Google analytics or even in the Google ads dashboard, if it’s configured properly to give you that information.

Sean Corbett:
Beautiful. So now let’s pivot a bit. I wonder if you could offer our audience just a few easy wins that they could do to immediately see some improvement in their SEO.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah, for sure. So the absolute easiest place to succeed in SEO without spending a bunch of time or money, is in the Google Maps section. The reason for that is that the algorithm in Google Maps is a little bit different than that in search, in that it searches primarily based around relevance and authority, maps is based around relevance, prominence, and locations. So we could say prominence is similar to authority, but that third one is location.

A lot of people listening might have searched a term that they wanted to see, they searched Winnipeg lawyer from their office and say, “Hey, we show up in that three pack of the maps results at the top of the search results page.” That’s quite common. If you don’t show up there from your office, there’s probably a bit of an issue. By doing a few fairly simple things in that Google My Business profile, you can expand that radius. So maybe you don’t rank across the whole city, but if you can turn two blocks into eight blocks there’s definitely some wins to be had there.

So basically that profile, most people miss filling out a lot of aspects of it. So first, step one, claim it. A lot of businesses haven’t claimed their Google profile yet. So if you don’t have access to it, claim it. Then two, fill out everything. Upload pictures. There’s five different categories of pictures, interior, exterior, owner pictures, 360 degree pictures. You can add 360 degree pictures from your phone. You don’t need a 360 camera, you can download the Google street view app and take 16 pictures around where you’re standing and you can upload it directly to your Google maps listing. So that’s something a lot of people aren’t doing. Just populating all of the possible fields, putting in the services that you provide, your hours of operation and everything in there.

Then the big one, the really big one is reviews. Right now I have so many stats on reviews. We know that the majority of people, its over 90% of people, search for local businesses online. Over 90% of people trust online reviews as much as personal referrals from friends, but there’s also, I forget the exact percentage. I should have looked it up before, but there was an alarming number of percentage of people that have chosen not to do business with a business that they otherwise would’ve done business with based on online reviews. So that’s an easy one and it helps not only… Yes, it’s a ranking factor, it’ll help you show up better in the maps. But also imagine that you’re number one in the maps and you have a four star rating and the number two and number three guy have a 4.8 star rating. It’s not helping you to be at the top if you don’t have the best reviews too. So that’s probably my biggest —

Sean Corbett:
In conjunction basically.

Jacob Kettner:
It helps and if you are that third guy in the maps and you have better reviews and Google sees that more people are clicking on yours than the first and second guy, Google’s going to adjust the rankings and put you at the top. So it all works together.

Sean Corbett:
Nice. Good to keep in mind. I wonder if you could take us through maybe an example of a small business that had a particular problem and you guys were able to come in and help with it.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah. So actually I’m going to tell you about one of our first clients who’s an electrical company in Winnipeg here. They were a fairly small company when we started working with them. They had, it was two partners and two apprentices. They came in and they said, “Man, like we’ve tried everything. We’ve worked with like three different SEO companies and there’s… We’re not getting results.” I came in, it’s not actually funny, but the site had actually been… Well first of all, the site had been hacked and nobody had noticed. So basically some hacker had injected over 1000 pages of content that was linking out to gambling and porn and bill sites. So that was really hurting, irrelevant. Then on top of that, they had done some of the more loophole style SEO. So they had links coming into their website that were on, again, questionable sites.

So we came in there, we had to. First we cleaned up the hack. Then we had to go through all of those 1000 pages and request Google to stop indexing them because Google will still show results even for pages that no longer exist. So we had to go through and make sure that Google understood that those pages were gone, gone, and were never supposed to be there and then we started. There’s a process where you can go into Google, it’s called disavow and you can basically say please ignore these links that were built because basically, sorry, I worked with a bad SEO provider and please forgive me. So we went through and did those and that was cool because it took about three months to get all this cleaned up.

After three months we were on first page of Google, I think after about six months, we were the number one spot where we’ve stayed for again, pretty much since then. It’s been really cool to watch this business grow because they, and I can’t take all of the credit, they do commercial and industrial work that doesn’t primarily come from search engines, but they’re up to 75 employees now. That was a cool growth.

Part way through that, maybe about halfway between then and now, I actually had an opportunity to partner with the owners of that business on a solar venture. We marketed via SEO primarily and were able to scale that extremely quickly and do over seven figures in revenue in our first year. So that was kind of a cool… I have lots of stories, but that’s the one that stands out because it was one of my first clients and it turned into obviously a very good friend and business partner. But that was a cool process to watch over the past… Watch and be a part of over the past eight years.

Sean Corbett:
Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, your results may vary, but that one’s excellent results. It’s also funny because I think even when I asked the question, I was thinking folks, someone’s starting from zero, let’s say, and going to improve. I didn’t think they’d be starting in the negative.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah and you know what? That’s actually a good point, starting from zero. It’s not maybe, not the point that you were making, but since you brought it up. Starting from zero isn’t… SEO’s not necessarily the first thing that businesses want to do from marketing perspective. Not trying to down sell myself here, but it’s… Doing the Google My Business stuff, getting the reviews, all that stuff, getting the pages structured properly, but SEO is a longer process. In that example, that was years ago, it was results for three, six months. Sometimes in more competitive industries, if you’re starting from zero it can be nine or 12 months before you’re really starting to break even month over month on what you’re putting into SEO. Whether you’re doing it internally or externally, there’s going to be costs involved there.

So it makes a lot of sense for a business that’s kind of starting to… In growth mode… looking to take over some competitors and really be one of the number one players in the city. There’s other places that I’d probably put my money with a brand new business where, even Google ads or Facebook ads where you’re going in and every dollar you spend, you’re getting viewers immediately. Versus this kind of long, build process. So it was just something I wanted to mention.

Sean Corbett:
No, that makes sense. Then it also ties back into the point you said earlier, where you’re, once you’re getting some good organic traffic, whether its outbound calls, referrals, ads. Then, like you said, you can look at your stats and see what people are searching to get to you and get a little bit more accurate picture on what you want to target, right?

Jacob Kettner:
For sure, yeah.

Sean Corbett:
Excellent. Well, and again, I know you said it was kind of an extraordinary result and it happened a couple years ago and stuff, but if someone were listening now right now and they wanted to fix or improve their SEO, how would they go about working with you?

Jacob Kettner:
So I think… basically our, I’m going to call it a sales process because it is, but our sales process is a little bit different than I think most marketing companies or companies in the industry. We really don’t take on clients that we don’t think should be doing SEO, but we do put in the time to evaluate that and figure out where the opportunities are and the strategy. So it may not be the sexiest offer, but probably the most value that I can provide is to say get in touch and go through. Our sales process is basically, it’s three calls. It’s a 15 minute call where we’re going to get some information. It’s a 45 minute call where we’re going to share some information and get some more information. Then the third call is basically where we’ll present what we found and where the opportunities are and what we think the strategy is and whether or not we think we’re a good fit.

So that includes basically an audit that if people come in it, it’s kind of see if people come in for one time work and say, “Hey, we just need an audit”, that audit would be probably $800. But if people come in and say, “Hey, we’re interested in potentially working with you on SEO”, that audit ends up being free. Along with… not that I’m encouraging people to waste our time, but if this is something that you’re interested in, please reach out. We’ll put the time in and at the end of that third call, whether or not we end up working together, you’ll walk away with a much better understanding of where the opportunities are to get better results and that can… You can take that and do what you will with it.

Sean Corbett:
Excellent. So step one is really to request that SEO audit of their site.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah.

Sean Corbett:
Perfect. How… what would be the best way? Email, telephone, both?

Jacob Kettner:
Just Google us. No, just kidding. Our website is firstrank.ca. I assume there’s a link somewhere around the podcast, but you’re probably driving if you’re listening to a podcast. So that might not help, anyway… Yeah… Our phone number’s on our website, there’s always somebody here in the office. We’re a local team, we don’t offshore anything, so we’ll pick up the phone and schedule something with you. Or if you’re a millennial and more comfortable filling out online forms, like I am, fill out the online form and then we’ll call you. Perfect.

Sean Corbett:
There you go. I got lots of different options. So that’s firstrank, all one word, firstrank.ca. The phone number is (204) 272-7265.

Jacob Kettner:
Yeah, which happens to be 272-rank.

Sean Corbett:
That’s awesome. I really appreciate you coming to talk to us today, Jacob. Thank you.

Jacob Kettner:
Awesome. Thanks so much for having me, Sean, really appreciate it.