Jeff Oxford is the Founder and SEO Director of 180 Marketing, an ROI-focused SEO company with a proven track record of success. Over the past 12 years, Jeff has worked on 100's of SEO campaigns for both small startups and large enterprise brands. He frequently speaks at many popular industry conferences and has also contributed articles to Forbes, Internet Retailer, and other publications on the latest cutting-edge SEO techniques.
On this episode, we discuss 180 Marketing's Five Step SEO Process, common misconceptions about SEO, optimizing content marketing, and much more.
What is 180 Marketing
Jeff Oxford: I started 180 Marketing back in 2013. Short of it is we're an e commerce SEO company. So we only do SEO and we only do it for e commerce sites.
Alex Bond: Wow, that is short. I like it. Why just e commerce sites? Is there a particular reason? I mean, I can understand the value of being niche. Why that decision?
Jeff Oxford: So I kind of fell into it, you know, when I was in my College years, I was trying to get some passive income. So I started a few drop shipping sites here. I was a college student trying to make beer money.
So I started a e commerce site selling beer pong tables, got some sales there, ended up selling it to a manufacturer started another e commerce site that sold three 3d printers online. I just, I don't know. I had experience with e commerce. I was fascinated by it.
So I thought might as well just stick there, but also, you know. But like you mentioned, it's good to kind of niche, niche down. There's so many SEO companies out there, but if you're like the SEO for e commerce sites, the SEO for real estate agents or for law firms, I feel like that kind of also makes you stand out.
Alex Bond: No, I can totally dig that. And honestly, your story is about as authentically entrepreneurial as I've ever heard. We started selling beer pong tables in college. Like it's extremely entrepreneurial. I appreciate it.
So in SEO marketing, before we kind of get started about your process. In 180 marketing, what is the ultimate goal in SEO marketing? I mean, is it as simple as, you know, the top Google result upon a request or what is it?
Jeff Oxford: Yeah, there's a few KPIs or key performance indicators. We look at the most important is revenue. So again, we're working with only e commerce sites, so we want to make sure that. Now when we check Google Analytics, their organic search revenue is going up year over year.
So that's the main one. We also want to keep an eye on organic search traffic, make sure that's trending up. But here's the thing, if, you know, you can create a bunch of blog posts that could rank well and drive a lot of traffic, but if that traffic's not converting into revenue, It's not going to be that valuable for you.
Alex Bond: Yeah, no, I think that makes a lot of sense. Honestly. I mean, I think in the more meta of like, okay, yeah, you'd like the top Google result, but if that doesn't actually turn into profit, then that's pretty much just an achievement or a badge that doesn't really serve any actual purpose.
So what are the roles of the nine different team members that work on a client's campaign, because that's something that your website has said y'all are really proud of is the attention that you give to clients. So you have nine different team members on a campaign. What are all their different roles?
Jeff Oxford: Yeah, I'll break it down to kind of the few main departments we have, and they kind of break that down further. So at a high level, there's really only three teams we have. There's the SEO specialist. This is doing like page optimization, fixing technical SEO issues, doing internal linking.
Then there's the content team. That's creating blog posts, category descriptions. And then there's the link building team. Those are the ones that are going to be promoting the content, pitching product reviews and doing other link building content marketing plays.
In most SEO efforts, you can kind of segment it down to just those three buckets, like on page SEO, content link building, we can break it out further. So like our link building team, we have the. The website researcher who's trying to find prospects of sites we can reach out to link building is one of the most important ranking factors.
We want to get as many other websites linking back to our clients websites as possible. And as those backlinks come in, they're going to move up higher in the rankings, get more traffic, and get more revenue. So we have the person who's finding those websites to contact. We have the person who's actually reaching out, sending the emails, and conversing with them.
We have the strategist who kind of puts together the game plan of, which niches do we want to target? Which angles are we going to use for each niche or how can we personalize these emails to get a higher response rate then on the on page SEO side, we have your typical SEO specialist who's in the weeds updating title tags, meta descriptions.
We have an SEO developer who does the technical audits, making sure that, you know, the code looks good, how sites be looking. Is there any, any issues that could impact crawling or rankings?
And we also have like an SEO strategist who looks to see like what game, like higher level, like scope out the game plan. What does the next six months need to look like?
How much focus do we put on page optimization versus content versus link building. What does the site actually need? So there's no fluff. And then on the content side, it's a writers and editors. So as you can see, there's a, you know, you've got three main components of SEO, but within that, there's a lot of moving parts.
Alex Bond: And I love it. That's per campaign. That's not just like your people who work for marketing. That's all the people that each client is getting kind of at their disposal.
180 Marketing's five step SEO Process
Step 1: The discovery stage
Alex Bond: So for the rest of the conversation here. I want to break down essentially the five step SEO process that y'all provide kind of kind of beat by beat, if that's all right with you in the first stage of this five step process, you call it the discovery stage, you essentially perform an audit on a client's website. What are you really looking for during this step?
Jeff Oxford: So when we first hop on a client, we're not there to even like pitch our services or talk about ourselves. We just want to see is there enough SEO opportunity to justify an investment in SEO. And the way we do that is we want to see how much search volume are there for their keywords.
We want to see how competitive are those keywords from doing that? You know, if their main keywords are only getting, you know, a hundred or 200, a hundred searches per month, it probably doesn't make sense spending a few thousand a month on an SEO campaign. Maybe it's just, maybe SEO is not the best channel.
Well, you know, this is usually the case for like if someone creates like a new product market that hasn't really existed yet and people don't know about it, You know, if no one knows about it, they're not going to be searching for it. So SEO is usually not the best channel for those types of like new products that someone invented.
Whereas if you're selling something that everyone knows, like a protein powder, gaming laptop, you know, whatever it might be, there's so many searches per month. And those might have a lot more search volume and be more lucrative if you can get some good rankings.
So we want to see first off how much search volume is there for the target keywords and then how competitive it is. And if a site kind of has a lot of keywords that are high search volume, low competition. We can then move forward to the next part of the campaign, which is kind of scoping things out.
Alex Bond: That's great. And I read that you do this step essentially before a client really signs anything and hearing you talk about it just now. It's like, if this is even going to be a good match, right? Do you essentially perform this audit totally free of charge?
Jeff Oxford: Yeah, we do it free of charge. People reach out, we hop on zoom, we pull up the rankings on screen, we show them, you know, here's where your positions are, here's where you need. We'll also kind of talk about any potential risk factors.
So for example, e commerce site has thousands of pages, you're diversified. We're not putting all our eggs on just one basket or one keyword or one page, you know, we have all these pages we can use to increase rankings and traffic, but if you have a small site with just one product and there's only one keyword going after you're going to live or die by that one keyword.
And if that keyword happens to be stubborn, it's going to be a lot more risky and like another risk factor that we always let people know about is if you have a premium product. It's always going to be harder to rank in Google, whereas if you have kind of like a budget product, you know, it's much easier.
This is why you see Amazon and Walmart. They rank so well. The reason for that is if you have a hundred people searching for, let's just say like lamps. Let's say I'm just looking at my office lamps. You got a hundred people looking for lamps. Most people, I'd say the majority are looking for the most budget.
You know, I just want something that looks decent. It's cheap. You might have like 10 to 15%, maybe even 20% that's looking for a premium high end lamp. Masses just want something cheap. So if Google sees that everyone's clicking on the cheap option staying there, but then most people, when they click on the expensive option, they hit the back button, go back to the cheap option.
That's a very strong signal to Google that maybe this shouldn't be ranked as highly. So that's why naturally you'll see lower cost products kind of float to the top. And the more expensive premium brands usually don't rank as well.
Alex Bond: No, that's extremely insightful. That makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I'm looking for luxury, but this is even too much luxury for me.
Jeff Oxford: One thing I'll add is a during and during this kind of discovery process, we end up only taking on about half the clients that reach out to us. And that's just because a lot of cases, there's just not potential for us to bring.
And having done this stuff for over a decade, having those conversations up front goes way better than six months down the road. They've spent thousands of dollars and now they're finding out it's too competitive or now they're finding out there's not enough search volume.
Step 2: The research stage
Alex Bond: So in the 2nd stage, after the discovery stage in the SEO process, you'll perform essentially, the research stage, you investigate the client's competitors, websites, Google analytics, ratings, keyword research tools, and a bunch of other valuable information. Do you find the client's competitors? Or is that something that the client typically provides to you.
Jeff Oxford: Both. So we'll say like, Hey, what are the competitors that you're keeping a pulse on that you're checking that you're curious about? And then we'll also check through our own research to see like, what are the true Google? SEO organic competitors that are also ranking for the most keywords.
So that just gives us kind of a more consolidated list. And during the research process, we want to see how many pages need to be optimized. You know, if it's a bigger site, we want to know, we want to prioritize and be strategic.
Like if we're investing resources into optimizing a page, we want to make sure that there's a lot of value from it. So we always want to like do a bunch of research. We want to see like, what are your competitors? Right. Like do a content gap, what are your competitors writing about that you haven't covered yet?
Make sure we're kind of filling in those blanks. We want to do research on the technical side to see, you know, what technical SEO issues do we need to investigate? So there's a lot of research that goes in. We'll kind of plan out the first six months and say, see, what are we going to do the first two weeks?
What are we going to do the first month? What are we gonna do the first few months and have it all broken down from the beginning so we know exactly what we're going to do. There's no fluff and kind of the whole SEO foundations laid out.
Alex Bond: Yeah. I think they say fail to plan, plan to fail. How do you determine the value of certain keywords over others? I mean, what makes certain keyword phrases more valuable to a client than others?
Jeff Oxford: Number one is going to be the search volume. So using different tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush or Google Keyword Planner, you can see how many times a keyword is getting searched per month. So obviously the higher the search volume, the more traffic potential that keyword has.
We also want to look at the search intent. If someone searches for something like hair extensions, you don't know if they're looking to buy hair extensions. You don't know if they're trying to research what it is. You don't know if they want to look at like, it could be a transactional search.
It could be an informational search. You don't know what they're looking for. So that, you know, that could have high search volume, but maybe it's not going to convert as well if someone's searching like blonde hair extensions. Well, now it's a little more specific, a little more detailed. They're probably looking to purchase.
So looking at the intent of the keyword and trying to understand what is someone looking for when they search this? Are they looking to go to a category page or product page and buy something, or they just want some general information?
Alex Bond: That's very interesting. Never really thought about that when it comes to intent. What's the typical amount of of keywords that you try to find for a client, how many words should should be used if it's a phrase, I mean, you mentioned that that one probably isn't isn't great, right? So what is that number?
Jeff Oxford: The more keywords you can target, the better. There are some sites where you only have a few, like one or three keywords that you can really go after. And you just kind of have to go all in and go heavy on those.
But I'd say it's all dependent on on the industry, like. You know, you're going to have some industries, have a massive catalog. There's going to be thousands or tens of thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of keywords you're going after.
And in sites like that, it's going to be more of a kind of a macro approach. You might not be optimizing every single page. You're going to look more for like, what are the general site wide changes can I make to help all these keywords up? You know, that could be things like improving site speed.
If you improve the speed of a website, every page now is getting a little bit of a boost, or maybe your, your internal linking structure, your website structure, your top nav. If you get that dialed, then everything starts ranking better.
So you kind of have the micro versus macro, you know, again, macro, a big site. You're looking at what can I do to impact thousands of keywords? Whereas a smaller site, you're saying you can get more into the weeds and like, let's optimize this page. Let's optimize the content on this page. The strategy and technique is going to be different based on how large the site is.
Alex Bond: I'm interested too. We kind of laid the groundwork on this next question is, you know, what's the difference between SEO keywords that simply market a business versus ones that actually increase the revenue of a business?
Jeff Oxford: You see this most in blog posts. So like people, most e commerce store owners I've talked to, they think they need to have a blog. They think they need to just be. Cranking out content for the sake of creating content and there's not a lot of strategy that goes into it.
And these blog posts, you know, they could rank for, for lots of great keywords. Going back to the hair extensions example, let's say you're selling hair extensions online, having a page. What are hair extensions? You could rank and drive lots of traffic, but if someone's searching, what are hair extensions? They're not going to buy anything. They're they, they don't even know what it was a second ago.
So if they're searching for it, probably not going to buy it. Whereas if someone searches for like, Natural versus synthetic hair extensions. They might be in the research stage, looking to purchase something. If someone's searching like best hair extensions, now there's more buying intent.
They're probably still doing research or someone searches like a hair extensions for cancer patients. Like it's very clear, like what the intent is. So it kind of goes back to, we talked about earlier is you want to find keywords that have a. Conversion, a search intent where the person searching that keyword is likely to make a purchase or transaction.
Step 3: The optimization stage
Alex Bond: So moving on into the third stage of the process, optimization. How do you implement those keywords specifically into a website?
Jeff Oxford: So the few things we want to do, like, let's say we'll stick with like gaming laptops. So you want to rank for gaming laptops, you're going to have your gaming laptops category page. You want to put the keyword and the title tag.
The title tag is that blue link that shows up in Google search results. If you're using Chrome, it's also the text that shows up in the tag. The tab, that's the title tag. So it's one of the most important ranking factors and you want to have your keyword as close to the beginning of that title tag as possible.
So you'd start off with just like gaming laptops and then maybe you have something interesting there, like, you know, lowest prices on the market or free shipping on all orders over X or something captivating to get them to click you, it's also like add headlines. And Google search results. If you think about it, so you wanted the keyword in there.
You also want to put in the meta description, but those two lines of black texts that show up in Google search results under the title tag. We've had the keywords in there. Google's going to bolt it. It's going to make it more captivating. You're going to have a higher click through rate.
Then on the page itself, you want to put on the heading, you know, at the top, you want to have a header that says gaming laptops, make sure that's their front and center, and then you want to have a content typically at least around 200 words of content talking about.
You know, your gaming laptops, the benefits of gaming laptops, why they're better than normal laptops, the different brands you sell and any information about like your, your return policy or shipping policy, any information that'd be helpful for someone looking to purchase gaming laptops. You'd want to have that in there and you want to have.
So, you know, it could be gaming laptops. It could be you want to use related keywords as well. Like if you're selling gaming laptops, you better be mentioning Intel or Nvidia or AMD, or maybe you mentioned Fortnite and you want to use kind of closely related terms to, you know, gaming laptops. So when Google sees like, okay.
This is a very comprehensive page and it's covering gaming laptops and kind of related topics. I feel safe ranking this higher for gaming laptops. RAM, SSD, gigahertz. You know, Google doesn't expect to see all those types of keywords on a page selling gaming laptops.
Alex Bond: So what are some strategies that brands often overlook when attempting to use these keywords? Because the advice you gave is great, but there's got to be a reason that it doesn't always work. So what are the things that brands are overlooking?
Jeff Oxford: A lot of times, a lot of brands just Don't put content on category pages. You know, it's like, Hey, we got products on this page. They can buy it. Great. And that's true. And you know, it's going to give users what they want, but it's search engines, they need more context. Like they want to understand the page.
And one of the ways they do that is through contextual content. So I'd say for some reason, a lot of branches overlook having any content on category description. And I'm not saying drop a wall of text and make your beautiful category to script category pages, like ugly, you know, you want to also be very user focused and have a good user experience.
So maybe you just show a few lines and you have a read more button that will expand, give the whole description, or maybe you put some at the top and some at the bottom. There's kind of workarounds where you can still make your category pages look great while also giving Google what it wants.
And then as far as actually including those keywords, there's two tips that worked really well. You just search your keyword, scroll down to the bottom of Google and look at the related keywords. So like, you know, if I was to type in gaming laptops, and I was to scroll down to the bottom of Google.
It's going to say things like if I go to Google image search, you know how that they had that refinement bar at the top of Google image search, Google's giving you all these related terms and keywords to whatever you search.
So I just put in gaming laptops and I see things like alienware, Lenovo, windows 10, Core i7, Custom, Gamer, Keyboard. So they're kind of telling you all these great keywords that you can sprinkle into your content. So it's going to be more relevant and rank better.
Alex Bond: I can imagine you giving that example reminds me that added products are probably important too, in terms of like, let's say I'm searching for a gaming laptop probably going to be the same person who might be looking for a gaming mouse, or a gaming keyboard, or other products that aren't necessarily what they were looking for, that can also then be pitched to them. Is that something that kind of goes into the SEO for e commerce brands at the same time?
Jeff Oxford: Yes and no. So like, if you have a page on gaming laptops, you want to be as hyper focused on gaming laptops as possible, but you can still bridge and make connections to your other products.
So maybe from your gaming laptops, you have a section, it could be at the bottom. It says like, You know, related categories, and then that's linking off to your gaming mouse's page, your gaming keyboards page.So you can kind of take it a step back for a second, not just looking at the page, looking at your site structure. You can organize your site in a way where it makes sense.
So you have like, it could be gaming laptops, and then you also have, you know, gaming mouses, gaming keyboards, and they're all kind of referencing each other in the same hierarchy. And then underneath that, you have your products. So you can kind of build out this hierarchy and structure your website. And there's nothing wrong with cross linking between pages.
Step 4: The technical analysis stage
Alex Bond: Moving on, during the technical analysis stage of the process, which in my personal opinion, you can give us more insight on that, seems to be the most specialized service that you provide. What specifically are you essentially analyzing when you look at a company's website?
Jeff Oxford: The main thing we're looking at is can Google and other search engines crawl every page on this website? Is it easy for search engines to get to the pages that we're trying to rank once they get to those pages? Are they going to see everything they need to index that page so it actually can show up and rank well, and once it's indexed, does it have the necessary factors in place so that way it's going to rank as good as it could.
So if I talk about the indexing part, you want to make sure you're not blocking your pages and your robots. txt file. This is kind of a file that every website has. I could go to your website. Put in slash robots. txt at the end, and I can see how your files configured.
So you always want to make sure Google can get to your, get to every page in your website. Once it gets there, you want to make sure it's indexable. You don't want to have no index tag. You don't want to have duplicate content issues that could prevent Google from indexing your pages.
And then on the ranking side, you have things like site speed. Now that, that can help your rankings. You have things like schema or structured data, which, you know, the short of it is if you search a product and they Google, maybe you see that star rating under Amazon with the price and the reviews, that's comes from what we call a structured data where in the source code, you can give search engines additional information about your products.
So when they're displayed in Google, they have that star rating, they have the price and that's going to take more real estate in the search results to get you a high click through rate. So within each of these indexing or crawling indexing ranking buckets, there's a lot of little tweaking and finagling can do to make sure you're maximize your pages can rank as well as strongly as possible.
Alex Bond: And that's not something that anyone can really like do. I can't just probably I mean, maybe a little bit go through my website and determine what are the specific things that are below the surface that are getting in my way a little bit.
Jeff Oxford: It's for sure the most technical part about search engine optimization, like You know, it kind of touches on coding, you know, it's something where developers going to get involved a bit more has a little more complexity than the other parts of SEO.
Step 5: The link building stage
Alex Bond: In the final stage link building, which you talked about a little bit already, you're essentially establishing healthy links to a client's website, which is known to be a vital strategy in increasing SEO ranking. What determines the difference between a healthy backlink versus a toxic one?
Jeff Oxford: That is a very important question because you have people they'll go on Fiverr. They'll say, hey, I can get 300 backlinks for 12. And you know, they're thinking they're doing themselves a service. This used to work really well, like 15, 20 years ago.
But nowadays, if you're just kind of doing this quantity over quality approach and getting all these junky directory links or forum links or blog post comments. If Google sees that, that can actually work against you and in some cases harm your website and your rankings and get penalized.
So we always want to make sure building quality links and what is a quality link? Well, You will first, you want to make sure it's relevant. If you're selling gaming laptops, getting a link from a pet blog, isn't going to do much for you. You want to get links from computer hardware sites, from gaming websites. The more relevant, like relevancy plays a huge place. You want to make sure that the source is relevant.
You'd also want to look at the authority of the website and using tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush. Moz, Majestic, there's ways you can see they have some SEO metrics where they can say they give every domain on the website a score one to a hundred and the higher that domain rating score, the higher that domain authority score, the more valuable a link from that site is going to be.
But most what I just described, a lot of people just stop right there and that's it. But there's kind of a few other checks that we do to be even more careful. We want to see what's the traffic trend of this website. Are they growing or do they. Are they a spammy website? They got penalized and their traffic fell off a cliff.
So if we see that a site lost a huge amount of its traffic year over year, we don't want to touch it. We also want to see who else are they linking to. So we'll see, are they linking to sites that sell like pharmaceuticals or crypto or CBD or, you know, some of the casinos. If we see that the link into this, it's kind of a sign that they're just a link farm. They'll link to anybody who has, who has a wallet. Google's pretty good at discounting those types of backlinks.
The last thing we want to see is where's their traffic source coming from. If we have a client who's trying to rank in the US, we want to make sure the site we're reaching out to, most of their traffic comes from the US. So those are just some of the checks that we'll do to make sure that the links can actually provide value and not cause any harm.
Alex Bond: That's great. Also in this stage, you're providing content marketing, right? With designed specific infographics that help provide valuable backlinks to, you know, different blogs and stuff like that. How do you decide where these infographics that you and your team are taking the time to design for a client? How do you decide where they go?
Jeff Oxford: So we always want to have it live on the client's website. So basically what we'll do is we'll create like an infographic or a research page. We'll do a big statistic, create like a big report of industry statistics. Bunch of different angles we can take. We want it to live on the client's website.
And then we want to promote it out there to a bunch of other relevant blogs. So again, relevancy being, being key. And we want to, you know, for example, let's say gaming laptops, maybe we create a recycling guide on like how to recycle your gaming laptop, gaming laptops, or just laptops, and we could then promote that.
It's like a bunch of like different websites, like eco friendly websites. We could promote it to like we've gotten success getting links from like local county government sites that have like a sustainability resource section. And we can get, have them mentioned to it. We can also do infographics on things like or statistics.
We could do gaming statistics of 2023 or how has the pandemic impacted gaming when everyone's at home that we see a rise in gaming, where does that look like, and then kind of pitch that to a bunch of journalists for a variety of gaming websites out there.