In this edition of Ignite University, Backlinko’s Brian Dean reveals some of the secrets to his site’s incredible success.
Beyond that, he explains why he deliberately forces people into an email funnel, how he uses industry studies to build links, and goes into detail on some exciting new strategies for YouTube.
Listen to the Podcast or Read the Full Transcript Below
John Lincoln: All right, everybody. Welcome to another Ignite visibility University. Today I have Brian Dean. If you don’t know about Brian Dean he’s actually been called an SEO genius.
By entrepreneur.com and a brilliant entrepreneur by ink magazine and Brian has this award-winning blog that I absolutely love. It’s called Backlinko, which was listed by Forbes as a top blog to follow in 2017This guy’s a real expert knows a ton about SEO knows a ton about YouTube and really just digital marketing in general. So I’m really excited to have him on Brian. Welcome to the Ignite visibility University podcast. How you doing today man?
Brian Dean: I’m great, John. Thanks for having me.
John Lincoln: Yeah. Glad to have you here. And where are you in the world right now. I remember you’re traveling quite a bit lately, where are you in the world.
Brian Dean: I’m in Lisbon, Portugal.
John Lincoln: Beautiful place over there, and also the Web Summit happens. So really kind of vibrant tech area that’s mixed with old world. Old World meaning, just like a place that’s developed over time and kind of older Europe that’s becoming modern day are you enjoying living there.
Brian Dean: Yeah, it’s cool for exactly those reasons you mentioned, you know, it’s a beautiful city. Ancient really. I mean, the Romans still Roman stuff here and it has an eye to the future with things like Web Summit and startups that are coming here and just more and more.
Startups are coming to Lisbon because they come to Web Summit, they fall in love with the city and they realize that they want to stick around to have an office here. So there’s a lot of stuff happening.
John Lincoln: Yeah, I found it really interesting. I was there at Web Summit and one of the things I remember, I’d be on a run and there would be kind of like tech tech buildings and then you look over to the left. And there’s this beautiful landscape and there are castles, You know that from from so long ago. And then my favorite part is there’s a surf break. They’re called nasseri and Nazarene has one of the biggest waves in the world. So it’s just a lot of cool stuff going on in that part of the world.
So Brian, tell us a little bit about what you’re up to nowadays, you know, we went through kinda you know your blog a little bit backlink go you know I’m sure that that’s a big focus for you. What’s your role looking like and what are you working on.
Brian Dean: It’s 100% Backlinko. So about, you know, three, four years ago now, I stopped consulting stopped doing anything else that wasn’t Backlinko. So my role, you know how this is John as a founder, it’s a lot of little things. But there’s one main thing you do. And it’s different for every founder. For me, it’s it’s creating content. So most of the day I spend either researching stuff for content, creating content editing it and proving it, kind of putting pieces together for design elements and things like that. But I would say my main thing that I work on now and most days is creating content.
John Lincoln: One of the things I love about your role in the lifestyle that you’ve been able to create for yourself is, you know, you get this pride of ownership in this amazing kind of publication and course that you’ve created. And, you know, you get to kind of live wherever you want. And so it seems like a good lifestyle.
Brian Dean: Yeah, I can’t complain. I like most people I should be more grateful. And say that I remind myself of that every single day, especially because before this, I was a freelance writer, which had some of the flexibility of, you know, being able to work from anywhere and stuff. But in general, it wasn’t great. There’s a lot of like client management pay is not great. You’re kind of creating content, but it’s for other people, like you said, you have, you don’t really have that same pride of ownership, because it’s going to somebody else. So it’s been an awesome ride. I started back like oh, about six years ago and it’s just been really fun. And yeah, I really enjoyed working on it.
John Lincoln: So tell me, just a little bit more about Backlinko, because one of the things that I’ve noticed and you don’t have to give us all your secrets or, you know, but it’s really interesting the way that you set up kind of the funnels on the website.
I mean, the first time I went there. I thought, oh, I, I kind of want to sign up for Brian’s course and check it out and learn and I couldn’t even figure out how to set it up. Right. So you’ve got like, in sign up, you’ve got a really deliberate system for the way that you do customer acquisition and content marketing and. So tell us, like what’s your goal with the site have, how have you set it up and you seen any successes there and tell us a little bit about that.
Brian Dean: So, yeah. You’re not the first person that has looked for that. And actually, a lot of people who don’t know this, you know, it’s backlink which is a online education company asked me, like, how do you make money or they think it’s like some sort of nonprofit SEO vlog. I’ve had people say that to me because yeah, which is not their fault. There’s nothing on the site about monetization. It’s 100% funnel to the email list.
So one thing I learned very early on with the business was that with the type of courses we put out which are really like comprehensive premium level courses. They’re not like quick little you Demi type style, it’s like everything you need to know about a topic and the price of the course is consonant with that people just aren’t really ready to convert on the first visit, you know, they’re searching for like that. Something about backlinks. They read a blog post those blog posts. Pretty cool. They’re not going to go the sales page and convert, it’s not really like an, I will call an impulse buy, but it takes a little bit more like relationship nurturing education about what it is, what it includes things like that.
And also it’s not open all the time. We only have an open enrollment about twice per year. So it’s not even really practical to do that. So what, that’s what that has allowed us to do is funnel everything towards the newsletter and focus the site on conversions for the newsletter, rather than trying to split things and have you know some people try to like our Facebook page and some people try to buy the course and some people to become email subscribers and other people to read suggested stuff and see our YouTube content. It’s really focused on the email list which has helped at the site convert really well.
John Lincoln: Really interesting and I’m seeing that more and more, you know, this really deliberate funnel strategy. I’ve seen some people set it up so that they run ads, the ad will then go to a landing page where you know you’re forced to watch you know a video that then you know captures your email and then kicks you to another video and I’m just seeing a lot of people, you know, taking time to really map out in nurture leads and tell pointed conversion for longer sales cycles, so that they can get the clothes because a lot of times you know it you know if I just saw one blog post from you. You’re right. You know, there’s, I wouldn’t sign up for a course and other people wouldn’t either. So seems like you know that’s a great tip for everybody listening here so Ignite visibility University listeners, you know, think about that. If you’ve got a longer sales cycle, you know, really warming those people up in the right way, you know, even creating a great video or something like that, you know, emailing them, nurturing them along the way until they’re ready to close. It’s something that’s worked well for Brian and something that I’ve seen that’s worked well for other people as well.
So Brian, one of the things that I’ve seen you do that you just crush it. I mean, you’re amazing at content marketing in general but I’ve been noticing over the last couple years you’ve been spending a lot of time on YouTube on tell us just like a little bit about YouTube. How’s that been going for you and and what’s kind of your strategy there.
Brian Dean: So it’s funny you asked, because if you asked me when I first started YouTube how it’s going. I was a terrible because it was one of those things I really struggled with YouTube. When I first started I had read all these stats, you know, YouTube is the second most popular website in the world, people spent hours on it. It’s growing all this stuff. So I thought it was just one of those things where you put up videos and they would go viral. And people are watching them and you’d be the next like famous internet marketing guru. So everybody didn’t really work out that way. I put up some videos and very few people watch them. I basically emailed the videos to my email subscribers and like exactly how many people clicked on that email or how many of us have video has it was like a one to one relationship. No one was outside of that, so I eventually, but I didn’t want to really give up on YouTube because I did see the potential in those stats stuck with me I couldn’t really turn away from the potential. I was there. So I stuck with it over time. I figured some things out and about a year and a half to two years ago, I kind of basically developed like an internal system for finding keywords and topics, creating videos, promoting them and optimizing them that has worked really well. And the most important thing that has been great.
In terms of YouTube is not so much like traffic and views and all that stuff. It’s that stuff’s nice, in a way, it’s a vanity metric. But what’s great is that when we survey customers. A lot of them cite the YouTube channel as a way they found backlink.
Oh, and a reason they ended up buying the course just because videos is really powerful medium, kind of like podcasting. You know something so personal about it, something so vivid compared to a text based blog posts that just you can’t replicate it so when people see a video from me on the channel, they’re much more likely to buy and every time we send out the the customer surveys that comes up again and again. Why did you decide to buy video. How’d you find us YouTube? So it doesn’t show up in the analytics as much but it shows up more in the bottom line.
John Lincoln: Yeah 100%, you know, we’re seeing the same thing. A lot of people kind of watching some of the videos that I’ve been putting out, you know, just to be 100% transparent, you know, I’ve tried it a couple different ways. So, you know, at one point, you know, it was i was going very keyword targeted with YouTube videos and then after talking to a lot other people have had other people kind of say, well, you know, YouTube is really more of a suggestion engine. So I find it interesting that there’s kind of two different ways you can go about it. And of course it’s best if you marry the two but I see some people go kind of more after the clickbait-y type of strategy where they’re they’re working more of the suggestion engine side I see other people go more deliberate on the keywords side.
Tell us a little bit about more about like how are you approaching that like optimization wise the tips you can give our listeners.
Brian Dean: I’m definitely promoting it from the suggestion side. So that’s the lesson I learned early on that one of the mistakes I made was really focusing on YouTube search because again, these stats you know it’s such a huge search engine. It’s the second biggest search engine millions of people search which is true. But whoever told you that YouTube is suggestion engine hit the nail on the head, because that’s exactly what it is. Yes, people do search for stuff on YouTube and find videos that way, but about 60 to 70% depending on the topic and the channel videos are from suggestions, either on the YouTube homepage, which is now you know 100% personalized, but most of them come from the suggestive video sidebar or underneath and mobile.
So when you’re watching a video those videos on the outside and the real key to getting a lot of us on YouTube is to keyword optimize your stuff. But you don’t want to keyword optimize it for ranking and search. You want to keyword optimized to rank and suggest a video. So what that means is you actually want to optimize it around keywords that are really popular and competitive, not around low competition keywords. Because even if you record number one YouTube. That’s nice, but it’s a lot more powerful to show up next to a video that’s already getting a ton of views because some of those people will click on your video and watch it.
John Lincoln: That makes sense. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I guess I remember when I first got started in YouTube. I was just absolutely terrible. And I’m still terrible, but I’m less terrible than then I was, you know, it takes time. You got to put in the effort. You know, you got to show up. You got to get comfortable on video, know what, what type of you know tips would you give for somebody who’s just looking to start a channel like just basic stuff. Is there anything else that our listeners would be interested in. Yeah.
Brian Dean: Two things come to mind. The first would be to think about before you start before you shoot anything. Think about your channels positioning and how it’s going to stand out. So even though. YouTube is really popular. It’s also really competitive.
So one way to stand out is to position yourself very early on as a little bit different. So for example, let’s say you wanted to create a site about fitness. It’s insanely competitive space in general, but especially on YouTube, but you could be like the biceps guy, or the girl who shows you how to get jacked arms, you know, whatever.
The point is that you have a little a niche that you can position yourself as that expert and then just create videos on that topic when you’re first starting out, which will help you stand out. Then as your channel gets traction, you can broaden out and cover other topics like you know cardio and core stuff or whatever but at first by having that niche, it’ll really help you stand out.
The other thing I would recommend is just get started with it. I find a lot of people with YouTube you called it, you know, showing up. I think that’s a great way to put it. Video as intimidating, you know, I’m like you John, I was not a natural on camera stretch of the imagination. I froze the first time the cameras turned I saw that little red light. I don’t know what it is about that little red light but it freaked me out and I started stuttering and stammering so I would recommend just like getting in front of the camera recording videos and just knowing it’s not live. It’s not live, you can always edit it, or delete or whatever. It’s just something like getting in front of the camera. And today, because I’ve been spent hours in front of cameras for YouTube videos and course videos, it’s like so normal. I sent it from the camera and I can, I can actually think of other stuff while I’m talking to the camera because it’s just so automatic at this point, but that was totally not the case at first, and it took years to get there.
John Lincoln: That’s awesome. That’s really, really interesting. You know, one other quick tip that I was just thinking of while you’re giving us all that great information. Another thing that I’ve seen that’s been good is creating playlists around a topic so almost even thinking about it, like from a website architecture perspective for SEO, but one of the things I’ve done is created a playlist that have, you know, many, many videos on the topic, what will happen is somebody will just watch all of those videos and then they’ll become a prospect and they feel like they already know our whole system they’re confident or abilities and stuff like that. So, so that can be a great thing too as well as playlist optimization.
So Brian, you, you have some great knowledge in YouTube. Thanks so much for sharing that. One of the things, and perhaps the thing that you’re known the best score is attacking probably the hardest problem. I believe in SEO and that is backlinks. So backlinking is tricky. And it’s something you’ve worked on a lot. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot for our own agency and I’ve always been, you know, kind of, you know, impressed by the way that you’ve approached it.
So one of the things I want to ask you today is, you know, I seen you’ve got some new things that you’re trying, maybe not new but things that you’re currently doing. One of them was industry studies. Are you finding that industry studies are a great way to build backlinks right now is that one of your core strategies. Talk to me about that a little bit.
Brian Dean: Yeah, so about three years ago now, you know, I was publishing the normal blog content, you know, let’s post and case studies and guides and stuff like that. And it was working. That’s kind of the foundation of any blog is that type of stuff. But I noticed that, for example, with a guide just didn’t get that many links like you know an Ultimate Guide to, you know, link building or on page SEO or whatever. It just doesn’t have that hook that makes someone want to link to it. The only time someone would link to it is if they’re writing like here are the, you know, great SEO resources about on page SEO and they would include mine. Which is great, but it’s doesn’t really scale and you’re not going to get a ton of links that way.
So about three years ago I decided to try an industry study for the first time, and it was like, I made a million mistakes. This is actually like a lot of sleepless nights. So for this study, I decided to do the biggest SEO ranking factors study ever so we analyzed a million Google search results, which now people have done like a whatever to hundreds of millions or whatever. But at the time, the biggest one was Moss and they looked at like 4000 keywords. We’ve looked at a million.
So the and I had no experience doing this sort of thing. So I hired a project manager who used to work at SEMrush. We hired a developer to scrape it and it was anyway, the end of the day, it was a lot of work and a lot of money. And it was a huge success that posted like ridiculously well. I haven’t looked at the numbers lately, but it was a huge spike in traffic that took weeks to die down because it got so many dark social posts, you know, people sharing it with their teams and stuff. And then it still gets linked to all the time even though the information. It’s kind of outdated. I would say it’s probably has like 1000 linking root domains, maybe more. Wow. Which from one post is like pretty insane. It was a lot of work, but it was it showed me that, like, Wow, this kind of thing can really work.
So since then, I’ve put out a couple more. We had one about YouTube, which is like a YouTube ranking factor is equivalent. That was a lot easier. We did a voice search one, which is a lot easier. That was like 10,000 we analyzed 10,000 voice search results. The only hard part of that one was getting someone to ask Google Home 10,000 different questions and cutting recording all the responses. So if you can find someone that’s like hardcore enough to do that. You can do you can do on with 20 or 50,000 or whatever. And we’ve done a couple more lately, where we partner with people who had data and they basically provided us with the data and we helped analyze and stuff, which is also a lot easier.
So the point of this all this say yes it works well. But I’d recommend, especially if you’re starting out, think of like how could I do this where it’s not super hard. So are there public databases that you can use, or the API’s. You can use, is there a developer other. Is there a developer, you can work with where he and she can help here. She could help you manage all this, so you don’t have to do all of it yourself. Or could you do a survey, which is a lot easier. You know, you can hire like serve you can use survey monkey and pay or Google surveys to get panelists and you can ask them different questions and then publish the results of the survey so data is great.
My only recommendation would be like, don’t do what I do when I first started, which was tried to do something too ambitious and too complicated. Even though ultimately worked out. I’d start small and then grow from there.
John Lincoln: That’s really good advice. Yeah, absolutely. And we, you know, so we do industry surveys and studies for clients and it goes really well you know usually will get 50 to, you know, 200 links you know for clients and media placements and sometimes we can embargo them. And I find that, you know, it can be, you know, you want to make sure that it’s it’s niche enough and novel enough so that people actually want to cover it. If you go too broad. It doesn’t seem like people are that interested in it. I think that’s one thing just to kind of keep an eye out for but you know the studies that you’ve done that, I absolutely love is you’ll get real data, you know, real data massive amounts of data, and that in itself makes it so it’s really buzz-worthy so so awesome stuff there.
And then I have another question for you. So one of the things that you’re, you’re kind of known for at least one of your strategies. One of your methodology is something called the skyscraper method and it’s something that’s referenced quite a bit. So do you ever use that in tandem with industry studies and maybe you could tell our listeners, just a little bit about skyscraper, and why it might be helpful for them now.
Brian Dean: Sure, so The Skyscraper technique is, is basically a strategy where you create content that’s specifically designed to get linked to and because I struggle with that process. I had trouble coming up with what people were linked to now I have a lot more experienced when I first started, I didn’t really know
when I create something if some will link to or not, I realized that all you really needed to do was find content that people already linked to you and your industry and then create something better, or a bigger skyscraper so that has worked really well. Also the technique, like you said, job. People have referenced it, which is great and I have apply this to industry studies because if you look at them, the ones that we put out. None of them are especially like novel like they’re not, no one’s done this before. It’s more of a bigger, better approach and in terms of sample size, but also in terms of digging a little deeper. So to give you an idea with the YouTube ranking factor study we did, we basically scraped a million YouTube search results and looked at all the factors like how long the video is whether it’s HD stuff like that and part of it was it was bigger than others were out there, but we also looked at factors that no one had looked at before, like the HD thing. How many comments that had most people looked at like a superficial level. Okay, this has, you know, this many views or something like that. We looked at different factors that were a little bit harder to to investigate. But it works.
So yeah, I definitely apply that there’s a place for just coming up with something completely original but another angle that you can use for this is to look at what’s already done well in your industry and then think of putting a study in there. So if a topic is hot coming in with an industry study can blow up like when we did the voice search study that was about a year and a half ago it was right when there was all this awareness in marketing about voice search and it did really well. Even though the study wasn’t especially like amazing or anything, just the timing was right, if we did it. Now, or if we did it six months earlier wouldn’t have done as well. So part of is keeping your ear to the ground and being like, Okay, what’s big right now, and where are people talking about stuff where there’s no data like the keto diet would be a good example. Now that’s blowing up. Maybe you could do like a survey about how people, how many people are doing it. If they’re struggling with it. I would you know you can’t obviously do like a study, study, like a nutrition study, but you can ask people what they’re eating and things like that to add some data and context to this hot topic. And you can get right in this conversation.
John Lincoln: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of funny you say that because I’m speaking at SM back on voice search. So next advanced voice search. And I was thinking about also doing an industry study about it. I’ve got this amazing deck but I was, I don’t want to do the industry study on it because I feel like so many people have done them you’ve done one right you attack that a while ago I may still.
Brian Dean: you still should because it changes so fast, too. That’s the thing. Mine is already kind of dated.
John Lincoln: Yeah.
Brian Dean: So, you know, you could just swoop in with a bat like just the fact that it’s 2019
John Lincoln: Yeah, 2019 voice search industry study. And maybe I’ll do that. Keep an eye out for that listeners will probably have one of those coming along the way, too.
So Brian awesome information super knowledgeable. I really appreciate all that stuff. One of the things I wanted to ask you, as we’re kind of, you know, wrapping up here, is there’s so much going on in marketing, right, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people about this recently I’ve got ideas on it. I just feel like there’s so many different directions to go so many new things that are popping up.
Is there anything that you’re really excited about that. You think you know is going to be big moving forward or that’s just kind of working for you. Now that’s that’s novel talking about that a little bit.
Brian Dean: So the number one thing I would recommend is going a little bit back to the future and focusing on email. So one of the things that I always come back to like when I don’t know what to do is build my email list. I remember this was when I was first getting started with like the whole there’s like eight I lost my first website. I remember I found some guru guy. I don’t remember who it was. I don’t think he’s around anymore and he had this thing where, at the end of the day, he would judge his work day based on did I build my email list today. And did I serve my email list today and I think because he was so psychotic about it, it resonated with me because especially because I was just starting out, I didn’t know I was like okay email must be important and ended up being this like super competitive advantage for me because everyone’s on to the next thing, whether it’s voice search or Snapchat or whatever, live video social video. You know, you know how it is. There’s always some new thing on the horizon that’s blowing up and it’ll at the end of the day, if you ask any online business like where most of their customers come from in terms of conversions. It’s always email. And so for me, that’s always been my focus and I I try not to get into like the next big thing as much. So I can really focus on email as kind of old school as that sounds.
John Lincoln: I love that you know we did this industry study on digital marketing, not too long ago we saw that businesses under 2 million are really investing the most in social media. Then, as they get bigger they invest a little bit more into SEO, then they start getting into SEO paid media and social. After they get over 10 million, they actually, it all starts evening out and then as they get larger and larger and larger, they start investing more and more an email and then an email actually ends up becoming somewhat dominant. And I believe that that’s kind of just part of like the natural progression of growing a list and then kind of, you know, having customers to be able to nurture that and work that list. And so Ignite visibility listeners. That’s a really good tip. Don’t ever forget about email. I feel like people think emails so old school actually went to dinner with this really, really smart CEO, the other day, and he’s like John, he’s like, I haven’t sent an email blast out and like two years, you know, I sent one out last week and you know customers went through the roof. Right. And it just because it’s not sexy. Just because it’s not Snapchat or it’s not like a Google action or it’s not, you know, a chat bot through Facebook Messenger that’s got augmented I mean made money people you know online. You got to feed your family, you know, I mean, gotta pay for your bills. Forget about all that shiny object syndrome. Yeah, Brian. I’m right with you on that one. Oh man, very hot, very well.
Brian Dean: Amen. Amen. My friend, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So last question I have for you before I want to kind of know what’s going on with you, moving forward, but I have to ask you, like on the SEO side. Like, is there any way that SEO is shifting for you right now or any tips or anything, or are you just saying kind of tried and true. Kind of like you were on the email. So I just focusing on content was working.
Brian Dean: Uh no with SEO, I do like to dabble into the next big thing, but mostly because I’m kind of like you. I’m an SEO nerd. So I love the like dabbling. It’s the new stuff as long as I have my business in order. You know what I mean, like, as long as I feel like I’m doing the basics, then move on to the next thing, and try some new stuff out. Plus, it’s kind of my job. Like if there’s this new thing and it blows up with chat bots. And I’m not on top of it. It’s fine. But if there’s new thing with SEO and SEO and I’m like, wait, what is that it’s a derelict of duty. Like, I need to be on top of this stuff. So I do keep an eye on new stuff and I’m always testing and experimenting and one thing that we’ve been trying lately that’s been working really well is going back to old content and improving and updating it and the tactics. Not that new but I feel like it’s getting like more interest now, and people are doing it because I think just so many sites just have tons of content sitting around and they’re producing new stuff. Meanwhile, to have this blog post and five years ago that was cool. At the time, but it’s five years ago, five years later, it’s not as good anymore.
And you can go back and update it. And literally like that double the traffic to the page as opposed to grinding out blog posts and building links and things like that. It’s like, it’s like a shortcut. If you already have a lot of content on your blog.
John Lincoln: Absolutely. There are so many old blog posts out there. Great tip, everybody. We’ve got two systems for that one’s our keyword multiplier system and another one’s called our money climber system. You know, there’s a bunch of different ways to go about doing it and we let’s not get into that maybe Brian and I will do a webinar someday on how to update the content and get the biggest bang for your buck out of it. Its probably another another episode but Brian’s traffic is through the roof. And that’s a great tip for everybody.
Brian last question I have for you today. What’s exciting for you coming up anything big, or you just kind of laying low lately working on the blog. Anything you want to shout out, just so people can follow you and see the next thing that’s coming down the pipe.
Brian Dean: Yeah, I have some cool content projects that I’m working on that are coming out to industry studies in the pipeline that are a little bit different than we analyze X, here’s we learned about why approach which there’s nothing wrong with those, but I want to try and some more like tech stuff, looking at some click through rate data that we’re able to get access to. So yeah, some cool stuff. The best way to keep tabs on all the stuff we’re putting out is to go to Backlinko.com and hop on the newsletter that we don’t miss out on any of this stuff.
John Lincoln: You heard it from Brian everybody go sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get a bunch of great information for free and probably eventually sign up and buys course and it’s well worth it.
Brian, thanks so much for being on today. Awesome interview and that will talk to you soon.
Brian Dean: Thanks for having me, John.