The game of search has evolved into something far beyond just optimizing your site for Google alone.
Digital marketers are pressured to deliver results and are often conflicted about which marketing channels to prioritize or add into the mix.
“You don’t want to focus on one way of getting traffic.” That’s the advice of Craig Campbell: a well-known SEO professional from Glasgow and PageOptimizer Pro’s #1 most influential SEO of 2020.
We had a chance to catch up with the man behind the SEO YouTube channel that welcomes you with “knowledge bombs that will make you money” – to get his take on the latest SEO trends, digital marketing tools worth checking out, and agency life.
Read on and glean new insight as he shares bits of hard-earned wisdom from his 20 years of experience in the SEO industry.
Being in the SEO business for two decades, how much has the SEO landscape changed since you first became interested?
Craig Campbell: “While it has changed a lot in some ways, we still have the core fundamentals of content and links being massively important: the same way they were at the very start of my journey in this industry.
Sure, things have evolved a great deal, and the quality of content, the relevance of links, and a lot of other nuances are in place. But the basics are still very similar.
What I do love is that these days, the learning curve is a lot easier, and we have clever people all over the world creating amazing tools to help us with competitor analysis and much more.
Whereas back then, it was a lot of trial and error, embracing the changes and utilizing the tools to make the job a lot easier has helped a lot over recent years.
But I think, for me, learning how to do it the hard way, using my own brain and common sense, and not having everything handed to me on a plate … it really did help me learn.
It took longer, but I won’t lie – it was a lot of fun, too. So these days, I find SEO a lot easier as I once had to do it the hard way.”
What do you know about SEO now that you wish you’d known when you first started?
CC: “I’ve been asked this a lot. I’ve enjoyed the whole journey. And I’ve made countless mistakes, but they have gotten me to where I am today. However, one thing I struggled with at the start was building SOPs and training my internal team to do the tasks I wanted to do.
For many years, I struggled to do this properly, and it massively hampered my ability to scale and contributed a lot of unnecessary stress to my life. So, learning to delegate and building SOPs [standard operating procedures] much sooner would have been good.
Other things, like trying and testing for myself and trying to read between the lines when I watch a talk or presentation, are things I wish I had done. I was a little naive back in the day and used to take things at face value and would simply add some of what other people had said without doing my own testing.
Like many others at the start of their careers, I didn’t know how good I was, but there becomes this part of the journey where you undervalue yourself or allow your prices to be driven down, and before you know it, you have a whole heap of clients who are paying you very little and wasting all of your time, energy, and resources.
So, I wish someone had sat me down and tried to give me that advice. But unfortunately, we [were] all in a similar position when I started in the early 2000s – no one knew what they were doing, let alone their actual value.”
Where do you expect the SEO industry is heading in the next three years?
CC: “This is a question that is really difficult to answer; I’ve seen and heard people say things over the years like ‘voice search‘ is the next big thing, and ‘let’s all double down on that.’
We have seen people talk about ‘AMP‘ and many other things, including AI content and how we will replace content writers with AI. I don’t think a lot of these things have worked out too well.
And without being a specialist in technology and how all of these things are being developed, I don’t see any major dramatic changes over the coming years.
It’s clear as day that Google is trying to force the organic search positions further down. However, organic traffic still converts really well.
But 20 years into the industry, I still see many websites and SEOs still not doing the basics properly. So, I think people need to level up on their processes and SOPs and how they see their website and start to treat them as a real business. I think that’s where people will see gains over the next few years.
Nothing massively new in terms of major changes to the industry; we do evolve, Google does bring updates out, and of course, those cutting corners or not doing the basics right eventually get penalized in some way, shape, or form.”
Is there one SEO tool, in particular, that you’d recommend for local businesses?
CC: “One tool, for local, is really hard. I use a number of tools for different elements of local, like Local Falcon, for checking out my Google Business Profile’s ranking positions.
I really do think even now, many small businesses don’t realize how much traffic comes from those map positions.
For sure, loads of people do it in our SEO community, but overall that’s, in reality, a small part of the world. I see so many businesses out there who are not even ranking those, let alone local landing pages.”
How about a particular marketing channel that can be beneficial for driving organic traffic?
CC: “This is something I’m often missing out on. Platforms, such as Reddit and Pinterest, are ones I hear people getting amazing traffic from, but I’ve yet to dive into them properly.
I recently bought a Pinterest course to try and work out what people are doing on there to get all this traffic. But over the years, I have built up a good email list, always capturing people’s data – a very old-school way of marketing, but email marketing works really well even now.
Social media, in general – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok – are the ones I’m on.
Now, it has been reported that TikTok gets more traffic than Google itself. Not sure how accurate that statement is, but what I do know is that there are a ton of people on that platform, and it would be stupid to ignore it due to the sheer volume of people on there.
As an SEO, I’m always looking at ways to drive good traffic to my website, whether that be paid, social, emails, or retargeting via pixels. I think you need to try and grab what you can out there. You don’t want to focus on one way of getting traffic.
YouTube, over the last few years, has been an amazing platform for me personally. When COVID hit, I took the opportunity to do a lot more video content, and that has worked very well in my favor.”
What should a digital marketer know about being in an SEO agency from Day 1?
CC: “I think they should learn as much as they can from agency life, see it as their apprenticeship, and learn as much as they can on the processes, reporting, how to retain clients, and all of the amazing stuff that agencies do very well.
But they should also know that there is a lot of fluff on the agency side and a lot of client deliverables that don’t always mean they are good from an SEO perspective.
I’m not saying every agency does all the fluff or offers substandard work. But I do see a lot of people who come out of agencies and believe in all the fluff that they are trained to speak to clients about.
So, I think, in general, they should know that playing the actual SEO game against what we tell clients is very often a different game. So, they should know the difference, which will stand them in good stead when they leave agency life.
I have a very good friend whom I’ve watched grow in recent years. Ryan Darani worked for a big digital agency, and for sure, he learned some amazing things there, which still work very well in his favor (mainly from an audit, reporting, and technical perspective).
However, there were areas of weakness and some bad agency mindset that had to be ironed out now that he is a freelancer. He has adapted very well and is doing amazing for someone who went out on his own just two years ago.
But overall, grab all you can from agency life, particularly those SOP processes, reporting – all the technical stuff you can, as this is often something many people who haven’t experienced agency life fall short on.”
What’s been your greatest digital marketing achievement to date?
CC: “The best achievement, other than some of the website flips and money gains I’ve made on certain projects – which, of course, no one really cares about – would be making the transition from unknown agency owner into becoming a personal brand.
A lot of people think that it is an easy task. The reality is, speaking at conferences, being on video, and offering value upfront is a lot of hard work. Not just traveling to conferences but speaking in front of an audience took me outside my comfort zone.
Being sat on YouTube, doing podcasts, and all of the other stuff was something I had never done before; and even in my school days, I hated speaking in front of an audience.
Watching many others build up personal brands while I was building my agency was great to watch, and I always had a [voice] inside me saying, ‘You can do this! Why don’t you go and do it? Why let anyone else get up there and get the exposure?’
You have to believe in yourself and make sure that you get yourself up there. While many folks will not want to do that because they are shy, an introvert, or whatever, when speaking to other speakers, they all have similar fears or get nervous before speaking.
And I, for sure, had serious nerves at the start of my speaking career, and it was amazing to push through and overcome those fears, and that was a massive achievement for me.”
Can you share any SEO growth hack that always works for you?
CC: “For many years, I’ve always seen traffic work very well when sent to a video, blog post, page, or whatever. Even if we take LinkedIn, for example.
If I do a post on LinkedIn, and someone in my network likes it, comments on it, or shares it, that post is then seen by their friends, which turns into more engagement, and then their friends see it and hopefully comment and like the post.
When Google sees something that is widely engaged, it ranks it well. The same goes for any social media platform when you want a post to go viral.
So, tip 1: Offer value upfront. Don’t put out bland, boring content; people will simply not engage. Try and offer some value upfront.
Tip 2: So, when I do a blog post, I will then send it to my push notification subscribers. It then goes out on social media. If it’s a really good post, it will also go out to my mailing list. I then also might do some paid social ads.
This kickstarts the post, article, or whatever you are trying to put out there, but you must utilize your own audience first and use a sequence of events to get traffic onto your articles, which in turn, if done well, should give you the lift you need to make the post viral to some degree.”
What advice do you have for those just getting started in their SEO careers or launching their startup?
CC: “I see so many people early in their careers or when they launch a start-up analyze every single small detail before taking action. I’d highly recommend simply taking action. Why over-analyze things? Keep it simple and use common sense.
A bit of effort never goes far wrong in this industry, and it is always good to learn from mistakes you make anyway. Just start taking action.
I’ve made more mistakes than most, but as long as I learn from them, then it’s always a good thing.
You will never ever hit your goals straight off the bat; whether it’s your SEO career or a project you’re working on, things can be tweaked as you go. No one in this game knows 100% of what they are doing, so don’t be fooled by anyone suggesting that they do.
Read between the lines and never be scared to test and add your own mix to things.”
Check out this SEJ Show episode with Loren Baker, where Campbell shared his insights on domain leasing, link-building best practices, and a lot more.