Stephan Spencer is an internationally recognized SEO expert and bestselling author. His books are The Art of SEO, Google Power Search and Social eCommerce. He founded multinational SEO agency Netconcepts in 1995, selling it in 2010. Clients include Zappos, Sony and Chanel. He hosts the podcasts Optimized Geek and Marketing Speak.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:12] – Stephan is BIG in self-development
- [01:44] – Stephan’s transformation started with the Fire Walk at Unleash the Power Within, a Tony Robbins’ event
- [02:17] – He started his podcasts so that he could give back to people
- [03:21] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: SEO and leveraging Google is Stephan’s area of expertise. If you can understand the fundamentals of SEO, you can get FREE leads – SEO builds you an asset for the years to come
- [06:02] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: When Stephan started out, he didn’t have any kind of funding. He dropped out of his PhD and talked his way into a conference, How to Market, on the Internet. He came as a volunteer. He realized he could answer the questions better than the panel could. He got some business cards and ended up getting 2 big clients. It was an ego hit when the conference organizer told him he couldn’t come to Day 2 of the event
- [08:35] – Stephan overstepped by being cheeky and aggressive
- [09:05] – Take chances – don’t be a wallflower
- [11:00] – Successful introverts come out of their comfort zone to make things happen
- [11:13] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Stephan had a realization that he can do SEO from anywhere in the world. People were telling him he should move to the Bay Area but he moved to New Zealand. He applied for permanent residency without even taking a trip there. He lived there with his family for 8 years
- [12:57] – New Zealand is like a microcontinent
- [13:44] – Take a risk and step into abundance
- [15:20] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “Featured snippets, I think, is a huge, huge opportunity”
- [15:46] – Use SEMrush to filter the keywords your competitors are using for their snippets
- [16:31] – Look for weaknesses in your competitor’s snippets
- [17:27] – Use tools like AnswerThePublic to figure out which keywords people are using to find answers to their questions
- [19:29] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “It was fear”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “You can apply the scientific method to marketing”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Investing in my personal growth”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – PitchBox, Followerwonk, Klout, and NameChk
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – The Tools – “It will, I promise you, change your life”
- [25:21] – Learn from your peer group
- [26:22] – Don’t get snookered on this journey!
- [26:43] – Stephan is giving away a FREE SEO BS detector here
- [27:49] – Connect with Stephan on his website
Stephan: Anytime, anywhere.
John: Stephan is an internationally recognized SEO expert and bestselling author. His books are The Art of SEO, Google Power Search, and Social E-Commerce. He founded the Multinational SEO Agency Net Concepts in ’95, selling it in 2010. Clients included Zappos, Sony, and Chanel. He hosts the podcasts, Optimized Geek and Marketing Speak. Stephan, take a minute and fill in the gaps form that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Stephan: I'm big into self development. I attended a Tony Robbins’ event in 2009, which changed my life. So if you saw my before my photo, you would not recognize me. And in fact that was the inspiration for me to start my podcast, The Optimized Geek, because I optimized myself. So if you go to optimizedgeek.com/about, you’ll see the e before and after. And I was literally unrecognizable after I showed up at conferences, people wouldn’t know who I was, that was fun.
It all started with doing the fire walk at Unleash the Power Within, which is a Tony Robbins’ event. And I thought wow, if I can do this, I can do anything. And walking on 2,000 degree hot coals, it just was the catalyst that I needed to push myself into new areas, to make all of these changes externally and internally, and I haven’t stopped there. I do so many self development seminars and masterminds and so forth. And I want to give back in that way too to others, so that's where the podcast comes in.
I'm working on a self help book. A complete departure from the SEO world and online marketing, but I want to make a difference in people’s lives, not just their Google rankings.
John: Wow. Well, I love all of that, and I actually am at that about page that you talked about. And it looks like number one, you now have more hair, which is pretty impressive, your teeth look a lot better, and you just look overall happier, so it was quite a transformation, so congratulations for that.
Stephan: Thank you. Yeah, I did a get a hair transplant and braces, and Lasik, so I didn't have to wear glasses anymore.
Stephan: But the internal changes of how I felt on the inside were greater than the external changes, so I feel 20 years younger. I don’t just look 20 years younger, I feel 20 years younger.
John: I love it. So let’s talk about what you consider today your area of expertise? I mean, obviously you have a few different areas, but what's one that you want to break down for us now, and within that giving us a tip, tool, or tactic that you don’t think that we probably know that as entrepreneurs we should?
Stephan: My area of specialty is search engine optimization, SEO, how Google works. And leveraging Google as a lead source, because what's the fastest path from A to B, it's usually Google and a Google search. So if you can understand the fundamentals of SEO, you can make a lot of – you can make bank, right? So you can get free leads, free leads coming into your site that go into your funnel, or that purchase if you're selling like e-commerce, it's just an incredible opportunity and it's an asset.
Whereas, if you're doing paid media, you're advertising with Google AdWords or Facebook ads, or wherever else, the moment you stop spending money is the moment you stop receiving traffic, whereas with SEO, you build an asset that continues to reap rewards for you, to pay dividends for months and years to come, and that's amazing. So you create something that has a lot of authority in the eyes of Google, in terms of like a website that's trusted, authoritative, important, and it's not going to go away.
It's going to continue to – that traffic source is going to continue to be on and working for you 24/7 for a long time.
John: Yeah, and a perfect example of that is I decided to write an authority piece on podcast sponsorships, and I did that. I spent a ton of time on it, and wrote a very long article, and full optimized it using different plugins and then just different tips, tools, and tactics that I've gotten from people like Seth and other SEO experts. And now when you type the word in Google, podcast sponsorships, that's the number one result, so that's getting hundreds of hits every single day.
And that article leads people to a free podcast course, where they're signing up for my course now that’s leading them to Podcasters Paradise, which is a premium podcasting community. So that free article that I wrote is leading to real revenue generation, real lead generation every single day, without me putting a dollar or a cent in it. And doing frankly nothing, except every couple months I just make sure it's fully updated with the latest tips, tools, and tactics in that area, so great things to think about Fire Nation when you're looking to build a sustainable business.
But Stephan, it wasn’t always just like: you know what; I'm going to launch a business. I'm going to become an SEO expert. I'm going to crush it. Like, you had your struggles as well, so take us to what you consider your biggest struggle, that being your worst entrepreneurial moment to date, tell us that story?
Stephan: Okay. So when I was starting out, I didn't have any funding and I didn't really know what I was doing. I was a real newbie. I was studying for a PhD in biochemistry. And I had no business classes, no marketing classes, I was just winging it. So I dropped out of my PhD. I stuck around long enough to get a master’s, but I was just kind of flying blind here. So I talked my way into a conference, this was in 1995. It was How to Market on the Internet, that was the name of the conference.
It was run by IQPC. And I talked my way in, because it was a $2,000 and some dollar conference and I didn't have the money for it. I came in as a volunteer. They gave me the job of being the mike runner. So I was walking around with the mike for Q&A portions of these different panel sessions and so forth. And I was really a cheeky 24-year-old. I didn't really understand the propriety of it, of like chiming in, which is what I started doing because I realized that I could answer the questions better than the panel.
And some of the panelist included like G.M. O’Donnell, founder of Modem Media and so forth, so I started chiming in because I had the mike. And I got some business cards from a lot of attendees, who were like: wow, you know more than the people on stage, it's amazing. We got to talk. And I ended up getting two really big clients from that, my first two big clients, which added up to about half million dollars in revenue a piece over the course of time.
So instead of getting venture funding or Angel investment, I funded my company by being really cheeky, but there was a downside to that. It was really embarrassing for me, it really was a big ego hit when the conference organizer came up to me at the end of the day and said don’t bother coming back for day two. I'm like what do you mean? What do you mean? Well, you're not invited to day two. So that was a big ego hit, but I'm so glad I did it, even though that was uncomfortable for me.
She didn't do it publically in front of a bunch of people. Yeah, I kind of overstepped my bounds, but yet by being aggressive and cheeky, and out there, I was able to get two huge accounts. And so yeah, it was kind of a mix of good and bad. I mean, it was certainly one of my most embarrassing entrepreneurial moments, but it kind of launched my business.
John: Stephan, what is the biggest take away from that? Like, what do you want to make sure our listeners get from your embarrassing, slash worst moment?
Stephan: Yeah, so take chances and don’t be a wallflower. Really stand in your power and add lots of value. And even if it is going to make you uncomfortable, and you're going to have to step outside your comfortable zone, just do it. And the moral of the story here also is that karma will come back to you. If you're giving out good karma, and I was adding value, so six months later, the irony of all ironies, the same conference organization, IQPC contacted me to chair a conference like six months later.
Stephan: How to Market Educational Programs on the Internet, which I chaired. I did a general session and I did a post conference workshop. And I'm like how did this happen? Clearly those conference producers didn't speak to each other, because this other one hated me, and then one invited me to be the lead at this conference.
John: Now, would you consider yourself an introvert?
Stephan: Yes, for sure.
John: Okay. So I didn't want to put those words in your mouth, but I did get to hang out with Stephan, Fire Nation, a few weeks back in San Diego at this post social media marketing world event called Social Smash. And frankly, you are an introvert, but the thing is you stepped out of your comfortable zone to do the walk of fire with Toni Robbins and company. And you stepped out of your comfortable zone during that conference.
You know, you were at this networking event, and you were bopping around and having conversation with people, even again, though you're introverted. And so Fire Nation, guess what, when you're at a conference, and the speaker makes a comment: hey, who in the room is an introvert? I'm telling you right now, nine people out of ten raised their hands. And part of it, by the way, is because everybody thinks it's pretty to be an introvert, so they love to do that.
You know, just because you have to quote, un-quote go back to your room to recharge doesn’t make you an introvert, by the way. I had to do that and I'm the biggest extrovert in the world. But there are a lot of real introverts out there, but guess what, the successful ones step out of their comfort zone and make things happen. So let’s talk about an ah-ha moment, Stephan. What's one of the greatest ideas you’ve had to date? Take us to that idea, that ah-ha moment, tell us that story?
Stephan: So I had this realization that I could do this internet thing from anywhere. And I wanted to live somewhere exotic, somewhere amazing. I know you live in Puerto Rico and –
John: Did you consider Puerto Rico?
Stephan: I did not. I just had this intuition that New Zealand would be a good place to be.
John: Of course. By the way, New Zealand is a trendy spot for survivalist, too. I just read a great article in The New Yorker about how people who think the world is coming to an end are moving to New Zealand.
Stephan: Yep. Well, I have permanent residency there now, so I could go back anytime.
John: Oh, cool.
Stephan: But at the time I had never been to New Zealand. I didn't know much about it. I just had this intuition. And everyone was telling me you need to move from Madison, Wisconsin, which was where I was based at the time, to the Bay Area, that's where everything is happening. That's where you're going to be able to get funding. That's where you're going to be able to massively grow your business. There were other companies that were moving from Madison to the Bay Area and they were growing like crazy.
Like, Adjacency, which ended up getting bought by Sapient. And they're like you need to ride that train as well, and I did that exact opposite. I went halfway around the world to New Zealand, and without ever visiting. I applied for residency, permanent residency and got in, without ever having made a trip there. I just had this intuitive knowing that it would be an amazing place, and it was. I lived there with my wife at the time and my kids for almost eight years. It was incredible. It just changed everything for all of us.
John: Now to bring you here for a second, like what were some things that you did love about New Zealand, because I'm actually going there this October for the first time and I'm just kind of curious?
Stephan: Yeah, so it's like a micro-continent. You can go from glaciers to rain forest in an hour’s drive. It’s incredible. So whereas, in Australia you have to drive for a very long time to get different scenery, in many cases you can go with an hour or two in the car and you're somewhere completely different. And it's just so exotic, and yet it’s not super hot. You can go to really temperate clients, and you can go into the mountains and have snow and stuff. It's just a very special part of the world.
John: Wonderful. What's the biggest take away from that ah-ha moment that you want to share with our listeners? I mean, you went halfway across the world, basically completely opposite time zone from when everybody else is awake, etc. What's the biggest take away that you want to make sure we get?
Stephan: I figured, you know, worst case scenario is the business fails. I was going to continue running a U.S. based business in New Zealand, and it actually grew like crazy. I was able to hire incredibly talented folks in New Zealand to work on my U.S. based business. And I made trips back and forth, which was – it all worked out in the end. But when I would tell people my story, they’d say: oh, I wish I could do that.
And it's like: well, you can. I mean, that's the thing is you can. You decide to put yourself in this box, to subscribe to the limiting the beliefs that you have. So if you decide to shed those, a whole world of possibilities opens up to you, so that's the lesson.
John: And again Fire Nation, I'm not going to put words in Stephan’s mouth, but the reality is, if he had gone to New Zealand, and things just sucked, or they didn't work out, or he hated it, guess what, he could have moved back to Madison, Wisconsin. He could have moved to the Bay Area then. Like, it's not this death sentence that you're giving yourself.
You know, we don’t live in the 1600s or 1700s when we're doing the Oregon Trail out from the East Coast to the West Coast, where coming back is pretty dangerous and pretty tough. No, we're jumping on like a 17 hour flight, and under 24 hours we're like, “I'm back!” So what are you worried about? Now Stephan, what are you most fired up about today?
Stephan: Featured snippets, I think is a huge, huge opportunity in the SEO world for business owners. If you think about like what is Google trying to do, they're trying to answer people’s questions, their queries. So if you use tools like SEMrush to look at your competitors, what keyword lists they have, and what they're ranking for. And then you filter that down to just the keywords, their ranking in what's called position zero, that's featured snippet, where it preempts the first organic or unpaid search result with an answer to the question.
So how to boil an egg, you Google that, and you’ll get the answer, like one, two, three, four, four steps, or five, or whatever. And somebody provided those steps, and they're probably somewhere in the first say four or five positions in the organic results, they don’t have to be number one. They could be number three and take that featured snippet and they get a massive increase in click through traffic.
So there's some ways that you can, first of all spy on your competitors, see where they're getting featured snippets and you're not. You can look for weaknesses in their featured snippets, like for example, if it’s not a great answer to the question, or it's not in the most ideal format. Like, for example if it's a paragraph snippet and you have a numbered answer, like how to boil an egg would be perfectly answered with a numbered list, versus a paragraph wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
So if it's a paragraph snippet and a numbered list, an ordered list, or a table would be better, create that in your website, the page that is ranking, but isn't at the position zero, and see if you can overtake your competitor if you get higher click through rate in the search results that increases the likelihood of taking that featured snippet, as well as if it's in the proper format, or the most ideal format, let’s say a table or a numbered list, or an ordered list instead of a paragraph.
And also you can use tools, some of them free, like answerthepublic.com, to see what keywords people are typing in to Google to answer questions, like how to boil an egg? How to type the how to queries, the more question based queries will tend to yield featured snippets. And Answer the Public will give you a lot of those question based queries. So you’d put in your keyword and it will come up with all sorts of question based search queries based on that keyword.
It's really amazing and it's free. There are plenty of other tools out there, too many of them are paid, but this one is a great free on that most people don’t know about.
John: Wow. Well, I love it. And just to kind of test while you were talking, I went to Google and typed in podcast sponsorship, and like I said I am the first result, but then a couple results below that they have this like box with these drop down arrows that says people also ask – And the first one was how much do sponsors pay for podcasts? So I clicked that down arrow and it answers the question from my response, which is from EOFire.com/podcastsponsorships.
You know, it gives that, but then below that is how much money do podcasters make? And that answer is from Cora. So knowing that, like I can maybe now go and answer that question directly on my post, which is the number one result. And maybe I take over from that Cora answer, so I can start to kind of dominate those questions going down, since I already have the authority post.
Stephan: Exactly. And then you can start expanding on this and creating a whole slew of answers to these different questions once you’ve created a keyword strategy with lots of different question based search queries, and create a whole resources area to your site, or add to it for the specific purpose of getting more featured snippets, it's genius.
John: Love it. So Fire Nation, do you think we're dropping value bombs now, just you wait for the lightning round, as soon as we thank our sponsors, we will be hitting that hard. Stephan, we're back, are you ready to rock the lightning rounds?
Stephan: Oh, heck, yeah.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Stephan: It was fear. F’ everything and run is the acronym for fear. And at the time I wanted to, rather than leap and the net will appear, which I believe now, at the time I created for myself a half time job while I was transitioning. And I realized after the fact that I didn't need that. I didn't need that safety net that was an unnecessary hindrance, actually.
So like I share the story of being the mike runner, and getting these amazing opportunities that catapulted my business forward, I could have done more of that sort of stuff, of creating amazing opportunities if I didn't have a half time job for the first few months that was sucking the joy out of my life.
John: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Stephan: I learned the scientific method, so I guess that would be advice in a way that through all of my schooling, all the experiments that I ran in these different labs, and everything that you can apply the scientific method to marketing. So it's great to know that my master’s degree in biochemistry was good for something. But if you apply the idea of experiments and coming up with hypothesis first, and then testing those hypothesis, and making sure it's reproducible, you apply that to all of your marketing, I mean that's what direct mail is all about.
And that's what SEO and conversion optimization, and Facebook advertising, Google AdWords, that's what all of it should be about, testing and seeing what works, iterating, don’t be afraid to make changes. You think well, this is a great site and its ranking high and I don’t want to touch it now. I don’t want to mess everything up. Well, now you're paralyzed in fear that you're not going to be able to innovate any further.
John: What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Stephan: It's investing in my personal growth, the masterminds, the seminars. I'm a bit of a seminar junkie. I'm big into self development. And your mindset is your biggest asset, more than anything else. And if you invest in that, the world’s your oyster.
John: Can you share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation?
Stephan: Yeah, well, I've got a ton of them. I mentioned a couple already when we were talking about featured snippets, answerthepublic.com and SCMrush.com, but there's also tools like pitchbox.com for building a prospect list of influencers to outreach to for link building, and for social media marketing. There's also Followerwonk, which will – followerwonk.com, you can search through Twitter bios. Let’s say you're looking for a journalist in a particular industry, let’s say online retail journalist.
You could put that in as a search query into Followerwonk and find everybody who has those keywords in their Twitter bio, and a lot of them will be journalist. And so you can reach out to them and build relationships with them, and maybe get them to cover your stuff, if you're doing anything innovative. Another one is Klout, K-L-O-U-T, which will give you a sense for who is authoritative and who is not.
There's Namechk, namechk.com, which you put in your username, your brand name, your company name, and see all the different social media platform where you have not locked up your username. And then you go register under that username, so that nobody else can go in and cyber squat you, and then extort money out of you. Like, well, I've got your brand name on this second tier social platform, not Facebook and Twitter, the obvious ones, but whatever it is. And you're like oh, shoot; I wish I would have thought of that. So go use Namechk, namechk.com.
John: Namechk.com, Fire Nation, cover your basis. One book, if it could join Art of SEO, Google Power Search, and Social E-Commerce, what would it be, Stephan?
Stephan: Okay, this is a self help book actually, but give it a go, because it will, I promise you change your life. It's amazing. It's called The Tools by Phil Stutz and Berry Michaels. And reading that book, there are five tools in that book. Tool number two allowed me to let someone back in my life, a close relative that I had cut out of my life for 20 years.
I had good reason, blah, blah, blah, but yet the forgiveness and the amazing, just the beauty and love that opened up between us after I let her back into my life was amazing, and it all was because of tool number two in The Tools. So it can be used for business, it can be used for personal life, for relationships, it's an incredible book.
John: Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with SS and JLD today, so keep up the heat. And SS, I want to end today on fire, so give us a parting piece of guidance, give us the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye?
Stephan: You learn from the people you hang out with the most, your peer group is incredibly important. So one of the things I did, I invested in something called Platinum Partnership with Toni Robbins. I'm not saying that Tony is your answer, but find some high level peer group that will make a huge difference for you that you can aspire to be more like those people. You can still love the people that are in your life, your family and friends from way back, but if you don't aspire to become more like them, that is the wrong peer group for you, so you need to surround yourself with incredible people.
And that’s what I did for three years with Platinum Partnership and now with other masterminds that I'm in. So find that group. It could be – it doesn’t have to be a mastermind, it could be group coaching, like I'm just launching a group coaching program myself here in the next few weeks, but yeah, find that peer group. And also, don’t get snookered by the charlatans when you're on this journey, because there are a lot of them out there, whether it's in the world of online marketing or self development or whatever.
So let’s say in the area of online marketing and SEO in particular, there's a great tool I want to give to your listeners, to Fire Nation, which is an SEO BS detector. It's a free download, where it has trick questions that you would slip into, just innocuously, into the interview process when you're looking to bring on board and SEO consultant, or contractor, or employee, or agency, it doesn’t matter.
You’d have these questions in your hip pocket that you could ask, and you know the right answer to. There's only one right answer and they're trick questions, so if they don’t know the right answer, they're going to expose themselves as charlatans or snake oil sales people. And that's going to save you so much pain. If you hire the wrong SEO, it's worse than not do anything to your SEO, because they’ll get you penalized.
They’ll create a rap sheet for you in the eyes of the Google, and how do you recover from that once you sully your reputation? And it's all behind the scenes, behind the curtain in Google. They're not going to ever let you know that you have –
John: Scary, scary, scary stuff. And Fire Nation, I just want to say make sure you find out more about Stephan, and where can we do that?
Stephan: Yes. So stephenspencer.com. And for the BS detector, go to marketingspeak.com/fire. So stephenspencer.com for all sorts of other resources, webinar replays, and videos, and other white papers and so forth. But the SEO BS detector, go to marketingspeak.com/fire. And I'll include a couple other really incredible free downloads. I'll make a nice little package of stuff for you guys.
John: Fire Nation, you need that BS detector. Get over to marketingspeak.com/fire for that and the other goodies that Stephan is going to be putting there for you. And Stephan, I want to say thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that brother we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Stephan: Alright, thank you.
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