To Jeff Oxford, the founder of Oregon-based 180 Marketing, search engine optimization boils down to four buckets. Link-building, he stresses, is the priority.
“The first [bucket] is link building from quality sites,” he told me. “You might have good content and a fast, mobile-friendly site, but you’ll likely not rank highly without backlinks.”
Oxford founded 180 Marketing in 2013. Fast forward to 2022, and the firm consists of project managers, specialists, and link builders.
He and I recently discussed the state of SEO in 2022. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is condensed and edited for clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Should merchants pursue SEO?
Jeff Oxford: Yes, although SEO doesn’t get the publicity it used to.
Google has its official guidelines, which state certain things you should do to optimize organic search rankings. These include creating great content and having a user-friendly and mobile-optimized website.
The opposite is so-called black hat SEO, such as keyword stuffing, invisible fonts, self-generated links from forums, comment posts, and similar.
I can simplify effective SEO into four buckets. The first is link building from quality sites. You might have good content and a fast, mobile-friendly site, but you’ll likely not rank highly without backlinks.
The next bucket is content. Original, well-written blog posts and product descriptions are essential for merchants looking to rank organically. Never use manufacturers’ descriptions of products.
Next is page optimization — title tag, header tags such as H1 and H2, and image alt tags.
The last bucket is technical SEO. A site should be easily crawled by search bots, have no duplicate content, and, importantly, be fast-loading. Organic rankings in Google are now “mobile-first.” So a mobile-friendly site is critical.
Bandholz: Say I’m looking to outsource SEO. What questions should I ask a prospective firm?
Oxford: Inquire about how the firm builds backlinks. Do they have examples? Can they explain their strategies and expectations? Ask about their content capabilities.
Link building is the most important. It’s hard to get other sites to link to you. Changing a site’s structure or content is relatively easy. Enticing links is not. A newer site with lower domain authority will not rank well without backlinks.
As for content creation, an SEO company should research keyword opportunities and provide a list of the top topics to address. The firm should assemble a content brief explaining what questions to answer and what keywords to include.
Bandholz: How can merchants generate backlinks themselves?
Oxford: Offering products that people love will naturally attract backlinks. So selling quality goods is the first step. Requesting product reviews from bloggers could be effective, too, although exchanging reviews for free samples is technically disallowed by Google.
Guest posting is another method. Find a relevant site with a good reputation. Write an article that includes links to your product pages. Then approach the editor for publication. Be careful with guest posting, though. People will buy a blog and turn it into a guest posting farm, where 100% of the articles are just guest posts.
Podcasts are another strategy. Research the notable podcasts in your industry and offer to appear as a guest. Then request a backlink when the episode goes live.
You can sometimes turn discount codes into links. Promote the code to related blogs and websites to attract backlinks.
Bandholz: How can merchants learn SEO to do it themselves?
Oxford: One of my favorite resources for beginners is Backlinko. It provides easy-to-learn, useful SEO information for beginners — all free. Another great resource is Ahrefs. They have an excellent blog with actionable content and a good YouTube channel that breaks concepts down step-by-step.
Bandholz: How can listeners reach out to you?