Growth-minded marketer with a proven track record and years of experience driving positive outcomes across digital channels. Pursuing excellence every day in SEO, email marketing, web design, and beyond.
Mindset, frameworks, processes, and hacks to win at SEO in 2022
About this episode
Matthew Kay interviews Patrick Stox, Product Advisor, Technical SEO, & Brand Ambassador @AHREFS to unravel his somewhat unusual career journey to be one of the best technical SEO folks in the world today. Listen to this episode to get your mindset right when it comes to starting and/or running SEO programs in 2022, and most importantly, to learn about the 'irresistible pitfalls' to avoid - shortcuts, AI writers, black hats/grey stuff. Instead, learn about what SEO hacks are working right now and exploit them for quick results.
What they talked about:
- How SEO has evolved in the recent years and what it takes to win at SEO in 2022
- How can SaaS startups start to invest in, and grow SEO as a customer acquisition channel
- Processes for keyword research, content prioritisation, and everything in between
- Are there any hacks or tactics to seize on, to get super quick results
- What are the SEO follies that you should avoid in 2022
Matthew Kay: Hello, my name is Matthew Kay and I am here with Patrick Stox. Patrick Stox is a product advisor, technical SEO and brand ambassador at Ahrefs. You may see him on the internet, hitting it on Twitter, on other social media accounts on behalf of Ahrefs. Writing for the Ahrefs blog talking about Ahrefs in public, Patrick has given over 75 plus conference talks, written over 50 articles, has judged 12 Search awards, and was recently the lead author of the SEO section of the Web Almanac. Um, Patrick, it is an absolute pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for coming on.
Patrick Stox: Precious invite Matthew.
Matthew Kay: Um, so you know, I think we basically want to dive into two areas here. I want to learn about you professionally, personally, how you got to where you are. And then I also want to, I guess, get a better idea of what you think someone needs to be successful in SEO as a an upstart company, or someone looking to get an SEO program underway here in 2021, 2022. How does that sound?
Patrick Stox: Sounds good. Yeah, I guess well, so.
Matthew Kay: So how did you, what was the meandering path that you took to get to SEO? What did you want to be when you were in high school?
Patrick Stox: More developer or information technology, I probably was going to do something with networking,
Matthew Kay: And what was like a formative, you know, event that led you down a different path?
Patrick Stox: I just, I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day. Which is funny, because I went to school, I ended up going or switched from kind of an IT path to like economics, business kind of stuff. But then I don’t know how all that went out the window. I ended up working as a developer.
Matthew Kay: What was that? What was it? Like? What was your first job, like, as a person right out of college?
Patrick Stox: Oh, it was it was pretty, pretty great. Actually. I did a lot of what would be considered DevOps, or infrastructure type work, along with a lot of integration type work databases, and built some pretty cool things, actually, for what would be considered a boring business. It was a company that mainly did am radio station towers. That’s, like I yeah, it was it was just, you know, automate processes. You know, the website itself was actually about 15, 1600 individual HTML pages, which was crazy big no CMS system at the time.
Matthew Kay: Headless or static site for static was cool.
Patrick Stox: Yeah, pretty much well, the static is done cool. In a long long time. It was it was overbearing, but do some cool stuff with them. There’s there’s one system in particular that was kind of automating part of the engineers job. It’s a weird random fact but like every am radio station tower in the US is protected by the FCC. There’s like a radius around it where basically signals get bounced off power lines, metal buildings, water towers, all sorts of stuff. And anyway if that happens, it like arcs and eats through metal and it’s bad. So there’s a whole process for like scanning the distance and making sure you’re clear and stuff and we kind of like automated that and if they were clear, put out a PDF. If they weren’t, we basically sold them a study to like make sure.
Matthew Kay: So you would save to say that you come to SEO you come to from from a technical aspect is technical standpoint, you’re a developer first almost?
Patrick Stox: Yeah. Well, I would say yes, but then actually at that same company ended up taking over the marketing role. So I got I did a lot of things there. I had you know $200,000 budget just for magazine ads back in the day and you know, ran trade shows sales team out all that lead score
Matthew Kay: So so like getting kind of in the thick of it pretty quickly, basically. Got and it will client services, consulting agency side. How did you sort of start to intro yourself into the world of SEO?
Patrick Stox: Oh, when I left that company, I they actually gave me a good opportunity to kind of go out on my own. They became one of my clients, but I had several additional clients that I had picked up on the side for specifically SEO and I figured out like, I was the best developer in the world, I didn’t really like to do it, which is kind of what I started with. But I really liked SEO and it was kind of like a game, that I was pretty good at it having a lot of success and decided to just run my own business. And so I did that for about five years for you.
Matthew Kay: Fully independent, you were just on your own entirely.
Patrick Stox: Yep. They, they stuck with me as one of my clients until I decided to just call it quits on my own business. And I ended up going in house actually at a local SEO.
Matthew Kay: And what was that like sort of transitioning from working independently to working out like a larger agency? Well, Robert.
Patrick Stox: That was, that was a, it was different. Um, believe it or not, I worked less at the agency than I did out on my own. So that was, that was good, better for work life balance. It was surprisingly hard for me to find a job anyone’s like, sure you do SEO, blah, blah, blah. I, I actually interviewed for almost a year before I ended up finding anyone that would hire me in house or, you know.
Matthew Kay: What kind of job market was this? Like, what 2008, 2007 or.
Patrick Stox: 2014, 2015? Yeah, 2014? I would say.
Matthew Kay: And, I guess, you know, in your time there, what, what, what sort of change through your, like, from when you walked in the door, when you walked out? When you evaluated, you know, the end state of that, first? What were the big takeaways from that first sort of role?
Patrick Stox: Oh, it was interesting for me, and that I hadn’t had to deal with a lot of people doing SEO. So now there was there were teams, you know, I had a manager for a while. And it was just a kind of a learning process in that it was weird, because I think I may have been the best SEO that was there, but I was not the best at like client communication. Or, you know, when when I ended up running one of the teams there, one of the things I really focused on was getting processes in place, getting processes down bettering my processes. So like, things could go faster. And like I didn’t have to do all the things necessarily myself. So I think that was good. I learned, you know, out of better communicate how to simplify and sort of how to to make my processes.
Matthew Kay: Yeah, I think you know, being in a client services setting like that, it’s sort of it’s like a forcing factor for just efficiency and everything in that realm. Yeah.
Patrick Stox: Yeah, I gotta get it done. Get it done fast.
Matthew Kay: So as you sort of I don’t know stepped away from that or transitioned out of that and into an in house role that was IBM right if I’m not mistaken?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, I was..
Matthew Kay: For someone you know, listening or anyone out there how what does it look like? What does the process look like? And what did the conversations look like maybe in your own head but also with the whoever brought you in and whoever you interviewed with on what that like leap from agency to someone in house? What did that look like for you?
Patrick Stox: Oh, what are the things I started to do at the agency was just simply be more active, that involve like getting involved with the Raleigh SEO meetup at the time, helping organize that I had started writing for like Search Engine Land, one of the major SEO blogs, probably the biggest at the time, I would say. And I got lucky, I think it was it was funny, because the the lady that hired me and IBM, Margaret Escobar, she read one of my blogs on Search Engine Land, and then came out to the Raleigh SEO meetup to talk to me. So it was pretty much like, Hey, do you want to come work for me? And I was like, no. You know, I didn’t necessarily want to go in house, especially at a big company like that with politics and so many people. But I it was probably a good six months later, you know, she called me at the right time, I was maybe having a bad day at the agency.
Matthew Kay: But so I think the most transformative thing well, it’s two things, you know, getting involved in local meetup groups and sort of getting back to to that community of people that do what you do air quotes, and then also writing or putting yourself out there in that way. Is that Is that about right?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, yeah, getting involved, I think one made me a better SEO. You know, personally, I don’t want to write anything and sound like I’m an idiot. It was it was the same with speaking which I started doing more of when I was at IBM.
Matthew Kay: And so like, you know, your first speaking engagement, your first like, is that something? How do you dip your toe in the water? How does someone that has never spoken at a conference before? What does that even look like?
Patrick Stox: Me I started locally, we had small conferences and stuff around here like digital marketing for business back in the day. We haven’t like Raleigh SEO meetups, I spoke at some of that stuff, local community. Then it was a random, weird night at a conference, Internet Summit here in Raleigh. And I met a couple guys it was, let’s see, it was Bill Hartzer and Jim Hedger, and just having drinks and stuff and, and talking. They basically convinced me that I should apply and like try and speak at one of the major conferences. So I think 3 am going home drunk, I ended up applying and got a speaking spotted at SMX West.
Matthew Kay: At night of maybe not debauchery, but intellectual curiosity over drinks, and then YouTube and go home at three in the morning, submit a speaking request go. Alright. Why not? That’s all .
Patrick Stox: Yeah, I mean, I’m not I’m not the best public speaker or anything. Not the best with words. You know, I’m the tech guy, they got to hide in the back room most of the time. So public speaking for me is like nerve wracking, even as, you know, super nervous still after all this time. But yeah, it was it was they the conversation with them, they had read some of the some of the stuff I had written, and they’re like, Dude, you’re super smart, like, you should go do this, share your knowledge. And it’s like.
Matthew Kay: A little push from, from your friends is sometimes a wonderful thing that. Um, so you know, your time at IBM, that environment, size of I can think of few other larger companies in the world, quite frankly, you know, obviously, a lot there, but maybe something that you at the time thought was negative, or you had a sort of a down view on when you were in the thick of it, that later on emerged as a positive or something that you really learned a lot from? Was there anything like that and your time, there are a lot of things like that, in your time.
Patrick Stox: Probably the, you know, in a big environment like that everything is just complex politics, I can do without politics, but you’re gonna run into that anywhere. I would say it was a lot of the same things, you know, simplifying, getting by in messaging, you know. Also, just, yeah, just smaller wins, for instance, to get by, and like tests on things to show a result in a certain section before they would ever do anything. Like bigger or bigger test. Another another thing, too, that was like super helpful was just finding evangelists. And we did that through like training touting winds through the reporting, all sorts of different strategies, I guess, to basically get more visibility within the organization. And I think that was something that I wasn’t necessarily good at saying like, Oh, we did this thing. And like, here’s this amazing result. But luckily, I had a boss there, Ellen, who really was. So she she touted our winds from the rooftop and really, like kind of moved us through the organization made made things a lot easier. We started to have less issues with getting buy in or running tests and just people be like, oh, yeah, they’re, we’ve worked with them. They’re, they’re good. We had good success, you know, touting their wins, too. Because when it’s not just you, like your team, when you’re doing something like that you tout the success of everyone, whether it’s someone in marketing developers, like, try and get them more resources, get them raises, too, because everyone’s winning when
Matthew Kay: Absolutely, everyone wins, and you got to socialize the wins and all that good stuff in between Euro you’re a technical SEO, you have a technical background. IBM has a large company with large websites. I feel like there is a large technical component maybe to a lot of the work that you were doing. Was that like a big part of your core focus?
Matthew Kay: You know, to talk about the difference between everything you just described, and that sort of environment, like how jarring was it to go from a small business with a 20 page WordPress site to, you know, ambiguous technology stacks, large teams International, you know, internationalization language, questions, issues? What did that divide that chiasm? sort of look like in your shoes?
Patrick Stox: I don’t know that. It’s really that big of an adjustment. I mean, yeah, when everything’s running on WordPress, it’s all kind of the same. But like, I dealt with a bunch of different systems before, you know, even when I was a developer, probably dating myself a bit. Like you had CMS systems for EComm. Like, OS commerce and cart, you know, do systems. I know. I’ve worked with Drupal, Joomla WordPress, tons and tons of different Ecommerce stuff. I don’t think it was that. That much for me to adapt to it was just, you know, typical segmentation type thing. If I know, this runs on this thing, those issues are gonna be the same for that platform. This other thing runs on something else that’s gonna have its own unique set of issues.
Matthew Kay: Interesting. Yeah. I think it’s maybe getting familiar with the unfamiliar, right, like as a developer learning, just walking into something that’s heavy. Is there something to that?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, because you never know what you’re gonna hit. I mean, IBM had a couple of their own CMS systems Wickham and ECM, think it was like web content management, Enterprise Content Management. Those were new to me, but like, nothing I hadn’t really seen before. But there were there were some weird like quirks, weird masking issues and stuff.
Matthew Kay: Um, so yeah, I mean, it sounds like a fun environment. That’s sort of my takeaway. That sounds you know, different challenging. Maybe there’s some underlying I’m sure as with any role, but what took you to Ahrefs? What were where does that come in? How did that unfold? What is the story look like?
Patrick Stox: I think I got the job at Ahrefs from posted on Reddit. Yeah, my boss the HRs CMO, Tim Sue. He posts every couple years own slash are slash big SEO. Just looking for feedback on the tool was help tell us what we’re doing. Right. Tell us what we’re doing wrong. Blah, blah, blah, what ideas do you have? So I wrote a bunch of stuff. He shared it with the team. And next thing I know I’m working at Ahrefs, which is kind of dream come true of them huge. Ahrefs fanboy. I’ve used the tool. Probably, what, seven years now or so. Yeah, and it’s, you know, it’s, it was a really cool opportunity. I felt like, like, I wanted to speak more to write more. That was always hard at IBM. There’s like legal approvals or gotta denounce, like, I mean, not IBM, kind of thing to kind of skip some of that. But a lot of conferences and stuff were kind of on my own writings on my own time, that kind of thing. So it was right place, right time, great product. I wanted to share more. I wanted to actually contribute to the product was just cool because I was I was building some cool internal tools at IBM.
Matthew Kay: For IBM, though they’re not for
Patrick Stox: or IBM. Yeah. Want to share some of this for the world.
Matthew Kay: So you are essentially Patrick, if I’m not mistaken our pattern matching correctly here, you’re like someone who was cooking at home, who then started cooking for other people who then went to go cook at a restaurant. And now you’re essentially at like a kitchen education company slash cooking instructional school, if you will. You’re helping cooks everywhere. SEO is that is.
Patrick Stox: Yeah, that’s that’s a pretty good ideology.
Matthew Kay: What does you know what Northstar metrics things that you’re maybe being evaluated against things that like what does a Patrick Stox worry about? In in a role at Ahrefs? Like what you do now? What is your points of consideration? What What are you writing? What are you researching stuff like that, or.
Patrick Stox: Researching whatever is interesting, they’ve got a lot of data studies coming next year, but I just have one out, that was kind of the impact of links, which was a cool study, writing a lot on different technical topics, hoping to make a technical video course next year, which will be not great. As far as what I’m evaluated on, I don’t know. It’s, it’s a very small company, and we don’t, everyone is kind of a high performer as it is. So I don’t there’s not a lot of like, one on ones and like performance reviews and stuff. The company itself is pretty unique in that we basically only track, you know, number of customers, the like value of the customers and our customers happy.
Matthew Kay: It’s pretty simple when you boil it down like that, right? Yeah. I like I like that. Um, so I this is the part where I’m tempted to ask all sorts of what cool things are you working on that you can’t talk about? But you know, maybe since you joined what what are the maybe articles or initiatives or things that you’re most proud of that you’ve accomplished? That maybe you never thought you’d be in a position to sort of do what you’re doing, quote unquote?
Patrick Stox: Oh, man. what am I most probably it’s something new every day. I mean, I would say I’m really happy that we brought a lot of new data visualizations to this whole. So I’ve been pushing for that before it was a lot of basically spreadsheet kind of use data views that then people would like take out of H refs from processes and do it. But now we’re trying to like, do more things for people in the tool, do more visualizations. You know, as you can imagine, I work on our site audit a lot. Which I’m going to plug real quick. If you go to Ahrefs.com/AWT we have Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. Totally free, includes free site.
Matthew Kay: Gotcha. And I mean, those sorts of like product updates are, you know, I think that that one in particular, if I’m not mistaken, you’re basically saying anyone with a website should sign up for this to make your website better, basically. So the entire anyone with a website is a potential target for that. Right?
Matthew Kay: What does the vision look like for Ahrefs without revealing too much? I know there was very very public mentions of Ahrefs powered search engine in the last few years. Where does that stand anything else?
Patrick Stox: That is sort of live actually. We haven’t officially announced it yet but it is it is a real thing. It is working. You know we’re We’re working on some of the ranking models and stuff. I think before we officially announce it and trying to work out like a finalized.
Matthew Kay: Where is it live? If you are able to? Can’t talk to him? I got it. Okay, cool. I like it. I like it. I’m very cool. Um, so, you know, I think one thing that is interesting, from an SEO standpoint is especially, you know, with your career and everything that you’ve done, all the, you know, things that you’ve researched, worked on, written, so on and so forth. SEO today, it is not the SEO that worked 10 years ago, and what works today won’t work in, you know, two years time, three years time, the fundamentals maybe always stay the same. But before going into, you know, table stakes for being successful today, what you need to do all that stuff, what has changed in your time, in the SEO space? What are the biggest paradigm shifts that you’ve witnessed?
Patrick Stox: I would say, the world is better, a better place. Now. A lot of the spammy tactics within SEO were kind of killed off. Which granted, that’s that’s how I started. If you’ve heard Blackhat versus white hat, I absolutely was at BlackHat. Seo. I think as you know, as a developer, I can automate a lot of things, including ways to get links. So that meant that it was pretty easy to be successful. You know, we had stuff like article spinning and which made terrible articles, and then we spammed a bunch of links to them, and then you would get the worst content in the world ranking. But it worked. That doesn’t really work these days. Now, I think people were having to do what they should have been doing all along, which is really, you know, spending the effort to write content that that people want, you know, that they’re already searching all these things, and SEO kind of boils down to look at what they’re searching for kind of group that and say like, this is what I can include in an article. This is how I can be helpful and useful. Hear my expert insights to that. And then that becomes kind of a good result for users to see.
Matthew Kay: Absolutely. The the Blackhat comment, expand upon that. What did that look like for you personally?
Patrick Stox: Depending on what was working well, at the time, I guess, because again, like Google was kind of fighting. But it could have been any number of things. You know, web two O’s were popular for a while there even became a lot of automated programs. To kind of help with this stuff you had like, SE nuke back in the day, then like GSA SER, there were specifically, there was one specific tool that was blanking on the name. That was basically just go out and make form profile links. It all depended on what you wanted to do. I actually wrote my own thing that that actually did local citations for a while, which is iffy on whether that’s black or not, it was because it was automated, but it was better than me going to do it.
Matthew Kay: That’s interesting stuff. Interesting. Yeah. And as time goes on, that just does not work anymore. No, no, what are the things that worked? Like specific tactics? I’m personally thinking through my own answers to those questions, specific tactics, little hacks, things that you recall seeing doing that no longer work at all like to get into specifics here. Citation before.
Patrick Stox: Everything from directories, like there were you know, not not directories like you’re taking like Yelp Yellow Pages, those are more the local, quote unquote, local citations and stuff. There were basically 1000 different well 10s of 1000s of crappy directories that everyone would just spam the death list your site. Pretty much everything that’s popular kind of guy killed off one thing at a time directories died. You had press releases one or two press releases, and then Google pretty much stopped counting links from press releases. You had article websites and then pretty much all the article sites like lost all their stuff. I was an Ezine articles expert author back in the day, I think platinum the level or something? And it was it was just a bunch of syndicated articles sometimes spawned many ways. Thank goodness, so many different tactics. Right? Just, yeah, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good for the internet.
Matthew Kay: So, you know, let’s zoom out here. And let’s just say I have a relatively successful b2b software company, or any sort of, we’ll just make it a SaaS business. How about that? I have users that I got through word of mouth, my own blog, newsletter, what have you I already have, you know, it is a business. People want what I’m selling, they have signed up for it. But I am sitting in a position where I’m looking at standing up SEO as an acquisition channel. What does that look like? And in today’s time, where do you even start? Where does Patrick Stox begin to sort of assemble the troops?
Patrick Stox: I think good in general, with SEO, everything starts with keyword research, you know, what, what are user searching? What are they trying to find out about you? What terms? Are they using? What What’s the like industry vernacular? You know, what are your competitors already ranking for, like, what pages of theirs are successful? Looking at all that stuff to say, like, there’s a real market here, like people are already doing this, they’re already probably successful doing it. And then you can use that to kind of justify and say, like, Okay, here’s a list of my competitors, most successful pages.
Matthew Kay: Keyword research, what was your high level process? What are the tools involved? Obviously, kind of can be as ambiguous or unambiguous as you want. But what is the what is the process look like for you?
Patrick Stox: I, it depends, as it always seems to typical SEO joke. Which I think a lot of people start by the terms, you know, they enter a few terms, and then they start looking at stuff. What I prefer is if you know the competitors, and who they are, I actually prefer to start there. In the, if you look at, for instance, their top pages, what I do is in a trips, I do look at the top pages, we have a report for it, export all that for all my competitors, combine that into one big, like Excel spreadsheet, create like a pivot table that says like, here are kind of the most successful pages in my niche. And if you would get like the top keywords for those, you can actually look to see kind of a co occurrence of that. So you can say like, here’s a thing where you know, six of my competitors already have a page that’s driving them, you know, $10,000 a month in value or whatever, that’s probably something I want to make. So it’s kind of like an ordered list of successful.
Matthew Kay: Prioritization of content to create. And once you do your keyword research is sort of assembled? Well, I mean, you kind of talk through that just a little bit. But what is the prioritization matrix that you kind of hold to, I think, like going by arbitrary, like cost per click, kind of metrics tied to paid search to try and like understand the commercial value of the keyword people try to do that? Maybe But is the best answer like to have a good understanding of the business? What What would you say? How do you prioritize?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, if you don’t know enough about it, the traffic value, which is calculated from paid basically, it’s like, if I had to buy this much traffic from organic search, this is sort of what it would cause. But if, you know, I never like to use specifically. That is, there’s always going to be certain things that we can write that target a certain customer base that’s simply more valuable than another customer base. You know, when I was given an old store here, back when I was at that that engineering company, there was a product that was probably only searched six times a year, globally. That’s it, but each one of those sales was worth millions of dollars. Like the contracts for that product was expensive. It was rare, the people that needed it needed it. And, you know, it was simply the ROI for being the best on that page was probably more than every other page on the website combined. Absolutely.
Matthew Kay: Yeah. So in this is a maybe a particular question for you. But like in situations, especially like in a B2B setting, where maybe lots of people that might be searching, have ad blockers enabled or don’t have any sort of Chrome extensions that suck up, you know, clickstream type data. Would you say a tool like Ahrefs is directionally accurate or are there other are friends of mine that you should be approaching? You know, these types of questions with.
Patrick Stox: Directionally accurate is probably the right way to put it on any of the tools. They’re using their own data sets or using data from Google and with their own kind of filter or lens to that. If you if you want, use multiple tools, verify double check that data, I think that becomes pretty common at a certain level, if you can only choose one choose one and go with it. But they’re there all night. I mean, none of them are going to be 100% accurate.
Matthew Kay: The nature of data.
Patrick Stox: Even the data Google gives you is fairly bias.
Matthew Kay: Yeah. So you have keywords picked up, you’ve maybe got content that you want to write, what else am I going to do for my SAAS business? To to get things up and running? What is your process recommendations look like?
Patrick Stox: Get the right into writing out the door, honestly. Yeah. Yeah. And what you want to include is kind of the things that people told you in the keyword research. So once you’ve determined like the pages you need to create, then of course, like, go back to the individual terms. That’s why Yeah, don’t start with the term the individual terms, I but I do end up there. Look at all the things that they’re searching around that then though, they’ll kind of be grouped in a way you’ll you’ll see a lot of like head terms, the the main type search terms, were a lot of the top things people are looking for, like what is definition of so of course, you need, you know, a section on that page that what is this thing, and then you’ll you’ll see maybe like this versus this other thing. So you probably want a section around that or, or like this particular feature. So or features of here’s a section on features. And and it gets complicated, because maybe some of those things deserve to be their own different article or blog also. So you kind of have to make that decision. Do I want like one super long piece of content? Can I break that out? Do I have enough to write to make it interesting if it is multiple articles instead of one? And then of course, it’s always I’m a big fan of adding your own your own insights, your own expertise into the articles to I think that’s one of the reasons people read my stuff is like they’re generally gonna learn something new, because I’m gonna include stuff that isn’t necessarily standard knowledge that you can’t find on other blogs. Read at least at the time.
Matthew Kay: Yeah, the you know, to add in something that you have, personally, that that insight that only you can provide is, is a special thing. I would, I would definitely say, um, I think one thing that comes to mind, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this. So link building, like, you know, in 2021, you know, buying links, obviously, there are still people selling links, this buying links work, Patrick, well, what is a? What is the link building? In a program, early initiatives? What does that look like? What should that look like?
Patrick Stox: Doesn’t work, maybe doesn’t work? Well, probably not these days. You know, probably what you want to do instead is just kind of be a real business. do real things, get links in your community? If that’s your thing? If you’re a bigger company, do studies. Yeah, you can do tests, you know, we do tests for a dress, you can use your own data. If you’re an SEO, you can just use search data. Lots of people do this. You’ve probably seen this 1000 times in different news sites where they’ve just basically overlaid, here’s the most popular blah, blah, blah in each state. And most of that comes from search data. But yeah, it all depends on what you need. You’re gonna if you’re a plumber, there’s going to be sites specifically for plumbers, your your niche links, if you’re in a specific city, like we’re in Raleigh, there’s going to be a lot of, you know, news. Probably podcasts, there’s university sites, there’s local things about restaurants, travel, all sorts of different stuff where you can look for opportunity.
Matthew Kay: You know, I think people are always looking for hacks they’re looking for things that they can exploit. What what works, is, maybe the fundamentals are what work and being a real business is always going to work. Are there hacks, are there things that you see working now that are little aberrations or something to seize on? You In the moment, or is that just a dream? How do you think? How do you feel about that?
Patrick Stox: There’s one thing in particular that, in my opinion, works way too well, still, but I’m not gonna mention it. But I can’t imagine it keeps.
Matthew Kay: I think that’s also the the core of the publicly sharing, you know, hacks that work, then it’s someone else’s hack, and it’s not yours, and then they’re gonna exploit it. And, you know, it’s, there’s something to that, right?
Patrick Stox:. I mean, I’m not necessarily exploiting it. I’ve just seen that. This thing that should not work does work, unfortunately though.
Matthew Kay: Um, so you know, to sell the value of SEO, when you were working in an agency setting. Obviously, that’s, you know, selling out the SEO to a client, whoever that might be, for clients company, inside of IBM, you know, selling SEO, was you selling SEO to management, and to other people in the organization? How does H refs? Or how do you think about the value of SEO as an acquisition channel? What does that look like? What are the the talking points? Most purchase behavior involves a Google search or things like that?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, there’s a bunch of different statistics actually wrote an article specifically on enterprise SEO, where I included some of those that I always used to use the cell, and some of his general and some of them would be very specific, like, you know, this makes up 60% of your acquisition, this is 80% of your conversions go through organic channels, blah, blah, blah. Generally, when you’re when you’re selling to an owner of a company or a C suite, you leave the SEO metrics out there, if you start talking keywords and rankings, their eyes are gonna glaze over, the closer you can get to revenue or conversions. That’s what they care about. This is what makes me money. This is how much money it makes. If we do this thing, it’s gonna make us this much money. That’s, that’s what they want to know.
Matthew Kay: Yeah, I think there’s something to the fact that like SEO at the core of it, it’s almost like talking about, you know, talk about what you do publicly, and put it up on your website, and just be very, you know, very clear and not not catchphrases about what you do and who you do it for. And you’re off to a really good start. Those are the kind and Yeah, you look up and it’s driving a lot of business value almost accidentally, or something like that. What are the biggest mistake?
Patrick Stox: I mean, it’s not essentially Yeah, I guess, like you’re expanding your funnel, you get a bigger pipeline, you get more people through your.
Matthew Kay: A lot of people can maybe or not a lot of people, but you do encounter quote, unquote, good SEO that was not performed by kind of like a house, a beautiful home that was built without an architect. You know, well, ranking, beautiful sites that didn’t have anyone with the title of SEO ever really touched it. It’s always fun to encounter that, at least, personally, I guess. Yeah.
Patrick Stox: Yeah. And, you know, one of the things that I actually love that I wish I had done more when I was at IBM, but Ahrefs is kind of the master, this is everything that we’re writing, like we’re showcasing the product, and use cases for the product, how to do things. So someone not like researching whatever, is all not only getting the information they need, but also an actual process, or the ability to do this with us within the product, which I think is, you know, an amazing lead gen strategy. It’s the same with our YouTube videos with with Sam Oh, oh, you know, I think that’s probably the majority of our, our conversions and our revenue simply come because of, you know, the videos, the video content, and the I think that that is a great time. And sometimes like our free tools.
Matthew Kay: That’s a great mindset to think about what what are the you know, if we’re still talking about a software company, what are the problems that your software company solves? And then just, you know, help people solve those problems, broadly speaking, or at least educate them about that. And then you happen to have a product that solves that problem very, very well. Well, wouldn’t you should maybe just sign up consider a free trial widget. And there you go. How much better does it get? And that’s providing what value to the searchers and that’s also this is now sounding like propaganda, or something like that. But now.
Patrick Stox: That’s, that’s good.
Matthew Kay: Biggest mistakes people make with SEO programs with investing in SEO. I think we all hear stories. Not all of us. But I have encountered and heard stories talking about, you know, GPT, three open AI, artificial intelligence generated content and people going off and, you know, spinning up 50,000 page sites of, you know, fake content is fake content a problem, what are the issues, the follies, the the misallocations of strategy and effort that you see people making these days, when it comes to SEO?
Patrick Stox: Generally, just prioritization is, I think, really hard for people, you know, that they’ll focus on the wrong things. It might be like, we need to build Sitemaps or something, and they’ll do a project. Like, let’s, let’s manually build all these sitemaps. Now, you should automate that if it’s not automated, don’t even worry about it. Because the sitemaps just are basically a list of pages where you want the search engine to crawl, but they crawl through sites anyway, they’ll more than likely find all your pages. So that’s one of those things that like you can spend a lot of time doing and get absolutely zero value. And there’s a lot of things like that even at bigger companies, I see a lot of, for instance, a B testing of title tags. Well, you could you could spend, you know, 500 hours reading all sorts of AV tests on title tags, or you can go make another 500 pages, or improve your current content.
Matthew Kay: You definitely should care about SEO, and B testing. A lot of people like to talk about that a lot of people think it’s interesting, who really should care about I mean, there are some experiments, maybe you should you could run, you could think about running, but is there a scale that you should have reached before it becomes something that’s even relevant?
Patrick Stox: I think it is more important for companies that basically have a certain, like templatized view of things. In fact, my friend, Brian Todd, when he was at Airbnb, that’s a good example. Because you’ve got all these different places, and basically templatized, title tags, that’s a good place to run that kind of testing, in my opinion, because you, you will basically not have individually customized titles like you will on a lot of other sites, if you got a bunch of individually customized titles, running those kinds of AV tests is frustrating. Because now you got to have enough traffic to the page, you got to test multiple titles doesn’t work. But anything that’s done at a sufficiently large scale, which is really hard to define, that will give you results in a reasonable amount of time, which is also hard to define, is when I would be doing that, but in general, you know, 99% of the people that are even bothering doing testing maybe shouldn’t.
Matthew Kay: Absolutely, absolutely. There’s something to the the prioritization really is the hardest thing to get right? Is it not? How do you prioritize what is the Patrick stocks prioritization matrix look like? Do you have a model a framework? What are the men? What’s the mental model you try to apply when considering prioritization?
Patrick Stox: Well, being a technical SEO, that’s hard, because it depends on what the biggest issues are, you know, if Ahrefs Lang is screwed up on the website, that could be costing millions of dollars in a day. So of course that. But in general, for most things, I would say, are the pages indexed? That’s your number one concern, like if they’re not indexed? Well don’t even have a chance to rank. Beyond that. Content? Links. That’s pretty much it. And and links being not only external, but internal links. So it’s basically is my page there? Is the content good? Is it better than the other content? Do I have great insights in there? Am I you know, selling my product, if that’s your thing, along with the content and being useful to users? And then did I link from other relevant places on my website to that content? It’s a it’s a pretty straightforward formula for SEO that. The, I don’t know, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Matthew Kay: I like that. I like that. Um, so Patrick to maybe finishes out here. I’d like to go through some, perhaps random questions, but we can think of this as the A quick fire segment. How does that sound? So what is an unusual habit or something absurd that you do? When it comes to SEO or looking at websites or just being a person on the internet? What’s a weird Patrick stocks habit that you have recognized everyone is weird, but you can still continue to do?
Patrick Stox: I almost always have dev tools, open tools on the side. So it’s going to decide like, oh, yeah, let’s say a canonical tag or they use it.
Matthew Kay: How long does it take you to browse the internet? Oh, my goodness.
Patrick Stox: Oh, it’s it’s the same. I mean, I had a big screen, like that doesn’t take up that much space. But you just see some like weird random stuff. And like, that’s.
Matthew Kay: When, you know, when you are maybe thinking through all the recommendations that people have given you over the years, professionally, or otherwise? Basically, professionally, that’s what we’re interested about here. Let’s be honest. What are the recommendations that maybe a lot of people gave to you that you did not take that you’re glad that you did not take?
Patrick Stox: Oh, that’s so I’m probably going to be controversial on this one. Because I did. I did realize that I needed to niche down. So absolutely. I’m like, known as a technical SEO. But you’ve heard me throughout this, I’m the Technical SEO that’s telling you like get your content, right. And that’s how I am professionally to ignore the noise, ignore things that aren’t going to have an impact. I don’t care if your Your Site Audit says you got 3,478 issues. If they’re not impacting your bottom line, if it’s mostly noise, not really gonna have an impact, ignore it and just go and prioritize what really is important, which is more than likely going to be working on your contract.
Matthew Kay: Gotcha. I like that. What do you you know, tell someone who is an SEO that I think, you know, one thing that comes to mind, there’s a few articles that have been shared recently. This is a tangent number one, we are in the quickfire section, but please excuse my tangent. There are there are very few VP of SEO roles. Forget to who to attribute this to Tom, Tom Critchlow. Yeah, Tom, what do you say to someone that has capped out their role as an SEO? Do they go on to become VP growth? Do they stay on SEO forever? What’s your take on that? I think it’s a fascinating paradigm.
Patrick Stox: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of VP of SEO roles. But But Tom’s point was mostly they’re like VP of Product VP of growth. And he’s right at that level. There is an alternate path that that I’ve always enjoyed, because I don’t think I would be a very good people manager. Again, I want to hide away in the dark.
Matthew Kay: You’re in a pretty bright corner right now.
Patrick Stox: I guess my lights, stuff. Yeah. Yeah, just for this. Yeah. I prefer the path of an individual contributor. And granted, you may not ever be the CEO of a company, if you’re an individual contributor, eventually supposed to like manage people. But a lot of companies have this alternate path, they have a specialists. And you can actually get up to technically the the C suite managerial kind of levels. But as an individual contributor, you know, a lot of companies, you’ll get your own budget, you can have people you’re not necessarily the direct manager, but they’re kind of like helping you doing projects and stuff. That’s, that’s sort of the role that I took. Because I don’t think I ever do when I manage people, I enjoy the work, I enjoy what I do. So I just want to keep doing that. As long as you know, that’s what.
Matthew Kay: I think my final thoughts on that would be SEO is a unique field, career calling spiritual hauling, if you will, that can allow you to drive an inordinate amount of business value for what you’re individually contributing, quote, unquote, just because you even though you are, you know, someone who doesn’t have 25 people underneath you, you still are distributing content that’s being read by a lot of people on behalf Ahrefs. And you’re educating a lot of people and you have a software product that is in front of a large, large user base. So yeah, very interesting.
Patrick Stox: But it doesn’t have to be just SEO I mean that that path has been laid out years by reason searcher.
Matthew Kay: SEO is heavy, right? I like that I like a lot. What is one of the most worthwhile investments that you’ve made yourself? Your career, your learning your knowledge? What is something that then maybe this is time? Or maybe this is dollars? What is something that you’ve invested in that has paid dividends?
Patrick Stox: Yeah, time reading. That’s my preferred format for for obtaining knowledge, you know, if whatever you like, though, podcasts videos, just to it I, I am a prolific reader, I have read probably every major thing that’s come out this year, but not just this year. One of the things I did early on when I was when I was learning SEO was there wasn’t a lot of content about SEO at the time. So I went back and read stuff like 10 years prior even just, I read through the entire search engine roundtable blog, basically, to get more of the history of that.
Matthew Kay: I like that a lot. What book have you given the most as a gift or recommended to other people? Hey, you should read this. Where the wild things sre?
Patrick Stox: I have a good answer for you there. It’s probably the only best offer given.
Matthew Kay: What purchase of oil 100 bucks, or more or less has been the most positive impact on your life in the last year?
Patrick Stox: In the last year, 100 bucks. That is a good question. I get a really nice risk dress. So.
Matthew Kay: If you’re sitting at a desk all day, make that a key might as well be comfortable, right?
Patrick Stox: I like that. You know, I definitely had more than more than $100 but a great office shares when when you do sit down a lot?
Matthew Kay: Are you a standing desk user?
Patrick Stox: I’m not I have a desk that I built myself actually during the pandemic. And actually that could be another ergonomics in general are super important. If you’re sitting at a desk I have, for instance, a little stand I bought to bring one of my monitors up so it’s like more the proper ergonomic height. Lots of little things like that, just to make sure that I’m comfortable.
Matthew Kay: I like that. Um, do you think about SEO in the shower, Patrick All right. All right. It was good talking. I enjoyed this. Yeah, that’s what SEO bots do. This is getting very personal.
Patrick Stox: In the shower, I was just joking. I mean, honestly, I’m always thinking about weird random things. I sometimes will be sending myself notes like right out of the shower or like some idea that I had some way we can improve the product or or something I want to bring.
Matthew Kay: Bring as always.
Patrick Stox: That that is our wake up at night time to myself something just so I don’t forget it.
Matthew Kay: I’m amused and amazed and everything else in between. Like that. You know, you are someone you’re writing a lot, you’re speaking a lot you’re doing a lot of things. You obviously have a comfortable desk we know this now. How do you stay focused? How do you how do you produce? What are the things that you do to you know, sit in front of a computer and get words onto a page? What does that look like for you?
Patrick Stox: I mean, it’s a whole process we do outlines feedback to the outlines and we draft feedback on the draft. Yeah, it’s just mainly just get it done. Try not to be distracted by slack or discord too much like kind of stuff. Because there are distractions, emails, oh, I’m probably the worst ever person in email. I think my personal email has I reached well over 100,000 emails and you know, professionally a little bit better but like I will only check my email once most days sometimes twice. Just because it can be a distraction. It can be a time sink and everything is can be a distraction. You know, Slack I think I’m in a lot of SEO things, Reddit. Emails, there’s project management systems. It’s just, you know, some days I will just kind of ignore one thing just to focus on something else, like I need to get this thing written and done. I’m gonna ignore whatever came in wherever to that day.
Matthew Kay: Gotcha. I think the staying focus is equal parts being able to do the task at hand but not have the task at hand be interrupted by other things, you know, fighting for your attention. You know, I think it’s a sort of maybe close this out here what what are the things that you maybe sit back on a recurring basis and you wonder why people don’t ask you. This is like a question asking you to pose back question to yourself, trying to get a little better here. So, what have you not been asked that? You wonder why nobody has ever asked you. You know, the How did this guy how did that go? What does that look like for you?
Patrick Stox: You don’t know. I don’t know. I got um.
Matthew Kay: No worries. Well, Patrick, a pleasure to have you here. And yeah, thank you for for your time. This is great.
In this episode
I’m Patrick Stox, Product Advisor, Technical SEO, & Brand Ambassador at Ahrefs working out of Raleigh, NC. I live and breathe SEO. I love understanding how things work and all the weird and interesting issues.
I’ve been listed on many Top SEO lists and was part of the “Honor an SEO” series from Barry Schwartz at the Search Engine Roundtable.
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