Since founding his company SEO National in 2007, Damon Burton Writes for Forbes has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, BuzzFeed, and USA Weekly. He's helped high-profile clients make more in a month than they used to in a year. Not only does Burton bring an easy to follow approach to increasing your revenue and online visibility, but he’s also a trusted educator on this subject and has literally written the book on how to outrank your competition. His book, Outrank, serves as a guide to those who want to dominate Google's search results without paying for ads.
I was looking into your website and I'm intrigued by the story about how you beat a billion-dollar company in showing up higher than them in the search engines. Can you share that with our listeners?
Yeah, that's a fun story. It was actually kind of in the infancy of when I jumped into the SEO world and it was just a little hobby site. So this around 2007, my wife was watching the Bachelor and she says, "Hey, babe, it's the season finale, come in to watch this with me. So I went in and watched a little bit of it and from what I remember from watching season finales with her before, is that they wouldn't announce who the next bachelor was going to be, they'd leave a cliffhanger and you'd have to wait. What was interesting about this year, and now in subsequent years, is they announced who the gentleman was going to be. So I was curious about why they did that and I went and looked him up, assuming that I would find information on their website about it and I couldn't find anything on their website. But it was this guy who was a Navy Captain, and he runs triathlons. So I thought to myself if I'm not really that interested in it because it was more just a brief curiosity and all these huge diehard fans are going to be interested in it, they're certainly looking. So I told my wife, I said, "Hey, I'm gonna be in here for a little bit," and so that night, I spent 90 minutes building a website, and cataloged any public information I could find about this guy and put it up. By the end of the week, it was the number one website for this bachelor guy and we were able to outrank The Bachelor website and ABC is a multi-billion dollar brand so it's a fun story to share. So at the time, I was in my early 20s, and I put AdSense on there so I was making like 1000s of dollars a month in passive income. But at the core, why that's such a good success story is because I solved the problem. I answered questions that the consumers were demanding and so that's a simplistic way of looking at SEO. That was not the most beautiful website, but it solved the problem. It had some pictures of the guy that people were looking for, had the bio on the guy that people were looking for, had resources on the guy that people were looking for, and then I'm hesitant to admit it, but then I started adding updates at the end of each show that season about what was going on with his story on The Bachelor.
Let's talk about ads in search engines a little bit, why would you pay for ads when you can get sales from search engines for free?
There are some pros and cons to any marketing campaign. The nice thing about ads is that they're quicker than SEO, SEO is a slow game, but that's the only advantage. The disadvantages of ads are that you always have an ad budget. So as that space becomes more competitive, you have to pay more, you have to increase your budget. Then there's also a shelf life to your ad. A lot of people will be familiar with the term "ad fatigue," where someone has an ad on Google or Facebook and it runs great for six weeks, and then you wake up the next day, and it's dead. So you're always having a scramble on turning these ads off and on. A lot of people I know that actively run aggressive ad campaigns, they are literally in their ad campaigns every day and that becomes tiring. So to the opposite of that, I'm not wanting to say that SEO is the only way, I think there's a time in place for all of them. But with SEO, the advantages and disadvantage of the complete opposite of paid ads. The goal with SEO is to show up higher on search engines without paying for ads by building up the credibility of your website. So the only downside to SEO is that it's a slower play, you can easily be into it for six months to a year before you see any movement. I tell all our new clients that you need to mentally commit to at least a year. So you have to have not only the patience but you have to have the cash flow and the runway to pay for something that's not going to drive a return for probably at the earliest three to six months. But once it kicks in, then you have all these other advantages. You don't have the daily ad fatigue that you have to check all the time, you don't have a fluctuating ad budget, you have a fixed management fee to your SEO agency. Once you get to the top, unless you're playing in the gray area of SEO and doing some risky tactics, you've got to work pretty hard to screw it up. Once you're there, you're there and then you can start to snowball your reach of showing up for this handful of keywords and leverage your newfound credibility to show up for another handful of keywords. So as long as you have the patience and cash flow to cover that investment in the early months, it's way more consistent and stable with less drama.
I imagine when you talk about ads and retargeting ads, if you invest in SEO, then you're spending less money on retargeting if that's a strategy versus trying to get additional paid users to your site.
Yeah for sure. I've owned SEO national for 14 years and other than a few experiments out of curiosity, we have literally never spent $1 on advertising and we've done business with multi-billion dollar companies. You can build a hugely successful, scalable business without having to pay for ads.
I agree 100%. People go to Google because they have a challenge and as long as your site is set up to prove that you can solve that problem, Google's gonna display you.
Yeah, depending on the industry, organic listings will have a better buyer too, especially when you start comparing against Facebook paid ads. Because what happens on paid ads is you are the shiny bubble gum wrapper at the checkout stand. Maybe not so much on Google ads, but definitely on Facebook ads and social ads because you interrupted them and you're like, "Hey, look at me." So then they might go, "Oh, yeah, I've been thinking about that thing," but with search engine traffic, people made a proactive decision to go search something very specifically. So you have a higher quality lead with better buyer intent because they are the ones that initiated the query to find the right solution, which is hopefully you.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
So my business model is largely based on relationships. We do SEO for ourselves, but other than that, we don't do paid ads, as I mentioned. I would say referrals are probably 90% of our business and the other 10% is through networking relationships. So a couple of years ago, we were introduced to the Utah Jazz and they were looking to increase their sales of retail merchandise, hats, and jerseys through their division called team store. So what happened was, I had a gentleman reach out on LinkedIn that said, "Hey, I saw your post about XY and Z, can you come in and chat." They just happened to be local, which was interesting, because most of our clients, I've never met in person, and they're in other states. So this guy was about 15 minutes away and I went into their boardroom and had a very formal conversation with all the head honchos. Then when I left, he hit me up an hour or two later and said, "Hey, thanks for coming in, what doesn't happen often is usually you leave a marketing meeting more confused and that wasn't the case with you, you came in and not only did you tell us the advantages of what you offer, but you also told us the disadvantages, you told us that it takes time." So he ended up moving forward and becoming a client. Two weeks after they were a client we were still going through the onboarding process, but he could see how organized we were in how we launched the campaign, how we sequenced certain engagements and actions. So two weeks into the campaign, he says, "Hey, when I introduce you to my neighbor, he works for this law firm in Vegas," and so I said, "Okay, great, let's talk." So he sends the introduction to this guy, we end up onboarding his Vegas law firm. So here within three weeks, from one post, we have two clients. Then with this law firm guy, one week later, he says, "Hey, I want to introduce you to the Utah Jazz," like that’s out of the left field. In my mind, I thinking like, "Yeah, of course, that's awesome, but who are you?" So come to find out, he was the guy, he was the exiting vice president of their retail sales. They were restructuring how their team store was ran, he was taking a different opportunity with some friends at the law firm to do their logistics and marketing. So he was the guy and I could not have spent a million dollars on Facebook paid ads, Google ads, postcards, anything, to get that introduction to make that meeting to have that type of relationship to work with the Utah Jazz.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture these relationships that you're creating?
One thing that I try to protect is the personal side of it because logistically, you get to a point of scale where it's hard to manage all those individual relationships. So you have to consider bringing on a team and VAs to help with that, but then you don't want to delete the message and the brand, and you don't want to delete the relationship. So for me what I found is you're growing so fast that you have to make some quick changes and so part of those changes is how I manage my LinkedIn network. What I've done is I'm hyper-protective of the relationship, like I want these relationships. I don't know if it's for selfish reasons, because they just make me feel good and I like talking with people, but I like the non-business side of business and I want to protect that. But I don't have the time anymore to respond to all of these comments on the post, which is awesome and I don't have the time to check my inbox every day, which is an awesome problem, but at the same time, I don't want to just pass it to a VA. So what I've done is I've documented guidelines for my team. So I have one person that works on comments, and one person that works on my inbox. What I've done is I've said, "Hey, anything, that's a general comment, go ahead and acknowledge it, give it give thanks, whatever is applicable, but anytime there's anything that either is an opportunity to build a relationship or is an SEO specific question that I can help somebody with, let me know." So every morning I wake up, and my team members that handle this, we communicate through Skype. So every morning, I wake up, get in Skype, and I’ve got like 26, links to LinkedIn in my Skype of comments that they've identified and they're like here's an opportunity for Damon to be Damon. Or somebody that replied to a new contact, whether it was them engaging me or me, engaging them, where they actually asked a question. So I've built these roles that allow me to scale the personality and nurture relationships in the way I want to without bottlenecking it. So I think that'll help a lot of people. I don't think it's the answer for everybody, but I think what I would try to emphasize out of that example is to think outside of the box and stop thinking that you can't scale a personality. If you have a problem, figure out what the solution is, and then try to reverse engineer your own way to accomplish it. I'm confident other people are out there, talking and offering courses or coaching or whatever on doing what I just did, but I've never seen it and so I just came up with a solution that I felt would solve my problems and protect what I wanted to protect.
What advice do you have for that professional that's looking to grow their network?
Stop looking for the shortcuts. The further along I get in my career, the more I realize I'm kind of the oddball out because I've never spent any money on ads, my entire team is remote, I've never met any of them, my longest employee has been with me for 12 years, and I've never had an employee quit. So all these things I've realized in retrospect, I didn't realize the value and the safety net of reoccurring invoicing, the safety net that provides. So all these things have become this huge blessing just because I did them because it felt right. It certainly wasn't the quickest game, but to come all the way around to the question of what advice can I offer, I would say, to carve your own path. One of the biggest things that I know contributed to what I've been able to accomplish is by being uncomfortable with the unknown. What I mean by that is, I started my agency 15 years ago and I had no idea that this was going to be my career, but I was okay with that. I was confident that at some point, I'd be self-employed, I didn't know that I'd own a company. I certainly didn't know in what capacity that company would operate, but I was okay with that. I think the problem that a lot of people run into, especially now with social media. Social media is cool for whatever it's cool for, but the downside is that it just glorifies so much. You should glorify your entrepreneurial wins, but you shouldn't be obsessed with other people's entrepreneurial wins, because you have no idea what went on behind that. There's that cliche quote that overnight success usually takes 10 years and it's totally true. So just try to stay in your lane, don't be obsessed with other people's shiny objects, don't be obsessed with what chapter in life other people are on, and don't prematurely commit to something you're going to regret later, yeah, it might be attractive now, but if you know that's not what you want to do long term, you're gonna hate yourself in 5-10 years, and then you're gonna think, "Holy crap, I just waited 5-10 years." I think it's a little bit of delayed gratification and if you're willing to play by that rule then you'll be happier in the long run.
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