How does SEO really work?

by Joe Williams

Posted on Mar 20, 2020

Will Francis, our experienced podcaster sits down to have an in-depth chat with SEO expert Joe Williams founder of Tribe SEO. Today, they take a deep dive into Search Engine Optimization - Joe tells us how it really works, so let's dive right in and press play.

Our podcast series - Ahead of the Game - launches a new episode every second Friday, each with a unique - and always fascinating - discussion on all types of aspects of digital marketing.

Listen to the podcast below. The full transcript is also below or you can download a PDF of it.


Podcast Episode 3: How Does SEO Really Work?

[00:00:04] Will: Welcome to "The Big Q&A," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today we'll be taking a deep dive into SEO or search engine optimization. It's quite simply the business of getting a website ranked on search engine results pages. But behind the scenes, it's far from simple and one of the most misunderstood areas of digital marketing. To tell us how it really works and give us an insight into what an SEO expert actually does, we have Joe Williams, who teaches on this very subject at Tribe SEO. Joe's been in SEO for over 15 years consulting for and training brands large and small, from people like the Guardian, Cosmopolitan, and Sky, through to growth-stage startups. He says he's on a mission to make SEO easy, fun, and profitable. Also, Joe's a new dad, and he's left London after 10 years for the Welsh seaside where he grew up. It sounds idyllic. He regularly swims with his dog, lives in an ancient fisherman's cottage, and his next-door neighbor is Craster from Game of Thrones. Welcome to the podcast, Joe.


[00:01:10] Joe: Hi, Will, I'm very pleased to be here.


[00:01:13] Will: Well, I'm very intrigued about what you do. You know, I'm a social and content marketer. And I think I've got a broad understanding of SEO, but I'm well aware that there's a lot I don't know. So, my job over the next hour or so is to try and extract all the useful information in your head, because I think there's a lot of it. And, you know, let's get straight into it. Tell me where you think SEO is today. And where has it been? What kind of journey has it been on? How has it changed in the course of your career?


[00:01:48] Joe: Okay, well, yeah, I've been in SEO for around 15 years. And to start with, it used to be this sort of technical thing people would, you know, be looking to hire SEOs. And quite often, a website would have a lot of technical issues, and they needed to be fixed. And after that, you start to think about building your content. So, I think there's been a little bit of a shift where 15-years-ago, people would look for skill sets like myself at the time, which was perhaps a little bit more technical. And the shift is kind of moving more into content and more into the promotion of content as well. So, yes, so I think SEO is obviously evolving. Google's algorithm is evolving. And it's more about, you know, Google has always said, "Focus on the user, and all else will follow." And no one really took notice on that too much because you could game the system and lots of people did game the system. But I think, with artificial intelligence, we're getting closer to the connection of what Google says you should do, and that's focus on the user.


[00:02:55] Will: Right. And so is it a... It seems to me it's a much broader field, because, you know, you look at things like Google page speed and size. And, right, okay, so now I've got to be a UX expert and understand that across lots of different devices, but particularly kind of mobile-first. There's all those other considerations now because Google is getting better at understanding the quality and relevance of content. So, have you had to kind of pick up a lot of new skills along the way?


[00:03:29] Joe: Yeah, I definitely say so. I think, you know, SEO used to kind of be this silo that sat below marketing, whereas now it's kind of part of marketing. So, you know, site speed, for example, that kind of does come back to focusing on the user. It's having a good user experience. And being an SEO doesn't necessarily mean that you have the technical knowledge of a web developer to make sure your website is loading quick.


[00:03:59] Will: You just need to be able to diagnose it and kind of...


[00:04:01] Joe: Exactly, you need to know what the benchmarks are, what's acceptable time, what's not acceptable, and just have a little bit more advanced knowledge than perhaps your average person that looks after a website to just encourage a web developer to make the change that needs to happen in that context, in a more technical space.


[00:04:22] Will: So, modern SEO is basically three disciplines?


[00:04:28] Joe: Yes.


[00:04:30] Will: Essentially.


[00:04:30] Joe: Yes, in fact, not just, if I'm thinking of the same three... Yeah, I'll let you go, Will.


[00:04:38] Will: I think its content, technical, and what's the other one?


[00:04:43] Joe: We've got content, technical, and links.


[00:04:46] Will: Links.


[00:04:47] Joe: We sometimes say, on-page, which is content, off-page, which is links, and then technical is the same. And the strange thing is, in the time that I've been in SEO, those three core areas of SEO existed back 15, 20 years ago, so they haven't changed. They're kind of like the core principles to SEO. What has changed is that search engines have got smarter in understanding what's genuinely good content that helps the user and is relevant, and what's less quality content. And that, perhaps, is actually trying to gain the system and manipulate the system. So, the broad principles are still the same, which I quite like, because it kind of means we don't have to change our strategy on a day-to-day basis. But what is happening is there's some nuances that are changing and Google built itself in terms of being the most popular search engine based on its links algorithm. So, page rank is all about how reputation flows across the internet and between web pages. And prior to that, it used to be very much to do with keywords, and content, and a few technical things. But it was in isolation, it wasn't seeing how web pages are connected together.


[00:06:06] And I think it was 1998, Google was released. And by 2000, 2001, it was pretty much the most popular search engine. And that was predominantly because of its page rank algorithm that was able to provide better results. And that page rank algorithm was quite dominant for a number of years, 10-plus years, as the driving factor, in my opinion, in how Google decided what results to show the user. But that's, you know, over the last, particularly six years since Google updated its main algorithm to name it as Hummingbird. There's been a shift and, you know, the links are still important, still very important. But there's a shift more between content and having a really good user experience.


[00:06:53] Will: That's really fascinating. I have to admit I definitely keyword stuffed in the late '90s, in my first website.


[00:06:59] Joe: I think we all did a little bit, yeah.


[00:07:02] Will: Yeah, okay. And so, you actually used the term search engines just there. I mean, we all imagine that SEOs just think about Google, do you actually consider other search engines?


[00:07:16] Joe: I think it depends on the context. But I think for most people, you know, I quite often use Google and search engine interchangeable.


[00:07:24] Will: Same here.


[00:07:25] Joe: And for most countries in the world, it's around 90% of people use Google as their, you know, as a search engine. Certainly in the U.K., in the U.S., I think, we've got exceptions with, you know, like South Korea, we've got exceptions with China and Russia, but, you know, outside of those countries, it's usually Google is the main search engine. And my kind of take on it is, even when we look at Bing and Yahoo, what works well for Google kind of works well broadly for Bing and Yahoo as well, and other search engines. There are, obviously, subtle differences, but I think, as a general rule, that's kind of my take on it. Now, obviously, there's the kind of non-traditional search engines with Echo and Alexa kind of on the rise. But I think, predominantly, I think most people are talking about Google when they're talking about search engine optimization.


[00:08:27] Will: And just a small note on that, how do you regard search engines, alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo, that are more privacy-focused and have a more sort of, well, it seems to be a more user-centric value to their business, is that a thing we should be considering? Or...


[00:08:49] Joe: I mean, I like DuckDuckGo and I like to see new search engines being given a go. You know, I would say, the reality is from a commercial perspective, if you're a business, it's more of a "let's keep a watcher on it and see what happens." And if you take your private, you know, if you're a user and you prefer to use DuckDuckGo for privacy reasons, then that's cool. But I think, from a commercial perspective, I don't know what the latest numbers are for DuckDuckGo, but my guess would be, it would be like maybe half a percent or less, potentially.


[00:09:24] Will: I would say.


[00:09:25] Joe: So, yeah, it depends on your outlook, really. But I think, in terms of having a focus, I would kind of focus on, yeah, Google first, and then just see how that cascades with some of the smaller search engines as well.


[00:09:39] Will: Yeah. And thinking more broadly in terms of marketing, how does, you know, today, how does SEO kind of intersect and interact with other trending disciplines, particularly thinking about social media and content marketing?


[00:09:55] Joe: Yeah. So, I think today's sort of modern marketer should be linking those three disciplines together. So, you know, the whole idea with search engine optimization, if we think about the links side of things, this is all about making your website more reputable, building the social proof of your web pages.


[00:10:18] Will: And do we know much about how much notice Google takes of social links, do you know much about that?


[00:10:24] Joe: We do. I mean, it's a little bit mixed in terms of what people's view is on it. But as a general feeling, my sort of take on social media links is the link that you get from a social media profile won't necessarily benefit you that much in terms of reputation being passed from an SEO perspective to your site, but the real benefit is the eyeballs. So, if you're being shared on say, Twitter, for example, by someone who's got a lot of followers, potentially, some of those followers may be potential customers, but they may be potential journalists or bloggers. And then you can kind of get the more traditional links from other websites, which tend to have more of a benefit in terms of page rank and reputation. But interestingly, with the new kind of no-follow announcement, which happened around a week or two ago, Google is changing its sort of tact a little bit in terms of how it treats no-follow, so, particularly with UGC, user-generated content.


[00:11:33:278] So, in the past when we saw a no-follow link on a web page, really, what we're instructing search engines to do, from an SEO perspective, is not to pass reputation from one web page to another. It wasn't saying that it was a bad page that was being linked to, but it was just, you know, if it was a blog comment, it was just saying to the search engines, you know, "This is a blog comment. We can't endorse what this commenter is saying." Likewise, if it was a paid link, it wasn't saying that the link it was linking to was bad. It was just saying that that link, you know, they were neutral in terms of endorsing it. So, I think maybe there will be a bit of a shift where social media can play a bigger part in terms of search engines and reputation, because where links have been no-followed in the past. what Google is saying now is, rather than taking that as being really definitive, and that no reputation will be passed, it's now looking at it as more of a hint at that, perhaps reputation shouldn't be passed. But, with Google's algorithm and artificial intelligence, it may say, "Well, we know a bit about this commenter on this blogger, and they have a reputation. So perhaps we will pass some reputation through a no-followed link."


[00:12:49] Will: That's interesting, isn't it? I mean, I suppose there's some webmasters, as they used to be called, that would worry about that, you know, worry that their instruction wasn't absolute, I suppose. But, it's Google's products and we have to trust that they're keeping their search results as relevant as possible through AI and machine learning.


[00:13:09] Joe: Yeah, I mean, you know, at the end of the day, it is Google's rules. You know, it's Google's algorithm. So, I think we just need to kind of adapt and evolve. And I think the reality is, even with this new no-follow announcement by Google, I don't think it's gonna change the state of play that much. And also, we don't really know how it's gonna be treated until the dust settles. And that's quite a common thing in the SEO industry, is you'll see an announcement and you'll get quite a lot of SEO experts giving their commentary in terms of how this may be interpreted. But we don't tend to really know until, you know, maybe a few months down the line, maybe Google will have made a second or third announcement. And that's maybe one tip that I would have for people who are learning SEO, is, you know, don't always take what's on face value, you know, within the week of an announcement, it's usually maybe some experts making predictions which may or may not be true. And it's personal interpretation. So, it's just building your layer of knowledge over time, really, and then getting a collective view on what you think's happening.


[00:14:22] Will: And on that, how do you keep so in touch with the world of SEO? How do you kind of, and how do you do that without spending all day reading blogs?


[00:14:31] Joe: Okay, yeah. So, I mean, a lot of SEOs are on Twitter, it seems to be the social media site where they're most active and, you know, if you're very active, and I think you can either be very active yourself where you're posting a lot on Twitter, and I think there's no getting around, you have to kind of spend time doing it. But if you wanna take it more from a learning perspective, one thing that I do is I use a website called That's N-U-Z-Z, I think it's


[00:15:00] Will: It is. I love Nuzzel yeah.


[00:15:01] Joe: Yeah, I know, it's a great tool. And nice thing is I follow quite a lot of people on Twitter. But the reality is there's only a select few that, maybe around 100, that I actually genuinely think, "These guys are really sort of knowledgeable around SEO, I wanna stay up to date with what they're talking about, what they're sharing." So I submit a Twitter list to Nuzzel. And then what that means is I can then, at any time I can just log into Nuzzel, rather than social media. I can see the most recent posts that people I trust are sharing, or I just get an email summary around 4:00 every day. And I think what that allows me to do's like you can easily kind can get very distracted on social media. So, it feels like I'm staying in touch with people that I trust without necessarily spending too much time, and what's quite good is you get a... when you see an article, the most shared article by your friends, it's rated by how many shares they've had. So they'll sort of come more predominantly. And you can actually start to see pictures of the people who have shared it.


[00:16:09] Will: And you see their commentary, I find that really useful, because when I see one of the top shared pieces of content on Nuzzel, what I also wanna know is what does the community think about that? Why are they sharing that? Are they saying that...because it could be sharing it, it's going, "Oh, my God, this is a load of rubbish." Or they could be sharing it in a positive way, or. So I think that's one of the really good strengths of Nuzzel, you get a very quick hot take on what's being shared, but what people think about it.


[00:16:34] Joe: Yeah, no, definitely. And, yes, it's a great tool to check out. It's also...I think they've got a premium version, but I just use the free version, so...


[00:16:42] Will: I'm far too cheap to pay for the premium version. I am.


[00:16:45] Joe: Yeah, me, too. So, definitely worth checking out, that one.


[00:16:49] Will: Okay, so, let's talk about you. What I'm really interested in is, how did you get into SEO, but more specifically, at what point did you realize, "This is the thing I want to really focus my career on," and why? What was that kind of moment?


[00:17:10] Joe: Okay, yeah. So, I would probably guess it was around 2004, maybe. I'd finished university, I had been traveling, I had what I considered a really boring job in Swansea. And it was looking after an IT system for a property company. And it was very much to do with databases and SQL. Now, I know that's an ideal job for, you know, probably many people. But, for me, it just really wasn't very interesting and it was quite a well-paid job. And then after three days, I just handed my notice in and I was just like, "I've had enough, I'm gonna find something that I'm genuinely interested in." And, you know, just out of uni, I was still living with my parents. And I told my parents I was gonna start an online business. And I think they were quite skeptical. And they asked me, all the brothers, whether they thought it was a good idea. But, you know, this is around 2004.


[00:18:07] Will: And you came out of uni quite tech-savvy, because you're done computational science. What was it you did?


[00:18:13] Joe: It's computing informatics. So, strangely, we didn't talk very much about SEO in that degree. And it was only a small amount of websites. But it was probably quite a good background to be able to start and build a website. And I think WordPress was out at that stage, but I hadn't heard of it. So I sort of built it from scratch. And the website was called I've since sold it, but it was just essentially, you know, if you typed in Tesco's opening hours, or maybe, you know, your local supermarket opening hours, it was actually quite hard at the time to find the results either on Google or on the actual websites. So I created a site which basically collated all the opening hours for popular stores. And then once someone found the opening hours, there would be a little message below it or a little box thing, "Hey, have you thought about buying this product online?" Because at that stage, people were quite new to spending money online. And then I would get a little commission if they clicked on my link, it sent them to the store.


[00:19:17] Will: It's such a good idea.


[00:19:19] Joe: And I might get like 2% or 3% commission, or it might be like, if they were a new customer, I might get like 20 pounds or something like that. And I was like, I just remember, I'd be getting up early, I'd be finishing quite late. And, at the time, you could make a small tweak to a web page, you'd wait for it to get crawled and indexed, maybe just changed the alt text of an image on a page. And I was like, "Aha, I've climbed up a couple of places." And it's not quite the same now as making small changes and seeing immediately benefits. It takes a little bit longer, normally. But I was like, "Right, I'm really interested in SEO, more so than building websites." I couldn't see myself, you know, my full-time business being about opening hours of companies. It wasn't that interesting. But I was quite convinced that if I had stuck with that, I could see that it had the potential to make some good money. But I decided to move to London, I sold the website, and just started working in SEO for a few different companies.


Will: [00:20:24] Right, Okay. And so you worked in an agency, did you? Is that where you kind of started out?


Joe: [00:20:31] Yeah, I actually started out in a in-house. So it was for an online math tuition website. And that was really interesting. So I was kind of more of a broader marketer, or really a broader digital marketer. So I was dealing with affiliates. I was doing Google Ads. I was doing SEO. But I think I realized that it was SEO that I was most interested in. But, yeah, where I probably learned SEO with my steepest learning curve would have been a year or so later when I moved to an agency. And, yeah, just really specialized in SEO.


[00:21:10] Will: Okay, and what sort of, I mean, what sort of things did you try in those early days? You know, and at what point did you realize you were quite good at and had a knack at it if you know what I mean?


[00:21:24] Joe: I think when I realized I was quite good at it, I guess, know, sometimes. I wanna keep it a little modest. But, no, I think what I found was I think once you have a base level of SEO, it's a lot to do with common sense. And I don't mean necessarily common sense as we think of common sense generally. I think if you haven't got general common sense, you can still have SEO common sense. And then even though you've got a base level of SEO, you can start putting the pieces together and predicting how things will work. And in my early stage of SEO, I'd be like, "Well, I actually think it works like this." And then, maybe a few months later, I'd read a blog post by an SEO that I valued. And he would talk about this new idea, this new topic, and I was kind of thinking, "Hey, I had that idea." But, of course, I hadn't written about it publicly, but I just kind of felt like it kind of worked in terms of how my brain worked. It just seemed to make sense to me, SEO.


[00:22:25] Will: That's good. That's cool. That's very handy, because I think it will always be an in-demand. And like I said, I think it's quite misunderstood. I think it's a bit like being a drummer. I'm a drummer, right? So you're always in demand, because it's not maybe the most popular route. Because it's not the easiest, it's hard. Turning up and doing it is a lot harder than the guy who just turns up with a microphone or uses the venue's microphone and then, you know. Anyway, that's the best analogy I've got. But, so, I think you'll always be in demand, but how do you feel then being a specialist in a world where I think specialism is thriving today. I mean, a lot of people talk about generalism as well. But I do think that more and more, you know, agencies and freelancers are banding together around projects, rather than everything being under the auspices of one agency. And I think we're all getting the benefit of that. But how do you fit into.


[00:23:29] Joe: Well, yeah, I think the secret point in generalism specialist, and I was probably a generalist for the first year or two. And probably like, you know, the majority of the last 15 years, I would say, I've been more of a specialist. And an analogy that I would maybe give you is, you know, let's imagine that you've been playing squash for, you know, years and years, and there's a lot of, or maybe even tennis, and at a certain point you get into a very good level and you're getting problems with your knee. And, you know, you could go to your local doctor, your local GP, and you could say, "Hey, I've got this problem with my knee and I've been playing a lot of squash, a lot of tennis, can you help?" Or, you know, you could find a knee specialist who specializes in sports injuries and, you know, he has looked after and repaired a lot of damaged knees in his time.


[00:24:20] And there's this difference there between being an expert in something or more of a generalist. And I know that if I really valued my squash or my tennis, then I would probably wanna see the knee specialist, you know. That would kind of be my direction that I would go to. And I think, as you start to develop your career in digital marketing, unless you sort of stay in-house and maybe the in-house company isn't that big, then...


[00:24:47] Will: Where you have to be general.


[00:24:48] Joe: Where you have to be general. And to be honest, I think it's really good to start off general because you understand how all these other areas all talk and link together. Like my Google Ads knowledge maybe isn't as relevant as an expert, like now, it isn't as relevant. But at one stage, I would say that I was kind of very close to sort of being a specialist in Google Ads, it was kind of that and SEO, and the two are obviously very linked together. So if I didn't understand how Google Ads work, then I don't think I would be as strong as I am now in SEO. So, yeah, I think it really depends. I think, you know, if you wanna be an expert, if you wanna be speaking about topics, then it helps to be a specialist. If you wanna be noticed and recommended by know, some people call me Joe, the SEO, I'm not Joe, the digital marketer. And, you know, it's kind of like someone, you know, you're in a cafe or in a bar, and it's like, "Oh, I've got this real problem with my SEO." It's like, "You need to speak to Joe the SEO." Whereas, if you're more of a generalist, it's kind of like, "Well, I'm sure I know someone who can help, but it'll come to me later." So.


[00:26:00] Will: There's less of an obvious link between the problem and the solution, which is you. And there's also far more competition, you know, as a generalist, or as a small agency that generalized in digital marketing. You know, I understand that, that you're just up against so many people, whereas when you're in a specialism, and particularly SEO, I do think, I don't know if you agree, but I do think it's definitely one of the smaller specialisms, or, you know, it's one of the rarest specialisms rather. So I do think there's a lot to think about there in terms of kind of building a career. And another kind of decision I think people are always in the process of making in marketing is to whether to be freelance, or whether to work in an agency, or to work in-house at a brand. And you've done all three.


[00:26:51] Joe: Yeah, I've done all three and I've enjoyed all three. I mean, where did I start? I started in-house, so I started for a company mentioned before it did maths online tuition. The biggest difference for me between in-house and an agency, and I liked both, but in an in-house, you have more time to think about the one company and a bit more time to be more strategic, because the one goal is that business' success. And when that business becomes successful, you tend to share it as a team or it's kind of's quite a nice, that connection. Whereas in an agency, you know, even when you do really good work and get good results for a client, you don't quite share the same experience of that win because they don't wanna celebrate too much with you because they don't want you to become complacent. But equally though, in an agency, it is fast-paced, it took me maybe a month or two to acclimatize to an agency. But with that fast pace, you generally learn a lot quicker. You're dealing with a much broader sample of websites, you're learning from other people who are doing the same thing as you, whereas in-house, it might just be you who's a digital marketer.


[00:28:09] So, I enjoyed both, but I think, after perhaps, you know, maybe five years of working in agency, it just didn't feel right for me anymore. It kind of felt that it was hard to do right for my CEO who ran the agency and it was hard to do right for the clients. And it felt like it all came down to billable hours. It was like, "At the end of the month, Joe, you know, you need to do your 120 billable hours per month." And, you know, at times, it could be quite hard just juggling all the balls, and it was hard to give the care that you wanted to give to clients. So, I think if you've got an agency that's really well managed, and they're profitable, so they're not worrying too much about billable hours. And you can kind of build a product and you can kind of look after your clients well as well. But I think for a lot of smaller agencies, it's hard to be profitable and it's hard to give the support that your clients really deserve. So, I kind of felt like I'm gonna step out of this and start SEO training which, to start with, was in-person SEO training.


[00:29:26] Will: And so I suppose being freelance and working for yourself, having those direct client relationships even in the training sense, I suppose you just have that satisfaction of, you know that you can deliver fully and properly for each client in a way that you're satisfied with and you feel good about.


[00:29:47] Joe: Yeah, definitely. And that's a good point. With the freelance compared to, say, an agency, it's sort of somewhere in the middle, you know, you're kind of, you can give the client the care and attention that you wanna give them. But at the same time, you are separated from them. So you can kind of work with other clients and learn as well. So, I think all three are good, you know, and I think you can stick to just being a freelance and raise your rates and you build your reputation. And if you don't wanna kind of, you know, maybe build a team or a company, then that's a good way to do it. So, I think it depends on how you feel comfortable.


[00:30:31] Will: I think so. Yeah, I mean, and I think for me, if anybody asked me earlier in their career, or at any point, they could have gone into marketing, what they should do, I think I would always suggest spending some time in an agency going and intern in an agency. Because, like you say, it's very fast-paced. You get to work on very different accounts often, unless it's a very big agency and you just get stuck on the one account, but even so, you're exposed to lots of different ways of working, people at lots of different stages in their careers. And I think it's a massive education. It was a huge education to me. But I do think, burnout has got to be, from what I've seen personally, burnout is far more common in agencies. And the amount of people I know that are ex-agents, you know, like my Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections that I've worked in agencies with before, half of them are running kind of yoga studios in their local communities and it's that classic trajectory of they work 20 hours a day at an agency and give everything for so long and then they just completely burn out and have a massive career change. So, you know, something to be aware of, but I think everybody should cut their teeth a little bit in that world.


[00:31:41] Joe: Yeah. I share a very similar viewpoint in that you learn a lot very quickly. And the other thing as well is you learn from, not just from an SEO or a digital marketing perspective, but you learn to become more commercial, you learn how other people pitch in meetings, and, you know, I was very lucky in the agency that I was at that the CEO and the Operations Director I spent a lot of time with. So, I learned a lot from a commercial perspective, which I think really helped.


[00:32:10] Will: That's a very good point, especially if you're gonna go freelance, you have to become your own, you know, head of new business, head of accounts, and all that kind of stuff in the commercial side of it.


[00:32:19] Joe: Yeah, I totally agree with your viewpoint there, Will.


[00:32:24] Will: Okay, so, thinking more about your life, working for yourself. So, as I said, you live in what sounds like an absolutely gorgeous kind of setting on the coast of Wales. But how do you go about managing a business. You know, you're a new parent, you work from home. What are the main sort of challenges with that?


[00:32:52] Joe: Yeah, I mean, just working from home is a challenge in itself. And, you know, I think I started with a table in my bedroom. And then it moved into a table in the lounge. And then it moved into its own room. And now I've climbed up the kind of, almost to the dream levels of working from home, I've got a cabin outside the house.


[00:33:16] Will: Amazing.


[00:33:16] Joe: And that cabin overlooks the house which overlooks a nice sea. So it's a lovely space to be in. And I've never had a problem with working from home, in that, you know, I kind of felt lonely or I needed more connection talking to people. But I think maybe what I sort of struggled with more was just being focused on what's the most important thing to do. And it wasn't so much that I would get distracted with social media so much. It was more to do with just being curious and learning new things, and my mind would kind of wander as I was investigating how to help a customer's problem. And I think sometimes you can wander too far, but, you know, on TribeSEO on our About Us page, I think we've got three values, I better remember them now. One is curiosity, we've got clarity, and we've got courage. And I think the first one, curiosity, is important for SEO. If you're not curious around the subject, and I think this applies to, you know, all digital marketing disciplines, then I think you'll sort of struggle, because to be passionate a writer, and you'll struggle to become a specialist. So I think that's, it's a really good skill to have, to be curious. But at the same time, you sort of need to nip it at the bud a little bit, you know, at times because you need to kind of get the work done that you need to do, so it's a bit of a balancing act.


[00:34:45] Will: I'm terrible at that. If I start a piece of research, before I know it, I'm on the Wikipedia page for, you know, the history of kind of, you know, the dutch royal family. And I don't even know why I'm there. Do you know what I mean? And I get lost down rabbit wholes very easily. But, like you, and I think a lot of marketers, we wander into marketing we're drawn into digital marketing by our curiosity, because we start tinkering with the web. That was certainly sounds like your experience. So certainly my experience in the late '90s, just started tinkering with the web because there was this computer at home with the internet connected to it and one was really using it much and I see what I could make and break. You know, and then before you know it, you kind of, it's a skill that you've got, and you kind of you've wandered into digital marketing somehow. So, I don't know if you can manufacture that curiosity. But I think it's good to be aware that a lot of people in marketing really love it got into it because they started out just tinkering and seeing what would happen and like you with the kind of changing the small things and seeing if it could change what you see on a search results page.


[00:35:52] Joe: I think we're all curious about something, you know, like, it's having an interest in something and it's, you know, for SEO, it's search engine optimization. But I think being curious and optimizing, whether it's SEO, or Google Ads, or social media, that's the key thing. Like, what is optimization? It's making something better, it's improving it. It's fine-tuning it. And I think that comes from curiosity. It's hard to optimize something just by following list after list after list if you're not interested in that area, and I think it's a lesson that sometimes people learn quite late in their career that they're actually in a career that they're just not interested in at all, you know. And at times we change, of course, we change, but, yeah, I think it's good to allow time to be curious, but to not go too wide in your curiosity as well.


[00:36:47] Will: Indeed, and just to go back to something I meant to ask you about SEO specifically actually, talking about curiosity. I'm curious as to, so, in my world so I talk about social media and content marketing, I consult about it, I train about it. And I find that the same things come up again and again, people are making the same problems almost to the point where I've sort of wondered, am I replaceable? Is there just a really well-written blog post that could replace me because it's the same stuff that comes up time and time again. And it's gone beyond being a potentially random pattern. This is definitely a widespread thing, people misunderstand the role of content, the value of content, and the approach they should take to it. And it's all very simple stuff. Similarly with social. And I find myself telling people the same three things or so. What are the things that you come across in sort of 90% of your briefs now, whether you consult or whether it's someone in one of your training sessions, you know, asking about their business?


[00:37:50] Joe: Yeah, I mean, I think like, are you replaceable? Like I think it's...


[00:37:55] Will: I was sort of joking. I hope not.


[00:37:58] Joe: No, but I think it's a good point. Because we're talking about training, we're talking about digital marketing institute that offers a lot of training. And I think you can hear the same thing seven times, but one person will say it in a way that resonates with you, and it will stick. And you'll learn that one important thing of the three things.


[00:38:16] Will: That makes me feel a lot better. Thanks yeah.


[00:38:18] Joe: You're valuable, Will, very valuable. But no, in terms of some of the things, the common things, the mistakes that people make. I would say one of the sort of, I wouldn't quite say it's a schoolboy error, because it's something that a lot of people do when they're new to SEO. But, you know, you might research a page, and it might be quite a specific page, but you're researching keywords that are too general. So, you know, it might be, let me have a think, you know, it might be something like, you're looking at a luxury Botswana Safari page. And, you know, it's very specifically about safaris in Botswana, but you're going a little bit too Broadway, you know, you might put in Botswana as the keyword. Botswana holidays probably should be in there. But it's all about really, you know, if we think about what Google wants, it wants to understand the user intent of the keyword and it wants to deliver a page that's super relevant to that keyword, and that user intent. So that's the first one, is to trying to go for keywords that are too general for the user intent of the page you're optimizing.


[00:39:29] Another one is getting too obsessed with like the kind of trophy keyword in your industry. So, it could be, you know, in the UK, we say ski holidays in America it's ski vacations. But, you know, I remember working for a, they were a specialist self-driven ski holidays company in Europe. So it was quite niche, it was self-driven. It was lots of nice, quaint places you would stay in France, predominantly. And, you know, every meeting we would have it would be how are we getting on to ski holidays. You know, that's was the focus. So they wanted to rank the ski holidays. But the reality is they only had locations in Europe, predominantly France. And they were for self-driven ski holiday.


[00:40:22] Will: People really wanted ski holidays.


[00:40:23] Joe: Yeah, but if you think about a focus on the user, like, if someone's typed in ski holidays, we don't know whether they wanna go to Canada. We don't know if it's somewhere in the U.S. We actually, we don't know. So, like, really what would probably be the best in that case is kind of like being the Amazon of the ski industry where you've got all the products covered pretty well. You're talking about topics within the ski holidays. That's probably the page that Google wants to pick. And also that keyword probably won't convert very well. If someone's typed in ski holidays and you are number three, but you only offer holidays in France. Now if it's a U.K. search and maybe 30% of searches actually are interested in going into France, but probably, of those 30%, most of them wanna fly. Like I know I'm not the type that would probably wanna, you know, to get in the car for 10 or 12 hours. I know, in America, that's not a very long car journey, but, you know, for me, that's a long car journey and I would be tired starting my ski holiday, but that's a different type of person. So I think that's another thing to think about really is, yes, there's always gonna be a trophy keyword in your industry.


[00:41:31] And it's not to discourage you from targeting that keyword. But it's to just kind of focus more on the specific sometimes the mid, you know, not so much a long-tail specific keyword, not so much the fat head like ski holidays, it's somewhere in the middle, like it's to get a balance. So, yeah, one would be going too general, the second one would be going for the trophy keyword. I think another one would be, I just don't feel ready to start, you know, there's so much to do, I don't feel ready to start.


[00:42:04] And I think the reality is, you just got to start before you feel ready. Like that's the way you generally get good at anything. You know, it's kind of like, if you wanna, you know, as a kid, if you wanna go swimming, and you've never swum before, and, you know, you're five-years-old, and you say, "Tell me all the theory before I jump in the pool," you know, you're not gonna get really far, you just gotta jump in and start swimming. And I think it's definitely the same with SEO, it's, you don't wanna get too bogged down with everything. You just wanna, you know, get going and try and make progress. And then as you make small progress, you build up your knowledge and just keep going.


[00:42:41] Will: But that's the thing about SEO. It's hard and it's a bit daunting, and I suppose I'd be really interested to know, to what extent do you come across the attitude, "Well, I mean, yeah, we could sort our SEO out, but there are quicker wins here. We'd love to spend the money doing SEO, but actually, we're gonna spend it on content, or social, or PPC, because I can see that work from tomorrow onwards?"


[00:43:09] Joe: Yeah, I mean, if we look at it from an ROI, return on investment perspective, it's easier to track Google Ads or Facebook ads, and you do get quicker results. So I think if you're looking at it from a short-term perspective, maybe advertising is a more appealing route. But at the same time, advertising, you know, the cost of advertising generally goes up as the market becomes more saturated. So you could be in a position where your advertising is working very, very well at the moment, but, you know, in 6 months' time, 12 months' time, maybe Google, maybe Facebook changes its algorithm. It's, you know, you're at the mercy of the rules of, you know, in this case, Facebook, or your marketplace, how saturated it comes. But with SEO, I think it is a longer-term play. And the investment that you're putting in now might not be getting you the results tomorrow. But it will, you know, if you do it right, it will get you the results in the future. But it also will get you results after that moment that you start to rank.


[00:44:14] So I think another myth that I hear is, "I'm very pro 'you should be, you know, taking SEO seriously and you should be working on it every month.'" But the reality is, if you ranked in the top three positions for your most important keywords, and actually didn't know SEO at all, I suspect, you know, not that I would recommend doing this, but I suspect you'd probably get some, you know, six months, you wouldn't notice a massive difference, maybe even a year. So, there is this kind of hard to kind of quantify value of SEO, that, yes, you put the work in at the beginning, but you're gonna get the rewards later. But even later when you do get the rewards, you've kind of almost earned this kind of steady flow of customers afterwards.


[00:45:02] So it's kind of, you know, it takes a bit longer to get right but it's the rewards, I think, are kind of bigger. And also it's not an advert. And I think people, when they click on an advert and they know it's an advert, they respond a little bit differently. And, you know, in some cases, that's what people want, they wanna buy a product, they see an advert. They're very happy to click on it. But I think, when it's not an advert, you know, more people click on the SEO results compared to Google Ads. And it's because they know that those results, they've kind of earned the right to be there. And that's kind of why I think SEO works well.


[00:45:40] Will: So, I'm imagining in your pitch documents, your pitch deck, you don't promise, you don't sort of talk about the results in that sense. You know, obviously, you can't promise someone's gonna be...because you must have people asking you that, "Can you get me on the first page of Google?" Do you just explain basically what you've just explained to me in response, or do you have a talk about the likely results of your work?


[00:46:12] Joe: Google, you know, if you read through some of like Google's FAQs around SEO, they say no one should be guaranteeing results, you know, like, it's something that Google doesn't recommend. And you can't really because you don't know the resources that a competitor or several competitors are gonna put into the area. But I think you can, you know, with SEO, you can evolve and adapt. So if you're finding that your target keywords are really competitive, and they're taking longer to rank for, then, you know, there's the long-tail keywords, the more specific keywords that account for 70% of the overall search traffic. And you can kind of evolve and adapt your strategy. So, yeah, in a pitch, it would be like, look, SEO does take time, it depends on where you're starting from. If you're starting from scratch, and it's in a really competitive industry, and you've got a very modest budget in terms of what you're prepared to spend in terms of content and someone looking after the content and optimizing that, you know, maybe that's not a good thing to do to spend money on SEO, because it's such a competitive industry, and you've got a very small budget.


[00:47:19] But, you know, if you do have the time and resources, and maybe you're starting from a base level where, you know, you're on the second and third page for a kind of mid-range, competitive industry, you know, like, that's kind of, as an SEO, you're kind of licking your lips a little bit thinking, "I know that they're not really far away from actually this making a big difference." And there's a tipping point when you start, firstly, when you start to get onto the first page of Google, and then secondly, when you're in the top half of the first page of Google, and it's kind of like, up until that point, it kind of feels like, "I've put a lot of work in but I've not really seen a huge amount of results."


[00:47:56] Will: And why is that difference, if you could just very quickly quantify just very roughly, what's the difference between being not on the first page, bottom of the first page, top of the first page.


[00:48:05] Joe: Yeah, like I would say, you know, not on the first page, it's like a real, it's like if it was a stream, it'd be like a trickle coming out of a rock, you know, you'd barely be able to wash your face with the water. If you're on the second page of Google, like maybe the second half, you know, you can wash, it's a decent stream coming out. You're not gonna drown yourself in it or anything like that, but it's a decent flow, and you're getting a sense of this is starting to work. And then as you're on the top half, you know, it's quite a powerful stream. You know, if it was a vertical stream, you could probably shower in it, that type of thing.


[00:48:44] Will: It's good to see it through that lens of personal evolutions, but, yeah.


[00:48:48] Joe: Yeah, but very roughly, you know, you're gonna get twice as much traffic in position one compared to two. And, you know, it is significant, the jumps, the higher you get at the top, and it's not to say that you need to be in position one, you know. I think when someone's serious, it depends on the product. But when someone's serious on a product and they're spending, particularly, they're spending a bit of money, they're gonna probably do a bit of research. So, you know, it's not all about being number one, but at the same time, it's having that appreciation that, don't know, one of my kind of keys is, if you're just starting out, and you haven't got too much progress, you know, SEO experts will say, "It's all about tracking conversions. It's all about tracking sales, tracking website traffic." And these are important things but more when you're established in your SEO. But I would say initially, track keywords because it shows progress. You might be moving from page 6 to page 5, maybe 65...


[00:49:48] Will: Good to see that sort of direction of movement.


[00:49:50] Joe: Yeah, it's giving you a pat on the back that you are making progress, things are moving in the right direction. And you're near that waterfall, or that stream, you know, you're not too far away from it actually starting to work. And I don't think there's that many areas of digital marketing where you put a lot of effort in, and you have to wait for the tipping point, you know, like with social media, you know, organically, there's an element of that, I would say. But, yeah, it's just one of those things to be aware of. You need to be in the game, to start with, and start before you feel ready. But just keep the faith and keep pushing, you know, pushing through the steps that you should be doing.


[00:50:34] Will: Thanks, that's good. Well, I'm aware our time is coming to a close, actually. We're sort of...the hour is almost upon us. And there's two things I really I wanna ask you. One of them is I wanna know what tools you use in your work, because I think people will really be interested in that. But firstly, I wanna ask you about your personal experience in SEO when you changed the name of your business. You blogged about it. I found that blog really fascinating. And, really, I think...and so many businesses do change a major element of their business or their name. And I think it just gives us a really interesting window into how SEO actually works. So, tell us what happened with your name change?


[00:51:18] Joe: Yeah. So, I mean, it wasn't actually a name change, it was actually several, and this is the bigger part of the problem. But, essentially, when you think about SEO, you wanna rank a web page, sometimes, usually a collection of web pages. But the way it works from a search engine perspective is the URL is where a search engine will build up history and trust. So that's pretty much everything you do. So all the technical stuff you do, all the content stuff you do, all the links you build to your site, it's all coming down to trust for a particular URL. And there are things you can do to improve a trust and to decrease the trust, and even if it's just a web page on your website, if you do a three-to-one redirect. Now, in theory, all that trust or a very large percentage of that trust gets passed over. And when I first moved domains, that's kind of what happened. At the time, my website was ranking number one for SEO training in the U.K. And, you know, I did the redirects, I was very thorough in how they were carried out, moved to and it maintained the rankings almost perfectly, slight wobble for a week or two.


[00:52:36] Will: You must have been quite anxious during that time.


[00:52:40] Joe: I was quite anxious, but I had done a fair number of domain migrations for clients, and they'd worked out pretty well. And it was kind of at that stage where I had like a more SEO-focused domain name. And it was kind of like SEO was becoming less cool, like content marketing was the new thing, and I kind of felt like I didn't wanna pinpoint myself down to Zen Optimize. And my offering became a little bit broader in terms of what I offered, so it made sense to me at the time to change. And then I think that was maybe about four years I had, then I moved to, and then I moved to And what happened is the more time you changed the URL, or in this case, the domain, there's a bigger chance of that history and trust that you've built up getting lost.


[00:53:36] Will: And does that happen, that you said most of that authority or reputation gets passed on? Is it that it gets chipped away out with each move or can you actually literally lose the lot in a move?


[00:53:48] Joe: I kind of did loose the lot in my last two moves. So, with Learn SEO Fast, you know, I actually think, when I moved from Zen Optimize, it was fluctuating number one to number three for a keyword like SEO training. And then, you know, within a week, it just went completely...wasn't in the top hundred. Whereas previously, when I moved to Zen Optimize, I remember there was a time where I was number one for Zen optimize and number two from my previous domain. I was like, "Hey, I've got two listings here. This is great."


[00:54:23] And then I just stayed number one, which was cool. Whereas in this case, it basically, it took me eight months to get back to the first page of Google for the term SEO training. And it was kind of a little bit, you know, with that in mind, like, to change your domain name again doesn't sound like is a sensible thing to do, but I really didn't feel like it sounded right, Learn SEO Fast. In fact, that's the name of my course now, but it's not, it isn't what I wanted my brand to be. So I changed again and I kind of felt like, you know, worst-case scenario, it's gonna be similar to what happened before and I can work with that. But it was actually, it was harsher. So it's taking longer to kind of get to where I was previously. And I actually managed to speak to, it's not always easy to do this, but I spoke to somebody at Google who kind of gave me their thoughts of what happened. And it was to do...I forget the word that he used. But it was basically to do with historical baggage of the previous domain. So, Tribe SEO was a parked domain for a number of years. It was on an auction website. You know, I did my research. I didn't have any bad links pointing to it. So I thought this looks a pretty neutral domain. In theory, it should be the same.


[00:55:48] But I think it's two things. One, there was baggage with the domain that Google had some history. And two, I think it was to do with the chain of redirects. So in the space of, you know, four or five years, I had changed my brand four times. And each time, I'd lost some history. So, I think, you know, my kind of tip really is, you know, there's always a risk with any kind of redirect.


[00:56:15] Will: It's like moving into a house and there being a really bad credit history hanging over the house, ain't it?


[00:56:20] Joe: Yeah, you know, moving domain is like moving a house in many ways, it's quite stressful. You know, you don't quite know how things are gonna be. But, yeah, you know, I think you have to do it for the right reasons. You know, I think I'm happy with my decision, but it hasn't quite worked out as quickly as I would like. But, yeah, my word of advice would be, minimize brand changes, make sure you definitely are happy with what you wanna change to. And also just minimize redirects as well. Like if you've got a page that's ranking really, really well, and you don't like the URL, you don't think it's perfect, but it's pretty good...


[00:57:01] Will: Stick with it.


[00:57:01] Joe: ...stick with it totally hundred percent. And if you do change it, say to yourself, "If I change it now, am I happy with that?" Because you don't wanna keep changing. Yeah, you don't wanna be losing history and trust. And I don't think that's really talked about that much in SEO circles. But that's something to kind of bear in mind.


[00:57:21] Will: And just on that kind of, you know, I guess the sort of the opposite side from optimization, the kind of fall and foul bit, you know, I hear about Google penalties and kind of bad SEO, is there such a thing? Are there things that you can do that can absolutely destroy your ranking and what are they? Because I wanna avoid them.


[00:57:45] Joe: Yeah, well, I mean, when we think of like content, technical, and links, there's like...people specialize in technical SEO, but the reality is you've only kind of got a few positive ranking signals from technical. But it's more about minimizing issues. So, you know, if your website is throwing up lots of 404s, if it's hard for search engines to crawl your content, then you may struggle in terms of rankings, but they're not penalties. Those are almost like self-inflicting issues. In terms of penalties, Google is kind of a bit coy with using the word penalty. It's kind of like, you know, is there such a thing as a search engine penalty or have you just been demoted, Google's fallen out of love with your website a little? Now, I believe there are penalties. But, you know, one thing that could get you into trouble quite fast is, you know, paying for links, if you pay a blogger to link to your site with a keyword that you want to rank for as the anchor text for the words in the link, that's against Google's guidelines. And, you know, I've seen people who have done that in excess and it has had a big impact on their rankings. You know, in one case, you know, I've seen that they didn't even rank for their own brand name.


[00:59:05] That's really excessive. But at the same time, this question marks around whether negative SEO is actually a thing. And negative SEO is where someone might build bad backlinks to your site, which look paid, probably are paid, could be from some dodgy industries like gambling or that type of thing. I'm not saying gambling is that dodgy an industry, but...


[00:59:32] Will: Adult content.


[00:59:33] Joe: Adult content as well.


[00:59:34] Will: Sorry, you're saying that a competitor might do that to someone?


[00:59:39] Joe: Yeah, like it actually doesn't cost that much money. You could probably pay someone on Fiverr, you know, $25, and they will throw 1000 bad links at your website, and that's called negative SEO. And there's been a lot of tests out there in the SEO world, which sort of says it doesn't really work, and it is inconclusive that it works. But at the same time, it is conclusive that people have had penalties for building paid links and bad links. So I think what tends to happen is, if it's something like Fiverr, maybe Google can work out that these are all really low-quality backlinks. And it's getting the vibe that this wouldn't have been done intentionally. Or if it did, it was very amateurish. But if you were sort of going for much more premium, authoritative, and relevant sites, and it looked like you had paid for the links, and you were putting in the keyword you want to rank for, that's a bit easier for Google to work out that, "Actually, we think you have been bending the rules a little bit here." So, I think generally, in terms of doing bad SEO, you rarely do it by accident. The accidents tend to be more the technical side of things you may have done, have got wrong, you might have blocked search engines from accessing your content. But when it comes to content and links, you kind of know if you're doing the bad stuff, you could kind of sense. If there was a Google engineer sitting next to me right now, would I do this, you know, and you would know the answer without knowing a huge amount of exactly how Google works.


[01:01:15] Will: And just for anyone's info, if you do have bad links pointing to your site, there is a way to disavow those links, isn't there, with Google?


[01:01:26] Joe: Yeah. So in Google Search Console, you can disavow the links, which basically means telling Google to discount or discredit those links. Now, it can be like it can be a really laborious problem. If you are getting, you know, some people are getting like thousands of new bad backlinks, you know, a month and they might think it's from negative attacks. Or sometimes just when you have a big website, you get these crawler websites that...they start to crawl your content. Sometimes they'll link to your content and, you know, it can be quite a big thing to disavow all these links and then you start questioning whether you should disavow some of your important links, actually, which should, because you're getting a little bit desperate, but...


[01:02:11] Will: I mean, I've had that, you know, in SEMrush links from Pinterest and all these international different domains get flagged as potentially worth disavowing. And I'm always very on the fence about whether to actually submit backlinks for disavowing and I don't really know if it's gonna do any good. So I've sort of left it.


[01:02:31] Joe: My general fee...Google has said, like, now it discounts bad links. But there's a sort of fuzzy area against, well, it doesn't mean you can just buy loads of links. But my take on it is, I mean, I don't think I've disavowed any links on my own site, even though I might have used a tool like SEMrush which has flagged a couple of questionable ones. I think people generally start disavowing links if they think they've got a search engine penalty that's related to their backlinks. That's predominantly when people start to do it. As a general housekeeping thing, if your website's doing okay, it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on it in case there are some kind of adult sites or things like that, but if it's something like Pinterest, you know, for me, that's a total neutral link. You know, in some cases, it might be a positive link, you know. So, yeah, I think just taking a common-sense approach.


[01:03:23] Will: That's good to know. Thanks, it's useful, helps me out. So now one less thing to worry about, I think. Okay, so, and finally, I'd love to know, you know, I've dabbled with things like SEMrush, Screaming Frog, and that kind of thing. Tell me what your kind of core toolset is that you call upon regularly.


[01:03:44] Joe: Okay, well, I always have a subscription to Screaming Frog SEO Spider. And for people that don't know, it's really for technical SEO, predominantly. So it crawls your website in a similar way to how a search engine would and it reports all the URLs and it starts giving you information about those URLs. It's easy to see if you've got page errors on your site. You can even start to see how the web page is internally linked together through...I can't remember, it's called in links. I think it might be called In Links in another tool, but it gives you an idea of how the pages are connected. I don't think every, you know, and I think they've got a free tool for up to 500 URLs. So if your website isn't particularly big, or even if it is a big site, you can get a flavor of how it works. Predominantly, I use that for audit. So if I'm doing work for a client, that's one of the first things I would do, or if I, you know, maybe I was working in-house, it's something that I would maybe do at the beginning and maybe periodically. It's not a tool I would use that often, you know, going forwards.


[01:04:52] So that's a good tool. Google Search Console, you know, sometimes underlooked strangely, you know, but it offers a lot of good features in there, partly technical, partly to do with content.


[01:05:08] Will: I think that update they did a year ago, or earlier this year, I can't remember when, I thought it was fantastic. It shows you your impressions, and clicks, and click-through rates on search results pages in a really nice interface.


[01:05:21] Joe: Yeah, I think that data has been around for a while, but with the new interface, which was about a year ago or so. They've pushed it more. So, yeah, it's great for showing you sort of low-hanging fruit. So if you've got, you know, maybe you've got your ranking for keywords on page two that you don't know about. And you can kind of ask yourself, "Can I improve the optimization for those pages?" So, yeah, definitely Google Search Console. The only other thing that I would wanna add is you've got these all-in-one SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz. And I think for some people, you know, you kind of need to have those tools. If you're at an agency, or if you're in a decent-sized company, I'd probably recommend having a monthly subscription to those tools. But I think for a lot of smaller businesses, you know, even freelancers, they don't always need to have those tools on a month-to-month basis.


[01:06:18] And they'll help with backlink analysis. They'll help with keyword research. And they'll help with lots of other things in SEO. But, quite often, you can sort of turn them on and off when you need them. So rather than pay for a whole annual subscription, you might use it two or three times per year, if you're a smaller business. But the one tool that I would recommend, you know, if you do have some budget is just to have like a, you know, to know what keywords you wanna rank for, and to actually track those keywords, particularly if you're at those early stages where you haven't got that much SEO progress. So if you are using an all-in-one SEO tool, they pretty much all do the keyword ranking, tracking for you, so you're sort of safe there. But it may be, if you haven't quite got the budget, or maybe you've got smaller resources, you might just wanna go for a keyword specialist software.


[01:07:12] So I use AccuRanker, that's kind of more of the premium range. Or you could use something like Wincher, or Rank Tracker, and they're a little bit cheaper. So, yeah, lots of great tools out there. The one thing that I would say with tools is it's not gonna do your SEO for you. And a lot of these SEO, I really like SEMrush, Moz, and Ahrefs. But even those aren't always perfect in some of the recommendations that they suggest, and some of the stats are never good all-in-one tool. But some of the lower-priced tools are actually, in my opinion, more confusing than they are helpful. So they'll say something like, you know, your title tag is 72 characters, which is 2 characters, you know, over the recommended amount, here's a big cross for you, you know. And it's kind of like, yes, there are limits here to kind of a bay, but when you end up with, you know, 400 crosses, it's hard to see the wood form the tree sort of thing.


[01:08:19] Will: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing I would say about all these tools. It's the same with social management, social listening tools, any sort of analysis tool, you need an intelligent human sat in front of it to actually get something out of it. And they do. I think their homepages and their landing pages do sometimes give the impression that they do work for you, do the SEO for you, but I would definitely agree, that's not the case.


[01:08:42] Joe: Yeah, and it's not, you know, we all like, you know, Inbox Zero, but it's not all about, some issues are more important, but it's not about getting rid of all the issues that the tool reports. Because it would have to be extremely sophisticated to be able to prioritize what things you should spend more time on what things you shouldn't. Even Google and Google Search Console, like some of the issues it reports aren't really issues, but it's, you know, you've got to kind of interpret that a little bit yourself. But, yeah, it's, you know, I would say, you wanna lead with your own SEO strategy first, and use these tools as a sort of complimentary. If you're doing backlink analysis, you definitely need to use a tool. If you're doing keyword research, you pretty much need to use a tool to help you do that. But in terms of some of the technical side of things, that's where it gets a little bit more gray in terms of, you know, that's why I quite like Screaming Frog SEO Spider. Rather than tell you what's wrong or right, you have to look at an interpreter. Whereas a lot of these other tools are trying to tell you whether it's right or wrong when, in fact, the tool itself sometimes finds it hard to interpret whether it's right or wrong.


[01:09:56] Will: What you really need is an SEO expert. That's who you really need to call, isn't it? And that's you. So, tell us where, just to cap off, tell us where people can find you and find out about you. Where are you on the web and in social?


[01:10:13] Joe: Yeah, so, the website is We provide online SEO training courses. I'm on LinkedIn, I think it's


[01:10:27] Will: That's the one.


[01:10:28] Joe: On twitter, I'm joetheseo. But, yeah, that's kind of, you know, moving from London to Wales, the focus now is on online SEO training rather than in-person SEO training. So, right now, we've got a beta course. But that will...


[01:10:47] Will: So, can people enroll in that?


[01:10:48] Joe: If they contact me through LinkedIn or through my website, then I can introduce you to the course that way. So people are using it and testing it, but it's probably more, it's maybe a month or two away from it being obviously, you know, I'm selling it to the public, but...


[01:11:09] Will: Cool, well, good luck with that. And thanks so much for all your insights and experience and expertise and nuggets of very, very valuable information there. Thanks, I really appreciate it.


[01:11:21] Joe: Yeah, no, I really enjoyed it, Will, so, yeah, thanks for the opportunity.


[01:11:26] Announcer: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

Joe Williams
Joe Williams

Joe Williams teaches search engine optimization at Tribe SEO. He holds a degree in Computing Informatics, and he’s been an SEO specialist for over 15 years. He’s consulted and trained many large blue-chip companies including The Guardian, Cosmopolitan, and Sky. He's on a mission to make SEO easy, fun, and profitable. You can catch him on X (Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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