Long the domain of seemingly arcane tactics and methods, the world of search engine optimization (SEO) and digital outreach continues to grow into a more transparent, engaging, and important portion of both eCommerce success and proper brand management. To ensure you’re always on the cutting edge of this industry, let’s check in with one of the leading minds of the new wave of SEO and content consulting, Kai Davis of Double Your eCommerce, and see just what he has to say about getting your business seen on the web.
Thanks for joining us Kai. Why don’t you start by telling us how you got into the world of SEO and content consulting?
KD: In 2012 I said, “Let me go ahead and do this consulting thing.” Initially, I started out doing front end WordPress development for a few start-ups and small businesses in Eugene. About a year and a half ago, I realized that while I was enjoying the front end stuff, my clients still needed help getting traffic.
To be honest, that’s a much more exciting, much more valuable thing to work on. So I decided I was going to position myself as a search engine optimization consultant, a traffic generation consultant, and now an outreach consultant for start-ups and retail/eCommerce brands. The bottom line is that I want to get them found online and push more traffic to their store.
So what was it that you were doing before you decided to go full-time consulting/independent?
KD: I was the director of marketing for a construction company in Eugene. Basically, I was in charge of part of their sales process and their entire RFP and proposal writing process. In total, I was there for just about a year, but in that year I wrote somewhere between $60 and $100 million in responses to requests for proposals. I think I won around $10 to $20 million of work for the company, but the lack of an incentive or bonus plan for these acquisitions felt a little lacking.
Truthfully, it was still a great company to work for and so educational for me just to be thrown into the constant treadmill that comes with generating proposals and understanding the needs and the problems of our clients. I learned a ton and had a great time, as well used this opportunity to serve as a launching pad into consulting.
Where did you go to school, what are you educated in, and how did you come to be the director of marketing at a construction firm?
KD: It’s a bit out there actually. Background wise, I graduated from the University of Oregon in 2008. My degree is in economics, and I’ve always been interested in small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurship. In fact, my dad always owned his own legal practice while I was growing up. He referred to owning this practice as “the curse.” That’s not to say that he doesn’t love owning his own business, or that I don’t love owning my own consulting agency, just that there’s always a challenge there for those who go their own way.
Growing up I was so fortunate, both of my parents worked from home; my mom is an artist. I was able to grow a strong relationship with them and that sort of conditioned me to enjoy entrepreneurship. In college, I ended up doing a tiny bit of freelancing on the side, and even started a student newspaper with a friend, The Weekly Enema. We eventually had to rename it.
That’s a hilarious name!
KD: We positioned ourselves as a comedy newspaper for campus. It started off with just the two of us, and immediately we grew a following of students who wanted to write humor and comedy. The paper ended up having 19 or 20 full-time writers and illustrators.
It’s funny because after issue #3, they really wanted to put this experience on their resumes, but it’s kind of hard to use the word “enema” in a professional setting. That led to the renaming and rebranding of the paper into The Comic Press.
After I graduated, I went to work for a couple of start-ups in Eugene. From here, I moved into the marketing and tech space for an educational media company, and then a company that sells business planning software. Eventually, I was “headhunted” away from there (where I was a marketing manager) to the construction company, until I finally set off on my own as a consultant and entrepreneur. That’s sort of my workplace odyssey.
Right on! Entrepreneurship is the biggest roller coaster, from an emotional and financial standpoint. The highs are equally as scary as the lows sometimes. It’s awesome and personally I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s definitely a ride.
KD: Absolutely. I mean being an entrepreneur is saying “I’m going to accept all the risk involved in a business and just own it.” When you take on that risk all by yourself, the paydays are that much sweeter. I found that even when the bad days are really bad, at the end of the day it turns out that when you own your own business for a bit, you can bounce back pretty quickly.
The way I always look at it is if tomorrow I lost every one of my clients for whatever reason and I can’t practice outreach and SEO anymore, well 90 percent of what I know I can apply to another industry. I’ve gotten better with the “mental muscle” required to find value and find opportunities. Sort of like a professional poker player views the sport, the longer I play the SEO game, it becomes the only game I can truly play.
Exactly. So in your own words, what is it that you do now?
KD: Basically, as a consultant, I use a mixture of marketing tactics and SEO practices to identify influencers and authority figures – think big name bloggers and podcasters that speak to existing audiences – that match up with my clients’ audiences. Then I find ways to expose these viewers and readers to the products and content of my clients. At the end of the day that helps us earn high quality, organic links, improve the client’s brand image, get us more traffic, and make more sales.
How do you identify the right influencers and opportunities for new clients?
KD: It really starts out with my clients’ positioning; I try to work with clients who have a really crisp, clear idea of who they want to reach. To give a little example, I was meeting up with a client a couple of weeks ago and I asked her to answer the question, “Who do you want to reach?” She proceeds to rattle off five completely different customer segments, which led to me explaining that that kind of approach is a little broad.
I like working with clients who are able to say something like, “Our dream customers we want to associate with are women, 18 to 25 years old, who are college educated and looking for the right dress to wear out on the weekends.”
That’s great, and this approach is much easier to position. From there I can work with the mindset that I am one of those customers and go about asking how to find the information I need to pick up the right dress. Also, I look for content hubs that are relevant and backlinks that show other bloggers connecting with this hub.
I think of it as a “safari” method. I’m going out into the jungle, seeing what animals I can find, what’s out there, and then building up an idea of what this ecosystem looks like.
So when you’re out scouring the web for the right hubs, portals, etc., is there a baseline for what you’re looking for in terms of metrics, domain authority and all the other wonderful, esoteric terms that the SEO community loves to throw around? Is this performance baseline something you must attain, or is it relevant to the “ecosystem” that you’re working within?
KD: Great question! There’s a couple of metrics that I always look at just to make sure that these hubs are a good fit and worth reaching out to. It really comes down to three big ones:
First, I’m looking at their site and making sure it’s recently updated, has decent content – basically does this look like an actual site worth visiting. If I sent a friend a link to this page, would they bother browsing around?
Does it have a pulse?
KD: Exactly. Is it alive! That’s a big one. The second one is whether or not there is any social interaction or comments on the site. Is this just a page where they’re posting links and nothing happens, or is there a community – or even proto-community – that we can work with? Again, I’m checking the pulse and seeing what’s going on here.
The third thing I’m looking for delves more into those esoteric, SEO metrics. At the top of the list is the number of referring domains connected to this page. I’m really looking for between 100-1000 referring domains.
It might seem arbitrary, but the real reason for this is range is because when you start getting above these numbers, the sites in question start having a “gatekeeper” of sorts. Whether this is a content calendar, an editorial manager, or even talking with the advertising branch of the site, it gets a little congested.
When you’re connecting with the sites that have between 100-1000 referring domains, usually you only end up dealing with one to three people that are in charge of a “passion project,” or something that just became a business. It’s easier to say to this kind of group that we want to reach their audience and get the right response.
So it’s almost like a “Goldilocks zone?” You’re aiming for a valuable place of interest or content hub on the web, but not somewhere that it’s going to be too hard, or too expensive, to work with. Furthermore, this sweet spot is relevant to the number of backlinks. That’s a pretty interesting approach.
KD: Absolutely. For example, I’d love to get a link on a place like Tim Ferriss’ site for my own business, but I’m better off working with sites that are willing to work with me.
That’s so funny that you bring up Tim Ferriss; my final two questions for this interview series are borrowed from his podcast! I am a huge fan.
KD: Good! I also love his content and the great work he produces. But that’s exactly why if I wanted to get my site mentioned on his page – or that of one of my clients – we could spend nine months pitching and sweet talking him and his team to seal the deal.
Alternatively, I could use those nine months to get placements with 100 or 150 smaller bloggers who reach a fraction of his audience, but this smaller group ends up being a more concentrated population. These smaller, established audiences usually “buy-in” to the referrals offered up by the author once you get your content out in front of them, so it really is about finding the sweet spot.
Needless to say, Kai offers up a unique take on the modern world of SEO and digital outreach – and this is just scratching the surface of his approach. Be sure to join us next time as we continue this stellar discussion with one of the industry’s leading voices. Until then, If you’d like to learn a little more about Kai, feel free to leave a comment below or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or over at his site, Double Your eCommerce.