In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Dale Bertrand. Dale has been an SEO specialist for fortune 500 companies and venture-backed startups around the world for two decades. He speaks at industry conferences, leads, corporate training events, and serves as entrepreneur in residence at the Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs Organization.
Foundationally, what Google is trying to do is help people find the right information — the answer to their questions. As technology and algorithms are constantly changing, the world of SEO as we know it continuously evolves along with it.
In this episode, I talk with long-time SEO specialist for Fortune 500 companies and venture-backed startups, Dale Bertrand, about the evolution of SEO and where it stands today, the biggest changes happening, and what you need to do to build trust, increase authority, and rank high today with Google.
Questions I ask Dale Bertrand:
- [2:01] What are some of the biggest changes in SEO that you are following?
- [4:56] Could you talk about something you’ve written about — the end of technical SEO?
- [5:43] Do things like keywords in your titles, metadata, and your URL matter anymore?
- [9:14] What’s the value of backlinks today?
- [11:41] Do you see it that it is almost like three disciplines of content?
- [15:36] Human influence and desire haven’t changed, they’re just on different journeys. Would you say that we just need to remember those principles and apply them to today’s technology?
- [18:04] How should companies go about finding and activating the right influencer?
- [19:15] On SEO-related sites, how valuable are signals in social media — meaning people linking to you on social platforms like Twitter?
- [20:41] Where can people find out more about Fire & Spark and the work that you’re doing?
More About Dale Bertrand:
More About The Certified Marketing Manager Program Powered By Duct Tape Marketing:
Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!
John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the duct tape marketing podcast is brought to you by the Gain Grow, Retain podcast, hosted by Jeff Brunsbach and Jay Nathan brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network gain grow retain is built to inspire SaaS and technology leaders who are facing day to day. Challenges of scaling Jeff and Jay share conversations about grow growing and scaling subscription businesses with a customer first approach, check out all the episodes. Recently, they did one on onboarding, such a key thing when you wanna get going, keep and retain those clients. So listen to gain, grow, retain wherever you get your podcast.
John Jantsch (00:49): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Dale Bertrand. He has been an SEO specialist to fortune 500 companies in venture back startups around the world for two decades. He speaks in industry conferences, leads, corporate training events, and serves as entrepreneur in residents at the Harvard alumni entrepreneurs organization. So Dale, welcome to the show.
Dale Bertrand (01:17): Well, John, welcome to, well thank you for having me. I must welcome you to your own show.
John Jantsch (01:23): Well, I appreciate that. I don't think anybody's ever done that. So that that's awesome. So, you know, we're gonna talk about SEO. Uh, we're gonna specifically talk about maybe a brand or an evolution of SEO, but it's funny before we get into it, you know, a lot of people, you know, I bet you get this question a lot, you know, what are the big changes recently, you know, in SEO and, you know, I think SEOs, like a lot of things just kind of evolves, you know, like some of the big, like the, probably the biggest change, if there was one is, you know, rank brain, which really changed how SEO people need to think about SEO, but that's coming up on seven years ago. So I think a lot of, a lot of people want to see like sudden change, but I think there's this evolution, but I'm gonna ask you anyway, what are some of the biggest changes in SEO that, that you are following?
Dale Bertrand (02:11): Well, thinking of it as an evolution is definitely the right way to think about it. When I started with SEO, believe it or not was in 1999, long time ago. And, um, even back then we knew where the puck was going. So to speak, like, you know, the metaphor like skate to where the puck is going. So we've known for a very long time that what Google's trying to do is help people find the right information, the answer to their question. So Google's just getting a lot better at it with, um, AI and, and all of the different algorithms that, that the fall under the AI umbrella. So we, we call Google an AI based search engine now. And AI based search engines are just a lot better at choosing the right content for the query, giving you the right answer at scale than the rules based search engine, where, where Google started out
John Jantsch (03:00): Well. And I think you can test this for yourself. I mean, you start doing a search anymore and on nine times outta 10, they know what you're searching for before you finish. Right? I mean, yeah,
Dale Bertrand (03:10): Yeah. They've got the data. I mean, they process billions of searches a day and every time you interact with Google, every time you enter something into it or click on a result, it's watching you and Google's using that to, to basically serve up better rankings.
John Jantsch (03:24): Yeah. And it really, you know, a lot of times people look at SEO as a way to trick Google, I guess. I mean, and that's kind of how we used to look at it right. In some ways. And really the thing people forget is Google doesn't care about us or our SEO or our websites. I mean, they're trying to serve their customer, right?
Dale Bertrand (03:47): Yeah. That's really important. And I think how you frame SEO and how you think about it matters a lot. So if you understand that you are trying to help Google serve its audience, its searchers, right. Help by giving Google the content that it needs. If you're writing, let's say you're writing a recipe for a Manhattan or any other bourbon drink, right? Like Google has already has access to thousands and thousands of recipes for Manhattans. So like you're just not giving it something useful. So that's one way to think about it. And then the other part of it is,
John Jantsch (04:18): You know, it's only two o'clock or I am Dale, but Manhattan sounds really good. I'm sorry, go ahead.
Dale Bertrand (04:24): I should a drink cocktail mixed box before this. So we could really have some fun and record it at the same time. So the other way people think about SEO is whether it's like a technical discipline. Like people think of, well, I'm optimizing my website, so I'm moving the HTML tags around or I'm moving the elements around or, um, adding words like adding my keywords and, and that's, what's gonna make all the difference. And that's really the biggest change that we see with the evolution that Google's undergone as they switch to AI algorithms.
John Jantsch (04:56): So, so I'm taking this directly from something you've written the end of, uh, technical SEO doesn't mean SEO's dead. It means that your SEO resources are better spent optimizing for your customers, not Google's algorithm.
Dale Bertrand (05:10): Absolutely. So Google's algorithm is trained to find the right content to find the content that your customers are looking for when they're making a buying decision. So the better, you know, your customers, uh, the information they need, the questions they're asking and then how to answer those questions and give them the information they need to facilitate the purchase. Hopefully they buy from you, but the better you understand your customers and better, you'll be able to create content that Google serves because Google's doing like a damn good job of figuring it out nowadays does
John Jantsch (05:44): Do things like keywords in your titles and metadata and your URL to have a keyword. I mean, does that stuff not matter anymore because they know what it says.
Dale Bertrand (05:54): It's not that it doesn't matter. Like it it's just that it makes it harder and easier at the same time. Like it's simple, but it's hard to do like, you know, just creating the right content, creating the content that your, um, customers are looking for, but you can really boil it down to a three step process. Like the first one is building your platform. So making sure that there isn't anything very broken about your website that would prevent Google from calling your indexing, your content. So that doesn't mean you're optimizing for, to get the last millisecond of page speed on your site, but you're fixing big issues that would prevent Google from seeing your content. And then the second step would be keyword, visibility. What are the right keywords? Make sure they're in the right places. That's different from keyword stuffing, or even making sure that, you know, you, you have, you have dispelling or synonym and all of that.
Dale Bertrand (06:43): Like it, it's really more about the intent behind the keywords. You want people, you want purchase intent keywords. So yeah, whatever you sell, you wanna make sure these are keywords that people are typing in. When they're trying to decide, you know, what they're gonna buy in that category. And then the third step is really building targeted content and what I call multifactor authority. So the targeted content is the right type of content around the intent behind those keywords that you identified in the first step. And that could take a number of different forms, but it really depends on what you're selling and what your customers are looking for us. So remember you need to know your customers. And then the other part, multifactor author is proving to Google that you have the answer. So if I'm writing about I'm making something up here, non-alcoholic drink recipes or something like that because I sell non-alcoholic, um, spirit.
Dale Bertrand (07:35): Then Google needs to believe that we are the brand. We're the website that that information should be coming from. And so that's back links, that's engagement with the site, reducing your bounce rate, making sure that when people come to your site, they stay, cuz Google will notice if they just bounce directly back to Google's, uh, search page and then the company you keep matters. So like if you were selling non-alcoholic drinks, you could imagine that there are a number of medical or organizations or mothers against drunk driving that would care about the mission behind your product. And you wanna make sure that Google can see that you've got endorsements of all types. You can imagine from authoritative folks in your space.
John Jantsch (08:12): And now let's hear from a sponsor. Running a business is a lot like, I don't know, running a pirate ship. You've got your eye on the prize and the entire crew to coordinate with customizable options. HubSpot CRM platform is carefully crafted in house. So your business can keep running in ship shape. It's powerful suite of marketing tools work seamlessly together. So you and your teams can deliver a better experience for your customers. Consider it a treasure map with a, a very clear X marks the spot with HubSpot, save, reuse, and share your best performing emails with your team for a faster and more consistent way to communicate with prospects. Use social media tools to schedule and publish updates, monitor terms and analyze performance. You can even use bot builders to create robust, automated multi-channel campaigns, learn how to grow better by connecting your people, your customers, and your business @ hubspot.com.
John Jantsch (09:11): And I know the answer to this, but you know, I'm just gonna tee it up for you. Okay. So, so some might interpret what you just said as getting back links, but you're talking about something much deeper, aren't you?
Dale Bertrand (09:22): Yeah. So back links are still important and you know, we work to get white hat, you know, to sorry we work to earn back links, um, on our projects. So that could be PR, but a lot of it is just making sure that you're running a good business. So you've got customers that are raving about you. You've got products worth writing about, and your business is making an impact with your customers or a community or something, uh, where Google can see that you're gaining traction. So, so that's why it goes beyond back links. Because if you think about it back links are really a proxy for something there, a proxy for endorsements in your space, in your market. The, if you're maybe you're in the medical space and you've got the Mayo clinic, you know, writing about you, you might have a partnership with them. And an artifact of that is the fact that they're linking to you. Yeah. So, so we wanna start on, we wanna start with the run, a good business, make good friends, you know, make you earn those endorsement. And then once, once we have that, then we're looking at ways to translate those into technical artifacts on the web that Google can see.
John Jantsch (10:25): And, and certainly one of the things that they can see better than ever is that they're the right links, right? There's they're links back links. That make sense. That would be logical, that would actually contribute to the conversation, you know, as opposed the, you know, round Robin directories that, you know, nobody ever actually sees and they have no authority at all. I mean, that, I think has been something that's been with us maybe at least five or six years, hasn't it?
Dale Bertrand (10:47): Oh, longer than that. So I, I should know because we, I mean, I was doing, I've been doing SEO for a very long time. So there used to be black hat techniques that worked and, and we did it because it worked nowadays. It just, they have to be natural links. Like you really do need to be building a community around your brand and content. A lot of it depends on whether you're B2C or B2B. If your B2C, you want to build a community, um, around your brand, get traction and make sure Google can see it. And then if your B2B, then the number searches is gonna be lower, just gonna be lower volume, but still they're gonna be valuable. Organic traffic is valuable. But in that case, it's more that you want to make sure that Google can see the company you keep so that you're, you've got relationships with the industry trade organizations and conferences. And if you're in the medical space, it's PhDs, sorry, MDs or MD PhDs, which is even better and what, whatever works in your industry.
John Jantsch (11:42): So there's really a lot of elements here. I mean, there is the technical aspects of content of website that, that lead SEO there's the, the actual good deep content itself. But then in a way it's actually promotion of that content, you know, to the right audiences that, that then drives, you know, the right links or drives the right mentions or right. Traffic. So, I mean, do you see it that way as almost like three disciplines?
Dale Bertrand (12:11): I, I try. So, yes, but I try not to. So when it comes to like a, a successful SEO campaign, there's gonna be a lot of elements. Like you said, the technical platform, keyword research, the customer research, the content, and then the authority building. And then there's, you know, there's PR within that, there's a lot of dis disciplines within that, but it's really hard, especially for small business owners to think about, uh, to, to even, you know, have the courage to do SEO when it requires so much. So instead. And, and I, I think I learned about this, John sitting next to you at a dinner a long time ago, where you kind of helped me simplify some of my ideas, the way that I like to think about it. We, you have a purpose behind your SEO and what I, and when I say you have a purpose behind your SEO is that you've got a purpose behind your brand, a purpose behind your business. And, and a quick example, I'll give you is that we worked with a company that was a manufacturing company and what they manufactured was Velcro straps. And it it's pretty darn boring. And I hope they're not listening to this cause they get excited about manufacturing. It's run by two engineers. And these Velcro strap are used by electricians. If you're installing bundles of wires into a big building, you need a lot of these Velcro straps to make sure that it's not spaghetti of wires everywhere. I
John Jantsch (13:23): Got a few of 'em here with all my technology that hooked up here.
Dale Bertrand (13:26): Perfect, perfect. And for them, we, they wanted to do SEO. They wanted to build content, but what were they gonna do? They gonna write 50 articles about like, Hey, Velcro's awesome. For all these reasons, we'll write one article about each reason. So you could do that, but it's not gonna help you build a community, build authority and have Google see that you're gaining traction. So what, what we realized when we were talking to them is one of the founders of this company was he was volunteering weekends at a technical high school near, near where they're located. And so what we did was we put together a campaign. We called it the campaign to recruit the next generation of electricians. And basically it was, you know, they were going to identify young people, help them pay for some exams, some licensure, and also help them put a little bit of money towards their schooling.
Dale Bertrand (14:15): And what we did was we promoted that campaign. We said, Hey, if you care, and we reached out to like-minded organizations like organizations that care about providing, you know, job opportunities for young people. And there was one that was about finding job opportunities for recently incarcerated people. And we told them like, we're looking for kids to help. Could you help promote this campaign? And basically when we look at it that way, and the reason why I call it purpose driven SEO is because we wanna find something behind our brand that we can promote and build a campaign around. And then we get all of those other artifacts of SEO, the, the content, the technical platform, the traction, the links, the authority building the, the endorsements of like relationships with other organizations that are helping us promote our campaign. We get all of that by just focusing on this one purpose. So that, that's why I like to think of, uh, SEO campaigns as like purpose driven SEO campaigns.
John Jantsch (15:11): And, and I love that. And before people think, oh, I have to learn this new, you know, tactic or this new technique. What you just described is what people like me were doing in the eighties. Right. It was just PR and community building, but we pitched a newspaper, you know, or we went out to a nonprofit agency and got them, you know, to partner what? So, so the more things change, the more they say the same, I mean, yeah,
Dale Bertrand (15:35): Yeah.
John Jantsch (15:36): Human influence hasn't really changed or what people's desires are or what lights them up. Hasn't changed. We just have to figure out now they're on different journeys. They're, they're in different platforms, they're in different places to get their information differently. And we just have to, we have to just remember those principles. Yeah. And then apply it to the technology. Don't we,
Dale Bertrand (15:56): And then also realized that there was a hiccup in the fabric of time in the marketing space where all of a sudden these technical people, I have a technical background. I was a programmer before I started doing SEO, but technical people for all of a sudden had all this value because the web came along. And if you could optimize a website, just write or get your programmer to do it, you would get traffic from Google. Yeah. And, and those days are, are really behind us. Yeah. Where like Google's AI has gotten to the point where it understands when a brand is building traction or if, or if you like sell a B2B service or something like that. When you have, have endorsements and relationships with folks in your space that makes you worthy of organic traffic and rankings. So now Google's getting like, it's just getting so good at what they do that we're reverting back to actually generating the, the right content that your customers are looking for and proving to Google that you're authoritative in your space.
John Jantsch (16:52): So, so that example that you gave you, you give that a name or at least a point of view, which I think people I'd love you to kind of riff on this a little bit, because I think people need to acknowledge this and, and think about this more and you call it promoting the story, you know, not promoting your content or not promoting your products or your, you know, web pages or whatever, but promoting kind of the whole story, which to me was that was the technical, you know, school, you know, story that, that people got interested in and the byproduct was you got links and you got traffic and you got eyeballs.
Dale Bertrand (17:29): Yeah, exactly. That's what Google is, is looking. So just think of it as like brands that are building traction or building like an audience. And if you can show that initial uptick, then Google will give you the rest of the traffic and kind of have to help you go along that trajectory help you grow along that trajectory.
John Jantsch (17:47): So one of the elements of this kind of authority ideas is actually finding and activating influencers. I mean, people that you, you know, we all think about the, oh, you know, the top 10 names, every single person can name. Sure. We want them to talk about us and our stories and, uh, content. But you know, for that you're Velcro person, Gary V talking about them is probably not gonna really do a much good, you know, how, how does the Velcro, you know, manufacturer go out there and find the right influencers to, to talk about their story.
Dale Bertrand (18:17): So what you would love is if it was your customers and it depends a lot of it depends on what you sell. So you could be in a consumer space where you're basically, um, you're basically incentivizing and your customers to, to be brand evangelists and talk about the products, review the products, whatever you can do to get them to do that would work. It could be an ambassador program. And then in the B2B space, it, it might not be your customers. Another example I gave is we work with the 3d printing company that sold, you know, multimillion dollar high end 3d prints, but there's just not enough customers to really, you know, turn that into links and, and relationships that Google would see. So we focused on 3d printing hobbyists in order to generate content and build a community around the brand, even though what we were selling and making our money off was high end 3d printing machines that, that they could never afford. But we were able to build a community around the brand that Google saw and, and generated rankings in traffic.
John Jantsch (19:15): So I, I have kind of one final question that I'm just curious your opinion on this, cuz there's a lot of various opinions, you know, on, on SEO related sites, how valuable are signals in social media. So people linking from Twitter, people talking about your brand from a pure SEO standpoint, how valuable are those?
Dale Bertrand (19:37): So there's two answers, both are correct, which is the direct value of the links. And the mention is not valuable. Yeah. But we still use social media as a tool for PR, which helps us build real relationships, get back links on, on websites that Google can see stuff like that. And we know that it's not valuable cuz short version of the story, Bing had tried to use social media instead of back links because Google started out, you know, really focused on back links to determine authority and the best websites. And when Microsoft started its search engine, they said, oh, we're gonna do it better. We're gonna rely on social media. And it just didn't work. Yeah. So they abandoned it. They went to links just like Google and now Google and, and Microsoft are both trying to figure out how to incorporate social signals. But uh, apparently what we see in the research is that it it's just not, it's just not good. Like it doesn't help them. I identify the best content, the same way back links, engagement, and these other artifacts of real world relationships too.
John Jantsch (20:41): So Dale tell people where they can find out more about fire and spark and uh, the work that you're uh, doing.
Dale Bertrand (20:48): Yeah. So we're at fire and spark.com all spelled out and you can email me directly Dale, D a L E fire and spark.com um, all spelled out. And um, always, I, I love talking about SEO. So if anybody has any SEO questions, I'm, I'm happy to hear it.
John Jantsch (21:03): Awesome. Well, I appreciate you, uh, taking a moment to stop by dot tape marketing podcast and hopefully we'll see you out there on the road again, maybe in beautiful, uh, state of Maine.
Dale Bertrand (21:12): Awesome, John, and thank you for the opportunity.
John Jantsch (21:15): All right. That wraps up another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. I wanna thank you so much for tuning in. Feel free to share this show. Feel free to give us reviews. You know, we love those things. Also. Did you know that we had created training, marketing training for your team? If you've got employees, if you've got a staff member that wants to learn a marketing system, how to install that marketing system in your business, check it out. It's called the certified marketing manager program from duct tape marketing. You can find it at ducttapemarketing.com and just scroll down a little. And in that tab that says training for your team.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.
HubSpot Podcast Network is the audio destination for business professionals who seek the best education and inspiration on how to grow a business.