SEO Concept

SEO as a long-term investment to keep your PPC costs down – an interview with SEO expert Bruce Clay

You have good reason to be confused about digital marketing; it’s a world that keeps adding acronyms, tools, and technologies at a frenetic pace. We interview some of the top boutique digital marketing agencies to highlight their specialties and share their insights to help you grow! Today, we interview Bruce Clay, who’s been an SEO maven since 1996. (That’s before Google!)

NXT: Why should we care about SEO?

The goal of SEO is to gain traffic to the website at the most effective cost, and often to diminish your PPC spend. An average client that is spending $5,000 on SEO may be spending about $40,000/month on PPC.

SEO also generates visitors to your website at a very low cost per visitor (often considered free), thus enhancing profit margins.

NXT: What does a company need to do in order to achieve a high SEO ranking?

Without getting too technical, Google’s algorithm has 200-300 variables, and each variable is biased by intent and location.

General rules for ranking include: speed, expertise, authority, trust and site architecture.

In other words, you need to develop a website that is fast, mobile friendly, with compelling content that people want to share.

You also want to understand the intent of the keyword, so you can use appropriate words that will help the search engines understand that you’re a subject matter expert.

NXT: Do you think companies should bring in an SEO expert in-house, or outsource it completely?

Companies have a false feeling that hiring an expert in-house would solve all of their problems.

Small companies think that SEO expertise grows on trees and therefore it should be cheap, so they bring in anybody, even amateurs to do their SEO. In this case the company seldom really succeeds.

Mid-sized companies might have an in-house expert, who will occasionally make mistakes. This staff usually won’t have the time (hours per day) to do the needed ongoing research and experimentation that an agency will do.

Our team spends approximately 1/3 of every day doing research, from analysts to myself. We are reading, running experiments, studying, hypothesizing, and trying to figure out the causes and white-hat solutions for changes in search results.

The ability to remain current is the differentiation between an agency and in-house team. Customer teams simply don’t have the time to study. This actually results in speed and accuracy in the SEO recommendations since 1 hour of agency time = 3 hours of customer time. And generally an agency has a ‘lab’ to experiment in!

NXT: Who are your ideal clients?

In the almost 21 years we’ve been around, we’ve never had to do cold calls. We have enough inbound inquiries that our sales team is busy responding to opportunities.

This comes from being highly ranked in the search results, and we also sponsor major industry conferences like SMX and speak there. We have also built the reputation for being the agency to go to if you need to be #1 in a competitive space.

Our ideal client would be a mid-size company that needs consulting services with a budget of typically $4,000 and up to $20,000 per month. Our ideal client is somebody that recognizes the value of ranking, and has the bandwidth to invest in marketing.

NXT: What differentiates you from other agencies?

Two things: consulting & SEO Silos.

We offer services that are retainer-based programs (usually a 2 year evolution: restructuring the website, identifying keywords that generate traffic and conversions, becoming mobile-first, etc.) and consulting, which is not very common in the agency world.

The mid-sized companies who think they are ‘safe’ because of the in-house SEO expert frequently need project-based, small ticket consulting projects. For example, a client may just need 10 consulting hours every quarter to validate their decisions and respond to “ask me anything” questions. I think this part of the market will continue to evolve and more consulting services will be needed.

We have also developed a proprietary SEO approach called ‘SEO Silos’.  When you implement silos within an architecture for a website, you have the ability to change dramatically how you’re perceived by the search engine on your status as subject matter expert.

I actually do provide an in-depth tutorial with free tools on our website, and I also give away free information so that business owners can do it themselves. But the gist of it is: you need to figure out how people search, in order to discover your themes and in order to restructure your website. Buckle up, it’s a long read ahead.

NXT: What’s a ‘best practice’ in B2B SEO?

It’s difficult to do a one-size-fits-all marketing program, but one thing that all business owners should figure out is the intent of a query. RankBrain tries to understand what people click on after the searchers perform a query in order to improve the search results based on intent. For example, if the intent is to get information, RankBrain will filter for information sites.

Let’s say you typed “search engine optimization” into Google.  You will get the definition and other informational articles on what SEO is. If you typed “SEO companies”, no informational sites will appear.  Instead, you’ll have lists of agencies and companies. That’s because the search intent has changed from learning about SEO to finding a company that does it.

I would recommend to all businesses to have a frequent meeting in order to evaluate their search rankings and see if Google has shifted the intent.

The worst thing in the world is for a B2B business to say “I know what my keyword is because I used to get all this traffic, but it’s dwindling so it must be because of my website”.

In fact, you may not have to change your site, perhaps you have to change your keyword strategy because the intent may have shifted as the algorithm continues to learn and evolve.

NXT: How do you come up with a good keyword strategy?

To develop a list of keywords for your site, start with the keywords used by the searchers that end up on your site, then look at the intent of their query (information versus shopping), and finally look for words similar to those search keywords (adjacent queries – use Google Instant).

In order to succeed in SEO, you have to use the right bait, and you have to fish where the fish are. People invent these glorious keywords that nobody searches for and they spend energy ranking for keywords that are useless. These keywords are not the right bait if nobody searches for them.

As for where the fish are, if I’m trying to find people that are 50 years old and own their homes, I really care about Bing, even more so than Google. If I’m trying to find somebody that’s into online games, I’m not going to Bing!

NXT: How would you allocate a digital marketing budget of $10,000/month?

Someone who spends $10,000/month on SEO typically has $40-50 million in revenue. If a client spends $5,000/month, they’re typically a $10 million company.

The budget allocation depends upon what works. Sometimes that is PPC, and sometimes it is SEO, and all sites and products are different. PPC results take days, and SEO results take months.

So the allocation of a budget will depend upon the need and investment strategy… play for the long term, or make money now. We operate hybrid programs where we can reduce PPC as SEO grows, essentially increasing traffic for the same fees.

You can generally expect a return of 8x or more from SEO, which is our own KPI target. If you’re paying me $5,000, you’re not really justifying the program until you have $40,000 in sales.

NXT: What typical results can a client expect when they work with you?

We’ve done significant projects where we improved clients’ web traffic by 900%. One client was already at 1.7 million unique visitors a month organically when the project started. They invested $25,000 per month for a pure SEO project. As part of our SEO project, they had to move their data center because we predicted that they would exceed their server capacity.

32 hours after we went live, they were at 16.4 million. We did a combination of on-page edits, siloing, link management such as removing bad links (which is common in B2B by the way!) and other mobile and speed changes.

Another project was to move Addicting Games to the #1 site in the world for the word “Games” and we got them there (it’s true, here’s a Google search page!). This is just an example. Of course, your mileage may vary.


A huge thanks to Bruce Clay, who helped shape the SEO industry by contributing as the main author of the 746-page Wiley book Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies, which is now in its third edition. If you thought the information he shared was impressive, wait until you read his website!

Bruce Clay


Tess is a Business Development Associate at Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. She's passionate about B2B business models & marketing, and spends a lot of time working on partnership development, content marketing, and scouring for the best business books for Her blood type is an authentic caffè macchiato.

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