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Phil Rozek SEO Interview, earning backlinks and email outreach

It’s time for another SEO interview. This time, Phil Rozek was kind to talk with us about his SEO achievements and share his experience.

Without any further ado, here’s the interview.

1. Could you introduce yourself? How did you start doing SEO and what do you do now?

I call myself a full-time “local search consigliere.” It sounds cooler than “local SEO nerd,” but it also reflects that I help my clients with more than just Google Places rankings. I also help them earn and get more and better reviews, make their websites more user-friendly and “stickier,” and for a select handful of clients I do PPC and copywriting.

I got my start in SEO by accident, right before my senior year of college. I didn’t know what else I might do for a living, but I did know I would make a bad employee.

More detail on this page and in this interview, if you’re interested.

2. How do you see SEO 5 years from now? Do you think backlinks will remain to be the most important ranking factor?

It’s hard for me to imagine backlinks would ever stop being a major ranking factor. But I’m guessing behavioral signals will get more and more important. They already seem to matter. I’m talking about high time-on-page, low bounce rate, not much pogo-sticking, many pages-per-visit, maybe clicks on click-to-call links, and a bunch of other signals that I’m sure Google’s already at least monitoring.

The way I see it, the more Google knows about searchers’ behavior on a particular page, the better it can determine real mobile-friendliness, whether it employs rich snippets by the book, and whether the page isn’t just keyword-stuffed gibberish and is actually helpful. Understanding searchers’ behavior better might help Google determine “quality” of results better than it does today, with its heavy emphasis on links in general.

3. What’s your favorite technique to do email outreach? Share your tips with our readers.

My first bit of advice is to be a stickler for personalization

Take a couple extra minutes to find out the name and “official” title of the person you’re emailing. Then spend a couple more minutes researching that person. Let’s say your contact is Susan. Does she have an “About” page? Is she on LinkedIn? What can you learn about her communication style, personality, “soft spots,” and latitude at the company or organization?

What you find and what you do with that info totally depends on the situation, but suffice it to say you should learn all you can about your contact before sending that email.

My second piece of advice is even more important but way more frustrating: be a damn good writer.

Easier said than done, I realize. I’ll be insulted if you don’t at least nominate me for the “2015 Least-Actionable Link Tip” award.

But writing is one of those skills that can help you do better at just about everything else. Sure, sometimes you can send a crappy outreach email and get a link anyway. Or you can send a great email and still not get a link. It’s about your batting average. Even my poor Red Sox have won a whole 40% of their games this season. Wordsmithing makes a difference.

Your subject line must not look like spam. Study the spam that you receive and chuck every day – and the emails you open and reply to – and you’ll write a good subject line.

Don’t sound like an English professor, or even totally “professional.” If you can elicit even a tiny chuckle from your contact, that is very good.

If it’s a blogger, use a little heartfelt flattery (if there is such a thing). When a reader / fan emails me, says something nice, asks a very quick and simple request of me but also makes it easy and guilt-free for me to say no, it’s hard for me to say no.

There is a lot more to say about writing – even just as it relates to outreach emails. But probably the best thing I can do is offer examples of writers whose style you’ll want to learn from and maybe weave into your email outreach:

AJ Kohn writes killer titles for his posts, and they’re easy to read once you crack ‘em open. It’s a shame he doesn’t have an email list (as far as I know).

Joel Klettke is hard not to pay attention to, whether it’s a tweet or a blog post or a page on his site. He’d starve if he couldn’t write, because copywriting is all he does. Yet his style is light, funny, and occasionally edgy. That comes through in his titles, too.

Neil Patel is also quite good. I find his writing style bland sometimes and overly hypey at other times. But he still gets you (and me) to read, which at least means you can take a page out of his playbook

Oh, and I’m pretty confident you’ll open my emails if you’ve got even the slightest interest in local SEO 🙂

4. Link building in competitive niches, how would you do it? Are you a fan of link building or earning?

“Link earning” all the way. The trouble with most links you can “build” is that every competitor and his grandma can also build the same links. A link that helps everyone is a link that helps no one.

5. What’s your favorite method to build backlinks?

Again, I dig the term “earning” links. No website deserves a good link.

But if I had to pick a personal favorite, I’d go with sponsoring local meetups. (More detail here.)

6. What type of backlinks are working best for you now? What links everyone should avoid?

There is no one type of link that I can single out as the “best” for any situation. So much depends on the situation.

But in terms of what seems to be the most reliably helpful, and the most broadly applicable, I’d go with links from industry / trade organizations (assuming they link to their members) and from a local Chamber of Commerce.

In general, avoid links that (1) can be “built” entirely without your involvement or knowledge, and that (2) any of your competitors can also build. If it doesn’t take any investment on your part, at least it should be unique to you. That’s why even something like “broken link building” is OK: yeah, a good SEO company can probably do it for you successfully, but if it works presumably they’re getting links to content that you had to invest in creating at one point.

In particular, avoid garbage like blog-post comments (unless you do it personally and in earnest – but then you’re not doing it because you think you’ll get links), forum signatures, and joining generic directories that nobody but so-called SEOs go to.

7. What’s your biggest SEO accomplishment?

Building my own site and business from absolutely nothing into a resource and a fun little community.


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