Interview with Brian Dean @Backlinko


Howdy Marketers! I have a very special guest for today’s interview. He is a successful entrepreneur and a well known SEO guru among internet marketers worldwide. It’s none other than Brian Dean from Backlinko.

Back in 2012, Dean created Backlinko after some trial and error with five other startups. Today, it’s one of the most recommended blogs for SEOs and internet marketers. He has also created his own educational course called “SEO That Works,” which has cemented Dean’s position as an industry game-changer.

A big thanks to Brian for taking time to answer my questions:

Q: Brian, I don’t want to start our interview by asking you for an introduction. I think It would be considered a crime in the world of digital marketing if I do so. Instead, tell me how’s life in Berlin? Has anything changed for you since the move?

A: Life is good :)
Berlin is a great city for entrepreneurs. It has a vibrant tech scene with lots of startups.

Q: SEO has always had hundreds of black hat and white hat voices giving different opinions on what it takes to rank. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, it’s hard to find the right sources to listen to. On that note, what do you think is the biggest misconception in SEO right now?

A: Fortunately, I think most people have caught onto the fact that black hat SEO doesn’t work as well as it used to. So there isn’t as much of a misconception that, to rank in Google, you should create a 5-page “niche site” and blast it with phony backlinks.

That said, the biggest misconception today is actually in the white hat world. The idea that “all you need to do to rank in Google is create great content” is a HUGE misconception. That sounds nice in theory… but it doesn’t work in the real world.

Yes, great content helps. But it’s not enough. For people to actually SEE your content, you need to actively promote it.

Q: I studied many SEO courses during the initial stages of my internet marketing career. But “SEO That Works” was the resource that taught me the most. Your course has become required study material for SEOs. How did this course come into existence? Did you have any collaborators in developing this, or was it a solo creation?

A: I did too. Back when I first started with SEO I bought every ebook or online course I could get my hands on. 99% of which were crap.

So when I sat down to create SEO That Works, I wanted to create something completely different -- a systematic blueprint for ranking in Google using white hat SEO.

So instead of focusing on one aspect of SEO (like keyword research), I designed SEO That Works to cover EVERYTHING someone needed to rank. In other words, I wanted SEO That Works to be the last SEO course anyone had to ever buy.

Like any big project, there have been lots of collaborators that have helped -- including a video editor, graphic designer, programmer, editor etc. etc. But the material itself is 100% by me because I’m the one testing new strategies and adding them to the training.

Q: Link building through outreach is much more difficult and time consuming compared to older, conventional tactics. What special techniques do you use to improve the response rate of cold emails? Also, do you have any productivity hacks that you use to personalize outreach emails at scale?

A: My #1 tip is to PERSONALIZE THE EMAIL. Sure, outreach scripts give you a good starting point. But you don’t want your scripts to look like a script. So even adding a small detail to the email (like the title of their latest post) goes a long way.

In terms of productivity, I recommend creating systems that allow you to scale personalized outreach over time. You can only scale outreach so much before it becomes spam. So instead of trying to blast out 100 more emails, spend your resources on making the 50 that you do send super personalized.

Q: We have to give up on pagespeed when building power pages with a lot of content and images. Even Google’s pagespeed test will give poor feedback for most of them. How can we overcome this in the time of AMP optimization? Do you really think that Google will rely heavily on pagespeed as a ranking factor?

A: I don’t think Google relies on pagespeed as a big ranking factor. Yes, having a slow page can hurt you. But it’s only one small part of the algorithm. That said, you want your page to load as quickly as possible.

That’s why I recommend using a CDN, compressing images and using a clean-coded Wordpress theme. Those 3 things have helped me the most.

Q:  Suppose your competitors are ranking on the first page for more than a year with a mix of white hat and black hat techniques and you’re still working on the white hat strategies alone. What would you do to overtake them in rankings?

A: I’d do more white hat. I know it’s tempting to try some of the black hat stuff they’re using. But it’s risky.

Obviously, the choice is yours. But if I was in that spot (and I have been many times), I’d work on stepping up my white hat game.

Specifically, I’d focus on building more white hat backlinks.

Q: In your recent Forbes interview, you are profiled as a one-man million dollar business. Can you see the Backlinko team growing in the future? What do you attribute to your success?

A: I can attribute my success to quite a few different factors: hard work, skill, and a good dose of luck :-)

That said, I do see Backlinko growing in the future. I enjoy living a lifestyle where I can travel where I want, when I want.

So I don’t plan on growing the business into a behemoth that sucks up all of my time. Sure, I’d make more money. But what’s the point if you can’t enjoy it?

Q: You are known as a self-taught SEO Pro, but being self-taught always comes with some roadblocks. Could you discuss a roadblock you overcame in creating Backlinko?

A: So so so many. Backlinko has been an extremely fun project.

But there have been countless roadblocks along the way, including important emails going to spam, the site going down countless times, bugs and technical issues during launches etc. etc.

Fortunately, I have a great team of people at Backlinko that can handle anything that’s thrown at them.

Q: Can you list the SEO tools that you use often and their purposes? How do you maximize productivity with all of the tools and processes we use in SEO?

A: The SEO tools I used the most are:

SEMRush: The best keyword research tool on the planet. I use it for finding keywords and for evaluating the search engine traffic that competitors get.

Ahrefs: The best link analysis tool out there (by a mile). Also has a cool keyword research tool.

BuzzSumo: Not really an “SEO tool”, but is great for finding content ideas.

Authority Labs: Great rank tracking tool.

There are several others that I use when the need arises (like the Google Search Console). But those are the 4 that I login to most often.

Q: Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. One last question, do you have any big projects planned you want to share?

A: My pleasure, Sasneh. I’m actually working on the latest version of SEO That Works right now (STW 3.0). It’s going to be HUGE.

Thanks again Brian for answering my questions.

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