Does your agency have a robust SEO and backlink strategy in place? 

If not you should, and in this episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I am joined by one of my clients and one of The Self-Running Agency Group members, Richard Kennedy, who explains why SEO and a backlink strategy is a must.

Richard runs an e-commerce SEO agency, Arken Marketing.  Arken helps SME e-commerce businesses grow and compete against the big players in the market, by utilising effective SEO.

Richard shares how he started Arken Marketing and how he helps SME e-commerce businesses grow and compete using SEO and backlink strategies

Here’s a glance at this episode…


Backstory in building an SEO agency and Richard’s future aspirations for Arken Marketing


How to figure out your niche when starting up an agency


Tips in niching down your business


Defining SEO in a broader context


What are the advantages of using SEO over PPC?


The importance of being ranked organically


Why SEO is an effective strategy for your business


Benefits of link building for your website


Understanding link building, domain authority rankings and backlinks


How to implement link building strategies


How to distinguish a good backlink from a bad backlink


What is the deciding factor if a link is worth pursuing or not?


Tips in creating SEO strategies for your business


What is the ‘dream 100’  system?


How to build good quality and trustworthy website


Why ‘focus’ is important for your business’ SEO strategy


“I don't want to be too big, but I've always wanted it to fuel my other projects.” - Richard Kennedy

“...not every business defines its success by how big it is or how fast it grows.” - Rob DaCosta

“We only work with people that we want to work with and they want to work with us and it's made it a whole lot easier in the long run in the short term.” - Richard Kennedy

“..the website needs to be trustworthy… approachable... Having good content makes everything so much easier.” - Richard Kennedy

“ just can't replicate success through copying.” - Richard Kennedy

“..building your dream 100 list is actually one of the systems that we teach in The Self-running Agency Group.” - Rob DaCosta

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 Full Episode Transcription

To rank on Google, you need a few things, you need a technically sound website, you need to match with the intent. So if someone's looking for SEO services, you have to have SEO services and you have to have authority and authority, you get mostly from links. So links count as votes and votes aren't all equal.

Accelerate your agency's profitable growth with tools, tips, and value-added interviews with your host, agency owner and coach, Rob Da Costa.

So, welcome everybody to today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. I am excited to be joined by one of my clients and one of The Self-running Agency Group members, Richard Kennedy. Richard runs an e-commerce SEO agency, Arken Marketing. Arken helps SME e-commerce businesses grow and compete using SEO and backlink strategies.

Welcome, Richard! Is there anything else you wanted to add to my introduction and talk a little bit more about who you are, what you do?

No, well thanks for having me and you kind of got it, got it in one really help small to medium-sized e-commerce businesses. Try and compete with the big boys in their market. Fantastic. How long have you been running Arken? Five or six years now. I actually remember when I started, but it kind of started off as a freelancer and then it just kind of happened naturally that I could bring it into the agency brand rather than just being a freelancer. So, it just kind of happened naturally. I think that will be a very common story to many listeners and indeed that was the same as my journey that I started out freelancing on my own, and then got the opportunity to grow my agency and had to make that choice from being a freelancer to actually growing a business. What are your aspirations for Arken? So, I don't want to be a too large agency, a very small agency at the moment, but I don't want to be too big, but I've always wanted it to kind of fuel my other projects. I have an interest in plenty of other things. I'll kind of use this as a way to explore my other passions, but that's kind of how I hope it goes or envisioned it going. But no, I don't have aspirations to be a huge SEO agency. I see some of them, especially on LinkedIn and it just seems like an absolute nightmare to manage to me and it's not something I have personal aspirations to be, to be honest with you.

Well, if you have a clear plan and this is the stuff that we talked about in the program if you have a clear plan and so you know where you're headed, then you can kind of create controlled growth, whatever that means. And of course, not every business defines its success by how big it is or how fast it grows. So I think it's really interesting that you say you want Arken to be a vehicle to enable you to explore your other passions because getting that balance as an entrepreneur right in your time can often be a challenge and we can all get very consumed by our business and that becomes our life rather than you know it's supporting our life. I mean when I say the pattern, I don't mean like not going to be a professional golfer which is the only hobby I have outside of work, but I just feel like there's a lot of opportunity with the skill set of SEO and done marketing to explore for avenues and I don't think people should necessarily pigeonhole themselves in it for forever in that sense.

No, sure. I mean I'm a good example of that, this is career number three for me. So I started out as a bad programmer at IBM, and found my way into marketing, became a career to really become marketing manager for a software company, then started my agency around that for 11 years before selling up and then re-training to become a coach's what I do now. So I've actually had four pretty different careers, so absolutely. And just a little bit of a side track before we jump into talking more about SEO and backlink strategies and all that stuff. Arken has a very clear position in a very clear nation that provides SEO services to SME e-commerce businesses. And listeners to this podcast will know that I am a big fan and a big advocate of agencies getting a clear niche. So, I'm just interested to understand how you chose that nation, and what you see some of the benefits of working in that particular area are.

Yeah. So like I imagine most not almost all the agencies they start and they service everybody anyone who wants SEO. Their service to them we noticed a clear pattern of who we can help best and who we can track the results best on. So it's like we still do have clients that are within that certain market. But it's like I had a call the other day with a B2B client that they only need a couple of costs or conversions a year to make it absolutely worth it. And as great as that is, it's not something that we can track that well. So when we know it was big e-commerce, when we do good work we can see the results quickly. So it's nice for this, most of us to see the benefit we're having. It's easier for us to track it's something we enjoy working on. It just made it a lot easier niching down. We still do have clients outside of that, but it does make it easier and we can hone our skills better if we are dedicated to e-commerce. It's been really good for us.

Yeah. Absolutely. And a good point you make there is that just because you are niched into a certain sector doesn't preclude you from taking on clients outside of that nation. That's something I always tell everybody. And that's true for me. I have a couple of clients that are not agencies, like having architects that it's not an agency or so you just take those clients on a case-by-case basis. But you market yourself as being in that niche. What advice would you give to an agency and SEO agency that is scared of a niche because they think they might lose business opportunities if they don't niche down.

So I think it is very good for numerous reasons. But by how I think you should do it before I get onto the benefits is don't go into it in niching before you've actually worked with. What you think is your ideal client because it may not be what you think it is. So we were quite lucky that we had a range of clients and we kind of naturally fell into the saw clients that we will be like working with the one that we can get the best results. So I wouldn't just decide before you've actually worked with them. I know that it can be quite difficult to understand, but difficult to get these clients if you're not in a niche. But it's something I was scared of at first and I'm not scared of. But since we've done it, we've been able to hone our services to our select clients. Not only can we give them better results, but we can also charge more and more of them who are ideal clients. There's no or there's a lot less stress involved with dealing with clients that we kind of don't really want to work with. We only work with people that we want to work with and they want to work with us and it's made it a whole lot easier in the long run in the short term.

And that's a really good piece of advice actually, that I should use more with people, which is to get clients in your target niche. First of all, to prove that you can win them, to be proved that you can do a great job for them and to show that you actually enjoy working with them, because that may well impact your niche, where your niche is. Yeah. Yes, exactly. Right. I just think it's important to know you like working with them before you commit to, you know, all your branding or being. For example, dedicated to e-commerce and then once you've got any commas to climb, you really don't enjoy it. It kind of seems a bit backwards, but it's definitely been a positive move for us. And of course, there are some sectors that will get the services that you offer more than other sectors, so that's a part to play in it. Like if you were, I don't know how good an example of this is, but if you were trying to sell SEO services to say manufacturing businesses, you might find that harder because they don't really get it. I mean I might be completely wrong here of course, but they don't really get SEO and they don't really understand the value of it.

Yeah, there's not many established e-commerce businesses that don't know what SEO is and the value that can bring doesn't necessarily mean they're implementing it. But they do understand the value of it. They do understand you know what it is for a start there not, you know, it's not smoke and mirrors to them, they are aware of it. And of course, they're going to be very dependent on it too, to generate revenue for their business.

So let's move on to talk about SEO. Which is kind of the topic of today's conversation. Can you just start out by giving us and the listeners a broad definition of what SEO means? So search engine optimisation is optimising for search engines, most commonly everyone refers to Google, but that doesn't necessarily mean just Google. So you got Amazon from an e-commerce standpoint, you've got YouTube, you've got Bing, it's all different search engines and you can do stuff like if your content creator you can optimise for like gum road and stuff like that. So it's basically optimising to get your listing higher in a specific search engine. I try and describe it like I help people find what they're already looking for because they're not going on a search engine looking for trees and then they come up with, you know, I'm not trying to get in front of those services, they're already looking for the business, which is why it probably converts a lot higher than anything else because you know, you don't go on Twitter to look for us. You said, well you can do it, but if they're using Google, they're already looking for your business. So, that's kind of a broad definition of SEO.

And if there was you sitting in one corner talking about SEO and then someone else who was a big fan of PPC like paid advertising, what would you say the advantages of using SEO? Excuse me, it's not paid traffic, right? It's traffic, that's the right term. So what advantage would you have using SEO versus PPC or should I use both? Well, I think you should use both. I think any successful business won't just rely on one source, but the biggest difference or the biggest selling point is organic traffic is if you turn off your ads, you know your traffic doesn't go off overnight. It's something that you've earned. It's something that you have for a while as long as you've done it properly. So it's not something that you know costs X and you get Y from it. It's yeah you earn it and it stays with you for a while if you do it properly.

So that's an important distinction to make. I just want to emphasise, you're basically saying if you pay for advertising, the minute you turn those ads off your traffic is going to disappear because you don't have that source anymore. Whereas if you put a good SEO strategy in place, it's going to last for a while and it's going to keep working beyond the time of initially putting that strategy in place. Exactly. There's an inherent trust as well, like when you Google for a business or a service that if they're ranked organically there's an inherent trust you get that the number one. So you kind of know that you just assume that the best but there is a trust factor involved with ranking organically as opposed to being a paid ad up there.

So have you got any other thoughts on your sort of answer anyway? But why is SEO such an effective strategy? Like if I'm a small agency and I'm putting my marketing in place, why should I put SEO as one of the top strategies that I invest in? Well, it's just to remember that with SEO you're targeting people that are already looking for you. It's not you're not forcing something on them that they're not interested in. There. already interesting your services to some degree where they are in the funnel, depends on what sort of contact you build this, they're already looking for you. You just got to be in front of them at the right time, because they're already looking for you.

Okay, let's talk a bit about link building and then I'll come back to using it broadly. Now, I've seen the benefits myself of doing link building, but can you just explain a bit about what link building is and why people should be doing it? I'll give you a quick kind of explanation. So to rank on Google, you need a few things, you need a technically sound website, you need to match with the intent. So if someone's looking for SEO services, you have to have SEO services and you have to have authority and authority, you get mostly from links. So links count as votes and votes aren't all equal. So, the benefit with link building is well, without link building it is very, very difficult to compete in the competitive markets. It's normally the difference-maker. So it's important for certain markets. It's not vital for all markets, but anything competitive, a difference-maker is more often than not link building. So if you want to overtake a big player, it's usually a lack of links. Not always, but it's usually a lack of links.

So let's just take that, that's a good explanation. But let's just take a step back for anybody that's listening to this and going, that's fine. But I don't understand what link building is. All right then, the link is essentially when you go on a website and you have the blue hypertext and you link from one site to another. That's a link you can have. So there's a difference between referring domains and backlinks. The backlink is the individual link. So if your website, if you link to my website 10 times throughout your website, that's one referring domain and 10 links, that's what the differences are. And there are various different types of links. You can have image links, you can have no-follow. You can have the following links, you can have redirects and I won't explain all of those because I will be here forever. But some links are worth more than others, which is mostly what people can't when they're talking about. You know, I need X links. It's not mostly a follow links sign.

And how does this all come into play with domain authority rankings and what the hell does that mean as well? So the main authority domain rating, trust, flow and citation, I think citation player from majestic, are all numbers that tours give you, so they don't mean anything. The problem with relying on those as well as they can be easily manipulated. It used to be a paid rank. All these numbers don't really mean anything, to be honest with you. They used to report on domain rating, but it doesn't, it's as if I had to explain the overall power of the domain in five seconds, that's what I would use. But it's just a real kind of vague look at how powerful a website is. It doesn't mean a lot on its own. You know, you gotta look at the links that they're getting. This domain rating is from traffic relevance. It's not just so I wouldn't just rely on those metrics but it is kind of a good quick indication as to the value of a link. But there's a lot more to it than just domain authority or domain rating. So, that's useful for me to know because I've always looked at my domain authority or rating and think it's always too low and look at my competitors and it's a lot higher. So I've been striving to improve that. But as you say, that's only one way of ranking how your website is performing. Google doesn't rank websites based on their domain authority or domain rating. It's a good indicator but it's something that could be an easy meal. It is. You can just go on fibre and type in domain authority and there are so many gigs that you can artificially boost that provide absolutely no benefit other than associate your website with their potentially bad neighbourhood.

So it talks us through some strategies for link building, like if I was doing myself, what would I be doing, what would I be trying to achieve? So there's, I mean there are hundreds of different strategies that you can implement. We try to focus on a few core ones depending on the client, you've got images. If you've got great imagery, that's a fantastic way to get links. You can get the top websites the world isn't going out and create their own images for that of course. They will source them from third parties, which is a great way you've got guest posting, although it's typically got our worst name now because it's people associated with the spam techniques. I'm sure you get it as well, you know, offering you a guest post, you've got digital PR which is something we're doing more and more lately. You've got the thing that we love, what I love to do the most is build assets that build links. So think of it like it could be useful like it could be a calculator, it could be a, you know, a link tool, it could be anything that's useful to your industry that has a search volume. Statistics pages are great because you can build it, you can promote it and then it will naturally build your links over time. That's what we focus on. But the easiest way to get into it would probably be the guest posting group by essentially putting your content on other people's sites. But it has to be good and don't fall into the trap of buying the links that people will email you and the massive excel sheets because they are 99% absolute junk and you don't want anything to do with that. That's kind of the easy way into it. And I guess there's a danger there that the whole point of link building is that you want a high performing, high ranking website to refer people to your website or use your images or usual tool as you said. And if you've got lots of backlinks coming into your website, but the actual quality of the websites they're coming from is not very good. I guess that can damage your own SEO. Yes, but to be honest, the link penalties are far less common than they used to be. Google's a lot better at just discounting them so you're wasting your time and effort in the first place. I just would set your expectations or set your standards higher than what may be typically people do just because if you do if you're not setting your standards high, could just be wasting your time. Putting an effort into the sights set isn't worth anything. You know, if you submit crap content to a crap website, it's not going to do your business any good. It's just a waste of time.

So, this is a message of quality over quantity. Better off building one backlink a month from a good website with good content. Then you would be doing 10 or 20 or 50 or 100. All right. I don't know about those. It depends. It's very subjective what is a good or bad backlink. But yes, for example, you wouldn't go on fibre and have 100 automated links that just get no value from it whatsoever. And I would rather spend my time and money on creating a good piece of content that I would naturally build links over time. But you do have to, you have to promote that content as well. It won't just, you can, unless you're a large established business, you know, you already have a search presence, it's not a case of build and they will come, you do need to promote these assets as well, but I would rather spend my time and money on one piece of great content that can build links over the next 6 to 12 months then blasting links from rubbish websites.

A couple of years ago I pursued HubSpot to write a guest blog for them and they had lots of hurdles that you had to jump over. But eventually, I wrote an article on client and account management for their blog. HubSpot is a really good active marketer and obviously a good product, but they are great at marketing I guess their website ranks really high and I could see when it went live I could see a significant increase in traffic to my website and most importantly because I was allowed to promote one download in that guest blog, I could actually see the number of people that were downloading the piece of content as well and you know it isn't it's hundreds. Of course, as you said earlier on that was probably two years ago and it still delivers results for me today because it's still alive and it's still there. So that is a good example of I guess a good quality website and good quality content as well.

A very easy way to decide if it's worth it or not, is to try and imagine if Google didn't exist, would you still want that link? And if you would then that's not the only indication, but it's a good indication that it might be a link worth pursuing.

Let's just more broadly speaking from an SEO strategy. So I am a small agency owner, I don't have the budget at the moment to outsource my services to an agency like you. What kind of advice would you say to me if I wanted to do my own SEO, or what are the sort of 3 or 4-5 tips you would give? I think his name is Brendan Hufford has a good strategy for doing stuff like this. You would find, I think because his dream is 50 years dream 100, I'll have to double-check. Basically, you find the top 50 or the top 100 people or sites that you would most like to have dealings with and then just start building relationships with them. That's how I would do it, because it's not only the, you know, the SEO. The benefit of that, but there are potential partnerships as being a guest on the podcast, there's a whole different host of things that can transpire from that rather than just implementing a strategy that's how I would approach it is to find the sites I really want to be a part of. For we were linked to from, sorry, see what they post and just start a conversation with them. That's how I would start. Yeah, absolutely. So, building your dream 100 list is actually one of the systems that we teach in The Self-running Agency Group. Have you seen that bit? But there are actually templates because it's a strategy that I've used myself. So where you literally sit down and brainstorm every single partner that you would work with, love to work with from the ridiculous aspirational kind of partners down to the more realistic kind of partners who are maybe one or two rungs bigger than you up the ladder. Then, you start an outreach program. And as you said, Richard partnering can mean a number of things. And actually, before we went live on this episode, we were talking about guesting on podcasts being a great way of building your profile, building your audience, and getting traffic back to your website because obviously in the show notes the list was linked to a marketing website. So no doubt you will get some traffic from this website. Sorry, from this episode. So building a dream 100 list could be in all sorts of things from guest blogging, guest podcasting and running a joint event together, doing a speech for their audience. You know, all sorts of things. So that is a good strategy and I guess that's sort of a broader part of an SEO strategy. I think there's potentially massive SEO benefits and others and that's the way I would approach it with not just an agency site, but any site really is. If you're starting a brand new site and it's not it's not a case of they have 1000 makes you need 1000 links, but if you look at it in that terms, it can really seem insurmountable. And that's how I would start or recommend. Any business to start is to find the 100 sites where you would love to get links from, see what content they post and build out similar content. That's how I would recommend any business to start.

Right, good advice. Any other tips to someone who's thinking about doing SEO and link building themselves. Anything else you would advise them? People often forget about their actual website, so the website needs to be trustworthy. You need to be approachable. If you're after a pestle band, you need to have information on yourself on your website. People don't link to nameless faceless sites anymore. They used to, but I would spend a lot of time getting my site to look as trustworthy as possible and have as good content as possible. Having good content makes everything so much easier. So I really can't emphasise that enough, that having good content. Just makes things a lot easier. And it does start with having a good site as well. I guess you're sort of saying that there's no magic bullet to this, there's no magic solution as much as some people will try and tell you otherwise, and that it's the sort of fundamentals that are so important, like having a good quality website that has good content that's easy to navigate that is clearly talking to me, and that functionally works is a great basis to start with. Yeah, it just makes everything else so much easier. You can outreach to a higher standard site if you've got a good site yourself or if your content is useful, it makes the conversations you're having with these people so, so much easier. I think every client we work with, we work on their site before we work off their site just because it makes our job so much easier. That's a good point. And I guess sometimes it must be frustrating for you because a client doesn't necessarily think that should be your starting point. They think they've got a website there now, and want you to drive traffic to it. But actually, you kind of have to say, hang on a sec, let's look at your website first. People fall into the trap of X posts having 50 links, for example, we can just recreate that and get 50 links that don’t work like that. So you need to, if you want to go down that route, you need to have something that differentiates you from it. It needs to look better. It needs to talk to the user better. It needs to do something better. Otherwise, you just can't replicate success through copying. Absolutely good.

Any last thoughts on any other advice that you would share before we wrap up today? No, but I'm always happy to help if any of your listeners want advice and I think I can reach me on, it's just Always happy to help or point them in the right direction. Sure. And what's while we're talking about links concluding the show notes, we'll also include your website link and your email. Is there anything else you want us to include? No, that's absolutely fine. Just my website and just my email, If they have any questions they can reach out on LinkedIn or anything happy to help.

So the final question that I ask all my guests is if you could go back in time and give your younger self just starting out in business, one piece of advice, what would it be? Other than buying as much Bitcoin as I possibly could. I think I would say just to focus on one thing, whether it's because there are so many different elements to it, so it's not just link building, it's not just technical, it's not just content. There are so many things I would just focus on one aspect of s because as the business is growing or the industry, sorry, it's you have specialists in all these different areas and I would just say just focus on one thing, and one market.

It's a good piece of advice and we should all start narrow and broaden out. It's much easier to do that than it is to start broadening. Try and fail at that, and then we have to go narrow. So yeah, I think I would tell my younger self to buy more Tesla shares. A great, good piece of advice, I always love asking guess this because I almost think in 100 episodes we've never had the same, think twice, even tested a few people who've come on the podcast more than once to see, to challenge them not to listen to what they said before, and then to check if they said the same thing or not.

But I don't think I've had that bit of advice before, So Richard really appreciates your time today. There were some good nuggets of advice in there and I was just thinking as we were talking that we need to call this episode titled build it and they won't come because I think sometimes people think if I build a lovely website and put it live suddenly I'll get loads of traffic to it and of course that is far from the truth and I think you've highlighted that point today.

Yeah, you think it used to work more like that but now as blighted companies are in there they the bar is so much higher. Absolutely. So we all need to be applying some of the advice you have given today. So great thank you so much for your time today and I will see you soon. No problem. Thank you very much.

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