How to Reverse Engineer SEO Success – Britney Muller



Reading Time

20 minute read

Today’s podcast guest is’s “Senior SEO Scientist,” data and link building nerd, and “great content guru” Britney Muller!

Follow her on Twitter why don’t ya?

This is easily one of my favorite episodes in recent history, especially if you’re into SEO.

We chat about (click to jump to the transcript)

Britney’s awesome. SEO is awesome. This episode is awesome.

You’re awesome.

Listen to my episode with Britney Muller from Moz!

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Here are some curated transcript excerpts!

What are the on-page SEO factors that matter in 2020?

Pete: A lot of what I really enjoy is how to shape the content that ranks–specifically for on-site, on-page optimization. And then a little bit of keyword and competitive research.

I feel like, but I think this is always been the case with beginner to intermediate bloggers and SEOs–what content do I need to produce?

Like, what are the factors, on page SEO, etc? What is important now, as opposed to five or six years ago?

Britney: Such a good question. There are a million ways to do that.

I would definitely try to root the beginnings of a post concept in some data.

So whether it be Search Console, something you see converting really well for your keywords. And maybe it doesn’t rank as good. That’s one of my favorite go-to’s–you basically export your Google Search Console data and you look at keywords that are maybe at the very tail end of page one or off on to page two, but convert really high, you have these opportunities, but Google’s not surfacing them to their full potential, I would focus on revamping some of those and just providing really, reallhighqualityty value. So I’m a big believer of taking the time to create high quality content versus a frequent output of content.

The big opportunity in refreshing existing content.

Pete: Yeah. It’s interesting that that’s the first words out of your mouth are looking at existing content and revamping that as opposed to publishing new content.

Britney: I think that if you’re already an established website with SEO content that does fairly well, like Moz, that is our biggest opportunity is looking at what content previously did well with our audience. And how can or be refurbish it for other platforms. So there’s no reason why a really high like high traffic post can’t be converted into a slideshare. There’s no reason why that SlideShare couldn’t be tweaked and put into a video on YouTube. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have someone just record the audio version, and start to refurbish this to expand your reach and expand that net of qualified traffic. Yeah,

Pete: So okay, let’s say somebody has a post that on page two, or like bottom of page one or something like that for a medium keyword or whatnot. But they have none of that? What’s the little checklist you’ve already mentioned? Like one or two, but why is this important? as well? Yeah. Where would you point folks to go first?

Britney: Yeah, so I might backtrack just a second to sort of paint this full picture. But what I did at my agency that I had spun off and started for our medical clients is, myself and my employees, we would sit down, and we would really work on hard to understand the client, like to understand the website goals, and even the ROI behind that, what are what’s our work going to be measured on. And then we focused really hard on reverse engineering that.

So for an example, we worked with several plastic surgeons, and we discovered that, okay, the funnel is very interesting, someone might consider an elective procedure for years, and then wake up one day and sort of want it yesterday. And from there, they start to do some research. And Funny enough, after digging, and after looking at data and interviewing patients, we did, we discovered that people only search for two things before booking a consultation.

And that was before and after photos, and price.

And so we actually flipped that acquisition funnel on its head. And I said, why would we not focus on that? First? Why would we not try to add content about the range of price for these procedures, and provide custom content on these different before and after photos per se, male in his mid 40s, versus this procedure for a woman and her 30–you can do all this stuff.

And just by that alone, we had been driving just from that work with SEO content alone, we started driving so many leads that they they stopped taking consultations, because they can only take this clinic with up to three months out. Otherwise, everybody was more apt to go see someone else or someone that had more availability. So that in and of itself worked really, really well.

And I think that says a lot about really rooting yourself in understanding what it’s all about, right? What are those goals?

And similarly, we were working with stem cell doctors who would basically use adult stem cells for joint therapy and different treatments. And what we did there was, we discovered, you know, it’s kind of this really confusing space. So we focused on creating content that really simplified it, what is stem cell therapy, what you know, we also create content for alternative knee replacement, therapy, all of these terms to sort of educate the audience.

And then from there, we, we created really simple slideshows, basically decks that we have put on SlideShare. And at the time, it would rank so far above the clients website, that I knew we could leverage that slideshare. com or slideshare. net, or whatever it is. And they got most of their qualified traffic, the stem cell client, from slideshare.

And that was a big kind of aha moment, because it was this really beautiful way of simplifying the complex medical client content, basically, and driving it from there. So I think it’s really just experimenting and seeing what platforms and what content works. For your website that you’re working on.

Using 3rd party platforms to build links and drive qualified traffic to your site:

Pete: Okay, I thought I had another question here. But I don’t think I do. Okay, so that’s cool. jump over to like 2020. that’s currently like mid March or so? Does this still work like skill? Not skills to SlideShare? And just other mediums do? Do those still tend to like outrank your own website? If you did it correctly, and it was a good piece of content or whatnot? Does that still happen? I feel like it kind of dropped off there for a while.

Britney: It definitely has dropped off. I think it really depends on your website and your position in the industry. So that was always one of my favorite hacks, was seeing what platforms are in what websites are ranking so far above you in the space in which you’re trying to rank? And how can you have a voice on there, like even things like Cora, or Reddit, or whatever it is that, is basically a platform above your current position and search, it might be worth exploring to see if your target market is involved there and how you can provide real value.

I would also highly suggest checking out some of Ross Simmons, recent work. He just spoke at search, love and gave an incredible talk about just rethinking content. And he is all for experimentation and trying things out on these various platforms and seeing what works. And yeah, I think he packaged it up in his slide, that maybe we can put in the show notes or something. But I think revisiting the same old platforms, in sort of a new light can bring so much value to a content strategy.

So what he says is–just be a bystander for a while, see what is the most uploaded content in your space on those platforms. His example was read it and he was looking at various spaces. And you can even do like site colon searches within Reddit and see what are the most up-voted conversations that include that website, really cool stuff, and then repackaging and rethinking that same content in a new light, you can do very, very well.

Content for SEO: Package it to be easily consumed.

Okay, so if we were writing an amazing blog post for SEO, on how to produce how to how to shake content that ranks or something like that. So we’ve already talked about a little bit understanding. We could talk for like three hours on user intent, but we won’t, but just understanding the broad strategy of like, what is already working a little bit what can be improved upon, looking at how we can expand into these different mediums that might improve our own rankings, as well as drive traffic to like our other posts or whatnot. There’s anything stand out in this magical make believe blog posts that are writing in terms of actually shaping content? didn’t miss anything?

Britney: Yeah. Okay, I would just say, putting it together in a way that is really, really easy to consume. I think that is really underappreciated

In sort of the digital content realms, as far as just making really, really solid subtitles,

and packaging it up in a way that really makes sense for a reader just skimming it on their cell phone, and providing different options of multimedia. You don’t know everyone’s use case, when they’re on your page, they could be on the bus on the way to work or walking to the grocery store, and they would prefer to listen to an audio version and of that page, or maybe they want to flip through some slides. You know, I think it’s interesting to experiment with repurposing even on your own page to see what’s working with your with your viewers.

The advantages of NOT being an expert.

But I do want to say to it, like, as far as beginners go, I think it’s all too common. Like, I have imposter syndrome all the time. And I think for beginners, yeah. Like, all the time, even now to this podcast, like, I have those thoughts. But I think it’s so important to explain to any beginners out there anyone early in your career, trying to get traction in this space, you have every opportunity, as the “experts in the field.” In fact, you might even have more opportunity than you think. Because so many people that are advanced in the field are focusing on, the pucks go and over here, and they’ve forgotten about some of these basics. There is no reason why you can’t come in and blow everyone’s mind with a really powerful piece of content that’s been well thought out, that will connect and resonate with people. I realized this can be super overwhelming, but the opportunities available are, are out there for everyone. I love this.

Pete: Yes. Yes. And not only that, but I feel like a bunch of the “experts” in different fields, just the sheer ling, and language. By the way, I’m totally guilty at this nothing. I’m a huge expert, by the way, wait, I have an expert. That was my own self-doubt and imposter syndrome coming to light. And we start that sentence over. I felt guilty to this as well, just using normal blogging terms, that even SEO terms that I will still get, like little comments and like emails about like, what does this mean? Like people who just start this, that no idea, like what these words are with this lingo is, and law cases, I feel like that’s another advantage people who are relatively new to learning something and then-teaching it or helping somebody else along the path. You don’t have to present yourself as an expert, but you might actually have a unique angle on something that is easier to understand,

Britney: which, in my opinion, so cute completely, completely. And do you start to notice like with the experts here, interviewing and stuff as they evolve in their careers, I, at least from my perspective, I’m curious to hear what you think a lot of people become sort of those plumbers with leaky faucets. They stopped doing the actual work because they’re so focused on speaking at conferences, or creating different content here and there that they’re really lost sight of some of this powerful beginner stuff.

Generating backlinks through “link-intent” content:

But I want to talk about backlinks. This was the thing, a bunch of people finds this extraordinarily easy because they’re in a niche that kind of supports “spammy outreach emails,” right? Or that are in what I consider to be like some of the hardest niches without like blogging and digital marketing and stuff like that, where everybody you’re reaching out to also gets like a ton of these outreach emails, etc. So I want to ask, I can actually just link to part two parts five, or six or seven is one of the last parts and the beginner’s guide on mas. I actually thought it was really, really helpful. Stating why Google doesn’t really like spammy links, we normally have to go into that. It’s like that’s pretty black and white, I can actually just link to that. But in 2020, and going forward, specifically for bloggers like content, not really ecommerce, but just SEO bloggers looking to grow their organic reach, what are some of the most effective or non-spammy opportunities out there? What would like the top three things like what would you tell people to focus on the most?

Britney: Oh, my gosh, I love this question. That’s awesome. So the first thing that comes to mind is the most, it’s the easiest thing you could possibly do from a content perspective to get links. This involves zero outrage. And it, in fact, is just evaluating and researching keywords with link intent. So keywords with link intent are things like your industry, statistics, your topic facts, it’s finding the keywords that have statistics, facts, data, other things that have link intent built in between because people are putting resources together and they want to link out and reference research, they want to reference a statistic. They want to reference a fact. So I, I’ve always been fascinated by that in and of itself, and just baking that into your content strategy. Because zero outreach sounds pretty good.

Outreach sucks. It just sucks. And unless you’re going to go the really high quality route where it’s super personalized, you’re creating content to replace older content that has done very well. You’re just you’re going to have a tough time. So I definitely suggest creating those really powerful statistics, facts resources on your site. I think repurposing is also an easy way to gain links from other platforms and potential shares elsewhere. I think that’s another easy outreach tactic that you can do.

Pete: I love this. But I can hear the voices of my readers sending me nasty messages. Now, that sounds so hard. Britney, is also difficult. Where would you recommend people start? I’m assuming it doesn’t have to be like, I spend months and months and months doing this, like really in depth research. And like, hiring developers to track something or emailing 10,000 people in my niche? Or I’m assuming it doesn’t have to be that involved that data? Where would you recommend people start any specific questions that they could ask themselves to discover maybe some topics that they that would be the statistics post or facts or different data? Stuff like that?

Britney: Yeah, yeah, I totally, totally see what you’re saying. And my, my answer to that would be, you should round up what’s already available. Because chances are, it’s not just on one site.

There are various companies and various people out there that have done different research, and they’ve delved into this already for you, you’re basically packaging it up with a really nice bow on top, and referencing them. But if you’re going into this with the right mindset, there’s no reason why you could grab all of the best statistics and recent facts and whatnot. And you could house the most recent, blah, blah, blah, statistics for 2020. There’s no reason that average Joe can’t just do a little research and round that up on your own without doing surveys without doing questionnaires. There’s already such great stuff out there.

An old example of accidental “link-intent” content from Pete’s old PF blog:

Pete: So years ago, I had a personal finance blog for about a year and a half, two years. And I kind of did SEO on accident. Like this was not me, being incredibly intentional and just dominating an SEO strategy. It was kind of I really cared about the content. And that ended up performing pretty well. One of which was me creating a one question, Google Form. It was on personal finance.

So the question was something like a bunch of people are going to steal this now because I have some personal finance listeners. It was “What is your biggest problem on money?” or something like that.

Literally, just one question. And I had an email list at that time, it was like, as probably like less than four or 500 people total, like max, I probably got, like, 50 responses from that. I was like, Oh, this is awesome. I also shared it like with my friends and family, because they all knew I had the blog, shared it on Facebook or whatnot, there was only like, less than 100 responses, probably like 70 or 80.

But I wrote up the post, I thought it was an interesting one person, only one person out of that was like, I literally have no money problems. We are so blessed. Like I made a lot of money. And we say well, and like literally like somebody one person said that and everybody else had like, some normal stuff, like not saving enough or of living paycheck to paycheck, or whatever the answers were. It’s pretty normal stuff. That and thinking back I got at least three or four backlinks from Wow, what was it? It was like, life hacker was the first one that picked it up. What? And then third is still out there. You can actually go look at I think there’s like two or three others. I don’t remember what they were. But this is like, I was not I didn’t know what link intent was. So I just thought was kind of fun and cool.

Britney: Wow. That I mean, that does go to speak on how powerful just a little bit of effort on something like that provides is incredible

The other thing that I think is often overlooked is getting to meet people in real life, right? Or at a conference or even just having conversations with people like this. You and I have never met before. But I feel like I’m starting to get an idea of who Pete is. Right?

But I think what’s cool is if you want a backlink from us, we now have this established connection. There’s no reason why you couldn’t find an old broken link on a blog post and show me a better, updated version. And why wouldn’t I swap that out? So I do think things like that work, but you have to have an established relationship or be you start out just helping that person. And then far too often, we just see the spamming email outreach asking for links are trying to pay for links, and it just doesn’t typically work like that.

Pete: So Glen Allsopp and I spoke last week on the podcast. But that was something that completely blew my mind when I talked to Glen. So I knew about, and I’ve been kind of watching him start and kind of position that and draw it over the best you to us, I was a little confused at what that was trying to add specifically. So I asked him and our podcast and he’s straight upset.

Like Pete, I was making a bet. And I still am–that the future specifically link building we were talking about. He’s like, the link building guy. Now he’s betting his money on the fact that building real relationships is like, going to be the future of link building.

He was betting on that and building his company around that too. And I was like, Hmm, I would not have guessed that coming from your mouth. But you guys just said like the same thing, like getting to know people in real life that could turn into partnerships or collaborations are podcast interviews, or all sorts of stuff, guest posts, even Hey, okay.

Britney: Because it’s already networks in place of groups of people who do that for each other. And it’s just like a group of industry friends, they have no problems linking out to another member of this group, because that group often links to their things, right. So it’s, there’s already this sort of reciprocal established network of people who genuinely want to provide value to their readers. And they know that “so and so” has a really great piece of content out right now that I could easily link to providing value to both my readership and to hopefully, their authority as a website.

Where does Britney see SEO moving in the future?

Pete: What does the future of SEO look like? Let’s say December of this year 2019. And going into 2020? Do you see any trends that are going to change things, the activities we do as SEOs and bloggers and stuff? Any thoughts on that?

Britney: Yeah, I’m the only thing I would probably suggest there is that watching how Google has changed and morphed SERPs today, right, we’re seeing more featured snippets, we’re seeing more people also ask boxes. It’s a stickier experience in general, and they’re trying to provide all the answers, I really do see the shift of people that currently are invested in FAQ, pages for their site, are going to continue to see benefit of having real estate in the search results or invoice because Google wants these quick answers these summarized versions of things to provide to users.

And quite frankly, if you’re not going to provide that someone else will.

And so I have always been a big advocate of know what those questions are, and provide really solid pre summaries of the answers for not only your users and your content, but to sort of spoon feed that into Google, so that you could expand your reach there.

Pete: So side note on that this is actually something I am not too knowledgeable about at all, for the most part.

So let’s say you had your keywords or whatnot. And let’s say you use something like answer the public or I think you can actually do this in the Mostel, I’m not sure what that is good. Both of you come up with a few questions–three to five questions that are really common.

How do you actually present those in a post? How do you recommend like formatting? Like you put those in a stories doesn’t matter?

Britney: Yeah, really good question. I think it varies. I think if it’s a FAQ page, you can do it a number of ways and mark it up with the q amp, a schema markup. But if you’re summarizing content in a post, which I highly suggest everyone do, that can honestly live at the bottom, or at the top. I haven’t checked this in a little while. But if you do, if you do a search for how to lose weight fast, there is this one page that is in the featured snippet for all sorts of like fast weight loss queries. And they have just overtaken it because they’ve got this long form content. And then really, really great summarize takeaways at the bottom. And that post has fascinated me and I see it in other spaces as well. So definitely taking any of your long form SEO content, any of just your regular content, but providing really, to or too long didn’t read right summaries at the bottom or up at the top for people to take away and for Google to use for different features, snippets that we might not even predict will be coming out in the future. Right?

Pete: Yes. And it also helps readers.

Britney: Yes. And I totally agree. Yeah!

And where does Pete see SEO content going?

Britney: I want to ask you real quick, though, cuz I’m saying I’m so curious to get your thoughts on where you see content going in the future. Like I feel like you have so much experience talking to all these industry people? What are some things that you’ve heard or kind of are keeping a pulse on?

Pete: So in that case, I think I can just finish my seven minute rant, and that’ll answer your question. Yes, Leo, I have always been of the thought that good content. I’m just like, “good content.” Yeah. Meaning content that’s shareable and answers user intent, and is written well, and formatted well, and like all this other stuff, “good content,” right? I feel that it rewards both real human beings, and the bots, whether that’s Google bots, or any other months that you’re doing YouTube videos, to YouTube.

I feel like in the future, the bots are going to be smarter and smarter and smarter and more and more human. Meaning that if you produce your concept to help other real human beings, it’s going to grow. And Google in the long run, theoretically, yeah, that’s my theory.

My, my rant is that at the moment, we’re not there yet.

And I still see I’m not going to name names. But I see a lot of content that I personally don’t approve of that. I know the people behind the content. And their intent was not to help users at all, it was ranked number one in Google and get affiliate income or get Wow, XYZ. Yeah. Yes, that’s, that’s totally okay. For on one hand, right. Like people go to Google to search for products or for any sort of purchase intent, like I get that. But I still feel like people are “gaming the system?”

A little bit. Yes. Rank brain is smarter. Yes. Google getting smarter. Yes, boss moral and more like humans every single hour? Probably, but we’re not there yet.

So it frustrate me frustrates me a little bit. But I keep reminding anybody who listens to this podcast, if you’re in this will the shirt short term anyways? Just stop? Yeah, for the long term else, don’t do it, go get some other career and being that for the long term, or whatever it is, 15 years from now. I want to still be here and showing up and doing the right work. And I, I pray that I will be rewarded for that with reaching bots, like every two minutes. So that’s my toe.

Britney: Yeah, that is such a good point Pete I love that. And I mean, we kind of see that happening in local anyways, we see putting less emphasis on links, and more emphasis on real world data, right foot traffic purchase history. How long people were there? Is this a reoccurring customer? What percentage? And that’s how they’ve been determining more local results? Why wouldn’t they try to apply some of that real world? User data and play exactly what you say? Are you helping people?

Pete: Last question here. What do you wish other bloggers would stop doing immediately?

Britney: Oh, I don’t even have to think about that one. It’s just so in my face every single day. I am so sick of roundups, please stop the roundups.

And it’s like I used to do it right. It’s brilliant ego bait. It is then so overused in our industry, maybe it works great. And other industries, maybe do it somewhere else. But at least in the SEO space, it is just it’s exhausting. And it’s been circulated among speakers in this space and sort of higher-ups, the different companies that we will no longer be participating and roundups that ask us for content or, you know, unless they are these hand few sites. You know, it just it also feels a bit lazy to be totally candid. Yeah, I just stopped to do better.

Because you can I mean, it’s it’s not that difficult to do some extra heavy lifting, and just put something have way more value together. You know, and I also love the idea of, you know, really connect with your audience and think about how they feel consuming some of your content. I always love the idea of using personalized content, whether it be geo-specific information or a piece of content that was shared at search love was, you know, enter your name in here and see what position to rank for the most criminal names, like what your name is most known for, in terms of breaking the law. I thought that was fascinating. But that you know that that interactive, engaging, personalized content goes so far. so far.

Britney: Oh, that’s brilliant. And I’m all for that. I guess I wasn’t super clear on the round upset I was referring to but the follow them. It’s all about people around us. That drives me crazy. Because then I don’t even know I’m in around up and I get inundated with these emails and Twitter messages about hey, you’re in this like you should share this, etc


That’s all for today, bloggers! Did you reach this far? Do people actually pay attention to podcast transcripts? I’d be curious to know 🙂

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