Ardor SEO on the Importance of Effective Website Design Post-Pandemic
Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Kris Reid, founder of Ardor SEO. Kris, tell us about yourself, where you’re from, your company, and what you do.
Kris Reid: Carl, it’s an awesome time to be alive. I'm on the other side of the planet from you in Saigon, Vietnam. It’s Thursday morning here but Wednesday evening for you. With COVID terrorizing the world, it's a great time to be working online with the power to work anywhere you like.
Kris Reid: I'm originally from Brisbane, Australia; I got to Vietnam the long way around. I studied software engineering in college and worked in finance. Then I moved to London and worked for big banks. It’s soul-destroying work, but they pay you so much you learn to live with it.
Kris Reid: Life was great until the 2008 global financial crisis. It destroyed the banking world, along with my job and the jobs of almost everyone I knew. I was in my mid-20s and thought, "What the hell am I going to do with my life?" I limped back to Australia to recoup. I’m a computer geek, so I tinkered with building websites and created an online game I ranked in Google. It was fun. And when I realized how valuable that would be to other businesses, my company, Ardor SEO, was born. We've been ranking businesses and helping them get customers online for 10 years.
Carl Lewis: I remember those years. I sold my company and started at Vision33 in 2009. Kris, what’s happening in your industry with technology? What are people talking about and investing in?
Kris Reid: We focus on generating customers for businesses. Many people don't understand that a website is like a business card. Business cards don’t work if they’re in your desk drawer; you need to hand them out. That's what websites should do: get in front of people. It doesn't matter how pretty it is or how good your lead magnet is – if you don't have traffic, you won’t have customers.
Kris Reid: But it also shouldn’t be aggressive. Don’t say, "Buy our thing right now." Because people don't know or trust you. Amazon converts better than every other ecommerce website because everyone knows and trusts Amazon. If people who don’t know you find you on Google, they're not likely to buy from you immediately. Your conversion rate will be lower than Amazon’s. You need a lead magnet where visitors can learn information about your products and services. And it must be something interesting – no one wants your newsletter.
Kris Reid: We've worked with many real estate syndication companies. Generally, their minimum investment is $50,000. ‘How to invest $50,000’ is a great keyword to rank them for because anyone searching that definitely has $50K. So, first, you have an article about how to invest $50,000. Then, you have a lead magnet. People read your article and like it, so when they see your lead magnet – something like "the five biggest mistakes people make when they start investing" – they download it. That gives you their name and email. Then they read it and think, "Wow, they know what they’re talking about." And now you have a good lead.
Kris Reid: Next is nurturing that lead. You can't email and say, "Give me $50K." But if you have a good nurture campaign, you can ask them to listen to your podcast, watch a YouTube video, read a white paper, read testimonials, etc. After they've gotten emails from you, listened to your podcast, or whatever, they're even more likely to think you know what you’re talking about.
Then you ask them to book a call. By then, they’re pre-sold because they think you're an authority and understand what you do. You're not wasting time with people who don't understand your product and aren't a good fit for you. Your calendar is filled with ideal customers. That's what a real website does.
Kris Reid: There’s a lot of technology you can use. I'd stay away from Squarespace and drag-and-drop websites. They're hard to rank. They're for building websites easily, but if it's easy, anyone can do it, and it's not valuable. Thirty or forty percent of websites are WordPress now. There are so many plugins that you can build anything you want. But it's difficult to build a great website. It takes time, money, and investing in your business – but it's so worth it. I recommend WordPress for a website and ActiveCampaign for email marketing and CRM. It's super cheap, like $7 a month for the smallest plan. And Mailchimp if you have a big newsletter. Those three tools are enough to get any business started, and they’re very affordable.
Carl Lewis: What challenges do businesses face in this? You mentioned trying to do it on the cheap, but obviously, it will cost something. What else?
Kris Reid: Doing it without a plan is where people waste money. Web design firms rarely understand marketing, but they’ll take your money. People who’ve spent $20K or $30K on a website that generates zero business come to us all the time. First, it doesn't cost that much to build a website. And why are you building a massive website, anyway? You want the minimum viable product. Get it out there. One woman I spoke to has a nice website and zero traffic. She wants to tinker with this, change that, and I'm thinking, "Why bother? No one sees it. Who cares?" You can make it more glamorous or have better buttons or a better lead magnet, but nothing will change if no one is visiting.
Kris Reid: Increase your traffic. That's always the first thing to do. The purpose of a website is to generate new customers. You have two levers: increase the traffic or increase the conversion rate. Generally, people don't have traffic, so that's the lever we pull the most. Once you have good traffic, you can focus on increasing your conversion rate. But until you have at least 1,000 people a month coming to your website, increasing the conversion rate won’t do anything. If you get 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a month and can increase your conversion rate by 1%, it turns into a heck of a lot of revenue.
Carl Lewis: There's a lot of money spent making websites beautiful. But they’re just a collection of pictures.
Kris Reid: People lose track of that all the time. It's something we try to teach our customers. Sometimes they get hung up on their logo. But no one cares about your logo. Look at Starbucks. They have a stupid name and a stupid logo. It's a naked mermaid. And their name is from some big sci-fi movie no one has ever heard of. But that doesn't stop them from being a multi-billion-dollar company. A logo won’t make people buy your thing – getting your message in front of them is what makes them buy your thing.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely. Kris, what new technology will people start deploying for marketing and getting leads?
Kris Reid: We focus on Google. It’s by far the best. Digital marketing in any form – Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google ads, SEO, etc. – kicks the crap out of traditional marketing because it's measurable and predictable. If you do a Super Bowl ad, how do you know how many people saw it? You don’t. And how do you measure the conversion rate? You can’t. It's a waste of money. I don't know why big companies run Super Bowl ads. Like Oatly. They spent millions of dollars on their big Super Bowl ad.
Carl Lewis: I heard something like $500,000 for 30 seconds or something crazy.
Kris Reid: $500K is worth a lot of Facebook clicks from people who actually go to your website where they can buy something. It’s ridiculous.
Carl Lewis: It sounds like one thing people should focus on, especially if they're a startup, is that rather than having their own website with a store, maybe they should go through Amazon? Would they end up with more customers coming to them immediately just because they’re on Amazon?
Kris Reid: That's a tricky one. Yes, you can sell stuff on Amazon, but then Amazon owns your customer – they’re Amazon's customer, not yours. And Amazon takes a very hefty percentage. It's not ideal. You want to own your customer base. And investing in a website is so much better than investing in Amazon's website.
Kris Reid: We work a lot in real estate, and I speak to realtors spending $10K or $15K in Zillow, a big real estate website. They buy leads from Zillow, which is spending their money to build up Zillow's empire. Zillow doesn't care about you. They sell leads to anyone who gives them money. And it will only get more competitive. And you're not creating a fortress.
Carl Lewis: So, they’re not building customers or a referral program – they're just selling stuff for very little profit.
Kris Reid: Exactly. But when people come to your website, you're building security. Google is worth more than Facebook by a long shot because that's where people go to find information, search for new products, and buy things. Your intent on Facebook is to chat with friends. Yes, Facebook ads work, but they don't work as well as when someone searches on Google. And the internet economy from 10 years ago is nothing compared to today. And in 10 years, it will be an even bigger jump as technology grows faster and faster. Especially now that kids who grew up with the internet are becoming adults. Us old-timers remember when the internet didn't exist. But they’ve always had it, so they’ll always want to buy everything on it. COVID is destroying storefronts, the high street is dying, and the internet is booming.
Kris Reid: Two Australian companies, one that's been petitioning the government for years about having higher taxes for internet websites because their retail has been struggling, and another retailer that has shops but also a good web presence, doubled their revenue during COVID. 2020 was their best year ever. And that's what happens when you have a website. And it will only get more valuable. Investing in it is the best business decision you can make.
Carl Lewis: I had a customer who invested in a great website years ago – and did nothing with it. They had all the infrastructure, but they were happy with brick and mortar. Then COVID hit, and suddenly the website was valuable. They were lucky to be prepared because many people scrambled to get there. Experts say ecommerce has grown as much in one year as it would have in 10 years without a pandemic. It's crazy.
Kris Reid: Yes. People are sitting at home, bored, with their credit cards out, ready to buy things.
Carl Lewis: That's certainly part of it. And the convenience. There's no going back from that. It will probably grow from here even faster. Kris, how has communication changed in your business life? Like you said, you remember when there was no internet. And I bet it was a lot different at the bank. A video conference between two people on opposite sides of the world never used to happen. What changes have you seen in your career?
Kris Reid: It's getting faster and faster. I had a call with a guy in Toronto at 9:00 PM my time, then this call with you at 7:00 AM. You can speak to people any time, although that’s a blessing and a curse, as it can encroach on family life. That's why I have a nice home office. It will only keep compounding, but if you balance it right, it works great. I block out time on my calendar for the important things that will drive my business forward. You can use technology to your advantage. My phone doesn't receive messages, which drives my wife crazy because she can’t call me. I say, "My phone is me reaching out to the outside world, not the outside world reaching to me."
Carl Lewis: Yes. It's changed a lot. The work-life balance you get from working 8:00 to 5:00 is challenging when you work from home. It's easy to start early and finish late.
Kris Reid: That 8:00 to 5:00 is BS, though. We have an office, and I usually go in for a few hours a day, but no one has to come. It's ‘work when you're most effective.’ Our clients don't care how many hours we work, or what we do, if we’re getting results. We have to make our customers money. That's what I tell my team. I don't care how many hours you work – keep the clients happy, and I'm happy. Some people stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM; others, like me, like to get up at dawn.
Kris Reid: When I worked for banks, it was 8:00 to 5:00. You'd be there tired, hungover, etc., and you’d pretend to work. But you weren’t effective. You might get a few hours of good work, but not eight hours. If you’re not doing good work, take a long lunch, take a break, go for a walk, get a coffee – don't just sit at your desk wasting time.
Carl Lewis: It's great to be more in control of your schedule. Kris, Ardor SEO works in a consulting capacity. What are the biggest challenges your company faces when helping other companies learn how to market themselves?
Kris Reid: Our biggest problem is people micromanaging us. We’re professionals. You hired us. Let us do our jobs! Last month, we fired a client because she was over the top. She tried to tell us what to do – and not nicely – and wouldn’t follow our system, which we know works. We guarantee our work because if you do what we say, it’ll work. Our best clients trust us to do that. They don’t question us.
Kris Reid: One client sold $53M in real estate in 2019 and $158M in 2029. That's tripled her business. Her biggest problem is not having enough realtors. I asked, "How many realtors do you need, and what's your conversion rate from interviews? Work backward from how many people we need coming to your website. If you need three good interviews to hire one realtor a month, you need three qualified leads. How many crappy leads do you need? Maybe 10. So, you need 30 good leads. For a 10% conversion rate on the website, you need 300 visitors searching for real estate jobs in Tennessee. Super easy.
Kris Reid: And when customers let us do our job, things work perfectly. When they pretend they know what they're doing, not so much.
Carl Lewis: That makes sense. People want to be involved, but there's a fine line.
Kris Reid: You don't hire a dentist and tell him which tooth needs a filling.
Carl Lewis: Exactly! Kris, have you upgraded technology or looked at AI and similar tech?
Kris Reid: Not much. We focus totally on Google search. We really have a finger on what Google is doing. And Google has an army of the best software engineers on the planet trying to filter out the crap. The internet is so big that even Google’s massive computers can't look at the whole thing all the time. It must analyze which websites are worth looking at and which aren't. And it's getting better all the time.
Kris Reid: All we need to do is keep doubling down on quality. Get better at filtering out rubbish websites. Google can read the quality of your website’s content and see how long people stay. If people search for something, go to your website, and return to Google to search again, Google knows it wasn't a good search result. And they'll demote your website. Good trust and authority will stand the test of time. That's what Google will always look for. And they’re getting better.
Kris Reid: It’s gotten harder. We must provide better websites and better content to build up authority more. It’s a bigger investment to build a high-ranking website that converts well – but the payoff is bigger too. The internet economy is growing faster, so the value is exponential.
Carl Lewis: So, a website’s quality is far more important than making it prettier.
Kris Reid: Definitely. One thing people don't understand is how Google's algorithm works. People online in the '90s will remember other search engines, like AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, and Excite. They were all terrible. Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, surmised that if you build a website and everyone references it and links to it, it must be good, and you must be able to trust it. And that's the basis of the PageRank algorithm, named after Larry Page, and that's the secret of how Google works.
Kris Reid: I'll read you an article headline. There's a brilliant SEO tool called Ahrefs. It's expensive but worth it. And the headline is 90.63% of content, so over 90% of content gets zero traffic from Google. They analyze two billion pieces of content. It goes down to 0.21% of content, so less than 1% of content gets over 1,000 visitors a month, which is almost nothing. The article is very verbose (and worth a read if you're a super geek), but the number one reason your page doesn't get any traffic is because it doesn't have any backlinks. If no one links back to your content, Google is like, "Why do I care about this? No one else does." And they won't rank.
Carl Lewis: If someone is interested in contacting you about their website, how can they do it? You mentioned a landing page.
Kris Reid: They can do two things: 1) search Google for ‘coolest guy in SEO.’ If they don't see my pretty face, Google is broken. And if they want to see a good example of a lead magnet and how a sales funnel works, they can visit our website. Ardor means to do something with a fiery passion, and that's how we do SEO. On the site, there’s a video of me talking about how it works. I’ll do a video review for you. First, I’ll make a video of your market and show you exactly how many people are searching for your products/services. Second, I’ll suggest simple things you can change on your website to get it in front of people who want your products/services and predictably grow your business. That's www.ardorseo.com/vision33.
Carl Lewis: Sounds like a great idea. Kris, thanks for joining me. I appreciate it.
Kris Reid: Thanks for having me, Carl.
Carl Lewis: Everybody else, please join us next time on the Connected Enterprise Podcast. And until you do, stay connected.
Carl Lewis: And for everyone else, we'll see you next time. Until then, stay connected.