SEO Podcast .003 – Adrian Borg on Bad-Neighborhood Niches and On-Page Tactics

by | On-Page, Podcast, SEO

Adrian Borg is the owner of Aphex Media and is known for being successful in many of SEO’s most competitive, bad-neighborhood niches out there. On this episode of SirLinksalot’s SEO Podcast, we talk to Adrian about those niches, the shifting SEO landscape, and some on-page optimization tips.

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Nick:        Hey everybody, we’re here with a new SirLinksalot Podcast with Adrian Borg. He’s the owner of Aphex Media, has been in just about every competitive/nefarious niche you can imagine and succeeded at it. Yeah, overall, just a really interesting character who’s been in the SEO world for a long period of time. So we’re super excited to talk to you about what you’ve had going, what you’ve got going, but do you want to give a little intro about yourself? How you got into SEO, your claim to fame, just a little bit for the people that don’t know you.

Adrian:    Hey. Hi guys. So thanks for the invite guys, first off, I’m super excited to be here. Yeah, basically I got into SEO almost by coincidence. It was around three years now, so actually not that long I guess, Nick.

Nick:        Feels like a long time in SEO, though.

Adrian:    Oh yeah, it’s true.  even three months is a long time.

Nick:        Yeah, I think because me and you started probably I guess, around the same time then with the deep dive into SEO, or at least for ourselves.

Adrian:    Yeah, exactly. So I don’t remember the good old days.

Nick:        I don’t either.

Adrian:    I hear about them, but-

Nick:        Yeah, we weren’t there.

Adrian:    … I never really … I wasn’t there. I’m based in Malta, and so as you know gambling is big, and just going almost 10 years into operations and trading because I was into casino myself, but on the sports side. I got this job with this affiliate company basically on the operation side, and literally that was the first time I heard about SEO and marketing a site.

Nick:        Really?

Adrian:    Yeah, yeah. That it was how it landed and then got me curious. That was right about the time I think that I heard about… More or less you, and think it was Matthew Woodward back then. The all-famous black hat world forum. Then after a while… Matt Diggity.

Nick:        Yeah, big names.

Adrian:    They are the big names, then you start reading and reading and reading and you keep reading, then you start trying, right?

Nick:        Yeah, sure.

Adrian:    So yeah, that’s kind of how it all started. And SEO was mainly a big thing in casino, especially because it’s one of the avenues where PPC, a lot of the paid media is blocked. So a lot of effort and focus is put on the SEO side. That’s how basically that niche kind of led to others because once you get a bit of a hand into how stuff works, there are other niches which have the same limitations.

Adrian:    So yeah, but then just curiosity really and big curiosity… Kind of you keep building sites and keep learning. Now we’re going off here. Aphex Media is 18 months old, more or less, maybe a bit less. We started off doing some link selling. Mainly it was reselling and some SEO service, and now we’re diversifying because of the … basically monetizing the internal network, which we use for clients as PBNs, but it’s not even PBNs. It’s money sites. We’re essentially in three niches and now we just started with the fourth niche, which are all like you said, all the dirty niches …

Nick:        So casino, payday-

Adrian:    Yeah, casino, payday, adult.

Nick:        Adult, yeah.

Adrian:    Yeah, adult and now basically pharma.

Nick:        Oh, pharma as well.

Adrian:    Yeah, that’s the new thing.

Chris:       So you basically say, “Normal niche,” and you’re like, “Fuck that.” You pretty much stick to the bad niches.

Adrian:    With pharma, we have a little experience with the weight niche, you know, weight loss stuff. But now we’re kind of getting into it with a client and we’re super excited actually because it’s different.

Nick:        It’s for clients mainly? Or are you promoting your own assets at this point?

Adrian:    Pharma is for sure clients because of all the paperwork and everything. Because the way we like to work is the assets we built behind a website, basically we’re constantly increasing our network of great sites.

Nick:        Of course, right.

Adrian:    And tier sites and then just the nature of the game really where if you play with numbers, then you will hit that odd site every now and then, which ends up being bigger than your money site.

Nick:        Gotcha.

Adrian:    And those are basically the sites that we end up monetizing internally or see what we’ve gone through with them. But essentially as long as you play with the numbers, you will hit these odd sites every now and then, which sometimes… It’s always explainable, but they just fly just on their own.

Nick:        What kind of SERPs are you going after? Is it foreign SERPs? European SERPs? Where are you basing most of it? If you don’t mind me asking.

Adrian:    So basically for casino it’s all European. And we’re doing a lot of client SEO there. That’s a mix between a lot of Scandinavian, UK, and Central European. So that’s very kind of targeted. Then for adult, it’s wherever really.

Nick:        Anywhere?

Adrian:    With adult that’s a bit of a different game.

Nick:        So adult would be the main one that’s kind of set apart in its own way?

Adrian:    It’s a very interesting niche I would argue.

Nick:        Yeah?

Adrian:    Yes it is, and I’ll get to it. But the reason why I like adult is it’s literally completely unfiltered. So basically Google doesn’t bother about anything. So you can see certain basics, how they are, but it’s just spam basically.  literally you get away with duplicate content still within that niche. But you can run some tests where you wouldn’t be able to on other niches. So that’s in a way what you learned from it.

Adrian:    And to be fair, it’s quite technical as well because things like crawl budgets, I think it’s the perfect niche to test how crawl budgets is being handled. Because we have a website with 8,000, 10,000 pages, right? And you’re trying to optimize how your crawl rate is affecting your ranks and you don’t have to write 8,000 pages of content… and worry about Copyscape and all that stuff. So it’s the perfect niche to test certain things without having to worry about the actual setup too much, at least.

Adrian:    So, yeah, you know, I think the positive thing about being in multiple niches is that you start seeing things from different angles. And by default, certain things only are more evident in certain niches like payday in Payday. It’s one of the old niches they say. And the thing with the old niches is that the keywords are… for anyone being in payday might understand is that they’re very close together. So you know, at which point, and especially now with BERT, we’ve dealt with the recent changes that Google has been trying to implement with some semantics and BERT and all that.

Adrian:    The question is, you know, “How is Google interpreting the associations and the entities,” because you know, everyone speaking about entities. But where is that fine line where, you know, “Should this keyword be on this page or should that be on this page?” And it’s something I think that is not spoken maybe enough in the SEO world. But I think one of the best optimization methods that I’m finding lately is actually de-optimizing stuff.

Nick:        Explain a bit further.

Adrian:    Essentially, in layman’s terms, if you have “dog” and “dogs,” right?  if you’re trying to use come common logic, you might say you might need one page to rank the same terms. But if Google is basically just associating those two keywords, which for you, they might relate to same entity. But if Google basically wants two pages essentially, you need to give your two pages. And some people might interpret this as what the user wants… Basically user side. So you know, I’m trying to answer the query essentially, but it’s not so simple. I think it’s more scientific than that.

Adrian:    And I think actually this morning because today was a very big day. I don’t know if you want to touch that, but-

Nick:        I do actually, I was going to ask you if you noticed-

Adrian:    Sure, sure. Yeah, when we can just get to that. But I was talking with Michael from Surfer because I think at the moment they are the guys who are the closest to getting deep into this. Into the keyword clustering based on what Google wants though. Because everyone’s kind of trying to do topic clustering and all that. But at the end of the day, even the way I like to think is there’s a lot of science and algorithms, AI, machines and all that which is all great. But at the end of the day, practically you just need to feed Google what Google wants. And your best source for that is just by analyzing the SERPs.

Nick:        Right, yeah. Simple.

Adrian:    you can’t just go try and complicate everything but simple is best. Surfer, I think are getting quite close with that. Basically look, if you’re ranking for a keyword on a page and the top 10 are not ranking for that keyword, you probably should consider de-optimizing for the keyword. And I’ve seen crazy, crazy, crazy jumps using that-

Nick:        Just specifically from that.

Adrian:    And I’m talking about top SERPs like casino. Just the word “casino” jump from positions 12 to 3.

Nick:        And what kind of saturation were you saying that… like what percentage, if you had to give a idea, would you be removing from an asset that needed that?

Adrian:    So first off, you need to identify which keywords you need to remove. And for that, that’s the painful bit because it’s very manual intensive at the moment.

Nick:        Yeah, it’s a tedious task.

Adrian:    we have some tools, but I think the easiest thing would be to just download your eight steps and see basically, you know, it’s kind of reverse gap analysis. Reverse gap analysis tells you what you’re missing. But here you’re trying to find out what you have that you don’t want there. And then it’s quite simple really. You know, just reduce the exact matches or the term frequencies and you should be done. It’s not complicated really.

Nick:        No, just tedious, right?

Adrian:    Yeah, it’s a pain, but.

Chris:       So you’re talking about removing or de-optimizing for certain keywords and then seeing your main keyword, your main target for that page, have huge jumps.

Adrian:    Yeah, big time. I’ve seen it work so much that it’s something we do all the time even on top SERPs.

Nick:        So it’s one of the beginning things you do, I’m assuming to audit if you’re having some kind of issue with a page?

Adrian:    I’m not sure about all the things. We don’t really do all the things…  it’s something… what’s his name Cuttridge, what’s his name? Matt, I think-

Nick:        Daniel?

Adrian:    … talks a lot about it. Daniel Cuttridge.  we do a lot of progressive optimization and the reason for that is that optimizing is a big word, right? Because you need to optimize based on what state a page or a website is. And so the optimal basically is a constantly changing. And so I’m willing to really call it an audit, it’s quite maintenance.

Nick:        Maintenance, sure.

Adrian:    But yeah, that’s something that we really keep an eye on, especially for those… And sometimes you have a cluster of keywords that get stuck, especially those positions between 10 and 12 especially and that can be a reason you’re either missing some off-page signals. It can be local links or topical links or whatever. But it can also be on-page mixed signals, let’s call them mixed signals. So your signals are not accurate.

Nick:        Gotcha.

Adrian:    But yeah, that’s something I just wanted to share for you.

Nick:        Nice.

Adrian:    So I think it’s really talked enough.

Nick:        That’s a good tidbit for sure.

Chris:       So on the same topic, I know you’re saying that each SERP can be very different as far as what they’re allowing or basically how many keywords they’re allowing to rank depending on the keywords. So maybe you’re trying to rank casino and whatever gambling on the same page, maybe Google is just not letting that happen. I know it probably changes a lot for every single SERP, but do you have any kind of general guidelines of how many keywords you try to rank on a page or are you just doing it all case by case?

Adrian:    No, , so basically it is case by case because like I said, you need to give Google what Google wants. That’s really what this is all about. And you know, until last year, my favorite, favorite, favorite tool before… or maybe a bit more, before POP, Page Optimizer Pro. It was, and it still is kind of, you know, I used to love website and we used to use TF-IDF, right? For anyone, whoever used… and that was basically checking keyword frequencies.

Adrian:    Then there was Page Optimizer Pro, which you know, kind of was the same thing but maybe a bit more in depth because it was also checking the HTML code. Then you know, Surfer came into the picture and with some more effort into keyword frequencies, which was really good. I think it was a median between the TF IDF, but frequencies were maybe a bit lacking. I think now we’re moving into a bit of a different direction with entities because with entities now we’re moving into machine learning.

Adrian:    And the issue with machine learning, you know, it’s a cluster of words that make up a topic. So while frequencies might still make sense … One suggestion I might have, and I’m not sure if it was POP that have it, was a tool to remove … because what you can do is to remove any words that do not exist. And so you can to basically de-optimize, but you can have other signals that you are doing unaware. Because if you have an internal links for instance that…

Adrian:    So what I like to do basically is just download all the keywords from Ahrefs for the top 10 for the top SERPs, once you get them, compare them to what you have and then basically anything that stands out, essentially de-optimize for that. That’s simple.

Chris:       So you’re pretty much only replicating what’s currently working?

Adrian:    Isn’t everyone doing that?

Chris:       Especially I think a lot of maybe newish people to affiliate or whatever they’re doing, I see them kind of trying to always get this additional leg up, by trying to squeeze in extra keywords like, “Oh well, maybe I’ll be able to do this. Maybe I’m the first person that’s ever thought of doing this.” So you would advise against that and say completely replicate what’s on page one, top position.

Adrian:    Yeah, fore sure, definitely.  it’s not something I would definitely suggest.

Nick:        Yeah, sounds like a time saver.

Adrian:    Look, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel and especially for someone that’s just starting out. For someone that’s starting out actually I would suggest copy more and do more. So don’t start 1 domain, start 10 and then-

Nick:        You’re part of the school of thought of going with 10 versus 1.

Adrian:    Yeah. Always, always, always.

Nick:        You’ve got to have a somewhat unlimited bank roll or resources, you know?

Adrian:    Not necessarily. If you’re just starting out, and I look back at how I started at the end of the day, and especially now, because if you’re just starting, right? Everyone talks about content because that’s usually one of the initial bottlenecks. Let’s say you’re going for a topic… help me out.

Nick:        What’s the best hover board?

Adrian:    Just get a topic, Amazon-

Nick:        Washer.

Adrian:    … hairdryers. Write one page if you have to yourself. If you are not good at writing, we need to find whatever you like doing, spin it over. You know there’s a lot of good spinners nowadays.

Nick:        You’re still spinning content?

Adrian:    Yes.

Nick:        Yeah?

Adrian:    But I don’t use spinners, I like to use translate or double translate stuff. But you know, for starters, for English it works maybe a bit slightly less in some niches, but you know, start with that. If that’s your bottleneck, don’t worry. Like do it, let’s decide-

Nick:        So just get it done.

Adrian:    Yeah, just get it done. Let the site age. As soon as you’re done then just see what’s started to move and then if anything just start revising the content… Especially above the fold stuff. And then you do this progressive optimization because that’s what this is all about. You focus your energies where they’re worth it. So that’s something yeah, definitely. And because I was almost going to miss it. But you know, nowadays you can easily get a couple of expired domains which would basically… and I’ll spare, you know, you have all the foundation ready or…

Adrian:    Or you can even, which is also one method we use quite a lot for PBNs. So basically instead of repurposing, buy a brand something which is on topic in terms of PBNs, find a powerful aged domain, whatever niche it is. And then 301 it to your PBN and all of a sudden it can be a money site using the same method, right?

Nick:        Absolutely. Nice. I feel like a lot of people typically say, you know, “Get started with one project.” But it does make sense… especially if… yeah, like I know when I got started, I still have a treasure trove of random stuff I started from three years ago. You know, and I remember talking to you, it’s like before everything worked, you’ve got all these different random projects. You’re trying different things. You know, it’s like having a garage with a bunch of busted down cars and you’re just, little pieces here, little pieces here… And one day something will start driving around I guess.

Adrian:    Yeah, I have some domains from back then. I think I will keep them just out of-

Nick:        Just the nostalgia.

Adrian:    It’s like memorabilia almost.

Nick:        Yeah, for sure. I have a few of those too and it’s like, I don’t know why I have them, but you know.

Adrian:    My favorite one is I think is my Pokémon PBN domain.

Nick:        Oh, you’ve got a Pokémon PBN. Nice. That’s cool.

Chris:       How much for a link?

Nick:        One thing I wanted to talk about since it is a new day for the Google algo update, you and I were talking privately, you mind sharing some viewpoints you might’ve found on what’s going on today?

Adrian:    Sure.  Sort of like science, right?

Nick:        Right. I saw your numbers and your science is all going shooting through the roof, so I’m sure your profits are happy.

Adrian:    Yeah, we’re laughing for once.

Chris:       Someone else commented on the post in our group that actually said that they had adult site as well, that was-

Nick:        Oh, really? It’s doing well.

Chris:       … that shot up.

Nick:        Yeah, Adrian’s got some ideas as to some of that I think.

Adrian:    Yeah, no, basically look, it’s too early to make any conclusions. But from the indications that I’ve seen so far and I think today, like I was telling Nick earlier… because it was rolled out yesterday here in the evening and I had a bit of a late night and woke up at 4:30 actually today. Yeah, these algo updates get me a bit excited. But what I’m seeing is that there has been a somewhat a bit of a relaxation almost on the YMYL kind of niches, so the medical.

Adrian:    Actually, I’ve seen a couple of medical pharma sites that kind of cut back. For payday, there was a shuffle, which seemed to show some signals that sites, which maybe didn’t have the best EAT…

Nick:        YMYL, you’re?

Adrian:    Your money or your lifestyle.

Nick:        Yeah, there we go. Your life, there we go.

Adrian:    … pharma, health, weight loss. Some finance. Yeah.

Nick:        Is the last algo update that hit that niche real heavy, right? Or it was the previous?

Adrian:    Yeah, most of the last ones were targeting that… I wouldn’t even call it a niche almost because it’s multiple niches. But it’s a section, I think of the SERPs where Google feels vulnerable or I don’t know. But yeah, there was for sure a big shuffle, for adult, I’ve seen some jumps, but I think that niche is the one that really is usually not affected that much. You really have to try hard basically to get penalized in that niche.

Nick:        Really?

Adrian:    Yeah. It’s really, really hard. Of course, on the other side is that it’s a niche where you’re getting 100K users a day and it’s not like-

Nick:        How does that translate to profits and monetization?

Adrian:    First of all, it’s all about the geos, right? So there’s a big difference between having traffic from Egypt, India and having traffic from Japan or the U.S., so that’s that’s a starting point. But then I think it’s also down to the non-SEO factors, which I’ve read that too that Chris is quite into… it’s all about CRO and the optimization… You know, you can have the same traffic and Chris might be doing this much from that traffic and someone else might be doing a lot less, or a lot more, right.

Adrian:    And the more time passes, I think that’s something that it’s kind of becoming a bit more part of CRO. You know, the conversion of basically, you know, “Yeah, all right. So you’ve got the traffic now, what are you going to do with it?” Even if it’s laser targeted, but you know how well can you use that traffic? So yeah, it’s all about-

Chris:       And I feel like a lot of people are starting to turn more towards CRO now. I don’t really know the reason. It might just be that people are getting more used to the internet and so basically all the sites on the internet are getting better at what they do. And so it’s like if you don’t pay attention to it, you really stick out. Whereas three, five years ago, whatever, it was a little more chill.

Adrian:    Yeah, for sure. And to be honest with you, that’s why I also like lead gen because it’s so much easier to optimize. Of course, you get paid less. And especially the for me, where you’re maybe not mature in all areas of the business yet. At this point in time, I almost prefer to focus more on the traffic side. So basically, kind of focusing more on dealing with the traffic issue wherever I can of course. But lately we literally just started from a few months ago there to put some effort into improving in that area. Because it’s almost a different beast to be honest.

Adrian:    Because, you have the traffic, the traffic is targeted, the traffic is hot. You know, we start putting the traffic with warm traffic, cold traffic, then you know, the funneling stuff where the user is going, the message. And it’s a different thing than a SEO to be honest. There are some guys who really, really put a lot of effort into it, so it shouldn’t fall under a SEO to be fair.

Chris:       Yeah, it’s a different beast.

Adrian:    With an agency, kind of everything ends up off table.

Chris:       So do you normally do CRO type stuff yourself or do you pass it off to someone who’s a little bit more specialized?

Adrian:    No. Basically, I don’t do everything myself. We have a team of 19 now, so not solo, thank God. We’re blessed with a team. In terms of CRO, so it really depends on the projects we do. With most of our clients, we just handle the SEO side. So basically it’s corporate kind of. So it’s PBNs, PBN management (see our PBN Checklist), PBN strategy, some link building. Then when it comes to the clients where we handle everything so to speak, yeah, of course maybe CRO might end up on our table for that.  we usually start off doing the obvious ourselves because, again, even with design, we move from phases. We don’t spend three months designing the best site that we think that CRO would work. So we start from a foundation then keep evolving.

Adrian:    I’m in talks with a couple of companies for CRO mainly converting… You probably know the guys. But of course you need a certain amount of volumes specifically on a page for that to happen. But yeah, it’s not one area… That’s certainly not my strong point.

Nick:        I got you.

Chris:       Yeah, like you said, it’s something that a lot of people are just now kind of starting to turn towards a little bit more seriously.

Adrian:    Yeah, we have to. And the thing is you need to have the desire I think for it as well.

Nick:        Yeah. It’s a very specialized task list. You know, I don’t think everybody’s going to find it to be the most interesting, but it’s definitely valuable. And I know my inner ADD, if I had one definitely kicks in when I’m doing stuff like that or when I’ve tried to do stuff like that.

Chris:       I would figure you would like CRO more, you’re always on analytics trying to…

Nick:        Yeah, the only kind of stuff that matters to me like that is if I can extract … I guess treasure would be the traffic, but it’s PBN hunting, that kind of data analysis excites me a lot more. It feels more like I’m uncovering some kind of mineral or something like that.

Adrian:    More numbers, less colors.

Nick:        Hey, speaking of numbers, let’s segue into how you like to use Yandex and Clicky because that was something that I hadn’t heard anybody express and now I’m sitting here like, “Yeah, that sounds cool. I’m going to give that a try.”

Adrian:    Yeah, basically so, before I found Yandex out…  I am quite technical, but for some reason after each of this, the type of life was getting frustrated. Time to learn analytics again. And I have to say I don’t really like the UX of it. Basically, they do dimensions, right? And I’ve dealt with big databases and big data, but for some reason I never felt super comfortable with it. And I stumbled, literally stumbled on it.

Adrian:    And Yandex essentially is like analytics, but the difference is from experience now is … it’s actually funny, it’s more accurate on the Google data then analytics. It’s more accurate on Bing, it gives you even a lot of more keywords like reference.

Adrian:    So you have more keywords for reference and on top of that, the bounce algorithm or calculation they use makes more sense. Basically the way they calculate the bounce rate is that if a user interacts with a page at least for I believe it’s 15 seconds, which at the end of the day, it’s quite accurate. But most importantly is that they have recorded sessions for users, which then you can aggregate and create heat maps.

Nick:        Okay.

Adrian:    So if you create some sort of triggers, you can filter by whoever visited your cart page and then try and take a look about what the journey was for user and how he interacts with the page, why he fell through, why it continued. And it’s kind of an integrated, basically it’s like having Crazy Egg analytics at the same time. So it’s quite amazing. And you’re not creating footprints as well.

Chris:       Right.

Adrian:    So yeah, I think that’s one I love for most money sites. And Clicky also is another one which is decent for anyone who doesn’t want to create footprints on PBNs maybe. I believe it’s free for each emails or you can create an email on domain itself and have an account. So, yeah, that’s-

Chris:       Going back to the heat maps with Yandex, I’ve never done any kind of heat maps myself but I thought maybe that was something that was possible with analytics. Is that not something you can do with analytics at all?

Adrian:    That’s something I never really got… Before this I would probably go for … would use tools like Crazy Egg probably I would … what was the other one called? I’ll get the name. But I don’t know to be honest. It’s something I haven’t tried with analytics.

Chris:       Gotcha. And what was Clicky again? Can you, can you talk about Clicky a little bit more-

Adrian:    Yeah, it records traffic in its basic form. But, the positive thing about it is that if you’re worried about footprint, maybe you have to decide three sites, three money sites and you want to reduce your costs. So you plan to use your PBNs on multiple sites for some reason. So basically, reduce your footprint, it’s a tool that monitors your traffic, gives you from where it’s coming from.  it’s quite basic but it’s free. I would use it if I… Some people are really afraid of Google search console or the analytics and anything that touches Google.

Adrian:    If you fall under that hat, Clicky is one of the options you can use, I would probably suggest Yandex.

Nick:        How long have you been using Yandex for now for this purpose?

Adrian:    Sorry?

Nick:        How long have you been using Yandex for this purpose now?

Adrian:    I think it’s going to be a year almost. And I think the only thing with using Google properties is search console just because kind of you have to. And tag manager… Just because for retargeting stuff and for some functionality. It comes in handy as well.

Chris:       Okay, gotcha. So, Yandex, you’re using on both PBNs and money sites?

Adrian:    when there’s a PBN …  basically for PBNs for sure, it would be too much of a hassle to use anything else really. But even for money sites, we always use the Yandex as well.

Chris:       So just better overall, cool. I’ll definitely have to check into it.

Adrian:    It’s quite interesting.

Nick:        Now, you operate in some of the most competitive niches. Via this conversation, it sounds like you’re sort of more of an on-page guy. Would that be accurate or what’s your stance on that?

Adrian:    I’m not sure, but basically the thing I think … basically, my whole on-page interest came actually from off-page because when we started, you’d run the same process and usually it was the same thing and then you ran it on one site and you see the site fly… And then you run the same thing on another site and nothing happened, and of course you know, it’s always bad links, right? Isn’t it?

Nick:        It’s what they say.

Adrian:    And I started getting really frustrated about that. And, sometimes it’s obvious you can answer that, but then you have those situations where it’s maybe a bit deeper than just spending an hour or two on a website. And that’s how my interest kind of got more on the on-page bit… Because from one hand, you feel bad because it’s called service back then. It’s not delivering and without having an answer, you can’t really say much.

Adrian:    So, that’s how I got into the on-page, but then, over time it all kind of started clicking that at the end of the day, a good site basically needs to have all signals in place and that’s maybe the difficult bit on SEO because you just need to have all the signals in place.

Adrian:    If you have a signal that is overpowered, in some cases and you end up with a website that is unbalanced and that is also an issue you need to deal with. But yeah, without getting into the whole geeky stuff, the on-page, the first thing is the basics. As long as you have your basics in place, just making sure that your SERPs are clean, pages that are still 301-ing shouldn’t be there, 404s shouldn’t be there, pages that are-

Nick:        Yeah, the basic maintenance of … now would you say-

Adrian:    We’re talking about SERPs, right?

Nick:        Uh-huh.

Adrian:    So just scrape the SERPs, make sure nothing is there, nothing, nothing, clean. All pages, the index, basic technical stuff just to reduce 301s, on-page, so no broken links. Then just running basic H1s, H2s, and then from there, just start optimizing using whatever tool you like, whether it’s a free tool like website or a paid one like Pop or Surfer or whatever and then start joining the dots. That’s where you have to start thinking there.

Adrian:    Because when you start joining the dots it’s … but there’s a lot of tools now that you can use. You know, recently, there’s this really, really cool tool InLinks I think it’s called, but even POP actually are doing entity mapping. So you know, there’s a lot you can do, it’s just a question of interpreting of how you can make Google think or understand that you are covering the whole topic, right? So, that what it’s all about.

Nick:        Now, in niches like this that are hyper competitive, would you say that it’s a extremely advantageous as far as your pocket book goes to start with good on-page? Like those fundamentals are going to help you grow exponentially with off-page, but that you’ll have to try significantly less with the off-page if your on-page is on point?

Adrian:    I think it really depends on which niche you’re referring to, but the niches we deal with, I wouldn’t even suggest for anyone that doesn’t have experience to even get into them to be honest because it’s the type of niches where money doesn’t solve all problems, that’s the issue again.

Adrian:    And that was probably one of the mistakes I did when I started. But unless you know the niche inside out and you perform some really deep keyword analysis and you find that small pocket that might return some ROI, to be honest I wouldn’t even consider it now if I was in that situation.

Nick:        Really ?

Adrian:    Because, I think the only way for anyone to make some… not compete but you know, to take a small bite of the cake would be to have … like literally to be an expert on the topic already. So I’m not talking about basic keyword research (see: how to find low competition keywords), so I’m talking about topics that keywords to come probably because I think it would be… If someone’s starting out, adult maybe, because adult is a bit different, but when it comes to casino for sure. It has become too hard probably. Pharma, it is what it is, you know, payday there are some clusters which are accessible, macro clusters at least.

Adrian:    But if you’re starting out, it’s not niches I would suggest for sure.

Nick:        Right. But your entire career has been spent in these niches, right? Basically have you ever even worked on let’s say a local plumbing or a local website, something like that?

Adrian:    in terms of local, I worked a bit, just out of curiosity again… yeah, with the intention of spamming GMB, yes. But it was mostly basically GMBs with exact matches or a semi exact matches and then basically building citations to them. They work amazingly well. That’s something I would suggest to anyone starting out, but other than that, –

Nick:        Wait, say that again, sorry. Citations directly to GMBs is what you were advocating-

Adrian:    Citations, yeah, it was a mix, GMBs and to the domain itself after setting up the markups, having the address stuff on board and social media… And this is stuff you can easily get done. There’s a lot of vendors basically. It works amazingly well actually, but it was more out of curiosity.

Adrian:    But nowadays I’m just using directly as part of the EAT in some niches, which is kind of required, but yeah, basically I prefer to stick to what, what…  the niches where we are the kind of big enough to… there’s always something new to learn.

Nick:        Right, keeps you entertained.

Adrian:    Oh yeah. Especially Google keeps us entertained, on our toes all the time.

Nick:        Always, yeah-

Chris:       Definitely keep things fresh, that’s nice, thanks Google, thanks a lot.

Adrian:    Yeah, thanks for the nights of no sleep.

Nick:        Yeah, right.

Chris:       You know, when you think about it, they’re actually creating opportunity though-

Nick:        For sure-

Chris:       … with each thing that they roll out, they’re creating a new playing field, a new set of opportunities you can go after depending on how everything really settles.

Nick:        Yeah, you touched on it at the very beginning how we, you and I and Chris have gotten to hear about the glory days of SEO, right? And it’s like, I remember when I got into SEO how bad it sucked to figure things out and I feel like every year it’s getting more and more competitive in a sense. That if you’re not serious about analyzing what’s going on in the SERPs, exploring what’s going on in the industry, then the days of capitalizing in this industry I think are probably over. You know, it’s pretty limited on what you can spam out and get a huge bank roll off of, where you’re not at least going to have some competition I would think.

Chris:       I feel like a lot of local still kind of-

Nick:        Yeah, local may be is more simple, but then it’s the client getting I feel like is what’s difficult for some people, you know?

Chris:       For sure, yeah.

Adrian:    But I think that over the last three years, whatever have improved after all is that we have some amazing tools which I think weren’t available.  if you just touch Cora for a bit, right?  these tools are so powerful that … we’re talking about a different game. In terms of opportunity, I think a lot of people kind of ignore one and most important thing in SEO-

Chris:       Oh my god, what is it?

Adrian:    That’s not links, it’s not a on-page, when it works, it works against clients.

Nick:        What’s that?

Adrian:    It’s time.

Nick:        Time, sure.

Adrian:    The job of the SEO essentially is to put things into a growth trajectory, right?

Nick:        Right.

Adrian:    as long as the site is in a positive trajectory, an SEO can only do so much because, Google would still need its time to put the site where it thinks it should be. Then you know, after things kind of get back into a linear position, then the SEO needs to kind of go back to that and see what can be done again.

Adrian:    Probably some people try to maybe do too much sometimes, especially when they are pressured from clients in some instances and unless you know exactly what you’re doing, you need to wait for that straight line to do the next move and keep doing stuff.  nowadays, I think that’s maybe one of the small advantages we have is that we know what the next phase will require. So we basically shift to the next phase while the previous phase is still being developed.

Adrian:    So we kind of try to create that linear line of growth without having to wait for that straight line. But again, you still get that odd website where you know that your expertise doesn’t always go exactly as planned, but it’s time, it’s all about time.

Nick:        I feel like that’s a really hard pill for a lot of people to swallow.

Adrian:    Yes it is.

Chris:       Everyone learns it in the beginning, everyone learns you have to wait and see. But even you still see people that even really should know what they’re doing at a certain point and they still… it’s like they kind of forget that point. They think they’re too good for time to matter anymore. They think they can just do it immediately and get results, but-

Adrian:    If there’s anything I’ve came to understand, it’s about SEO is there shouldn’t be any secrets about SEO because you know, anyone that wants to stay in the game basically needs to keep investing into what’s going on and the complete sharing of information, the communities are so important just mainly for that because one person basically can’t absorb and do all the research.

Adrian:    And the time factor and but yeah, the problem is that sometimes, yeah, don’t oversell a SEO if you’re doing clients, never oversell a SEO because it will bite you back and it’s … just don’t do it literally.

Chris:       So with the way things are moving with all the updates that Google will continue to roll out and just how SEO is evolving, do you see any kind of difficulties in the future or do you think it’s at least for present times something that we’ll be able to keep up with?

Adrian:    Yeah, I think the times of winging it are kind of getting over now, I think people should start focusing on, especially unless they have the systems in place on niches, that’s for sure. Because there’s a lot of things that are niche-specific now. And so you need to kind of specialize when you’re starting out in terms of the old backlink, on-page stuff.

Adrian:    On-page, everyone knows on-page is not what it used to be. So, everyone should start really looking into that and everyone should probably start reading a bit less and doing a bit more.

Nick:        Sure, always helps if-

Adrian:    Because all the theories I’ve read when I started and then you start testing stuff with it, wait, wasn’t this supposed to not work?

Nick:        Yeah. It’s hard to trust anything that’s been out there for-

Adrian:    So yeah, read but do more.

Nick:        Well, read and do, right? It’s like if you see something, don’t take it… it’s what we see all the time. It’s like somebody read something and it, “Oh well but that said this, so that must be the way it is.” Well no, unfortunately, if you go out and test that, any variants of what you read might occur and it’s going to be based on different criteria. Like you said, the niche is all specific, you know what you’re doing on-page, off-page, etc. So it’s about playing with the variables, right? Self exploration.

Adrian:    Actually I was speaking with a very good friend of mine this morning or last night, call it what you will, and he’s doing a really exceptional actually just buying spam domains. You know, what do you look for when you’re looking for a domain? Chinese links.

Nick:        He’s looking for Chinese links, yeah. Have you ever used them for 301s to web 2.0s or anything like that? It’s awesome, spam links-

Adrian:    To be honest I haven’t.

Nick:        It’s awesome, man. You can buy something where it’s the main criteria I look for is, is it spammy, as shit, and then is it indexed? If I see both of those things, then I know I can probably play with it and you can test it just by using it as a PBN, sending a backlink to something. But if it’s good, 301 with a really spammy domain, maybe not to your … not directly to your money site, but as a tiered option is … I like doing it.

Chris:       Nick really likes the dirty stuff.

Nick:        I like some dirty stuff. I think it’s fun, and you buy these spammy domains, everybody’s like, “Oh no, oh my gosh.” You know, it’s like you, you bought a domain with a million links for $9 and let’s see what the fuck happens. You know, if it blows up, it blows up, but it was a lot of fun trying, right?

Adrian:    This is really bad neighborhood for you.

Nick:        Yeah. Bad neighborhood for all of us. We shouldn’t have gotten together.

Adrian:    Actually there’s one thing I wanted to share if anyone’s still around. I ran quite a big test. Yeah, testing is my thing. And there was actually… I’m currently talking with Ted I think from POP, maybe we’ll just do something about it. But yeah, let’s just share it here.

Nick:        Sure.

Adrian:    So you know, so people talk about keywords, frequencies or term frequencies, right? And I found this amazing correlation this week when… you know have those domains, where you have that dash in the URL, and essentially let’s say, you have “best what?” Best hoover, what? Give me a word.

Nick:        Yeah, best dash vacuum cleaner.

Adrian:    Best vacuum cleaner.

Nick:        Sure.

Adrian:    So there’s a big difference between having a domain bestvaccumcleaners.com and best-vacuum-cleaners.com.

Nick:        Okay.

Adrian:    I’ll explain why. So basically, if you analyze your source code, bestvacuumcleaners.com, that’s not an exact match. But that’s an LSI even I think, right?

Nick:        Okay.

Adrian:    But the domain that has the dashes essentially is picked up by Google as a keyword frequency.

Nick:        Oh, really?

Adrian:    Yep.

Chris:       So dashes are good.

Adrian:    No, bad.

Chris:       Dashes are bad, okay.

Adrian:    Yeah, because then basically what happens is that when you need to de-optimize all your team, because all your team links, you need to rebuild them using the incomplete URL. Because otherwise they would be picked up as another… you know, basically, you would be over optimized by a mile and they will underperform literally.

Adrian:    There’s a project I’m involved in Sweden that literally, just by doing this, so we went through all menu links, all the OG items or whatever we could find and change these things to, I don’t know the name actually, but yeah, basically just to remove the domain and change them to just the path. And we moved from like 12 or 13 for quite high competition actually to four in a couple of days. It was one of the-

Nick:        I’m guessing in high competition, right?

Adrian:    Medium. I know it wasn’t like high, high, but the moves were really enough to show really significant indications and for on-page stuff, we don’t re really need to wait. So as long as you force index, you see the changes in minutes, right?

Nick:        Very cool. That’s awesome. I appreciate the tidbit. How long have you been testing that?

Adrian:    How what?

Nick:        How long have you been testing that?

Adrian:    This domain was really strange because you know we have our systems and stuff and this particular domain was underperforming by a mile in a niche with, like I said, I it’s not hyper competitive. It’s competitive but not top top. But it got me curious and the last week, this is by coincidence, I ran a couple of page optimizer because I was mainly using Surfer and that’s I think one of the issue now with SEO. Surfer is good at one thing, POP is good another one, cognitive SEO is good another one, you end up getting a mortgage for-

Nick:        Yeah, a huge tool box.

Adrian:    Yeah. Actually we also build our in-house tools now.

Nick:        Mm-hmm, you have a coding background, right?

Adrian:    Yes. More or less my background is coding and trading.

Nick:        Yeah.

Adrian:    So numbers and code. And the difference is that POP use their source. So basically there’s the code for the data. And I noticed, “Oh wow, we really over optimized,” and then I ran the same test on domains with these dashes. And yeah, maybe it was in front of-

Nick:        In front of the same thing.

Adrian:    Really, it’s not big news, it’s in front of us, but it’s one of those things that,  I was surprised-

Nick:        It’s good information for anybody starting on anything, anything new or yeah, if they’re having issues.  that’s a pretty tricky bit of information to find, you have to be heavy into exploration to figure, something like that out.

Chris:       And just to clarify, are you talking about just the root domain or are you talking about dashes and inner page URLs as well?

Adrian:    Mainly I’m talking root domains because for exact match domains, right?

Chris:       Yeah, okay.

Adrian:    So just having that dash, that’s the difference.

Chris:       Well you heard it here first ladies and gentlemen, no dashes in your root domain. If you have them, go buy a new domain. Now we sell domains, so…

Adrian:    those are usually domains you might find, right? They are solid, they work really well, but you have to first de-optimize your team. That’s the trick basically you have to optimize your team. So only buy them basically if you have some coding skills.

Chris:       Sure. Well thanks for the tip.

Nick:        Yeah, thanks for that. Maybe start winding down, I think we’ve been going like an hour, right?

Chris:       Yeah, sure.

Nick:        Maybe some just finishing touches, like, you know, where you see SEO going here in the future, what your plans are for the future. Anything along those lines?

Adrian:    Yeah, look, basically the way things are going with SEO is a big word, “proximity” I guess. Everything is changing to proximity whether it’s location or topics. So SEOs need to kind of up their game. I’m guessing we’ll have a bit of … the game is changing. Look, especially for the local guys,  some of the niches, Google is constantly trying to get more real estate with these zero click SERPs now as well. So, anyone starting out, make sure to do your homework, what niches you’re going in, what niches you’re not going in.

Adrian:    For sure, I would definitely suggest to do some research and you know, the PPC and then GMB or you know, ways of how you can get into niches more effectively, potentially and maybe faster.  for myself, we have some products which at least I know one of the positives I guess is that there are, if yours SEO-friendly, because there are some niches that just because of the nature of how they are, they maybe have a bit of more longevity in terms of SEO, which if you think of voice, right?

Adrian:    No one’s going to ask voice to pay for a slot I guess. I’m not sure how that would work, but yeah, just keep updating yourself and be up for the challenge because challenges are constantly increasing and the game is getting constantly more hyper-focused as time passes. And I think it’s affecting mostly the local SEO at the moment for sure.

Adrian:    But it’s also moving to affiliate with all the real estate Google is getting now with the snippets or the positions. So just keep on the ball, keep focused and you’ll be okay I guess.

Chris:       All right, yeah, ladies and gentlemen, Adrian Borg, yeah, thanks again, man. We really liked having you on.

Nick:        Yeah, really appreciate it, great talk, great tidbits.

Chris:       Same guys, was nice talking to you.

Nick:        Look forward talking to you again.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Patty Toro

    I learned that you must have patience with SEO. It took me a good 6 months to a year to start getting regular hits to my little e-commerce store. Now I get a few orders a week and it’s been about 3 years. It’s not huge progress, but I am happy with the progress I have made!

    Reply
  2. Kasper

    Glad he mentioned lead gen… I want to get into this!

    Reply
  3. L. A. Franc

    The niches he mentioned seem like a really broad category, no wonder he doesn’t recommend to start with these. When I think of niche I think more of like more less known categories.

    Reply
  4. Maurice

    I would assume the competition in the pharma industry is intense!

    Reply

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