The SEO tactics that offer the highest value might also be some of the trickiest to carry out.

John Cashman, CEO of Digital Firefly Marketing, says that any kind of organic linking – things like getting news articles written about your company, having a great viral video and having people blog about you independently – will help your brand in search.

“Basically, do great marketing, do great keyword research to find keywords that already have a lot of traffic and keep your site fresh with new content and Google will reward you with traffic,” he says.

This might seem like a tall order for a small business that’s just starting to work on its online marketing strategy. Luckily, John is willing to walk you through some of the basics.

Can you give us an overview of Digital Firefly Marketing? What services do you offer?

Digital Firefly Marketing is an internet marketing company based in Princeton, N.J. We work with businesses large and small to help them get found on the internet. Our suite of services includes SEO, social media, content marketing and website services that are used either in combination or a la carte with our clients to get traffic to their website that converts.

Can you tell us a little about your background in marketing? How does someone with a biochemistry degree end up becoming an expert in digital marketing?

In short, I was sidetracked by rowing. I spent about seven years after college on the U.S. national rowing team. By the time I was done, I had been working at various companies doing marketing. Most of the skills I learned were self taught, but biochemistry is very analytical, and I use the analytics to this day to measure how my clients are doing and the ROI they are getting after paying for our services.

In terms of ROI, how does SEO stack up against other forms of online marketing?

If SEO is done correctly, it can be extremely profitable. The top three spots in Google account for almost 45 percent of all clicks on a particular keyword; if you are able to grab one of those spots, you can get a lot of traffic that will convert. This traffic is free from Google and other search engines, but it does take some skill to rank, and that’s where we come into play. Typically we see organic search as the most profitable channel on all of our clients followed by referral traffic, then paid ads like AdWords, then email marketing and finally social media.

However, what we also see is brands that use all channels of digital marketing successfully end up getting a snowball effect, because if they get awareness from social media and then someone searches the brand name, then they actually end up getting sales from both channels. Google analytics has done a good job of showing this in assisted conversions.

When you evaluate a site to make sure it’s optimized for SEO, what sorts of things are you looking for?

We look at a lot of things. The first thing we do is look at the site. We crawl it the same way Google would and look at the architecture of the site to see if specific keywords are in specific places. For example, if a site sells widgets of all shapes and sizes and doesn’t have a specific keyword on every product page like “30 inch triangle widget” or “45 inch circle widget,” we know that Google won’t have specific keywords indexed when people search. People search with intent, meaning they are looking for something very specific. If you aren’t specific on keywords, Google won’t index you for them.

The second thing we look at is links. On-site keywords will tell Google what your site is about, but links will get you up in rankings. We see two types of sites that usually have problems: one is a site that has few links and one is a site that has links that Google has deemed toxic and need to be removed. Both are a problem for getting a site to rank successfully.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about SEO marketing? After meeting with experts on your team, what seems to surprise your clients the most about SEO?

There are three things. The first is that people don’t realize that Google is a computer program and that you have to tell it certain things to get found on the internet. The second is that traffic will, all of the sudden, show up. We tell people that it takes between three to six months for us to get the site ranked, so they are a bit surprised that traffic just doesn’t show up after we get a site optimized.

The third thing is that people tend to think that once we’ve done the initial work, they don’t need to do it anymore. I equate this to going to the gym: The first months are hard to get in shape, but once you get in shape, you still have to maintain your ranking. For SEO, this means you still need to get links for your site, stay on top of keyword rankings and keep your site fresh with content to get more keyword searches and more traffic.

What are some SEO tactics you find companies using that you think are a waste of time?

We see a lot of people still using an HTML tag called meta keywords. This went out of style a long time ago, but we still see a lot of sites use it, and a lot of SEO companies use it as well. There is no value to it whatsoever.

The other tactics are anything that is considered a manufactured link. There have been a lot of companies that have set up websites simply for the purposes of getting links back to the site to raise your ranking in Google. These are links that should not be used anymore because Google wants to see links back to sites that aren’t manufactured from the home site but are organic in nature.

The last tactic that is now very out of vogue is guest blogging. You would post a blog on another network to get a link. This is considered a manufactured link now.

When evaluating whether an SEO optimization effort has been successful, what sorts of numbers should you look at?

We look at two. We look at how many visits you have gotten from search from when you started compared to the present, and we look at how many conversions were generated from search. We take the numbers very seriously, which is why we always send a monthly report to our customers so they can see if their search and overall leads and revenues are increasing.

Are there any new or innovative marketing trends you’ve come across that excite you?

The one that we are probably the most excited about is Google and the other search engines adopting This is putting additional HTML tags onto your site to give Google even more information about your product, brand, persona, etc. We believe this will play a bigger part in search in the coming years and as Google starts to suggest things to you rather than you searching for them.

We love your blog series on baseball’s worst marketing promotions…how do posts like these help existing clients or potential clients start thinking about effective marketing?

The blog is about building brand awareness for Digital Firefly Marketing. We look for subjects that people are already Googling and write blogs around them to capture the traffic.

For example, we wrote a blog on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking and got a bunch of traffic on the anniversary and a few links; we have done the same for search words like “how to set a table,” and sure enough on Thanksgiving and Easter, we get a bunch of traffic, because people Google the term. All of us at Digital Firefly try and write about subjects that we find interesting to have great content on the site. We all happen to be big sports fans, so baseball was a great blog to write about.

Beyond doing posts that bring in traffic from Google around timely events, we do write a lot of articles and videos around “how to’s.” We realize that not every business can afford us, but we do offer some tricks of the trade to help folks out. We feel that if we help out 100 people, one of them down the road will become a client.

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