Interview: SEO Tricks By Entrepreneur And Speaker
Date: August 10, 2016
We had the privilege to speak with Syed Irfan – an award-winning serial entrepreneur and Huffington Post columnist – about SEO tricks.
Public speaking isn’t the easiest role in the world, but he has some tricks on freelancing, building a team and having faith in any career you wish to pursue.
1. Hi Irfan, when you accepted the job to customise an existing e-commerce software without properly knowing what to do, what was it that told you to take it?
That’s a great question.
I was quite confused when I got asked by that client if I could work as a freelancer developer and set up their online pharmacy store. I had to use an existing software (called OScommerce) and customise it so that it would suit the customer’s needs.
What made me accept the job is that after I did my research I thought that, despite the little knowledge I had about OSCommerce, I could pull it off since the software’s own website had a lot of documentation. The site also had a thriving community of users who were keen on helping each other.
I was asked to do this project by the client only after he had seen me helping others out at the forum. Then, within two weeks or so, I was able to complete the project successfully. In hindsight, I now feel that I can do the same thing in two days.
The lesson here is that if you get a good offer and your first instinct is ‘Heck, I can’t do this project and so I should not do it’, you must take your time to do your research and confirm if your gut feeling was accurate.
Sometimes what happens is that due to low confidence, we are afraid of accepting challenges even if deep down within us we have the skills required to do it.
Look at all the data and the information, and then take a rational decision.
2. When you began freelancing with websites, did you come to realise that you would be much happier working for yourself?
I have not done freelancing for years. But between 2004 to 2010, I have done some of it as a solo entrepreneur; I was more like average.
I liked working for myself more than doing a job where I did not have enough freedom to do what I want, when I want, and with whom I want.
Over the past few years, I have worked on my skills and discipline so I can do much better.
Today, I run a digital marketing agency along with a British business partner. Our employees include full-time and part-time employees and freelance consultants – most of whom work from the comfort of their homes.
We have worked with team members (mostly freelancers) who were from, or living in, Egypt, Bosnia, UK, USA, Philippines, Pakistan, UAE, and Spain a good few other countries.
These freelancers love working with us because we give them the freedom they love, along with the training materials which helps them become better versions of themselves.
We also never call them our employees.
We consider them members of our work family and work with most of them on long-term basis. We believe we do lots to delight and care for them.
Just right now, we are shipping some cool gifts for some of our best team members. I think having a team that you can help grow is even better than working as a solo freelancer.
You care about your team the way parents care about their babies, and you are happy when they are happy.
It is surely the best feeling in the world to be able to help clients and employees in various ways, and to have the freedom to choose the best people to be part of your team irrespective of how far they live.
3. What are some SEO mistakes you see businesses make?
Here are a few (in no particular order):
Many businesses assume SEO is something you do once by spending a small amount, and that doing so will result in immense gains.
But just like anything else, SEO takes time and unlike paid advertising it is more economical but its results are not evident immediately.
In case of paid ads, you may run an ad and be sure it may result in some sales. But with SEO, you are converting your website into a content machine and an authority website that Google can trust.
However, winning Google’s trust and become a brand that gets rewarded in SERPs is not a one-month job; you must invest in creating epic content and then promote it to really benefit from SEO.
It should however be noted that, as HubSpot recently mentioned, paid advertising can be much more effective if it is used to amplify your inbound efforts.
Inbound is strongly dependent on SEO, content marketing etc., but using paid advertising to give it that initial kick-start can do wonders.
Most businesses think of SEO in terms of links. But that is the wrong approach. As a semi-famous person (whom I am kind of a fan of) once said:
“To succeed at SEO, think less about links and more about relationships”. – Syed Irfan Ajmal
One of the most important strategy for link building (which is a fundamental part of SEO success), you should be reaching out to sites to publish your guest posts there (with links to your site), publish guestographics (your infographic published on their site as a guest post), maps and more.
To do this well, you have to do great research about each site.
Instead of using the same template to mass mail to tons of sites, you should reach out to fewer sites, but you should do it in a way that they are sure that this is a personalised response and that you know their thinking process, their methodology, their philosophy, their content and their website well.
What this means is, if you offer to write a guest post on a topic which has no relevance to the target site or a topic which they have written about several times before, you are not respecting them and their time.
Instead, you are missing the chance to build a long-lasting relationship. It is true that multiple links from the same site may not help, but building that relationship means that you can reach out to do something different tomorrow.
For instance, if you are a luxury rugs online retailer, you can hold a product giveaway campaign with a home decor site for whom you did a guest post once – provided they have enough relevant traffic.
They can introduce you to other sites in the same niche and much more.
The opportunities become endless if you are thinking of nurturing your relationships rather than just gaining some links.
I think some businesses focus too much on the onsite SEO (making your website in line with Google’s guidelines so that its bots can read the content of your site easily), and think too little about the offsite SEO (promoting your site by getting other good authority sites to talk about your content).
Getting the onsite SEO done is a no-brainer, but that is by no means all that you need.
Offsite SEO is a huge part of the overall SEO and inbound operations and it is sad to see so many who ignore it all together.
Many businesses still think SEO is the name of some shortcuts taken to get lot of links so as to get lot of organic traffic. SEO has changed big time in the last few years.
It is not dead; it’s alive and well.
But the kind of SEO which was in a few years back (lots of low quality backlinks with money keywords based anchor texts) is surely long dead.
If your SEO provider still talks about getting links primarily through forum posts, directories, blog comments etc., please don’t waste your time and don’t waste your money.
Instead, focus on providers who can provide high quality, high DA (domain authority) relevant contextual links from top authority sites.
4. Are there any resources you’d suggest businesses to use to keep on top of their content and SEO marketing strategies?
There are a lot of great sources such as ProBlogger, CopyBlogger, Brian Dean’s Backlinko, Neil Patel’s QuickSprout.com and many many others (including my site which is like the new kid on the block www.SyedIrfanAjmal.com, but we are updating it massively in coming weeks).
It is easy to get overwhelmed. If you can do only two things, I suggest:
- Learn how to write great content (if you don’t have the time to learn proper keyword and content research using Ahrefs, SEMrush, BuzzSumo, Google AdWords and Long Tail Pro etc., just look at what people are asking for at Quora, Answers.com or any community site of your niche) and then create an epic piece of long form content about it.
Long form (1,200 to 5,000 – or even 8,000 words) is necessary, because as per research, such content pieces get ranked much higher and thus they should also get more organic traffic.
But each word you write should be absolutely necessary; don’t write just for the sake of it. Write to provide value. From there, learn how to promote your content.
With regards to promoting the content, here is the blog post and the webinar I did for SEM rush on us generating $200K for a client (23.85% increase) in 6 months using guest posting alone.
5. I particularly enjoyed your blog on tips to become a better writer. Do you think writers are their own worst critic?
I am glad you liked it. Yes, it seems like most of writers are like that.
But I have tried to be less of a perfectionist. It is important to create great content, but it is also necessary to allow one’s self the freedom to not be perfect.
I also think it works better if we are not constantly editing and instead, take a break of a good few days before the final edit.
That break helps big time to put things into perspective and to have a fresh look at the content one wrote.
6. What speeches do you have coming up?
I just spoke in Dubai recently and I also conducted a growth hacking workshop in partnership with Google Business group Peshawar.
I am scheduled to speak in October at the MPowered Summit in Dubai – a summit about entrepreneurship within the Muslim world.
I am also collaborating with my friend and famous Malaysia entrepreneur Irfan Khairi, and I will be conducting a workshop at an event he is organising to take place in November in Dubai.
I will also attend a panel discussion and conduct a workshop at the World Bank backed DYS (Digital Youth Summit) 2016 in September this year.
7. Do you agree that many writers focus so much on how the words sound that they forget to inject their personality into it?
I can’t speak for others. But I think I tend to write in a normal tone and I like to think that it does shows off my personality too.
8. If you could give three pieces of advice to aspiring speakers, what would it be?
1. Try to get to know your audience. I try to ask the organisers about the audience demographics.
I try to see what other speakers spoke to this audience (or this type of audience) before, and what they spoke about. If it is possible, I ask these speakers to share there insights about the audience.
Then, at the event (if it is that kind of an event), I make a friendly introduction and ask a few questions from the audience so I can understand who they are and why they are attending and all.
This then helps to set the tone of my speech.
2. If you make a mistake during the talk, make a joke about it. You are human and your audience knows that. Just relax and have fun.
3. Don’t think about the money when you are starting out as a speaker. Just focus on giving a lot of great value, helping others, and building lot of meaningful connections (with the audience as well as the event organisers and sponsors).
If you are nice, helpful and your talk is useful, they will remember you and that will help you in more ways than a little money ever could.
Don’t speak as if you are the biggest expert, nor assume that you have to be the biggest expert in the room. I think with all the information that is available for free, we should be speaking not just to share our expertise, but to learn, unlearn and relearn from our audience in whatever ways we can.
9. What is your long-term goal?
That’s a tough question. I am a creative person which I think is one reason why it is hard for me to set up concrete goals or to have a proper 5-year or 10-year plan.
But I have two long-term goals:
- Continue to help our clients businesses grow through our marketing services.
- Enable writers, young graduates and new entrepreneurs to build strong personal brands to attract the opportunities of a lifetime for themselves.
I plan on releasing a digital product (especially for writers) from this year on something which they ask me about often (and I can’t help more people given my time restraints unless I build a digital product).
I also want to book more paid speaking gigs – preferably one such gig including international travel in each quarter.
I also want to do more consulting. Writing for Huff Post, Business.com, SEMrush, Virgin start etc. has helped greatly with the growth of my business and I love doing it.
So, I also want to write for more large publications and perhaps next year I can write a book as well.
The goal of all these activities is to continue to grow to become an authority and expert on topics that I care about (such as digital entrepreneurship, digital marketing, writing, speaking) and to help others.
10. What makes you happy?
Activities that make me happy include excelling at work and sharing whatever I learn (through writing, speaking, videos).
I love to meet or speak to people who have overcome huge hardships to become the best versions of themselves.
I also enjoy reading, writing, speaking, running, cycling and swimming. Lately, traveling has started to become an enjoyable experience for me.
To see Chuck Wang of The MVP Marketing Podcast interview Syed Irfan, you can watch this YouTube video on him discussing how to get published on Huffington Post.