After a miserable four-year stint at an insurance company, Phil Singleton left his soul-crushing cubicle job. He wanted to change his path and do something drastic, and so he moved to Asia. That took him down a long journey of self-discovery and confidence building, and ended up staying there for ten years. He ran a software company where his eyes opened up to Google, web design, and the way people were starting to look for products and services. Moving back to the States, he created his very first website following the trail to web design and Google, leveraged SEO for growth, and made it work. Fast forward twelve years, he’s done hundreds of websites and have scores of SEOs and digital marketing clients. He is now a successful web designer, an SEO expert, and an award-winning author.
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SEO for Growth
We have our very special guest Phil Singleton. Phil is a web designer, an SEO expert, and an award-winning author. He is the co-author of the bestselling book, SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs. It’s been an Amazon bestseller. It’s been listed as a top marketing book by Forbes, Mashable, Oracle, and Huffington Post. It’s also been featured on MSNBC, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, and a whole lot of other places too. Phil, thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks a ton. This is so awesome. Thanks a lot, Seth.
You are very welcome. We are glad to have you. Something that fascinated me about your background is you’re running a thriving digital marketing agency, you’re an SEO expert, you’ve got a literal bestselling book on the topic, yet you got a D in Computer Science. How does one go from a D in Computer Science to literally in an authority on the topic?
I’m basically an introvert by nature. I went to school for finance. Right out of school, I got a job in insurance. I was there for three or four years. It ended up being this miserable soul-crushing cubicle job. I ended up knowing that wasn’t the place for me. I packed up my bags and ended up moving to Asia. I was in my twenties back then, so it was quite a while ago. I want to do something drastic and change my path. I was like, “I got to do something drastic,” because I felt like I was ‘getting pulled down by somebody else’s destiny’ type of thing. That took me down a long journey of self-discovery and confidence building. My wife is from Taiwan. I met her there. That’s why I ended up staying in Asia for about ten years.
Towards the end of that stint, we built a life, got some self-confidence, a software company fell into my lap during the dotcom era. What ended up happening was I could see early on, this is going back more than fifteen years ago, how Google was driving the purchase decisions of this consumer software company that I was running. It fell into my lap, didn’t know how to design, didn’t know how to do any type of computer coding like that, but I could see when I ran the software company, a small one, that Google was driving all of the purchase decisions. I was like, “How is this happening?”
Even back then, as people would search for stuff online, you’d land back then in a forum or the precursor to blogs and stuff. We had affiliate marketing back then. We had ad words too. Back in the day, it was like $0.10 a click or $0.25. These guys were working out of their house, basement, apartments, whatever it was. The big ones were getting $50,000 to $80,000 a month checks and we were just one affiliate marketers. This, to me, blew my mind. We had a company. We had investors. We were doing the support. Our piece of the 50% commission, which is what we were paying the big affiliates, started to get whittled down to nothing. The investor is product support and all the stuff that went into it, we’re getting 5% or 10% of it another. At the end, these guys that were doing a little bit of the work, we’re getting half the profit or half the sale. It opened my eyes up to Google, web design, and the way people were starting to look for products and services.
We ended up winding that company and selling. I moved back to the States. I’m in Kansas City, which is our roots. That was a nice a payday, but it wasn’t like a ‘quit forever, buy an island, never work again’-type of a sale. What I ended up doing was I ended up buying this car and I was talking to this guy who was doing auto detailing. He was selling these auto details for $25 a car to dealerships, making nothing and killing himself. I said, “If you had your own website, maybe you could start selling details for $100 or $200 a car, or something like that, directly to the public.” I ended up making a promise I didn’t think I could keep. I saw where leads were coming from. I saw the path to Google, followed the ROI trail to web design and Google. I said, “Whether I can do this or not, I’m going to roll up my sleeves. I’m going to deliver a website to you.” It took me a week. I made the ugliest one-page Microsoft front page website I’ve ever seen. It was purple and yellow. 60 days later, the guy starts getting the phone to ring.
He calls me up not long after that and says, “You’ve changed my business. You’ve changed my life.”At that point, 35 years old and never had done a website before, I was like, “I know what I want to be when I grow up.” This guy’s really happy. It was the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve ever had, but I was also like, “I can make some money from this.”I went from winding through Asia, through landing into a software company and then making a promise I didn’t think I could keep and just doing it. That’s what got me into web design and more than twelve years later, we’ve done hundreds of websites and have scores of SEOs and digital marketing clients. That’s what got me there was that one little website.
You’ve also done something that I’ve done. I’m curious if you did it the same way or not. You got somebody more famous than you to co-author your book with you. You got John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, which I’m a huge fan of, to co-author your SEO for Growth book. How’d you do that?
What ended up happening in the SEO world is when I got started about to about six years ago or so, it was a very introvert friendly business, meaning we can move the needle for people and never have to talk to folks, write checks, didn’t ask questions. Then all of a sudden, Google started coming out with these algorithmic changes that are punitive. Panda and Penguin or things like that started going and people started to tank. Their rankings would disappear. Google changed the way they started looking at SEO and they started looking to get the bigger picture of holistic marketing. You couldn’t focus on making keyword stuff and change on your website or volume-based backlinking anymore. I talked about content being king for a long time. I didn’t really mean it because we saw it was moving the needle, but then back about six years ago or so, when they said content was king, they meant it. They made the algorithms reflect that.
What ended up happening to me was, I was like, “I can’t focus on this.” I had these technical blinders on for SEO and focusing on technical piece because Google’s counting so much more. They’re counting social media participation. They want to see that you’re blogging and investing in good content in your website. They want to see that your reputation is in good standing all around the web and in different places. When you started to look at this, I was like, “What they’re looking for now is a marketing-based scoring system and not just this technical SEO piece.” Websites back then were lots of pages and very thin. Now, they’re narrow and very deep with content. That comes back to marketing.
I was like, “If I’m going to succeed and have a sustainable model that’s going to make people money and it’d be around and not get killed by the next algorithm, I’m going to have to learn marketing.” I looked around who’s one of the guys out there that’s good at what he does and has that holistic, systematic approach. John Jantsch was the guy. I read his book and then I looked at that and I was like, “He’s doing things the way I was building websites, which is we reverse engineer website based around search behavior.” That’s a great way to get started, not do SEO after a website’s built but do it beforehand. That’s his approach to marketing, figure out who the ideal client is and reverse engineer your marketing plan around your ideal client. I thought that married up.
I ended up doing it. I love this stuff. I ended up joining his network. The key is the ability to find a person or an influencer like John where you can join him in a way where I was able to rub shoulders-to-shoulder with him, meet with him, and develop a relationship. His network allowed us to do that because it wasn’t one of these course things that were from a distance. He has almost his own network where you’re meeting with people on an annual basis or, even in some cases, in a quarterly basis. That’s important to make those relationships where you can do face-to-face. That was one key for me.
The second thing was I figured, “I can do exactly what you said.” I don’t say I was scheming about it, but my intention was I have to find a way to shortcut my way to the authority because I can’t do it like John did back in 2005 and make the first podcast and do it over the course of ten to twenty years. I got to find a faster way. I figured the fastest way I can do this is riding somebody else’s coattails. I joined his network with the intention of proving myself to him. I did that. The way I was able to earn his trust is I joined his network and I gave and I gave. I proved myself. I joined this stuff. I participated. I did webinars. I guess blog posts for them.
At the end, he saw my body of work and knew what I was talking about. After I was able to show him or present him with a manuscript of a lot of the SEO tactics and things that I did, I said, “There’s two ways we can approach this. Either you write a foreword for this for me or you come on as a co-author and we can use this to launch another business?” I had given so much by the point of that three-year period. He was all over it. That’s how I was able to get him to join. Not only join the book, but we’ve now partnered on some other businesses and. It’s taken my career off in a whole another direction. That was how I did it.
What’s the biggest mistake you see small business owners making when it comes to the web?
I still think today people are brainwashed by thinking that their website is a static digital brochure. It has to be a marketing platform now and you have to think of it as an investment, not a cost of doing business. The vast majority of people that we see that come to see us, they build that website that one time and they let it sit there. If they do anything online, they do it in these one-dimensional little hip shots or they’ll put their best up on a third-party platform where it has little chances of some real time eyeballs and then it dies. To me, you have to make your website, your body of work, your evidence that you’re an authority. You have to post it there and share it out, so people come back to your site where you can pixel them or retarget to them. That’s the biggest problem I see today. Folks don’t see their websites like that. They see this as this a one-dimensional thing they do, and they let it sit there and then they do everything where it should be your marketing hub. You should tie everything back together and you should be building it up. Use it as proof of why you’re the best at what you do.
You mentioned content marketing and SEO. A lot of small business owners are probably afraid of SEO because the algorithm keeps changing. It could take a while. It could take a whole lot of time and not turn into anything or it might be great and then it changes. What’s your biggest bang for the Buck SEO tip for a business owner?
There’s two things I would have people focus on. One, look at your website with a fresh set of eyes and know that the biggest mistake is that most people don’t do the work but don’t do any of it. Some of it is doing a little bit of content marketing on your website or a little bit of SEO. Sometimes we’ll uncork a lot of value. The biggest thing that people can do right away that everybody has a chance to do and doesn’t have to spend a whole bunch of money on is to work on your reputation. That’s what the kind of economy we are these days. People have the information at their fingertips. If I’m looking for a new web designer or a new product or a service local or national, they’re going to do the research online before they make a big-ticket decision.
The more that you can stack up your social proof in terms of Google reviews or maybe whatever your niche is, that makes a huge impact. You can make the phone rang. Anybody can go and make a habit out of asking for reviews and making sure that they put them on the right platform where their companies are. I’ve been doing this for twelve straight years and every time we have a customer that works on their review strategy and goes for local business for example, it goes from no Google reviews to 50 or 100. It changes the whole game. It pulls them up into the maps. They’ve got a lot of people saying that they’re the best at what they do. That’s what we want these days. When we go online, we want to see the choice, make it easy for me. I see there’s ten different choices for a plumber or whatever it is, show me the best one and prove it to me with reviews and I’ll pick that one and you take that picking out for me. Everybody that focuses on that is going to get a big return.
With all the amazing success you’ve achieved, what’s your biggest challenge now?
Something that I’m struggling with is I got a classic E-Myth type of situation where I do a lot of the work. Part of it is because I love doing it and part of it’s because I’m afraid if I delegate too much, I’m going to lose some of the edge that I have. It’s hard to get people. I learned that one person that I have for a little while was not being reflective of what I am to the rest of my clients. That hurts to see that happens. When you’re a smaller team, I’ve got seven people altogether together, one hire makes a huge difference for you. Hiring that wrong person, it can be a huge impact. That’s something I’m going to struggle with for a long time.
I have resembled that remark at times. I’ve had employees where I’ve gotten phone calls from jail.
Some are surprising. I’ve got an email that somebody’s already left. I said, “I can’t believe that even happened and I didn’t hear about it.”If you care about what you do and you care about your clients, that hurts.
Who’s an ideal client for you?
I’ve run my business locally. We dominated pretty well in terms of Kansas City searches, Kansas City web design, Kansas City SEO. I’ve been doing some more personal branding, more podcast guesting, but I feel like you can’t market yourself with a metro city named that way. I’ve changed my name and I did it in a way where I added another brand that would point to who my ideal clients are, and it’s called Bare Knuckle Marketing. That’s my new marketing brand I’m going to go after. I want to go after any client who feels that they want to take the gloves off and be aggressive.
I talked to a lot of business owners over the years and what surprises me is everybody says they want to grow and they want to do stuff, but I can see in some people’s eyes that they want to be the best. They want to be number one on Google. They want to dominate their market. They want to be like I am for my little SEO businesses or my Kansas City Web Design. We go online and look for us, we look like the 800-pound gorilla. I want the people that want to be the 800-pound gorillas in their market. There’s a lot of people that’ll go with the flow. They don’t want to go to the next level and that kind of thing, but the most aggressive types, that’s my ideal client. It could be anybody from the five-man plumber to we’ve got some guys that do hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury watches.
For our audience who are resonating with what you’re saying, where is the best place we should send them to learn more about all things?
Check out the book, SEOforGrowth.com. That’s my brain dump about 200 pages’ worth of Info that we did with John. That’s a great one to check out. Check out KCWebDesigner.com. That’s where all the little website that started it all off. I’ve had a really good experience with doing shows like podcast guesting. It’s been a total game changer for me to go out and leverage other people’s audiences. It all comes back to personal branding and authority, so you can go out and build your own campaign and do this kind of stuff and go out. I partnered with John to do PodcastBookers.com. We’ll go out and help people get packaged up and get booked on other shows, so that they can reach new audiences and help build their own personal branding and authority and get all sorts of great backlinks. In a lot of cases, it’ll help with their SEO and sometimes get reviews.
Go get a copy of SEO for Growth. Phil Singleton, thank you so much for joining us.
I appreciate it.
Thanks so much for listening to this special productivity series of the direct response marketing podcast. I’ve interviewed hundreds of the most successful entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and CEOs all over the world and I want to share with you one of the biggest ways I’ve discovered to triple your productivity that I’ve learned from these amazing people. Even better, I’ll pay you $500 to test-drive it. Just go to Takethe500Challenge.com to learn more. Thanks so much.
- SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs
- Duct Tape Marketing
About Phil Singleton
In 2005, knowing little about web development, I made a promise to a business owner that I was not sure I could keep – to build a website.
I self-studied and painstakingly created a simple one-page site for him. Two months later, the site achieved top search engine rankings and leads starting pouring in for his business.
Soon after, he called and said “you’ve not only changed my business, you’ve changed my life.”
It was the most rewarding moment of my professional career and ignited a fire in me that rages to this very day.
That ugly little Microsoft Front Page website has snowballed into a thriving digital agency that has partnered with hundreds of businesses.
I have since written several award winning and best-selling books on lead generation, search engine optimization and web design. Forbes named my book SEO for Growth (seoforgrowth.com) as the # 1 SEO book to read for entrepreneurs. It’s been endorsed by over 50 of the world’s top marketing experts, and listed as a top marketing book by Inc., Mashable, Oracle and The Huffington Post.
I am an outsider. I do not think like a web designer or a developer. This gives me and my team a tremendous advantage when it comes to creating lead-generating websites.