#23: Brian Dean/Backlinko: An Advanced Guide to SEO Optimization and Website Architecture
9 February 2017
00:00 00:00 CC Download
“SEO is like a building. You have a building that has 5 rooms in it, it’s not that complicated to make sure the pipes go to the right place. But when you have a huge skyscraper with 550 different rooms then it’s very complicated to make sure everything works right.”

From today’s episode you’ll learn:

Today's guest

Brian Dean
Brian created in 2013 to help small business owners outrank their big brand competitors. The site is now a thriving community that generates over 2 million visitors every year.

Podcast transcript

Hello all,

Welcome to Business Sidekick, it’s Justyna, LiveChat content writer speaking!

As you might remember, a couple of months ago I had an interview with Bartosz, the founder of Elephate, an SEO agency and we spoke about the first steps every business owner or website creator should take. We spoke about basic SEO definitions, about how to find out the most important keywords for your business and how to optimize content on your website for SEO.

Today, I have the pleasure of talking about more advanced SEO stuff with Brian Dean, the founder of, an SEO and link building expert.


Hello Brian, thanks a lot for accepting my invitation.

No problem, good to be here.

Could you please tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing in professional life?

Sure! Im, I'm the founder of an SEO training company called, and we help small medium size businesses get better rankings with our training products.

In one of previous episodes of Business Sidekick I already told about the basics of SEO; we talked about how to find good keywords for your websites, and how to optimise your website for SEO, but it’s just the first step!

So let’s imagine that I already have my website. What will be the another step you suggest to take.

Once you have the keywords, that’s actually super important points so it’s really smart as Justyna you had that as the first step, because a lot of people will skip that and do other advanced things.

Keyword research is the most important part of SEO, you can’t skip that part. So once you have the keywords you actually made a lot of progress already.

At this point the key is to create something on your site that is worth linking to, because Google’s most important ranking factor is the number and quality of links pointing to your website. So if you have a lot of those you’ll rank higher for all of the terms the keywords that you just found.

The tricky part is how do you do that how you get people to link to you.

Well the number one strategy, the only strategy, is to create something that is on your site worth linking to, that people would want to link to. And that’s why people in SEO’s always are talking about content and content marketing because that’s the way you get links and that is how you ultimately rank in Google.

Many people think that if they will post something on social media they will have valuable backlinks. Is that true?

No, that is not true.

So there’s nothing wrong with posting with social media because people can see your content and share it and you get more traffic from that.

Also, perhaps which sometimes happens you share content on social media, someone influential sees it and then ultimately they link to it from their website.

But the link within any social media post has no SEO value. First of all, Google knows the social media posts and know that people post things on there they never read, doesn’t have a lot of value. But more importantly, even from the technically standpoint of the link, the link has a certain tag on it, that makes it so Google says “we don’t, we don’t consider this a link for SEO purposes”, that’s call a “nofollow tag”.

When someone adds that to a link it means: “Google, don’t pay attention to this link” and all social media sites adds this to their links.

So I guess we just dispelled the first myth about SEO. OK, so how are we supposed to get good backlinks?

Like I said the key is to create something that people want to link too. For me, one of the best ways to do that, is something called the Skyscraper Technique.

And what that is instead of guessing because it’s really hard cause probably a lot of your listener might be stressed out right now; oh I create something worth linking to. It’s really hard to know what that is, it’s something I struggle with myself.

It’s like what could that be, it could be a video, it could be an infographic, it could be a list-post, it could be a tutorial, it could be a case study, there are thousand things there could be.

But the easiest way to find something worth linking to is to look at your competitors and other people that are publishing content in your space and having success with it. And then what you do is you find something that has already performed well in terms of social shares in terms of links in terms of ranking Google and then you create something even better.

That way you’re working from a frame work of something that has already done well and improving upon as from starting from scratch.

And how about getting to a major new sites like Forbes or Inc. It’s very difficult to get there!

It is. There’s a couple ways so all those big websites like Forbes and Inc and Entrepreneur, they kinda have almost two parallel websites inside the website, and both require their own strategy to get links from.

So the first is the traditional news site, you know, they report on things that are happening right now. That’s when PR comes in handy. That’s where just like SEO, you need something worth linking to.

To get a link from these type of sites, from the news portal you need something to have worth talking that’s news worthy. Right that’s PR one on one, Public Relations one on one. You gotta have something on your site, or something that your company is doing, where they saying this is interesting, we’re gonna report on that.

Like a great example on what most companies can’t do because give an idea is, you know, Red Bull had a guy jump out of a space station. He went through the earth’s atmosphere, something like that. Everyone reported on that that was huge deal, but even smaller companies can do something.

A a couple of years ago an eCommerce site, they banned people from Internet Explorer from using their website. So because Internet Explorer is not a good browser, a lot of companies are bending over backwards trying to figure out way to make a site compatible, and they, actually it wasn’t a ban, it was a tax. You had to pay a surcharge in what you bought if you use the Internet Explore to compensate them for the extra development time, so that the site was compatible with their browser.

And that was huge for PR they got hundreds dimension on all these sites and all they had to was add a little press release about what they were doing, and then and add actual functionality tax to use Internet Explore.

It probably cost them like fifty bucks to do and got them all these links. So that’s the first way to do it is to create newsworthy. Very tricky!

The second is to look at the articles that come out like more like “how to”. And Forbes and Entrepreneurs and all these publish that stuff, and that’s like kind of SEO how to get more traffic, how work through small business to do this, or some personal finance tips on sites like Forbes and then that is where we come back to creating something worth linking to.

Which can be a case study or list-post or ultimate guide something like that, and then getting that piece that you just published in front of the author that contributes those “how to” articles to those sites.

I believe that when someone is creating their website, they have like five major keywords and once they rank high for those keywords probably they should look further right for another ones. And I was, I was wondering if it’s a good idea to create sub pages with those keywords.

I do think it’s a good idea. So there’s kinda two, if you kinda find 10 keywords and you on the top three for all of them, that’s great, you know, but you definitely don’t want to stop there and you want to create some landing pages or content. There’s a whole world of other keywords that you target the most.

I would say most small businesses ignore that can be really lucrative which are keywords that your customers search for when they not searching for your stuff.

So for example like I said in an intro, my company sells SEO training products but, you know, I’m not necessarily optimising keywords like “SEO training” and “SEO courses,” even those the things obviously my customer search for.

What I do instead, I look for keyword the same people search for when not searching for what I sell.

Which in my case are “keyword research” and “link building” and “content marketing” stuff, they’re searching for that in Google. And when they find my content stuff and are impressed by, they signed up for my email newsletter and they’re ready to buy, I’m the first person who comes to mind.

And when you do that, you can get literally can get hundreds of keywords that you can target and create content around and rank for, and not only will that help you find your customers with this, they will find you, will sign up for your list or a free trial depending on what your business is, and then become a customer.

But if that content is good enough and it generates links those links don’t just help the rankings of that page. That could be a great piece of content that gets links, yes, that content will rank better but also help your other pages rank as well, which includes your service-based pages, so if you have a landing page that’s optimized around the product, you gonna rank better even though the links went to that content page because it’s on your website.

And in this case, does URL also matter?

Oh, I see what you mean so a subdomain. Yes so if you have a blog you definitely don’t want to use a subdomain which will be like

A lot people do that and it is a really bad practise. Now Google recently said that they count subdomains the same as a URL subfolder, to them, they said, will be the same as, but so many experiments and my own experiences show me that’s not the case.

Almost a hundred percent of the time when someone switches from the subdomain to putting it as example for such and add all their concept pages like that, rankings have improved.

Because like you said, which is true, Google counts a subdomain almost like a separate domain and those links don’t really help you.

So I actually read about that. Google has been very confusing on this issue but I'm with you it doesn’t help your as SEO get those links to your subdomain, so you definitely don’t want that, any of your content any of your sites can help on a subdomain.

And how about the website architecture, because I’ve heard it matters a lot as well.

It’s very true. So it does, It matters a lot in, in some cases and matters very little others depends very much on the website.

Actually the subdomain vs. subfolder is an example of the website architecture. You can see that it does make a big difference. If you look up in Google in subdomain vs. subfolder vs. SEO, you see tons of cases of people switched to a subfolder and their rankings have improved.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that is a factor and it’s part of your website architecture. So that definitely makes a difference even on smaller sites. Where website architectural really matters is eCommerce sites or any sites that have thousands of pages.

So I say once you hit the 500 page+ range on your website, website architecture becomes more important. That’s because your page just gets more complicated.

Imagine it’s like a building.

When you have a building that has 5 rooms in it, it’s not that complicated to make sure the pipes go to the right place and the electricity flows and things like that, but when you have a huge skyscraper with you know 550 different rooms, then it’s very complicated to make sure everything works right and everything is connected the right way, the same things is with your website the bigger your website is the more important, the more likely something will go wrong with how things are connected from an SEO point for view.

For example, you can have links point to the wrong pages or links don’t exist anymore. You can have pages that are buried in your sites architecture, so for example if someone visits your home page and it takes like 7 clicks on different links to find your page that’s not good for a SEO, because Google spider has to do the same thing and might have trouble finding your page.

So in general the number one rule website architectural is to make sure that every page in site is accessible from about 3 clicks. If it takes more than that then it’s usually bad.

Do you have any tips how to clean it up, or maybe you know, any tools that could help to do that?

Unfortunately I don’t know any tools because it’s very dependent on the what you use to run your site.

So if have such a Shopify or Magenta then or WordPress, is totally different. If you have pages that are 4 clicks away it’s not the end of the world actually, I would do anything about it. I'm just talking about ideal scenario.

But if you have a lot of pages that are like 8 clicks away or Google’s having trouble finding some of your pages, they not getting indexed, it’s definitely something you want to fix ASAP.

And it basically takes like a huge piece of paper and diagram kinda how you want your site to look. Moving the pages and links so they work that way and then redirecting all the old URL to the new ones.

Or you can change navigation so it’s easier, so it only takes 3 clicks to find these pages. You don’t necessarily have to change everything, you just change your navigation so that nothing is more than 3 clicks to find.

Alright, we were talking about the bad examples of SEO optimisation and a couple of years ago people used to create plenty of pages with content that was stuffed with keywords. Obviously it’s the worst idea ever, because it doesn’t work.

But I'm sure people still try to figure out how to cheat on SEO machine. Can you give a couple of examples of some really bad SEO practising we should avoid?

The good news about that, like you said, it’s a bad idea, but there are not so many people doing it, there are not as many loopholes any more, if you’re doing some shady stuff, it’s actually really hard to get results.

Now, the biggest mistake I see people make, which isn’t as spamy as you know stuffing keywords into your content, is actually just creating a lot of content for the sake of ranking Google.

So I see a lot of sites do this, they pop out about hundreds of articles so even dozens, that aren’t good. And they do that because each one of those articles is maybe optimised for keywords or they think that Google will award them for publishing a lot of unique content, but it’s actually something that could hurt your SEO a lot.

If you’re publishing content that’s not good, that could hurt your SEO and Google will know that and your rankings through the entire site could go down. So I see that the number one thing I see people doing is: “oh, I want to do content marketing as I know that is good for SEO and Google want content, they want fresh content, they want the stuff to publish enough articles.” And then they don’t actually get results and that hurts their SEO. So the key is whenever you publish something you want to make it really great. That is good not just ok.

Can we stop for a moment because I hear all for word “very good” but what the hell does it mean.

It’s a good question, it’s very subjective, it’s like art! You know, I could look at a painting and think it’s great, but you look at it and think it’s horrible, right?

It’s very subjective, it’s like: what is beauty, you know, what is love? It’s hard to define things like “great”. Like what is “great?” Fortunately it’s very subjective, but there are some objectiv things you can do that almost universally help your content perform better.

Doctor Jonah Berger, who is a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, did a study a couple years ago about what made all my content go viral, and he analyse the New York Times website to see which articles did best, and which articles didn’t do well and what factors they had in common for articles who did well.

One of the things he found was that highly practical content was much more likely to be shared. And that’s not so nearly as subjective. So for example, researchers thought that controversial content would do the best, because people want to share to say: this is right this is wrong, whatever, and he found out things like actually recipes did best, really practical stuff like “how to” guides, home repairs tended to do really very well.

Whenever you’re creating content, the more practical it gets, the better. If you’re doing high level stuff theory and your take on stuff, it’s probably not gonna do as well.

The other interesting finding was that longer content tend to perform better. And his theory was that because, when you write something long it’s in depth. So when you cover topic in depth, it makes it more useful and people are more likely to share it.

So for example, if we talking about SEO, if I write 400 hundred words about SEO, it’s really hard to cover that huge topic in that amount of space. But if I had 4000 words to work with I still wouldn’t cover like I get a lot closer and that piece would be a lot more valuable for 400 word version.

Ok, so you mentioned that creating lots of different website with different keywords is a bad idea. Are there any other things you should avoid?

Yeah I say anything a lot of people ask me about different link building strategies. You know, it’s this good, will it still work, will Google gonna penalize this, and basically I see a lot of people getting into trouble with their links.

And the good rule of thumb is just: if anyone can just get the link then it’s probably not a good link. If you found a website where you can create your blog on it and link back to your website and anyone login, register, login and do the same thing, it’s probably not a good link. Or if you can drop a comment on a site and leave the link and again do that it’s not a good link.

As contrast to that with something like guest posting. We have to reach out to someone who is an editor, send them a topic, get it approved, right, something great, then they publish on their blog, then you get a link back, that’s a bit harder. Now that’s why those links are going more valuable than some sort of link drop that you can do on any site.

This damn SEO is so smart, you know? Are there any good practices, what are your tips?

Well the number one thing before, before you get into the details of the on-page SEO stuff is to create something that really deserves to be number one. Like you said, you hit the nail in the head Justyna, SEO is smart, Google is smart now.

They use a lot more information and signals as they use too, to figure out what deserves to be number one and if you don’t create something that’s great, that really deserves to rank number one, it’s probably not gonna be great. It’s probably not gonna rank, because they have signals that can figure out. So that’s like before we get into that stuff, that’s the key a lot of people over look, because it’s hard work, it’s really hard.

Now, once you create a page whether it’s a piece of content or landing page, the number one tip I have for optimisation, is the URL structure.

Aside from talking about the subdomain, assuming you not using it, which you shouldn’t, you know let’s say you have example a site like .com/whatever, whatever comes after that slash is actually really important for SEO.

So last year I teamed up with some SEO software companies and we analyzed 1 million Google search results and we found that shorter URLs tended to rank better.

Don’t really understand why that is, but basically if you have URL like example .com/this-is-my-article-title plus the date, plus blah blah, that is actually gonna be bad for SEO as opposed you might set .com/just-your-keyword. Or the keyword, one more word is gonna rank better.

If you were supposes to tell someone in steps what to do to have fully optimise website, would you be able to give general tips on how to do that?

Yeah, yeah, think so, they had to be pretty general, because every site is different, but process is more the less the same.

The first is keywords, so that’s what you covered in an earlier podcast, it’s great that you started with that, it’s really smart.

So once you have the keywords everything else falls at. So the next thing is to create your content and figure out what you want to be. Some of those keywords are gonna be commercial keywords, landing pages for what you sell and that is fine, then the others are gonna be content, what you gonna use to get links to your site.

Then it’s a matter of just creating those landing pages on your site as good as they can be, no one gonna link to or share your product pages which is OK. Then you’re gonna have your content and that’s your whole game, the key to SEO. And that’s where you have to create something that’s amazing and once you create something amazing, than the key is to build links to it and promote it.

That’s pretty much to all there is to SEO pretty much the same as it was back in the day.

Alright, thank you very much for this chat, it was a pleasure!

No problem, thanks for having me.

That’s it for today, thanks a lot for listening! Brian is one of the best in his industry, so I hope that you’ve learned a lot today! For more interviews with awesome guests, check our website, or just subscribe our iTunes channel.

Also, if you liked this episode, leave a sweet review so I know that podcasting makes sense.

All the best to you, I’m wishing you a lot of happy website visitors and tons of organic traffic.

#Content Marketing


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