Ep. 23: SaaS SEO with Jeremiah Smith of SimpleTiger
SaaS Marketing Insights Episode 23: Jeremiah Smith, SimpleTiger
Virtual agency owner Jeremiah Smith of SimpleTiger outlines how he shifted his business’ focus from ‘SEO for everybody’ to specializing in SEO for SaaS.
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Episode 23 Transcript
Paul: On today’s show, I have an interview with Jeremian Smith, Co founder and CEO at Simpletiger. Hope you enjoy it.
So, Jeremiah Smith, from Simpletiger, an SEO agency specialising in helping SaaS companies, is that right?
Jeremiah: That’s correct. Yep. We mainly work with SaaS companies, we work with companies of all types, but we mainly focus on SaaS companies.
Paul: So tell me about the Simpletiger journey how you got started and how you chose to specialise in SaaS?
Jeremiah: Sure, absolutely. So, first of all, I’ve been in marketing for a little over 12 years now, I used to build websites. And that was actually how I stepped into marketing. I just loved playing around the computer designing things, I was more of just kind of being a nerd and playing with it. I didn’t have any real intention of actually doing it as a business until a couple of friends of mine liked my websites and stuff. Of course, my mom liked my website. And then one of her clients who is an accountant. One of her clients was like, we love your website, we want you to build us one. So I built them a website. And then after I got it built for them, I was like there we go, awesome. I was so happy and everything then they were like we want it to show up in Google. How do you do that? And I was like, that’s interesting question. I probably just have to go like fill out a form and submit it. I had no idea. I had no clue. And so I started looking into it naturally. I started searching Google, how to get your website to show up in Google and discovered this whole underground industry I knew nothing about the time called SEO.
I was blown away. I was like, wait, this is like way more intense than you might think. And, you know, it’s not like if you build it, they will come kind of thing. You actually have to really put some work into your website after it’s been built to make it do something for you. So I started studying search engine optimization through a couple of resources at the time, favourite resource was actually a little company out in in Seattle called SEO Moz. And that’s before they changed their names to Moz. And it was just a blog at the time, Rand Fishkin was writing these incredible articles about how to do SEO, and he was just writing them for free and I was floored. I was like, This is incredible. I devoured everything. And so I’m learning all this stuff and practising on my clients website. I told them at the outset, I don’t know how to do this. But I learn very quickly and I badly want to do it. So are you opening that and they were like, Yeah, but it better show results.
I was like, you got it, I’m going to do my best. And so I put a lot of work into it. And lo and behold, a couple months in, they started seeing some results, about six to 12 months in their business was changed because of the results that we were able to generate with SEO. And this is while I was teaching myself, this is not speaking to me so much about my capability, as I think it is speaking to SEO and its value, at least in those early days, and how simple it was to just really get a lot out of Google back then. So that that really kind of lit my fire for this new industry. I was done building websites at the time, I was like, I’m ready to just market them. I just want to get them to show up in Google and do a good job. So I changed my resume around a bit and said I’m going to go get a job at an ad agency. And I’m going to try to do this. So ended up landing a job at a huge agency in Atlanta that had massive clients all fortune 500 companies and, really learned that the big guys play the game. The exact same way as the small guys do, it’s just a lot more budget, a lot more effort is put into all of that. And that’s that’s pretty much it. That’s how that works.
So yeah, after that I was totally sold on, on the fact that anyone from a small company, the small mom and pop shop I started with to NBC or Etrade can do SEO, and it can be beneficial to all of them. So I knew that my skill set was something I really valued and loved and decided I would try to run off as a consultant and build an agency around it. So I’ll kind of pause there.
Paul: Haha yeah, that was all in one breath.
So when did you actually start Simpletiger? So you had this thing, and then I guess it developed. But has it been a few years now?
Jeremiah: So I always had this. I’ve always had this tendency to think of my dreams probably a little too seriously. And that’s part of the problem of being an ambitious entrepreneur is you take you take your ideas very seriously, and you want to sell them to everyone. So before I even got that job in an ad agency, I had the name Simpletiger figured out.
I bought the domain name, I built the website. It was a awful rinky dink little website. And I was just, I was so proud of my brand that would one day evolve. But this is what I was going to do. I was going to build a business called Simpletiger and didn’t know much about why or anything like that at the time. But over time, the brand really evolved into exactly what I wanted it to be. And I’m so happy with it now. So that was that was about 12 years ago. . Yeah, quite a while, right after I built that website, and I decided to do SEO, once I decided that I loved SEO. That was when Simple tiger started and yeah…
Paul: So where does SaaS come into the frame? How recent was that?
Jeremiah: Right, great question. Now that’s very recent, I’ll say that. That’s like within the past year and a half to two years. We’ve narrowed our focus to just SaaS. And I’ll explain a little bit about that. So Simpletiger was originally just myself, and I was working for anyone that wanted search engine optimization, I didn’t care who they were.
Paul: Hired gun.
Jeremiah: Yeah, I didn’t care if it was a small local attorney here in town or a massive fortune 500 Corporation, I would love to work with them, you know, and over time, I got my brother involved, who just had a wonderful knack for the web. He kind of grew up on the internet more so than I did. He’s a little younger than myself. But he was very sharp, very shrewd business person as well. So he he brought to the table something that I don’t think I have as much of and so I really appreciated that and he and I just formed a great team. And so we would consult clients under the name Simpletiger.
He kind of had his, I kind of had mine and then over time we decided, you know what we need some help. We do some awesome consulting, but we need to actually produce some stuff in house for our clients. And so we started hiring on contractors to help us with that. And after we got our first couple of contractors, we went through some rough patches. But then we finally got a couple of contractors that were just really, really good. And we decided, you know what, we should probably push the lever and turn this into an agency and hire them on this full time employees. And let’s really just go as official as possible with it. And so we went ahead and did that. And we turned it into an agency hired them on and that was really I think, when Simpletiger, the agency it is today was kind of formed. But in those days, we were still taking on anybody and working with any kind of company.
It wasn’t until a while later that I kind of noticed through the 80/20 principle, which is what we always apply to our clients. We were looking at ourselves and I was thinking, what are the you know, 20% of clientele that yield 80% of the income. What are the 20% of the clientele that make us the most happy, what are the, you know, the easiest projects for us to work on to get the most results, things like that. And I kept seeing this pattern of SaaS companies. They were the ones that for some reason we had an interesting marriage with every single SaaS project we worked on, we seem to fall in love with the client, ecommerce companies would come and go, nothing wrong with them at all. So understand that this is more of like a just a personality thing than anything else and a match.
You know, all kinds of other companies would come and go but SaaS just kind of stayed in the background as like this trustworthy type of clientele that just understood us and we got along with them and we got each other we just clicked and so after reading on enough different blog articles, that enough other agency owners, you know, their number one regret or mistake is they wish they had chosen the niche sooner. And I heard them say that over and over and over again. And finally it started hitting me and I’m like am I going to kick myself for not choosing a niche?
I remember getting in a couple more heated discussions with clients that I didn’t want to work with, about results that they didn’t understand were there and just, you know, just problems and frustration, and realise, you know what? My SaaS clients don’t do this to me.
So discussed that with Sean. We decided, you know what, let’s look strongly at choosing this niche and seeing what that would do. And so we actually went and talked to some of our, our existing SaaS clients at the time and said, What if we were an SEO agency that only serve the SaaS community? And a lot of them said, Well, we would have chosen you a lot sooner or paid a lot more, you know, things like that. And I was like, Oh, perfect. So it validated things for us. And it was at that point a couple years ago, I think we decided actually, probably about a year and a half ago, we decided look, let’s do this transition plan. Let’s start saying that we go after SaaS companies directly.
Jeremiah: Let’s do it in our marketing. Let’s still take on anyone who comes to us. But let’s specifically go after SaaS companies aggressively. And so we started doing that we started getting a lot of SaaS business, we changed our marketing and our messaging, we changed our conversations. We changed where we’re publishing content and who we’re talking to. We started getting a lot more SaaS business, and the relationships have just been stellar. It’s been so much easier since we made that change.
Paul: Yeah, I mean, nicheing down is just, it’s just so much easier to sell because, you know who you’re selling to and you can have conversations about churn rates and MRI or, you know, all of the things that are particular to an industry rather than just being very generic. So tell me… here’s the interesting thing, because, like yourself, I have been involved in SEO for a long time. And actually, I just took it off my website, because I found it really hard doing SEO for SaaS businesses, because I find that they’re impatient about the results that they want from SEO. And so, pretty much, same as you said, my 80/20 was 80% of what I was doing paid campaigns for them. And 20% was SEO.
The thing that was causing me the most grief was the 20% the SEO. So how do you deal with the impatience that SaaS businesses naturally have because they’re all about growth?
SEO, it just takes time. Right?
Jeremiah: Right. So what we’ve actually had to do is take a bit of a maverick approach to it, which has not been comfortable. We we kind of go against the grain with this suggestion, but a lot of companies come to us and say, we want SEO and I asked what is your goal and they say, we want to increase conversions by 10%.
Okay, awesome goal. Now, I start to pitch them paid search. And they say, Wait, wait, we want SEO? And I’m like, now which is higher on your list of parties, buying SEO? Would you rather check that box or would you rather increase conversions by 10%? check that box? Which, which one of those matters more? Do you want to have just bought SEO this year? Or do you want to have increased your conversions by 10% this year, and I don’t want to be too much of a smart alec when I when I go there, but I have to like change the logic and the way they’re thinking because the issue commonly is, at least in so far, as marketing people are concerned, the flashy thing is what we all want, or the thing everyone’s hyping about is the thing we want social proof works on marketers, just like it does, non marketers.
So we have to keep in mind that when people start buzzing about SEO, doesn’t mean we need to run out and buy SEO, and it’s going to solve all our… miraculously solve all the problem. Sean and I kind of discussed this recently, people don’t come to us wanting to buy SEO, they come to us wanting to buy what SEO delivers. And so long as we stay focused on that, then it allows us to actually be a lot more intuitive, and more of a hunter in regards to bringing home results for our clients, where I say, look, here’s the deal, we we can bring you home results with SEO. And if you’ve got, you know, if you just built your website, and you launched last month, that kind of thing, and you’ve got a good six to 12 months until you need to show results, we can bring you home results with SEO, well, we’re going to go with an agency that’s going to get us results faster, like well, we can get you results faster, it’s just going to cost probably 100 grand this month instead of 100 grand in the course of the year, right? Because we got to write a lot of content, we got to build a lot of links, we got a lot of work to do. And we got a short period of time to do it. So if we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time to do it, it’s going to cost a lot of money, we have a long time to do it, it’s going to cost the same amount of money just spread out over time.
But if the window of results is the key factor, then what I’ll recommend is, if we have to get results in month one or two, then let’s start a paid search campaign. And that’s not what you want the long run. That’s not what I want to give you a long run, I want to have years of relationship together. But I want to start it with a couple of dates. And I want to start it by validating that we are right for each other and things like that. And paid search is one of those simple, easy things, we set up an AdWords account for you, we get it running target a few keywords, if you hate us, you just revoke our access and you’re off on your own, everything is fine, right. But if we start with an AdWords account, we can quickly test some assumptions. We can test the assumption that you know your target keywords, we can test the assumption that you know your audience, we could test the assumption that your site converts well. And we can quickly validate what out of all of that is true. Because maybe you have 100 keywords you want to go after and six of them convert well.
Well we figured that in month one or two, wouldn’t you rather know that month one or two with a $5,000 investment versus month eight with a $35,000 investment. So let’s do that. And I know that doesn’t make you happy at night. But at least you’ll know what keywords we need to target. And now instead of these 100 keywords that we’re going to spread all our SEO effort out across, we can focus on six keywords and we can spread our effort on those and be very narrow and focused. And then within those keywords, obviously people bring up the the long tail keyword argument I totally agree. But long tail keywords are almost always derivatives of some mothership term or category that you’re talking about. So once we start blogging about a single generic target keyword, you can’t help but to organically rank for long tail variations of it. Because how else are you going to write about it?
So really, I guess that’s my super long answer to your simple question. The short answer would be paid search. I think if the client doesn’t know their target keywords, doesn’t know their landing pages, they’re converting content and things like that, well, let’s start with paid search. If they do know all of that, it’s a little bit more of an aggressive project that usually looks like just a big proposal, a big number on the proposal, you need a lot of link building or a lot of content, something like that.
Paul: That exactly mirrors my experience as well, using paid as a diagnostic to work out which keywords are then going to work so that when you do invest time and money in SEO, you’ve validated exactly, you know what it is that you’re going after. And it’s amazing how many you know, SaaS businesses just don’t do that they do abit of keyword search, and then they go right, we’re going to create a tonne of content around this. And we’re just like, has anybody actually validated this?
Jeremiah: Yeah. Like I do a lot of target shooting. And I think it’s really, really fun. I love the art of it. But I would be terrified if I were sitting in the lane with a gun and you turn off the lights, and I had to continue hitting the target. And that’s what you’re doing when you don’t validate your keywords, yet, you have no clue what’s going to happen. You might turn on the lights a year from now and be like, Oh my gosh, we got a bull’s eye one time out of the 20 shots. You know what I mean? But that’s pretty much what it feels like.
Now, that’s kind of a dramatic example and our keyword research is really solid when we do our keyword research. But if I don’t feel confident about your target keywords and things like that, enough for us to go ahead and perform just keyword research, then I’m going to push really hard for paid search. And if people push back on the paid search thing, I’m like, look, I’m just not comfortable going down that road, I don’t want to, I don’t want to let you down and have my reputation out there on the line, you know, and that actually speaks really well to clients for an agency to turn away the business because of their reputation. And it kind of makes you take a step back and think, am I really going about this the right way. And I love it because SaaS companies appreciate that authenticity. They’re not used to dealing with that, they’re actually more used to dealing with hardcore sales guys trying to pitch him something that’s last year, and SaaS is next year. And so they don’t even want to hear that, you know, so I don’t come out of the gate swinging with with with salesy tactics and stuff like that.
Paul: Yeah, you’re in it for the long term, which is the only way to fly as far as I’m concerned.
Jeremiah: Same here.
Paul: So it’s really interesting. I think I was reading on your website, are you based remote from your team?
Paul: So how… I’m just curious about how that works. Because, you know, a lot of SaaS businesses are virtual themselves. But I think with agencies is quite hard. And, you know, the agency that I used to own you know, we weren’t, we were all in the same office and it makes it so much easier to control things, but I guess technology and whatnot has moved on. But as the owner, being separate from your team, how do you cope?
Jeremiah: It is… it can be tough at times. I will say I’ve worked at a couple of agencies in my life, and working in person is definitely easier. You’ve got that, in terms of collaboration, you’ve got all of the communication channels locked down, the face to face does so much more for people than I think a lot of society today really understands. But what I’ve learned is that a lot of the work that we do… 80% of the work that we do, does not need to happen face to face. We… when I say we I mean Simpletiger specifically, I don’t mean every company. And so because of that, I would really like to, I’d really like to remove a lot of what I would consider to almost be a distraction, so that my team can focus better on those pieces that do not require that Face Face necessarily.
Paul: So you’re a distraction, haha.
Jeremiah: So a lot of me being in the office during the week is distracting. And I know it is because I’m a loud, excitable person, and I love talking to people and everything, I will ruin a very productive team by walking in the room. So I have to be careful with that. Remote forces me to not be able to do that. And actually, we can set aside time for me to talk to my team. And that’s what we do. And that time sometimes is unproductive and it’s my fault. And and it’s actually kind of fun, which ends up being good in another way. So it adds a little bit of culture, which is probably one of the harder things in the remote work environment is establishing and developing a culture, it seems kind of it seems kind of random how the culture is going to happen. Whereas in person, there’s a vibe, there’s a neighbourhood in town that you’re in, that makes you act a certain way or feel a certain way, places that you go to eat around where you work, kind of, you know, that changes things in the dynamic a bit. But my employees are spread out throughout the country. And sometimes throughout the world.
Like for example, we have a couple of employees who are just randomly in Australia, or South Korea or something like that. You know, I’m personally going to be in Mexico in a few weeks. And it’s so we’re all floating all over the world. And because of that, we never really know what’s going on with the other person in their day to day life. But at the same time, when I really sat down and thought about it a while back, that’s not necessary for a successful company. And I would rather…
Paul: Not anymore.
Jeremiah: Yeah, not anymore. Not this type of company. And I would really like to offer that freedom to my team and have them really enjoy closing their laptop and looking around and be like, Oh my gosh, I love where I am. And they love it so much that they’re comfortable opening back up their laptop and working working again. You know, it’s wonderful when that’s the case. You don’t feel chained to a desk. So there are so many benefits and so many challenges to doing remote. And I actually did a really interesting podcast interview with a company called yonder.io, the yonder podcast, and they talk all about remote. That’s their whole thing. So if you want to learn more about remote, I definitely recommend checking out some of their episodes about how companies handle that.
Paul: This show has been sponsored by Yonder, haha.
Jeremiah: Haha, sorry about that, shameless plug.
Paul: You plug away. we should just say Simpletiger at least one more time, simpletiger.com
Jeremiah: Haha that feels cheesy.
Paul: It’s good. So since you made the change and focused on on SaaS, you’ve experienced growth, you’ve selected your niche. Have you spotted any kind of me-to agencies or you know… as a result of what you’ve done? Spotted anyone els or seen other people? Do you see it as a trend that there is going to be more and more agencies?
Jeremiah: I do. And I can’t tell in a lot of the cases if it was us first or them first. But at the same time, I think it is a… I think it is a growing trend. I think the specialty market is important, because you do have an expertise that some people desire. Whereas on the other end, some people are comfortable with the general approach. And so I think there’s some SaaS companies that we will simply never work with because they don’t care about the fact that we focus on SaaS, they don’t think of themselves as a SaaS company, even though they may be they think of themselves as something else.
And that’s that’s fine. I’m not worried about that. I think some of the challenges, actually speaking totally honestly, about being a SaaS focused agency is you’re going to inevitably run into competitors of each other, you have to sort out the conflict of interest situation, which is frustrating, because you don’t want to ever be caught in one. But at the same time, you don’t ever want to turn away business. And so you’ve got to find, you got to find a way to maintain your integrity and do it honestly, genuinely. But at the same time, just be very clear about where there actually is a conflict of interest.
Paul: So has that happened?
Jeremiah: So we’ve… we haven’t actually run into a conflict of interest where we had to turn someone away or anything like that. But we have run into some situations where we had to make sure that we sorted out the details before project occurred. And one company ended up not going with us because we were fully transparent with them that we’re working with a competitor. And and it’s your decision, we knew that we could, we could work with both simultaneously. Because we had done a prerequisite element in order to work with us, which was a bit of a strategy session and some some questionnaire and survey material, which gave us some deeper understanding into who their target clientele were, who their top competitors were until they called each other top competitors. And I agree they were, there was not as much of a client overlap or customer overlap on their part. And so I kind of felt honest in saying that, I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest here. We’re going after two different audiences. But at the same time, I completely respect your decision. So if you don’t want to work with us, I can’t I can’t change that. So that’s fine. So that’s, that’s really kind of where it goes usually.
Paul: That’s great. And I think that the transparency is everything. So one of the things I was just thinking about is the kind of tools that you use. So we we talked about Moz and I’ve used it just a couple of times in the last few weeks, I think that new keyword explorer tool is awesome.
Paul: What other tools? Marketing stack, SaaS products do you guys use?
Jeremiah: Alright, so I highly recommend… I got a list of tools. I’m specifically thinking about your audience here. And when I think they should be on top of if they’re wanting to crush it with SEO, I highly recommend Ahrefs, Ahrefs.com. And it’s a fantastic tool set, it kind of blows me away, when it first came out, I was shocked. I was like, there’s no way their data is good. Because there’s so much of it and they give it to you quickly and like not for free. But it just seems like an unlimited way. I was just kind of blown away with it. But on using it for well over a couple of years now, we are floored by how how good the platform is. And and for the price. I think it’s awesome. So a Ahrefs would be my first recommendation, we use that for everything from content recommendations and content strategy to link development, outreach and doing competitive analysis. I think it’s fantastic for all of that, I wouldn’t personally use it for technical analysis of your website.
So if you are concerned about the technical structure of your site, I probably use either a tool called Deep crawl, or Screaming Frog, Screaming Frog is the very cheap version. Deep crawl is a very expensive version, deep crawl will do it all for you. So you understand everything and you could walk through it very simply, you can create your issue tracker list of things that you need to take care of on your website with within the crawl and make it really easy. Screaming Frog is going to be definitely a DIY tool, you’re going to have to understand what the terminology means. But it’s a very good crawler. So it’ll give you a full index of your site. So from a technical perspective, those two I think, are really good.
Then in regards to tracking results, which I think is very critical and important. Google Analytics needs to be set up properly, I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve worked with. They’re brilliant, sophisticated companies. And then we look at their analytics, and it is just not configured properly. And what I mean by that mainly is, set up some conversion metric tracking, you can use tools like mixpanel, and kiss metrics and stuff like that to get a better insight into your conversions. But I think if you’re not tracking some sort of conversion, at some point in your marketing funnel, you’re going to be flying blind with all of your marketing efforts. And that’s not cool. You’ve got to find out what works and what doesn’t. And without some good idea into into conversion tracking, you’re not going to know. And I would actually finally add to that, get it while you still can. Because I don’t know when they’re going to pull away more data from us, right? Like from an SEO guy here. I used to be able to tell you exactly what keywords drove what conversions on your site, I now have no clue, right, I have to be very careful about suggesting that this keyword gave a conversion from an organic listing because Google is not providing, they’ve encrypted that data. So yeah, I would say get conversion metric data set up in Google Analytics as much as you can.
Paul: Yeah. So it might be the top of the funnel, you may be just tracking something like a newsletter subscription, or maybe a white paper download or case study download or something through to trial or demo request depending on the type of business. GM got it like say, if you’re not measuring, you know what, what conversions what goals you’re reaching, there’s no point in spending money on marketing.
Jeremiah: Exactly. It reminds me of that… It reminds me of that Alison Wonderland moment where she’s going down this road, and it forks and the Cheshire Cat shows up and she says Which way do I go? And he’s like, well, it all depends on where you want to end up. And she’s like, well, I don’t know where I want to end up and he says, well, it doesn’t matter which way you go. Same is true here if you don’t know what you spend your marketing dollars on you’re never gonna know what works.
Paul: Exactly. And I think that’s a really really good place to leave it a Jeremiah, thank you very much. It’s been great chatting with you and learning a lot about your background and also the Simpletiger story and good luck with everything, I look forward to following your progress.
Jeremiah: Awesome. Thanks so much, Paul. I really appreciate being on the show today. It’s an honour. I hope you have a great day.
Paul: You too.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Jeremiah. For more info on Simpletiger, please visit www.simpletiger.com for more info about this show. And to get our links to iTunes, Google Play SoundCloud, Stitcher and YouTube, check out www.pwlms.com. And if you have any SaaS marketing insights that you’d like to share on the show, please get in touch. Until next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai