Digital brand building agency uSERP’s Jeremy Moser is all about making link building great again. A known expert in the fields of digital PR and link building strategy, Jeremy co-founded uSERP in the hopes of spearheading reliable link building tactics that leave the questionable practices of yesterday in the dust.
Jeremy’s also a reputed authority when it comes to building brand mentions that boost rankings. And in 2020, he acquired and became CMO at Wordable. Given his expertise and experience, you can imagine how thrilled we are to feature Jeremy on this installment of Agency Gurus and tap into his unique insights. Read on for a detailed analysis on how to improve your agency’s growth and rankings through link building, digital PR, and brand mentions.
Cloudways: Glad to have you on Jeremy! Can you start by telling us the story behind uSERP? What moved you to begin this agency?
Jeremy: Great to be here, thank you for having me!
Let me start with a quick background on uSERP to help frame this.
uSERP is an agency specializing in authoritative brand mentions, link building, and digital PR at scale to boost content rankings, brand authority, and direct organic growth.
In 2019, I was working almost exclusively in content strategy and writing a bit of high-level content marketing pieces for some of the largest brands in SaaS, finance, and more. My business partner and I did some link building and PR at the time too, but we were mostly focused on content production and fulfilling a growing need for better content.
Quickly we started getting requests from existing clients and referrals to assist in link building, PR, and basically promoting that content to rank higher on SERPs.
The light-bulb instantly went off: we had hundreds upon hundreds of connections to some of the biggest, most authoritative websites on the internet through our work. We had the ability to quickly build more connections, and utilize those connections to earn relevant mentions for clients.
When some people hear the phrase “link building,” they think shady tactics. Link building has been seen as a grey area for such a long time. It’s been manipulative, outright against Google TOS, and the cause of countless penalties.
With uSERP, we’re hoping to change the stigma associated with outdated, shady link building tactics.
We all know that backlinks from good, diverse sources is key for ranking. It’s been stated by Google time and time again that it’s tied with content quality for ranking well.
The only problem? Acquiring real authority backlinks and press mentions requires a decade of connections, content mastery, and saleable processes.
Piggybacking off our success in content production, we formed uSERP to do just that.
We now work with brands both major (billion dollar companies) and small (one-person startups) to acquire some of the most impactful backlinks and brand mentions they can get, directly improving content ranking, organic traffic, and their bottom line.
Cloudways: uSERP specializes in improving organic growth and direct sales through brand mentions and link building. What’s the first thing agencies need to know about boosting ranking through building brand mentions?
Jeremy: Brand mentions and backlinks are essential to ranking well online in most niches.
While there are some niches where you can surely rank without a single backlink, most competitive niches require them.
Think of backlinks like a Yelp review, and Google is the customer looking for a place to eat.
Is Google going to pick brand Y with 300 low quality reviews (read: backlinks)? Or is Google going to pick brand X with 1,000 reviews from verified, professional foodies?
Stellar content is the first step. But, then you need to promote that content. And not just on social channels. Backlinks are the fuel for your content to rank well on SERPs. They signal trust and utility to Google. The first thing you should know is that (1) backlinks are a critical piece of the content puzzle and (2) you should strive for high-authority backlinks from niche relevant sites.
Cloudways: There are plenty who would argue that organic growth is dead across many mature platforms. Given how difficult it can be to develop major reach in 2020, would you say it’s worth it to focus on growing it through brand mentions? How can agencies and brands get around the issue of stagnating organic growth?
Jeremy: Absolutely. We are seeing increasingly lower rates of organic reach, especially on social media, and even on organic searches with SERP features that eliminate the need to actually click through to content.
If you are struggling to see organic growth, investing in brand mentions can dramatically increase your search presence beyond just branded searches for your company name.
The more competitive your niche (SaaS, finance, lawyers) the better content and brand mentions you’ll need.
It’s absolutely worthwhile to invest in brand mentions for organic search traffic growth. However, you can’t simply point 10 new links to poorly optimized pages and expect to dominate. Your pages need to match search intent, touch on the right topics, and be optimized well.
Combine that with high-authority, niche relevant links and mentions and your rankings will climb.
Cloudways: What are some tools you recommend agencies use to track brand mentions and measure their performance?
Jeremy: My favorite tools are currently Ahrefs, Buzzstream, and Mention.com.
Using Ahrefs, you can monitor detailed metrics on your domain rating, backlink profile, and keyword targeting.
Buzzstream is a fantastic outreach tool that we use, allowing you to track live links from campaigns.
Mention is also great for more direct brand mentions online, although if you are a smaller brand without multiple brand mentions per day online naturally, it’s likely not worthwhile.
Cloudways: What results can agencies reasonably be able to expect from quality link-building efforts? How can agencies use link-building to improve outreach, generate leads, and develop deeper and more meaningful customer relationships?
Jeremy: I think this depends on what the main KPIs are, as they can be diverse in the link space.
Some of the main KPIs our clients have, and we have internally, are domain rating / authority growth which improve ability to rank across all pages, keyword ranking growth, organic traffic, referral visits, and direct product / service signups.
Quality link building efforts, dependent on scale and niche, can drive results extremely fast. At uSERP, we recently helped Nav rank #1 for “business credit cards” with just 3 months of authority backlink building. They currently outrank NerdWallet and CreditCards.com, both of which have a far stronger domain authority. That single term is worth millions upon millions of dollar per year in referral revenue.
Our focus has been on quality, not quantity. We don’t believe in building 300 crappy links with a PBN. We’ve seen far better results by focusing on the cream of the crop: DR70+ websites that are niche relevant.
For specific metrics, we grew our own domain authority from 0 to 72 in just 3 months of creating great content and distributing brand mentions on niche relevant sites.
Agencies can use link-building to fuel everything else they are doing for clients. That great content you just created for them? Earn backlinks to it and you’ll see rankings climb fast, producing more traffic and leads.
Those landing pages you optimized? Drive ready to convert traffic from high-impact links.
Cloudways: Link building is often seen as a thankless exercise – a lot of work for returns that are slow to come by. In your opinion, what are the factors that commonly cause link building strategies to fail or frustrate?
Jeremy: Absolutely. I see this a lot. In fact, most people fail to even acquire their first backlink. Somewhere around 95% of pages online have zero backlinks.
It’s often a case of “the rich get richer” with link building — giant brands dominate the SERPs for your keywords because they already have backlinks, connections, promotion in place. But by being in those top spots, they also acquire more backlinks naturally, without lifting a finger. They have built years of connections to drive links overnight.
So you can quickly see the problem for brands who aren’t ranking on the top page: they need great links. fast.
The biggest barriers to growth with link building are (1) quality, (2) quantity/consistency and (3) scaling strategy.
Let’s start with quality: Backlinks aren’t created equal. Getting a backlink from HubSpot is more valuable than a backlink from xyzmarketingblog.com. To be specific, you want backlinks that:
– are high domain authority, established, trusted sites
– are from unique root domains; 10 links from 1 domain is less impactful than 10 links from 10 domains
– are linked from sites who link to a select amount of sites
– mentioned naturally in contextually relevant content
If you’ve been generating low quality backlinks, you can expect low quality returns.
Next, you need quantity and consistency. You need these high-quality links to consistently roll in every year, every month, and every week. Just getting a single backlink isn’t enough for Google to rank you top page. It’s not enough of a trust signal. You need many domains linking back to you on a consistent basis. This tells Google that your content is great, relevant, and helpful not just last month, but this month and the next month going forward.
In other words, if you built 10 links one month and then called it a year, your rankings likely increased month 1, and dropped off after.
Lastly, scaling strategy. Most people will compile a short list of 50 websites that they’d want links from by searching “guest post sites.” They find emails, and they send out a basic campaign asking to guest post or place a link.
The problem becomes apparent very quickly: everyone is doing this. You’re vying for attention against hundreds of others sending the same, boring emails.
The results, depending on your niche, site targets, outreach email quality and copy, etc, will vary dramatically. On an average list of 50 websites, with perfect email targeting, a strong mutual value proposition, and the right timing will net maybe 5-10 conversations. From there, only a few will actually link back to you or publish your content. From there, the pool shrinks again with publishers removing your links or nofollowing them.
Scaling strategy is usually where link building strategies implode. Getting a few guest post acceptances sounds great, but now who do you have to write that content? Who handles submitting it, following up, and ensuring it’s gone live?
It’s not very difficult to email or LinkedIn message people in your niche to collaborate on link building. The true difficulty comes in scaling this to a point where quality backlinks at scale are moving the needle.
Cloudways: When it comes to digital PR, what results should agencies be aiming for beyond links? How can digital PR be used not just to improve ranking, but to further amplify a brand?
Jeremy: Great question. Links are great for SEO. But beyond that, one of the biggest goals we aim for with digital PR and more brand-focused mentions is amplification, referral visits, and adoption.
In other words, are these brand mentions earned on relevant websites? Are these relevant sites popular enough to drive referral traffic? If yes to both, you start to see direct adoption of the product or service.
Digital PR, whether it’s brand or person features in big media, or quotes in articles, can have huge impacts on thought leadership, brand amplification, and social proof as well.
Cloudways: SEO is a game that changes its rules every year. What resources should agencies use to stay on top of the latest in SEO? And what upcoming content marketing and SEO trends are you excited about?
Jeremy: Definitely. My favorite resources currently are:
Search Engine Journal — great for technical SEO and understanding what is and isn’t “cool” with Google on a daily basis.
Orbit Media Blogger Survey — this is a fantastic resource each year to understand how to create better content for both search engines and people. It’s paramount to have great content when building links and earning digital PR.
The current trend I am most excited about is unique studies and data.
Studies like Orbit Media’s blogger survey for example. These are fantastic from all angles of SEO and PR.
They build brand leadership in the market through trusted, professional data. That data builds hundreds of backlinks, passively. If done well, it can become a trusted resource that people are referencing every year.
Cloudways: What would you say are the most common SEO mistakes that digital agency owners make in 2020? And what SEO tools do you recommend agencies use to handle their client websites?
Some common SEO mistakes I see with agency owners on the client-facing side are typically:
– Taking any and every client; some clients drain your resources for very little return. They won’t make good case studies. And you may not even be able to move the needle for them. Prioritize long-term growth over short term revenue.
– Not conducting a baseline audit: before we ever do link building or PR for a brand, we conduct a baseline audit to see IF and HOW we can help them. Getting a sale and closing a lead is great. But how can you turn that initial project into years of growth for your client? If they grow, you grow. Don’t just sell services to sell services. Sell projects that can have an impact and expand your customer lifetime value.
– Lack of SEO diversity. Content is great, but you need to then promote it and build links. Conversely, you can build links all day, but if the content is 100 words and doesn’t match search intent, it’s not ranking first page, period. Assess what your client needs to do on their own (or with you) before you can really make an impact.
To manage client websites, my personal favorite tools are Ahrefs for link building, marketmuse for content optimization, Wordable (shameless plug for my SaaS I just acquired!) for content publishing, and Screaming Frog for technical SEO.
Cloudways: And lastly, who would you like to see us interview next in this series?
Jeremy: Love this question!
Would love to see you interview:
– Andy Crestodina – Orbit Media
– Brad Smith, my business partner who runs Codeless
– Dmitry Dragilev from Justreachout.io, who has great insights in the digital PR world
We appreciate your comprehensive and enthusiastic insights, Jeremy! Thanks again for joining us!
Manal works in digital marketing at Cloudways, where she shines up content primarily by torturing the Oxford comma. After hours, you can find her rambling about books, movies and music, and ranting about media and politics to anyone foolhardy enough to listen.