James Reynolds is a British expatriate living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is the founder of Veravo, a Dubai-based search engine marketing and website traffic agency, and the host of the Traffic Jam Podcast. James is fanatical about all things search, social and content on the web – from his blog, to Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
James has spoken at conferences in the United Kingdom, Australia, Bahrain and UAE, to name just a few, and have appeared alongside notable speakers such as Michael Gerber (E-Myth), Larry Winget, Chris Brogan and Scott Stratten in the successful Guinness World Record attempt for the longest-ever online seminar.
In 2014, James was named Chairman of the Middle East’s first and only search engine marketing conference The Search Exchange. James is also a contributor to several leading publications and mentors start-up companies in his free time.
Magazine MN caught up with James to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and Veravo, and get more insights on how to do SEO and blogging right.
Magazine MN: James, tell us a bit about your background and entrepreneurial journey.
James: As a teenager I was set on a career as a professional rugby player and was signed to Northampton Saints, the current English champions. When that didn't work out (mostly because I am small in size for pro rugby), I opted to pursue a career in design and enrolled in a pre-degree foundation course. After two failed attempts at completing the course, I dropped out and after a few part time jobs I took a position as a photographer’s assistant at a local photo studio. Initially I wanted to become a photographer, but after getting exposure to sales, marketing and day-to-day management, I eventually found myself in the role of Studio Manager.
When I joined the company I was the first full-time employee, and over the course of the next 10 years the business grew from a small three-person outfit to a team of 50 doing multiple millions in revenue per annum.
That job was my apprenticeship in entrepreneurship. I was paid to run someone else's business, but without all the associated risk, a bit like playing virtual poker without fronting up for chips.
After 10 years and unfulfilled promises of commission payments, a directorship and without being paid for 3 months, I was forced out of the business. The very following day after quitting my job, I started a marketing agency, the same business I run today.
Magazine MN: What are the greatest lessons you learned while running your business?
James: Sell products, not services. This may sound strange since my businesses are service based. But what I mean is to sell services as products. When you bundle up services into packages you can get paid upfront (giving you a 100% cash flow positive business) and can avoid the requirement for custom jobs. I have been able to build highly scalable SEO and PPC agencies by selling packaged services.
The best businesses are subscription-based. I learned this lesson the hard way when managing the photo studio. In that business most of our customers were one-off, since a very small number people would repeat a family portrait session more than once every few years. This meant we would have to go out and find new customers every time we needed to make sales. In contrast my current business is built on a subscription model. When people buy a SEO service from us, we are paid to deliver that service every month until the customer says stop. The huge advantage to this is that we sell the service only once but get paid over and over again.
Magazine MN: What are your favourite books on entrepreneurship/marketing and why?
James: My favourite entrepreneurial and business book is Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. This is one of the most complete and actionable books for aspiring fast growth companies. It covers everything from building a culture to the agenda to follow in daily meetings. I first came across this book 7 or 8 years ago and still refer to it regularly. My favourite marketing book is Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got by Jay Abraham. It's a relatively old book now but the principles contained inside it still ring true today.
Magazine MN: Tell us about Veravo. What services does it offer? What kind of customers do you work with?
James: veravo.com, the website, is full of videos and podcasts with free traffic tips and training that will help you build a thriving and profitable audience for your website. Training on the site covers topics such as search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing. It is also home to the Traffic Jam podcast, a weekly show that brings on guests with expertise in all areas of online marketing. I’ve hosted shows with Rand Fishkin, Perry Marshall, Jonathan Mizel, Jay Baer and Joe Pulizzi amongst others. Veravo, the business, is made up of two website traffic agencies, SEO Sherpa which provides organic search engine optimisation and Click Jam which delivers managed Google Adwords and other performance media services. Between the two agencies we have close to sixty customers under management right now. We service businesses mainly in Dubai and the Middle East market area.
Magazine MN: According to your observation, what are the top SEO mistakes most businesses make?
James: One of the most common mistakes I see SEOs making is creating content then building links to that content. A far better approach is to identify the link opportunities first and then create the content that services those opportunities.
To do this you must first identify the types of content that have worked in your market in the past. You can use Google to find the highest ranking content, AHRefs for the most linked to content and Buzz Sumo for the most socially shared content.
Once you've identified successful content, you should then look for ways to improve that content. That could be improving the information, or the design and presentation. Using your observations you should then create your new and better content piece. The final step is to go back to the people who shared the old content and put your new and better content in front of them.
Going about things this way around will get you far more links and a massively improved result.
Magazine MN: How important is blogging for improving search engine rankings? How to make blog posts SEO friendly?
James: A blog gives you the ability to create content that matches the search queries performed by your prospects, so for that reason it is very important. Here are a few tips that will help make your blog posts more SEO friendly:
1. Write longer (much longer) posts.
The average word count of a top 10 ranking page is more than 1500 words. If you are writing posts around 400 to 500 words you are not providing the depth of content that Google will reward. My advice is to post less frequently, but when you do post to produce the best and most in-depth content you can.
2. Use LSI keywords
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords are a fancy way of saying closely related words.
Using LSI keywords in your content will give Google more context and help them better understand your post. To find LSI keywords all you need to do is type your main keyword into the Google search box and then scan the results for other words that are in bold font. These bolded words are words Google believes are related to your main keyword and by including them you help Google understand better the intent of your blog post.
3. Chunk your copy
When people read your blog posts for longer it signals to Google that your content is good. Two ways I encourage my readers to read all the way through the content are (1) Chunking my copy down - when you break up your content into one or two line paragraphs it becomes a much more easy to read (2) I build intrigue with short "open" sentences.
“This is what happened:”
These are examples of short sentences that build intrigue, and they keep people reading on as no one likes to leave with incomplete information.
Magazine MN: Does duplicate content have a negative effect on search engine rankings?
James: The question of duplicate content comes up time and time again. In short, if not handled correctly it can damage your chances of ranking. However to answer this question fully will take more than we have time for here, so here is a blog post I wrote that will answer the question of duplicate content fully.
Magazine MN: In your opinion, what are the top reasons why business blogs fail to convert readers into customers? What are your tips to increase a blog’s conversion rates?
James: Most blogs have a conversion mechanism (such as a free report) to convert readers into subscribers or customers, but the issue in most cases is that the offer is irrelevant to the content and therefore conversions are very low. Instead of having one generic offer, I would advise creating a specific opt in for each blog post you create.
It does require more effort, but the reward is well worth it since conversion rates of 25% or more are possible. The average conversion rate of a blog is normally 1-2%.
James Reynolds was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska