Modern Link-Building Strategies for Organic Growth
Audio: Welcome to Page One Or Bust, your ultimate guide to getting on page one of search engines. In this episode, Drew and Ryan dive deep into modern link building strategies with Jeremy Galante, the senior SEO manager at ClickUp. Jeremy is passionate about organic search and project workflows that drive results, and since joining ClickUp as their first SEO hire in 2020, Jeremy has helped grow search traffic to one million plus monthly visitors. The secrets to his success and philosophy on link building just ahead. But first, a word from our sponsor. Page One Or Bust is brought to you by DemandJump. Get insights, drive outcomes with DemandJump. Get started creating content that ranks at DemandJump. com today and now here are your co- hosts, Drew Detzler and Ryan Brock.
Drew Detzler: Welcome back to Page One Or Bust. This is your co- host Drew Detzler, VP of Marketing at DemandJump. I'm joined by my co- host Ryan Brock, the Chief Content Officer at DemandJump.
Ryan Brock: Yo.
Drew Detzler: Today we are talking to Jeremy Galante. Jeremy, welcome to the show.
Jeremy Galante: Thanks Drew, Ryan. Excited to be here.
Ryan Brock: First full- time SEO hire at ClickUp way back in the before times of 2020 or during the whole global breakdown of 2020?
Jeremy Galante: During the global breakdown about August, 2020. We were in the thick of things at that point.
Ryan Brock: Oh, I caught my first bout of COVID that month. That I'll always cherish August, 2020, that's great.
Drew Detzler: Before we get started, let's get to know you a little better. You got into SEO around 2013, if that's right?
Jeremy Galante: Yeah.
Drew Detzler: Take us back to that moment in time. What was that inciting incident that got you into SEO?
Jeremy Galante: I joined an agency right outside of college that had a pretty big SEO department. There was actually over 10 SEOs working on the team, which back then was a pretty large team. We were just kind of getting out of a whole stream of Google updates. They were opening the zoo gates to the Penguins and Pandas and Hummingbirds and all of the updates that were having people really think about best practices and in some cases over- correct a little bit. The good thing with that is I was learning a lot of the right things right out of the gate and missed some of the window of time before that where maybe some of the more hacky solutions that people could get away with were a little more common of a practice, but it was certainly an interesting time to join. It was definitely trending up.
Ryan Brock: That's amazing. I think I first started understanding and working in SEO in like 2011. My first introduction to SEO was all the spammy hacky stuff. My agency, I also owned a content marketing agency and we were doing a lot of SEO already. It was a lot of like, " Hey, so we need to prop up a fake website that's going to talk about, I don't know, refrigerators and how awesome they are, and we're literally only going to use this website to farm back links for Sears and no one's ever going to read the content you're writing. No one cares. It's just there to service the backlink." Of course, once Panda hit, that all blew up and went really sideways, so it was fun to watch that happen.
Jeremy Galante: Yeah, interesting time and just how two years changes so much.
Drew Detzler: That leads us to my next question. You got started in 2013. A lot's changed since 2013. How has your SEO philosophy evolved since then?
Jeremy Galante: Wow. Yeah, it's evolved a lot. First starting, it's a lot of simple best practices, knowing a lot of the basics what not to do, what to do, and I think as you become more experienced in SEO and get to work with bigger brands and have more autonomy, it becomes a little bit more about testing and trying to get ahead of what everybody else is doing versus looking at competitors and copying what they're doing, not necessarily creating something that's not good for the user, but how can we find unique ways to get the good content in front of people without a lot of the traditional methods of building a ton of links or doing a ton of distribution with the content.
Ryan Brock: We think very much alike. I sold my agency to DemandJump because of that same data- driven approach of forget all the stuff that you thought you had to do, let's start from the ground up and focus on what do people actually care about? Can we better understand the whole network of search behavior surrounding a given topic? And by doing so, think about the different on- ramps that people could take to your website. And that's sort of translated into this pillar based marketing approach that we're talking about on this podcast all the time. But one of the things you said that is really important to highlight is just because you're trying something new, you're doing something different doesn't mean that it's not a good user experience. In fact, all this useful content update is is an expression of Google's evolution towards user experience really being the only thing that matters in ranking. I mean, there are a lot of things that matter. Your site needs to load quick, it needs to be accessible on mobile and it needs to actually address questions that Google knows people are asking.
Jeremy Galante: Couldn't you agree more.
Drew Detzler: Let's fast forward to 2020, first SEO manager at ClickUp that presents its own challenges versus coming into to an established position. What was that experience like coming onto ClickUp? What was traffic like? What have you done over the past couple of years?
Jeremy Galante: Our CEO, Zeb Evans, has always been very invested in SEO, so we weren't starting from zero. I think at the time it was probably around 250,000 monthly visitors, a large percentage of that being branded, but there certainly was some foundation built on the blog and with landing pages for some high intent queries. It wasn't exactly starting from zero, but there was a lot of success from the few different content pieces that we were able to build on and expand. A lot of our efforts on the SEO side is non- branded and primarily through our blog where we're creating a lot of different content from listicles to comparisons, guides, templates, things like that. Right now we're about two years past that. I think we're sitting at a 1. 2 million monthly visitors with a much larger percentage of that being non- branded.
Ryan Brock: You called out listicles in particular. Are they a format that seems to work for your audience better than others or what's the idea behind leaning into those?
Jeremy Galante: We've just seen a ton of success from a rankability standpoint as well as a conversion standpoint. It gives us a chance to position our product against a specific either feature type or category or use case and highlight the features that are more applicable there. I think people have a certain expectation with it, and for us, the opportunity was we have such a wide feature set and a wide variety of use cases that there were just so many that we could create and we just kept seeing success, so we just doubled down.
Drew Detzler: That's awesome. And yeah, I love that because quite frankly, I've struggled to get listicles to take off because there's a lot of competition. Everyone wants to rank for 10 best task management software, 10 best content management softwares. What is it that you've done that has enabled you to break through and really land a lot of those listicles on page one?
Jeremy Galante: Ryan kind of alluded to a format and we do have a general template that we follow, including the tool, including the pricing, highlighting pros and cons and a description that generally applies to the specific listicles. It's not just a summary of what that tool is. It's more, " Okay, if this is about marketing tools, let's talk specifically about how that a tool applies to marketers" and in some cases incorporating reviews and trying to find other unique content that specifically applies to that listicle. But I think a lot of other success has just come around to the amount of content we've created in that space and the internal linking that we do. If we mention a tool on one listicle and we have another listicle with that mentioned or it's the primary tool of the other one, we make sure that those are connected in some way. Even though it's a topic cluster, internal linking is still relevant in so many different ways. It's always worked very well for us.
Ryan Brock: What I love about that whole approach, you're thinking about users at a particular stage of the buying journey. It's not about self- promotion, it's not about value propositions, it's about an analysis. Just cut through the noise and give me some analysis and at the end of the day, you might be the right solution for some and you might not be for others. And that's okay. And I've seen that a lot in SaaS businesses and when you look at the data that our platform tends to dredge up around SaaS related topics in particular, a huge chunk of that search behavior is just lists of things. And then there's, " I don't understand this topic at all" level questions that you got to get to as well and sounds like you're doing a pretty good job of addressing all of those stages of the journey through your content.
Drew Detzler: All right. Now that we have a little bit of background on your SEO philosophy, I'd like to talk about a topic that is of interest to us and pick your brain on it and that's link building. You mentioned it briefly there. How are you thinking about link building at ClickUp and at previous jobs?
Jeremy Galante: Great question. Big topic, very controversial with how you invest in something like link building. I think there's the one element of how do we prove the ROI with what we're doing? That's a challenge no matter where you work, no matter what type of industry you're in. Joining ClickUp, our product is really good parity with the other brands around us, but from a standpoint of brands that have been around three times as long as us, the authority gap is going to exist, right? They're going to have a lot more links than us because of how long they've been around, but we do spend time doing link efforts, but it's not the traditional, let's send out 5, 000 cold emails and see if we can get some link exchanges with somebody. It is much more manual. It's from two angles for us, right? It's relevance and in most cases traffic. Is the site that we'd be potentially getting a link from relevant? Is the article relevant to link to us? Would it make sense for a user to land on that page, see that link and then if they clicked on it, would that be a normal experience for them? And then is that brand as a whole, that site that we're getting a link from relevant to us in some way? There's this relevance factor and then does that page that we'd potentially be getting a link from generate traffic? Is Google actually crawling and seeing that page?
Ryan Brock: Again, we're getting close to the sausage factory here, so I understand that there's a little bit you might not want to share, but-
Jeremy Galante: Sure.
Ryan Brock: ...in that manual process, especially if you're doing what all of us want to do if we're doing a link building activity, which is find a sites that's got traffic we want and get it to our website, what are you doing to make that attractive proposition to those publications, those websites?
Jeremy Galante: If this is the first touch of a relationship and we're trying to acquire something like that, I wouldn't call it a link exchange, but sometimes there's an exchange of something. Maybe it'll be something kind cross promotion on social media. Maybe we integrate with their product. We do a lot of outreach with brands that we're connected with in some way. Maybe they integrate with us, we integrate with them. There's some kind of commonality between it, so it becomes more of a co- marketing effort. It's not necessarily an exchange of links as much as it is in exchange of some element of co- marketing.
Drew Detzler: I like what you said there about rather than link building, relationship building, and I think that's a great way to think about.
Ryan Brock: Yeah, and I know that something I've heard Drew say as our VP of Marketing a lot is if the content's good, you're going to get links built to it. I've always interpreted that, I've sort of repudiation of the, " Hey, you don't know me, but I really liked your insert article title here, blog post, and I'd like to exchange links on it." That's something we've all gotten enough of. We've heard it, it brings no value to the table and I think it's easy for people to think that that's what anyone's talking about when they're talking about link building because that's what it used to be, but it's interesting to hear about a more sophisticated approach to it because I think that's not the same thing that Drew's talking about when he says inaudible link building stuff.
Drew Detzler: No, yeah, it is a much more sophisticated approach it, and I love that, and if I'm being completely honest, Ryan, when I say that, that's just because I'm too lazy to go out and build those relationships and build those links. Just kidding. I do believe that, that if you write good content that ranks, Jeremy at ClickUp sees that as a valuable piece of content that he would like, that it would be valuable for his traffic to land on, then then he'll link to it, right? Now, Jeremy, I would like you to tear that to shreds.
Jeremy Galante: I mean, I will say that there's still a way to do cold outreach. You think about something like the broken link outreach method where, " Oh, here's a broken link on your site. We have an article that would actually be a better replacement for that." We've seen those a million times. Maybe you send a message and say, " Just wanted to pass this along," and then maybe a month down the road, three weeks down the road, " Hey, I think this is really relevant to what you already write about. Would you mind giving this a look? Would you mind giving this a share?" And just using a slight variant of that cold outreach to someone that maybe understands your perspective but not asking for something right out of the gate.
Drew Detzler: We talked a little bit about the quality of the backlink and the different effort levels that you'll put into gaining a link and building that relationship. How do you gauge the quality of that potential? You mentioned is this a high traffic piece or is this a really high authority company or is this company aligned really well with what we do? How do you weigh those different factors when deciding what kind of effort to put into it?
Jeremy Galante: Great question. It depends on the type of link building you're doing. If you're trying to do just general site authority building, which I think if you're doing that manually one- to- one, you're not going to ever really be able to show ROI there, so let's assume we're doing more intentional. I'm trying to build links to this specific article because I think it needs a little bit more authority in order to beat out some of the bigger guys. I think in those cases, I mean, it ties back to the relevance of that site, the authority of that site, you might be using proprietary DR/ DA metrics or page authority metrics just to get a general gauge that they're not a nobody, but in most cases it's going to be more about the quality of the content, the traffic to that site, the relevance of that, and as long as it's not a brand new site that started yesterday and it gets traffic and it has some visibility, I think that link is going to be valuable for you. We do a lot of what we would refer to as the surround sound strategy where there are listicles out there. We talked about listicles already, but if there's a list out there of the best task management software, we want to be on that list, and to us, the link might not be as valuable as the actual placement. Determining what that ROI is isn't always going to be the direct impact on link authority, and to answer your question of how we assess the value of that, it's those basic factors of traffic and relevance and whatnot, and also what we think we're going to gain from that, which might not always be a ranking boost. It could be an actual referral boost or a brand visibility boost.
Ryan Brock: When you talk about ROI and marketing, brand visibility is the black box and you can't really put a price tag on that, so that makes a lot of sense.
Drew Detzler: We'll get to a lightning round of questions here, but I have one more question for you before we get to that. Okay, so Jeremy, ClickUp, what is your proudest achievement? What is that article, that blog, that piece that you got on page one that you were not expecting and you were very proud of?
Jeremy Galante: Oh, that's a good one.
Ryan Brock: It is a good one.
Jeremy Galante: I'll say there's two. I'll pick two. One because it's about maintaining, so when I arrived at ClickUp, we ranked either number one or number two on average for free project management software, which was always our number one driving keyword and maintaining that itself is an ongoing task. Just that one, even though there's other variance, there's other keywords, but just that one keyword that we know Zapier is our competitor there and we go back and forth on a monthly basis.
Ryan Brock: You got to target that one.
Jeremy Galante: inaudible hundred percent. The strategy that I would say I am one of the most proud of is probably our Excel and Google Sheets strategy where we create content for intent on people looking how to do things in Google Sheets or Google or Microsoft Excel that is relevant to our product, so how to create a Gantt chart in Excel, how to create a Kanban board in Google Sheets. You saw a lot of search volume around that. I mean, despite being a work management tool and in this software space, spreadsheets are still one of our biggest competitor, right? We've seen a lot of success. I think over a hundred thousand visits a month come from those articles. They don't convert at 10%, but they convert.
Ryan Brock: We are very much cut from the same cloth, Jeremy. More than once we've helped companies get to the position one for Excel branded keywords over Microsoft doing the same thing that you're talking about. That's a good feeling, and I know that feeling and I know why it makes you proud. It's fun to beat the biggest in the game at their own game and then make a little money doing it.
Jeremy Galante: A hundred percent.
Drew Detzler: Before we let you go, we will do a little lightning round of questions here.
Jeremy Galante: Yeah, let's go.
Drew Detzler: All right, Jeremy, the last thing that you searched?
Jeremy Galante: Pixel Watch release data, release information, waiting for that to come out.
Drew Detzler: Okay. You're a Google guy through and through.
Jeremy Galante: I am. My computer is Mac, but everything else is Android.
Drew Detzler: All right. I love it. Do you have a SEO myth that you have busted over your career?
Jeremy Galante: I don't know if I have one very specific, but I will say that duplicate content is hardly as bad that people think it is or is hardly what people think it is, and it's a myth to say that having duplicate content on your site is bad or a penalty. I feel like that's very known now, but there's still a lot of people that maybe overreact there.
Ryan Brock: Because no one's reading every page of your website. If something's so fundamental that you have to communicate it to someone asking a basic question, maybe don't leak it word for word, but you're going to cover the same topics again and again. Totally agree with you a hundred percent.
Drew Detzler: Love that. Okay. Marketing tool that you can't live without. Tool or tools.
Jeremy Galante: Ahrefs constantly for SEO data, I use Google Data Studio a lot for data itself, and I want to throw out there not necessarily specific for marketing, but just screen recording tools, communicating asynchronous through screen recording in SEO is probably not done enough. There's just so many use cases for it.
Drew Detzler: Okay. Your best prediction for SEO trends in 2023?
Jeremy Galante: I'm going to give you two here. One is, and this is the one I'm more hopeful for, that people are going to invest more in true thought leadership and contributor content and having contributors help with content and taking that expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness approach. It's the one that I'm hopeful for. On the absolute opposite end, I don't think AI writing tools are going to slow down despite this helpful content update we just had.
Ryan Brock: Yes, you're probably right, but man, I wish they would.
Jeremy Galante: And as I said, the first one's the one I was hopeful for. This one I predict. I'm just hoping we use it more for good.
Drew Detzler: Before we let you go, what's next for you and ClickUp?
Jeremy Galante: We have a lot of good things coming in ClickUp. Definitely stay tuned. If you haven't heard of our product or tried it out, I highly recommend it. Just go ClickUp. com or if you want to learn specifically on how to use ClickUp for SEO, just maybe search ClickUp SEO. I think we have a pretty good article about that, but we have a lot of big stuff coming for our platform coming into the New Year here.
Drew Detzler: I love it. Try to find a non- branded organic piece to help Jeremy out. Come in via non- branded, please.
Ryan Brock: Awesome. This was incredible. Really appreciate your thoughtful, methodical approach to SEO, and I think it's something that more people need to know about. I just thank you for sharing your good example here.
Drew Detzler: I love it. I think it's was one of our best interviews. I'm looking forward to the episode coming out. Thanks again, Jeremy.
Jeremy Galante: Thanks.
Drew Detzler: All right, Ryan, that was a great conversation with Jeremy. What do you take away most from that conversation we just had?
Ryan Brock: Let's say I take away two things because I agree that was a fantastic conversation. Number one, there is a vision a lot of people in marketing have about what link building is, and it's mired in decade old tactics that we know don't work and are spammy. What we heard about today from Jeremy was a modern, more relationship driven approach to identifying gaps in a specific content strategy and attempting to serve that content strategy with some really thoughtful relationship building and some value exchange, even if it's not a link exchange, and I think that is a different thing from what a lot of people think of when they think of link building, and so that was really great for me to hear. The other part of it too though, is that I think this kind of relationship building link building might make a lot of sense when you're at ClickUp's level. When you're at a level where you're just, you're publishing thousands of pieces of content, you've got hundreds and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of visitors a month like that, you need to be thinking about every little thing you can be doing to increase your odds of winning and staying at the level you're at and then exceeding it next week. But what we've found through pillar based marketing is we can take that authority four website and unseat the authority 45 domain with just a couple of good pieces of content that follow the search behavior that we see in Google in the real world. We've done that and we've done that multiple times, and so there's an extent to which getting started and focusing on writing the content your audience cares about has to be the baseline. It has to be the starting point, and if you get that right and you have a chance to grow to the place that ClickUp's at, definitely listen to Jeremy and follow his example. Because I think it's excellent.
Drew Detzler: Yeah, I agree. I mean, you know full well my philosophy on backlinks. We said it in the episode, create great content, people will link to it naturally, and those are the most valuable backlinks are the ones that are linked to naturally. But I will say that from that conversation with Jeremy, I love his approach to relationship building and the value exchange idea as opposed to just going with the, " Hey, link for a link, what do you say?" Which I believe should die.
Ryan Brock: This is definitely a guy to follow, so make sure you find him online and stay connected because he's got some wonderful ideas.
Drew Detzler: Absolutely. Great guy and great episode. And that is all we have for this episode of Page One Or Bust. We'll see you next time.
Audio: Page One Or Bust is brought to you by DemandJump. Know the exact content to create to increase first page rankings and drive outcomes with DemandJump. Get started for free today at DemandJump. com.
The traditional tactics for link building don't work anymore. In this episode, Jeremy Galante, Sr. SEO Manager at ClickUp, shares modern ways to build links that are sustainable and powerful. He breaks down why the key to winning at link building isn’t always what you do, but how you do it, and offers advice for marketers looking to drive organic traffic.
Got a topic idea? Hot take? Guest pitch? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us at PageOne@DemandJump.com.