Interview with Adam Steele – From Marketer to COO & The Basics of Link Building – Episode #80

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“Links plus content equals profit.”

Adam is the co-founder and COO at Loganix, a fulfillment house for SEO. Notable clients of Loganix include Backlinko, FreshBooks, and Drift (now they are making a shift to working primarily with agencies). Adam spends most of his days building links and SEO products for agencies and in-house marketers.

Questions and topics we covered include:

    • What qualities does Adam look for when hiring team members?
    • What skills are needed to create and grow an agency?
    • When does an agency begin to mature?
    • Why is link building still a valid way to grow a presence online?
    • What are some common misconceptions new marketers have when it comes to link building?

 

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:02  

Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Suttles Digital Marketing podcast, which is also the people of digital marketing. And today’s guest is Adam Steele. Hi, Adam, how are you?

 

Adam Steele  0:16  

I’m doing well, Kenny, thank you very much for having me.

 

Kenny Soto  0:20  

So I’m very excited to have you on the podcast. Before we started recording, I mentioned that I always love to have agency owners on the podcast because as an agency owner, you face a unique challenge. And that challenge is getting more clients servicing the ones you already have and growing your team in the right way. 

 

Before we dive into the specific lessons, tactics, and strategies you use to grow your business, I first wanted to get more context on you as a professional. So my first question for you is what got you started and what got you interested in the world of digital marketing?

 

Adam Steele  0:59  

I think like a lot of folks, and you can tell me if this is true or not, but it’s been my experience, they start in affiliate marketing. And for me, that’s where it all began, it was being exposed to an affiliate marketing agency, and learning about the world. That is, I was a digital marketer more than marketing fairly. So email marketing, I think paid ads, via Facebook were just coming about at that time. 

 

So this was like 2010 ish. And, and a little bit of organic search. So a little bit of SEO at the time. So I gotta see it from the perspective of actual compliance. So I got to review traffic sources and quality there so that our advertisers, sort of broke, we were a broker between advertisers and the affiliates so that our advertisers didn’t pay for anything that wasn’t actually valuable or quality.

 

Kenny Soto  1:56  

What were some of the early challenges you faced at the beginning of your career?

 

Adam Steele  2:03  

Like at the affiliate marketing agency, or thereafter?

 

Kenny Soto  2:06  

Well, let’s start with the affiliate marketing agency.

 

Adam Steele  2:09  

Let’s just say everything was new. So I didn’t know that there was such a thing as SEO at the time that you could, for lack of better phrasing, manipulate Google search results I’d always just looked at it and just understood, I guess I never really thought any deeper as to why do things show up the way that they do. It was just, that’s just the way they show up. And that’s good enough for me. And so learning how all that comes to really blows my mind. And it was something of a learning curve.

 

Kenny Soto  2:45  

How would you describe SEO? As you have had experienced that day? What would be your definition?

 

Adam Steele  2:53  

Jokingly, I would say links plus content equals profit. And I would say, that a lot has changed in SEO. But I think the core tenants have always remained the same. And so I, I mean, I said it jokingly, but quite honestly, some of the biggest pieces of the pie, I would say are content, so kind of your on-site stuff. 

 

And the links that you point to said content, and then other all kinds of other little details, and I don’t mean to make it less than it is. But for most sites, that’s the bulk of it. If you talk with agencies and ask them where their budget goes. Oftentimes, it’s links and content and just sort of content optimization.

 

Kenny Soto  3:46  

How would you describe your current job?

 

Adam Steele  3:50  

It’s a good question. My partner would ask me the same thing and I’d say I’m more on the product side of things, product and operations, a little bit of both. So the products that that log annex offers. I’m, I spent a lot of time just sort of fine-tuning them as well as creating new ones. And then on the operations side. 

 

Lately, it’s been more or less like, how does this individual SOP work within our organization or creating SOPs, and now it’s kind of more okay, well, how do people within our organization interact with the products, the SOPs with each other with it? So it’s a little bit more on the are we properly resourced? Do we are our needs? You know, how many orders do we have coming in to meet our actual resources? 

 

And are those resources people being effective and efficient? So are we getting as much as possible? A lot of our team members are giving them a knife up the right tools and training and all that kind of stuff in order for them to be successful at their individual roles. 

 

So it’s a sort of dance between those two things, formally my role as CEO, but I’m definitely not up to snuff to really call myself that. And that’s not just being modest. That’s having been exposed to some real CEOs that actually know what they’re doing. But it really is, it’s a little bit of everything.

 

Kenny Soto  5:33  

I have two follow-up questions. The first one is, can you give more context into what your company does? That’s the first one.

 

Adam Steele  5:39  

Sure, for the longest time, we’ve kind of been a fulfillment house for SEO. So in-house SEO comes to us. So it could be like fresh books or Active Campaign or you know, SAS companies, they come to us, they’ve got an in-house team, and they’re just looking for scale. And so they come to us, and we help them with scale and link building or scaling content, or scale and whatever. 

 

Or agencies, maybe they don’t have SEO, maybe they’re graphic design. And they have been chasing project project project, hoping that their next paycheck is around the corner. You could take a group, like a look at it, bolt them on, and immediately, so long as you have clients that trust you, and you can sell to them, you’ve got recurring revenue, and you didn’t before. So we are sort of the SEO arm of their business. 

 

And that’s what we’ve been doing for the longest time is we have we are we can be everything to everyone. And this year, we’ve, we are working to change that where we work with agencies. And that’s, that’s it. Now, if you found us, and you are a non-agency, great, you’re going to pay much less than you would otherwise pay for saving links or content or what have you. 

 

Because you’re not going to an agency that’s going to exit great, but that’s not who we’re taught who we’re targeting. We’re trying to build agencies for helping agency owners and agency teams build their businesses, through fulfillment and just general education around owning and running an agency.

 

Kenny Soto  7:23  

My second question, my second follow-up, comes because you are the first marketer I’ve had on the podcast whose trajectory led them to the CEO role. Why did you all I

 

Adam Steele  7:38  

Own the company, so I could kind of just pick now but yes,

 

Kenny Soto  7:42  

So why did you decide to champion the CEO role instead of CEO, CMO, etc?

 

Adam Steele  7:52  

I was the CEO when it was just a just be that and by that, I mean, I was the only owner. When I partnered a few years ago, it was clear at that time that we needed an adult in the room. And my partner was just that he came in with a great vision. And he came in with great it’s got to be more than vision, you know what I mean? Like you have to be an operator, especially once you start achieving some sort of size. 

 

And he’s, he’s an operator like he can really run a growing business. And he can balance that he can, I can bring him a vision, and he can actually kind of bring it to life. But also, he’s sort of the counter to me, I’m constantly dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. And then he kind of says, hey, hey, hey, hey, hold on. Yes, we can do this.

 

But in reality, this is how it’s going to work out. Here’s the budget, here’s the forecast, like, it’s stuff that I was not good at, and don’t aim to be good at. So it was it didn’t happen all at once. Like it was kind of it wasn’t just like, oh yeah, habit. It was for a while, I had to sit with it and was like, am I can I lose that identity? Because it becomes a sort of part of my identity and how I know and valued myself if you will. 

 

And so I certainly don’t claim that it was instant and it was like obvious and boom, boom, boom. But now three years later, certainly the best thing I ever did. So CEO came about just because what’s under what’s next after seeing? Yeah, see, oh, and you know, like operations stuff. And so that’s, but I don’t Imagine a couple of years from now that I will be in that role. I just don’t think we look annex needs something better if I’m being honest.

 

Kenny Soto  10:09  

Got it. This is a perfect segue to asking you, what qualities you look for when hiring new team members. 

 

Adam Steele  10:16  

Well, there’s one that’s kind of cliche, but you know, what I have, what I, what I enjoyed sitting down for a beer with that individual or coffee or whatever. Do they, again, kind of cliche match the culture because we’ve had people that didn’t, and it was so fast, they, they were totally capable? But it was so obvious so quickly, that they were not a good fit. And they were upsetting people. 

 

And just, that’s, I can train a person to be good at their job, generally speaking. But culture is kind of different, you kind of either are or you aren’t. And so when I sit down for a beer with them or do they kind of jive with sort of our general approach, and then I can they actually do they have a record of actually doing the work doing it, and doing it right. And if I can kind of check those three boxes, that’s a pretty good start, I would think.

 

Kenny Soto  11:21  

Framing the next question in a way where we’re not asking this for an agency owner right now. But for an aspiring agency owner? How do you decide which business partners you want to work with long-term? What are the qualities you’re looking people should be looking for? If they’re trying to start your own agency?

 

Adam Steele  11:47  

In finding a partner.

 

Kenny Soto  11:48  

Yeah, a leader of someone who can be a co-leader.

 

Adam Steele  11:54  

Again, I never actually saw one. Maybe I didn’t see you say that. But it, it just sort of happened where I was working with a fellow he was Aaron Haines is his name. He was someone I bought links off of Ark yet, you know, he had the outreach part of the business. And so he would make that happen, he would make links happen, I would buy them and resell them. 

 

And between us, we were exchanging so much service and, quite frankly, money, that after two or three years of doing it, and doing it well, and increasing and increasing how well we were doing it in terms of money, and just effectiveness, efficiency, etc. It just kind of became obvious that there’s it kind of doesn’t make sense for us to be separate any longer. We were already working so darn closely. So it found me. But

 

Kenny Soto  13:08  

Do you recommend that anyone who’s starting their own agency, start it on their own and then let it happen serendipitously? Or is there some kind of strategy that you might recommend?

 

Adam Steele  13:22  

Everyone’s different everyone, when I first started in August 2010, or maybe it might even have been a few months before that I did have a partner. And we just kind of drifted. You know, just like any other relationship, people drift and his focus went somewhere else. And my focus kind of stayed put. 

 

And I think if with an agency agencies are funny because it’s a bunch of businesses in one business. It’s, you know, typical digital marketing agencies, not just providing SEO, a lot of times their product, providing PPC, and even SEO can be broken down into a number of different things like content, and links. And CRO, for example, and a number of other things, and what you’re looking at it, when you count all of them up is a number of businesses nested under one business. 

 

And that can be tremendously overwhelming because you’re having to figure out how to do all of those things. Right? We were kind of lucky in that we, for the first number of years, we kind of found the who, so you know, when I wanted to do PPC, I found the who, and added that arm to my business. Here, he already had PPC going on. And so I just added him on. And then all I had to do was manage the customer. 

 

The same thing with links, Aaron at the time, I did all the outreach, etc. I didn’t have to build all those SOPs, hire the people to train the people to manage the people and In a lot of ways, that is what look annex is to other businesses now is we are the who we are that that bolt-on solution for their business so that they don’t have to figure out the what for every type of service that they offer, they can just find the who, both who on who does a really good job, and they can focus on what they do best.

 

Kenny Soto  15:24  

What skills are needed to create and grow an agency? Obviously, create, obviously, people skills, people skills are one for sure, I’m assuming.

 

Adam Steele  15:37  

Yeah, people skills will get you very far. Okay. You know, if you can convince somebody that you actually know what you’re doing, and get them to pay you, people skills will help a lot there. And I think that I floated on that for a long time coming from the service industry, I had those people skills as a, as a waiter, as a bartender, as somebody who had worked in that industry for many, many years. 

 

That was already a part of me. And so I could convince people that I actually knew what I was talking about. So I think that can get you got me pretty far, I have to say, but you also took to grow an agency, you’ve got to be an operator. And I don’t know how to explain what that is exactly. 

 

But it is somebody who is a doer who is fickle about the details, does not mind spending a lot of time in documents, just writing out processes, and updating those processes and improving those processes. And it’s, you can hire for that. But in the early days, you know, you don’t always have the budget. And you don’t always know who you need at that time. So it’s a people person, for sure. But it’s also a terrific operator if you want to grow and scale.

 

Kenny Soto  17:10  

What are the signals that indicate when an agency is starting to mature?

 

And if you want to, you can also give your own definition of, quote-unquote, maturity for an agency.

 

Adam Steele  17:30  

Sure, I don’t have a definition. But I think I have an answer to your first question. I think when what you did to get where you are, is no longer what you need to get where you want to go, there gets to be a point, I don’t know, if it’s a plateau, or if it’s just that amount of resistance that you feel both internally and externally. 

 

It’s just something like a barrier where things start to fall apart, where you have to reassess everything that you built to date. And, and kind of cut it away and replace it with something entirely new. And we’ve gone through that a number of times during our growth, and we’re going through it again, right now.

 

Kenny Soto  18:17  

What is link building?

 

Adam Steele  18:23  

hyperlinked text, or in an article, probably, on a website, that points to a page on your or your client’s website, is when we talk about building a link. That’s basically what we’re referring to.

 

Kenny Soto  18:45  

Why is link building still a valid way to grow a presence online?

 

Adam Steele  18:51  

I think it’s, it’s a way it’s one of the bigger ways in which Google evaluates trust. So, you know, they trust another website, because, you know, maybe another website trusted them are a whole bunch of websites that Google trusts, trust them. So Google trusts this website. And that website then links to say you. 

 

And now by extension, they sort of said, Hey, caddies, a good guy, you can trust him Google. And this is kind of a ridiculous way of putting it I realized, but in my mind, and this is often how I explain it to other people. But in my mind, that’s kind of one website lending credibility to another.

 

Kenny Soto  19:45  

Can you think of any common misconceptions new marketers have when it comes to link-building?

 

If not misconceptions about mistakes that you see other brands doing.

 

Adam Steele  20:07  

I think link building can be really complicated. If you allow it to be really complicated. It can be very, is it the perfect niche match? Like, is this super, super, super relevant? Am I getting a link to my gardening site from another gardening site? 

 

Or you can get really obsessive about third-party metrics that Google doesn’t really give a crap about? Or you can really fuss over it? Hope but does this site? Have my audience? Will people click this link and go to my website and buy stuff? There’s, there are so many ways to measure success. 

 

And I think it’s, I think, What Works tends to be a little bit more simple than that. And if you let all that stuff stand in your way, all those sorts of measurements of success, you can find yourself left with nothing. 

 

And that can be really frustrating for, say, an account manager who has promised a client something, an agency owner who’s put their name on the line for something, and for a client, who was told they would receive x in y timeframe, and they have nothing I often get calls from, from folks that have were promised, you know, they paid 15 grant, and they got one link. 

 

And there was like, How could this be? How could this be? And you know, when I look at this sort of scenario, I think, where the provider drew the line was just kind of unrealistic. Like they were just fussing about too much stuff that at the end of the day, is not that important in terms of moving the needle and the needle is, is usually rankings, to be honest. For most people, it’s just they want their rankings to increase.

 

Kenny Soto  22:11  

Tying back to simplicity, what’s a tactic you’d like to use to essentially get some low-hanging fruit when you finish onboarding a new client, and you get started on building out their link-building strategy?

 

Adam Steele  22:26  

Kinda depends on the client. If they have no brand whatsoever, then I can’t go out there and try and find, you know, mentions of them that weren’t linked. But if they do, well, then yes, that could work. And that could be quickly, or that could work quickly. 

 

Another option is, you don’t always links can be obtained in a number of different ways, it doesn’t strictly have to be a brand new piece of content on a brand new page, which would sort of force one to be beholden to somebody else’s editorial process, which can be time-consuming, and annoying. 

 

Another way to assure this is to revisit existing content on other people’s websites and to make suggestions about existing articles. And, that sort of strategy has a whole lot of names for basically the same thing as just editing an existing article, creating more value in an existing article. 

 

And it can be approached in a number of different ways. Some people just say, hey, I want to pay you for an edit of this article. And it’s that simple. But, you know, as you get it, as you start approaching better websites, it becomes a little bit more complicated what additional value, am I the site owner going to receive? If I make that edit, what can you give me? 

 

Are you going to contribute that to extra paragraphs, that are going to add this much more value and mean, you know, I’m going to rank for this much more or whatever approach you to take? Anyways, I digress. But that can be a much faster and easier way of getting some quick links, than starting fresh with a new article.

 

Kenny Soto  24:20  

What does it take to balance work and your life as a parent?

 

Adam Steele  24:30  

I think one, I see a lot of young parents in. So in my sort of circle, if you will, and they are both, you know, when the baby wakes up, they both wake up, and they both take care of the baby. And early on my wife and I figured out that hey, we don’t actually both need to be awake. We can actually both get eight hours of sleep. 

 

And so what we did is we Eight hours on eight hours off. And we can do that because we both work at home, that’s a big caveat is we can both stay at home. And our hours don’t matter that much when we work doesn’t matter that much. Those are two massive caveats. But at the time, you know, everybody was kind of working from all many ways. 

 

Now, that’s starting to change now, but our approach has kind of not changed. We have systematized when we are with our child and when we are not. And so it’s in a large way, it still shifts morning, shift my shift, afternoon, shift her shift. 

 

And then after that, it’s, you know, the two of us, and then once the kick goes down, shift starts again, and so on and so forth. And so I think it’s, I think balance can, it sounds like harsh or boring or a cliche to create, you have to create systems like that in your personal life. But there’s a saying, I really like and its discipline equals freedom. 

 

And I think through disciplined blocks, such as that I explained, you can achieve freedom, you can achieve eight hours of sleep with a brand new baby.

 

Kenny Soto  26:23  

What resources can be influencers? It can be a book, or it can be a YouTube channel, what resources do you use to improve your skills and knowledge as a marketer?

 

Adam Steele  26:36  

As a marketer, or as an SEO, not a hell of it used to read a lot. And so I think from a foundational perspective, there are plenty of good materials out there, one I often point to is the h refs.com. Forward slash blog, I think they’ve done a fantastic job. 

 

And in fact, in a lot of ways, we’ve kind of modeled our own content marketing efforts on our website, look, annex.com based on how well a tres has done it, just a fantastic job Moz, as of recent, on the last two or three years, I feel they’ve done a pretty good job, and they’ve got some quite good contributors. If you can, if you can sort of separate the signal from the noise Moz can be quite useful at times. 

 

But beyond that, that sort of foundational material for most people who aren’t dealing with super technical websites. So you know, big websites, for example, but most people who are working with small, medium-sized businesses.

 

Adam Steele  27:45  

I don’t find I spent a lot of time reading, I spend more time kind of doing. Admittedly, I don’t do as much as I used to as an SEO. But I look at the best SEO on our team. And a lot of it is observing, documenting, and repeating. 

 

And that’s, I’ve always found I learned better that way. And it seems the folks we’ve hired seem to take that similar approach versus the dude spending a lot of time reading and not a lot of time doing.

 

Kenny Soto  28:25  

My last question for you is hypothetical because time machines don’t exist. But if they did, and you can go back in time, about 10 years into the past, knowing everything you know, today, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?

 

Adam Steele  28:40  

Bring Aaron aboard? 100% It’s the easiest thing. Yeah. 100% I would just when we first started to work together, I would have partnered right then. But, you know, it might not have worked that way. Maybe we needed a few years to warm up to each other and mature and experience and all that kind of stuff. 

 

So but that’s the most obvious thing in my mind. This was one more thing. I would I wouldn’t I spent so much time in business books, so so much time. And I find and that was good, I guess. 

 

But I’ve forgotten most of that stuff. I feel like I found now that it’s better to read when you need. So when you need something when there’s something specific that you’re after, go find the books to solve that problem. 

 

But try not to, at least in terms of like nonfiction, try not to read and solve problems you don’t already have because it can lead you down the wrong roads, just needless roads that can distract you. 

 

And frankly, it kind of feels kind of a bit crappy to read and read and read, and then you’ve got all these inputs and no outputs because it’s not the time for those outputs and so you know as my brain works anyways is that stuff just starts to fade and fade and fade and fade and then I’m not sure that was time well invested

 

Kenny Soto  30:15  

Thank you Adam for your time today and if anyone wants to say Hello Where can they find you online?

 

Adam Steele  30:21  

I’m not super active I guess my LinkedIn is probably where I am most active and I think it’s just gone I just search Adam Steele looks at the annex on LinkedIn you’ll probably find me You’re very welcome to say hello on Twitter. 

 

I just You won’t see a lot of activity from me on Twitter I’m I’ve kind of just creep a little bit I don’t do a lot of posting. Perfect that just forward slashes Adam. The letter g steel Ste L E.

 

Kenny Soto  30:52  

Thank you and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of the people digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto. And as always, I hope you have a great day. 

 

Bye.

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