Welcome to the 20th episode of the #AskAPrivateLender​​ Podcast brought to you by Mortgage Automator. We decided to expand the podcast scope and cover more aspects that contribute to the growth of a private lending business. We will be talking to experts, getting recommendations from them, and giving you ideas on how you can better market yourself as a lender.

Our first guest in this series is Jae Johns, who is a successful blogger and a Search Engine Optimization expert. We talk about the basics of SEO, what you can do, and, more importantly, what you absolutely shouldn’t do, as well as a few tips and tricks to make sure you stay competitive.

Listen, watch, or read the interview below. And stay tuned for more episodes coming up!

Lawrence: Today we’re going to be joined by our marketing director at Mortgage Automator, Tatiana. We brought her in for today’s episode because our guest is also in the marketing arena, and we’re extremely excited to have him here. If you’re a lender who is trying to go after clients directly, or trying to bring in more brokers, you have to listen to this interview. Jae, thank you so much for stopping by today.

Jae: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Lawrence: You’re an SEO expert. You started a blog, you ended up getting more than a million views in a very short period of time. And I guess the only way to really accomplish something like that is to truly understand how to get in front of people.

Jae: Yeah.

Lawrence: SEO is a major component of that. How did you learn how to do that? Did you read articles online? Did you know people in the industry? What was your way of getting to the top?

Jae: I got started when I was working in some large corporations in Vegas, so they wanted to go more into SEO. I was learning, but when I started my blog and started doing my own thing, that’s when things accelerated. I enrolled in an SEO course, that was pretty helpful, but the biggest thing for me is I just did things. I know this is going to sound cliche, it’s like that saying, “if you want to learn how to swim, you just dive in”. I just dove in and created content and kept at it and just improved along the way. So now I have a process that’s pretty refined. And to the point where I could immediately go on your site and analyze it and give you recommendations to improve it. 

Lawrence: SEO for people who don’t know, is search engine optimization. So whether it’s Google or another search engine, the idea is you want to get to the top of the list. When people type in and search, they don’t typically go to the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth page, you want to be at the first page so they can find your site. The algorithms changed from time to time. At least that’s my understanding. 

Tatiana: At least every few months.

Lawrence: So when these algorithms change, do you have to start from scratch, or do you just adjust all the work you’ve already accomplished up to that point and just make a few tweaks and now you’re still where you’re supposed to be?

Jae: I’m glad you brought that up because I feel like there’s a big myth with this. And nowadays we hear so much about algorithm changes on social media, like Instagram algorithm changes, Pinterest algorithm changes, and so on. A Google algorithm change is different. An algorithm change on social media, like Instagram or whatever would affect everybody, no matter what. With a Google algorithm change, I could have a site, Tatiana can have a site, and you could have a site, but we may not all be affected. In fact, when an algorithm change happens, there’s always going to be people who benefit from it and people who don’t, or people who stay the same. It just so happens in this previous June algorithm update, I was affected, but the people that I consulted were not. 

And to go back to your question, do you need to change everything? That’s actually the biggest thing I would say to avoid. For example, on the June update, I lost up to about 18%-25% of my daily traffic, but most people will probably freak out and change something right away. You don’t want to do that. You let things simmer down a little bit, like cool down. And then after like a little bit, you want to look what’s going on then go in. So case in point is, if I reacted in June, I could have potentially hurt my rankings. After three weeks, I’m bouncing back. And the only thing I’m doing is just creating more content. So I’m not really going back and adjusting other articles or anything like that. Do not overreact, let things cool down, and go from there.

Tatiana: Like the stock market. Don’t panic.

Jae: Exactly.

Lawrence: So do they notify everyone? Like if an algorithm has changed, do you wake up and go, “Hmm, these visitors, it just doesn’t look right. It doesn’t seem like what it’s supposed to be?”

Jae: It’s kind of a mix of both. For example, Google is doing an important update, they call it Web Core Vitals and they are doing that in July. And it’s going to roll out from July to August and maybe a little bit in September, but this June update was what’s called a core algorithm update. And I didn’t know about it until a lot of people started talking about it. And then sure enough, when a lot of people started talking, I noticed that the immediate dip around that date of my traffic. So that’s how you know about it. Sometimes you know, sometimes you don’t.

Tatiana: You have to follow, first of all, Google on social media, that’s where they make the announcements. But otherwise yeah, you have to specifically follow different SEO blogs, etc. If you’re just like an ordinary business owner, you’ll just see it in your traffic if you’re affected.

Lawrence:  Instagram and Facebook are big, and you can pay for marketing there. Is there such a thing as organic SEO on social media platforms? 

Jae: Yeah. You can get organic traffic, it’s just that nowadays Instagram is so saturated that it doesn’t work. Where you’ll see the most explosive organic growth is TikTok and LinkedIn. The organic reach on Instagram has plummeted a lot just because so many people are on it, but that kind of organic reach is a little bit different than SEO. 

Your reach on social platforms would probably be at the highest when you post that content. But your reach when you create articles that are ranking on Google, I’m not a wine drinker, but it’s like wine as it ages, it gets better and better. Ideally, if you’re doing your job right, your views will get better and better. Of course, there would be a plateau point where it just steady, but over time, the amount of traffic you get will grow.

Lawrence: I guess if you’re one of the top views in your keyword, you’re always going to be at the top. It’s more about the number of people who are searching for those keywords as opposed to anything else, if you’re already at number one, there’s nothing better than number one.

Tatiana: You can stop being the number one.

Lawrence: But I’m saying to get more traffic, you’re always going to plateau. Once you reach the height, you’re going to plateau at that top number. So depending on how many people are searching for what you’re targeting, you’re going to probably get all of that traffic regardless.

Jae: Let me explain how it works a little bit because I think there is a little misunderstanding. People automatically think if you rank in the top number one position, you will get the most amount of traffic. That’s not necessarily the case. What is true is that what gives you a lot of traffic is different keywords and phrases that are in your content that allow you to be more discovered. So your top articles, they’re not bringing in traffic just from one term, they’re bringing in traffic from hundreds of terms, and so when you first get the number one spot, you’ll get X amount of traffic. But the reason why you’ll grow in time is that Google is understanding your content.

So you’ll start ranking for additional terms or semantic terms that are within your content or people are just typing in. And that happened to lead to you. That’s how it grows over time. One of the biggest things that people say is to update your content. And that gives you a massive amount of views. The reason why that’s true is you’re adding more value. You’re adding more content to be discovered by.

Tatiana: So if we’re going to get to the actual tactics, you are familiar with our audience, the lenders, the brokers, keeping their business in mind. What do you think are some of the things they should focus on when they are designing their SEO strategy? What are the most important points to think about?

Jae: So I’m going to keep it to the fundamentals. I think if you know a few of the fundamentals that will take you very far. The first thing I would suggest is if you learn how to analyze the top 10 results and try to understand those searches. So for example, if you were to type in, just off the top of my head, if you were to type in coffee makers, and I believe when you search coffee makers, you’ll see a bunch of different coffee makers. But then if you type in, coffee recipes or something like that, you’ll see a list of different coffee recipes. So if you can analyze the attempt behind the searches, you’re off to the races, that is one fundamental thing that you have to get to know. 

The next thing I would recommend is knowing how to find little competition keywords. And the reason why I’m wanting to talk a little about competition is that for people who are starting out, that is their best chance to get in a higher ranking spot. If they go after these low competition keywords and learn how to create a topic around that, if you can learn how to create a topic that solves people’s problems, that will do wonders. And one of the biggest mistakes that I see from people is that when they create content, it’s usually all about them. It’s like a press release or some kind of thing about them. They’re not making it about the user. So if you can learn to make it about the user and solve their problems, you’re golden.

Lawrence: It’s value-driven. You’ve got to create value for people, for them to be interested in what you’re posting. Otherwise, it’s not going to help anybody.

Tatiana: So then what are some of the fundamentals that they should absolutely avoid? Because back in the day, people would do keyword stuffing when it was all about keywords, things like that. And obviously, a user who is new to the whole SEO game and they don’t understand, they will probably do that as well. So what are some of the most common mistakes? Well, one of them, you just mentioned being the content, but what else people should absolutely avoid doing as well?

Jae: Well, I think the biggest mistake is people think that SEO is difficult, therefore they don’t start. So the biggest mistake is not starting. 90% of your success is already there just by starting. When you get links to your content, that’s like a vote, so what people do is they buy links that point back to the content and you want to avoid this at all costs because you will get penalized. You may not be penalized for it this week or this month or even this year. But if Google ends up finding out that you do this, then you’ll lose a lot of your organic traffic. And not only for that page, but Google can probably penalize you to the point where it doesn’t see you as an expert anymore. So your entire ranking for your entire site could go down.

Tatiana: Yeah. They’re coming for you.

Jae: And the other thing is, many people think that SEO is about one big thing that will give you a lot of traffic, but it’s about doing a bunch of little things. I really feel that SEO isn’t difficult at all. It’s just about doing a lot of things. Don’t plagiarize the content, of course, that’s obvious, you mentioned don’t stuff your content with keywords. So it’s just these few things, then I think you’ll be fine. So it’s mostly just start, keep at it and just do a bunch of little things like formatting. Another thing I see a lot is people put walls of text in their copy. If you were to just optimize that page, but breaking it up into subheadings, instead of making paragraphs like five, six sentences long, make it to one sentence or two sentences and break it up, giving you that brief. This creates a better user experience.

Lawrence: Do companies ever come to you and they think like they’re behind. Like, “I want to do SEO, but people in my category, they’ve been doing it for 10 years. How will I ever catch up? Is it worth the money? Is it worth the time?” Do people ever say that to you?

Jae: I always hear this argument. Is it too late? Is SEO dead? And it’s never too late. I’m in a niche that other big companies dominate. And so it’s never too late to start. I think all those reasons that people say are just an excuse to prevent starting. I’m a big fan of just starting and just going from there.

Lawrence: Just go do your thing and, and eventually it’ll work out for you. What about video content? That’s really popular these days. People share video content on their website, on social media platforms everywhere. Does Google understand what’s in that video? Or how do people do SEO for videos?

Jae: I know you’re asking the question specifically about video but I want to talk about video and images because they both relate.

When people are optimizing their content, most people think it is just about the content. It’s just about the page. When in actuality, images and video in themselves could bring a lot of organic traffic. For example, my blog has over 10,000 monthly visitors, just from my images alone. Just purely images, not even the content, just the JPEG or PNG or whatever, bringing over 10,000 monthly visitors and videos over a thousand. So there are things that you can do to optimize each one. For example, for the video one, what I do is I’ll have a YouTube video and I can either optimize the title or the description in the YouTube settings. And of course, make sure that the video relates to your description and stuff like that, and then you can just embed that into your post. That is one way to optimize the video. And for images, you can just use, what’s called Alt Tags. Use relevant terms to describe your image with Alt Tags for images. Over time, you’ll just compound and compound.

Lawrence: How do you know what a good keyword is? I mean, I would assume like in the mortgage and the lending space, it’d be like, “private lender” or like, “looking for private loans” or something of that effect. But how do you know if you’re targeting something that’s good quality and going to bring you traffic?

Jae: This’ll be a little fun because I have two different ways that you can do this. The first way is using what’s called the keyword research tool. There’s many out there, there’s many paid and there are many free ones too. Most keyword tools have the functionality where you can look up different terms. For example, let’s say, how to start a mortgage broker business, and let’s say a keyword tool can report that it has 30 monthly searches. This is not true, I’m just making the numbers up. It can report how many monthly searches it has and the difficulty for ranking for that term. So that’s what overall keyword tools can do. There are other functionalities that tools have, but I want to stress though, that keyword tools aren’t necessarily the most accurate. So what you want to do is use it as inspiration and use it as a way to just give you ideas, to create topics.

For example, if you’re looking up three terms and you see one term as having more search volume than the other two, then it might pay more dividends to go after the one that has brought in more search volume. So that’s what I mean by use as inspiration. 

The other thing I want to do is like a little exercise that I think everybody could do at home. And the only thing you need is a Google Browser. So if you go to Google.com and search “mortgage broker”, don’t hit enter yet, just type the word in the field. After you do that, I want you to type an asterisk and a space in front of the term “mortgage broker”. And what an asterisk is is a placeholder. It’s a special Google operator. That means this represents any term, anything.

So right now you should have * mortgage broker, then in front of the asterisk, what you want to do is type in words that start with a question. How, what, or why. In this example let’s do “is”. So what you should have now is, “is * mortgage broker” and then place your cursor right before the asterisk or right at the asterisk. You should see a bunch of other suggestions pop up. When I did it, I saw the suggestion that says, “is mortgage broker a good career?” 

So click on that. And then in the results, what you’ll see is a Quora page. So the reason why this is perfect is because Quora is a forum, and when a forum result is in your top 10, that means you can easily outrank it. User-generated content is low-hanging fruit. I mean, a blog post can easily outrank it. So what you want to do is just create a post around that topic because what the forum post is telling Google is there’s no good resource available for that term. So all you want to do is hunt and find terms like this, that have a forum post in the top results and then go after that term.

Lawrence: That is slick. So because it’s Quora, it just means that there are no professionals going after that keyword, which is why user-generated content is in the top 10.

Jae: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be professionals. It’s just saying there’s no relevant, good, valuable content that is addressing this. So it’s relying on user-generated content and sometimes user-generated content might be the best one there is. If there’s a forum post that has a lot of images in it, a lot of descriptions, and a lot of stuff within that post, then that might mean that that post or Quora, whatever forum it is, might be really good. But most of the time people just use general comments and stuff like that. So you can easily outrank it.

Lawrence: Very neat. I don’t think most people would know how to do that. So definitely a reason why companies need individuals like you, who understand. Another question I wanted to ask about keywords, about their success. How do you measure keyword performance, SEO success, I’m assuming there are some trackers that you would use.

Jae: Yeah. There are two things I use, and most people use this. It’s setting up a Google Analytics account and a Google Search Console, both are free. When you set up Google Analytics, it gives you a little code snippet that you put on your site and basically, it will track all your views and everybody that comes to your site. It can report on each page. You can see the views and the growth of each page and you can compare it. You can compare this month to the previous month, or you can compare this year to the past year, and so on and so forth.

So every month I pull a report on how all the pages do so I can compare how each page does month over month. And so if I see that a particular page is losing a lot of views over the past few months, compared to where it was, then I would go in and I would start to bring that post back to life by updating it, or whatever.

Lawrence: When do you trash a keyword? If you’re selling something, for instance, and it’s just not converting. How long would you continue trying to go after some keyword if there’s no success?

Jae: Well, whenever you’re creating a piece of content around a particular keyword, I wouldn’t necessarily trash it. I would just keep it. One of the reasons why I’m a big fan of creating content consistently is that as you create content, it helps push up all your other content on your site. If you have a keyword and that’s absolutely getting nothing, then what I would do is try to see if I can add more value to it or try to update it in a way that brings it back to life. Or what I would do is try to create other content that could work adjacent to that topic. And then link back to that previous one that isn’t getting many views and that will help pass what’s called link juice over to it. And then that could help bring it back up.

I wouldn’t necessarily trash anything because you never know. I’m getting views from things that haven’t gotten views in the first six, eight months. So you never know what will happen. So I wouldn’t necessarily just delete something.

Lawrence: Right. You were saying, you got to do a lot of little things to make something big happen. 

Tatiana: In terms of patience, I think a lot of people who are new to this, don’t realize that organic SEO is actually a very long game. You will not see results maybe even in the first six months, it usually takes up to a year for the content to really start generating traffic. And a lot of people just think, “oh my God, it’s not working. I don’t want to do this anymore. What do I do?” Paid SEO is usually the faster way, which is your Google Search Ads, but are there any other organic tactics that you know of that maybe work or at least help for things to work faster than they normally would. Because there’s something extra that you can do to get more SEO.

Lawrence: Is there a secret sauce to push you to the top of the list without working as hard. That’s what she’s asking.

Tatiana: Yeah. But being free, obviously not paying for the ads.

Jae: One of the biggest things I can recommend is learning how to craft a title because your title is the dominant thing that shows up in the results. So if you can learn how to craft an appealing title that gets clicks, that’s going to do you wonders. I didn’t do this, but a lot of people vouch for it, try to see if you can create content for another site that has a lot of traffic. And that way they usually link back to you, this is called guest posts and guest blogging. But I didn’t do that because I found that, again, I’ll go back to creating content. That is the thing that gives me the most links. I don’t do any active link-building strategy at all. And you hear it in the industry as the go-to thing. I find that people naturally link to my content and just by creating good resources for people, it attracts them naturally.

And yes, it does take about a year for you to reach about 90% of your traffic potential. But in the meantime, within the first six months, I would say you should start seeing some trickles. You should start seeing some indication that what you’re doing is paying off, and then I would say, once you get your first hundred views, then you have proof of concept that what you’re doing is working and just keep going.

Lawrence: I assume that people are impatient and they end up paying at the same time because they still want some results and they don’t want to wait a year or six months or whatever it is. Right?

Jae: Yeah. I’m just not a big fan of paying because as soon as you start paying, then your traffic gets cut off. I’d much rather spend my energy building things up organically. And that way it can last for a long time.

Tatiana: I would say that content is king for a reason. As long as you create real quality content with fact-checking, whatever happens to the algorithm, whatever happens around you is not going to affect you that much. People are still going to link to you. All of that is still going to work out as long as you create really quality content.

There is a lot of speculation in terms of the length of that content though. Some people say you have to write a 10,000-word article while others say 500 words is more than enough. So do you have any recommendations that you can make in that regard?

Jae: There was a study, I think by Forbes as well as Business Insider that proves stats like content that was more than 2000 words got more views. And the reason that is, is because of the depth of the article. And usually, when something has more depth to it, it provides more insights, it’s just naturally longer, but that’s not necessarily the case. I have articles that are ranking in number one, and it has less than 300 words in it. It goes back to what I said at the beginning of this conversation by knowing how to analyze the top 10 results and understanding the intent.

Because for example, if you analyze how to start a mortgage broker business, and this is not the case, but if you saw in the top 10 results, all the content that ranked in the top three positions was like 500 words, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write a 2000 word article to top it. It’ll probably help you because most likely it will be more in depth, but it just goes to show you just the word count itself isn’t it, what ranks is the quality of the content.

Tatiana: Jae, I know you have clients that you help. How do people reach out to you if they want to talk to you about potentially starting up SEO with their own business, how do they reach out to you?

Jae: You can send me a DM through Instagram. My Instagram handle is @jaejohns or you can go to my website. Now, my website is all about helping artists and creatives, but you can to the contact page and get my email address from there, and send me an email. I’m more than happy to assist you.

Lawrence: That’s great. And I do have one more question. It works regardless of the industry. So no matter what you’re doing, it’s the same tactic. It’s the same thing that you would do to get those clients through the door, right?

Jae: Yeah. It’s just all about knowing the search intent and just finding those little competition keywords as I showed you with the asterisk. There are many more tricks like the asterisk, but that one is nice and visual, and I think most people can grasp it right away. When I was consulting other realtors back in Vegas, this is the thing about this industry: you are a master in sales, like your industry is sales-driven. So usually with marketing, it’s the opposite. People will want to go into sales all the way, but if you can just shift your thinking a little bit and provide value, then that helps build up your brand and awareness. You’ll be able to capture those leads that way and then be able to do sales on top of that.

Lawrence: That sounds great. We really appreciate you stopping by again. 

Jae: Thanks for having me.

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