Arlen Robinson [00:01]
Welcome to the e -commerce marketing podcast. Everyone. My name is Arlen and I’m your host. And today we’ve got a very special guest, Damon Burton, Over a decade ago, Damon Burton, a husband and father of three, beat a billion dollar company by outranking their website on Google. From then on he realized he was onto something great and went on to build an international search engine marketing company that’s worked with Inc. 5000 and Shark Tank featured businesses alike. Having started his business right before the 2008 recession, Damon is familiar with navigating and growing a business during confusing times, including tripling revenue during the recent pandemic. Since founding his company, SEO National, in 2007, Damon has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, BuzzFeed and USA Weekly as he helps big and small clients make more in a month than they used to in a year. Welcome to the podcast, Damon.

Damon Burton [01:05]
What’s up, I’m Arlen Haiman, appreciate the opportunity to chat.

Arlen Robinson [01:07]
Yeah, thank you for joining us. I’m super excited to talk to you and, um, you know, we’re going to be talking about a couple of things here today, but, uh, we’re going to be, I think specifically diving in to, uh, the pros and cons of, uh, uh, SEO compared to paid ads, which I think is really, I think a great topic. Uh, I’ve had a lot of people on the podcast talk about SEO, various SEO strategies. We’ve also talked about paid ads and, um, you know, the, cons of each of them on separate episodes, but I think this would be a great episode where we’re going to be kind of comparing both of them and what you would see, what you’ve seen is applicable in different situations. And so super excited to dive deep into that. But before we do, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your background and specifically how you got into what you’re doing today.

Damon Burton [01:58]
Yeah, so I started, my background was originally in web design. There’s long, long stories and tangents. So, you know, the condensed version is probably goes all the way back to even things like high school. So I grew up lower middle class, computers weren’t in our household and I knew financially they probably wouldn’t be. So I took advantage of computers at school and I started learning basic things that we take for granted now, like word processing.

But when I took the opportunity to learn those, then when HTML first started to go commercial, you know, before Dreamweaver, before Shopify, before WordPress, you used to have to do all those things by hand manually. So I got to learn that. And then when I came out of high school college, I started a car enthusiast website that started to take off. And so then I said, how do I make this better? And then I got more into design. And then as that grew into thousands of active members, I said, how do I monetize this? And so that’s how I started to get into marketing.

Um, and then at some point, most of us do side hustles. So I did the side hustle for awhile. And then, um, the day job actually got shut down. It’s, um, there was, uh, this is going to open like a big Pandora’s box, but you know, the, the day job got shut down and rated by the ATF and the FTC and, uh, guns blazing and like whole movie scene. And so I had a choice to either go find a new job or bet on myself with those side clients. And so I bet on myself and 17 years later, got a team of about 60 and run a multi -million dollar SEO agency.

Arlen Robinson [03:25]
Awesome, awesome. Well, yeah, it’s quite a story. Thank you for sharing that. And sometimes you have to pivot unexpectedly and it seems like you did that. And fortunately, it looks like it’s definitely paid off for you, which is definitely a good thing. So, that’s always good to know.

Damon Burton [03:35]

Arlen Robinson [03:48]
people’s background and it looks like you kind of started early in on the business as you know, like you said, from hustles when you were, you know, high school and kind of moving on from there. So it seems like you’re a true entrepreneur, so to speak. So, you know, as I mentioned, of course, at the top of the recording, we’re going to be talking about SEO as compared to paid ads. And so I guess coming all the way to the beginning, what would you say are some of the foundational differences between

Damon Burton [04:03]

Arlen Robinson [04:17]
SEO, paid advertising strategies, and how should the differences affect a brand’s approach to digital marketing?

Damon Burton [04:27]
Yeah, it’s a great topic because, you know, kind of like you touched on, you’ve kind of talked about one or the other. And I think it’s funny us as marketers, we like to throw rocks at the other forms of advertising when it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, right? If one is profitable and driving return and multiples are driving return, then you can do multiple forms of marketing. So, you know, on SEO side, the advantages and disadvantages are almost entirely the opposite of paid ads. So, you know, the biggest disadvantage to SEO is

Arlen Robinson [04:36]
All right, great.

Damon Burton [04:56]
It takes time. If you know anything about SEO, that’s no surprise. But I think where a lot of marketers fail and is a great opportunity if you’re in the SEO space is to communicate to your clients why it takes time. And so when you can explain that you’re this much time in to fix your website structure, you’re this much time in to find where the money is and how to build out an effective content strategy, and then it takes this amount of time to build the content and distribute it and publish it, then it makes sense to your customers and then it buys them more.

more time and patience. And so that’s kind of really the deciding factor. Coming back to your question is, how do you decide paid ads versus SEO? And it’s really your patience and your tolerance for time and cash flow.

Arlen Robinson [05:38]
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Time, like you said, is the biggest thing and it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough thing, especially for, let’s say we’re talking about, and a startup e -commerce business. So that’s kind of fresh out of the gate. And as you know, with SEO, let’s say you just launched a startup, you’ve launched your website, you’ve got your online store, you know, you’re starting to make some sales and things, but you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re very new, meaning that even your domain name is new, was recently registered.

Um, you got a little bit of content on the website to try to, you know, inform your perspective clients, but you’re not ranking for anything. And so it’s, um, it, you know, it’s difficult for a business to just say, okay, you know, I’m going to stick in this for the, for the long run and, uh, you know, just start to kind of grow it. And, um, I think that’s kind of where the paid ads come into play, where you can try to get some, some, um, some quick wins. So how does, let’s say at this very starting point,

Um, how with SEO specifically, how would you say a business should evaluate just that long -term value of these SEO investments, you know, compared to the quick wins of, of, uh, paid advertising. Cause you know, there definitely is going to be a kind of a decision they have to make up front.

Damon Burton [06:59]
Yeah, you kind of look, the way that I look at it is what’s the intersection point of your return on investment between the two because to your point paid ads, you can start quicker. But a lot of times there’s a difference between progress and monetization. So just because you start quicker doesn’t mean you monetize quicker. So we also have to take into consideration, you usually have to burn money for a while on paid ads until you start to get the right audience and get the pixel season and then start retargeting the right people. So.

Even with that, you can still get a return generally quicker than SEO. So then where you look into the future of the intersection point is your multiplier. So with paid ads, the game is $1 in, $2 out, right? And so over time at scale, eventually that return starts to dilute. $1 in at scale no longer becomes $2 out, but your goal ends up being closer to $1 in, $1 .10 out, right?

And so you hit a limit at scale. And so that’s where you can start to go, okay, do I have enough of a return on my paid ads that I can now start to reinvest into organic to scale that as well? Because to the opposite organic, the investment is a dollar in nothing out and then a dollar in nothing out. But then instead of a dollar in $2 out, it becomes a dollar in $5 ,000 out, right? And so there’s a larger multiplier with a wild card effect.

And so it really boils down to, do you have the cash flow to reinvest into something else that may have a higher multiple, but it takes longer to get that return. And then if not continue reinvesting in paid ads. And then when you get the opportunity or you have more patients or cashflow, then SEO generally drives a higher return. Plus it often has a higher conversion rate because when we have paid ads, we’re largely interrupting the visitor, especially if we’re doing like social media paid ads, but with organic.

the customer went to search engines to buy a thing or solve a problem. So they have an intent already. So generally you have a higher conversion rate as well, which better supports the ROI.

Arlen Robinson [09:01]
Yeah, yeah, I get that. You know, as far as when you’re doing any type of advertising and putting campaigns out there, a lot of what marketers say is you’re over time, you of course, you’re trying to educate customers and you’re trying to come off as an authority on something.

to really ultimately sell your product to say, okay, you should buy my product because, you know, we’re an authority on this particular subject. We’ve done our research and then we’ve developed what we feel is the best product to meet, you know, X needs. And so coming off like that, in your experience, how would you say, how would you say SEO and paid ads differ, you know, in terms of building?

that audience trust and then the engagement overall. And does one method lead to a more loyal customer than the other or is it equal?

Damon Burton [10:07]
Well, I think the loyalty is in the actual quality of the product and then also the follow up as well, right? Because you can introduce the audience from two different angles because on the paid ad side, it’s largely the shiny bubblegum wrapper at the checkout stand, right? And so once you capture their attention, you generally want to get them to convert as quickly as possible because they didn’t go into the transaction with the intent to have a transaction in most cases. But with organic, where they went and searched something and went to solve a problem, then they often have an intent.

So your exposure and your first impression is generally structured different for it to perform differently. And so it’s kind of apples and oranges. But what happens is once the transaction is completed, then you’re on an uneven level playing field, right? Because now we just sold the product and we’re delivering the product. And so really, if you have a product versus a service, it’s

How good is the product itself? How good is the unboxing experience? How quick is the shipping? All those types of things. And then in the service, it’s all the standard things as well. How good was the service completed? Was it timely? Were the people relatable? Was it a good engagement? And so those are the things. It’s going to be in the follow -up that’s going to be the differentiator in that scenario.

Arlen Robinson [11:21]
Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. Um, the ad is really just the, and that initial contact that somebody has with the business, whether it’s a, a paid ad sponsored listing on Google or whether they come across your brand organically from the organic search listings. That’s just that starting point. You know, I think when they see that, I don’t think a brand or being a customer has made any type of decision yet. You know, they may see your result come up in response to their search query.

Damon Burton [11:38]

Arlen Robinson [11:50]
But then, you know, they definitely, you’re gonna go through to your site, do a little bit of due diligence, look at your pricing, you name it. And they’re probably clicking around, going to other sites as well, just trying to understand if you’re gonna meet their needs. So I totally get that.

Damon Burton [12:05]
Yeah, they can also support each other too because if you run paid ads, a lot of times the people to your point want to do their due diligence. And so then they may go search the brand name or the product. And so if you also show up organically, that adds to the credibility, vice versa as well. Maybe somebody finds you organically, then when they go to do their due diligence or through retargeting, right? So paid ads can support organic in that credibility just as organic and support paid ads.

Arlen Robinson [12:32]
Yeah, true, true. How would you say the costs and the ROI, the return on investment of SEO compared to those of paid advertising, especially for smaller businesses or startups with limited budgets?

Damon Burton [12:51]
Oh man, it’s all across the board because it’s going to depend on a couple of things. One is your product to begin with. What are your profit margins? Two is what’s your market cap? What’s the volume in people that are available to buy your product? Or if you offer a service, how large of a service area do you cover? And so there’s a big difference in available reach if you’re targeting a city versus a state versus national. So depending on those things, it can vary. A couple examples to illustrate the.

the extreme of this is we have a client that sells an automotive retail product. And so when they first started with organic, they were doing 80 ,000 a year online. Now they do 1 .2 million a quarter. And so that’s a huge jump. And the majority of that, probably 80 % plus of the sales is on the organic side. And then we talk about your return on investment and your ability to scale. And so we have a client that’s in the medical space.

And they’re historically been paid ad heavy and it’s worked really well for them, but it’s also expensive and they’re hitting that ceiling we talked about. And so they were doing something like, um, 125 to $150 ,000 per month in paid ads. And we’re doing 4 ,000 a month in SEO. And within 18 months, we were able to meet the volume of lead gen on the organic side for whatever the.

the division multiplier is of 150 grand versus 4 ,000. And so there’s a substantial difference in the return on investment in that type of scenario, but paid ads got them there really quickly. And so it’s that give and take, that pro and a con of where are you at with your ability to reinvest in your cash and your patience and cashflow.

Arlen Robinson [14:28]
Mm -hmm.

Arlen Robinson [14:37]
Yeah, that’s really what it comes down to. No matter how those customers are coming through, it’s really going to make a difference on what you’re profiting, what your revenues are, and then what do you do with that once you’ve obtained that profit and you invested back in the company, and then which routes are you going to go with regards to your marketing.

Um, now a common question I think many people have, especially with search engines and the knowledge that people have of that, of the mysterious algorithms, you know, that all these search engines have, that’s kind of like the wizard behind the cloak, so to speak, that nobody knows when it’s going to change. What really are the inner workings of these algorithms and how do they rank things? And so because of these often.

updated algorithms, which can, you know, as you and I know, can drastically affect SEO strategies. How would you say the volatility of SEO due to these algorithm changes compares to the stability of paid ads?

Damon Burton [15:45]
Yeah, what’s surprising is I think it’s the total opposite. This is a pretty common topic to your point. And while it is true that Google changes algorithms on a small scale, potentially daily, but on a large scale, maybe every few months. But if you stick to the basics, the core fundamentals of SEO, which are only three things, one is your site structure. So does it load quickly? Is it mobile friendly, clear call to action?

Arlen Robinson [15:58]

Damon Burton [16:11]
Two is your content, do you clearly communicate your value propositions and why you’re an authority? And then three is external credibility. Do other people talk about your website, your brand, do they link to your reviews, things like that. So out of my 17 years, anytime we’ve had an algorithm roll out, we’ve never had a penalty, clients are either neutral or positive. And so when other people get stuck on the other side of that coin on SEO, is it because they’re getting distracted by shiny objects, they’re trying to manipulate the system, they’re trying to look for loopholes.

And so if you stick to the fundamentals, you can certainly probably get somewhere faster, but probably not as sustainably. And so I actually think it’s the opposite. When we think about paid ads, I mean, with my SEO clients, I’m not in check in my paid ad platform on a daily basis to see if the cost per click has changed, if the conversion rates changed, if my ad account got shut down, or ironically today, the day of us recording, Facebook was down.

like for an entire hour. And so when you compare the outage of Google versus Facebook, I mean, Facebook historically has pretty successful uptime as well, but like an hour is a big deal. Like if you’re plowing money and paid ads.

Arlen Robinson [17:11]

Arlen Robinson [17:24]
Yeah. Yeah, very true. Yeah. I wasn’t aware of that, that, that out is very good point because I, you know, a lot of times, um, a lot of times people will, you know, you’ve heard the phrase, this, the set it and forget it’s that, that doesn’t apply to paid ads. You can’t just set it and forget it. Like you said, you’ve got to be on top of your listings, your pay per click amounts. Um, you know, there’s all these types of, uh,

changes that just require that hands -on attention. Not to say that with SEO, you don’t have to be attentive to it, but it’s a little bit different since you’re dealing with more long -term strategies. It’s not necessarily something where, like you said, these little quick adjustments have to be made just like immediately. Things have to be done, but since it takes time for these search engines to…

recognize things and to rank, uh, increased rankings or lower rankings. You have a little bit of, um, runway, I guess you can say before, you know, changes are made. So yeah, I get that. That really makes, um, makes, uh, makes a lot of sense. Um, and then to your point as well, uh, and outage is definitely more common with the Facebook’s, uh, Instagram. I know it’s been down several times last year. There was some, some outages.

Damon Burton [18:46]

Arlen Robinson [18:50]
And so those are things that, especially if you’ve got a fairly large investment in it, which is something where, you know, that time that it’s out, you know, you’re not making anything, you know, you’re not getting any clicks or anything like that. Whereas, you know, the major search engines, the Googles, the bings, I mean, I can’t remember any time where they’ve had any significant recent outage. I mean, how about, what do you think?

Damon Burton [19:15]
I tried to get, no, I actually tried to look today because I went and made a little meme about Facebook being down and I couldn’t find, I’m confident they’ve been down, but you know, at any noticeable scale, I couldn’t find anything either.

Arlen Robinson [19:18]
Okay. Okay. Yeah. Right.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I didn’t think so or nothing widespread, you know, probably maybe some isolated incidents or certain regions or whatever, but widespread. Yeah, I don’t see it, but yeah, some of these social media platforms, it’s like when they’re down, they’re down. It’s almost like globally. So which is a big deal.

Damon Burton [19:36]
Mm -hmm. Yeah.

Damon Burton [19:43]
Yeah. Yeah. And to your point, depending on where you’re running your ads, if you’re running them on Facebook’s platform, then if one is down, then generally so is Instagram, so is Messenger, right?

Arlen Robinson [19:55]
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. All of that is all tied together, which is an unfortunate thing. Well, Damon, as we get ready to wrap things up, I wanted to see how can a business best integrate SEO and paid advertising into just kind of one cohesive marketing strategies? And, you know, are there any specific industries or types of businesses that benefit?

more from one approach over the other.

Damon Burton [20:27]
Yeah, they can certainly coincide together. So on which industries perform better, I’ll speak more to the SEO side since that’s my area of expertise. Usually the businesses that have a higher profit margin, right? It’s pretty hard to, let’s say we have a 99 cent product and you’re paying $4 ,000 a month in SEO. Well, you’re going to have to sell a lot of units just to break even. Now with paid ads,

Arlen Robinson [20:52]

Damon Burton [20:55]
because we talked about a dollar in, dollar out kind of thing, dollar in, two dollars out, you can quantify much more meticulously your return on your investment. So if you have a smaller ticket item, then it’s easier to go and start with paid ads because you get numbers back in real time to go, okay, is this working? With SEO, you’re gonna have to have a little more patience and trust in the process to see if it’s worth it. But you reduce that risk when you have a higher profit margin.

product. So that’s kind of how I look at it from the types of industries, but more from the margins more than the industry itself. Now, the way that you kind of have both of these platforms work together, Paid Ads and Organic, is Paid Ads can feed data to Organic, but it doesn’t influence the positions of Organic. However, Organic can influence the positions or the success of Paid Ads because what happens is…

whether you’re advertising on search engines or social media platforms, when you run an ad, these platforms will ping your website to kind of look at the user experience and go, okay, is this loading quickly? Is it mobile friendly? How relevant is the content on the page to the ad? And then this is all part of your ad quality score. So through the process of organic, you make your website more mobile friendly. You make the page load quicker. You improve the content relevance.

And so through that process, you can often reduce your cost per click. We have an example where it’s like one of our new clients does a lot of paid ads and their cost per click, their cost per lead went from $9 down to $3 .80 just as a result of us improving those SEO metrics. So they can definitely support each other. So your organic can give your paid ads team insights as to…

here’s where the money is, right? Because you go through the keyword discovery process and you go through the buyer persona process and vice versa. You should be doing that on paid ads as well. And so a lot of times paid ads is more nimble. And so you can use SEO to start the keyword research process to find the long -term targets that are more evergreen, but you can play around and be a little more experimental on the paid ad side. And so once you get your solid foundation from maybe the organic keyword research, then your paid ads,

Damon Burton [23:11]
can be the loop that feeds it back to go, hey, here’s new things that we’re discovering that maybe we can also integrate into our SEO strategy.

Arlen Robinson [23:18]
Yeah, yeah, I like that. And then I guess also with the paid ads, it can be a great, like you kind of said, is there almost a test, a test ground for messaging even because, you know, the SEO route creating blog, let’s say content or specific informational content, you know, you can put that out there, put it on your website, take time for it to rank.

Damon Burton [23:31]
Mm -hmm.

Arlen Robinson [23:43]
And you don’t necessarily, I mean, you can look at competitive listings and competitive competitors in your space to kind of get a feel for if it does rank. Um, you know, this is kind of where we’ll end up, but there’s no telling if you are going to rank that way. Um, your ultimate goal, of course, is going to be, is this content going to be receptive to our perspective customers and with paid ads, it’s great way to do that. Great way to test it. Um, putting a little bit of money, test different messaging, you know, do even AB testing on one specific.

marketing message versus another. And you can throw that out pretty quickly and then just look at the results. So I think it’s definitely a great way to do that.

Damon Burton [24:24]
Yeah, you’ve seen, um, you’re probably familiar with Tim Ferriss’s four hour work week, right? That’s, that’s how he came up with a title was ad testing. And so he ran a couple ads with book title candidates just to a dummy page, right? Just to get the clicks, just to see which one resonated with the audience more.

Arlen Robinson [24:28]

Arlen Robinson [24:32]
Oh, really? Okay.

Arlen Robinson [24:36]
Mm -hmm. Yeah.

Arlen Robinson [24:41]
Okay, yeah, that makes sense. And he chose the winning one and a very, very successful book years, years later. Well, David, it’s been an awesome conversation. Really appreciate you coming on. I’ve definitely learned a lot. And I know our audience listeners and viewers have as well. But I always like to close things out just so our audience can get to know you a little bit better. If you don’t mind sharing one closing fun fact that you think we’d be interested to know.

Damon Burton [24:45]

Damon Burton [24:49]

Damon Burton [25:07]
I worked on air and radio for seven years. So that was fun and that was actually in the infancy of my career. And if you know anything about radio in between your breaks, you’re just kind of sitting there in a studio. And so that’s where I started to build out that car enthusiast website that I talked about at the beginning of the conversation.

Arlen Robinson [25:11]
Okay, okay.

Arlen Robinson [25:19]
Mm -hmm.

Arlen Robinson [25:24]
Okay, awesome. Awesome. Yeah, good stuff, man. Yeah, radio is still these days still still around. Things have shifted a little bit now because we’ve got the of course the satellite radio, the Sirius XM, the world. But radio still still there. Still there. People are still still tuning in. Gotcha. Gotcha. All right. Well, good stuff, man. Well, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. Lastly, before we do let you go.

Damon Burton [25:41]
Yeah, yeah. Well that was a long time ago for me, so.

Arlen Robinson [25:51]
If our listeners and viewers want to reach out to you and pick your brand anymore about paper click advertising or SEO, what would be the best way for them to reach you?

Damon Burton [26:00]
Yeah, real simple, damonburton .com. On there you can find out more about what I offer. And then I also wrote a bestselling book about SEO and you can grab a free copy.

Arlen Robinson [26:07]
Okay, awesome. Awesome. We’ll definitely have that link in the show notes for people to check that out and take a look at your book as well. And thank you for sharing that and really appreciate having you on Damon on the eCommerce marketing podcast.

Damon Burton [26:19]
Thanks, Arlen.

Podcast Guest Info

Damon Burton
Founder of  SEO National