How Joe Sinkwitz Ranked #1 For Payday Loans And Brought in $50k/day
For the 49th episode of the Lion Zeal Show, I’m chatting with Joe Sinkwitz (Cygnus) about the history of spam, and how SEO has evolved over the past 20 years.
Joe is one of the most experienced guys in our industry. He was doing SEO back in the Altavista days, when spamming Meta Tags was a solid strategy. He was ranking #1 for payday loans for a brief time, bringing in over $50,000 per day for his business.
At one point he had 50 employees running his business, until Penguin destroyed their business overnight. Overall, it’s a fascinating episode from a great SEO with a lot of stories to share.
Watch it here:
Links and Resources Mentioned:
- Intellifluence (Joe’s influencer network brand)
- Rand Fishkin (famous SEO)
- Majestic (Backlinks analysis)
- Scrapebox (SEO tool)
- XRumer (Link building tool)
- GSA SER (Link building tool)
39:13 – How Joe ranked #1 for payday loans
18:57 – The biggest mistakes Joe has made over the years, including spending $1,000,000 on a domain
23:08 – How to diversify your income so you’re not at risk of losing overnight (like Joe did)
48:09 – A look back at ranking strategies used back in 2003 and how it’s changed
06:43 – Using influencer networks for link acquisition
09:56 – The most profitable way to rank e-commerce and social networking sites
15:33 – How Joe landed a $15,000 a month client
Daryl Rosser: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of the Lion Zeal show. In this episode, a super special episode because the first time we’ve ever done it live, even though no one’s listening right now, I’m sure, so people are going to tune in throughout it. Joe, welcome to the show. It’s very cool to have you here, firstly.
Joe Sinkwitz: Thank you very much. I’m pleased to be here.
Daryl Rosser: For anyone that doesn’t know you yet, do you want to do a brief introduction as to who you are and what it is you do?
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure thing. Yes, my name is Joe Sinkwitz. I have essentially two roles right now. I’m the CEO of a influencer marketing company called Intellifluence. Please obey the Joe.
I’m also the principal of a boutique search firm that specializes in special situation search. I’ve been doing digital marketing now for 20 years. I know, Daryl, you and I talked a little bit about it. I started in fairly black hat without really knowing that I was starting in black hat. I started because while in college, a doctor asked me to help him set up a website, so I did it. Then he asked me, “Hey, we’re trying to sell this new drug called Viagra online. Could you help with that?” I played around with it and I figured that manipulating Alta Vista was really easy. I got my start in black hat search.
Daryl Rosser: Alta Vista.
Joe Sinkwitz: Pushing pharma.
Daryl Rosser: Old school.
Joe Sinkwitz: It’s a little bit old school. I graduated up to where when we finally launched our first iteration of our agency back in 2003, we became the largest organic search presence in both payday loans as well as auto insurance and home insurance, life insurance. We did really well for about 10 years. Penguin just trashed us. We were spending a quarter million dollars a month on links, and it just came all crashing down so fast.
When that happened, we basically tanked that agency and revolved it to where hey, we’re really good at getting stuff banned. Maybe we should do ORM. We split off, we created a new agency that did ORM, and just due to our past contacts, we kept getting hit up to do special search stuff. A startup would raise a bunch of money and wanted to go into an entrenched area like taking on really big companies. They would come to us and give us budget, and we’d help them succeed. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.
Daryl Rosser: Interesting. Joe, can I ask you to slide slightly to your left so people can actually see you on the video? They’re just looking at half a face right now. It’s very strange. There you go, you’re in. You’re in, perfect. Nice. I’m curious then, going way back to the beginning then, what was SEO like back in the Alta Vista days? I presume drastically very different to today.
Joe Sinkwitz: It was ridiculously easy. It’s hard not to be nostalgic about it. At the time, it seemed cutting edge. Everything at the time seems cutting edge, but back in that particular day, all you had to do was look to see who was currently ranking, look at their source code, and copy some of it.
In that case, it really was meta tag stuffing, so you would just take it and you’d just repeat over and over and over. I would have thousands of variations of Viagra, and that was sufficient to rank. It really wasn’t until Google came onto the scene and it changed up, moving from on page to off page signals within links that things really got different and hairy, but I do kind of miss those days.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah. Even today if you look back just a few years ago, it was so much easier again, and today it’s constantly evolving.
Joe Sinkwitz: There’s ups and downs to it though. Yeah, it does definitely constantly evolve, but it helps to shake out the industry a little bit, so it can help to thin the herd, remove some of your competitors, make it a little bit easy for you to get some new clients. Maybe it makes it easy in terms of just how many domains are dropping. I know you have a lot of PBN guys in your group. They don’t mind too much when there’s big algo shifts because that’s new inventory.
Daryl Rosser: For sure. Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything, because you’ve been in this for a very long time, is there anything that stands out of people that stick around and manage to stay through all these updates throughout all the years?
Joe Sinkwitz: I’d say the people that have really stuck around evolved. You look, you go back to the early days. Greg Boser, Greg and I were both very black hat. He evolved. All the stuff that he’s doing now, it’s all very big clients and it’s very, it’s technical SEO, but it’s white hat. I think a lot of them grew up. Along the way, I did too. I joined up with Copypress for a period of time and really got deep on content marketing, and kept those relationships as I splintered back off so I could get preferential deals. I think most of the early black hat guys either got out of it or sold companies and just retired on a beach somewhere or they went white hat, big clients.
Daryl Rosser: Interesting. Yeah, it’s very interesting. Do you think that there’s going to be a shift as well, especially because in the last I’d say what, three or four years, I think PBNs in itself became this big deal that everyone’s talking about? I know they’ve been around for much longer than that, but the last few years they’ve kind of taken off and a lot of people are talking about them and promoting them, including a lot of people in my community, including myself. Do you think there’s going to be a shift away from that again and more towards outreach and then some of white hat stuff?
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure. I like to see that, or I like to say, rather, that everything tends to work on a pendulum, so things swing back in favor and back and forth, so we see a constant shift from macro parasites to micro parasites, meaning pre-sell pages back in the day, getting a page off of Forbes was a macro parasite. Then it shifted. It was better to have a whole bunch of small domains very tightly focused on a keyword, those micro parasites. When it shifts back towards micro parasites, the PBNs make a lot more sense. When it shifts back over towards the macro parasite stuff, that’s when it makes sense to utilize authority networks and then dump them back to PBMs because it’s going to switch again. I think it’ll just keep going back and forth over time.
Daryl Rosser: Absolutely. All right, so what is it you’re mostly working on these days?
Using influencer networks for link acquisition
Joe Sinkwitz: Most of my time is actually spent on Intellifluence. It’s worth talking about only because influencer marketing is kind of at a confluence with SCL. When I started it, I started it because I wanted to build my own database of influencers for my own purposes. We have close to 25,000 people now. We want to have 10 million by the end of 2019 so I could launch whatever product I ever want to launch.
In the process of doing it though, I learned some weird things. I learned that a lot of bloggers sign up, and when you hit up a blogger via an influence network, not just mine, but nay of them, they’re in a different mindset than if you hit them with cold outreach saying, “Hey, I want to write an article for your blog” because they’re seeing, “Hey, I’m looking to you for your expertise.” When that occurs, the close rate is way higher.
People, typically agencies, are using my network to basically buy links. I could see a lot of these influencer networks growing really fast and they’re kind of an evolution of the old text link ads model, just not so overt in terms of that’s what’s going on, and because you can kind of mix it in with other things, you’re getting a blog post, but then you’re augmenting it with social traffic and you’re throwing it into a YouTube video and you’re throwing it back into another blog post, it mixes up the signals enough to where it looks really organic, even if it might not have been.
Daryl Rosser: Absolutely. For anyone that doesn’t know, by the way, what is an influence network or what is Intellifluence?
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure. Influencer marketing is I guess, distilled down, just having someone else tell your story for you. While I, I hate the story telling type definitions, content market. It’s buzzword crap. All it is, is having someone else do something for you. What a network usually does is it usually focuses on one or more networks, so it might focus just on Twitter.
You remember the paid Tweet guys? All they really did is they aggregated Twitter users, and you could go in and purchase Tweets. Then, of course, Twitter added on its ad interface and then made it a little bit different. Same thing with Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, et cetera. If there’s a social network, there it’s possible to have a layer that sits outside that network that aggregates information in such a way that makes it more useful to connect through it versus going directly to the network. That in essence is what a network is.
Some of them, like mine, the people that are in the network have signed up to be in the network, so there’s no cold outreach. Some of them, like Ninja Outreach is a good example of something that’s different. They have, essentially, a database, but it’s a cold database. They just aggregated information. You could use it to do pitches, and it works. With mine, it’s going to be a different size database, but it is warm pitches because people want to be contacted. That’s essentially the difference.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. Agencies and stuff will use that buy…?
The most profitable way to rank e-commerce and social networking sites
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah. A lot of small eCommerce brands, those are my biggest users because they’re looking to juice their social traffic and turn it into sales. There’s lots of reasons why you might use an influencer. If you’re starting a new project from scratch, you could go and purchase some attractive looking Instagrammers just to hold your product. Not so much for the sale, but you might use that for social proof on your website. It’s a lot like using the as seen in, but it’s updated for this year. Then after that, you might go back and try to look for someone that’s going to be more relevant and has a higher traffic and audience to push for a flow of traffic to convert to sales. That’s one model. Agencies definitely use it for links. There’s, I know that there’s other things and I don’t want say too much, but there’s lot of ways you could use it, just like there’s lots of ways you could use links in general.
Daryl Rosser: I’m curious, by the way, I’m a direct response guy. I got direct response stuff. With the influence type stuff, especially when people buy in an image where someone just holds up their brand name or something like that, do people actually see a direct response, a direct ROI of that or is it just the buzzwords like the brand building and long-term vision and that sort of stuff?
Joe Sinkwitz: There is actually quite a big direct response channel. There’s good case studies I could turn you to. In Australia, there’s a company by the name of Frank Body, and they got their start, I don’t know, maybe five, six years ago, and all it was this cosmetic company where they took ground coffee and turned it into face scrubs and stuff. I’m not a real big cosmetic guy as you could take, you look at me, you could figure that out. All they did was they would just get their product in the hands of people on Instagram, not celebrities. Just people that looked like they might have a decent size audience. Might be in the cosmetics. I think they’re on pace to do 20 million in rev this year, and all they do is social based sells. It is absolutely a good model for direct response. We’re at, at the first time in the history of cosmetics, although that’s easy to say, we have more brands that are launching as online only brands than launching to get placed on shelf space in brick and mortar stores.
A lot of it has to do with how much easier it is to get manufacturing for the small lot sizes and then testing out. That’s really shortened the process where you could have five different small lot sizes and test out five different campaigns to see which one do people prefer, and then zero in real fast on this is the product, this is the market, now let’s go. It’s getting pretty cool, I think.
Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome, man. What of SEO then? You’ve got your agency as well?
Joe Sinkwitz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Daryl Rosser: What sort of clients are you working with? What are you doing with that?
Joe Sinkwitz: I can’t name the clients.
Daryl Rosser: Sure.
Joe Sinkwitz: Sometimes, they’re very large public companies, and they might be looking to change their brand, and so helping them migrate from a hypothetical Odesk to Upwork. It might be a situation like that where there’s a lot of moving pieces behind the scenes, and you’re guiding them into the new process.
Sometimes it’s a Fortune 500 CEO that was caught sleeping with his secretary and was fired and then got another job as a Fortune 500 CEO, and he wants to make all the bad news go away, so that’s kind of special search ORM. Those are the type of clients. We keep trying to raise our minimum rates because we don’t want to take on too much work. The problem with it is we like to have our people receive that revenue from an agency model so we could work on our fun projects. SEO almost becomes a necessary evil to satisfy our creativity.
Daryl Rosser: I like it.
Joe Sinkwitz: Because everyone that’s ever done SEO client stuff, after a while, it grinds you down. There’s only so much you could, and it doesn’t scale particularly well because people that come in that are willing to pay a high rate are doing so for the personality. They’re looking for that specific, they’re hiring Joe, they’re hiring Daryl, not necessarily Daryl’s agency. It’s a problem like okay, well after a couple dozen clients, you can’t really juggle much more, otherwise the quality starts to suffer. That’s kind of the situation we’re at where we typically only work with really funded clients and then make them see that this needs to be a long project, not just a one off.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. Can you share what your minimum fee is these days?
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure. It’s $15,000 a month.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. It’s pretty big businesses then.
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah. It’s not the local gym type stuff. They’re generally either public or they’re venture backed or PE backed or they’re just a private company that has a very high profit margin and is looking to scale that margin into a lot more profits.
Daryl Rosser: Cool. I’m curious then because the big question people are going to ask me is I have a lot of people that are going out there, and they’re getting clients. It’s no issue to get a client to pay 2,000, 3,000 dollar a month and stuff. How do you get a $15,000 a month client? How do you get in front of these bigger companies?
How Joe landed a $15,000 a month client
Joe Sinkwitz: It’s the same exact model, meaning I think the best advice I can give there is figure out how many clients you can logically handle. Then after you get to that point, the next client has to be at double your rate. If you’re at 3,000 a month and all your clients are 3,000 a month and you can only handle 10, every response to client number 11 needs to be hey, my minimums have to be 6,000 a month.
I’m swamped. I can’t handle anymore. This is my rate. People balk at that a lot, but it works because the next guy says, “Okay.” Now, granted, that’s also a filter because that helps to change who you’re focused on. You’re going to start seeing fewer and fewer small companies and more medium sized companies when you do that.
That’s actually a pretty sweet spot. That three to 7,000 to 8,000 range, there is a lot of companies out there in the world that are very willing to pay that. You could on LinkedIn sales navigator and spend the next year just pulling out leads and hitting them with cold outreach and you’ll have a portfolio.
Daryl Rosser: Okay, so is it a natural progression then?
Joe Sinkwitz: I think so. Almost everyone seems to start out on the local clients, the small clients, and then work their way up. Part of that reason is there’s no extra time that’s spent in terms of, well, there is, but there’s not that much of a difference between talking to a client and getting them to sign paperwork and getting them started.
If it’s $50 a month or if it’s $50,000 a month. Now, granted, there is some corporate minutia that you have to navigate through sometimes and dealing with multiple parties that are responsible for a deal. There is that, but handling client back and forth, it’s relatively the same. Therefore, people come to that logical conclusion, hey, I should just be going after the next tier up.
That said, some people make the conscious decision that I only want to be the local guy in Phoenix or in the Philippines or whatever it might be. They can make a great living just constantly improving their process, but when they do that, generally I see the trend towards automation. Instead of trying to get higher dollar amounts, they’re just trying to get more volume and they’re trying to figure out how they can service more volume.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. I pretty much completely agree with you there.
Joe Sinkwitz: Phew.
Daryl Rosser: No, I noticed the same thing is that it’s either go bigger and bigger and bigger or you have to just really ramp up a massive amount of volume because like you said earlier, it’s not the most scalable model. It’s scalable to an extent, but after a certain level, it becomes very, very difficult to scale it.
Joe Sinkwitz: I agree.
Daryl Rosser: Is that why you started diversifying into Intellifluence? Am I saying that right? Intellifluence?
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah. You’re saying it right. It’s not the first time that we’ve done this. One of mine, I guess we can call it a mistake. Back before Penguin hit in 2012, one of the things that I was doing to diversify was I was buying premium demands, so I owned stuff like autoloans.com, automobile.ccom, neighborhood.com.
Daryl Rosser: Nice.
The biggest mistakes Joe has made over the years, including spending $1,000,000 on a domain
Joe Sinkwitz: We put millions into these things. After Penguin, I realized something, that that top level market is very small, so when a couple buyers leave that market, it crashes hard. We spent two million on autoloans.com, and I’ll be lucky if I could sell it for $800,000 one day.
Daryl Rosser: Wow.
Joe Sinkwitz: The auto fell out. That was just another one of our things where we bought those so we could have side projects, so those are essentially an outgrowth of the same thing that we’re doing now with Intellifluence, although we shifted our mindset in the sense of it’s no longer about the premium domain. Now it’s about the idea and execution of the idea. It’s the same thing. It’s just a different use of time.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. Is it also the same team that works on both?
Joe Sinkwitz: It is. The original team, we grew it up to 50 and then with Penguin, we had to smash that down. Right now, we have a team of five people that are dedicated in the office, and then obviously can extend out from there due to relationships, it’s not hard to do virtual coding teams more on that.
Daryl Rosser: Sure. That’s a drastic difference then, 50 down to 5. What is-
Joe Sinkwitz: Well, it was ego.
Daryl Rosser: Okay.
Joe Sinkwitz: When I look back, did I need 50 people to do what we were doing? We had fantastic margins because organic search, once you got there, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. That user data kept coming back, and within our industries too, some of our products are so habitual that people would keep coming back for the product, so we were kind of blinded by our own success. We didn’t really look and see okay, up to 50.
We probably only needed 20 at that size because it was 5,000 or so sites that we were constantly working on. Now, we recognize that we can get a lot done with a lot fewer people, and I’d rather just treat those guys really well and give them as much flexibility and autonomy as they want to tackle a project versus micromanage 50 people, which was not that much fun.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah, it’s really, really fascinating actually. Wow. Okay, that’s cool, man. That’s interesting. Is there any big lessons that you’ve had then, over the years? Aside from that, of course, or the not getting your ego attached or building on a team like that?
Joe Sinkwitz: I mean, obviously the ego attachment. There’s different schools of thought. I’ve changed my school of thinking to be I will only hire a person when I’m forced to hire a person versus in the earlier days, if I thought I might have a need for a person, I’d just go and throw a person at it. I’d just go, “Okay, yeah. Local university, here’s out starting salary. Let’s do it.” Now it’s more along the lines of I have to be dragged kicking and screaming. “Joe, we need a designer. We just need another one.” Okay, fine. It just changed that model a little bit.
Other advice, one of the things I’d really tell people is routed links can absolutely kill
you. It’s so much better to have permanence to your links than the routed links. The Penguin days, when you go from making a million or two a month to losing 500,000 in a month just because the equation shifts, it exposes an inherent weakness, and it hurts really bad.
The more you could shift off of having those recurring payments every single month or every year, whatever it might be, into stuff that once you have it, it’s set and it’s done, that’s a much safer model. That way if there’s a big algo shift, you don’t have to worry about do I need to cancel all my links. You have a lot more time to figure it out. You’re not going to be pressed into it due to cashflow considerations.
Daryl Rosser: Fair enough. Does that mess up your mindset a little bit? I presume it does, just losing that overnight, just wiped.
How to diversify your income so you’re not at risk of losing overnight (like Joe did)
Joe Sinkwitz: Dude, it fucking destroyed me. I mean, I’ll be very honest. I was pretty close to being able to retire, and we were talking about potentially selling that company for a good amount of money, and then when that all hit, everything sort of compounded at once. That hit and a couple weeks later, I was scheduled to go speak in Poland. I was getting ready to go on a plane to Poland and my wife calls. “Hey, I’m pregnant.”
The world’s coming down like, you’re kidding, right? Everything collapsed at once. I wa
s in a bad spot for a while, but it helped me to get some clarity to the situation, like okay, I am not my business. You’ve got to make that separation. There are going to be ups and downs with the business. There’s just no way you can get around that.
The problem with our vocational choice is we are essentially dancing on the head of a pin. We are trying to manipulate a third party for our income. We don’t have any control over that third party, so when they decide to make big, massive shifts, all we could really do is react to it as best we can and try to predict where that next move might come from and hedge our response a little bit. Other than that, it’s just recognizing where you have control and where you don’t and focusing on those things. There’s not much else you could do. There’s obviously still a lot of money to be had, so I get it.
Daryl Rosser: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. Was your mistake that you got too egotistical and built up too much team and then got your expenses too high, too fast, or was it not predicting the change that was going to happen? Or both?
Joe Sinkwitz: Well, we thought that there was going to be a change. I don’t think anyone that was doing really, really well in that timeframe didn’t think, “Man, the party’s going to end at some point.” When all you had to do was keep buying links at a high velocity, a pretty strong anchor, not distribution, of focus, when everything was above 20% payday loans and stuff. We knew that at some point, there was going to be a shift.
What we did not foresee is that the shift was going to be so drastic where when Penguin hit, it was a lot more severe than say Panda. When we first got hit by Panda, we were able to get out of it on the next calculation of Panda where versus Penguin, Penguin 1.0 to 1.1, it was still able to get out of it. We figured out we could use some redirect trickery and then pop back out. We have a big portfolio for the domains so we were able to play with that.
Then by the time the middle of June in 2012, it was done. They had, it had stopped that stuff, and then they didn’t really do a true calculation of those that were hitting 1.0 for four years. I mean, they had other Penguin updates, but they were not true updates in the sense of allowing recovery on the first guys, April 24th, 2012. Those guys did not recover. I’ve seen a lot of people that would say, “Oh, I recovered in that time frame.” I’d look and say no. There was a Panda update, Penguin, and then another Panda update. The sandwiching of those algos caused people to think they were hitting for different things than what they actually were.
We didn’t realize it was going to be that hard and it was going to be for that long of a period of time. If our big issue was that we were hit, Panda the year before, year and a half before, okay. Nine months later, come back, I could’ve kept everyone. Four years is just too long a period of time to be dealing with that because it, I thought it was psychological. I thought when they did that and they just kept doing it and they wouldn’t allow them to escape, I remember discussing with Aaron Wall, we were thinking, “Maybe this is on purpose. Maybe what they really want to instill at this point is give up. It’s never coming back. Just go away.” Because all the advice was just start in a new domain. They were looking for capitulation on a grand scale so that people would say, “Okay, this is now over. This is truly over.”
They were looking to wipe out that part of the internet. They viewed affiliates more and more negatively over time. Right before Panda, I can’t remember the engineer’s name at Google, but he had penned something on Hacker News, and one of my Friends, Terry [Goutier 00:27:57] and I were looking into it, and we saw that it was a philosophical shift where they had a positive a priori previously, meaning that all things being equal, they would assume a website is good. They shifted to a negative a priori.
They started to assume that hey, the content that you’re adding might be bad. The links that you’re adding might be bad. Just that little shift in how Google approached the web resulted in these kind of negative algorithms. These are not positive algorithms in the sense of we’re going to elevate stuff that’s doing well. It’s all about we’re going to slap you down. They really haven’t come back from that. All their stuff since then has essentially been the same. They’re figuring out new ways to apply a fancy filter.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah, I agree. It’s a good insight, actually. How are you doing link acquisition today then? Obviously not mass buying links on a rental basis.
Joe Sinkwitz: No, I am not doing that anymore. It depends on the client, and it depends on the project. If it’s, let’s say it’s a Fortune 500 client. Usually what we’re dealing with that is we’re coming up with, it’s going to sound boring, we’re coming up with the ideal content strategy. We’re executing on the strategy, and we have outreach to back it up. It’s get a piece of content live on the site, get a piece of content live on a publisher that has it linked back to the client. That works. That is a bulk of the high level stuff. On the ORM stuff, obviously you could be pretty dirty. I still have a lot of GSA machines running.
That stuff is handy just to see is this working again? Yes or no? What happens if I throw a bunch of links at a negative domain? Is it going to increase? If you then do nothing, it’s going to decease. We do a lot of testing with spam tools like that still. Unfortunately, a lot of it gets filtered out, but they’re never gone.
It’s very difficult to filter out mass comment links and filter out mass forum links. They still have an aggregate effect. Here’s a fun story. When Panda hit, the first Panda, it hit automobile.com. It nuked me. We’re like, “Ah, crap. Well, what are we going to do?” This site had, at the time, we were trying to be everything auto related, so we had hundreds of thousands of pages. I thought, well, being an old black hat, what if throw 1,000 links per page? We went hard. We went really, really hard. This domain was getting millions of links in a very short period of time, over a period of time here. Most of them are dead or gone now.
It popped it out of Panda for a different reasons than I thought it was going to work. What happened was we got such a large amount of user engagement because people are going to Google and like, “Why the hell is automobile.com spamming my domain? What the hell is automobile.com?” We created our own brand signal by being so aggressive, pulled it out. I don’t know what the point of that story was other than to say, oh yeah, that there’s different ways that you could use spam tools that you may not initially think of using them as. Like ScrapeBox, still one of my favorite tools. Swiss army knife of the internet.
Daryl Rosser: Is SEO more fun back then when you’re doing more spammy stuff than it is today?
Joe Sinkwitz: It depends. There’s more available today. I think it’s extended beyond organic search now, so now I could look and there’s a lot more tools that you could apply on social. There’s a lot more tools just everywhere. Back then, I think you had to be a little bit stricter in terms of how you developed your sites. You could obviously automate sites and get them live and going, but they looked junky.
If the same signals existed today as back then, it would be so different because of how easy it is now to throw up a few thousand bootstrapped, great looking themed websites that are all technically unique and have a video on the landing page and they’re constantly adding update, content for hummingbird purposes. You could do so much now that you couldn’t do then. Yeah, it was fun to do some stuff. It was obviously nerveracking for different reasons than today, but I don’t know. I think it’s better probably not to live in the past for that. Just look forward.
Daryl Rosser: Definitely.
Joe Sinkwitz: I think let’s enjoy organic search for as long as Google decides to have an organic search, which who knows how long that’ll be.
Daryl Rosser: That’s an interesting discussion, actually. Do you think they’re ever going to just screw it, everyone’s paid?
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah. I don’t know how long it’s going to take though. I don’t think it’ll be as obvious as that. I think you look Google ventures, you look at some of the other stuff they do, they have a tendency to invest in the second or third major player in big industries and elevate those guys over times. You look at flights, they own ITA, so they can control data technically to guys like Expedia and others. I think what we’re going to see is yes, more ads, and we already see this. We already see the pixel theft of organic gets squeezed more and more, but not just that, we’ll also start seeing more of YouTube videos. That already began. We’ll see more of Knowledge Graph. We’ll see more of all that stuff to make it look like it’s kind of organic, but it’s not.
It’s still all Google properties. I think the next step after that is there’ll also be a couple players in there that are at least partially owned by Google that they look like they’re maybe an organic listing, but it’s Google. I don’t think it’ll be for every single industry. I think there’s still going to be long tail stuff out there after a period of time, but I’m not optimistic that regulatory industries worldwide are ever going to take Google to court the way that they probably should.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. I agree, I think. That’s pretty much on point. Even today, it’s getting less and less and less organic compared a few years ago as well. The organic is below the fold in many cases.
Joe Sinkwitz: Look at mobile too. I think mobile’s maybe the best example of that where the majority of clicks that you get on mobile ads are miss-clicks, and it’s just because you put four mobile ads on a phone, it takes a while to scroll past them to even get to an organic listing. It’s not a fantastic situation. I think the best thing we have going for us is the amount of people that are searching and getting online and searching for the first times is increasing at still a pace that’s equivalent to what Google’s taking away. That pie is getting bigger even though our slice of it’s shrinking.
Daryl Rosser: Where does that put us, the SEOs, the old school markets?
Joe Sinkwitz: Diversify. Diversify. The other reason for Intellifluence to exist is because it’s not dependent on Google. I wanted traffic sources that I could just give Google the bird and that’s the end of that. There’s other ways to do it, of course. Some people build their own private forums. Like your Facebook group is actually a decent example of this where if Google torched Facebook, would it matter? Not really.
You’d still have your group. You’d still be able to do your interviews. You’d be able to do whatever you needed to do to get that traffic out of it. I think little hubs like that will be able to succeed. Piggybacking on multiple traffic sources is, it’s old advice, but it’s still good. Oh, email. Everyone needs to gather email and use it smart. Don’t just spam your people every single day with junk. Be smart about what you’re putting in front of them, and keep that list like gold because it is very valuable.
Daryl Rosser: You’ve got experience with affiliate marketing, right?
Joe Sinkwitz: Oh yeah.
Daryl Rosser: If someone’s right now doing affiliate CSO, so they’re ranking a bunch of sites, and people these days are building pretty authoritative sites. It’s 30 to 100 pages big review sites, stuff like that for Amazon. Should they be thinking how can we build this into more of a brand and build an email list and stuff like that?
Joe Sinkwitz: Yes. I’d say do it day one.
Daryl Rosser: Oh wow.
Joe Sinkwitz: I’d say the whole point of that squeeze page that turns into a larger site is you want to capture the customer before they’re even a customer. If you can get them to give pretty some information in exchange for a freebie associated with a product that comes later on down the line, that’s fantastic. I think you really need to be doing that. Even more so, I worry that there’ll be another quality update that comes through and hits obvious affiliate stuff. It’s happened multiple times.
They’ve targeted different ad networks and different affiliate networks. People that had naked commission junction links all over the place, you just don’t see that anymore. Now, a lot of affiliates are smarter and they’re internally redirecting, offers look like they’re real, but I think the more brand building you could do, the better, but even more than just brand building, if you’re an affiliate and you’re having some good success in an industry, go up channel. Why not do a partnership with an actual company that’s not an affiliate relationship, it’s an actual partnership?
Next level up, be the guy that actually builds that product and sells it. Now you have something unique. It’s yours. You’re not an affiliate. I believe quite a bit in affiliate stuff. We’ve built multiple affiliate networks. I have a press release that’s going to go live in two days for Intellifluence affiliate network that’s going to be launching, launching live on your show.
Daryl Rosser: Nice.
Joe Sinkwitz: The channel works really well. It’s just you got to be careful about putting all those eggs in one basket for one website for that’s only affiliate. I think when you’re able to blend affiliate in with content or when you’re able to take your affiliate knowledge and then go up level, that’s when you get the most success.
Daryl Rosser: Okay, so leverage this opportunity while you can and while you can rush rank, but also look to opportunities and ideas too, like how can we build something more long term out of this that doesn’t rely solely on Google.
How Joe ranked #1 for payday loans
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah. Look, payday loans. When we started, it was basically just selling leads, and then we got better at it and we created our own little ping network, and so we determine who we’re going to sell to, based on some business logic. Then we figured out we should just have our, we should fund them. We had our own little loan portfolios. That worked okay.
There is a certain level of confidence one gets to where that’s totally not what I want to even do. We’re like, “Hey, we’re good at calling stuff,” so actually, we own a part of a big call center out in Kansas City. Now the Kansas City, they’re doing all that loan stuff. We don’t, we barely even do payday anymore. We don’t do our own lending. We got out of that when it got scary. We have some leads that come in, but we don’t really focus on it. Just sort of happens.
In the process of going up channel, we now have a great investment that lives out there and we have a lot more knowledge about if we ever wanted to do another financial product, how we’d go about doing it. Going up channel also ends up being a great education. You just learn so much more about your industry, even if you decide to go back down to lead selling or just being an affiliate. You now have more contacts in the industry, and you have much more expertise.
Daryl Rosser: Interesting. Is that how you think that’s the best way to scale past, just being a low affiliate SEO? By just thinking about how you can step it up?
Joe Sinkwitz: If you’re focused don a particular industry, yes. If you’re selling everything, then probably not. Then maybe your expansion has to be more along the lines of how can you get more sites lives or how do you scale it out horizontally versus vertically? I think that’s the big trade off. You could do both. If you’re trying to do both where you’re trying to become an expert in selling diet soda online as well as keyboards and everything else, that’s a little bit harder because how could you be an expert in all of that stuff? You can become an expert in a few things and then higher up. That’s when you end up having to have a big company and not liking life so much.
Daryl Rosser: The guys then that out there, they’re running, some guys I know run 30 different websites. They’re killing, man. They’ve got multiple six figure and up businesses, doing really well, but how did they scale up past that level or is it just the matter of just repeat, just build more sites?
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure. I think each one’s going to be a case by case example probably, but I would say that the guys that are able to build up those multiple businesses that are six figures, that’s awesome and they should probably just keep doing it. Especially if they’re different industries, then that’s great because that horizontal scale works really well for them, then they could be doing millions of dollars, why stop?
When it comes, a big algo update that hits them, my only hope then is that they’re saving enough of their money to be able to reinvest into other ideas or to be able to recover that. I think also another great lesson is even when you have a torched domain, it’s been obliterated, there’s still value to it. Even after we got nuked on most of our stuff, we had direct traffic coming back, so it’s not like things just go from 100 to 0 completely. If it does, then that’s really scary and you didn’t really have real traffic just because you weren’t capturing the user, and that’s when it comes back to email.
If you were hit and you have a huge email list, you’re able to recover things using email. It’s like, “Hey, we’re experiencing problems. Could you guys go to Google and search our brand name and click it? That’d help us a whole lot.” It can help you recover. I think the diversification of mediums is, it’s oversold advice, but it’s still really good advice.
Daryl Rosser: No, for sure. Even the Lion Zeal Blog right now, we rank number one I think for PBN. Not really that deliberately, but if Google somehow destroyed our site because we’re ranking for PBN and promoting PBNs, for some reason they’re letting us do that right now, it’s not a big deal. We have the email list. We have the group. It doesn’t really make any difference. It makes a bit of a difference, but not too much.
Joe Sinkwitz: I think the best example I’ve heard that might be a good analogy is when a government site is defaced. Let’s say someone hacked the CIA website. All they’re doing, if you’ve ever seen the XKCD comic about it, it’s the equivalent of tearing the poster off the wall, not doing anything else. In your case, if the site itself was hit, well, your domain portfolio is totally fine, just launch under a different brand.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah.
Joe Sinkwitz: I think that’s a good level of what we’re talking about here for sure.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. What are your thoughts then on PBNs and buying, maybe not renting links on a monthly basis, but buying lifetime links and stuff today?
Joe Sinkwitz: I mean, I have some vested interests in saying that yeah, they do work. For sure. Obviously, if they didn’t, people would not be buying them. Also, I think your probably going to be even more of an expert on PBN than I am at this point where there’s a big difference in what they are based on who is selling and where they’re selling them. If you go to black hat world and you’re buying a PBN, is it really a PBN? Is it really private if they’re giving example links out to anyone that asks for them?
There’s levels of privacy in all that and randomness to it. I think those links certainly have their place. I like using them as tier ones in some cases for really good clients. Also, there’s a risk factor to it too. If you have something where you’re not really sure and it may get burned because it’s not quite an authority, hold off. Build up some more natural sources before layering on the PBNs.
One of the things I hate is when I see someone go, they spend a lot of money on PBNs and they get good links, and then they screw it because they see where the links come in from. Oh, I got to add my tier twos to this. They throw garbage at the PBN links and then devalue what those links were going to pass on to you. I see too many people torch networks that way out of their own stupidity, so the more private the PBN is and the more selective it is in terms of who they bring on, the better.
Daryl Rosser: Absolutely. Another thing I’ll see as well is people think it’s all about their links and they go rent these PBN links and then they don’t SEO and they’ll completely neglect on page SEO, which I think it’s very, very important still or even more so these days.
Joe Sinkwitz: Absolutely. I mean, I just look at it like there’s three things you got to take care of. You have your content, you have your links, and you have user signals. User signals could again be the speed of the site, it could be getting repeat visitors, whatever it might be. If you think of just those three things and try to satisfy them, you’ll probably do okay, but if you only focus on, you’re going to get screwed up. You can’t do user signals without content and links. You can’t really do links without content and user signals. You can’t do content and expect it to rank if you don’t have any links where people come into it. Absolutely.
Daryl Rosser: Absolutely. Okay. A few final questions will wrap it up, I guess. If anyone has any questions by the way, feel free to submit them. I know there’s a few of you guys listening in. I’m curious, I’d like you to brag. What’s three big wins you’ve had over the years doing SEO and just your business ventures in general?
Joe Sinkwitz: Okay. For a fun period of time, I was doing $50,000 a day in mere profit in organic search.
Daryl Rosser: Wow.
Joe Sinkwitz: That was fun.
Daryl Rosser: What were you doing with it?
Joe Sinkwitz: Mostly just payday loans and car insurance and auto insurance
Daryl Rosser: Nice.
Joe Sinkwitz: It was kind of cool. We hit number one in car insurance in 2008 I think, and in that period of time, they gave us site links too, so we were car insurance and we had the site links on it. I got so many cease and desist letters from Geico and All State and all those guys. It was crazy. I guess you could brag on that sort of thing.
Daryl Rosser: How did you rank back then?
A look back at ranking strategies used back in 2003 and how it’s changed
Joe Sinkwitz: It was links. It was content links. It was a good site, so the site was well developed, had a lot of good content. It was usable content, and we built, we ramped those links up. I was very big on local set links back in those times. I would look, it was before majestic HUBFinder and that type of stuff, so we created our own little search engine that would look for potential links.
We’d say, “Okay, anything related to cars or car insurance, let’s see what exists and then who’s linking to them. Let’s try to go get those links as well.” We’d get as many as possible, and that’s really all there was to it. I think some we had to buy, some we could get, some we could trade. I don’t know if we invented three way link exchanges or not in 2003 or 4, but I think we were one of the earlier guys that were doing that. We’d give them a link from one site, we’d get a link from another. Nothing crazy. It was actually a fairly easy footprint to figure out in retrospect, but it worked for years.
Daryl Rosser: Sounded smart at the time.
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah, it was smart at the time. We built out some cool content spinners. I’m pretty anti-Google, so I just installed Chrome for you so I can get this thing gone, and afterwards I’m uninstalling it and probably, who knows, I might have to reformat my computer to get it completely off.
Daryl Rosser: Is that an SEO thing? When you’ve been doing this long enough, you’re just like, “Screw Google”?
Joe Sinkwitz: I don’t know if it’s just screw Google. I just don’t trust them. There was a problem we had in our company where it was not invented here syndrome. That’s kind of a common thing. We built our own analytics because we didn’t trust Google analytics. It was a decent product. I don’t know that I would’ve done it again though. We didn’t trust WordPress because we got one of our sites hacked, so we built our own CRM at the time. That was a really big mistake because WordPress kept developing and made things so much better than what we had. We created a lot of technology, looking back.
We created a search engine. I look and I’m like, “Okay, cool. Great.” I ant to brag about that so I could talk it back and say we shouldn’t have done most of those things. We should’ve just kept it simple as possible. Should’ve kept our company smaller and focused and banked on our money. We should’ve just kept on funneling the profit and not buying big, big domains. If I could help turn one person’s mind around, maybe it’d be that. Don’t reinvest all your caption to your businesses, otherwise you’ll from being multi multi multi millionaire to shit, now I got to get a job. You don’t want to do that. It’ll mess with your head.
Daryl Rosser: Interesting. I guess the different way of thinking about that is it depends surely what stage you’re at, right? Because if you’re just starting out, you kind of have to stick all into it so you can scale it.
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure. You can, or maybe you’re starting out as a side hustle while you have another job. There’s obviously lots of ways to do it, but also too, if you’re just starting out and you lose it all, it’s not a big deal. What you’ve lost in comparative to what you could have gained in an opportunity cost elsewhere is somewhat minimal versus if you’re at that certain stage where you have the potential to be making a lot of money, save a lot of it, invest it in other assets. Where you’re in coins or you’re into real estate or something, just put it a little bit somewhere else so you don’t get all carried up in your own ideas because at some point, you will start to think that you will not fail, and that’s generally when you do.
Daryl Rosser: That’s a good point. No, I like it. I completely agree, especially when it’s all reliant on Google or something like that. It’s even more so the case that you should do that. I agree, I think it’s good to diversify. I’ll get there.
Joe Sinkwitz: I mean, yeah, with your PBN’s thing, you’re probably not too far off. You could probably start using those in a lot of ways. You could sign up as a super influencer and have all these different domains attached to different personas in a network that I’m familiar with called Intellifluence, and people could contact through. There’s so many different ways that you could play this out if you start attaching personas to your domains and keeping them separate where they don’t look like they’re the same. You can do a lot.
Daryl Rosser: Got a few questions coming in.
Joe Sinkwitz: Sure.
Daryl Rosser: Someone said what if Google basically wanted to take over the search results or at least that’s what we’re discussing earlier today, would you still recommend starting a client SEO agency or would you recommend just doing ad words instead?
Joe Sinkwitz: If you’re starting from scratch, I’d probably go PPC just because that’s clearly going to be around for a while. Now, granted, Google with their express accounts and that type of stuff, it’s somewhat anti agency in that regard, bu ti see that succeeding longer than SEO, but if you already have expertise in SEO, then play to your expertise. Not a super clear answer, unfortunately. If I were to start again, I’d go back to STO because I’m better at SEO than I am PPC, but if was coming from scratch, I’d probably do, I wouldn’t just do PPC ad words, I’d be doing Facebook ads and Twitter ads, LinkedIn ads, et cetera.
Daryl Rosser: Okay. If you’re starting from scratch, you think PPC could be?
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah.
Daryl Rosser: I agree. I think PPC, I don’t know, I like SEO. I agree, it’s a good model as well.
Joe Sinkwitz: That’s the direct response model too, going back to your earlier thoughts.
Daryl Rosser: Very, very true. Anyone else have any interesting questions? I’m curious, I guess we can ask a couple final questions. We’ve been going for quite a while. By the way, thanks for spending so much time with me today and answering all these. If you were starting out, so kind of with the topic we’re just on, what would you do today?
Joe Sinkwitz: I would probably try, I tried to stay in the shadows for a very long time. I’m known as Cignus in some old school SEO forms and whatnot. I tried to stay hidden because I didn’t really want people to look me up. I didn’t want people to try to find my footprints. If I was starting today, I might try to build up the persona initially. I might try to do the stunts. People look at Rand Fish, he was nothing back in 2003.
He’s just another guy. He had a client, stuff like Avatar Financial for hard money loans and whatever. It wasn’t until he tried, he tried doing the yellow shows and making a big peacock name for himself that he actually became a name.
He leveraged it correctly. He turned it into a brand. He did that right. I’d say that I’d probably have to do that, and I’d probably hyper focus on one particular thing. I’d focus on, “Okay, I’m going to be the guy known for some specific update in Google. I’m going to be all over the place on Twitter. I’m going to be taking every single interview request, doing that, building that, and then getting deep on the expertise.”
Unfortunately, it’s the reverse of what I already did. That’s probably how I’d have to do it just because it’s really hard to make a name for yourself at an agency if you’re starting from scratch and you don’t really have any expertise. Then you end up having to do a lot of free work in order to get case studies and then using the case studies to get bigger clients. That’s a process.
Daryl Rosser: Interesting. Cool, so you’d actually, if you were starting out again, you’d prefer to build a brand and authority like that?
Joe Sinkwitz: I think so, and also because it’s a lot easier to do now. It was a little harder to do then. How hard is it really to get a few thousand followers here, a few thousand followers there? Fairly easy. I would probably go that route just because it’s easier to fake it till you make it now.
Daryl Rosser: You’re hurting my ego. It’s supposed to be very, very difficult.
Joe Sinkwitz: Well, if you’re doing it, and actually, I don’t care what my follower counts look like. They just kind of happen, but if I want to go and get 100,000 Twitter followers, it’s not expensive.
Daryl Rosser: For sure.
Joe Sinkwitz: I see more people, I see more experts faking it now than I did back in the day because back in the day it was more direct information sharing back and forth than it is now. Now how can I write 3,000 words without actually saying anything? That stuff drives me nuts.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot of the blogs and everything these days, their goal is just to put as many words on the page as they possibly can because if you have a 15,000 word blog post then you must be very good at what you’re talking about.
Joe Sinkwitz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Daryl Rosser: It’s working for them.
Joe Sinkwitz: Yeah, it is. It’s a different KPI than people think that they’re getting for sure.
Daryl Rosser: Yeah. All right, any final thoughts or words of wisdom to wrap up this episode?
Joe Sinkwitz: Work hard.
Daryl Rosser: I know, putting you on the spot.
Joe Sinkwitz: Network. There’s a lot of things that I guess you could say. We covered a lot of them. Just diversify but become an expert in one particular niche if you possibly can. Go up channel when you have that opportunity. Join Intellifluence, that’s a key. There’s no secret sauce out there. A lot of the success came from just hard work. Nowadays, if I’m talking to someone and I don’t know them, I’m not going to be able to follow up with them, I’d say, “Look, just build out a site.”
I hate this advice, but it’s still valid. Put on, don’t say good content, put in content that matters to the user for specific industry niche. Get links to that content, and over time, it will add up to something big, but it’s not going to be an overnight success. You could use PBNs like what you offer and mix it in with just some organic outreach to places like Ink and Forbes and whatnot, and it’ll work. It’s just, it’s not sexy.
Daryl Rosser: No, for sure. I know a lot of the Amazon affiliate guys these days are saying it’s 12 plus months these days to get a site ranking well enough to make them their ROI. It’s slow, but it works. How many years are you in it are you now today?
Joe Sinkwitz: 20 years.
Daryl Rosser: 20, wow. I’m 24.
Joe Sinkwitz: Well, I’m old. I’m old. The trade off to getting long term expertise is a lot of gray hair.
Daryl Rosser: Fair enough. I agree probably. All right, thank you for joining me today. This has been a lot of fun and it had a lot of nuggets.
Joe Sinkwitz: Excellent, I’m glad to hear that.
Daryl Rosser: All right. I hope you guys enjoyed the episode and I’ll see you next week for a special episode, episode number 50, so it should be really fun. I’ll see you guys there. End broadcast.