This week I sat down with Jason Berkowitz, owner and SEO Director at Break The Web. We talk all things SEO…what to look for, ask, and think about when considering an SEO provider, and what elements make up a successful overall SEO strategy.

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Jason Yormark: Welcome to another episode of Socialistics, social media agency stories. My name is Jason Yormark and we have another great guest this week. We’re going to talk his agency story and all things SEO. Welcome Jason Berkowitz from break the web. Welcome to the show.

Jason Berkowitz: Thank you so much for having me, Jason. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jason Yormark: Yeah, absolutely. So like we normally do just kind of jump in. Tell me a little bit about your history kind of how you got into marketing, SEO, how you started the agency and what you guys do.

Jason Berkowitz: So the agency kind of fell in by accident, I guess, natural evolution of course. I owned a different business in the fitness world about 10 years ago, and I was a personal trainer and finding ways to have clients come to me was really challenging. So while Googling around, as somebody might typically do, I searched and I came across the acronym SEO and I realized that I can actually have people who have intent and demand for my services as a personal trainer come to me. So I successfully learned about SEO and of course, SEO was very different way back then. It was around 2009, 2010, and I actually lost the passion for personal training and kind of a paradigm shift took place, I was more interested in the SEO aspect of things where I did this for my own business. I can do this for other businesses as well. So I started freelancing on the side just for some extra cash. My first client was on E-Lance, which is now Upwork. And since then it was just a natural transition with growth. As I started getting busier and busier, start bringing out VA’s to help with some of my new tasks and then slowly but surely you just opened your eyes one day and you have a little boutique agency.

Jason Yormark: Awesome. So how long has break the web, how long have you been in business?

Jason Berkowitz: So we’ve been officially labeled as Break the web since about 2018, but was a small agency, probably around 2013 is when things are growing. We were under a different name because we do SEO. We had a really horrible brand name, legally was different, but the brand name was SEO services New York. Because, you know, SEO rank and that site actually still ranks as kind of a lead generator for us now. But it’s not really brandable, it sucks. So we were legally at the time hyper web marketing, which also sucks. So a little bit of whisky, watching the news, Kim Kardashian, breaking the web that’s where we are now.

Jason Yormark: Gotcha. Awesome. So tell me a little bit more about your agency now. How many people, what type of clients do you work with? Is it just SEO? Do you do anything other than that? Just give me a little more landscape.

Jason Berkowitz: We’re a team of 15 and we primarily offer search marketing. So whether it’s SEO or paid advertising within search, we could also do a little bit of social, but our real expertise is right in the realm of search engines. And we typically help in-house marketers that exist within certain brands of B2C companies, integrate SEO, make it work effectively and collaborate with existing teams versus maybe smaller sized businesses that your main point of contact might be the owner or the founder. For us we found that the way we work works best when we have somebody who’s a bit more data-driven like a marketer in house versus a founder or an owner who might be a bit more emotionally driven.

Jason Yormark: Yeah. You know, I’ve always found, I mean, I know enough about SEO to kind of speak to it and even sell it to a certain extent, but I’ve never really been a practitioner. And the thing that I’ve always found on either side of it is that it’s still a big, it’s very mysterious. You know, when I think about marketing strategies and tactics, SEO is like the most mysterious one. It’s always the one that nobody really knows how to do. And everybody has a different theory about how to do it. And there’s a lot of pretenders. You know, in your opinion and your experience, what makes a high quality SEO strategy or agency like what differentiates from, you know, cause I’ve seen a bunch of garbage ones that say they’ll do it for a couple hundred bucks and I’m like, you know, you always get what you pay for. So really what makes the difference between doing it the right way and all of those sorts of folks?

Jason Berkowitz: Well, especially when you’re working with an agency that specializes in SEO, I think the big differentiator is whether that agency is focused on maybe vanity numbers or keywords, versus the big picture. So of course, when we have a discovery with our clients, we try to figure out what their big picture is. Is it sales? Is it traffic? Is it brand awareness? Making sure that we tie in overall to their bigger picture, because SEO is a strategy of the many different marketing verticals into their bigger picture. That’s where we try to find alignment. And of course, SEO is a patience game, an expensive patients game. As you said when you do have companies that offer too cheap, or if companies that are too expensive, those are kind of the red flags to keep an eye out for. But a good SEO strategy is one that’s focused on the big picture. One that’s ever evolving because the algorithms are always ever evolving, but ones that are going in the natural course of a website, just gaining authority and trust online. That’s where I would say is the right SEO strategy.

Jason Yormark: And in this day and age, you know, there’s a lot of different buckets that I know kind of contribute to SEO like onsite, you know, external content, link-building. Is there one that really, as things kind of exist today, is there one that really impacts search results from an SEO perspective, more significantly than any other?

Jason Berkowitz: I personally believe it’s a 50/50 split. What I see, I tend to, I don’t as much anyone, [05:53 inaudible] getting into LinkedIn fights with people. I know there’s Twitter fights, LinkedIn fights, where people are like only links. People are like only content. And of course they are selling either links or they’re selling content, but it is a 50/50 split. Because content is used to signal relevance of a site, topical relevance, what the website’s about, who it serves, what questions are being answered. But if you’re in a competitive space, yeah, you might be able to in low committed spaces rank with just really, really awesome content. But then you need that trust factor. And that’s where links come in to help signal trust in that 50/50 split. So in any normal competitive market, you really need to have what’s objective as great content as well as some really good trust signals coming in from relevant websites as well. IE links.

Jason Yormark: Gotcha. What percentage of the clients that you work with? Are you guys creating the content for them? Do they do it with your direction? What does that dynamic look like?

Jason Berkowitz: Everyone uses our direction, our actual content offering. We do maybe 25% of it. It’s something that we’re actually looking to grow in the future is full on content marketing versus just advisement, where we can help them with content briefs and help them with inclusions of what should be in the content and work directly with their writers, where you are looking to down the road offer full on content creation as well. But right now it’s about 25% of our clients that take our content. But every single one that’s pushing out top of the funnel content, they all take our advisement. Just because we don’t want SEO also to be like stupid in terms of the content flow, when you hear of, let’s SEO optimize our content, you just hear of like random placings of words and it doesn’t flow naturally, and it doesn’t make sense. And it’s kind of over optimized. We try to make it a bit more natural where the flow of the content is the number one priority while working in topics that should be included from an SEO standpoint.

Jason Yormark: How do you see Google my business impacting SEO in terms of strategically, obviously every time, you know, practically every time you do a search, you see the three pack at the top. How much of that is impacted what you guys do and how much of that as a focus in terms of working with certain types of clients?

Jason Berkowitz: For local businesses very impactful. It’s just another engine driver in search, where people like I use Google maps on my phone all the time. So that’s just one search engine, but at the same time, I’m also using Google search as well. When I have questions, it’s just another engine driver and they of course tie into a local presence. If you are a local, having a Google my business could help your regular organic results and vice versa, having that website and having everything filled out to the fullest can help your map positions as well. Absolute must if you are a local business.

Jason Yormark: From a local business perspective, if let’s say you had to prioritize one over the other, are you pushing people to kind of optimize there and invest resources in making that happen versus organic or vice versa? Does one kind of stand out more than the other?

Jason Berkowitz: I’m a big believer in stick with what you own. You own your website and you can control as much as possible. With Google, with anything, Google, Facebook, everything, especially nowadays you’re at their mercy with whatever changes they may make. And even if Google search organically makes some changes, well, there’s always Bing and Duck Duck Go, but at least you control the asset versus Google Maps and Google my business. They can just randomly decide one day to shut you down and not give you a good reason why. And that does happen, unfortunately.

Jason Yormark: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in terms of with your clients? You know, obviously every agency has all kinds of horror stories, but what are some of the biggest misconceptions or they come to you with unrealistic expectations or, you know, what are some of the bigger challenges you face as an agency owner in terms of how you deal with you know, challenging client or potential client interactions?

Jason Berkowitz: So our challenge is actually not in the expectation setting phase, like early on, because in the sales process, I do sales for our business. And I really home in on that. We don’t want to deal with any issues down the road. It’s actually in the integration of SEO in-house and our client side. That’s the biggest challenge. But regarding expectations setting we really work to make sure that they understand what’s possible, what’s going to happen, how long these might take. We lay out a roadmap, a timeline of execution. So they know all around what’s going to take place. It’s the changes and the integration from the development side of things that tend to be the biggest challenge, especially when in-house, they may have bandwidth issues. And we just improved earlier this week actually our onboarding process to get an idea of how much time internally they have to devote towards this type of collaboration, especially early on, on the foundational stuff like tech SEO, page SEO changes. That tends to be our biggest challenge is getting things integrated on time.

Jason Yormark: Do you get a lot of potential clients that are uncomfortable with the longer timeline for results? Is that something that you come across a lot?

Jason Berkowitz: The leads that come in to our first brand, Yes. It’s so weird that the leads come in to break the web versus that EMD exact match domain. They’re still very different where SEO services, New York tends to be a bit more blue collar business owner, founder. They tend to be a bit more emotional with the timeline, in which they want results fast. Yeah, they can wait three months, but after three months, typically you should see something within three months, as long as you’re doing some stuff. But in terms of like the big picture, hitting the big picture and waiting a year for that big picture item to come, yeah, some aren’t patient. And we try to establish that very early on in the sales process. And if we can’t manage those expectations, then we’re probably not the right fit for them.

Jason Yormark: Got it. What would you say is the big difference we experiences with our business development, you know, we come across clients that, you know, aren’t a good fit for us in terms of costs. You know, they’re expecting, we’re going to spend a couple of dollars a month on this thing. I’m like, well, you can do that, but you get what you pay for. So in your world when it comes to SEO, what would you say are the biggest differences between, you know, spending a couple hundred dollars a month, you know, in that ballpark versus a couple thousand, you know, where it becomes a little bit more, you’re working with an agency that’s a little bit more sophisticated. What’s really the biggest difference between those two scenarios. What can a business expect if they go cheap with SEO versus going with somebody that’s a little bit more expensive and thus probably a little bit more sophisticated in what they do?

Jason Berkowitz: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing is, and since we’re all agency owners here, we understand that money doesn’t actually equate to deliverables 100%, but it does equate to output. And since time is money, even billable, non-billable hours, all of those come into account. And if you’re hiring SEO for cheap, there’s a couple of things that might happen. Either they’re not doing anything and they’re taking your money and they rely on that turn and burn and they’re just conglomerate, so they don’t care. Which there’s tons of those in the SEO world. And if they are doing work, is it outdated? Is it push button stuff that used to work five, six years ago, that don’t work anymore. And again, how much time are they actually invested in the campaign, in terms of research, strategy development, link-building which we have an entire team dedicated just to link building. Cause that’s a whole process. So on the cheap side, yeah, times have changed. You get what you pay for and anyone who, at least for us who says, well, this company is offering it for cheaper. And if they go significantly cheaper, then they’re probably not the right fit for them anyways. They’re looking for something quick and easy.

Jason Yormark: If I’m a potential client and I’m kind of shopping for an SEO provider in your opinion, what’s the best question or series of questions that they can ask to vet whether an SEO agency is the real deal.

Jason Berkowitz: Yeah, I can name a few actually. First, you know, if you’re having a conversation with them, you should have done your due diligence, making sure you have case studies that can show the proof in their work. And even if they’re showing their, they should show their client’s name in those case studies, of course the testimonial, you can do your own research and say, you know, plug it into SEMrush or HS and see if the numbers match up and things look good. And then when you actually converse with them and ask them, do you have a framework? Do you have a process? Do you have a timeline? What does that look like? They just say, oh, we’re just going to go and optimize a few pages, build some links. And by bada bing, bada boom, you’re all set and ready to go. That’s a little shady where, you know, we have a broad timeline of execution that we share very early on, it’s based on a typical client, but of course things get modified based on budgets and such. But it gives them a nice roadmap of what they can expect, especially because SEO or even agencies. I know this from the SEO world where a lot clients don’t really know what their agencies are doing. They’re left in the dark and they’re like, okay, I get a report of the results or the data and the numbers. What did you actually do? Did you close for a month or two on those numbers? Well, you know, SEO results were going up or did you actually spend some time and investment? So asking about the framework, the process, the timelines, what communication is like, because communication is a big point, a big pain point in the SEO world. Those are some of the things that I would highlight.

Jason Yormark: What size kind of clients do you guys typically work with?

Jason Berkowitz: Probably one to five mil annual revenue range.

Jason Yormark: Okay. And in terms of lead generation for you guys, what’s a kind of, what are your pipelines in terms of new business? Where do you typically get them from? I mean, it may seem like an obvious question. You’re an SEO agency, search, but sometimes it’s not that black and white.

Jason Berkowitz: Yeah. Coming on podcasts like this definitely helps. Absolutely. We have a few generators, referrals, constantly networking, building the network. We do of course do some SEO, which we could be better at ourselves. Just like every agency says they can do better at what they offer. We are starting to put a bit more attention to it. So things are going up. So yeah, SEO in from like top middle of the funnel, lead keywords, as well as bottom of the funnel, you know, New York SEO, search marketing, search marketing agency NYC, those type of keywords are optimal for us. And we have dabbled with paid a little bit. Hasn’t really done much because it’s competitive.

Jason Yormark: For sure. So your decision makers typically like C-suite level, marketing directors, CEOs is that the kind of decision makers that you guys are trying to reach?
Jason Berkowitz: Yeah, our typical client has a decision maker is a marketing director with our main point of contact being manager or somebody below the director and which a director can be available for of course, expectation setting as well as quarterly review meetings.

Jason Yormark: Yeah. What’s been interesting to me is when I first started my agency, I didn’t really expect that those types of folks are the kinds of people that would be searching for an agency. Like in most cases it would be somebody that was referred to them or they didn’t have to put in a lot of leg work to kind of go and find something, but it’s been interesting. And I don’t know if this is because of the pandemic because more people are online and there’s less in person. But the percentage of leads that we get through search from individuals like that is more than I would have expected as an agency owner. I’m just kind of curious if you guys are experiencing the same sort of thing.

Jason Berkowitz: Yeah. I think it depends like for example, top of the funnel or content or informational depends on what you’re actively targeting. So for example, if you have a content piece, that’s not thought leadership about your service specifically, like every SEO agency is constantly posting SEO content. Like what is this, how to do keyword research, how to do XYZ. And there’s no differentiation there, but if you can tackle pain points through your content and then SEO the hell out of it, in which people are searching, that’s really powerful. One example that we have is we rank for full service agency, boutique agency, boutique versus full service agency, with one post. And it’s just a comparison. What’s a boutique agency versus full service agency. My biased opinion is that boutique is better than full service. So it’s kind of gearing that way. Yeah, it’s kind of gearing that way in the content itself. And actually does provide a few leads per month, because we’re ranking for a variety of keywords.

Jason Yormark: I agree. We kind of get quite a bit of that. As far as in terms of, I just lost my train of thought there for a second. Oh, so agency owners any kind of tips, tricks, suggestion, advice for somebody that’s just starting out an agency or thinking about it. And either just from what you’ve learned as an agency, or as it may apply to SEO anything that kind of comes to mind that might be helpful.

Jason Berkowitz: The first one is going to be, this is going to be an emotional rollercoaster. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. You have some really awesome days. You end the day, you’re like, hell yeah, I’m about to pop a bottle of whiskey and party. And then there’s going to be days where you have like imposter syndrome. Like, what am I doing? What am I doing here with all these people? And it doesn’t make sense. So that’s one that’s going to, I guess, entrepreneurship in general is an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs. And then from an actual tactical perspective, document everything, sops for everything you do, because some day somebody may leave and you’re like, oh, crap, I have to train somebody and I don’t even know how to do it. So have everyone just document everything. We actually had an operations team come in and audit our stuff a few weeks ago, and they had a really good tip, any random one off questions, whether it’s slack or a project management tool that gets asked immediately becomes an SOP. I thought that was, it’s simple and stupid, but it’s a lot, you know, and it’s allowed us to enhance our SOP significantly.

Jason Yormark: No, that’s awesome. I love that. What is, I ask everybody this, almost everybody favorite gadget, book, documentary, something that you’ve consumed or use or something that just really comes to mind that has been kind of an impactful thing for your, one of your favorite thing.

Jason Berkowitz: As I turn around to my bookshelf and look at some of the books like this. So there’s some really good ones for agency owners, of course traction. I’ve heard of traction by Gino Wickman, EOS model very good, as well as profit first from [20:38 inaudible]. That’s a really good one, just to make sure as agency owner, you’re putting money away and you’re actually putting money in your pocket and you can do whatever hell you want with it, save it, spend it whatever you want. That’s where it helps find a lot of profit leaks. There’s another good one from Joey Coleman, never lose a customer again, that actually really revamped our onboarding process and customer experience significantly. So those are great books.

Jason Yormark: I love it. I love those recommendations. Awesome. Anything that I didn’t ask you today that you think might be helpful to kind of slide into what we’ve talked about today?

Jason Berkowitz: Not that I can think of offhand, but this was awesome.

Jason Yormark: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you sharing your insights. I always find SEO stuff fascinating. We need to do a better job of it. We’ve been doing content for three years. So just doing that alone is, I concur with you just being consistent and putting out content and being helpful and thinking about keywords around, you know, those posts has been enough to really, you know, drive a significant warm lead pipeline for us. So if anybody’s listening, you know, you don’t have to be an SEO guru, just put out really great stuff. And that in and of itself can really make a huge difference.

Jason Berkowitz: You know is somebody asks a question, oh, we actually have an article on that topic specifically. It doesn’t even need to be SEO.

Jason Yormark: Well, plus the part like the podcast, like for us doing this podcast has been a really great sales tool because we’ll have a conversation and then something will come up, oh, you know, we had an episode that actually touched on this. You should go listen to it. And then they’re like, you have a podcast. Like, they just think it’s like the celebrity level achievement. I’m like, I don’t say this, but I’m like, it’s really not that difficult to do if want to do. But Hey, if that’s the way you want to think about it, that’s fine. But it’s crazy how much of a differentiator that can be too. So well, awesome. Well thank you so much for being on the show. How can people find you, your agency kind of share your contact info?
Jason Berkowitz: Absolutely. You can just Google Break the Web. We are at and find me on social stuff Jason Berkowitz.

Jason Yormark: Awesome. Well, thanks again so much for being on the show. A real pleasure to have you.
Jason Berkowitz: Thank you so much, Jason.

Jason Yormark: Awesome. And that’ll do it for this week’s episode of Socialistics, social media agency stories. Like, share all that good stuff. Thank you for listening. And we will catch you in the next episode.