SEO is crucial for driving leads to your website and converting them to clients.

But too many people leave SEO as an afterthought…

And lose clients to sites who put optimization first.

In this episode, Rich Guth reveals why SEO needs to be part of your messaging from the beginning.

Rich is an SEO expert with 25+ years in marketing. Listen to him break down his winning SEO research process—and tell you how to get your site in the top ten results for competitive keywords.


Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is optimizing messaging for performance and digital channels. Here to speak with me is Rich Guth, who is the CMO at Slope, an eClinical supply chain management platform that enables stakeholders on real time visibility, chain of custody traceability and compliance and protocol adherence for even the most complex clinical trials. Rich has over 25 years of marketing experience working for a variety of businesses in senior positions. He delivers digital communications and content marketing strategies rooted in SEO. Rich, welcome to the show.

Rich Guth: Thank you. Good to be here, Steffen.

Steffen: Now, before we, before we discover why you love SEO so much. Tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career, and what led you to marketing?

Rich: Well, after college, I moved to San Francisco, and didn’t, I had a friend who had a VA loan and bought a Victorian and put it up, offered free rent for anyone who came to help fix it up. And so I did that and started looking for jobs. And being here, it was clear that the tech industry was the way to go. And so I found a job, classic story, I delivered mail and answered phones in the computer department of a big bank. And then I got kept getting promoted and trained within that position. 

And then eventually a vendor hired me, a software vendor that we worked with, and I went into sales. And from there, I went into marketing. And at this point, I’ve done pretty much every marketing job you could possibly do. So I’ve you know, I’ve been hands on with just about everything. And the thing that I love about it. And the reason why I’ve stayed with it is that constantly changes and evolves. And there’s always something new to learn. So it continues to be a interesting domain for me. Both the technology side and the marketing side.

Steffen: Yeah. At what point did you become so fascinated with SEO that you really start diving deep into that topic?

Rich: Well, it was a result of not getting results. You know, I hired my first SEO experts in back in 2000. And, you know, it was no one really knew how to do it then. But you know, it’s like, okay, see what you can do. And then I went to a very large company, where we did several rounds of, you know, rebuilding the website, rebuilding our messaging, and then bringing in an SEO firm to hire it to optimize the SEO. And I just never saw the results I thought I should see. And then I went, left that larger company and did a couple of startups. And you know, you hear the same thing. 

You hire a web design firm, and you say, okay, let’s think about how this is going to need to perform from SEO and what we do, and I consistently hear from the web design firms, worry about just, let’s get the website up. And then you can worry about that after the website’s up and it tells the right story. And after doing it multiple times, it was just like, this is not working. I’m not getting the traffic I want. I’m not ranking for the right keywords. My blogs aren’t generating traffic. Clearly retrofitting, it just isn’t the way to go.

Steffen: No, no. It’s, Rich, it’s so funny that you say that. Because, you know, in my career I started in, in digital marketing back in 2004. I had so many occasions where people had exactly the same opinions. Like let’s let us take care of the beauty of a site so it looks great in front, right. And then everything else as in SEO, we do afterwards. It’s even I used to I used to manage the digital marketing for a big, global luxury brand. And they built this beautiful site with videos, you name it. When when they launched the site, it was so slow, that nothing worked. 

And they had completely forgotten about SEO. And it’s, I feel like it’s always an afterthought, right? It’s never kind of something where companies say hey, you know what, yes, I need to build a new website. But I also have to make sure that my navigation works from an SEO perspective. Navigation was really important for a website and everything else needs to be kind of go hand in hand, instead of having two parallel paths where the web design and web development works. And then where SEO is.

Rich: Yeah, in fact, there are typically three parallel paths that are not related, a messaging project, and generation of the content, the web design and the SEO. And so typically, those things work in parallel and are not conceived as one.

Steffen: Yeah. Well, you know, having having looked at your LinkedIn profile, obviously, over the last couple of years, you you kind of have been the CMO for some interesting companies. What makes you still at this point of your career do the SEO research? I mean, it’s fairly rare and takes a good amount of time to do the job. Do you have 48 hours available in the day?

Rich: I got frustrated with everyone telling me that SEO was a black art. And so I decided I took the summer off for some family reasons and had some spare time, and decided I was going to learn SEO, and my learn how to do it myself. So the the agencies, if you will, could not claim that it’s a black art, or, or and exclude me from, you know, planning the SEO and, and discounting the concerns I had about the performance of the SEO. And so I worked with some SEO consultants on specific projects, I was doing a couple of consulting projects. So I brought in a consulting SEO expert, who was willing to share with me, you know, the black art and collaborate with me. And so I could see how he did it. 

And I actually worked with two of those folks. And I went to several workshops and conferences. And the conclusion I came to, was that it just absolutely has to be part of the messaging project. That if it’s gonna work, it has to be baked in to the messaging. Because if you don’t have it already set up in the messaging, then the content and the website is just not going to perform the way you’d want. And you’re constantly going to be fighting an uphill battle. And so my conclusion was that it has to be done up. Before you start a website, you got to do your SEO research before, as one of the first steps of it as a messaging project, you got to do some SEO research. 

So I included as part of the messaging activity, where I typically will go in and I’ll be interviewed, either interview the execs or run a workshop. I mean, it’s a typical process, I think every marketing person uses to develop messaging. But the thing that I do after I get all of the transcripts from the interviews, or all of the notes, or post it notes from the messaging workshop, is that I start to look for words and phrases that they use frequently, and start to put those into concept groups, then I typically will have 12 or 24 of those. And then based upon that, I’ll go in and start doing SEO research on those keywords, and see which one of them can turn into keywords, or which ones I shouldn’t be using, which is probably just as important. 

I’ve seen many people optimize websites for phrases that no one searches on. So a marketing person has tried to be clever, and come up with a unique phrase. And so that’s what the website is optimized for. But yet no one searches on it. So they’re not getting any traffic. So I just, you know, you ask me, how do I have time for it? It’s kind of like, how can I not have time for it? It has to be done as part of the messaging. And you can’t, to build the foundation, you gotta. 

And someone who is doing the SEO research needs to understand the product, and needs to understand the audience and the competition. Because there are some very key decisions that you need to make when you’re picking what you’re going to use for your keywords. From a messaging standpoint, there were all those things influenced and it’s easy to go down and pick the wrong keyword or go down the wrong path. So I think you have to figure out which ones you’re going to use up front. And then you start developing your messaging platform around those keywords.

Steffen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You’re basically setting yourself up for success because you do the very important work in the beginning. That kind of impacts everything that comes after that. Now, once once this SEO research is done, how much are you involved in the rest of the SEO work that comes after that?

Rich: Well, I definitely define the the information architecture for the website. And I define the URLs for the website. Because I’m a firm believer that you need to have your keywords in your URLs. So it just frustrates me so when I see someone with their company name, because they’re missing an opportunity with that product word. They could have the category that their product is in that URL, and start getting more traffic. So I, so I define the information architecture, setup for optimized for which keywords, and then I typically write first pass at the content for the website pages. 

And I don’t, you know, just to make sure that the headings are right, and then I hand them off to other people who design them, rework them, arrange them, make them pretty. And then at the very end, I come back and do a final SEO pass of whatever the resulting page is. And then from there, it’s primarily, I’m very involved in defining blog topics, and blog series that are geared towards supporting the keywords on the core pages of the website. So the pick for the keywords that I know I can’t own, but I know my people, my audience searches on that I want to make sure I develop blogs around those, so I get some of that traffic. And then I send them off to my product pages, where I have an opportunity to tell my story. 

So I’m very much focused on the on page SEO. And the value and it’s really important because quite frankly, that SEO keyword work, you end up applying it on intent, you know, intent efforts, you apply it for ads, you apply those keywords within your advertising. When you syndicate content, you’re often asked for categories and search terms for intent. And they play into that. So it ends up driving every aspect of the digital marketing strategy. Now, what I don’t do is all of that back end that really does take a real super expert of developing the back links. So, you know, my belief is you marketing that a senior marketing person who is responsible for the messaging and understands, again, the product, the competition and the market, then they build the foundation for the SEO. 

And then once you’ve got a website that’s built around it, and you’ve got content built around it, then you can hire the SEO experts to keep, to really exponentially improve it. They can do the back links, they can get the guest blog articles, they can, a PR firm can get you a byline, that will drive back. So there’s a lot of effort you’ve got to do to keep maintaining it. But I think it’s important for me to be involved in the building that foundation.

Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Now, Rich, taking a step back. You said earlier that you interview your stakeholders, you hold workshops, to kind of collect information to get the messaging, right. Can you talk a little bit more in detail about what you’re doing after that once you kind of have done the interviews, once you start collecting the information? What specifically are you doing to to come up with the right keywords?

Rich: Let me, I’ll use the an interview process because I think it’s so straightforward in terms of answering the question without having to go through all the mechanics of running a workshop. So from my current gig, we’re all remote and I started in the middle of COVID. So getting everyone together for a workshop didn’t make sense. So I did one on one interviews. I did about six of them with salespeople, marketing people, the founders, a developer, the CTO, someone in QA, someone who in support, who implements the product. I touched a key player from each function in the company. And I recorded all of those interviews and conversations. 

And then I have them transcribed online, you know, just use an online service to transcribe them. And then what I do is I spend hours going through those interviews and breaking the conversation into phrases and bullets. And so I go in and literally edit it, I delete everything that’s extraneous. And from those interviews, I start to see a pattern when I started creating the phrases and creating the bullets, I start to see patterns of words or phrases coming up a lot. And so then I know, okay, that’s a key concept. And typically, I’ll end up with about a dozen or two dozen key concepts, of which there are five or six different ways people refer to them. 

And then I go through the process, okay, these are the concepts, let’s take the phrases that they used, let’s create as many variations we can think of them. And then I go into either SEMrush, or Google AdWords. And I do SEO keyword research, and plug in those words as keywords and see what kind of traffic they generate, how competitive they are. And also, what are related terms, that may mean the same thing. And so I start to from that process, identify, hone in on a key phrase to use to describe a core feature or capability of the product. Or in the example of the messaging project, a key pillar. If you know if you’re familiar with messaging pillars, how are we going to let’s name that pillar around a keyword so that it keeps popping up on the website. 

And it, and then there has to be the socialization process in the company. Because, for example, I, this one company was absolutely convinced that inventory management was their category. And that that’s how they needed to position. And that’s everything they said. And what we found is absolutely no one searches on clinical trial inventory or management, or clinical research inventory management. There’s like zippo. And it actually turns out to be clinical supply management, or clinical trial management are the key words that they use. 

So it’s completely, you’ve got to socialize that with the people in the company and with the execs in the CTO and the CEO, to get them, explain to them, why they can’t use the words that they’re used to using. And then once you can get them on board, what I have found is those key executives become huge proponents of it. And get very excited about the concept. Once I start showing the search volume numbers and sharing that with them. They start to get it.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, you said earlier that you obviously are using this also for for paid search. Right, that information. How are you using that information there?

Rich: Well, for one, it drives the landing page copy. For ads, it tends to drive the headings, and the descriptors that we use in the ads. And then it drives the keywords we put in the associated with the campaign. So SEO, I’ve got an SEM guy that I use, because I’m not an expert at running Google ads. And he loves working with me because I hand him this very rich list of keywords. And with multiple alternatives. So this is my core keyword that I really want. And here’s two dozen variations of it, that support it that you can also use. And here’s a dozen or so words that are related to it that you can use. 

So it makes the ads perform way better. I had a cloud security company in my last gig that when they were 10 years old, late stage startup, and they were in the cloud cybersecurity space. And they did not rank at all for cloud security or cloud cybersecurity. It was just amazing to me that a company had been around and just absolutely had no SEO presence at all. They ranked for words, but they were totally unrelated to their business. Right, because people were writing. One time I found a company that ranked in the top 10 for the phrase out of the box. Someone wrote a blog about thinking out of the box that had absolutely nothing to do with their business. 

So it drives the ad plan. And then it constantly refines it. And I’ve, you know, working with the guy I worked with, we were able to we got our ads running for that cloud security company to the point where I can literally predict if I spend this much money, I will get this much return and we got our average cost per conversion and by conversion I mean filling out a form under $100. So I knew that if I spent $1,000, you know I’d get 10. If I spent $50,000 I’d get 150. So, worked very well.

Steffen: Interesting. Now that you just brought up, you know, that you worked obviously with a 10 year old company, a question I had is what you are doing from a from an SEO research for messaging perspective, is it easier for an early stage company than for for, you know, like a 10 year old or even an older company? I would imagine that a company that that, you know, has been out there for a while, it probably is much harder to change the messaging in the first place, right? Because stakeholders how the, how the company’s already seen in the market. What are your thoughts there?

Rich: It is harder, because they’re used to something, and you cannot go in like a bull in a china shop. And what I find these days in the tech world, the marketing world, CEOs and founders respond very well to data. And so the key is to get the data on the volume, and to get show the kind of traffic that your web their website is getting. And then using semrush to see how competitor sites rank for keywords that these folks should be. And that you’ve armed with that data have looked at how the competition is just owning all the keywords that and you’re not even a player in them. This is why you’re not getting that business. 

So there’s a lot of data you can put together to convince a company that they need to make the change. The challenge becomes is if they’ve been around for 10 years, their category is probably established, and people already own the keywords that you would want to target. So now you’re playing catch up. But if you do the process upfront of what I’ve done with building the SEO, doing the research, and re architecting the website, and re designing the whole messaging platform around SEO, I have found that within a year, I can get in the top 10, top 20 for some very high competitive, high volume keywords like cloud security, cybersecurity, omni channel contact center was one I did this for. 

And if you do it, if you’re really focused on it, you can get start making inroads, but it’s a constant thing. And one thing I should have mentioned about the Google ads is I’m also a big fan of using paid search to get traffic from the words that you cannot get the website optimized for. So like if a competitor clearly, you know if there’s a huge, you know, elephant competitor, and you know, you’ll never been able to steal, uh, you know, rank against their keywords then I’ll buy the keywords that they go for. And that can help my keywords rank.

Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Are you at the same time pulling back on keywords from a paid search perspective? Where you have some good, you know, SEO rankings?

Rich: Yes, absolutely. I prefer to spend the majority of my money for the things that I cannot own. But because I know, I’m already gonna get that traffic. You know, and, and with a limited budget, you know, which most of us have, then I’ll make the trade off. There are situations where I find it makes sense to even though I rank in the top 10 for, on the first page for keyword, I will add an ad just because I want to make sure I’m top of the page.

Steffen: Yeah, I assume that’s for keywords that really have value where you know, they drive business and in your case, drive leads, right.

Rich: Yeah. Or if that, you know, that first page is a list of 10 competitors. Right. So I’ve got to pay for an ad to get to the top.

Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Now, today’s topic was optimizing, or is optimizing messaging for performance. You do your the hard work in the beginning, as we talked about over the last, I think, 20, 25 minutes. How are you optimizing messaging as you go. So you know, you do the first initial work, you set everything up. But then the campaigns are running and you’re collecting data, and there might be need to fine tune messaging. How are you approaching that?

Rich: Well, it’s a constant process. I’ve always what, I typically come up with 100 keywords. It’s typically what I start with, and there’s probably 12 that are my top 12 that I absolutely want to own. But there’s a bunch of others that I’d like to own. And I load those all into semrush, and I track how I am ranking and how my competitors are ranking for those keywords. And sometimes you’ll start to see an increase in volume of a keyword that you didn’t think was going to be important. And suddenly you want to start to add that or replace it. 

Or maybe there’s a keyword you’re using that is just not driving any traffic or working at all for your market, even though it has high search volume. Then you say, okay, let’s go look at the alternatives. How can we swap it out? I’m very big on messaging documents that are like a map to creating content. You know, these are the keywords you use, these are the benefits you use, these are the concepts, but you can wordsmith it whatever way you want, based upon the context. And you just got to keep that up, based upon the trends. And if you see a keyword dropping, you got to maybe put out a blog about it.

Steffen: That makes sense. Now, Rich, before we come to the end of today’s podcasts recording, are there any, any specific tips you can give for for someone that thinks, hey, you know what this is, this is actually smart. This is definitely what I should do. What should they, definitely what should they avoid when embarking on the journey of optimizing their messaging?

Rich: I think it’s just keep it simple. And make sure that you’ve got one page on your website that is optimized for the top half a dozen keywords that you want to own. And it’s if a keyword is in your headings, it’s in the copy, it’s, you’ve got backlinks associated with it, you’ve got links come into it, you’ve got links go it out, and really paying attention to those pages. I think that the thing that surprised me about SEO, is that it just isn’t a black art. And I know a lot of people worry about that change of algorithms and all of that stuff. And that’s important. And I want a technical person who understands all of that, to back me up. 

But I just focus on the basics, which are what are the keywords that describe my business that my audience searches on, and pick the ones that best describe my product, and make sure that I just hone in on those and track those. And but never consider it to be over. SEO is never done. You’re constantly refining it. And just never never let an outside firm, one, create the meta descriptions for your page, or tell you what keywords to put on your web, to put on an existing page. Because I’ve just never seen results come from it. And it’s just, if you understand messaging, you’ll understand SEO once you start to learn how to do it.

Steffen: Well, Rich, thank you so much for that tip. If people want to find out more about you and Slope, how can they get in touch?

Rich: Well, for Slope, you can visit us at And we do have a contact us form on the page that you can put in and make a reference to me. I also have a website for myself, which is And that describes a lot of this process and how I’ve been able to use it to implement, and there’s contact information on that website to reach me.

Steffen: Perfect. Well thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.

Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at