David Finberg, CEO, Peaks Digital Marketing (Denver, CO)
David Finberg is CEO at Peaks Digital Marketing, an SEO and lead generation firm that focuses on a comprehensive, aggressive approach to “addressing all seven areas of an SEO campaign to get ROI rolling as early as possible.” Clients range from small, local businesses to major enterprises. Today’s solutions must be comprehensive.
Peaks Digital’s fractionalized team operates as a cohesive unit and integrates multiple areas of expertise with its clients’ teams . . . filling in the “gaps” and providing support in areas that will most impact its clients’ campaigns. Highly agile, the team can address page speed, backlinks, content, reputation, user experience, and technical site auditing in a customized way that can truly “move the needle.” Newly built or restructured websites typically rank in an exponentially shorter timeframe than might be expected, and sometimes in as little as three months.
Clients work with Peaks Digital on a month-to-month basis . . . which reduces client risk and barriers to entry. Peaks Digital focuses on relationships, educating, and empowering clients. “The proof is in the pudding,” David says. Clients who see results . . . stay.
In this interview, David discusses some website “quick fixes.”
- Analyze your sitemap/URL roster for relevance, consistency, and functionality.
- Do a comprehensive content inventory/audit, especially of your older content. Do you have pages written years ago that have never generated any traffic?
- Review your Google Analytics.
- Which pages have the most hits?
- What are the topics, pages, questions, and queries on those pages?
- What is the market doing on your site?
- Examine content that may appear to be impactful, its analytics, and its search data. Does it even rank? If not, remove it, repurpose it, or rewrite it.
David recommends that companies “no index” those pages that have low quality or thin content. Otherwise, Google will downgrade your site
Years ago, David was tempted to chase “shinier things,” like Facebook. Mentors asked him, “How much money have you made off Facebook?” (None), then asked him, “How much money have you made off SEO?” (A lot . . . and growing.)” Their advice? “Double down on what’s working.”
David can be reached on Instagram at: @Davidafinberg, on his agency’s website at: peaksdigitalmarketing.com, or on a variety of social platforms.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by David Finberg, CEO at Peaks Digital Marketing based in Denver, Colorado. Welcome to the podcast.
DAVID: Hey, Rob. Thanks so much for having me on the show. I’m excited to be here.
ROB: David, it’s great to have you here. Why don’t you give us an introduction to Peaks Digital Marketing? What are your superpowers?
DAVID: That’s a great way to lead in. Peaks Digital, we’re an SEO and lead generation firm based out of Denver. We work with anyone from local business all the way up to enterprise, and we’ve really developed this claim to fame or system around providing great backlinks, great content, and really addressing all seven areas of an SEO campaign to get ROI rolling as early as possible.
We do things a little differently in terms of the way that we approach campaigns. It’s a lot more aggressive. We really map out a lot of the strategy and high-level, low-hanging fruit and also more aggressive opportunities, and take it from a more comprehensive approach. It’s not just about one thing anymore – your content or your page speed. It’s about having great reputation, great backlinks, great user experience. It’s all these things. So we really like to take a more comprehensive approach. The great thing is the strategies work all the way up to enterprise, all the way down to local mom n’ pop.
We’ve got a fractionalized team here and an award-winning staff and process that goes into these campaigns. While we do offer more of the same kind of generalized experience everyone knows, like keywords and backlinks and title tags are important, we tend to take a more in-depth approach and treat it from a much more data-driven, ROI-based perspective.
Our superpower is really coming in, getting a campaign kicked off, and getting them ranked in an exponentially shorter timeframe. Most companies say, “Hey, it’s a year, it’s going to be 12 months or 13-14 months.” We can come in and, especially if we built the website, there have been instances where we’ve been able to rank websites in as little as 3 months. You don’t need to hire anyone. This isn’t some big pitch. But it’s really designed to be a comprehensive experience where you’re not only getting someone who knows backlinks and outreach and web development; you’re getting the content team, the analytics team, people that are going to help you with reputation management, your Google business – really looking at every area and leaving no stone unturned, and doing so in a fast way that’ll generate some results earlier on than the traditional expectations.
ROB: When you talk about really being able to come in and make a difference quickly, that points me to the idea that there may be some things that are relatively low-hanging, relatively simple, that I might be doing severely wrong, left to my own devices. What am I doing wrong that is fixable quickly with the right expertise and the right team around it?
DAVID: That’s a great question. One of the big, high-level, punchy items – I don’t want to call it punchy, but high-impact items, is doing a content audit on your site. So often, we’re dealing with multiple webmasters, multiple people, or maybe just multiple iterations of the site, and the business is evolving and changing and growing. So just like with your business, your SEO is going to evolve and change and grow. It’s really important to take comprehensive inventory of your content on your website.
One of the places that we like to start is looking through your sitemap and looking through your URL roster. Sitemap basically just tells you what URLs you have on your site. You may find that you have things like thank you pages or blog posts that were written four years ago by a contractor that never really went anywhere in Google search, never generated any traffic.
What I suggest is you should highly consider going through your Google Analytics, looking at the pages that have the most hits and writing some qualitative data about those topics, pages, questions, queries that you’re seeing on those pages. What is the market actually doing on your site? And then audit some of your older content. Google grades your site – think of it like a school project. There might be multiple components. There’s a research phase. It’s not just about the best pieces of content; actually, your worst pieces of content can grade you down.
You could have 10 amazing pages that are A+, 10/10 content, and then you might have 2 or 3 pages that are considered what we call “thin” content or low value, low impact content. A thank you page is a pretty cut-and-dried example. Very little content on the page. There’s nothing you can really rank a thank you page for. People aren’t going to be coming in off of your thank you page. So, it’s really important to what we call “no index” that page, or have Google basically ignore some of these pages that arguably could be seen as low quality or thin content.
So, you’re going through and auditing that, and then on the other end, taking a look at content that may appear to be impactful, but looking through analytics and looking through the search data to say, “Is this even ranking?” And if it’s not, that’s probably a good indicator that that content doesn’t deserve to be on the site anymore and could be redirected, deleted, or repurposed/rewritten.
Starting there is a really great spot. If you can take your site from a C to a B to an A in terms of content quality, it can have some exponential effects across your entire site as opposed to just improving one page at a time. This can actually have a much more impactful, exponential approach without necessarily having to invest lots and lots of time inventing new content.
ROB: To draw a bit of a metaphor, it sounds almost like you’re describing an overgrown yard at a house. It’s just been left there, nobody’s really done anything. People are there looking for something – maybe it’s the front door – but they can’t find it, or they’re not finding it well enough. You paint it up, you make it look good, you trim some bushes, you prune some things, you highlight the good things, and then you’re at a better place, it sounds like.
DAVID: 100%. I love that analogy. It’s certainly the truth for most people’s sites. There’s probably some spring cleaning you need to do. Let’s get these edges hedged up and work through ways to improve the overall presentation of the site when someone comes in. Pretty succinct and concise example. I love that. I may take a note out of that. [laughs]
ROB: [laughs] At least if somebody likes gardening and has an overgrown yard from time to time, perhaps so.
David, tell me, what is the origin story of Peaks Digital Marketing? Where did the firm come from?
DAVID: It was almost out of necessity. I started making websites when I was 9 or 10 years old – Angelfire, GeoCities. These are dial-up era free websites that you could have, kind of like a Myspace or a Facebook, but they were an actual website you would type in. So, I always had this desire to create content and then be able to structure that content in a more technical way, and a way that someone could interact with, like a website.
Really, my love of computers and journey started with my dad. In the early ’90s, he had a 90 megahertz NEC computer. For those of you that know computers, that’s basically like a hundredth of the speed of what a computer is now. I learned a lot on that computer, and it really paved the way for a skillset that I would end up honing in later.
I had a pretty different journey than most people. I actually started my career out of high school as a Mercedes mechanic and really learned the technical components of how to work on cars and the electrics and things, and then over time I got back into computers. Prior to starting Peaks, I worked at a startup doing SEO; same kind of project management, high-level SEO, some content is really how I got my foot in the door. We had a great business.
To keep the story short, the business wasn’t being managed properly. It was a bunch of younger guys who were getting their feet wet in entrepreneurship and didn’t necessarily have the coaches and the skillsets to be able to have a sustainable company. We got really spread out. We were doing municipal financing over here and launching affiliate websites over here and then doing Facebook ads over here. It just wasn’t concise.
Looking back at the data and at that experience, the SEO worked really well. Policies changed. The way that you do SEO completely changed from that point in time. When we started Peaks, I really had to reinvent that. The process was like, okay, this works. The company disbanded. We were making money, but the money was going to people’s moms’ rents. One of my good mentors told me, “How you show up one way is how you show up every way.” So, if there are things happening on one end of the business, you shouldn’t be surprised if other things, like the money, isn’t being managed and the process isn’t being managed and everything’s not being managed.
It was a great learning experience. I walked away with some practical skillsets and opportunities and really had to start over. I said, well, if I’m going to start over – it was me and one other guy running the SEO department at this company of 10 people. It’s like, I could probably do this on my own. It was not a grand story; I moved in with my folks, which I thought I wasn’t going to have to do. I was 26, 28 years old, having to move back in with my folks. They were not very happy that I took a risky move in entrepreneurship that didn’t work out. It’s like, “Go to college, finish your degree, go do these other things.”
I thought, well, I’ve just got to pick something. One thing that I always go back to is computers. I actually took a job, another Mercedes job, which I thought I’d never have to do. Moved out to Boulder, Colorado, where my cousin lived. He’s an entrepreneur and was like, “Come out here, get off the beltway.” I was living in Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Just wasn’t getting the traction in that part of the world.
The writing was on the wall. I was applying to jobs, wasn’t in a great mindset, wasn’t in a great environment being back at home, not having my space. It was just a difficult time. I said, “Okay, how do I make this a win? Let’s start this company and start building out the framework of what I feel like the previous company I worked at could’ve been. If no one else is going to give me an opportunity, I’ll make an opportunity for myself.” So, it involved taking that step back and going back to the world that I didn’t think I was going to need to go back to, which in this case was the mechanic world.
During my off time, I would literally build the website. I hired someone to do the logo. I just kept investing, and over time, you get a client and you start expanding. To me, that’s where I say it came out of necessity. There’s a timing of my life and a season of my life that was coming to an end, and it was embracing this new dream, this new opportunity, this new season of life. It was super uncertain, but that’s how most great things start. They start in a garage or they start in an auto shop or whatever the case may be. Everyone’s journey is a little different, but that’s what mine looked like.
ROB: Around that time, if somebody was looking at the marketing world, I think for most people, SEO wouldn’t have been where they would’ve started. They would’ve started with – I don’t know whether it was particular organic social channels at the time, whether it was some paid social – it was something, and it was probably wasn’t SEO. I think I would say a lot of the parlor tricks that made SEO rise in the prior decade had begun to go away and it became this more disciplined and steady practice. What made you start there instead of chasing the shinier things?
DAVID: That’s an interesting question. I had temptations, even after I started Peaks. I was like, “I’m going to start doing Facebook!” I had a really great set of mentors and they were like, “How much money have you made off Facebook?” I was like, “Well, none.” “Okay, how much money have you made off SEO?” “Oh, a lot, growing.” “So why would you switch that up? Double down on what’s working.”
Part of it was at a more subconscious level, was this a right fit? It wasn’t always clear. SEO isn’t sexy. It’s kind of like accounting; you need it. It’s not like social, where it’s fun and it’s creative. It’s more like research. I was thinking, and I had some talks with different people in my life, and everyone was telling me, “Pick something. You just need to pick something.” I looked back to my childhood; I loved making websites. I looked at what I was great at when I was studying in college and in school; writing was always my passion, telling stories or performing research, putting a story together.
That’s where I said SEO actually is a pretty good fit for that. You don’t have to necessarily be a programmer, which is what I was studying in school, to be a hacker – a certified hacker; I’m not a hacker by any means. Depends on your definition of hacker. I think everyone’s a little bit of a hacker. Not like a computer, break into someone’s website. I was actually studying to go work at the NSA or somewhere that was more of a white hat place, not something that does bad things. But it was really like, I don’t feel like I’m a 10/10 on coding. Could I be? Sure. But I’m a little bit more of a hybrid – a little bit of creative, a little bit of technical. A little bit of writing or a little bit of web design and then the technical behind that.
That’s where it really clicked, and it was like, I do just need to choose this. Let’s start this. People need this. Every business needs this. It’s crazy; the SEO market is so saturated. There’s an agency on every corner. But very few people are investing the time in the innovation side of it. And to your point, a lot of those parlor tricks stopped working. Panda update came out and it was no longer about backlinks and keywords in your titles and image optimization. It was about the quality and the experience and what users are actually doing on your site, to make sure that people actually like the sites that are being promoted, and all these different variables. It seemed like Mount Everest. It was like, wow, I’m not going to be able to climb this pretty easily.
Really just approaching it step by step, it was like, let’s reinvent the link component. Let’s reinvent the way that we address content to make sure that it has the right expertise, authoritativeness, trust, research, and maybe some original analysis, factual – how do we create the highest quality? We want to be the Mercedes-Benz, essentially, of SEO. So how do we find these levers to pull and present to people?
That’s really where the journey progressed. Imagine having a baby. It was like, all right, I’ve got to really commit to this. In order to be on Page 1, you have to be in the top 10% of sites. Only 10 sites make it to Page 1, so 90% of websites aren’t going to be on Page 1. How do we approach this from a more data-driven angle and start looking at the market? Once I made that commitment like, “Okay, this is a good skillset fit; I feel like I’ve got a good balance here of technical versus creative,” now it’s “How do we quantify this and make this into a scalable, repeatable product that people, no matter what industry they’re in, can benefit from?”
That was the next season of entrepreneurship, which is like “Oh my God, how am I going to do this?” [laughs] Definitely looking at the writing on the wall was the big commitment that I had to make to myself: not only is this going to be difficult, it’s going to take a lot more time. I wasn’t getting traction. The first year, I tried to give up a few times. I was applying for jobs. I’m like, “I’m not making enough money.” It was tough. Those first three years were really tough.
But then once you reap the rewards of planting those seeds and harvesting what you’ve invested and you start to see it work for other people, the reward and benefit from that and finding that purpose – like, I can be of service. I’m finding my purpose. My purpose is to help other people succeed in an area that maybe seems like gambling. It’s one of those scary things like accounting where if you mess it up, you can be in big trouble, and you don’t always want to deal with it. And it’s not that sexy. But on the other end, how to make it fun and innovative – we create different content programs and ways to plan out articles and map out articles to make it fun and enjoyable and still innovative at the same time.
ROB: I do appreciate that advice you received from your mentors around looking at how you were already making money and not trying to get too creative. I know we all want to be creative, but I think also sometimes – everyone tells you, “You should do social media” and you’re like, “Oh, I should do social media,” and then you peel back and say, “What am I strong at? Where am I succeeding?”
You mentioned something earlier that I do want to come back to. You mentioned something about having a fractional or fractionalized team. Tell me about that. What does that mean to you? What does that look like?
DAVID: To recap, having that fractionalized team is really where most businesses need to be. It allows you to be more agile and focus on all seven of those core areas that you need for SEO as opposed to more of a Gantt chart where it’s just waterfalling down. You really need to have – whether it’s your page speed, your backlinks, your content, your reputation, technical auditing of your site – all these different components are what move the needle.
We saw this market offering, this gap in the market where most people know that they need a web developer, but can they keep that web developer busy all the time? Instead of going and hiring all these people and paying benefits and having multiple staff on salary or as a contractor that don’t play nice together and don’t coordinate together, how about we just bring it all under one roof, customize the package to their needs – some people already have a web developer and don’t necessarily need to double down on that. But maybe they don’t have a content person or they don’t have a reputation management campaign running or anything like that.
There is no cookie-cutter approach, but typically you need multiple areas of expertise. I’m a big believer of if you get the right people in the right seats focused on the right tasks, and they’re all experts within their field, that is really what we set out to deliver to the market. Not a jack of all trades, master of none; it’s the exact opposite. You get a team full of experts that are going to come and work as a cohesive unit and integrate into your team to get you support in the areas that are going to impact your campaign the most.
On the other end, the other differentiator – and a lot of people do this now, but it’s month to month – reduce the amount of barriers to entry and risks for people. I don’t know if anyone here listening has ever been burned by SEO. I get calls every single day talking about, “Hey, we paid this person for 12 months or 16 months and it just didn’t work out.” We say the proof’s in the pudding. We don’t want to have to lock you in. If you’re seeing the results, you’re going to want to stay, and we’re here to invest in that relationship and frontload that work.
So, thinking about it from a business perspective, you can’t be that much different on the outside than – people know about our process, but it’s like, “You’re just another SEO company.” What makes us different? To us, it’s really focusing on the relationship. If you were selling a relative of yours SEO, would you be locking them in for 12 months, or would you keep it flexible? Would you educate them through the process and empower them, or make them feel small?
I don’t know if you ever watch SNL, but they had this guy Nick Burns, the company computer guy, and he would just totally sh*t on people, basically – excuse my language; I don’t know if we’re allowed to curse here. He’s like, “You don’t know how to do this? Move. I’m the wizard.” It was very disempowering for a client. Our goal is to never make our clients feel small. Doesn’t matter if we’re the best at SEO; it’s really about the communication, expectations, positioning of the product, and follow-through and follow-up. We’re not perfect. If something goes wrong, let’s call that client and make them a priority, make that face-to-face connection, and then fix it.
Unfortunately, in this industry, there’s a lot of bad press around SEO. It’s like, “They sold me this thing and it didn’t work” or “Every time I call them, they never call me back” or “They send me these reports and I have no idea what I’m looking at, no one walks through it with me.” There’s all these different emotional touchpoints, just like you have in your markets and just like you have in your areas of expertise. As a smaller company, you can be more agile and cater to the culture and the process around those pain points.
I tell my team all the time, there are plenty of companies that have crappy SEO. They just have really great follow-through and communication, and that’s why people spend a year with them. Imagine if you marry that communication angle with the technical component; people will never want to leave, and you’re not locking them in, so there’s no pressure. Then it’s really fostering that relationship and going through some wins together and all that kind of thing.
ROB: It’s really critical. Someone who is hiring an outside firm to do almost anything core to their business – and in particular, I would say marketing – they’re making a bet that’s not always easy, and they’re making a bet that they expect to pay off. If they spend a year and get nothing, it’s a year of their business and a year of their life, potentially, that doesn’t move as fast as they want it to. It’s so key to instill that in the team and how they interact and how they communicate. That makes a great deal of sense.
DAVID: Yeah, it’s not rocket science. It’s just things that can be hard to do at times, especially when you have Google algorithms and other things that are going to make the day-to-day more of – “Whoa, I’ve got to focus on this algorithm.” It’s like, no, let’s actually just communicate what we’re doing today and start there, and then we can come back and spend the 20 hours and grind or laser-focus on this thing until it’s zapped.
But communication has really been the cornerstone of our success, and the other is empowering that client, not making them feel small. Which can be frustrating for both ends if someone doesn’t know what they’re doing and they’ve made that bet and they’re like, “I can’t tell if I’m winning or losing.” It’s important to have – at the casino, they have the guy that tells you how to play the game and whether it’s a good hit or whether it’s right. I’m not a huge gambler, but it’s interesting.
ROB: [laughs] I wonder about that, because in the casino they’re telling you how to lose money over the long term. You’re never going to get ahead. But something like marketing is not a zero sum game, and there’s room for everyone to get ahead. I appreciate the thought you put into your clients, into instilling that empathy into your team, and the technical expertise of not selling – we don’t have to sell magic beans in SEO anymore, and I certainly appreciate that with you and what you’re doing, David.
When people want to get in touch with you and with Peaks Digital Marketing, where should they go to find you?
DAVID: Check us out on Instagram. @Davidafinberg is my personal Instagram handle. We’re doing lots of tips, tricks, things like that. And then if you want a free audit or you just want to check us out on the web, peaksdigitalmarketing.com. Hit the contact page, get a free audit or read some articles, things like that. But yeah, Instagram @davidafinberg, peaksdigitalmarketing.com, and then you can check us out on social as well. There’s some other platforms if you prefer.
ROB: Excellent. Thank you, David, for coming on the podcast. Best wishes to you and the team. Thank you for sharing from your experience and wisdom.
DAVID: My pleasure. Thanks again. I really appreciate the time today.
ROB: All right, take care. Bye.
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