For this “Friends Friday” I did an interview with the uber-talented Matt Giovanisci of Moneylab.co (and a ton of other successful sites).
Matt has created some incredibly successful sites over the years, including Swim University. The really interesting thing about Matt is that he consistently builds six-figure websites without any link building. His strategy completely relies on building the fastest-loading sites around and his success speaks for itself. He actually had me as a guest interview on his SEO For Bloggers course to talk about link building.
An edited version of our conversation appears below.
What’s your general approach when it comes to SEO?
For me, it’s go big or go home. I always go after the biggest keyword I can. In the pursuit of that, I end up ranking for a ton of small keywords. I think it’s really about building a user experience that’s super fast, easy to read and very in depth (but not super long).
Your sites have been unbelievably successful. How do you make them stand out?
Swim University has its own philosophy. There are keywords that we try to rank for. For example, algaecide is a chemical that you add to your pool to stop algae growth. We wanted to create an article about algaecide and noticed that a lot of places will just go with “how to add algaecide to your pool.”
But Swim University has a unique take on it because we actually tell people not to use algaecide. So we created an article called “The Truth About Algaecide” and that ranks really well for algaecide because it gives a unique point of view. It builds trust with the reader because we’re being transparent and honest. So if one of them owns a pool company, they’ll link to me, which is an organic backlink. And that helps with ranking.
I won’t go after a keyword if I don’t believe in it and it doesn’t fit with the site. It’s also important to have a style to your writing so you stand out from the crowd. We try to have fun with our h2 and h3 tags so when people skim, they still see some of our voice and personality.
What are the common mistakes you see beginners making?
Overdoing it on the word count. I think a lot of people struggle with the actual technology of SEO. While I’m good at content, my success really comes from understanding the technology. We talk about H1 tags and so on but those are actually really simple. Those just help with your structure.
If you learn HTML, CSS and a light amount of PHP, you’ll be an SEO superstar. Even though I’ve been coding for 10 years, I also had to learn how servers work.
My advice is to keep it simple: get the lightest and fastest theme you can find, invest in a good host—like Flywheel. Invest in good plug-ins, like ImageApply for image compression and Cloudflare to get your site load quickly. And Swim University loads really fast because it’s well-designed and I’ve spent ten years removing everything that gets in the way of content.
So if you look at Swim University, there aren’t many images on it. According to Google Analytics, 75% of my traffic is from a mobile device. So my audience is mostly looking at text, so the text has to load super fast and images will just slow it down. I think that’s how I’ve been able to get traffic to a brand new site without backlinks. It’s all about having a site that’s super fast and loads well on mobile devices.
Any other tools you recommend for SEO research?
You definitely need to invest in a program like Ahrefs. It might not be cheap but it’s the absolute best software for keyword research. Make a big list of the top 25 keywords and knock out some really great, well-written articles. And have a fast, well-designed, minimalist website where it’s easy to find your articles.
If you go to Swim University and you look at swimming pool tips, it’s just a list of bullets. And it’s so easy to find stuff on that page because of the way it’s designed.
Are there any advanced mistakes you see people making?
The mistake I see a lot is page speed. I know a lot of people who do SEO content and their websites are slow. People have a lot of erroneous plug ins that kill page speed. That’s something I’m constantly pruning to make my website faster.
Because most traffic comes from mobile—when people might not even be on Wi-Fi—you really want to make sure your site will still load quickly.
If someone were to check their web speed right now, what would you recommend?
Definitely GTMetrix.com to start. While it’ll give you a letter score, you should really look at the waterfall tab. That will show you what’s loading on your site and what’s slowing it down. You’ll notice most speed issues are probably due to plug-ins so you can disable those to speed up your site.
What are some steps you recommend for speeding up your site?
Cache is a big thing too. You can cache your website to load instantly. I use Cloudflare, which basically takes a snapshot of your code to have it load instantly.
The reason that works is because the internet is actually being served from a physical location and the closer you are to that physical location, the faster it’s delivered to you. So Cloudflare will serve your site from the closest server.
So that’s client side. And there are things you can do on server side. WP Rocket is something I’ve used with WP Engine. It caches locally and lazy loads videos and images and has lots of micro-optimization features. It helps make your site really fast and super lightweight.