Meet James Dooley, a British figure of innovation and inspiration in the realm of digital entrepreneurship. Starting from humble beginnings in 2009, with the creation of his very first website, James embarked on a journey that saw him transform into a leading luminary of the digital age. Today, he's known to many as a 'Digital Landlord,' having constructed an impressive empire of over 1,000 websites online.
It's not just about numbers for James. In 2021, he remarkably generated over 1 million enquiries online via his rank and rent websites, showcasing his unparalleled expertise. His savvy in the digital world morphed him into an 'investorpreneur' - always hungry for growth by acquisition.
As the spirited CEO of PromoSEO, founder of FatRank, and Chairman of Searcharoo, James has cultivated brands that resonate with excellence. It's no surprise that under his astute leadership, PromoSEO emerged as a beacon for organic lead generation, amassing a team of over 100 dedicated professionals and forging partnerships across borders.
Yet, what truly sets James apart is not just his knack for business but his magnanimous spirit. As his empire grew, so did his heart. Today, James wears the hat of a philanthropist with pride, constantly looking for ways to elevate those around him in the industry.
His ethos is simple yet profound, "To do things I love, with people I love, doing it in a way to be proud of. My duty as an entrepreneur is to challenge the status quo, to turn a 'no' into a 'yes'. To live richly and ensure that I leave behind a legacy that enriches, protects, and uplifts my family, friends, and the world at large. All this, grounded in trust, honesty, and unyielding integrity."
PromoSEO stands testament to his prowess, recognised as a leading lead generation agency. With accolades such as "Best SEO In The World" and "Most Influential SEO In The World" under his belt, James's brilliance is acknowledged worldwide. However, beyond the titles and the accolades, it's the man's ceaseless spirit, his tenacity, and his enormous heart that truly inspire.
Dive into the world of James Dooley and find not just an entrepreneur's story, but a tale of passion, resilience, and benevolence.
The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with James Dooley
Watch the interview
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Listen to the podcast
(66 minutes long)
The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked James Dooley
What's your whirlwind tour of your business career within SEO, James?
How large is your digital real estate?
How have you structured your team, from the apprentices to your business partners?
Is it important for the people who work for you to have an entrepreneurial mindset?
How has your SEO knowledge evolved over the years?
What exactly happened to make you want to move from black hat SEO over to white hat SEO?
What are your personal thoughts when it comes to the Google guidelines?
What should SEOs be mindful of when it comes to Google SGE?
Do you think that Google will have a negative impact on their revenue through their display ads network?
Why do you believe that it is important for SEOs and businesses to get our of the copycat content mindset?
Considering your goal is to generate high quality leads, how do you see the user journey?
What does the day-to-day of your SEO testing team look like?
What's your thoughts on some affiliate marketers using fake personas?
How do you make sure that all your lead generation sites have reputable EEAT signals?
What moment in time did you think that you had something you could scale big?
How do you spot specific niche industries to go into when the SEO tools are not giving you the data?
Why did you move from selling leads over to the rank and rent business model?
Have you thought about receiving a share of sale value from the leads you generate?
If someone new wants to get into the affiliate marketing, lead generation, or rank and rent space, what should they be mindful of?
How important is it for someone to be dedicated to start building a business similar to yours?
<<< Back to The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast
The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and James Dooley
Mark A Preston: Welcome to the Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast. Yes, it's 100% unscripted, 100% unrehearsed, 100% unedited, and 100% real. My guest today is somebody that's built a nine figure online business empire. using SEO and calls himself a digital landlord. So today I want to get to understand on how on earth you do that. Please welcome James Dooley.
James Dooley: How you doing Mark? You all right?
Mark A Preston: Very well, thanks. Just for the people in the audience and listening to this who doesn't know who you are. Could we start with you just giving us a very brief whirlwind tour of where you started to where you are now. Then after that we can dive into it a bit deeper.
James Dooley: Please. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So started out in the SEO kind of space about 12 years ago, something like that, 13 years ago, I think it is. I was in construction as a project manager and I needed a website for our own business. and quickly started to realize that a website without SEO is pointless. And quickly had to learn the hard way of how to do SEO. And that's how it all evolved. I realized that right at the very start of my career that. I trying to ring out to try and get people and try and get new co new sales wasn't the best way of running a business. I needed to try to build a consistent flow of inbound quality inquiries and knowing that's our, everything now evolved with what we did. We do a lot of lead generation. Some people call it like a rank and rent model, but it's still mainly lead generation. But some businesses like the rank and rent model, so they know each month how much they pay in. And obviously with it being digital real estate and renting of the properties, that's where the term digital landlord came from.
Mark A Preston: Wonderful. I was going to say that, how just to put it in context, how big is your digital real estate?
James Dooley: So in total, we've got, I think it's over 70 million web pages online. There's eight, there's over 800 different paying, I think we've got about 1, 300 different websites, over 800 different paying the 500 maybe we haven't monetized yet, about 800 we have monetized, there is over 600 different industries and niches that we're in.
Mark A Preston: And how big of a team do you have to actually scale to that level and maintain it?
James Dooley: It is a big team to be fair. The it's not easy. I wouldn't recommend going as big as what we've done if I'm being 100% honest. The, it never really, I never really set out to have. What people call an SEO empire or digital estate empire as big as what it is now, but things are just one things led onto something else. And one client said, Oh, I've got a friend who's a director of a company and they want lead generation. And these won't lead generation. It's just before we knew it, it's just evolved. Don't get wrong. It's been a very successful journey, but the. Now, in total, we own a call center as well. So we've got over 100 staff in the call center that do quite a lot of sales for our existing lead of what, leads of what we're generating. Because it, it sounds daft this, Mark, but if you've got a mortgage broker, and you're generating leads for a mortgage broker, and you're, and they're on the phone, and they might have another mortgage broker in their office, if you're generating them 10 leads an hour, They can't deal with the volume. And people go, that's a good problem to have. It is and it isn't because if eight of your leads aren't being dealt with and they go elsewhere and they're not converting, you've wasted those leads.
So we then started to realize that we need like an overflow call centre that could take the leads in if our clients couldn't deal with them. So if it's run like four or five times and they're not answering, they're probably on a call. Our overflow call center will take it, get the fact fine, get the information, get everything of what they need, and then we turn it from a cold web lead into a hot lead. 'cause now obviously we've spoken to 'em, we've realized, yes, they do fit the remit of what, let's say the mortgage broker wants. We try and get what they're looking for with how much they're willing to pay. What disposal income they've got, whether they're working or not, and if we've got any existing money in the existing kind of property and stuff like that. So it's turned into a much bigger operation than what we thought. In SEO, we've got 11 in Wilmslow in South Manchester. And each one of them, I tried to have that each one of them are allowed up, up to 10 virtual assistants, so that makes it like 110. I don't think we're at the 110 virtual assistants. I think it varies between 80 to 100. But each one of them could be like a graphic designer, a videographer, content writer, technical, SEO just varied roles of what's needed in different industries.
Mark A Preston: So all these various people you have at the high level, do they all work together or do they work on?
James Dooley: So that, that's a great question. So when they first started out when I first started out in the, no, about two years in, I realized that I needed obviously staff to help me with what I did. And what started to happen was I would go out and try to find SEO gurus. So come in and work for us and these people that had three, four years experience with SEO that claimed that there was an SEO guru came in, didn't really know anything. And it was very difficult to train because I always use the saying is you can't teach an old dog new tricks. So we went down the route, the apprenticeship route in the UK. It's cheap for labor and my and. I thought if I can get someone raw coming out of college in our university, I can train them up my way. Roll on though, a lot of them now have been with me nine or ten years. Now, six of them that we've taken on as being apprentices are all directors of the company now. The directors, they've all got their own. their own assets and build up their own kind of, they can work on their own, but also they've all got their own speciality. So one of them might be very good at quality content. So there might be a good editor, good at onboarding new content writers, training up the content writers. If I asked them to do backlinks. Then they wouldn't be able to do it because it's a completely different part of the brain. One's a creative part of the brain where Backlinks is more mathematical. You're living in sheets and you're living in data. And obviously the link builders that are completely separate to the content, but they'll all help each other out. So yes, they all help each other out within the business, but they've all got their own projects going on as well, if that makes sense.
Mark A Preston: Do you think it's important for people to have an entrepreneurial mindset or an understanding of the business and business impact of what they're doing?
James Dooley: So I would actually say no but hear me out on this. I feel within a business, you need some people that the entrepreneurs with the mindset that's forward thinking, innovative and looking to grow. Maybe one or two people underneath there that are maybe intrapreneurs, like an entrepreneur that's working inside of the business. But apart from that, you need some doers. You can't, you don't want people to keep thinking about new things and thinking I'm going to do this and think you'd need some people that are just this works. Let's crack on and let's do it. Now, if you've got too many entrepreneurs, too many cooks spoil the broth, so to speak. So I feel like not all of them need to be entrepreneurs. I feel you need to try to make certain you've got a blended mix of staff that. Some just want to get in and work hard and finish at five and go home and that's fine. You need some of them within the business, but you do need some of them that are like you've had Kazra on before. So Kazra now he's got a lot, he's got a lot of partnerships with me with like his own assets and stuff, but Kasra was initially taken on by myself as a web designer. And then I trained him up with everything that he did and obviously he is an entrepreneur. So he has elevated himself into building loads of his own assets. But initially I took him on as a web designer and then he's blossomed into building up his own kind of lane there that's been really successful.
Mark A Preston: So for you personally, how has your SEO knowledge evolved? And how has that happened for you?
James Dooley: So failing so many times. So I actually was on a podcast yesterday, and the guy's known me for quite a while and he says, do you know what I love about you, Dele? I said, go on. What? He says, you are hardened SEO. I said, what do you mean by that? He says, you've had so many scars from the peaks and the troughs of the growth of what's happened. He says. You're quite straight talking. You've had all the scars, you understand it. And some of these new SEOs that are coming along that don't really know, and probably the next algorithm update might get a big hit. Are they going to be able to bounce back and reverse engineer what's happened? So you'll know yourself, Mike, you're a very, you're a quality SEO. Understand knowing what you're doing throughout everything of what you like how long you've been in the industry, what works. And you'll know very well when I say how much Google's evolved, like from back in the day when it used to be keyword stuffing, white text on a white background, content behind images, spamming and loads of other kind of spamming, link building techniques. The bit, the whole algorithm has evolved massively. And actually what's happened is, I, at one point was, I would probably say I was in the remit of almost even Black Hat, because Black Hat seemed to work the best. Your keyword stuff, you build links and you scale it out.
The truth of the matter is Google's done a very good job of no ranking real businesses in within like Google search. I'm now one of the cleanest white apps you'll ever meet. Everything that I do is. I try and gen, I try to get backlinks, but I try to naturally acquire backlinks. So I'm trying to write articles that are surveys, data driven. So when they do rank, people want to link back to that or cite the source. And it links back to the website, all my content that I write. I genuinely want it to be the best quality content that there is out there. If my writer's not proud of what they've done, don't write it. You need to think that article is the best it can be. And then, have you covered the topic in its entirety? Have you gone out of your way to cover every single topic around what you wanted to talk about? And that's what Google wants. Google wants a good user experience. And I feel like I've gone from the blackout stages of trying to create shortcuts into being... Actually, I'm just going to do what Google asks for and just do it right, scale good quality team, get them to be proud of what they're doing, and you're going to get long term rankings. Instead of it being a short term win, now you're going to get the long term sustainable rankings.
Mark A Preston: Just for full context here, and we're having an open conversation. Perception sometimes can mislead people into thinking, and I'm not gonna lie to you, my outdated perception of you, of what you did, was pure, unrelated black hat, manipulation, everything. Now, it's good to have conversations like this to understand the real you. I just want to get into your mind, what happened at the stage when you moved over the line from doing black art to let's do it properly now?
James Dooley: First and foremost, that's a good question, Mark, because I've used the term black art to yourself, and I've used the word white art. The truth of the matter is... My hat has never felt like, even though I've said it was black hat and white hat, because I understand that's how the SEO people talk, I've just always had money hat, right? So what I've ever done is done what works in Google, right? So back in the day when I was ranking number one for really big casino terms and finance terms, I couldn't have done that back then with clean white hat strategies. It just didn't work. So as much as Google tried to tell you that just build good quality content and the links will come, was incorrect information. So if I could manipulate, whether it was CTR or I could manipulate links, I only did it because it worked. And that's it. I just did what generated me the most leads or what I thought got me to number one in Google. And I just seen it as a game to get number one in Google. I did nothing illegal. I did no hacking of websites or anything like that, which some, in my opinion, that's blackout, right? Where you're hacking sites and you're doing things that are detrimental to somebody else. I think that's bang out of order and I'd never do anything like that. But trying to buy links that I thought would move the needle and get me ranking number one or running like traffic through.
And some of it was when I say traffic manipulation, it was like PPC or Facebook ads or Twitter ads, or at the time you could leverage like Pinterest traffic really cheap. So I just get loads and loads of traffic through to the pages and that traffic would boost the site up. Is that blackout or is it just being clever with what works? And that's where I was. But then what I started to realize was for long term sustainable rankings, stop cutting corners. Yes, that traffic spike from Pinterest, it still works okay. It's costly. I'd cheap out on the content and why not just build the best quality content that there is so the user has the best user experience. Stop. Stop trying to monetize. Every single page that you build, some pages aren't there to be monetized, some are there just for informational value. Hopefully you can send them through the funnels, the internal links to a more monetary term. But you don't need to monetize everything. Give the user what they want and like. So if you're, if you, let's say prime example, if you're a carpet cleaning company, write some articles of how to clean red wine off your carpet. And stuff like that. Give the people the information of what they need, even given products to say this product works really well to clean red wine off the carpet. However, if you want a professional to come and do it for you, fill in the form, and then it goes to a carpet cleaning company. So we've just gone down that row, and I don't feel like there was ever a Across the line, I've just always done what I think works and nowadays I feel good quality content, topical authority and trying to get natural type of backlinks is what gives you the most sustainable long term rankings.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. But what, where do you stand or what's your thought process or do you have any thoughts?
James Dooley: When it comes to Google guidelines the truth of the matter is the minute you read the Google guidelines, you will be doing stuff to, not saying manipulate Google, but you will be doing stuff to everyone. Anyone that does SEO pretty much goes against Google guidelines 'cause you're doing stuff, it's not just for the, yes, you're obviously, you're trying to do stuff for the user, but you're adding certain keywords to a page to try and rank it so that the users can see it. My thoughts are these times where Google comes out and says stuff and sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot because they just say things that they know is not true and the SEO industry knows that certain things are not true and it's just frustrating at times. Now I get it that they're a business and what they've got to try to do is Like support and make certain that people aren't manipulating mass track. I think the biggest problem they've got now for being 100 percent honest is AI. I feel like the mass creation of content. And what I mean by that is you've got to think of Google. Google does care about the search and the search results, but realistically the two biggest thing that they care about is PPC getting paid and display ads and getting paid. So the, but now all these new pages that are coming along, Google's processing power. People are now creating, instead of creating an article a day, they're creating 100 articles a day.
And Google's got to try and now crawl all these articles. So they've got some serious problems with regards to how are they going to manage to find, crawl, score, and index each of these pages. It's difficult and they've come out saying that they're all right with AI deep down. I don't think they are. I think they're scared of being honest. I don't think they'll come out saying it because they're using AI within their own algorithm. So it's, it'll be a bit hypocritical if they say we don't like AI, but we use AI. So I don't know the I'm not I don't want to talk badly of the guidelines, but I, again, I still just try to do what, what works. And I think most SEOs just generally try to, for their clients, he's tried to run their website number one to get the traffic and hopefully be able to pay the wages and stuff like that. What's your thoughts on it?
Mark A Preston: A lot of SEOs are confused. My personal thoughts are stripping it right back to how Google generate their income is with ads. They're not going to do anything that jeopardizes their ad revenue or else it'd be suicidal, business suicide. Now, just in my own head, I'm thinking that what will be impacted are phrases and topics that Google don't make any money on with ads. I think that the content and the topics and the keywords Google actually make the money on with the ads are still going to be very much a focus. I'm going to think all these other things around that they don't make money on ads are the things that the AI is just going to answer themselves. If it rolls out and that's my own personal feeling, just because I've stripped it right back to the business of Google and it's, they're not gonna shoot themselves in the foot and lose revenue.
James Dooley: So are you on about that for SGE? Is that what you mean?
Mark A Preston: Yeah. I'm on about SGE now. Because that's what the industry is.
James Dooley: I completely agree. And do you know, and do you know why I think that will be, Mike? I think what they're trying to do is they're going to try and answer questions. So when you've got a question, which might be top of the funnel that no one's willing to bid on, they're going to try and answer that as quickly as they can. Then within SGE, what happens? There's five other questions that pop up going, Oh, you might also want to know this, and this. And they're trying to quickly, very quickly answer whatever you might want to be wanting to know to get you down the funnel. And the minute you answer that bit and that bit, the click onto the next question, which could be what's the best product for this. Bam, now you've got the ads. So they just try to quickly get you from an informational term where they don't make money on down to, boom now we can show ads and now we can get paid. And now as a business, we're going to earn more money out of it. So yes, I completely agree. I do worry for some people that build that there's certain people out there from a monetary value and they only build out, they build out. Tens of thousands of pages on the site and they're all how to guides and calculators.
They're always informational type posts. And what they do is they just fill it with display ads. Like where it's always ad thrive, media vine Google adsense, and they're filling it with all the ads and that's how they get paid. And some of them have done really well. Some of them have earned. 150, 000 a month from doing it which is not to be frowned upon. It's like the bloody hell that's good. That's a nice wage for him doing it. But I think a lot of that traffic's going to get lost when SGE fully rolls out because the AI is going to answer it. The AI is going to create a calculator that everything's going to get answered. So they're not going to get the clicks. The only thing that puts me off that might not happen is they do make quite a bit of money as well, which people forget about. on Google AdSense, like their display ad network. So I still feel they might still give quite a few of the clicks to these sites, but then will they try to start favoring their own for Google AdSense as opposed to Mediavine? I don't know. I don't think that they will because I don't think, I don't know. It's a different, I've heard some people say that they might do, but we'll have to see on that.
Mark A Preston: Mind you, for AdSense to earn money for them, The websites themselves has to be generating traffic, you know, so it's a, it's just a vicious circle really. And it's how with you said with AI and content and people are just pumping stuff out. Yeah. In essence. Which content do you use that to answer it properly? The problem is, I personally think that people are just pumping out what's already out there. If you're not adding value to what's already out there, you've got no chance.
James Dooley: And not only that, mate, is that the people that are pumping the stuff that's already out there, they're actually being taught by these SEO gurus to write correlated copycat content. So it's actually being, the tools that people are using, they're not adding any new value. Like you just said, so they've got an information gain painting that's out there. And the patent basically turns around saying. What are you providing that's additional to what we've already got? So all these people that are obsessed with correlation tools, what, so you're obsessed with copying what's already there? What imagine Google. If I'm sat in Google headquarters, and someone clicks on a number one result, and they don't like what number one result says, But number two result just copies what number one result says, because I've correlated my content against them. If I didn't like what number one said, I'm not gonna what number two says or number three says or number four says. So they've got to try and combat that. And that's what SEOs have started to do, is just be obsessed with correlated content. And now Google got a massive problem. So now Google wildcards in of. Specifically, if someone's done a really good review about a brand, they've almost got to try and throw in a one that's talking badly about the brand to try to combat that they're showing different answers and different results. Cause if you don't like number one and it's all colleagues, you're not going to rank them. You're not going to like the rest of them.
Mark A Preston: I think, the search page is just being mixed up all over the place lately. Yeah. Yesterday I was noticing you got, four ads, then two organic, then the map pack, and also answers that, they're just mixing everything up at the moment, just seeing what works. And I think they're just trying to work it out.
James Dooley: Yeah, for sure.
Mark A Preston: But I totally agree with what you're saying here, but for me, I have always thought like this, because I, obviously not on your scale, but I have in the past built 120 sites doing the lead generation business thing. And I made quite a bit of money. Unfortunately, I was stupid and decided to open an agency and lost it all, but that's a different story. But even back then, my focus wasn't how can I get this content ranking? It's how can I drive lead? What do I need to say on this page to drive that lead? And it just so happened that what I was saying, Google liked. I think that the focus in some of the cases is they've lost, they're not, they're a step behind. They're just thinking, how can I get stuff ranked? They're not thinking about the purpose if all you did is thought about how can I get stuff ramped? You probably won't be generating as much revenue as you know.
James Dooley: No, definitely not. No. And then that's what you're talking about, like the user journey and stuff like that. And why are they actually searching for that term? And you've got, you've almost got to have in your head what couple of questions did they have before it and what couple of questions are gonna have after it. And try to help them guide through what they need. 'cause not only that is the something that we've got something that. Transformed our business was we had to two things that don't not many people have right. We've got our own in house testing team, right? That debunks all SEO myths and trust me, there's so many out there. It's unbelievable. But some people go up on stage and just rehash what other people say that was working eight years ago that no longer is now. So we've got our CERC, pushing the boundaries and seeing what works. And then we've also got people that are just literally doing all of our SOPs and processes and just making them more concise. So if we've got like a 16 step guide to how to build citations, could we make that 12 step guide instead of a 16 step guide? If we've got a 30 minute video of training on keyword research, could we make that 25 minutes? And it goes you're only saving five minutes. Yeah, but we're saving five minutes times a hundred staff. I know it starts to everything though, when we're text only on, we, it used to take us about four months. To train somebody up in, not in all of SEO, but like in something to be an expert in one part of SEO used to take about four months and now it takes about, about eight or nine weeks. So we got it right in almost half the amount of time from what it used to be to where it is now. So we can quickly get through onboarding new staff, training them up, getting them in the lane, scaling it and then scaling it. And that's what's worked really well for us.
Mark A Preston: I really want to understand a bit more about your testing team, because that just whoa, some of the excites me, because if you don't test them, you don't know if it works. So what's, what's their day to day look like?
James Dooley: So that's every single day is different every single day is different. So and there's times where they've got a lot of work on and I come in like a bully in a china shop. Oh, we need to test this and we need to test that and stuff like that. So every single day is different. Obviously, the algorithms are consistently evolving. So what we used to test, if you think of it what? We did testing and let's say eight months ago we could say this, and this works, but then when a new algorithm update comes along, we've got to retest everything again to see, is it still as prominent of what it could be? Now we've got we're tracking, I think it's 1. 6 million keywords. In total. So soon as something's happening with regards to any sort of like discrepancies with rankings have gone up and gone down, not just our own sites, even though we've got a lot of data for our own sites, we consistently tracking. What's happened here? What's happened there? And it could be anything from page speed, silo structure over optimization of keywords on the page not got enough topical authority over optimization of backlinks toxicity lacking in the EAT signals, and there's so many things that we, if I'm being 100 percent honest, Mark, there's two bits Up until this year, maybe the end of last year, I thought personally that these two things were just SEO myths. One of them was disavows and one of them was EAT, right?
And I thought it was just a sales pitch for people to come in and sell, we'll do a disavow. And I'm like, I've never needed. I disavow and I've, I got hundreds and hundreds of websites. So what I, this is garbage, this is rubbish. And then I then got a penalty, a manual action penalty last year. And I was like, whoa what even is this? So I looked into it further than you do a reconsider. I don't if you've ever done one, but you have to do like a reconsideration request to Google within Google Search Console. So the more we started digging into it, I started to think, wait a minute, this could start. This could start rolling out more and I own a lot of websites. So me being entrepreneurial, I'm like, who's the best person in the world that does disavows? And in my opinion, the best person in the world that does disavows, Rick Lomas, he's seen as being the godfather of disavows and getting sites back from link penalties. So I went and met Rick Lomas. And at the time, Rick Lomas had gone through a bit of a traumatic time. His wife had died and stuff like that. And he was saying, look. If I'm being 100 percent honest, I've got a daughter. I want to spend more time with my daughter. And I said, look, I want to get into this more.
So he says, I'll train you up. And I said, I'll give him royalties. Now we do majority, he still does some, but we do majority of Rick Lomas's disavows. And it's only now I start to see, but I was never in the market for that every single week. Manual action penalties being distributed out. I noticed that they're coming to us to fix the problems and we're going doing the reconsideration request back to Google. And actually when you've done one, you'll know if you've done one, when you go back to them. If they feel you've still got one, if you've not tried to outreach to get rid of the links, they don't revoke it. And two, if you don't disavow all what they see as being the toxic links, they'll come back and give you some examples. And sometimes these examples of links, there could be a DR65 site that's getting traffic on the naked eye when you look at it. Looks like a good sign. It's getting traffic and it's a DR 65 site. You go in. Why is that toxic? And then when you actually then only start to dig a bit deeper and uncover the last five posts that they've done, the link to casino, the link to CBD, the link to finance, and you go, ah, this is just a glorified PBN. And then that's when you then start to uncover and see stuff.
So the R&D team for that has been huge. And we've pushed the boundaries on what's needed and what's not needed for disavows. There's so many people, even without manual action penalties, that are sat in a partial penalty where they might be held back slightly, could be held back two or three positions across the whole site because they were above a toxicity threshold. And I never knew about it. And sometimes there's a classic saying, you don't know what you don't know. And I always thought. I've never been penalized. And there's times we've done proactive disavows and seen big jumps and we've gone, wow, we was being held back, no messaging, Google search console, nothing. And we've had the jumps and we're like, wow, I didn't, we didn't know that. So that was one bit. And then the other one was, I used to think, I used to see like income school and one or two of us talk about EAT. And I used to be like, is this just another pitch for SEOs to sell EEAT and stuff? And then I got, we got a penalty at the start of the year. We had a Google news site that was talking about finance. So we do a little bit of lead generation on like pensions, equitability and stuff like that. And we got a penalty, a manual action penalty in Google search console for all for transparency. I was like, what even is this?
And it's just Google wants to know who's behind the website, both what author's written the article, and are they an expert in what they're talking about, and what business is behind the whole site. And. You're laughing, that's what you should have always done, but sometimes you're busy building outsides, you don't see the wood from the trees, and this is what I'm on about with regards to, I now just become like a clean white art SEO that just does all things, and I probably go belt and braces, I do an EDI policy, a modern slavery policy I go overkill, but I just go, I turn and tick every box, and it might cost me, 10 to get a modern slavery policy done. Do you know what I mean? It's nothing but for 200 to get all the policies done and put them on your website. You know your belt and braces then, they can't come back to you saying, you don't look like a real business. We are a real business. We've got a real address. We've got a real telephone number. Do you want to ring it? One of my staff will answer. We've got an email address. We've got a meet the team page with who's going to answer the calls. Because on some of the lead gen sites will put the clients on the site of who's going to be answering it.
So when they can see, they wanted to see the meet the team Mark Preston's going to answer it for SEO in Preston and they answer it and they go, I own UI, it's Mark Preston. They know who you are already. They've got that message match. So it's good for conversion as well. So it's not just for Google is for the user. And sometimes you're probably going to laugh at me because you'll say I already knew all that. And I'm like, maybe I was just a little bit naïve in where I was going with the business in trying to manipulate Google and not think about the user. But no, yeah. We know we're a lot more about, okay, can we have these behavioural signals where people are going to stay on the site longer? They're going to return to the site. They're going to like the site, but you could use experience about the site and just do things for the user. By doing that. You winning with Google because Google says, Oh, you giving good behavioural signals.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. There's been an awful lot of sites hit over the past couple of months. But what's your thoughts about some affiliate marketers who are trying to Fake all these signals instead of just doing just putting on what's real, like I'm seeing a lot of sites. Is it right? Okay. I've been here. I've ticked this box. We've put this persona on, but they're not real people or real avenue.
James Dooley: I don't think it's the right thing to do. But being honest, like I think, and I know people might, who's listening to this might not like me saying this, but if you're If I go and create a site with a fake persona and you can reverse engineer and reverse image look up that person, how many times has Mark Preston been mentioned online and are you an expert about dishwashers? And if you're not, and you've not written it, nobody else has mentioned anything about how you, not, you don't even need to be an expert like dishwasher, you could be, are you an electrician? Have you ever serviced them? Have you ever repaired them? Or at least, has Mark Preston opened up some of these boxes and done an unboxing and seen to be used one of these? Dishwashers. No. If you've not, I think Google's done that very, a good thing by, you know what? You probably not bought them 10 best washing machines. You've not bought all 10. You've not used all 10. All's what you've done is sorted by who pays the highest affiliate commission to who pays the lowest affiliate commission. I'm not a suspect. You deserve to be slapped. You deserve it because you've not got a real business. You've not got a real telephone number. You've not got a real email address. You're not a real person. And you know what?
You've not even bought them 10 dishwashers. So for that reason, in my opinion, and I know it sounds harsh, you deserve it. And I think Google's done a good job and affiliates won't like me saying that, but how can they? Start giving one person's this made up person, James Fitzgerald is an expert in washing machines. No, you're not. Like you're not an expert in it. So why should people listen to that? And people are moaning that Reddit and Quora have come up. At least Reddit 10 different people negotiating which one they think is best. And it's 10 real people that are at least arguing with I bought this Flymo 269 and I think it's better than the Flymo 217. I think that this law more is better than that one because, but I'm using it for, I'm on a farmer's field. Do you know what I mean? At least you're getting different people's opinions as opposed to Mark Preston who's written, who's done 10 washing machines and has gone, yeah, these are really good. Yeah. These are really good. Yeah. These are really good. And all 10 of them saying that they're all great. No, you, and they're using the same stock images as what everybody else is using and you're just like, come on, get a grip. Do you think that, do you, what's your thoughts on it, Mike? Do you think that they deserve to rank?
Mark A Preston: No, the thing is, it's If you're trying to make something look real, then you're going to get found out. Yeah. The biggest example is of a story I heard is somebody just took a random image of someone that was actually well known for something and they found out and they got a massive copyright. That's a totally different scenario. Yeah. Yeah. Geez. For me, if you're looking for a certain thing, you want to know that if you're going to buy from that site, are they trustworthy? Do I want to open my wallet for them? Do I want to click it? It's just natural behaviour to, to want to understand that something's real.
James Dooley: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So like prime example, what we do with our sites, cause you might say okay, so how are you in so many different industries? How are you an expert about carpet cleaning and an expert about casinos and an expert about finance? I'm not I'm a marketing person that builds a website, but then what I do is that I make certain that if I'm Have I'm generating leads in pensions. I'll make certain that I'm generating leads for someone that's a independent financial advisor. That's accredited in doing pensions. I will not build a site unless that person will allow me to use these details that will put his FCA license number on there. And every single piece of content that I write, he has to sign it off. Because if that content is not right, he'll get in trouble. So for us. It's hard work because we're not just scaling AI content on mass on some of these sites. So it's every single piece of content has got to get signed off and there's times I'm like, Oh, come on. You've been a bit picky there. And he's no, change that word and change that. And we've just got to do what they're saying.
So we're using real people. That if you pick up the phone, you're speaking to a professional pension advisor, right? And then if it's a carpet cleaner, it's someone that's had their own business for a dozen years, that's worked in loads of different jobs, like loads of different kind of, let's say they've worked for Marriott Hotels and doing all the carpet cleaning for Marriott Hotels, they've loads of pictures of them with their carpet cleaning machine, real pictures, so that when they, and not only that is when they turn up to sign. They see the same person that it's just a good user experience. So nowadays we just, like I said, it sounds very why I'm probably very boring for some, but like we just do things, we try not to trick Google. We try to make certain there's a message match. We try to make certain that the consumer that comes to our site, if they are buying gets exactly what they think they are buying and the speaking to a professional in whatever industry that it is.
Mark A Preston: I want to take the conversation back in time, more on to the business side now. What moment in time did you personally think, ah, I've got something here I can scale?
James Dooley: So the, what we, in construction, right? So I'll give you the, so the company's, the company where it first started is a company called Soft Surfaces Limited, right? So it's based in Wilmslow in South Manchester in Cheshire, right? And it builds. Playgrounds, tennis courts, netball courts, basketball courts, 3G football pitches like rugby pitches, all like different sports and recreation on playgrounds throughout the UK. So we, when we first started, we only did playgrounds and then we started to realize what we do, we could do tennis courts. So we moved into tennis courts, then we moved into netball courts, basketball courts. But then we realized that they wanted us to do the fencing. On the tennis court and was like we don't do that. We want to do the surfacing, but we can find a contractor that does it. So that when we found the contractor that does it, he was asking, could you get us more work? So then what started to happen is, and I call it shouldering niches or neighboring niches. We then built a website out for tennis court fencing, right? Then some of them wanted floodlighting. So then we built one out for floodlighting. So we was getting them inquiries. And then what started to happen, but we was only really doing it. So we got the inquiry for the tennis court as well, but sometimes then some of them just wanted fencing. And we're like, Oh, you don't want a tennis court? No, we just want the fencing.
So at that point, I'm like, I need to monetize these in some way. So I just then started saying, look, if you can add us 200 quid on top of your job and give us a kickback on the job and you go and win it happy days. And then we started like the soft services grew from I think it does about 8.5 million a year now on soft services. And we don't really want to grow it much more than that. It's a threshold of where it's at, but it was only at 600,000 years. We've grown it like ridiculous amounts over, over the last 13 years with more than 10 X day. But then we started to realize we're making more money on selling the leads. Like for tennis court fencing, for floodlighting, for landscaping, for tarmac surfacing. And then it led on to people saying, oh, can you do car parks? Can you do the markings on the car parks? Can you do roadways? Can you do the markings on the roadways? Can you do and it just led on then to like being like from there then anything that a school was asking because we mainly deal with schools and colleges and universities. They started oh, join one that does roofing or join one that does cladding, join one that does double glazing windows. So we just started evolving from there that the model of the lead generation and what we was earning, we was like, if we could generate roofers. leads.
But then when they went into the school, they tried to promote us for a playground, happy days. And they was trying to get ins just to get into the schools. But then we started to realize, actually, we make it quite a lot just on these reefing leads. So what else is it that you do? And they might, and a reefer might come to us going, we do. Flat roofing, you go right, okay, let's build a site for flat roofing, we do biodiverse roofing, we do heritage roofing, we do slate roofing, we do pitched roofing. And we're like, bloody, I didn't realise how many different types of roofing kind of leads that you can generate. So that's how it evolved. It, we never set out to do it. It just evolved that way, if that makes sense. So what I would recommend if someone wants to get into the lead generation market, stay close to what you do. So let's say yourself, like you do an SEO and you want to do a full package SEO, maybe get into doing content writing and it needs to be link building or doing digital PR or doing other things that all kind of circle around what SEO is. And when you get those leads, it could revolve back to being. SEO. Do you know what I mean? Or it could be that someone wants Facebook ads and you go, why do you want Facebook ads? I want to grow my online presence, but you should put some budget to SEO. So for you ranking for Facebook ads, could you get you SEO work and stuff like that? So that's evolved. And then from there, then it. Yeah, the lead generation overtook what the construction does and now I only spend like maybe one, two hours a month in the soft services side. We've got great staff in there now and yeah, they're able to maintain where it's at, which is like I said, eight to nine million a year, which is good.
Mark A Preston: It certainly is. Now, just. Hearing you there, some of the industries or super niches you're in that sort of stuff you can't find from the generic SEO keyword tools. So what, how did you come up with that particular?
James Dooley: So let's say the roofing, for example, you create a roofing site and you just go, Oh yeah, I do roofing leads. But then when you, when they start digging deeper into it, you start realizing the it's like someone says to you, you do SEO, but actually if you're, if you open the book of what SEO is, there's a million different things within SEO of what you can do. What do you mean? Do you build websites? Do you do the silo structure? Do you do the do you write the content? Do you do the link? So like, When you uncover something, when I just thought roofing was roofing and then you start to uncover it and you're like, wow, there's so many different elements. And like a good example was one where we had a plumber, right? And he was paying us about, I think it was about 800 a month or something like that. It might have been 500 a month. And then one month he comes along and he gives us like a few grand. And it was like, Oh, what's that for? He said, Oh, we're just in a wet room. Mike. I didn't even know he did wet rooms. He's yeah, of course we do wet rooms. He says wet rooms are way better than shower rooms. So I was like, why? He says, because generally speaking, a shower room is what you have in a house. A wet room is what commercial like gyms and stuff off and gyms and commercial properties are willing to pay more money. So I was like, you've never told me this before.
And his response was, you've never asked. I'm like, I've asked for all the key word. He went, yeah, I didn't think about wet rooms. I'm like, you just told me it's a really profitable product. But then when he goes even like one step further, like when you start realizing not every wet room supplier can do disabled wet rooms because the DDA compliance, like the door needs to be a little bit wider and you need the pull cards. You need an electrician to come and put the pull card in and stuff like that. So then when you can start going down the route of plumber. So like wet rooms to being disabled wet rooms, you're going really micro niche. But there's good money there. And yes, Ahrefs and Semrush are your generic kind of keyword tools, can't find you that information. And that's where you do need to speak to the client and you do need to understand what it is that makes you the money. And from what, like from one company to the next, like a boiler company, you speak to one boiler company and they might be obsessed with just doing new boilers, new boiler. But actually, this company over here might make more profit. By just repairing and servicing existing boilers, and it's knowing how their business model is set up to see what works better. Is it replacing the new boilers or is it repairs and servicing? Now, obviously, both could make money. But one's normally driven, one's normally set up to do one. And one's normally set up to do the other, because these are driven to be like, we charge a lot because we might do 24, seven call outs. So you've got to have staff that's on call at two o'clock in the morning. That if a boiler's broken, someone wants to ring them, they're going to send engineers out. So yes, you're right. And what you're saying, like the traditional keyword research. Can't be done for stuff like this. You've just got to be savvy and good at business and understanding what elements is it that they make the money on.
Mark A Preston: So as far as your business model is concerned, what, why did you move from selling, generating and selling leads over to the, what you call rent and rank model?
James Dooley: So some still do lead generation, right? But my issue is when you scale a business as big as what it is now, right? And this is no disrespect to anyone who's listening, that's a client or a customer, right? Generally speaking, clients and customers are nightmares. They want to know not only what you're doing, but why you're doing it and how you're doing it. They want to know every, everything. And the minute they're paying for a lead they feel like the employer. So what they start doing is they start ringing you up. Every single lead that comes through, if they don't answer. Hiya James I just had a lead there from Clive and he didn't answer so I'm not paying for it, and put the phone down. And it's a times app, it'll be like your sales stuff. Hiya James, you alright? I just had a lead and it says Donald Duck, I'm not paying for it. Oh, I've just had a lead and it says Mickey Mouse, I'm not paying for it. Online, sometimes you get fake leads, so you're having to put a management system in place for, you can't just charge per lead, it's got to be per lead that's they're happy to pay for, but having that structure put in place can be a nightmare, because then some of them go I spoke to these for 15 seconds, but they weren't interested. And then it's an argument. Should they pay? Should they not pay? And it's do you know what? It's easier at times to get to a point where they've worked with you for a while.
And normally, if I'm being honest, if let's say they was paying 3,000 a month on leads from us, we'll make it that it's 2,000 a month as a rank and rent. So it's cheaper for them, but I don't need my staff management. Like checking every single lead, listening to the calls to see whether it was a qualified lead or it wasn't a qualified lead having those arguments. And then you don't speak to them that much. They're really happy with what's happening. We're happy with it. And actually it's predictable monthly recurring revenue for a business, which is key, which then allows us to know how much we can spend to keep growing that site. Cause we know we're earning 2000 by the month, but if it's three grand then 200 quid, then four grand, then hundred quid. It's difficult to manage because you don't know what cashflow you're going to be getting in and cashflow is king for a business. So when we can have a predictable kind of workflow of what we're getting in, that's why sometimes we change it over to a rank and my model, not all the time, but majority of the time we do. And the clients love it. And then we love it because we don't need to manage it as much.
Mark A Preston: Have you never thought about approaching the percentage of sale value?
James Dooley: So we normally start by doing that. But the only issue you've got with that, Mark, again, is you're a hundred percent have got to trust the client because that client could do a conservatory, right? And he could charge it out at 12 grand. How do I know what their expenses are for that 12, 000. So yes, you could, but then they could turn around and go, we only made 500 quid on that job. So I'm only going to pay you if it's 50 percent of their profit, 250 quid, where realistically they might've made free ground and could have paid you 1500 quid. So they're always trying to. It sounds tough, this, but a lot of people that want humans are within business. They want to feel like they've got a deal. So every time they've converted a job, they want to try and chip you down that little bit. And I don't like that model because Again, there's more conversations to be had with the client all the time, that how much we're going to get paid, we don't know, we'll have to convert it, we don't know it just becomes a hassle. It's, for some clients it works well. Normally when we first start with the client, we'll do it on that kind of model because It's a no brainer for the client because they don't pay for the website. They don't pay for the content. They don't pay for the leads. All that they pay for is a, is like a commission towards when they've converted a job and been paid. So it's great for them, but for us in time, we'd prefer to move to a paper lead model or ideally to in time to a rank and rent.
Mark A Preston: For somebody that's just getting into the game and think they either want to do affiliate marketing or link generation or rank and rent or whatever it is, what should they be thinking about initially?
James Dooley: First and foremost, they need to be good at knowing, they need to be good at SEO, because if they're not good at SEO, it doesn't matter whether you do SEO affiliate, display ads or rank and rent or lead generation. If you're not going to SEO, you're not going to rank. So there's no such thing as a not rank and rent model because no one's going to rent and not rank site if you get what I mean. So I would recommend, and I hate. It when people say fake it before you make it, because that's just scamming people. So you people go all gloomy and SEO and fake it before you make it go and win some clients and charge them a grand a month and just use their money to see and learn on the job. And I'm like, no I think SEO should be able to legislate having some regulations in place. I don't know how they do that, but this whole fake it before you make it. It's just pathetic, in my opinion. So I would. I would recommend someone to go and get a job within an agency and go and learn and go and learn how you rank sites like that have already an established company or go don't do SEO until you've got some money. Go and work like 12 hours a day, seven days a week. If you really want to learn it, go and work stacking shelves and save up money and go and buy some courses. Do not mean go and speak to yourself, go and get a consult consultation call with you and sit down for an hour and they'll learn more by doing that in that one hour.
And it might cost 500 quid or whatever you are for a consultation call. Go and get a consultation call with you who knows what they're doing and then try and start implementing. Keep implements on your own side and then See what you've done wrong and learn from it and go again, but you've got to be safe. You can't do it with no money. You can write content in your own time and stuff like that. But you still need to be doing directories or you need to be hosting your site and stuff like that. So there's certain things that you need to pay. It's not a freebie. So you might need to have a job. And in my opinion, I always say don't leave a full time job until you're earning double. What you're earning in your full time job in SEO, because you could quickly have what you're earning in SEO overnight with an algorithm update. It's not easy for people to do. Some people are can you train me up on what you do? Am I, it'll take you 10 years. And like it's difficult. There's so many different nuances from niche to niche and what works and what doesn't work. It's not easy. People like think that, oh, I've just been working nine till five, four days a week. And I've got a laptop lifestyle and, or four hour work week and stuff like that. I'm like, no, for six, seven years, I worked 12 hours, 14 hours a day for seven days a week. Before I had kids, I've got kids now, my life's a little bit different, but back then I don't think anyone would beat me on a work treadmill.
I do easily do 90 hours a week to all these people. They're doing 35, 40 hours a week. You got to say you want to be where I am, but not put the time and the effort in. It's like saying, I want to be a body builder, but they're not going to the gym. Do you know what I mean? It's hard. It's hard work. I don't, some people want me to say there's a magic pill that you can have, or there's a push button you can do. No, it's difficult. Go on, go and learn it. Go and do some courses. Go and speak to like yourself on a consultation call and then start doing it and learn along the way of what you're doing. Start off like an easy, neat shit. So if you're doing. Lead generation. If I was like, they say yourself, right? Doing lead generation, you might go I'm going to go and find five local companies in Preston, and I'm just going to do lead generation in Preston, and that's it. I'm not going to I'm not going to try Manchester, or Newcastle, or London, or bigger areas. I'm going to just do Charlie and Preston, and that's it. And I'm going to be an expert at lead generation in Charlie and Preston. And do you know what? You could probably get Build up to 10 grand a month in certain industries, just in Charlie and Preston in 10 different niches and you've got, you're on to a winner then, but don't think too big, just take baby steps and yeah it's hard, but then just maybe do what yourself does, where you go into like local meetups, which could be like a local WordPress meetup, it could be a local, like you came to search Birmingham, good. You're consistent. You're at the top of your game and you're doing consultation calls for people, but you're still going to all these events and learning every day because you understand that every day is a school day. So you're still trying to elevate yourself and be the better person that you can be. So all these others need to do that as well. They can't just sit down and learn from you because in two months time, you might have learned more things that you could have educated them on and they've just got to get up and network and develop that way, in my opinion. What's your thoughts? What would you tell someone who's first starting out? Would you be any different to what I've said?
Mark A Preston: There's two, two things. I personally found when I've talked to people, one, they need to be realistic about their own skills and a lot of time did not, when you're asked certain questions did not. And two, is I always ask them before you jump ship, how, if you never earned a penny from doing what you want to do, how long could you sustain your life? Yeah, you know them are the two questions that I always ask that determine whether they are ready or not, Yeah, and so for me, it's more about them being honest with themselves And a lot of time, I spoke to a lot of people and they just can't be asked yeah Even if I give them a list of a blueprint of exactly how to print money He said, oh I can't because I need to watch Coronation Street tonight, so I think on that side, but the time is absolutely rocked on and it's been such an interesting chat, but I do want to ask, is there anything that you feel that you need to get out there or the audience need to know that we haven't covered yet?
James Dooley: Just that it is a little bit harder than what people think. So when people are first, some people have been watching some of my podcasts and they've been going, I want to do what you do. And it's not easy. People are going to try to jump ship now from affiliate to do rank and rents thinking it's going to be easier. It's not easy. You still need a sales team to deal with the clients. Nothing's easy. Keep networking. I'd say the biggest thing that people need to work on with it within himself is You're going to fail and you're going to fail miserably at times. How quickly can you recover without feeling sorry for yourself because it's going to happen and there's going to be another algorithm update probably start of December because there normally is and people are going to get hit. How quickly can you bounce back from them failures? They're the best, they're the best like attributes to have. So if you can work on that yourself. You're going to progress, right? All the rest of the learning and stuff like that will come to you if you get that bounce back ability. And that bounce back ability, I think, is key. And you need to keep working on it because every day is a school day. It's a never ending industry. Never, it's always moving all the time. And that's the only thing I'd like to get out. It's not all sunshines and rainbows, so to say.
Mark A Preston: Right, and on that note, where can people find you and what sort of conversations would you like to have with people?
James Dooley: I'm open for all positive conversations. I don't like, I hate the negativity within certain people. I want it always to try and be a positive kind of conversation. I've got jamesdooley.com. Which on there will show a little bit about what I've done and it's got all my social media profiles on there. So I'm on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter I'm starting being a little bit more active on YouTube as well now. I'm trying to build out a personal brand now not a massive one, but just I feel with the. kind of advancements of AI, I feel like a personal brand is needed online. So I'm trying to now get my name out of there a little bit more, trying to elevate others and help others along the way as best I can. And enjoy the journey as well.
Mark A Preston: James, on that note, Many thanks for joining me.
James Dooley: Thanks a lot, Mark.