“Don’t Buy Links . . . Buy People,” Brent D. Payne exclaimed at an SEO Conference during one of his presentations back in 2009. This language might seem controversial at the very least in a different context, but when relating to the SEO industry, the statement was as attention-grabbing as Payne’s own brand, Loud Interactive, based out of Chicago. Through his over 18 years of experience in the SEO industry, Brent has stayed ahead of the curve by keeping a close eye on the continuing evolution of search engines, and how their algorithms have made the search results process more advanced every year.
“In the 1990’s, search engines worked primarily through keyword matching. The 2000’s brought with it an importance for great links, semantics, and location/mobile,” Brent explained at PubCon Las Vegas. “Most recently, in the last two years or so, search engines rely more on attribution, intent, and mobile data versus hyperlinks alone.” To put it in layman’s terms, search engines are evolving to look at more signals to properly rank the trillions of web pages. But, just as search engines have become smarter, so too do the SEOs in helping their clients rank higher on the first page of search engines. To that end, and armed with the knowledge that videos rank higher on the web than content alone, Payne has come up with a strategy that the SEO world is buzzing about – building one’s own online ecosystem to boost clients’ rankings — and he’s doing it with the more engaging content option of videos.
When Payne mentioned over nine years ago that buying people versus buying links was better, he was speaking to the use of tools like Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon Mechanical Turk is a system wherein one can pay tens of thousands of workers to do small tasks for a as low as a penny. Payne, back then, used it to help move rankings for his clients and even resolve online reputation management issues by creating thousands of searches and subsequent clicks on results. It worked well…for a period of time. Google and other search engines eventually caught up with Payne and made changes to their algorithm which required users to be logged in and regional to make the impact Payne was looking for with his clients. In order to once again leapfrog the search engines’ algorithms, Payne is developing a large and growing network of logged in, regional and segmented users to once again make the impact he needs for his clients.
How has Payne evolved his processes and his company? Payne has hired elite athletes in various action sports to create a team of ambassadors that promote his Akros Sports Network— that covers the most important events for a particular sport via action videos and live broadcasts. Over 70 different domains, representing as many different sports, from barefoot waterskiing to snow skiing, ice climbing, dirt biking, paragliding, and even BASE jumping, are part of this network. These brands are unified by a common themed logo based on the chemical symbol for adrenaline. On any given week, Loud Interactive camera crews carting drones, GoPros, virtual reality camera equipment and Livestream broadcasting equipment can be found in places such as the hills of Moab to film off-roading in Jeeps, to Austin, TX for a barefoot water skiing race, to Lake Tahoe to catch Marcus Brown, one of the world’s best water skiers, ski with a waterski on layers of powder, while being pulled by a snowmobile. The list of events, locations, athletes and shenanigans (like barefoot waterskiing the Chicago River) for video ideas goes on and on. This year Payne and his team of videographers and broadcasters will be live streaming the USA National Barefoot Waterskiing Championships just as they did last year.
How does this translate to results for page rankings for Loud’s clients? In the case of the Halloween barefoot waterskiing shoot this past fall, in which Keith St. Onge, David Small, Ben Groen, and other elites at the World Barefoot Center in Winter Haven, FL dressed up in costumes ranging from Superman, Ironman, the Hulk, to an irate Trump getting yanked into the water by Spider-man— the results are quite effective. Loud’s client’s rankings moved from #3 to #1 during the peak shares of the Halloween Costume videos, despite the fact that the client never shared the videos on their own social media accounts.
Perhaps even more powerful than immediate results in page rankings, the Akros Sports Network has created, and continues to develop, a community of sports enthusiasts and professionals. These enthusiasts and professionals are genuinely interested and passionate about the projects that are being created, and will organically provide link structure in the future in a completely natural, organic way. Take, for example, the second Halloween video this past fall— several top female wakeboard athletes approached Payne’s network after the barefoot video was created, wanting to make one of their own. This second shoot of the top female wakeboarders in the world in Halloween costumes cost the Akros Sports Network less than half as much as the first one, created a larger reaction in social media outlets, and resulted in a placement about Payne’s client in Wakeboard Magazine.
Payne, who as former director of SEO for Tribune Company tripled traffic from 500,000 visits per day to 1.7 million visits per day for Tribune, doesn’t only work with elite athletes engaging in fun and, some may say, dangerous activities. This past December, he and his video crew put together a video for Cars.com on car seat safety. After inviting social media influencers to a Car Seat Safety event and promoting it via email with video assets, the video sparked over 248 blog posts, and moved Cars.com from #5 to #2 at the peak of video views, and still sits at #3 for safety-related searches, despite the fact that the video was not promoted by Cars.com on their own social channels.
The Akros Sports Network has created a following of over 65,000 people, which is steadily growing daily. The foundation of its success is simple— providing relevant content to a highly engaged audience who genuinely enjoys, and wants to see more, as well as recruiting the best athletes in a given sport as ambassadors to the brand. Payne, a veteran SEO who has spoken at conferences in six continents, has developed a unique way to be on the cutting edge of the search industry while being an asset to the action sports communities he promotes. This is done in a way that is yielding very promising, measurable, and definable results for Payne’s clients. Furthermore, Payne’s approach stays just inside search engine guidelines and seems, for now, to be a step or two ahead of their algorithms.