Content Marketing as Teaching Instead of Selling at Root and Branch

Content Marketing as Teaching Instead of Selling at Root and Branch

AMA Pittsburgh’s Guest Author series asks a simple question: how do you or your organization use marketing to create success with your business?

October’s Featured Author:

Zack Duncan
Root & Branch Group

Hi there! I’m Zack Duncan. As the owner and sole full-time employee of a small digital marketing company, I have no excuse not to market my business.

But I’ve generally been terrible at it for the majority of the 5 years that I’ve had Root and Branch Group.

It’s only been over the past year or so that I’ve actually gotten serious about our marketing. There always seemed to be more pressing priorities with client work, and it was hard to carve out the time. Plus, it didn’t sound really fun to me.

So, what changed?

My mindset changed.

I don’t like “selling” but I do enjoy teaching. I’ve been an instructor at Pitt for several years, and it’s been an amazing gift to get to teach students who are interested in learning. I’ve borrowed that same approach to marketing for Root and Branch. So now, instead of thinking about marketing as pitching consulting and training services for things like SEO, Google Analytics, and digital strategy, I create instructional content and share it online.

What were the results?

As you can see in the screenshot below from Google Analytics, traffic to the Root and Branch website from organic search (SEO) began to increase in late 2020 after I started getting serious about training content.

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In August of 2021 compared to 2020, organic search traffic is up over 1,000% from about 7 – 8 visits a day to over 100 visits a day. These visitors are almost all finding Root and Branch because they are looking for a specific marketing problem that I’ve created (SEO-optimized) content to help answer. Some of these people will be fine figuring it out on their own after reading the article, but some others will want to connect for a paid training or consulting arrangement to learn more.

What do I do specifically for this content marketing?

I create blog content on the Root and Branch website once or twice a month. Each blog provides answers to questions my audience is looking to address and links to other related content. How do I know what people are looking for? That’s part of the SEO “keyword research” process and there are tools available like Moz, Ahrefs, Google Trends, and more to help. So, if I identity “how much does Local SEO cost in 2021?” as a high opportunity keyword, I’ll create content that answers the question. The same thing goes for more exploratory topics like the similarities and differences between the legacy version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) compared to the new Google Analytics 4

Once a month I will also review the performance of preexisting content and see if there are new search trends that I can borrow to refresh the content. Google Search Console is the perfect tool for this job. Refreshing older content makes it more useful to readers and also improves the value (and the rank!) in the eyes of Google.

Depending on the topic, I might also create a short instructional video to explain a concept like on-page SEO optimization or to provide a walkthrough of how to set up a platform like Google Analytics. As the second biggest search engine in the world, this YouTube content will also be found by people looking to get their questions answered.

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It’s been slower to grow on YouTube, but the channel is up to ~900 or so views per month and 25 – 30 hours of watch time.

Mostly, it’s just been fun and I’m looking forward to seeing where it might go.

About Zack

Zack is the Digital Marketing Executive in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh and the President of Root and Branch Group. He provides SEO and analytics coaching for companies and directly manages monthly retainer clients in paid search, SEO, and analytics.

He’s a big fan of the local Pittsburgh beer scene and would be equally happy to talk about Dancing Gnome vs. Grist House as he would be to chat about on-page SEO vs. National SEO. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here

And if you’re interested in digital marketing tips and perspectives, you can follow Root and Branch on Linked In or subscribe to the Root and Branch YouTube channel.

zack duncan
Coronavirus Impact on SEO

Coronavirus Impact on SEO

Coronavirus Impact on SEO

The current coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has most certainly led to a global upheaval, in almost every facet of our daily lives. Entire businesses, economies, and nations make a shift in priorities in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their citizens; quarantine measures are increasingly common in order to slow down the infection rates. Thus, the newly introduced government measures and movement restrictions have led to business owners migrating their services to the Internet, where possible – or halting them entirely. On the other hand, certain digital industries like SEO have experienced a surge in demand – but is this good in the long run? We’ll explore the coronavirus impact on SEO and unravel the details right here!

Industry Shifts

While Wuhan was the first city in the world to showcase its deserted streets to a global audience; it definitely wouldn’t be the last. Soon enough, other badly hit cities across the world implemented similar heavy quarantine measures – leading to eerily empty urban areas across the globe.

But apart from restricting citizens’ movements, it’s suggested that this pandemic might influence people’s shopping habits. Logically, more and more people who used to shop in retail will shift their purchasing online, as the reluctance to leave their homes builds up over time. Depending on how long this situation lasts, the design and development of online storefronts will become important for retail-dependent chains.

Most Hit Sectors

As international traveling grounds to a halt, we can expect the global tourism industry to suffer terrible losses. In fact, Expedia, one of the biggest giants when it comes to travel fare aggregation, is set to lose a whopping $40 million by the time this crisis is over. While this is a valuable affiliate niche on its own, we should note that such losses will also deal a blow to the local hospitality and restaurant niches all over the world.

Also, considering the careful bias against products shipped from China, that’s currently a global trend; drop shippers and other merchants who depend on Chinese products will sustain heavy losses.

Apart from this, we should also note that while the need for SEO services has actually increased in the current home-focused climate; in the long run, this may prove to be a deficiency. If the quarantine conditions last longer than a few months, and the trend of layoffs continues as businesses struggle to maintain cash flow – global purchasing power will severely decline.

After all, while rankings are the immediate point of SEO; at the end of the day, product and service sales are the goal of all marketing, and thus SEO marketing as well. Digital marketing companies like are aware that this pandemic may deal a blow to the SEO industry in the future; if people buy less for a prolonged period of time – marketing budgets will be smaller as well.

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The SEO sector may yet experience losses due to COVID-19!

New SERP Features

As the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up across all media channels, Google has introduced a number of new panels and graphics that show up when users search for coronavirus keywords. Crucially, these serve to give users some objective information from reliable sources on the disease. Largely, the content therein comes from the World Health Organization, local government sources, and the Center for Disease Control.

Apart from that, Google also displays safety tips for the pandemic, including tutorials on proper handwashing. If you want to track the outbreak quickly, Google also provides a useful “Affected Area” panel. It contains a world map that indicates the geographic spread of the virus in real-time.

 A laptop with the Google homepage.
Google is introducing new SERP features in the wake of the pandemic!

Search Result Changes

If you compare the results from mid-March to mid-January, a couple of interesting developments pop up. For one, WHO and the CDC have shifted to the top organic positions, without fluctuating during the entirety of March. Simultaneously, Healthline, WebMD, and similar health publisher websites have retreated from the top 2 pages, even though they usually have top rankings when health queries are concerned.

Interestingly enough, Wikipedia has also lost its first-page position. The specific reason for this is up for debate, but the main culprit may be the crowdsources content displayed on Wikipedia; seeing as the coronavirus situation is developing swiftly, it’s more likely for Wikipedia to have inaccurate content right now.

Lastly, as expected, news sites with high reputations and local government sources have replaced Wikipedia and health publishers in the top positions for the time being.


So, what can we surmise from this information? Websites like the WHO and CDC, along with other individuals and organizations that can provide reliable and official information will experience a growth in organic visibility; largely as expected.

But apart from this, a few other interesting trends have reared themselves in the past month. For instance, websites which provide home workout classes have had the biggest gains when it comes to organic market share, seeing as even people who usually go to a gym must now work out at home.

Natural wellness websites have also made some gains due to both organic visibility increases and some recent algorithm changes. With people being warier than ever to leave their homes, websites that provide DIY tips, healthy recipes, and homemade replacements for store-bought toiletries are making progress.

In addition, websites that are used for showcasing statistics and data have also experienced surges in search visibility. Sites like Worldometer with live stats have become more popular, especially due to their live displays of birth and death metrics. Obviously, people looking for raw data on the coronavirus have found these to be indispensable.

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People are more interested in data and metrics than in the recent past!

At the end of the day, it’s clear that Google is focusing on showcasing content from expert organizations, particularly when it comes to global health issues. With misinformation being potentially lethal in this case, the surge of popularity of truly trustworthy sources is completely understandable.

About the Author:

My name is Jacob Daniels – I am a young and ambitious entrepreneur in the world of digital marketing. What started off as simple copywriting work quickly transformed into advanced work in SEO, PPC, email marketing, and other digital marketing activities. I’ve been working for Movers Development for the past two years, during which I experienced incredible personal and professional growth. As an SEO content manager, I now have plenty of experience and acquired knowledge in terms of marketing companies online. I have dozens of projects, published work, and marketing campaigns in my portfolio so far, and I plan on increasing that number in the future. 

Coronavirus Impact on SEO

3 Quick Steps to Getting Your Small Business to Rank Higher in Search

by Mark Rogers

How many times have you asked a search engine, “what restaurants are near me?”

People are using search engines to find local businesses. If your business only operates in a small area, you need to be doing local SEO. It’s imperative to ranking higher than your competitors. The first company that shows up in Google search results is often the one that gets the business. Be first.

With that in mind, let’s get your marketing strategy and website in shape so that it’s optimized for local searches. You already know the importance of having a mobile-optimized website so I won’t spend a lot of time on that.

It is worth stressing that if your website isn’t optimized for mobile, stop what you’re doing now and get it fixed. Once your website is mobile-optimized, then come back and read this.

Let’s kick this off:

1. Local backlinks

I’ll start with the most important part of local SEO – backlinks. Yes, backlinks still matter in 2017. If you aren’t familiar with backlinks, a backlink is simply a link on another website that directs people to your website. For example, this link is a backlink for Visit Pittsburgh.

So, how do you get local backlinks for your website? It’s not as difficult as it sounds.

A great place to start is to find websites/publications that give out local business awards. Pittsburgh Magazine does this every year for area restaurants. Typically, these publications have some sort of nomination form that you can fill out. If you win, the organization will usually include a link back to your site. That’s one backlink you can take to the bank.

Another option is to host a community event. Every city (Pittsburgh included) has multiple websites that list happenings in the city. Most of the time, these listings will include a link back to the original source (your website in this case). Notice the links in this screenshot, they link to CMOA’s website:



That’s another link you can cash in on.

A third easy option to get backlinks is to offer student, alumni, or organization discounts. What do I mean by that? This is simply just offering a discount to different groups of people. Chances are, those groups will include a link back to your site. BIKEPGH is a great example of this. The page I just linked to mentions discounts to a bunch of area businesses, and it links to each one of those businesses. Backlinks for days.

2. Review Sites

You knew this was coming. Review sites (Yelp, Google Reviews, Angie’s List, etc.) play a big role in local SEO, perhaps more so than you think. Not only are review sites important for sales, according to Moz, Google is more likely to rank your website higher if you have a bunch of highly rated reviews on any of the popular review websites.

If you’re struggling to get reviews, it could be as simple as just asking. If your company keeps a list of customer emails, create an automated email that will go out to your customers shortly after they purchase something from you. In that email, ask for the review, and explain why you’re asking them.

If you don’t have your customer’s emails, you can remind them to leave an online review during the checkout process. Or, put it on their receipt.

3. Build your social presence

Social media engagement is a ranking factor for Google. There’s no doubt about that. Make sure to link your social media profiles to your website, and do your best to build up your audience on social media. Instagram and Facebook are the two best platforms for B2C companies, but take the time to decide if LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of the others are right for your business.

There are a ton of ways to build up an engaged audience on social media. A great way is to offer discounts/giveaways for customers who follow you or share one of your updates. Pig Iron Public House does this with great results. This one post had hundreds of comments.



I’ll sum this up in 3 sentences. Local SEO is vital for your business. If you aren’t doing it, it’s time to catch up. Small businesses that are effectively doing this are winning customers and making more money.


Author Bio:

Mark is the Digital Marketing Strategist at Carney, a marketing and design agency in Murrysville. Mark is obsessive about SEO, content marketing, digital advertising, and copywriting. You likely won’t see him without a cup of coffee, his computer, and a pair of rock climbing shoes. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.