Hi Chris, "Good content" means a couple of things - good for readers and good for Google. Good content for readers means that the content answers questions, provides value, offers solutions, and is engaging. You want to keep the reader on the page and on your website for as long as possible. To make good content for Google, you have to provide the search engine with a set of signals - e.g., keywords, backlinks, low bounce rates, etc... The idea is that if you make good content for readers (engaging, valuable, actionable, and informative), your content will get more engagement. When your content gets more engagement Google will see it as good content too and put it higher in the SERPs. Making "good content" is about striking that balance. Let us know if that answered your question!
Another tip you can use is just reach out to the prior agency and say something like the following: “We realise you were using link networks for our website which has resulted in a Google penalty and loss in business. Can you please remove my website from any link network you have built?”. If the prior agency is decent, they will remove the links from the network.

Look to successful brands to see how they keep customers engaged. Do you need to constantly update content, as Home Depot does with its seasonal DIY tips? Or do you need to position yourself as a lifestyle brand, following in Red Bull’s footsteps by running a series of videos on YouTube? Whatever method you adopt, it’s important to have some quantifiable way to measure how successful you are, so keep your ultimate goal in mind as you evaluate your return on investment.
Increase your real estate. When you show up in the first page of the organic AND paid search results, you’re doing something right. That’s not just something the marketing nerds like us will notice either – people realize (consciously or not) that it takes a successful, legitimate, intelligent company to show up twice in one search. A company that doesn’t know what they’re doing couldn’t do that… right?
A good call to action has a clear message and action. It should move people in the direction of purchasing. On a blog post, a good CTA may point people to more in-depth content like an e-book. It can also point people to your products and services. However, the in-depth content is more effective. You can then pitch your product or service using the in-depth content.
The piece on generating demand for branded queries rather than just product-based ones is particularly interesting here. It sounds as though it'll be more important than ever to have a strong brand in order to succeed (rather than just having a well-optimized site -- and ideally, having the strategic, technical, and creative sides all working together cohesively). Perhaps it's possible that brand exposure through things like answer boxes can still deliver some value too, even if it's difficult to measure, and CTRs are diminished?

The great advantage of search engines is that users are directed to certain websites for a product or service, regardless of the brand that offers it. This is a great opportunity for small businesses that do not have sufficient resources to promote brand awareness. However, if your positioning works well in search engines, they can compete on equal footing with larger companies, and not only attract more qualified traffic, but also promote brand awareness.
SEO techniques can be classified into two broad categories: techniques that search engine companies recommend as part of good design ("white hat"), and those techniques of which search engines do not approve ("black hat"). The search engines attempt to minimize the effect of the latter, among them spamdexing. Industry commentators have classified these methods, and the practitioners who employ them, as either white hat SEO, or black hat SEO.[49] White hats tend to produce results that last a long time, whereas black hats anticipate that their sites may eventually be banned either temporarily or permanently once the search engines discover what they are doing.[50]
Great topic Rand! I have found that being well-versed in PPC and Content Marketing have not only helped my expertise grow as an SEO, but are also great options to fall back on when offering solutions to clients, depending on the SEO opportunity available. It will be interesting to see if Organic Search Traffic will continue to drop or bounce back overall though. Solids tips and insight, and glad to see you back for a WBF!

Each paid ad will likely point to a product page, a specific landing page, or something that has the potential to drive financial results. As paid marketing would suggest by its name alone, you’re spending money on ads to drive specific actions. You need to determine ROAS beyond vanity metrics alone (like engagement or total leads). Say you drove five leads but spent $5,000 on your paid campaign. Your ROAS would be $1,000 per lead, which is a bit steep (depending on your industry). In this case, you’d want to adjust your strategy to avoid wasting money.
James, you give a great template for how a business needs to move forward in their chosen niche online.  Quite informative and the meeting of minds has been something a number of us have done online and in person to gain better insight into our small similar businesses.  Thank you for sharing your detailed approach to increasing organic traffic...content still is king.
So, you have downloaded your links profiles on a CSV and you now have an extensive list of all your linked domains. If you have been doing SEO for 8+ years like me you can probably just know from analysis which links are bad from a TLD and URL point of view. If you do not know too much you can use tools such as Link Detox: http://www.linkdetox.com/ to complete analysis of your link profile. I would always consult the advice of an expert SEO in this instance because it is easy for these tools to mistake good and bad links.
If it’s someone that’s heading up products, they should probably talk a lot about product development, or product strategy, versus marketing. I think speaking to the core skill set of the executive or individual that you want to be a thought leader, and then similarly building out a content strategy and plan around the frequency and the topics that they plan to cover.
At our agency, we work with sites of varying sizes, from very large to quite small, and recently, we have noticed a trend at the enterprise level. These sites aren’t relying as much on Google for traffic any more. Not only are they not relying on Google traffic, but also, the sites are getting less than 10 percent (or slightly more) of their organic traffic from the search giant.