Fresh Insights From Some of Philly’s Top SEO’s

by Nick on February 16, 2012 · 25 comments

Top SEO Philadelphia
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In the past 8 months I have been faced with some hard questions.

I have interviewed at least 100 people, 30 or so of which were for SEO positions – if not more, and this was only after completing hundreds of screening calls. I think I was alright at answering most questions, certainly not all, but there were a few that I was never quite sure of.

The types of questions that catch you off guard, or leave you wondering “Was that a good answer?” So I kept a list of these questions to build off of and for future reference during my interviewing and on-boarding. I was never really sure what to do with them, until I saw this tweet:

I'm glad you asked... The Best SEO Interviews You Will Read in 2012 http://t.co/3nEQA0A7*Warning* Does include valuable SEO insights!

and after reading the article I figured since I know some smart SEO’s right here in Philly, I would just ask them.

Below is a short summary of each of the people who were so kind to contribute their thoughts on my questions, and help me gain some insight into what I consider ‘not your average SEO questions.’ Enjoy.

Ian Howells

Director of SEO, TrueAction

Ian is probably best known for his candid, no bullshit approach to SEO. He understands what works and what doesn’t because he’s tried it, not just read about it. With a keen grasp on what really matters to search engines, and loads of hands on experience, Ian is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to search. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out his personal SEO journal at Halo18.com. One of my favorite recent tweets from Ian is:

@ The "but this isn't whitehat!" thing... ugh. Know what else is against the Google guidelines? Rank checking.
@ianhowells
Ian Howells

Justin Freid

Media Supervisor, TPG

Justin manages digital media for some of the largest brands on the internet and has a strong reputation for understanding enterprise-level PPC. A frequent contributor to Search Engine Journal on the topic of paid search, Justin has developed a reputation for squeezing value out of PPC campaigns.  One of my favorite recent tweets from Justin is:

Tips for Managing High Spend, High Volume PPC Accounts | Search Engine Journal http://t.co/jywjVh5 via @
@Justin_Freid
Justin Freid

Bill Sebald

Digital Marketing Manager, Quench U.S.A, Inc.

Bill is probably best known for his blog Green Lane SEO. Bill is an all around tech junkie and has been involved in digital media since the 90’s. I first stumbled across Bill’s site while poking around Google for SEO’s in my hometown (Bill and I are both from Berks County, just like Taylor Swift). I was not expecting to find much, so it was very surprising when I came across Green Lane SEO, and after hanging out with Bill at a few Grail’s, I started following his work. One of my favorite recent tweets from Bill is:

Hey spammer, I'm not clicking the "someone posted embarrassing pictures of you" link, not b/c I'm wise to you, but b/c that's very probable!
@billsebald
Bill Sebald

Wil Reynolds

CEO, Seer Interactive

In Philadelphia, and throughout most of the search industry at this point, Wil needs no introduction. After gracing the cover of the Philly Business Journal to start the year, and with frequent appearances on SEOmoz, Wil is well known for continuing to find new ways to innovate link building. What many SEO folks don’t know is Wil’s deep commitment to the Philadelphia community, as shown in one of his recent tweets:

WOW last month @ team had 130+ volunteer hrs in 16 orgs! So proud of these guys, but wanna break 200/mo next year.
@wilreynolds
wilreynolds

Bill Rowland

Sr. SEO Manager, TrueAction

Perhaps best known for organizing SEO Grail Philadelphia, Philly’s most popular SEO Meetup, Bill has been heavily involved in internet marketing since first getting into eCommerce for a large Philly-based retailer back in 2000. Bill’s fun outlook on SEO and ever-present sense of humor have made him a crowd favorite for chatting SEO over a few beers, and here is an example from one of my favorite recent tweets:

@ Uh, last month. Dude, all I have to say is Yoohoo, Beef Jerkey and Hops/Barley. 'Nuff said. Ohh, lost keys ;)
@billrowland
Bill Rowland

Eppie Vojt

Digital Marketing Consultant, JPL Creative

Eppie is best known for his development of the CTR Theme, and in many small SEO circles for his uncanny knack for discovering major opportunities that he has become famous for successfully exploiting. When he’s not busy building or flipping websites, you can… actually nevermind, that seems to be all he does all the time. Eppie will occasionally tweet, and when he does you can look our for gems like this:

If you've been secretly yearning to see a white SEO rap about his mustache, I've got the video for you: http://t.co/bzGdhoTh
@eppievojt
Eppie Vojt

Mike King

SEO Manager, Publicis Modem

Mike is a Philly transplant now gracing Brooklyn with his keyword genius and charm. He is probably best known for his development of keyword level demographics and has recently been speaking all over the world at various search and link-building conferences. Mike’s unique mix of talents, including blind rapping and partnering with Dr. Seuss to teach SEO, come mostly from his previous life as a software and web developer turned SEO Engineer. Mike’s candid approach to all things search make him truly entertaining to follow, as can be seen in one of my favorite recent tweets:

Hate when I have a burning idea and I'm far away from my pc. Can code be written and tested on iPads?
@iPullRank
MyCool King

Anthony Moore

SEO Manager, TrueAction

I first met Anthony, like many of the people on this list, at SEO Grail. What I like best about Anthony is that he is very down to earth and doesnt seem to take much for granted. This could be due to the fact that he works alongside some SEO powerhouses in his current role, but I like to believe it’s just cause he has his head on straight. Keep your eye out for this guy, I promise you will only be hearing more about him. In the meantime, here is the kind of personal insight you can look forward to on twitter:

Chris Countey

Director of SEO Strategy, WebiMax

Chris and I first met during October’s SEO Grail Meetup and I very clearly remember being impressed by both the questions he asked and insights he offered regarding his personal experiences with paid search. Chris is relatively new to the SEO space in comparison to some of the veterans in this post, but he’s hungry. Chris’s ambition to learn and close monitoring of social marketing almost guarantee you will you continue to hear about him in the months to come. Here is one of my favorite tweets from Chris:

M&Ms rebrand King Size to Sharing Size #Genius: it's assumed I won't eat the whole bag & sharing is a social media action @
@chriscountey
Chris Countey

Jed Singer

Engagement Manager, Stuzo | Dachis Group

Truth be told, I haven’t met Jed in person yet, but I have been following him since the first time I overheard someone mention his name @IndyHall. I believe the context went something like this “Yeah Singer tweeted about it, I didn’t realize either,” referring to data regarding Facebook overtaking Twitter as a mainstream news source; which was more than enough to arouse my curiosity. Ever since I have been enjoying his near real-time updates about all of the different ways to leverage social media and crowd-sourced feedback. Here is a preview of what you can look forward to as a Jed Singer follower:

Jedi Mind Tricks: 17 Lesser Known Ways to Persuade People http://t.co/1EuISHPS via @
@jedsinger
Jed Singer

Martin Weinberg

VP of Digital Strategy, eCity Interactive

I have only had the very brief pleasure of sharing a handful of SEO Grail’s with Martin. He always shows up ready to learn, offer his personal experiences, and ask solid questions. For one of the more executive types at our casual Meet-ups, Martin’s presence is missed when he is not in attendance. Follow Martin on twitter for more tweets like this one:

Startup? #Philly law firm @ has free office hours to discuss entrepreneur legal issues http://t.co/jQLES7gt
@MartinWeinberg
Martin Weinberg

Mark Kennedy

Founder, ROI Maximizer, SEOM Interactive

Mark may be one of the best kept secrets for local SEO in Philadelphia. I first encountered Mark not as a friend, but as a competitor, while managing an SEO services firm in my past life. I have clear memories of finding out that prospects were working with his firm, SEOM Interactive, and decided not to waste my time trying to outsell the value he provides. Mark is a committed CEO and very talented SEO. On top of it all, Mark is one of the most humble and down to earth guys I have met within Philly’s SEO circles. Follow him on twitter for more awesome tweets like this one:

Love it when you find a nice little converting gem (tail) in the search query report. Positives among the negatives #ppcchat
@markkennedysem
markkennedysem

Questions

1. What is the hardest thing to teach in SEO?

Ian Howells

The necessary mindset.

That almost feels like I’m cheating because it’s an umbrella for a lot of things.

You need someone to be prepared and aware that this isn’t an assembly line. You can’t just hit a few buttons and call it a day. (Well. You could – when you get really advanced. But, that’s not the point.) You need someone to understand what Google is trying to do. You need them to get their head around how they would organize all the pages on the web for any given topic. To think through what a “good” web page looks like vs. what a “great” page looks like. Then they also need to be completely willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work. And then maybe completely tank the next time Google rolls out something like Panda, only to dust off and get back at it.

This stuff is a long haul business. Chess – not checkers. You need to plan ahead and execute. Frankly – some people are much more fit to just moving in one direction, trying to get kinged. And that’s fine, but this probably isn’t the game for them.

Justin Freid

So much goes into SEO – link building, sitemaps, overall strategy, content, keyword research, keyword mapping, HTML code, javascript and now social. SEO is so much more now then just search engine optimization. Taking an intern or entry level employee and teaching them everything about SEO is a huge task.  All of the tactics/strategy can not be taught right away. You have to introduce an employee to them in stages, which can lengthen the process.

Bill Sebald

I find that the hardest thing to teach is the true concept of SEO ROI.  A lot of my past clients didn’t listen to my explanation of the channel, and how I approach it.  They came back after a long, tedious pitch process asking me “how many dollars will you make me for one dollar?”  I’ve had relationships end because I couldn’t get them out of that mindset, no matter how hard – and honest – I’d been.  It’s a shame, because they’re narrow focus caused them to miss out on all the other marketing values that would have helped them in their long run.  SEO is a really unique, powerful channel.

Wil Reynolds

The hunger, the competitiveness, you can’t teach someone that, once they have that everything else will just happen.

Bill Rowland

Search Engine Optimization continually challenges both practicing and aspiring SEOs. Changes in technology, client needs and misinformation can test the most experienced practicioners. Most SEO functions can be learned by applying some determination and patience however there is one area that is very difficult to teach. Curiosity is one personality characteristic that should be considered an essential skill in an SEO’s toolset. Generally, I think that most people would agree that curiosity is the one trait that many successful SEOs from a diversity of backgrounds share. Therefore curiosity is the hardest thing to teach in SEO.

Eppie Vojt

Tactics aren’t hard to teach.  Strategic thinking is.  For the most part, it’s one of those things that you either have or you don’t.  Anyone can learn how to add directory links or use a private blog network.  Not everyone can see creative ways to build links or spot opportunities to automate mundane tasks.

By going beyond basic tactical implementation you can create solutions that scale better or deliver more authority.  That’s where you start adding real value for clients and start to become a trusted partner, not just search muscle.

Mike King

The hardest thing to teach in SEO is the spirit of continued learning. Typically in other industries people tend to quickly plateau and get comfortable with their level of understanding and in SEO that just doesn’t cut it as it is a forever protean art and science. Also it’s impossible to teach imagination. I would very much prefer to work with imaginative people with far less experience than senior people that are stuck in their ways.

Anthony Moore

I’ll say that strategy (recommendations, analytics, etc) is the hardest thing, in my experience, to teach in SEO.  Learning how to measure the success of your recommendations and using that data to improve performance is one of the most difficult things to impart on someone who is just getting into the industry.

The amount of data that an SEO sees on a daily basis alone should not be recommended for the faint of heart.  Then taking that data, distilling it down and presenting to a client (that probably doesn’t fully understand what it is you do) is a pretty scary undertaking.  While this comes with experience, when you’re first starting out, it’s not easy.

Chris Countey

Expectations. There is no magic bullet that will help a client achieve results. Assigning weight to any part of an SEO campaign can make an SEO and their clients lose site of the overall goal: conversions.

Jed Singer

Optimization can be achieved through a scientific process, but there is also an artistic element to it. You have to be in tune with algorithms across the search platforms, and be able to apply knowledge of your space and your consumers to your presence in the appropriate ways in order to affect those algorithms. The hardest thing to teach is the artistic side of the application; staying abreast of the algorithms, understanding the channels, and each channels’ nuances based on both the consumer and the brand presence being optimized.

Martin Weinburg

The hardest thing to teach is for someone to focus attention on those aspects that have meaningful results to the business. In other words, activity versus accomplishment.

Mark Kennedy

Desire. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth. Unless someone has the desire to do this, they won’t like it. Most (if not all of us) are self-taught. They are just touching on SEO in schools, but not heavily and most people who are already in the industry had to learn by doing, experimenting, discussing with colleagues, etc. So if you don’t have the drive to learn and achieve, then you won’t like this world.

You have to “geek-out” a bit when you see a keyword convert into a sale, when you see a keyword jump in the ranks, when you get a sweet link or find a piece of gold in a competition analysis. And that’s something that is hard to teach, you just have to “have” it.

Don’t get me wrong, having different backgrounds and experience will help. Marketing, programming, design, PR, writing, finance, math, etc. But truthfully this industry changes fast and furious, so you have to be willing to learn, test and adapt. If you don’t have the desire to do that, you’ll get left behind.
So typically the person with that desire can learn a lot and are better students of the game. So when we look for people, we tend to focus on two things. The ability to learn (of course) and the desire to learn. If you have that, you can learn anything and be successful.

2. In the SEO industry, what frustrates you more than anything else?

Ian Howells

The cult of the rock star. Currently, you can be viewed as an awesome SEO if you talk a good game and self promote 24/7. No need to have a good spot at a sizable agency. No need to have your own affiliate sites to hold up publicly. No need to have a list of clients that vouch for you. Just guest post enough at the right places and know what you’re talking about and you’re a stud.

Take PointBlankSEO. Kid seems super sharp. Truly. I mean that without a single ounce of sarcasm. And he’s everywhere. To the point where I thought for *sure* that he was either having someone ghost write his blog posts, or he was middle-manning all his work. (Which, should be a testament to how prolific he is, and how I think there’s clearly time put into what he’s publishing.)

Then I found out he’s 18. Kid’s not even in college yet. That’s why he’s got the time to blog all day. He doesn’t have a wife or kid to provide for. He doesn’t have a mortgage. He can just blog. He mentions having clients – but that could be a 10 page site for a local dentist for $200 a month for all I know. Maybe not – maybe he’s ranking 12 different businesses all at once… but based on the time he seems to have to put towards blogging, I doubt it. Though – if I’m wrong, and he’s spending more time doing SEO than blogging about it, my hat is freaking off to him.

But, despite all that. Even if he had *no* clients and we didn’t know it – he’d be a stud in the industry because he can blog.

I’m not trying to pick on him, but I think he’s the perfect example of the dangerous place we’re getting to. Where being able to blog well and self promote and grind out post after post is more praised than actually getting stuff ranked and banking. The big SEO affiliates making ridiculous money aren’t the SEO industry rock stars, even though they’re the most qualified to be. You ask a random group of Search Engine Watch or Sphinn or SEOMoz readers who Eli Aloisi is, and most would have no idea who you were talking about. Part of it is because we’re all largely so hush-hush about where we’re ranking (which I’m completely guilty of), but the other is the rock-star mentality. Where knowing and telling all is more rewarded than doing. That worries me.

It worries me because it seems to push this idea that just knowing theory is enough. That firsthand experience and time spent are secondary to knowing the theoretical best practices and being able to turn them into an infographic or Top Something List.

It worries me when networking with SEOs seems to be the most important part of being a well known SEO – not actually ranking for high competition terms.

Justin Freid

Having worked across many competitive (sometimes sketchy) industries, Finance, Education, Insurance and Health, seeing a site rank ahead of me with blatantly purchased links or low quality content is quite frustrating. It seems that if 85% of the top companies in the space are utilizing grey hat tactics, Google turns the other way and it is accepted.

Bill Sebald

There’s two things that bother me equally.  First, the fact that we teach “content is king” while continually pumping out fluffy, non-specific, non-targeted articles.  Content that has no real value is a waste of time.  It’s noise in the signal.  I see it in the SEO industry too often, when I read a full page article and walk away with nothing I can actually act on.

It’s OK to have op ed pieces from time to time, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to grab an audience with an “I will teach you something awesome” headline, only to not deliver on any of it.  Many of the big guys do it.  They give some light tip, with no details, that leaves you more confused than before you started, while the commenters all praise the tip.  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills when I read this.  I’ve been in this game for over 10 years, and I still walk away scratching my head from a lot of SEO posts that get mad praise.  Come to think of it, sometimes SES and SMX aren’t much better.  I believe SEO is writing for the audience first and search engines second, and you should have the courtesy to make sure you properly teach what you say you’re going to teach.

The second frustration is how certain parts of the SEO industry has become like the entertainment business.  From Sphinn to Twitter, great information lies all over, not just with the celebrities.  I tend to follow people who curate good information over people that have good PR. I think most of the SEO industry is pretty silly, and I have no idea how someone who blogs and tweets all day can be an authority.

Wil Reynolds

How spam works, google talks poorly about spam, but then when you see how well it works, relative to what they tell you to do its frustrating.

Bill Rowland

Our industry possesses many frustrating aspects. From unethical salespeople to bandwagon jumpers trying to benefit from the “newest” trend, our industry is rich with potential aggravation. My primary frustration is the SEO community’s apparent shift from recognizing members for the substance of their work to their personalities. Propagated by social media services like Twitter and legitimized by a presence at seemingly curated industry conferences, SEO has almost become more about who you know versus what you know. And that’s frustrating.

Eppie Vojt

Within the industry, the thing that frustrates me the most are SEOs who don’t test things themselves.  There are a ton of people who are just part of the echo chamber, voicing back what they’ve heard from their favorite SEO celebrity (whether it has merit or not).  This slows the learning curve for a lot of beginner SEOs and stunts their development.

The most frustrating thing about doing SEO consulting for clients is making great recommendations that don’t get implemented.  There’s a host of reasons why this happens — whether the client’s short on budget, doesn’t have the technological skill necessary to act on your findings, or something else.

That’s why it’s important to know how to sell as an SEO.  You need to be able to present your ideas in a convincing fashion and anticipate potential barriers to implementation.

Mike King

I work with a lot of Fortune 500 and enterprise brands and it’s very frustrating that they don’t allow us to get things done and there’s so many capabilities that you have to keep happy in order to get the slightest changes pushed through. The general lack of respect for SEO as a marketing channel is incredibly frustrating but I’m happy to be in a position to speak to big brands and help change the perception..

Anthony Moore

So there are a few things that I get frustrated with.  There seems to be a lot of “who knows who” that goes on in the industry.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’d rather read or hear about your thoughts and ideas, than who you had dinner with last night.

Another part of the industry that frustrates me is the re-purposing of the same presentations over and over.  We talk about keeping things fresh, it would be nice if we could see some fresh topics on the speaking circuit.  Those conferences aren’t cheap!

Chris Countey

SEO rockstars who forget where they came from. The best thing about this industry is that it is constantly changing and there is no one source that has all the answers. Each new piece of content that enters the SEO space should be evaluated and tested individually, regardless of who the author is. Clearly there are some very knowledgeable people in the industry, but they too are susceptible to algorithm changes and advances in computer learning. Test everything you read and write about everything you test.

Jed Singer

One of the frustrating parts of the SEO industry is a marriage to the way things have been done in the past, despite platforms and users changing rapidly. As the space changes, methodologies and best practices also need to change.

Martin Weinburg

With regards to the SEO industry, I see many companies that provide clients reports that are pure data, without analysis or perspective. Without meaning and context, the statistics alone aren’t delivering real value.

Mark Kennedy

Failure. Yes, it makes you better, but it still sucks. Mainly because failure can be the end result of a lot of time, thought and effort. You come up with this master strategy. You put hours/days/weeks into fine tuning it. You execute it and…it fails. The most frustrating thing.

Sure you will learn from it. And most likely it will lead to something else or a different path. But when I get really excited about a strategy and it falls flat, it frustrates the hell out of me. It just happened to me recently with a project.  Sure, we’ll fine make adjustments or take it another direction, but I really thought it was awesome. Turns out it wasn’t.

One other thing is frustrating – Time. Or lack there of. There’s no doubt this is a growing industry and it moves at a furious pace. Unfortunately, we can’t hit the “pause” button on time. I would pay a LOT of money for that. How many times do you find yourself in a zone and then look up at the clock and see it’s 2am or you’re supposed to be somewhere an hour ago?

Yes, there are a lot of tools to help make you more time-efficient and things that are scalable. But you know there are some things you just have to spend a lot of time doing, research being a big one. I find it hard to believe that there is currently any SEO who is not working during “off” hours. Or even when they are out and about, still not have SEO cross their mind. It’s just the way SEOs are wired.

So for me (and I’m sure others), it can be frustrating when there is just not enough time in the day/week/month/year.

3. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering getting into SEO, what would it be?

Ian Howells

Start a site – today. Run it for three months. If you still have the drive to do this, then get reading at SEOMoz until you’ve got the ins and outs of on page SEO and keyword research handled

After publishing good, targeted content for a few more months, learn up on link building.

Keep learning.

Justin Freid

If you are not looking for a challenge or an industry where you need to constantly learn, pick something else. SEO/PPC is a very competitive industry where new strategies and tools are coming out every day. It is an extremely exciting and rewarding industry. So if you are just getting your feet wet, start reading as many top blogs as you can, buy yourself a domain and start messing around to see what works.

Bill Sebald

Read everything judiciously, and use it to define what part of SEO you want to excel in.  What part do you believe in?  What part interests you the most?  Focus on that area, turn it into your strength, and branch out from there.  Don’t try to mow the entire lawn with scissors at once – just focus on one area at a time so you’ll get firmer results.  This is like learning an instrument – be prepared to be learning for the rest of your career.

Wil Reynolds

Read everything, help a LOT of people out – just help out SEOs left and right, you’ll network your way right into their inner circle.

Bill Rowland

In short, the one piece of advice to a prospective SEO that I would offer is that to be successful they must be curious, persistent and data driven, not to mention creative. The nature of search engine optimization is one of grey versus black and white, so people with these qualities should find that they should perform well and find the field rewarding.

Eppie Vojt

Build your own sites on the side and experiment with them to rank for competitive terms.  Having complete control over the decision making process (including risk assessment of various approaches) means you can try all sorts of tactics, push hard, and move quickly.

You’ll get to discover exactly what works and what doesn’t and be able to make better decisions about what to recommend for your clients.  You’ll also be much more comfortable discussing tactics with them, highlighting the potential risk vs. reward, and drawing on historical successes when needed.

Running your own sites can also give you insight into a lot of the digital marketing considerations that extend beyond picking up rankings.  You’ll develop a deeper appreciation for the need to assess the conversion potential of keywords, identify additional revenue opportunities, and implement a good user experience.

Having my own side projects has taught me much more than I would have learned from doing client work alone.

Mike King

Test everything you read and never stop learning.

Anthony Moore

Build your network.  Get to know your local community. Hit the meet-ups (even “off topic” ones).  Surround yourself with smart people who are passionate about they do. I would, however, practice some restraint when building this network.  There is a pretty healthy stream of info coming in at a rapid pace and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s important to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and keep those you trust at the top of your list.  All killer, some filler.

I have to say, it was fun to put some of these thoughts down on paper. The “hardest thing” question, was real thought provoking and I may have uncovered some other opinions on it…maybe it’ll be a blog post in the future!

Chris Countey

Start with the basics of web design. In my opinion, it’s more important to know what a website can do. Anyone with knowledge of web programming can make those changes, but it’s those who decide what needs to be changed who make the difference.

Jed Singer

Understand where the SEO practices has been in the past, and understand the infrastructure of the search platforms that your consumers use. Social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, and others, are a huge part of search, and big wins – both quick and more drawn out – can be achieved when leveraging both mainstays, like Google, and new channels.

Martin Weinburg

The advice I’d give someone getting into SEO is to realize you are not working in a silo, and this is not a number-cruncher job. You’ll need to coordinate, negotiate and evangelize your recommendations among managers, designers, programmers and copywriters.

Mark Kennedy

Do it. I love it and I’ve never looked back. It’s awesome. But the advice I would give is that you have to want to get into it. It goes back to my first answer. Desire. If you are not sure it’s for you, it’s probably not. You have to have a bit of the geek-gene.

But as for specific advice – test some things. Basic things to start, but those things will take you deeper. Create a blog, try creating a word press site, put Google analytics on a current site and watch the metrics, etc. You’ll learn a lot that way and once you have a little taste of SEO, you’ll have more specific and better questions to ask. And just that much more experience.

Conclusion

First and foremost, a huge thank you to everyone who contributed; it is because of you that this post came together. I love seeing patterns emerge between great minds; with lifelong learning, exhaustive testing, and constant creativity standing out as the real nuts and bolts of the insights provided in this post.

I hope you have found these insights helpful and thought-provoking. If so follow me @nick_eubanks to stay abreast of the latest insights on the SEO industry, Start-up companies, and content strategy. Also if you aren’t already following each of the brilliant minds featured above, make sure you do immediately, you won’t regret it.

Colophon

Inspiration to write this post came to me while reading the best SEO interviews you will read in 2012. Sean Revel, better known as @011100110110010, uses this post to ask some awesome people some great questions, and if you have not read it yet, go do that now.

About Nick
Nick is the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Co-Founder of I'm From The Future an ecommerce consultancy, and the author of this SEO Blog. Follow Nick on Google+.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean February 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm 1

Dude first and foremost why are all the coolest SEO’s all based in Philly?!?

Secondly there is some excellent insight above and I’ll be back later to take the best bits ;)

Thirdly thanks for mentioning my post, I’m glad that it gave you the idea to do this one!

Reply

Nick February 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm 2

@Sean – Thanks so much man, probably wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for you.

Yeah we got pretty lucky – lots of talent in this town, still a pretty mean competition in the U.S. for best and brightest between NYC, Seattle area, and now Florida…

Reply

Jon Cooper February 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm 3

Now I see why you sent me that link on Twitter Nick :)

So, now that I’ve been called out a bit, I guess I’m supposed to defend myself? Well, there’s nothing to defend. Ian brought up some great points, so I might as well say this:

You’re right, I’m 18. Yes, I’m in 3 months from graduating high school. Correct, I don’t have kids or a wife to provide for. But should that be held against me?

I do have clients, but not as many as some. I love testing out new things, being creative, and sharing it with people. I don’t get much joy out of spending 10 hours a day on client work. In smaller portions, yeah, it can be a lot of fun, but spending all of my time working with clients just isn’t something I’d like to do.

So know that I’m not trying to put me or my content on a pedestal above everyone else. Ian, you’ve been doing SEO for a lot longer than me, and I respect the hell out of you. But that doesn’t mean I might have nothing to offer.

The initial reason I set out to blog was because I love link building, and I love getting creative. I pride myself on writing about something new & different each day. There are enough “Link building for beginners” posts on the Web, and less “5 creative ways to build links for a sock company”.

Maybe I went on too long, and maybe no one’s listening, but I just felt like I had to add my two cents here :)

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Nick February 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm 4

Jon, I imagine at this point you are starting to see more and more people wondering where you came from. It’s true – one day I saw you mentioned in a tweet and I checked out your site, I think at the time you had written something like 65 posts. And then the following week I saw you mentioned by 5 other people and your blog had another 10 posts (if you haven’t noticed this site is from 2008 and I don’t even have half that many :)).

All of a sudden you were everywhere, and on everyone’s lips – this is a huge success in an industry where a lot of reputations are based on the ability to distill content and build on top if it, which you do very well (as Ian points out).

I don’t think anyone wants (or expects) you to slow down even a little bit – and you shouldn’t! You are developing an excellent following and reputation and as Wil has mentioned, 90% of the SEO’s out there could learn a thing or two from your serious commitment to quality content and analysis.

Keep it up man!

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Ian February 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm 5

Definitely agree with Nick’s response.

But – to hit your points..

Not holding being 18 against you in the least. When I found that out, it was my head smacking moment of “Well, duh. That makes being that prolific make a whole lot more sense.” It was a context point – not a knock. I think just about everyone in this industry that *isn’t* 18 would like to go back to being 18 and already knowing about SEO/affiliate/PPC/whatever.

You can, and should blog as much as you feel like.

My concern, for which I used you as my example, is a larger industry point.

Just as I think graphic design teachers should spend more time *doing* design than teaching it, I hold the opinion that SEOs should put more time into actually *doing* the craft than blogging about it or networking their way into speaking gigs.

Like I mentioned – you might be doing this already. If you are or not isn’t exactly the point. The point is that as an industry – we don’t seem to care. The larger point was that blogging about SEO has become the stand in for doing SEO as far as networking/connections/etc is concerned. We seem to not want or care about substance. The sizzle has become the steak.

Now – granted. This is all my opinion.

You could very easily make the point that I’m envisioning an SEO Utopia where one does not have to toot their own horn or hustle constantly for attention. Where doing good work is just noticed and respected.

…I do know that that’s totally unrealistic. But – there’s got to be somewhere between that and where we’re headed.

There’s got to be a way where we get to a place that before making comments like “this person is smarter than 90% of SEOs I know” is based on *something* more than blogging about SEO.

Example sites. Client testimonials. Personal meetings and conversations. Something. Anything. But for the love of god – don’t let us get to the point where guest posting well is all it takes.

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Jon Cooper February 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm 6

Just because SEO #1 is more experienced, has better testimonials, and is an overall better SEO than SEO #2, it doesn’t mean he’s going to get the same kind of recognition.

To be a highly targeted SEO, just like in any other industry, you have to market yourself. You need to hustle just as much in doing SEO than in getting your name out there. No, you’re right Ian, they might be just another average SEO, but they’re trying to get business. This Utopia you mention doesn’t line up with reality.

But I do think we need to start putting our own advice into play if we want to stand out and get the recognition we deserve (coming from a seasoned SEO’s perspective, not mine). So many guys who call themselves “experts” on SEO, content, and social media do an absolute terrible job doing those things for themselves. Again, you could be the world’s greatest SEO, but if your site design blows and you don’t even bother with the meta title tag on your own site, you don’t deserve to get the most attention.

As much as we’d love to judge SEOs based solely off testimonials, example sites, etc., that’s just not the reality we live in. If it were like that, experienced guys like yourself would be as big as Rand and I’d be just another no name SEO because of the lack of history in SEO I have.

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Nick February 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm 7

Jon, I completely agree that talent does not equal recognition, however, I do think there is something to be said for those out there who are reaping the benefits of talent – that none of us have ever even heard of. Furthermore, just because you have the knowledge and capability to highly optimize your own site, if it’s not a money-maker, it may not be in your best interest beyond the self-promotion aspect.

There is literally hundreds of things I would like to do to this site (some of them I actually plan on doing) but most of which will simply never happen due to time. This is the point I think Ian is making (and Ian, please correct me if I’m wrong)but given a limited amount of hours in a day, and commitments either to clients, investors, or the bank that holds your mortgage – sometimes making sure your own branded assets are highly optimized simply isn’t possible.

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Jon Cooper February 16, 2012 at 6:58 pm 8

You’re right Nick, sometimes it’s not possible, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

You could do something as simple as setting up an awesome landing page with testimonials, example sites, etc. And making it the one and only page of your site. Then, for promotion, set aside a couple hours a week to write a guest post (dare I say it?).

5 hours to create your site and 2 hours a week for guest posting isn’t too much to ask.

As long as you make every single post you write absolutely outstanding, then you’ll get recognition, no matter how frequently you post.

For example, Nick LeRoy didn’t start blogging regularly until these past couple weeks, but I always knew he was an exceptional link builder because of the few things I did read written by him.

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Nick February 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm 9

I have to be honest – sometimes 2 hours per week is too much to ask, especially if you’re already dedicating 70 or 80 hours to your required commitments.

I also don’t think writing outstanding posts implies recognition. Recognition requires promotion, outreach, marketing, which all takes time – which simply may not be available.

It is all very subjective – but I can respect the notion that those who wish to be great will make the time, and this is something I try to live by.

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Chris Countey February 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm 10

As long as the SEOs I follow and look up to continue to blog about SEO they actually do, I’m all for it. I agree with Ian that for many SEOs has become little more than a podium and a microphone. However, without these SEOs blogging and tweeting their experiences, I may not have been inspired. And Nick, why is this comment box so damn small? :D

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Ian February 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm 11

…loving the fact that the comments are livening up. Anyone else wanna join in, here?

Anyway. Absolutely to the point on its something we need to pay more attention to. I think we’re all guilty of putting our own stuff last. There’s typically a good reason – namely client work and money-making sites. But – we should absolutely still make time to ensure our own house is in order. Hell – I’ve got placeholder pages sitting in the main nav of my blog. Non-paid time is always the bottom priority. Once I’m ‘off the clock’ – I close the laptop. I’d like to make it to 30 without getting divorced ;)

That said – it *is* something we should and could all get better at.

Totally aware the “utopia” idea doesn’t line up with reality. That was the point I was getting at, actually.

What I’m mainly worried about is imbalance. That the dude that self-promotes 30 hours a week and “actually” works 10 hours a week ends up being viewed as a thought leader and voice for the industry over the guy that works 50 hours and scrapes together 45 minutes to toss one self-promo aimed post together. Hopefully my worry here is overblown and unfounded… but I’m not sure it is.

I don’t want new guys coming into the industry and thinking that to be an SEO, you’re supposed to be blogging 20 hours a week and tweeting 2 hours a day just because “that’s what all the big names do!”

I just want to make sure we don’t go too far with putting the focus on talking game instead of running it.

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Bill Rowland February 17, 2012 at 8:10 am 12

First of all, great post Nick. I’ve really enjoyed the process to first think through your questions and digest everyone’s answers.

The SEO industry shift to a rock star mentality has definitely become a recent annoyance to many and I think Ian frames the situation well. Honestly, we all need to call “bullshit” when needed. Whether it’s industry heavyweights trying to feed us crap by the spoonful or our own community’s willingness to lap it up, something needs to change.

That notwithstanding, I think one valuable piece of advice offered by almost everyone needs to be called out: doing it and not just talking about it. Sure, some self-promotion may be necessary but we need to recognize that the true value is generated by real work.

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Nick February 17, 2012 at 9:45 am 13

@Chris – Completely agree. As for the tiny comment box this site started out as sort of an online resume, my intention was never to make it into anything until this year. So I will need to make some changes :)

@Bill – Thanks! I agree 100% and appreciate that the idea of doing versus talking or theorizing is becoming a bigger topic in the industry. I imagine we are only going to see more ‘put up or shut up’ posts; should be fun.

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Kerry Janner February 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm 14

To Jon Cooper, who is a young SEO… and anyone else who is getting started here… Think of this parallel.

You can be a rock star, or you can be an artist. You can be an Elton John or you can be a Bernie Taupin (look him up).

One gets respect as a performer, the other as a genius.

There’s a real world of genius’ that laugh at the rock star (SEOmoz, Distilled, Sphinn) world of SEO. If you want to be famous for posting lots of generic shit, expect eye rolls from the guys in the trenches.

Just decide what you are, and go for it.

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Nick February 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm 15

Kerry – Thanks so much for the comment. I think the example of a performer vs. a genius is one of the better metaphors I’ve heard for stacking up the rock stars vs. the money makers. Granted there may be some overlap, but to the point Ian makes in his response, there’s a good chance that some of the biggest money makers out there – none of us have ever heard of. Guys who have the technical knowledge and marketing prowess to create assets that afford them a comfortable lifestyle aren’t going to spend the additional time to coach others and share their secrets unless they are looking to stroke their egos when they could be generating more cash.

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Cleo Kirkland February 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm 16

@Kerry, I don’t think you’re giving enough credit to Elton John. And why can’t you be both an artist AND a rock star? Seems like a forced division.

@All, I think there is a general misunderstanding of what it takes to publish quality content as frequently as PointBlankSEO does.
For instance, if he writes 2 blog posts in a week, how many hours of research do you think it takes? Certainly not much if he published generic copies of other articles, but if he were doing that, would anybody really be talking about him?

Not likely.

I’m just saying that the dialogue about “doing” rather than “talking” doesn’t always hold. Because if someone is always “doing” and never looks up to “talk” to anyone or find out what are the latest strategies, why should I trust that their information is up-to-date? And if their site is still ranking and collecting dough, doesn’t that have more to do with the site’s link wealth (years of building links, relationships, entity establishment, etc), than that SEO’s current capability? #justsayin

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Nick February 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm 17

Cleo – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If I may jump in, I think the point Kerry may be aiming at here is that an Artist creates to inspire, for example @SeanMartorana, where as a Rock Star creates for fame, I immediately think of Britney Spears in 2007…

I also don’t think that anyone here is misunderstanding what it takes to publish the content that Jon does, we all realize the incredible time and thought he puts into his posts, and this is a big part of why he creates epic content. The point that is being made here is that to simply the create the content is not enough, the time must be put in for outreach and promotion, which Tom Critchlow reinforced at last night’s Distilled NYC Meet-Up.

Lastly to circle back to a point that Ian makes in his response in the post, those who spend all their time “doing” versus “talking” are bank-rolling, which is the end game after all right?

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Ian March 21, 2012 at 9:05 am 18

@Cleo If your niche is SEO, and being an SEO blogger and earning through that – then blogging about SEO is doing.

Rand’s blog posts are “doing” – because he’s selling SEO-centric SAAS.

What I would like is more people being seen and heard from in the industry who don’t have blogging about SEO as their “work”. People who rank their *own* sites, without a client’s brand to leverage. With the right cooperation, anyone with 3 months experience can rank Toys R Us for the word ‘toys’. I wanna hear from the guys who tackle stuff like that without a starting point of thousands of linking root domains and a massive brand.

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Kyle L. September 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm 19

Whew, I’m certainly late to the game here. But, since its’ my first comment on Nick’s (fellow Philly SEO) blog, I’ll add my (late) 2 cents.

First off, great post and questions! Really like the author spotlight at the beginning. Glad to see all these Philly SEOs together in one place.

Regardless of how we sell our expertise to clients, it’s a necessary evil. Unless you’re great on the phone, have a great sales team or rank well for your own sites or your agency’s targeted queries, there are only a handful of ways to market yourself as a credible SEO and gain visibility – blogging being one of them. For those of us who work for a credible agency, we can afford to neglect blogging/marketing ourselves so overtly. However, the SEOs that are on their own have to put on the time blogging/marketing themselves or else they won’t be found.

Having your clients rank well and make money from your efforts is all well and good, but unless you market that, it’s as good as creating the best piece of content and not letting people know about it. Its not like we have a badge on our clients rankings that say “Created by (name your SEO).” To Jon’s point, it would likely be tough to get the clients without being first seen as credible – hence the frequent blogging. I, for one, appreciate his blog solely for the fact that it gets my own thoughts churning. I personally don’t care too much how many client projects he works on.

Who knows. Maybe I’m part of the minority here b/c I never self promote. For many in the agency world, being hired and working our way up is all the self promotion we need. Client satisfaction and positive returns are what keep me going.

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Nick September 12, 2012 at 10:27 am 20

Hey Kyle – Thanks so much for commenting and especially for taking the time to make a thoughtful contribution to a post that has otherwise lost steam.

I completely agree with your points on the advantages of standing on the shoulder’s of an agency brand for credibility versus the need to self-brand/promote and build a reputation for yourself exclusive of your company.

Thanks again for hopping in the conversation; I look forward to more insights from you in the future!

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Charlie Solano April 3, 2013 at 5:04 am 21

Nice info!.. keep posting such informative stuff..

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