Blog


An Interview with Brandon Schwartz

Brandon Schwartz

Brandon Schwartz

Brandon is self-taught in online marketing and programming. He started by freelancing during the Great Recession following his graduation from college in 2010. After that he held a series of advancing positions for legacy publishing companies attempting to diversify with online advertising revenue. He originally planned to leave the industry in early 2018, claiming frustration with the lack of job security available with legacy media companies, but got called back by former clients. He’s been completely self-employed at Boomajoom for almost a year.

Micah Fisher-Kirshner: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing this?

Brandon Schwartz: I started in 2010, somewhat by necessity. I’d set up websites before as part of school projects and as a hobby for years. In the summer of 2010, following my graduation from college, I read an article in Business Week that said companies were hiring for internet marketing despite the economic downturn. Since unemployment for my demographic sat around 32%, I decided to pick up the skill. I set up my own website, read everything I could find, then got myself to rank for important phrases in Google. With that initial success, I was able to win a couple of freelancing clients which eventually led to a full-time position with an established company.

Micah: The grittiness you set yourself towards to find a job during the hard times is inspiring, what are some of those reads that helped get you down the path to ranking those initially important phrases?

Brandon: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO at Moz helped a lot. I followed Moz into a few industry news sources. I’m more of a book person though, and I found Search Engine Optimization Secrets by Danny Dover to be very helpful. Once you read a handful of things by talented people, you develop a sort of mental litmus test for everything else. That helped me identify what not to read later on.

Micah: What’s it like to be independent?

Brandon: For me, it was (emotionally) an easy transition. I’d held several sales positions so I was used to fluctuations in income. I’d also been at risk of layoffs and downsizing multiple times (once which resulted in seven months of unemployment in 2015) so I knew what worst case outcomes looked like for me – they’re never as bad as we fear.  I have more direct influence over my and clients’ outcomes than I ever did before, and I can make changes quickly to adapt to new conditions.

While I miss having co-workers I see on a regular basis, the trade-off is well worth it.

Micah: Folks have spoken previously on our blog about SEO scams. What kinds of things have you seen?

Brandon: I had a client who paid around $30,000 for an SEO program, over an almost two year timeframe. They were with a national competitor of mine and after doing some digging, I discovered that the company was running similar programs across the country. A ballpark estimate put revenue for them on these SEO programs at about $20 million a year.

Most scams tend to be run by small, unknown shops, but others can be pretty systemic. As odd as it might sound, I prefer to work with victims of these kinds of scams. The work tends to be interesting, and once the client realizes I don’t run programs that way trust and retention are very high. Someone at a BAS meetup told me the churn rate for their SMBs was around 50%; I churn less than half that.

Micah: What advice would you give to a small business owner who’s not familiar with SEO on how to avoid SEO scams?

Tough.

  • Call me. I don’t really care if someone decides to do business with another firm as long as the firm is good; I happily give names of some of the outstanding people in our group to folks looking for SEO. Good SEOs make the internet a better place to do business, and over the long run that will help me.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand. I took a job as head of digital marketing and sales for a legacy media company in California. Someone in the department handed me a report that a vendor generated for a client of ours that we were supposed to use to diagnose SEO problems the client had. After looking at it, I asked my co-worker what the vendor meant by “infrastructure robustness” and what a score of 62% meant. He didn’t know. We asked the vendor. They said “It’s a measure of how robust your infrastructure is” with more robustness being better; that was the extent of detail they’d provide. This wasn’t the only detail like that in the report. We fired the vendor.
  • If it sounds easy, it’s a lie. Companies that guarantee first place rankings, say they can get loads of backlinks for cheap, promise rankings in weeks, and so on are probably not to be trusted.
  • If someone claims to have a digital marketing certification from Google, run away. (Note: this is different than an Ads or Analytics certification.)

Micah: I’m surprised those certification or guarantees for first place scams are still going strong after all these years, have you seen these evolve or is it that there is so many people still unaware of these kind of tricks?

Brandon: I don’t know how much they’ve evolved, but I have seen them coupled with money back promises. A very large national competitor likes to prod sales people into saying that there’s a special relationship with Google and that they’ll refund money for SEO if the customer doesn’t rank (and then they rank the customer for terms no one searches for). Customers have litigated this. It’s a fun time. An attorney client of mine likens it to certain insurance companies that over-bill. They might end up litigating 1% of the cases, but the profit from the 99% more than makes up for it.

Micah: What kinds of SEO work do you prefer?

Brandon: Fixing people’s programs after they’ve been burned by a scam. These clients have already been through a few people by this point, so they have a good grasp on pricing and the work that’s involved. Once they trust you, turnover is incredibly low since they remember how hard it was dealing with the people who burned them previously.

I also like any work that gets me thinking about search and information retrieval generally. I’m actually launching a paid consumer application, hopefully at the end of the month.

Micah: What made you get involved with BayAreaSearch?

Brandon: I live outside the Bay Area. I knew Dan Leibson (LocalSEOGuide) from college, and by extension was connected to Andrew Shotland on LinkedIn. That was the extent of my network, outside of a long litany of sales people. There were a handful of product folks at different companies I crossed paths with, but I doubt any of them would be able to pick me out of a crowd. There’s a lot of value in meeting new people in the industry.

Working in legacy media as a sort of subject matter expert is a double-edged sword. It builds confidence since you are looked up to by senior peers for having background and training they don’t, but a lot of colleagues let it get to their head; they’re big fish in small ponds. It’s important to walk into a room and be the junior ranking member again.




An Interview with JL Faverio

JL Faverio

We recently had the opportunity to interview JL Faverio, SEO consultant and lead web developer at Boylan Point Agency. We were excited to cover a range of topics including the future of small business website features, data mining, and disc golf. You won’t want to miss his answers.

Brandon Schwartz: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing this?

JL Faverio: I got into SEO just a couple weeks after joining Boylan Point Agency in March 2017. While the company was already well known with 100s of clients over 20 years, they hadn’t created any formal SEO packages, so I created the first campaign which earned a handful of new contracts for the agency. I learned quickly how valuable (and needed) these campaigns were for both our company as well as the client’s.

Brandon Schwartz: What’s it like working for Boylan Point, and what made you settle there?

JL Faverio: Working for Boylan Point really is a dream come true for me. I mean, I get paid to build custom websites and discover digital marketing solutions that help local businesses and nonprofits grow to their full potential – how cool is that?! For me, this is the last ‘job’ I’ll ever have since I have the potential to turn this into a career with endless possibilities.

Brandon Schwartz: What are the challenges and opportunities for someone wanting to rank for local terms? What’s easy, what’s hard?

JL Faverio: The challenges with ranking your local business depends on many factors including your industry, location, advertising budget and marketing team (or lack thereof). But with every challenge comes opportunity, and with online marketing, you need to find opportunities within focused data. For example, recently we helped brand and scale a local pest control company who was in need of more business in Solano County. Using data we collected through tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SEMrush and more, we learned there was a specific city within the county that had a lot of relevant search queries that the client could capitalize on. Only a few weeks after creating a hub of keyword-rich content throughout the website, their call center became overwhelmed with calls so they asked us to stop promoting that location and move onto the next. Proud moment for me to be honest. And just last year, the client’s small business was purchased by a large international corporation. Proud moment for our agency as a whole. As for the easy and hard elements of ranking local, I would have to say sifting through the data is the easy part, and the hard part is building out high-quality, unique and share-worthy content that drives qualified traffic to earn consistent conversions. But it’s possible!

Brandon Schwartz: Where do you see the future of small business websites going?

JL Faverio: Interactivity. Websites are no longer considered your digital business card. Instead, they are (or at least should be) considered a resource or destination for your preferred demographic. For example, instead of adding corporate content or legalese to make the board of directors happy, you need to make your customers happy, and quickly. This is the reason you’re seeing more Live Chat bots and news articles surrounding Artificial Intelligence and Semantic Search.

Brandon Schwartz: What kinds of SEO work do you prefer?

JL Faverio: Data mining; where I use analytics and hyper-focused research to learn new ways to promote a business that surprises and impresses the client. But I also love teaching others the many pieces of the SEO puzzle. So, I often create SEO templates for staff members or the public so they can learn more about search engine optimization and help implement best practices onto their own small business website.

Brandon Schwartz: Outside of work, what do you like to do?

JL Faverio: Work! LOL Unfortunately, I’m a workaholic which my wife doesn’t like I’m sure – but she’s a workaholic too! Other than work, I enjoy spending time with my wife Stephanie and our 4 kids, playing Disc Golf with my brother all over California, and brainstorming new ideas in my new personal office.

Brandon Schwartz: Everyone I talk to seems to have different opinions on tools that are available for this kind of work. What are your favorites, and what’s missing?

JL Faverio: One of my favorite SEO Tools is actually a comprehensive suite of tools developed by SEMrush. But there’s also many free options out there to take advantage of such as Answer The Public and Keywords Everywhere. It’s easy to find SEO tools, but you have to take the time and test them out to see if they fit your agenda. What’s missing? How about simple, short, focused video tutorials on every aspect of the SEO puzzle?

Brandon Schwartz: What made you get involved with BayAreaSearch?

JL Faverio: I love what I do so I’m always looking to help others. After engaging with Micah and Andrew and many other SEO veterans, I learned about Bay Area Search and offered to make it better. In fact, I just attended my first-ever SEO Meetup this month in San Francisco at the new Atlassian location! My goal was to meet Micah and to simply experience a new atmosphere – and within the first minute I got to meet the POBAS himself! 🙂

Brandon Schwartz: If there was a piece of advice you could provide yourself when you started, what would it be?

JL Faverio: Stop re-doing tasks unless the data requires it! For years I would redesign my website or blindly create content based on opinion, not data. Meaning, I would tell myself today to learn what people actually want, search for and NEED through focused data – then proceed accordingly.




An Interview with Dani Owens

Dani Owens

Dani Owens, Secretary at BAS and owner of Pigzilla

We recently got the chance to sit down with Dani Owens, owner of Pigzilla, a Florida based local SEO consultancy. As folks in SEO will tell you, the industry is something like the Wild West; a lack of transparency has led to what she calls a “cheap SEO epidemic” where even large companies sell search engine optimization at prices that betray how little work they do for clients. As a recent addition to our board of directors, we were excited to get to ask her some questions about her experience and perspective.

 

Brandon Schwartz: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing this?

Dani Owens: I have been working in digital marketing since 2011. Before starting my own business Pigzilla, I worked at a digital agency where I was able to gain some enterprise SEO experience. During this time, we mainly focused on digital marketing for dealers and brands that sold products within stores that they did not own. This gave me the opportunity to work with some large international brands and I really enjoyed working with a team. Initially, my job was to set up Google Places listings for our clients (what they were called at that time) but over time I was able to get into on-page / technical SEO. I started reading everything SEO-related I could get my hands on and the rest is history.

 

Brandon Schwartz: What’s it like to be an independent consultant?

Dani Owens: Working as a consultant is great! I do miss working with a team of people in person but working for myself has given me flexibility in my schedule and I’m able to be very hands-on with my client’s SEO work.

 

 

 

Brandon Schwartz: I saw someone post on Twitter the other day that their first day working from home consisted mainly of them cleaning things that didn’t need cleaning. How do you stay productive on your own?

Dani Owens: HA! That’s hilarious. I hear that alot actually. Some people can have a hard time focusing on work when they work from home. Fortunately, I don’t have that challenge but I do have some ideas that may help:

  • Ask family members to not disturb you while working
  • Set a timer and focus only on work during that period of time then take a break
  • Put on some headphones and listen to music while working so that other sounds don’t distract you
  • Turn your phone on silent or off and flip it face down so you can’t see the screen
  • Use a task management system like Asana to keep track of all the work that needs to be done and when it needs to be completed
  • Get out and go work at a coffee shop for a few hours
  • Consider working at a co-working space

 

Brandon Schwartz: When we were setting up the interview, you mentioned that SEO rip-offs have become a huge issue. What kinds of things have you seen?

Dani Owens: Yes, there’s a cheap SEO epidemic. I have seen large companies offer SEO from $6.99/mo. Really?! I see a lot of people offer a cheap SEO package but they are basically just managing citations for the client.

A real-life story: one of my current clients used to be with a previous SEO company. The client had recently had their site redesigned and the developer never unblocked search engines in the robots.txt file on the new site. Because of this their site completely dropped out of Google’s index. It was like that for about three months. The client and their SEO company were never aware even though the SEO company had been sending the client monthly reports. This SEO company had been collecting money from the client and clearly were not doing much or possibly any work for them. Tisk tisk!

 

 

In addition, there are a lot of individuals that claim to be SEOs but have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. There is no real SEO certification at the moment so anyone can say they are an SEO.

 

Just because someone’s SEO prices are low does not necessarily mean their SEO work is bad but it’s something that needs to be taken into consideration.

 

Brandon Schwartz: What advice would you give to a small business owner who’s not familiar with SEO on how to avoid SEO scams?

Dani Owens: That one is hard to do because there are so many things to be aware of when it comes to SEO. I usually recommend that someone be careful if an SEO company tells them anything like this:

  • I can guarantee #1 rankings
  • I can rank your site quickly
  • I can build you tons of backlinks at a cheap price

 

I have a post that I wrote on cheap SEO and what to be careful of and I also like this list of some questions from SEJ that are good to ask an SEO company when you are shopping around. I definitely recommend getting multiple quotes!

 

Brandon Schwartz: What kinds of SEO work do you prefer?

Dani Owens: I really enjoy doing white label SEO for agencies. It allows me to focus on strategy and implementation without being distracted by sales and account management. I also work directly with SMBs to improve their local SEO which is fun too. It’s nice seeing small, local businesses get results.

 

Brandon Schwartz: Outside of work, what do you like to do?

Dani Owens: My husband and I just got a puppy so that has been taking up a lot of our time! We like to go fishing, binge on Netflix and food… yeah food is also a hobby.

 

 

Brandon Schwartz: Everyone I talk to seems to have different opinions on tools that are available for this kind of work. What are your favorites, and what’s missing?

Dani Owens: These are some of the tools that I use regularly:

 

  • Screaming Frog – website crawler / website audits
  • Whitespark – rank tracking
  • Ahrefs – backlinks
  • Google Data Studio – reporting
  • Agency Analytics – live dashboard
  • Asana – task management
  • CallRail – call tracking

 

I’d really love to see some improvements in keyword research and content optimization tools.

 

Brandon Schwartz: What made you get involved with BayAreaSearch?

Dani Owens: I really enjoy meetups and since I work primarily on my own it gives me a chance to interact with other SEOs. I am from the Bay Area in California but moved to Florida a while ago. I travel to California often and look forward to learning and sharing information.




An Interview with Mark Munroe

Mark Munroe: Founder of SEORadar

Anyone who’s done SEO for a few years has either directly experienced or has met someone who’s directly experienced an SEO disaster. Whether it’s a client mistakenly changing a setting to tag critical pages as “noindex” or something breaks during a site migration and traffic falls off a cliff.




Reminder: Upcoming SEO Meetup at Intercom

In case you missed it: BayAreaSearch is having a meetup on December 4th, 2018. Our friends at Intercom have agreed to host the event from 5:30 to 8:30. Registration is available through EventBrite.




An Interview with John Doherty, Founder of Credo

An interview with John Doherty

In October, the Bay Area Search will host its SEO meet up on the topic of career development. According to a recent survey of BAS members, the two factors most in-house SEO’s say is holding them back from advancing their career are “technical knowledge,” and the area of “soft skills and relationships.”




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Kevin Indig

Kevin Indig

Kevin Indig: Bay Area SEO at Atlassian

Micah Fisher-Kirshner: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing SEO?

Kevin Indig: I got into SEO through computer games. I was that nerdy kid that wanted to spend more time with computer games and taking my computer apart to upgrade its hardware so I could play more games than go and play outside. When broadband internet came along it was over. I remember playing Starcraft for 12 hours straight one Saturday to the strong disliking of my parents. I started to build small (crappy) websites with HTML tables and Photoshop for “clans” (groups of online gamers). I spend nights teaching myself coding, designing and all kinds of stuff. That’s when I discovered you could optimize sites for organic search and so I started to read a lot and try out all sorts of things. I sometimes miss those times because nowadays we often just scratch the surface but back then, I spend so much time absorbing everything there is about a topic. I followed every rabbit hole and “just did”.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Holly Miller

Sponsorships Holly Miller

Holly Miller: Bay Area SEO

Micah Fisher-Kirshner: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing SEO?

Holly Miller: I find it fascinating that SEO has become incredibly pervasive in online business today but it didn’t become “a thing”– let a lone a profession — until around the time I was entering the workforce.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Jeff Chen

Member At Large Jeff Chen

Jeff Chen: Bay Area SEO at UpCounsel

Micah Fisher-Kirshner: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing SEO?

Jeff Chen: I got into SEO while doing product marketing at Platform9, an enterprise IT startup. I managed all the marketing channels including emails, events, AdWords, content, etc., but wanted to specifically learn more about SEO since it was unlike other marketing channels with its product-oriented focus.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Clint Borrill

Member At Large Clint Borrill

Clint Borrill: Bay Area SEO at Balsam Brands

Micah Fisher-Kirshner: How did you get into SEO and how long have you been doing SEO?

Clint Borrill: By chance actually. I started at my current company, Balsam Brands, in more of an operational role. At some point I mentioned that I wanted to get more involved with the actual (ecommerce) websites themselves. There were gaps on various teams, one of which was the SEO team. I was given the opportunity to get more involved with the SEO function and began helping out with various SEO projects. Over time, I began spending more and more time with Greg Moro and the SEO team and today that is primarily where I focus.