Interviews (10)


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.

Understanding that there’s a rather daunting list of things that need to be verified when a site update is published, Mark Munroe set out to build SEORadar, a disaster monitoring service that checks for over 100 distinct site changes and warns users when something goes amiss. We had the privilege of sitting down with Mark to ask him some questions.

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

Mark Munroe: I have been doing SEO since 2004.  Previously, I had been in Network Management as a Product Manager.  After the big dot.com crash back in 2002/2003, it seemed like everyone was out of work in the Bay Area, including myself and my wife.  It’s hard for people to imagine now, but the tech sector was decimated back then.  I ended up acquiring a franchise called WSI to build websites.  I would meet with SMBs, define what they needed and WSI would build the sites. At least that was the idea. That didn’t work out so well!   However, I became really interested in SEO.  I spent many hours on Jill Whalen’s forum and also the now defunct ihelpyou.com forum run by Doug Heil where the lively and contentious discussion was generally white hat vs. black hat.

I decided to start marketing SEO services.  My first real SEO project was www.breezerbikes.com and they were 100% frames.  I remember the excitement of seeing them rise to the first page for ‘folding bikes’.  Wow, this stuff works!   And then, somehow I was able to grab a gig figuring out why Wine.com had been de-indexed for 12 months ( they had accidentally triggered a penalty).   From there, I went in-house to SideStep (later acquired by Kayak) and basically stayed in-house at various startups and big companies until I left Trulia to start SEORadar.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Mark: I love technical SEO, running SEO tests and analyzing cause and effect in the SERPs as well as developing and acting on an SEO strategy for a new website or startup. I  also love building web products which always pushed me into SEO/Product Management roles and eventually into building my own product.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Mark: I am inspired by the people I have come to know through my network over the years doing great SEO work in-house or independent.  That includes our board members and so many members of this organization.  I rather not mention names for fear of leaving somebody out who belongs on the list.   It particularly inspires me to see people who start as junior SEO and grow into experts and then teach me stuff!

Micah: Why did you start your own company SEORadar and what’s it like running your own company?

Mark: I started SEORadar to build the product I wish I had when I was in-house.  Understanding site SEO performance is tough to begin with.  Understanding  SEO performance without perfect knowledge of what changed on a site is so much harder!  We built SEORadar to provide that visibility.  Nobody changes my titles or deletes my canonical tags without me knowing about it!    Starting my own company is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done.  Running a small startup means you are responsible for many things outside your comfort zone.  You need expertise in so many areas!  I always recommend bringing in a co-founder to share the pain!    However, by far, it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  Giving a demo and hearing people say ‘wow’ us incredibly gratifying!

Micah: What advice would you give a mid-level SEO to advance their career into the top tier?

Mark: Work on a large dynamic site with many thousands or millions of URLs.   JS/Single Page app, PWA, AMP, adaptive mobile, React – the more complex the better.  Run tests and be careful with your conclusions.  There are no perfect SEO tests but that is not an excuse not to test.  Build up your trusted network with organizations like this one! Don’t be shy about discussing issues and questions.  No one person knows all the answers in this field.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Mark: Googles Panda algorithm is now part of the core algorithm but it has always broadly affected a site or subdomain.  When I see entire sites get degraded I still suspect Panda.  I’d like to see this function at a more discrete level (a page level).  Why punish the bad content and the good?

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Mark: The Bay Area needs a world-class networking group.  The first few informal meetings showed the passion people in the area had for such group.  It’s great for learning and networking and simply fun for us to get together.  This is our tribe!




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.”

Here to shed a bit of light on developing those soft skills, Holly Miller, Board of Directors for the SEO meetup group, sat down with fellow SEO and digital marketer, John Doherty to interview him about his company, Credo, and his quest to champion good business practices in consulting work.

Over the past three years, Doherty has dedicated himself, full time to his business. He shares what really works when scoping and landing freelance work and the skills SEO’s and marketers need in order to be successful navigating a career in-house or at an agency.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Meet John Doherty, founder of Credo – short for “credible”

Holly Miller: John, throughout your career, you’ve had an incredible breadth of experience in the online marketing industry. Tell us more about you and the company you’ve founded called Credo.

John Doherty: My name is John Doherty. My company is called Credo (getcredo.com), and I have a background in digital marketing (a decade’s worth) and building businesses. I’ve worked agency side and I’ve worked in house for a few years leading marketing and growth in a couple of nationwide rentals portals under the Zillow Group umbrella in San Francisco.

For the last three years, I’ve been building Credo and doing some of my own SEO consulting as well with large content sites, marketplaces, and e-commerce sites. I have a lot of different perspectives from having worked in an agency and working in house, running my own company, and freelancing. I’m excited to share some of that wisdom.

The skills every successful in-house or agency SEO needs today

HM: What are the different skills an SEO needs to navigate a successful career in either an in-house or agency role?

JD: There’s a difference in mindset between an agency SEO and an in house SEO. An agency SEO, you’re basically consulting with clients and doing audits. At some point, you’ve worked your way up the chain and you’re managing people, you’re doing more strategy work, and thinking long term about where SEO is going.

In-house is a different game. I’ve worked two years as an in-house SEO.

At the end of the day, your value is in figuring out how to you scale your SEO program and expedite your organic growth. That’s not going to be through you doing audits and writing code and creating content and building links.

In-house SEO’s need to evangelize SEO throughout the organization. If you’re in-house, you need to identify the areas where you are the best and where your skills are best put to use. Then lean on other people to help you out with the other things.

If you don’t have an in house content and marketing team, but you want to prioritize doing content marketing, you have to do the opportunity analysis of what it costs the business to have you do it versus hiring a specialist.

 

In-house SEO: How to scale your SEO program using outside resources

HM: For in-house SEO who is shouldering a lot on their own, when and how should he/she seek to bring on outside help?

JD: A great time to bring in outside help is when you need help scaling. The way you pitch it is important because for a lot of businesses if they haven’t invested in SEO, they don’t really know everything that goes into it. Instead, pitch it as an opportunity where you get them to help you prioritize.

Say, “I think this is what I need to be focusing my time on.” Honestly, track your time. Use a tool like Toggle or something like that to track the time that you’re spending for a couple of weeks. Or, just use a spreadsheet in Google Docs or whatever, and every 30 minutes write down what you’ve worked on for those 30 minutes. Then you can have an idea of what are you actually spending your time on.

Then, when you go to your boss and say, “Hey, I think we need to be doing X, Y, and Z. This thing, X, that’s going to move the needle for us, I was only able to dedicate four hours last week to that because of all these other things that I’m doing. I think it would be a much more efficient use of my time, and much better use of our resources, our budget etc., for me to be able to hire someone to do these things, to take half of my workload off. Then, I’m going to be able to shift my focus fully to X, which is going to be a much higher return for the business.”

That should make your boss say, “Wow, you’re actually being strategic and smart about this and not just being lazy and trying to get someone else to help you.”

HM: I agree. It’s semantics, but it’s also about understanding the best ROI for the business and the best use of your time. How can someone in-house make the most of working with an agency or SEO provider?

JD: The best way to start off engaging with a provider is having a direct idea of what it is you need because you’re the expert on how company works. If you already have technical SEO squared away, be humble and open to them giving you feedback because maybe there are things you’ve overlooked because you’re busy with everything else. Then you say, “What I really need is help with content marketing and outreach.” Some agencies will come alongside an in house SEO simply to help them get buy-in.

 

Proposal 101: How to close more business

HM: Let’s talk about the SEOs and digital marketers who freelance. In your experience, what are the skills more marketers need?

JD: Where I see a lot of marketers fall down is in closing work and in clarifying what the client is going to get and why this agency or professional is the right fit for their specific needs for their type of business.

HM: That usually starts with understanding the prospect’s needs and outlining it in a proposal. In your experience, what’s the best way for a marketer to pitch their services?

JD: A great proposal starts before you even put the proposal together. I’m a firm believer in a solid sales process, one that’s repeatable every time. With a prospective client, you spell out the process for them telling them when they’ll get the proposal, what will be in it, what the cost will be, and what the deliverables will be. Laying out the steps allows you to explain to the client what your next steps are so they’re not left wondering. You make it very easy and spell all that out for them.

On the Credo side, we do an initial phone call with the business and then they approve their project description. Then, we ask the agencies that are the right fit for them if they would like an introduction. Once the agencies agree, Credo makes the intros.

Credo is also trying to help set the right expectations around ranking number one; those kind of results aren’t guaranteed. No one guarantees them. Good SEOs and good marketers don’t guarantee their outcome, but they have a high success rate.

 

The scope email is the new alternative to an RFP

HM: How can more freelance SEO practitioners, in particular, get better at closing more business?

JD: On the marketer or agency side, what I tell people to do is have an initial phone conversation to get to know one another and discuss their business’ needs. Then go away and do some of your own investigation to make sure that what you’re seeing within tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs or whatever tools you’re using matches up with what the business is saying they need.

After you’ve done that, get back on another call and go over your findings. Talk about what you’ve discovered and what you think they need. Try to come to a consensus on that. Once you get off that phone call, send them an email. This is the scope email.

In the scope email say, “Hey, [Person], thanks for the call today. This is what we discussed and what I think you should work on. Let me know if you are in agreement and then I can send in a formal proposal.”

This gives you a leg up in the sales process because once they reply; it basically means they’ve already agreed to the project. A proposal is just a formality.

Too many marketers get into the RFP mindset of submitting a proposal instead of acting as if they’ve already won the business; “here’s a project that I know you need.”

I’ve literally seen this triple people’s close rates by changing that mindset.

 

On knowing your value: “What should I charge?”

HM: I love your perspective on this, John. It’s not only a mindset but also an actual tactic that has a very actionable approach. Let’s take it one step further. Let’s say someone actually does that. Now it’s time to put dollars behind your deliverables. Talk to me about how you’ve seen that process work best?

JD: Totally. In your proposal, the numbers that you give should never surprise the client. Once again, it starts before you’re going to send the proposal so on those phone calls, where you’re talking with them about their needs, that’s when you should be giving examples of cost.

I use a strategy called anchoring, where you say for example, “Okay, we’re working on any of the technical points you wanted. You’ve agreed to pay us $7,000 a month for the next couple months. We’re going to keep delivering these three things on X timeline.”

You anchor them to that, and you can tell from their response if that budget is way too high for them. You can gauge where they are and whether what you need to charge them is something they can actually afford. If they can’t, then you should refer them elsewhere. Don’t finish the project for cheaper just to try to close it.

Now, there are definitely exceptions because there are times when you (as a consultant) just need to bring in revenue. In which case, get it done, but I say, don’t negotiate on your rate. Negotiate on the skill for the project.

If they only have $3,000, and you know it’s going to cost them $9,000 to do a full SEO audit with research etc., just do the technical audit for them for $3,000.

Build that trust and provide them a ton of value. Because the end goal is that they’ll see you providing value and they’ll want to pay you for more projects.

 

Negotiate on the engagement size, not your hourly rate

JD: Another consideration in your proposal is: don’t negotiate on your hourly rate. You set it where it needs to be for a reason. Negotiate, instead, on the size of the engagement to work within their budget, if you want to. You don’t have to. After the initial discovery call or even after a second phone call, you can walk away at any time.

However, within the proposal, you should outline what the pricing is and why it is what it is. Not necessarily breaking it down by hours but describing the tasks you do personally.

For example, “If we kick off on October first, and you get me access to analytics, search console, et cetera by the end of that week, then I can deliver a technical audit and go over it with you in two weeks. I’ll deliver it to you on Thursday, and then the next Wednesday we should have a phone call to go over it.”

You’re telling them exactly what your timeline is. Also, what that timeline hinges upon, especially when it’s them getting you the access you need.

That helps them say ‘yes’ easily because they understand exactly what they’re getting. You’re basically telling them deliverables and the effort and work that you’re doing and your expertise.

You’re not selling them links, or pieces of content or something like that. You can do that if you’re doing ongoing services, but you also need to make it explicit.

You would say, “Okay, if you pay us $4,000 a month we’re going to deliver a new 1,500 word guide that’s keyword focused around the keywords that we’ve agreed to, that are focused on your business, and focused on your audience. We’re going to deliver a new one of those every single Monday, and we’re going to publish it on Tuesday, and promote it for the rest of the week. Then, the next week we’re going to do it again.”

It helps the client anchor to exactly what they’re getting for the money they’re spending. Based on what you’re delivering to them with the understanding that results will vary, based off of how often people link to the content, and what competitors are doing.

Considering freelancing? Avoid these three pitfalls

HM: That’s so important for a lot of solo SEOs to be able to walk the client through the process, and to not just say, “I’m going to deliver a video to you tomorrow, and it’s going to go viral.” If someone were to start as a freelance consultant tomorrow, what three pitfalls would they need to know about in order to avoid?

JD: I love that question. The things that you should avoid are:

First, undercharging. The clients that pay you the most are going to be your best and happiest clients. Now, it’s not completely true; I have one smaller personal consulting client that is fantastic, they don’t nickel and dime me, but I also set their expectations early on that I wasn’t going to let them push me around. They agreed to pay my hourly rate too, which is not cheap.

Basically, if you can pin yourself as the expert and say, “this is what I’m worth,” and be willing to walk away, you’re going to have much better clients. You’re going to be much happier and you’re also going to make more money.

The more you charge, the fewer clients you can bring on in order to reach the level of income or level of revenue that you need to sustain your business and yourself.

The second thing to avoid is optimizing your services by going after the bigger terms like “seo services,” “best SEO consultant.” These are really hard to rank for and it’s going to bring you crappy leads.

If you’re truly a senior SEO with a bunch of experience, focus on the type of business that you do the best work for and also the type of work that you do the best at.

If you’re not a great link builder, there are plenty of companies out there; you don’t have to take that opportunity. If you’re a phenomenal technical SEO and you have 10 years of experience working on huge e-commerce businesses and working with a Director of Marketing to scale the work that’s who you should be targeting. Don’t target broad, general SEO service terms.

My last piece of advice for people that are thinking about working for themselves is: don’t just jump. Launch your own site (yourename.com if you can get it). Write some content, write some focused blog posts around the kind of work that you do and who you do it for to start getting a few clients.

Ideally, you work to gradually get enough clients that you’ve replaced your current income with freelance work. Once you have enough clients that you’re basically making 60% of your salary and you have clients in the hopper that you’re about to close, that is the point when you can step into working for yourself and trust that you can make it work.

Also, save up money. You need at least six months of financial runway where if you quit your job today and tomorrow all of your clients stopped working with you you could still pay your bills for six months, without a problem.

HM: That’s very good advice. I can’t tell you how many marketing funnels I see enticing people to ‘go for it’ and become a freelance writer or online marketer. It’s scary how easy these ads make it out to be.

JD: Exactly: funnels. “Build your email list” etc. I can’t stress it enough, and I think this is going to be really helpful information for people who are working in house who are dreaming about working from home, working with their sweatpants on. It’s relatively easy, but you have to be smart about it. There are some steps that you really do need to take to protect yourself, your income, to make sure that you can actually be successful at this.

Passive income can be great. I had some of those channels, but they pale in comparison to other revenue models. I would caution would-be freelancers to approach those marketing claims of “making tens of thousands of dollars working from home,” with a huge grain of salt. Because if I’m putting in a month’s worth of work to make $22K, and they’re all one-time sales where they’re not going to buy from me again, I’ve done something wrong.

HM: Right, that’s not a repeatable, sustainable business model. It really is about figuring out what your strengths as a consultant are, what you really want to do, and the best revenue model for your business, delivering that value in a repeatable way that generates more business.

 

The SEO industry has evolved for the better

HM: Credo excels at connecting businesses to SEO and marketing resources. In what ways have you seen SEO change over the last few years?

JD: I’ve seen the SEO industry itself grow up. From talking to SEO’s, there’s a lot less of, “how do I spam to get links and trick the search engine?” Now, it’s a lot more around, “how do we use organic searches and great marketing?” because with SEO it’s everything: it’s technical, it’s content, and it’s link building—all of that is building the businesses. We’re not optimizing for rankings, we’re optimizing toward revenue and building businesses.

From the business side, people are looking a lot harder at what SEO can do to drive business forward.

HM: There are a lot of SEO experts out there. You personally do a lot of vetting. How does Credo qualify and determine an SEO expert?

JD: I started Credo about five and a half years ago because I grew tired of seeing people, some of my friends included, hiring “SEO agencies” that couldn’t actually deliver on what they said that they could deliver.

A lot of businesses are looking to engage with an SEO provider but also looking to really understand what they’re going to get for the money that they’re spending.

Helping businesses find the right provider to work with goes beyond, “can the SEO do the work?” The way we vet our providers that are within the Credo network is different in that we vet everyone before they’re even listed. We’re not trying to list everyone and rank them and be a search engine for agencies. It’s a different approach.

Providers have to apply to join and we do a couple things to match them up with businesses. We interview the SEO asking for a couple of their clients, or sites that they’ve worked on or worked with, and we ask for a description of what they’ve done. Then, we go and we look at the metrics in SEMRush, Ahrefs etc.

We’re looking to see, for example, if you’re building links, are they good links? What sort of links are you creating for them, and technically, how’s the website doing?

We also actually email the clients and ask them a series of questions to access the quantitative side; confirming they’ve worked with this person, confirming the project, asking if they can speak to the results and would they recommend that person to other people? We want to get that qualitative side as well, because that’s super important to us.

HM: Sounds like a very thorough job interview.

JD: That’s exactly the way I want it to be because I only want to send work to really good people.

HM: Who should be on the platform?

JD: The best fit for Credo are agencies looking to scale and grow and get more clients. Credo shouldn’t be the only channel anyone looking to get work on the side uses (i.e. freelancers and solo consultants). I want it to be another channel that you can get new clients through and trust that when a client comes to you through Credo, they’re going to be quality as well.

Honestly, Credo works best for agencies that are in the three to ten person range that are charging a few thousand dollars a month for SEO and content. Or, managing paid search as well.

 

How Credo is becoming the go-to resource for digital marketers on how to sell work, set expectations and structure profitable projects

HM: Based on a mission of matching qualified providers with businesses, what’s your vision for the next three to five years and how do you see Credo changing or improving the industry?

JD: I’m about three years in working on Credo full time. Long term, I see Credo developing in two ways. First, going deeper with the businesses by being their trusted advisor around hiring a marketing agency or someone full time. There are a lot of different ways that you can go about growing your business through digital marketing and it all stars with people.

Secondly, on the marketer side, I’m producing a lot more content around helping marketers become more successful. I’m realizing a lot of marketers don’t have a lot of the softer skills that are helpful when you’re out on your own. You need to know how to sell work, how to set expectations to deliver good work, how to structure projects so that they’re profitable and you’re not giving away the farm.

My vision is to help both marketers and agencies do a better job of building their individual businesses. There are a lot of people out there teaching marketing. But I don’t want to teach people how to do marketing; I want to teach them how to build a better marketing business.

 

 

Top 3 skills SEO & marketing professionals need today

HM: OK. To wrap things up, what three skills do SEO’s and marketers need today?

JD: You definitely need technical skills. You have to be at least reasonably technical, or at least have the knowledge there, or know someone who is. Second skill: a business mind.

There are a lot of SEOs out there, myself included, that have never taken a business class. I used to brag about that, and now I think it’s actually a hindrance to a lot of us. Learning to build business cases and be data driven is important because beyond measuring traffic coming in and rankings, you need to know how to measure behavior: are those people sticking around? Are they coming back? Are they buying? Are they buying repeatedly? What do we do with them afterwards?

Having that full marketing funnel view all the way to actualized revenue is a huge area of opportunity for SEOs these days and that’s what’s going to get you the budget.

If you think about it, that’s why PPC advertising (AdWords) has better buy-in than SEO; they’re selling the business impact, not links and ratings.

Lastly, the ability to work well across teams like product and development and to leverage other teams to get things done. A lot of SEOs are lone rangers. I’ve been guilty of this myself, but we need to learn to work well with other teams in order to actually get things done to drive the business results that we’re responsible for.

The big thing is, as SEOs we have to work our way up the chain and get buy-in from the top, so we have to start talking about SEO in terms of business impact and users and not just visitors and rankings. We have to talk about it as business people—we’re starting to—and I’m excited to see that trend continue.

HM: John, on behalf of the Bay Area Search, thank you again for your time.

JD: You’re very welcome.




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”.

After college, I was lucky to get a job at an SEO consultancy that had lots of enterprise clients. I learned a lot and was lucky to have some veeery strong mentors that guided me.

In the end, it was all thanks to computer games. My parents didn’t see that one coming ;-).

Micah: I’m a total computer gamer myself – used to play Starcraft, but more into grand strategy games these days. Do you still play computer games today if/when you have some spare time?

Kevin: Ha, that’s a great follow-up question!

Let me be painfully honest: the last game I played was League of Legends and that was probably 1-2 years ago. I had to de-install it and never touch it again because it had too much power over me. I’m well aware of my addictive tendencies and I find the mental effort to resist just not worth it. It’s like donuts. When they’re in the house, I’ll look at them every minute. So, I’m not bringing ’em home.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I tried to play Fortnite to get a taste of the hype, but my laptop is too weak to run it – probably for the better.

Micah: Haha, I hear that. When I started my first job I cut WoW cold turkey knowing how addictive that was for myself.

Kevin: Haha ya I had that experience with WoW myself. It’s like social media. I gotta reaaaally control it, otherwise it just pulls me in forever.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Kevin: I have a lot of experience in investigative, technical SEO. My strong suit is definitely with large sites (>100,000 URLs). I’m not good at local SEO, for example.

In the recent years, I worked a lot on building out my strategic skills. I can still comfortably talk to developers and build out some very technical stuff, but I enjoy the SEO strategy a bit more. Creating an “SEO machine” at a company and how that machine works together with the greater marketing machine is actually more exciting than it seems at first. SEO is its own ecosystem in a larger ecosystem. You still search for levers and process optimization in the larger system – very much like technical SEO – but on a different level. You can still apply an engineer mindset to SEO strategy.

Unfortunately, SEO strategy often ends at “here are the keywords that are important to you”.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Kevin: I remember in my Ecommerce course in college and hearing the professor talking passionately about this “SEO affiliate guy” who makes tons of money and is invited to all sorts of special VIP events That guy was Marcus Tandler!

Hearing that story about Marcus definitely ignited a fire in me. I dug deeper and when I read stuff by AJ Kohn, Aaron Wall, and Rand Fishkin, I knew I was in the right space. Back then SEO was much “hackier” and Black Hat. I wanted to belong to this group of insiders who do something mysterious only a few people understood.

Things have changed a lot but I still feel excited about SEO. Maybe because Google is such a black box that will never change. Nowadays I look up to so many people… To mention a few: Aleyda Solis, Cindy Krum, Alexis Sanders, Paul Shapiro, Bartosz Goralewicz, JR Oakes, Cyrus Shepard, Wil Reynolds, Mike King … I’m definitely forgetting at least half the people I’d like to mention and there are so many amazing people in this community!

Micah: Why did you decide to join Atlassian and what’s it like doing SEO for a known brand?

Kevin: I actually “stumbled” into Atlassian. I knew the products (Jira, Hipchat, Confluence, Bitbucket, etc.), but never heard of the brand before I joined. I also didn’t know about the unique business model Atlassian has and how important SEO is for the company. I was hired for some contract work, I quickly realized that there are loads of opportunities to do really cool stuff. Then, when the company I was working for at the time moved all people back to Paris, I got a great full-time offer.

Besides the potential, there are so many smart people working here you can learn from. That intrigued me.

I don’t think Atlassian is a “normal” brand. SaaS is exploding these days and many companies try to copy what we do here. At the same time, we have over 10 products, different types of sites (marketplace, community, product pages, etc.), and all that multiplied in many different companies… there’s a LOT to do ;-).

Micah: What advice would you give a mid-level SEO to advance their career into the top tier?

Kevin: First, make sure you got all the basics in SEO down. Get some practical experience and find some sort of mentor who guides you.

Second, make sure you have your own project(s) you can learn from. Start a blog, create a little shop, build a web-app, do SEO for a friend’s site – just something you can run experiments on! Test things you read on SEO sites and you’ll be surprised what’s true and what’s not.

Third, put your knowledge out there. Blog about your findings, interact with SEOs on Twitter, go to conferences. Become a contributing part of the community. I should have started creating content in English much earlier.

Fourth, and most importantly, specialize! Take a few topics and go reaaaaally deep. SEO is becoming too broad to do everything well, especially in the technical discipline. But even the content side starts to fork into outreach, content marketing, writing, etc. So, find a sub-discipline that suits you and become an expert in it.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Kevin: Great question! I wish Google would value links more! Just kidding…

I could only rely on my biased view, so I don’t think I could add value by adding/modifying/removing a factor. Google already does a good job in taking lots of different factors into account, measuring thresholds and adjusting the weight of ranking factors per query. How they speak about ranking factors publicly is a different question ;-).

Micah: Since you didn’t want to add a factor, what was the most shocking change to Google’s algorithm in your mind?

Kevin: In terms of immediate severity, Penguin. I remember very well what it felt like when the first iteration came out. It was a bloodbath. But I think Hummingbird will have an even bigger impact, we just can’t see it yet. Ever since, Google is just getting in learning and understanding what people want… Which Google capitalizes very aggressively. I find that Hummingbird is a much faster path to the AI Sergey and Larry wanted to create in the first place and therefore, I find it more impactful.

Micah: Why are you a member of BayAreaSearch?

Kevin: Besides meeting new, smart people, I think its’ important to bring the local SEO community together and push it forward. Every profession has that, why not SEO? It’s more than just a platform for discussion, networking, and having fun. It’s also a political institution that can bring the whole profession forward, like a “guild”. I think that’s important, especially in the Bay!

Micah: Tell us more about your speaking gigs & your startup mentorships.

Kevin: The Bay and startups are deeply connected, but I actually stumbled into that space when I was still in Germany, also by accident. Funny how you stumble into things like that ;-).

Nowadays, I’m a mentor at the “German Accelerator”, where I mentor startups in terms of “Growth”. Growth is a lean, systematic approach to grow products at scale covering the whole user journey from acquisition to referral across product and marketing. I find the whole space super exciting and no, it has nothing to do with cheap hacks!

About 1-2 years ago I got much more proactive in sharing what I learned in almost 10 years of SEO and Growth. I started blogging and publishing a weekly curated email, which got me invitations to speak at conferences. I honestly really enjoy that. Less being on a stage – that’s fine, too – but more the process of putting a presentation together. I love really digging deep into a topic and creating a narrative around it. TED talks are an inspiration, but also people like Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, or Tim Urban. They understood how to wrap data and facts up in an exciting story. I admire that!

Micah: What do you do in your free time?

Kevin: I compete in Powerlifting, a sport that revolves around the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift. It’s similar to what you see at Olympia, but not the same (that’s weightlifting). It’s a great outlet for me and a good balance to sitting in front of the computer all day. I think I wouldn’t be half as productive without it. It’s a bit counter-intuitive: spending so much time in the gym should actually make me less productive. But it helps me to focus so much better. It’s my meditation.

Between that and writing for my blog, mentoring startups and working on presentations there’s not much free time left ;-). But, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way!

Micah: Thank you Kevin and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs, and if you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




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.

SEO was gaining momentum in the early 2000s with what is known as “white hat” SEO. But at the time, I was still navigating college as a film student turned broadcast journalist turned marketer so I got into SEO by way of a variety of informal training. I studied journalism and delivered content in a way that grabbed the reader or viewer’s attention and made the story relatable. I also interned at major ad agencies in LA where I’d work on creative briefs that had elements of keyword research. I was essentially gathering search topics trying to understand the interests, needs and intents of different market personas.  Much of my early training in advertising and journalism gave me the soft skills of SEO.

The turning point was in 2009 when I caught up to SEO. That’s when the search engine world was introduced to Bing and there was real competition in the market.  That same year, I started working for a major online business directory, Local.com. That’s where I started gaining the hard, technical skills of SEO.

Since then, I’ve continued to grow my experience and curiosity around optimizing for search engines working at a search & PPC agency and, recently, one of the leading enterprise SEO software platforms.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Holly: I enjoy apply all aspects of search that help move the needle for a business to get more revenue and clients and customers that are right for them. Because I have been exposed to many types of marketing campaigns and innovative strategies for creating awareness, my strength is in bringing together the right combination of tactics that will make a business successful.  At that point, SEO is the tip of my spear.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Holly: I’m inspired by many of the current BayAreaSearch.org Board of Directors like Andrew Shotland and AJ Kohn (Micah’s note: go write another post, AJ!). Their blogs were the ones being recommended to me when I was first starting out. I’m a fan of Avinash Kaushik (Occam’s Razor blog). I also get inspired by in-house SEO talent that’s here in Silicon Valley and the great community of SEO’s on Twitter.

Micah: Why did you decide to join Searchmetrics and what has it been like working for a known SEO brand?

Holly: The opportunity to consult with enterprise level clients using one of the industry’s top SEO software platforms was something I couldn’t pass up. I spent at least the first 6 months immersing myself in the platform learning everything I could.

The biggest thing I learned was that it didn’t matter that I knew where to get data within the suite. What mattered was applying the data to provide a solution to real problems that my clients and their business were facing. Updating title tags is helpful to a degree, but I’m much more focused on broader solutions that can impact the bottom line.

Micah: What advice would you give to SEOs to advance their career into the top tier?

Holly: Now that I’m freelancing as a consultant, I’m always looking to improve upon marketing strategies that start with technology and end with the user.  My advice would be to get experience towards an understanding of each of the channels across search, social, email, events, ads etc. Do a mini SWOT analysis even so that you see how and where each one(s) is effective in meeting the business or project goal. Some channels are great for creating awareness, others at adoption and engagement. Awareness of how each channel performs will help you build the right strategy that’s effective for the business where SEO is built in.

My other piece of advice is to always be working to build relationships and improve communications between cross-functional teams. Websites are the virtual storefront of every business. This means lots of teams contributing, working on the site or driving traffic back to it. The overall quality of a website improves when teams across an organization integrate small amounts of SEO best practices into the work they do on the site.  If you’re looking to advance your career in SEO, you must first seek to share your knowledge and help others succeed.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Holly: In my hypothetical world, I wish the algorithm would rotate the URLs sitting in position 11-20 onto page 1.  Wouldn’t that be interesting? Like everything sitting on page 2 would become page 1 for a week or so. I’d be curious to see the engagement metrics if that happened.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Holly: We do so much networking online that I love any excuse to get out and meet people in person. I want to meet as many people as I can in this industry because it’s constantly evolving and I enjoy learning something new from every SEO I talk to.  The Bay Area is one giant sandbox and it’s thrilling to think we’re part of shaping an industry and you’re one connection away from meeting your next great contact.

I hope to meet you at our next event!

Micah: Thank you Holly and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




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.

I took the night SEO course at Stanford after work with Jason McDonald, read every article I could about SEO online, and started implementing some SEO strategies at Platform9. I also previously built multiple small websites and knew basic HTML and CSS from high school and college.

From there, I got a job offer to do full time SEO at UpCounsel and have been doing SEO for ~2 years.

Micah: Was the night SEO course under computer engineering or was it actually listed as under marketing?

Jeff: I just looked through the course catalog and I see it listed under internet marketing. Here is a link to the course if interested!

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Jeff: I would say my strengths are in growing organic traffic by ranking for new keywords using content.

I prefer automated SEO and have built full web applications using Django and various other web technologies. I also write custom Python scripts to automate internal workflows and increase efficiencies.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Jeff: I think Brian Dean is my favorite well known SEO.

Interesting websites that inspire me include Yelp, TripAdvisor, Avvo, NerdWallet, OpenTable, Zillow, and hundreds more – far too many to list. I spend a lot of time analyzing different SEO strategies and each website has its own strengths and specialties.

Micah: Why did you decide to join UpCounsel and what’s it like working for them?

Jeff: I joined UpCounsel because I knew I would be given a lot of ownership and responsibility in the biggest channel for the company. Also, with the strong support from the CTO, I knew we would be able to get things done.

Working for UpCounsel has been super interesting, I think we (me and the SEO Director, an ex-Amazon SEO) have really pushed the boundaries of SEO.

In addition to dozens of SEO projects we launched, I have personally been responsible for all the SEO logic behind 2 SEO SaaS applications: 1) automating keyword research to keep up with my writing team producing 1000 articles/month: http://www.keywordjuicer.com/ and 2) automating white hat link building using machine learning to scale up the process of increasing keyword rankings: https://syftseo.com/

While I can’t go into specific metrics, 3rd party SEO tools would tell you that UpCounsel 10x’d organic traffic in the last 12 months, driving an additional 2+ million views/year. While we still have a long way to go, it has been very exciting.

Micah: We always need more SEO tools built by actual SEOs! Any others I should keep an eye out for or you would recommend?

Jeff: Ah, the most important tools that I use are fairly simple and ones that everyone knows: SEMRush and SimilarWeb. I have tried pretty much tried every SEO tool under the sun, but when it comes to what I actually need, I just use those tools mostly.

A lot of tools aside from the 2 big ones that I’ve been a part of (Syft for link building and Keyword Juicer for content) are just scripts and spreadsheets that I’ve built for internal use to automate certain workflows.

Things like automatically adding links into articles when certain keywords are detected, scraping google search results, or just analyzing data faster with structured spreadsheets etc.

Data analysis speed has been key for us as we want to immediately report on progress and adapt as necessary so we can either run new experiments or double down on successes.

Micah: What advice would you give to SEOs to advance their career into the top tier?

Jeff: SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum since it touches so many parts of the company. You should peer review your ideas and get buy in with different parts of the organization such as Engineering, Product, Operations, Data Science, Marketing, etc. to make the best choices for the company.

Also, you most likely need to expand beyond only SEO duties. I have been responsible for all sorts of activities from negotiating large contracts with vendors, building my own content team, sending thousands of emails, etc.

Micah: I can attest to expanding one’s skill sets to do better in SEO. How would you say it has improved your mindset around SEO?

Jeff: I think expanding skill sets greatly helped me better understand the true business impact of SEO.

On the engineering side, by learning to code, I am able to identify what product specs are inherently easy and what product specs are inherently difficult. There have been multiple times where we were able to find a simpler ticket to file than we originally thought by focusing on the problem and determining the minimum requirements.

On the marketing side, from my past experience creating content (articles, white papers, blog posts, social media posts, webinars), I was able to build trust from creating high quality content while making sure it had all the SEO markup that we needed.

Also, at my past company I was the primary Salesforce and Marketo user who expanded our lead database to hundreds of thousands of leads and sent out hundreds of thousands of emails to those leads. Thus, when I was link building, I knew the tools and had the skill set to send out thousands of emails to people and get backlinks.

Another skill for link building that I developed was that I used to be in enterprise sales selling enterprise IT software with an average transaction value of $20,000+. Coming from a world where I used to make 140 phone calls a day selling software to just asking someone for a backlink, which is free, was relatively easier.

In addition, I used to also manage AdWords and multiple advertising channels. Through this and sending emails, I understood how good copywriting and titles could easily 2-3x conversions which helped me craft a meta title change that doubled conversion from SERPs across our most important page type.

In general, I think SEO is an interesting intersection of both marketing and engineering. By developing broad skills in both those disciplines, I have been able to apply the learnings from other verticals to make me a better SEO and drive business impact.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Jeff: I think in general from my understanding of Google’s algorithm, it is a relatively smart solution to the complex problem of solving user problems.

I do think that Google could add more emphasis on testing the quality of content with users and whether or not it solves the user problem. I think we own a lot of quality content that has not been tested high enough in the SERPs to show that it can solve user problems.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Jeff: I think SEO is an interesting field that gets more complex the more I learn and like to stay updated on new strategies. I also enjoy practicing web development skills.

Micah: Thank you Jeff and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




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.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Clint: Having only been in the field for a few years, I think I still have a ton to learn. But as a result of my previous role, I worked with a number of the different functions throughout the company, and therefore have a good understanding how integrated all the various functions are. I think this puts me in a good position because I have a decent sense of how SEO can be impacted/influenced by the various functions and vice versa.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Clint: Anyone I can learn from. I really appreciate being able to connect with other SEOs and learn about their experiences. It is always interesting to hear about what others are doing and how they are doing it – what challenges they experienced and what solutions they explored. Being able to personally connect with others and have real conversation is always great. You end up with tangible takeaways that really can impact the work that you are doing.

Micah: Why did you decide to join Balsam Brands and what’s it like doing SEO for an ecommerce company?

Clint: When I joined Balsam Brands my primary focus was helping to build out our international team in the Philippines. At the time, I had no clue what SEO was really about. Once I started getting involved it was a matter of learning as you go and that trend still continues today. Getting to work on a webstore like Balsam Hill is a privilege, but it also comes with a little (self-inflicted) pressure. We have experienced significant growth these past few years and that in itself has its challenges. That growth brings about new priorities, new projects and new experience – all of which are good things.

Micah: What advice would you give to SEOs to advance their career into the top tier?

Clint: Take on projects that outside your comfort zone. Take on projects that require you to seek out advice and guidance from external peers and partners. You can go to all the conferences you want and read all the online articles you want, but nothing compares to hands on experience that requires you to work with other team and functions in order to get things done.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Clint: I would change the layout of the SERPs to make more of a distinction between paid listings and organic listings. I know that it wouldn’t help them in terms of revenue generation, but I think that they could put more effort into showing users what is a paid ad and what is potentially a good organic result.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Clint: The Bay Area has been good to me in a lot of ways since I arrived here in 2011. Balsam Brands, my colleagues and professional network have all been very supportive and helped shape the path my career has taken. I would like to do what I can to help build the profession of SEO and the SEO community. I hope that I can do that with BayAreaSearch.

Micah: Thank you Clint and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Season Hughes

Secretary & Event Chair Season Hughes

Season Hughes: Bay Area SEO at Atlassian

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

Season Hughes: 6 months – I am completely new to SEO. But it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I have a background as a Taxonomist and it’s important to consider the customer and search engine experience when building navigation. Before making a decision, I’d consult the SEO team and shape my taxonomies based on their input. I was ready to try something new, and Atlassian was willing to take a chance on training someone with my background.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Season: I’m learning Technical SEO. It’s exciting to have completed my first technical audit of two of our Atlassian properties. I’m also extremely interested in schema: as someone who loves metadata and organization, I feel like it’s an interesting balance between SEO and taxonomy.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Season: I’m lucky to be part of a strong team at Atlassian. My manager, Kevin Indig, has been very patiently teaching me SEO concepts from the ground up. I’m inspired by his passion for SEO outside of work, speaking at conferences and writing a newsletter. Mark Argyle has taught me a lot about the importance of content. At my previous job at TripAdvisor, Matt Storms, Allison Myers, and the entire SEO team were invaluable allies in building navigation and considering the customer experience. And I’m inspired by the knowledge, wisdom, and humor of the board and members of BayAreaSearch.

Micah: Why did you decide to join Atlassian and what’s it like doing SEO for a known brand?

Season: SEO itself is a crazy, changing world and on top of that, we’re doing SEO for multiple products and teams… keeping up with it all is challenging, overwhelming, and delightful. I joined Atlassian because I used their products (Jira and Confluence) and was looking for a transparent culture that supports employees’ growth and allows them to just be themselves. I have not been disappointed.

Micah: What advice would you give a beginning SEOs to advance their career?

Season: I would say to them if you have no idea what you’re doing and you feel like the rules are always changing, then you’re exactly where you should be. Read, a lot. Find a community where you can ask questions. Learn different tools and find out which ones work for you. And I’ve found that the best way to know if you’ve learned a concept is to try to explain it to other people. That’s why I started a beginner SEO blog at https://seasonhughes.com/.

Micah: What would you recommend reading? Any communities recommended?

Season: I started with Ahref’s How to Learn SEO (and Stay Sane). It’s valuable reading in itself, and it links to a ton of different articles, all of which I have printed in a giant stack on my desk. I’m still going through it. BayAreaSearch is the only community I’m active in, but I do pay attention to SEO news on Twitter, and I have a feed on Feedly of different SEO publications. The ones I keep up with the most are Search Engine Roundtable, Moz, and Tech Bound.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Season: It would be interesting to see Google’s algorithm become even more personalized to individual users. For example, if you are visually impaired, sites that are optimized for accessibility would rank higher for you. Or the definition of the authority of a page would vary for each user. For example, in library school, we were never allowed to use Wikipedia as a reference, but for Google, the site has high authority.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Season: I’m new to SEO and I’m eager to learn more. I’m strongly introverted, so being involved in a networking organization helps push me out of my comfort zone and grow. And above all, I believe in the dedication and passion of our board and out members, and it’s something I feel proud to be part of.

Micah: Thank you Season and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Takeshi Young

Takeshi Young

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

Takeshi Young: I got into SEO by way of web development. I started building websites while I was in middle school and helped pay my way through college by building websites for local businesses.

Eventually I became interested in how to make money by building websites for myself, and that got me started on the path to learning about SEO, building AdSense sites and getting into affiliate marketing. This was around 2007, so I’ve been “doing SEO” for around 11 years now.

My first official job as an SEO was in 2009 for an eCommerce startup called Become.com. I now manage SEO globally for Optimizely.

Micah: Ah, I remember the days in the comparison shopping world at Become, seems so long ago! What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Takeshi: I would say that my strength in SEO is technical SEO since I have a background in web development and have a strong understanding of how the web works and am comfortable working with code.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work on PPC and social media campaigns at the various companies I’ve worked at, so I love to approach SEO with an integrated approach that pulls together multiple online marketing channels.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Takeshi: I enjoy reading content from SEOs like Glen AllsoppBrian Dean, and Jon Cooper; SEOs who aren’t afraid to get into grey hat territory and are generous with sharing their learnings. I respect Danny Sullivan for his integrity and honest reporting on Google and the state of SEO (even though he recently went over to the dark side).

Micah: Why did you decide to join Optimizely and what’s it like doing SEO for a known brand?

Takeshi: I joined Optimizely because I’ve always been interested in A/B testing and CRO and used the product at previous companies. Plus it’s a great company with a strong growth trajectory.

Doing SEO for a known brand has been fantastic. I previously worked mostly for growing startups, where getting traction with SEO and competing against entrenched competitors was a challenge, so working for a market leader is a positive change. I spend almost no time on link building at Optimizely, and am focused mostly on content creation and optimizing conversions once visitors land on our site.

Micah: What advice would you give a mid-level SEO to advance their career into the top tier?

Takeshi: Top tier is subjective, but the way to grow your profile in the SEO community is to build your personal brand. Start a blog, write for other blogs in the SEO space, and sign up to speak at conferences to build a profile and get your name out there. Many of the marketing tactics you use to promote your clients’ sites can be used to promote your own brand.

In addition to marketing yourself, it’s important to know your stuff. Become the expert in the SEO topics that you’re interested in by reading everything there is to know about the subject, picking the brain of experts at conferences and meetups, and running your own experiments. The “experts” in the field are those that discover novel or interesting approaches to SEO, and share them with the rest of the community.

Finally, I would broaden my expertise beyond just SEO. SEO at many companies will eventually plateau and reach a point of diminishing returns, and Google’s algorithm is also very fickle and not under your control, so it’s useful to have other ways you can add value.

A/B testing and CRO are natural compliments to SEO that can increase the value of the traffic you’re driving, social media marketing can be a compliment to your inbound marketing efforts, and PPC can be a way to supplement your SEO traffic and involves a similar skill set. The more diversified your knowledge, the better you’ll be able to adapt to the changing online marketing landscape.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Takeshi: I wish there was a clearer way to get into Google’s knowledge cards, as it can be a mystery sometimes why some sites are featured there and not others. I’m also not sold on Google’s push for AMP, which complicates website architecture and puts a lot of control in the hands of Google. But overall I believe their algorithm works well and is the best that’s out there.

Micah: Thank you Takeshi and best of luck in your continued career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Andrew Shotland

VP Andrew Shotland

Andrew Shotland: Bay Area SEO at Local SEO Guide

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

Andrew Shotland: I got into SEO in 2003. We had just started InsiderPages.com, an early version of Yelp, in LA and were getting about 3,000 people a month coming to the site via various promotions. I was doing Biz Dev & Product, meaning anything that needed to be done on a given day.

One of our board members suggested I check out this thing called “SEO”. There were a few agencies that had SEO services I found via Google and referrals so I asked for RFPs and they all came back at like $100K and it was totally unclear what I was going to get for that. None of them would tell me exactly what they were going to do. Someone recommended I talk to this guy in North Carolina who knew this stuff. I paid him a few hundred bucks and he told me some stuff which you could boil down to “update your title tags and add more internal links”. We did that and pretty quickly 10x’d the traffic.

Then we went national and went almost overnight from about 30k visits/month to over a million. It was pretty insane and we kept trying stuff and it kept growing. Based on our growth we were able to raise money from Sequoia and Softbank. We were pretty much the Silicon Valley poster child at that point.

Then we decided to redesign the site to make it look better for users and we lost nearly all the SEO traffic overnight due to a duplicate URL issue I didn’t quite understand at the time. I figured it out but that was pretty much the worst week of my career. Shortly after that our investors decided to sell the company to CitySearch and I was out of job.

The day I lost my job I happened to be having drinks with the new head of Product at LATimes.com. He was all excited about this new redesign he had been working on. I said “Let me tell you a story…” After he chugged his wine, he asked if I would do some SEO consulting for him and they became my first client.

It’s been kind of like that ever since.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Andrew: I think my key strength as an SEO consultant is that I have been in my clients’ shoes. I like to tell them I have f***ed up SEO royally so they don’t have to. I see it when we interview job candidates. People who have had their jobs on the line because of SEO problems tend to do well, I guess because they understand the consequences.

Of course, if you’re looking for specifics, I’d like to think there are few SEOs out there who have the experience of having worked on many insanely complicated billion-URL media and ecomm sites combined with crazy multi-location, Google My Business problems. And my team is pretty spectacular too. They have some deep GMB knowledge that comes with spending way too much time with that crazy beast.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Andrew: My inspirations are in no particular order:

Mike Blumenthal – There is no one out there who has spent as much time as Mike trying to figure out what Google is up to in the Local space. His interest and generosity are legend.

The Screaming Frog guys – In an industry littered with tools, these guys took a very different approach and created what is one of the simplest, most indispensable SEO tools out there. I can’t think of another SEO tool I use more other than Google itself.

There are so many other great SEOs sharing their knowledge that I am loathe to name check them as I will inevitably leave some of them out so just go wander through my Twitter “Following” feed at https://twitter.com/localseoguide

And honorable mentions go to three of my favorite writers/thinkers on the Web who are always inspiring:
@gruber
@benthompson
@jkottke

Micah: Why did you start your own company Local SEO Guide and what’s it like running your own agency?

Andrew: I started Local SEO Guide because after the LATimes hired me, I started getting a lot of inbound referrals. I called it Local SEO Guide because I saw an opening in the local directory space and as a result we have worked on every type of big Local site around the world. And plenty of non-Local sites and SMB sites.

I found I was good at figuring out SEO problems and how to get organizations to use SEO strategically. I did it on my own for several years as I was kind of gun-shy about having to deal with co-workers after years of working in dysfunctional environments.

After a few years I realized I was going to need some help making the donuts and hired an SEO Manager. About four years ago I decided it was time to build a team so we could do more than just audits, training and troubleshooting. Dan Leibson joined me as our VP of Search and we have now grown to 8 people.

I really enjoy having a team who are all focused on great outcomes for our clients and ourselves. And it’s really fun to watch them grow as they experience some of the crazy stuff I got to see over the past decade.

Micah: What advice would you give a mid-level SEO to advance their career into the top tier?

Andrew: If I were a mid-level SEO exec today, I’d consider starting my own consulting business. I imagine they already have a few side hustles anyhow (and if not, get on it!) but if you can make it as a consultant and you enjoy the work, it’s the best way to get a variety of SEO experiences and be in charge of your own destiny.

Of course I am biased, so if you want to stick with the corporate thing, then I recommend you figure out who cuts the checks, then figure out what SEO play you can run that shows huge upside, even at a small scale, then show it to them. And show them Bill Hunt’s post on the cost of not ranking.

Use SEO to get experience in a related field that you think is cool and might present future opportunities. For example, Dennis G, Airbnb’s old SEO, spearheaded the “Wall & Chain” campaign in order to get experience with “big” marketing campaigns.

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Andrew: The one that asks me to verify that I am not a robot. I have probably lost a few weeks of my life to that thing since I started SEO.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Andrew: I got involved with BAS because I have always enjoyed the popular regional search marketing groups like SEMPDX and MNSearch and I was kind of stumped as to why Silicon F***ing Valley didn’t have its own search marketing association. There are tons of meetups but nothing quite like those other groups.

And after attending a few of the initial pre-BAS events, it occurred to me that this group of people could be the group. And there was such a great opportunity for education and networking. But mostly I was into it because it would give me an excuse to go into the city on a weeknight (I live in the burbs these days) :slightly_smiling_face:

Micah: Thank you Andrew and best of luck in your continued SEO career!

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.




An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Matt Storms

Matt Storms

Matt Storms: Bay Area SEO at Viator

Background by President Micah Fisher-Kirshner: We’re doing a series of interviews with local SF Bay Area SEOs (starting with the board) as a launching point for future blog posts. If you’re an SEO in the SF Bay Area and would like to be interviewed, please contact us here.

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

Matt Storms: I fell into SEO. I was in a college class where a professor brought it up, and right then and there I started researching it. I jumped into an internship paying a whopping $9 an hour and I really enjoyed the work. I had no mentor, I had nobody teaching me so I had to learn on my own.

Micah: What would you say your strengths (or preferences) are within the SEO field?

Matt: Technical SEO. It is fun as that is what worked on when I started out rebuilding a website in my internship. I actually built a website from scratch in Php and had a good time doing it in 2008. So the code for me is still fun.

Micah: Who inspires you in the SEO space?

Matt: Ash Buckles, Andrew Shotland, Mark Munroe, and amazing engineers who tell me it can always be done and do it.

Micah: Why did you decide to join Viator (TripAdvisor) and what’s it like doing SEO for a known brand?

Matt: They hunted after me for a few years and it was the right time to join them in Jan 2016, the time since I joined has flown by as it feels like I have only been here a few months still. Working on the Viator site came with a million more issues then I thought were going to be there but I have learned that it does not matter how big or little a brand is, every website has the same issues. Viator did not have a 404 page till a few months after I joined.

Micah: No 404 page in 2016? that’s crazy! How did that happen to come about?

Matt: Not the highest quality of SEO at the time. But with me joining, we have turned it around.

Micah: What advice would you give a mid-level SEO to advance their career into the top tier?

Matt: DO NOT GIVE UP! The sweet spot is at the 10+ year mark, if you think you are hot shit, you never are. If you want to advance your career you are only as good as the current website you are working on, so do your best, do amazing things and people will notice it.

Read all of the leadership books you can and help people understand that the site you are working on is a personal mission for you, that the website is a reflection of you and that you have to fix things and make it amazing. Once people understand that, you will have the backing you need to do amazing things.

Micah: What leadership books would you recommend?

Matt: Extreme Ownership

Micah: If you had a say, what factor would you wish to modify/add/remove with Google’s algorithm and why?

Matt: That to be listed in Google that a company would have to install Google Search Console. This would fix billions of SMBs that do not know what they are doing and just guessing for them. Business owners might not understand the data they are seeing but they will get alerts and they can understand when they are hacked and or are doing bad things.

Micah: Why are you personally helping to build BayAreaSearch?

Matt: In Fall 2016, I pitched the idea to my VP or hosting a gathering of SEO’s to create a working group to help share ideas and create contacts. He approved it and I sent a message to every SEO I could find that I was connected with in the Bay Area at the time. So I was the crazy guy that started this whole thing by taking the first step. Life is about taking a step, a first step and them moving forward. I did not have the ability with family, work and everything else to keep it going but other amazing people did. And now we have a non-profit, a board and I am not able to help as much as I want but I think that BayAreaSearch can grow into a working group of 300+ talented and amazing SEO’s & SEM folks to help advance each other and to life each other up.

Micah: Thank you Matt and best of luck in your continued SEO career!