An Interview with SF Bay Area SEO Jeff Chen
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: https://seojuicer.com/keyword-analyzer and 2) automating white hat link building using machine learning to scale up the process of increasing keyword rankings: SyftSEO.
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.
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