A very British SEO interview

Since I started updating this blog at the beginning of 2012 it has been one of my ambitions to interview some of the people who have been influential in my continuing journey to become a better SEO. There are a handful of SEO’s I’ve stuck with over probably the last 4 years or more, sure, my head’s been turned now and again by the latest Guru/Ninja/Jedi but it’s never for long, I always come back to my old friends.

It took me a while to come up with an interview “angle” because I didn’t want this to just be a standard, here are some questions, let’s get a bunch of SEO’s to answer them. After making my to 5 list of interview candidates it came to me, I’ll do a British theme! You can be the judge of how well I stuck to it..

I can’t thank the 3 people below enough for agreeing to take part in this interview, they are all SEO’s I highly respect and, as luck would have it they each represent one of the countries which make up “Great Britain”

 Wales – James Edwards – Blog

I first came across James a few years back as one of the longest serving and most knowledgeable members on the UK Business forum’s SEO section. You can find James by searching Google for “Google expert” and clicking on the top result….

 Scotland – Shaun Anderson – Blog

The SEO blog over at Hobo is the reason I started to stalk Shaun, in my opinion it’s one of most informative SEO blogs in the UK and I’ve recommended it over and over again. Shaun is a multi award winning SEO, including being voted “Most influential” UK SEO back in 2010.

 England – Will Critchlow – Blog

Will is one of the most well known SEO’s around due to his fantastic work with Distilled and also SEOMOZ. I have to admit there were quite a few people I could have approached to represent England for this interview but Will was by far and away top of the list.

The Interview

Where are you right now?

 Will: After we opened our Seattle office, I updated my twitter bio to say location: “somewhere rainy”. Currently, my rainy home is London. I’ll be in Munich for SMX in the last week of March and then back to London and then Boston for our linklove conferences.

 James: Wales

Shaun: Greenock, Scotland – surely the home of search marketing in Scotland?

As with most things “Webby” internet marketing is dominated by our cousins across the pond. Fo you believe there are any differences in the way SEO is conducted between Britain and The US, are there some techniques which are more/less effective here? Do some things not translate well? (I’m thinking possibly around outreach, blogging, social interactions etc?)

 Will: We opened up our Seattle office in early 2010 and NYC in mid 2011. I wouldn’t say we have used dramatically different techniques for US or UK clients.

There can be differences in outreach, but these are driven more by personality than geography. The US has a slightly different journalistic heritage with very much stricter rules on gifts and the like – this can trickle down to bloggers as well. I would say that the biggest thing we’ve learnt recently isn’t about style of approach so much as being on the same timezone as the recipient. We have outreach guys based in Seattle who travelled to London for our company-wide meetup in January. They reported it being significantly easier to get results with UK bloggers (and correspondingly harder working with US bloggers) during that time

 James: UK Buyers are a breed apart from US buyers, for that reason alone, the UK market have to be sold to differently.  If we believe we are being sold to, even if we actually want to buy, we walk away. Classic case of being in a shop, cash in pocket, salesman comes up and starts the pitch with ‘can I help you’? classic UK answer is ‘no thanks I am just looking’.  UK people love being sold to professionally but will rat out a sales pitch a mile away.  For that reason alone, the off site promotion needs to be believable.

With regard Internet marketing, we Brits are less open to trying new things, and Facebook, Amazon, Google and E-bay pretty much ARE the internet for the average consumer in the UK. Social marketing does work well if done properly, but it takes longer to cultivate.

Shaun: SEO (or the celebrity of seo) is dominated by the US – and in fact, the only seo in the UK with anywhere near the same influence or audience of the top US seo is David Naylor. If you have been in seo any length of time – you know it’s simple stuff that get results. So I’d wager SEO is conducted much the same in the US as it is in the UK.

I’ve never had any problems with my US friends –  they are a great bunch. The main difference I see between UK and US seo is a lot of the US search marketers I follow on Twitter, for instance, seem a lot more touchy-feely-slap-each-other-in-the-back kind of thing – whereas the UK seo I know just spend their time poking fun at each other, which I think is great :) I think it took the UK seo scene a bit longer to realise we could all help each other out.
I wonder if I am right in saying I see a lot of US preaching more blue-sky ‘white hat’ seo than my UK peers. I know a lot of that sort of thing started in the US – probably in an effort to legitimise what we do. I hate generalising though – makes you look like a moron, more often or not. The US people always seem to want to rename things as well, don’t’ they? What is it now? ‘Inbound’? FFS – yes… we get it…. you’re not spammers :D
TBH – the seo community is a very diverse community. I talk to people from all over the world and I love that – that we’re all a little different – and usually very polite and helpful to each other.

With all the major search engines Google being based out in California do you feel that British SEO’s are at a disadvantage (or maybe even an advantage!) versus those closer to the epicentre in terms of roll out of new features?

 Will: We are probably slightly sheltered (or exposed, depending on how you look at it) to this since we have a number of cross-Atlantic clients and SEOs in both countries.

A few years ago, I would have said that the UK version of Google tended to slightly suffer from slow roll-out of algorithm changes and the like. Recently, with the more dramatic shifts, we have been sheltered from some of the more dramatic upheaval and had a few months’ breathing space to see the fallout state-side before it hits the UK.
 James: Personally I think it is a bonus as most algorithm updates are tested elsewhere  before being rolled out to the UK, kinda like advance warning.  I see no disadvantages whatsoever of the geographic location of big G.
 Shaun: Call me old fashioned (or even delusional) but I think, if you’re bending some of the rules, the further you are from the referee in the game, the better. – Note I say bend. I think most people who has ever heard of Google and SEO is (or has) bent the rules to get more traffic. I’m not that interested in ‘knowing’ people from Google either so location is irrelevant (to me).
I work heavily on both the US and UK Google. I’m not aware of any clear cut advantages or disadvantages that don’t balance out.

There are a number of great looking events going on across Britain in 2012, which Internet Marketing conference you would recommend and/or which will you be attending?

 Will: I’ll obviously be at our own events (Linklove in late March and Searchlove in the autumn) and working hard to make those as good as I possibly can.

I often speak at the big ones – most recently SES London – but my biggest shout-out would probably be for Think Visibility. That’s the one that our team learns the most at and that I always hear great feedback from.
Over the years I personally have learnt quite a lot at a4u – primarily because affiliate marketing isn’t something I know a huge amount about.

 James: SES Londonis always a great event on many levels, a chance to catch up with old friends, meet new,  attend some sessions, then back to the bar where all the real information is shared. I would recommend SES, but it can be a little out of reach for the pocket of some.

Another favourite is Internet World Earls Court April. This is a different animal and is better suited to the business person and is more of a fun gig.  This year I have reeled myself in as I made a lifestyle choice.

Shaun: Thinkvisibility is the conference I go to. I like the people organising it, and the people who go to it. It’s on a Saturday – it’s quite a hardcore geek group. My hangovers are getting worse though – I might do the next one sober.

The British government currently has a policy of one in, one out with regards the implementation of new legislation. With that in mind what one thing would you like to be implemented by Google in 2012 and what you remove to make way for it?

 Will: Do they? I thought we were still proliferating rules and laws…

Anyway, I’d love to see Google implement an explicit list of “devalued links” in webmaster central. They talk a lot about devaluing links, but without making this information explicitly available, clients continue to get hung up on the wrong things. I think the exposure would also help to drive the webspam team to focus on the right things.
I’d test getting rid of “keywords in domain” as a ranking factor outside of branded search.

 James: In: Guaranteed top spots for any site I am connected with!  Ok apart from that then I would like to see Google bring in  a working geo locator, because every time I connect to a hotspot,  I get rubbish local results. Quite why Google think I would like to see double glazing companies from London via Google Places, above Swansea companies Lord alone knows.  Google are at risk of being too clever for their own good here, and while those on the inside know how to correct this, most people look at the SERP’s and say ‘what is THAT about’? Eventually they will leave.OUT: Spying on me, I would remove the content delivered as a result of social habits. Re-marketing drives me NUTS.  I would ask Google to bring in a simple button that saysPERSONALISED RESULTS OF ANY KIND on/off

When on they can do what they like, when off, they wipe personalisation of any kind. They are using the ‘signed in to a Google service’ thing as a licence to kill, and that isn’t acceptable. The recent hacking of the browsers with regard privacy was a classic example.

Shaun: I wish Google+ would go away to be honest. But more importantly for us seo – I think the desire of Google to produce more and more local results (those based on your query and your current location) will help local businesses to some limited degree, but may hurt businesses who are using organic results in Google to grow their businesses nationwide – and even worldwide. Eventually-  if you want nationwide coverage – there will only be one realistic option. Adwords. I saw a serp with 3 organic results yesterday and the rest local results and adwords. – only one of these organic results was above the fold – the other two organic results was the last on the page. THis is probably the future – or at least – what Google would love to get away with. But frankly – it’s not making search a better experience – not for me anyway!

Google’s focus on ads and driving traffic to their own properties is pretty clear-cut in 2012 – it’s a pity at the moment we need to the dance to their tune as they are realistically the only tune playing. I read two good articles very recently about two different companies (Google & Goldman Sachs) and something about those two stories seemed shockingly similar.

I’m not looking for Google to ‘implement’ anything (although they could give us our keyword data back in Google analytics! Ironic – it’s not ME my visitors need to be frightened of, with regards to privacy, but it’s me that’s not getting the data?). I’d rather they stuck with search and concentrated on making Google better rather than chasing the ads money and needing to know everything about us. Not going to happen though is it?

Continuing the political theme do you have any tips from working in coalition on a particular project? If the client has an in house technical team or maybe marketing and PR for example, how do you manage these relationships?

 Will: All our projects are like this in one form or another. Much like any relationship, we believe the key is communication. We have an internal meme that “communication solves all problems” and it’s been repeatedly proven true.

 James: As WC Fields said ‘anyone who hates kids and dogs can’t be all bad’ Never work with kids or dogs is the old acting mantra, and it is true of SEO/Internet marketing , that is to say, never work with anyone you can’t work with!

The only way I have found to manage the relationships, is to talk early, and if there is any gut feeling of concern, no matter how small, WALK.  The only person who will carry the can if things go wrong is the guy on the outside, and it is that guy’s reputation that is being risked.

That said, most people are sensible, and if you can over deliver in private to these guys, then they will get onside with you. I find it always helps to explain the ‘why’ in any instruction, in short, sell the benefits to that person, and they can then evangelise it as their own. Let them have the glory

Shaun: Some teams are suspicious of seos – and with good reason. SEO isn’t rocket science. An seos job isn’t necessarily to bring seo secrets to the table – often it’s more to advise you what not to waste your time and money on – in terms of improving your traffic and sales from search engines.

I don’t do coalitions as I prefer to be the dictator. If I am in charge of getting more traffic from Google natural results – that is – it’s my neck on the chopping board –  I expect to be laying down strategy with the marketing team and website development team, being listened to, as far as Google goes. If I am not –  I just see lots of wasted opportunities go-a-begging. I am a control freak. I have lost count of the number of press releases I have seen and I have thought “For f*&*^-sake WTF is the link to the client website in this article??” I mean – how hard is it to put a f*&^ing “http://” before a website url in a press release? These things get scraped and reposted etc etc…..That annoys me. A lot of web developers claim to know seo and I find myself telling them everything they think is important will have next to zero impact in their rankings. I think the only people a seo need answer to is the board, owner and marketing director – these are the people with the seo vetoes.

Reality is full of politics – so I don’t get to be a dictator. It is incredibly important for me to get on well with the web development team, in-house management and – most especially – the people in the client business tasked with managing the client brand. The client brand is all important to me – and these are the people who understand it best. I recognise that. I actually quite like people in general and like talking to people – I don’t mind at-all people ignorant of seo – I abhor people who think they know seo and ignore the recommendations I have made to them – which has really happened only one time which caused me to (almost) lose my cool. The other person lost their job.
Lesson? Don’t f*&^ with the seo unless you are the owner, the board, or the marketing director/manager – or, you know what you are doing, of course. :)

What are the best search related resources emanating from your country at the moment? Be it a blog, news channel, forum or something completely different.

 Will: SEOgadget is one of the few SEO blogs where I read every post. Rich and the team are creating some great stuff – and he’s just down the road so definitely one of ours!

 James: I really like MajesticSEO it is  an effective piece of kit. There are some good UK based blogs that have been around a long time, but I think recently Majestic has placed itself as an important element for internet marketers.

Shaun: From Scotland?

(tumbleweed)
I’d just like to say thank you once again to the 3 SEO’s above for giving up their time to help me out with this little post. Not only that I’d like to thank them for all the help they’re given me over the years via their own blogs!

Post by Gaz Copeland

Image: creativedoxfoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net