If I am going
Due to the complex nature of the YMYL search quality rating, I was given the opportunity to work as an SEO Specialist at Hargreaves Lansdown in February 19. I do occasionally get asked how I managed to move from adult to finance, as they’re two different ends of the spectrum, but in reality, they’re very similar from a search perspective – just not the intrusive use of keywords, oh, and certainly no unusual sightings throughout office environments! I’ve always had an interest in stocks and making investments, whether it’s my personal finances or my pension, so it’s the perfect place for me to be.
SEO has developed over the years, at first, I originally thought it was just science, a set of formulas that determines a site’s positioning based on the number of positive factors that it meets, but over the years, it started to become a mixture of science and art. A large portion of SEO work is scientific, calculating term frequency and inverse document frequency analysis to determine phrase importance and intent classification, log file analysis, research, Google’s algorithm, the website audience, numbers that drive critical functions, i.e metadata lengths, social shares, backlinks. The list goes on. Formulas are the brain of search engines, especially Rank Brain, however, moving in-house and having the privilege to work for multi-million-pound, in some cases, multi-billion companies that rely on organic search as a primary traffic source, has exposed to me to environments that force me to start considering not only SEO, but other elements of the site(s) that may impact the overall business strategy, design, content and UX. Liaising with the content teams to craft clickable, high yielding CTR ad-copy, building clearly defined site structures that makes sense for users and also dilutes page rank accordingly on a priority basis, this is all art.
My journey in SEO is still very much in its infancy, I continue to learn, absorb information, surround myself with positive like-minded people, and I sure am excited to see what the future holds, Google’s constant updates and SERP changes keep me on my toes, and keeps me hella interested. Therefore, I have decided to create this personal site to log my journey, findings and experiences on the way, I do hope you follow. I am always on the look-out to connect with other like-minded people and those that need some guidance, so you’re more than welcome to get in touch.
1) What advice would you give to someone starting out in SEO?
I’ve spoken about this before during a “Ask The Expert” series with Adlib, but in order to make your first move into the industry, you need to show that you’re passionate about search. Whether it’s by creating your own site(s) to conduct experiments and attempts to rank for low competitive search terms, following Google Webmaster Trends Analysts on social, or by reading an entire catalogue of beginner SEO articles. Passion will help you thrive in this space, recruitment for genuine SEO people is tough – by doing this you’ll stand out the crowd, even if you don’t have any SEO experience on your resume.
As I starting point, if you’re looking to enhance your knowledge, I recommend following these blogs: Search Engine Round Table, Neil Patel, Gotch SEO, Charles Floate, Matthew Woodward, Moz, Deep Crawl – there’s lots of free case studies, tutorials and research on these.
I’d also recommend following these people: John Mueller, Gary Illyes, Rand Fishkin, Brian Dean, Danny Sullivan, Matt Cutts
Fundamental areas that you should look into if you’re learning SEO:
on-page SEO: titles, headings, metadata, internal linking, anchor text, keyword research, URL structures, image ALT tags (and file name optimisation), video, broken links, redirect loops, user intent optimisation, CTR (click through rate), keyword density, keyword positioning, spelling and grammar errors, content length compared to competitors, logical heading sequences, metadata chracter length limitations, RSS feeds.
off-page SEO: backlinks, referring domains, referring IP’s, citations, social signals, domain authority, page authority, trust flow, citation flow, link juice, press releases, private blog networks, directories, GSC domain property setup, sitemap submission.
YMYL & E-A-T: Your Money Or Your Life (YMYL) helps assess the overall Expertise, Authority and Trust (E-A-T) of a site, this is a critical to those within the health, financial or legal industries, as Google tends to hold these type of sites to a higher standard due to fact their handling and providing sensitive information. If a webmaster was to give incorrect health advice, this could negatively impact one’s life – so, Google tends to use the E-A-T metric to assess off-site authority before then enrolling them into the top-end of search.
Software: Screaming Frog, Majestic, Linkdex, Pi Datametrics, Botify, Moz Open Site Explorer, SEO Tools For Excel, Google Search Console, SERProbot, SEMrush.
2) What does the future of SEO look like?
Good question and the truth is: nobody knows, but I think SEO’s need to start preparing for a big shift in how Google displays websites in its search results over the coming years, and it’s understanding of reading and interpreting JS applications, including one-page environments.
We’re seeing movement in how we qualify for the top-end of search, especially for queries that are super competitive. We tend to implement best practice techniques to help us qualify for the top-end of search, but once we’re there, Google uses engagement factors to assess after-click experiences, that then has a major contributing factor in ranking. So, it’s important to have a site that provides a meaningful experience and UX that yields a low bounce rate, longer time spent on site and more page visits in a singular journey. I’m sure you know this already and the chances are, if you have a great site – this isn’t something you need to worry about.
Now is the time to be implementing schema mark-up on a site-wide scale, maximising every opportunity to mark-up your content, even if the mark-up doesn’t yet have snippet-changing benefits (yet) it’s worth adding. This will help Google understand context and relevancy, helping it bring the best out in your content – in time, we may start to see a big shift in qualifying for featured snippets via schema mark-up implementation, thus increasing total organic market share.
User intent will become more prominent as we move forward and stakeholders will start moving away from making decisions based on SERP position, rather what is best for the user, thus rankings will then follow. TFIDF analysis will play a big part in identifying the ‘type’ of user intent that is required to qualify for certain search terms and will need to be implemented on a site-wide scale, this will involve working with content teams to ensure scalability, and in some cases, training the wider-team. SEO is no longer a ‘one man band’, rather a responsibility to act as a consultant to the wider-team to ensure everyone’s at the forefront of what should and shouldn’t be considered as part of the overall search strategy.
3) Do you prefer working in-house or agency side?
This is a super easy one for me and the clear winner is in-house, it was such a relief when I made this move and quite possibly the best one I could’ve made.
I didn’t have time to explore the technical avenues as much as I’d like when I worked agency side, thus being limited to only implementing basic fundamentals, and we didn’t have the time budget to be able to dive into big projects. I was very time restricted, 5 hours per client, per month, period. Every call, email that was written and piece of work had to be logged using Harvest – no exceeding the available budget. This made it increasingly difficult to be able to deliver real performance SEO.
Of course, working for a major brand as an in-house SEO is a completely different story, as long as you can prove the value behind SEO change, you can dive deep into the data aspects, nitty-gritty work, the theory and the research. This is ultimately what helped me develop my skill-set and be at the forefront of search at all times, as I had the time.
4) If you had the budget for one seo tool only, what would you pick?
An enterprise-level tool that goes by the name of Pi Datametrics. I believe that in order to push change in any business, you will need to prove it’s value to ensure buy-in from senior stakeholders. SEO is a tough vertical as there aren’t any guarantees and it can be extremely hard to assign price values to certain changes – however, with the help of certain reporting metrics that Pi Datametrics (Pi) offers, can help prove value, thus push SEO change throughout a business. It’s awesome having technical tools, but if you can’t persuade the wider-team to onboard your ideas, there’s very little point in having them.
Pi is a rank tracking and reporting tool, it doesn’t identify technical SEO issues like Deepcrawl or performs site-crawls on a frequency basis, rather tracks the site’s position and reports on a SERP-level. However, within this process, along with the help of a website’s average conversion rate and order value, it performs a basic calculation to work out the average value of each position. It works this out by using the following formula:
- Search volume / average CTR based on position = number of page visits from search
- visits from search / conversion rates = number of transactions
- Number of transactions * average order value = revenue