Q&A: If you could do it all over again in SEO, would you?

Reviving my blog and making a commitment towards building new content means that I have to contend with an all too familiar problem:

I never know what to write about next.

As tends to be the case with blogs lacking new content for years at a time, my regular audience has waned a bit. When these times hit, I tap  social networks and look for suggestions from friends and colleagues who I know will (hopefully) take the time to read what I have to offer.

Earlier tonight night I posed a simple question to my Facebook friends: What would you want for me to write about next?

Despite some interesting responses from Chris Hooley (a fellow veteran SEO) and Tom Carr (aka: Tommy AK, from the Las Vegas punk band The Quitters), a third friend chimed in with something I knew I could write about.

The question was asked by Dan Murray, Account Director at Corporate [IT] Solutions as follows:

Hindsight is 20/20 knowing what you know now would you go back in time and tell the young an impressionable Eric to follow the same path in SEO or choose another?

I’ve known Dan for about 25 years now and while we’re both professionally absorbed in technology, our personal paths have been quite different… Which is probably one of the many reasons he might have asked this.

The short answer? Yes.

The long answer? Well, here goes…

As I wrapped up my senior year in high school I had a series of incredible opportunities laid out in front of me to pursue my passion for computer art and animation. I could have attended the Georgia Tech, University of Indianapolis, Marist College or Emerson College. I know a couple of those schools still have a little bit of my money, but I never attended a single class at any of them.

In hindsight… that sucks.

Instead of heading off to college I worked full time as the production manager for a graphic design and print shop. I did all of that while earning an Associate of Science Degree from New England Institute for Technology. In other words, I became addicted to caffeine while dropping about $30k on a piece of paper and the chance to “graduate” from 13th grade.

Suffice it to say, I lacked the “traditional” college experience by leaving for work before 7AM while being “lucky” to be home from classes by about 11PM.

By age 20, though, I had accumulated a degree (that meant nothing) and debt that I was personally responsible for… And that is pretty damned motivating.

So I did the same thing any aspiring artist did in 2000 with some computer experience… I took a job as a web designer.

Just to make sure I had a solid challenge to motivate me, the job I had required that I design web sites for artisans and gallery owners attempting to sell $20,000 works of art from a 300 pixel wide images on said websites.

It all failed miserably… That is, until we spun our little Providence-based startup into an SEO shop riding the coattails of a Johnson & Wales intern, Andrew Gerhart, who helped Brett Tabke maintain the Search Engine Promotion forum on WebmasterWorld.

Over a period of about five years we turned entrepreneur clients into millionaires, jobs into careers and colleagues into lifelong friends.

In hindsight? That kicked serious ass.

Like all good things, that era came to an end. I’ve since gone on to help run SEO within Fortune 500 organizations. I’ve left all that and jumped back into agency life (twice) where the challenges come fast and furiously. In the midst of it all, I spent a few years and hit “the circuit”, speaking at conferences, authored about 800 articles for the SEO industry and bought into the delusion that I could grow a personal brand and cash in on it all simply because I was well connected.

In other words, I’ve learned many, many lessons along the way.

And those lessons are ones I don’t just throw out there all the time. Some are rhetorical. Others are closely guarded. But all of them have helped me to define who I am, how I approach each day, and why it is I wouldn’t have changed a single thing along the way.

Today, I don’t see myself as an SEO. Defined purely by my title at d50 Media, I’m an Associate Director of Digital Content. The reality of being responsible for content strategy is that I’m maintaining SEO, public relations and social media in a developing acquisition marketing agency. That’s a really exciting, frustrating, stressful, energizing, engrossing position.

None of that would have been possible though if I hadn’t taken a few punches throughout my career.

So, yes, Dan. If I had to do it all over again… I’d let it play out precisely as it has. It’s been an organic path, and at times the path hasn’t been all that visible. But for where I am today, with where I’m headed and looking to get to – it’s the only place I’d ever want to call home.



5 Things I’ve Learned as a Job Jumper

Aside from Hurricane Irene, August of 2011 was just an ordinary month capping off an otherwise ordinary New England summer.

Little did I know, it was the last month in which I had full control over my career.

Living in the suburbs midway between Boston and Providence, I visited my job’s home office in Southern California quite often. For three years I flew out every other month, and for me – it was the perfect setup.

Being the lone guy on the East Coast meant that I’d often get a jump on the day. The work? Amazing. There was always something new to do, a new person to meet, a new project to tackle, and new challenges to overcome.

And best of all, I was working for two of the most successful people I had ever known…

And it all simply clicked for us.

The details were quite simple. We were kicking ass and taking names. We had gotten the company to a true tipping point, and it was time for me to go all in. Time to pack it up and make the move some 3,000 miles across the country to continue building our dream…

And then it happened.

I quit.

I fucking quit.

I let myself down. I backed out from the commitments I had made to the best employers I had ever known. And in that moment, less than two years ago, I felt like I had ruined my career.

In the two years since, I’ve worked for three separate companies, holding five different positions. Jumping from job to job, opportunity to opportunity, I’ve learned some hard lessons learned along the way, including…

  1. Proven Skill Can Trump Education 

    While the economy is rebounding a bit and the job market has improved, employers are still after proven talent. If you’re looking at career opportunities, you’re almost guaranteed to see an employer state that a bachelors in this or a masters in that are required degrees.Only, they’re not.

    Real world experience and failed coursework in the school or hard knocks is far more valuable than an MBA from the latest online college or university.

    At the very least, if you see a solid opportunity that you know you would be a good fit for — pursue it. Aggressively. You’ll often find that many of those required credentials are nothing more than lines from a job description template.

  2. Identifying Problems Isn’t Enough 

    Problem solving skills are no joke. When you’re experienced, it’s easy to spot problems because you can just tell that something isn’t right. At these moments your experience will help you to articulate all of the ways in which something is fundamentally wrong.That’s great, but one hard lesson I’ve learned (and continue to struggle with) is that if identifying problems is good, solving problems is way, way better.

    If you’re solving problems, you’re likely investing yourself in becoming part of the solution. That leads to far more stability in your role, more confidence in the organization, and more opportunities for you to grow towards becoming indispensable.

  3. Time Isn’t On Your Side 

    At 33 years old, I’m a dinosaur. I’ve watched kids come into the search marketing industry and simply dominate from the word, “go” time and time again… And that’s not about to change.The simple fact is, I’m not getting any younger. None of us are.

    Young adults are learning more in a faster paced environment and are finding ways to excel at the same things that have taken me years to figure out.

    Technology, the same element that I’ve built my career on, is both a blessing and a curse.

    I’ve found that there is a point – and I only know of it because it’s firmly in the rear view mirror for me – that youth is no longer a weapon in your arsenal. Leverage your experience, but relax a bit with your ego… There are plenty of young professionals out there who can run laps around you.

    Respect that.

  4. Your Core Values are Invaluable 

    It’s really easy to take a job when the salary looks good. It’s even easier when the money, commute and healthcare benefits all magically add up for the killer compensation package.But once you’ve budgeted that new paycheck and have settled into your commute, it all fades away. Stress can and will mount up. People can wear on your nerves. Your dream job suddenly feels much more like work – particularly if you’re not doing something you truly love to do.

    No amount of money can provide you with a true, deep sense of happiness or enjoyment unless you’re settled in your work.

    Trust your instincts – and don’t be so quick to take that offer if things don’t completely feel right.

  5. Pain is Temporary; Quitting is Forever 

    The hardest lesson of all is one that I’ve known and felt before, all too well. I’m not one to throw around Lance Armstrong quotes all day, but this one is a powerfully true statement…Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.

    If you’re in a position that you don’t enjoy – make sure you see it through to a point that you’re truly at peace with.

    Quitting too early, especially when it feels easy, is unacceptable. You may not feel it immediately, but you will in time.

    And when you do, you’ll know that there’s no turning back.

A Mere 505 Days Off…

I feel like I have written a few of these over the years, but it’s once again that time. I’ve been neglecting my blog, my personal brand – and perhaps failing to share some opinions insights on the search marketing industry.

I’m actively working on a series of draft posts – but here’s a short list of what’s happened in the past 505 days:

  • Resigned as VP of Online Marketing Services at eMagine
  • Became a season ticket holder for the New England Revolution (and became a full-fledged hooligan)
  • Served a short stint as an SEO analyst for one of the smartest women in search
  • Rescued a dog from the SPCA (let’s not kid anyone, she rescued me)
  • Took the position of Senior Manager, SEO at d50 Media in Wellesley, MA
  • Earned a promotion to Associate Director, Digital Content at d50 Media
  • Switched from drinking coffee to loose leaf tea

But the past is the past. There are a lot of good things in the works, particularly since my daily role has transcended SEO and now includes social media, content strategy and public relations.

Stay tuned. I promise my next blog post will be up in less than 505 days.

SEO Tools & Software Alone Won’t Make You Successful #SEOLunch

SEO ToolsSEO Tools… They’re everywhere! From web based interfaces to downloadable apps, if you’re involved with SEO work, you’ve probably tripped over a dozen already.

While tools are en excellent asset for any practicing SEO, they’re not the only thing required for success. There also seems to be this weird notion that SEO tools are a one-size-fit all type of resource, which I struggle to understand.

Let’s take a dive in… #SEOLunch is only an hour long!

SEO Tools and Exclusivity
Are you stuck in a monogamous relationship with your SEO tools? I’d ask why – but I have to be honest… I don’t want to know… Really.

I frequently speak with clients who are familiar with some of the more commonly used SEO tools. These tools normally include SEOmoz, Raven, SEOBook, etc. When I ask them why they enjoy a particular tool, I tend to hear one of these standard responses:

I really liked [tool name] but I’ve found that [tool name] works better for our needs here, so we went ahead and bought that.

When I was with [former company] we used [tool name], so when I got here, I pushed to cancel [tool name] and we now have a subscription to [tool name].

It is normally around this time I ask them why they’re exclusive to a particular tool – and the response I get is one of bewilderment matched with eyes glazing over like I’m crazy and they just don’t have the heart to tell me.

So then I add in a kicker like, “Unless your budget is so incredibly restricted… Why would you only choose one tool set over another?”

And from there, we have a fun little discussion.

It’s not that I’m trying to be offensive – I simply don’t believe the current landscape of SEO tools are a one size fits all solution. Some tools excel in some areas, and others apply in different circumstances. You need to find the right blend of tools to fit your needs without making sacrifices.

Tool Belt, Tool Box or Tool Chest?
This is where experience comes in to play. Think about a carpenter’s tool belt, a standard tool box rattling around in the back of a pickup – and one of those beautiful (to me, anyway) Craftsman tool chests on rollers that you can live in…

…And now wonder: Which is the best visual reference to the tools I need for SEO?

SEO is a very involved technical effort. You could be doing maintenance work like title tag revisions (changing the oil) – or – you could be rebuilding a hosting platform with redirects, a new CMS and dynamic insertion models in place (similar to rebuilding the bottom end of a Ford 302).

My point here is that the tools are a representation of your capabilities. I’d never want to rebuild an engine, but when it comes to SEO – simple keyword research tools and superficial technical alerts just aren’t enough for me. I need more, because the work I want to be doing is much bigger than that.

Throughout my career I’ve found that there are a few areas that require different SEO tools… There’s on site SEO, link building, server / webmaster issues, and programming.

I think you’ll be hard pressed to choose one standalone tool that addresses all of the above for you.

The Experience Factor
Lets keep the comparisons flowing and assume that an SEO project is like some home remodeling. You call up a couple of contractors and they come walking up your driveway ready to check things out for you.

There is this one hardened, salty vet with beat up and calloused hands wielding a worn hammer and decade old stains on his Carhartts. And then there’s this other guy with his freshly laundered polo tucked into his jeans with a fancy new powertool in hand spewing out laser beams and rechargeable batteries.

The hardened vet starts climbing around, inspecting things and asking questions. The polo-wearing guy takes some pictures and starts asking you about money, time, and his “crew.”

Now, I’ll come clean here… I’d immediately judge them on the spot.

I’m already partial to the hardened vet with experience who’s put in his time. Why? Well, for starters, I don’t care what you look like so long as the job gets done, done right, and done on time. The tools don’t make the man in this instance, the capabilities do. And I’d trust the ugly tools and experience over relayed information any day.

Tying it back in a bit, I see this happen a lot with SEO tools. There are a ton of fancy tools that give you beautiful reports… But those reports aren’t really filled with actionable information. They’re limited. They’re sacrificing some substance for portability and readability.

My point here is that all the fancy tools in the world won’t get work done. They just create effeciencies for the people who know how to use them correctly. If you can’t get those tools in hand and become more effecient — what’s the point?

Wrapping Up
The search and online marketing space is becoming deeper and deeper every day. As that happens, there are bound to be new tools, new things to research, new ways to dissect information.

When the dust settles a bit though, look back and what your end goals are. It is very easy to get wrapped up in a particular tool’s reporting style or metrics – leaving you succeptable to other problems you’re no longer monitoring or making yourself aware of.

That’s a reflection on you. If you intend to master your craft, you need to apply the work. That doesn’t come from the SEO tools you use to tee up information — it comes from getting dirty in the code.

So, remember:

  • Tools are intended to assist, not automate
  • There’s no substitute for experience and learning on the job
  • Shortcuts hurt your end results, and your skillset
  • There are many tools for many jobs; Don’t be restrictive
  • Old tools can still be incredibly effective tools
  • Get creative; Use a combination of tools to hone your approach

Kevin Rose, Google+ and Spilt Milk #SEOLunch

Kevin Rose, Google+ and Spilt Milk  #SEOLunch

For all the pomp and circumstance, Google+ really is a floundering mess, isn’t it? While that’s surprising to some, it’s not like Google has been very successful with their other social endeavors, either.

Since launching the service last Summer, Google has tried incredibly hard to sell us on their (no longer) new and (not so) exciting social network. Now, I haven’t shied away from expressing my views on why the social network is (for me) considered as a failure.

For the past few days though, I’ve grown confused by Google’s recent decision to bring Digg founder Kevin Rose into their business. Digg is easily one of the few sites that I would point to as having been responsible for pioneering the viral aspects of socially shared content.

So, credit to Rose there.

But as a maturing business, Rose and Digg made some incredible (and to some, unforgivable) mistakes. They literally pulled the rug out from their users. They changed designs. They altered their algorithms. They failed to listen to their power users and brand champions.

And nearly overnight, Digg was dead. Rose later moved on to Milk – a company that was central to Google’s recent acquisition of Rose and his crew. But… why?

SlashGear reports:

Kevin Rose has announced that he has taken a job with Google, just as rumored earlier this week, along with the team brought together for short-lived mobile app incubator Milk. The Digg founder somewhat appropriately took to Google+, the search giant’s social network, to confirm his new employer, though there’s still no indication of what it is that Rose will be doing at Google.

That brings me to one critical issue here – and it’s not a new thing for me to introduce… The end user. Last week I said (as it applies to Google+):

Google has become a vehicle to user’s end destination on the web. Google’s ideal users don’t stay and hang out in a Google environment. They engage, review, click and leave. Therefore, creating an environment that disrupts their core business should be expected to fail. Miserably.

Let’s get back to Rose.

Rose’s tenure at Digg proved that in this space, the end user runs the show. I tend to think that with Google and Google+, the users themselves have built up a desire to use Google services and quickly flee, making the notion that Google+ is a sticky community a tough pill to swallow. So, would Rose really see himself as a good fit there?

Perhaps not. And, perhaps the work of Milk was more Android-oriented, as some reports suggest.

I’m still left wondering though: Where can Rose actually find some success here? How can he turn his career around?

Was the hiring of Rose simply a way for Google to address their issues bringing in someone with a large degree of relevance? Did they just throw money at a problem hoping that it would go away?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now… and I just don’t see why Google would expect Rose to help them build something they’ve already failed with so many times.

Failure as a result of trying is great. I’m all for that. But I also know how Einstein described what “insanity” was, too. So, there’s that.

I hope that for Rose and the Milk crew, they find success. I have my concerns about Rose’s personality (as we viewed it at Digg) fitting in within Google’s less flexible structure. Hopefully that’s all issues of perception, though. It would be nice to see Google find some traction and improve their social tools. finally.

What do you think? Comment below — and enjoy your lunch.

Google Assistant, Privacy Issues & Semantic Search #SEOLunch

Google Assistant Wants to Be Your Android's Siri #SEOLunch

Every week there seems to be more and more news involving Google’s various products, services and now – investor relations. Since the launch of Google+ though, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find non-industry sites discussing Google’s changes as they happen in the search envinronment.

Last week I caught an article on Search Engine Journal that highlighted some comments that Amit Singhal made as part of an interview. Here is how SEJ author David Angiotti referenced the interview:

The algorithmic shift is partially motivated by Google’s plans to launch Google Assistant later this year on Android devices. Google Assistant, which will compete directly with Apple’s Siri, will provide users with answers to questions and specific information rather than traditional search results. Singhal, who is a senior Google VP and Google Fellow, recently indicated that semantic search is a necessary for a company to be competitive long-term in the mobile space.

“When we can deliver small nuggets of information, that system is far more suited to mobile phones and searching with voice.” — A. Singhal

While search engines already do an excellent job of analyzing the words a user types in the search box and matching the query to web pages that contain similar words or topics, matching the intent of a specific user is much more difficult.

While it is no surprise that Google will remain heavily invested in their Android lifeforms, I found the desire to attack semantic mobile search technology the same way Siri does as a bit of a surprise. I’m not sure why, but it’s an emphasis that Singhal is clearly trying to reinforce.

Now, Google Assistant doesn’t have the same sexy appeal as Siri, but if the accuracy and benefit to the user is there – that opens up an entirely new mindset from which optimization needs to take place.

The focus will certainly move a bit to focus on specific phrases that are commonly said, not necessarily typed.

As Angiotti mentioned in the SEJ piece, Google has been hard at work with their “Knowledge Graph” too. While the mention of that sounds all well and good, I’m a little worried about how Google will find ways to mesh this KG into the mobile platform while also tying in the Android operating system and mobile components.

It’s simply too big brother for me to be happy about at the moment.

Am I alone in having that concern?

Has anyone ever thought to consider how much more information Google Assistant could pick up on?

And… How would Google’s recent update in privacy policy impact those of us who are using Android devices?

Please share your thoughts (or concerns) in the comments below!