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I set out at the beginning of 2019 to become better at three things: technical SEO, public speaking and yoga.
My lotus pose still needs work, but hitting the former goal became reality after getting some sweet tips from two SEO experts I've admired for a while.
I met with Nick LeRoy and Josh Volk, two talented SEOs with 10 years of industry experience apiece under their belts, to find out what it takes to succeed in search marketing. Here's what I learned:
SEO Expert #1: Nick LeRoy
Enter Nick LeRoy, current Organic Search Supervisor at ICF Next and technical extraordinaire. Nick first caught my attention when my coworker suggested I subscribe to his enewsletter, SEO for Lunch. Boy, am I glad I did. Every week's copy is chock full of curated content designed to help both budding and seasoned SEOs kick ass at their jobs.
When I met Nick, I was ecstatic to find I was meeting the same person I'd grown to know from his weekly newsletters: extremely friendly, well-spoken, intelligent and helpful.
His advice was even more stellar than I'd hoped. Here were my biggest takeaways from our conversation:
Takeaway #1: Answer FAQs from Clients with Your Own Guides
Nick took a sip of his caramel latte and asked me point blank, "How many times in a week do you send clients external materials to help answer their questions?"
I knew the answer to that one. All the time. I considered my affinity for finding and sharing high-quality content with clients to be a good thing. Until now.
"But what if," Nick continued, "Those materials weren't created by an outside source? Why can't they be created by you?"
Point taken, and a great point at that. By creating the materials that answer clients' FAQs, you not only succeed in making yourself the authority on those topics in their eyes, but also have the chance to drive organic traffic from other interested parties. Win-win, no?
Keeping track of client questions over a month or two is a good place to start. Once you find some commonalities, or even a lone question that may be relevant to other marketers, then take initiative and start writing.
Takeaway #2: Curate Content from Twitter
Each week I devour Nick's enewsletter, SEO for Lunch, which is filled with groundbreaking SEO & digital marketing news. Nick revealed that he never includes content more than a week (or two, at most) old. He wants to keep the content he shares fresh and up-to-date, which is crucial in an industry that can turn upside down in a day. An article from 2017 might as well be from the Jurassic era.
But seeking out great content can be time-consuming and frankly, frustrating. I asked Nick how he digs through all the muck to find diamonds, and he answered simply, "Twitter." Other than keeping tabs on favorite celebrities and sports updates, Twitter can be used to further your career, as well. By following search marketing thought leaders like John Mueller or Marie Haynes, you get a glimpse into what's happening in SEO just by scrolling through your feed.
In short: Use Twitter to your advantage by following local marketers and thought leaders. Oh, and sign up for SEO for Lunch too while you're at it.
Takeaway #3: Be Curious
I didn't expect to hear this from someone whose career revolves around technical smarts: apparently, having all the answers does not make you a good job candidate.
"I've seen countless resumes from people with years of experience and time at big companies. And then they walk in the door and it turns out they haven't done anything."
Nick likes to meet people with passion, curiosity and a strong desire to learn. His ideal candidate is someone with a passion for SEO and the patience and willingness to be taught. We both agreed on this resounding truth: you can teach someone how to do a job, but you'll never be able to teach them how to be curious.
Whether it's SEO or tropical birds, find a topic that makes you itch to learn more and chase it. Your best work comes from that place of inquisition.
SEO Expert #2: Josh Volk
Josh Volk currently wows clients and coworkers alike in his impressive and well-deserved role as VP of SEO at digital marketing agency Rocket55.
I met Josh when a good friend of mine who works at Rocket introduced us at the 2018 Digital Summit. Immediately, I could sense his deep knowledge of SEO and client relations would make him a great connection (plus, his sense of humor and knack for well-placed sarcasm makes him quite easy to talk to.)
We discussed many topics, from a mutual love of Stephen King (who's coming to Minneapolis in May, whaaaat) to his favorite technical tools. Here were a few highlights from our discussion:
Takeaway #1: Use checklists to help organize the auditing process
When juggling client meetings, coworker requests and your own workload, organization is of the utmost importance to stay afloat. I asked Josh if he had an organized process when conducting a technical audit and implementing changes on a client's site.
Turns out, Josh is a list guy. When conducting a technical audit, his team has a typical process that they follow. They have a sheet they run through to make sure that things like the robots.txt file and XML sitemap are on the site correctly, that major pages are able to be indexed, etc.
In his words, "Implementing tech changes is sort of a crapshoot honestly." Depending on the severity of the issue, a developer may need to be involved. That's where process comes in. Organizing the process starts with having a checklist at the front end, and systematically going through that to make sure everything is up to par, and determining who takes ownership of which parts.
Since starting at Rocket, Josh has added heftily to that checklist. From site errors to link profiles to basic items like having analytics set up correctly, nothing escapes him. Then again, that comes from a decade of SEO experience. Josh mentioned there are many awesome technical SEO checklists that are a great resource to start with - this list from Search Engine Watch covers the basics.
Takeaway #2: Josh's Favorite Resources
Tools, tips and sneaky tricks are my #1 favorite insight to glean from fellow marketers. I asked Josh if there were any articles or other resources that he feels have been invaluable to learning SEO. He suggested these gems:
- Search Engine Land
- Search Engine Journal
- Simo Ahava (GTM and GA)
- Google Analytics Academy
As for organizations, he recommends joining MnSearch (can confirm, it's awesome). The deep-dive informational sessions along with the networking value make the organization a rare find. He also strongly suggests reaching out to people in the industry. You offer free coffee or beer, chances are you'll have no problem convincing other professionals to meet up.
Going back to newsletters, he suggests reading DeepCrawl's blog, which contains regular breakdowns of the Google talks with John Mueller - super great to read. If there's advice coming straight from a Google analyst, chances are you should listen.
However, the best thing Josh says he's ever done is to literally just dive in and test things. Getting his hands dirty (so to speak) by logging into analytics and messing around with metrics or getting into the backend of a WordPress site and seeing how things work... that's the best way to learn.
Takeaway #3: If you love to problem-solve, there will always be a job for you in SEO
Out of my own personal curiosity, I asked Josh the golden question: does he love SEO? Does he see himself doing anything else in the future, or is this still a great fit?
He responded candidly. "I honestly don't know, but this is what I'll say. I like the overall aspect of what SEO is. I like solving problems and doing strategy and seeing results. SEO is a lot of things, and they all come together to make a website or a white paper or a conversion point work. So in that aspect, I like it. I like seeing clients happy and teaching others. In the future, I'll probably still be doing this in some form, although what that looks like no one knows, as Google will probably just take over everything and my job may be to try and stop the bots from destroying things instead of helping them find things."
I giggled at that last part. But also, (gulp).
For the price of a coffee and a beer, I got 20 years worth of advice from two of the sharpest SEOs in the Twin Cities. I'm excited to see what the next 20 years will bring for these two; I'm just hoping it will include a lot more happy hours with me.