Monday, August 11, 2014

Looking for a Position in SEO? Interview Question Examples and Answers

Whether you are looking to hire someone in SEO or you are an SEO looking for work yourself this post should hopefully help you gain some insight into the most common questions asked during an interview, along with some sample answers I will tend to give based on my experience.

The following questions are a list pulled together from various interviews I have been through throughout the years. My answers are from recent work, and from past, in order to best portray my experience and knowledge for the work I would be performing for my potential employer. I also added some notes to give insight into what the interviewer might be looking for, and why I choose the answer I used.

For SEOs Looking for Work


The point of this blog post is to give you some insight into how a seasoned SEO might answer these questions. Please... please, please... do not use these for your own answers. A lot of what is in here is very specific to my experience, and will not be beneficial for you to use yourself during an interview. These answers might not necessarily be best for all positions with every company either. The idea here is for you to take these questions and formulate how you might answer them, helping you to be more prepared when that time comes.

For Companies Hiring an SEO


The idea behind the questions is to help you start drafting the basics of what an SEO could be asked, and examples of what the answer could be. Please don't base your hiring an SEO on what my answers are. SEO is part art and part science. Every answer from any SEO will be different, as all SEOs have a different approach to how they optimize. The main goal for SEO is that rankings increase, traffic increases, and therefore revenue increases. How you get there is all subjective, just as long as you know the SEO will be able to get there.

  1. Tell me about yourself.

  2. Note: In some cases I get the "How did you get into SEO", but in most cases the usual "tell me about yourself" is what starts off most interviews. In general I usually try to throw them 3 words that describe me and then follow-up with a bit to highlight my experience and skills that will fit the position they are looking for. This answer could change if the job description focuses more on a certain personality or skill trait.

    Answer: Well, I'm Fun, Organized, and Passionate. I generally love the people I work with. I have, in the past, become very close with my team, and cross other teams. I believe in order to get work done for SEO, you must have a good relationship with everyone in the organization. Being a part of the team that helps plan fun activities, or just plan lunches, happy hours, etc myself allows me to really get to know everyone. My organizational skills have allowed me to be able to function well in SEO. To prioritize and organize the tasks and projects needed to get done for SEO. Understanding the impact to level of effort has been important to getting buy in, and championing work through. My "Passion" as I put in quotes comes from a few of my previous bosses. I was called a "bulldog" by my CEO at Classmates.com and my previous boss at ADP braked at our agency to "show the same passion that Jennifer has". I am passionate about SEO, about the company I work for, and want to drive them both to success.

  3. Explain the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

  4. Note: I have found quite often that if you are going through a recruiter, being hired as an SEO where there are no other SEOs within the organization, or the hiring manager (potentially your boss) is not an SEO and does not understand SEO may not know that all of search marketing or what they call "Search Engine Marketing" includes both paid and natural search. In fact, in the past I have been asked paid search questions like "What process do you usually follow to determine how you set your bids?" when interviewing for an SEO position. Quite a lot of companies nowadays will consider SEM or "Search Engine Marketing" to be paid search (Adwords, Bing Advertising, Yahoo! Advertising) and SEO or "Search Engine Optimization" is considered natural search optimization. What I usually do is simply explain what I see as the difference between the two giving a bit of the history to show my years of experience.

    Answer: It used to be that Search Engine Marketing was considered all of paid and natural search. Paid search or PPC eventually became SEM, and now people refer to natural search as SEO which is more on-site work and link building to get the website to show up without having to pay per click.

  5. What is your SEO Super Power?

  6. Note: This question isn't asked often, but can come up in this form or another. What they are looking for are possible strengths or approaches for SEO. Every SEO has a different approach. Some focus heavily on link building, some on database development, some on user generated content, etc. 

    Answer: My approach is highly content and structural based. I highly believe that a well structured site followed by unique content is key to success for SEO. The content can be written by hand, or developed from a database with thousands of pages produced with data driven content unique to each page. What I have become known most for in my years of optimizing is local SEO. At the agency in 2004 our team managed to optimize a lot of local lawyers, Realtors, and various businesses for local terms. I later translated what we did on a larger scale for Classmates.com as we optimized for what they called "affiliations" which where high schools, colleges and universities. There was a page for each one developed from the database and structured by location. So you could search any school in a city and/or state and see the page for that school show up. I carried that to my savethebreakfastsandwich.com site that was started in an attempt to convince Starbucks to keep the breakfast sandwiches. The site had gotten quite a lot of press, and was even mentioned in Howard Schultz's book. I had pulled a database of every city and state from the USPS.com site, and optimized pages for the term "starbucks in.." followed by each of those city and states. Then most recently I optimized the usedcars.com site at ADP to show up for "used cars in..." followed by any city and state. So if you search "used cars san jose" in Google you will see that page showing up in the results. In some instances you will also see a city page show up for the city you are in when you search just "used cars" because Google recognizes your location. I have been able to translate what works for local SEO to other projects such as optimizing for brands of cars for usedcars.com, and into more general terms. The core of what has worked is based on a structure and focus that makes sense for those set of terms.

  7. What does your typical work day look like?

  8. Note: What the interviewer is looking for with this question is how much of your day is spent focusing on SEO and the business. I will usually roll in how I approach all of my positions at any company and then move into my most recent work with reporting since that was a huge focus at ADP and tends to be important to a lot of larger corporations these days. The trick s to look at what appears to be most important to the hiring company in their job description and align your typical work day happenings with that they are looking for.

    Answer: I'm a pretty early riser so I get in around 8 am, sometimes as early as 7 am. I like to use that part of the day in the office before meetings start and everyone gets in to go through all my check points for SEO. I will of course check email and answer any that need immediate attention. Then open up Google Analytics and look at the numbers for the day before. I open up Webmaster Tools and look for any warnings, or any issues that might stand out. If a Moz report has ran, I will look at that and dig into any issues that might come up. If all checks out OK, or the issues are pretty quick to deal with, I will look at the SEO groups I belong to for any updates in the industry, check my Twitter for updates from Google, Matt Cutts, and other SEOs. Then browse through articles and blogs to see if there are any updates or forecasts that I might need to pay attention to. My most recent position at ADP required me to manage all of the reporting and analytics for the usedcars.com website. So, I would update what we called the "daily reports" with traffic numbers, spend, lead volume, and update revenue. Then report on trending numbers, week over week, projected revenue for the month, etc. A report would go out in email every morning with the numbers and any details as to why, if there was a noticeable rise or fall. 

  9. What tools do you use and why?

  10. Note: Believe it or not, this one used to stump me. I've never been a huge fan of automating SEO for any reason, so tools was one of those faux pa questions for me. My answer would be "I don't use tools, I optimize naturally". Well, that was wrong... Because I did, and still do, use tools to help me do my job. In this case now, I mention everything that I use to help me monitor, optimize and evaluate for SEO.

    Answer: Most of the tools I use are to help me gain insight into what is going on with a website. I believe it's important to be able to evaluate how a crawler sees a site before launch preventing any issues, perform keyword and competitive analysis, and to monitor performance regularly. I have a Moz account, and have had one for years. I use that to check for Errors and pinpoint what the source of the error is so that the fix can get prioritized. I use webmaster tools to monitor for messages from Google, to track performance, and to watch for errors that Moz did or did not catch. I use xenu to crawl the site, or a section/project before launch to gain insight into how the bots will crawl and address any issues that might show up. I use Google Analytics, Omniture (or other analytics tool), and internal reporting to monitor performance. I also use the analytics tools to gain insight into what is working and where there might be any room for improvement. I look at Adwords campaigns to identify what terms perform well, ad messaging with a high click through rate for meta tags, and see if there are any highly expensive terms we can target for SEO that we could get for free to maximize revenue. When performing a competitive analysis I have a few tools to check keyword count and densities of ranking pages, I will also often look at spyfu to evaluate how the competition is doing.

  11. What SEO Blogs and authors do you follow?

  12. Note: This question can go one of two ways, either the interviewer is an experienced SEO, or is learning SEO and knows who they pay attention to. So if I were to miss any of the ones they follow then that's a bad sign. The other possible scenario is that they do not know SEO at all and they were instructed to ask this question. If that is the case, then they might have the basic few that should be mentioned written down somewhere. In either case, I always make sure I answer with the important basics to follow for SEO. Another thing to note on this, in the years I have learned that even though a lot of the people I follow are acquaintances, friends, or even very close friends I have in the industry, I leave the name dropping and association out of it. I'm not getting hired because I know people, I'm getting hired because I know how to optimize a website. 

    Answer: I mostly focus on the Google Webmaster Tools and Matt Cutts blogs, and the Search Engine Land, CLickZ, and Moz publications. I will occasionally pay attention to Ian Lurie, Bruce Clay, and Barry Schwartz for insights and updates on algorithms. I also hit up the SEO Group on Facebook that includes a lot of the thought leaders that participate regularly. If I have a complex question I usually go there for help or verification that I'm making the right decision. 

  13. Give an example of how you increased SEO for your recent employer.

  14. Note: I honestly haven't gotten this question a lot. I found it off of a couple of articles that had questions to ask during an interview for hiring an SEO, and it also came up in a recent interview with a pretty large company. If you are hiring someone as an SEO, I would recommend asking this one, and listen for numbers. This way you know they really pay attention to the business and their impact on it. As an SEO, you should be able to answer with key numbers to back up your statements.

    Answer: I would have to say my most recent success was the usedcars.com website for ADP. When I started the site had taken a huge hit from the Panda and Penguin updates by Google in 2011 to 2012. The site had dropped by roughly 80% in traffic from SEO and while an agency and a consultant were both working on it, the traffic was dropping daily and even more with each update. I spent some time digging through the analytics for the past 2 years, and looking at each section (or keyword category) of the website and quickly identified that the local focused pages were the largest driver for SEO traffic and had taken the biggest hit. Since location is my strength, and I noticed the exact same drop around the same time for one of my other sites, I met with the CEO and we quickly developed a plan to fix the pages immediately. In 3 weeks the project was complete, but there were so many other issues with the site that still needed fixing, so the pages took some time to show results. In the 2 years I was there, the location pages jumped to providing over 45% of the traffic from SEO, and overall traffic increased to over 85%. 

  15. How do you measure success?

  16. Note: Most SEOs look at traffic and keyword ranking reports. I add a bit of a different approach that shows growth from SEO. If you are someone interviewing, it's good to come up with your own unique approach that makes sense that will set you apart from the rest. If you are interviewing an SEO to work for you, the basic traffic increase and ranking reports will suffice, but if the position is a more advanced role then look for someone that thinks outside the box and is passionate about the numbers when it comes to reporting.

    Answer: I mostly look at the usual traffic increases as well as revenue increase from SEO, and occasionally look at keyword ranking reports for newly release projects. But what I look at most for myself, not usually reported up, is the growth in the number of keywords driving traffic week over week. I also do this with the number of pages indexed and referring traffic week over week for new projects that are rolling out. This way I know that the work we are doing is grabbing new opportunities and growing the business. With usedcars.com and the hit they took from the updates, I looked at the number of pages with duplicate content, too many on-page links, the number of pages with paramaters, and anything that reflected improvements on the issues we were finding.

  17. What sort of issues have you faced with SEO, and how did you resolve them?

  18. Note: With this I tend to focus on issues I have faced within the company websites I worked with. Sites in which I have full freedom to optimize, and stay within the SEO rules, tend to stick around well when it comes to rankings. So the usedcars.com site getting hit by Panda and Penguin before my hiring really gave me some great experience in addressing issues for SEO. I detail out what the main issues where with the site, and follow-up with some of the technical aspects that went into the corrections to demonstrate my level of knowledge of SEO from the technical side.

    Answer: I was hired on at ADP in 2012 to address the hit that usedcars.com took from the Panda and Penguin updates. A majority of what issues that caused the drop where too many links on a lot of the pages, top level file structure with parameters. no site hierarchy, there were 48 million pages indexed and only roughly 300 thousand really existed on the site causing a webmaster tools warning of "an extremely high number of URLs" every month, a large chunk of duplicate content as a result of the too many URLs and the parameters, and not enough unique content. It took the majority of the first year to get everything cleaned up from redirecting how the bots crawled the site, removing a mega menu, cleaning up the use of parameters, rewriting URLs and setting a validation, and then building out new content after a massive database overhaul and pages developed from syndicated and data driven content.

  19. Give an example of how you developed a strategy for SEO and championed it through.

  20. Note: I happened to have an example of a major project that I worked hard to push through at ADP. This, for me, is my usual answer to this question, and it is a question I get just about every time I interview for an SEO position. I recommend, if you are an SEO looking to ideas on what to do during an interview, to find that one project you conceptualized, planned out, championed through with stake holders and teams, and saw to completion. If you don't have one, come up with one in your current role so that you have that one project you can use as an example. 

    Another note with this answer, I try not to give away any secrets to the business's success, especially to the public in a blog post such as this. So this answer is a bit vague in detail and items changed so that it protects the company I worked for. 

    Answer: One of my favorite projects that I started from concept to near completion is a major project I worked on in my last position. In speaking with a few friends of mine in the business and looking at traffic outside of the location pages, I noticed that searches for a very specific type of terms in exact match and longtail were very prominent. I created a large excel document that listed out every keyword in three hierarchical categories for each term and began completing a keyword analysis report for every one of them. It took me a couple of months to get through all of them in-between my usual daily tasks, but in the end I found that there were millions of searches total for all three categories, and was able to even see which terms within the three categories were the most popular. I used that data to calculate current traffic from those terms against potential by figuring out what percentage of the terms we had rankings for, current click through rate for those terms, and conversion rate from those terms. It allowed me to show the gap of what traffic we were missing out on by not doing the project, and then show incremental growth both in traffic and revenue as rankings improved. I also completed a full competitive analysis for the top 20 terms and documented it all. I developed a plan based on what data, structure, and content we had available and presented it to my boss. After discussing it, he wasn't too thrilled with the idea, so I worked with our current consultant to break down the project into a workflow that was a bit easier to digest. I went back to presenting it to my boss again revised and he was thrilled with the project. I then presented it in our bi-weekly SEO meeting in which my boss, his boss, a few developers, the consultant, and the head of Engineering attended. After some questions were answered the project was given the green light to go ahead. It took months of working through a lot of the database development that was headed up by another team member and overseen by myself, then developing the pages to incorporate the information from the database. The project still wasn't complete upon my leaving, but was about 80% done and gaining some traction when I left. 

  21. You found an issue with the site that can be very detrimental to SEO, how do you come up with a solution and get work prioritized to get completed? 

  22. Note: This is one of the questions I love. It clearly shows my ability to catch issues with SEO hopefully before they become too detrimental, and demonstrate my ability to state my case, champion the work, and show my ability to work with whomever I need to resolve it quickly. This is a key trait that every SEO needs, not just fully grasping the technical side of SEO, but to be able to work with other people to get what needs to get done quickly.

    Answer: Yes, well sadly this has happened often. After spotting an issue, what I like to do is determine who it is I will need to work with on the issue to get resolved in the end. It could be something that was there for usability sake and is hurting the site for SEO, a business decision that caused the issue, or a simple bug or oversight during development that is causing it. Of course, I always go to my boss first for communication purposes and show them what I am seeing. If usability, then I go to the ones responsible for user interface design, if a business decision then I more often than not will just show my boss the issue and the numbers of potential impact to the business, If a development bug or oversight I will take it to the lead developer or possibly the one that worked on the piece that caused the issue and let them help me come up with a solution or perhaps they can determine a quick fix. My approach is different depending on how big, who, and what part of the business the issue affects. Then I either act as the trusted expert that I was hired to be, or a part of the team that works together to come up with a solution. 

  23. If someone within the company doesn't agree with what you recommend how do you deal with them?

  24. Note: Sadly this happens oh so often to an SEO. Whether it is as an in-house SEO as I tend to work in, or even as an agency SEO. Gaining trust in your ability, stating your case, and championing work for SEO has a direct affect on your ability to do your job. You aren't always going to agree with everyone, and not everyone is going agree with you. The finesse in getting buy in from them, or at least working with you somehow is going to make or break SEO.

    Answer: I have found a way throughout the years of approaching each situation and person differently. If I have done my due diligence in stating my case for SEO and someone still doesn't see the benefit, or agree with my recommended approach then I will try my best to work with them as much as possible on a compromise or allow them to help me come up with another solution. I find that involving them in the process and perhaps showing them what I see, how I see it, and then giving them the opportunity to present their solution has always been the best approach. The outcome to the solution may in-fact change as I see their solution might actually be better, but in the end, as long as it works and is best for the business, I am more than happy to work with them. If what they propose just isn't going to work, I will usually let them know why and perhaps show them examples of case studies or where sites have tried that already and failed to help them see what I have been seeing that got me to my conclusion. Either way, my take is that what is best for the business is what we all should be working towards. 

  25. Key stake holders find SEO to be very important, how do you communicate with them in a way they understand what you are working on, and how it will (and did) benefit the business?

    Note: Yes, the stake holders. SO many companies place so much value on SEO, and for good reason. The work the business puts in now can have a huge return long term. Some businesses thrive on traffic from SEO and simply supplement the traffic with some advertising and even paid search. But that all costs money, and traffic that comes for free is nearly 80-100% profit (taking into account the salary and time spent getting the work done to get those rankings). So it shouldn't be any surprise that key stake holders (executives and CEOs) all know the importance of SEO, and want to understand it as much as possible to know that the business is growing, and will continue to grow. If an SEO cannot clearly articulate what work is needed and what the impact is for SEO then they shouldn't be working in SEO. 

    Answer: My approach to working with key stake holders is to use visuals, numbers, and typical business terms. I leave the technical side of SEO, development needs, and so on for the other teams that I need to work. Occasionally I will get an executive that really understands SEO, and in that case I will dig into more detail with them. Though really focusing on the impact to the business and keeping things as visual as possible has worked best. When working on the location page drop and the example I used for concept to completion, I had dug deep into the data and truly understood the business and the competition for my own benefit. When I presented the projects to the stake holders I mainly focused on the total numbers as impact to the business in terms of traffic and revenue. Often times showing where we are today with traffic and revenue for those terms the project is targeting, and potential incremental growth (since SEO doesn't happen overnight). I then leave opportunity for questions and be fully prepared to answer the why, how, what if, and so on always knowing the numbers to back up my statements.

That's It?


I'm sure I am missing a question or two (or three) in here, and of course, every role is completely different from the next, so each potential employer is going to have their own set of questions to gauge whether the SEO they are looking for not only really knows their stuff, but will fit what they are looking for in a role, and the personality of the company and team. I have to admit, there are positions I have interviewed for that I was a perfect fit for as far as ability was concerned, but my quirky personality doesn't always mesh well with very serious environments. Don't get me wrong, I can be serious and am very professional, but I do like to have fun and really get to know people on a personal level. So, during the interview process I look at the personality of the hiring manager, and try to gauge the dynamic of the team I will be working with before making any decision to work there.

If you are an SEO and have experienced other questions you feel should be added to the post, please add them in the comments below, along with your example answers. The more we can help our fellow SEOs the better this world can be.

Other Sources:


The other articles I grabbed some of these questions from:
The SEO Interview: Questions to Prepare for Before Your SEO Job Interview
Competency Based Interview Questions for Hiring SEO Professionals

Monday, August 4, 2014

SEO

That's right, I am an SEO. So, what does that mean? It means that I optimize websites so that they show up on the search engines for certain terms. Those terms are usually focused on what your key audience might be searching.

Some Stats About SEO:
  • 93% of online experiences begin with a search on Google, Bing, or Yahoo!
  • Google owns 65%-70% of the market share.
  • 70% of users will click on SEO results over paid.
  • 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the SEO results.
  • 75% of users stay on the first page of search results (1-10th position).
  • SEO beats social media by more than 300% in traffic for most content sites.
  • Traffic from SEO has a 14% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) has a 1.5% close rate.
  • For Google, 18% of clicks from SEO are on the 1st, 10% of clicks from SEO are from the 2 to 3rd.
I primarily work as an in-house SEO, which means I work for large companies within the organization rather than an agency or as a consultant. I have, in the past, helped some companies out as an SEO consultant, but if it takes time away from my job and career I will generally offer to recommend someone else to consult. Most SEO consulting consists of myself reviewing the website and any possible issues the company is finding. I review the analytics looking at the SEO traffic as well as traffic from other sources. I also look at Google's Webmaster Tools data to gauge how the current SEO is doing for the site, and how the impressions for key terms look compared to clicks. Sometimes just a simple change to meta tags for a different title and description can increase the click through rate from SEO therefore increasing traffic. In most cases, a complete restructuring of the site along with basic SEO implementation is needed in order to increase rankings. After I review the site, I will come up with a list of recommendations along with how much effort it should take along with the measure of impact. Your report will also include potential traffic and current traffic from SEO so that the client can see where the biggest gaps are. At times the reporting for SEO that I send over can be pretty technical, but rest assured I spend time making sure all the data is easy to understand, and a clear direction is not only explained, but in full detail in the final recommendations. From there it is up to the client to decide on whether they can do the work themselves, hire someone, have it done by their current employees, hire an agency, another consultant, or have me do the work for SEO. Since I have a background in design and development any work needed for SEO or to simply just increase conversion rates from SEO traffic, are fairly easy for me to do, and can happen pretty quickly. It all depends on how much I have on my plate at the time the work needs to get done with my full time job.

If you're not sure you want to have me, or someone else, optimize your site for SEO, it's no problem. Most people can pick up on the basics of SEO themselves. I always like to see clients having some understanding of SEO before I work with them. If they don't have time to learn, that's perfectly acceptable, as I can explain how things work in ways most people understand and pick up quickly. The following is a check list I have come up with for SEO that will help anyone understand and get started in SEO quickly and easily. Of course, there are so many algorithms that Google and other search engines use to determine which site gets to show up for their respective terms, but this at least gets you on your way to understanding the basics of SEO.
  1. Keywords – you can't do anything with SEO until you know what keywords you are optimizing for. Once you have your basic list, then structuring your site, and any work you do with the site, around them will all fall into place. I usually recommend one or two broad terms that describe a website. These terms should only be one work, and very rarely more than two. From there a few two to three word terms that might describe a sub-category will help you structure your plan and organize for SEO. Your longtail (as SEO's will put it) or exact match (as Paid Search people call them) are the phrases that are more specific. These phrases then to be the biggest payoff for SEO since they represent terms that users will use when they really know what they want and are ready to buy. Therefore they tend to convert a lot faster and higher. I talk more about this in-depth in my workshops, and in my book titled “Search and Social” that is currently in the works. So stay tuned for the book that helps you really understand SEO on a very detailed level.

    Keywords in
     – Keywords should be in the following items for SEO.
    • Keywords in title tag  - The title tag is what show up in the browser top. It is also what search engines use for the title in the “snippet” that displays in the results after a search has been completed. Having your keyword in the title tag not only helps SEO, but will aid in the click as the user will recognize the word they searched for within your title encouraging them to click your result over the other's on the page.
    • Keywords in URL – Getting the key words in the URL is very important for SEO. Start with the broad terms in the domain if possible. If not, then in a directory with the category terms (2-3 word terms mentioned before) as a sub-directory, and then the exact match longtail terms as the name (or in the name) of the file. Your URL hierarchy is very important for SEO and having those keywords in there even moreso.
    • Keyword density in document text – Listing out your keywords over and over again in a short paragraph will harm your SEO more than doing any good. A good way to explain how to watch your densities is to look at a page that has 3 paragraphs, each having about 150 words. Let's say you need to mention your keyword 9 times in order to get rankings. If you mention your keyword 9 times in your first paragraph and then not in the others that's bad. The trick it to distribute your keyword evenly among the three. So mention that keyword 3 times in each paragraph and evenly distribute it throughout each one of the paragraphs.
    • Keywords in anchor text – The anchor text is the text that a user will click on within a page's content that sends them to another page. The text that links back to your website should include the main broad keyword that describes the site. The trick to this is to make sure that the page and the whole site linking to the site is relevant to the word in the anchor text. If the site linking to your site isn't relevant than that will actually get your site in trouble, and too many will cause you to lose rankings.
    • Keywords in tags - The alt tag is the alternative text that displays in the rare case that an image doesn't show up. It's a simple line of code that goes in the html that generates the image. For SEO purposes, the alt tag containing the keyword is important, and will actually help rankings. Be sure to stick with only the words relevant on that page, and don't list all of the keywords out with commas. That will get a site in trouble.
    • Keywords in metatags – Be sure to get your keyword in your SEO meta tags, that's the description, title, and keyword tag that resides in the background of the html.
  2. Metatags – meta tags are (as explained above) the lines of code within html for SEO that describe your page. This includes the title, description, and keyword tag.
    • meta description tag - The description tag should be no more than 150 characters, and include your keyword(s). Try to describe the page as much as possible for SEO while keeping in mind that the user will see this in the search results.
    • meta keyword tag - Some SEOs will say that keyword meta tags don't make a difference. Google doesn't really pay attention to them, but the meta driven search engines will, and there are thousands of other search engines aside from Google. So, for SEO purposes, and to help keep the focus of the page of the site, I recommend listing out the keywords in the keyword tag with the broad terms first, then the category, and the longtail. You never know, it might actually help SEO.
    • meta language - If the site is in English then adding the language meta tag will help the search engines know which language to display the site on. If you have other languages, then try to make sure the language is in the meta tag. In some cases it can really benefit SEO.
  3. Links – Internal – Linking internally to other pages of the site that are related to the page you are optimizing can be quite important for SEO. Almost as much (if not more) than external links coming in.
  4. Anchor text has key term(s) in links – As much as the links pointing to other pages, the keyword in the anchor text is important. I cannot stress just how important it is for SEO to have those internal links, and the keywords in the anchor text.
  5. Content Around-the-anchor text is relevant - If a section of pages are relevant to other pages, the cross linking with a paragraph mentioning the page before and after the link is very helpful for SEO.
  6. Content – content, content, and more content is the key to optimizing a site for SEO. Pages don't have to have large chunks of paragraphs, but can have words here and there throughout the page. Too many SEOs will put big blocks of content on the homepage of a website thinking that it will benefit it. Sure, it helps for SEO, but it looks horrible and users don't fall for it. A paragraph of 10 words at the top describing the site, and then perhaps another clock of text highlighting the value proposition of the product or service in blocks around the page are just fine. The trick is to search your term you are trying to rank for, look at the first few pages or sites ranking, and then look at how many words they have on their page with the number of mentions of keywords. Then, simply just do a little more. Once you have that content in place for SEO, you're on your way to rankings.
  7. Unique content – Unique content is very key to making sure your SEO is in place. Not only do you need to watch out for other sites having the same content that you have, but look at other pages of your site. If a block of content is repeated on more than one page, then the content just won't be counted towards SEO. If a page has less than 15% content then it will even work against SEO and even get a site penalized. Sites that use tracking tags, parameters, or might have issues with validating URLs can often run into the issue of duplicate content, and really harm the work they have done for SEO without even realizing it.
  8. Frequency of content change – A site that is recognized as a publication and pushes content several days a week (or even several times a day) will train the search engines to visit and see updates regularly. In this case SEO will work to their benefit with fresh content getting recognized and ranked quickly.
  9. Age of document - If a site is a brochureware site that doesn't update content often, the search engines will visit less, but give more value to the pages the longer they stick around. Pages that are years old will rank better than new ones added. SO keep this in mind for your SEO and your site. Are you a publication that pushes out content frequently and needs to get rankings fast, or are you a site that holds true with valuable content that gets better with age?
  10. File size – A page that takes a long time to load, or is extraordinarily large can be quite detrimental to SEO. So be wary of how big that file is that you are creating.
  11. Content separation – As mentioned before breaking up your content throughout your page is more beneficial to SEO than blocking out whole paragraphs. If the site is a known publication, or the section is a blog or article section of a site then whole blocks of content is perfectly acceptable for SEO. But pages that go up and stick around a while with the purpose of providing marketing information, should have content broken up throughout for SEO.
  12. Poor coding and design – This one gets overlooked a lot. Sure, search engines can't determine good design from poor design, but your user's sure can. If a user comes to your site from Google and then immediately bounces, Google will mark the value of that page for SEO down. Therefore, affecting your rankings. So pay attention to design, look at your bounce rate data in Google Analytics, and improve it as much as possible.
  13. Duplicating Content = NO – DO NOT DUPLICATE CONTENT… Just as mentioned earlier, this is very bad for SEO. If one page has more than 80% duplicate content to any other page on the site, then it can harm your SEO. So be sure that the content on every page of the site has more than 80% unique content.
  14. Invisible text = NO – Invisible text is content a site has hidden from users but allows the search engines to see. A div that is only on pixel high with the attribute to hide overflow, or white text on white background (both allowing search engines to see it in the code) is a huge no no for SEO and can actually get your site penalized. So don't do it!
  15. Domains & URLs – Check you domain and URLs often. Look for your keywords, check to make sure the hierarchy is clear and set properly for SEO, and make sure that there are no funky issues like parameters, easily changed (by typing anything in), or redirects to some odd UR. Check your trailing backslash or file extenions as well to make sure it either 404s if wrong or resolves to the correct one.
  16. Keyword-rich URLs and filenames – Watch for those keywords in URLs and filenames. Long URLs that mention more than one keyword will cause issues, so always check and double check the URL for SEO before going live.
  17. Site Accessibility – In some cases having an accessible for those with disabilities. Whether it be sight, or even hard of hearing if you have video. It can actually help your SEO.
  18. Sitemap – creating an page that links to all of your pages can ensure that all of your pages are getting crawled for SEO. Many times I have seen website have pages that they don't link to and wonder why those pages aren't getting rankings. If search engines can't crawl the page, then they don't know to rank it for SEO. You can also create an .xml file for Google, Bing, and Yahoo! site submission. But do remember that an xml sitemap alone just won't cut it, you have to have links pointing to pages from multiple locations. Otherwise it just won't do any good for SEO.
  19. Website size - Keep an eye on the size of your website. Large corporate sites like Amazon.com and MSN.com are expected to have thousands if not millions of pages. If your site is a mall to medium size company and website, yet the search engines somehow crawl millions of pages, then you need to relook at your SEO. Check your paramaters, or other issues that might be causing more pages than your site should have.
  20. Website/Domain age – The older the website the better. A brand new site that is loaded with pages and pages of content all in one day will get added to a sandbox as us SEOs call it. It will sit there for a few months before the search engines even give it the time of day. The reason for this is that search engines want to make sure the site is legitimate and not just a spam site there to just get rankings. To keep your site from falling under this category, having an older domain is key. If you have a new domain, then roll out your pages slowly. Push a section one week, wait a few weeks and push out another section. Having a blog is also good for SEO as you can add posts with content encouraging search engines to keep coming back regularly and learn that this site has something interesting and unique. Of course, the more traffic you can get in those first few months the better, so get your social media and advertising up and going.
  21. File Location on Site – This falls under the URL hierarchy category. Watch out for where pages and files are located on the site. For SEO and for your uses, the structure and location should make sense.
  22. Domains versus subdomains, separate domains – Watch out for the use of sub-domains for your site. Too many websites will put their blog on a sub-domain and not in a directory. This won't hurt your SEO, but it won't help either. What happens is that the search engines count the subdomain as it's very own website, and doesn't link the content with the rest of the site. It is more beneficial for SEO to have all of your content no matter what it is, on your main domain in a directory. Keep it out of the sub-domain unless absolutely necessary.
  23. Top-level domains (TLDs) – A top level domain is the main domain for the site. Even in the case of a www.yoursite.com, the “www” is considered a sub-domain. Yes, a sub-domain… So try to use http://yoursite.com if you can. If the search engines already recognize your www.domain.com then leave it alone, and let Google know that you prefer to use your www. Vs. just the domain. You can do this in your Webmaster Tools.
  24. Hyphens in URLs – For SEO, it is recommended that you use “-“ in your URL rather than “_” or even just a space (which ends up rendering to %20). Search engines just happen to prefer the hyphen to underscore or space.
  25. URL length – For SEO purposes try to keep your URL under 2000 characters, but really the shorter the better. Pay attention not to have more than 3-4 parameters, or a URL that has a really long sentence.
  26. IP address – Your IP address should reside in the country your website is ranking in. US and English should have an IP located in the US. French and Canadian, should have an IP in Canada.
  27. robots.txt – Blocking irrelevant content in the robots.txt will really make a difference for your SEO. It has been recommended in the past to block external css and image directories, but now Google has said they would like to crawl them. Search engines are getting more and more sophisticated to where they can decipher all of the code and really get a good idea of what the whole website is about. Some only block pages and content you really don't want search engines to crawl.
  28. Redirects (301 and 302) – For SEO, redirecting an old URL to a new URL will usually pass the old URLs value to the new URL. But be careful to use 301 redirecting sparingly. I personally have witnessed and dealt with sites that had issues with too many 301 redirects causing rankings to drop.
  29. Social Actions – Social actions like Facebook ‘like's, tweets, shares, Google +1s, and so on will really add  lot of value for SEO. Anytime a user has to take action to show that they see the value in the page will show the search engines that the page is relevant and valuable. Therefore, increasing your rankings for SEO.
    • Google+– Yes, Google loves their social media site, and providing a way for users to +1 your page and site will drive up rankings in Google.
    • Facebook 'Like' or 'Recommend" – The action of ‘Liking' a page for Facebook will sometimes help with Google, but really helps with Bing more than anything. Microsoft anf Facebook have a very close relationship allowing for Bing to use social actions that happen in Facebook to help drive rankings for sites.
    • Facebook comments – If you can, try to pull comments that happen in Facebook related to your site and the page into the page itself. It not only allows for more and unique content, but shows Bing and other search engines that the content on the page is valuable to the user, therefore driving up your SEO.
    • Twitter "tweet" - A simple tweet with your page's URL will always be counted as a “vote” for your page and website. The more you can get, the better for SEO.
    • OGP - Open Graph Protocol – OGP was developed and adopted by Facebook as  way to manage how a page or website looks when shared in social channels. Twitter, and other social sites have followed suit, and my prediction is that Google will start to pay attention to OGP soon. So be sure to spend the time and make sure your basic OGP tags are set for all of your pages. It could really help your SEO.
  30. Links – External – Links pointing to your site are important. As mentioned early, tread very carefully with your link building. Make sure that the page(s) linking to your site and pages are relevant to your site. Do not use directory submission websites, don't buy links, and be weary of link exchange requests. Just as external links can benefit SEO, they can also harm if not done properly. Keep the following in mind for your SEO:
    • Quality of source of inbound links
    • Links from similar sites
    • Links from .edu and .gov sites
    • Age of inbound links
    • Links from directories
    • Links from Social Media
    • Links on pages that include social actions
  31. Schema – Google places a high emphasis on schema tags and information. In the past they have said that if you can get it in there, then great. Now they look at schema information to help drive rankings for SEO. Not to mention that you can manage what is displayed in your snippet from star reviews, author information, embedded video, etc.
Of course there are thousands, if not millions, of algorithms that search engines use to determine rankings, leaving the list I gave you here a small set of what really goes into optimizing a site. In all of my years optimizing websites, I try to write blog posts when I come across issues or get into deep level discussions with my peers on SEO topics. But again, there is so much involved, and sites are all different from one another. I have been teaching workshops since 2007, and have been through thousands of individuals trying to learn SEO and optimize their own sites, only to find that they still need the help of an expert.

What I suggest is that you learn the basics, as much as you can, and start optimizing your site yourself. If you have a site that is older and hasn't been touched in years, go through and see if there are sections and pages you can add with some unique content to add to what you already have. If your site is larger and the traffic just isn't where it should be, then look at what you can do to restructure it to reflect the categories and longtails terms you found in your keyword analysis.

If you want to see how your different categories of terms are performing, you can use this handy template I created along with instructions on how to grab the traffic you are seeing. For some clients, I have used the template to show the estimated traffic I see in the keyword analysis compared to the actual current traffic to show what is missing. I will use the top few terms in the keyword analysis to see how aggressive the category terms are going to need to be to get rankings during the competitive report for SEO. The categories with the most potential, the largest gaps, and the least aggressive with competition are the ones I recommend to tackle first. The competitive report will also help determine what all will need to get done to generate rankings. Is it just one page with a bunch of content and the word mentioned several times, or is it a whole directory with files and filenames that include a mired of terms for SEO that all link to one another?

For usedcars.com the location pages where we generated rankings for the terms “used cars in”… with city and state searches was fairly easy for SEO. The content has a few lines of text seeded with the city and state from the database (also known as templatized content). Content for the page also came from inventory (car listings) provided from the database, with a block from normal listings in that city and a block of deals in which there is a calculation done in the back end that looks at the price of the car and looks up that VIN and price against the Kelley Blue Book value and returns the percentage difference showing cars that are priced under value and are a good deal. Users love those listings. There is also a large map that shows dealerships in the usedcars.com system that are located in that area. The map is generated from Google and helps those pages get rankings for that location.

Those pages were pretty easy to get rankings (after a lot of the mess was cleaned up), and have help rankings providing close to 50% of the traffic from SEO for that site.

A more complex project for usedcars.com that required more pages, and the SEO to be more aggressive is what we called the Make/Model project. The goal was to get rankings in SEO for the brand of cars and the cars with years search trends. We found that users that search the “year make model” search know exactly what they are looking for and are more likely to purchase. So, ranking for all of those year, make and model combinations were highly valuable to the business. The problem is, that all the other car sites know the same strategy and have been very aggressive for their SEO.  A set of rules for syndicated and dynamic content was set in place along with a plan to roll out pages and content in phases. When I left in May of 2014 the project was still underway, but the pages were already seeing some traction. You can see how the pages were developed at http://www.usedcars.com/car/ - considering they are still intact and working on the pages as specified in the project.

I'm always happy to talk SEO with anyone anytime. You can find me on Skype (as SEOGoddess) or fill out the contact form on my site here with any questions. I'm usually pretty quick to respond, and can help you in any quick SEO issues or questions as you try to optimize on your own. I have even been known to look at a website when an agency is working on the SEO just to make the site owner or boss feel comfortable that their agency really knows what they are doing.

There are also many resources other than myself or this blog, and plenty of SEOs with a lot of great experience. Ian Lurie is one of my favorite people in the world, and has a very successful agency with a lot of great SEOs he has taken under his wing and turned into skilled professionals. His company Portent can also help with website design, social media, and paid search marketing. Give them a glance over and see if they fit your needs. Bruce Clay is also a very close friend and someone I go to regularly myself for help. He works with very large corporations on a large scale including AT&T, CNN.com, Edmunds, and more. He is what some of us in the SEO industry call the “Godfather of SEO” since he was one of the original SEOs that has set the standards for quality in optimizing.

I do have a larger list of SEOs I know and trust, so feel free to contact me and ask me for someone in your area, or who might specialize in a site that is much like yours.

Either way, SEO can be fun and you can really learn a lot quickly if you want. You can know enough to be dangerous, but if you stick with the general rule of “don't trick the search engines” you should, for the most part, be just fine.

In the end a site that has increased traffic from SEO is a site that I generating a lot of money, and that's just good for business.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Update: SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

It was a little over a year ago that I posted the "SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?" in which I detailed out the struggles I had faced with recovering a website that had been hit hard by Penguin and Panda updates. I had first identified which section of the site that was hit the most, and presented my findings to the head of the corporation's division. 
In the months that followed, there were projects quickly rolled out that were designed to fix the site, and to recover the traffic that was lost. After months of the site losing traffic and still getting penalized there was a light at the end of the tunnel in recovered traffic just before I wrote and published the blog post.
I am sure a lot of you who have read the article are wondering where the site is today. Sure, a quick hockey stick of recovered traffic is great, but did that traffic hold throughout the year? 

I am happy to report that traffic has held:

Traffic continued to grow throughout January 2013 (just after the jump in traffic in November 2012) and through February. The industry the site is in sees an overall rise in traffic and consumer interest to purchase from the last week of December through February with a downtrend through the rest of the year every year. While we saw the site follow this trend, in July we saw a boost in traffic. After careful research, it was determined that a Google Panda update confirmed on July 24th was the boost we needed. Ironically, what had taken the site down in the past was now helping the site improve as we continued to clean up issues remaining causing the hits from Panda and Penguin.

Most important issues identified:


  1. Too many on-page links
  2. Top level pages
  3. No site hierarchy
  4. An extremely high number of URLs
  5. Duplicate content
  6. Not enough unique content


In general - the site was not following the core of the Webmaster Tools Guidelines which is the Bible of SEO. If a site isn't following the core of what Google says, then there is virtually no hope for it.

As 2012 was focused on recovering from Panda and Penguin hits, 2013 was focused on cleaning up the remaining issues from parameters, thin content, duplicate content, finalizing the last pages to the hierarchy, and so on. I am happy to report that the site is now 96% complete of all issues, and the first of many projects are underway that are designed to grab new opportunity for the site. Traffic has seen increases in August, October, and another boost in December with continued growth as we are in the peak of our season again.

Courage is Grace Under Pressure


It was what was stated in the image I had added to my post along with the description of the pressures I had faced in 2012.
Throughout those grueling three months there were several Google Panda and Penguin updates. I documented each and every one of them in Google Analytics, and continued to answer questions, gathering data, and dealing with being under close scrutiny that the work I was doing was complete BS.
I sat in numerous meetings, some of which I walked out crying (I'm not afraid to admit it), being questioned about the road I had taken and why we weren't seeing results. There were people within the company recommending that they roll the pages back to where they were before, and even changing the URLs. I fought hard that they don't touch a thing. I sent an article posted on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz citing Google's patent that "tricks" search spammers.
But the article and my please fell on deaf ears...
It had gotten so heated and there was fear that nothing was being done while traffic was significantly declining that the company brought in yet another SEO consultant to look at the site objectively. 
It was a lot to bear, and lot to live through. Sadly, what I had experienced in the organization was not unlike the experience many SEOs face. We are constantly questioned and second guessed. Many coworkers and bosses will even take it upon themselves to learn as much as they can, only to find that there is a lot of arguing among the experts in the industry as to what is the "right" way to optimize, and what is "wrong". But for SEO there is no right or wrong way, only what works. My philosophy behind optimizing is to always follow the rules. Start with the guidelines, organize the website, provide information for the user and present it in a way that makes sense. No shortcuts, trickery, or "optimizing". It is a philosophy I fight for every day (and boy do I fight).

Today I am happy to say the tune towards myself and the SEO work that is getting done has completely changed. My Boss now gives me rave reviews, the company has belief in the work done for SEO, and the team (product and engineering) is extremely supportive with any issue or requests needed for SEO. We are a cohesive and supportive team, and the results from the work we are doing is paying off.

Many people in the industry have told me to look for work elsewhere. That not only included people in the industry and some of my supportive coworkers, but the person my Boss reports to had even recommended it. I will admit I had interviewed at a couple of places. What discouraged me was that I knew the work that had been done up until that point would eventually pay off. If I had left then credit would have been given to the next SEO hired, or worse, it would be ruined by someone focusing on getting instant results. Most importantly, leaving the team that is now supportive was just not what I wanted. I love working for this company (the benefits are good), and everyone that I work with is like family. I call us the "Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin." since we are a small office within a very large organization. We are a close family that support one another and they all seem to welcome my quirkiness.

Until Next Year

So until next year, I will be continuing my job and the work for SEO. I have big plans for the website, and will continue to fight for what I believe in for SEO. I will also try to get more informational posts on here as we continue our last bit of cleanup on the site and continue to see results. I am even contemplating writing a book (as I have been told I should for a few years now), but am still reluctant with all those great SEO books already on the shelves - most of which have been written by some very dear friends. Until then - keep optimizing, and fighting for what you believe in SEOs.