Q: In the unlikely event that
anyone reading this doesn't know who you are, can you tell us a bit
about yourself and what you're currently doing, workwise?
A: The short version is that I'm a twenty-five year old SEO consultant, relatively fresh off the boat from the United States, living in London. I began my career in SEO at SEOmoz in Seattle and I now work for Ayima Search Marketing here in the UK. I'm 100% organic-SEO focused (PPC sounds like something people take at the club around the corner from my flat) and I'd far rather chase down a stellar link profile than attempt to converse with people and engage in the "conversation". The technical aspects of SEO interest me far more than the social, which is odd since the social side was what I first worked on.
Q: Your entry into the world of SEOmoz is a fascinating story. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to work at Ayima?
A: My road to working at SEOmoz was literally the result of replying to a job listing on Craigslist that wanted a junior SEO, experience not a factor. I almost didn't click on the ad: it was about midnight and I'd been replying to job ads for hours. The title of the ad, however, was "Do you use your powers for good or for awesome", a Homestar Runner reference, and I couldn't really go past that, even though I wanted to go to sleep. I read the job description and decided it sounded like something I could do. I was always meticulous with cover letters and resumes, so I was up for another few hours making sure the application was right. Three interviews, a public blogging contest and a lot of hoping later, I had the job.
I came to work at Ayima after deciding to leave Seattle in the winter of 2008. It was time for a lot of changes, and Rob Kerry and I basically came to the conclusion that me moving to work at Ayima might work. It turned out that Rob's partners at Ayima weren't adverse to the idea either. It took me exactly a month from deciding to move to leaving Seattle. I've actually been in the UK for seven months today.
Q: What is your role at Ayima?
A: I'm a search marketing consultant, meaning that I work almost exclusively on client-facing projects, managing / completing both on and off site work. We focus on traditional organic SEO. I love this. There is so much less bullshit in SEO than there is in this buzzy world of back-patting called social media. I can't even stand the term anymore. It makes me wince, it's such a fluffy catch-phrase.
Q: Describe a typical day for you. Leave out the part about living near my favorite pub please. No one likes a braggart.
A: I get up at 4:50am and run six miles. I do this at this time because I like to run in an area of London that is packed with morning commuters come 6:30 or 7am. If I get this done before the day really begins, I also get to take another nap before work. I live very close to Ayima's Clerkenwell office: it takes me less than five minutes to walk to work. I unfortunately have to sit next to Dean all day, which results in a constant battle as to whose computer / keys / mobile phone / glass of water is on whose section of the desk. It's making for an incredibly hostile work environment ;)
As oppposed to when I worked in Seattle, all of my clients are based
in the London area, so I travel across town for meetings far more now
than I did in Seattle. However, it's still pretty much your standard
nine-to-five day. After fighting off requests to go to the pub after
work (unless it's Friday, at which point it's game on), I go swimming
after work at a pool five minutes in the other direction from where I
live. I'll be there for a couple of hours, go home, eat dinner, maybe
do some contract work and go to bed. It sounds like a lot of activity
and not much downtown, but it makes me happy and I have learned in the
last seven months that it's very necessary to do things that make you
happy, even if they involve constant activity.
Q: You've done a lot over the past few months... moved from Seattle to London, moved from working at SEOmoz to working at Ayima, etc. How have all these changes affected your perception of the industry? Have you seen that there are any notable differences between the US and the UK?
A: I do notice the difference in culture between having consultants and companies spread over a huge country, and having a lot of them in a select few towns. If there is competition for a contract, you likely know the other companies pitching for it. You likely know the people who worked with a client before you did, and you likely know who's doing the SEO for your clients' competitors. This presented the UK industry with the option to become very nasty and childish, or for its members to develop a mature level of mutual respect for each other. Due to the calibre of people we have working over here, the vast majority chose the second option. Business is business and a LondonSEO piss-up, a birthday party, a dinner date with industry friends or whatever, is just that. That isn't to say that nastiness doesn't occur, but it appears to be less of a problem than it can be elsewhere.
The practice of SEO isn't terribly much different, although of
course you need to put yourself through a crash course in a country's
culture when you arrive in it to practice marketing. Imagine walking
into a meeting about getting some entertainment-niche website ranking,
but never having seen the magazine or television show or pop group that
they're most interested in at that time. I had to learn a lot fast
about a myriad of small cultural nuances of British society. You don't
know what you know about a place until you're required to use it in
everyday marketing decision making. On the flip side, I come in handy
when United States culture needs to be referenced, as I lived there for
Q: In addition to all of this, you're also an amazing swimmer and you've recently gotten back into it on a fairly big level it seems. That seems to be a very competitive sport. Notice any similarities between it and the SEO industry?
A: There are certainly some, but the differences are becoming more
interesting. In SEO, all of our work relies on a third party--usually
Google--agreeing that that work was worthwhile. In
swimming, standards are made a lot clearer than they are in search. If
you have a qualifying time you must meet, you know what that time is
before you attempt to achieve it. Rarely (although it does happen) does
someone decide after the fact whether your work or performance was good
enough. I like the differences more than the similarities, in fact. SEO
is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game where we're always trying to be one
step ahead of a third party. That's fun. In swimming, the
responsibility for a positive outcome is far more within my control,
especially now that my attitude towards it is so different to what it
was when I was younger. I used to swim for a range of reasons: to get
out of my town in New Zealand and to the US, to pay for college, and
sometimes because I didn't value myself terribly much if it wasn't
backed up by some achievement in a pool. Now, I truly do it because I
want to. There is no other motivation, and that has been very freeing.
Q: You and I have talked privately about the current trend of bully blogging. What are your thoughts on that? Is it becoming fashionable to establish yourself in the industry by being mouthy? Sometimes I think some people never got out of high school when I see the fights on Twitter.
A: There is currently a false perception in this industry that it's okay to badmouth people directly, and that if you do not agree with the loudest bloggers, they could end you in one way or another. This perception has been created entirely by the bloggers themselves. A few of them actually find it acceptable to call people whores, fat, ugly, and a range of insults on Twitter and on their websites. The worst (best?) example of this is someone who literally went on a mission to destroy the reputation of a woman he'd apparently never met. It stuns me that collectively, we don't turn around and say "You are acting in an objectionable, horrible way. We don't tolerate that sort of behaviour, let alone celebrate those who engage in it." And these same people are asked to speak at conferences and are heralded as industry leaders.
I used to blog fairly often, but I do not believe I engaged in the nasty bullying that passes for 'snark' and wit right now. If I did, I have definitely learned a lot about respect and humility and I would never be as downright rude, either directly or indirectly, in writing anymore. Can we please finally stand up and say "no, it's not all right to take a snotty, snide tone and be celebrated as clever. It's not okay to bash people you don't like in posts or comments or tweets. You can keep doing it; that's your prerogative. But we will no longer squeal "Great post!" when it's nothing short of bullying."
I know that I'm far from alone in thinking this. Many people recently emailed me and told me that they fully agree. All it would take for this trend to no longer pass as acceptable and popular is for all of us who find it objectionable to say so when we see it in action. Because inaction is what currently allows it to continue, and it only makes all of us look as childish as some of us.
Q: There is always the argument about what background best prepares one for doing SEO. You and I have the much-maligned English degrees, yet I can say for myself that it's served me very well so far. Based on what you've learned so far, what type of skills do you think people need to be successful in this industry?
A: I think too much effort goes into analysing who has what degree, or who has no degree, and talking the abovementioned smack about it. Two of the most successful, brilliant people I know in search didn't finish university. I have a degree in English, as do you. I could have used some more computer science knowledge when I began, but most of the really important skills I've learned, I couldn't have been taught in a classroom. I could have spent those four years learning what I've learned on the job as an adult, but then again, there are many things I learned in college, in and out of the classroom that help me daily.
do well here, you have to be willing to accept that what you knew to be
true a short time ago isn't true anymore. That can be more difficult
than it sounds. You have to love learning, but be prepared to learn
things over and over again as they present themselves in different
ways. And I believe you have to love the technical side of SEO because
if you don't understand it, or aren't willing to learn everything you
can about it, you're at a severe disadvantage.
Q: Since this is the Women in Marketing series, I need to ask a girl question here. How do you think women are viewed in the industry overall? Any really good or really bad personal experiences?
A: Well, aside from the usual comments about being young and female and working in tech, I have certainly not found it to be a disadvantage or an advantage, save for the fact that women writers in this field get more attention than their male counterparts overall. That's an advantage.
There are one or two gross problems in SEO that revolve around gender and sex, but this isn't the time or place to get into them. That's a battle for a different day.
Now the fun ones:
Q: How do you tolerate working with Rob Kerry every day?
A: Sound canceling headphones ;) (inserted Li comment her - Jane -- I do have a karaoke video of Rob singing the Spice Girls somewhere!)
(I adore Rob.)
Q: If you could get snowed in at the Fox and Anchor with any 5 SEOs, who would they be and what drinks would they all be having? Since I am the interviewer, make sure you mention me here please.
A: Ugh, I'm going to end up NOT naming people I love in this industry if I'm reduced to five!
Ciaran Norris, who'd be drinking Guinness and still looking posh about it.
Lisa and Jon Myers. Lisa would've bought a bottle of wine becasue there's no way we'd not get through it, and Jon would be drinking Peroni.
Rob Kerry and Mike Nott who'd be drinking London Pride
Dean Chew, who'd be drinking what we tell him is Foster's, but is in fact just some regular, awful lager.
Kate Morris and Kalena Jordan, who'd be drinking Sauvignon Blanc.
Stephen Pavlovich and Michael Motherwell, who'd be drunk and asleep in the corner.
Rand Fishkin, who'd be talking too much to drink.
You, Julie Joyce, and you'd be having a Bakewell Tart martini from the bar next door.
Q: Favorite ridiculous conference
A: 1) Walking back to Liverpool Street station during SMX London last year, while I still lived in Seattle and had no thoughts of leaving, right past the building I now live in, the supermarket I now shop at and the pool at which I now swim.
2) Trying desperately to hold in laughter on stage during SMX Sydney last year as Rand and Geraldine abused the text-in-a-question feature, asking Ciaran "Is that a tie or did a monkey die on your shirt?"
3) Being dragged to an establishment in Vegas by you, Julie Joyce, whom I had only really just met, called "Slots A Fun". They had 99c hotdogs and similarly-priced margaritas. The carpet was appalling. The bartender appeared to know you all very well, and his name was Blaze. The lights were too bright and I was scared. Where have these nutty North Carolinians taken us? Ciaran and I made our way back to the plush comfort of the Wynn before something terrible could happen.