Meet your SEO: Hannah Smith

I remember the first time I asked Sean to do the interview for this project. I remembered when he said he wouldn’t be able to do it in that moment because he was really busy. Then , he gave me ALL the answers after few hours. So I thought: are SEO always saying that they are extremely busy just for the sake of it? I still have the doubts, but I thank Sean a lot because he was one of the first who believed in this project, and his initial “no” convinced me to do this amazing interview series.

I had the pleasure to meet the SEO I’m going to interview in few seconds. I met her in Italy during a marketing conference. She was there with David Sottimano, and she was an amazing speaker.

Who is she? Ladies and gentlemen, SEOs and inbounders, please welcome Hannah Smith. She is an amazing SEO, based in London. She is working as consultant for Distilled and she is an SEOmoz associate. Hannah is even part of the awesome SEO Chicks group.

User: Ok, dear Alessio, could you please just shut up and let Hannah talk?

Me: You’re right! So let’s begin! Thanks Hannah for this interview!

Hannah Smith

When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

In 2008 my Fairy Godmother told me the internet was the future*. Despite the fact that she didn’t have the best track record (she’d tipped Betamax, Laser Discs and the Sega Dreamcast previously) I decided to give it a go.
Prior to that I’d been working in offline marketing – doing advertising, direct mail, point of sale and sponsorship for about 7 years.

A great tip about onpage optimization?

(note from Alessio: Hannah used bullet points in this answer, but I couldn’t put them in my blog because I start scratching me when I’m seeing bullet points; and Hannah was so nice to put “f*ck but it’s ok to have the proper “fuck” in my blog :D )

To be honest I don’t do a lot of on-page stuff, but here goes (in no particular order):

_|_ Schema mark-up (can increase CTR from the SERP)
_|_ Don’t get obsessed with keyword density; it makes your pages read badly
_|_ Whether or not you have an H1 tag is unlikely to make a material difference to ranking for a competitive keyword
_|_ Create some unique content – particularly if you’re selling the same stuff that hundreds of others also sell

Does IA count as on-page? Sort of?

_|_ Can the search engines index all your pages? Good information architecture is important – stuff that can’t be indexed definitely       can’t rank
_|_ Don’t fuck up robots.txt ☺

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

Not sure that it’s a case of stupidity – just that people are misinformed.

On-page is just a piece of the puzzle. A foundation if you will. You do need to spend a little time and effort on it (and making sure your site is indexable) but in order to rank for anything remotely competitive you’ll then need to think about off-page factors.

I guess I’m saying I think some people worry about it unnecessarily. You don’t need a text-book example of a perfectly optimised page to rank. Can’t change your H1s because your CMS won’t let you? Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to migrate to a new CMS (or perhaps more accurately if that’s the only thing that’s wrong with your CMS then don’t worry about migrating to something new).

A great tip on how you build links?

For most of my clients I do link building via content. It’s time / resource intensive and it’s not for everyone; but I love it.

Here are some tips are around content creation and promotion:

_|_ Make sure there’s an audience for whatever you’re creating before you create it – can you think of 5 people who’ll link to this in 10 minutes or less? Nope? Maybe think of another idea
_|_ Pre-outreach – before you create something reach out to c.10 people who you’re hoping will link to it and check whether or not they like your idea
_|_ Create something that genuinely has merit – whether that’s because people need it, want it, or find it hilarious
_|_ Outreach for something you’re proud of is way easier
_|_ Outreach is not a dirty word – it takes an awful long time to build up the sort of reputation that means you can build links without outreach; until then you’re going to need to tell people about what you’ve made
_|_ Get out there and meet people face-to-face if you can – it makes later contact much easier
_|_ Pay it forward. Want something from someone? Do something nice for them first

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

That it’s easy.

It’s not.

I’m glad it’s not easy. If it were easy none of us would have a job.

If you have to explain what you do at a 10 year-old kid , what are you gonna say?

10 year olds are pretty internet-savvy, right? I’d probably say I help companies increase their search visibility and they’d totally get what I was going on about.

Explaining what I do to my Mum or Dad? That’s tough. Both think I work for Google and I’ve pretty much given up on correcting them.

What do you drink when seoing?

Coffee. Buckets of it.

What do you think about SEO community?

I owe more than I can possibly hope to repay to the SEOs who I’m close to (and I hope you all know who you are). They educated me. Pretty much everything I’ve learned along the way was in some way shape or form via those generous individuals. Plus, when I quit my job without a new one to go to they offered moral support, freelance work (yes they actually helped me pay my bills) and helped me find a new role.

Make yourself a question and give an answer: If you could travel back in time and talk to your 16 year old self what would you say?

Be less frightened of making mistakes. Don’t bother with those ‘A’ levels – they’re making you miserable and you’ll never use them any way. Go take that job instead.

Also, what the fuck are you wearing? You look like a crazy person. One day they’ll create something called Facebook and people will upload photos of you looking like that which you’ll then have to un-tag.

Who is your biggest SEO influence?

Biggest? Couldn’t possibly decide. Here’s a whole bunch of people –

_|_ My chicks – Kate Morris, Lisa Myers, Nichola Stott, Julie Joyce, Judith Lewis, Annabel Hodges, Jane Copland and Anna Lewis.

_|_ Everyone at Distilled because they’re smart, supportive, teach me stuff and have to put up with me every day.

_|_ Gary Buchan deserves a mention for always picking me up when I fall over.

_|_ Everyone on my sunshine and unicorns twitter list.

(If I haven’t named you it’s probably because I love you the best but don’t want the world to know)

If you weren’t an SEO, what would you like to do?

I’d really like to own a bookshop. Yes an actual bricks and mortar shop with actual books in it. And it would also have a cafe. My employees would have a genuine interest in reading and be able to recommend books to people. We’d also have beatnik poetry evenings.

Alternatively I’d be in a band so I could get just famous enough to go on Strictly Come Dancing.

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  • http://twitter.com/michaelkovis Michael J. Kovis

    Another enjoyable interview Alessio.

    Pleasure to “meet” you Hannah. ;)

    “Pay it forward. Want something from someone? Do something nice for them first.”
    ^ Oh how I’m going to quote that over and over because I believe in the same.

  • http://www.perfectlyplausible.com Iain

    Love the bookshop idea.

    It’s always interesting to read these interviews, it’s like heat magazine for the SEO crowd. Good work Alessio.