Meet your marketer: Barry Adams

hey readers, how’s life treating you?

I hope it’s all good! On my side, everything is good, thank you! The life is awesome especially when you discover that your Canadian dentist in Berlin is listening to some 2000s disco music when it’s operating with a microscope! great right? I think so yeah, because I felt less pain thinking that a tooth pain is nothing compared to the awful 2000s disco music.

Today I have the pleasure to talk with Barry Adams, chief SEO at Polemic Digital . Barry defines himself as “SEO polemicist” and I have to say that I started to follow Barry on twitter because he is always on the line to generate some healthy discussions about SEO, marketing, and visions in general. I like a lot when people argue with a clear mind, and I have to say I disagreed more than one time with Barry, but he is always there ready to accept it and to discuss in a very polite way (well, most of the time).

Ok, let’s begin this journey!

Barry Adams

When and how did you enter the online marketing world?

Hey Alessio! Thanks for interviewing me!

I sort of stumbled into this industry by accident. In the late 1990s I built some websites around a few hobbies of mine, and I started trying to find ways to make these websites more visible in search. That’s how I got started in SEO – it began as a purely self-taught thing I did for my own sites in my spare time.

Later it turned in to a career. In 1998, because I knew HTML, I was hired as an intranet webmaster, and from there on my career progressed to public-facing websites. My big break came in 2004 when I was hired as the international webmaster of Hand Held Products, a great company that built barcode scanners. I applied what I knew but quickly learned that I’d barely begun to scrape the surface. That’s when I got serious about digital marketing. I loved working for HHP as it was a superb company with great people, and they gave me the freedom to try new things.

When Hand Held Products got sold off to Honeywell (a huge industrial conglomerate that centralised its internet operations) I moved on to a range of positions until I found my current job – or rather, it found me.

I like to interact with you on twitter, often disagreeing. How do you find twitter as a tool to increase your personal branding?

I think Twitter can be great for personal branding, as long as you don’t actually see it as a tool for personal branding. I made that mistake, when I tried to create an artificial image for myself in an effort to attract more followers. It didn’t work, because it wasn’t the real me. So I decided to just use it for what it was intended for – to connect with interesting people and share my views.

What you see on Twitter is the real me. I’m loud and sometimes profane, and I can get quite heated at times when discussing matters. That’s no different whether you’re talking to me on Twitter or having a pint with me in a pub. Maybe that ‘personal brand’, if you can call it that, is why some people like following me on Twitter. You get what you see.

I have mellowed a bit over the years, especially in recent years. I suspect getting married and earning a promotion at work have more than a little to do with that. I’m very content at my current place in life – I know I have huge challenges facing me and I’m not taking anything for granted, but I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be in life. There’s a certain indifference towards trivial issues that accompanies that state of mind, which makes me less likely to fly off the handle these days.

I still have my moments though…

If I tell you “content marketing”, you say….

Isn’t that what PR companies used to do? Seriously, it’s just another example of the digital marketing industry – and SEO in particular – chasing after the latest hype. All these new buzzwords that get bandied about, it’s a cyclical thing. Wind the clock back five, ten, fifteen years and the same type of discussions pop up, with the same type of hype-words thrown around casually without anyone really understanding what they mean.

If someone feels the need to define themselves by a new buzzword, I suspect they don’t really understand what their job actually entails.

Best bullshit you heard about SEO.

Oh, I could list so many… And, to be fair, I used to believe in and practice a few SEO tactics that we’ve since learned are total BS. Take PageRank Sculpting, and keyword density, and directory submissions, and all those things we now grimace at when we hear about it.

I suppose the most contemporary steaming pile of manure in SEO land is this ‘inbound marketing’ rebrand some people are trying to promote. Few who embrace this hype-phrase realise it’s a financially incentivised and entirely artificial endeavour. I’d sincerely recommend everyone stay away from ‘inbound marketing’, because by adopting it all you’ll be doing is confusing your customers and padding the pockets of the people who invented it.

Could you name some must-follow on twitter , except me of course :D?

Well yes, you are definitely a must-follow – you tend to think outside the box and bring a fresh perspective to our industry, and I’m grateful to you for that.

In addition to yourself, I think everyone should follow Bas van den Beld (@basvandenbeld). The man is a genius at digital marketing, and he’s created not one but two highly successful SEO blogs (first Searchcowboys and later State of Search). In fact, I think everyone should follow the entire State of Search blogger team, because it’s just about the most eclectic and interesting bunch of people you could find. It’s an absolutely fantastic blogger team and I’m truly blessed and privileged to be a part of it.

Also, I want to recommend Greg Satell (@DigitalTonto) because his articles about digital, psychology, science, and philosophy are astoundingly good and I think everyone should read them.

I need to buy some non fictional books for christmas. Could you name 5 books you really enjoy and why?

Currently I’m reading a few non-fiction books that really resonate with me. First I’d recommend Northrop Frye’s “Anatomy of Criticism“. I bought it after a recommendation from a Twitter friend and it’s been one of my best book purchases of recent times. Almost every sentence is intellectually stimulating and intensely rewarding. I realise it’s not for everyone, but for those interested in literature in general and criticism (literary or otherwise) in particular it really is a must-read.

A second recommendation is “Bad Pharma“, a great new book from Ben Goldacre about the deeply entrenched flaws in the pharmaceutical industry, specifically the way it tests and trials new drugs. It’s not a purely anti-Big Pharma book (Goldacre scathingly demolished the ‘alternative medicine’ industry in his previous book “Bad Science”) but it does expose some deep-rooted flaws in modern medicine.

The third recommendation would be Christopher Hitchens’ “Arguably“, an epic volume collecting many of his greatest essays and articles. I’m a huge Hitchens fan. Despite the fact that I disagreed with him on a lot of his political viewpoints, to me he embodied the true spirit of skepticism; critical enquiry and a rejection of conventional truths in favour of factual evidence. His evisceration of Mother Theresa – our society’s embodiment of virtue – is daringly provocative.

Two more recommendations to round off a top 5: Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” about the dangers of online personalisation (we had a great State of Search hangout about the topic last week), and Jonathan Zittrain’s “The Future of the Internet” which shows the threat posed by closed platforms and the ‘appification’ of the web to online innovation and competition.

Conferences. Which are your feelings about them? You find conferences are gonna be useful in few years?

The very first time I went to a big SEO conference was 2005 when I visited Search Engine Strategies in New York. It was an amazing experience for me and a defining moment in my career as a SEO. The things I learned, the people I met, the connections I made… I couldn’t have had that in any other setting. So yes I’m a fan of conferences. I think attending a conference allows you to learn and connect in ways that are nearly impossible in other environments. The proliferation of conferences is a good thing, because it gives more people the opportunity to attend such events.

The only issue I see is that some conference organisers compromise on the quality of the talks, which can result in propagation of outdated knowledge or false information. It’s important that conferences feature the strongest possible line-up of speakers, and not just international industry celebrities but also great local talent.

If you could choose to invent one smartphone app, what would it be about?

An app that automatically generates a grocery list. I’d pay serious money for an app that could not only tell me what to buy, but also guides me through a supermarket to where the stuff I need to buy actually is. I waste way too much time trying to find things in supermarkets.

When you do interviews to choose new people working with you, what do you really want to see in them?

More than anything I want to see the right attitude. It’s not so much about what people know, because the specifics of digital marketing can be taught. It’s about having the right mindset. If I see that in a candidate – and we’ve gotten quite good at asking the right questions that help us find that hidden spark – then I won’t hesitate to hire them.

In the past we’ve hired people that had the right knowledge and experience, but who maybe didn’t necessarily have the right attitude. That’s something I’m trying to avoid with new hires, and so far all the people we’ve hired in recent times have been fantastic.

On the topic of interviews, Rand Fishkin writes regularly about hiring and managing people at SEOmoz on his own blog ( and it’s highly recommended reading. Some of Rand’s typical interview questions have found their way on to our default question list.

Make yourself a question, and give yourself an answer.

Ooh, I get to ask myself a question? Awesome. Right, let me think… OK, here goes: Rugby Union or Rugby League?

The answer is Rugby Union of course – it’s a much more complete game with greater emphasis on tactics and how the individual players’ strengths (and weaknesses) combine in to a team’s performance. Rugby League is too dumbed down, too simplified for the sake of spectacle, whereas Rugby Union is a much more intricate game that has a much greater depth to it.

I’m a late convert to rugby. As a Dutchman football has always been the biggest sport I was exposed to, but after I met my wife (who is a rugby fanatic) I quickly discovered I liked rugby more than any other sport out there. In fact our honeymoon was to New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Best holiday of our lives.

I think I was born in the wrong country, because I genuinely wish I could’ve played rugby in my youth. My physical build would’ve let me be a passable hooker, I reckon.

If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be?

Probably a nameless IT support engineer rotting away in a data centre somewhere. I was on track for a career in IT, complete with Microsoft MCSE certification, until I got sidelined in to SEO & internet marketing. I’m sure glad I went for that newfangled web stuff back then, because I don’t think I’d have made a particularly good IT guy.