Meet your marketer: Gabriella Sannino

Few days ago I wrote a post about why I stopped the “Meet your SEO” series. I didn’t even imagine to have a strong reaction from community. People commented the post, wrote me on twitter, chats, wrote some stuff on Inbound.

The amazing stuff is I learnt that people do care about this project, and honestly I want to thank you all very much for your support.

I stick with the message in that post (sorry Glen), but as I said in various comments it’s not that I will stop the series FOREVER, but I’m gonna stop it as it was in the past. I would like to interview people I do care about, and who cares, in a way, about me and the project. I mean, people worth listening to.

So today I have the pleasure to talk with Gabriella Sannino, international organic SEO content strategist (as she defined herself on twitter) and owner of Level343, an american SEO and copywriting company. Gabriella is an italian SEO living and working in the US since many years. She is one of the first SEO I started to follow when I enter the SEO world myself, and I liked a lot her approach, when she asked her followers to say “hello” otherwise…what’s the point of following someone without interactions? WINNER. 🙂

OK, enough talking. Meet your marketer is up and running, and I hope you like this interview and enjoy the whole series!

Gabriella Sannino

When and how did you start doing SEO?

Wow, are we going to go back in time? 🙂 Actually compared to the veterans I know in the industry I’ve only been doing SEO since 2005. But I’ve surrounded myself and team members with people that were doing SEO since the early years. For example, Donna has joined Level343 and has been doing SEO since 2001. The beauty is that she is also an accomplished writer, which is a huge asset to the SEO knowledge base.

There is a debate between people saying SEO is changing a lot vs. people saying that SEO fundamentally is always the same. What’s your take on this?

Search engine optimization has not changed per se, however, what we look for and what we pay attention to may have changed due to Google’s updates. The actual definition is still the same; you are still working within the confines of search engines. Manipulation of results has never been anything we’ve done. We’ve always looked at pleasing the readers/buyers while keeping the basic understanding of what and how SEO works. I’m a marketer at heart.

I studied marketing and communications when in college. Actually there wasn’t even the Internet when I graduated; therefore my whole career has revolved around marketing. It wasn’t until I started dipping into online business and most recently playing in the SEO arena that I’ve noticed these changes. Whether it’s SEO or Social networks, marketing and promoting are still the major forces behind SEO. It’s one of the many facets to working online. If you market a product online you have to use these disciplines (SEO/Social/e-commerce/PPC/CTA) and more acronyms that you can throw a stick at.

Therefore keeping up with the latest changes that Google has made and will add are viable pieces of that marketing puzzle.

There is something not clear when you search for SEO information online, because you can find different opinions on everything. What do you think we, as SEOs, are missing to communicate better our discipline?

Unfortunately, there’s no manual for SEO.

In addition, what works well for one site or industry make not work well for another. Behind all the testing we SEOs do, is a significant amount of theory. Historically, SEOs have been very cooperative with one other, sharing information, theories, and test results throughout the industry – to everyone’s benefit. However, there’s also the obvious need to withhold some information for competitive reasons. So communication within our industry is and always has been as open and altruistic as possible.

The biggest issue usually arises when inexperienced SEOs fail to do their own testing, and instead, they simply believe anything they read on the Internet. Then they turn around and pass that same – usually misguided – information along as fact, even if it is far from fact. The Internet then becomes a muddle of fact and misinformation. I’m not sure that’s something that can be solved, unfortunately.

Personally I have mixed feelings about the term “link building” because I’m seeing a lot of companies doing some wrong stuff. What is your take on linkbuilding? How are you doing such activity?

I watch and read from the best. Plus I surround myself with the best… People like Donna Fontenot, Sante Achille, and Wissam Dandan, to name a few. My mind tells me content marketing is your best link building strategy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do any “link building”… You see back in the day, link building was more the sheer number of links you could obtain that link back to your site or page. With Google’s many recent algorithm changes, it’s no longer the volume that counts, but the quality of the links that count.

Link building is relationship building. Connect with relevant people online (whether through blog posts, social, or video). I’ve heard some wonderful ideas from the people I’ve mentioned above…

It is important to understand that quality link building is not about sending out a generic “please link to me” email to a long list of webmasters. A strong link building campaign must be well planned, and then directed to a thoroughly researched list of credible, relevant potential partners. This network of partners involves a connection of social proof, reputation, accountability and, respect. This type of link building might be better referred to as connection building. No matter what we call it, learn to say “no” to the wrong link building opportunities, and focus instead on relevant, credible partnerships.

Your company Level343 is an SEO company, but also a copywriting company. Regarding copywriting, what is your advice on how to create awesome content, especially when your company is in different international markets?

The best way we’ve been able to write great content for clients is by asking oodles of questions. We send them a questionnaire that’s 11 pages long…well we trim it depending on what the job/project is. But the more we know about the client, company, and market, the better informed we are to write and create campaigns based on their immediate needs. My background was not only in marketing but also in industrial psychology.

I love reading and learning about human behavior. I love the art of story telling. To me, SEO is a very small facet of the whole picture. Sure, we always cover the important aspects, such as description tags, title tags, snippets, etc., including the technical aspects when doing an SEO audit, always keeping that country’s culture in mind as we work. We have partners in various countries, and we work very closely with them in order to better understand the flavor du jour. But what really brings the whole campaign together is listening to our partners since they are living and breathing in that country.

Who are the people you admire the most in the SEO community? And outside (suggest some people to follow on twitter, if you wish)

I may be biased but I like and respect the people I work with. What’s not to like? They’re wicked smart, fun to chat with and know SEO cold. Then there are people like…Barry Schwartz, Dana Lookadoo, Lyena Solomon, Sean Carlos, Terry Van Horne, Jennifer Horowitz, Doc Sheldon, Steve Gerencser, David Harry and so many more. There really are some amazing talented people out there. I’m proud to say it’s a wonderful community.

From Italy to US. You wanna share how you made it and why?

I came to the US to study…I haven’t left since, for many reasons. Mainly, there was no work in Italy, and I needed to make the move for my personal life. I’m too liberal, and not what you would consider a “good Italian daughter”. I never gave my mother kids to fawn over, and I could never be the quiet, reserved shy lady I was told I had to be.

In the U.S., I saw women taking on the system, and I loved it. I loved the fact that women could get into the work force without being told they couldn’t. I still have family in Italy; actually, all my family is in Italy except for my mother. She’s here in the U.S. with her husband. Here in the U.S., women are respected for what they do and not just for who they are. Whether in business, politics, or young ladies joining the work force, women have more opportunities here then I could have ever had in Italy. Sad but true…

Conferences are important for networking. We all know that. What do you like about going to conferences? And what you dislike?

I love meeting the people I have met online at conferences. I also enjoy the new connections made. But I guess the most important facet of going to conferences is you realize how much you really know, and how much more you need to learn in any niche market.

Make yourself a question and give yourself an answer: If you were given access to the entire Google algorithm for one hour, what secret would you hope to find first?

How many links to Matt Cutts’ blog does it take to get put on the penalty-free whitelist… 🙂

Are you willing to share one embarrassing episode that happened to you during your SEO career? And what you learn from it?

Embarrassing? Humm, at my age I’m not sure I can be embarrassed by much. You see, the beauty of this business is that when you fail at a strategy, you have the opportunity to do better. How else can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t make them?