Meet your SEO: Jonathon Colman

First of all, have a great start of the week everyone!

Second: today is “Meet your SEO” day, right?

Today I have the pleasure to talk a bit with Jonathon Colman, an “ex-SEO”. Why? Because after 11 years in the SEO, Jonathon has decided to leave it for entering a new role in information strategy at REI. I really like Jonathon, I engaged with him on twitter and he was always nice to talk to me and give me advice about SEO. But I have to say that when I read the post of him leaving SEO, I was completely amazed because I think that his journey is something really interesting to follow.

I’m making a lot of thoughts about SEO as discipline, and I’m forming my own idea after 1 year and half in the SEO world, and I’m convinced that I have to keep my mind opened not only in the SEO field , but to a lot of other interesting things, because I like the idea to optimize for the user first, and not for the search engine. So, follow Jonathon on twitter and on his site, because I know we’re going to see amazing things.

This interview was made before Jonathon left SEO, but I decided to publish it anyway because he is and he will always be an SEO.

Let’s make this journey then!

Jonathon Colman

When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

I’ve always been interested on information, learning, language, and findability. I grew up reading Tolkien and my motto was (and still is) “Not all those who wander are lost.” But when I read SEO for Dummies in the early 2000s, I suddenly had a name — and a set of strategies and tactics — for this discipline that I love.

As I moved on to books like Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, I became even more interested in the way that SEO draws the right people to the right content at the right time. And I especially loved the notion that SEO can even help people discover resources and knowledge that they didn’t know they were looking for. Serendipity FTW!

A great tip about onpage optimization?

Never, ever start with content on a page being “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…”. This indicates that content is a mere copy-oriented feature, something that you add on like a widget or a banner ad.

Instead, consider content holistically as a core business asset (a concept championed by Kristina Halvorson). To optimize a page for a user — whether that user is a human or a search crawler — before any design or coding begins you should build a page table (free template available here) that helps you understand the objectives of the content, its governance and stakeholders, its content lifecycle (including delivery and archival), and clear measures of success. Doing this will help you develop a clear strategy for the best way to make the page work its hardest for your business and customers.

So does this seem like extra work? Good: it absolutely should. Strategy and planning are supposed to be harder than implementing tactics. But when you do this right, you’ll know that it’s working well when you and your teams no longer have to go back and “fix the page for SEO”.

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

That driving traffic at any cost is more important than user experience. SEOs should be just as invested in information architecture and user experience (both on-line and off-) as they are in keywords and links. Smart organizations and agencies incentivize SEOs and experience designers/architects to work together in order to create a holistic experience for your most important groups of users.

A great tip on how you build links?

Figure out what your users need to meet their goals and then give it to them in a way that builds trust and loyalty… which translate into organic traffic and links.

Example: when we found that our users were interested in how to get the best/most use possible out of the products we sell, we created original, branded, authoritative content written by our in-house experts that helps our audience succeed in doing the things they love. This content drives qualified traffic from hundreds of thousands of unique, non-branded keywords and is a big factor in how new people find and link to our site.

Lately, we’ve also been re-using and transforming this into infographics, which further helps us extend its usefulness for our customers.

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

I’m no expert, but this looks pretty stupid.

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

I help people find and use the things they love the most. But enough about that. Now let’s watch some Battlestar Galactica!

What do you drink when seoing?

Fair Trade, organic, shade-grown coffee (I’m something of a coffee snob). Water. Earl grey, hot. Then more coffee.

What do you think about SEO community?

I’ve never met such smart, active, and genuinely friendly people. Attractive, too! And witty as hell.

Seriously, look at all the great posts on the YouMoz Blog. This industry is constantly generating new, smart people who give up their knowledge for the good of the community. What could be better than working with people like that?

Make yourself a question and give an answer: What is the future of SEO?

SEOs are masters of a niche discipline, but we also have a lot of experience working in a diverse assortment of other fields: information architecture, metadata, user experience design, copywriting, paid advertising, app development, front/back-end production, systems analysis, programming and automation, semantic web and linked data, taxonomy, ontology, social media, web analytics, and several other areas.

Most of us do some work in at least three of these disciplines each morning before our first cup of coffee. And as Google and Bing continue to iterate on their algorithms, as our work becomes more global (but also more hyperlocal), and as we continue to consider and develop cross-channel (desktop, mobile, real-world) scenarios, I see two important things in our future:

1. Agile marketing methodology will become essential to keeping up with the rapid pace of change. We’ll simply won’t be able to take advantage of all the opportunities (nor keep up with our competitors) without the benefits of going Agile. Programmers and product development teams have been doing this for years and have several workflow and organizational design models that SEOs and other marketers can (and should) steal and apply to their work.

2. The start of a “Holistic SEO”, “Ubiquitous SEO”, or “Pervasive SEO” movement. The goal here is to aid our users in finding what they’re looking for no matter what device/utility they’re using (think Siri vs. desktop search), no matter what their physical location is, no matter who they do/don’t know, and no matter what they’re trying to find. This notion already exists in the world of information architecture and user experience design, and once again represents a model that SEOs should steal so that they can jump ahead to the forefront of where this industry is obviously heading.

Who is your biggest SEO influence?

It’s hard to say. Vanessa Fox gave me my first big speaking break on her 2009 SMX Advanced panel on demystifying multi-channel attribution. I pay a lot of attention to the folks at Distilled like Mike Pantoliano, Kate Morris, and John Doherty. And I love what Tom Critchlow has written about both the innovation process and project management. Jen Lopez oversees the best community in the biz, Joanna Lord is pioneering the interplay between paid and inbound marketing, and Adam Audette is one of the smartest, friendliest, and most helpful people doing SEO today.

Michael King‘s focus on users and persona development is legendary. So is Dan Shure‘s keen attention to the details of language that drive clicks. Justin Briggs and Ross Hudgens here in Seattle are two of the best link-builders I know. And no one presents a slideshow better than Rand, unless their name is Wil (sorry Rand!). And Susan Moskwa and Maile Ohye at Google deserve huge kudos for their webmaster outreach efforts, which have provided so much help to so many of us in the field.

But the single person who influenced me the most is probably Peter Morville, who I probably walked past a million times in Ann Arbor, Michigan before finally meeting him in person at the IA Summit in 2010. Peter’s a wonderful person, a smart and funny visionary in the IA/UX field, and with Lou Rosenfeld wrote what essentially became the bible for an entirely new field and generation of information professionals. I probably wouldn’t be an SEO unless I’d read that book.

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

I hear that sleeping at night is pretty good stuff. All the cool kids are doing it. So I might just have to try that sometime.