Meet your SEO: Peter Handley

Well, well, well…this “Meet your SEO” interview series is becoming huge. I wanna thank each one of you, really, but I don’t have enough money to travel around the world. So let’s do in this way: if you wanna a cool thank you letter from me, you can write in the comment section or send me an email with your address, and I will write something funny for you BY HAND(ley)….one day that piece of paper is gonna worth at least 30$. 

Today I have the immense pleasure to interview Peter Handley, SEO director at The Media Flow based in UK. Peter was one of the first real SEO I met on twitter , and he always was so generous with me giving me a lot of SEO tips and stuff. He was up for every project I wanted to do (like the SEO music post) and he helped me a lot realizing it. Moreover he is like a sort of English teacher for my poor english, and he is even quite cheap (10 pounds per hour).  But the real reason I like this guy is that he is a great singer (watch this only if you are not sensitive). I read in a local newspaper he is well known in his city as “The new Freddie Mercury”. But I don’t think it’s right: Freddie Mercury sucks when compared to Pete. 

Ready to become a better SEO? 

Peter Handley

When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

I studied a degree in Entertainment technology and graduated in 2006. I wanted to work on the web, but I had very poor design skills really. I made a fair few websites between 2000-2006, a few of which there are copies of stashed away on the internet, but I looked at what websites other people built and wondered how I could ever match those sorts of design talents. I probably could have forged a career as a freelance web developer and produced basic websites for people, but I didn’t want to just be average at it.

Throughout my early years developing websites, I was completely unaware of SEO. Or indeed how to get traffic from search engines. The first website I ever put live on the web had a simple hitcounter on page for “analysis”, was 100% made with images (it used some crazy graffiti font that I couldn’t get to render without making it completely image based, but hey, it was what the client insisted on) and I was constantly challenged as to why it wasn’t getting any visits.

I never worked it out at the time, but it made a lot of sense later when I learnt about SEO. All I’d done was spam the keywords tag really, as there was no content (I hadn’t even set alt tags on those images).

When I graduated, I had basic skills in video & music production, image manipulation, 2d & 3d animation, HTML and project management. I researched web roles that would make use of that broad set of skills and SEO seemed to be the perfect fit. There was an SEO company local that was looking to hire a junior, so it was the first job I applied for out of university and a month or so later I was learning the trade on the job, managing lots of clients and getting some cracking results for them really quickly. I was hooked, and I suddenly saw what I’d been doing wrong with all the sites I’d launched in the years building up to it.

A great tip about onpage optimization?

Normally when I’m asked this, I’d give the tip that Chris left in his interview – so many people don’t write unique titles and descriptions for their websites and put their website logos in h1 tags and its one of the first things I look at fixing when I start working with clients.

After that I normally start looking at on-page integrity issues. Particularly when I start working on websites, I typically find with older sites, and ones that have grown over time have 10s, if not 100s to 1000s of broken link issues and internal links passing through 301 and 302 redirects. Particularly if you are working on a site that has some decent authority already, cleaning these issues up can give you some real gains in rankings as it plugs all those leaks in the websites authority flow.

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

Keyword density is one that I’ve seen folks talking about a lot again recently with regards to on-page optimisation tips. I’ve actually been looking at it as a metric a fair bit recently. I should clarify, I don’t use it as a target etc, but more that if you have a phrase with a high % here, this is more than likely going to be a negative, and instances should be removed. I don’t really target a specific number here though, that would be silly.

In terms of when I work with web developers on SEO projects, whilst its not happened so much recently, historically when I’ve asked pages to have more content developed it always starts conversations of “how can we do this without customers seeing it”. Sometimes designers can get precious about much content should be on a page before it impacts on the website aesthetics, which I think is fundamentally missing the point. Content is as useful to a potential customer as the actual design of the page itself. Design and content need to work together to win those sales!

A great tip on how you build links?

Speaking to people in real life has got me most of my best links. Can’t beat real networking in person for it. But failing that, it’s been from forming real relationships, and from being “myself” – treating people as you want to be treated (which most of the time is me being nice to folks) and see where that can lead!

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

Mostly about techniques being dead. You only have to look in the backlink profiles for most competitive SERPs to see that most link building techniques that have ever worked, still work to one degree or another. Whether or not that continues after all the more recent updates who knows – I’ve not collated enough data yet to really work out if certain things really are not working at the moment, and what I have seen hasn’t been consistent across niches.

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

I help websites get traffic from search engines, and help them maximise the revenues that they make on their website from all sources of traffic.

I would expect their eyes to glaze over before that sentence has finished mind.

What do you drink when seoing?

Caffeine, and probably far too much of it! Mornings are dedicated to a coffee press full of strong coffee, and afternoons I tend to feed an addiction to diet coke. Regularly interspersed with water, but mostly loading out on caffeine.

What do you think about SEO community?

I love bits of it, and think I’ve got a really fun “sub-network” within the community that I engage with a lot.

It’s not perfect, I find that some proponents of certain tactics can be quite preachy about their ways being the only “real” ways, which I try to mostly stay out of, but in general, even those folks are fine most of the time.

The people that form the SEO Community are great – the two of us for example both mostly started talking due to our mutual love of music, even though there is very little overlap in our own respective tastes. I find this a lot of fun though, and I like my musical preconceptions to be challenged regularly. The SEO community is the source of most of my music finds over the last few years and I love that.

Also, I find it nice that so many people share what works for them so widely amongst people that are essentially their competitors. It doesn’t feel that way though. For the most part, it feels that we are all in this together. There also seems to be plenty of work for most of us at the moment, and the more that Google churn this up with their big updates, the more work there is created for us all.

Make yourself a question and give an answer: What have you been listening to when writing the reply to these questions?

I’ve mostly been listening to Junior Kimbrough – been loving the track “Sad Days, Lonely Nights” particularly this morning:

Who is your biggest SEO influence?

I have a few – my now business partner Nichola Stott has been a growing influence on me ever since we began talking on Twitter about 3 years ago and its great to now be working with her. My friend Jaamit, who is much missed and sadly no longer with us, did a lot to encourage me to stop working on SEO within my own bubble without knowing what else other people did, to get out and people within the community and I’ll be grateful to him forever for encouraging me to do that.

For the rest of it – there are a ton of folks that help me form opinions on SEO, far too numerous to name them all. I love having a wide support network of people to exchange ideas with, and its the way that they bounce ideas off one another and the thought processes involved in it that influence me, as much as the people themselves. There are some really smart, ingenious (and perhaps sneaky too at times) people in this industry.

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

Before I was an SEO, I had a load of jobs. Worked in supermarkets, record stores, a concrete construction company and as a gardener for a bit too.

I miss the long summers outside in the sunshine that I got with the gardening, and whilst I’d need to get much fitter to do it again, there was something quite reassuring about spending the day putting actual hard graft in. Sometimes being sat at a computer all day is so mentally exhausting that come the evening I just need to kick back and unwind, but despite the physically tiring nature of the gardening work, I found myself able to get and be much more social most evenings as a gardener.

However, I stopped gardening when I disturbed a wasp nest and got stalked and stung whilst trying to escape. Being potentially lethally allergic to them makes it a perhaps unwise choice for a career in the long haul!