Meet your SEO: Samuel Crocker

Ok, so #mozcon is finished, and so your twitter stream is kinda empty? No worries, I’m here to help 🙂

Today I have the pleasure to chat with Samuel Crocker, SEO associate director at OMD UK . Moreover, Samuel is a blogger (SEOmoz, State of Search…), speaker and SEO consultant, and he is one of the guy I like to follow on twitter because of his knowledge and humbleness. I never met Samuel in person (I hope so one day), but you can read more about him on his personal site.

Ready for another “Meet your SEO” episode? I hope so, because it’s going to be epic! 😀

Samuel Crocker

When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

I got into SEO in quite a round about way. I came to London in 2008 to study (public policy) and during that time I ended up spending a lot of my free time time blogging (primarily about online and fashion trends) and always wondered what I might be able to do to increase my readership as my longer term goal was to launch an ethical fashion label. As I finished my masters degree and decided I definitely didn’t want to go into a profession in public policy I started looking at opportunities to learn a bit more about marketing and particularly online.

It was quite serendipitous that I happened across an advert about a small company in London that specialised in SEO and online marketing and the job description sounded like a lot of fun. Having never heard of Distilled (or SEO if I’m honest) prior to finding the job description I was very fortunate that they were willing to take a chance on me and offered me a job. I looked at it as an opportunity to gain a skill that I would then apply to running my own online business and didn’t know much about the career opportunities within SEO… but as you can see a few years later I’m still very much loving SEO and have no immediate plans to go down that route at the moment.

I guess you could say I fell into it but I’m very glad I have.

A great tip about onpage optimization?

For the types of clients I usually work for the most frequent issues are creating unique content at scale – internationalisation of content, duplicate content, templated pages, you name it! For me it’s all about striking the right balance between targeting the right keywords onpage (i.e. do your keyword research), but more over I think one of the most important areas on which to focus is actually more along the lines of information architecture than “keyword optimisation”. A lot of sites that have been around for a while have a tendency to lose their structure and can end up with orphaned pages all over the place. One thing I really like to see folks do is have a good look at what content and assets they have already, how they can improve them – and perhaps most importantly how they can build a structure that makes sense for the user and surfaces the best content. It sounds easy but when there are multiple agencies, multiple people in house producing content and no rules or regulations about the simple stuff (i.e. folder structure, where the content sits, how the content is interlinked) websites can become a mess really quickly.

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

I guess it’s the age old “keyword stuffing” myth. I’m not your average puritanical white hat SEO (in that I get in some niches there are different rules and I have respect for the guys that push the limits even if there’s no place for it in my day-to-day) but the prevailing thought outside of our community that “oh SEO is just about repeating keywords on the page” or the occasional sections miles beneath the core content of the page that is helpfully tagged with “Content for Search Engines” or with classes assigned to < div > tags such as “seo copy” it just seems a bit silly to me.

I know you don’t always need to be subtle about things but I think people can get a bit wrapped up in “the perfect page” from a keyword targeting perspective and forget about the broader purpose.

I know these examples are a bit amateurish but obviously someone out there at some point thought it was a good idea so someone must believe it!

A great tip on how you build links?

For me coming up with a good strategy around link building is always fun as no two sites or niches are alike and there are a whole host of things that may work but may not be appropriate. For me I think it’s about striking the balance and being thoughtful about where you look to gain links, ensuring that they’ll have long term value, and ultimately getting results without sacrificing the integrity of the brand you’re working for. For me the litmus test is always: would I be proud of this link if a client or competitor approached me about it? I know everyone bangs on about it but I find good content and creative ideas are the best way to ensure you answer ‘yes’ to that question.

I’m very fortunate that the types of sites for whom I regularly work don’t have some of the same issues in attracting high authority links on their own so thankfully we genuinely don’t have to use some of the tactics that may still work but may not be great quality. Another benefit of working with a number of big sites is that there are a lot of cool opportunities for partnerships across brands, co-sponsored competitions, etc. – but it’s worth noting that leveraging partnerships is a tactic that can work for any size site if the idea is good enough.

One tip would be to make use of tools like Linkdex for finding who links to your competitors and not to you. Obviously you’re going to move the needle most by getting links your competitors either don’t have or can’t get but I can’t tell you how many times there are links that are really easy to get just by asking – ie.e. they’re already linking to competitors from a “resource” page, if you offer a good service or information there should be no trouble in linking to you.

Finally, one thing I’ve never understood is why if you’re going to pay for links are those links going to look like you’ve paid for them? If you work in the sort of niche where you are going to spend a fortune on an advertorial or other link from a high authority website I personally think you’d be an idiot to ask for exact match anchor text. Of course some people do link with anchor text and we can debate the importance of anchor text within a link profile all day long but for me that’s not the point. If you insist on wasting £1,000 on a link do you really want a link that could be devalued. I’m not saying I agree with the approach at all but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen really careless linkbuilding or clear evidence of more money than sense.

Also, just a simple one here, but hopefully everyone got the memo on spinning articles and all that other low-level junk that used to work (and I’m sure some will argue still does). For me being good at linkbuilding is about thinking ahead and not trying to change your strategy every time a new change to the algo comes out- it’s about planning far enough ahead and thinking genuinely about the value you add to your clients’ site.

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

If I’m honest the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard is “linkbuilding doesn’t really matter anymore”.

This is a tough one. I think one thing that I find a bit annoying is actually the confusion between “lazy” “unnatural” and “paid” links. I’ve heard a lot of people unequivocally say of sitess they’ve inherited – “this profile is littered with ‘paid links'”, but in reality to my above point I don’t think that’s always the case. There are plenty of ways to get anchor text links without paying for them and without intent to deliberately “manipulate” the algorithm in any sort of malicious manner, but one key factor to the trained eye is “would this link look like this if an SEO weren’t involved?” For me it’s entirely possible that this was a naturally earned link but by hammering one anchor text to death it doesn’t look natural anymore and the assumption it’s paid – when in reality it might just be lazy.

Ultimately it’s not a question of “stupid” but I think people make a lot of assumptions and as a general rule there’s a lot of jargon used in SEO that doesn’t actually mean anything anymore (i.e. “white hat linkbuilding”).

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

I help people improve the visibility of their websites and try to help them sell more of their product.

What do you drink when seoing?

I usually start with a big cup of coffee, may well have a Diet Pepsi at some point in the day to keep the caffeine pumping, and a bunch of water in between.

What do you think about SEO community?

First of all – for the most part I think the SEO community is absolutely brilliant. People are generally fun to be around, willing to share and often go out of their way to help one another which is great. I 100% owe my success to date to the support of the SEO community and have made some pretty incredible friendships within the industry.

However, if I’m being perfectly honest I think the SEO community is brilliant but has a bit of growing up to do. I do get a bit annoyed with the separate “camps” that seem to be at each other quite regularly and sometimes find it difficult as by thinking critically I think you can learn loads from all sorts of people. However, I don’t have a lot of time for personal attacks online – as Dave Coplin (Bing) recently pointed out during a presentation it’s not really acceptable to be a dick online and it’s a shame that we just allow it to happen. I get that there is a responsibility to correct erroneous information (especially from some of the most authoritative figures/sites in the space) but I think it gets a bit too personal a bit too often and would love to see that change.

I do love the community, love learning from others, and I owe a great deal to the SEO world but I do hope we move more toward a mature media that has a seat at the table for the big conversations as I think our skillset is invaluable but often overlooked at the highest level.