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An SEO Expert's Biography
A near-decade in the life of an SEO Consultant
Last Updated: May 10, 2013
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Below this paragraph you will see four bookmark links; you can use these to jump to the different sections of this page. The first link, The Road to SEO gives you a brief introduction into how I became involved with SEO and a bit about both previous and current roles I’ve held in the industry. From Panda to Penguins explains the different updates Google has gone through in the last year or so and explains what we need to do to ensure our websites still perform well within the search engines.
Recommended SEO Tools section describes some of the tools I use on a regular basis and which ones I recommend to others. Finally SEO Resources is a list of resources I think will aid any budding SEO analyst. I hope you enjoy the page, if you have any recommendations on improving it I would like to hear from you.
I have been working as an SEO expert in Ireland for almost ten years now but I started out in the IT industry as a Software QA engineer for the Corel Corporation back in 1995. After a brief 6 months testing their software I moved from QA into Engineering. I really enjoyed the engineering side of things and spent the next 7 years working within the localization industry for companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and Symantec. However, even though the software was different at each company I came to realize the job was always the same.
I set about setting up my own engineering contract company, and it was during one of my contracts with a web development company that I got interested in search engine optimization. As I worked on several large websites I began to acquire the necessary skills and expertise to be able to go out on my own. This is around the time I started to publish any expert knowledge I picked up to my own web site, Stevenforsyth.com, in the hope to share what I could with other budding SEO analysts/specialists.
I then worked for a jewellery company, Celtic Rings Ltd, for 6 years as their lead SEO consultant, this allowed me to practise and hone my skills in a competitive market and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Getting the site to rank highly for competitive terms such as ‘diamonds’, ‘wedding rings’, etc was difficult and time consuming.
However, it paid dividends and allowed me to apply for the role as SEO Manager for Saongroup.com. This was one of my most challenging roles, with over 500 job sites spanning the globe including jobs.ie and irishjobs.ie, it is a huge task to keep all those sites performing to their maximum ability within the local search results for their respective TLD’s. However, we had a great team that allowed us to do just that.
I then had the opportunity to take up the position of SEO Manager for In the Company of Huskies, one of Dublin's leading digital marketing agencies. This role allowed me to work with some of the biggest brands in the world such as Guinness, Coca Cola, Liberty Insurance and many more. Again, I had a great team at Huskies and I'd like to thank them for a wonderful year.
My current position is SEO Product Manager for Groupon International, the worlds leading online coupon network. With major sites in 48 countries, Groupon are a truly global company. It's a very exciting opportunity and I look forward to the challenges ahead.
Becoming an expert in SEO takes time, patience, understanding and a fair bit of analytics. As Google constantly improves their search engine in order to bring the most relevant results to the user, it means that our job is constantly changing. More and more I am finding that SEO analysts are slowly becoming marketing specialists. Not that I mind, I find marketing extremely interesting and effective. Google is at a stage now that it is smart enough to know when it is being gamed, so the best route to success is by abiding by their guidelines and making the most of others inability to do so.
Unfortunately the internet is awash with SEO consultants claiming to be experts and charging astronomical rates for their services, which in the long run will only serve as being detrimental to your sites ranking within Google. I set this site up so that people could get the information about search engine optimization that they need to succeed – and to do it for free.
Why? Well, I don’t think there should be any cost in knowing how to do something. Fair enough if you want to pay someone because you simply don’t have the time yourself, but paying someone to do something to your business that you don’t fully understand is outright dangerous. So hopefully you will pick up the required expertise to at least understand SEO and its process. You may not want to call yourself an SEO expert but at least you won’t be fooled by someone who does.
Enjoy the site and please feel free to contact me if there is any subject you would like to see me cover. (Apologies if parts of the site are a little dated, I don't have as much time to spend on it as I used to. Busy bee!)
As Google grows and improves as a search engine, it has to release updates to its search algorithm. These updates are usually given names, such as Panda (named after Neveet Panda, a Google engineer) and Penguin (don’t ask, coz I don’t know). Every time an update is released it has an effect on the search engine result positions or ‘serps’. As an SEO analyst, it is our job to identify what these updates mean and how to recover from them if any of our sites are affected. Let’s explore these last two major updates a bit more closely so we can understand fully what they mean to webmasters and SEO’s alike.
Google Panda was a major change to Google's search results ranking algorithm, it was released in February 2011. The purpose of this update was to lessen the rank of so called "low-quality sites" or "thin content sites", thereby returning quality sites to the top of the search results. According to Google, this change would affect the rankings of nearly 12% of all search results. Soon after the Panda rollout Google's webmaster forum was bombarded with complaints of scraper sites receiving higher rankings than sites with original, quality content.
Google even went as far as publicly asking for data points to help detect the offending scrapers. Google's Panda has received quite a few updates since the February rollout. This is normal for such a big update as they tweak it to make it function as it was meant to. To assist the affected site owners, Google published an article on its blog, giving publishers the ability to evaluate their website's quality. Google has a list of 23 items on its blog answering the question - "What counts as a high-quality site?” - That is supposed to aid webmasters so they could start thinking along the same lines as Google when publishing content.
So how do you avoid being hit by a Panda?
Content! It would seem that content is, and always will be, king. Regardless of how sick and tired you are of hearing the famed term (first coined by Bill Gates in 1996, listen to the audio file below). Websites with ‘thin’ content are being punished with this update. Thin content means countless product pages with little or no information, generic terms and titles, duplicated phrases, scraped content from other sites etc. If you have an ecommerce site you should look to fill out your product pages with detailed descriptions, give your products unique, descriptive names and try removing repeated phrases and sections.Content is King by Bill Gates (read by Jo Barnes) by jobarnes
This is a big task for most ecommerce sites, particularly those selling thousands of products, but the end result will mean you will avoid any panda penalty and your site will prove more useful to your visitors. So really it’s a win-win. Try and build more trust and authority into your site by using social signals such as Google+ and Facebook, users sharing your content is further evidence to Google that your site is not spam and has worth to others.
Google Penguin is the name chosen for Google’s algorithm update which was first announced on April 24, 2012. This update was aimed at decreasing the search engine rankings of sites that had violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using any of several ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and cloaking, but mainly at those who participated in link schemes such as paid links in order to ‘game’ the engine. This seems to be the biggest factor. Penguin would notice ‘money’ keywords in the anchor text that would make your profile look gamed and unnatural.
They also identified blog networks such as BuildMyRank.com, these networks would create small posts with keyword laden anchor text links and post them on 'comment closed' blogs that no one visited or read, strictly used to build links and improve rankings. Network blogs like this were identified and sites that used their services were punished with the Penguin penalty. All sorts of spam links were hit with this update, meaning that a lot of sites felt the wrath of Google almost overnight. The only sites to escape serious punishment seemed to be big brand names. These types of sites seemed immune even though they were also involved in such tactics, resulting in thousands of mom and pop stores being shut down and resulting in a rich get richer and poor get poorer scenario.
However you look at this update, it has to be said that it was very effective. It did what Google wanted and has changed the way people build links. In my opinion, it was a great change that now levels the playing field. Before it was the site who spent the most money on generating new links whereas now it is the site that creates the most compelling content that people want to link to. Unfortunately for some, you got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette.
Google’s Penguin feedback/appeasing form
Two days after the Penguin update went live, Google prepared a feedback form; allowing users who wanted to report web spam that still ranks highly after the algorithm change, and those who think that their site got unfairly hit by Penguin. Some 700,000 sites got an email sent to their webmaster tools account informing them that their site had unnatural inbound links, it requested that they remove these links and then submit their site for reconsideration. The reconsideration request, if successful, would mean a return to the rankings – if your site deserved the rankings to begin with!
Recovering from a Manual Penalty
This is an area where I consider myself somewhat of an expert, having submitted over 500 reconsideration requests and having a 99% success rate in getting sites out of a manual penalty. I say 99% because I failed to get one site back, however, I believe this site was on a toxic domain to begin with and simply cleaning the link profile and on site elements were not enough. I would have liked to have worked more on that site to identify the root cause but unfortunately for me, the webmaster decided to throw the towel in and switch to a new domain – against my recommendations. Alas, can’t win them all.
The first thing to do is analyse your backlink profile, to do this you will need to log into your Google Webmaster tools account and download the ‘latest’ links into your site in a .csv file. I recommend also downloading you backlink profile from other sources such as majesticseo.com and opensiteexplorer.com. The reason being that although Google show you more links to your site than they have in the past, it is still not a true reflection of all the links you may have acquired over the years. Using these other sources you will have a better idea of your overall link count.
Once you have the three link profiles downloaded you should copy them all into one spread sheet and ‘remove duplicates’ from the Data menu in Excel. You can then use Screaming Frog to find out which links are still active and remove the dead links, to learn how to do this click here. Now you have a final list of links that you can start checking to see if they are over-optimized anchor text or placed on spam blogs/pages. You can read more about the link profile cleaning process here.
A lot of people recommend removing all the links, I would NOT recommend doing this. If you see a link on a decent page but the anchor text is using exact-match keywords then just reach out to the webmaster and request the anchor text be changed to either your brand/company name or a ‘naked URL’ (www.example.com). This method will dilute the amount of over-optimized anchor text links. Then request removals of any spam links. This is a laborious task, to learn more about outreach and submitting your site for reconsideration once completed, check out my Reconsideration Request page for more details on method and execution.
Here are some great sites that I use on a regular basis to keep on top of the ever changing playing field that is SEO. These sites have been reviewed and used by me and are my personal choice. None of these sites have requested that I link to them, I simply think you should check them out if you are serious about becoming a real SEO expert:
SEO Product Manager
Tallaght, D24, Ireland.(086) 122-8514 email@example.com
Steven's home page: www.stevenforsyth.com