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I’ve been reading a number of books and blogs recently about business. I recently got sent a copy of Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, thanks to Zappos Service. I’ve also been reading Michael Hyatt’s blog Intentional Leadership, where he shares a lot of tips about productivity and leadership. Both have impacted me in big ways.

Let me tell you a story.

I work at a company, Distilled, that is all about hustle. In the course of a week at my job, I will probably touch everything from a technical site audit to internal marketing for our conferences. I might be working on gathering research for an infographic and the next minute I’m fixing an issue on the website and cleaning out the spam queue. My job is never boring.

This lack of boredom is a good thing since I have a history of getting bored in or burning myself out on an industry within a few months and then look to move on to a new industry. We have a lot of awesome things going on here at Distilled – conferences in New York and London, blog posts on our blog and many other industry blogs, and numerous awesome clients to keep happy and effect change for.

Oftentimes however (and this does not reflect poorly on the company, but on me) I get caught up in doing so many things that I forget to do any one thing well. I’ll be jumping from one project to another and not focusing on doing any one particularly well. I’m great at starting, but not so great at finishing. Even while writing this post, I keep getting distracted by Twitter and email.

This is funny, because at the heart of the GTD methodology is this:

GTD enables greater performance, capacity and innovation. It alleviates the feeling of overwhelm, instilling focus, clarity and confidence.

Michael Hyatt, the Chairman (and former CEO) of Thomas Nelson Publishers wrote a blog post called The Unproductive Writer’s Guide to Success, wherein he says the following regarding keeping your audience’s attention. The same principles apply to work.

…Instead of spending five hours writing ten blog posts, spend five hours writing one good post….

If it takes me all day to write an email that makes me a lot of money, that is better than spending five minutes to write an email that fizzles on impact. Yes, the email must do its work efficiently, but I do not have to be productive in its construction.

Instead of shouting and splashing, slow down and be unproductive. Focus on just one thing and do it right. You will be spinning circles around your competition.

When we get bogged down in a lot of “stuff to get done”, we can lose focus easily. Too many awesome things really is a problem.

I’m trying to take the time to focus on doing things well. I wish a way existed to quantify the value of time. If I get 10 things done, but not well, I’d like to be able to quantify that against 1 thing that I did REALLY well and thoroughly.

Just some thoughts.

*Post updated January 2012, originally published August 2011*

“I’m an SEO beginner and I want my first job.”

Is this you? Are you looking to find your first SEO job, but don’t know where to start? The SEO and online marketing industries are growing rapidly, with an incredible increase in the amount of jobs posted online:

We all need to know where to start when trying to learn a new skill, though, so allow me to give my thoughts from a couple of years of perspective.

Print and Read The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

SEOmoz (a website you must become familiar with if you are going to work in SEO) put out an incredible resource called The Beginner’s Guide to SEO. This guide, broken into multiple chapters, covers everything from the technical bits of websites to linkbuilding and how search engines work.

I have been carrying my copy around in my backpack for over a year and consult it often. Print it, dog-ear it, use it up, and then print it again. Trust me.

Build Your Own Website

Nothing has helped me learn SEO more than practicing it, which should come as no surprise. I built this website, in fact, to teach myself better how to launch and adhere to SEO best practices as I continue to write on and develop it. I learned how to buy domain names, direct them, implement meta tags and URL formats, and customize Analytics installs all through building this site. Developing your own site will also let you better learn HTML and CSS, and you can do some cool things with other coding languages if you desire (JavaScript, Python, etc).

Once you’ve built your first site, build another. Every time you launch a new website, you learn new skills or refresh old skills. Reminders such as the importance and work required to build an email list, optimize a site technically, implement OpenGraph tags, and more will constantly serve you well whether working inhouse or agency side. I recently relaunched SingleGeared.com, a side product, because I wanted to both make a site responsive and rebrand it, two things I had never done before. And I learned many important lessons along the way.

I highly recommend using WordPress, because it is relatively easy and quick to set up. The mass amount of available free plugins and enables you to customize your look and content on your site. The plugin I recommend most is Yoast’s WordPress SEO, because it is light and powerful. It fits all my onsite SEO needs.

Read Everything You Can

Subscribe to RSS feeds in your Google Reader or RSS reader of choice. Here are the sites I recommend to everyone:

YOUmoz (SEOmoz’s User Generated blog)
SEER Interactive (in Philly)
Ross Hudgens
Conversation Marketing (to learn about good content)
Google Webmaster Blog
Hugo Guzman’s blog
Jason Acidre’s blog

One of the best things I ever did was start using Flipboard to aggregate content from people that I trust. I followed the steps in this post and adjusted them for my content aggregation needs.

Get on Twitter, Get Involved

After building a site, getting some readers, reading a lot of blogs, and maybe doing some SEO on your mom’s puppy site, you need to get involved on Twitter. Many great conversations happen on Twitter, and that is also where you will hear about SEO jobs at great companies.

The trick to Twitter is that there is no trick. The SEO world is tight-knit and helpful, so you have to be friendly and helpful as well. If you can’t produce, you’ll move along pretty quick.

Get a Twitter name that is professional (no “MikeLovesBeer” handles here, except in rare cases) and start following some people. Engage them in conversation, ask good questions. Eventually you’ll gain some followers of your own.

One word of advice: don’t be afraid to be a bit personal, but build your online name first. I will sometimes tweet pictures now of dinner, or a beautiful sunset, but only do so now that people on Twitter know me, and I have met a lot of them in person now.

Go to Conferences

Conferences are THE place to learn incredible information, meet a lot of cool people in the industry, and yes, hear about job opportunities! I don’t care if you have to stow away on a cargo ship across the Atlantic; go to a conference. I found out about Distilled opening our NYC office when I went to the conference in London. My friend Curtis in the UK found a job there as well. Be nice, be personable, know your stuff, and don’t be afraid to approach the “big names”, because they are all great people and will help you to no end. Trust me.

I wrote a case study of increasing my Twitter following through conferences here.

Be Available for Work

People who do good work can always find work. There are endless amounts of freelance SEO jobs available for people who are willing to take the work on on the side. You don’t have to be an expert yet, but if you’re insatiably curious you will increasingly get better and provide more and more value for clients.

The key here is to be transparent. Let people know that you’re young and still learning, but that you’ll work hard. Because you’re less experienced, charge a lower hourly rate than high-paid experts would and get experience.

Also, build permission to do a case study, even an anonymized one, into your contracts. This way, you can show future clients what you are capable of doing, even if you can only tell the online vertical.

Best of luck to you!

Good luck. SEO/inbound marketing is a great field to be involved in, since the community is always excited by people who are excited and trying to add value. Engage, make friends, and have a ball.

Feel free to reach out if you have questions as well. One of my joys in life is helping others succeed.

Six months ago today, I launched this website, johnfdoherty.com, with the post An Introduction. I didn’t even change the URL, so it’s “hello-world-2”. At least it’s structurally correct, right? :-)

I’m surprised at how the site has grown. Currently there are 93 published articles, which is an average of 15.5 per month. This number is slightly skewed because of conference recaps that I have written, but let’s just say I’ve tried to write a lot of quality and helpful content quickly. Also, traffic has increased exponentially over the months, so let’s take a look at where traffic is coming from, and maybe we can put together some takeaways as well.

Let’s jump into some numbers.

First, here are my site’s statistics for the last 6 months:


Feedburner (RSS) Subscribers

To date, I have 41 RSS subscribers. I’ve had the “What Would Seth Godin Do?” widget installed since mid-June and have doubled subscribers since then.

Overall Traffic

This site has had a total of 9,077 visits since it launched on February 8th. Of all those visits, here is a breakdown by type of traffic:

Here is a breakdown by country:

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic has increased from 50 organic visits in February and 243 in March to 1,520 organic visits in July! The total of organic traffic for the life of the site is (number).

Here’s a graph showing the traffic growth:

Up and to the right!

Breakdown of organic traffic

Even more interesting is where the organic traffic is coming from. For the most part, my site is rocking the longtail of queries, though traffic is beginning to come from one and two-word keyphrases as well.

Here’s a graph of keyphrases that organic traffic is coming from:

Over 76% of traffic coming from 3+ word keyphrases

Social Traffic

Social, of course, is a big driver of traffic for this site. Since 27% of this site’s traffic comes by referral, I thought it would be wise to break referral traffic down by Social and Referring Sites (aka, the sites driving the most traffic to my site).

Here is the breakdown by social:

As you can see, Twitter drives over 75% of my social traffic, which is also 11.5% of my total site traffic. Social can drive a lot of traffic!

Here are the top 10 sites referring traffic to my site:


As all SEOs realize (hopefully), this data means nothing if we do not turn it into actions (thanks Avinash). So here are my goals for the next 6 months:

  1. Increase organic traffic by over double (goal is 8,000 organic visits by next February 7th).
  2. Increase traffic from other social media sites by double as well. I want 200+ visits from StumbleUpon and Facebook each. (So I need something StumbleUpon worthy. Anyone want to guest post an original beginner SEO-oriented infographic?)
  3. Double RSS subscribers by February 7th.
  4. Publish 3 more guest posts.
How has your website increased in traffic in the last 6 months? What goals do you have for the future? What goals do you think I should set?


I recently tweeted out a question asking if SEOs click on PPC ads. Here’s what I asked:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/dohertyjf/status/95639311361384449″]

I actually got quite a number of replies, more than I expected, so I’m doing a poll of SEOs to see how many of us actually click PPC ads organically, not when doing client research. Please answer honestly.


Do you click PPC ads organically?

  • No (56%, 18 Votes)
  • Yes (44%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 32

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I understand that we all make mistakes and emails get sent too early. What I don’t understand, however, is not sending an apology email.

The other day I received an email from 1-800-Contacts, who I have ordered replacement contact lenses from before, that clearly was sent too early. Here is the whole email. Check out the title!

As you can probably guess from my intro, I’ve received no apology email from 1-800-contacts for this sent email.

A good example

A few months ago I received an email from Hootsuite that was sent out in error. Here is the apology email that was sent out that gave me more respect for Hootsuite:

Thanks, Hootsuite! This email served a couple of functions:

  1. To apologize for spamming my email; and
  2. To build goodwill that Hootsuite is willing to admit their mistakes.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how it should be done.

Is SEO a team sport?

SEOs are often known individually in the industry, not necessarily for who they work for (though it is great when the company pushes the SEO into the spotlight, and the SEO gives love back to the company).

At the beginning of my SEO career, I assumed that everyone had skills in all areas of SEO, and that they could take care of everything on their own. SEO seems to attract the jack-of-all-trades technology and marketing people.

But is this true?

Have we forgotten to heed the advice of the great John Donne, “No man is an island”?

Code for Food

3 Reasons to Work Together

There are many reasons to work together and collaborate. Here are my top 3:

  1. Your work improves. If you have a trusted “other” to lean on, who will look over your work carefully and provide quality and careful correction, your output will be of higher quality.
  2. Shared responsibility. Hopefully you will have coworkers who can do the tasks that they are most skilled at, while you can focus on the tasks in which you excel.
  3. They can help you out on a bad day. If you have a tough day and are finding it hard to be motivated, a good coworker can pick you up and help you. Coworkers can be invaluable friends.

Being a Solo SEO is not possible

One could even argue that a “solo SEO” is not even a possibility. Even when you are working alone in your office, I bet you have others that you collaborate with and learn from. This is the importance of the SEO social communities and helpful forums, such as Twitter and the SEOmoz Pro Q/A. You could even include Quora in this list.

I posed a question to my friend Tom Harari, who I have collaborated with on some projects, and who was working on a team by himself. Here is what he said about working alone as an SEO:

As for reaching out to other SEOs outside of the SEOmoz Pro community, Twitter and SEO meetups were huge, more so Twitter though. I’ve asked Wil Reynolds, Tom Critchlow, Kris Roadruck, Ross Hudgens, and countless others direct SEO issue questions and have gotten quality responses or resources where to find an answer.

I think as an SEO in general, and as a beginner SEO, if you’re not utilizing Twitter you are severely hurting yourself. It’s not for follower count, though that’s a nice bonus. I see Twitter as a live information feed with the best articles being shared by the big names in our industry and the ability to interact in real time with them is priceless.

I also asked on Twitter, and Derek Mabie made an interesting point about teamwork being more necessary for brands and consultants. I think I agree, that it is more possible to be a solo SEO as an in-house SEO than as a consultant. This is, however, just conjecture and my gut feeling.

Some of us may be thinking that in-house SEOs need a team as well, since you are more hands-on with the websites. I think this is partially true, but being an in-house SEO, especially alone, will force you to learn many new skills. But even so, you still need a community to ask questions of.


Popular consensus seems to tell us that all SEOs need a place to ask questions. Here are the places I recommend:

If you are interested in a comparison of in-house vs agency SEOs, there is a great post here from David Karalis at SEER Interactive.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Is SEO more effective when done on a team? What advantages do you see to working alone? What resources have you found to be helpful when learning SEO, and when you have questions?

Distilled UK*Note – this post contains no SEO tips or tricks or ideas. It’s strictly informational and I am extremely excited about it*

It seems that I mention Distilled quite a bit on my blog. I accuse them of stealing my page titles, I recapped their London conference, and today I must mention them again.


Because I am joining Distilled and moving to New York to work with Tom Critchlow and some others in the new East Coast office!

This is supposed to show excitement. Photo from Flickr

I am unbelievably excited by this opportunity. Ever since I started full-time in the SEO world six months ago, after a background in web development, software customer support, and running a book publishing company in Switzerland, I have read as much as I can about SEO and tried to engage with as many people as possible on Twitter. Of course, the good people at Distilled have been a huge part of this.

I am excited to work alongside Tom Critchlow and to have access to working with some large brands, building and executing SEO strategies. I know Tom will challenge myself and the rest of the team every day. I also think that moving to New York is a great opportunity for Distilled, and for me personally, to plug into the technology world. We’ll start out small and grow as we need to grow.

What I’ll Be Doing

I will be an SEO Consultant in the New York City office, working directly with clients on strategies for improving their visibility in the Search Engines Results Pages (SERPs for the non-SEOs reading this) as well as driving more traffic to their websites while increasing conversions. Our goal is to work with these websites and brands to improve their online presence as it relates to their overall company direction.

The Distilled Culture

Distilled is all about hiring the best people to work in the best company. They are constantly striving to be better. Part of this happens through unique and interesting ways to motivate employees, in ways that do not feel like motivation.

Tom wrote a great post over on OnStartups (that I commented on) about a few of the internal memes. Distilled has a Duck of Awesomeness that is passed around the office when someone does something awesome (duh).

I also recently found out that they have a Robot of Ownership, which is also passed around when someone takes ownership of an issue/problem or finds a cool new way of doing things, or generally just owns at life. Here’s a sweet picture that Justin Briggs sent to me the other day:

The Robot of Ownership

NYC is Hiring!

Are you a super cool person who is smart, hard working, passionate about technology and the Interwebz, communicates well with others, and wants to do cool things with their career?

The New York City office is hiring! You should apply NOW.

Reading_graphicI’ve been asked a few times what blogs I have been reading to increase my knowledge of SEO. I’ve decided to put together a list here of blogs that I subscribe to via RSS.

The Lucky 13 Blogs I Read via RSS

SEOmoz: If you don’t know that SEOmoz has an incredible blog with the smartest minds in the industry sharing their great thoughts and actionable tips, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years.

YOUmoz: YOUmoz is SEOmoz’s user generated blog, where users can submit their own studies and thoughts. If the post is well received by the community, it will be upgraded to the main blog.

Distilled: (disclosure: I was recently hired as an SEO Consultant at Distilled, but I have been reading their blog for many months) Distilled’s blog contains the thoughts from the many excellent SEOs and thinkers who work there. I have always found the tips contained here to be incredibly useful.

Michael Gray: Michael Gray is a great SEO who writes some very useful content. He also repurposes a lot of his old stuff onto Twitter, so you can find his old writings easily.

Search Engine Watch: SearchEngineWatch brings news about all things search, and not just Google. They offer interesting news and insights into local, global, and international SEO. If you want to keep up on the broader news of search, subscribe to this blog.

Search Engine Journal: SearchEngineJournal is action-oriented and frequently publishes articles containing useful tools to investigate to make your SEO life easier.

Copyblogger: If you care about SEO copywriting, Copyblogger can bring some value to your Reader.

Google Webmaster Central Blog: All SEOs should follow the Google Webmaster Central Blogspot blog. Here you receive updates directly from the Google team.

Outspoken Media: Lisa Barone writes some interestingly actionable tips about SEO, as well as live blogs many conferences. There is a constant stream (and balance) of useful information and good writing.

Dave Naylor’s SEO Blog: Dave Naylor’s (based in the UK) blog is not updated too frequently, but every new article contains good tips.

SEO by the Sea: Bill Slawski (a fellow Virginian) keeps us up-to-date about more interesting search news. He is known to post about new Google patents and other parts of the industry that not many others have the wherewithall to cover.

Yoast (for WordPress): If you have developed anything using WordPress, you should follow Yoast. He is known best in SEO circles for his Yoast SEO plugin (which I use on this site and think is amazing), but he also brings good news and has some entertaining (and valuable) rants.

What About You?

What about you? What blogs do you subscribe to via your RSS/Google Reader to keep you up-to-date about industry happenings as well as to learn new information? Leave them in the comments and provide the value to the rest of us!

I have recently been reading a book called “Escape From Cubicle Nation” by Pamela Slim (and forward by Guy Kawasaki). Pamela was a corporate consultant for years, and eventually realized that her passion lay with helping those trapped in “cubicle nation” rediscover their creative side and, if their idea was good enough, providing actionable tips for leaving the office and becoming a thriving entrepreneur.

I’m not going to talk about entrepreneurship here. I am going to talk about Pamela’s ideas for opening the “creative floodgates” as she calls them on page 50 of the book.

What are creative floodgates?

No matter who you are (and especially linkbuilders, you should listen up), you get tired eventually. We all have bad and tired days (mine are called “before 10am everyday”), but we cannot let those stop us from being productive for our bosses and/or clients.

Creative floodgates are the doors to our creative sides that must be re-opened from time to time. Sometimes they are wide open naturally and traffic is flowing smoothly. Sometimes, however, they are jammed up and bottlenecked. Something needs to be done to get traffic flowing again. So how do you remove the metaphorical tollbooth (the one on I-76 outside of Philadelphia is the one I have in mind specifically…) that is jamming up your creative floodgates?

Pamela’s Ideas

Pamela has a few actionable tips for strategies to take to open up your creative floodgates each day.

  • Morning Pages: Pamela suggests writing 3 pages every morning when you wake up. Now, this sounds horrible to me, as I hate mornings (read the 10am comment above) and cannot function without coffee, but I bet it would work. I may integrate this into my life.
  • Walk through a new part of town: We all have our set routines and ways we walk or drive to work, Pamela says. Break out of those. Walk home a new way from lunch and look at the different buildings. Pay attention to the smells. Recharge.
  • Play hot-warm-cold at an art museum: Pamela suggests going to an art museum/gallery and going to only the photos that really grab you and feel hot to your senses. Let them revive you. (This is a great suggestion if you live in a city.)
  • Document anything interesting with your camera: Take your camera and go on a short photo walk. If the way a leaf sits on a fence grabs you, take a photo. See someone with pink hair? Grab a photo. Don’t worry about the quality, worry about the creativity and going with your feelings.
  • Surf the Internet using tools like StumbleUpon: Use something like StumbleUpon (yes, there are uses other than linkbuilding :-)) to discover new interesting websites.
  • Get physical: Go for a brisk walk. Do some yoga. Stretch your legs. Take a dance class. Some of these must happen outside of work, but the point is to build creative activity into your lifestyle.

A few of my own

  • Edit photos: I have taken a lot of lifestyle photos in my travels. Sometimes I have to sit back at my desk, open up my iPad, and edit a few photos. I don’t feel bad about it, because it is a mental break that helps me be more productive. I just make sure not to take too much time, but I take enough to refresh my brain.
  • Listen to music: This one is obvious, but it’s worth listing. I listen to Pandora or TheSixtyOne. I also here Spotify is good (thanks Gianluca!) In Pandora you can set up custom stations of types of music (I have everything from Kanye to Metallica), and on TheSixtyOne I like setting the playlist to a certain mood (usually Happy or Rocky for me). It works.
  • Ping pong: My current workplace has a ping pong table. Sometimes when I am really backed up in the creativity department, I’ll challenge a coworker to a game. 15 minutes later, after I’ve demolished them, it’s back to work and my brain is running free.

Apply this to SEO

SEO is a delightfully creatively technical field, I find. Some days you have your creative marketing hat on, other days you have your data hat on. Both require creativity. How will you bolster yours in order to be better at your job?

We always talk about “automating” in the SEO sphere. I’m not talking down on that at all, but if that is our full picture, it is reductionistic. We must engage all of our being (mind, body, feelings) into our work to be truly great, I think.

A Few Cool Tools

For the gadget-geek in all SEOs, there are a few cool things that we can do around the office to to keep our creativity going.

First, have a whiteboard near you. Have something to draw on. The SEER Interactive office has pillars that are chalkboards so that they can sketch out an idea when the impetus strikes. Here’s a picture (taken from their site):

Chalkboard Pillars

Maybe think about investing in a GeckoBoard, or some sort of statistic counter that will keep you motivated and excite you to implement your next project even more successfully.

gecko board

Screenshot from www.geckoboard.com

Rob Ousbey of Distilled tweeted today about these cool glass boards to draw on called Clarus Boards. Classy and gives you a place to sketch out ideas.

Share Your Creative Muse!

What keeps you creative in your SEO work? In your daily life? Share with us in the comments.

I’m a search marketer. It’s what I do. I’m also a human being. It’s what I (as the philosophers like to say) be. I write this as both.

The meta description, it seems, has long been a way that search engines have figured out what a website is about and they have used is information when ranking a website in the search engine results pages (from here on, SERPs). Less-than-ethical SEOs figured this out pretty quickly, along with the meta-keywords tag (now essentially defunct), and have used the tag to stuff in keywords and essentially spam, or trick, or game (insert descriptor here) the SERPs.

The description tag, however, has historically served two roles. One was for the search engines, but the other use is user-oriented. The meta description tag, you know, is the description of the website that is shown in the SERPs to searchers when they see your site. At least, this WAS the case, until recently.

The meta description tag is dying in its current form, but it will never be dead, I do not think. Let’s investigate.

Google’s State of the Description

Google is now saying that they reserve the right to update either your page title (here) or your meta description, depending on the search query used to find your article/page.

This means your page titles and descriptions are not safe. Once again, the ethical search marketers, who are using meta descriptions to try to drive more qualified traffic and improve CTRs (click through rates) have been screwed by the practices of spammers who used to stuff their keywords into the descriptions.

Here is an example from Sphinn where the given meta description is not used. Instead, the title is used again, with ellipses added:

Good for user experience? I don't think so.

Thanks, guys. A big thanks.

So what can be done?

Thankfully, Google has given webmasters two different meta tags that can “suggest” to search engines that you do not want them to use other page titles or meta descriptions. I will be talking about these more in-depth eventually, as in the specifics of what they do, but I will describe them here.

NOODP: NOODP stands for No Open Directory Project. This tag tells Google that you do not want them to use the description of your site that is listed in DMOZ, if your site is listed. (sneak preview: this tag may have some effect even if you are not listed…)

NOYDIR: NOYDIR stands for No Yahoo Directory. Basically it serves the me function as NOODP, but applies to Yahoo (and I guess Bing).

You are also about to restrict specific search engine bots from indexing.

To restrict Googlebot, use this:
<meta name=”googlebot” content=”noodp”>
To restrict only Yahoo bot, use this:
<meta name=”slurp” content=”noydir”>
You can restrict both in a succinct way with this code:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp,noydir”>

Many WordPress themes have this built in. Others of us use Yoast SEO or a similar plugin for it.


I do recommend using both of these tags on your site, to attempt to preserve the integrity of the information you have so carefully entered into these meta descriptions. Also, be sure to do enough linkbuilding to the specific pages that you want to rank for specific terms so that your optimized page title and well-crafted description will have the best chance of showing correctly.

As always, do some testing, see what works, and adopt the best practices.