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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?

A new job in a new industry guarantees that you will learn new skills. This holds true whether your new job is as a janitor (did you know that there are 5000 janitors in the US with a PhD?), a teacher, or an SEO.

Since I am in transition between my first and second SEO jobs (from in-house SEO to SEO agency), I thought I would take the time to write out a few lessons that I have learned. Many of these can, and might be, fleshed out into more detail in the future, but for now:

Six Lessons I Have Learned

Lesson 1: Learn how to use Excel.

Your work will be much easier (and you will get a lot more done) if you can spin some graphs, compose a useful VLOOKUP formula, and sort and filter information contained in tables. When you are dealing with tens of thousands of lines of data, your brain (and nerves) will thank you. To get started, read Excel for SEOs.

Lesson 2: Communicate with others on your team.

If you’re working on a team (and you probably should when just beginning SEO), take the time to learn the strengths of others on the team. For example, the team I just left consisted of three people. Ethan is super strong in Excel and Analytics. I learned a ton from him. Ryan is a workhorse and creative when it came to linkbuilding strategies. We all learned from each other and did some great work.

Lesson 3: Read everything you can.

Enough said.

Lesson 4: You will make mistakes.

Ask questions, make a plan to correct, and learn from these mistakes. As an SEO, you will have access to awesomely powerful tools, such as Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and others. Read documentation and best practices. If you’re not taking chances, you’re not going to learn as quickly, but do not be stupid either. Use tools like SEOmoz’s Pro Q/A (if you’re a Pro member). There are industry experts there just itching to help you!

Lesson 5: Put what you learn into action.

I used to follow some RSS feeds that did not add any value to my Google Reader. I have now un-subscribed from these. If the feed is not adding value that you can use, feel free to unsubscribe. Also, if you are reading too much, you’re not working enough. Use Postrank to filter out not-so-popular articles from your RSS feed.

Lesson 6: Have fun!

The SEO community is full of great people who are not only good at what they do, but are also very likeable and approachable. Don’t be afraid to engage and ask questions of them.

What lessons have you learned in SEO? I’d love to hear some input.

Social media as a ranking signal has been a hot topic of conversation in SEO circles for the past few months. Talk has occurred for years, yet both Google and Bing have recently confirmed independently that they use Twitter and other social media channels as ranking factors. We are also seeing many more instances of who in your Twitter network has shared a link.

Most SEOs have seen the effects of tweets. We could reference Jen Lopez’s article on SEOmoz, or Mike Pantoliano’s Excel Guide for SEOs as proof of the power of tweets, as both rank well for very competitive terms (beginner’s guide and excel guide, respectively).

I have seen some troubling SERPs recently, though, that have caused me to question the viability of using social media signals as a ranking factor.

First, though, let’s make some observations about social ranking factors, and then try to come up with some suggestions for Twitter privacy settings.

Some Observations

I recently searched my handle that I use for almost everything, “dohertyjf”. The first result was Twitter, and about 20% of the results on the first 2 pages were from Twitter, including some “personal” tweets. This made me look into the results for other people in the SEO industry, as well as doing some wider searching.

For those who are more widely published than I, the percentage of results was lower, yet higher than I thought. It was approximately 10% for Mr. Randfish and 12% for Will Critchlow. These results are probably a bit skewed since the SEO/SEM community is notorious for above-average Twitter use.

Out in “the real world”, I did not see nearly as many Twitter results for people, probably because of lesser Twitter usage. Yet if social authority is going to be a ranking factor (and who really knows what “authority” means to the search engines anyways) it is a fairly sure bet that we will be seeing these results appear more often in the future.

Follower and Klout Statistics (Find the odd man out)

Author Authority Statistics

6 Social Ranking Factors

So what are the search engines using to determine “author authority”? Using the above, here are some of my thoughts:
1) Number of RELEVANT followers for your industry,
2) Click-through rate of the links you share by relevant followers,
3) Your ratio of followers to followed contacts,
4) Number of retweets by relevant followers,
5) Your “type” according to Klout (celebrity, thought leader, explorer, etc)
6) And possibly the age of your account (hence why Charlie Sheen is not influential). (This is kind of like age of a domain when calculating domain authority, though Rand wrote a great expose of this idea here.)

The key word above is “relevant”. Charlie Sheen may have a lot of followers, but they are not focused in a niche. It seems that if Google and Bing can keep authority specified to a specific niche (for example, if RandFish tweets about a Seattle Seahawks blog, it will not help that blog’s rankings unless he is a Seahawks authority), then I think we can be sure that

I still fully expect to see more campanies starting to sponsor tweets from “authoritative” figures, which will undermine the notion of established authority, since brand loyalty can be purchased for the right amount. The notion of authority is obviously more complex than your ratio of people you follow versus the number who follow you. If that were the case, anything Charlie Sheen or Ashton Kutcher shared would instantly rank #1.

Questions and Concerns

First, popularity does not equal quality. The system can be gamed, if quantity counts. I know Google and Bing have both said that they are looking at author authority instead, which does alleviate some fears, but it remains to be seen how quantity affects author authority as well on Twitter.

We also must think of paid tweets. Shouldn’t these be treated differently from unpaid tweets? How are sponsored tweets different from paid anchor text links? How can this be moderated? My answer: it can’t be.

Some Proposed Solutions

I think Twitter needs to come out with a solution to what tweets can and cannot be indexed. This must extend beyond the current “public” or “private” overall settings for accounts. I’m not advocating a Facebook-level privacy scheme, but simply something more substantial than the current options.

One idea is to index tweets with shared links, but not index retweets or links between people starting with the recipient’s Twitter handle.

A further step would be to not index any tweet not containing a link. Keep other conversations and statements private, at least from the search indexes.

Or, a user could be allowed to let tweets within a certain list of contacts be indexed, but not other lists.

Some Final Thoughts

Social signals are a fascinating animal, and I think SEOs can leverage the power we have to find some truly great business and link opportunities through the power of social media. But let’s not get carried away.

Thoughts? Disagreements? I’d love your comments!

Last night I tuned into #seochat, the weekly Twitter talk with an expert in the SEO field, moderated by @ashbuckles from SEO.com. Last night it was Tom Critchlow, one of the big guys in Distilled UK, talking about Link Audits. Tom always shares great resources to check out, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of the best links he shared last night (thanks to Trunk.ly for the resource of finding these links!

Shared Links from #seochat March 10

Link Forensics: Finding Shady Links Before Taking on New Clients | SEOmoz

5 Questions To Ask When Doing A Link Audit | Click2Rank.com

Majestic SEO: Link Intelligence Tools

Link Building Services for More Relevant & More Valuable Links | Ontolo

Advanced Link Analysis Charts | SEOmoz

Google’s Panda/Farmer Update – What To Do About It | Distilled blog

Link Building Training: Do You Already Have All the Links You Need? | SEOmoz

Guide to Competitive Backlink Analysis | SEOmoz

What Happens When You Build 10,000 Dodgy Links to a New Domain in 24 Hours? | SEOptimise

Open Site Explorer: Link Popularity & Backlink Analysis Tool

Building Your Own Scraper for Link Analysis | Distilled blog

7 Different Visualisations of Link Profiles | SEOmoz

Excel Guide for SEO – Lessons for Aspiring Ninjas | Distilled


Did I miss any? Leave them in the comments below (I may even take off the no-follow :-))

Format a sitemapI was trained as a web developer. Therefore, often many of the technical on-site details and issues get passed on to me, because I have the technical knowledge. Here’s a free tip: if you don’t know the answer and you don’t have anyone to ask, search for it.

This happens with sitemaps around my office. I was armpits-deep in sitemaps recently, trying to figure out some indexing issues with our blog, and how I could correct them. I had to build a few new sitemaps, figure out if I could accomplish certain goals with them, and then try to get them implemented. The last step didn’t quite happen (it was after 5pm and not much hustle happens in my office after 5pm), but the other two did.

Let’s explore sitemaps, including how to build them, how to format them, and what we can do with them to help out the search engines a bit (after all, they have a huge job to do!)

Tools for Creating a Sitemap

Sitemaps are tricky to build manually, which is why you should always automate them. At least, find a tool that will gather your indexable URLs, and then manually edit from there. It’s going to be a bit of work.

I recommend using Xenu Link Sleuth. It will give you not only a sitemap formatted for Google and Bing, but will you can also create sitemaps of subdomains. Xenu will also give you a report of the broken links on your site (you don’t have any of those, right?) that is clear and actionable.

Formatting a Sitemap

Here is the high-brow view of a sitemap format:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>

Basically, what you need to know is:

  • Don’t touch the “urlset” tag at the top. This is just like the HTTP schema on every webpage. You need it.
  • Each URL must be surrounded by the tags.
  • Within each set, you need to have the URL of the page between the tags.
  • <lastmod>, <changefreq>, and <priority> are optional tags. Xenu Link Sleuth can create this if you want them to, but when you’re just starting, don’t worry about them.

Give the Search Engines A Little Love

Once your sitemaps are created, using only clean URLs (Bing’s Senior Project Manager talked about this recently), they need to be placed in your root folder, as we discussed in my last post: here.

Also submit them to the search engines using Webmaster Tools, which we also covered last time. If needed, when you add new URLs to your sites, you can also submit them manually for the engines, if it is too much of a bear to recreate your sitemap then and there.

A Few Last Words

Automate automate automate. I hope you use a CMS that allows you to create sitemaps easily, as this will make you life much easier. I personally use Yoast SEO for WordPress on this site, which makes life quite easy. I highly recommend it.

If you don’t use a CMS that helps you create sitemaps, do your research and ask a lot of questions. Feel free to ask them here too!

Can I Have Too Many Links?

John Doherty —  February 25, 2011

I recently saw an article advertising the linkbuilding conference that I am attending next month in London, given by Distilled. The title of the article was “Do you have enough links?” which was intended to get at the idea that you can never have too many links.

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What factors affect Domain Trust for websites? Is Domain Trust becoming increasingly important? Read here for four factors that influence domain trust.

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Once upon a time, in a land far far away…

This is the way fairytales or deep epic stories begin usually, right? Well this is neither. The far, far away bit is true, though.

I’m talking about the Distilled Linkbuilding Conference that is being held in London, England on March 18th.

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Conversion Rates Are Dropping

John Doherty —  February 10, 2011

Well, today was an interesting day in my SEO world. After an eye appointment this morning (unrelated to SEO, obviously, though it did make seeing my screen a bit harder), I went into work and started firing off linkbuilding emails that were ready to go out.

So far, so good (except I still had trouble seeing my screen).

Then I get an email from my boss, saying traffic had dropped, as had conversions on our site. I then dive into Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to try to figure out what’s going on. I find that traffic is aboutthe same overall, but many of our major keywords are not bringing in the traffic they were last month. Mostly, though, the issue is that our site is not converting the traffic like it used to.

So we’re learning some lessons now. We made some changes last week that may need to be rolled back, or at least A/B tested to see what is going on.

Sometimes when you have made a lot of changes recently, it is impossible to pinpoint what caused the drop or rise. Maybe we need to implement slower and do some testing beforehand, and not just throw the changes out there. This is hard in a small company where everyone’s voice and opinion counts as much as the next person.

Has anyone out there had this happen? Had you restricted some pages to tighten the conversion funnel? What was the root cause?

Every day, new people enter the world of SEO. These may be former web developers, graphic designers, PR professionals, or former software support technicians. The unfortunate reality of beginning SEO is that there are few good mentors available in-person for these young SEOs, and the work involves so many facets of the Internet that it is impossible to be taught them all by a mentor.

With this in mind, I want to bring to you my top recommendations for beginner SEOs. Why should you listen to me? I’ve been in SEO full-time for about 4 months now, yet I’ve been around the fringes of SEO and, unbeknownst to me until recently, doing some SEO work for the past 3 years. I am a trained web developer and worked in software for a while, but I also developed a website around a book publishing company based in Europe where I started to hone my skills as an SEO. I consider myself a beginner still, so these recommendations come from my recent experience of entering the full-time SEO world.

Tip 1: Find a mentor

I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of finding a mentor who will teach you as much as they can, who will answer your questions every time, who lets you learn and make mistakes, and who is also a learner themselves. When I jumped in on a startup book publishing company in Switzerland, my mentor did not have a ton of publishing knowledge, but he had a lot of business knowledge from his long career, and he had the desire to teach me and listen to my ideas.

To be honest, I still do not have ONE SEO mentor, but I do consider many of the best-known to be mentors to me, because they write in-depth and well-researched articles.

Tip 2: Get involved on Twitter

One of the great aspects of the SEO world is that almost everyone is involved in discussions on Twitter. Everyone from Rand Fishkin (@SEOmoz and @randfish) to Wil Reynolds (@wilreynolds) and the Critchlow brothers (@willcritchlow and @tomcritchlow) takes the time to post interesting links for everyone’s benefit. If they speak, you should listen.

Also, begin to engage in the conversations. Ask questions and be a likable professional. Be willing to learn, challenge when appropriate or necessqry, and post interesting articles you find as well.


The SEO world is constantly changing, so if you want to keep up with the changes and shifts in technology, you should read as many of these as possible, if applicable to you. I say applicable because there is simply too much information for it to all be applicable to you, anf if you read everything you probably will never do any actual work!

I will also reiterate the advice that I read earlier, about learning the basics before attempting high-level SEO tactics. You have to crawl before you can walk. I recommend reading SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO to begin, then as many of the articles as possible about basic linkbuilding and internal site issues. Many can be found on SEOmoz.org.

Tip 4: Ask Questions

If you’re just starting in SEO, and especially if you do not have previous web development experience, you will have a lot of questions. Ask them.

Use the people around you, your co-Twitterers (see Tip 2), and forums (see Tip 5).

Tip 5: Get involved in forums

The SEO world contains many forums where you can ask your questions and receive relatively prompt and in-depth responses. I especially recommend SearchEngineWatch (Twitter: @sewatch) to get started. SEOmoz also has a good discussions area.

Remember: at the beginning it is OK to just ask questions, but after a while you should start answering questions to which you know the answers and have implemented. Don’t just regurgitate what the “experts” have said, but also do not be afraid to give an honest answer. After all, forums are for discussion!

This is the end of Part 1. To continue, please flip the tape over and continue on the other side.

Only kidding. Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow.