Most SEOs have a particular specialism, a secondary skill. This could be content marketing, PR or social media. In this piece, I caught up with Jason Dexter. Jason’s specialism is good, old-fashioned technical SEO.
I asked him about all of the technical issues we should be looking out for, as well as life at his agency Prototype SEO.
Q) Hi Jason, could you start by telling us about your background, how did you get into SEO?
A) My interest in web marketing started during my final year of college, where I developed a website for a business that sold number plates. The design was made by a friend of mine, but I worked on a system where you could type in your reg number, it would update the number plate in the correct format, you could change the style, overlays, at country flags etc. This sent it to the printer and it would be sorted there. We launched it and….nothing. Barely any orders or use of the system. I’d never considered HOW to get people to the website. Here I had a website I was proud of but nobody saw it. Moving onto university, I created a website that was an amalgamation of various social networks. Nice website, it worked, launched it on a domain and hit a stumbling block; no traffic. So I read up about how to get people to the website through social media, paid advertising, SEO and blog writing.
So over a few months, I’d got this passion (albeit with a small amount of knowledge) about search engines, how they work and how you could drive traffic to a website. My SEO skills weren’t setting the world alight but I’d optimised my website for some crazy long tail phrases that drew no traffic. But I was proud! Over the summer, I got a job with a a national paintball company, looking at their national websites and the websites of over 27 owner-managed websites across the country. Whilst I wasn’t experienced in commercial search optimisation, my job was overall management; image uploads, articles on the website, social media and SEO. The knowledge I gained from this job was huge and didn’t just focus on SEO. Working with 27 owner-managed venues, I essentially had 27 clients to look after, helping me build knowledge of client needs, management, relationships and internal politics. Things rapidly progressed, I contracted and freelanced for 3 years until became Head of Search for a design agency, rapidly building up their digital marketing clients and working alongside the social media department the create a multi-faceted search company.
Q) Tell us a little bit about your company, Prototype SEO?
A) The company is made up of 11 staff members, a mix of designers, developers, social and search. We’re an awesome team land theres some great talent here. It’s a relaxed environment and everyone is self motivated. We get our heads down, we get results. But because of the range of talents, there’s some crazy development work going on, or stand alone design. We’re based in South Yorkshire so our approach to work is no-nonsense, no-fuss and no-BS. Because of that, we’ve got some huge brands and companies on our roster.
Q) If you could advise an SME with little time or budget on one single task they can undertake SEO performance, what would it be?
A) Never underestimate local keywords. Ever. With that in mind, I’d look at Local Business on Google Plus. I’m cheating as it’s not a single task as such, but having a verified local listing can be incredibly powerful for a SMEs.
Q) What does your typical client campaign look like in terms of activity?
A) Generally speaking, we have two entry points into our search campaigns; we’ve built a website for them or we haven’t. If we’ve built a website, the search and social teams are involved from the very beginning. The heads of Search, Dev and Design sit down and go through a brief. My involvement here is usability, conversions and search optimisation. Every website that is built by these guys is in the best shape it can be pre-launch.
Typically, a campaign is segmented into content, technical and marketing. So whilst we could say duplicated content problems are related to content, it’s usually a technical fault with page management. Doing this also helps us create a 3 pronged approach, each having it’s own set of KPIs. Content could be user engagement and conversion increases through split testing, revenue increases. Technical could be lowering page load times and the lowering duplicated content issues. Marketing KPIs could be brand mentions, inbound traffic and (although I should say this and not focus on it) links. Each one is then split even further; content is then optimisation AND article generation AND conversion rate optimisation. Each of these subsets have their own KPIs and mini campaigns within them We try to be as granular with these campaigns because it makes management a gazillion times easier and we can see which areas need slightly more focus, which areas are performing the best and simply become much more proactive.
Q) How do you work with clients in terms of fees/KPIs?
A) Set fee. We have an extremely stringent checklist for anyone looking to pay for performance related or ranking-based KPIs and we’re yet to work with a website any other way. Without wanting to offend people, it doesn’t attract the right clients either. Search optimisation is a risk, much like any other marketing channel. We typically find that if a client is happy with work, they ramp up the spend. If they’re not, they’ll tell us and we sort it out.
Q) If you could name 5 things on a technical SEO checklist, what would they be?
- Duplicated content
- Internal linking structures
- Page Speed
Q) Following Panda 4.0, what technical issues should we be looking at?
A) Duplicated content. There are a lot more issues at play with Panda, put talking purely technical then I’d duplicated content. We recently sat down with a website and ran a crawl analysis on it and it came back with 86,000 pages. Around 60,000 of those were duplicated. We found urls duplicated through variables in the URL and poor management. We’ve added canonical tags on every page and used rel=next/prev to manage pagination. The number of pages indexed plummeted and their search visibility is climbing. We’re still waiting for the next ten day roll out of Panda to see the full affects but it is a great way of showcasing that more pages isn’t better. More quality is better.
Q) What are your favourite SEO tools?
A) DeepCrawl – Amazing and powerful crawl data. The reports could do with a better design, but overall this is a bit of kit I couldn’t live without.
SEMRush – Great monthly overview of search traffic, great for competitor analysis and keyword research.
Ahrefs – Backlink analysis. Pretty self-explanatory but great for link building.
SearchMetrics – Their search visibility tool is awesome and it’s my favourite. Doesn’t always pick up keywords a client is ranking for, but a top-level view is solid and is essential to our reporting.
Q) What metrics in Webmaster Tools should I be most concerned with from a technical standpoint?
A) Index status and crawl errors. The first allows you to compare to your site map and diagnose problems there. 100 pages in a site map and 10,000 indexed shows a huge problem. Crawl errors is not only a great way of finding issues with your website, but can be powerful for link building; pull off a list of 404 pages, run a back link check on those pages and work your way through the list starting with the pages with the most powerful links. 301 them to relevant pages and you’re not missing out on the link equity.
Q) Content marketing, short-lived fad or here to stay?
A) Here to stay. The name will change, like everything else in SEO. Just like conversion rate optimisation is now called growth hacking by most. The concept will be around for a very long time and I’m happy with that.
Q) Who would be your dream SEO client and why?
A) Paddy Power or Brew Dog. Their brand personalities are awesome and they’re not scared of trying anything completely insane, it’s part of their culture. The level of traffic they’d get also means we could work wonders on conversion rate optimisation as well.
Q) Who are your favourite SEO rockstars?
A) Rand Fishkin – That beard.
Dr Pete @ Moz – His tweets range from laser-focused research to his wife questioning why there’s dinosaurs on his presentation. He seems a great guy.
David Naylor – I love Bronco and the work they do.
James Agate – His business drive is pretty awesome.
Scott Delong – Not an SEO, but simply because of what he has achieved with ViralNova.
Neil Patel – A clever man and some great content. I admire what he does.