Blackhat vs. Whitehat SEO – My Opinion

Should you use link building techiques that are outside of Google guidelines?

Before we get too deep into this, the definition of Blackhat SEO can vary. As I mentioned in this article, I tend to think of blackhat as activity that is illegal or bordering on illegal. But for the purposes of this article, let’s say that blackhat is anything that is outside Google (or other search engine) guidelines.

Here is the summary of where I stand:

  • I don’t have a problem with blackhat SEOs in most circumstances
  • If you do blackhat SEO for someone else’s website – you must be clear about the risks to their business
  • If you do blackhat SEO for yourself, you need to be comfortable with the idea that Google can switch off your income overnight
  • I’m not comfortable building someone else’s business on blackhat SEO techniques, but that’s just me and why I don’t practice it for clients
  • I don’t want to come into work every day and think is this the day of the Google update that will affect my client

Few SEOs would argue that techniques such as buying links can give you a big boost in traffic as a result of higher rankings, the fact is that right now, a range of link building techniques that are outside of Google guidelines can work. Buying links is one of them. Link building can also be very hard, so it is little wonder that SEOs take the easy route and put budget into buying links in order to get results. Part of me doesn’t blame them.

But should you do it?

I’m sharing my own experience to try and explain my thinking here.

I learnt SEO via black / greyhat tactics

I first got into SEO at University when I was meant to be studying for my law degree, I was short of cash and eventually found my way to Google Adsense and a bit of CPA / affiliate marketing. I built some websites and wanted to get them to rank so I could make some money (mainly for beer) and I didn’t really care whether what I did was inside Google guidelines or not. I messed about with a bunch of techniques that, looking back, were pretty spammy and shouldn’t have worked, but they did. I didn’t make a fortune but I made enough to go for a few good nights out every month with my mates and not worry about buying a round of beers.

I was far from being a blackhat, but I wasn’t whiter than white either. Mainly because I didn’t even consider what I was doing to be that wrong, loads of other people were doing it and it worked. I knew it wasn’t illegal so where was the problem?

After a while, I started learning more, reading more and become more aware of this thing called web spam and that apparently, Google had a team of people dedicated to fighting it. So I started to look into the techniques they were fighting and low and behold, it was pretty much the kind of stuff I had been doing.

Meh. I still didn’t care. What’s the worst that was going to happen? If I got caught, I’d lose a bit of beer money. I wouldn’t be in the position of not being able to pay bills or lose my home or my car. I knew it was risky but I was fine with it, it was only me that would get “hurt” if Google caught me.

This is the key thing you need to consider when deciding the level of risk you’re willing to take.

Let me be clear:

I was taking risks with my own websites and my own income, 100% my decision.

If you are comfortable with the idea that your income could be pretty much switched off overnight, then why worry? I was comfortable with this and knew what I was doing. I know that many may not agree with this but it is your choice, if you want to get in, make some cash then get out, that is up to you.

Irish Wonder published a very timely post showing how a certain group of spammy websites were ranking for a very competitive gambling related keyword. The techniques used to rank this site (not just those pointed out in the post) are very spammy and I’m positive they will be caught by Google. However for such a competitive keyword, you only need to rank for a short amount of time before you’ve made a profit. It’s a case of get in, make enough to profit, get out. Rinse, repeat and scale.

I know some blackhat SEOs who have made a fortune through spam, they have then taken that money and invested it offline. Part of me can’t blame them for doing this, I think I actually admire them! They’ve found a way to make money, done it, then got out and done something smart with what they earned. They haven’t broken the law to earn what they have, you could argue that what they have done is unehtical, but I’m not getting into that here because it’s too subjective.

The bottom line for me, is that if you’re comfortable with the churn and burn approach, fully aware that any day, your income could be turned off, then go for it.

When this changes

I will say this though – this is NOT an acceptable approach if you’re employed to do SEO for another company or individual. This, for me, is where the line gets drawn. If you’re doing SEO for a small business that has been offline for 30 years and are just moving online, you should not be risking their online business and growth by using churn and burn tactics. That is not your decision to take.

As an SEO company, you’re paid to get results for your client, but all too often I read and hear “it works and gets results so what’s the problem?”

The problem is that the duty to get results doesn’t give you license to take risks with your client’s business. But what if the client demands results right now?

I feel like you have two choices here:

1 – Full disclosure

Full disclosure to the client of what tactics are outside Google guidelines and the consequences of getting caught using those tactics. They could do very well in the short term but you can’t guarantee that they will never get caught. Showing them something like this can probably help demonstrate what could happen if things goe wrong:


If the client is comfortable with this and happy with the risks, then you may decide to go for it. This sits better with me because the client is deciding to take the risk with their company in the full knowledge of what may happen. This is very different to the SEO company who offer the moon on a stick and don’t give a shit what tactics they use.

2 – Don’t compromise

The second option is to not compromise on your tactics because of the risks involved and walk away from the client project. If you do this, I bet that at least once in a while, they will come back 12 months later saying you were right. At which point they’ll be paying you to take links down rather than build them!

Whichever you choose, is clearly your choice and I wouldn’t judge anyone on what they do. But as stated above, there is a line that should be drawn and if you’re doing blackhat SEO for a website without being clear about the risks, then I don’t think that is right.

What I do now

In terms of my agency life, I can’t recommend blackhat SEO to clients, even if they understand the risks. I don’t want to live a life where with each Google update I have to log into analytics and see if my client has been hit.

Having said that, I do experiment and test stuff with my own websites. I think all SEOs should test for themselves and not blindly take the word of others. This is an old post from Rishi but it is still relevant today and to this discussion.

I don’t earn money from Adsense or affiliate sites anymore, those sites were burnt a long time ago. Plus, it was a LOT easier back then. Now, you have to actually work hard to even make spam work enough to make a good income 🙂

Non-SEO books that SEOs recommend

I enjoy reading books that are not about SEO but still influence my work in some way. I think that SEO is still a relatively young industry and we have lots to learn from elsewhere. There are lots of things we can learn from other fields if we open up to it a bit.

I randomly thought it would be interesting to find out what books my peers recommended so I emailed them and asked. I thought it would be nice to share it publicly so I’ve created the list below to share with everyone. You will notice a few books are repeated, this is deliberate as I wanted to show the popularity of them.

On a related note, my link building book is starting to take shape so if you’d like to hear about it when it’s released, sign up using that link.

Sam Crocker recommends

Switch: How to change things when change is hard
  E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives
  Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions
  Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People

Dr Pete recommends
  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Duncan Morris recommends
  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Wil Reynolds recommends
  Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
  The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
Switch: How to change things when change is hard

Ian Lurie recommends


  Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
  The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
  Confessions of an Advertising Man
  My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising

Mackenzie Fogelson recommends
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose; A Round Table Comic
  E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company
  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
  The One Minute Manager

Rand Fishkin recommends
The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
  The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic
Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Joanna Lord recommends
Fire Starter Lessons
  The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business
  The Phantom Tollbooth

Will Critchlow recommends
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

I’d love to hear your own recommendations in the comments, although I should really hold back on downloading yet more books for my Kindle!

MozCon 2012 – My Thoughts and Slidedeck

This year I was fortunate enough to speak at MozCon in Seattle, it was one of the best conferences I’ve spoken at.  I’ve not spoken at loads of conferences but I’ve attended a fair few and I was seriously impressed with the speakers, content and audience of MozCon.  A few people have been asking for copies of my slidedeck so you can find them at the bottom of this post or just click here.  It is an edited version, I’ve taken a couple of bits out which referenced client work and the odd tactic I don’t want shared too publicly.  All photos below are from Rudy Lopez.

Summary of MozCon

There were some over-arching themes during the conference which came out during the three days for me.  None of them that unexpected to be honest, but it is good to see the industry taking these kind of things seriously.

  • Content marketing and strategy are at the forefront of people’s mind (kinda expected)
  • The companies that will win in years to come will be doing things that reach beyond just SEO and quick wins
  • We are marketers, not just SEOs – our budgets and the levels we sit at within clients should reflect that

My favourite talks over the three days were from Wil Reynolds, Mike King, Dr Pete and Richard Baxter.  Two of them (Wil and Mike) very motivational and with good messaging.  The other two (Pete and Rich) very data driven.  You can see the slidedecks at the bottom of this post.


Where SEO is going

Getting into more detail, the messaging from a few speakers from MozCon was clear – SEOs need to get over short term tactics and start doing stuff that makes a big impact to their clients beyond links.  This was a little tough to hear for me personally because I opened MozCon with a talk about 35 (ended up being 37) link building tactics which arguably, went against the overall message.  One attendee picked up on this:

and my reply:

Ultimately, I think you need balance at SEO conferences.  My message sat within the overall message in that my link building techniques (with the odd exception!) are totally legitimate and ones that will build good relationships with the right people.

Yes, if companies want to win online they need to deserve to.  But it isn’t that easy.  With many clients, this involves change, people don’t like change, change takes time.  Yes we should totally be thinking big and influencing change within our client companies, however it won’t happen overnight.

In the meantime, 37 ways to build links that you deserve won’t hurt right 🙂

I actually think that if we were telling a story, the three talks from Wil, Mike and myself compliment each other well.  Mike did a great job of explaining how to pitch content marketing and addressed the fact that this stuff can be tough.  I also favour actionable talks, both as a speaker and as an attendee so Mike’s was good because it laid out a good process which many people could use and adapt.  Whilst Wil was very blunt and to the point about why we need to change our mindsets and it ended up being a pretty motivational talk with a few actionable tips as well.

My own talk

I loved every minute of it.  I was really, really nervous beforehand and felt like I may be sick.  Particularly having to follow Rand’s introduction and be the first speaker of the three days.  But it was amazing and I’ve had some great feedback on Twitter and in person from many attendees.  If you were at MozCon and have some feedback on what I can improve or do better, please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.

I had a number of people say it was the most actionable which was great to hear because this was exactly what I was pitching for.  Let’s be honest, I’m never going to out-perform Wil Reynolds, Rand or Mike King!  So actionable and hands on stuff that people can use is the best way I know to present stuff.  Hopefully it was useful to as many people as possible.

The social time

I think there is one thing that impressed me more than anything else at MozCon – the audience.  Both during the conference and at the social events, everyone was just so nice and friendly.  I talked to some very smart people and certain learnt a lot from chatting to many of the audience, it is a shame sometimes that the smartest SEOs aren’t keen on public speaking because some of the smartest SEOs I’ve met have never spoken at conferences.

The venues were also excellent, particularly the Garage which is a great space and with such great weather, we spent a lot of time out on the terrace drinking beer in the sunshine.  The free bar and food also helped make it an awesome night!  There were also pool tables and bowling alleys for everyone to use.

If you were one of the people who handed me a pint of Guinness or beer over the three days, thank you!  If you came and said hello, thank you!  I was seriously impressed with the audience and the nice words and handshakes – I genuinely appreciate it all.

The conference venue

I liked the Westin.  The one thing I noticed was that despite there being over 800 people there, it didn’t feel like there were.  There was plenty of space to move about and I particularly liked having live streams of the talks on TVs placed around the eating and social areas, so if you had some work to do, you could do but still keep an eye on the stage.

There were moans and groans about the Wifi – yes it was very flakey during the sessions but I know that Moz did put a hell of a lot of effort into making it work.  The fact is that 800 people (all with more than one device probably) trying to use the Wifi at the same time is going to be hard.

What wasn’t talked about much

The fact that despite recent Google updates, spam can still work.  Paid links can still work.  Yes things are changing and companies should be looking to adapt their strategies and even their business models if necessary.  But right now, I feel Google have a long way to go.  I’m not convinced that the Penguin update was specifically aimed at people who bought links, I think that bought links did get caught in the crossfire though.

The fallout and the various unnatural links warning sparked a huge reaction from SEOs who opened up their link building blackbooks for Google to see – this can give them exactly what they need to start going after paid links.  They could of course have collected data on who buys and sells links themselves, but why bother when you have a community of SEOs to do it for you? 🙂

I wish this had been touched upon a bit more and a number of attendees asked my about Penguin problems after the conference.

Other roundups

These are a few other roundups I’ve seen, let me know if I’ve missed any in the comments and I’ll edit. (includes links to day 1 and 2)


My own –

Mike King –

Wil Reynolds –

Richard Baxter –

You can also grab everyone’s slidedecks from this page.  I can’t find Dr Pete’s right now to embed but you can download it.
If you were at MozCon, feel free to leave any comments below and add your own thoughts, particularly if you have feedback on how I can improve my talks.

Using Trello to Manage SEO Projects

If you haven’t heard of it before, Trello is an online collaboration / project management tool.  We’ve been testing it on a few projects at Distilled and personally I really like it.  Most people who I’ve spoken to use it differently, its very flexible.  In this post I’ll talk a little bit about the features and how I use it to manage multiple SEO projects.

Will actually did a short Pro Tip video over on the Distilled YouTube channel on Trello a few days ago –

Why I like it

Trello allows you to create a “board” for each of your projects, you can then break this board down into various stages in a project life cycle.  This tends to lend itself well to web development / software development projects where you have stages such as in progress, testing, live etc.  You can see a good example of this as well as other Trello features by looking at the public board for Trello itself –

The cards are very easy to organise because you can drag them up and across the columns.  You can also “flip them over” and write more details on the back such as adding comments, due dates, attachments etc.  Here is what it looks like –

Back of Trello Card
This is great because you can chuck all your notes, links, ideas and other stuff to the card and when the time comes to do the work, you have all your required information in one place.

Another great feature which makes it great for collaboration is the easy assignment of cards to team members.  You can do this just by dragging their profile picture into a card.  So you can easily see at a glance who is meant to be working on what within your project –

Front of Trello Card
The one thing to remember here is that to truly be effective, all team members must embrace and use the system.  Its no good assigning cards to people if they never login and check them!

Update: Thanks to Marc for pointing out this nifty little Chrome extension which lets you copy a Trello board including the columns, preferences etc.  This is really cool for using the same board template across multiple projects.

How I use Trello for SEO Projects

At first glance, Trello doesn’t lend itself well to my SEO projects.  Particularly as some tasks are ongoing and happen once a month.  For example these may be tasks which you repeat every month or continue over the course of several months –

  • Review Google Webmaster Tools
  • Link building
  • Competitor analysis

However you can break these tasks down and make them more precise and actionable.  For example, just having a card for “Link Building” is never probably never going to get moved to the done pile.  Its probably going to be ongoing.  However you may have different types of link building which are more precise –

  • Red widget infographic outreach contact list creation
  • Scrape competitor As links and order by DA
  • Survey SEO team for existing contacts in client industry

You can make these into cards and they can be moved to your done column.

My Trello Setup

I try to keep my setup as simple as possible and will tend to only have four columns –

  • Deliverables
  • In Progress
  • Delivered
  • Waiting for Client

I make sure that at the start of an SEO project, the Deliverables column includes EVERYTHING that the client has requested as part of our contract.  Of course these may change as the project progresses, but as a starting point, I make sure I have written down everything we have agreed to do.

I’ll tend to order the deliverables roughly in order of which ones I’ll work on first.  Then when I’m actually working on that deliverable, I’ll move it to the In Progress column.  I try to make sure that I have no more than 2-3 deliverables in progress at one time.  Otherwise it can be too easy to spread yourself too thin and end up not finishing anything.

When working on multiple clients, I’ll often come across relevant opportunities for clients I may not be working on at that precise moment.  For example I may find a good link opportunity, but I don’t want to get distracted away from my current work.  So I’ll quickly pop over to Trello, find the card that is relevant and add a note on the back.  If a card doesn’t existing, I’ll just add one and come back to it later.

Possible Additional Column – Ideas

In relation to this, you can also have another column for “Ideas” which can be things you think of which may not be part of an agreed deliverable.  You still want to capture these ideas somehow and make sure you don’t just forget about them.  So an ideas column which you check every few days can be very good for this and possibly adding extra value to your SEO project.

This also sits well with the Getting Things Done system which encourages some kind of way of capturing all your ideas into one central place.  You can just do this in a single column and if an idea becomes a deliverable, you can just move it along the columns and delegate accordingly.

You can combine this with another nice feature of Trello – the ability to vote on cards you like.  You can see this on the public Trello board I linked to above, each card has a number of votes which can help the guys at Trello see what ideas people want the most.  This can be a great way of collaborating on ideas you have for clients and seeing which ones your team think you should work on next –

Vote button in Trello

Where Trello could be better

The one thing I’d love to see Trello do is create a way of filtering cards across multiple projects. For example if I want to see all the cards that are currently “In Progress” across five projects, it would be great to filter and see what I should be currently working on.  Right now, its a case of going through each project one by one which isn’t terrible, but can take time.

Overall I really like it, its not perfect, but most tools for project management are not perfect for everyone.  If you use Trello, let us know in the comments what you think of it and any tips you have for using it.

List of Infographic Sites for Link Building

My dislike of (bad) infographics is pretty well known.  The fact is that even bad ones can get links, so it would be very silly of me to totally ignore them given the amount of time I spend on link building.  To make things easier for other SEOs and myself, I’ve put together this list of sites that focus on promoting infographics.  I’d still ask you not to submit bad infographics to these sites, give them a good reason not to say no to your submission.  Thanks to the guys at Linkbuildr for giving my list a kick start.

If you have any additional ones, or if you own an infographic / data viz site that you’d like added to the list, feel free to leave a comment below.

You can sort each column of the table by URL, Price or Domain Authority.

URL Fee DA $35 27 $49 Free $45 17 $350 65 Free Free Free 97 Free 20 $10 25 Free 97 Free 29 $40 32 2 Euros 34 Free 97 Free 53 Free 66 Free 33 Free 83 Free 30 Free 26 Free 30 $30 30 Free 31 $49 49 $100 57 Free 32 Free 68 Free 59 Free 93 $40 31 Free 21 $20 27 Free 28 $30 20 Free 31 Free 30 Free 16 Free 20 $50 30 79 Free 54 Free 19 $25 20 $15 7 $20 28 £25 34

Why You Can’t Use PageRank as a Metric in an SEO Test

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now and I’m sure the title will grab the attention of any remaining PageRank lovers out there.  This post isn’t intended to provoke a reaction from anyone (although I’d love to hear your opinions), this post is meant to save people time on worrying about something that you can’t accurately measure.

I want to slip in a quick caveat before people jump straight to the comments and shoot me down.  I think that PageRank can be a useful metric to keep an eye on, I’ve been the same as everyone else and when talk of a PageRank update surface, I’ll go and check some of my sites.  I’ll also use it sometimes when doing some top level analysis of a sites structure and architecture.  But I certainly do not rely on it as a metric to influence my decisions for SEO campaigns and tactics.  I can probably sum it up by saying the following –

I use PageRank as an indicator of what Google thinks of page, I don’t use it as the truth

The prompt to write this post came about when some of my team at Distilled were discussing running a test on the flow of PageRank.  I love hearing them talk about testing stuff, I’ve done my own PageRank tests in the past.  But I had to voice my opinion which was that any test that involves the use of PageRank as a key metric is ultimately flawed.  Why?

Because you do not know what the PageRank of any given page is at the current (or when the test finishes) point in time

But what about this:

That is NOT the Google PageRank of the page you are looking at.  It is a snapshot of what the Google PageRank was at the time of Google pushing the data out to their Toolbar.  It has also been rounded off – real PageRank is in fact the output of a complex calculation that does not nicely equal a whole number.

Part of me is actually hoping that someone out there can prove me wrong and show me that PageRank can be reliably and accurately measured.   I’d love to see an example.

PageRank is also a fluid metric, it changes constantly and the only people who see this are Google themselves – and probably Matt Cutt’s cat 🙂

Think about it this way.  If, shortly after I publish this post, I get a link from the homepage of the BBC and a link from the homepage of NASA, what will my PageRank be?  According to the Google Toolbar, it will probably be N/A or 0.  But both of these pages are PR9.  But whenever Google next crawl the links to this blog post, they could give it an immediate ranking boost by flowing the PageRank.  But I’d have no idea what my PageRank actually is until the next Toolbar update which could be months away.

So when you cannot reliably measure a metric, you cannot use it as the basis for testing.  Yes you can use it as an indicator, but in my opinion, you can’t use it to backup your claims on certain SEO tactics.

Something you CAN measure which is almost the same and more useful

Crawl stats.  Matt Cutts confirmed that your PageRank can influence how often and how deeply Google crawl your site:

“There is also not a hard limit on our crawl. The best way to think about it is that the number of pages that we crawl is roughly proportional to your PageRank. So if you have a lot of incoming links on your root page, we’ll definitely crawl that. Then your root page may link to other pages, and those will get PageRank and we’ll crawl those as well. As you get deeper and deeper in your site, however, PageRank tends to decline.”

Why not use your own crawl stats as a measure of which pages Google see as most important?  It makes sense that Google crawl more important pages more often because of the sheer links pointing at them.  You can then take this data and cross reference it with the pages that are getting organic traffic from Google.

Even better, you can see which pages Google are NOT crawling as much and see why.  Perhaps they are not linked to well internally, perhaps they have no external links.  Either way, you can take reliable data from a test such as this and be pretty confident in the results and your chosen action.

I’d love to hear everyones opinions on this and if someone can prove they can measure PageRank accurately and reliably enough to make it the basis of an SEO test, please let me know!


Only First Link on a Page Passes Anchor Text? A Small Test

There have been numerous experiments to see whether or not two links on the same page to the same URL, both pass anchor text value to the linked to page.  In the true spirit of an SEO, I wanted to test this myself.

If you work in SEO, I’d highly encourage you to do your own testing. There are loads of great SEO blogs out there that give you great info, but you can’t beat doing your own thing and verifying what people say for yourself.


29th December 2010 this is how the link looked:

As you can see, very simple.  One text link saying “Andy J Davies” which linked to the URL:

This page did NOT rank  for this keyword before I put this link live.  It is actually a very new page and doesn’t rank much for anything.

After the link went live, that exact page started ranking 8th in for “andy j davies”:

What I did next –

I edited the blog post and inserted another link to the same page, but using different anchor text:

So both links are going to the same page.


So after a few weeks, the results changed.  Andy’s site stopped ranking for “andy j davies” and started ranking for “a test on SVG images” –

For me, this is pretty conclusive.  I know some may argue that this wasn’t that scientific.  But I’m happy with this outcome.

So I’ve just verified what others have said, but the bottom line is that you should be testing this stuff yourself.

Why Knowing Everything About SEO Doesn’t Mean Shit

Bit of a disclaimer before you read too far and get angry with the lack of “real” SEO tips –

This post is more about getting SEO done rather than pure SEO.  The point being (as the title of this post implies) that even if you are an SEO rockstar, it doesn’t mean you are good at getting shit done.

This probably applies even more if your job title has the word “consultant” in it.  Yep, mine has it!  I bet that loads of SEO Consultants read loads of great SEO blogs, follow loads of great SEO people on Twitter, go to loads of great conferences.  Does it mean they can do SEO?  Nope.

Does the client care that you do all this stuff?  Nope.

Does the client care about the work you do for them and what their ROI is?  Yes!

Relating this back to real life

Back in May this year I joined Distilled.  I was super excited about going to a company that not only specialised in SEO, but were one of the leading UK companies.  I was super excited about how much more I could learn about SEO.  I couldn’t wait to get inside Distilled and learn all the “secrets”, oh and before you ask, I can’t tell you!

Looking back over the last seven months, I have learnt LOADS.  But to be honest, although I’ve learnt loads of SEO stuff, the more valuable stuff I’ve learnt has been more focused on getting shit done.

Before I joined Distilled, I worked for Pin Digital where I was in the enviable position of being in total control of client websites.  If I wanted some development changes (within reason) I could usually get them done.  It was just a case of walking next door to the developers and asking nicely.

I didn’t appreciate how valuable this was.  We were also in the fortunate position of working with companies who were big enough to understand the value of SEO, but not so big that they did their own SEO.  So we took pretty much 100% control over work and it was our job to get stuff done.  This isn’t that difficult in SME companies where you have control of the development side of the site too.

What I Learnt (sometimes the hard way) at Distilled –

SEO means nothing unless it gets done

A few months after starting, I was fortunate enough to take part in some in-house training sessions.  Will blogged about one of them here, the other was with a super smart person on the subject of influencing change and basically getting shit done.  The latter was probably the single most important thing I’ve learnt since starting at Distilled.

It changed just about everything about the way I did stuff.

I realised that being able to look at a client’s website and make SEO recommendations wasn’t enough to make a difference to their business.  Providing reports and strategy documents wasn’t enough to make a difference to their business.  Swapping emails with clients wasn’t enough to make a difference to their business.

Influencing Change and Getting Shit Done makes a difference to their business

To do this is not easy.  I’m by no means perfect at it.  It essentially comes down to a few key things –

1 – Know your client – you can’t do this over email

We’re all geeks, we don’t like using the phone.  But it is by far the best way (short of meeting in person) of getting to know your clients.  I was far too used to just swapping emails with clients and feeling like that was enough.  Instead of this, I tried to concentrate on proper contact with clients over the phone and even working from their offices or sitting in on their internal meetings.

I was naive as to the power of just being around in a clients office.  I was amazed when a client told me that just me being present at one of their planning meetings was enough to help the SEO tasks get done.  I hadn’t even said anything!

Just working at a clients office – even if you’re doing other client work – is incredibly valuable because you are there for the client if they need you.  You also overhear their regular day-to-day workings and get to know their methology and how they work.  Again, very valuable information that will help you when it comes to getting shit done.

2 – Know who matters at your client company – who makes decisions and who pays your invoice

I don’t mean just know who the CFO is!  You’ll usually have a person who is your main point of contact, but in some cases they’ll always have someone to report to.  It could be their manager, the board of directors or the owner of the company.    Either way, find out who it is and what you need to do in order to get them on board with your SEO efforts.

If you have a point of contact who does report to someone else – make them look good in front of their boss.  Take them out for lunch, get to know them and what makes them tick.

3 – Take ownership of the problems

This is paramount to any project.  Its easy to take ownership of the solutions, thats the fun bit right?  Coming up with creative solutions and implementing them.  But what happens when you hit a problem?  I’m yet to work on any SEO project that hasn’t hit problems along the way in some form or another.  When problems arise, take ownership of them and solve them.  Don’t file the email away or leave it for someone else to deal with.  Do it yourself.

4 – Don’t think that delivering a document is the job done

As consultants, many of us are used to delivering strategy documents which are essentially reports.  It probably contains problems that need to be solved and may include some solutions to these problems.

This isn’t doing your job.

Sorry, sounds harsh but its true.  Most good SEOs can deliver a document that is a comprehensive technical site audit – how many of them make sure it gets done?   How many deliver it in a format that can be given straight to a developer to be implemented?

Not as many.

I’ll be honest – I’ve learnt this the hard way.  It was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt so far and it is now always in the back of my mind when I deliver anything to a client.

When you deliver something to a client, its your job to deliver change which gets done and gets them results.  Thats it.

Seriously, thats it.

If you don’t influence change or make stuff happen, you’ve failed.

As I said, I’m by no means perfect and I’m learning all the time.  Part of the reason for writing this post was to give a reminder to myself how important this stuff is so I can refer back to it.  I also wanted to share some insight into why I think just being good at SEO isn’t enough and you shouldn’t rest on your laurels thinking thats it.

a4uexpo Bavarian Beer and Sausage on stand 50

Ecommerce Link Building – Shopping Centre Websites

Very quick post today on link building, this one is for ecommerce websites who have offline shops as well.

I’ve noticed that some shopping centres throughout the UK have their own websites, they often list the shops inside the shopping centre with details of opening times, location etc.  Some of them also provide a link to the official shop website too.

I’ve found an example using the website for the Bullring Shopping Centre in Birmingham, Ann Summers.  Honestly it was the first one I came to that had got a link to their website!  Well, maybe not the first but the first that caught my eye 🙂

So if you have a client with offline stores, draw up a list of all of their stores across the UK and see if any of them are within a shopping centre.  If they are, you know what to do!