I like to connect with SEO peers all over the world, and there is no better way of doing this via social networks. I recently connected with Bill Ross on twitter and this is a interview about his view on the future of SEO.
Can you tell us about your background?
My journey started at the age of 12, in the late 80s. This was long before Google, and even before AOL or Prodigy dial-up (crazy, I know). I’d sit in front of an old Tandy computer my father brought home from the factory where he worked, and I’d write lines of code just to get a weird screensaver to appear.
I earned a degree in Psychology from Siena College, which I believed would help inform a career in digital marketing. Through my college years, I’d build websites to teach myself HTML and help small businesses in the local communities of upstate New York.
Fast forward to my mid-20s, when I was working for a large SEO and design agency in Raleigh, North Carolina called Market Smart Interactive. One afternoon, they gathered us in the conference room to say that the company would be shutting down; this was the spark that helped start Linchpin SEO.
Within my past ten years in digital marketing, SEO, and content strategy, I’ve had the honor of becoming the strategic lead for some of the largest global brands and content websites in the world.
Tell us about your company and your different services?
Linchpin SEO is an interactive agency in Chicago offering SEO, web design, social media, and content creation for small- and mid-market businesses. The company evolved from a small Raleigh, North Carolina design and programming firm that I started with my good friend Dan Therrien. Over the years, we’ve kept our team small by choice and resisted outsourcing, which helps us stay efficient and lean – all while providing value for our clients.
Our team of Linchpins, all of which are thought leaders in their respective fields, consist of myself, SEO and content geek; Dan, who handles all our programming; Doryan, our illustrator and lead designer; JJ, our web designer; and Ahna, who takes care of our social media strategy.
At Linchpin SEO, we base our culture on 3 core values:
- Give back to the local business community through knowledge sharing.
- Provide and execute only the strategies that will build value toward a website’s goals.
- Stay educated within the digital space and evolve as individuals.
How is the SEO industry evolving in the US?
SEO is evolving in much the same way in the U.S. as it is around the world. An SEO’s job has evolved from focusing on title tags and adding keywords to content, to now being about relationship building, understanding the psychology of the user, and providing value through content assets.
What do you think about Google’s focus on link spam?
I think Google’s focus on link spam (inflation of an assets value) is beneficial because it forces digital marketers to create content and experiences that focus on earning value. Rand at SEOmoz recently facilitated a White Board Friday to help shift the mindset of many “link builders” to that of “link earners.”
When an SEO or link builder starts focusing on “earning links,” they must strive to provide value to a website’s primary personas rather than simply relying on the creation of high-quality and unique content. This value will help earn links that are based on the merit of the pages they link to – and that’s exactly what Google will use to count towards rankings.
What is your take on social media and SEO?
Because conversion is the end goal of any SEO or marketing campaign, social media definitely plays a role. I don’t think Google or any other search engine has come close to mastering social as a ranking signal, but I do believe that social should play a large part in any campaign.
Social media is great at helping SEO with the following:
- Driving engagement
- Earning links by marketing the high-value assets to a website’s social community
- Gaining user metrics
- Getting data-driven feedback on design or content
Have you seen any correlation between Google+ and ranking?
I think the correlation that exists comes from the tangential benefit of user metrics gain – not necessarily the number of “+1’s” an article gets. I feel this tangential benefit plays a larger part than Google lets on. We’ve written a more in-depth article about it here, to help explain the value Google+ has in relation to SEO (beyond the four benefits listed above).
Do you think there is a lot of snake oil sales people in SEO?
I’d like to believe that the SEOs labeled as “snake oil salespeople” lack the basic understanding of SEO and how it has evolved. On the other hand, my realist side knows that many people out there slap the “SEO label” onto their name – because they see an opportunity to make a quick buck. They ultimately take advantage of business owners who don’t understand what SEO entails or the value that an SEO campaign can bring.
For this reason, we offer training for small business to help these business owners make informed decisions about their marketing strategies.
What’s your SEO vision of the future?
At a high level, my SEO vision for the future is rooted in the “value” that a website brings to its core community. I believe that content assets are at the core of building brand loyalty and driving engagement and rankings. Because of my background and interest in the Psychology of Motivation, I give more priority to understanding the user; the end product must provide value through engaging content assets that search rankings, traffic, and ultimately conversions.
For websites (especially brands) to succeed, they should adopt a publishing model rooted in the mindset of their target market and create these high-value assets based on persona insights.
A basic SEO flow might go something like this:
- Understand your target user and their persona type.
- Build a site structure that fosters a positive user journey for its personas (Googlebot is a persona as well).
- Create high-value content assets that help inform, guide, and educate the user.
- Utilize these content assets to build social communities, earn links, drive conversions, and build your brand.
- Finally, do what Wil Reynolds calls “RCS (Real Company Shit).”
Thanks Bill for the interview and keep doing Real Company Shit!