SEO Q&A with Samuel Crocker of OMD UK


Some of you may have seen the Q&As I’ve done with Kalena Jordan and Barry Schwartz.

And… I’m pleased to say Samuel Crocker (an SEO I have a high regard for) also agreed to do an SEO Q&A.

1. Hi Sam, so, tell us a bit about yourself, how you got in to search, what you specialise in and who you work for?

Let’s see, I got into search in a completely round about way really – I was looking for a role in marketing or advertising in general after finishing my degree and happened across what I still must admit was about the greatest written job description a young grad could look for by some company called Distilled doing this weird thing called SEO… and the rest is history really.

My primary areas of interest within SEO are enterprise SEO (i.e. usually dealing with old, ugly and massive sites that need a lot of sorting out and trying to convince the right people to actually make some changes), and exploring opportunities around local and mobile. In general I would say I’m trying to branch out a bit in my knowledge and understanding of online marketing as a whole though so trying to move away from being too narrowly focussed on any one particular area – jack of all trades, master of none I suppose!

In terms of my work, I run a team of 8 SEO’s (and growing) at OMD UK based in London. It’s been quite an experience as going from a small specialist to a massive media agency with global clients has really changed my perspective on things and hopefully given me a good vantage point on the way organisations actually approach and think about SEO. It’s been really exciting to help the team grow and to get a feel for what it’s like working within a big agency while keeping the specialist feel – we like to think of ourselves as specialists with scale.

2. So with your wealth of experience. what 3 things do you think makes a great SEO consultant?

In my opinion I think the first and most important thing is a passion for SEO and a genuine curiosity for how things work. Things change far too often (although the core tends to remain roughly the same) for people to get “comfortable” in SEO and it’s one of the things I like most. It takes a certain type of hunger to constantly be testing new things and pushing to get new changes made to your strategy.

I think the second piece of a great SEO is a general understanding of how humans interact and a good sense of marketing. At the end of the day so much of what SEO’s do (offsite) is all about marketing and human relationships – understanding what people want and how to play your cards to get what you want – whether it be brand loyalty, a link, a piece of content, etc. From a content and outreach perspective I think a strong grounding in general marketing principles is a crucial piece of a puzzle that some of the more technical people (certainly not all!) have lacked and prevented them from really taking over as successful SEO’ consultants capable of doing outreach for a brand without taking risks and capable of convincing a client what matters most to their business.

The final piece of the puzzle for me is what I think of is delivery supported by humility. There are so many lovely people in this industry but I’ve met a few that are either too stubborn or too full of themselves to succeed as a consultant. Confidence and belief in what you are doing is, of course, important – but the understanding of how SEO fits into the broader mix of media and advertising spend with your client and the social skills not to piss off the most important people in the room is one of the most underrated traits I’ve found in our industry. It’s important to me that a consultant focus not on what they’ve delivered in the past, what events they speak at, or who they know – but in what they can deliver for their clients at present.

3. Panda, content, penguin, links… what animal could be next and what could it affect?

Oh dear. I’ve heard a few theories for names and I think Zebra makes some sense in the scheme of black and white creatures – but I actually think the next big shift will not be named after an animal. To be honest I think Google still has a lot of work cut out for them around the quality content issue and also around low level link practices and anchor text over optimisation so I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes quite some time before we see the next named major algo shift but I would expect quite a few more iterations of our black and white friends.

Although it probably wouldn’t impact enough to be named I think the schema/review spam could be due a major slap in the not so distant future and I do think Local is still an area where there is a lot of spam so perhaps I’d put my money on one of those two areas. And if it’s not one of those I definitely think Google will be working on some very interesting authorship metrics that could well have a big impact on guest blogging, ranking of editorial content, etc.

4. A lot has been said about sitewide, reciprocal and directory links being worthless, do you think the same will apply to social bookmarking or has it already happened?

I always think “social bookmarking” is an interesting one because I think at the most base level creating a load of social pages or links that serve no social purpose, do not succeed on any given platform, or are anti-social in nature offer very little value to a brand or site in any case. On the lower end of the scale I can’t say that I’ve spent a lot of time playing around with it, but I don’t think the higher end of the scale is likely to be hit anytime soon.

If a brand is engaging properly on any social platform I think they stand to succeed and should be rewarded by the algorithm. The search engines almost certainly would place more weight on the trusted sources with their own algorithms rather than random networks that no one actually uses. If you can create content that will get you on the front page of Reddit, Hacker News, etc. I still think there’s definite value in it both from a traffic and potential ranking perspective.

Sam Crocker

Sam Crocker

5. With all of the above in mind, what are your top 3 link building methods and why?

This is a tricky one to answer without dropping too many buzzwords but I’ll give it a go!

I’ve personally always believed that link building and any link strategy should be led by content – whether that’s onsite or offsite. As a general rule I like to think of something that is worthy of a great deal of links needs to be either interesting, entertaining, or useful. So here are a few examples of tactics I think still work well:

1. Outreach based upon exclusivity. If you have a product that is of interest to a large enough audience and you are able to provide exclusive access to a group of people (whether it be partner websites, high profile bloggers, etc.) you stand a good chance of driving links back to your site. Whether this is a discount, personalised content, or some other type of reward I think you can get a lot back by making your customers feel appreciated.

2. Updated and genuinely useful guides. Blogging as a strategy to attract links to a corporate website has been around for a long time but a lot of times the content just seems lazy and not enough time goes into the layout. If you are a market leader (or wish to be) one way you’re going to win on the outreach front is by providing users not only what they expect, but sometimes things they didn’t even know they wanted. No one really wants to read an infographic about the history of your brand, they may however be interested in how your product was developed, what to do once they’ve booked that flight, what your other customers recommend, etc. The value exchange should not be one-way.

3. Spend time brainstorming as a team before launching a piece of linkbait, a competition, or anything else that you will invest design and development time into. I’ve seen far too many times where people get so excited they go ahead and launch and begin the outreach before a piece of content is truly ready. If you can be bothered to develop an infographic, or give away a holiday don’t just host a competition on the most popular social platform of the day – think about how you can earn long term benefit by linking it back to your site! And be sure to spend enough time thinking through an idea before one person pushes for something that never has a chance of taking off. I for one really wish April Fools came more than once a year. Getting a client to sign off and give you artistic license for an April Fools prank may not be easy and it may be difficult to get your content heard in and amongst all of the noise but we’ve had a few projects that basically ticked off a bucket list worth of authority links with one piece of content.

Bonus: For pete’s sake vary your anchor text. I know people will say “it hasn’t hurt me yet” or “why would I ask for ‘click here’ as anchor text” but the easiest way to keep your link profile natural is to let people link to your site how they please. Yes anchor text is still important but if an author is willing to cite their work and their link is pointing to the relevant page they can use whatever anchor text they please as far as I’m concerned.

6. In your opinion and excluding content and links, what are the 3 most important areas in SEO and why?

I’ve given a bit of a mix – some of these probably aren’t the most important from a strict ranking standpoint, but they are 3 that I think are immensely important and often overlooked so that’s my thinking here.

1. Mobile – the amount of search volume coming through to a lot of sites from mobile and the reluctance for webmasters to tailor their content to a mobile audience still baffles me.

2. Website Performance and mark-up – along with the above I think information architecture and page speed are also far too often overlooked. I don’t write the algorithms and I don’t claim to know exactly how they work, but I do know (or try to take the time to understand) how users behave on websites and ensuring that they (and the crawlers) can find your most important content quickly and that it doesn’t take days for that content to load is a no-brainer to me. Along these same lines I think there is a big missed trick with microdata and the opportunity to massively boost CTR by integrating reviews. I feel pretty confident that using schema.org can only help in the long term and where the markup is already supported in the SERPs this is a huge opportunity.

3. Social, personalisation and reviews – I’m not going to bore anyone with my logic I think Google’s commitment to Google+ (illustrated by their bonus structure, shifting local to this space, etc.) seems to speak volumes to me about Google’s aim to reward recommendations from individuals with authority in the same way they reward websites and brands with authority. People don’t like the idea as it’s can be a lot more difficult to “game” individuals that need actual followers/friends to have a positive impact but I think social proof is massively important already and will become more so over the next 6-12 months.

7. Which SEO software do you use the most, free and/or paid?

We have some proprietary tools that I use a great deal and pull data from a number of sources but outside of that I would say (in order):

  1. BrightEdge
  2. Linkdex
  3. Screaming Frog

In addition we use Majestic, Moz, etc. as well but I personally don’t tend to use them quite as much on a day-to-day basis.

8. Where do you see Google going with Google+ and the knowledge graph, will they ever replace the 10 blue links we are all so use to?

I sort of alluded to it above but I think Google will definitely be using Google+ and the knowledge graph to the degree we (and webmasters) feed it. If there are enough people actively using Google+ for it to drive personalised results of value, Google will definitely use it – though hopefully learn where it’s appropriate (i.e. food, books, etc.) and where it is probably not. Similarly, if we provide Google enough data that is marked up in such a manner that they can understand that information I can almost guarantee they will continue to roll out more results showing information from the knowledge graph (in fact we’re already seeing it – search for a historical question, you’ll see a date, search for a conversion, they’ll give you a calculator, etc.).

My hope would be that Google cites their work properly in the same way they request webmasters do (i.e. provide a link to the source) but we’ll have to wait and see.

To the “10 blue links” question I think we’ll probably see them but only if we’re willing to scroll. Barring a big anti-trust suit coming through I only see Google’s results moving in one direction – and that’s the direction that will drive revenue… for me that means organic results moving in one direction; down the page.

9. If SEO was a colour, what would it be and why?

Green. We’re still a very young industry with a lot to learn and a lot of growing still to do – and I do believe we’ll be around plenty long enough to do so. When you compare us to other folks within the marketing and advertising space we are incredibly young (just think how long the “most seasoned” industry veterans have been at their work)!

I think it’s really cool and I’m certainly grateful to have gotten involved as it’s been great for my career but I do want to be a part of the maturation process and hopefully see some of the negative impressions die down as we settle in.

10. If SEO was an animal, what would it be and why?

Probably a cat. First of all, we work on the internet so cats are a given – but also it’s fickle. Sometimes it rewards you and comes along for a cuddle, sometimes it turns its back to you when you most need a cuddle.

11. And finally, tell us a little bit about some of the projects you are working on at the moment in an SEO capacity and what’s been your biggest achievement in search to date?

I see what you’re trying to do here :) In my personal time I’m excited about a new project I’m working on to improve myself where I’ll be learning one new thing and blogging about it each week for the next year in a “one a week” series which hopefully should be exciting and hopefully I can keep up with it!

It’s probably for the best that I don’t mention any specific current client work but the project that I’m most excited about at the minute is developing our offering at OMD. I’m really proud of what we’ve done already and the team that’s built what we’ve got now (notably Rob Hammond, Annabel Hodges, Andrew Harries, Mark Mitchell and Jaamit Durrani).

We’ve come a long way already and I’m thrilled about the most recent batch of hires we’ve just made (a huge feat in this market) and the direction in which I hope they can take us. We’ve done an awful lot with a small team and delivered some brilliant results along the way, so I’m really excited to see what the next chapter holds in terms of new business, improving the product, and developing some great talent – fingers crossed!

and… I couldn’t finish this post without saying a massive “thank you” to Samuel for taking the time out and doing the Q&A. You can also follow both Samuel (@samuelcrocker) and OMD UK (@OMD_UK) on Twitter.

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