Nick Samuel

FAQs

I originally started writing a “SEO Dating Profile” as a means to answer some classic SEO questions divided into sections e.g RELIGION –> Subdomains or subfolders? but I didn’t really have the conviction to really do it justice.

So instead here’s a bunch of totally non-random questions which allow me to tell my SEO story journey.

Disclaimer: If you’re not in the SEO Industry, apologies in advance for the complete drivel you’re about to read 🙂

basics…

How did you get into SEO?

I worked in E-Business as part of placement year and I was tasked with project managing the launch of a global online digital asset manager.

So basically a CMS which housed images and marketing collateral and which needed to be easily accessible.

This introduced me into the broad idea of information retrieval and more practically optimising data for search.

Although you had to login to search and it was restricted to employees only, anyone could visit the site.

As you can undoubtedly know, most people don’t actually type urls in but search Google, and hence the “oh shit why can’t people find it” SEO epiphany…

What’s your background?

I studied Business Management at Aston University (2009-2013) but specialised in Marketing, so personally I’d say I have a marketing background. Whatever that means.

How did you learn SEO?

The first place I learned the art of seo from was a book called “The Art of SEO” (Second Edition). I think because I was a student at the time I gravitated towards an academic style of information, so a book such as this fit the bill.

It introduced me to Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer and of course, Rand Fishkin. It was also co-authored by a woman called Jessie Stricchiola, who I don’t really know much about which somehow makes me respect her more.

There’s lot of self-promotion in the SEO industry which makes it’s hard for beginners to know who is and who isn’t a credible voice.

From there I read lots of mainstream stuff like Moz beginners guide before seeking out alternative voices by lurking on Affiliate Marketing forums such as Wicked Fire (RIP).

How long have you been doing SEO for now?

Since 2012 I’ve been doing SEO in one form or another but professionally since 2013.

So doing the maths at the time of writing, that’s 6 or 7 years depending on the official starting point.

So…Are you an SEO expert?

No, I don’t really know what “SEO expert” means or why the SEO industry is obsessed with them.

There’s so many disciplines which encompass SEO it’s literally impossible to be the most knowledgable in each and every one of them.

I like to think I can hold a good conversation across most areas of SEO, based on my experience of actually doing SEO – the part that’s often overlooked by some 😛

In most cases as an SEO Consultant I know when I can help you and I’m not afraid to say when I can’t.

Or when I would need to do some testing and research…

Firsts…

First Conference?

Brighton SEO April 2014 at the Dome, I didn’t really know what to expect. Most of us were allowed to go from iProspect, who brought everyone train tickets giving it a bit of a school trip feel at the time.

I didn’t quite realise SEO was a thing that existed offline and that it was a grown up industry with its own conferences and stuff.

Of course, the industry existed a long time before I joined, so it figures that it has now transitioned into a more established/mature stage of its life cycle.

First Website

My first website was back in 2005/6ish on a platform called FreeWebs. I was doing GCSE IT at the time and our whole class was obsessed with MiniClip and Flash based browser games.

I embedded a few games on a free website for personal use – giving me an early exposure to Javascript, iFrames and pesky widget links…which I soon worked out how to remove. Even then I indistinctively knew they were dirty.

I didn’t really build any actual websites though until many years later in 2012 after placement year.

First Success

Besides the Digital Asset Manager which was a hit within the company, my first relative success was with a site called Student Fever. My two housemates from University started it over the summer before final year of Uni and I soon joined them in trying to create a start-up which would become the “student equivalent of trip advisor”.

Unfortunately none of us particularly knew what we were doing; no one more so than myself when it came to building, maintaining and promoting a website. Built by a developer we hired, the site was made using Joomla CMS and was an absolute nightmare trying to change anything!

Despite this I was able to put together a semi-coherent content strategy and with articles I had written, we started to attract a small but encouraging amount of organic traffic. Our ultimate goal was to rank first for “student guide”, but sadly we all quit before Christmas when we realised we had no money, were out of our depth and had final year exams to contend with.

If nothing else though, it confirmed to me that my understanding of SEO was somewhat correct!

First Penalty

My first experience with penalties was with Penguin and I along with the whole team had to spend a few weekends manually combing through the entire backlink profiles for two household name insurance companies in order to create a disavow file.

Agency side was a made time in late 2013 and early 2014 when I joined iProspect as there were numerous clients being punished by the fifth/sixth roll-out of Penguin or Penguin 3.0 as it was commonly referred to as.

The crazy thing is that this wasn’t really a reflection of anything iProspect did; the whole SEO industry was guilty of “manipulating” backlinks and “over-optimising” anchor text ratios in the pursuit of first place rankings.

If you weren’t directly responsible for building low quality links, the chances are you would still inherit a site which had been subjected to “shoddy” practices in the past.

Favourites

Favourite SEO Company?

I don’t really have a favourite SEO Company but I have a lot respect for specialised search agencies such as Builtvisible, Distilled and more recently some of the newer ones such as Salt.

They all have a natural authoritativeness to their content which helps position them as thought leaders in SEO, reinforced by the hiring of some of the smartest people in the industry.

I hardly keep my eyes peeled but I rarely see jobs advertised so I always assumed this means they must be great places to work i.e they have a low staff turnover for a reason!

Favourite Enterprise SEO?

The quality of the big “enterprise” SEO tools has really come on leaps and bounds in the past five years, and I don’t personally think there’s much to separate them; they all can track keywords, produce aggregate metrics and numerous other bells and whistles!

Having said that I’ve enjoyed using SEOmonitor whilst working at Optus and I think it’s a very well priced product with an incredible amount of both now and in the future.

I also like the look of Sistrix’s SEO module and enjoy reading the insights from Steve’s infamous BCC email group!

Favourite Individual Tool?

So. many. tools.

If I had to choose three tools to work with and to cover most bases then I would have to say something like Ahrefs, SEO Monitor and a Screaming Frog license.

If I was in-house with a very limited budget >£100 per month I’d probably just recommend Moz Pro, if that’s not too controversial for any hardcore SEOs out there.

Favourite SEOs?

I can’t possibly answer this as there’s so many great SEOs out there and if I include one or two I follow on Twitter, I’d have to include them all. I will say though that lately if I ever Google anything and I see a search result by either Elephate or Search VIU, I will probably click it and read it.

As a general note I’d say I prefer reading the thoughts of those with dissenting opinions to Google and the mainstream SEO industry; typfied by the sort of characters you’d meet on WickedFire quite a few years ago.

They’re usually less likely to write long articles or be industry famous though which is a shame, but probably for the best!

Misc SEO

Subfolders or subdomains

Subfolders in most instances for dat link juice, obviously, however both play a role depending on what technology or CMS needs to sit where.

You couldn’t put a self-hosted CDN on a subfolder and maybe you don’t have the knowledge, resource and capabilities to set-up a reverse proxy to put a blog on a subfolder, so it’s just easier to whack it on a subdomain.

The boring answer is that it depends…

…a better debate is honestly trailing slash or no trailing slash.

THE ANSWER IS NO TRAILING SLASH, BECAUSE A SLASH SHOULD DENOTE A FOLDER IMO.

Are you a fan of Domain Authority (DA)?

Seriously, I don’t see the problem with the metric or why it causes so much controversy amongst SEO veterans. The way I see it is as an accessible entry point to help in part explain why some websites may rank consistently higher than others. It’s very easy for beginners to understand which helps make SEO accessible.

It’s not perfect, but then again I don’t recall Moz ever proclaiming it to be a perfect representation of Page Rank or whatever numerical value Google may or may not assign to domains based on its number and quality of backlinks as one small part of the algorithm!

The idea is that it’s relative, so you take a quick look at the SERPs for that keyword your going for or your main competitors and then assess what the level of competition may be. It’s not the be-all and end-all.

If you don’t trust Domain Authority chances are you agree in principle with the idea of the metric; in which case use Ahrefs Domain Rating or Majestic’s Trust Flow.

Note: I tend to use DR but refer to it generically as DA 😛

Do you believe any Google SEO conspiracy theories?

In terms of actual conspiracy theories, the notion that Google originally set up disavow as a way of crowdsourcing spam and refining their algorithm still makes me smile to this day.

I also believe that you can’t go too wrong if you remember that Google doesn’t owe you, me or anyone organic traffic. The way some people act, you’d think there’s a conspiracy theory against them whenever their traffic drops but alas this isn’t true!

Hopes & Dreams

What would your ideal job be?

Pretty much Technical SEO and Auditing websites all day. Plus throw in a few new web build projects here and there to keep things interesting.

Me and my brother have a long-standing pipe dream of running a web development and/or technical agency together one day but until then and the stars align, we’re happy building websites together for fun.

If you could meet anyone in SEO, who would it be?

I “met” Rand Fishkin at Brighton SEO last year and even got a signed copy of his book, and whilst it was pretty cool, it also felt a bit weird. Surreal is quite an overused word but I’d still say most accurately describes the sensation of “meeting” him.

Just to be clear, Rand is an absolute gent, and a complete hero for signing all of those books. There’s no criticism of him here whatsoever; just it sort of dawned on me how pointless it all was in an existential kind of way later on the train home 😀

Anyway, to answer the question..I don’t think there’s any SEO Celeb, ninja or Rockstar other than Randy or possibly Matt Cutts I would queue up for to shake their hand and “meet”.

Convoluted answer…I’d happily talk shop with any [expert] at a conference or event but I can’t see myself feeling compelled to corner [expert].

Are there any conferences you’d love to attend?

I’d attend any conference if somebody wanted to buy or gift me a ticket + travel but I think a lot of the more prestigious events are massively overhyped and represent a poor ROI for the potential knowledge you could learn.

I suppose this is where someone tells me I’m missing the point and it’s about the networking opportunities…

Obviously I can’t fairly judge any event I haven’t been to, so all I can do is say that Brighton represents great value twice a year.

I’d like to check out Search Leeds at some point as it’s proving to be very popular and then maybe something like SMXL Milan so I can feel like a grown up international businessman.