The interview series continues with Barry Adams of Pierce Communications. I’ve gotten to know Barry through Twitter some, but mostly it was in the SEO Dojo. It didn’t take long for me to figure out Barry was somebody I’d want to interview someday, and since we’re doing a series each month I figured why not now? So without further delay I leave you with Barry’s Q&A:
1. Thanks for your time Barry, I know there are a few people that know a little about you already, but if you could you would take a moment to introduce yourself and explain what you do.
I’m just a guy doing stuff on the interwebz.
Anyway, I’m Barry Adams and I’m a Dutchman living and working in Northern Ireland. I’m a digital marketer with a specialisation in SEO, and I’m quite a vocal guy on SEO matters through my blogging for sites such as State of Search and Search News Central. I’m also fortunate enough to be offered the occasional speaking gig at conferences such as SAScon and ThinkVisibility, and I’m a part-time lecturer on SEO and PPC for the Digital Marketing Institute.
I work for Pierce Communications in Belfast as their senior digital marketer, and before that I worked with the Belfast Telegraph as their in-house SEO guy. I’ve had quite a few jobs over the years, which probably means I’m getting old and should settle down.
2. On your site you mention that in 1995 you didn’t think doing business on the Internet would be possible. What changed your mind?
When I was first introduced to the internet I thought it was a marvelous social technology. In fact I lost entire years of my life to online chatrooms and made lasting friendships with people across the world that I’d have never met otherwise. For someone who grew up in an essentially disconnected and offline world, that was a huge revelation for me. But because of that enormous social emphasis on the web in its early days I thought it’d be impossible to make good money off of it, except in the fringes.
I was, of course, entirely wrong. What changed my mind was seeing it actually happen. When Amazon first launched almost everyone was skeptical about its chances of success, but seeing how that business managed to change people’s purchasing behaviour and create its own unique USP was a real eye-opener. I realised that on the internet, old business models simply don’t apply. You can’t look at an online business in the same way as an offline business and judge it accordingly. The online realm is an entirely new playing field.
That sounds all so bloody obvious now, but back in those early days this was new territory for all involved. I was one of the skeptics, but seeing things happen right in front of your eyes does tend to change your perspective more than a little.
3. How has your initial misconception shaped the way you look at new venues for business and marketing online such as new social media sites? Has it impacted your views on algorithm changes?
If anything it’s taught me that my own gut instincts can be very, very wrong. I’m not one to make predictions about how successful a business is going to be – after all, I also said Twitter would never take off – so more now than ever I tend to just wait out the hypes and see what remains when the dust has cleared. Having said that, over the years I’ve been proven right more often than wrong.
I’m OK with being a late adopter. It makes things so much easier because other people have done the hard work for you figuring out how to make the most of this newfangled stuff.
When it comes to Google’s algorithm changes, the same mentality applies. I wait and see what actually happens. Nearly always, nothing much changes. We fiddle with our dials here and there, turning up the volume on a specific tactic or lowering it on another, but on the whole SEO has undergone precious few radical changes.
I think because I’ve seen that happen so often – Google makes a big change and people get all riled up about it but in the end nothing really changes – I now have an almost allergic reaction to articles that claim “algo change X will change SEO forever!”. I actually come out in a brain rash, which is why I used to wage war against those types of horrendously misguided articles.
Nowadays I just shrug and move on. Usually. Not always. Sometimes the beast still stirs and awakens.
4. What questions do you typically ask yourself when hearing of a new business or marketing venue?
My first thought goes to how big the bang will be for how much buck. For my client sites I want to focus on the things that have the biggest positive impact for the least amount of resources, and often the latest hype to take over the blogosphere is very low on that particular list.
But because the blogosphere, especially SEO blogs, have run out of new ideas years ago and are just regurgitating the same stuff over and over, everything that’s new and shiny will immediately be pounced upon and thrown in to the blogging grinder so people can have something new to write about.
That more than anything drives the hypes, and nearly always those hypes turn out to be duds and are quickly forgotten. Only rarely does a new product or service manage to establish itself in any meaningful way, and even then the hyperbolic blog posts that announced its potential have grossly overestimated its actual impact.
5. What got you into SEO in the first place? Is there an aspect of it you prefer over others? Why?
I actually was doing very amateurish SEO for years before I got serious about it in 2001. I’d been working on corporate intranets for a while and I maintained a few websites of my own before that, and I was reading up on SEO and implementing the odd wee thing here and there to get my own sites in the SERPs.
It was all very small time stuff really, but it helped establish a baseline of experience that came in very handy when I graduated to corporate websites and was put in charge of getting those to rank. That’s when I really started digging in to this SEO thing, reading everything about it I could and trying out different tactics on the sites I managed.
I talked my boss in to sending me to one of the early SES New York conferences, and that was really a profound experience for me. Here I was, surrounded by thousands of people doing this SEO thing, soaking up so much of their knowledge and experience. I thought to myself “this is so cool”, and I suppose that’s the moment I was hooked.
Nowadays I prefer the technical aspect of SEO, especially on-site optimisation. It just gels with my left-hemisphere-dominated brain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up in that linkbuilding shizzle, but that’s more out of necessity than out of genuine love. I wish I could forget about all that fuzzy relationship-building stuff and just focus on the ones and zeroes. That’d make me a happy man indeed.
6. What are some of the most common questions you get asked while lecturing at the Digital Marketing Institute in Ireland? Why do you think those are asked the most?
I get a lot of questions about data accuracy and interpretation. The inherent flaws in many toolsets we use, from Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool to various rank trackers, are something us seasoned SEO guys take for granted. But this is often entirely baffling to people new to the industry. On the one hand they see SEO as an entirely measurable and accountable digital marketing channel, but on the other hand we rely on data sets with such enormous margins of error that newcomers can sometimes wonder how on earth we manage to get anything done.
I also get a lot of questions about linkbuilding, which considering my love-hate relationships with it is more than a little ironic. I suppose everyone wants that ‘SEO on easy mode’, but that’s just not possible, especially when it comes to linkbuilding.
7. At times small business owners really want to educate themselves on search marketing to either do it themselves or understand it better while working with an SEO agency or individual. What types of articles/resources would you encourage them to stay away from? Which ones would you push them towards reading?
I’d actually recommend them to stay away from the blogs, at least initially. Sure there’s a lot of really interesting and valuable stuff being written about SEO, but little of it is new. You’d be better off buying a good book about SEO – I can recommend ‘The Art of SEO’ as a solid beginner’s guide – and using that as a starting point.
Then once you’re comfortable with the lingo and the technologies involved, you can start with the blogs. And even then you need to be careful, as often even the biggest blogs out there can publish some outrageously misguided stuff. I always point people to Search Engine Land as a starting point – I may not agree with a lot of their pro-Google spin, but as a SEO resource they very rarely get it wrong. It’s definitely the best SEO news source out there, bar none.
8. What are a few things you’d recommend a business looking to hire an SEO or an agency watch out for?
A proven track record is a must-have. Don’t just talk to the SEO guy or the agency salesman, but also get in touch with their clients. If a SEO or agency is unwilling to tell you who they’ve worked with, that’s an alarm bell right there.
I think that sets the good agencies apart from the cowboys: measurable success for multiple clients on competitive keywords and industries. I’m lucky enough to work for such an agency, and we’re always willing to show what we’ve done for other clients.
9. What’s the one piece of advice you received that’s helped you the most in this industry?
“Just say what you think.” I’m not sure who said that to me or when, but it was definitely a long time ago. I’ve taken that advice to heart, and while my assertively expressed opinions will turn some people away, I think on the whole it’s been a good thing for me. More people should stop wondering about who they’ll offend and start speaking their mind. It’ll make for much more interesting debates. Also, more people should ask themselves why they feel offended when someone says something. If you’re confident in your abilities and your knowledge, few things should faze you.
10. What’s your favorite resource for SEO? Why?
While I did toot Search Engine Land’s horn a few questions back, I wouldn’t say it’s my own go-to SEO resource any more. At some stage most SEOs outgrow SEL and go for the more in-depth stuff that a news site like SEL can’t always devote its resources to.
I can’t really point at a single SEO resource that I prefer over all others, as there’s many sites out there that publish true gems now and again. I do like State of Search, and not just because I write for it myself, but also because of its incredibly varied and illustrious blogging team. The stuff those guys & girls come up with, I’m often pleasantly surprised.
Also, my membership of the SEO Training Dojo has been incredibly useful. Its creator David Harry was the guy who first encouraged me to read about Information Retrieval – how search engines actually work – and that’s proven to be an amazingly useful knowledge set to have.
11. You’ve been given the role of SEO Santa. What five things (industry related or not) would you give to all of the SEOs and why?
First, I’d give everyone a sense of perspective. A lot of people need it, that’s for sure.
Then, because the SEO community – for all its internal strife – is amazingly generous and caring, I’d give everyone their hearts desire. I’m pretty sure that would deplete my Santa powers right there and then, and I wouldn’t know what else to give people.
We’re such a diverse crowd, coming from a wide range of different backgrounds, and each brings their own perspective to this thing of ours. I think that’s a beautiful thing, and we should encourage that diversity of approaches and mindsets.
If we’d all be doing the exact same things, nobody would be getting anywhere, would they? Well, except for Google of course. They’d be laughing their arse off.