I’ve had the opportunity in the last three years to meet and work with some awesome people. One of them was James Burrow, who has served as both a boss and a mentor to me. When I first met Jim,I was full of energy about social media and was eager to learn more about this SEO thing everyone was raving about. The next year and a half I found myself learning more and more about analytics, link building, and online marketing skills, than I ever thought I would.
He now works full-time at BuildMyRank, but he was able to find some time to answer some questions for us.
Cole: Well first question I have, is how did you fall into online marketing? My understanding is that when I met you at Internet Alliance, Inc. you started out as their tech support guy for their phone lines, but you somehow found your way into becoming their director of online marketing. Did you have a passion for online marketing, or even for that matter, did you have any understanding of SEO/SEM or was it just something that just fell into your lap?
James Burrow: My previous career was as an Operations supervisor for a large call center but, like most every call center in the US, mine was outsourced off shore so I had to find a new career.
I always had an interest in web design and IT so I decided to go back to school and continue my technical training. It was during that time that I started working at Internet Alliance as a part-time employee managing the ebay store and CSE sites. At that time IA did really not have any clue about search or what was going on. Like a lot of companies they just could not keep up with the changes,(that were going on with search). They hired me because they had zero search results and thought that they CSE’s and eBay would bring in some additional traffic. They did, but I quickly got board with just managing feeds and started learning as much as I could about SEO. Every time I came across bad SEO on the sites, I would keep bugging people until it got fixed. They finally figured out I was pretty good at it and hired me on full time. Even then, I could not dedicate 40 hours a week to SEO/SEM but had to help design and implement the VOIP phone system and provide tech support. After awhile I got the go ahead to hire one person, then two people, and eventually six. Before I knew it, I had a marketing department.
So I guess it was definitely and unintended career choice but it has certainly worked out for me.
You mention that you were “interested in technology” and that’s how you got started with SEO. Now, that you’ve been in this field for a few years? What do you think makes a good SEO expert? Obviously a level of curiosity has to be there…but are there any other qualities that you think one should have?
I think the field has grown so much that there is a lot of room for a variety of personalities and skills sets. Certainly a strong background in Internet technologies is always a good start. I think all SEO’s should have more than a passing familiarity with on-page code and the elements that go into making a modern site. This helps when working with designers and programmers. If you can talk the language you will garner more respect and they are more likely to listen to you when you offer suggestions. Having an analytical mindset is also key. No matter what part of the business you are in there will always be reports and data to analyze.
Also, anyone who wants to be in SEO should be involved in blogging and social media to some extent.
I agree that anyone involved in online marketing should be involved in some sort of social media. Saying that though, as an SEO guy, what your thoughts on social media are in particular Google’s “Search Plus your World” update?
I think that social is having a big impact on search and will continue to do so but I think that the mobile internet is where we are going to see the major changes in the next few years. Not to sound too cliche, but I think Siri has been a game changer. It will be interesting to see how all of these technologies come together in the next few years.
I agree mobile is going to be huge as more and more people tend to get pickup the smartphone and table. Beyond making their website mobile, do you have any suggestions for companies and brands that are just now getting into mobile? Should they be picking up a Google+ account and find followers in social, create an app for their fans, or just concentrate on search?
It really depends on the business and who the customer base is. I think any business can realize benefit from some form of social whether it is FB, Twitter, or YouTube. As with any business, know your audience and establish as many methods to communicate your message as you can afford. A local plumber may not need a Twitter presence but he will definitely need a Google Places presence to appear in local search. As for apps, I think a lot of businesses are spending a lot of money making some pretty bad apps and I wonder how they can justify the expense to stakeholders. Apps should provide a useful function for your customers or at the very least not be annoyingly bad.
Ah…I haven’t even thought about Apps. Beyond the Starbucks app, there’s not one that I really pay attention to. Okay, with saying all that, can you give me a prediction where SEO will be a year from now? (I would ask you 5 years from now, but in this field that’s too crazy to ask.) Is there any technologies or SEO practices that we should be looking at now for and are there any that we use now, that you think will be not as important enough from a year from now.
I am terrible at predictions but I will say that even though Social has been the buzz for the last 2 years, it is still not the dominant signal for search and I don’t see that it will be anytime soon. That doesn’t mean that these signals are not important. They certainly get new content noticed faster and since freshness is important, that counts for a lot. There has also been a lot of discussion in the SEO world lately on the whole “Content is King” philosophy. A lot of people are out there proving that content may not matter as much as we thought when it comes to climbing the SERPs. In my current position with BuildMyRank, I see a lot of sites do really well with just a little bit of quality, optimized content, and a lot of links. So, my prediction is that everything will continue to change but also stay the same!
Awesome! One final question and then I’ll let you enjoy your weekend. Most people are familiar with Rand Fishkin and SEOmoz, and probably Danny Sullivan to some extent, but for somebody who is just now getting into SEO,are there any other blogs or people that they should be following and know about?
Sure, Joost de Valk knows more about WordPress optimization than anyone and in addition to using his plugins you should follow him. Bill Slawski reads all of those search patent docs so you don’t have to and has a great blog seobythesea.com. Associated with SEOmoz is Distilled.com and Tom Critchlow is VP of operations there and always has some great insights. Also Barry Schwartz tweets most of the top SEO news each day and is the guy behind seroundtable.com.
If you want to see everyone I follow, my list is public https://twitter.com/#!/jwburrow/seo.
If you’re interested in reading more about James’ thoughts on the SEO world, visit his personal blog www.MostOptimal.com.