James is Technical Director at StrategiQ. As part of our 10 year anniversary, we are conducting a series of interviews with those who have been in the search industry for over 10 years. James started his career back in 2006 and shares his tips about starting a job in the online and search market. He gives insights into what he thinks will change in the search industry in the future.
1. Did you study design at university with the aim of designing graphics offline or did you study web development with the aim of building websites?
Upon leaving school, I knew that I wanted to do something creative after enjoying both Art and Graphics so much at school. For me, higher education was all about discovering which creative discipline I wanted to specialise in and keeping up with my friends on similar paths with their careers.
I distinctly remember entering the final year of my Graphic Design degree (2005) knowing I wanted to be a website designer. Whenever possible, I pushed all of my coursework down the digital route so that I could keep my focus on designing and building digital experiences.
2. Do you think your web development experience has helped you with SEO?
It’s been a huge help and the original spark for my curiosity and eventual passion for Technical SEO.
I remember quickly fostering SEO into my web workflow as a student for one very simple reason. The first few websites I made for friends and family were predominantly cut-up graphics and iFrames which unsurprisingly didn’t rank well. This early bemusement proactively evolved the way I developed websites to be ‘SEO-Friendly’ which was in-turn rewarded with how they were crawled and ranked.
These early lessons in SEO very quickly made me a better developer and there ensued an adoption of SEO as a partnered sub-discipline within web development.
Although I no longer do a huge amount of hands-on web development, this formative first eight years of my career has given me a technical underpinning to understand SEO as a developer and a member of an integrated agency. It has helped me implement new technology like Google Tag Manager as I could identify and communicate merits to different teams. I’ve also been able to influence and change the approach of countless developers that I’ve worked with over the years who have a better understanding and respect for SEO in their own processes.
3. Should we all have training in web development to gain a better understanding of technical SEO?
From my own experience it has certainly helped me on my journey and where I am today at StrategiQ. However I’m not entirely convinced that it’s necessary because of how broad and expansive Web Development can be.
Some of the best Tech-SEOs I know haven’t come from a development background. They’ve gained extensive knowledge and achieved amazing results in their work by focusing their training and attention in the right areas of tech but also learning how to engage and work with developers.
My advice to any Technical SEO early on in their career is to:
- absorb any exposure they’re given to learn about web development fundamentals.
- If you enjoy it, simply keep going but if it’s overwhelming or confusing, take your time and you’ll naturally pick up the things that matter.
4. What 3 changes have you seen from both web development and SEO since you first started work in 2006?
- Most notably has been the birth of the smartphone and the gradual transition to the plethora of devices in which we can now access content. Whilst I don’t think desktop will be going anywhere anytime soon, adapting for and fully embracing responsive website design was a big change. I distinctly remember taking a Responsive Web Design book with me away on a two week break to Egypt back in 2011 and rolling out the process to my agency upon my return.
- I also remember the moment when Google’s algorithms really started to combat web spam and penalised sites with the roll-out of the notorious Penguin updates. This really marked the end of an era of easy link building to achieve results. We still encounter new clients today who have residue left-over from this era of poor-quality and blatant unnatural link building.
- What evolution that excites me the most and is clear to see, is how the industry has flourished and there is an active, accepting community across both website development and search marketing. I still find it overwhelming and refreshing to see so many practitioners across our industry share their skills, experiences and give-up their time for the benefit of others. Whether speaking at conferences, authoring blogs or responding to the desperation of others on Stack Overflow – I’m proud to be a part of the community.
5. Do you think we will see the same type of changes in the search industry over the next 10 years?
Whilst I believe the size of the industry will start to level-out in the next few years; I do believe the complexity of our work and expectations of our clients will steadily rise.
- I believe social and search giants like Google, Facebook and Instagram will double their efforts to fulfil their users’ needs on their own platforms and charge businesses to be prominently found in the process.
- Instagram are now fulfilling Ecommerce transactions without leaving their App whilst Google continues to develop all manner of SERP fulfilment from downloading the menu of a local restaurant to booking flights or hotels without ever visiting the vendor’s own website.
It’s my expectation therefore that organic visibility for a brand’s websites and content will diminish and make that traffic that does come through even more precious. At StrategiQ we’re already starting to see a trend with our clients looking for website personalisation, data-led design and conversion rate optimisation more than ever.
6. How would you recommend someone who is interested in online marketing to start their first job in our industry?
Would you recommend going to university ?
Although I went to university, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that path to anyone looking to start a career in digital marketing or in search/seo. As an employer, a good degree can show me that a candidate is able to commit themselves and see something through. However first and foremost I look for the following:
Shared Values, Behaviour, Initiative and Passion.
If you know that you want to go to university, then I recommend going. However if you’re unsure, look for an internship or a Marketing Executive position that excites you. You can surround yourself with highly skilled and experienced people who have the time and inclination to share their knowledge during your internship.
Thank you James for taking the time to be interviewed on Authoritas and sharing your insights with us as part of our 10th birthday celebration. You have a lot of experience working in the search and seo industry. We look forward to seeing what the next 10 years have install for us.