Q&A with Barry Adams on How to Use SEO to Boost Traffic & Sales

Barry AdamsBarry Adams, founder of Polemic Digital, is a premier SEO consultant who works with companies large and small on all aspects of strengthening and improving SEO. Considered a top expert in his field, Barry lectures at digital conferences and universities all over the world, sharing his knowledge with the masses. Find out Barry’s recommendations for improving your website’s SEO.

Some veteran journalists think that SEO for news is unethical. What do you say to that? Are news organizations that eschew SEO doing so at their own peril?

I genuinely don’t understand that viewpoint. Historically, journalists have always optimized their articles for maximum readership. Headlines on a paper’s front page have been especially prone to hyperbole and exaggeration to make passersby pick up that paper from the newsstand.

SEO seeks to accomplish the same thing: Increased readership. The difference is that instead of targeting people directly, we also need to target the middleman: Google. Google is now the single largest distributor of news around the world, and Google’s “newsstand” is an open marketplace where everyone gets a shot at getting their stories read.

It’s a game you can choose not to play, but the inevitable result is a loss of readership with all the unpleasant repercussions. Optimizing for Google doesn’t require ham-fisted efforts to infect an article with keywords. It can and should be done with good use of language and proper content structure, which are skills journalists already have.

You work with tiny startups and major organizations. Should different sized companies approach SEO differently? If so, how?

Startups are in a rapid growth mindset, so SEO can be a tricky endeavor for them. Rarely is it possible to achieve big gains with SEO in a short time. Optimizing for search is a long-term commitment that yields results over months and years, and many startups want to see strong growth in weeks.

With startups, I emphasize a multistage approach to SEO. The first phase is about rapid growth, and here we aim for quick gains that pay off in a short time. Then we buckle down for the second phase, where the startup has to realize we may not see strong growth figures for a while. Single-digit or low-double-digit MoM growth is achievable, but anything above that is probably not realistic.

Bigger and more established companies usually have been through the SEO wringer a few times with varying levels of success. Usually, when an established company approaches me, it’s because it needs a specialized skill set that its in-house team or chosen multidisciplinary agency partner can’t provide.

The work then becomes more about identifying gaps in previous SEO strategies as well as technical gains that could be made on its websites.

How can companies keep up with Google’s changes to their algorithms vis-a-vis SEO? For example, you work with a company, give them good advice and help them optimize their site. But down the road, the game changes and what worked before doesn’t work now. How can companies avoid or overcome this issue?

Chasing after the latest Google updates is exhausting and ultimately futile. Instead, you should chase after quality and reliability, and trust in Google’s long-term ability to recognize those values reflected in your website’s design and content. The best way to achieve long-term SEO success is to apply this mentality to the multifaceted prism of SEO; you’ll never lose.

It can be hard to stay on Google’s good side, especially if your main SEO focus is to maximize for Google’s current algorithms. Google constantly fiddles with its buttons, so optimizing for their current state is a losing battle.

The bottom line is that Google wants to show the best possible answers to the questions people type in the search box. The “best” means the most trustworthy and reliable content served from the highest-quality websites.

The real challenge is staying on top of the technical demands Google places on websites. In some areas, Google is leading the way in web technology, such as structured data and mobile optimization. In other areas of web technology — primarily in web apps — Google’s web search system isn’t yet capable of processing as effectively.

This means web developers should, at the very least, stay abreast of what Google is and isn’t able to crawl and index. This baseline of SEO knowledge can prevent embarrassing situations where a new site is launched, only to find out Google can’t see the site’s content!

The internet is rife with snake oil salesmen claiming to have all the answers to companies’ SEO problems, and they’re willing to give them up — for a price. How can companies tell whose advice is valuable and whose is rubbish?

First, NEVER answer an unsolicited email about SEO.

Beyond that, the challenge is to find a trustworthy SEO consultant. Word-of-mouth referrals are a strong bet, as people tend to recommend others only if they’ve done a good job. Most of my new clients come from word of mouth, and that’s a privilege I never want to take for granted.

I’d also always recommend asking for examples of previous projects so you can see the type and quality of output you can expect. A good SEO provider won’t hesitate to show off previous work and give contact details of previous and current clients.

Lastly, whenever an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Good SEO comes at a price, and if you buy cheap, you’ll end up buying twice.

While it is easy to find good reviews of Polemic, your website has no reviews posted. What do you do to protect and promote your online reputation?

I think people distrust self-serving reviews on a company’s website. How can you determine which are legit and which aren’t? I don’t actively promote client success stories on my own site; I don’t really see the point.

I’m fortunate enough to have established a bit of a reputation in the SEO industry, primarily because of what I share through blog posts and conference talks. This adds to the reputation built over years of doing SEO for different clients who help spread the word.

For every new project, I aim to deliver my best work. Before I send a piece of work like a site audit to a client, I always ask myself if I’d be happy if my competitors saw it. I try to apply all my experience and expertise to every project. I’m only human, so I don’t get it right all the time, but I’ve always been honest with my clients about my work and what goes into it.

It takes years to build a good reputation and it can take a minute to destroy it. I make mistakes like everyone else, but I try to own them and learn from them.

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