I first encountered Claire online (like you do) and immediately thought she was a nut. I mean that in a very, very good way too, as I like nuts. When I finally met her in person a month or so ago, she was even better than I expected and we had so much fun in London, especially when we drank cocktails with Jane Copland. As you'll see, she's pretty much 100% ego-free, genuine, and a total insane piece of joy in a Barbour coat.
Q: For those of us unfamiliar with you and your work, can you give us some background on who you are, how you got started in SEO, and what you're up to currently?
A: I’m Claire Carlile, I’m a Chartered Marketer based in Pembrokeshire on the beautiful West Wales coastline. I’ve worked with a range of small to medium sized businesses on their offline and online marketing for years, my interest in SEO was piqued when I started to explore the online opportunities it presented for my clients – and I guess it all went from there.
Q: How is it doing SEO in such a remote place? How do you keep a connection to the industry?
A: Initially it was pretty frustrating, and I struggled with feeling isolated. But then I spent some time in the big city and got to know quite a few people there, and these connections followed me back to the sticks in an online sense. I have some great friends and contacts that I’ve met online, then I’ve gone on to meet in the flesh (which has a kind of blind date feel about it), and now we’re firm friends. One of my ‘real’ offline friends (he sells Italian meats) laughed at me for referring to my industry as having an ‘SEO community’, and in my experience that’s how it’s been – generally very friendly, supportive and giving. I guess there isn’t an equivalent community in the sausage industry, more fool them.
Also, I’ve just started working for a lovely digital agency in Bristol (shall I name check them? They’re called Yucca), which means that I’m part of a really switched on digital team. I get to spend a week a month with them in their airy offices, and then the rest of the month working from home, holed up in my office wearing my PJs. I think this will offer me the best of both worlds and I’m really excited about it.
Q: I know it's April already, but what are your predictions for the industry for the remainder of 2011?
A: Ooh la la. Well, I guess people are still talking and thinking about the panda / farmer update, and now people are buzzing about Google’s plus one and what this is going to mean. Being of a marketing persuasion – and at that a customer oriented marketing persuasion – I’m really hoping that increased use of social metrics (whatever that might look like) will result in improved search placements for sites that really do have the needs, requirements and expectations of their customers and audiences at the forefront of their online offering. Did that sound really cheesy? I think I was just a little bit sick in my mouth.
I think we’ll hear increasingly about how SEO is not ‘just’ SEO anymore, and how it works best as part of a suite of online marketing practices, and not in isolation. Good SEOs will also be more like good PRs, more aware of how to leverage online and offline relationships to result in links or social ‘votes’. Oh, and I’m interested to see how ‘social spam’ develops. Like link farms and link networks, I guess there will be a growing network of fake social profiles. The one’s I’ve seen so far suck, so I’m interested to see the evolution of these, and how the search engines will differentiate ‘good’ social signals from those that have been gamed.
Q: Are there any areas of SEO in which you have no experience? Anything in particular that you view as your area of expertise?
A: I consider myself an SEO newbie in many senses as I’ve been learning and doing SEO full time for just over 4 years. I’ve constantly got my head in a book (reading Danny Dover’s new offering at the moment) or nosing through a blog, I don’t have a technical background, but I’m teaching myself to be more become more familiar with the technical side of SEO. Expertise wise, I try and stay on top of Google Places and local search opportunities. I like to work with businesses on ranking their local pages, and putting systems into place (for example customer feedback loops) that will allow them to continue to accrue reviews, but also to help them deliver excellent customer service.
Also, I’m a big fan of keyphrase research and love getting involved with this, ideally in the early stages of a project and then feeding all the learnings back into their IA planning, into new product and service offerings that the business hadn’t necessarily thought about or realized there was demand for, or for planning informational and ‘how to’ content for their site that will help them rank for lots of really interesting mid and long tail keyphrases.
Q: What are your go-to SEO tools?
A: Now there’s a question. I recently had to trim back my toolbar fetish as I wasn’t using half of them. If I had to name just a few I would say the web developer toolbar for making site audits much easier, SEOQuake for at a glance metrics, live http headers to work out sketchy redirects and the SEOMoz toolbar for a basic poke around in the page title tag etc.
For link analysis I like Open Site Explorer and Majestic, and I’d love to get my hand on the Ontolo toolset (any offers Garrett French?). Ooh, and I do like the SEO gadget keyword tool for keyphrase research, it saves my brain from trying to understand excel stuff, and is a nice way to make sense and categorize very large sets of keyphrase research and data.
Q: Can you think of anything in particular that you once thought to be true and have since found out was not? For example, I used to believe that Toolbar PR actually was a decent metric. I no longer do.
A: About 10 years ago I went on an SEO training course run by a self proclaimed ‘SEO guru’ who told me and the other SMB owner participants that submitting your product or service to Google base would be the panacea for all ranking related ills and that we’d all miraculously rank for our keyphrases on the back of this. I slavishly updated my listings weekly to no avail. Fun times.
Q: On the issue of Toolbar PR, are there any other metrics that you are using in order to gauge the value of a site?
A: Metrics aside I’ll have a little look around first to get a feel for the site; is it answering the visitors question and meeting their needs? Is above the fold stuffed with ads? How is the user experience, in general? I guess this is a more qualitative overview, because even if you can get the visitor to your site if it basically makes them want to puke and hit the back button then you’re not onto a winner. I guess it also depends on what the ‘value’ of the site means, for example the site’s likelihood of ranking for a particular query, or how likely that site is to send you qualified traffic.
From a quantitative point of view I’ll look at and consider the number of links to the domain, the number of unique domains linking in, the authority of that domain and associated page (be that Google TBPR or the proprietary score of a tool such as OSE or Majestic), domain age and all that regular stuff. I guess we’re having to factor in social signals too – is there an active and / or authoritative twitter or facebook account associated with that site? What about other social networks? How often does that site get mentioned, or links to that site get tweeted. I guess it’s not just about links, it’s also about social citations. Eek!
Q: Let's say I am your new client and I want assurances that you'll rank me in the top 10 in 3 months. How can you convince me of the insanity of this request?
A: Ok, it’s insane. But I might promise to rank you for ‘sweet Southern red headed SEO temptress’. Scrap that, don’t search for that, whatever you do! Do I have to answer this one seriously? I have to find a way to manage their expectations. It’s different with each client. I like to be strict.
Q: Have you ever done any SEO that's backfired?
A: It hasn’t backfired yet, but I am waiting for it to. It’s not for a client, it’s a personal project, that’s all I can say ;)
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the industry over the next year?
A: I want to continue to learn, and to be excited and engaged by what I do every day. I like working with new people, being part of a digital team has always been a goal of mine, and I’m really looking forward to being part of an integrated digital marketing agency, so I can understand more about the synergies of, and opportunities presented by, different online marketing channels.
I want to blog more, my own site (Claire Carlile Marketing) gets woefully overlooked on the blogging front. I find it much easier to create content for my clients and I’m much more reticent to blow my own trumpet. I think that’s terribly British, do you think?
Ok well that's enough of that...now onto the real stuff I wanted to ask.
Q. What's it like living in one of the most gorgeous places on Earth? (note from me: need a photo here that doesn't have a naked gun-belted man in it?) Is remote hassling of poor Sam Murray even remotely as good as in-person hassling?
A: OK, all the things that Sam said about the things I used to make him do when I was working with him at Verve – they’re not true! Ok, some of them are – like walking on his back when he’d hurt himself, oh, and making him feel my biceps after every gym session. I think he really misses me.
Q: You seem to be very fit, which frightens me. What was the impetus behind getting in great shape and have you beaten anyone up yet? Gotten into any Welsh bar brawls? If not, do you plan to?
A: I row a big wooden boat called a gig – we row on the sea and each year we compete in the world gig rowing championships in the Isles of Scilly, which is an awesome event with over 100 boats on the start line which makes for an exciting and scary time. We tend to be much smaller in stature than the other ladies teams – I guess we’re a team of Welsh little people, so we tend not to pick fights because we’re scared. Oh, and because we are nice gentle folk. I did go through a stage of arm wrestling other ladies, and then there was a period of Innuit ear pulling, but that really hurt.
Q: What SEO have you met that caused you to be the most star-struck? Obviously it was me but for the sake of things, who else?
A: Basically just you. Oh, and Jay. And when I met Lisa Myers, and then when I saw Rand Fishkin’s back in a pub in London once. Oh, and at SES London I made Lee Odden get his photo taken with me, and I put my arm round him. He looked uncomfortable, but stayed totally professional and didn’t take out a restraining order. Yet.
Q: Would you rather go to a bar with loads of strict old-school blackhats or whitehats? Why?
A: Really, I prefer bobble hats, or one of those mini top hats that you wear at a jaunty angle on the side of your head, like a show girl.
Q: Write a somewhat dirty limerick about SEOs. Do it. Now.
A: Well, I would do, if I wasn’t already 3 weeks late returning the answers to your questions. I started writing something, but it was just too rude. Can I come back to it?