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Career Day: How Jack of All Trades Skills Led to a Promising SEO Career – Chris Long // Go Fish Digital

Episode Overview: A great SEO needs curiosity, drive and determination to break into the chaotic, ever changing SEO industry. Join host Ben as he chats with Senior Manager of SEO Chris Long from Go Fish Digital about how his jack-of-all-trades skillset led him to a flourishing career in SEO and learn key advice on how to effectively build an SEO career.

Summary

  • “I had pretty much no clue what I wanted to do so I started digging around a little bit online, learned a little bit about SEO, actually took some informational interviews with some local agencies in the Pittsburgh area where I was living at the time … It just started from there, emailing every SEO agency, or every agency that claimed to offer SEO in the Pittsburgh area until finally I got my first internship.” – Chris Long
  • On being drawn to agency life: “Yeah, I think it was a choice, at least for me, especially when I first started and to a degree now, I like the idea of variety. The idea of one learning from a lot of different clients. When you even have data across clients, that’s beneficial because you can learn what works for one client might work for another client or when you see something like an algorithm update, you can say, ‘Hey, this is impacting this particular client. This might be practical to these others over here.'”
  • On growing a career in SEO: “I think there’s multiple ways to grow your career as an SEO. The one is just constantly valuing skill acquisition, always be curious, always be asking why and constantly trying to teach yourself new things. Even if something seems a little bit technical or a little bit out of your range of expertise, with some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was, don’t be afraid to read things that might seem a little bit over your head and I’ve kind of taken that advice and constantly applied that just to continually develop new skills, learn how crawling and indexing works, learn how the site architecture works, even if it does seem a little bit intimidating at the time.”

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to career day of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to learn about the skills accumulated and lessons learned from a great SEO throughout the various stops on his career. Joining us is Chris Long who is a senior manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital, which is a leading agency for online reputation management, providing their clients with expertise in search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing and more.

Ben:                 And today Chris and I are going to talk about his career path and how he ended up working at Go Fish Digital. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Chris Long, senior manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital. Chris, welcome to the voices of search podcast.

Chris:                Hey, appreciate you having me.

Ben:                 Very excited to have you here on the show. I know that you’ve been a speaker on many a stage, but this is your first time on a podcast. I promise we’ll take it easy on you.

Chris:                Oh, really appreciate it, Ben.

Ben:                 So let’s talk a little bit about you. It’s career day. We’re going to talk about your career path. First off, how did you get into SEO?

Chris:                Yeah, that’s a great question. I got into SEO pretty much right after I graduated college. Like many other people, I had pretty much no clue what I wanted to do so I started digging around a little bit online, learned a little bit about SEO, actually took some informational interviews with some local agencies in the Pittsburgh area where I was living at the time. Some people were very generous to kind of lend me their time pointing me to the right direction in terms of [inaudible] and beginner guides and some of this had to still be going. Her guides started breeding out. It just started from there emailing every SEO agency, or every agency that claimed to offer SEO in the Pittsburgh area until finally I got my first internship.

Ben:                 So talk to me about the process. I don’t know if you know the Three River city is necessarily known as a hotbed of SEO activity. You graduated, you live in Pennsylvania. Were you able to find people in your local area that were experts or did you find that you had to branch out outside of the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania area?

Chris:                Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, fortunately there were a handful of pretty reputable agencies in the Pittsburgh area, so we did have a little bit of a local foundation there. But in terms of my process, it was a real scattershot approach, kind of at that level when I was coming in completely entry level, my number one objective was just to get hired, to learn the basics and really get myself some kind of entry level experience. To me it didn’t need to be one of the most reputable agencies in the area. I just needed to have some layer of foundational knowledge of SEO in general.

Ben:                 So eventually you work your way into your first role as an SEO. Talk to me about your experience starting in the working world. How did you break into the SEO industry after being relatively self-taught?

Chris:                Yeah, so my first role, like many other peoples is kind of Jack-of-all-trades type of role. I started out as essentially almost a more of a digital analyst, so I was doing a lot of SEO, but it was combined with a lot of different things. I was doing a lot of the content marketing, so brainstorming ideas for clients for content and help them kind of conceptualize what that content looked like. I was doing a lot of social media management, so making social media schedules and ensuring that those got posted several times a week as well. Kind of for the end of my first entry level job, I started getting more into lead generation in terms of automated workflows, email marketing was kind of my very first role. It was very kind of full service. Wasn’t as targeted where it was just I’m doing SEO.

Ben:                 So you start off as sort of in a generalist capacity and you’re learning various trades in digital marketing and you’re also at an agency. Why were you drawn to the agency lifestyle as opposed to being in house? Was it just the opportunity that was presented to you or was that a choice you made?

Chris:                Yeah, I think it was a choice, at least for me, especially when I first started and to a degree now I like the idea of variety. The idea of one learning from a lot of different clients. When you even have data across clients, that’s beneficial because you can learn what works for one client might work for another client or when you see something like an algorithm update, you can say, “Hey, this is impacting this particular client. This might be practical to these other over here.” It’s one of the benefits of the agency life for me was the ability to get in front of a lot of data and have a good number of clients to actually see what’s working and what’s not in the SERPs. And as well I think it’s just interesting personally to me to work in a variety of industries. I’m constantly trying to learn new things. So learning new clients industries is really interesting to me as opposed to maybe just having more of a singular focus.

Ben:                 I had an experience and early in my career I was working in house. I didn’t really have an opportunity to work in a service based business like an agency. For me it was running a consulting business where you get the experience of working with multiple brands and to me it just felt like you get so much more repetition and you see so many more scenarios. That actually helped me become a better marketer. You had that experience early on in your career. Tell me what the direction that that first job led you and where did you go after that first experience you had working for the agency in Pittsburgh?

Chris:                Yeah, so my progression after my first job to my second was more [inaudible] had needs for SEO at the time and that’s kind of where I found that my particular interest lied. So I pretty much applied and got the role and from there that’s kind of where I’ve been able to expand a little bit.

Ben:                 So you went from your first role or your first real digital marketing role as a jack of all trades and specialized in SEO. What was it about SEO that made you feel like it was going to be your home in the center of your career?

Chris:                Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think SEO is a really interesting blend between being very data-driven, data focused, but also still a little bit more on the creative side too in kind of a way. There’s different creative ways to improve a piece of content, but it’s also very data focused. Is organic traffic to that piece of content improving? What are the actual engagement metrics of that piece of content? So I think for me, I’ve always valued a mix between being data driven but also having that room for creativity, so that’s one of the reasons I think I’ve naturally gravitated toward SEO. And the other thing is that with SEO, you just can go so deep. Even from a simple on page optimization, there’s a lot to learn. Yes, you’re going to make sure that all your important keywords are on the page. You can go very, very deep in terms of what entities is that page talking about? Are we linking to other hub content? So within the realm of just SEO, it can go very, very deep in terms of the different kind of facets that you can touch.

Ben:                 So you’ve had a couple of different roles within your existing agency that are all SEO related. You worked on architecture, now you’re more in a management role. Talk to me about the progression and the career growth that you’ve developed as an SEO once you made the switch to really focus from digital marketing down to SEO specifically?

Chris:                Yeah. I think there’s multiple ways to grow your career as an SEO. The one is just constantly valuing skill acquisition, always be curious, always be asking why and constantly trying to teach yourself new things. Even if something seems a little bit technical or a little bit out of your range of expertise, with some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was, don’t be afraid to read things that might seem a little bit over your head and I’ve kind of taken that advice and constantly applied that just to continually develop new skills, learn how crawling and indexing works, learn how the site architecture works, even if it does seem a little bit intimidating at the time. That’s kind of one of my core pillars. The second would probably be, SEOs, it’s very data focused and kind of marketing focused, but in order to grow your career, don’t underestimate the soft skills as well. Know how to work as a team, know how to get buy-in from clients. Know when you’re giving an idea that you’re actually selling clients on that idea and that’s kind of a layer of that.

Ben:                 I think that’s an important call-out and I think that’s something that as you continue in your career as an SEO, specifically in an agency, there are non-SEO skills that you need to develop. It’s not just about the technical skills. You have to learn sales. You’re doing more account management, relationship building. There’s also some internal management skills that you have to build. As you’ve continued to develop your career, what are some of the skills that you felt like you had to focus on learning that are not the traditional technical SEO chops?

Chris:                There’s quite a few, namely kind of the soft skills being one of them. I would say one, the ability to convey and communicate very technical concepts in more simplistic language. I think that’s a highly needed soft skill of SEO, as well as something that I’ve worked to develop and try to work to develop every single day is just this idea of you’re working as a team and working together, whether it’s internally with your other team members, whether it’s with the clients. When you’re doing an SEO campaign, there’s going to be ideas coming from all types of different parties, internal, external and knowing how to navigate that landscape and making sure that everyone has their ideas heard and believe they’re being communicated, that’s big into forming the overall SEO strategy of a campaign. Something that goes under looks maybe a little bit overlooked because there’s often an in any SEO campaign, a large amount of different input from different parties, whether it’s internal or external.

Ben:                 So talk to me about some of the work that you’re doing today. Now that you’ve had the entry level part of your career behind you and you’re really into the mid-level of your career, you’re starting to learn management skills, you’re working with more client facing work, what are the goals and outcomes that you’re hoping for this stage of your career?

Chris:                At this stage of my career I’m still of course always trying to learn some of the hard skills, knowing the latest and algorithm updates, knowing the latest what are kind of the new and innovative things that are being pushed in terms of SEO. I think one key focus is actually that idea of innovation, now that maybe I have a firm grasp on a lot of the basics, looking at what are some of the new and innovative approaches that we should be taking to SEO. How can we be using things like business intelligence tools to analyze the massive amounts of data that we have? How can we develop maybe more custom solutions for clients where there’s no pre-written blog post on that. So I think that’s a big one that when you’re coming up with more innovative solutions and solving more client specific problems. The other one would be training and helping other members of my team grow. That’s another huge initiative for me, it’s ensuring that all of the SEOs and our team feel like they’re progressing in their careers. They’re learning more and they’re figuring out how to learn SEOs new innovative solutions and maybe even how to figure out new innovative solutions themselves. Helping with career growth and really helping their developments as a SEO as they grow.

Ben:                 So as you look forward in your career and you think about your life as an SEO, obviously I don’t want to make it seem like you’re not happy at Go Fish Digital, let’s assume that you are going to be there for a while, but at some point in your career, do you think that you’re going to investigate going in-house or do you think that the agency life is the right fit for you long term?

Chris:                Yeah, that’s tough to say. For now, I can’t see myself working anywhere but an agency. I do think the benefits, there are numerous benefits of going in house. The benefits of going in-house would be one, that you get to go just deeper on things. That’s probably one of the most clear benefits is that problems within that organization are going to be the same day in and day out as opposed to having a lot more clients to focus on. That’s probably one of the biggest benefits. As well I think in house SEOs are exceptionally good at being able to demonstrate the value of their work and get buy-in for their ideas. I think in-house SEOs probably have the best skill acquisition in terms of that, because there’s a lot of times more bureaucracy and more internal parties that are very interested in the recommendations moving forward. So in-house, SEOs are much more trained to always have data to back up their ideas, because they know people are going to be asking questions and it’s going to be a little bit more challenge maybe to get a buy-in, even just from an internal perspective.

Ben:                 So as you think back of how far you’ve gone into your career at this stage, what advice do you have for the entry level job seekers that are thinking about agency life and interested in SEO?

Chris:                Yeah, that’s a great question. One, I would say don’t be afraid to learn things that seem maybe even more challenging at the time. I think that’s one of the biggest things that any entry level person can understand is, don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid to read new posts and try innovative solutions. That’s probably one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give. Two, don’t be afraid to think about other maybe non-technical skills. I mean that’s very important to organizations is your process. Think about how you do a particular optimization or recommendation and think about the process that that actually takes, and if it’s an efficient process, think about writing that down and recording it for your company. That’s valuable and could actually add value to an organization.

Ben:                 I think that’s great advice. And we’re going to continue this conversation tomorrow and dig in a little bit deeper about what life is like working at an agency. So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Chris Long, Senior Manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Chris, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is gofishchris. You can also find a link to his company’s website, which is gofishdigital.com.

Ben:                 Just one link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:     Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, or you can reach out to me personally, my handle is benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with Chris Long senior manager of SEO at Go Fish Digital, we’re going to publish episodes four to five times a week, so hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.