If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a technical SEO ninja, look no further. This interview with Jono Alderson is filled with ideas and sacred tips for achieving technical mastery over SEO. Even though there are many things you can do without knowing much of the technology behind ranking systems, the opportunities are virtually limitless when you’re equipped with technical knowledge. Jono kindly agreed to reveal his professional tricks and to discuss skills every technical (as well as non-technical) SEO expert must nail. To complete your SEO training, the last requirement is to read this post.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started with SEO
I started off as a self-taught bedroom web developer. I was a stereotypical digital geek, doing little freelance projects for local businesses. I became a bit obsessive about improving my code, and learning the ‘best' way to structure my HTML and content. Without realizing it, I was doing technical SEO, and it was working! Then I found my way into agency world, and the rest is history.
In your presentations you often point out that we need to think about search as an ecosystem. Could you tell which metrics we need to measure to see the forest for the trees?
Consumer-centric thinking is key. To focus on any particular component, metric or technique is risky when things move as fast as they do, and when consumer behavior is so much more complex than an interaction with a single website, channel or process. So for me, it’s about going back to first principles. People search, and it’s our responsibility to help the brands we work for ensure that customers have a positive brand experience. Increasingly, that means thinking beyond «where am I ranking», and considering «what does the consumer see?». We need to consider the whole user experience across multiple searches, websites and verticals — and then deploy the best strategies, tactics and techniques to influence that experience. There aren’t enough people thinking about the impact which the other pages and websites have on the search experience — things like reviews, articles, competitors, blogs, etc — and how they can influence these in ways beyond just trying to get links.
What invaluable SEO tools do you swear by?
Of course, I’d get shot if I didn’t mention Linkdex! And whilst that’s great for strategic management, when I’m rolling my sleeves up digging deep into a technical audit there’s nothing quite like the combination of Screaming Frog and URL Profiler. I love an enormous pivot table with URL crawl data and a ton of supplementary metrics to explore!
We know that Linkdex has a lot of useful features, but what’s the one that makes you proud?
Entity Search is pretty awesome! It lets you find which websites and/or individual authors are influential for a given topic, based on how much traffic we estimate them to be receiving from Google (based on rankings, keyword search volumes, CTR curves, etc). «Google is sending traffic to blog posts which this guy writes» is a great way of prioritizing outreach and activity; often much better than conventional authority metrics. And whilst ‘authorship' arguably isn’t a thing in Google any more, authored content is hugely influential in the research phase of consumer purchase cycles, because people read (authored) reviews and opinion-based content when they’re making purchase decisions. That makes it a powerful tool for understanding — and then influencing — those consumer buying behaviors.
Could you name some soft spots in Google people can legitimately play around with?
I still see tons of opportunities for people to do more with rich snippets. There’s loads of cool stuff you can do with Schema, JSON-LD and structured mark-up to influence how your content appears in the SERPs, and to gain extra real-estate. This sort of thing is only going to expand and continue, as Google looks to surface more information, answers and functionality directly in the SERP.
We noticed that people, — at least in the UK, — have started talking that Bing can no longer be ignorable. Do you think this is true?
Absolutely! Though I don’t think that’s new; sure, it’s got a relatively low market share, but when you’re fighting neck-and-neck with your competitors in Google for marginal, incremental performance gains, surely it makes sense to be taking a step back and looking at *all* of your options for getting more eyeballs, clicks and visits? The same logic extends to other search engines, platforms, and places. As we see more and more content living on multiple platforms (AMP, Facebook News, Amazon’s extension into content, and other areas), it’ll be more and more important to fight a war on multiple fronts.
Do you think that WordPress will continue thriving or people gradually have started crawling away towards other platforms? If yes, what are the alternatives to WordPress?
Which programming languages are a must for a technical SEO enthusiast?
Yikes, there are a ton. Angular2, and jQuery-powered AJAX are a must; the front end of the web is going to continue to get more and more dynamic — single page apps are going to become the norm in many cases. Hitting ‘view source' on a web page and eyeballing HTML tags just won’t cut it anymore; you’ll need to understand how dynamic pages are constructed, crawled, and optimized. Going deeper is important, too. At the very least, having an understanding a complete web stack is important. Conventionally, that looks something like MySQL, PHP, HTML, CSS 3, JQuery — which is still a very good starting point — but even that’s feeling stale by now. Your challenge is that every company, every team, and every developer will have a preferred set of technologies, and that often each of those will come with multiple abstraction layers (e.g., LESS into CSS). Given that, the best answer is to understand what’s powering your ecosystem (and those of your competitors and marketplace) and to make sure that you understand that well enough to be able to hold in-depth discussions with your developers about how pages/components/sites are built, function and crawled.
Do you believe that social media will replace search engines when it comes to searching out information on products?
I think it’s not as simple as one or the other ‘winning' - if I’m looking to go on holiday, or buy a car, or renew my car insurance, it’s rare for those processes to complete in a single action on a single platform, where I engage, then hand over my cash. Anything which requires active research or a considered decision will happen over multiple platforms (often over multiple sessions). Even for small purchases, I might search, then watch a YouTube video which is pushed at me on a social platform via a paid ad, then search for reviews, then ask for input on a social platform. Purchase behavior is complex, and both (multiple) types of mediums play a role. I’m interested in how this might change as personal assistant services like Google Home (and Google Now), or Amazon Alexa really start to fundamentally change the way in which we search, or pre-emptively anticipate our needs; in these cases, the technology will need to be smart enough to read and process all of these types of content, and return a blend of all of the ‘best bits' from both types of sources.
Virtual reality is all the buzz now. Do you think it’s a gimmick or it could be the next great frontier in marketing?
I think that we’ll see some really cool campaigns and creative. But VR content, like other types of content, has to be produced by brands, who have finite budgets, require business cases, and who frequently already lack even rudimentary text content. That’s why most web content is still text-on-a-page (as opposed to, e.g., immersive interactive experiences), why many ecommerce websites lack distinct and descriptive product information or media, and why only the high-impact ‘10x' style PR and content campaigns really tap into the power and capabilities of the web browser. So whilst VR will provide the opportunity and the technology for brands to create incredible experiences, it’ll still need *producing*, and the cost of that will prohibit most brands from taking advantage.
And for a final note, let’s talk secrets. Could you share with us a simple technical SEO trick that will instantly bring some oomph to anyone’s ranking?
If you’re not already doing so, get your website running through Cloudflare. It’s a (free!) CDN, which will instantly speed up your website, using some of the most cutting-edge caching and performance optimization techniques available to make your website lighter, faster, sleeker. It takes five minutes and minimal knowledge or experience to set up, and takes effect immediately. Faster websites mean a better user experience, which obviously ticks a whole bunch of visibility and ranking benefit boxes. I’d recommend splashing out a little and getting their $ 20/month package to unlock a ton of extra firepower.
Jono Alderson is currently the Global Head of Digital at Linkdex. He has over a decade of blended experience in digital marketing, with expertise in SEO, analytics, brand strategy, campaign strategy, lead generation, eCRM automation, conversation rate optimization and web development — from defining the ‘big picture' and strategic direction, right down to getting my hands dirty in the nitty-gritty technical detail.
Jono has worked with agencies, startups, household brands and FTSE 100 companies to define, support and deliver successful SEO, content, analytics and brand strategies at an international level.
Additionally, he’s a well-respected international speaker & presenter, trainer, and workshop leader on topics ranging from the future of digital marketing, to hardcore website performance optimization. To stay updated on the latest SEO news and to learn more about Jono, check out his personal website.