Stephen Jones reveals all about his role as Senior SEO manager

As part of our showcase of our SEO talents in February, we had a chat with Fresh Egg stalwart Stephen Jones about his role as a Senior SEO Manager and his thoughts about the wider world of search engine optimisation.

I have some incredible client results, which I often trot out as case studies with appalling and insufferable smugness. Plus feedback that the odd comment or observation has helped a client or team member always makes me feel less like a terrible human being.

Stephen Jones, Senior SEO Manager

Stephen Jones

First of all, what does it mean to be a Senior SEO manager?

The main element is helping our clients with their SEO problems.

Then, there's the decoder ring, secret handshakes and a big book of insider Google secrets, which is nice. Yeah, right, it's not that much different, really: every client is a new challenge, and the landscape is always shifting.

I suppose it's good to draw on a bit of real-world experience and exposure to different situations, platforms and scenarios. Now and then, based on past encounters with a particular set-up, you'll have a hunch what the fundamental problems will be, which gives you a good launch point for investigations.

What did your path into an SEO career look like?

My career started in libraries, working for a large UK charity, then moved into publishing, where I became responsible for the digital side of things for several STM imprints.

I took other jobs to gain experience on mass broadcast email and affiliate marketing, then saw Fresh Egg's position, which was an opportunity to work in an SEO agency (and not spend several hours on a train to London every day).

What do you think makes a great SEO?

Be eclectic and have an open mind. There's always something you can learn from somewhere or someone else. It's a bit like Shakespeare; he had this magpie mind that recycled bits and pieces from everywhere: popular stories, Holinshed's historical chronicles, Latin grammar lessons as a boy in Stratford-Upon-Avon, his dad's tannery processes, fencing lessons with Saviolo, etc. There's so much happening with channels and data you can bring into the mix nowadays.

In your ten years at Fresh Egg, what do you think the biggest change/s have been in the industry?

It's the nature of the job that change and progression are inevitable. Sometimes it's slow and subtle; occasionally it's the equivalent of a tactical nuke detonating under your bed. Navigating the best route through new landscapes and persuading others that's the best way is often difficult, but has to be done. No way out but forward go.

Do you have an SEO challenge we can help you with?

In your role as an SEO, what gives you the greatest job satisfaction?

Happy clients. Sounds soppy perhaps, but unhappy people generally don't trust you very much, or think you're doing a good job of helping their business. Our best results often come from long-term or repeat customers who treat us part of their team, rather than a hands-off agency.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for SEOs?

Typically, it is getting stuff done. We all know people are busy. Every business has its own set of limitations and unique circumstances, but when there's a list of improvements you are confident will make material gains for a client, and it sits there gathering dust in a dev queue, it's disappointing. That's why I think the developments with meta CMS interfaces (or 'Edge SEO' if you want to sound trendy) are rather exciting.

What tips would you have for anyone looking to become an SEO?

Generally, there's still a lot of bad advice out there about SEO. I also feel there is (unwarranted) snobbery about some SEO experts, especially as they are successful (and therefore validates their approach).

It comes back to my earlier answer, be open-minded, A certain degree of agnosticism is required. My advice, look at the consensus, critically test assertions and conclusions, look between the lines of official guidance at what the bigger picture is. Think like a web customer (which we all are, to some degree or another).

What is your favourite part of your job role?

I love pulling websites to bits. It's like that Chelsea Wolfe song: "Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter". Seriously though, if you can find massive technical issues, that's a quick win to fix and helps when proposing more creative ideas for additional growth.

Also, smuggling in weird references and analogies into internal and client presentations. As marketers, we have a sacred duty to make PowerPoint less boring.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around working in SEO?

That it's divorced somehow from any other form of marketing and that you can check the 'do SEO' button and move on. Like many other channels, there is a tendency for people to do things badly and say "well that doesn't work" without reflecting if it was done well enough, or tested changing the right things.

You can only pick one SEO tool to use, which one would you choose and why?

Would probably be Screaming Frog. To do this job you need an excellent crawler tool, and the latest developments with API integrations have made it consistently useful for a sustained period. Plus it's quite affordable.

What is your proudest achievement as an SEO?

Surviving in the industry this long has to be worth something, yes? Is there a 10-year chip they give you? Mine must have got lost in the post.

I have some incredible client results, which I often trot out as case studies with appalling and insufferable smugness. Plus feedback that the odd comment or observation has helped a client or team member always makes me feel less like a terrible human being.

In your opinion, what qualities does someone need to be effective in an SEO role?

Of course, technical aptitude. In addition to the technical aspects, you need to work well with clients and deliver your message.

Ultimately, you're dealing with people who have their own opinions, attitudes and assumptions, and in the role, you need to in partnership to get things done.

You could be presenting a Single Unified Theory or 'Three Steps To Internet Riches Beyond Your Wildest Dreams of Avarice', and if the head contact has pigeon-holed or dismissed you, they're going to spend the entire of that meeting checking their phone.

That can be tricky. Ever sat with a table of developers and have to explain the site they've built isn't search-friendly? Or the expensive platform the MD has just bought isn't suitable for their business needs? You have to account for people's feelings without compromising the value of the advice you provide.

What do you think the greatest challenges are for clients in SEO's modern age?

Competition is the obvious first-choice response. There are now hundreds, thousands of brands competing online for every market niche.

Everyone has access to the same information about what Google values and how to set up and optimise a website for a good user experience, so getting the basics wrong or dragging a change process out to fix things effectively, paints your business into a corner.

There's also a lack of clear, verifiable information. We are all prone to thinking that something causes something else because that's how our brains have developed. But until that gets tested properly, (or you wade through David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature), assumptions like this can often lead to wasted time and effort. It is a problem when agencies try changes that don't move the dial, or clients ignoring sound advice in favour of things they think will work better.

Google Search Console

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