Crys Wiltshire on SEO

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Crys Wiltshire from gShift about Search Engine Optimization.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Crys Wiltshire, and I am the Senior Marketing Manager at gShift (@gShiftLabs). We are a web presence analytics platform focused around SEO and content. We track and provide a wide range of metrics around a company’s web presence and how they are performing online. 

How has SEO changed in the past few years?
SEO has changed a lot in the past twelve years that I've been a marketer. There has been a dramatic change from being all about the keywords, the actual onsite optimization, and really just having the marketer being in complete control of the discoverability. That changed in the last few years. Now the marketer doesn’t have near the control, it’s really about the quality of content and how well it’s perceived by your audience. That obviously comes from the shift of algorithm’s from various search engines. 

They’re now very strongly focused on the quality of content, the level of knowledge, and the insights that it provides to the reader, as opposed to whatever the content marketer thinks they've optimized it for. So the control is really out of your hands and (in my opinion) a change for the better. It forces marketers to actually write for their audience as opposed to writing for the search engines.  

"There really aren't anymore shortcuts left in SEO."

What are some common misconceptions you might hear about SEO?
Some of the biggest things that people are still getting wrong is actually in how it's all changed. In the last few years there's a lot of marketers, SEO specialists, and brands that don't do the day-to-day work. So some C level (or other executives) still think that the old tactics are working when clearly they're not. 

We hear it from our clients, where they are still focused on tactics from years past that don’t work anymore like buying back-links or shoving five or six different keywords into an HTML title. Those older tactics are just frowned upon now since everything has changed. That's the biggest thing. People think they can still use shortcuts in SEO the way they could a few years back, where you would just buy, or quickly add in some key words. There really aren’t anymore shortcuts left in SEO. 

So you brought up SEO tactics, how do those tactics and strategy differ when comparing B2B and B2C?
I think the lines between the two are blurring a little bit, but there still is differentiation between the two. The biggest difference is that with B2B you know who you're marketing to. That's something that our CEO (Krista LaRiviere) likes to point out a lot. You can go out and look for them. They promote themselves so you can find their website, Twitter handle, and a lot of that valuable information. You can actually identify your market, which makes SEO a little bit easier because you not only know who your target audience is, but you can probably rhyme off at least a couple dozen actual brands or organizations that fit into that target audience. 

SEO in the B2C world is a lot more about personas. Personas play a part in B2B as well — but especially in B2C — because you don't necessarily know a specific person that you can target directly. You can a little bit now with social media but for the most part you have to do SEO for the entire persona audience as opposed to a set individual. So there's definitely a bit of a difference there. 

"Even if you're performing well, you still want to make sure you're outperforming competitors."

Whether it's B2B or B2C, some companies have great website traffic without investing in SEO and therefore don't believe in its value. What would you say to these companies?
I would say that they are probably doing SEO and just not realizing it. SEO is now more than just adding keywords, or optimizing a page title, it's really about the content, distribution, social, and influencers. If a company is doing really well because they have power behind their brand name, that's still a part of SEO. It just means that they have an easier chance of being discovered within search engines because they're already an authority within their space. 

By investing in SEO, they're only going to strengthen that even further. So if they are a big brand, it could be about making sure they outrank their competitors. Maybe Coca-Cola thinks that they don't need to invest into SEO because everyone know who they are, but if they're trying to switch-over someone who is an avid Pepsi buyer, then maybe they’ll care. I know that's kind of a funny example but that's what it comes down to — even if you're performing well — you still want to make sure you're out performing competitors. 

"When 2 of the top 5 search engines are Pinterest and YouTube, social performance is very important."

How much impact does social media have on SEO and in what ways can it aid your efforts?
Social is an interesting one when it comes SEO because there has been a lot of back and forth about what kind of impact it really has. Back in 2010 or 2011, Google had come out saying that they were counting social signals into the ranking algorithm, but then quickly backtracked saying it doesn't play a big part. So it's an interesting topic because it really isn't 100% clear. I think what every marketer can agree on is that SEO is really about discoverability, authority, and making sure your content is relevant. Relevancy in the eyes of most search engines and that is gauged based on the performance of your content and so that's where social plays a part (quite a large part). 

If you want to make sure you're being found for specific keyword and you write content on that specific keyword, socializing it and making sure that it does well in social will definitely help boost the rankings for SEO. It's showing the search engine that the content is popular. 

I think you can add to the element that in the last couple years, a lot of different social platforms have become search engines in their own right. If you look at search engines as just being Google then maybe you don't think that social matters. But when you consider within the top five performing search engines in the world, two of them would be Pinterest and YouTube, then all of a sudden social performance is important. In this age, a lot of people go to YouTube or Pinterest to do a search before Google, so that needs to be considered. You want to make sure you're performing in social because not only can it boost your performance in traditional search engines, but you also want to perform well within the search feature of social platforms. 

"Optimize your site for those 5-7 keywords you really want to be found for."

So it sounds like social should be considered a basic that every company should have covered, what are some other basics?
Getting back to the misconception of optimizing for a whole crap tonne of things. That's really not the case anymore so one of the basics now is to understand exactly what it is you want to be found for. Part of this comes from audience developement, truly knowing who your audience is, and what they're looking for. Rather than trying to optimize for 15, 20, 30 keywords (believe it or not people still do this) we'll go through an exercise with different clients to find those five to seven core keywords that they want to be found for. Then it’s about making sure you're writing your content really well for that. 

Another basic that we get back to all the time here at gShift is basic site hygiene. We actually acquired a site auditing company this summer that now integrates into our platform for this very reason. I think that a lot of people get so caught up in the whole 'content is king' and the wave of social media, that they stopped paying attention to basic site hygiene and how everything is structured. Things like having your H1 titles in the right lines, eliminating repetitive HTML titles, and making sure all images have alt tags. These things matter for search engines, for the snippets that users see when they're engaging on the search engine, and so they can boost clickthrough rates. So getting back to some of the site building 101 basics — making sure they're done well — is really important. 

You can relate it to building a house. Think about content marketing and social marketing as the decorations and furniture within the house. If you don't have your house built on a solid foundation to begin with, then the furniture and decorations don't matter. So it comes back to making sure your site is built for SEO from the ground up. 

Beyond those basics, is there anything else that's relatively easy for companies to do, that they just aren't?
The easiest things that companies can do to improve SEO performance is create great, relevant content (continuously). Plenty of companies still struggle with that. They put together a really great website, they've got their social handles, and maybe they're doing a little bit on social, but then it just kind of ends and they wait for people to come. I think the easiest you can do is to talk about your industry. Come up with a content strategy that will work, a social strategy that supports it, then update your website with relevant information on a continual basis. I think it's easier than most people think it is. They think that content is going to take a really long time, and obviously you want to make sure it's well done, but it is your space and it's your target audience, it's not rocket science. 

"People don't like change, unfortunately in the world of SEO, you have to like change."

Those are some great recommendations of what companies should be doing... what about things that companies are doing, but really aren't necessary?
A lot of that comes back to the misconceptions I was talking about earlier. People don't like change — unfortunately in the world of SEO — you have to like change. You can wake up tomorrow and the Gods at Google have decided that we all have to do our job differently in the span of one night. This happens all the time. So you have to be adaptable and there are a lot of marketers that struggle with that. I've been part of conversations in person and on social with some older marketers who 'know what works' and they're kind of holding onto some of those shortcuts I spoke to earlier that don't work anymore. Maybe they don't have to get rid of them but at least finding ways to adapt and merge them with the newer tactics and strategies that come up.

Like you said, whether we like it or not, SEO is always changing... how do you stay up to date with all the trends?
There's a joke here around the office that I am a 'white paper hoarder'. So for myself, as the Senior Marketing Manager, I definitely stay on top of a number different resources companies put out (lots of white papers). I also listen to a lot of different podcasts and join as many webinars as I can when I have free time. It really is a mix of different resources, and that works for me, but people need to pick what resources work for them. 

If I had to pick a favorite out of it all, it would be workbooks and Twitter chats (or any kind of meetups).

"It's a matter of finding the resources that work for you."

Is there any specific resources you want to name?
Yeah, I'm a massive Hubspot fangirl. That's another running joke here at the office. Anything they put out, I'll consume. I really like Mark Schaefer, I read pretty much everything he writes and I listen to his podcast religiously. MarketingProfs is another big one, same with the Marketing Tech Blog

The other big thing that I think people can do for resources is to look up different certificate programs that are offered. For instance I know MarketingProfs has one, and Hubspot has at least a few. 

For SEO specifically, I'd recommend Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal, [laughs] there's a lot of them. It's just a matter of finding whichever resources work for you. 

Our last question is definitely the hardest — what is your favorite 90's dance song?
That is a tough question. That might be the hardest question of this whole interview. I feel like I'm going to pick one from the wrong era. I’ve got one in my head, but I can’t think of the name...

You can always sing it for us?
Yeah, that's not going to happen [both laugh]. 

[Crys loads up music on her phone] There's one that I listen to all the time and as soon as you hear it, you just want to dance. Bust A Move! That's it. Bust A Move — Young MC

That's a good one. Thanks again for taking the time today!

Thank you!