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Andrew Steel

Growth Hacking Interview Series #84: Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel is Head of SEO at Equator, leading a large team of SEO experts working for some of the world’s largest brands, including AXA and National Australia Group.

Based in Glasgow, UK, Andrew has over 10 years’ experience working in SEO.

How would you explain specifically what you do as an SEO?

In my role as Head of SEO at Equator I oversee the delivery of all of our SEO work for clients operating across a wide range of verticals including some of the UK’s largest financial and travel brands.

My role involves playing a key hand in the strategic development of our clients’ online marketing as part of an integrated approach, the ultimate aim of which being to drive organic search traffic and achieve client KPI’s.

In simple terms, this means I get to work on planning campaigns that blend great technical SEO with great content and supporting outreach – and then integrate the aims of this activity with other channels (such as PPC, Display and Affiliates) to ensure maximum efficiency and impact of client budgets.

What is your primary marketing goal when it comes to delivering results?

Driving conversions from organic search that matter to clients. At Equator we focus our efforts on activities that will provide the greatest impact and long-term ranking stability and growth for our clients.

Which new skills are most important for SEO’s to learn in the next six months?

The biggest thing that sets apart great SEOs from capable SEOs is their ability to think strategically and apply appropriate, fundamental technical SEO and content skills to a given situation.

Keeping knowledge up-to-date on emerging areas, or those that continue to develop and change, such as mobile SEO, is always going to be important, but developing your strategic thinking, planning and application skills are the best way to ensure you never become wholly reliant on the latest fad or trend.

What do you find most rewarding about SEO?

It sounds clichéd, but the most rewarding thing about SEO to me is overcoming the challenge! It’s incredibly satisfying when we surpass a client’s aims for organic search performance, but even more so when we surpass our own expectations!

I head up a team that has been able to significantly change the approach of Marketing teams at globally recognised organisations as a result of instances like this and the work we do – that’s a very rewarding feeling!

How do you stay updated with the latest SEO industry news?

I read a selection of literally hundreds of SEO and digital marketing blogs as often as I can. Because my average work day can be extremely busy and not leave a lot of time for reading during the day, I use Pocket to save things I want to read for later on my phone or tablet.

I also find it important to read beyond SEO industry news to stay current on what is taking place in the verticals we commonly work across. Doing so allows me to understand wider vertical trends and then consider how to strategically apply SEO activity to take advantage of these.

As an SEO, what is your favorite SEO hack?

“Hack” is such a dirty word when applied to SEO – you can’t (or shouldn’t) cut corners when it comes to doing quality SEO work. You need to be prepared to take care of all the small details to generate substantial, lasting impact.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to improve the ease or speed with which you can accomplish SEO tasks – a great knowledge of Excel and formulae goes a long way to accomplishing a lot quickly but there are also a lot of tools out there now that help do the job. So I guess my hack would be “great Excel skills”!

Are there any particular SEO trends on the horizon that really excite you?

As we have a strong focus on creative content-led SEO at Equator, the continued developments of Google towards user interaction and engagement being strong ranking metrics is exciting. Mobile browsing experience is changing the way people use the web.

It’s a subtle, but gradually evolving thing, but the shift definitely makes interaction metrics more of a logical signal to use and Google’s efforts in the field of Artificial Intelligence (such as Rank Brain) can only be presumed to be at least partly informed by these types of metrics.

What are some of the top tools and apps in your SEO stack?

Screaming Frog is one of my favourites but I also get great value from MajesticSEO, aHrefs, SearchMetrics, Kerboo and URLProfiler.

How is your typical work day structured?

I wouldn’t say I have a “typical day”, so to speak, as it can vary substantially depending on time of year and client projects launching.

Often I’ll spend the first hour of the day catching up on emails, catching up with my team leads and updating my schedule for the week (it can change a lot day-to-day!).

After that, it will usually be a mix of meetings (internal and external), planning sessions and producing work for client and internal projects.

Which one book/blog post would you recommend every SEO should read?

Hands down I would recommend “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” – it’s one of my favourites from when I first read it 15 years ago and by one of my favourite psychologist authors.

His works have been getting applied more and more commonly in digital marketing, particularly by speakers such as Nathalie Nahai.

What advice would you share with other SEO’s who want to become more productive?

Develop processes. Ones that work but remain flexible and can adapt as required. What we do changes quickly, but there are often very repetitive elements to SEO, so having processes always makes things more efficient but also easier to share/teach to others.

I’ve seen plenty of SEO’s over the years who jump from task to task and often end up dragged down various rabbit holes and by the end of a day, have little to show for their efforts. Processes help avoid this.

Making use of productivity tools is also a bit of a no brainer but it’s about picking the right ones and making sure they fit with how you work best. Trello, Slack, Evernote, IFTTT, RescueTime etc are all great for productivity, but only if you actually use them!

Among the Google algorithm updates what is the most challenging one that you’ve encountered?

Florida definitely marked a significant change for SEO, but Penguin was probably the most impactful update on SEO as a whole in recent times and one that brought us a number of new clients, but with the challenge of addressing their penalties – some of which were easier to shift that others.

On top of that though, Penguin also lead to a dramatic change in link building and made this a far more time consuming and challenging activity as, somewhat naturally, there was a lot of suspicion and skepticism of any approach for a link following its rollout.

If there’s one SEO Guru you’d recommend who and why?

Tricky question as I don’t think it would be possible to name just one worth recommending.

Everyone with any interest in SEO probably already knows the “big names” so I don’t imagine they need me to add any more recognition as they already do a great job of promoting themselves.

I’ve met and had the pleasure to work with a number of very talented SEOs over the years though – many of whom don’t have the time to run personal blogs to share their knowledge or accomplishments or speak at conferences, but who deliver some outstanding work for their clients.

I would always recommend reading/listening to/discussing with many different SEOs to get as broad a view as possible and then creating your own interpretation and viewpoint – better to blaze a trail than follow a path.

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