Spring is the picture of new life and growth, so let’s ask a few questions of someone that practically gave birth to the concept of SEO copywriting.
(How’s that for a cheesy segue?)
Today’s guest is one of the matriarchs of search engine optimization–none other than Jill Whalen. Jill has been in this business for almost 20 years and has been consistent in her messaging about the importance of great copywriting in SEO. And, it’s not an exaggeration to say that she practically invented the niche.
Let’s ask her how she got her start, who hires her, which up-and-comer she respects the most, and how she’s developed a thick skin. Onwards!
Q1. You started your SEO career in 1995. Tell us how you got into this industry?
There was no information on SEO at the time so I had to figure things out for myself.
Q2. You’ve been in this space for almost 20 years Jill, how have you not burned yourself out by now?
I was sick of incompetent and sometimes unethical SEOs running rampant in our industry
That said, I’ve never tired of trying to figure out what might be keeping any given website from reaching its potential. I’ve always found it to be like solving a puzzle. Even more so now with all the Google Panda and Penguin penalties. My focus lately is reviewing sites that have been penalized and getting to the bottom of why. I seem to have a pretty good instinctual knack for understanding what Google wants in a site and what they don’t. Even back in the old days my methods always involved “thinking like a search engine.” I also still love teaching others about SEO, especially in smaller groups such as in-house training days within a company or small seminars that I occasionally put on.
Q3. Who hires Jill Whalen? What does a typical client look like for you?
Right now I only offer site audit reviews and training. So a typical client is one that either wants to take their site to the next level in terms of their organic search engine traffic or one that has been losing organic traffic and wants to know why. The businesses who hire me range in size from solo professionals and other small businesses to major universities and hospitals. As you can imagine, in 18 years of business I’ve worked with companies in pretty much every industry there is! The key for a client being a good fit for my services is that they need to have the resources to implement my SEO recommendations, as I don’t offer implementation. Often that means I work with a lot of businesses who have their own IT and Marketing teams. But I do also often work with highly motivated do-it-yourself business owners who are willing to spend the time and money to make the recommendations themselves. They’re usually the most satisfying clients to work with as I get to see how well my recommendations play out in the real world. It’s especially rewarding to see the traffic to a previously penalized site improve.
Q4. Who’s come on to the SEO scene in the past few years that has impressed you the most, and why?
I’m likely not familiar with many of the fresh new SEO faces of the last few years. But in terms of the younger generation of SEOs, even though she’s been around for a long time now, for the past few years I’ve been most impressed with your very first interviewee, Lisa Barone. She tends to have a similar take on SEO as I do in terms having to have a great website if you want to get anywhere with it. Plus she’s one of the very few people in the space whose articles I can read (and like), because she is a great writer. Too many in our industry (and all over the Internet in general) are not very good writers. And yet they write about SEO anyway. While they may have interesting information to share, if I can’t get through the first paragraph then I’m not interested.
Q5. Social networks seem to get all of the buzz, yet your High Rankings forum continues to flourish. What’s the secret to its success?
I’m not sure that “flourish” would actually describe the High Rankings Forum. It does get a good amount of traffic every day, but interaction is fairly low as compared to some other forums. But I can say that HRF is the most spam free forum in the world! Unfortunately, that is also why interaction is low because I don’t allow people to post just for the sake of posting. Every post from new users has to be approved by a moderator (often me) and I disapprove 10 times more than I approve.
I think my success in this area has been due to my consistency
Q6. You’re not afraid to poke fun at yourself, what’s the craziest stunt you’ve pulled?
…when Danny S. still owned the Search Engine Watch Forums he came about an inch away from banning me…
But to your point of me not being afraid to poke fun at myself, that’s definitely true. I think I learned at a very young age that if you make fun of your own self then nobody else can. Well they can try, but you don’t care because it’s nothing you haven’t said about yourself already anyway. Basically it takes their power away. (Man I must have been teased a lot as a kid!) But you know, that’s what gives you a thick skin. And that has certainly come in handy in this business over the years, especially in the old days when I was online picking fights all the time. (As an aside, many years ago when Danny S. still owned the Search Engine Watch Forums he came about an inch away from banning me at one point.) I’ve finally matured (at age 51!) where I don’t feel the need to pick fights or even to answer back others who try to pick fights, but it was a long time coming! When I see bad SEO info now (and I still see it every day) I no longer feel the need to correct it. I just move on.
Thanks Jill. We may have to ask Danny about that incident sometime.