This week’s In-house Spotlight is on Shopping.com’s former in-house SEO Aaron Shear. I caught up with Aaron just as he was leaving his in-house position at Shopping.com for life as a consultant, joining Joseph Morin as a partner in Boost Search Marketing.
Unlike last week’s spotlight, Dave Roth at Yahoo, Aaron is a one-man SEO team managing SEO for 12 websites in 5 countries. He’s the in-house solo-SEO poster child operating on a $0 budget, yet managed to be an SEO jet-setter with in-house SEO business taking him from Paris to Israel.
What Aaron did his first month in-house: Site analytics. This wasn’t the answer I expected, most in-house SEOs jump into site reviews and audits.
Aaron’s advice for getting things approved: “..never try to bid for large scale projects by yourself, they will just get shot down.” I can’t echo this enough. Invest the time in building relationships and coalitions for getting your projects approved and high in the list of the priorities.
Before leaving in-house to go on your own: Aaron says you need experience with “at least 30 sites” to understand how different types are handled. Take his advice and build up your portfolio before heading out on your own.
On to the Q&A…
Jessica: You were the first SEO at Shopping.com. How did you get started? How did you expand your responsibilities to other properties?
Aaron: I spent my first month a Shopping.com just trying to understand the analytics. Having a site with 10’s of millions of products and a massive flow of traffic made digging through data a huge task. Without this understanding it would have been an impossible task to see how traffic was generated and how I could possibly effect its growth.
Jessica: What’s unique about shopping.com’s SEO? International? How is it managed?
Aaron: The most unique thing about Shopping.com is the level of scale, this is not so unique of let’s say the top 20 trafficked sites which have some dependency on SEO.
Imagine correcting issues across millions of pages at the same time. The combined effect could shift as few as 10k visitors a day to 100’s. On the other end measuring which project was responsible for this growth is at times impossible because of the bleeding effect.
International in itself has multiple levels of problems when trying to scale growth. Small factors such as hosting locations, TLD’s and speed can greatly affect your rankings. These are factors that must be very closely monitored. International optimization was both fun from a cultural point of view, the success at the end made it all worth it.
Jessica: What’s surprising is that you’re an SEO team on one. Many in-house SEOs are a team of one, and it’s a challenge, particularly when you have multiple properties. How do you manage such a large volume of details?
Aaron: I hear many small in-house SEO’s complain that they are over worked. Time management is extremely important and beyond that getting buy-in from other departments can really help your cause. A rule I take to heart is never try to bid for large scale projects by yourself, they will just get shot down. I have been directly responsible for the successful increase of 12 sites in 5 countries.
If I can offer one piece of advice, which I was unable to acquire, budget for outside help!
Jessica: Sometimes the in-house SEO feels like the ugly stepchild, often getting a small budget to make great successes happen. You have managed to operate with a $0 budget for over a year. What are your secrets?
Aaron: For my entire tenure with Shopping.com I had a budget of $0 dollars. As frustrating as this sounds the most important thing you can do is use the resources you have to move the needle. Many high tech companies have incredible research scientists to help out. One such scientist from Shopping.com was John Mount an incredible asset whom I relied upon.
Jessica: SEO agencies are always testing what works and what doesn’t, and they build very robust tools. What can the in-house SEO do to compete?
Aaron: When you are dealing with a site with 10’s of millions of keywords you obviously cannot scrape Google for all of these keywords to monitor your rankings. A tool that can show you samples of rankings based on category and page type can really help you determine problems at scale. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy way to build a tool that will work for a large array of sites. Thus you will really need to build your own. I would recommend talking to someone who has experience with this before embarking on such a task.
Jessica: You’ve just made the decision to leave in-house for the consulting world, what made you decide it’s time?
Aaron: As sad as this sounds I am doing this purely for monetary reasons. It’s always been my dream to live the life in San Francisco, which is an incredibly expensive place to live. I loved working for Shopping.com and with the great team at eBay. I am happy to announce that Shopping.com has signed on, as a client and I will continue to work with this remarkable team as their primary advisor.
Jessica: Being in the search business for so long, you probably had many opportunities. What made you turn some down, and in the end, decide to join Joe Morin as a partner in Boost Search Marketing?
Aaron: About 5 months ago I called an old and very trusted SEO buddy Joseph Morin and asked him how he made it as an independent SEO in such a tough market. Before I knew it Joseph offered me a partnership in Boost Search Marketing. I very rarely trust SEO’s especially those who have just joined the industry.
Jessica: SEO In-house and SEO as a consultant are completely different. What recommendations do you have for someone in-house, who is thinking about going out on their own as an SEO consultant?
Aaron: I would tell anyone a series of experiences working with many sites, at least 30 is the key to understanding how different Google treats each site. Once you have had the broad experience with dealing with different sites and different people you will be in pretty good shape.
Jessica: When your SEO leaves the company, what recommendations do you have for the transition? What does a company need to know about finding, and keeping, their new SEO?
Aaron: Transition is very difficult, especially in a large company format. I gave 1.5 months notice, a fair time I think for such an important role. You cannot just let the company suffer; it’s not right in my opinion ethically.
Jessica: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone on a one-person SEO team managing many websites?
Aaron: Get a blackberry and never let it go, the moment you stop paying attention all hell will break loose.
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Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant. Her background includes managing nine websites, in four languages across North America and Europe, in the competitive travel industry. Most known for being an in-house search marketer, Jessica relishes in the human side of SEO – the art of getting things done within an organization, a challenge for most search marketers.