Ryan Kent of Vitopian Teaches SEO Consulting

Ryan Kent of VitopianRyan Kent runs an SEO shop (find him also on LinkedIn and G+) growing exclusively based on word of mouth, and has also dominated SEOmoz Q&A to become SEOmoz’s top member in what seems a rather short time. I interviewed this rising star of the SEO scene and he shared his knowledge of the business very generously…

- You’ve grown into the top power contributor at SEOmoz . What drives you to answer so many questions in the Q&A, comment so much etc ? What benefit do you gain?

When I read the SEOmoz Q&A I very much feel I am “in the trenches” of SEO. The Q&A is filled with real webmasters and SEOs who are sharing challenges and what is happening in their world. It exposes me to all types of SEO challenges from around the world. Frankly, I go there to learn and list to what others share. During my time in the Q&A, I do what I can to give back to the community by answering questions.

The largest benefit the knowledge I gain. It’s always intriguing to hear how other SEOs handle various challenges. Many Q&As trigger great discussions which may occur via e-mail with others. Other times I have my own understanding reaffirmed. It’s different every day and that is what makes the Q&A enjoyable for me.

- What communities do you actively participate outside of SEOmoz (excluding Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/General sites)? Why?

My community involvement is much less then what I desire due to the enormous time commitments faced as I opened up my own agency, Vitopian, and more recently moved into a new office. I would like to become more involved in other sites but that will need to wait as hiring and training SEO analysts are my main priority right now.

I read all official Google news and blogs, Bing news, Matt Cutts both on his sites and videos, Google’s Webmaster YouTube channel. As I can make the time I also read SearchEngineLand.com, SearchEngineWatch.com, seroundtable.com, searchenginejournal.com and more recently SEOchat.com.

- You used to work in database development at Verizon. What lessons carry over from there to your SEO work?

When I first began working with Verizon Wireless I used Excel to get things done.

Due to internal struggles of a merging company, I had to leverage Excel’s abilities to an incredible degree. I created an Excel application leveraging VBA macros* (see below) to collect data from teams of dozens of Quality Assurance employees and hundreds of supervisors, managers and directors located across 8 call centers.

The work was exceptionally challenging on many levels but the lessons were incredibly valuable. Working with Excel at that level, in and of itself, is an asset to any SEO.

Beyond that, balancing the needs of users and internal customers, creating user friendly applications, providing reporting, leading other development projects, managing SQL servers, the list goes on….are all very valuable experiences for any SEO consultant.

* Ryan explains: VBA is Visual Basic for Applications. VB is a programming language. VBA is leveraged by the Microsoft Office suite to provide additional functionality beyond the native capabilities of MS Office.

- How much of your work is traditional SEO work like content writing / link building, vs “new” SEO involving conversion rate optimization, email marketing etc?

Actually the largest focus of my time this year has been resolving penalties and creating post-penalty recovery plans for clients.

My agency’s focus is specific to SEO. We focus initially on website architecture, then content, then finally site promotion (i.e. earning links & social media).

We do get involved with CRO and e-mail marketing to a degree, but we are not specialists in those areas. We take our clients down those paths to a certain extent.

If clients desire to go further we work with others to meet our client’s goals. For example, we have successfully referred clients to SiteTuners.com for CRO. We do not receive any form of referral fee. We selected SiteTuners based on their solid reputation and experience, and Tim Ash does a great job over there.

- Like many other SEOs, you’ve chosen to go down the consulting path. What are the best and most frustrating parts about client work?

The best part of SEO consulting is working with businesses and seeing the incredibly positive impact SEO can have on a business owner’s life. For a small business, when we are able to take them from a family run site doing under $10k/month in sales and boost them to tens of thousands in sales, it absolutely is life changing.

For mid-sized businesses it is always a pleasure to meet with business owners who are able to share their dreams. The increased sales we earn together is the difference between laying people off and giving raises and bonuses to employees. It is all very heartfelt.

The most frustrating part is hearing from others how they trusted a “SEO consultant” or “SEO company” with their website and then got scammed in some form or another.

Perhaps they paid for links to be built and ended up being penalized. In other cases, they paid for traffic but they never received any conversions from that traffic so their sales never increased. Sometimes people pay for rankings, often hundreds of dollars per keyword, and end up with nothing to show for it.

These instances cast a dark shadow over our industry as many site owners seek “cheap” SEO solutions. It’s painful to hear how so many companies ultimately have to close their doors or lay off employees entirely due to bad SEO decisions.

- Is consulting an intermediate career step on the way to something else? Or do you see yourself spending the next 5-10 years at least continuing to build Vitopian?

I have been around computers and IT projects throughout my life but SEO is the first career which I truly feel passionate about. I think everyone has dreamed from time to time about inventing a great product or service. Through SEO, I have the opportunity to work with many business owners who have generated exceptional business models. I get the chance to help them live their dreams which is very rewarding.

For me, SEO is definitely not a career step but rather a career choice. I foresee changes in search driving many SEOs away from the business. My intention is to stay involved with Search Engine consulting for the rest of my working life.

For the foreseeable future, I will work to build Vitopian. It really is too much to guess what will happen over the next 10 years. If we think about the last 10 years so many companies have risen (Facebook, Google, Bing) and fallen (MySpace, Yahoo, AOL).

- What’s a little-known tactic that’s working well for you/your clients right now? Why does it work?

I can’t think of any “little-known” tactic as much as well-known tactics which are not being implements. Two such tactics are:

Focusing on website architecture. In my experience many site owners and SEOs do not offer enough attention to their website software. Too many people are reaching for the big fish they are letting tons of little fish get away. A few tips:

  1. offer friendly 404 pages
  2. track all 404 errors and respond to them on a regular basis
  3. offer automatic internal linking (like Wikipedia)
  4. crawl your own site regularly and strive to resolve all 4xx errors [ex.: 404, 410], 3xx errors, etc
  5. stop dismissing issues with the thought “I can’t control it due to software issues”. Do not let your site software hold back your SEO results.
  6. become a site speed junkie: work on 9x PageSpeed scores, use a cdn or cloud, consider better hosting, etc.
  7. let your users decide what works best on the site. Perform A/B or other testing. Review your analytics thoroughly to determine how users interact with your site
  8. and much more…

The other tactic is to stop “building” links and start earning them. Most SEOs have reviewed competitor links in an effort to determine what links they can copy. The beauty of earned links is they cannot be copied, not easily at least.

- Have you got any case studies showing that improving site speed on a site that didn’t have a problem (e.g. average load times) ended up ranking better or converting higher? I saw a case study that was pretty persuasive that this didn’t change anything.

Regarding page speed, Google has repeatedly shared “Reducing page load times can reduce bounce rates and increase conversion rates.” You are specifically asking about improving performance on sites with average load times. I would share improving speed of an average site can definitely yield positive results. There are numerous studies which share page load times over 3 seconds lead to higher bounce rates. Strangeloop offers a great infographic on this topic.

I am specifically trying to avoid all the general info on how improving slow sites is helpful and focus on your question of improving average sites. An excellent source is this Gomez report: “Nearly one-third (32%) of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between 1 and 5 seconds” (page 4 of PDF) – http://www.gomez.com/wp-content/downloads/GomezWebSpeedSurvey.pdf.

Keep in mind even if you have an average site, many users do not have average PCs. [Emphasis mine.] Some users will browse from mobile devices or older computers which will impact their load times and therefore how they react. My focus is the user experience which will indirectly help rankings. Another Gomez chart: http://www.technologyreview.com/files/54902/GoogleSpeed_charts.pdf.

Google’s own testing mirrors these results: http://searchengineland.com/google-now-counts-site-speed-as-ranking-factor-39708

- Who are the most savvy SEOs in the industry who hardly anyone learns from?

There are so many quality SEOs out there. The daily commitment of working with clients hits everyone from time to time where they may disappear for a time only to pop back up later. A few such individuals I like to follow are Alan Bleiweiss (Search Wisdom), Ann Smarty (MyBlogGuest) and Lindsay Wassell (KeyphraSEOlogy)

- Who should I interview next?

That’s a hard question. So many great names come to mind. If I had to chose one person I would say Lindsay Wassell. I have not read much from her this year and would love to hear what she’s been up to.

Thanks for your interest Gab. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask.

Please understand my path to providing SEO consulting for others was not a conventional one. In brief, in 2011 I was asked to provide consulting services for one client. That quickly grew into several clients. After a few months, I had a full client base. I had no website, no advertising of any sort, just purely referrals. I ultimately decided to expand. It took several months to locate an office and make the transition from a lone consultant to running my own agency. As I hired my first couple analysts, my clients had been waiting for the opportunity to provide additional work. To summarize, I still have not caught up. I just hired another analyst who begins work on Monday. Between the final work on my new office (I am the first tenant of this office so it was built to suit), the building of our site, servicing clients, managing analysts, etc. I have not had the time to do things such as build profiles properly.

Comments

  1. Ryan has been instrumental in bumping our business to higher levels. He does not miss a beat and provides service beyond what I have ever experience with a company before. I would put my business on the line in order to recommend Vitopian SEO! This is NOT a paid comment. Pick up the phone and go see for yourself!

    Comment by Steve - August 24, 2012 @ 5:07am

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