I’ve always been insanely intrigued with “The Way I Work” pieces. Inc has a good collection of them on their website. I’m intrigued by them because they reveal a little more intricate detail of how the business elite have done what they’ve done, and also, reveal a more personalized, intricate side of their lives besides the more obvious reveals they detail on their blog.
Many of these higher-ups like Matt Mullenweg and Jason Fried reveal their ideology frequently and blog and the like, but that is so little of what actually made them them. As has been said previously, ideas are just a multipler of execution. How the ideas on a blog post informed success are so inconsequential – but posts that detail how they execute are so very not.
I am not Mullenweg or Fried, but I am a fairly productive person. And if you are like me, and I will be a complete idiot in assuming you are, you have some desire to see how people do what they do, and moreover, how that can help inform making you do what you do, better.
Within SEO, there are no such “How I Work” profiles that exist, at least to my knowledge. More largely, there is only a looming, boring dead air. So I’m here to say how I do what I do, with a small bit of hand-waving to protect the innocent, and more importantly, retain any competitive advantage I may have.
My Work Day
When I wake up every morning I give myself 30 minutes to make a nutritious fruit/almond milk/multivitamin/protein shake for breakfast and check up on what’s occurred overnight. I of course neurotically check my e-mail the second I wake up, then make my shake, then resume checking my other internet ping points for anything I might have missed. This time is mostly to wake up, fuel, and when necessary, help prep my brain on the commute to work for any immediate needs that present themselves.
When I get to work I generally steam a cup of green tea, boot up, and check my work e-mail, which I keep disconnected from my home computers. During this time I most often struggle with “Doing one thing”, or stepping into my first bout of productivity. This can sometimes happen immediately or even drag into an hour – how this flows and varies depends on how much sleep I’ve gotten, the immediate task at hand, or how intriguing the internet finds itself on a given day.
I flumose myself (and my employers) by containing this time, sometimes not spent directly on tasks, on things that promote the positive execution of said tasks. Every morning I immediately check my RSS and Hacker News, which is a constant massage of my business curiosity. I especially find myself embued and motivated by new posts from Marco, Merlin Mann, Hugh MacLeod, Paul Graham, and Jonah Lehrer.
Most importantly (and how it relates to my profession), I check up on the newest writing from SEOMoz and SEOBook, and more specifically, Rand Fishkin and Aaron Wall. I have read many other SEO blogs and find myself dragging back to these most frequently, and never being let down by their contents. Everything else is moreso eschewed brain-mattering – whether or not the post has anything to take and implement is so sporadic I can often find myself not reading them for weeks at a time.
Although they post less often, I am also frequently impressed with the SEO content generated by Michael Gray and Hugo Guzman – and very rarely find myself disagreeing with any opinions they might offer.
Since the website I work on is still in its infancy (and our keyword list is tiny because of it), I instantly start the day manually running Wall’s rank checker on our top keywords to update myself on some more sufficiently irrelevant day-to-day-data on our positioning. By the time I’m ready to stop distracting myself or hit the grindstone, I check this data and either panic or rejoice at where we stand. Sometimes this informs my next task, which can become an evaluation of keywords that aren’t ranking, large increases or decreases, or the overall progress of our campaign.
There are plenty of SEO tools, but I constantly find myself tracking back to just a few. For a while, I exclusively used Raven’s SEO Tools, with the expectation that their feature set would round out all of my needs. However, a byline on a feature list great functioning does not make, and I was forced to move back to SEOMoz’s toolset to round out my needs.
I was under the impression that Raven could automate my keyword tracking and also provide sufficient backlink analysis – however, I was not thoroughly impressed with the functioning and spaced out week-to-week update schedule for rankings. And, moreso, I was soon aware how impressive many of SEOmoz’s tool functions truly are, and felt myself missing them – Open Site Explorer will quickly become the internet’s current Yahoo! Site Explorer, and is the de-facto backlink analysis tool on the internet. It also serves as a great barometer of competitor analysis, something Raven is unfortunately not yet cut out to do.
Don’t get me wrong, Raven is still a toolset that is worth paying for – I’m just not yet sure it’s worth investing past the beginning cost option, at least for the small-to-medium-sized In-House SEO. The tool set’s most impressive feature is the ability to auto add links to a link report – this rips away time writing down anchor text, and it filters in in such a way that it makes it much more efficient evaluating which links and which anchor text helped inform your ranking gains and falls, and also, how to properly distribute the variations.
I use various other tools at random periods during the SEO experience, but undoubtedly, these two toolsets, as far as it comes to paid tools, are the only ones I use. Soon, I imagine I will move into an automated rank checker as my keyword list spirals out of control.
The Steps to Productivity
During my work day I burrow down beneath my headphones, and largely block out the office. I’m sure many members of the office actually think I hate them or something – rather, I just need this to get stuff done. I listen to various business podcasts or my Hypem.com channel on repeat, depending on the activity. If my brain feels relatively fried, I’ll listen to music or a more conversational podcast. If I’m partaking in a relatively mindless task, I’ll take risks with the occasional keynote, TED talk or presentation from Authors@Google. The noise rounds out my sensory palette, keeps me interested, and more importantly, motivates me to plow through the day like a bulldozer.
I keep TweetDeck humming on my desktop from power up to shutdown. Although I’ll sometimes go an entire day with but one or two updates, the casual relapse it allows from many worktasks informs the rest of my productivity. I think there are multiple reasons for this – first, it allows some modicum of fulfillment of the social level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, even if it’s only by observing conversation. Secondly, being able to jump over to a 140 character tweet when my mind needs a break instead of some never-ending flood of web data, allows me to properly monitor my productivity and not dither too far off task. Otherwise, it may be difficult to put the head down for 8 hours and plow through without continuously falling into Hacker News or my RSS feed.
I try desperately to make sure that I get up and take two ten minute breaks, even though I might not always. I sit inside the office all day, so I need the sun to get my sufficient sample of Vitamin D, and also, I enjoy reading. I’m currently enjoying Jonathan Heidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis. I’m halfway through, but even still, I suggest you pick it up. It’s one of the best books I’ve read.
Although I can’t detail too much of my intimate day as it pertains to link building and management, I can give a broader overview. I am a firm believer in the 37signals ideology – meetings are poison. I believe a one hour meeting once a week is necessary, but beyond that, it tailors on excessive, especially as it comes to SEO. I do everything I can to avoid interrupting my co-workers and the people I manage – because I expect them to have the same respect for me.
My philosophy as it comes to SEO is that much of the profession is improperly sorted – a lot of what I read has to do with a given tool, or how a certain HTML or anchor text framework informs rankings. The real competitive edge, though, is not in these details – it’s in the ability to efficiently scale a link building campaign. I spend more time thinking about how I can increase my productivity and the productivity of the people I manage more than how I can bold a keyword in the body content or properly fill a H1. I stay grounded in these best practices, of course, but these best practices, similarly, are thin enough that they don’t require an immensity of time required to research.
I currently run Billy’s SEO department solely on my own – at least as it pertains to strategy and link building. I have talented content writers, developers and management to help support me, but even then, the burden of a complete website – and other company properties – makes time of special importance and value.
Each task during a day has the opportunity to be thin sliced. Literally, everything – especially as it pertains to the internet. If I have to send an e-mail, I’ll find every way to have a templated draft of it available. If I have to follow up, I’ll use the power of Microsoft Outlook to auto-remind me. If I need to find contact information for websites, I do it all at once – using Google Chrome’s faster browser and top-right search bar to help speed up the process. I auto-sort my personal e-mail so the most important stuff shows up first – so that everything second tier can be addressed more appropriately, later.
Although I am all for transparency, detailing exactly what I do as it pertains to link building would be suicidal, especially if my competitors eventually found and bookmarked this blog. I can say, though, that my process leverages my business network and also an adoration of non-disruptive links – combined with a spit and a spat of creativity that I hope to share with you in the next few months, as it becomes appropriate. Link building is not something that can be appropriately detailed in a post like this, because the techniques fluctuate so often – but philosophies maintain. My ideology is to build sustainable, high quality links that are sound in ranking fundamentals but low in user experience disruption – and to do so in a way that scales in the best way possible.
Something I am intimately intrigued with – and have considered getting a degree in – is psychology. Psychology is such a huge part of marketing and link building in general, and is a paradigm that must be a solid foundation of every savvy link builder. I think psychology is one of my biggest strengths – knowing the end user, knowing which end user will covert what, and how to knock the user into the conversion funnel, whether it’s for a link or a purchase. Alan Bleiwess recently put out a good article detailing the very thing – and again, I hope to detail more of my own strengths as it comes to this in the weeks coming.
The Way I Will SEO
I haven’t released any of my SEO material on this site, but I’ve written multiple articles over at SEOMoz and Search Engine Journal. I’m likely cutting that off (unless I decide to utilize it to promote this blog), but it’s a good inference into what I’ve learned doing this for as long as I have.
Next week I’ll be at SEOMoz’s Pro Seminar in Seattle, so if you’re going and see this, throw me a line and we’ll get a drink. Or shake hands. I’ll have a takeaway post regarding the conference next week, or something similar. I hope I have a lot to write about. Actually, I hope to have a lot I can’t possibly write about for fear of it compromising a huge competitive edge I acquire. Hopefully.