Future of SEO: Interview with our Head of SEO, Owain Lloyd-Williams

What does it take to be successful in SEO? We spoke to our in-house SEO magician, Owain, to find out how he has climbed the rankings in the industry.

If I had to explain what I do to a 5 year-old I’d say…

I make PeoplePerHour appear at the top of Google using various methods of wizardry. Like a really uncool Harry Potter.

It’s an age-old cliche, but I “fell into” SEO.

I spent several years working in China in a previous life, initially as an English teacher after graduating from university in the UK, and then eventually as a bit-part translator, journalist and digital marketer.

When I came back to the UK, I was trying to leverage my Chinese language skills and was lucky enough to be picked up by a multilingual SEO agency who were doing some China-focused SEO projects at the time, and it all started there.

True experience in SEO is gained through first-hand practical experience.

With SEO, there are an awful lot of blogs, guides and all manner of resources out there and the industry is quite unique insofar as it has quite a strong community that contributes to each other’s learning. This is initially useful for getting a grounding in SEO, though you soon find that a lot of what’s out there has limits when being applied to real-life unique SEO situations.

True experience comes through trying, testing, failing, and eventually seeing positive results. My first couple of early SEO roles saw me get stuck in with a variety of content and technical SEO tasks and projects for different brands, and I was able to learn quite quickly.

On top of that, I’ve been fortunate enough to work under the guidance of some real experts within the field, either through being managed or working collaboratively with clients or agencies. There are some incredibly smart people in the industry and I continue to keep close to a select few who I’ve learnt a lot from in my journey.

My favourite part of the job is…

Oftentimes it’s just the small stuff. A big part of SEO is having bigger picture vision and an exciting, overarching strategy, but I love it when you make small tweaks to areas of a site and see important marginal gains. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a quick internal linking optimisation or simple tweaks to existing content, for example.

The future of SEO shouldn’t be optimised for search engines.

Attend any SEO conference or webinar and you’ll see this question answered so often and in so many different ways that make the future of SEO look incredibly busy and contradictory, to say the least!

I think the basics of SEO have remained on a straight path for some time and will continue to do so. That being getting your site in order technically, and creating useful, in-depth content that serves a useful purpose around an informed keyword dataset.

Google will, of course, make algorithmic tweaks every now and then that send shudders through the industry, though this will benefit sites that do well in areas of optimisation that are of well-known familiarity, such as site speed and lack of duplicate content for example. Any half-decent SEO should be well on top of this regardless.

I think a lot of the future of SEO is based around not optimising necessarily for search engines, but more for humans and to a lesser extent, machines. Consumers are becoming more specific in their search behaviour and intent and with the launch of the new BERT algorithm late last year, Google is becoming smarter at providing succinct answers from website snippets within their search results page. This often neglects the need for users to actually click through to a site to find out more.

This presents a challenge for brands trying to optimise their content to capture not only the presentation of an answer in the Google search results page, but also do enough to anticipate this intent, entice users to click through and find out more, and thereby discover the brand. On the same token, it’s also becoming more important than ever for SEOs to work closely with UX designers to achieve this “human-focused” journey that serves user intent whilst adhering to the usual SEO best practice.

My advice for anyone looking to build a career in SEO is…

Attend as many free conferences or webinars as possible. Ask questions and network. Follow some SEO influencers you like on Twitter and get involved in the conversations. Get a basic grounding through the plethora of free guides and blogs online (though be wary of information overload!) SEO is quite a competitive industry these days though it is becoming more in demand. If you can, find a niche within the many facets of SEO that interest you.

Above everything, however – and going back to one of my earlier points – build your own website and get some first-hand experience in SEO. Whenever I’ve hired people previously, I’ve always been keen to hear about their own personal SEO and website projects, as this is often a good indicator of passion and commitment. Your own website also allows you to experiment with content, code and technical ventures where mistakes don’t come at a price and allow you to learn without suffering the wrath of clients or directors!

If I wasn’t in SEO, I’d love to get into politics.

I’m an amateur musician, though that would struggle to pay the bills.

I’d love to get into politics in some way. Slightly different skill set, though I’ve probably got just the right amount of vanity.

My favourite app is Shazam.

Old but gold and works so well! I’m a bit stuck in my ways when it comes to discovering new music, so it’s a godsend whenever I hear something new I like on the radio or on TV.

I’m also a big fan of language learning apps and have this great Chinese language app called Pleco which I try and dip into as often as possible to try and brush up. It has a great user interface and allows you to practice writing Chinese characters.

My last meal would be a steak…maybe.

I’ve been to Hawksmoor steakhouse a few times with my partner, though being a vegetarian does make the experience lacklustre. Based on her reactions I’d love to know what it tastes like if there was some way to bypass the ethical conundrum of me eating meat.

Failing that, the best meal I’ve had in recent memory was at a place called Elephante in LA. Aubergine whip starter followed by the most incredible pizza and washed down with a lovely Californian red.

A funny career moment happened when an irate client was shouting down the phone asking why their site’s traffic had disappeared completely in the space of a day.

It turned out that one of their developers had accidentally blocked the entire site from Google in their robots.txt file.

Awful at the time, though this is made funny in hindsight by the fact it was a huge electronics brand everyone’s heard of.

My mantra in life is live and let live.

I don’t really live by any specific mantra in life per se. I guess I’ve been around the block enough to know how to treat certain situations, problems and people, having seen quite extreme examples of the good and the bad in my time. I suppose one simplification of this could be that you can get very far in life by simply being kind and empathetic to people wherever possible. Live and let live could be one way of looking at it.

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