This time on Devrims TechTalk interview series, we have an SEO extraordinaire, Ann Smarty. From the early days of algorithm updates to today’s transformation AI changes, Ann has seen it all, and most importantly, lived it all.
This is why when you will read this interview you will fall in love with Ann’s non-sense strategy of doing SEO. She aims for long-term benefits. Her practice revolves more around brand building and content marketing, instead of fixing meta tags.
This discussion will surely set your direction for SEO in 2024.
Devrims: Hey Ann, thanks for your time. To kick things off, you have over two decades of experience in digital marketing. Can you walk us through your career journey and how you developed your expertise over the years?
Ann: Thank you for having me! My career story starts with an accident as I was looking for a part-time gig while still in college. I took on a job as a customer support rep for an ecommerce site and before I knew it I got involved in their digital marketing department, became head of their SEO team (which I built), and started my personal blog (SEOSmarty) telling my SEO findings.
I became an active part of the Moz (at that time SEOmoz) community, met lots of friends who supported me, and started getting invites to blog for other people. Within a year I got to become a regular contributor to Search Engine Journal and soon their Editor-in-Chief. The rest is history as that position gave me a huge exposure in the community and gave my personal brand a boost.
Devrims: What led you to start your own agency Smarty Marketing? What do you enjoy most about running the agency?
Ann: There were a lot of factors into play. I’ve been in the SEO industry for two decades, as a reporter, community and brand manager. But never as a service provider. I thought it was time to start something new, leveraging all the connections and reputation I’ve built over the years.
Devrims: Was there a pivotal moment or project that made you passionate about organic search and SEO specifically?
Ann: In 2008 I started writing for other blogs and publications, and quickly realized how this has helped me become a brand. I thought guest blogging was a win-win situation for both the author and the publication. The author gets access to a new audience. The publication benefits from a fresh insight from an expert, and shares from his/her followers. So I have started a community connecting writers to publications willing to publish their insights. When I started guest blogging was not even a keyword, no one was searching for that. But I was able to build a brand which generated organic exposure through its brand name searches. This was a pivotal moment in my career.
Devrims: One of your key skills is developing comprehensive SEO strategies for businesses. Can you outline your process and methodology when crafting an SEO strategy?
Ann: I don’t use report templates, and my reports are never more than 10 pages long. Usually, they are 5-7 pages long. I don’t use colorful graphs, and I don’t include recommendations that are considered “best practices”, like title length or absence of meta descriptions. I highlight what matters. I look at competitors and find key tactics that make them rank. My SEO strategy is very actionable, step by step, so it is not just a document that ends up to be never implemented. It is an action-driven road map which should be addressed and refreshed again once recommendations are implemented.
Devrims: What are some common SEO pitfalls you see businesses falling into? How do you address those issues?
Ann: Shortcuts. I understand the logic behind trying to build organic traffic as soon as possible. But SEO just doesn’t work like that. Quick results are possible but it never results in long-term consistent organic visibility. On-going consistent SEO strategy which prioritizes brand building and reputation is what will works over time. Fluctuations will always happen, even when the SEO strategy is solid, but those will be fluctuations, not the permanent decline in rankings.
Devrims: With Google algorithm updates happening regularly, how do you stay on top of best SEO practices?
Ann: The two major updates right now are Core Algorithm Updates and Helpful Content Update. Both can be sitewide, and both assess content and user experience. But they are still different.
The Core Algorthm Update is Google’s adjustment of its algorithm. It doesn’t specifically targets any specific tactic or site. Helpful Content Update is basically an algorithmic penalty. It uses a classifier to determine if the majority of a site’s content was created for SEO, rather than people. So anyone who is effected won’t recover unless they edit or remove that offending content.
To stay on top of SEO, I network with peers, read Google’s documentations and make my own decisions based on years of expertise.
Devrims: Let’s do some quick rapid-fire questions:
|Cats or Dogs
|Tea or Coffee
|Day or Night
Devrims: I see you are a prolific writer and speaker on SEO and digital marketing. What motivates you to share your knowledge and educate others in the industry?
Ann: For years I have been investing in my personal brand, and sharing knowledge has been the biggest help for that. I am not driving leads from organic rankings (believe it or not) or ads. People come to buy my services because they know me and trust my expertise based on what I have been sharing.
Devrims: Would you be willing to showcase your office setup? Seeing your work area would offer great behind-the-scenes insight.
Ann: I don’t have an office ever since Covid. 😊 When we had to move to work from home, I stayed on my couch with my laptop because my cat loves cuddling. She is lying next to me when I am working and I don’t have a heart to leave her alone. 😊 So this is how I work:
Devrims: As a regular contributor to publications like Search Engine Journal, what SEO or digital marketing topics interest you the most right now?
Ann: It changes. I used to be all about personal branding and community building. Connecting people has long been my passion. Now I am very interested in search generative experience and Google’s efforts to evolve to stay competitive in the AI generative world.
Devrims: As an agency owner, I imagine selecting the right managed cloud hosting provider for your clients is an important decision. What factors do you look for when evaluating managed cloud hosting providers?
Ann: Clients come to me with existing sites, so I don’t often have to deal with hosting their sites. For my own sites and projects, I always try to pick a provider that offers quick customer support. When sites are down, having access to quick assistance is crucial.
Devrims: What advice do you have for those looking to start a career in digital marketing?
Ann: Find your peers. SEO influencers may be great source of information, but they will likely be too busy to help you achieve your career goals. Peers who started in SEO not so long ago will be more eager to interact, introduce you to important people, and even share leads. Be very genuine in helping others and ask for help when you need it. Networking goes a long way!
Devrims: Do you have any recommendations for our next interviews?
Ann: Glenn Gabe has a wealth of knowledge on SEO. If you manage to have him agree to an interview, you will end up with great content!