Michael Cottam

Michael is an independent SEO consultant based in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the founder of Visual Itineraries, a service for travel agents to help show a destination, hotels, sights, etc. to a client.

He’s also a Moz Associate, helping with questions in Moz Q&A and contributing posts to the main Moz blog.

In his free time, he enjoys motorcycles (racing, touring, and watching MotoGP), scuba diving, traveling, and photography

How would you explain specifically what you do as an SEO?

I help companies make their websites easily found and understood by Google by organizing content, using structured markup to make sure the topics and content elements are seen and understood by Google, and helping shape content so that Google sees my clients’ websites as having some of the best information and answers for certain search queries.

What is your primary marketing goal when it comes to delivering results?

It’s really conversions to sales.

Everything else, from rankings to traffic to bounce rates—these are all factors in the overall equation.

But the real measurement that matters is whether your web marketing has brought you customers.

Which new skills are most important for SEOs to learn in the next six months?

Topical content analysis—it’s a twist on the old keyword research task.

Structured data via schema.org, so that Google understands the entities on your web pages.

For e-commerce sites, pagination is important: the correct usage of rel canonical, rel next, and rel prev tags

What do you find most rewarding about SEO?

Seeing my clients’ traffic and sales increase and knowing I delivered real business value through my recommendations

How do you stay updated with the latest SEO industry news?

I follow the Moz blog, Search Engine Land, and I have a good network of SEO expert friends I lean on occasionally.

As an SEO, what is your favorite SEO hack?

Using small, subset sitemaps and feeding them to the Google Search Console will help troubleshoot indexation issues.

Google is honestly getting much better at understanding topics vs. keywords and being able to really detect original, quality content.

I’m seeing my own sites and my clients’ sites do better and better where we’ve put some real effort into useful, thorough text, original images, and rich content elements like videos and maps.

What are some of the top tools and apps in your SEO stack?

Google Search Console’s new Search Analytics feature – it shows you the search terms driving traffic to a page (that Google Analytics continues to hide behind the much-hated “[not provided]”).

Moz’s SERP overlay tool. Kerboo’s LinkRisk tool for analyzing toxic backlinks.  http://webpagetest.org/ for seeing page load issues. Google’s structured data test tool.

How is your typical work day structured?

Every day is a different mix: site audits, client calls, topic/keyword research, on-page recommendations, coaching calls.

Which one book/blog post would you recommend every SEO should read?

Paddy Moogan’s Link Building Book. And for getting new SEOs up to speed, the Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

What advice would you share with other SEO’s who want to become more productive?

Dedicate just a little time each day for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Don’t let those channels interrupt the core of your day.

Among the Google algorithm updates what is the most challenging one that you’ve encountered?

Definitely Penguin. Google has been incredibly vague about what’s being looked at, and the updates have been so few and far between lately, that even once you fix the problem, it can be a year before you get out of Google Jail.

If there’s one SEO Guru you’d recommend who and why.

Richard Baxter. Incredibly smart, builds (and shares) some killer SEO tools, and a terrific presenter

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