Growth Hacking Interview Series #72: Chris Lister

Chris Lister is the Senior Director of Development for WebRanking, a digital marketing company founded in Portland, Oregon in the Spring of 1998. 

Chris has been with the company since March of 2002 and has over 20 years’ experience in marketing, sales and communications. 

Over the years at WebRanking, Chris’ role has evolved to include overseeing the SEO strategy for a majority of WebRanking’s accounts, along with providing content strategy, social media consulting and social media paid advertising for their clientele. 

Chris also heads up WebRanking’s business development efforts and customer satisfaction efforts.   

When not wondering where the past 13 ½ years have gone, Chris enjoys spending time with his wife and son, drinking local Oregon craft beers, cooking, barbecuing and rooting for his hometown Trailblazers and the Los Angeles Kings.

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

Working at a smaller agency forces (or should I say allows) me to wear many hats for our clients.

As SEO is no longer just about the onsite optimization of a website, success requires a deep understanding of how content strategy and promotion, link building, conversion rate optimization, user experience, technical SEO, keyword research, social media promotions and other factors play a role in gaining good organic exposure.

Personally, I oversee the SEO strategy for a large percentage of our clients. 

This not only includes doing the hands on optimization, social media strategy, keyword research and data analysis for my clients, but also coordinating our technical SEO efforts, along with link and citation outreach, review generation, conversion rate optimization, technical audits and other SEO deliverables.

I also oversee our client’s social media advertising and lead WebRanking’s business development efforts.

I’m extremely lucky to have some great team members that I’ve worked with now for close to 14 years. Over the years we’ve developed a deep understanding of our roles, our strengths and what we can expect from each other. 

This has allowed us to focus on our own personal core strengths, while being able to rely on team members for their expertise in other areas.

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

Each client is unique, which means their goals are also unique.  For some clients, it’s a simple as driving traffic that converts into leads or sales, for others it could be newsletter sign-ups, product sample requests or ticket sales.

This is why it is important to set clear goals with your clients from the very start, particularly during the sales and on boarding process.

Understanding the value of each goal, while also identifying secondary goals that contribute to their overall success is key.

Assisted conversions are also something we like to focus on.  Not every visitor is going to convert the first time they come to your website.

The key is to be memorable, be easy to find through search and social and to create multiple touch points during the “research and buying” process.

This ensures that when the visitor is finally ready to “convert” our clients are positioned as not only the best choice, but one that is familiar and easy to find.

Which new skills are most important for SEO’s to learn in the next six months?

The biggest skill is to be adaptable. The techniques and strategies that I’m utilizing today are much different than what I was doing back in 2002.

I will say that the one skill that has proven to still be of great value and one that is somewhat of a dying art form is good, comprehensive keyword research. 

Understanding how potential customers are searching for a product or service gives amazing insights into the minds of the end user. 

It allows you to target not just the most popular keywords and topics, but more importantly the search queries that are going to convert.

What do you find most rewarding about SEO?

Delivering results for clients. We’ve been fortunate to work with some really wonderful people over the years, and knowing that the work we’ve done has helped them be successful is truly a satisfying reward.

By being selective in the clients we’ve chosen to work with, it allows us to work with companies we believe in.

When we believe in a company, when we know the great people working there and when we establish close working relationships, you no longer see them as simply a client. 

You see them as a partner and somebody you want to do a damn good job for.

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

I think like most SEO people it is a combination of following the right people and organizations on social media (especially Twitter), subscribing to various SEO newsletters, while attending conferences and local search marketing events.

While it is certainly important to follow the current industry news, I believe it is also important to be innovative. 

Anybody can follow the same tried and true strategies being employed by every other agency out there, but to really move the needle, it involves taking some risks, coming up with your own theories and techniques and then testing them out.

As an SEO, what is your favorite SEO hack?

I personally don’t like the word “hack”; to me it implies that there are shortcuts to SEO success. 

I think this is what often separates the great SEO agency from the ordinary agencies, taking the time to do the research, to be hands on, to go the extra mile for the client.

It is through the processes we have in place as an agency that we truly learn about the client, their online industry and the SEO landscape for their industry.

Are there any particular SEO trends on the horizon that really excite you?

I’d say the trend that excites me most is that we’re moving towards less search engine manipulation and putting more of a focus on creating unique content that answers questions and fills legitimate needs.

In the early days, or as my 6 year old son likes to say “back in the day”, it didn’t matter if your content was weak, could be found on other websites, or didn’t offer anything new or interesting; if you had a good SEO strategy and links, you would generate traffic.

With today’s SEO, if you don’t have something of value you’re most likely not going to generate interest or exposure from the search engines.

As the user experience becomes more of a ranking factor, SEO is no longer about manipulating the search engines, but about making the Internet a better place by providing better content, entertainment, resources and ideas. (This is probably the point in the interview where we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya)

How is your typical work day structured?

I typically spend the first hour of my day getting caught up on emails, quickly browsing Twitter, checking Facebook Ad data, analytics and other data resources for different client campaigns.

As I’m more productive earlier in the day, I’ll then jump into whatever project I’ve got lined up.

I typically don’t take a lunch break until later in the day (around 2pm) because I know after lunch, I’m not as productive and my eye for detail isn’t as great.

After lunch I’ll finish up any outstanding project work I have for the day, spend time reading blog posts, and getting back to any client emails that are in my inbox.

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

Find a system that works for you.

We all work differently; recognizing this is really the key to getting the most out of your day.  Working for a progressive company that allows you to thrive during your personal “prime time” also helps.

Personally, I’m very organized and will often put together a spreadsheet of what I’m going to be working on each week at the start of the month.

I usually know what SEO deliverables I need to accomplish prior to going into the month, so I’ll spread them out in order to provide myself with more balanced work weeks.

I also try to prepare for the unexpected which is why I leave time each week in my schedule for those emergency projects that inevitably pop up.

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

I’d have to say the Florida update, back in 2003.  I was new to the industry and this update hit right before the holidays. 

A sizeable percentage of our clients were impacted by the update and it really made us take a good hard look at our strategies and how we managed and created campaigns.

Since then, we’ve been extremely careful with our programs, ensuring that everything we do is in line with the best practices and guidelines provided by Google and the other search engines. 

In the early days of SEO, there was more of a Wild West mentality: you could wear multiple colored cowboy hats as long as the results were there.

Florida really changed that and as such it laid the foundation for the type of agency WebRanking was to become.

Since then we’ve focused on doing everything above board and shun any strategies that could possibly get our clients in hot water with Google. 

As such, since Florida, we don’t sweat upcoming updates because we know that our clients are not going to be in a position to be negatively affected by them.

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

Wow, there are so many talented SEO colleagues that I have a great amount of respect for that it is difficult to select just one. 

Plus these men and women have enough name recognition that they probably don’t need a shout out from me.

I’d say that the true SEO Gurus are often the ones you don’t know about. These are the people in the trenches, providing the day to day SEO to their clients.

Not everybody has the time to blog about their accomplishments or have the personality to speak at conferences.

I often find it is the attendees you meet at conferences or local SEO events that are the true gurus and the ones that are the greatest sources for new insights, techniques and strategies for SEO.

They really are doing some mind blowing things that are only known by their clients, bosses and a handful of colleagues.

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