Mike Grehan: How do you think now, do you think more like an SEO, or more like a publisher, or both?
Simon Heseltine: For the brands that I’m working with, given that my team now is too, I’m thinking more as the SEO. I’m more of…I’m working with certain brands, not necessarily as in depth as I would like to, because there’s quite a number of brands. Ginger, who’s the other person on my team, she’s embedded within a couple of teams, so she’s really in there working with the content on a daily basis helping those guys out.
Mike Grehan: That’s where I was going when I mentioned being both publisher and SEO. With SEO you tend to think of people coming afterwards to the content, and optimizing it, whereas with a publisher mindset, you’re always thinking about creating the content. All right. So I want to talk about some of the challenges that you have working with so many brands. We’re going to take a short break. I’ll be back with Simon Heseltine from AOL in just a minute from now. And welcome back, it’s Live on 65. I’ve got Simon Heseltine from AOL, fellow Brit. I mentioned a couple of times when we’ve been introducing Live on 65 that there’s a theme that goes on that I always end up saying, “We’ve known each other for a long time.” You and I have been hanging out for a long time, it’s got to be like seven, eight, nine, I don’t know how many years since we met in L.A.
Simon Heseltine: Well actually, I met you at conferences before that, but the first time we really hung out was in June of 2007 at a training we both attended.
Mike Grehan: I remember us being at a bar. I’m sure there was some training that was going on.
Simon Heseltine: We were in a bar for a while, yes. Yeah.
Mike Grehan: We were just talking about this mighty task that you’ve got, there’s you and one other guy and you’ve got all of these brands. Talk about some of the major challenges that you have in a day to day basis.
Simon Heseltine: There’s lots of different challenges depending on the brand, and we’ve been working with these brands now for a number of years, so we know the individual brands, we know who the players are. With some brands they may be a little bit more reticent on the editorial side to listen to us than on the deaf side, which works quite happily with us. Or the brands, just again, voraciously want whatever we can provide them. They’re happy for any kind of assistance they can get, any kind of help they can get. Some brands turn things around in 24 hours. You ask them to put something on the pages, it’s there the next day. Other brands, maybe a year goes by, and something changes. It’s different priorities that different brands have, and they’re all coming at it from different areas. They all report into different execs, and they’ve all got their different priorities that they’re trying to accomplish.
Mike Grehan: I came into the industry…I’ve been online since 1995 and I’ve been doing search since 1997, 1998, and I’ve seen some fairly dramatic changes and I’ve got my own opinions on the way that SEO has changed. But in the period that you’ve been doing it, this is a two-part question. What are the major changes that you’ve seen since you started doing this as your occupation? Where do you think SEO is going?
Simon Heseltine: Well SEO is dead. We all know that.
Mike Grehan: Yes, absolutely. Walking around like a corpse looking for somewhere to lie down.
Simon Heseltine: I teach a class at Georgetown on digital marketing every year, and every year I have brand new examples of people publishing how SEO is dead, it’s been buried, it’s gone, and it isn’t. It’s still out there. SEO just evolves as we move through time. We’ve seen all the Google updates that have happened over…the first big one was what, 2003?
Mike Grehan: That was Florida.
Simon Heseltine: Florida, yeah, that was the first real big one. We see these happening all the time. We see lately it’s all the ponders, the penguins, the pirates, the pigeons…
Mike Grehan: I’m writing a column about this at the moment, to be honest. I’ve been accused of saying SEO is dead over the years, those words have appeared in columns that I’ve written, but I’ve never actually pronounced SEO dead.
Simon Heseltine: Oh, I have a screenshot of yours, yes.
Mike Grehan: I am beginning to wonder, the column that I’m writing is actually called, “SEO is Said,” Because people say that they do SEO, but I think what we need to do in this occupation is so entirely different to what I was explaining earlier on when SEO first started, when it was mainly a technical base thing. I think people who are involved in content, or analytics, and they’ll still say SEO. I’m wondering if it’s not the term SEO that’s dead, not the function, if you know what I mean.
Simon Heseltine: Well, as you said before, I’m the senior director of audience development. I’m not the senior director of SEO. My role has changed.
Mike Grehan: Well that concludes our interview for today. That’s the end of that.
Simon Heseltine: My role has changed over the years. I’ve taken on some social, taken on newsletters, and a lot of different things across the organization. A huge part of what I do it training. Making sure that those editorial staff know what they need to be doing. It’s also working with the CMS teams, making sure we have everything in place so that the actual editorial teams can do what they need to do as they go through it, and everything’s there for them. We work with several different CMS’s, including some home built ones. It’s troubleshooting whenever something happens, because there’s always something strange going to happen.
There’s always some Google penalty that gets sent out that is not correct, it’s not ridiculous, or like a DMCA notice for… We had a DMCA notice for one of our sites last week because they thought that we were live streaming a movie when actually we had a watch now button, but the watch now button linked to Amazon and Netflix so you could watch the movie on Amazon or Netflix if you paid them. We weren’t giving it away for free, but they DMCA requested it and had that page taken out. We’ve now had it put back in again.
Mike Grehan: Certainly there’s still those kind of quirks, but I think the kind of assistance I guess it is that you get from Google, because when I first started they wouldn’t even acknowledge that SEO existed. Now you’ve got webmaster tools, the crawler is much smarter. I think even CMS systems are becoming much more search friendly if that’s it, so maybe it’s just the term SEO is limiting what the role actually is. Like I say, maybe it’s the term that’s dead and not the actual function, you know?
Simon Heseltine: A great example of that, I think it was about a year and a half ago we got a UGC notice, a UGC penalty for Huffington Post. That was all it said. Huffington Post had…how many comments, I think we had 700 million comments, no 300 million comments. 300 million comments at that time.
Mike Grehan: Wow.
Simon Heseltine: How do you find the one that they didn’t like in 300 million comments? We did find them, I reached out to somebody at Google and got a response from them to let me know the error they were seeing. We actually found a couple more instances and just cleared the whole thing out. Then we just took care of it problematically from that point forward. Now they do at least give you indications of which of the pages they have a problem with. They are at least listening.
Mike Grehan: There is that communication that you didn’t have before.
Simon Heseltine: Yeah. Yeah, well I mean that’s why you had Mozilla, the BBC, and all these other ones get outed for having a penalty notice, because they got that, and were like, “We don’t know what to do so let’s post it in a forum and see if someone else does.”
Mike Grehan: Let’s see if somebody else can help out.
Simon Heseltine: Yeah.
Mike Grehan: Where’s it all going. This is where we wrap up. You can see where the industry is now. What do you think in further development, the evolution of what we’ve referred to as SEO.
Simon Heseltine: It’s just the complexity. Mobile is taking over. That’s no secret.
Mike Grehan: Mobile is going to be big, apparently.
Simon Heseltine: It’s going to be the year of mobile. In 2007, 8, 9, 20, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.
Mike Grehan: Exactly. Video’s going to be big as well.
Simon Heseltine: Video is the next one as well, yeah. At AOL we’ve done a huge play on video. We’ve bought several video companies, we bought another one a couple weeks ago, Vivify is the name. We’re obviously making a big play on video. The Huff Post, whenever they do a post, very frequently they’ll put the videos in there as well to spread that out. We have a brand called AOL On. We’re doing original programming on there. We have Steve Buscemi doing an interview show. We have Nicole Richie doing a show. We have James Franco.
Mike Grehan: It’s about content, about original content. AOL is, and obviously Yahoo is looking at this as well, at doing original content. I think that whole Netflix idea of, “We don’t need to rely on the networks anymore when we can just create our own content.”
Simon Heseltine: That’s why Yahoo got Katie Couric, in isn’t it?
Mike Grehan: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, that’s the future of search. Simon, thank you very much for coming in. Great to see you.
Simon Heseltine: Sure. Thanks for having me.