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SEO from the Eyes of a Google Quality Rater with Cyrus Shepard

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Cyrus Shepard

Meet Cyrus Shepard, a true pioneer in the dynamic world of SEO. As the visionary Founder and Head of Strategy at ZyppySEO, Cyrus has carved a niche for himself, specialising in propelling businesses forward by amplifying their Google traffic through expert SEO consulting services, innovative software, and insightful content.

Cyrus's journey into the realm of SEO began in 2009, a time when the digital landscape was rapidly evolving. Initially dabbling in website creation, he quickly realised that mastering HTML and CSS was just the beginning. His curiosity led him to discover the power of SEO. With no prior knowledge of the term, he embarked on a self-taught journey, diving deep into resources like SEOMoz and SEOBook, sowing the seeds of his future success.

His first foray into professional SEO began close to home, with his wife's company serving as his initial client. His efforts paid off, significantly boosting their business revenues. Despite his burgeoning success, Cyrus remained humble, considering himself a novice in the vast SEO universe.

A pivotal moment came when he joined SEOMoz (rebranded to Moz in 2012) in 2010, a leading software company in SEO, located in his hometown of Seattle. Starting in customer service, his dedication and skill saw him rise through the ranks to become the Chief SEO Strategist. It was here, during his decade-long association with Moz, that Cyrus truly honed his expertise and made a name for himself, particularly through his active presence on Twitter.

Following Moz's acquisition, Cyrus seized the opportunity to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams, leading to the birth of ZyppySEO. His venture reflects his passion and commitment to the field, as he continues to guide businesses in navigating the complexities of online visibility and growth.

Cyrus Shepard isn't just an SEO specialist; he's a trailblazer who transformed his curiosity into a career, continually evolving with the ever-changing digital landscape. His story is a testament to the power of self-learning, perseverance, and the relentless pursuit of growth.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Cyrus Shepard

Watch the interview

(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(55 minutes long)

The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Cyrus Shepard

  • What is your personal SEO career story, Cyrus?

  • What helped to propel your SEO visibility?

  • What obstacles did you find and solve at Moz?

  • How can junior SEOs learn the Google algorithm?

  • Is content the primary focus of SEO?

  • Do Google use user data in their algorithm?

  • Why did you want to become a Google Quality Rater?

  • What process do you go through as a Google Quality Rater?

  • What does Google do with your feedback as a Google Quality Rater?

  • What SEO golden nuggets can your share without getting fired from your Google Quality Rater job?

  • How can SEO consultants determine if a website or page is at the quality level Google is looking for?

  • Are Google looking at sites to make sure that they are a real business?

  • Do you think that Google are downgrading pure information sites with no brand trust?

  • Do you think that well-known brands will win the organic battle moving forward?

  • Is ZyppySEO an agency or do you just provide SEO consultancy yourself?

  • What type of clients do you work with?

  • What makes you so passionate about SEO problem solving?

  • What's your prediction on where the future of SEO is heading?

  • What type of content should we all be focusing on?

  • How do you personally get the golden nugget information out of your clients when they see everything they do as normal?

  • Do you think that eCommerce SEO will drastically change moving forward?

  • Will Google Shopping dominate the eCommerce world moving into an AI world?

  • What advice would you give a junior SEO on their career path?

  • What are your thoughts on GA4?

  • What are good traits of successful SEOs?

  • How can a business or SEO take a generalised SEO course and tailor the information to their specific business?

  • What SEO side-gigs do you have?

  • Do you feel that the organic impact for affiliate marketing is going to drastically reduce?

  • Can SEOs now, run a side hustle affiliate site and turn it into their full time income?

  • How did you find speaking at Chiang Mai SEO Conference different than most other SEO conferences?

  • What is your thoughts on SEOs who say - Do what works until it doesn't work anymore?

  • Has your perception of SEO and the industry changed?

  • Should SEOs stop focusing on SEO and focus on just making money for their clients?

  • If an SEO wants to test a new idea, how can they avoid any negative impact?

  • How would you describe the ideal SEO mindset?

The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Cyrus Shepard

Mark A Preston: Welcome to the Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast. Yes, it's 100% unscripted, 100% unrehearsed, 100% unedited, and 100% real. I'm your host, Mark A Preston. What a guest have I got for you today? He is the founder of ZyppySEO and the one and only. Cyrus Shepard. Hi, Cyrus.

Cyrus Shepard: Hello. Oh, it's unscripted. Don't know what's going to happen.

Mark A Preston: We don't. But, I'm going to say, just to give the audience a bit of an overview of your background in the SEO industry, could you give us Like a whirlwind tour of how you got into the industry when it was and where you are now.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, so yeah, so if we go back to the year 2009 I got started in SEO like a lot of people. I had built a website I thought the hard part was learning HTML and CSS. And then I, then it was an affiliate site and I'm like how do I market this thing now? And I had no clue. I didn't know the words SEO. I was looking at, AdWords and press releases. I'm like, Oh, but this SEO thing, this sounds awesome. So that's how I started getting into it. Learning with Moz and SEO book. Then I started doing it for clients starting with my wife's company. I'm like, Hey, I'm learning this new thing called SEO. And there's some things you can do to your website. And they ended up hiring me. We built their business up. To, to millions of dollars but I wasn't a successful SEO by any means I just had a handful of clients and then I saw a job opening for the company mods, which was SEO mods, which was the big one of the bigger software companies of the day. And they were located in my town of Seattle. I started doing customer service for them, answering phone calls and I had loaded the dishwasher every morning. And there that's where I built my career and I stayed with Moz for 10 years on and off. I left and did some other things in there sometimes, but I became lead SEO of the company. I led their content marketing. And that's where most people know me from. If they know me Through Twitter and my time there. I left the last Moz was sold a few years ago to a I can't even remember the name of the company, but a conglomerate, it was a good time for me to leave. So I started Zyppy, been doing my own consulting thing there and happy to keep doing this crazy job.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. So right. Going back, you said 2009.

Cyrus Shepard: Yes. Yes.

Mark A Preston: It's crazy perception because I thought you'd been in the industry a lot longer than that.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, I hear that sometimes. But now it's getting on 14 years now. There's not a lot of us left from that time period.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, but like you said, I do remember you. Not remember you, but Initially from Mars, as speed ahead in things.

Cyrus Shepard: I Think part of the perception was when I got the lead SEO job around 2011 I had, it was a huge promotion for me and. They put me in charge of SEO at Moz and I'm like, all right, this is way above my pay grade. But what I was talking to Jen Lopez who ran social media at the time. And she's just you got to own it. You just, if you don't know what you're doing, you just have to act like you're doing. So I came charging like a bull on Twitter and the blog is acting like acting very confident. I think some of that confidence gave people the perception that I'd been doing it longer than I had.

Mark A Preston: So your learnings. Yes. Obviously, everyone in the industry, they make mistakes. Oh, yeah. Things don't go the way they, thought they would, and I'm going, I'm interested in your, not mistakes, but your learnings in sort of those early days. What obstacles did you find and solve?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah I was very fortunate to be working at Moz With Rand Fishkin, because that guy took a lot of chances. He understood marketing. He understood sometimes you have to take risks and it's better to do good things than to appear like you're doing good things. So things were very easy in those days. We made great content and things like that. I remember. tAlking about our first big air, I remember if you remember Moz, we had the beginner's guide to SEO and then social media was becoming a thing. And so we, one of my projects was launching the beginner's guide to social media with everybody else in the company. We invested tens of thousands of dollars in this piece of content, it took us like a year to write. As soon as it was published, it was already outdated. The project was a huge flop. Everything was wasted. It was a big embarrassment and we ended up killing it, just taking it off the internet a couple of years later. So that was a big learning for me, but just in general, to answer your question another way I've spent my whole career trying to figure out how Google's algorithm works and my perception of how Google's algorithm worked in 2011 or compared to today is so different. I know I've made so many mistakes along the way, and I'm still making mistakes and that. Knowing that, understanding a certain percentage of what I know right now is probably wrong, that's very humbling.

Mark A Preston: For people that want to learn the algorithm, where do they start?

Cyrus Shepard: Ah, that's a good question. I think you start, I think we, for most people who are beginning, I think we have some excellent resources out there today. Even the bait, most basic posts on Moz, A Refs, SEMrush will get people started with the idea of, content, links all that other stuff. I do think people who've been in the game a while, like you and I, we tend to overcomplicate things. If you if you're making good content. You're going to win a lot of the time. And I'll be honest in my SEO consulting working with clients, they all want technical SEO solutions, but most of the time I'm like, we need to work on your content because it's not deserving of a top five position. And that's really hard to hear. And people don't want to hear that because everybody thinks they have great content, but yeah. If you can get, if you can get good content, you've won half the game.


Mark A Preston: So do you think, I don't want to score against everything, but content is the primary focus of SEO?

Cyrus Shepard: I do. And I know a lot of people who work in publishing who only know a little bit about SEO, but they are more successful than a lot of the trained SEOs that I know because they're just producing really good content and that's what the audience responds to. Yes, SEO helps them. But I'd rather be, I would honestly rather be a great content marketer than a great SEO.

Mark A Preston: Personally, I describe it as genuine bloggers, real genuine bloggers. Who writes about their experience, who doesn't really know anything about SEO, generating a lot of organic visits. Yes. That's how I related, the whole content thing. Why do they, because they're writing about what's passionate to them and it relates to their audience.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. So something we learned recently through, I don't know if people have been following, there's this huge antitrust trial in the United States, and all these court documents have been being released showing some of the inner workings of Google, and it's been a big revelation how much Google relies on user behavior signals. What users are clicking on what they're reading, what they're scrolling. And we had no idea as an industry, how much of this data they relied on that Google can't operate without it. And, Google for years has been telling us to don't chase Google chase the user. And now we know why, because Google can't operate without that user data. So if you're creating great content that users are actually responding to, the implication is those turn into actual ranking signals that Google is using. So to a certain extent, you can ignore certain parts of SEO. Maybe not ignore, but if you're chasing those user signals, you're already winning. It's pretty fascinating.

Mark A Preston: Am I correct in thinking that you are now a Google Quality Rater?

Cyrus Shepard: I still am actually, yeah. I got the job as a Google Quality Rater I don't know, six months now? And I got the job because I had a suspicion that they were using Quality Rater data in their machine learning algorithms more than we realized. And so I wanted to see, Hey, I wanted to do it just for fun for the experience and tell everybody, Hey, I did this silly thing, But also I wanted to learn to see pages through the eyes of a Google quality rater which was very different than seeing it through the eyes of an SEO. And I think it's, to this day, I'm still working officially as a quality rater, although I only do one hour a week, I think they're going to fire me because I'm not meeting my minimally hour requirements. But yeah, it's been a very educational experience, just forgetting what I know about SEO and just looking at it like a real user. And that's been really interesting.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. So without actually you getting fired, what can you tell me about that experience or process that you go through?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. So yeah, that's a good point. I am under a, this is unscripted. I am under an NDA where I can't, I'm not allowed to talk about certain things unless it's public knowledge or based on my own knowledge. But I, I think most people understand that. who have studied it, that when you're a quality rater Google gives you search results and you're rating search results and the websites in those search results on relevance, how well this meets your needs and the quality of the web pages in those search results. And it's a pretty thorough process. It, it takes a lot of time. And I'm, I was also surprised how it, I always thought of quality raters as maybe I was biased. I thought it was a lower end job. You have to be pretty intelligent to rate these webpages and they expect a certain score. There's a right answer and a wrong answer because they have, multiple quality raters rating the same results. And if you're outside the range you'll get graded and say, Hey you're rating too high. You're rating too low until you get higher and higher up the food chain. That, that's been an interesting experience.

Mark A Preston: So what do, does Google do with all this information from these manual quality raters?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. So now I'm going to, I'm going to step outside the role and this is not me talking as an equality rater. This is me talking as an SEO. What Google tells us they do is they evaluate. Their search results, meaning, are people happy with them? Are they not happy with it? But what I realized is they're also using it for machine learning. Page we, you and I can look at a page and say, Hey, that's a high quality page. Algorithms have a hard time doing that. And that's one of the reasons I think they're employing this army of quality raters is to train the machine learning algorithms like penguin, helpful content update, all these things so that the algorithm can tell, give a quality score to the billions of pages they haven't seen before. And that's how they're, that's how I believe they're using the data at scale. Yeah. So yeah if a bunch of quality raters rate your site poor and then that feeds into the algorithm and then the algorithm learns to identify a site like yours is poor, you're you might be in trouble. It doesn't directly impact your score, but it's gonna get there.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. So from a say an SEO consultant Yes. Get a new client. Without going into too much detail, what are the sort of top level things they can look at to say, this is quality or not, this is a good page or not?

Cyrus Shepard: So Google publishes their, quality rater guidelines. That's what quality raters work on. They also have, the funny thing to me is. Sometimes there's one or two sentences in the Quality Rater Guidelines that become a huge deal when you're actually working. And entire paragraphs and videos are like Use for training. So what things can you look at? Here's some things that I think I can safely say. When you look at a page, what is its quality? How much effort, skill, talent and originality has gone into this page? How spammy does it look and feel? How much, a big thing lately with helpful content update is, the E A T, expertise, experience, authority, trust. How are you showing that on the page? That's one thing, Google quality raters and users are only looking at your page for maybe a few seconds. They're not diving it. They're not reading your about page line by line. They're not looking at your researching award. They're looking at you really quickly. So if you can communicate your expertise really quickly, one of my favorite things to do is look at a navigation. Do you say home, blog about, or do you say this is our protein research. This is about our lawyers. This is about, these are legal resources. Show me that you're talking about the area that I want you to talk about. Don't, instead of using generic links like that. I'm sorry, I'm starting to ramble. But yeah, I like seeing how much I can trust you when I look at the web page like that. And a lot of sites fall short. They make the reader do the work. And I think they're missing an opportunity there.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, there's a lot of, I don't know, confusion lately, especially with the bombardment of updates that's been happening. Moving forward, you really need to be a real business. Yeah. In order to win the organic battle rather than being just an information site. So you need to be a real business and a real brand rather than just, and it's not so much towards the affiliate marketing industry, it's information sites in general. So I'm talking about information sites that I personally looked at. That's been handwritten by qualified professionals. It's got top quality information and everything, but it's not really based on the brand, the website. It's just an information site. And I'm seeing not it tank. But it reducing inorganic exposure. So what's your view on Google are looking at is this a real business or not?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. I think to a certain extent, they Google is looking at maybe not so much if you're a real business, but what's your, how good is your reputation? If. The thing real businesses often have real reputations, and that's hard for information sites to get because no one's gonna know. People don't talk about information sites. But if you're building something, if you're selling something you get talked about online a lot more, and that gives Google a lot more to work with. The other thing, is monetization. If you're selling ads and affiliate links, and that's what you're really pushing on the user that's not the best experience in the world where that's Real businesses, make their money in other ways. And I have a client right now who makes trowels for cement. It's the most boring product in the world, but they are one of the best in the world at it. And, they can, when they're producing, their blog isn't very slick, but man they're really talking about the trials that they make. They have all this deep knowledge that they can share. I think. Yeah. I think there is a, if you're running an information site, I think you can do it, but you have to care and you have to care a lot about the user and communicate that and not get your own needs put in the way. But if you give a crap about what you're doing, I think you can still win.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. Do you think the way Google is moving and already has moved that it's going to create an unbiased opportunity for the larger well known brands?

Cyrus Shepard: Maybe, maybe. I think Google has a problem right now in that everybody, people like us and everybody else in the world has gotten very good at SEO. And so results are filled with. Not great content, but as AJ Cohn, another SEO said recently, it's good enough. Google is good enough. And so Google has a huge problem of trying to sort through all this sea of good enough content and elevate the actual good stuff. And it's hard because people are just trying to do the minimal effort to get rankings. I forgot your question, but yeah that's a good point.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I can't even remember it now. It's called unscripted because I have a bad memory. Ha! But yeah, regarding your company, ZyppySEO, is it just you as a consultant or are you an agency?

Cyrus Shepard: No I'm Mostly just me as a consultant. When I do need extra help, I will contract and bring other people in. Especially if I need some technical work that I can't do at scale. Some specialty programming or content writers or sometimes graphic designers. But yeah, for the most part, it's just me.

Mark A Preston: And what sort of clients do you work with? What sort of level are they?

Cyrus Shepard: All kinds of clients. So traditionally, I've worked with software companies and startup companies, which was my skill set in Seattle. Before I moved out here to the Oregon coast lately, I've been working with all kinds of site. I have a service where I do a 45 minute consultation and I look at your I spend about an hour and a half on your site total. And so people just buy an hour of my time. And when the. Helpful content update hit, all kinds of people were reaching out for me for that hour and a half mini consultation. So I get to look at a wide variety of sites and solve a bunch of different kinds of problems. And we can't always solve every problem in an hour and a half, but it's a great learning opportunity for me and exposes me to a lot of areas of the business.

Mark A Preston: What makes you passionate about the actual problem solving bit of it?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, when a client reaches out to you and their traffic is down. And I get that a lot. I think we all, people reach out when there's a problem. And sometimes the answer isn't clear. Sometimes the answer is clear. And when the client actually implements all the recommendations and you've solved that problem for them that's awesome. Also learning new things. I just love learning new skill sets and new areas of SEO that I didn't know I had and who knows? I don't know how much longer this ride is going to last with Google, but I want to enjoy it while it does.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I think, I think there's a lot of uncertainty flying around at the moment. I think there's a lot of opinions, but realistically, where is it gonna go? Where are we heading?

Cyrus Shepard: I don't know.

Mark A Preston: This is what I mean, that nobody actually knows where we're going. In, in a time where I think You know, there was obviously pan and penguin updates and all that, where a lot of SEOs flick to PPC because they, just destroyed. But I think I feel as though this is the first time there's been real un uncertainty Yeah. Things and not knowing what's going to happen.

Cyrus Shepard: Let me let, lemme give you a prediction though. There is a recent hoopla on social media about a AI site, a AI content site that stole millions of search terms. And it was Excel formulas and Google Sheets formulas. And the original creator of the content that got scaped, scraped, was very angry. This other site that created, recreated all the content using AI them. Then they got penalized. And the question a lot of people are asking is, should the original site rank or should the AI content rank if it's good enough? But here's what I'm wondering. Someday we're probably not going to need either site. If you just want a Google Sheets formula or an AI formula, you'll ask your phone and they'll just spit you out an answer. An AI generated answer. And, I don't know if we're, you could do that right now, but most people aren't because most people aren't using, the AI solutions. But what's the future look like? People are always gonna have businesses, they're gonna have websites, they're gonna want marketing. But maybe the tactics that we used to do that to the traditional SEO, we're gonna rank for a bunch of keywords and create content around it. That may not look like it does today. Three years from now, it's going to be something much different. And to your point, I don't know exactly what it's gonna look like, but I think we're gonna see a lot of tactics changing. But a couple of things we know we're gonna be true. People are going to have businesses, people are going to need marketing, and people are going to need help with that. So I don't think the SEO industry is going away, but we might shift and we might look a lot different in the future.

Mark A Preston: I think the way I see and explain it to businesses is are you producing things that Could very easily be answered. Yeah. If I search for what time is it in New York, why do I want to click on anything that Google just tells me what time it is?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, exactly.

Mark A Preston: You know, as why should people go writing these hundreds, thousands of pages on what time is it in?

Cyrus Shepard: Yep. Yep. That's why my client that makes trowels is my favorite client because. AI can't reproduce that trowel and, they make videos about how to do construction and things like that, that have all this expertise. That's going to be very hard for AI to replace, anytime in the near future. So that kind of real world stuff really helps it, but it's hard. A lot of existing businesses don't have real world stuff and they're going to be, they're going to be in danger. I think I agree with that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. And to be fair, when it comes to content, realistically. Most of the industry, whether it's been AI or not, is realistically just rewriting what's already out there.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, yeah, and it And to be fair with people do that because it works but it works now. And, but the people who are really succeeding aren't doing that. They've always, for the last, ever since SEO existed they're being the thought leaders. They're being, they're creating original stuff. When I was at Moz, we rarely covered anything because anybody else was covering it back when we were king of the hill, we were doing things because, Hey. This is interesting. We're going to write some content on about it. And we succeeded because of that. But eventually you peek out, you start like, Oh, now we need to write about meta tags and because everybody else is writing about it. So what's our meta tag strategy? And you just copy everybody else. And that, that, that's not as exciting or fun.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. When I've worked with some of these businesses and air conditioning, ducting, and it's, I remember going into one business. I said, so what is it about your business? We just do what we do, because that's what we've always done. So to them, it's nothing different, they don't see this as well, these opportunities. So from a consultant side of it, how do you personally try and get that information out of them that you think, ah, this is something big we can focus on? Because the client, it's just what they do every day, they don't see it as a big thing.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, that's an excellent question. I don't think I have a great answer to that. Especially for the especially for real world businesses that aren't used to working online. It's it's a stretch for them.

Sometimes to even going back to my travel client again, Them making blog content is pulling teeth. They do it, they're very good at it, but it's not their, it's not their core competency. They'd rather be in the manufacturing floor than send a video crew out, explaining how to make stuff. But yeah you try to convince them to do that. Like you're talking to people. A lot of these great service businesses understand helping people. That if you can just make them understand that they're helping people online. And that's how they're communicating. That sometimes you can win by going that direction.

Mark A Preston: Do you do anything in the e-commerce world?

Cyrus Shepard: Yes, I have had and still have a number of e-commerce clients.

Mark A Preston: Do you think e commerce SEO moving forward is dramatically going to change?

Cyrus Shepard: That's a very good question, because what we're seeing, at least what I'm seeing with Google, is Google taking more and more of that on themselves, especially AI search generated experience, Google Shopping, more and more shopping results are being. Coalated into Google. Not just on one website, but, different products across different websites, but traffic is still going to the e commerce retailers. It's just going in a very different direction. And SEO is getting a little more complicated. With Google Merchant Center and those integrations. But Google is really trying to step in and it's a much different shopping path for searchers than it was five years ago. Yeah, it's undergoing dramatic changes. I think it's gonna go further.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I was analyzing a marketplace type of e commerce site. Now, I'd say 95% of their traffic was coming from Google Shopping. Huh. That they'd integrated. And they're organic. Was very little because obviously, it wasn't selling unique products.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, so that can be both good and bad depending on where you're sitting. I forgot what my point was, but yeah, again, we're unscripted, so I'm just going to say I don't remember what I was talking about.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. No worries. But, over the years, has there been any moments in time that you've had a sort of libel moment? Like thinking, ah, this is it this is going to change what I do or this is going to radically move things forward.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, so I don't know. Huge leaps. But there's been a couple of times where I've really changed how I think about SEO. One was one was about three or four years ago, diving into Google patents around click usage and saying, Oh, This Google is not telling us the truth about clicks. This is far more important than I think it is. The second was recently working as a search quality reader and going, Oh wow, I was missing a lot of things. Before I started this job and I can't say how any of these things are ranking factors, but I know if I focus on them, they actually work. So that's really, that was really an eyeopening experience. But yeah and this whole thing with AI don't know what's going to happen. But when chat GPP was released, my heart sank a little bit, I'm like. My whole career is going to change. I don't know how, but this is going to change the industry and it's going to be it's going to be a slow burn. We're, we might be frogs boiling in the pot. Is that the correct analogy? I don't know, crabs. Yeah, it's frogs in the hot water. But I don't know what's going to happen. But yeah, it's these things happen every few years and just make you go, wow, okay. This is, this changes everything.

Mark A Preston: So if somebody like a junior wants to get into the industry and have a proper career in it and messages you and says what should I focus on? What direction should I go into, to actually have a long term career in the industry where should I go?

Cyrus Shepard: If I was starting out again, I. Would probably go a different route. I got very lucky in my career, but if I was just starting out, I would probably start at an agency something I've never done and come in at a junior role and get, do two or three years in an agency role just to see how that world operates but don't. Get out before it sucks you in, and then I would go in house working for a number of companies because the in house, they're the two experiences are so different. I really enjoy, I've always enjoyed working in house more than client work even the consulting work I do now because you really get to take responsibility and you can solve problems over a much longer timeframe. And. It's really hard as a consultant to come in and people want answers within one month. And sometimes it takes you months to really understand a very large website, all the moving pieces, what the keyword spaces are. But anyway, I would start out an agency, moved in house. And if then, if you want to be an independent consultant on your own or grow a business that way that's how I would do it. The other thing I would encourage everybody to do is. start a blog. We used to tell people that all the time, and we don't tell people that anymore, but the best way to build a career in SEO is still to write, create original content, create vid, take what you learn and teach other people, and I don't think a bunch of dinosaurs like ourselves are still doing that, but I want to see more younger people do that and I, I don't know maybe that's the fate of where our industry is going, but yeah, create a blog, teach other people what you know, best way to advance your career.

Mark A Preston: I was chatting to my wife earlier on today and she genuinely said you haven't got long left in the career, in the industry because nobody wants old farts like you anymore. They want all these youngsters.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah I feel that I'm often the oldest person in the room these days, and it's whoa, okay. So I better learn some new skills. Like I'm terrible at GA4, I think, which a lot of people are, and I'm like, do I even want to learn this? Nah, forget it.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, GA4 is just a whole new beast.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. And I'll be honest, I don't know what it looks like on your point of view, but when I start working with new clients I would say over half of them are not on GA4 anymore. They are, they've taken up one of these easy solutions where they can figure things out. And I'm like, that's awesome because I can work with that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. Yeah. Even a lot of agency owners that message me say, Oh, this is, I just don't get it. If you don't understand it, it's like, where is it? Where's the user data? Where's this? Where's everything gone? But, things do change and that's the thing within the industry. If everything remained the same, I'd still be on Windows 98.

Cyrus Shepard: Oh, thank God for that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I was going to say exactly, but things force you to move forward because you have to. Yes. And I think in the industry, and I don't know if it's a faster pace as it used to be. Huh. But I do feel things that seem to be changing a lot quicker.

Cyrus Shepard: To go back to your question about what new people should do is that one thing, one thing, Another trait of successful SEOs is they take time to learn new skills, and we can't deny that, whether it's Data Studio or GA4 or, coding and chat GTP, they're taking time every week, every month to get new certifications keep up on your skill set. Sometimes I get lazy about it, but. I think I've got a catalog of bookmarks of courses I'm supposed to take. I'll dive into eventually, but yeah, keeping up on those new skills is important.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I always say I'm learning every single day. Yes, I'm a trainer, if I don't learn, then how could I ever train somebody else? Yep. And. All you're doing is stuck in the row and outdated, you have to, and I think a lot of people, I have this thing about courses because I believe there's a lot of checkbox scenarios, right? That don't relate to a certain business that's maybe taking the course, and for you yourself. What advice would you give somebody that, they've got a specific business, specific needs, how can they move forward and learn what they need to when the courses, but rightfully can't relate to everyone this generic. So yeah. How well can they learn what they need to?


Cyrus Shepard: That I don't know if there's a great answer that, but you don't know what you need until you learn it. The whole idea is you learn a diverse skillset. I, I started learning SEO because I was trying to promote my affiliate site. I thought that was my job. My affiliate site was, it turns out. To be completely different. And SEO became my job. And the affiliate site that was terrible died a long time ago. And so you never know what you're going to learn. So you're never going to nail it, but you're going to learn new skill sets. It's going to take you in new directions. And sometimes you get to connect that knowledge. And the downside is sometimes what you learn is not going to be useful. You're going to you're going to take a course on it. Mobile responsiveness CSS, and you're never going to use that knowledge again for the rest of your life. But you never know what's going to happen. You might just find your next career.

Mark A Preston: I mean throughout the past 23 years in the, I've been in the industry, I think the biggest moments for me. As happened by accident, it just seems to be the best things that's happened to me has been the ones I wasn't planning for.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. And it's always, for me, it's always been my side hobbies. What I do after work that I'm interested in, I want to play with, then that becomes, a part of my career eventually. Those have been the biggest things for me.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, do you still do anything in the affiliate space?

Cyrus Shepard: Yes, I do. I have some sites. They're mostly test sites, but They, I do a little bit of affiliate work. They are my neglected stepchildren of my websites.

Mark A Preston: And on that side, how do you feel that the impacts changing on the affiliate marketing?

Cyrus Shepard: Oh, that's a good question. I. I think affiliate marketing is as strong as it ever has been. And when I, I think there are different types of monetization for websites and that's changed over the years, but the two biggest ones are ads and affiliate links. I think what we've seen Google recently, especially with helpful content update, is ad heavy sites are struggling. And I think they're struggling much more than affiliate sites. That's at least what I saw with helpful content. Sites that mainly were affiliate monetized and not so much ad monetized seem to escape a little bit more unscathed from the last round of updates. I don't think affiliate and Google seems to be getting into more affiliate marketing every year. I think affiliate marketing has a long life and I don't know what, if it's always going to be through SEO, but yeah I think it's still a good time to invest in affiliate marketing, right?

Mark A Preston: But can people do it as a side hobby and really? Make it their full-time income.

Cyrus Shepard: Yes. I've gotten this question over the years and I've gotten this question from people who don't know anything about SEO, but the truth is, yes you can, but it's. There's no guarantees. It's oftentimes a lot of hard work. Yeah, a lot of the problem. The problem. The biggest problem is people fail on the content side, creating content that is awesome. They just want to push out their affiliate links and hey, pay me. But why should I go to your page or your website more than any other page or website? Why are you an authority on this? Why should I trust you? Yeah. But yeah, I just went to an affiliate conference in Thailand by my friend, Matt Diggity and nothing but affiliate marketers. And it was a really different experience because they. Most SEO, most conferences I go to our SEO conferences and they might do affiliate marketing. These were all business people who happened to do SEO as part of their business. And it was a totally different perspective. And a lot of these guys, a lot of these people were, killing it with income, but they really came at it with a business mindset. They were really good businessmen who understood SEO as a channel. But yeah, really different experience. Yeah. A plus for affiliate marketing.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. I noticed you just. spoken at Chiang Mai recently at that conference. And I know it I recently attended the Search Birmingham one. Okay. It was like a small version of that. Yeah. And honestly, it was an eye opener because it wasn't like you said. People, just SEOs working for clients. It was real business people that was using SEO to generate business. And some of the conversations I had there was, eye opening. And did you feel the same when you went to Chiang Mai?

Cyrus Shepard: It was a really different perspective. When you talk to SEOs there's an undercurrent. It's not necessarily talked about, but there's. An undertone of respecting Google's rules, black hat, white hat, SEO, which aren't the correct terms to use anymore at an affiliate conference, there's no regard for black hat, white hat whatsoever. What works, what doesn't work because we're trying to build businesses. That's what we care about. We care about building businesses and Google is just a means to the end. And sometimes people like you and I, who are really into the throes of SEO we're like, Oh no, those tactics maybe shouldn't work long term, blah, blah, blah. It's really a different point of view.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. I think that's the way I'm looking at it. Because the, yeah, there's always seems to be two sides, but someone recently said to me We'll do what works until it doesn't anymore.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, I'll tell you a funny story. I went to a mastermind at this conference and they wanted me in their group like, Oh, Cyrus, join us. I have, everybody knows who I am. I they put me in the most successful group and I'm like, I'm looking around at who I'm with and I'm like. Guys, I am by far the poorest person in this group. Multimillion dollar businesses. I have more to learn from you. I might know SEO, but I definitely have more to learn from you than you have to learn from me. And to their credit, they were very generous with me and my time and listening to my ideas. But yeah, it was interesting.

Mark A Preston: When you first got asked to speak at that event, It is, I consider, not the usual events to speak to, as we cut. What were going through your mind?

Cyrus Shepard: Oh, yeah I've known Matt Diggity, the organizer, for a few years online. We hadn't met, we met in person once before that. And I have huge respect for Matt. The conference itself, and I'll be Completely transparent. The affiliate marketing space doesn't always have the most pristine reputation in our circle. So there are some things I worried about that. Also if I'm being honest, conferences in Asia are much different than conferences in, Western Europe or the United States. There's less concern about gender equality on stage, things like that. It's The people there, it's not for lack of caring. It's just a different environment different timeframes. The people there were some of the kindest, generous most caring people I've met. I made some great friends and the, Amazingly Chiang Mai, just a terrific conference. They announced tickets for next year, at the, the closing session, they were 98 percent sold out within an hour. So even if you or me wanted to go to the conference next year, we couldn't because they have the highest return rate of any conference I've ever seen. ever. It's just amazing. It so it's it speaks volumes to the quality of the the conference. And I thank Matt for inviting me and allowing me to participate in that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I think especially over the past year, 18 months, I've opened up because I've realized that. My perception was wrong and I've started to, actively reach out to these people and I've had fewer people on my podcast here and listening and yeah, I only handle my perception of people and businesses and what they're doing is totally wrong.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. I think one thing, on a side note, a tangent to that is I think. One of the biggest, bigger changes over the course of my career is how Google has successfully overtaken the SEO conversation. When I started in SEO, SEO Twitter, which was a place where everybody talked about, it was dominated by SEOs. And slowly Google built up their public relations team that hired Danny Sullivan John Mueller, that whole team and they have done an excellent job of dominating the SEO conversation. And I made me pull my hair out. I'm completely bald now. That's the world you and I live in where they dominate what Google says, entire swaths of the SEO industry, just follow that advice. And in the affiliate world, that's not so much, that's not. As true. So I think it's I think it's interesting. I would add no shade on the Google team. They do. They're caring people. They do excellent work. But I wish More of the SEO conversation was dominated by, actual SEOs.

Mark A Preston: Yes, over the years, I've described myself to people, not as an SEO, but a person that helps businesses generate more income. Yes. Yes. It so happens that what I've been doing, Google seems to like for some reason.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. That's a great way to market yourself and you help businesses make more money. Cause most businesses don't care about SEO except for a means to the end. They have their business objectives. So I, yeah. I was telling a friend the other day he was asking, what do you do? And I was trying to explain it. People contact me when they want more Google traffic, but that's not why they're really contacting me. They're contacting me because they're in trouble. They. They were hit by an update and they need to lay people off or they just want to grow their business and in other ways, that's why they're really contacting me. And that's the service we provide. So maybe that's a, maybe that's a lesson about our market position. We don't do SEO. We help businesses grow.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, and I think because during my years of training marketing teams, I think there's a bit of this. Not a bit. There is a disconnection between the marketing bit and the business itself, and I think that. For me, it's bringing both of it together, but just for a very simple scenario, I went into one company and the marketing team had done all this plan, blah, blah, blah, blah. But when I actually spoke to. The backend team, they couldn't actually service what the plan was trying to generate, little disconnections with that, and do you feel that sometimes there is that disconnection?

Cyrus Shepard: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. We even had that. I even had that at Moz. The truth of my 10 years there was, we were an SEO company, but we were also just a normal tech company that, I'd submit a ticket to get some SEO fixes and it would take, six months to a year because it had to be prioritized against all the other things. And if I had that problem at Moz, other people, have that problem. Most companies, unless. The exception are the affiliate marketers because they get stuff done if I'm working with a travel site or, but if I'm just working with a company and their core competency is not publishing, yeah, it's hard. It's hard to get some of those changes pushed through. It's also hard because I think, I https: otter. ai You understand this better than others. A lot of SEO is unpredictable and it's an experiment. And sometimes you have to try different things and the successful companies are willing to try something. And if it doesn't work out, try something again and try something again. And that message is sometimes hard to sell when dev resources are very limited. We did this ticket. Why are we redoing this? Is the worst thing that you want to hear? Like where were you doing it? Because it's. We're trying different things and sometimes people don't want to hear that and it's challenging.

Mark A Preston: Right. On that note, if an SEO wants to try something, how do they know it's not going to create a negative impact for the business?

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah. So I often encourage people to if the site is large enough I encourage them to try. On a subdirectory, just, we're making changes here, or I had a client, we made changes on a single page, they had 600 pages, single page was an important page, and it took quite a, the work we had to do was quite a bit for that page, new copy New templates, all that stuff, but we proved it out. We proved it on that page, and we expanded to six pages and now, if that's successful, we're going to expand to, 130 pages. So that's typically how we do it. Sometimes you can't, sometimes you have to roll up a change out throughout the entire site and just watch what happens. Give it enough time. That's one one mistake I see people make is They roll out a change, traffic dips 10%. They're like, Oh, pull it back now some weeks, a month or two for the signals to propagate fully. Then we'll pull it back. We'll see what happens. But yeah, you don't go all in all the time.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. Now, is there anything that you feel the audience really needs to know that we haven't spoken about already?

Cyrus Shepard: That's a good question. Yeah. I think this is gonna sound so cliche. I, we've talked about, my work as a Google search quality rater, you doing things for the user. I think shifting to that mindset, just forget when doing SEO, forget about SEO, just think, what do I want as a user and reexamining everything you think, what's going to be most helpful. I have a client, I have a client that removed his header which I thought was really weird, but he was very, he's very. Successful at it. And but he thought I they don't need these links. They just want the content. And I'm not saying that's what you should do. But that kind of ruthlessness and just thinking how can I deliver the most content to the user as quickly as possible? You know what my dream is? My dream is to work with a recipe site that is willing to put the recipe at the top of the page. And no, no recipe site wants to do that because they get their ad revenue from people scrolling and time on site and the number of ad impressions that they get. Yeah. But I want to just experiment with that, find a recipe site that lets me put the experiment at the top and see if we can make up for their lost ad revenue in number of page views and impressions and because people love that site and they're getting their answer as quickly as possible. So that's what I want to do.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, just give people the actual recipe and you're going to the page four. Without having to scroll through 2000 words.

Cyrus Shepard: Yeah, exactly. I've done, I've started doing that with my blog posts where I strip out the introduction. I just put the answer at the top of the page. And it's funny because I've seen when I do that, I see my bounce rate increase. I see my time on site go down, which is normally things we don't want to see, but I see my traffic go up because people are getting the answer that they want. They're getting it quicker. And Google can recognize that and they're going, oh, okay let's rank this, let's rank this page higher.

Mark A Preston: The time has rocked on, and we could be here forever, but, we both have things to do, and now, where can people find you, and what sort of conversations would you like to have with people?

Cyrus Shepard: Oh, that's a great question. So yeah, I keep producing content on my site zippy. com, and you can probably find me on all the social media channels, or I don't know where I'm supposed to be putting my energy these days. X, Twitter, threads, I'm trying threads. I have all of 500 followers and LinkedIn, which is a fun, fun place to be. Who knew?

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. On that mark many thanks for your time and many thanks for joining us.

Cyrus Shepard: Thank you so much.

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