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Lily Ray Shares the Hard Truth and Reality of the SEO Industry

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Lily Ray

In the dynamic realm of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), few names shine as brightly as Lily Ray's. Currently the Senior SEO Director and Head of Organic Research at Amsive, a New York City-based agency, Lily has been a guiding force in the industry for over 14 years, her career trajectory paralleling the evolution of SEO itself.

Her journey began in the bustling streets of New York City, where she delved into the world of SEO while still completing her university studies. Starting at a small startup, she quickly absorbed knowledge, learning on the job and through a voracious consumption of resources – a testament to her dedication and passion. This foundational experience set the stage for a career that would soon see her ascend to the upper echelons of the industry.

Lily's expertise truly blossomed in the agency world, where she has now spent over a decade. In her current role, she oversees a vibrant team of 35 professionals, managing a portfolio of around a hundred clients. Her leadership and strategic vision have been pivotal in navigating the ever-changing SEO landscape, guiding both her team and her clients towards success.

Recognised as the #1 most influential SEO expert in 2022 by USA Today, Lily's influence extends far beyond the confines of her agency. Her insights into the world of SEO are sought after globally. She regularly shares her research and findings through articles, interviews, podcasts, and conference presentations, sometimes even showcasing her linguistic flair by presenting in Spanish.

Lily's expertise covers a wide array of SEO facets, from the nuances of Google algorithm updates to the complexities of technical SEO. She has a special fondness for E-E-A-T, Google Discover, ecommerce, and news SEO, showcasing her versatility and deep understanding of different SEO domains.

Originally from the Bay Area, Lily now calls New York City her home, where she continues to be a beacon of creativity and passion in the SEO world. Her journey, marked by constant learning and adaptation, serves as an inspiration to many in the field, proving that with dedication and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, one can indeed become a master of their craft.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Lily Ray

Watch the interview

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

Listen to the podcast

(54 minutes long)

The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Lily Ray

  • What's your personal SEO story, Lily?

  • What made you get into the SEO industry in the first place?

  • What has made you stay in the SEO industry?

  • How have you managed the every changing SEO world within your agency role?

  • Why are you a little frustrated with some search results?

  • How do you deal with conversations with clients who see unethical things outranking them?

  • Does Google owe SEOs anything?

  • Why do SEOs need to understand the wider business impact?

  • How would you recommend that SEOs start thinking about adaptability?

  • What specific area of SEO do you really enjoy?

  • Do you get a buzz out of problem solving during the SEO audit process?

  • Have you ever had any backlash from in-house SEO teams when you as the agency are paid to audit their work?

  • Do you think that there is a big communications skill gap within the SEO industry?

  • How can SEOs connect the dots during their personal learning growth?

  • Do you think that some SEOs are wrapped up in their own little bubble far too much?

  • What is your personal view on the whole quality content and AI thing?

  • Why do some SEOs think they deserve to rank when all they do is write about things that has been written a thousand time before?

  • What future mindset do SEOs need to have?

  • What are your views on keyword research and search volumes?

  • What annoys you about the SEO industry?

  • Why do you feel that so many SEOs don't want to publicly ask questions?

  • Why is the Women in Tech SEO community so great?

  • Is there a connection between personal SEO development and hard work?

  • Why do so many SEOs ask questions via DMs that they can just Google to find the answer?

  • Do you think that it is important for people working within businesses to build a personal brand online?

  • How should SEOs implement personal branding within their client's SEO strategy?

  • Do you need to be able to back up what you publish in order to build trust online?

  • Why do brands need to be patient and play the long SEO game?

The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Lily Ray

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, and today my guest I'm only going to introduce her to say she's none other than the SEO DJ herself. Lily Ray.

Lily Ray: Hello. Hey. Hi. How's it going?

Mark A Preston: Very well. Thank you. Just for the people in the audience who don't know your background, please, could you give me an overview of how you started in the SEO industry and where you are now on that journey?

Lily Ray: Sure. Yeah. My current title is Senior SEO Director and Head of Organic Research at an agency called Amsive based in New York City. And I have been doing SEO coming up on 14 years now. And I started in New York City at a small startup when I was still finishing university and dove into another like in house startup position for a year where I really learned everything. So like watching lots of videos and learning everything on the job and then dove into the agency world after that. So I guess it's been like 12 years or a little bit more for agency SEO life. I've been serving in a director role for God, I don't know, eight, maybe eight years now. Overseeing many clients, many teammates, lots of different employees and different people throughout that journey. Our team is currently about 35 people, maybe a hundred clients. It's, I don't even can't even keep track. People come in and out, but yeah, so seen it all. With the exception of a few categories online that I don't really get into, but, with being in the agency world for so long, you see so many different types of clients. So a lot of SEO experience.

Mark A Preston: What made you get into the industry in the first place?

Lily Ray: I Fell into it because it was a job that paid. At a time when there were very few paying jobs. This was around the 2008 recession, just shortly after. And nobody was finding jobs. Especially I went to NYU, New York university and like people that were graduating from university and from law school and things like this we're just not finding employment. So it was pretty scary. I was on a track to do political science and maybe law, like law school. But I found the SEO job when I was just looking for some, some income as a college student, and it turns out I was really good at it. And it turns out it was very natural to me. My family on my father's side is in tech. So I grew up actually like. In the Bay area. My father was in Silicon Valley from the eighties. And so it felt very familiar, like the whole SEO thing. My brother's a web developer, so I was like chatting him on G chat at the time, like learning about SEO and coding and stuff like this. I Fell in love with it really fast and I'm really happy that happened because it completely took my life in a different direction.

Mark A Preston: Yes, I can relate to the 2008 moment. I think I was struggling trying to keep my agency afloat. That's how I best describe it. But, The passion, why have you stayed in the industry?

Lily Ray: I love SEO. And it's hard for some people to understand. Like it's definitely hard for my friends that don't have jobs like this, where, you know, a lot of my friends in New York are like artists musicians, like people in the service industry aspiring actors, like things like this. And they can't comprehend like loving a corporate job the way that I love my job. And it's not even about the job. It's about what I'm doing. And it also, it's not about necessarily. Yeah. Helping a random insurance company to make more money. That's not part that I, that's great. But that's not the part that I love. I really, truly love like the internet. Like I've grown up on the internet, like many of us, I was born in 89, so like literally I grew up with the internet and. I love search. Like I love philosophically and fundamentally like what it is and what it does. So when Google and search engines like evolve and change, and there's all these new rules of the game and you have to interpret what that means for your clients and think about the trends, like in the data I love it. I love what I do. And this is why you'll see me tweeting about SEO at 10 o'clock at night, because I'm still thinking about it. So that passion has definitely fueled like the work that I do with my team and for our clients And it makes it feel like it's not a job. It's just like something that I love to do, which is pretty awesome.

Mark A Preston: All right, because you're in the agency life. How have you managed the sort of ever changing world recently?

Lily Ray: Yeah, it's not easy at all. It feels relentless lately. It feels a lot of people are like, You should take a few days off and not think about it. And I get it. I'm all about mental health and taking care of yourself and all those things. I know. But I don't feel like I can. And of course I can, like mental health comes first, but lately it's been so relentless with new developments, now we have AI. So it's actually literally every minute there's something new. But even with Google, it's so many new changes, so many new products, so many things that we're finding and people messaging me with questions and problems. And it's just constant. So I serve in that role on behalf of our agency and our team. My team is again, 35 people and most of them don't want like a public facing role. Most of them are happy to like, put their heads down and do the work for the clients. Talk to each other internally, but not really put themselves out there. So I like do a lot of that for the team. There's a few other people that are doing it as well, but that means that, 24, seven, I'm like, what's going on out there and how do I interpret this back for our team and our clients? So unless there's an unusually slow, quiet period from Google, which is rare. I'm always working.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I get the sense from some of your tweets lately that you're getting a little bit frustrated at the search results, especially, dare I say, Parasite.

Lily Ray: Yeah. To be clear there's always been these tactics that, you basically find a loophole on Google and you can take advantage of them and make money. That's been And we're now learning that like with this article that happened on The Verge, for example, a lot of people in society think that's what SEOs do, and they're not wrong, like that's a component, or a segment of SEO that's always been there, and it probably used to be there a lot more than it is now, or maybe now it's growing again, but to be clear, like a lot of people are like, oh, Lily, you didn't know that, Yeah. People have been doing this for a long time. I'm like, no, I literally know because when I started, I was doing black hat stuff. But the difference is it's. The last let's say five years until maybe this year, it was much harder to get away with these kinds of like loopholes. It was much harder to see as much success as a lot of people are seeing right now. So it's frustrating because number one, I hate spam in general. Like I hate the idea that. People are taking advantage of each other online, especially financially. I just hate that, like from a ethical perspective, but beyond that, like Google was doing such a good job of communicating certain ideas and largely like you would see consistency with what was happening in the search results. Of course there's exceptions. Of course there's loopholes, but like generally speaking, what they were saying and what they were doing was pretty consistent. I thought so, at least. And it was much easier to do what they were recommending for your clients or not do the things that they were, saying not to do and see success. And that makes it much more fulfilling when you're an SEO, when you're recommending something and it works or doesn't work, like when you have those clear signals, the last few months, it's been frustrating because listen, People can go make money on Google. I'm not like against anybody, doing that as their own choice, but it's so it's becoming so successful and it feels like Google's not responding very quickly. I know that they said that they're going to respond but they haven't yet. And so it gives these people, it makes these people feel empowered to do more of it. And now with like almost no barrier to entry with AI tools and things like this, it's becoming an exponential exponentially worse problem every day. And it's very frustrating for clients, for example, who are trying to do things right and create a great brand to see that they're being outranked by spam left and right. That's just frustrating, right?

Mark A Preston: Yes. How do you, personally, the conversation is okay. We're doing everything you're saying, we're doing everything right, but there's all these that are just spamming things, they're buying links, they're doing all this, and they're taking my business away from me. So why should we do that if it's clearly working? That sort of conversation you must have somewhere down the lines with a few clients. How do you deal with those sorts of conversations?

Lily Ray: Yeah, that's exactly the conversation I have. Our team has all the time, especially with like newer clients that come to us. Experienced SEO teams and big brands, generally speaking, understand the context. They have history, they have experience. They understand the risks. They don't want to take big risks. So they know that they're playing the long game. More like sophisticated clients understand that clients that come in and maybe they're new to SEO, maybe they're getting their advice from questionable sources, or they just want to move really fast. They'll ask those questions and you have to be like it's like going to the doctor and being like. I'Ve been smoking cigarettes for three months and I feel fine. What's the problem? And the doctor's yeah, but like over time it's going to be a problem. It's like that. So like when you have the experience of doing this over time, you have to just be like, listen, please stay the course. Don't do anything like to, that'll get you in trouble, but it does come at the cost of things taking longer. Like they, you don't see the rapid growth that you might see from some of these other tactics, but we don't want to see the crash that happens on the other side. Or an agency, we can't do that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, definitely. I've seen that so many times over the past two decades and it's not nice because people don't realize it's not just rankings. It's people's livelihoods you're dealing with. It's not just the business, the owner of the business. It's all their employees and literally I've seen directors come to me literally in tears saying, I'm going to have to sack everybody because of this X, Y, Z, and I think a lot of time people don't feel or relate to that side of SEO that, you they're making a real difference to people's lives, negative or positive.

Lily Ray: And a lot of people will say you're not owed this career, right? You're building a career on the back of Google's algorithm, which is. Somebody else's algorithm. It's unpredictable. We don't know what's going to happen. So I understand that nobody owes us these, this career. Like we're thank you, Google and search engines for giving us this opportunity and giving us a chance to make money online. So I get that, but you're right. And when things like the helpful content update happened, which just happened in September, you get this new batch of people, site owners, bloggers, largely who. Didn't see it coming and are devastated, right? They built a blog, let's say for five or 10 years, they saw a lot of success. So they dropped everything else and they just did that. Maybe they have some people that they work with and then the helpful content update comes out and they lose 90% of the traffic and then what those people come to people like me and my team. Like desperate for help. So we're on the receiving end of a lot of desperation of a lot of people. Like you said, we hear sob stories all the time. I had a message yesterday from somebody who was involved in one of the wars that's happening in the world right now. And all she has is internet access and she would like me to mentor her because she has nothing as a result of a war. I'm like, the level of messages that I'm getting right now of desperation, of people that need help, of people that like don't know what to do. Like you said, people don't realize that's part of the job of SEOs sometimes. It's to like Almost be like therapists and okay, I'm trying to help, which is goes back to what we said earlier, where it's very frustrating when the things that we believe and things that we've seen are true with SEO don't appear to be true right now. And for the record, I think that this is temporary. I think that there's a lot going on with Google. I think that they'll get back on track. I hope. But it has been quite a bit frustrating to not be able to tell these people we can confidently help you.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I think there's always been moments in time throughout SEO, just like there was when the initial Panda and Penguin hit, there's always going to be these times, but I think we just need to be adaptable. I think adaptability is a word, a key. Yeah. And I think that for SEOs themselves, how would you recommend that SEO start thinking about adaptability?

Lily Ray: Yeah, it's not easy. I think probably the best way is to have some type of project that you're doing that's a personal project, or maybe you're building your own personal brand, or you're helping a family member or a friend build something. I would say those have been the most illuminating experiences and helpful experiences that I've had as an SEO, because you're not just recommending. Telling a client to go do a bunch of redirects or go change your titles to this. It's that's fine. That's simple stuff, but there's no experience like, building somebody's small business website and Google business profile and helping them market it. And then making decisions about like, how are we going to build citations? How are we going to, what kind of content marketing should we do? Should we do email? Like all that's, all of that goes together. So it gives you the opportunity to diversify your skillset and learn about different WordPress plugins and different whatever, like all these different decisions you have to make. I think, yeah, building something holistically is the best type of experience you can have, so you're not just doing one single thing.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. Do you personally have a specific area of SEO that you really enjoy and focus on more than any other?

Lily Ray: Yeah, it's been different over time. At my last agency, we were very focused on retail and e commerce. So I was working a lot on e commerce sites, a lot on fashion and beauty. Which was fun, like straight up just e commerce sites for fashion and beauty brands. That transitioned into a lot of Amazon SEO. So I actually started learning Amazon SEO and built a little team at my old agency. And now they're doing full on that's what they do. They do a lot of Amazon search for different brands. I Didn't love that for the record. Amazon is a different animal, but did a lot of e commerce and retail on what we call CPG, consumer packaged goods for a while. And then the last three or four years, first, it was a lot of health clients around the time of the medic update and financial your money, your life type clients, and now it's almost exclusively publishers, news sites and publisher sites, because I oversee a small team within our SEO team that we call the audit team. We're actually called SEO speed wagon. That's what we call ourselves internally. But we do audits for brands, for different things. And a lot of that this year has been Google discover audits that I've been doing.

Mark A Preston: The audit process, just discovering something that either they're not doing right or, you think, ah, now this is it. Do you get a real buzz out of, finding things out?

Lily Ray: Yeah, I love it. Audits are gruelling, they're exhausting for the record. Like our audits that we deliver are at this point, sometimes 100 to 120 pages and a lot of SEO agencies and SEO practitioners, of course, they deliver large audits as well, but what they do is often they have a template that they fill things in, or maybe they have a team checking boxes and filling things in, we don't really do things that way. There's obviously some templatization. There's some things that happen the same for each, site that we're looking into, but almost always what our clients are paying for is a completely custom. Like handwritten, this is the situation for your site. This is the landscape. And we're using so many different tools and looking at so many different things and talking about the whole situation strategically. And it's to your point, it's very fulfilling. It's very fun. I think some of the most fun projects I've had in the last couple of years have been like, Hey, we're a big brand, us, like everyone knows us. We have a very robust SEO team, very sophisticated SEO program, but we need a second set of eyes. We need a second team to look at it and we need them to tell us what we're doing right and wrong and what we could be doing more of that's like the most fun for me right now, because, it's much more fulfilling than you need to put these keywords in your metadata, so the strategy is really fun, but it's the hardest part. It's hard. It keeps me up at night. I dream about my client's strategies.

Mark A Preston: Have you ever been in a situation where, obviously, when you are second guessing or analysing what another SEO team has done, have you had any backlash to say, oh is, why haven't you found this or, from the other teams when you've presented the audit, has there been any backlash from the internal SEO team?

Lily Ray: Yes, that happens. That happens. It's definitely never our goal. It's never our goal to go in there and make anybody look bad. And so we very much try to be diplomatic, if there's ever a situation where it's like, Hey, tell the SEO directly that there's something broken, like we'll try to be cool. And we're not trying to get anybody fired. But it has happened. And I would say more so on the technical side, we have a very strong technical team, very strong. And, you can be a really great web developer. And I would say probably most web developers who are really great, don't know SEO stuff. And that's fine because it's a different skill. My brother's a professional web developer of many years 20 plus years. And, he knows a good amount of stuff. And then he also like listens to what I talk about, but there's a lot of stuff that I. Recommend to him. And he's Oh yeah, that makes sense. That search engines would work like that. I haven't thought about that before, so we try to educate people and explain pros and cons, explain why certain things are, and sometimes even tell clients like, Hey, just because this thing wasn't fixed, it doesn't mean that your developers or your SEO team is bad. Like they just, there's always more things to fix. There's always more things to look at. That's why they get a second set of eyes, but yes, you have to be very diplomatic. And I always tell my team, do not present that in that way. That's Oh, this is super broken, presented as it's like, we found this opportunity. You might want to consider this and this, yeah.

Mark A Preston: Do you find that in the SEO industry? There's a big skill gap as in communication skills.

Lily Ray: SEO is a funny job or career path because it's so many skills in one. And I don't think it's possible to be an SEO professional. That's good at all of them. I just don't think it is. You can be, yeah, you'd be decent at all of them, but to be great at all of them, I don't think it's possible. I don't think that there's a single SEO in the world who's a stellar technical SEO, a stellar content, SEO, incredible at local SEO. What else? Understands international SEO inside and out and is an amazing client communicator and is amazing at GA4 and is, it goes on and on. I just don't think there is one. And that's fine. I'm not good at all those things. I'm good at a lot of those things, but not all of them. That's why my team is 35 people. And that's why there's. People that on the team who are literally only technical SEO, they spend all day in tech SEO tools, looking at JavaScript, rendering, looking at sitemaps, looking at redirects, like I don't want, I don't want to do that. I like doing that, but I don't want to do that because I know my skills are in actually strategy communication, like other things, but I think it's very important to block and tackle with different people who have different skills and when you don't know something and when you're not good at something, like sharing that responsibility or recommending somebody else for the job. But to your point, yeah, I don't think that people who are, for example, amazing at technical SEO. Are always gonna be amazing at communication as well. is quite different skills, right?

Mark A Preston: Yes. I agree with you 100% there. No matter how long you've been in the industry, you always find your area, your expect expertise and leaving others to do what they need to, but having an understanding of why they're doing things.

Lily Ray: That's the hardest part to teach, I think, and probably like biggest opportunity for most new SEOs. Is to connect the dots with what they're working on and why it matters or to prioritize what matters the most, because when you're learning SEO, you're learning all these individual little tactics. Oh, canonicals do this and redirects do this and 404s do this. And you have to memorize like all this trivia, and then someone gives you a website and you're like, do SEO. And you're like, I found 5404 errors and the meta descriptions are too long because one of the tools told me that. And so suddenly you're telling a new client, your meta descriptions are too long, and we're like, those of us who have been doing this for a while no, that's not it. That's not a good place to start. We'll get there in three years, maybe, but when we finish all the other stuff. So we really try to help our team. Like why was that important? What's this going to do for the business? How does the business make money? Who's their audience? But it's very hard to teach.

Mark A Preston: Yes. I think a lot of the training I personally do is to build that business mindset into what the marketing team's doing. And I think sometimes You know, marketers and SEOs can be so wrapped up in their own little bubble that they forget about what's happening outside of it in like how it pieces together within the business.

Lily Ray: Yeah. Yeah. It's very easy to become myopic and SEO, and I'm very guilty of that. Very guilty. I think it became pretty clear, at least for me, like maybe seven or eight years ago. That I started to really become passionate about SEO, that I didn't like most other channels, like I'm not interested in most other channels, I've dabbled in them, I would say I'm pretty decent at social media, for example I paid search and ads, I know it's very important to understand, I know obviously understanding the interplay between paid and organic is essential to know, but I don't like it I don't doing advertising. I don't like the fact that you can bid on competitor names. I hate it. The fact that I like search for a brand when I'm in New York city and another brand shows up in the paid search. It just, it makes you feel gross. Sorry to all the people that do advertising. I know that's the rules of the game, but I'm like, I like SEO because in theory, it's rewarding the best content that people like the most people don't like clicking on ads. That's just a fact. So I like to do things that feel good, don't we all?

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I'm gonna, I might regret getting into this, but content, what's your view on the whole content situation? That's, discussion and happening and quality and everything.

Lily Ray: AI or what are we referring to?

Mark A Preston: Just in general. Obviously AI, for me, AI is not, it's just a way of streamlining what you're doing. I don't see AI as um, a tool to create things. I see it as a tool to assist things, but I think that the industry Has gone a bit mad. I think they've lost focus in, in some areas of what's really important when it comes to content. And they're just in this mindset of the more content we push out, the better the more organic we're gonna get.

Lily Ray: Yeah, I agree with you. I think people a lot of people treat SEO like a slot machine, it's If I just keep doing the thing over and over, maybe I'll see success. And maybe once in a while you strike gold, right? So I just keep doing that. And I'm like, look at the bigger picture right now. Bigger picture. Google has shown so many signs of not being able to handle or wanting to handle or process all of the content that's being created. That's not to say that they're not trying to index all of the world's information. That's what they're doing. That's their MO. Their criteria for indexing is changing. It's very obvious to anybody that's paying attention, their ability to index all of this is changing and to crawl all of this, not to mention the impact of so much crawling on the world. Like I didn't even really know about this, but probably no Yoast from the WordPress plugin. He's actually a real man named Yoast. He talks about this a lot and I've learned a lot from him because it's not good for the environment to have this much crawling and the problem is growing exponentially. KnOwing those things and knowing like Google is becoming stricter with its criteria for what is good quality content and things like the helpful content update happened and all this content that we thought was good content or decent content because Google was rewarding it before. I've, and my team, we've helped a lot of companies who are hit by the helpful content update. I'm still doing that right now. It looks good to you because you made it. I'm sorry. It's your baby. I hate to call your baby ugly. But it's not the best content. And I understand it must be very frustrating and heartbreaking to hear that, but like Google only gets to show. What seven on the first page, 10, like you're not in the top seven, so those conversations are hard, but to your point, using AI to mass auto generate this stuff is probably not going to put you in the top seven. There's ways to do AI that are amazing. Use AI that are amazing. I use it all the time. People don't realize like I use AI every day. But I don't, I would never tell Chachi, PTR, Claude to write me an article about toothpaste and then put that on a client's website. I would never do that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I think, for me, AI has just, it's just automated what a lot of people was historically doing manually anyway. Yeah. So I think it's just, and because of that, then the amount of content has increased. But for me, it's just if all you're doing is saying the same thing as a thousand and hundred thousand other people. then you're not going to get any traction.

Lily Ray: Yeah, exactly. And it's the funny part is how people respond to this. They're like, Oh I'm just going to tell chat GPT to pretend like it's an expert on toothpaste. And then I'm going to have it write five original insights about toothpaste and that'll fix the problem. No, still didn't fix the problem. It's you always try to find all these workarounds other than just doing the hard work, which is funny, but yeah, I agree with you. I think that regardless of whether or not search engines can actually technically identify AI content, there are probably a lot of signals that users don't love it. So they can pick up on those.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. But what, alternatively then, what would you recommend to SEOs to, get them into the right mindset now of moving forward in this vast AI world we're living in?

Lily Ray: Yeah, it's, I've been recommending pretty consistent stuff for a while. It hasn't really changed. I think whatever it is that you're writing about or producing content about. It's really not that controversial. It's if you're working with a pest control company go talk to your staff about what have you been seeing on the ground in New York City this season as it relates to pest control. I'm writing an article about the rat problem in Brooklyn and they're going to be like, in this part of town, there's this thing happening. And we noticed that over here, there's this problem with the subway or whatever it is, they're literally going to be able to talk to you about their job because it's their job. A lot of SEOs are instead of doing that or working with their clients to go do that, they're like. Maybe if we look on this SEO tool for all the mentions of how to say the word rat without saying rat or all these other related rodents that we should be talking about that's not it. What you want to do is have people who know what they're talking about, add value to the content, and then the person reading it is going to be like, Oh, I didn't realize there was a rat problem in that part of Brooklyn, right? So produce content when you actually have something meaningful to say, and when it's actually within your area of expertise. And if you don't have access to those things, find a way to get access to them, find a way to talk to those experts and produce something original. I was talking to a client yesterday who does music blogging. Turns out he's been to the concerts and taken photos himself. He has professional photography all over the site. And I was like, who took these photos? He's Oh, me. I like taking photos of the concerts that I go to. I was like, boom, amazing. Most of my clients don't say that, but that's, do that. That's really cool. That's a way to set your content apart.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. Hard work. But yeah, I think it's because it's just normal for them. thEy don't see it as anything different. It's just normality to them. And I think that, I think the, when it comes to research and content, I think search volumes of. For me, search volumes are just a guide, but I think people take them literally and, I think that as you say, talking to your clients, talking to your clients, customers, even, and that's as far, far down the line. And I remember create, helping to create just, it were only 500 words blog, the search tools said no one searches that. And I think it's three and a half to 4, 000 visitors a month to that one page.

Lily Ray: Yeah, it ranks for many other keywords than the one keyword you were looking at. Patrick Stocks who works at Ahrefs posted that yesterday because there's a, there's an Ahrefs article about I forgot the exact statistics, but it's if you rank number one for a keyword with X volume or whatever, you also rank number one for a thousand other keywords, but with much lower volumes and the tools aren't always going to tell you that. It's less, like you said, it's directional. Yes, of course, if something has 10 times more search volume than another thing and you think you can go after that, do that. Yeah, if something is super, super relevant and it has 20 monthly search volume, you should still have that on your site.

Mark A Preston: I don't know if I'm going to regret this, but what's annoys you about the SEO industry at the moment?


Lily Ray: Oh God, so many things to say. I don't know. I think there's, there, generally speaking, I would call our industry pretty friendly and pretty supportive of one another, generally. There's a lot of other people who are I think it's because the Twitter X algorithm changed pretty substantially in the last year. It's amplifying different content in different ways. And it's also attracting a lot of people to my content who are more essentially trolls or just very competitive and a bit mean. And listen, I have, I can have thick skin. I can get over it. I, it's not bothering. It's not keeping me up at night. It's annoying, but there's a lot of people who are like very, condescending and arrogant and competitive and will laugh at you when you fail or will make you try to feel small. And for a lot of them, it's all about how much money you can make on an SEO and nothing else matters. And they'll say this doesn't matter if it got people in trouble or if it because I made this much money per month and I'm like. I have never in my life for the record told anybody publicly anything about how much money I make which like to me that just feels like common decency like I what are we doing bragging about how much money we're making it's just to me it's strange and I get that people are excited because yeah you can make all this money on google but then it attracts more and more spam and more and more people who are just interested in the money and not interested in what they're doing to the internet so that fundamentally bothers me because like I said before I want to feel like I'm doing something good. People that use the internet, helping them find what they're actually looking for. That's a big kind of, dumbed down version of lots of different things that are bothering me about the industry lately.

Mark A Preston: That was a very polite explanation.

Lily Ray: I'm losing patience, if you couldn't tell. My patience has gone down this year.

Mark A Preston: But, I was going to say, I personally get a lot of private messages to say I want to talk to you about this, but I don't want to tweet it in case I get blasted.

Lily Ray: Oh, yeah. By the way there's a whole community called Women in Tech SEO, which you probably know. It's the, first of all, growing exponentially. It's only available to women people who identify as women. And it is the most polite, helpful, nurturing just kind. Open environment I've ever experienced on the internet for sure. And the conferences are a big love fest. Everyone's helping each other. Everyone's mentoring each other. Everyone's hugging each other. I DJ'd one of the after parties for a women in tech SEO conference. It was all women. Everyone was dancing and having fun and loving each other. And I'm like. It's possible to be in an industry where we all support each other and credit to Areej and the women running that group because I'll see people from my team, I'll see women from my team in there participating that would never post anything on Twitter. To your point, yes, it creates a lot of imposter syndrome and a lot of gatekeeping. I experienced a lot of imposter syndrome, I still do, imposter syndrome and gatekeeping earlier in my career that prevented me from ever thinking I was qualified to speak now. I don't feel like that anymore now. I'm like, I don't care if you don't like what I have to say, because I'm gonna tell you my experience. That's it. And I encourage, I try to encourage so many other people to feel that way, but the bullies make it really hard to do that.

Mark A Preston: Yes. Yes. What Areej and the others have done with that is astronomical. I interviewed Areej, I think it was during COVID. On how she's started and since then it's just blasted. I really don't know how, everyone finds the time, because people don't understand that it doesn't just happen overnight. Success doesn't happen overnight. And I think a lot of people who are seen as successful get a lot of negativity because they're successful. But for me, it's because you're not successful because quite frankly. You don't want to put the hard work into it.

Lily Ray: Oh yeah, that's another thing too. People are very jealous, they're very spiteful, they're very mean spirited, they try to bring you down. And when I say people, this is a small group of people, this is not everyone. But I think that this type of behavior is being amplified online quite a bit, which is one of the problems. But to your point, The number of messages that I get and questions that I get, from people who listen, I know I have my DMS open on Twitter. I know that I've set myself up for this. I can always close that. But the number of people who reach out and don't haven't Googled the question that they're asking me I don't mean to be mean, I'm getting to a point where I have very little patience, but I'm like, that. A great SEO would be able to find that on Google. As part of your job description, a great SEO would be able to understand how to use the search engine to answer that question very easily. But you want me to go do that for you, or you want to pick my brain, which by the way, I don't have any time right now at all. I hardly have time to sleep. So like you want to cut into my sleep time for me to do that when you could have Googled it. Not going to be a great SEO. I'm sorry. You're just not because you have to be able to do that You have to be able to search.

Mark A Preston: Okay. Yeah.

Lily Ray: Yeah, use Google it's the best tool we have you know.

Mark A Preston: I mean I just think some people are just I don't know whether it's laziness or whatever it is, but I need to ask you about where things are heading. What's your perception or beliefs or thoughts on where the SEO industry is heading?

Lily Ray: I Would like to think that what we're currently experiencing, let's say the last three months, because the last three months have been pretty chaotic in our space. And I feel like we're seeing a quite disproportionate amount of low quality results and spam compared to normal on Google. I don't know why. There's obviously some bigger things happening. There's obviously the fact that Google launched Gemini two days ago, which is. One of the most advanced AI products in human history. That was probably quite distracting for them internally to build that. Google had a lot of layoffs recently. There's fewer people working on Google news, for example. There are really big things happening in the world. There's Google being investigated by the department of justice right now. And soon DARPA, the CEO of Google testifying to, the department of justice. Right now, like in the last few weeks, that's been happening. They've been subpoenaed and documents are being revealed about how search works, all these big Earth shattering things are happening in our industry. I think that maybe explains why some things have been maybe, let's say, a bit maybe neglected in search and discover. Sorry, Google. I don't know what's happening there. It just looks like that a bit. Assuming that this is a fluke, and assuming that this isn't our future state. On Google forever, because if it is, that changes the rules of the game quite a bit, by the way. But assuming that Google will continue to get better at identifying spam and producing high quality content. I think we're absolutely going in a direction of highlighting individual creators more and more authentic human voices. I don't know if making Reddit rank number one for everything is the solution to that, but I think Google will continue to try to do that. And I think that we will see more algorithm updates that will take down spam, including mass auto generated content with AI. Whether or not Google says that they're doing that, I think they will.

Mark A Preston: Do you think it's going to be even more important moving forward for the people working within the businesses to have, to build a personal brand around the business?

Lily Ray: Yeah, I think whether or not they choose to do that around the business, building a personal brand is the single most effective thing that you can do for SEO, just gonna say it Barry Schwartz in our industry. Unfortunately he shares a name with another technologist named Barry Schwartz, who's the one that Google highlights in the knowledge graph. So maybe not the best example, but let's use someone else. Let's use a Rand Fishkin obviously has a very big presence online, but like Google knows who they are. Google knows them as an entity and people like to debate me on this, but it's pretty clear. Google knows what books they've written. Google knows the articles that they've written. They know at this point who is their wife, where do they live? All these other details. And now with SGE. You can ask SGE like specific questions and it finds the answers pretty easily about people and about, where they work and all these things. So you want to put your best foot forward online. And I think that over time, Google will draw more and more from Hey, we know that's Lily and she writes about and speaks about SEO a lot. So that amps of article. Written by her gets a boost. I personally think that is happening. It will continue to happen. People like to debate me on that, but I see that as the future of SEO.

Mark A Preston: No, I've done a lot of work on my own personal brand to link every sort of, everyone calls them entities, but things I do, make sure they all link together in a field, and I'm seeing, actually over time, Google's picking up on these. They're picking up on the books I've written, they're picking up on, things I've done that, so it does make a big difference to the world, not just my personal branding. I feel as though I've taken over the top half of the results page. Unfortunately I share it with, like doctors who just find things to solve cancer or things like that, it's different. So obviously when the news article comes out for them, it's different. But I do feel as though all these different links together. And Jason Barnard and Dixon Jones and everyone has been talking about this for a long time now.

Lily Ray: Yeah it's not a new trend. It's definitely something that is hard for many SEOs to, number one, believe is possible. Number two Understand how to take these details and apply them to a strategy or communicate to clients why this is important. Putting an author bio on your site, Google has said time and time again, when directly asked, Is that a ranking factor? Does that help with SEO rankings? And they're like, No, because Google will not tell you doing X little thing is a ranking factor. Because guess what? Everyone goes and sells it on Upwork and builds farms in Southeast Asia to build author bios, it's that's not the point. The point is, good performing sites, strong sites with great EEAT that people like, have author bios. And the author bios are very robust, and it's very easy to tell who that author is. Do that. Do what the good sites are doing. And, guess what? Users like it. Users like it. I like knowing who the author is. There's Conde Nast at this point. There's certain publications that they have where their travel bloggers will link from their author bio to their Instagram page. And you can go see on their Instagram. They actually did spend the last six months in Bali. The article that I'm reading about 10 things to do in Bali was written by somebody who's in Bali right now. I like that as a user. So it's good for users, even if it's not great for SEO, it's good for users.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, it's like, whatever you publish, you have to be able to back it up. Yeah. And that's the way I see it, and I think if you can't back up what you're publishing, does it deserve to get ranked?

Lily Ray: Yeah, I don't think so. I I like to practice what I preach as far as creating content. I think let's, I don't know this for a fact, but I imagine there's other SEO agencies out there who have, okay, guys we need to write this content. We need to create this editorial calendar where we create content about how to do SEO or the recent core update. And you have to write on this cadence and you have to write at these times. And these are the search volumes and this is how you have to write. And then it's you're churning out content to like, what is the title tag? What is a canonical? We don't do that on our blog, like me, especially. I wrote once about pagination because it came up with our clients and I figured out how to do it properly. And I actually talked to John Mueller for a while about it. And then I wrote what I learned. I also worked with Botify to get some case studies about pagination. That's why I wrote that article because I had something to say and it ranks very well. I write about updates when they happen based on the data that I'm seeing. I write about a big trends on Google based on what we're seeing with our clients, but I only write when I'm inspired to write when something happens. Those articles do very well so I think approaching content from like a place of Hey, I'm a pest control guy in Brooklyn and we're seeing this problem happening over here. It's really important for us to share this with the world. Let's create a piece of content, different way of thinking about it.

Mark A Preston: Now, oh my goodness, the town is rocking on. But do you think there's anything that the listeners and audience really needs to know that we haven't spoken about yet?

Lily Ray: Yeah, I think just understanding like what's feasible, what's not feasible, how long it's going to take and being patient and playing the long game. Why are you in the business of doing SEO? What are your goals and how much risk are you willing to take? I think like all these questions are important to answer from the start. Again, if you want to make as much money as possible, as fast as possible, and you're okay with losing your whole site in three months, that's possible. That's doable. I'm not the right person to follow for those. That guidance they're out there. They're not hard to find. If you want to build a brand and do things right and play the long game because you're building something that you care about, like you can follow people like me, because that's what we're talking about. So I think understanding that nuance is really important. And also understanding that when you do things the way that my team and I are doing things, it's very competitive and it takes a long time. So you have to be patient.

Mark A Preston: Now, you did mention you get an awful lot of messages. When would you like people to contact you and where could they contact you?

Lily Ray: Yeah, that's a good question. And I know I sound very impatient. It's the end of the year and it's been a lot this the past few months have been gruelling. So I'm normally a lot kinder than this. But anyway my inboxes are open. I, I'm happy to receive messages from people when people Have a specific situation with their site that they think is relevant to the things that I'm posting about and it's Hey, Lily just thought this would be helpful for you to know have you seen this before, generally speaking I'm like, yeah, let's talk about that. Or if somebody's Hey who's a good person to help with International SEO site maps or something, like happy to take that. It's really when people are like, here's my problem with my site. And I tried redirecting this to this page, but I'm wondering if I should do this and this with AMP and this. And I'm like, I can't stop what I'm doing to help you with that. Let's do that for my client that I'm working on right now. So that's when it's a bit frustrating. But by all means, reach out, say hi, introduce yourself. People are always like, Hey, like I liked your video about this. What do you think about this? I'm like, cool. I like to be a friend of someone, but just don't expect people to do your work for you. Try to figure it out and then ask for help when you really need it.

Mark A Preston: Many thanks for joining me today. And it's been an absolute pleasure.

Lily Ray: Thanks for having me.

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