Hello Everyone! It’s Don Rhoades checking in with another installment of my NC SEO interview series. This time we get to see what makes Sally Mellinger tick.
I decided to move the series to the Raleigh SEO agency that has brought me on to help build out their practice. Having the NC SEO interview series here is more beneficial to TheeDesign, as most of their readers are in North Carolina. We hope you’ll follow us here now.
I first met Sally on Twitter before she actually moved to Raleigh from Indiana. Since then I have seen her at networking events and SEO meetups here in Raleigh. Neither of us could make it to Pubcon this year and we lamented in unison, vowing to go next year even if we had to drive ourselves. One of the most interesting traits I’ve found in Sally is that she doesn’t seem to get frustrated like many of the rest of us do. Her attitude is likely the source of most of her success in search marketing. I had the chance to catch a few pints with Sally and she agreed to an interview. Sally is an in-house SEO manager in Southern Pines but she lives right here in Raleigh. You can keep up with Sally on Twitter: @SallyAMellinger.
DR: For those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself and a bit of your background in SEO
SM: My name is Sally Mellinger, and I just moved to Raleigh from Indiana. I went to Ball State University and majored in Spanish and minored in Communications. I fell in love with Mexico during a summer aboard and was determined to do anything to live there, which is why I chose Spanish. Enter the drug war, exit my dreams.
I worked a couple of sales jobs, but I was looking for a career I could see a future with and a career I actually enjoyed. About a year ago, a good friend of mine worked for SlingshotSEO in Indianapolis, and told me they had an entry level SEO position open. Prior to that, I had never heard of SEO. I did some research, landed the job, worked really hard to learn and understand SEO, and the rest is history.
DR: In terms of working at an agency or in-house which do you prefer? Why?
SM: I’m so lucky to have had the experience working for each, because they are very different experiences, but I can’t say that I prefer one over the other.
Agencies are a breeding ground for creativity. You put 50 really passionate people under one roof, and they’re going to do amazing things and have a lot of fun doing it. You cannot beat the atmosphere of an SEO agency.
Agency work can be really tough, though, because it takes a lot of work to get the support you need from departments within a client’s company. Compliance and IT departments can be huge roadblocks to SEO initiatives. Sometimes, you try for months and months developing this great SEO plan, and you just have to walk away from it and go back to the drawing board because you can’t get the compliance or IT department behind it. It’s a tough game.
In-house SEO is a much smoother process. If my team and I are hitting a roadblock with compliance or IT, we’ve developed enough of a relationship with them that we can help them understand EXACTLY what they are saying no to. It almost always works out in our favor, which allows us to do some pretty fun stuff. I’m also challenged every single day in my job. I’ve learned more about hosting, IPs, servers, and WordPress than I ever imaged possible.
I prefer a challenge, and I seem to be able to find that both with an agency and in-house. Give me a challenge and two monitors, and I’m set.
DR: What are some of your favorite things about living in Raleigh in comparison to Indianapolis?
SM: The weather, first and foremost. I kind of chuckle when I hear people talk about how cold it is right now. I think to myself, “Yeah, but it’s still above freezing.” I understand it’s all relative, but when my mom calls and tells me it’s snowing in Indiana, I think, “Yeah, I’m in heaven.”
Raleigh always has something going on. Raleigh has First Friday, farmer’s markets, museums, parks, great restaurants, and tons of breweries and wineries. I’ve never had a weekend go by where I couldn’t find something to do. The milder weather makes it so much easier to be outside and be active. That alone makes Raleigh a great city.
DR: What do you do for content ideas when you get writer’s block?
SM: First of all, let me just say that I don’t hate writer’s block. Writer’s block is your mind’s way of stalling all your bad ideas until you come up with something awesome. Embrace the block, and start researching.
Google News and Google Trends are huge for me. I always try to piggy back on news stories. The media always dictates what people find important (whether we like it or not, we are sheep), so I use that to my advantage. I read the comments people leave on news stories and see what people are getting fired up about. If you simply recall the facts of an event people are passionate about, you’d be surprised how they’ll flock to your blog to put in their two cents. Some of the most “viral” pieces of content I’ve written have come about using that strategy.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes we get a little too comfortable with our thoughts, and we don’t give them the credit they deserve. What may seem like an everyday thought to you, may rock someone else’s world. Always have someone you can bounce ideas off, no matter how stupid or mundane they may seem, and trust them to give you honest feedback.
DR: In your experience, how has SEO changed from when you first started?
SM: It’s crazy how much SEO has changed in a year. When I started it was all about comment and forum links, and lots of them. I’ve seen a huge shift away from link building, and more focus on on-page optimization and quality content, which is awesome. We saw a lot of algorithm changes this past year that have changed the game for a lot of us in big ways. It is Google’s way of “break checking” our industry and we need that sometimes. Google is always going to be committed to serving better search results, so we have to be committed to providing the best results all the time. We can’t get lazy and we can’t do what we did last year. Taking the short cuts in SEO just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
DR: Do you optimize for Bing? What’s different about it?
SM: I’m not even going to try to BS or Google my way through this one. I haven’t ever had a reason to optimize for Bing, so no. But this question has made me curious, and will probably cause me to start experimenting with my websites. Ask me again in 4 months.
DR: What Networking events do you attend? Any plans for conferences in 2012?
SM: Raleigh has an incredible population of SEO professionals. I’ve attended a few meet ups since moving here, and I am just blown away by the SEO talent. Not only that, but everyone is so willing to help and teach. I’ve reached out to a few people for help or advice, and I’ve received a response instantly. Living in Raleigh has made a huge impact on my career. I didn’t have that in Indy. I worked with incredibly talented people, but the opportunity to pick their brains outside of work never really presented itself. The SEO community in Raleigh is incredibly supportive and friendly. We are very fortunate.
As far as conferences in 2012, I’d love the opportunity to go to SMX again. I learned so much in New York this past year and met so many cool people. I would also love to go to PubCon in Hawaii in February, strictly for learning purposes, of course. I already asked my boss, and got shut down. I’m not above begging, though, so if anyone wants to pay for me to go…
DR: What sector in NC (or Triangle) could get the most out of SEO? Why?
SM: This is a new revelation for me having just moved to a new place. Since I have no idea where anything is, I use Google to find everything. Businesses that provide beauty and health services, like hair salons, nail salons, tanning salons, gyms, and massage services are the worst offenders when it comes to bad websites and horrible on-page optimization. It’s like Google says, “Okay, whose website sucks less?” and they get to be number one. The first 10 results are always awful, and I can never find the information I want. Everyone uses Google to find these kinds of services, so I’m not sure why these businesses aren’t building sites with SEO in mind. They all need mobile sites, too. I could go on for days.
DR: How do you explain to non-geeks what you do?
SM: I always start out with one question: “Have you ever Googled your own name?” A lot of them say “yes.” Then I say, “If you wanted to make a webpage and make sure that was the first result, how would you do that?” They usually say, “I don’t know!” Then I say, “I know what it takes to do that. I help companies do that for their business name.” That usually gives them a general idea.
DR: Who do you read as SEO gospel?
SM: I usually check out SEOmoz, SEOBook, and Search Engine Land at least once a week. I rely on Twitter a lot more for SEO information. It much more real time, and not as repetitive as some of the blogs have become.
DR: What beers deserve your hard-earned money?
SM: If I’m slumming it, I’ve been known to show up to dinner with a 40 of Corona. If I’m trying to class it up a bit, I’m a huge fan of Big Boss Angry Angel. Raleigh’s Big Boss Brewery has phenomenal beers, and nothing beats the atmosphere of their tap room.
DR: What’s an ideal content creating soundtrack sound like for Sally?
SM: My boyfriend recently got me hooked on The Roots, and I’m totally digging their new album “Undun.” Other than that, I have horrible taste in music. Just look at my Spotify playlists. They are absolutely horrendous…but yet so amazing. I’m not sure how I do it.
DR: Is there any content that inspired you in 2011?
SM: Any viral content fascinates me and inspires me. I spend a lot of time just researching pictures, videos, and blog posts that went viral. I really want to understand the science of “virality.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if you knew exactly how to create media that you knew, based on data, would go viral? One of these days I’ll be a viral content, back link building factory.
DR: What tools are vital to your campaigns? How do you use them?
SM: RavenTools, RavenTools, RavenTools. We manage close to 10 websites, and the organization RavenTools offers is awesome. I use their research tools almost daily for competitor research and keyword research. Of course, I use their metrics information on a daily basis to quickly gauge the overall health of our campaigns. I just can’t say enough about RavenTools.
DR: Do you think Google is slowly killing off SEO by displaying organic below the fold?
SM: I think there is always going to be a need for SEO, even if Google takes away the value of a #1 ranking by displaying organic results below the fold. Our goals in SEO should always go beyond a ranking. Yes, we want to strive for #1, but are we providing the content and solutions people are looking for once they find us? Are we converting our traffic? There will always be a need for people who understand search traffic and how to optimize for that traffic regardless of where organic search results are displayed.