What does it take to be an SEO expert at Hootsuite? We sat down with Zak Ramdani, The Great SEO Owl and SEO Educator at BrainStation to shine some light on his professional background, favourite SEO tools used at Hootsuite, advice on building SEO skills and much more.
With over 10 years of SEO experience, Zak has consistently delivered impactful results to clients. Specializing in enterprise SEO, Zak has led organic search programs for big brands like Avis and Budget, and has supported search strategies for Cigna, ToysRus, and many more. Currently Zak leads the SEO strategy at Hootsuite, the world’s largest social media management platform, as their Great SEO Owl.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became an SEO expert? Self-taught, marketing background, etc.?
After high school, I enrolled in the Marketing Management BBA program at Langara College, but it wasn’t until I landed my first internship that I was introduced to the world of SEO. alluraDirect.com, a mountain vacation rentals company, was where I was taught the basics of SEO, and served as a place to experiment. The rest is history.
What does a typical day look like for you and your team at Hootsuite?
Most days at Hootsuite are unique, in the sense that it’s common that a new challenge lands on my desk. For example, a new competitor breaks onto the scene, there is a problem with an underperforming area of our website, or a new opportunity presents itself. All are commonplace in the industry, and a daily occurrence here at Hootsuite.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of working in SEO?
There seems to be less and less importance put on things like keywords in titles, first paragraph etc. and more emphasis on backlinks when it comes to improving your ranking. If you were to prioritize the various SEO tactics one can take, how would you list them in order of importance?
This depends entirely on the on the web property in context; I like to break activities down into two categories:
- Value Actualization: This is where a website has all the pieces in place to succeed, but is just missing some core areas of optimization to achieve that success; in many cases, that means a website’s keyword focus does not reflect their users’ search language.
- Demand Creation: Demand creation is a more likely scenario when a website is optimized from an SEO perspective, and changes to the keywords would have minimal impact. In these cases, creative, new strategies must be dreamt up to create demand, with the primary focus in most cases, to generate inbound links.
If a company has a lean marketing team, say a small startup or independent shop, what SEO strategies do you recommend they prioritize?
For most local service-based businesses, I would suggest they invest in local SEO strategies. Businesses involved in traditional SEO should focus on building their authority online, especially if they’re a startup as this is commonly an area that prevents most startups from ranking competitively.
Sponsored content – it’s expensive, but it creates backlinks. What is your stance on brands spending marketing budget on multi-thousand dollar blog posts? Is it worth it for the exposure?
Technically speaking, it’s against Google’s quality guidelines to pay for content that links back to your website and passes PageRank. So ask yourself, is that exposure worth rolling the dice?
You teach SEO at BrainStation. How would you describe the typical student? Their background, goals etc.?
I’ve taught at many institutions in the lower mainland, but BrainStation is unique in the sense that the students that enroll in the programs here, generally are more connected to the workforce. It’s common to have a class with a 50/50 split between entrepreneurs and people in the marketing industry. This unique mix makes for great in-class discussions and interesting perspectives on some topics.
What are the main SEO tools that you use at Hootsuite?
Core SEO tools that I (and most other SEO’s) use:
What’s your best advice for a Marketer who wants to transition to become an SEO expert?
First ask yourself what route you’d like to go down: specialization or generalization. If you aspire to be a Senior SEO Strategist one day, you’ll want to specialize, and truly live and breathe SEO; whereas students who aspire to be Digital Marketing Managers, will be better equipped with knowledge around how SEO works, and what’s important to focus on. Both career routes can be satisfied with the SEO/SEM Analytics course at Brainstation.
What if you’ve never done SEO before, but want to break into the field as an SEO expert?
Although there are no formal pre-reqs for getting into this industry, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I computer savvy?
- Am I able to adopt and master new concepts? (SEO is an ever-changing industry)
- Am I a creative thinker?
- Do I like to win?
If you answered yes to all 4 of those questions, then jump in!
Want to learn more about SEO and how you can optimize your website? Check out our upcoming part-time SEO Course taught by Zak himself!