A Glimpse of SEO At ESPN and Complex

ESPN & Complex

Ezoic’s Pubtelligence event in San Francisco was a publishers-only event for digital publishers, content creators, media brands, and bloggers. The event holds sessions held by industry experts in content, SEO, and monetization, and provides opportunities to meet others in the digital publishing space.

In this particular session, Lariza Quintero of Complex Networks and Carolyn Shelby of ESPN discuss their roles as heads of SEO. In their session, they discussed what it’s like to be in charge of SEO at larger publications, the most common questions they receive, and the key to SEO success for digital publishers today. The sessions are all recorded and available on Ezoic’s YouTube channel.

What’s it like to work on SEO for a large publication or digital property?

Lariza: On the agency side, you do have to worry about more clients whereas on the publication side it’s more teams; there’s a lot more you have to do internally. Overall, I think it is so rewarding to work at a large publication.
Carolyn: It is similar to working on agency stuff but there are differences. In an agency, you can have a list of things to do and delegate it out. But in-house, if you ask people to do things they don’t want to, it weighs on you differently; there is a little bit more politics involved.

What does a typical day in SEO look like for you?
Lariza: A lot of meetings. The main focus is editorial and technical and I try to be as involved as I can.
Carolyn: I also split my time between editorial and technical. I will spend a day in our editorial building and then the next day in our technical building. You come to expect that you’re going to be interrupted a lot with questions and you just have to be open to that.

What is similar and/or different about working for big publications versus smaller ones?
Carolyn: I used to just have access to go in and fix things, and at larger enterprises, you can’t; it takes a lot longer to get stuff done.
Lariza: The strategy is the same—you just have to decipher the website, find errors. There’s more creative room for testing on smaller publications. Bigger companies have a lot more politics. You have to think about how your actions will affect other teams.

seo experts pubtelligence carolyn shelby lariza quintero

What are the most common questions you get from the different teams?
Lariza: There’s actually a fair amount of people at Complex that understand SEO so I don’t have to answer really basic questions. The most common question I get is “What happened?” and that can be for good or bad things.
Carolyn: We have a Slack channel just for SEO questions and the editorial team can ask me SEO questions like “Am I targeting the right keywords?” It’s not black and white, so the fact that they’re asking is great. Since it’s a public channel, people can learn from what I tell others in there.

What are the most common questions you get from friends and family about SEO?
Lariza: People think I would AT Google because they hear me talk about it so much. They mostly want to know what SEO is and stands for. It’s exciting to talk to people that don’t know anything about the search ecosystem.
Carolyn: They don’t ask me. Apparently I “nerdsplain,” where I go on and on about things, so my family doesn’t ask me questions and get me started.

What metrics do you personally keep a really close eye on and are they the same ones you might suggest smaller publishers pay attention to?
Lariza: Traffic overall and keyword rankings. Any time there is any sort of shift in how Google is crawling, like core algorithm updates, I pay attention to rankings. If I do see a shift, I see if there is a pattern I am seeing.
Carolyn: I pay a lot of attention to how much time and the number of articles that sit in the top three positions in the news box. For a given story, how long was our story in the top news carousel?

How have you responded to Google Core Updates, and what’s advice for publishers who want to know what to do when they’re announced?
Lariza: It’s hard not to panic. Give it time. I still check every day but give a week or two to see the pre and post core algorithm changes. Don’t go crazy trying to optimize your site before a core algorithm; you won’t know where to pin point if something does change.
Carolyn: You have to give it two weeks. There are always ebbs and flows in traffic, week over week or month over month. Day to day literally tells you nothing. Anytime something big happens, whether it’s Google or updates you’re doing, make sure and document it so you know when to roll back to.

If you were starting or growing a content-based site today, what would be the key to success in SEO?
Carolyn: Links are still a core part of determining authority. Figuring out how you’re going to get powerful sites to link to yours is really that critical lynch pin in getting your site off the ground.
Lariza: Know exactly who your audience is and create good, unique content that really resonates with your reader. You have to think about expanding content, too–podcasts or video.

Where is a good place for publishers to learn about SEO?
Lariza: Stay on top of industry news, even on just Twitter. Search Engine Roundtable is one of my favorites. Moz has a beginner’s guide, I usually pass that on to new people on the editorial team.
Carolyn: I would say if you can read enough on your own to feel comfortable with the core concepts that you should be able to find someone that can help you and better screen people. Follow reputable people on Twitter and see if they will answer your questions.
seo experts pubtelligence carolyn shely lariza quintero

What would you recommend that has a lot of scraper websites that are linking to you?
Carolyn: Google claims bad sites linking to you will not be a penalty because it’s not something you can control. Your problem is probably duplicate content. Staying on top of your take down requests is going to be your best bet. You can get into your logs and get the IP addresses of bots and block them. You can also make a disavow file. There are some plugins in WordPress that you can get and turn up security settings for bots.

As SEO managers, how much time do you spend doing forward-thinking research and maintaining old content?
Lariza: It’s definitely a balance, especially with legacy content. But then also making sure to spend time with content creation, again with Google Search Console. It’s important to get into the routine of balancing legacy versus new content.
Carolyn: For us, the writers aren’t interested in people visiting old content; they want new content. I don’t do a lot of backward looking, just a lot of forward-looking.

Now that Google has said you shouldn’t really bother about your backlinks, why do we really need to use disavow?
Carolyn: That’s a fine question; why haven’t they taken it away if it’s not needed? If they’re still leaving the opportunity to file that, then it’s still important. It’s good to play it safe.

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