Kahena Interview III – Nichola Stott
If multi-tasking was an event at the upcoming Olympic Games, Nichola Stott would be a gold medal favorite. Managing Director at theMediaFlow she is also a renowned industry speaker. On top of this, she is one of the SEO-Chicks and writes at SearchEngineWatch and State of Search. You can also find her on YouTube. One of the most prominent females in the industry, she is a SEO superstar and it’s our pleasure to be able to speak to her.
Where do you think the industry will be in 2 years time?
The SEO industry since inception has always been rapidly evolving and expanding. As online activity and consumer online-purchasing continues to increase year on year, so does the importance of search engines. I see only opportunity for the industry going forward, despite challenges and decisions to face around fragmentation, specialization or integrated digital marketing generalisation. Wherever there is a platform to market, be it billboard advertising, augmented reality, traditional media or through search – there will always be a need for talented marketers whether in-house or agency to support businesses looking to communicate to their audiences via these platforms. For those keen to know more about the state of the market and these issues of convergence and collaboration I’d recommend this exceptional piece by Andy Betts for Search Engine Watch which examines reports and trends across all the business sectors within search and how each dovetails into related marketing disciplines such as social media.
You won a contest to join SEO-Chics in October 2009. What has the 2.5 years there been like?
It’s been great fun and has opened a number of doors, plus brought me closer to my fellow SEO-Chicks. That said we’re all incredibly busy. Many of us run our own businesses and have children as well, not to mention Julie is on the other side of the world so we don’t get to see each other that much; but when we do there’s a team spirit and shared perspective between us that means we’re always on-side. I’ve learnt more in these past 2.5 years than ever before in my career and a lot of that is to do with the support, introductions and shared opinions from my co-bloggers.
As a female in SEO, what are the biggest challenges you face? Is sexism/chauvinism an issue?
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered open sexism as such, though there is often the general assumption that you must be doing social media or less technical aspects of SEO. Given my background is Yahoo! I’ve a very strong technical and analytical understanding and experience so clients and business partners soon realise that I know what I’m talking about; and that I don’t make decisions lightly.
As for presence within the SEO industry I think it can be difficult for some women to feel comfortable and confident enough to shout about their work or theories for fear of vocal criticism, but that’s not something unique to SEO and is possibly deeply entrenched in our social history and warped value systems in todays’ popular media – that places greater emphasis on a woman’s or girls appearance than achievements. That may sound a little alarmist but it’s not. Take any article on the Daily Mail website (now the world’s largest “news” website) with a female subject, and paste the text into a word cloud generator and you will see what I mean. In fact at the most recent conference I attended a couple of the female speakers were abused and criticized for their appearance whilst on stage (by a tiny minority of around two attendees via Twitter). The remainder of attendees closed ranks, showed their support for the speakers; a couple of attendees directly responded to the aggressors and the organisers immediately took action. Nevertheless it was offensive and off-putting behaviour.
You worked at Yahoo. Do you feel the battle between them and Google has been run and won? What future is there for Yahoo?
I think the battle for search was lost as soon as “The Anatomy” was finished. No other search engine had cracked how to overcome the limitations of tf*idf (term frequency inverse document frequency) on which most were based. The Google algorithmic product was simply of far better quality. Had Yahoo! Not settled the patent infringement suit brought against Google by Overture in 2004 then things may have panned out differently. Despite the many other products Google has, its core business and revenue source is search, which isn’t the case for Yahoo! in recent years. I’m not really sure you can compare the two anymore and I worry about the future for Yahoo! as a publisher, given that so little of their content is their own.
Apart from finding someone who is smarter than you, what qualities do you look for when you hire someone?
I look for a sense of responsibility and passion for search, as a good SEO is someone who is constantly learning. At the same time I look for an inquisitive and questioning mind-set. We don’t want people that accept things at face value or regurgitate information, but seek to investigate, deconstruct and understand from source data.
SEO is a 24/7 industry. How do you achieve balance between personal and business?
It can be a challenge and involves a hell’uva lot of forward-planning and organisation. I’m a single mum and my son comes first, which means that in the hours before 9am and after 5pm I have another job. I only accept conference and speaking invitations if they are very important and often combined with business-driving meetings and I don’t think twice about cancelling anything if I can’t get childcare, or if an engagement falls in holiday time. There will always be another deal or another conference, but I won’t get this time again with my son. Plus it’s only online marketing not brain surgery or emergency medicine. In the grand scheme of things most stuff can wait.
A lot of people in the industry look up to you – who are the people you look up to?
This is the toughest question as there are a number of people I look up to (almost too numerous to mention and for different reasons). In terms of giving the most value to your readers I will mention here those that I look up to because I often learn from them. They possess some common qualities (as I interpret them anyway) being that all these people have a strong scientific or analytical/methodical approach but are exceptional marketers too; who also possess the ability to reach out and engage with people on an interpersonal level. In addition these people are also business owners with talent and drive. In short – I look up to people that just get shit done.
In what circumstances wouldn’t you work with a client or cease working with one?
I wouldn’t work with a client who had unrealistic expectations for their budget or who had no real product or USP to market.
What things about SEO drive you crazy?
Nothing really. I’m pretty much always happy. I love that in this profession we’re constantly challenged and learning every day. It does get a bit tedious at times seeing the same old crapbait regurgitated and it does get a bit tedious that “the industry” spends a lot of time navel-gazing but it doesn’t drive me crazy as such.
You can invite any 8 people (living, dead, fictional) to a dinner party – who do you invite and what do you cook?
Ralph Tegtmeier:- guaranteed lively debate of an esoteric nature
Neal Stephenson: – utter genius and visionary author of the greatest work of fiction ever (namely Cryptonomicon)
Dr. Sheldon Cooper: – obsessive-compulsive (and entirely fictional) theoretical physicist
Michael Ondaatje: my favourite author, and author of The English Patient, Anil’s Ghost and more. Writes the most beautiful prose.
Katherine Hepburn: great actress, inspiring person and an original Hollywood legend, also starred in one of my favourite films The African Queen.
Alan Turing: inventor of the Turing machine (computational device), wartime code-breaker and appears as a fictionalised character in the above mentioned Cryptonomicon
Michelle Obama: is my hero
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: another favourite writer, with the most extraordinary imagination in a magic realist style.
I’d have to cook something that requires minimal involvement so that I could spend as much time with my guests. I’d do a quick starter of seared scallops with sweet cauliflower puree and lemon-chili oil, followed by Beef Wellington (prepared the night before).
You were ranked 19th on this list – how does that make you feel?
I was quite stunned by that, particularly given I’d only been in businesses for just over a year. It was rather humbling to realise that some of my peers felt me to be influential. I’d like to hope it’s because I have something to say rather than just a loud voice and a lot of self-conviction.
How do you think SEO is different from the UK compared to the USA?
For me the single biggest point of difference is a fundamental product of geography and population. The UK is one tiny Island with a load of online inhabitants, whereas the USA is a vast country with often great differences from state to state. Local search is therefore a very different and vital component to SEO strategy in the USA.
Away from SEO how do you like to relax?
If I could, I’d go to the gym more often; but when I’m not at work I’m most often at home with my little one. I generally have a couple of hours in the late evening to myself and if so I love to read. I rarely read books about work or online marketing and tend to stick to fiction.
Why is Empire Strikes Back your favorite film?
It’s been my favourite film for as long as I can remember. I tend to prefer action films as a genre and particularly sci-fi. Empire Strikes back has everything from Ton-tons to landstriders, to Ewoks; plus Luke goes AWOL with Yoda leaving the Rebels to dodge the Imperial Fleet. Everything is uncertain in this film and nothing goes to plan.
Do you still think Google should factor in social to search rankings?
I’m sure that they do in many ways. QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) is the most evident of this. Morbid as this is, next time a famous person passes away search for their name and you will see a very different SERP featuring realtime, blog and news sources that otherwise would not have been “authoritative”.
What does a typical day of yours look like?
If I’m in the office this might involve a spot-check on traffic first thing with a further check on other data sources if traffic data shows anything anomalous. I will often have a piece of writing or strategy activity relating to a client project to attend to and often take care of a lot of our analytical work too. There’s also a lot of administration and general business management that comes with running an agency that isn’t so glamorous or hands-on, which might involve paying invoices, sending invoices, organising my schedule, booking trips and responding to new business enquiries.
You’ve already achieved a lot. What are your unfulfilled goals?
I’d like to take theMediaFlow to a mid-sized agency level. At the moment we’re small and a boutique that delivers high quality solutions from senior level staff. I’d like to grow that out without compromising on the quality, knowledge and expertise that we offer.
You spoke at SMX 2012 here in Israel. How was it? What are your of thoughts on SEO in Israel?
I was very impressed with the general level of attendee knowledge in Israel. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be of a very competent level and very eager and professional. I’ve always loved Israel since I first visited as a tourist in 2005 and was very grateful for the opportunity to come back as a professional.
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction and real life?
As a kid I remember having a list of what I wanted to be when I grew up and at the top was Indiana Jones. I guess my heroes and heroines are people of action and words; those that both think and do.
What are your biggest indulgences?
Ask me again in a few months’ time when I don’t have to pay nursery school fees anymore 😉
Thanks so much.