Jonathon Colman will be speaking about “Advanced On-Site SEO” at SearchFest 2012, which will be held February 24, 2012 at The Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click here.

1) Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living?

Hi there – I’m Jonathon Colman. As the in-house SEO for REI, I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world: awesome co-workers, lots of fun challenges (both in and out of the office), a leadership that encourages intrapreneurship and work/life balance, and the ability to grow awareness for a co-op that takes sustainability and stewardship seriously.

The environment and conservation mean a lot to me. I came to REI after many years doing front-end production, content creation, social media, and Internet marketing strategy for several non-profits, most notably The Nature Conservancy. I was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa in 1999-2000, facilitating sustainable solutions for rural public health issues.

These experiences helped me understand that our content and activities online – the way we reach out to people and connect with their interests and the places where they live – can have a strong (and positive!) off-line impact. Internet marketing shouldn’t be just about driving traffic, increasing conversions, or hitting some sales goal; it’s also about curating passion while generating action for the things we care about most.

That’s part of the reason why I’ve recently started graduate school, studying  Information Management at the University of Washington. My personal goal is to help organizations and companies take their data, content, systems, and marketing to the next level by eliminating the "pain points" between Leadership, IT/e-commerce, and marketing groups. Working together, we can become a true knowledge organization with a singular focus: our customers.

TL;DR? I’m a coffee addict, I tweet at @jcolman, and I’m active on all the usual places. I live in Seattle with my wife, the glass artist Marja Huhta.

2) What are some good enterprise-level techniques to insure crawl equity?

Start off by looking at the big picture to gain an understanding of who your internal stakeholders are, what they value, how they’re incentivized, and how they work together (or don’t!). Buy these folks coffee, take them out for lunch, spend some time sitting with them and gaining an appreciation for their work and interests. This period of data-gathering, listening, and relationship-building forms the basis for the hard work that comes next.

As the enterprise SEO – an army of one, in my case – you can’t (and shouldn’t!) do everything. Instead, find ways to help your internal partners understand the value of your work and incentivize and reward them for their support. Some positive ways of doing this are to work with management to create shared goals, communicate SEO success using language that other parties find valuable. For example, a comparison to PPC costs – what you could expect to have to spend in order to drive the "free" organic search traffic – always turns heads. Another helpful tool is to record the baselines and set targets for the internal rate of return for your SEO work; essentially, this is a goal you want to hit to pay for staff time several times over.

Then we move into tactics. In terms of crawl equity, here are three of the most valuable things we’ve done:

  • Give the crawler what it wants: high-quality, original, creative, branded content. One of the differentiators between REI and our competitors is that we place a high value on creating original product information rather than relying just on manufacturer specs and descriptions. We employ an in-house crack team of product information writers who start off with manufacturer information, but then actually look at, work with, and sometimes use the products we sell in order to write about them from an REI brand perspective. This means that our copy is going to be newer, more creative, and simply more informative that most of what’s out there. And since the algorithms are now placing a greater value on both freshness and the original publisher of information, we don’t have to worry about copycats and scraper sites out-ranking us. So when the crawler visits our site, it knows that it will find deep, rich content – a good experience for both the search engines and our users. That’s what SEO is all about.


  • Improve web site speed/performance. Ever since Google announced that site performance would be considered an organic search ranking factor, we’ve been trying to squeeze the most performance out of our front-end code and back-end systems. The results, which I’ll talk about in my session with Dennis Goedegebuure, have been startling. Each time we’ve optimized for site speed, we’ve seen large increases in crawling from both search engines. While it may sound like site speed optimization is hard work (and it is!), there are lots of simple things that you can do that have a positive impact. Even if you’re not doing the coding directly, I’ll be showing data that can help you formulate a business case that gets the work done.
  • Minimize duplicate content. There was a time in the not-so-recent past when our site had over 2 million known URLs containing duplicate content. Most of this was in the dynamic, site-search portion of our hierarchy. But with strong internal partnerships between teams and by taking action on technical infrastructure opportunities like rel=canonical, rel=next/prev, and the URL parameter tools in Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, we were able to reduce our duplicate content by over 98%. And since duplicate content is one of the warning signals for Panda, this work had the additional impact of safe-guarding our site from negative impacts.


TL;DR? Create original and branded content, make it fast, and ensure there’s just one version of it.

3) How do you ensure that the IT department doesn’t undo all your hard work?

Luckily, that’s not really an issue for us. IT isn’t our enemy and they shouldn’t be yours, either – if something gets left out or undone, then it’s ultimately your fault and no one else’s. By building relationships and working hand-in-hand with folks, you’ll eventually be able to work SEO considerations and requirements into everything from the QA process for a particular project to the checklist for the release of all new content and site features.

So the bottom line here is to make SEO everyone’s job and everyone’s success. Whenever things go wrong, be both accountable and passionate about taking all the blame. And whenever things go right, praise the work of others and document their successes and teamwork for your leaders. You’ll know that you’re doing it right when your colleagues start walking up to you and volunteer new ideas and opportunities that they’ve come up with on their own. For an in-house SEO, those are the moments that really make it all worthwhile.

TL;DR? Be a good partner; follow the Golden Rule.

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