John Doherty will be speaking at the “The Applicable Side of Technical SEO” session at SearchFest 2013 which will be taking place on February 22, 2013 at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click the following link.

1) Please give us your background and let us know what you do for a living.
I am the Director of the Distilled New York City branch, where I am also an online marketing consultant working with both large and small brands to increase their organic traffic. My background from my university days in Virginia is in technical writing and online publication/web development. In my past lives I have been a technical software consultant, an entrepreneurial international book publisher, and an in-house SEO before moving to Distilled to become a consultant. Most recently I’ve been working on solving technical issues with a large publisher as well as developing an editorial content strategy for a well-known travel brand.

2) What are some of the top technical website “FAILS” you’ve seen (for SEO purposes) and how could they be prevented?
I’ve definitely seen some interesting technical fails in the past couple of years. Often, I see content that is not accessible to the search engines, either because of the technology used or a lack of an internal linking strategy. My favorite was a large client that built their new site loading all content through Javascript (and then told us they were working on a new site) and was duplicating all of the onpage content behind the scenes, but not to the user. This issue can be mitigated by first communicating with a technical SEO about the technologies being used, and also education of developers about search engine friendly technologies. I solved this one by going the education route with their developers and inserting myself into the development process to audit the site as it changed. Let’s not even mention the fact that they borked the go-live and the site was being deindexed for 12 hours before I noticed it.

The technical fails I see having the biggest impact are:
• Lack of internal linking strategy;
• Not handling pagination properly;
• Duplicate content through URL parameters that are not handled correctly in Webmaster Tools or Robots.txt

3) How much technical knowledge does an SEO need to know in order to succeed in their job (forgetting about the folks who specialize in the really geeky stuff)?
I think every SEO needs to have at least a rudimentary understanding of how search engines work, which is why we included this module in the SEO 101 course of DistilledU. All SEOs need to know how to:

• Diagnose duplicate content, if even to get the biggest return on link building efforts;
• Properly format a link element, a canonical element, and know the difference between a relative and absolute link;
• Check a page for indexation and caching (they are not the same);
• Diagnose why a page is not being crawled or ranked.

I believe that all marketers, actually, need to understand how to find the answers to where content should be placed on a site or find the strongest pages on a site to use to get content found. This even rings true for content marketers, who need to get the biggest bang possible in the search engines for their content creation efforts.

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