How to spot "Mike the Genius" of search engine optimization.
A few weeks ago, I had one of my SEO (define) epiphanies. I realized the best SEO firms always have a "Mike the Genius" on staff. "What exactly do you mean by ’Mike the Genius’?" you might ask.
First, the name "Mike" is the generic name I use. Your Mike the Genius may be a female. You can call her Michelle the Genius. Coincidentally, when I work with other SEO firms or when I train a company on SEO, I often meet a person named Mike who happens to have multiple talents. That’s where the "Genius" part comes in. Every Mike the Genius I meet has multiple skills that make him (or her) particularly well suited for the SEO/SEM (define) industry.
Meeting My First Mike the Genius
I first encountered a Mike the Genius back in 1998 at a small online marketing firm in Oregon. He worked under the SEO director, and his SEO skills were far superior to his boss’s. Mike had extraordinary programming skills. Not only could he program a database-driven site to be search-engine friendly (a very unusual skill to have back in 1998), he was also involved in server maintenance.
Normally, I’m not too impressed with SEO professionals who have these skills. They tend to market themselves as advanced SEO experts without understanding the fundamentals of building a search-engine-friendly Web site. And not understanding the fundamentals, in my opinion, makes you a beginner SEO expert, not an advanced one.
Advanced programmer? Yes. Advanced SEO expert? No way.
As I got to know this Mike the Genius, I realized he had other skills. He was a good copywriter. I don’t mean a techie-speak copywriter (which is what you might expect from a programmer) but rather a copywriter who understood how to write for the target audience. In fact, he came up with some of the best title tags and meta tags I’ve ever read. Keyword research and analysis were second nature to him.
Since I met this Mike the Genius, I’ve used him as the standard for SEO professional excellence. As far as I’m concerned, technical skills are crucial for being a thoroughly knowledgeable SEO professional. Maybe not to Mike’s skill level (he is extraordinary), but important enough to make it a standard.
Meeting Another Mike the Genius
I never expected to meet another Mike the Genius in my career, let alone in my hometown. But it happened at a local chamber of commerce event. This Mike the Genius had extraordinary programming skills (ColdFusion, Active Server Pages, and Flash), and his bachelor’s degree was in art. Mike liked to paint. He still paints, but he applies his artistic skills to Web sites. He can code Web sites. He can design Web sites. He can program Web sites.
"Wow," I remember thinking. "A person who is proficient at Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and Dreamweaver. Could this be another Mike the Genius?" Needless to say, we hired him. I knew it wouldn’t take him long to jump on the SEO bandwagon.
I was highly amused that his name is, in fact, Mike.
Yet Another Mike the Genius
As I trained more companies on SEO, I met people who had multiple skills. I’ve been working with a Mike the Genius on an online medical publishing site for the past three years. I must admit he’s my favorite.
His particular skill set lies in programming and the unusual ability to spot patterns (which is a great skill to have for link development). If you tell this Mike the Genius to modify anything within the database-driven site to enhance search engine visibility as well as the user experience, he has it implemented within 24 hours. His unusual ability to spot patterns has resulted in a Web site with consistent title tags, headings, and cross-linking. Personally, I’ve never met any SEO professional with these skills.
Mike truly understands the user experience. I don’t meet many programmers, let alone SEO professionals, who truly understand the importance of Web site usability. Mike doesn’t have any formal training or education in usability. It seems to be one of his innate skills.
Again I was highly amused to learn his name is Mike. Multiple-skills Mike. Mike the Genius. My SEO ideal persona became Mike (or Michelle) the Genius.
I often joke with the Mikes that I’m going to change the title on their business cards to "Genius." I won’t put the last name on the card, either. I’ll just put "Mike the Genius" and the contact information.
I may be joking about the business card thing, but I’m not joking about the "Genius" label. In my opinion, a truly gifted SEO professional has multiple skills -- some technical and some creative. SEO is part art, part science. And that’s what my Mike the Genius persona represents: a true SEO professional.
Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, April 25-26, 2006.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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