I’m honoured to inaugurate the “Digital Marketing Interviews” series with one of the most important pioneers of the Digital Marketing industry, Shari Thurow. I hope you will enjoy and learn a lot from this interview at least as much as I did.
Successful and well known Search Marketing professional, top seller author of “Search Engine Visibility” and much more… how and when did you start to work in this industry?
I am one of the early birds…an SEO pioneer, so to speak. I started back in 1995.
I once worked for the third largest school bus company in the U.S. I worked in the corporate office and had many different job responsibilities. One was creating multimedia presentations for the entire corporate office. So when it came time to create with a company website, the job was assigned to me.
I knew nothing about website design, development, and promotion back then. I stumbled onto sites by Danny Sullivan (Calafia.com) and John Audette (MultiMedia Marketing Group). Those 2 men certainly shaped my SEO career.
I was very proud of what I helped to create and promote. Crossing control arms (for safety) were installed on all of the company’s school buses. At press time, the website was highly visible. I loved working on that project. And whenever I see a school bus with crossing control arms? I remember my first website.
So from the very beginning of my web design/development career, I always accommodated search engines.
What is your academic background?
Prepare yourself. My academic background is diverse, but it all comes together.
My undergraduate degree is in Genetics and Developmental Biology. I worked in labs for about 10 years. I have a considerable science/medical vocabulary. I still love genetics and biochemistry. I like to understand the reasons how and why humans and other animals are the way they are, and do the things they do.
My masters degree is in Asian Studies/Japanese. I had a choice to go further into biochemistry. But my best friend at the time told me, “When are you going to get the chance to study what you want to study in your lifetime? When you are much older?”
So I chose to study Japanese literature, religion, mythology and culture. I am a published author in a scholarly journal for Asian librarians. In that particular graduate program, 2 library and information sciences classes were required courses (one in American English, one in Japanese).
To this day, I still believe that basic library/info science class should be a required undergraduate class. Students would really know how to research and cite resources properly.
Okay, now to my advanced graduate work. I’ve been in multiple departments. Library & Information Sciences (LIS) is where I belong. My area of expertise is in Human/Computer Interfaces (HCI) with a focus on search-engine friendly interfaces.
People have such a stereotype about LIS specialists. So let’s take the “library” off of there: now think “information sciences.” Matt Cutts, Eric Ward, and I all have backgrounds in LIS.
I’ve taught at many universities, including New York University, Loyola, and others. I’ll be guest lecturing in Europe later this year.
Genetics, Japanese, and Information Sciences. What do they have to do with each other? Basically, I want to understand why people do the things they do. Is it biological? Is it chemical? Is it cultural? Is it behavioral? Is it all of the above?
At least with information sciences, I can study whatever interests me. For now, it’s search.
You are probably the first person that started to talk about SEO and usability together. Is the relation still so evident?
Yes, my co-author (Nick Musica) and I both felt the need for an SEO and usability book because too much focus is on making search engines happy…but search engines don’t have emotions!
SEO, information architecture, website usability, human/computer interfaces, user-centered design (UCD), user experience, interaction design – they are ALL related.
The common denominator is findability. How do we make website content easy to find? Not only by searching, but also by browsing and asking.
How do we provide the proper context and aboutness to both humans (searchers) and machines (search engines) without harming the information environment?
Try doing all of this for different types of websites: B2B, B2C, education, publishers, government, and so forth. It can be challenging.
Unfortunately, SEO professionals still do not understand website usability. They claim they do because it makes a great sales pitch. They talk about the user/searcher experience but do not define what it is. Sales pitch? Yes? True knowledge? I don’t believe so.
I wrote articles to help others go down the right paths.
SEO in 2 years. How do you imagine it?
I don’t imagine myself as a fortuneteller. But I’ll give it a try.
I don’t believe flavor-of-the-month SEO will diminish. With the rise in popularity of tablets and other mobile devices, new and experienced SEOs are going to push their latest and greatest tips.
On one hand, I expect this because mobile search interfaces are so varied now. The interfaces will eventually improve and a handful will rise above the others. And we’ll all learn from our mistakes.
On the other hand, SEO professionals, hopefully, will learn that there are design, usability, architecture, and user experience principles that are applicable to interfaces on computers, tablets, and phones that stand the test of time.
That last one? Maybe not in 2 years. Maybe in 10 years.
And in 10 years?
There you go! Maybe 10 years is enough time for SEO professionals to learn from their mistakes and realize that the principles are more important than the flavor-of-the-month stuff.
Are you going to write another book in the near future?
I just finished writing a chapter on Information Architecture & Link Development for Eric Ward’s new book.
Next year, hopefully, my new book will be ready. But I’m keeping that title under wraps for now.
If someone wants to do your job, what should he study?
My jobs: search engine optimizer, information architect, website usability professional, web designer/developer. Very few people have my skill set, experience, and education.
If someone wanted a formal education, then Library and Information Sciences is probably the department to be in. Courses in metadata, human factors, usability, information architecture, cataloging and classification, taxonomy, and so forth are the types of classes to take.
But I am a web designer/developer also. One typically doesn’t take courses in Information Sciences when one chooses that career. Regardless, I think all web designers/developers should be required to take usability and information architecture courses as part of their graduation requirements. Maybe we’d have more user-friendly websites if designers/developers learned to focus on usability and findability more than visual aesthetics.
I am always taking classes in usability, design, and information architecture. I encourage others to learn what they can. Maybe you don’t have the aptitude for one field, but you can at least learn enough to know when to hire or partner with someone with that aptitude.