John Doherty of Distilled gets JobShadowed about his career in online marketing.  You can find John at www.distilled.net and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?johndoherty

I am an online marketing consultant with the search marketing agency Distilled. I’m based in New York City, where I am also currently the Director of our office. While I am an online marketing consultant, my specialty and focus for the past few years has been search engine optimization (SEO).

How would you describe what you do?

The short version is that I am the person who gets to choose who shows up first in the search results. The long answer is that I work with websites of all sizes, from small and medium sized businesses to international corporations, to get them more targeted traffic from the search results so that they can build their business more effectively.

What does your work entail?

For my clients, I deal with everything from site architecture to onsite content to offsite content and linkbuilding, as well as how search marketing can and should integrate with the other marketing channels (paid, email, social, etc).

I love how the industry is constantly changing and that Google is always moving the goalposts for SEOs. I find pleasure in successfully executing a marketing campaign, whether it’s a linkbuilding or content campaign, and seeing the needle move for the client.

That’s the consulting section of my job. Internally at Distilled, I also try to be an advocate for the brand by being a public-facing figure that others can recognize. I speak at conferences to raise Distilled’s profile in and outside of the SEO industry. I also blog frequently on the Distilled and SEOmoz websites as well as on my own websites. The goal here is share information with others to teach them how to do their jobs and live their lives better. Finally in my director role in the NY office, I am responsible for overseeing the team (which is easy because my team is incredible) and working with our head of client development to ensure that we have enough of the right clients to keep the wallets and consultants happy.

What’s a typical work week like?

My week is incredibly varied, which makes it quite enjoyable. Mondays are full of meetings for most of the day, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often reserved for client work, Thursdays I am onsite with clients for at least part of the day and the rest doing client work, and Fridays are usually for writing and administrative duties. In the evenings I will frequently meet up with colleagues or friends in the industry for drinks or dinner and talk shop.

How did you get started?

I got started in web marketing in 2009 when I was running an online book publishing company from Switzerland. I had no clue how to market books, so I started learning. I had to come back to the States in 2010 and I got a full time job as an in-house SEO and copywriter, which quickly went into technical SEO and linkbuilding because of my web development background. I guess you could say that I feel like I was always meant to get into SEO and online marketing because of my technical writing, web development, and blogging background.

What do you like about what you do?

I love how the industry is constantly changing and that Google is always moving the goalposts for SEOs. I find pleasure in successfully executing a marketing campaign, whether it’s a linkbuilding or content campaign, and seeing the needle move for the client.

I also love working with my team in NY and the other Distilled teams in London and Seattle. We have an incredibly smart group of people at Distilled, so being able to work with them and be pushed daily to learn and do more is a great challenge.

What do you dislike?

It’s hard to find much to dislike in my industry. Most people are wonderful and open and willing to share ideas and tips and give advice.

The thing I dislike the most is the trolls, who make everyone’s life a little less enjoyable. I get tired of drama and sometimes just want to get my head down and do work.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I am salaried with Distilled and also do a bit of freelance work on the side to set aside money for travel and vacations, which I like to take around the world. I’ve also learned how to make a bit of money through my own websites that I run, though I’m by no means an affiliate marketer. I make enough to cover my hosting and domain costs, basically, and that’s good enough for me.

How much do you make?

I make a comfortable salary through Distilled. Because we are a smaller agency, I don’t make the huge money that I could (and have been offered) at a large agency, but the ability to be creative with my time, work closely with awesome coworkers and clients, and engage in intrapreneurial projects within Distilled keeps me happy.

In SEO, people are paid anywhere between $30k;$50k as an entry-level analyst (depending on location of course) and then up from there.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

In my first full-time SEO job, I was in the $30k/yr range. It was enough to live on comfortably in Philadelphia in my life configuration at the time. As an example of a starting salary in NYC, check out this NYC SEO Analyst position listing.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

SEO is mostly a self-taught field, but I would say that you need a combination of technical abilities, content creation abilities, and relationship building abilities to truly be successful as an online marketer, and especially in SEO/search. Outside of those skills, which can be learned, I think it helps to have a strong work ethic (we call it “hustle” at Distilled), curiousity about life and how things work, and interests outside of marketing so that you can see your job in creative ways.

What is most challenging about what you do?

There are two challenging parts of my job, one related directly to work and the other related to how work affects life.

The toughest part of my actual job, for me, is project planning and management. I’ve become a good consultant over the year, but project management has always been a challenge for me and is something I am focusing on becoming better at during 2013.

Another challenging part of my job is unplugging from it and enjoying life outside of work. It’s very easy when you work on the Internet to allow it to dominate your life, and it did dominate my life for a few year while I was establishing myself in the industry. Now, however, I am realizing that a need a better work/life integration so I’m trying to prioritize friends, hobbies, and relationships higher than I ever have. I think it’s paying off.

What is most rewarding?

I guess you could say the most rewarding part of consulting is affecting change through the organization and seeing traffic and conversion numbers rise. I have found a lot of reward in turning around marketing programs that are not working well or are downright misguided and unsuccessful. I have a client that has gone from buying a lot of links 2 years ago, before I worked with them, to now engaging in quality content marketing where they are getting links and social shares, and their business is seeing a real impact.

The most rewarding part of the other parts of my job is the satisfaction that comes from a presentation that was delivered well or a new connection made with another person in the industry (usually just a new friend).

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

If you start doing marketing and you love it, learn everything that you can. Experiment with as much as you can and try your hand at all the different parts of online marketing – email, SEO, CRO, PPC, social, affiliate marketing. Once you find what you actually enjoy and are good at, then focus on that.

How much time off do you get/take?

Because Distilled is a UK-based company, I am given 4 weeks of paid vacation every year. That is not typical for most people in the US though, and I fully recognize that. I try to take as much of that as possible. In 2012 I spent 9 days in Switerland, 5 days in Colorado, 10 days in Costa Rica, and 6 days in Virginia. Some of those trips include weekends.

I used to do a bit of work during my vacations, but now I try to unplug as much as possible. I’m lucky to have a great team that can support my clients when I am gone if anything goes wrong, but also try to communicate very frequently and clearly with my clients about when I will be unavailable. This often means pre-loading work, so the week before vacation is always very busy, but this enables me to take time to recharge.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

Most people equate SEO with spamming the Internet, or pumping out large quantities of crappy content to build links back to a website. In fact, I try to, and encourage my clients to, add as much value as possible in everything they do online, as this comes back to you in spades with sales, repeat customers/brand advocates, as well as links and social shares.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I have a lot of dreams and goals for the future. I would like to run my own company one day. One of my goals is to found a company that eventually grosses over $10M per year. I plan to keep traveling and speaking and writing, because those are the things that I really enjoy about my industry and career, and it’s an area that if you keep investing you receive so many side benefits.

On a personal level I hope to have a family someday and would love to live in the Western US, most likely in Colorado in the Denver or Boulder area but that’s a few years off. I have unfinished business in New York City!

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Online marketing can be an incredibly fulfilling career, but it’s necessary to realize that your career is not your life, and is not what defines you. You also need activities outside of work to keep you fresh and teach you new skills or ways of thinking that can then effect your job in positive ways. I love Jerry Colonna’s ideas of work/life integration, instead of work/life balance.