12 Things I’ve Learned from My Apprenticeship So Far

…In approximately chronological order.

I’ve learned a lot about jobs and the work world from my Praxis apprenticeship thus far. I could just keep this knowledge to myself, but why would I? I can make no guarantees that these insights are generalizable, but I’ve tried to explain them.

  1. Pay attention to the vibes you get off the people interviewing you. Vibes/auras/senses/whatever are just other words for “thin slicing”, when your subconscious knows something based on a well-trained intuition that you simply don’t know consciously yet. You don’t get much time in an interview and you need to take every opportunity to understand your potential future bosses. Knowing whether you’re going to like a job starts with knowing whether you’re going to like the people, and knowing that starts with thin slicing, aka, vibes.
  2. Interviews are a two-way street. At the same time that you’re being interviewed, you should be interviewing. Come up with your own sly interview questions that get your interviewer to tell you more about the job and the company than the simple words they say, just as they’re asking you sly interview questions to get you to reveal more about yourself than you say. At the same time that you’re making yourself look more appealing to them, they’re making themselves look more appealing to you. Know this and use it to your advantage.
  3. That ‘welcome lunch’ is not just a friendly gesture. In fact, this is another interview with a slightly different purpose: gauging your interpersonal skills. Nobody wants a new hire who doesn’t get along with the whole team, and that’s what this lunch is for. Understand that purpose and ace this test.
  4. The only way to survive at a startup is to train hard and train fast. The best way to thrive in any company is to do the same. The quicker you bring yourself up to speed, by actively asking questions, by reading job materials in your off hours, by immersing yourself fully into your role, the quicker you can become indispensable.
  5. Don’t speak, just do. I read in one of many brilliant business books that a great leader never has an off day. The same is true of any great employee. Even if you have off days, you’re tired, you’re achy, you don’t feel great, you’re stressed, you don’t say anything about it. You buckle down and you get the work done and you say nothing to anybody about how hard you’re working. They will see the results and it will be worth more than a million words.
  6. Always be “on”. An actor is “on” from the instant they step into their character. A gymnast is “on” from the instant they begin their routine. And an employee is “on” from the instant they step into the office. In all these areas there is an energy that you must project, and the act of projecting that energy is what us performers call being “on”. You deliberately cultivate this energy – it doesn’t happen naturally. It’s tiring at first, but you get used it; it’s a muscle like any other and you have to use it to improve it. Presidential candidates are absolute beefcakes in this area: they’re “on” nearly every minute of every day. Fortunately for you, all you’ve gotta do is be “on” in the office.
  7. The “I’ll do it myself” mindset is just fine, but avoid it while training. “Doing it yourself” while you don’t know what you’re doing is a huge waste of your time and your company’s. Take the time to learn, then do it yourself correctly.
  8. Your boss isn’t always right, but pretend they are. This is especially true if your boss is insecure, which some are. If, for example, your boss throws a hissy fit over a remark you made, don’t defend yourself: just stop doing whatever it was that pissed off your boss. Your second quickest ticket out the door of any office is a pissed-off boss. (Your quickest ticket is a pissed-off client.)
  9. Your clients aren’t always right, but they’re right more often than you might think. At least in marketing, there’s this idea that we marketers know better than everyone. And we do – about marketing. But most of us know jack-shit about programming, which makes our technical clients furious sometimes. Cut your clients some slack when they correct your usage of their industry jargon. Also, make super ultra sure it never happens again.
  10. Nobody should ever have to correct you in the same way twice. The single most frustrating thing on the planet is to have to tell somebody something multiple times. It’s an incredibly silly idea that everyone could pay enough attention to everyone else all the time to always remember everything they say, but we all have such inflated egos that we can’t help feeling like that’s the way it should be. Your boss and your clients have this feeling too. Humor them. Never forget anything they say and never need to be corrected more than once.
  11. Humility isn’t a mere confession of your fallibility; humility is actions taken in anticipation of your failure. The only useful declaration of fallibility is the one followed immediately by action. Preparing for your failure will make it way less sucky when you succumb to being a normal human and failing at something at some point.
  12. Your career path determines how hard you work at your job, and vice versa. If your plan is to advance in your role, work super hard at that. If your plan is to move into another role, perform to a solid level and spend your spare time moving toward your next career step with as much vigor as you can muster.

These are the things I can give handy advice for; there are of course some things I haven’t sorted out yet. I hope that given another three months I’ll be able to give handy advice for those, too.

If You Want to Be a Digital Marketer, Learn Web Development

I ended up in marketing nearly by accident. My plan was always to be a developer—it still is—but I knew I eventually wanted to start a company, and I so I knew that I would at some point need to learn a bunch of other stuff in addition to pure programming: sales, marketing, economics, accounting, business law. So when I was offered a marketing job, despite a work history full of building websites by hand and utterly lacking in anything even containing the letters “SEO”, I took it.

This gave me an interesting background for a marketer, where though I was extremely junior, I understood all the technical jargon that made my coworkers flinch. And looking back, I think my technical background was a boon to me; so much so that I recommend taking at least one beginner web development class to anyone who wants to be a digital marketer.

Why Learn Web Dev?

Knowing web development is so useful for digital marketing because the two are hopelessly intertwined. For example, take the two most important pieces of metadata for SEOs: the meta title and description tags. Knowing where they are in the code, how they show up on the SERP, and how Google indexes them is extremely helpful to use them effectively for on-page SEO. Take another example: it’s all well and good to know by rote that appropriately sized images will make your page load faster, but if you understand the reason—that CSS takes a moment to resize the image, and if you give it an appropriately-sized image, it can prepare it faster—you’ll know exactly how to fix the problem. In general, being able to read the code when you “view source” on a webpage, along with knowing the general architecture of the internet, will help you immensely.

If you’re currently working in marketing or you’re planning to start soon, you may be thinking, “okay, in theory that sounds nice, but I’m already working so hard on marketing itself, and I don’t have time to learn to code – isn’t it super time-consuming and hard?” Fortunately for you, the answer is no, it’s not harder than any other marketing skill – if you have the right resource. And I have the right resource for you right here: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript Web Publishing by Colburn, Kyrnin, and Lemay. This book taught me a majority of what I know about HTML and CSS, which says at least something given my portfolio. It has one oddity: it doesn’t tell you how to actually host your site on the web until chapter 24. You’ll want to read that chapter very early on – probably either right before or right after chapter 1. Getting used to pushing your changes live with FTP is both easy (you can teach it to a 7-year-old) and important. Besides that little quirk, this is one of the best resources I have ever found for HTML/CSS/JS, and definitely the most useful for beginners. It even has a nice section on SEO at the end!

Learn to Use Chrome’s Developer Tools

Besides building your own websites, there is a techie tool that’s also helpful if you’re going into digital marketing: Google Chrome’s Developer Tools (or “DevTools”).

You can access the Developer Tools by clicking the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the Chrome browser, then selecting “More Tools” about 3/4 of the way down the menu, then selecting “Developer Tools” from the bottom of the next menu. The developer tools are a window that pops out from the right-hand side of the screen, and they’ll let you do all sorts of awesome stuff, including seeing in real time in a real browser what would happen if you made certain edits, without ever changing the real source code. You can do this with not only your own website, but with other peoples’ sites, even those which are way more complicated than yours. Here’s a nice tutorial to get you started with Google DevTools.

These tools are very useful for the beginner web developer or digital marketer because they’ll let you toy around with massive, complex sites without having to build those sites from the ground up yourself. I tend to just open the DevTools on random websites and play around with making changes to see what they do. It’s not a systematic process, but it’ll improve your web development skills, and it’ll also be fun. Who said work couldn’t also be play?


Do you agree that digital marketers should learn to code? Do you have more useful tools for beginner web devs (those who are or aren’t marketers by trade)? Let me know in the comments!

How to Write an Article for a Client’s Blog

One avenue of digital marketing that is simultaneously time-consuming and rewarding is writing optimized articles for your clients’ blogs. This is time-consuming not just because writing polished articles takes a while, but because doing it correctly requires significant background knowledge of your client’s industry. Still, there isn’t much that will benefit your clients’ organic search rankings more than well-optimized, relevant, regularly posted blog content.

Do Background Research

In order to get started with this process, you’ll need a significant background of knowledge. What does your client do? What is the problem they solve? How do they solve it differently than their competitors (both those they would name in response to the question “who are your main competitors” and also those who rank higher than they do for their core keywords; otherwise called “named” and “organic” competitors)? Who are their customers? How do those customers use their product or service? What is the jargon in their industry? You’re writing these posts on behalf of your client, so you had better be, if not an expert, at least very knowledgeable about their product, customers, and industry.

Once you have this information and have decided what keywords it would be best for them to rank for, you can do a content gap analysis to see what kinds of topics your client doesn’t have articles or blog posts on that their named and organic competitors do. There are a handful of tools which can do this; my favorite is Ahrefs.

If you work for a marketing agency, you probably already have both of the above pieces of information on file.

Pick a Title

Once you have all the background info, the first step in content writing is to pick a title, topic, and format. These can and should go together: if the title doesn’t clearly tell your readers what the topic and format are, then it’s not that good a title. Reading the title “Top 10 Tips for Painting with Oils”, I expect a bulleted list, possibly with pictures. Reading the title “How to Write an Article for a Client’s Blog”, I expect a medium- to long-form article, or possibly a video, telling me how to write articles for clients’ blogs. By contrast, “Introduction to Programming in Python” is a subpar title because I have absolutely no idea what kind of content I’m getting. That could just as easily be a podcast, an article, a video, or even a book.

Since you can convey all three important aspects of the content with a well-written title, this is what you should present to your client. Once they’ve approved it, you can move on to the next step: running a Clearscope report.

Run a Clearscope Report

Clearscope is perhaps the single most important tool for optimized content writing that there is out there. Given a keyword, it will search that and related terms and scan all the top results for those terms for the most commonly-used keywords and other phrases, then output these results into a report. In the Clearscope report, you’ll find specifics on what competitor articles they found, what rough level of complexity those results have (in terms of a elementary-college grading system), how long the results’ content is in terms of word count, and what keywords they found were most relevant to the one you started with.

But the most important thing that the Clearscope report will give you is a nifty editor, similar to that in a CMS like WordPress, with a list of keywords and phrases on the right-hand side.

You will be using this editor, along with your previous keyword research, to write your content. Clearscope, while useful, is not a substitute for thorough keyword research. Without keyword research, not only do you not know which report to run, you’ll likely miss out on all sorts of great keywords if you use it by itself. All Clearscope gives you is a list of phrases—not keywords, just phrases—that are common in organically competing content. That’s it. So, keep your keyword list on hand next to the Clearscope editor while you write.

Write Awesome Content

At this point, you’ve taken all the measures you need. You know what kind of content your audience probably expects given their query, you know what pages are already ranking for that keyword, and you know how to make up the difference. Now, it’s time to write what Moz calls 10x content: content that’s 10 times better than anything out there right now.

As you write, you’ll notice that Clearscope is politely highlighting relevant phrases you’re including from its list, as well as giving you an updating word count, readability level, and “content grade”. The content grade is based on how many of Clearscope’s relevant phrases you’re using. Its suggested minimum of B- is a bit low for my tastes—I tend to go for A- at a minimum, with most of my content at either A+ or A++— but you should never optimize your Clearscope content grade at the expense of your user experience. After all, your customers will never see the former, but most (if not all) of their knowledge of your company comes from the latter.

Publish It

Now that you have your 10x content with a nice high Clearscope content grade, you’re ready to publish! Before you do, though, make sure you’ve got three pieces of meta nicely optimized: title, description, and URL slug.

The meta title is shown in the browser tab and as the clickable link on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page, the “ten blue links”). Your CMS will probably auto-generate one for you (frequently in the form [h1 title][separator such as – or |][blog name], but that need not be the one you use. For an example, see Split’s homepage: the h1 tag contains the phrase “Split powers your product decisions with a unified solution for feature flagging and experimentation.” But the meta title tag is “Split: Continuous Delivery, Feature Flags & Experimentation”.

You only have about 50-65 characters to work with in your title tag before search engines will cut it off with an ellipsis, so you only have room for the page’s core keyword in your title, assuming you’re also including your brand name (which you should). Think of your title tag like a billboard, designed to attract your prospect’s attention in a concise, intriguing way.

The meta description is shown as the blurb of text below the link on the SERP. (At least, when search engines decide to put it there. Sometimes, in order to answer the user’s query better, they’ll take a section from the page’s body text and use that in place of the meta description.) This is useful as an additional, slightly longer pitch to your users. Some SEO tools will tell you to keep it under 160 characters, but a lot of the time search engines will index up to 320, and unlike the title tag, where an ellipsis can be annoying, an interesting meta description cut off with an ellipsis can increase suspense.

The URL slug is the part of the URL that signifies the specific page: https://www.example.com/articles/this-part-is-the-url-slug/. It should be descriptive: a good rule of thumb is that a human should be able to look at the URL and know what the page is about. Many CMSs will auto-generate a slug for you based on your h1, but like the meta title, you need not use this. For example, this incredibly interesting article has the h1 title “The Dark World of Affiliate Marketing, Black Hat SEO, and…Mattresses?” but the URL slug is /the-world-of-affiliate-marketing-black-hat-seo/.

You’ll want all three of these elements—title, meta description, and URL slug, in that order of importance—to contain keywords. But your primary goal with all three is still to provide the most relevant, interesting, and useful search experience to your prospects and customers. Your end goal is sales, not search engine rankings alone.

And Then You’re Done!

You’ve got excellent content containing keywords and phrases your organic competitors are ranking for, and all your meta info is optimized for both users and search engines. That’s it!

Working Overtime and a Pesach Away from Home: Week 6 at Upgrow, Inc.

I think my perception of time may be getting out of whack. The weeks go by so quickly, I feel like I write one of these updates every day. I wonder what makes time seem like it goes by so quickly—if I had to venture a guess, it would involve the percentage of time that we spend fully conscious of our surroundings. Childhood is spent in this state in perpetuity, adolescence sees it notably less, and adulthood allows it rarely if at all. If that’s the case, is this a necessary evil that comes along with becoming an adult? Or—and I admit this search for an alternative is motivated by a desire to believe this is a possibility—is there a method to slow time back down again?

I’m not sure. If the root cause is indeed a lack of awareness of grounded reality (as opposed to the abstractions which so often fill modern adulthood), a possible solution would be to systematically cultivate this awareness. But while I’ve done this by accident while intoxicated, the idea of doing it deliberately while not under any external influence is heretofore untested by me. I’ll have to update you on that next week.

I bring this up because of what I mentioned previously – about overcoming akrasia. The issue is that when I was in school, I would sit about, actively procrastinating on an assignment and knowing I was doing so. This was the form of akrasia that I thought I might be dealing with again, perhaps unknowingly. But not so; this new akrasia comes as thinking “I’d like to do this thing tonight” while standing on the train home, then coming home and eating dinner and then suddenly four hours have passed and where on earth did that darkness outside the window come from, oh I guess it’s bedtime now well maybe I’ll get to do the thing tomorrow.

So the problem of overcoming akrasia as a college student was solved by getting so overwhelmingly angry with myself that I had to either get my work done or go crazy, but the problem of overcoming it as a working professional seems to necessitate slowing down the perceived passage of time, or if that’s impossible, learning to get more done faster. (Ideally, it would involve doing both.)

Besides my difficulties with getting extra work done in my downtime, I’m doing very well at my actual job. Last week I worked a few hours overtime getting important projects done on very short notice, and my bosses seem to be very happy with me. I’m assisting in the management transition and taking on as much work as I can, which extends beyond my job description into some agency marketing work, including proofreading blog posts for the company blog.

My old boss had a few odd aspects to his workflow: for example, he always had way more projects than he could feasibly finish, he never assigned due dates or deadlines to anything, he rarely specified goals or provided scope specifications, and he was basically never completely transparent with the rest of the company. My new boss is exactly the opposite of all these things, which seems to be working out a lot better. I hope that, whatever company my old boss decided to work for, that it’s a better culture fit for him. He did say it paid a lot better.

The biggest thing I think I need to do at work is not get complacent with my current success. Life has demonstrated numerous times that it can turn on a dime and I need to be prepared for that possibility; and also, mere adequacy has never really been my style anyway. I need to keep taking on more responsibilities and getting even better at the ones I already have.

We have a contract writer who works on the SEO team with me, and I think I just got about as good as he is at writing articles. Now I think it’s time for me to start blowing his stuff out of the water. There’s not much better you can get for SEO than an A++ grade on Clearscope, but there’s plenty of room to improve in terms of rhetorical quality and speed. In every area, I need to make these sorts of improvements.

Outside of everything work-related, Passover (Pesach) was this past weekend, and this was the first time I had one away from home. I had my birthday away from home as well, but I was in the middle of moving in then, and I’d had very little time for any kind of real ceremony. I ate some cupcakes with friends in the community center and my fiancé bought me a stuffed rabbit. But Pesach… that’s a pretty big deal, the kind of thing my parents typically make a big fancy dinner and bring the extended family over for.

Really, Pesach is more “Jewish Christmas” than Chanukah is, despite the fact that the latter happens around Christmastime. (Other cultures have no obligation to stick their major religious holidays around Christmas, y’know.) So if you’d like, you can say this was sorta like my first Christmas away from home.

I didn’t sit around and mope, don’t worry, I’m not that much of an introvert. In fact, I went to a ceremony that was in fact much larger than my family’s—and I have a big family. There were perhaps thirty people there, a good ten percent of which weren’t even Jewish; they just decided to “come in and make Passover”, as the Haggadah says. And speaking of that, we used a rewritten “rationalist’s Haggadah”, which was equal parts tear-jerking and hilarious. After we ate a nice meal, we told a bunch of stories, sung bad parodies of songs from Hamilton and Portal (which were in fact a part of the rewritten Haggadah), and then hung around in a cuddle pile on beanbags in the living room, telling stupid jokes well into the night. I have a few drawings of this night that I think I’ll post here whenever I get around to finishing them.

The next morning I opened some care packages my parents had sent my fiancé and I, which included a lot of candy and chocolate, pancake and hot cocoa mix. (Why hot cocoa in the late spring? Why not? It’s California, it never gets below 50ºF here. Now’s as good a time as ever.) And I hung around being mostly out of it for most of the day, for some combination of the alcohol, the weed, and the staying up five hours past my normal bedtime, eating chocolate in my PJs. The only problem was that I fell off a motor scooter later that day while running an errand. Still, all in all, a pretty good first-Pesach-as-a-grownup.

Farewells and Changes: Week 5 at Upgrow, Inc.

At the beginning of this week, I found out my boss is leaving by the end of this week. Initially, I didn’t know what that was going to mean. After all, despite our previous difficulties, he taught me almost everything I know about SEO. The only way I know how to do most things is the way he taught me. Further, beyond the cursory interactions of office smalltalk and the occasional question about some techie thing, I’d had almost no interaction with anyone else at Upgrow until this week. (Well, except Yitzchak. I suppose I should be saying “anyone more experienced than me”.) The exclusive focus had been becoming a better assistant to my boss, and now that he’s leaving, I didn’t know what to do.

Up to this point, the entire SEO team of our company has been three people: my boss, a part-time contractor, and me. So I realized, with my boss leaving, I was going to have to step up. How was that going to happen? The first obvious thing is that we’re in the process of onboarding two new clients, which is a big front-loaded process involving an SEO audit for their entire website. I’d want to prioritize that in addition to my other projects, and further, get to know the rest of my team better.

With that plan in mind, I got started working on Monday. By Wednesday, I’d met the person who might end up becoming my new boss – a fun guy with an intense smile. He’s part-time for now, and he has other clients, but he may come on full-time later on. (Or maybe not: nothing is static in the realm of business.) I got on very well with him, and it turns out he has a background in tech as well. We talked over lunch about programming, career paths, and other such things.

Over the course of the week, I worked with my soon-to-be-ex-boss to transition all my projects as best as I could, and I got the go-ahead to start sitting in on client meetings (one of my main goals for this week, since it seems like a long time coming). I started deliberately talking more with the co-founders in order to take on more projects, and I’m happy that I click much better with everyone else at the office than I did with my boss. I’m usually a very sociable person, and clicking badly with someone like that threw me off a little. I’m glad it was just that relationship, but I’m also glad I found someone like that so early in my career: it taught me a ton of valuable lessons about the corporate environment which I’m sure to use from here on out.

Overall, everyone, especially the co-founders, have been doing their best to make the transition smooth. Still, there’s always that period where almost nothing actually needs to get done and things can just coast on momentum for a bit, and I think this week was that period. If things are going to go downhill, I anticipate that they’re going to start doing so next week.

As such, for next week, on top of continuing what I started this week, I’m planning on overcoming a bit of akrasia. I keep saying I’m going to get stuff done on the weekends and after my workdays, and yet I keep not doing it. I recall something Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote, about the three types of hard work necessary to accomplish difficult things. First, you have to not run away, which takes seconds; second, you need to sit down and work, which takes hours; and third, you need to stick at it, which takes years. The first and third come naturally to me at this point, but the second one has always been hard.

It could theoretically be comforting, to think that one of my favorite writers has the same issues I do with working long hours, and I could leave it there. But then I think, that’s no excuse. In Eliezer’s own words, reality is not graded on a curve. If I’m trying to do something really difficult, I need to get a lot better at this. I’m not putting in a desperate effort as if my life were at stake, though of course, it is. That’s about to change.

A Partial Guide to Modern Marketing

In the past month, I’ve gone from not having any idea what keyword research is to being able to name four different keyword research tools off the top of my head and have a coherent discussion comparing their benefits and drawbacks. Because trying to keep it all in my head is really not the sort of thing I do, I wrote up a little guide detailing the organic SEO process as I currently understand it, after a full month of Intense Marketing Startup.


There are two types of SEO: on-page and off-page. On-page SEO happens on the website and thus in your direct control as the webmaster; off-page SEO must involve other people. They must always be done in that order, since you can’t get others to interact with content that doesn’t exist.

Fundamentally, on-page optimization involves creating popular content. To do that, you need to know what your audience wants to see. This is both an exercise in knowing what topics your audience is interested in and knowing what format they’d like to consume that content in. Since you’ve presumably niched down enough to know the former, and since the latter is more up to each person’s personal preference, you begin with the former and experiment with different types of the latter until you have something that works.

In order to start creating content that your audience will enjoy, start by figuring out in significant detail what they want. Your best way of finding out what they want is finding what they search for: the process of doing this is commonly called “keyword research”, since the phrases input to search engines like Google are called keywords.

To do keyword research, start with some stuff that you presently think your audience would search for, and search in a tool such as KW Finder. Scroll down their list of results, checking any boxes for results with high “search volume”: average number of monthly searches for that particular keyword. Then export those results, pick a few that seem particularly good, and search for those terms. Keep at this until your fingers bleed. You’ll thank me later.

After this, organize your newly-made master keyword list by topics. I find it easiest to do this by cutting and pasting Excel, visually formatting things into lists until I have a set of topics. Each topic becomes a page or, if there are a decent number of high-volume keywords in that set, a cluster of pages. The largest cluster of highest volume keywords that you most care about ranking for, you reserve for your homepage. These are the keywords that are central to your product: not only the ones your audience would search for any reason, but the ones your audience would search for with the express intent to buy your product. (Or watch your video or read your article or download your whitepaper or whatever it is you want them to do. In the industry we call this action a “conversion”.)

Once the keyword list is organized by topics, use that to create your website organization. More central pages, containing content whose keywords are more relevant to rank for, should go closer to the root directory than more tangential pages. This is because Google gives more search weight to pages closer to the root. While you’re at this, make sure all your URLs are intelligible, not long strings of letters and numbers. Rule of thumb: a human should be able to look at the URL and know what the page is about.

This brings us nicely into the other miscellaneous bits of head-tag trivia which matter significantly for SEO. Search engine “spiders” (probably called that because they “crawl” the “web”, ha ha ha) are still robots, so there is a decent amount of techie trivia you’ll need to understand and fix in order to make your site perform well for SEO.

Head over to ahrefs.com and do a quick site audit, noting down the 3XX pages (page redirects), 4XX pages (missing pages), meta description tag problems (too short or nonexistent; too long is not a problem since their definition of “too long” is incorrect), title tag problems (too long, too short, nonexistent), and h1 tag problems (too many, nonexistent). Some of these things will be seen by end-users (they’ll notice missing pages, or a title tag that’s too long, since the title tag is the actual clickable text of the search result when it comes up), some of them won’t (depending on the page style, end users can’t tell the difference between an h1 and an h2), but they all matter for SEO. Fix as many of them as possible.

A momentary note on creating content: Make sure your content includes words. This may seem obvious, and yet it’s fashionable at the moment to create text-minimalistic pages with tons of images and fancy graphics. This is an SEO nightmare. Google isn’t great at interpreting images yet, so without alt attributes, all those fancy graphics are useless for a search spider, and while they might wow a human audience, good luck finding one when you’re stuck in the deserted wasteland that is page 2 of Google.

Once you have good pages with relevant verbal content arranged in a sensible organization that’s easy for search spiders to crawl, you can move on to off-page SEO. This takes many forms, the most prevalent of which is standard link building.

Because an outbound link can take a user off a page, Google counts outbound links on pages as sort of “votes” for the pages they link to. Having a significant number of inbound links to your site from reputable, relevant sources is akin to having a significant number of votes from influential people in your field. And likewise, bribing for either votes or links is bad, but asking for them nicely can prove useful.

The art of asking nicely for links from reputable, relevant sources is called “link building”, and the standard method is to get on Ahrefs, search for a domain that’s related to yours – it could be a competitor, or an expert in your field – and click on “backlinks”. Make sure links are “dofollow”, as a “nofollow” link gives no “vote”; in English, unless your site exists in multiple languages; and one link per domain, to prevent duplicates. If there are still several thousand results and you need to narrow further, use criteria like filtering for a certain type of website (blogs, ecommerce sites, forums, etc), or filtering the results to include the first word of your most important keyword.

When you’ve exported these lists for a number of comptitors or domain experts, stick them all in a spreadsheet and start systematically going through them. To do that, click on the link, but before you read the content, try to find the author’s contact info. Since the end goal is to send them an email, if you don’t have their email (or contact form or whatever kind of personal contact), the whole exercise is moot. Once you have their email address, then you can read the article to see if you’re likely to get a link from them for your client. If so, draft up a nice email that gets straight to the point, containing these four things and nothing else save some nice-sounding phrasing:

  1. Exactly what you want them to add. I’m talking act as if you could directly push your changes live to their site right now, what would you change? Leave nothing at all up to them; spoonfeed it all right to them. Rule 1 of getting people to do what you want is making it as easy as possible.
  2. How adding this link will help them. If you’re also proposing copy additions, make sure you note that too. Don’t be long-winded about it, just imply that their readers will appreciate the additional info.
  3. The exact links, to both their page which you are referencing and the page you want them to link to. When you do this, don’t do links with anchor text: when receiving emails from people they don’t know, nobody wants to click a link they can’t see, since it could be malware or something. Instead, put the entire link, even if it’s long, in parentheses. Being able to see the link content will put people more at ease.
  4. A signature with your full name, job title, company, and email address. This is another way to put people at ease. By knowing who you are and who you work for, and having your contact information, they trust you more.

A common pitfall that you’ll need to avoid with SEO is running down rabbit holes. You will always have more data than you need, and if you try to incorporate all of it, or be anything less than optimally efficient with it, you will spend your entire damn life on one project. This is the reason that you should find the contact info before you read the article: if you spend all that time reading thousands of articles that may or may not actually get you links, you waste a ton of time. Thus is the peril working with the internet.

And as a final note: there are many, many things you can do with a website where it is crucial that you implement SEO processes as you do them. One of these is a site migration: one of my clients (Seal Software) is working on one now. Here, you must be even more discriminating with which data you use – since some pages are not going to exist on the new site so optimizing them will be useless – and even more careful to implement the precise processes you need, to transfer as much traffic from the old site to the new one as possible.

Priorities, Talks, and an Entirely-Un-Asked-For T-Shirt: Week 4 at Upgrow, Inc.

This week, as I promised I would do last week, I made a priority-ordered list of what needs to get done outside of work. Or, more properly, I decided on the One Thing that I’m going to do as much as possible for the next month, then laid out a rough timeline of the priorities for the rest of my apprenticeship.

In short, for the next month, I’m going to continue focusing on improving my Adulting On My Own skills, both in and outside the workplace. That means making sure I’m financially stable for the long haul, cultivating good relationships with my housemates as well as my coworkers, working on improving my marketing skills, and—this is the hard part—maintaining connections I made while I was staying at Reach.

I also got done a handful of other things which I didn’t plan to do in the last update but which are nonetheless very important. First off, I’ve started having weekly meetings on Friday evenings with Yitzchak, my Praxis pal who finally arrived in SF to work at the office in person about two weeks ago. This past meeting, we discussed humanism, religion, morality, and all other kinds of very fun deep topics.

That’s not all, and this last one surprised me too. After work on Tuesday, I was researching one of our clients in the hopes of understanding their industry better, and I ran across an industry talk the next day that the client was hosting at their office! I could not believe my luck and signed up for the talk right away, telling my advisors at Praxis that I couldn’t make the weekly Wednesday call. After work, I took a leisurely walk down to the office, had a nice dinner at a nearby burger place, and went to the talk. There were all kinds of cool people there, and the actual talk itself was about all sorts of cutting-edge time series database related stuff. I got to see a dashboard for a software that won’t exist until September! (No, I can’t show it to you, you perv. Wait till September like the rest of the public.)

After the talk, I chatted with a bunch of different people with the express intent of getting LinkedIn connections, because I’d eat a burrito with a fork before I’d walk away from a social event without making online connections. Turns out, one of the people I ended up talking to was the person on the client staff who hired our company in the first place! We had a super nice chat, discussed tech and marketing, and at the end she not only told me to help myself to the company-branded stickers they were handing out, she also grabbed me an entirely exclusive t-shirt and branded socks! I was literally so stoked. Nobody else got a t-shirt or socks! What did I do to deserve this privilege?? They’re really nice socks and I actually haven’t even taken them out of the packaging yet because they’re so awesome, although I did wear the t-shirt to work on Friday.

Anyway. It has officially been a month at this new job! Month 1 of 6 complete, and honestly it’s going pretty well. I’ve got a cheap and small but nice room in a group house with a signed lease and a security deposit, a relationship with my boss that’s moving in the direction of amicable, weekly discussions with a coworker that I’m becoming very good friends with, and some sweet company swag (and an open offer from my boss to maybe go to other client events to gather intel? what?). Next week, I’m going to work on doing a little bit more of all my stated goals, since I didn’t actually get around to making them in the first place till Wednesday and so I only had half a week to start implementing them. We’ll have to see how that goes; stay tuned!

Too Much To Do, Not Enough Time: Week 3 at Upgrow, Inc.

I was sick half of this week, which makes it a bit difficult to pass any significant judgement, but it seems to me that I’ve done pretty well at doing what I wanted to do last week, both in and out of work. I feel like I’m steadily reconciling with my boss, figuring out how he wants me to work for him and working that way. I’m still working on it, but it seems he dislikes me less now, and our weekly 1:1 exclusively contained discussions of projects, instead of its previous status quo of being mostly about the behaviors of mine that he disliked.

I’m also improving at my proper job description. I’m learning how to do a number of things, including link building and SEO article writing, with decent efficiency and correctness of technique. The biggest thing I’ve learned about SEO is that you always have way more data than you can or should try to make sense of, so you absolutely need to winnow it down before trying to work with it, since otherwise you end up going down time-consuming rabbit holes doing things which are not optimally efficient.

The most notable out-of-work things I’ve done this week are completing the move into my permanent residence, signing an Official Adult Lease™, and purchasing a bed, which isn’t that big a deal in the scheme of things but just feels like an Adult thing to do. Staying in a community center for a month was incredibly fun, but it also made me feel a bit like I didn’t have a home. Now, I feel more like I live in California.

My biggest current problem is optimization of time. Now that I’m no longer spending most of my non-working time hyper-analyzing past interactions with my boss to figure out what I’m doing wrong, I have time to do other stuff, but I need to understand what that other stuff should be. Possible candidates for top priority slots include, but are not limited to, resuming work on my tech projects, updating the websites I’ve made using what I now know about SEO, documenting some of the cool and important stuff I’ve learned about SEO from the standpoint of a beginner getting started, doing research on our current clients and learning tons of stuff about especially the tech-focused ones so I open avenues to potentially transition into working for them after I’m done working here, continuing to work on marketing certifications, re-starting work on tech certifications, reading books on business, and going to the community center I used to live at for purposes of networking.

Still, I’m optimistic. It’s very nice that we’ve made good enough financial choices that we don’t have to worry too much about money, even though we’re effectively paying twice the usual rent because we needed to put down a security deposit. I forgot to eat breakfast before I left this morning and I was able to buy myself pancakes at a cafe near work. It’s nice to have a place to call home, though I’m still working on thinking of it that way. (A definition of “home” that’s heretofore been static for thirteen years kinda does that.) And as with every week here, I’ve been meeting and hanging out with tons of interesting people.

The Importance of Perseverance and Umbrellas: Week 2 at Upgrow, Inc.

This job is getting very difficult, but not for the reasons you might expect. Yes, marketing is itself hard, but it’s actually been harder acclimating to the work environment. Not just the startup environment, though that definitely contributes, but my interactions with the people there. I made a few stupid social mistakes early on, and I have a few personality clashes with my direct supervisor which I need to work on.

Some of the most important things I’ve learned from this job so far, then, have actually been about how to work through such problems. I am learning a ton about marketing, because my supervisor is ridiculously good at what he does. But I could have learned marketing from any expert marketer: having an expert marketer that I don’t naturally get along with very well is an additional level of challenge, and I’m learning a lot about the social rules of the white-collar workplace as a result.

I would be lying to say it’s all sunshine and roses: actually, I seem to have brought a rare rainstorm to sunny San Francisco. But like the umbrella that snapped in half on the first day after I moved here and left me to walk soaking wet for miles, these difficulties are teaching me perseverance, as well as the importance of having a good umbrella.

As to the actual marketing work, it’s incredibly interesting. I never realized SEO could be so complicated: the last time I checked, keyword stuffing and cloaking were frequently-used tactics. Now, it’s all about knowing your audience and getting voluntary backlinks from reputable sites.

One of my recent projects I’ve been working on for a handful of clients is that latter, we call it “link building”. This encompasses many things, from posting useful answers on forums to giving helpful information to reporters, but what I’m currently working on is getting links from individual peoples’ blogs. Basically, the process is that I figure out some people who blog about the thing our client does, and I see if there’s a place on their blog where they’d improve their content by linking to our client. Then, I send an outreach email, asking for the link.

Outside of work, my life is less difficult and more surreal. Living with rationalists, I keep having very interesting conversations. Interesting, both in the sense of intriguing and strange. People here regularly use phrases like “terminal value”, “cached thought”, “operational definition”, and “cognitive dissonance”. Everyone knows the ANI/AGI/ASI distinction. I have only met one other person who is not currently working as a programmer. And yet, we have these discussions laying about on couches, playing stupid card games, and drinking wine out of boxes. I went for cheap Chinese with some dude who works for Google.

Since I’m living in a community center until I can move into my permanent residence, there are all sorts of people and events which come through here. I’ve learned about the YIMBY movement, about animal rights activism and the clinically proven benefits of meditation. It’s so interesting learning about so many different points of view and political movements that I’d never heard of in any great detail before.

California has, in general, been a healing force for me, mostly due to one of the first friends I made here. No later than two hours after landing in CA, I met an absolute ray of sunshine who helped me through the rain, and continues to do so. He’s made awesome, healthy food that I’ve been able to take in for lunch sometimes, led some of the best meditation sessions I’ve ever attended, and generically made the whole environment and experience very positive. We’re both moving out of the community center soon, but I very much hope we can stay in touch after we’re no longer housemates. This friend, along with my fiancé and my mom, have been my umbrella.

I dearly hope this metaphor made sense.