SEO Interview with The great Cyrus Shepard

Interview Cyrus Shepard
Note: I took this interview before Google come up with Link Disavow Tools so this may affect some of the answers.
There are some people in this world who believes in themselves and all that they are. Know that there is something inside them greater than any obstacle, move every hurdle that come in their way and with their passion and aptitude towards work set themselves as an example for many others. Today I am glad that he accepted my invitation and granted me some precious minutes of his time to gain most out of the extremely amazing knowledge that he possess.

His journey from being a waiter to a learner than personnel at a small company ended up at our loveable company SEOmoz as a customer service executive due his creativity, zeal and in all a TAGFEE personality. His love for SEO was deep and so it took no time for him to become the lead SEO at SEOmoz.

Currently working as a Lead Marketer at Place Full, he is none other than the great Cyrus Shepard. Thank you sir for taking some time and answering the questions and I am sure your answers will help me, my readers and SEO community in general.

So without any further delay, here I go with my first question!


Question: Cyrus you said in your Mozcon presentation that you was good at what you do before SEO then why switch? And at any point in the starting did you feel that you have made a wrong decision and you should go back to where you were?


Answer: Waiting tables was never my passion, but after 15 years, you can imagine I was pretty good at it. (I estimate that from 1992 to 2009 I waited on over a 250,000 people). I actually graduated from the University of Southern California with a film degree, and my desire was to be a screenwriter. I was a bad screenwriter and a good waiter, but eventually I had no passion for any of it.

When I switched to marketing, I found something that not only held my interest, but I was also good enough at it to make a decent living. Online marketing is also flexible enough that no 2 days are ever the same, and you have the ability to “build your own adventure.”

Question: Cyrus, You have experienced with some of the best brains in search so I think this is a right question to you, how much company culture is important in the employee’s growth? Or it is just the personal effort that takes person to the next level (especially in the search bubble)?


Answer: If you think about the best companies you ever worked for, 9 times out of 10 those are the same companies that are the most careful about the hiring process. Culture is everything. A company that hires “employees” will never succeed as well as one that hires “partners.” Working for SEOmoz contributed enormously to my personal growth in a positive way. I’m sure you can grow in this industry without being surrounded by great people day in and day out, but it starts with you and your commitment to create an environment of exceptionalism.
Question: Talking about SEO, what are the best practices that one should integrate in their day to day SEO activities when working on penguin effected websites?


Answer: Penguin is the toughest Google penalty I’ve ever encountered, hands down. For smaller sites, it’s possible that Penguin targeted links account for 90%+ of their backlink profile. In this case, it may be worth it to simply start over with a new, clean site. For larger sites, cleanup is going to take months and months of manual work.

For the long term, I encourage SEOs to stop worrying about anchor text. Period. Just build high quality links from a wide range of sites. Optimized anchor text leaves a footprint that Google is easily able to follow, and will come back to hurt you in the end.

Question: You must have audit and noticed multiple websites that are really killer at content. I would love if you could come up with 3 things that should be considered as important when writing content for the website?


Answer: If there were three elements of linkable content I would try to incorporate into everything I write they would be:

1. Length – Short content earns links, but longer content has a better chance of earning rankings. Numerous correlations studies support this and so I try to keep my content over 500 words. Of course, not everything needs to be this long. I’ve produced several infographics with almost no words whatsoever that have earned good links, but given the choice I’d rather produce content with substantive, crawlable content.

2. Unique images – Large, unique images with proper alt text and good file names.

3. Social Sharing  – The best content for links and rankings usually has a good social sharing element to it. Not everything has to be viral on Facebook to achieve good rankings, but any social presence helps a lot.

Finally, I’d add a 4th and that is a good title. When I want something to go viral, I’ll spend 50% of the time just trying to get the title right.

Question: Ok, I see this is happening a lot and I call it identity hacking… what happens is that one build their identity now some other shitty guy/agency comes around and use the similar or relatively similar identity to bluff people around and get business out of it! My question is how to stay safe from this on online channels?


Answer: Sounds horrible. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience this so I’m afraid I wouldn’t have much usefull advice on how to avoid it.
Questions: Cyrus, do you really think that SEO campaign can be successful as a one man show or now you need a complete team to get the shit done? Would love the detailed answer for this!


Answer: You can absolutely be successful as a one man show as long as you have the ability to produce worthy content. I’m a half-way decent writer, thanks to my years spent screenwriting, so I can leverage this skill to create linkable assets. I also work with my wife , a talented graphic designer, and we make a good content team. Perhaps your area of expertise is data, or art, or content curation.

What I’m saying is the SEO is easy, but the content is hard, and for this you often require the help of others. That’s why big teams usually have specialists such as copywriters, programmers and graphic designers to help create assets. You can do this by yourself if you leverage your own talent and present it in a way that is useful to others.

Question: I don’t know if I am the only one but I think Google since its start push Google+ a little too much and to an extent force people to be on it. What do you think what Google is planning with Google+?


Answer: Great question! The lines between Google and Google+ blur more every day. My prediction is we’ll continue to see Google+ used more for Google’s knowledge graph, general search algorithm, local search, maps and even (gasp) as a social media platform. The last, social media is ironically the least important use of Google+.
Question: Few months ago Matt said that Google is now going to discount links from Infographics and there was a chaos in the SEO world as if the SEO is going to die. What advice you will offer to the SEOs who are pretty much uncomfortable with the change?


Answer: Another great question. I still produce infographics, and I think they’re a great way to build links. It’s not that Cutts is concerned with infographics themselves, but the cookie-cutter embeddable links with optimized anchor text that often accompany them.

Here’s my advice to anyone who’s building infographics:

1. Don’t use an embed code. If it’s a great infographic, folks will link to it naturally with varied and natural anchor text.

2. Read this post by Justin Briggs. In the wake of Penguin, make sure your infographics don’t build overly-optimized links to your homepage, in case you have to “cut” the links later.

Question: There is a lot of talk on Google is slowly discounting links and giving more importance to social…or some go even further and said links are dead and social is the new link building. I am sure all rumors are not true but this is now a clear fact that Google is giving more importance to social… my question is where do you see social as a ranking algorithm in the coming days?


Answer: To be honest, I wish I had a crystal ball here. I think right now we’re seeing a good mix of traditional links and social signals used in the algorithms. It would be wise to keep your eye on Google+.
Questions: I think this is the problem of many busy business people who want quality SEO services, they are also ready to invest in SEO but they aren’t sure if they are investing at the right place as there many low quality SEO companies around who can break the brand instead of making it. I want you to please help them or give them some tips that help them find the right agency or a consultant they can trust!


Answer: My advice is to never hire an SEO firm that contacts you. The good SEOs are busy enough that they hardly ever have to go looking for business. I’m biased, but I generally look to see if the SEO in question is active on Twitter and/or SEOmoz. Do they have a profile in both these places? Do they participate in Q&A or leave thoughtful comments? Do they have a custom, well designed website? I go with my gut more than anything, but for the small business owner it can be hard.
Questions: I am not sure how easy or difficult it is for you to understand SEO in the starting days but one of the toughest task after getting a job at SEOmoz must be to tell your non industry friends what you exactly do as an SEO…My question is (on a lighter note) how do you explain your non industry friends and may be parents that what SEO is?


Answer: When I was starting out, I told people my job was to help people rank higher in Google. Today, that definition is grossly inadequate. Now I simply tell folks I do marketing. The lines between traditional SEO and traditional marketing have blurred, and this definition is much closer to the truth.

Thanks for a great interview!

Thank you Cyrus for being so kind and sharing your wisdom with us.   Your answers are defiantly going to be great help for my readers as well as many others in SEO community.


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Posted Under: SEO Interview
  • hyderali

    Fantastic Interview Moosa!!

    Great questions & good answers by Cyrus.

    I really like to point the answer given by Mr. Cyrus is that “You can absolutely be successful as a one man show as long as you have the ability to produce worthy content” where I might have to disagree with him.

    Now we as an SEO are at a stage where we’ve to have teams to help us achieve the desired goal. Like, we need content writers, link builders, social media person & analytics team to work on big eCommerce projects where you can’t work alone even if you know everything. Even for smaller projects we definitely required few people to help us.

    P.S. I’ll always keep this in mind “My advice is to never hire an SEO firm that contacts you”

  • Spook SEO

    Wow.. nice to know that I’m doing the same thing as Cyrus regarding Penguin penalty, I do tend to start fresh with a new domain as the recovery process can take a long time and so exhausting, i also no longer optimize anchors cause it seems to me like the safest practice and could guarantee a much lasting ranking.

    • Moosa Hemani

      I did this interview a while back and I am glad that I
      switched to Cyrus practices especially regarding anchor text optimization.

      Thank for your very kind comment sir and as far as the
      interview section is concern, I am literally planning to start this section
      again and Interview more great brains in search!!