All About Content

An Interview with Melanie Phung by David Almacy

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, December 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Recently I was tapped by David Almacy, in what I’m calling a quasi-meme of the 7 Things You Don’t Know About Me variety, to answer a set of 10 questions about my involvement in the SEO industry. In turn, I’ve asked him to answer the questions on his blog Capital Gig, which we modified slightly to reflect his current focus.

Below are my answers to the questions he posed.

1. How long have you been doing online marketing and what attracted you to search engine optimization?

I’ve been involved in developing website content since 2000. In 2005, I was hired at an e-commerce firm to launch the company’s SEO efforts — this despite the fact that I didn’t have any SEO training. What I did have, however, was strong writing skills and experience in a variety of other disciplines that make up a foundation for SEO. I ended up diving right into the deep end and learning on the job.

What attracted me to the job, and what continues to hold my interest is metrics. My favorite part of doing SEO is knowing I have a direct impact on the bottom line and being able to quantify the value of my work in terms of incremental sales.

2. In your opinion, what’s the measure of a SEO professional?

In the SEO industry, there is a lot of debate about white hat (following Google’s guidelines) and black hat (not following the guidelines) tactics. The word “ethics” gets thrown around a lot, too, in the context of the search engines’ rules. All that tends to obfuscate what I think really matters in the end, which is to provide value for your clients and employer.

An SEO professional should be measured by the same standards than other professionals: Do you do your job? Are you honest and dependable? Do you know what you’re talking about and follow through? etc.

3. What blogs do you read to keep up on industry news?

To be honest, I’ve stopped being a regular reader of most blogs. I don’t mean that I don’t read them at all, but that I pick and choose what posts I’m interested in based on what other people are buzzing about (via sites like Twitter or even Sphinn). There’s no single blog where I feel like every single post provides value anymore. I’m a pretty picky consumer of information, because my time is extremely limited.

4. What’s your best “SEO secret”?

It wouldn’t be a secret if I told. 😉

While I wouldn’t say that I had any bona fide “secret tricks” up my sleeve, let’s put it this way: it’s hard to get ahead of the competition if you only use the plays written out in the Google playbook. You can play within the rules without doing everything exactly the way everyone else does them.

5. Search engine algorithms are getting smarter, and a lot of people predict organic SEO services will become obsolete. How do you plan to adapt?

I’ve been reading about the death of SEO for years. To be honest, most people who talk about SEO becoming obsolete have zero idea what “real SEOs”¯ do for a living, or they do know and simply delight in baiting the industry to generate a lot of buzz.

As long as people are using search engines, someone (whether their title is SEO or not) will be working to make sure their website is seen by the right people. As an online marketer, I’ll do what it takes to stay on top of the trends and adjust my strategies accordingly — the same as I’ve been doing for years.

6. Please describe the biggest challenge you face in your current job.

Coming from the background of an in-house SEO, I struggle sometimes with being so far removed from the work being done on the clients’ sites now that I’m at a word of mouth marketing agency. Sometimes, by the time the client (or rather, a client services manager working with the ad agency retained by the client) comes to ask me “Why don’t we rank well in Google”, it’s too late for me to have meaningful input on the campaign microsites themselves. I’m working on getting us involved earlier in the process when it comes to these types of things.

7. Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in search engine optimization, but doesn’t have a background in it, on how to get started in this field?

The best way to learn is to actually do it. Go out and build a site, get under the hood, and start optimizing. If you work as an in-house marketer, get involved in the operations of your company’s website. Learn everything you can about HTML, CSS, usability principles, information design, persuasive copywriting, etc. Read, implement, and test.

If you’re new to the industry, do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t start yet another generic SEO blog (by which I mean “blog about SEO”) that just regurgitates what the big guys are posting. And don’t call yourself an expert and sell consulting services hoping you’ll learn on someone else’s dime. Learn to do it properly first.

8. If you could rank for any keyword phrase you don’t currently rank for, what would it be?

Wait, do you mean “rank in the #1 position¯? Because I already rank #2 or #3 for Washington DC SEO as well as DC SEO. If I could rank for anything, I think I’d like to rank for the word Amazon — a nice high volume keyword that’s monetizable.

Or maybe Jesus Christ, since Compete already thinks I’m getting a ton of traffic from that term.

Or, SEO Strategist.

9. Assuming you had never gone into SEO, what would you be doing now (professionally)?

I would still be involved in making or improving websites somehow.

10. You’ve been in DC for a decade now — any interest in politics or at least political marketing?

I’m as apolitical as they come. The irony is that my undergrad degree is in political science. I came out to DC to pursue a graduate degree in international relations, but ended up going into marketing communications instead.

However, New Media Strategies, where I work now, has a thriving Public Affairs Practice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with the likes of Howard Mortman (hilarious political blogger at, former “Hardball” producer, columnist at the National Journal), the not-quite-anonymous-anymore Not Larry Sabato, Soren Dayton, Jon Henke, and quite a few other well known political communications gurus.

Working at NMS, I get to participate in a lot of interesting public affairs campaigns, like promotion of the C-SPAN convention and debate hubs, a couple of political issue-oriented campaigns for which I ran PPC, and a few things that I don’t think I’m at liberty to talk about 😉

That’s all. Thanks to everyone who participated. Please check out their sites and follow them on Twitter.

@almacy – a Digital Strategy Expert
– an SEO Strategist in Washington, DC
@martinbowling – a lover of Zima
– a Utah SEO Consultant
@fairminder who offers Boston Website Design and SEO services
@cyandle – a Google Adwords Professional
@melanienathan – an Edmonton SEO specialist
@jackleblond – a VP of Internet Strategy
@djpaisley – a Digital Communications Strategist
@vinceblackham – a Utah SEO specialist
@researchgoddess – a Staffing Social Media Specialist
@monicawright a Maine SEO professional

Comments (2)

Category: Navel-Gazing


Comment by paisley

Made Saturday, 13 of December , 2008 at 4:24 am

you are a perfectionist.. =)

good yob!

Comment by brandon alan scofield

Made Saturday, 13 of December , 2008 at 5:56 am

Melanie Phung wrote : 4. Whatā€™s your best ā€?SEO secretā€¯?

It wouldnā€™t be a secret if I told. 😉


I agree with you, I keep my own seo technics as my secret, if i share my technics , i think that would be suicide

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