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SEO Intern: What I Learned at FourFront

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On my first day at FourFront LLC, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I had 3 years worth of marketing classes, and I knew that SEO meant “being higher on Google” or something like that. Other than that, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But I was ready to learn, and they were ready to teach.

First Impressions, How the Internet Works & Local SEO

I walked into their hip office - and I mean hip, like “old-church-turned-office-space with distressed wooden bookcases, sleek metal desks, posters on the wall and plants on the windowsills” hip - and felt right at home. They showed me to my desk (just as sleek as theirs) and equipped me with a laptop much nicer than my own. After introducing myself to everyone, I said something like “Hey guys, can you show me how to SEO?” and their response lasted the rest of the summer.

On my first day of actual work, Jared showed me how to crawl a site, find all the pages that exist under this one domain, and see how it all connects. He then explained that this is how search engines analyze the web. Google crawls the whole internet over and over constantly, explores websites, and ranks them based on complex algorithms.

Our job, then, is to make sure all the links are working properly and the site is structured well. The URL’s should act as little files, organized into folders, organized into bigger folders, contained in one giant folder (the domain). This allows Google to crawl the site quickly, see which pages are related, and determine the main concepts easily. That makes sense.

Then Jared told me about a client that had just acquired another company. They wanted to edit Bing and Google listings for their new locations to reflect the name change. But while we’re at it, they want us to complete a Local SEO project for their existing locations. What’s that?

Well, apparently Google likes when your address and contact info is the same on your website, your Facebook, your Bing listing, your Yellow Pages listing, your Foursquare listing – you get it. Can you tell I had fun with this project? There was a good reason for doing this, though. The more consistent information that can be found about your company, the better. This consistency makes you seem established and trustworthy, and those are two important ranking factors for a domain. All said and done, it makes sense.

Keyword Research, Content & Going Beyond SEO

Next, Colleen wanted me to do some keyword research. I already knew what a keyword was, so I was off to a great start. Our client was a housing development. I was supposed to find out what phrases people use to find housing. Is there search volume around “new houses”, “cheap houses”, “nice houses”, modern houses”, etc.? I’m paraphrasing a bit.

But as I began searching for these words, I found out that people were searching for things like “modern houses near Center City with a view” and “cheap loft-style apartments for rent”. Those are pretty specific queries, aren’t they? Well, apparently that’s the point. There are less pages competing for “modern houses near Center City with a view” than “houses”.   If you can optimize a page for one of these “long-tail” keywords, you can penetrate the search results pretty easily.

This is the SEO application of niche marketing (learned that word at school). It’s better to be #1 for “modern houses near Center City with a view” than #30 for a something more popular like “houses” because you will actually gain traffic from being #1. You will not gain much traffic from being #30.

Later, Tom asked me to write a few paragraphs about the difference between one type of boat accessory and another type of boat accessory.  Wait. What? Doesn’t our client just sell the boats? Why would they talk about that? Well, apparently people do a lot of research online before they buy a boat. So much research, in fact, that they may be looking into these accessories before they even buy their boat. So if our FAQ answers their “what’s the difference between these accessories?” query, we might land on the first page for that query. If we do that, they might come to our page for the answer and stay to check out the boats. This is called “filling a content gap”. There’s usually a gap between the information on a company’s page and the information their target audience is searching for. If you find the gap and fill it, you can gain visibility you didn’t have before. Makes sense, Tom.

After that, Vanessa told me about a client who was getting plenty of traffic but missing out on conversions. My job was to research their competitors to find out if they were losing to a sales promotion, lower prices, or unique product offerings. Wait, I thought we were doing website things? Well, we are. But sometimes the problem isn’t on the website, and the client needs fresh eyes to look for other potential issues. A client is a client, and we’re going to help them however we can. Okay - so sometimes we pause from being SEO people and put on our general marketing hats? That’s nice. (And I have to say it makes sense.)

That client seemed to fall right in line with their competition, so the problem was elsewhere. Bob showed me how to continue our investigation in Google Analytics. Geographically, where are our visitors coming from? What are our top landing pages, and what’s the typical flow from there? Which pages have a significant drop-off? How do we bring all this information together to create a better funnel? Bob tends to have an answer for that last one. I’m still working on it myself.

Two Take Aways from My SEO Internship

Of course, a lot happened in between these moments that I handpicked to display what I learned this summer. I did some of these tasks more than once. I did some other tasks that I’m probably forgetting.  I made friends with the whole office.  I did my best to match Tom’s sarcasm. I went on a sales call with Bob. I gave Colleen advice for her son’s college search. I helped Vanessa bring back Bitmoji’s (I thought they never left).

In short, I learned two things this summer:

  1. SEO is a complex, challenging, fun, stressful, interesting, and absolutely crucial process.  There are a variety of tasks that go into it. Some are creative, others are technical, and many fall somewhere in between. It can make your head spin at times, but organic search plays such a huge role in generating business that the effort is always worth it.
     
  2. Working at FourFront LLC is a fantastic time, 10/10 would recommend, this place is awesome. They’ve found the right blend of human interaction and professionalism that many companies struggle to perfect. If you need to leave 20 minutes early on a Wednesday to pick your girlfriend up from the bus stop, it’s not the end of the world.  If you stay an hour late on your last day, half because you’re wrapping up a blog post and half because you don’t want to leave, they appreciate that too.  Here, it’s not about a strict 9-5 with scheduled lunch times and dress code, it’s about one thing: results. And that’s how it should be.

Today is my last day, and in a week I’ll be back at Penn State for my senior year. Whatever is in store for my career, I feel much more prepared having spent the past summer here. If I’m lucky, I’ll be back next summer as a full-time employee. If not, I’ll always appreciate the experiences I’ve had here at FourFront. Thanks, guys, it’s been real.

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