“My name is Larry, and I’m a recovering certified public accountant.”
That was the first thing Larry Norton said after walking into our office. He hardly had time to grab his Jimmy John’s sandwich from the counter as we instantly began bombarding him with questions about his life, work, and passion for marketing.
As the former co-president of AIGA and an accountant turned SEO master, Larry had a lot to teach us about Search Engine Optimization and why it matters. Here’s a look at our conversation:
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an adult. I’m still working on it.
I didn’t remember this until I was in art school, but when I was a kid I wanted to be an animator and work for Disney. I had coloring pencils so I would do animation tweening (the process of generating intermediate frames between two images to give the impression of motion).
You go to an engineering school because you want to build a complex structure from primary elements. In art school, we need to deconstruct a problem into elements from which we then can visually communicate a solution.
What got you interested in SEO?
It started six years ago when I created my first WordPress website, I designed a site for Lithographics and asked Kenneth White develop it in WordPress. I learned the coding from Kenneth and was impressed with how SEO friendly WordPress was.
WordPress started out as a primarily for blogging, but now it is used by about 28% of all websites. WordPress has lost some business to Wix and SquareSpace as
these alternatives make building a website easier. But if the objective is for SEO then I work with WordPress. It is naturally set up for SEO, plus there are lots of plugins that can be used for added SEO optimization.
If you want a takeaway, you need to look up The Grid - the future of websites. It's artificial intelligence and works on an auto-design system which measures and analyzes the content, creates a color scheme and images, and then makes the design decisions. But I still like WordPress because of the way it is built for SEO. There is a plugin named Yoast with a premium SEO version, and it’s very strong. There’s just a ton of resources for WordPress and SEO work, which is something the Grid doesn’t have.
So how do you get ahead to get in the client’s head?
Most importantly we need to be very good listeners. Write good notes, then allow time to reflect on the client’s comments, sometimes those eureka moments come unexpectedly.
Designers tend to be visual thinkers who are intuitive and conceptual. Daniel Pink wrote a book named, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. When we were young were told it was bad to be an artist. Be a lawyer, accountant, engineer — that's what you need to be. But the problem is by doing that, we lose the ability to conceptualize, and that's what Americans are great at. When I was leaving the CPA world, the big accounting firms were sending their tax returns to India for preparation, but the creativity is sourced from America. That is the future and how we fit into it is something we will have to figure out.
Any thoughts on how we better use it?
Knowing how to write good page titles, it is the first thing a user sees in the search result. This title tag is also one of the most important factors for Google to know what the topic of the page is. There is a science to it. The first thing to do is to find useful research tools (like SEOmoz).
What are different types of SEO?
The golden rule with Google is to create a good experience for the visitor, make the visitor the number 1 priority. If it’s good for the visitor, then it’s good for Google. This type of rule would be called White Hat SEO; that is holistic in that it is written to inform the reader, how well search bots can index content, and keeping the site secure.
The opposite of a White Hat is the Black Hat SEO. Black Hats do things that will get you vanished from the SEO world and from being ranked by Google. It used to be that someone would write a keyword on a page a gazillion times (SEO keywords are words or phrases that make it possible for users to find your website). Another example was to set up a blank page and write words in white text so it isn’t visible to a visitor but can be read by a search bot indexing the page.
There’s also Negative SEO where someone who wants to take a competitor’s website down in ranking. For example, they could create a porno website and link that to their competitor’ website.
What are the most important aspects of SEOs?
The two most important factors of SEO are 1) content has to be informative and 2.) backlinks from authoritative websites such as .gov, .edu and .org.
As designers, think of hierarchy when you're designing because Google is an algorithm. The search bots analyze the keywords, so if you have a hierarchy, you're telling Google what the priority is. Keep the keyword content at the top of the page. Images always need to have an alt tag.
CAN YOU FIND OUT IF YOU ARE BEING HACKED BY NEGATIVE SEO?
Yes it is an expensive subscription but it is called Link Detox.
What is Lunch & Learn?
At Circa, we have a bold understanding that education never just stops after college. This has been the motivation for our new series: Lunch & Learn. Every month we will have lunch with some of the brightest people in the creative field ranging from painters to SEO masters; and poke their brains to get a better understanding of the world and our role as visual communicators.
Former CPA accountant turned SEO wizard Larry Norton is now a digital marketing professional, who has a a strong intellectual curiosity and a passion for innovation and collaboration. He creates effective interactive solutions that are responsive and content focused. His approach to interactive projects combines strategy, design, management and analytics that results in creative expression and business know-how.