60 Minutes With Aleyda Solis
- Aleyda’s Background in Nicaragua
- From Systems Engineering to Web Design
- Working in Sales and Pivoting into Digital Marketing
- How Aleyda Got into SEO
- Can Sales Experience Help SEOs?
- Most Important SEO Skills in the COVID-19 Era
- How Can You Stand Out in the Market as an SEO?
- Number One Piece of Advice for Aspiring SEOs
Deepak: Hello Aleyda. Hello everybody who's watching. I'm really, really excited today to be selfish and have the opportunity to spend 60 minutes… talking to Aleyda about her background as well, I don't know how to encapsulate it, but international SEO consultant, speaker, someone who has done many, many things outside of the world of SEO as I discovered yesterday.
Deepak: For all of those people who are just joining us right now, I'll give in fact the first five minutes to just say hello, let us know where you're from, let us know what you do.
Aleyda: From all over the world, that is awesome.
Deepak: Yeah, guys, this is going to be less about in-depth SEO questions and more about this is your opportunity to have free range to all Aleyda, whatever you would like that relates to her personal and professional background. Of course, we give Aleyda discretion to politely decline to answer some questions and to gracefully accept others.
We're going to give it one more minute, and then we're going to turn to asking Aleyda some lovely questions. Guys, for the final time, if you're joining, let us know where you're from, let us know what you do, let us know what questions you got for Aleyda, and I'm just looking forward to hearing all about her.
Aleyda’s Background in Nicaragua
Deepak: Aleyda, for the benefit of the audience, I think there's a lot of people that know you as the woman you are today, and the many awards and recognition that you gain within the SEO world, but let's kind of go back a step, and I'd love to hear briefly about your beginnings in Nicaragua and what life was like for you a little bit just growing up, what was it like? How was it in Nicaragua?
Aleyda: Yeah, it was very different, and I will say that even today if I were born right now in Nicaragua or even a few years later than I did, Nicaragua because I was born in the '80s. The issue during the '80s is in Nicaragua is it was a country that was at war.
I have to be honest, I never saw anything happen myself at the city, it was crazy, but when I was a kid, it felt safe. I wasn't that aware...because everything happened in the mountains, far abroad in the countryside of Nicaragua, in the north near Honduras, right?
But that realistically was a very strange moment for anybody who was born there, because if you were a male and were 16, you had to go to war. You were taken to the military, and then you actually had to go to take care of the country.
Deepak: What is the population in Nicaragua?
Aleyda: I think it's six million people last time I checked. It's a real place from a nature perspective, it's beautiful, it's tropical. I was born unfortunately in a very weird time, and of course because of the blockage, for example, we didn't have McDonald's this type of thing. It was a very strange time I guess.
Deepak: We spoke yesterday, and one of the things that's quite interesting was that when we were talking, you, I and Anton about were you rich, were you poor, and you were saying, “I was in a pretty much non-existent middle class”.
Aleyda: Middle class, because that is the problem usually in countries, certain countries in Latin America. There's 1% is very rich, a lot of people who have nothing literally and there's no middle class. The more middle class there is in general, much better society it is.
Unfortunately in Nicaragua, there wasn't much, but I was thankful enough part of that middle class, so this is the thing, at that time for me, I felt rather privileged and very happy with my life. I was able to get really good education, I went to a private school, I went to the French school, I learned a second language then. I had everything that I needed, and even I was raised by my grandmother because my mom and my dad divorced when I was very, very little.
Even like that, with this very own structure type of not usual type of reality when growing up, I felt super lucky because you could see actually on street little kids working or asking for money or food, things like that. It puts everything in perspective I think.
his is something that even today right now thankfully I have done very well in life from a professional perspective and from an economical standpoint too, but I am very aware of that.
Deepak: Kept you humble.
Aleyda: Everything into perspective for sure, yes.
Deepak: For me, what I find really fascinating in your case is I really love the openness about talking about relatively speaking “maybe I had some level of privilege”. It sounds like it's really fostered in an environment where you have some conditions to get a great education, but also remain respectful and to have the kind of humility of understanding that this is the roots of my country. I mean how has that, do you think, been critical to your professional development? How would you say that has a bearing upon where you are today looking back upon it?
Aleyda: A lot of influence, because I knew very early in my life that I needed to work very hard. I needed to be a really good student if I really wanted to have a good job. I needed to push myself and be really, really good, in order to get good opportunities. Yes, that has always been something that I think has influenced a lot of my work for sure, and how I approach things. I try to give it all and have a high work type of ethics type of thing.
Deepak: Yeah, yeah, that's just obvious from seeing your output and the amount of stuff that you've done. I thought that I knew you kind of well from the SEO circuit, and just from looking you up, but then ahead of this interview, I dug even further, and I was like holy cow, there's all this other stuff that you've done.
From Systems Engineering to Web Design
Everyone knows you for your name within the SEO community, but that's not where you started life. I kind of want to understand, tell us a little bit about Aleyda before she even touches Google Search Console or Google Analytics.
Aleyda: This is the thing, I had a previous professional life before SEO. I started systems engineering in Nicaragua, still in my country, and when I was in the first year of the university, this free HTML course was given to all students. I felt super bad because I was actually taking a more advanced math class than my older classmates that was at the same time as the (HTML) course.
I wanted to learn how to build websites at that point. What I started to do was I went to the teacher who was giving the course and I asked for the documentation and I started doing it by myself, and I rather found at that point at least it was rather logical.
You open the HTML tag you had the head, you had the body, so it was so logical for me, so I started doing it, and then this is very funny, when that course finished, they did this final type of competition everybody who had attended the course to see who could build the best website, right?
Anyway, I actually say okay I'm not taking the course, but can I participate in the competition? And I did, and I won it, but I have to say something I know that I didn't win necessarily because my HTML was the cleanest; I used frames on everything.
But, it's because I did it from a topic that of course, it engaged the audience and the people who voted. It was about marine turtles, and how marine turtles needed to be taken care of in Nicaragua because marine turtles that go every year in Nicaragua to put the eggs there and you need to take care of them. As a good marketer, (which I never knew that I was still at that point), I piggybacked on that trending topic that will have an emotional connection with the judges.
After that it was pure coincidence, I was approached by someone who was studying with me and he told me he has a family member who owned an ISP, you know an internet service provider. So he told me, "Look, they are looking for a new web designer to help them to build websites for their clients, are you interested to take that job?"
I started as a web designer working part-time there. This is how I started in the web world. But yes, before doing SEO I was a web designer, at some point I also was a support person, like IT support. I installed 100 computers and I migrated 100 computers from Windows 95 to Windows 2000 and I migrated them to active directory at that point. I also was an IT salesperson at a company and I sold servers and routers and switches.
Deepak: This is the part that really blows my mind, because it's what for me I find fascinating hearing about this journey is you coming from a systems engineering background, given the technical knowledge that you bring to your work today. The sales thing, this is just really, really interesting to me, now I have visions of you being in a boardroom or being on the phone, talk this through a little bit more.
Working in Sales and Pivoting into Digital Marketing
Aleyda: This all happened because there was a recruiting process that happened at my university already when I was in my fourth year. I wanted a little bit of a change. After I did a little bit of web design at the beginning I tried IT support because I wanted something more technical and related to what I did, that type of systems servers things like that.
At some point, I was just tired, because also as a good IT person sometimes I needed to work during the weekends, during night shifts, high availability with clients, this type of thing.
I ended up realizing that the salespeople that sold the servers that I took care of later on, they made a lot of money. There was this crazy opportunity it was like my best friend had a boyfriend or something like that, who had a friend who worked at GBM that was the representative of IBM in the Central America region.
This is what happens in small countries in Nicaragua, you know someone who knows someone. They referred us, the two of us because they had an open position. They were looking for a salesperson who was technical, and they could communicate with IT managers and sell those types of products. Technical products; enterprise-level type of products.
They ended up hiring me, and this is how I became a salesperson. I love the fact that I could communicate and go from company to company, because also I was a salesperson to big companies. I didn't have to do cold calls or anything like that, because also the company I was selling with was very well known in the country et cetera so I had all that advantage.
I had to participate at some point in public tenders, the whole process to sell and recommend the whole thing. Oh my gosh, it was draining and my boss at the time, I think he was the first type of boss with some sort of leadership that I have.
He was like "You know Aleyda you can see you have really good hard work type ethic, but you can say that you don't enjoy it." And it was true, I didn't. I wasn't enjoying it. It was very draining. At the end of the month it was like you either made the sale and you reached your goals, sales goals or you didn't. The work you had put behind, that was completely overlooked, and I didn't feel I was building something, right?
I got enough money to start traveling a little bit, this type of thing. That helped a lot, but then at that point after having that type of experience I got a call back to a former friend who had worked with me as a web developer, when I was still with designing and he told me, "Look Aleyda here in La Prensa ..." Which is the biggest newspaper in Nicaragua, they are looking for a new web designer front end web developer, are you interested because I heard that you were not happy as a salesperson, do you want to go back to this work?
Anyway, so I went back to the front end web development this time and I realized that was my work, because I love working web design; the creative side of it, and also a little bit of technical side of it, front end type of development.
I loved that until I realized that “oh my God, how do I bring traffic this to website that I built”? My bosses at the time started to ask me can we do something to bring more traffic, how do we convert it better; all these more marketing-related types of questions.
I started to look for courses, online marketing courses, eCommerce courses and I realized that there was this master in the University of Salamanca that was offered. It was supposed to be an eCommerce master, then I realized that it was not that much about real eCommerce from a marketing perspective, but from a development, but anyway, I took it, I took the first year when I was still working there in Nicaragua, and then the second year I came to Spain to Salamanca to study.
Deepak: The first year whilst you were living in Nicaragua so you did that all remotely?
Aleyda: Yes, 2006 I did, and then I came to Spain in 2007.
Deepak: You're still in Spain right now aren't you?
Aleyda: Yeah, well for a year I lived in Brussels. For a while, I lived in Madrid also, and I really enjoyed it, but then after a while, I moved to the north of Spain to Santander, mainly because my husband's family is from the region, not from this city, but from the region, so we used to come often anyway, and I loved it.
There's a beach, I have a beach a kilometer from here, you have the mountains, it's very nature-oriented, and since I can work from anywhere I'm usually I have to travel and socialize.
How Aleyda Got into SEO
Deepak: Is there anything more you want to add Aleyda about how you got into the field of search? I think now that COVID has happened we're going to see a true perhaps explosion where people recognize it as a career that you can take outside of university so I wonder when did you first become aware of SEO as being something that could offer a career for you?
Aleyda: It all happened when I was in Salamanca already and I was doing my master’s and realized I wasn't actually learning what I intended to be learning in a way. But I started to look for a job. I wanted to make money, also support myself.
I didn't have that much money at the time unfortunately so it was like a good side job that also was in the field, so I started to look for web development, front end web development with designing whatever. Then I realized that I was actually very lucky because a lot of Spanish schools in Salamanca because this is the place where foreigners go to learn Spanish in Spain very usually.
There were also a few online marketing agencies in Salamanca because of this; because they offer the optimization type of services to these types of companies to attract international students and this was pretty straightforward with SEO still today.
I ended up applying and looking at the ad for a job that said something like “we're looking for a web content manager to help to maintain, to keep an updated network of websites and to monetize those websites and optimize those websites.”
I went to the interview, and at the time I met who will become my boss...and he literally gave me my first position related to online marketing, so I was in charge of developing everything for those websites. The content, the monetization, the optimization to attract traffic. At the online marketing agency, they also had SEO clients so we got trained by the SEO who was at the time at the agency, and this is how I learned SEO.
Here's the thing, when the person who was doing SEO at the time moved on to another company, they opened a new role and said, “hey who wants to become or focus more on SEO?” I was like “oh this is me.”
I actually realized that I love that really much because it actually had this overlay of things that I actually love to do, the technical side, the marketing side, the content side, the communication side, monetization, everything. I ended up working there for four years and a half.
I became at some point the head SEO person of the agency. This is why I started doing a lot of international SEO at the time, because a lot of the clients that we had, they were a lot of education and travel sector companies that looked to attract people to their websites from other countries, you know the languages, so that is how it was so natural for me to start doing that at the time.
Deepak: Oh wow, okay, fantastic. It does sound really, really as if SEO provided a perfect blend for skills as well as the interest that you had, and given as you said with the international element the travel clients, especially given your background, it must have been a really, really, really good fit.
Abas was asking where do you draw your inspiration from in terms of your approach and making decisions, is there something that you follow or something that works for you in terms of having ideas for anything that would be considered innovative?
Can Sales Experience Help SEOs?
Deepak: Haydon asked how do you feel your sales experience has helped in your SEO career?
Aleyda: Yeah, in the way how I approach SEO consulting to get good feeling clients, 100%. Clients that will fit the best and everything. You know this is very interesting, but when I was a salesperson, because I was working for this company, GBM that is the representative for IBM in Central America, or it was at the time. Anyway, we got this sales course that was called the signature selling method...they taught you to sell solutions not products.
Complex solutions that cost a lot of money and needed technical validation, so it was pretty much SEO. This is how I got my approach of how to sell SEO. I know that not everybody who wants SEO is actually able to implement an SEO process or willing to wait for the time or a good fit for it at least.
The way that I approach my SEO selling service with clients, potential clients is like that. I validate if it is a good fit, it's going to be actually a solution for their problem...sell as a sales person. I really love that I got the chance to understand sales that way. Earlier in my previous life, because then I just had to extrapolate that into SEO in order to find better clients, good clients.
Most Important SEO Skills in the COVID-19 Era
Deepak: In today's market, in this post COVID-19 era, what would you consider to be the most important skills that someone going into the world of SEO should have? To include the SEO side, but also to include other skills that you must need to succeed in a career.
Aleyda: Yes, I think that what is important I think is to know that in SEO especially because it's changing all the time, for example, what we are implementing right now because of COVID is very likely not what we had initially planned at the beginning of the year.
I think that especially for people who are starting, and they enter to this complex world where there is a technical side, a content side, a more promotional side of things, it might look very complex at the beginning and so spread out and so big right now at this point, it wasn't necessarily when I started, but now it has branched out so much and the need to try to keep up and to learn about everything.
Digging through and finding out for themselves and testing things for themselves. Then to realize that they don't need to know or to be the best about everything because right now it's pretty much impossible.
But what they actually need is to on one hand know how everything works and everything fits together and it fits like a puzzle, right to make it work and to move the needle of traffic and ROI marketing, from a marketing perspective and business perspective, because at the end of the day this is what people hire SEOs for, this is the first thing.
Then on the other hand, instead of being like oh my God, I need to learn about all this, and be the best of all of this is rather impossible. Prioritize, go little by little, test it out yourself on your own website, that is the best way to learn to validate, to check, because there's always so much information, the latest update, this works whatever.
Know how to prioritize, learn the fundamentals, learn how SEO fits as a puzzle within marketing and then it will better fit so you can see what really connects better to your own skills where it is better to focus on and to specialize on. Maybe it's in the technical side, maybe it's in the content side, maybe it's in the building side. There's room for everything and that's the beauty of it.
I think that you need to do this little by little, but first digging out, being very proactive, very curious, understanding that there's not only a single path for everything, that's not true. There's so much opportunity here for everybody to find out or to identify an opportunity to bring value, and at the end of the day without leaving out something critical, that is not about doing flashy things, no it's about bringing value to clients to make their marketing goals to be achieved, and that's it, right?
Deepak: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I think that's fantastic advice. You've actually without necessarily realizing Aleyda, you answered Zach's question as well. Zach asked how do you get experience when you don't have experience? He talks about his catch-22 situation.
Zach, I just want to kind of reiterate what Aleyda has said, which is fantastic advice, focus on fundamentals and she said something that is really, really important. You can experiment on your own websites all by yourself. That is something that you can do without needing an employer and really is, to be honest with you, is quite powerful.
Literally, three days ago I was pitched by a guy who said “I'm struggling for employment, I tried to get a job at an SEO agency in Birmingham, so I spent four months trying to outrank them for the keyword SEO agency Birmingham on my own website. I didn't get that to be honest with you, but I got to the bottom of page one”. My God, it was so impressive to hear that someone took that approach. He's just onboarded today.
Aleyda: What I would recommend, go through all of SEMrush Academy content, because there's amazing content right there to learn SEO from scratch, and then start building your website with that in mind. Get even a simple HTML course even just to understand the building blocks of it, then you can even build it with WordPress if you want, whatever.
But I think start doing it for yourself, about something that you are passionate about, something you can even in the future monetize when I start to do the remote work website, it was not because I was going to make money out of it, because I actually really believe in it, and the value that it could bring to people’s lives and opportunities.
I will say do that because on one hand, then you can realize, you might realize that you're really great at building websites and might want to focus much more in web development, or that you're a great copywriter and then you will show that website as a proof that you know how to write well, or that you're a great SEO and you are doing SEO with your own website, and you will show that as proof.
Building out your own website will already set you apart from half of the other people who are applying without one because it shows your commitment, it shows what you already learned even as someone who has been unemployed, so I will say do that. I think that can bring you a lot of value and open your opportunities for so many things.
How Can You Stand Out in the Market as an SEO?
Deepak: Kate has forwarded us a good question from Haydon. As we know, SEO is unregulated let's say, how can someone as a practitioner ultimately charge more and stand out in the market? One of the common questions that we'll get for example on a call is Deepak, what makes you guys different? A very common question, right? What's your advice to Haydon about how we can manage it?
Aleyda: You need to know your unique selling proposition. What is something that you can provide or make you unique that all the SEOs cannot, or have a harder time doing. For example, this is why it's so important to think well about the type of path that you want to take.
I wanted to work remotely. I did know that I didn't enjoy managing companies or doing the business side of things, but I did enjoy doing SEO. I found a good way to build a small consultancy that will allow me to keep doing what I love, which is SEO and growing in another way that is in the complexity of projects that I work on, and the type of companies that I work on, instead of volume, right?
Then of course, then you need to realize what is the characteristics that make you stand out at that. When the client comes, they know that they will be working with me who has certain years of experience in these very specific scenarios rather than for example a big agency with a big name, yes, but rather they will be taking care of by an account manager who actually doesn't know SEO or they will need to reach out to an SEO who's junior or might not have necessarily this type of experience.
For example, I wouldn't be necessarily a good fit for small company and SMB, but I am a great fit for large companies. Most of my clients they do have their own in house SEO teams even, digital marketing teams, and what they look when they hire me is an additional validation support for specific projects, specific scenarios, specific challenges for which they need the strategical, additional strategical type of SEO approach with a lot of experience in those scenarios.
Deepak: Absolutely, absolutely. Haydon, I think that's fantastic advice. As Aleyda has outlined, being mindful of what you're trying to achieve and the kind of in Aleyda's example she's given the kind of business or practitioner that you want to be, then we'll really, really, dictate how you can specialize, and therefore what makes you unique.
If you're at the early stages of your career of course, and you can't perhaps trade for example on Aleyda's background, Aleyda's experience, which for many of us, or for many of you even starting out of course it's not entirely the same thing, but that's also opportunity to build experience, to build expertise, to figure out what you like.
Aleyda: You need to understand as a freelancer, as an agency or as a business, that a good chunk of your time will go into things that are not necessarily SEO. You need to be comfortable selling, you need to be comfortable supporting clients, speaking, doing invoices, doing proposals, doing contracts, doing this, all these different stuff, that at some point many of them you'll be able to delegate, but it's important that you realize that you need to have this into consideration.
I have to say some fantastic SEOs who they could very well build their own agency and be amazing independent consultants, but they are not doing it, because they realize that it's something they wouldn't enjoy. They prefer to be employees. That's completely fine. We are all different.
In my case, I wanted to be independent, and I became independent when I felt actually that I was in a good capacity to bring business to myself, while enjoying the flexibility of working for myself. All of everything happened as I wanted, but it's important to get to the point when you can validate that and verify that and also realize that if you want to become a freelance, you need to be more than willing and be happy by doing the non SEO part of it too.
Deepak: Absolutely. I think recognizing that there is to some degrees, even if you're an individual or with an agency, there's some aspects, building contracts, sending invoices, having an accountant.
If you're going to start on a journey, whether it's freelance or agency owner, it will pay dividends to learn a little bit about the invoicing process, about how to build an SEO proposal, and how to for example communicate, because part of your role, you will not get away from sales, because you're going to be communicating ultimately your value at some level.
Number One Piece of Advice for Aspiring SEOs
Aleyda, we've got the last minute that we're coming into, I want to ask you a final question as we wrap up this webinar. I would love if you could answer for us, looking back at your career to date, what is the number one piece of advice that you have for someone right now in today's market post-COVID who's really looking to make a name for themselves in the SEO world as you've done, what would be your advice to that person if they were starting on their journey?
Aleyda: I will say that they should find that particular spot they enjoy doing the most in SEO, because SEO is very broad at this point, and what the market is looking for and that will be a sweet spot they can focus on. Because when you are doing something that you love and you're really passionate about you'll become simply the best.
You will learn and you will excel and you will want to share about it and only think about it and develop much more about it, so it will become very natural for you to be sharing in a blog post or speaking about it at some point getting a name for yourself, things like that, getting much better jobs because of the great job that you're doing.
I think that everything else is pretty natural. This is the beauty of the SEO world that we have Twitter, we have a lot of blogs that if you show that you know, if you share useful insightful stuff they will be the first one willing to publish on our website or I'll invite you on ones that you, for example, I think definitely there's I think the barrier is very low at this point because you can't even it's much more common than before. Do a webinar like this with YouTube yourself and show what you know.
Deepak: Guys, spoken like a true system's engineer I might add. Aleyda, listen, I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to hear more about your history and to understand the journey. Everybody who's been listening thank you for taking the time to ask questions to engage with us, to hear more about everything and anything that relates to Aleyda's story, both SEO and non SEO. Catch you on the next webinar. Thank you, everybody.
Aleyda: Thank you very much, bye-bye.