The second half of our sit-down with special guest JR Oakes, Senior Director of Technical SEO Research at Adapt Partners, during Episode 308 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast included discussions of how SEOs can get started using data in their work, ways machine learning is transforming SEO, and whether or not SEO is dead or dying (spoiler alert: neither one is true). Here’s what we learned:

How to Get Started with Data for SEOs


If an SEO wants to take a deeper dive into leveraging data in their work, how does JR Oakes suggest they start? For him, it’s all about learning by doing, so you have to just jump in and start trying things. To make a real go of it, you’ll need to know a bit about using the Python programming language in order to take advantage of APIs to extract data from where you want to get it (like Google Search Console). The best way to do that is by finding a few relevant courses on a site like Coursera and just choose the ones that have the highest ratings. After that it’s all about trial and error by just starting a project and working on it. Do a bit of research on who has already done something or is working on something like it and then try to do it yourself. Some great tools to help after a bit of online coursework include the following:

A Sidebar About Machine Learning


Machine learning is having an ever-increasing influence in SEO and digital marketing in general. This is part of why SEOs need to be learning the data tools mentioned above because it’s the immediate near future of SEO. One area of concern, at least for some, is what’s beginning to happen with machine learning and automation around content creation. People are working on having the machines actually generate the content automatically. It will undoubtedly work, but how good will it really be if it’s not backed up by deep domain knowledge? What about the stylistic nuances many people enjoy in human-created content? So then you end up with the machines generating the content and other machines (Google) deciding which machine-generated content is the best. Do we want to trust machines to do all that? And what about the notion that if there’s bias in the data from which the machines are learning (and the data definitely has its biases) then what comes out is going to be biased as well. There are exciting, good things happening with machine learning (like some of the things it is accomplishing in the medical arena), but there are also bound to be parts that are less likable, like those just mentioned.

The Reports of SEO’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated


Why does it seem like there’s always a chorus of voices chanting “search” and/or “SEO” is dead? Clearly, it is not dead. It does, however, keep changing. In that sense old practices do die because they no longer like they used to, but SEO is alive and well. As long as there is something between users and websites (a.k.a. Google) that ostensibly helps users find what they’re looking for, search and SEO will not die. If people continue to use search engines to find what they seek, then there will be a need for SEOs to do what they can to make their content more findable than the content of competitors.

[linktimestamp time=1:02:43] Even though SEO isn’t dead or dying, it does have its problems as a field[/linktimestamp]. There are too many conferences, too many awards, and a reinforcement of personality over value. There is too much noise and not enough focus on doing things of value. Everyone runs around shouting “Google announced such and such,” which is little more than creating and sharing content for the sake of content, not for bringing real value to the table. Not enough young SEOs are being encouraged to put themselves out there and share what they are learning. There’s too much of tendency among SEOs to play everything very close to the vest.

But having said that, it’s also a very exciting time for SEOs if you pay attention to the right people. SEOs like Paul Shapiro, Hamlet Batista, Britney Muller (who will be the EDGE guest on Tuesday April 9 at 3pm ET), Kevin Indig, Patrick Stox – these are people who are trying interesting things with data, algorithms, and methodologies that go beyond the same tired tropes. They’re not afraid to fail, and all of them are also more than willing to share and discuss. They put themselves out there to potentially be wrong. That’s how SEOs can learn and grow. This is why I help host a local SEO meetup in Raleigh, NC called @BEERandSEO. We attract local agency and in-house SEOs to attend with the lure of great content like our April guest, JP Sherman. And free beer helps as well!


Connect with JR Oakes, Senior Director, Technical SEO Research at Adapt Partners

Twitter: @jroakes (



SEO meetup (Raleigh, NC) Twitter: @BEERandSEO (

Adapt Partners website:

Adapt Partners Twitter: @AdaptPartners (

Adapt Partners Facebook: @AdaptPartners (


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