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How to excel in SEO: An industry that disrupts itself daily

Simon Mathonnet used to be a professional gamer who used his competitive and digital know-how to foray into digital marketing for startups across France, New York and Melbourne. Armed with a Master’s Degree in Digital Marketing, his role title now reads Head of Digital Strategy at leading digital agency Splashbox, and he’s only 26 years old.

Outside of work, he teaches SEO, SEM and digital marketing at General Assembly and you can often find him speaking at industry conferences sharing his insights and expertise. We wanted a first hand account from him on how he trail blazed his way to the top and how others can do the same in an industry whereby the rules are broken everyday.


Can you tell us about how you went from being a gamer to Head of Digital Strategy?

I think I was pretty lucky in how I was able to grow my skills; several start up owners placed their trust in me to run their digital marketing. For them being time poor and having so many other aspects of the business to run, it was easier back then with my lack of experience to score some great experience and build my digital marketing skills.

At some point in every marketer’s career, you are exposed to SEO as part of the marketing mix, and I proactively began doing some SEO consulting for startups as part of their strategy. Fast forward a few positions, I quickly made my way up to becoming an SEO specialist and then Head of Digital Strategy with Splashbox.


We’ve seen it in other trailblazers who’ve risen quickly due to throwing out established thinking or making bold career moves, how do you think others can fast track their career to the top?

I think it’s all about finding your driver. I have two drivers; I used to do competitive gaming, so I am incredibly ambitious when it comes to competition, and always want to be #1 (laughs). With SEO, you’re always trying to outrank other people’s websites so this really drives me forward to grow my skills really quickly, even outside of work. I’m driven by being the best at what I do. You need to really ask yourself, ‘What motivates you and what will continue to do so in the long term?’.

My second driver is my passion for the field. I find SEO and troubleshooting similar to puzzles and escape games, of which I’ve done about 50 around the world. You’ve got better chances at becoming really good at something really quickly when you love it. It’s about finding that inner part of you that makes you tick and really motivates you. This gives you a huge advantage and will far outweigh someone in a role that’s there purely for monetary purposes.


Being only 26 years old, have you had your ideas overlooked or voice not heard because of seeming ‘too junior’? How did you overcome this?

Luckily, this is a rare circumstance for me. I know that newcomers to any industry may always feel a bit apprehensive when first sharing their ideas. Also, it may be that because of my beard, I look older than my age! If you guide your approach with logic and education, people will always hear what you have to say. I believe in information sharing and don’t see that sharing your knowledge is a sacrifice but more so an offer of trust. You need to have a conversation with people and be really transparent, we’re all human beings at the end of the day.


What are 3 things you wish someone told you about a career in SEO?

1) Always challenge everything: The industry is ever changing and asking yourself ‘why’ is so important. “Why am I doing this?” is something people in SEO don’t ask themselves enough.

2) It’s all about experimentation: Create your own website, make it rank, get it penalised and try to lift the penalty for instance. Always experiment with your own projects to find out why something works and another thing doesn’t and this will help you grow your skills.

3) That the industry is so fast paced: Everyone says SEO is the long term gain and it takes months to see results whilst the reality is that new trends come up every single day that you need to be on top of. The longer it takes for you to learn new tools, the longer it takes to implement so it can be easy to fall behind. So always challenge yourself to be better than your competitors.


Do you recommend any certifications for others to improve their employability in SEO? Where are some reliable places to self learn?

From my perspective, it’s all about personal achievement. Even if you lack work experience, you can still build a website on your own and show results from that. It’s so easy to create a WordPress or Shopify site and sell anything you want on there. Try to optimise the site and continually improve it and from there your results will speak volumes. The beauty of SEO is that you don’t need to be in a company environment to get good at it. You can also attend workshops and classes at places like General Assembly to sharpen your skills or get industry advice on what you’re doing. You should also keep abreast of blogs, forums and specialised websites; there’s always so much content online that you can learn from. Some that I recommend include Moz Blog, Ahrefs Blog, SEMRush, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.


Is working in an agency environment important for your work experience and skill-building?

I believe it’s good to get agency experience, even if it’s just for a year. Having worked in both environments, I know that you’ll learn 10 times working in an agency than what you would in-house in the same amount of time. If you’re working in just one industry and on one website, it’s easy to get tunnel vision whilst if you are working on 15 different projects, you can experiment more, learn all the intricate parts and find out what works quicker.


What do you love about your industry and what are your gripes with it?

My main gripes with the industry is that because it’s ever changing and very technical, a lot of people can take advantage of this and rip people off. It’s disgusting and unfortunately something that I see every single day. How can business owners protect themselves against this? Take some time to educate yourself, get a second opinion and ask someone who’s already had SEO done on what their experience was like.

What I love about SEO is that the challenges means that you’re always trying to find new ways to overcome certain difficulties. There are no set rules, rather it’s about a mixture of best practices, logic, business acumen and personal experience. In the industry, results speak more than university degrees and experience. It’s not for everyone, but I am attracted to the ever changing environment, it’s always a mystery what’s around the corner. It’s not like maths, you can’t change the rules of maths everyday.


Connect with Simon Mathonnet on LinkedIn here.


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