John Doherty from Distilled Teaches MnSearch about Technical SEO

John Doherty, Office Head for Distilled NYC
John Doherty, Distilled NYC

On an unseasonably balmy evening in Minneapolis, one of the great minds in technical Search Engine Optimization taught members and guests of MnSearch about the importance of the technical side of SEO using real life examples to prove his case. John Doherty, Office head of Distilled’s NYC office and technical SEO wunderkind, dazzled the MnSearch with a well thought out and expertly structured presentation that may serve as a rallying cry for Minnesota SEO’s for years to come:

“Quit building links and fix your freakin’ site”

The MnSearch gang learned so much during John’s 90+ minute presentation that it’s difficult for a blog post to do it justice… but we will try our best.

But first, let’s set the tone for the night at MnSearch. Like any good event at the end of a long work day, the evening started out with a wonderful spread of food and refreshments. There would be no hunger or thirst at the Day Block Building in Minneapolis this night.

MnSearch Beer
Fresh off of SearchFest in Portland, MnSearch brought a little taste of Oregon to fuel our guests conversations

While we waited for our 75+ esteemed guests to arrive for the evening, many of our special guests had the opportunity to get to meet John before his presentation started. We really appreciate how much time John was able to give to our organization!

John Doherty Preparing for MnSearch Event
John Doherty and Adam speaking before the MnSearch Event

Once the majority of our guests arrived, board member Aaron Weiche kicked off the night and he was followed by our President, Ward Tongen.

Aaron Weiche Announcements
Aaron Weiche Announcing MnSearch activities

Then it came time for John Doherty to kick off his talk. Here’s a few things you should know about John:

  • John promises that he will get geeky with his talk tonight
  • He started in the industry as a Web Developer and has been a Blogger for 10 years. He received his degree from James Madison University
  • Fun Fact: John wears the same red shirt while speaking that he does in his profile photo in order to provide familiarity to everyone.
    • Unconfirmed: He may also be a part time lumberjack
  • The best way to get in touch with John is via Twitter. This is proof that Twitter is not a fad
John Doherty showing off his contact info and commenting on his shirt.
John Doherty showing off his contact info and commenting on his shirt.

While the official title for John’s Presentation may have been “How to Achieve SEO Success Through Technical SEO” – the MnSearch crowd was delighted with the more accessible title of the presentation:

“Quit building links and fix your freakin’ site”

Quit Building Links
“Quit building links and fix your freakin’ site”

Something tells me that we received the “PG” version of that title. Something tells me our audience wouldn’t have minded the uncensored version either.

As we get into the presentation, John followed an easy to understand format that covered on 4 major talking points to the adoption of technical SEO:

  • Discover
  • Pitch
  • Strategy
  • Execute

Much of the presentation focused on the discovery portion of this process, but also contained useful tips across the other areas as well.


“A lot of sites don’t need more links”

It turns out that many SEO’s are so focused on links, they don’t realize how much can be done with the links they already have. With larger sites that are already established, you can often gain in rankings and make your current links work harder by doing a better job at technical optimization.

John’s advice is to harvest data from several tools. The good news is that most of these tools are free or less than $99! This means price should not be an issue when it comes to SEO on your site.


Use these tools to harvest data about your site. You can learn a lot from a Screaming Frog crawl of your website. And we mean a LOT.

Duplicate Content is Bad

One of the things you should beware of is duplicate content on your website. If you have a large website, duplicate content is almost inevitable, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. For example, does a fantastic job with SEO, and yet they have 26,400 results with the words “Nike Shoes” when you use the site: command in Google.

The tools John mentions will help get you on the way to identifying and clearing up your duplicate content issues.

Fix Architecture Issues

Use a tool like Visio to crawl your website and visualize the interlinking that you have between sites.

Information Architecture Kills Rankings

Just beware with what you present, because if you show an image of a link network to your boss or an executive in your company, they will have trouble understanding the image or frankly caring about the story.

John puts it more bluntly:

“If you show this image to your boss, I will fly to your office and kick you in the shins”


The amount of pages on your site that get crawled by Google is on a limited budget, so choose wisely. Make sure only your good pages are crawled, not pages you aren’t interested in having crawled. For example, don’t waste your crawl budget on your PPC landing pages with little focused SEO value. Use robots.txt to point crawlers to your most important pages.


Use pagination in order to help search engines navigate through your deep content pages, article directories, etc. that use pages to split up results. The HTML element of rel=”next” and rel=”prev” is a must-use tag for larger sites!

Bad Redirects

Be very careful with your redirects. Don’t get caught in a chain of 10,000+ redirects on a website with 250 pages of content! Redirect loops are a real concern for sites, but can often go unnoticed to a normal user. Simulate what search engines see by using a crawl tool like Screaming Frog to help find flaws.

Inform Content Strategy with Technical SEO

Footers still work, so use them to help new pages get indexed.

Make sure that your content is not too thin, because thin content is bad. The more words on your page, the better chance of ranking.

This section of the presentation lead to one of my favorite quotes of the night:

“Content is not an SEO play, content is a brand play. It’s a play to become a thought leader in your space”

Social shares are great for content

Use Sharedcount or Social Crawlytics to understand what is happening with social for your site.

Learn from the success of others. SEOMoz has an excellent article about what type of content gets links.


Rank issues in order of effort/return and then get internal buy-in for the changes you are proposing.

SEO Priority List

“Pitch the why and the what, not the how”

Pro Tip: Try to do ROI Modeling of the change you are proposing. Make it easy to understand the potential payback of the proposed activities.


“Pitch tests, not across the board changes”

It’s a lot easier to get acceptance for a change that will be done in a few weeks and cost $2,000 than it would for an entire website redesign that takes months and carries a 6 figure price tag. Propose small changes to test your theory, and when they work, propose the next step.

“If it works, keep pitching”

Break up your project into manageable tasks by using a task management system like Trello or an agile management system to manage tasks.


Take all of the information that was researched and proposed above and GET IT DONE!

This is where we start to see results, but also where we meet friction. Friction from web development teams, executives and others. Mitigate some of that friction by providing:

  • Transparent Reporting
  • ROI Estimation
  • Empathy

ROI Formula


John Doherty and Josh Braaten from MnSearch
John Doherty and Josh Braaten from the MnSearch Board

John Doherty presented a tremendous amount of knowledge and thoughtful tips to the MnSearch crew. The members and guests that I talked to after the presentation walked away inspired and enlightened, and more than one person planned to rush home and work on putting their new knowledge into practice.

I remain impressed by the quality of content and engagement that we see in our MnSearch events and can’t wait for Search Snippets next month and our next big quarterly event in May!

Jeff Sauer is a Board Advisor for MnSearch. Jeff is also the Vice President at Three Deep Marketing in St. Paul, MN and author of the popular Digital Marketing Blog Jeffalytics. Teacher, Speaker and passionate marketer, you can find Jeff on Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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