SERPWizz Interviews: Shell Robshaw-Bryan

Shell Robshaw-Bryan

Surefire Media

Shell has been creating content with an SEO focus for the past 20 years and works for the eCommerce agency Surefire Media.

Check out Shell’s: Website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Email

What are some of the biggest challenges/obstacles you faced when starting out with SEO, and why?

I think initially, the biggest challenge was getting my head around how quickly things changed in the early days and how fast SEO in the last 10 years has evolved. Early on, the sheer volume of ranking factors felt daunting, but when I started in SEO 20 years ago, my trial and error approach quickly taught me what worked and what didn’t!

Tell us about your favourite/most successful link-building strategy - how quickly do you typically see results from this method?

I’m not a fan of large scale link-building outreach. I like to grow my clients link profiles in a way that’s as natural and as close to organic as possible. With this in mind, certainly recently, the most successful results I’ve in terms of backlink building have been achieved off the back of influencer outreach and PR activity.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I have a spreadsheet packed full of SEO ideas as well as a step by step activity plan that I’ve developed over the years. If I’m truly struggling for inspiration and have reached content ideas dead end, this is a document that I turn to, and there’s always something in it that sparks my imagination and allows me to retain my focus and enthusiasm, no matter who the client is!

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?​

Even these days, I’m still shocked by the low quality of content being churned out by some very large, established SEO agencies. I run a highly successful outdoors and travel blog myself, and have refused to work with countless agencies whose sample content was exceptionally poorly written. I think it’s important for businesses to realise that just because they might be working with a big agency, it doesn’t mean that there’s always great quality control and I’ve seen too much content churned out that’s very clearly been written for Google and not for humans. Anyone who says SEO content should be written for Google first and for people second is missing the most basic foundation of a strong, sustainable SEO strategy!

What do you think about link swaps?

I very occasionally do these, but it’s never part of my formal SEO activity plan. If I find a high authority website with super relevant content, then occasionally I might approach and suggest a link swap, likewise when I’m approached, occasionally I’ll agree, but I have to be honest probably 95% of the emails I get asking to swap links I turn down.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Taking time out to read the Google search quality guidelines document which is a hefty tome, but well worth the time it takes to thoroughly read it.

How do you choose who to reach out o/partner with? Where do you find them, and what approach do you take when reaching out?

I take a manual approach to things like influencer outreach. A blanket approach means you’re always going to miss some great opportunities whilst attracting others that aren’t the best fit. In everything I do, I follow a quality over quantity ethos, so I personalise my introduction and depending on who, I’ll work hard at establishing some sort of relationship prior to me approaching them, even if it’s just so they are aware of me or the business I’m managing SEO for at the time.

Describe your most effective SEO campaign ever. What made it so successful, and why?

I’ve got several campaigns under my belt that have been much more successful than I could have ever imagined. Timing plays a big role for sure. If you start working on an SEO campaign just as the core topic is exploding in popularity leading to a boom in any particular niche, then you can easily ride the wave and achieve top 3 in Google success very quickly, so any clients with products or services that are topical and currently relevant, for example, right now that’s pretty much all online retailers and anyone who is involved with products or services relating to wellbeing, mental health and working from home.

Tell us one thing about SEO that most people don't know?

It’s not a one-off activity! It takes time and sustained effort to achieve a top position and then to retain that top position.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why?

On a personal level I live my life with the “Don’t be a dick” ethos. We’re all doing our best, we all have good and bad days, but in general, be kind. Life is tough enough without us being awful to each other.

When did you first become a rebel?

I’ve always had a rebellious streak, from getting my first tattoo at 15, numerous piercings and going off on last-minute travels to appease my adventurous spirit, but I’ve always had quite a shrewd head on my shoulders even as a teenager, and have worked hard to ensure I have a good work/life balance.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

I never see anything as failing, because I believe in finding positives wherever possible. I see failure as a learning experience and as long as you’re always learning, adapting and growing, you can’t possibly fail!

What careers advice would you give to your 21-year old self?

I feel that coming out of Uni I had been brainwashed into believing the propaganda of ‘success’. I came believing I had to work in the city, earn x amount of money, buy a house, get married etc. It’s all utter nonsense and the moment I realised none of that consumerist rubbish leads to happiness, I became a far happier person than I’d ever been. Not wanting those cliche things and understanding that none of those things leads to happiness is the biggest life lesson I’ve ever learned.

Tell us about your business. What does it do and what value do you add?

I work full time for Surefire Media, a Cheshire based eCommerce agency and I head up the small marketing  department. We build Shopify website, and then we help our clients to generate sales with our strategic marketing and SEO services. The businesses we deal with, either don’t have technical SEO skills in house, they don’t have time to write content and they don’t have time or enough ideas for marketing their business and actually reaching customers. We add value by working with businesses to fill the skills gaps they have internally, helping them reach their objectives of improving their rank in Google organic search and improving sales.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

My alternative profession would have been something in  psychology. I loved studying psychology at A’Level and remain a huge science nerd, so if I had my time again, that’s the path I’d most likely take.

Where do you see the SEO/link building industry in the next 5 years?

I think it’s hard to predict, but gearing up towards voice search remains at the top of my list and in 5 years I can see almost all web searches being conducted verbally.

What is a 'hack' you have for success that most people don't know about?

You can’t just sit back and wait for success. You have to be extremely tenacious and not afraid of hard work. If you’re a strictly ‘work to rule’ type and won’t put in a minute of work or learning over and above what your contracted to do, you’ll find it far harder
to succeed.

What one song can you listen to every day non-stop?

Anything by Radiohead, I never get bored of them.

How has Covid-19 changed your industry?

Covid-19 has made retailers and businesses realise just how important their website is, whether it’s getting online ordering up and running or optimising their website so more people can find them in organic search, awareness of SEO and why it’s necessary seems to be higher than ever.

How has Covid-19 changed your company?

Thankfully, the only change for us has been switching the team to working from home and daily Zoom meetings to catch up with each other. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a  eCommerce company, very little has changed for us apart from an
increase in demand that is!

What's your favourite holiday destination?

I have two favourite holiday destinations. Whistler in Canada as I love snowboarding and it’s my favourite resort in the world that I’ve visited (so far!) and the other destination would be the Maldives which is glorious and the diving is superb.

What popular celebrity do you admire the most and why?

I don’t ascribe to celebrity culture. I mostly admire real people that I know, not public figures that I don’t know.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

I don’t eat breakfast. I follow an Intermittent Fasting regime and fast most days until about 2pm in the afternoon.


Heather Wilkinson


Heather Wilkinson is a globe-trotting content creator and PR enthusiast who’s finally put down roots in her native UK. When she isn’t working, you’ll find her pretending to care about Minecraft for her son’s sake, while secretly reading the latest Ace Atkins novel (or sleeping – her second favourite past-time).