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Interview with Kristina Azarenko: Technical SEO

Author: Iveta Osobová
15 minutes of reading
26. 10. 2022
Table of contents

In the world of SEO, knowing its technical part is critical as it helps search engines crawl your website and rank it in the search results too. That's why we spoke to Kristina Azarenko to learn more about technical SEO and website migrations. 

Kristina is a founder of MarketingSyrup and SEO course creator with over 10 years of hands-on experience. So if you are wondering about starting your journey in technical SEO or want to learn actionable SEO tips, then this interview is exactly for you! 

 

 

Video Transcription


Hi Kristina. It's nice to meet you. Before we get started, would you like to introduce yourself briefly? 

Hey, yes of course. My name is Kristina Azarenko. It's hard for me to introduce myself because things have shifted so much. I used to be a full-time SEO, then I was an SEO consultant, and now I call myself an SEO hero. Which people might think it's too much. But personally, I think that is the right way to describe myself because I've been in the industry for over a decade and I've been in all different areas of it.

And also I've worked in-house. I worked with agencies and then I was freelancing and then consulting, and now I'm of course creator. So basically I've seen it all. I'd say my main mission is to make the SEO world better. I just did it in different ways but currently, I'm helping people to learn SEO properly, to know the SEO world and SEO things correctly and do a really good job when it comes to SEO. So yeah, that's me. 

I used to be based in Toronto, Ontario in Canada. Now, I'm in Alberta. That's something I need to get used to when I introduce myself as well, because I’ve just moved. That's basically me and I'm happy to be here.

 

That's incredible. Thank you for introducing yourself as well. What made you start your journey in technical SEO?

It's a great question. When I started with an SEO course over 10 years ago. When I did it, I had no idea what a website was. So like, I have no idea how I even signed on to that course because I didn't know anything.

I was like, "Okay, SEO sounds interesting. Let's go."

And I spent I think, two of my salaries on this. And then I started learning. I completely fell in love with SEO. I was done working as a debt collector at a watch factory. I took two weeks off just because I really wanted to learn SEO. I remember reading blogs all the time, like 8 hours a day. And sometimes, a lot of times being intimidated by SEO and the technical world because I didn't think that I was tech savvy. I didn't know anything as I said about websites, like adding an XML sitemap to a domain root folder sounded like a foreign language to me.

So that's how it started. And then after this course, I landed a junior SEO job. And then I was really fascinated by the technical SEO science specifically. I especially started finding different issues and fixing them. I fell in love completely. 


What would you say is your proudest achievement so far in your career?

I'd say in my SEO career... I mean, I don't have a usual SEO career, who does honestly? But I'd say that I've recently been really proud of my students. So I'm proud of what I achieved, but I'm most proud of what my students have achieved because I know that many of them changed jobs, became SEOs, and became more confident. It's incredible. So that's what they really, really love. At some point, they realized, "Okay, I can help a limited number of clients if I continue working with them. And I really loved working with clients and helping them."

But for example, I can help with one migration, but if I teach people how to do this, it can be 50 or 100 migrations done properly. So that's for me, kind of scale and also... I'm just super proud of my students. 

 

You keep mentioning your students. I think now is the time also to mention your popular Marketing Syrup Academy. You recently launched your Tech SEO Pro course as well. Correct me if I'm wrong. 

Would you mention some main technical SEO challenges your students struggle with the most? 

I think overall, what I see people in general amd my students sre struggling with when it comes to technical SEO, is understanding the main pillars and infrastructure.

Because you hear things like you hear no index, you hear, canonical, you hear robots.txt, but you don't know how exactly they work together. And should they be said together or not in the first place? So that's basically the infrastructure issue when people don't put pieces together. So that's what I helped them with during the course.

A more specific thing would be indexing versus crawling. I find that, and I used to be like that as well. I used to be confused. I used to say like, robots.txt is indexing, and then they didn't know that it isn't indexing but crawling. But it's fundamentally important when you provide recommendations to the clients when you decide whether you need to use robots.txt or whether you need to use robots meta tags.

It can be really confusing, especially at the beginning. So I'd say indexability versus crawlability would be the main issue that people struggle with before they understand how it works. 


The technical side of SEO is quite complex. We all know that, and it can be hard to comprehend. What would be your advice to someone who wants to start working in tech SEO? 

I'd say the first thing would be to love it. Because if you don't, that would be really hard. That could be frustrating. The second thing is to be okay with feeling intimidated and silly sometimes. Because after 2, 3, 5, or 10 years you still have things to learn. And sometimes it's so funny for me to hear people saying, “Oh, I'm an expert. I've been in SEO for like six months.” But that's how all people feel when they start. Right? 

But when it comes to technical SEO, you can feel intimidated many times, and that's totally fine. I'd say that in order to be good at it, you need to understand the core pillars of technical SEO and go from there.

For me, that would be understanding the pages you want Google to rank, pages you don't want Google to rank, and page experience. And all the technical SEO tools, and I'm not talking about Marketing Miner right now or Search console. I mean tools, for example, a new index tag, robots.txt. Let's call these things tools for your technical SEO. So how to use those tools to ensure that the right pages are ranking. That the pages you don't want Google to see or rank are handled properly as well. And how do you make sure that the experience is good. 

For example, when it comes to page speed. So that for me would be understanding the infrastructure of technical SEO and not feeling bad or sad because you are intimidated by it. That's how they would find everyone who has been there. 

 

I wish I would hear this advice when I started. I really love it and totally feel it. But what do say would be the top three core skills that any technical SEO specialist should have if they want to succeed?

I'd say that for me, that would be tech-savvy and resourcefulness. 100%. Because as a technical SEO, you don't need to be a developer. If somebody tells you something different that you must be a developer to be a technical SEO. Well, it's gatekeeping. I've never been a developer, but I've been successful in technical SEO. And I know other people like that.

But at the same time, you need to be tech-savvy and resourceful, which means that sometimes you need to look at the code. You need to understand tags and the code. You need to understand that, for example, structured data is JavaScript code. Like this kind of stuff. You need to understand how JavaScript influences Google crawling and indexing your website.

So being resourceful and tech-savvy is important as well. The good news is that this is something that you can learn. I proved it. I never thought that I was tech-savvy until I became one. The other thing, I'd say would be to use internal linking properly because this is often overlooked. People always chase external links, but they forget about internal linking, different schemes and structures and remaining ways to add internal links at scale. And also, I'd say, the third thing is knowing how to ensure that the website's right pages are indexed and ranking. I'll give you a quick example. 

At some point when I was moving homes, I needed to quickly pull out some documents from a website. I Googled specific documents and how to download them. So I got to the page where I could insert my information and download those documents. And I thought, what if this page were not indexed?

But if I needed, like what would they do? I would not crawl a website to find a page I would not like. If it's not in Google's index and it's important to people, I would not be able to pull out those documents quickly. And that would be bad for me. But when it comes to, for example, eCommerce websites. When you don't have your categories or your products indexed, you have issues with your canonicalization and duplicate content.

It means that the website is losing money. And it means that the technical SEO skill you need to have is to make sure that all the pages that you want to get ranked and indexed by Google are actually indexed and ranked by Google.

 

I think you touched on my next question too, because I wanted to ask you what SEO tactics do you think are underrated. And you kind of started with internal linkings and stuff, so are there any SEO tactics you think are underrated? 

Other than internal linking, I think what's underrated is your basics.

I know that a lot of times people would be like, "Oh my God, I need to learn Python. I need to automate things. I need to do cool things, amazing things.” But they forget that, for example, changing title tags and making them relevant on a large scale, on a big website will be so much success that it's really important to pay attention to the basics.

It's still cool to implement your SEO basics. That's what I would say. 

 

Yeah, absolutely agree with you on that one. And are there any other actionable SEO tips you would like to share with our readers or listeners as well? Is there anything on your mind right now that you would share? 

The only answer that came to my mind when you asked it was: it depends. Because honestly, it, it obviously depends on like where people are and what exactly they're doing. For example, if they're doing the migration, that would be one thing. If they're doing an audit, that would be another thing. 

I'd say something that will work for everyone: Don't stop learning and learn from all people. Get mentors. Your mentors might not be people who you see all the time, for example, on your job. Those people might not even know about you, but just make sure you learn from all the people you can. There is so much information, especially when you know who to follow. So like for example, on Twitter and LinkedIn, you can find so much.

And just be confident in yourself, because how it usually happens you know, after the first 6- 12 months, you think, "Oh my god, I'm the king." That was me. I was the queen though. So I was like, “Oh my God, I know so much.” And about 10 years later, “Oh my god, I know so little.”

Just find a way to learn all the time and learn lessons from what you do for your clients or your employer. And just don't stop!

 

Absolutely. That's a piece of great advice as well. I think maybe now is the time to just move to the most challenging task, in my opinion. And that's website migrations. Do you have a site migration horror story you could share with us? 

Yeah, I do. That migration was done without me. The client came to me after the migration, which is always a good sign.

So basically, everything went wrong during this migration because they migrated and that's the worst thing that they did. They migrated from one platform to JavaScript. I don't know, their previous platform, but they migrated to a JavaScript-based platform using client-side rendering, which basically means Google couldn't index, and couldn't see indexed content on internal pages.

Overnight, they lost all the rankings and they lost all the traffic. And I remember when I was looking at this and I was doing the audit. I was trying to point out different issues. "Okay, we need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this." Like obviously all about probability and mixability at first.

And then I remember thinking, "Oh my God, that would be just so much easier for them to revert this migration because that would save them so much time and effort. In the end, they implemented everything. They didn't revert, but they implemented the changes so now they're ranking well. But for me, that was a terrifying story. Like, wow, you lost everything because you wanted to make your website fancy, but you didn't make sure to include an SEO earlier on to make sure that everything would work after the migration.

 

Yeah. To me, it sounds like the biggest nightmare. That's like a number one thing. You don't want this to happen with all your rankings and everything. 

Exactly. 

 

Have you seen any other common mistakes during site migrations that people should avoid making? 

I'd say one of the common mistakes is forgetting redirects and redirecting all internal pages to the homepage. I've seen it too because, you know, it's easier, right? It's so much easier just to have one rule in the .htaccess file to redirect everything to the homepage, but that is not correct. Pages should be redirected on a page-by-page basis. Using page maps and redirect maps and yeah that would be one of the common mistakes. 

Another mistake is overlooked all the time, redirecting the images. If you have the same images on the new website, you need to redirect the old images to the new images. If you change the URL of those images. Because, for example, if you are relying on Google Image search and you have the images ranking on Google, you decide to migrate. You forget that these images are going to be treated like the new images with the new URLs on the new website. 

Even though they might be exactly the same, they'll be treated as new images to Google and it'll take time to collect all the information, signals and data for Google to rank them back. It might never happen in the first place, that Google will do this.

The more like PRO, PRO thing is that some images can actually have backlinks. That's a very deep thing. Some of the images can't have those. And in this case, redirects are important to the new images. So that would be the second thing. And the third thing I'd say, is not from SEOs, but in general, from companies. 

A huge mistake is not including SEOs early in the loop during migrations. Because, one, the migration is halfway through... Well, it's risk mitigation. As an SEO, you would try just to make sure that you can save whatever you can save after the migration if something goes wrong. Well, there will be some period if it's fixed. Even if it's fixed quite quickly, there will be some time when you won't have rankings anyway, or you lose rankings or they will decrease. 

So it's a much better idea to include SEOs early in the conversation before even the migration happens because SEOs can also advise on the stages of migration. For example, if you change too many things at once, like rebranding, then domain, and then redesign. So they might advise on the stages for that too. That's really important. 

 

I think that's really good advice. And I can imagine many people miss this thing, especially when you mentioned those images with backlinks and other things. That's really important to keep in mind as well. And I think that actually brings me to the very end of our interview. Like that's all the questions I had prepared for you. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I'm just looking back at everything that I said. I usually end on motivation, but I already shared it and I'll still finish it with motivation. Never give up. Even in SEO, especially in SEO. It's a tough industry, where the threshold is really low. Just threshold of coming to the industry is really low. But then to be really great, the threshold is super high and it's important always to learn and support each other. And yeah, just be awesome.

 

Well, thank you so much Kristina for your time and for chatting with us. I really appreciate that you had some time for us and it was great to get to know a little bit more about you and your tech SEO experience. Hopefully, it'll encourage and motivate more people to start working in tech SEO. I think it's very needed nowadays. And I think we actually covered loads in such a short period of time. 

Would you like also to add where people can reach you for more technical SEO advice? 

Yeah, sure. So first of all, you can always follow me on Twitter. I'm as @azarchick. And you can follow me on LinkedIn as well. Just search for Kristina Azarenko. I share lots of, lots of technical SEO tips and I'm going to share more on migrations. And if you want to learn technical SEO. If there was a university degree in technical SEO, that would be Tech SEO Pro, which is the name of my course. So check it out: techseo.pro. The domain is cool, right? I love it. Yeah, so check it out, and again, be awesome! 

 

 

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