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Rich Skrenta has been at the core of search longer than I have been in the SEO market. He is famous for launching sites like DMOZ and Topix. His most recent project is a search engine called blekko, and I recently had a chance to chat with him about blekko, the web, and marketing.

Blekko search engine.

Blekko just launched publicly today. Be sure to check out their search engine, all their SEO features, and the Blekko toolbar.

Most start ups fail. And yet you have multiple successes under your belt and are going at it again. If you could boil success down to a few points, what really separates what you have done from the statistics?

Paul Graham said that the most important thing for a startup is to not die each day. If you can keep existing, that’s survival for a company. Generally I like to keep costs low and hire carefully. Also, the first idea doesn’t always work. We had to pivot Topix several times to find the right model. For blekko, we just want to make a site that a segment of people will find useful. If we can do that we’ll be happy.

It seems openness is a great marketing angle to use online. Why do you feel that it is so under-utilized by most companies?

It feels counter-intuitive to take all our your company IP and secrets and just put them all out there. Little companies also tend to be insecure and want to be appear to be larger and more successful. They want to put on a big company face to the world, but being honest and transparent about who they are and letting the public see “behind the curtain” can often win people over better than a facade of success.

From my perspective, it seems your approach to marketing is heavily reliant on organic, viral & word of mouth strategies. What is broken with the old model of marketing? Is its death happening slower or quicker than you expect?

The internet and social media have made word-of-mouth stronger and stronger, and in many ways they eclipse traditional marketing channels now. This started with blogging and has accelerated with Twitter and Facebook. Everybody is media now. You used to fly around and do a 2 week media tour to launch a product. The aperture to get in the trade press was small, there was a handful of reporters you had to go pitch. Now there are thousands of people who have audience for every trade niche, so it’s easier to get the word out about something new. But it has to be genuinely interesting, or your message won’t get pickup.

A lot of people who are good at programming make ugly designs. Likewise many people are either programmers or marketers. What formal training or experiences have you had that have allowed an engineer to become such a sophisticated marketer? What strengths do you have that allow you to bridge the disciplines so well?

We joke that we have always made ugly web sites. Fortunately I was able to hire a good designer for blekko and he’s been doing a great job taking our early ugly versions and making them a lot more attractive and workable.

I read a lot of stuff about marketing and positioning that we’re trying to apply at blekko. I’m a big fan of Trout & Ries. I loved Kathy Sierra’s stuff when she was writing. There is some fantastic material also in Kellog on Branding. We also worked with some great positioning consultants that tested various ideas on focus groups to see what would resonate with users best as a message. Every product has a bunch of features, but you want to find the one to talk about that’s going to stick in people’s heads the best.

I noticed you baked many social elements into your marketing strategy (friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter) as well as baking many social elements into your product (personal slashtags, allowing people to share their slashtags, etc.). There is some talk on the web of apps or social stuff replacing search as the center of the web, however from a marketing perspective I see much higher traffic value in search traffic. Do you think that one day social and apps will largely replace global search? Or do you feel it will generally continue to play a secondary role to search?

Social media can drive tons of attention, awareness and traffic. But the search box is the best way to navigate to stuff you want. Now what will drive those results – if I type in “pizza”, what should I get? The answer can be very different depending on whether the results are coming from the web, Yelp, or Facebook. So I guess my answer is that I still see search being the core way to navigate, but I think what gets searched is going to get a lot more structured and move away from simple keyword matches against unstructured web pages.

A good number of the social sites are doing redirects for security purposes & to some degree are cannibalizing the link graph. Do you feel that links from the social graph represent an important signal, or that most of that signal still gets represented well on the remaining link graph?

There is very definitely signal in social graph links – potentially more than in the web graph. In 2000, a hyperlink was a social vote. Most links were created by humans and represented an editorial vote. That’s no longer true – the web today is inundated with bulk-generated links. To the extent that humans can be separated from bots, there’s more true signal in social graphs. The challenge is to get enough coverage to rank everything you need to rank. Delicious had great search results for the corpus of links they knew about, but it wasn’t nearly big enough to be comprehensive. Facebook and Twitter are certainly a lot bigger, it will be interesting to see if they start to apply their data to ranking and recommending material from outside of their own sites.

When Google was young Sergey Brin at an SEO conference stated that there was no such thing is spam, only bad relevancy algorithms. When I saw some of your talks announcing Blekko you mentioned that you never want to see eHow in your personal search results. Do you feel that spam is largely down to a personal opinion? If you had to draw a line in the sand between spam & not spam, how would you characterize the differences?

Search must serve an editorial function. You can call this editorial position “relevancy”, but that’s hiding behind the algorithm. Of course someone wrote the algorithm, and tinkered with it to make some sites come up and others not to come up.

The web has grown 100-fold since 2000. There is most definitely spam out there. Let’s take a clear-cut example, like phama links being injected via exploits into unpatched WordPress blogs. Then there is gray-area stuff, like eHow.com. Some people like eHow. Some don’t. That’s why we let users develop their own /spam filters.

Eric Schmidt mentioned that sharing their ranking variables would be disclosing trade secrets that could harm Google. Yet you guys are sharing your web graph publicly. Are you worried about doing this impacting your relevancy in a negative way? Or do you feel the additional usage caused by that level of awareness will give you more inputs into your search relevancy algorithms?

When I first moved to Silicon Valley I worked in computer security. In security there’s an idea that “security through obscurity” isn’t very good. What this means is that if you have some new encryption algorithm, but don’t let anyone see the details of how it works, it probably is full of holes. The only way to get a strong encryption algorithm is to publish all of the details about how it works and have public review. Once the researchers can’t punch any more holes in your algorithm, only then is it good enough to trust.

We see search the same way. If this magic 200-variable equation is so sensitive that if it leaked out the results would be completely overrun with spam, well then the algorithm doesn’t actually sound that strong to me. We’d rather work towards a place where there can be public review of the mechanisms driving ranking, and where many eyes can make the spam problem shallow.

Certainly the big search engines have hundreds of human raters that help identify spam and train their algorithms. These are contractors that are the knowledge workers behind the scenes. As a little startup, we asked ourselves how we could get many more people helping us to make our results better, and also be a lot more open about the process. Formerly we had experience running a big crowdsourced search site with the Open Directory, where we had 80,000 editors classifying urls. What if we could get 80,000 people to help us curate search verticals, identify spam, and train classifiers? That would be cool.

You had a blog post comparing pornographers to SEOs. Do you feel the SEO game is mostly adversarial? Or do you feel that paying attention to the SEO industry is a great way to quickly improve the quality of a search product? Or both? :)

I think my comparison noted that pornographers have often been early adopters of new technology. :-)

There is aggressive seo, and then there is what I call appropriate discoverability. Aggressive seo can go over the line – if someone hacks your server to add links, that’s borderline criminal activity. But if you have great content and it’s not showing up, that’s a shame. After we sold topix to the newspapers, we spent some time evangelizing seo within their organizations. Think of all of the movie reviews and restaurant reviews the US newspaper sites collectively have. Wonderfully written material by well-paid professional journalists. But you don’t see their content anywhere for a restaurant or movie search. That’s a shame.

Recently Ask sorta rebranded away from search & towards more of a QnA format, and Yahoo! bowed out of search through a Bing partnership. Are the cost scales that drive such changes just a legitimate piece of the business model, or were those organizations highly inefficient? How were you able to bring a competitive product to market for so much less?

I was a fan of Ask’s Teoma technology, and what Jim Lanzone had been doing with the site. And Yahoo was delivering very high quality results, and had interesting initiatives like the BOSS apis and SearchMonkey. This was all great stuff. I’m disappointed that they lost heart. Running a big company that has been around for a long time is not an easy job.

From an SEO perspective I think that Google tends to have a large index, but crawling so deeply likely allows a lot of junk into their index. Bing seems to be a bit more selective with their crawling strategy. How would you compare Blekko against the other major search engines in terms of depth? Do you feel that relevancy boosts offered through vertical search (via your Slashtags) allows you guys to provide a similar or better experience without needing as large of an index?

Our crawler tends to go into highly ranked sites more deeply than poorly ranked sites. We have a 3 billion page crawl, and so we need to choose the best content to include. This starts at crawl time – should we crawl this url or that url? There are a whole set of heuristics which drive what crawl budget an individual site gets.

The web keeps getting deeper and deeper – the challenge is how to return the good stuff and not sink. This is why we believe human curation needs to be brought back to search. Only by curating the best content in every vertical can the most relevant results be returned.

Amongst SEOs the issue of “brand” as a relevancy signal has been a topic of heated debates. How important do you feel brand is as a signal of relevancy & authority?

One of the things we look at is how natural the pattern of mentions of a site looks. Real brands tend to have a natural pattern of mentions on the web.

You had a blog post a few years back titled “PageRank wrecked the web.” How do you feel about paid links? What editorial actions do you guys take when you find paid links?

If links have an economic value, they’re going to be bought and sold. It’s that simple. What happens in our ranker is that we classify different sources of signals, and then let the machine learning figure out what the signal is telling us. Is this a good source of anchortext? Or maybe a certain class of links even has a negative contribution to rank, if what the links are telling us doesn’t correlate with the direction we want the ranker to be going.

How hard is it to detect paid links? What has been the most challenging part of launching a world class search engine?

The whole thing has been hard. Search has so many sub-components, and even things that sound trivial like DNS turn into big projects when you need to scale them up to billions of web pages.

Thanks Rich! Be sure to check out blekko. You can follow them on Twitter & read Rich’s musings on the web, search, and marketing at Skrentablog.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

Only on very rare occasions can you say that someone "wrote the book" on a topic of relevance and it jumps from metaphor to accuracy. Tamar Weinberg, a social media strategist and author of 2009's O'Reilly published text: The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, makes a wonderful exception to the rule. An expert trusted worldwide for her experience, opinions and guidance in all things social, Tamar's book on the subject remains a vital, comprehensive and important work on understanding how to consider social media in marketing efforts.

We recently caught up with Tamar. The following interview shares her thoughts on social media, privacy protection and other topics of interest for webmasters, SEOs, and business owners trying to make more of their social media and holistic marketing efforts.

What types of limits make the most sense when attempting to be active socially, yet still protect your privacy? What kinds of personal information are most commonly offered, in your opinion, erroneously?

Most people would say the following: don't post anything to a social network that you wouldn't want your mother or grandmother to see. I think this rule is especially applicable in the social space. Even if you have no friends or followers, someone might be watching.
Think twice before you post something. Would you want to remove it in the future? Some sites won't let you, and worse, your message may have already been shared with the rest of the world.

How do you, as a media-recognized individual, view privacy with respect to adequately protecting and distancing your family members? Is it sometimes better to be anonymous? Are you currently surfing invisibly very often, or do you trend to identifying yourself most often?

This is a good question. My parents are definitely a lot more traditional than I, but I suspect that my 16 month old son is going to be living a pretty public life. I think that being more open is simply a way of the future, whether many of us like it or not. We're seeing the gradual push in that direction.
I present myself as Tamar Weinberg almost 100% of the time. There are very rare instances where I will come across as someone else, and those are mostly under accounts I created more than 5 years ago when anonymity was the norm in the social media space. Slowly, the online world evolved and so did my behaviors and habits. I know I'm not alone.

What are the simplest things a business owner can do to protect their privacy when increasing their social media presence and activity?

It comes down to really using your best judgment and thinking twice before you do anything you might regret. It also comes down to common sense. Use a different password for your email account that isn't the same as your Twitter or Facebook account, especially if those are very frequently used. You'd think this isn't an issue but it becomes increasingly more important as social media interactions come trusted, so accounts are really in heavy demand. I can't tell you how many tech savvy friends in the SEM space have told me that they were stranded in England and needed a wire transfer or just scored a free iPad and that I could get one too.
I don't think any of this is specific to business owners versus the average Joe. If you really are a public face of your company, though, or if you're looking to get a job in the near future, you should either avoid associating yourself with images of your drunken nights out and/or you should learn and master privacy controls of the various social news sites. You should keep your tweets and blog posts purely professional or at least not convey anything that would raise red flags either among your customers or your prospective employers.

How strictly should you maintain the lines between personal and professional when investing in your social media presence? How is this distance likely to impact your effectiveness?

Thankfully, there's no "one-size-fits-all" answer for this. My @tamar Twitter account actually is a mix of personal and professional tweets. I share social media and small business information, and I also talk about my son. Heck, I even announced the birth of my son on Twitter less than an hour after he popped out. :)
The answer is determined by who you want to be and what your followers expect of you. If you're blogging about technology and your entire blog is focused on tech – we're talking 50 posts a day here – and all of a sudden you blogged about how you were going through a divorce, it probably won't resonate with your readers. Then again, if that's all you blog about and built a community on that, taking on an unrelated theme may not really work for you either.
On Twitter, I actually think that having a healthy mix of personal and professional tweets is encouraged. If you're strictly professional, you're seen as a corporate drone. If you humanize your business approach, people will be enamored by what you have to say or do. A "blog" that is purely corporate speak isn't going to warm any of your prospects to you. Adding humor, avatars of the real people behind the posts, and giving more of a genuine human touch gives your customers a reason for doing business with you: because they want to do business with a person. They like dealing with people like them.
Social media has really fostered this shift of bringing people back in the picture. The last era that preceded this was devoid of emotion and it's about time that has come back.

Since it is such a young and emergent field of marketing, what are some of the criteria you use to decide to try a new socially-focused service or software? How does it earn trust and staying power?

There are now a zillion tools on the market. I'd love to try everything out but it's hard to really know them all and/or assess whether it would address my personal needs. I often represent the small business or startup and find that budget is a huge issue. Many people love social media because while it has a huge time commitment, most of the tools are free. For the smaller companies I work with, free does still take precedence. Of course, costly applications might be considered too if they boast great functionality, offer features that are not seen in the free solutions, and have an easy to use interface.
In this day and age, though, there are just so many people offering paid services for products that are already free. There better be a real unique selling proposition because trying to usurp the market leader isn't always going to be easy.
Sure, I pay for apps too, and usually I do so because the tool rocks. I love what it does, I love what functionality, and more importantly, I love the people behind the product.

How has early adoption paid-off or hurt you?

There's definitely a benefit to exploring the space before it gains momentum. You can get deep insights into the community before it gets saturated by spammers and those looking to make a quick buck. Plus, there's simply the competitive edge you get out of it. Having knowledge of a new community and knowing how to benefit from it gives you the opportunity to boost your own visibility. There will need to be some effort made on your part, though, to study the landscape and make some assessments on how to proceed. As an early adopter, you're probably going to be learning as you go along. You won't be able to wait for someone to spell it out to you in a blog post.
In the meantime, though, being first helps you build your own presence and become a leader in the space. That's what made Twitter beat-out Pownce. That's what helped some of the Twitter rockstars you'd have never heard of outside Twitter.com become so visible. That's what helped the folks in the Apple iTunes store build applications that actually earn the developers money, especially in a sea of hundreds of thousands of applications all vying for some attention. Being first really does have its benefits, but being first usually entails extra effort and attention to detail. If you're willing to go for it, I strongly encourage it.

What do you see as the long-term impact of mobile on social media? Is it happening already? How can you be more proactive in mobile social media?

It's funny you ask this on the day I finally bought a mobile phone that is finally catching up with the times. :) (I had a 3 year old Palm Treo with PalmOS. Yes, PalmOS was decommissioned last year. It's a long story.) While I held onto the phone, it wasn't because I love old gadgets; it's quite the contrary, actually! Today, with such widespread adoption of social networks, it proves that there's a much more compelling reason to go mobile. We love interacting online, but it's hugely powerful to put two and two together and meet an online friend face to face.
Mobile social media is all about doing more outside the convenience of your home computer or office PC. It's about networking face to face, which ultimately translates to greater successes as people who love you share all the great reasons why they do.
Mobile social media is also really in its infancy, but taking advantage of meeting persons of interest on sites like Gowalla, Foursqaure, and even Facebook Places can help build those strong relationships that are critical of social media. Plus, it's the early adopter mentality. You have an edge if you start now.

What are some of the warning signs that it is time to rethink or restructure a social media effort? What makes a clear point-of-no-return?

A lot of different factors could be the cause of a social media effort that isn't yielding favorable results. It depends on the goals you've set. If you're looking for followers and aren't getting any, you might need to reassess how you're going about it. If you're looking for traffic but none is coming, you may be using the wrong approach or targeting the wrong communities. If you're trying to get sales and are working at a social media strategy but see no movement after several months of effort (this isn't an overnight process), there's something to be said about the approach you're taking and it's time to try again.
Make sure you have some strong goals in place. Take a look at the landscape and see if there are untapped communities or influencers you have not been able to reach. See if your messaging is solid. Speak to other people in your community to see how receptive they are to your content. Just try again and keep working hard. Every business is social – but you might not be doing the right things to get what you're looking to achieve.
Sometimes it helps to fish where the big fish already are. Yes, it's great to be an early adopter, but it's even better to go where you know your customers are and where you're already hearing of success. You'll still need to work at it and revise your tactics if there's not much coming out of it.
But don't give up if you're at least getting some traction. Nobody said it will be easy. It is a process, and it will take lots of time.

You have a bit of a background in programming – so how much do you attribute this basis for your obvious agility through multiple social media platforms? Do you need to be a semi-programmer today to be able to stay in-tune with gadgetry, software and effectively balance all of the leading programs of social media?

LOL, my computer science programming background was…well, it ended after my very first class in college. I actually did graduate with a major in computer science, but I can't say I understand a thing about programming!
Therefore, while I programmed in a few classes in school, my background isn't reflective of where I am today. I've been living in the social media space since I got my first Internet-connected computer in 1992. I was using AOL when it was called Promenade and cost .95 for 5 hours (plus .95 for each additional hour). I thrived on local message boards. I actually went into computer science because I fell in love with the social media space before it was called social media, and I figured that computer science was going to get me closer to whatever it was that I wanted to do with myself! The schooling didn't, but I found myself where I knew I belonged after connecting with some great folks who introduced me to SEM right around the time that social media marketing started building momentum. The rest is history.
Agility might be a characteristic of programmers, but I think that once you really get involved in this space, it's a byproduct of your activities. Five years ago, I definitely wasn't multitasking as much as I do today. Now, I can't envision my life any differently. I can't see myself working at an office again because I do my best work at crazy hours with "breaks" that let me focus on other projects. I'm writing this at midnight. It's what I do and I flourish in this kind of environment. It can be learned and has nothing to do with a computer science degree. :)
I think a big reason for success in this space for me is that every action I take online is out of a passion for social media and being as effective and productive as I can possibly be. I wake-up every day with the goal to accomplish big things, and I try to explore the space as deeply as I can.
If you come into it with a passion for what you do, everything will come easy to you. If not, fortunately, there are so many people who are comfortable enough who can walk you through the tools and teach you how to get the most out of it all.

You've said that at a minimum, businesses need to be proactive and listening to social media. Do you believe that brands not yet established are able to sustain momentum simply by listening and reacting in an "appropriate" manner – or will they get lost in the shuffle without the aid of something more colorful and (occasionally) dramatic? Has social media become necessary for smaller business success?

Social media is absolutely necessary. I work with extremely small businesses in addition to companies in the Fortune 500. Sure, small businesses may not necessarily have much drama to act upon, but there are a ton of insights you can glean from the social media space. You can see what your larger competitors are doing and figure out how to run with your own campaign or see how to do it better. You can monitor your industry and find out what is happening that you should act upon in the social space.
The big concern comes to businesses who are so small who realize that they're not seeing much traction or conversion in a week's time. That's not abnormal. Social media takes time. Build the relationships first and then they will come when they need you.
With social media, ongoing communication is critical. Furthermore, small businesses especially have more flexibility to do it because they aren't restricted by their legal departments. The key, though, is to work at it. Social media isn't called social media for no reason.

In your book, you offer the study of how a Comcast rep used Twitter to find and recruit a Verizon customer. Is this type of scenario happening or even likely on other platforms, or is it the real-time response that has made Twitter such an effective customer outreach tool?

I actually once blogged about an online service I was disappointed with. The founder of a competing service wrote a comment on my blog post and I actually checked out the site. If they didn't reach out, I probably wouldn't have bothered.
Real-time response, though, is golden. If you reply immediately when someone is angry with your competitor, they may be more compelled to check you out while they're angry and thinking about how much they hate the competitor. Plus, what if this prospective customer doesn't know who you are? That's a good opportunity to build brand awareness.

What is the main thing people misunderstand or overlook about Twitter?

I think people still don't get it. Twitter's mission is to get people to answer the question of "what's happening?" or "what are you doing?," but at the end of the day, most people don't understand that Twitter is a social network. They hear that it's all about people sharing what they ate for dinner and don't realize that they can connect with people they know or admire and even engage with them.

What are 5 social media tools that you simply won't live without anymore? How does this list differ from the one you had one year ago?

As much as I love new tools, I also am pretty steadfast in my ways especially when something really works. My top 5 tools are:

  • Google Reader, which I have been using for about 2 years (I was a Bloglines addict before that, though)
  • HootSuite, but before that, it was all about the Twitter web interface and Twhirl. I also use Seesmic Desktop occasionally.
  • Skype and Digsby, because basic communication is still at the core of social media interactions. I used to hate Skype, but now I tolerate it mostly for video chat. J Digsby is a great all-in-one IM client. It just doesn't have Skype support. Before Skype and Digsby, I was using AOL Instant Messenger with the DeadAIM logging program (the last DeadAIM-supported version of AIM stopped working last month, so I'm bummed) and Pidgin. Yeah, I am a PC. :)
  • WordPress. Yes, I did use MovableType once upon a time, but years ago, I moved to WordPress because it was easier to install (the cgi-bin requirement of MT always threw me off!). WordPress has tens of thousands of plugins that help enhance the blog and make it feel like a real site.
  • Rapportive: This is an amazingly useful social CRM that integrates with Gmail (I run my dozen email addresses through Gmail's interface, so this really works for me) and gives me information about the people I am corresponding with. I can get their LinkedIn bios, locations, avatars, social networks, and more without having to manually look them up. As for what I used a year ago, well, there's nothing else quite like it!

Being active socially on the web is, or can be a full-time occupation. How does a lone, small business owner's participation differ from that of the lone, successful multi-site webmaster? How does one effectively scale social media efforts?

Don't spread yourself too thin. Try to build your presence where you know you can really make a difference, and branch out slowly if you want to experiment. Hopefully your marketing tactics will pay off to the tune of more business, more money, and the ability to hire more people who can help further your marketing message in the world wide open. ;)

Tamar Weinberg is a social media enthusiast and strategist who helps businesses boost their visibility on the social web. As the author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, Tamar cuts through the nuances of social networks and tells you exactly how to succeed online. She is also Mashable's Community Support & Advertising Manager.

Marty Lamers owns a Freelance SEO Copywriting company you can visit at Articulayers.Com. Since 2001, Articulayers has been fixing the world, one word at a time.


SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

About a year ago my wife and I started to notice Google’s increasingly aggressive push into demoting the organic results and extending AdWords ads. Based in large part on that we decided to partner with Geordie Carswell to create a sister site to SEO Book focused on paid search & contextual advertising – PPC Blog. I have been meaning to interview him for a while & just finally got around to it.

How did you get into pay per click marketing?

I started with Adwords around five years ago, independently marketing software apps and other consumer technology products. From there I continued running my own campaigns while blogging and doing one-on-one Adwords coaching in addition to other marketing ventures.

How has PPC changed since you got into the field?

When I started there were very few big brands doing PPC in a significant way and, at least in the niches I was working in, affiliates were dominating. That of course has flipped upside down in the last 12 months with brands dominating and affiliates being flushed out the bottom of the system.

I feel Google’s implementation of various forms of Quality Score into the Adwords platform has been the highest impact spate of changes in terms of direct effect on advertiser performance.

On the platform options side, the growth of Facebook Ads as a PPC channel has also been hugely significant, notwithstanding the merger of Yahoo and Microsoft on paid search.

On organic search I feel that if you work on a big brand, SEO is mostly about information architecture & getting buy off from key players in your company. Whereas if you run thin affiliate sites you have to be quite clever with your link building strategies to build up enough authority to compete. In the same way I think PPC is likely much harder as an affiliate than as a merchant. Would you agree with that?

Well, to be perfectly candid, a pure-play affiliate effort on Adwords in particular is becoming nearly impossible over the long term as Google shows affiliates the door. There’s still some room on Microsoft adCenter/Yahoo and Facebook, but the editorial squeeze is on there as well.

The affiliate play of the future would need to involve a recognizable, highly-branded site that “people have heard of” vs. one-off mini or article sites etc…

A lot of affiliate stuff seems to race toward 0 margins. I had one killer offer I was buying traffic for a couple years ago & I was paying about 25 cents a click for traffic that was worth about a click. Within about 3 days someone stole my ad copy word for word and then when I raise my bid to my ad still wouldn’t show. How can an affiliate fight the trend toward lower margins?

That’s tough. Highly successful affiliates by nature tend to be very good at finding a small sliver of inefficiency in a system and filling that gap. That tends to inevitably be a ‘point-in-time’ win that ends up competitively saturated.

Often, a lateral move running the same type of campaign on alternate PPC platform can work, but let’s face it: competition eventually finds its way there as well, and there are only so many PPC platforms to run on. I strongly believe the best defense against the endless push towards lower margins is to test more than the other guy. Competition will always be there, but he who tests more and thereby extracts more margin wins in the long run.

In terms of leading people astray, how often would you say major search engines give self-serving advice that harms advertisers?

One of the biggest things we still see Google doing is opting advertisers into the Google Display Network (previously known as the content network) by default when creating new campaigns. I’m sure Google needs ways to generate interest in the Display Network, but they know full well that blending search and content campaigns together is a recipe for disaster and I’d like to see them step up and stop that.

Additionally, offers from reps to ‘optimize’ your campaigns (while well intentioned) have lead to a lot of unnecessarily broad campaign expansions that can truly destroy the profitability of an already-successful campaign.

Part of the problem comes from advertisers trusting Google a bit too much: Google is there to extract as much revenue as they can from their keyword inventory without permanently scaring away advertisers with unmanageable costs. An advertisers’ job is to generate as much net profit from Adwords as possible. Those two goals are at odds by nature, so discernment is vital when evaluating why Google is offering something or making an ‘improvement’ to the system.

Google offers a number of automated optimization tools for advertisers. When does it make sense to use them? Who should avoid using them?

Most of the automation solutions offered by Google like Conversion Optimizer or Automatic Bidding really won’t have much benefit to smaller advertisers who don’t typically have enough paid click traffic to measure the results of using these offerings. That said, if you have a decent amount of traffic you can save considerable time using their optimization tools, particularly when fishing for new traffic and/or placements.

One area I would suggest some caution on however is the “New Keyword Opportunities” feature that shows up at the top of your campaigns interface. This is an awesome tool for Google to snag new bidders on additional keyword inventory in their system, but it can cost you a pretty penny if you just accept and add whatever keywords they happen to “recommend” for you. You really need to be careful with these and look at the expected avg. CPC amounts to see if you can afford to add what’s being suggested. Burning through your budget unnecessarily on overpriced or untargeted keywords isn’t fun.

You buy traffic on most the major platforms. What business models do you feel work best with each of the major platforms – say Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter, and Facebook ads?

I think local, education, online dating, and mobile represent some of the best fit for Facebook. Other niches can be genuinely daunting uphill push on Facebook. With Yahoo and Microsoft now consolidated into the Adcenter ad platform, managing alternate campaigns on another network is now much easier and can’t be ignored given the combined search marketshare Microsoft and Yahoo have put together. There’s really no excuses for not running your campaigns on both Adwords and Adcenter in tandem.

Some people have been hyping Facebook as the next Google. Is it? Why or why not?

Well, I think it’s more accurate to compare Facebook Ads to Google’s Display Network. They’re both considered contextual advertising as Facebook search hasn’t really turned out to be a particularly lucrative opportunity yet.

When comparing Facebook Ads to the Google Display Network, I think the key advantage that Google has with Adsense is the topical blend. The blending of content ads via Adsense has gotten so good that in some cases even ad professionals have to look closely to determine if a link or placement is an ad or original content. Facebook doesn’t really have this advantage, pretty much every Facebook user knows that those are ads in the right siderail, and unless the image in the ad is incredibly compelling, it’s just going to be ignored. As Facebook builds out their contextual ad empire, it’ll be interesting to see what options come up.

I don’t think however that disgruntled Adwords advertisers looking over the fence at Facebook Ads will find instant success. It’s a different beast from an ad server behavior perspective and it’s also extremely competitive.

When you are working with smaller clients, what are some of the most common roadblocks they run into when they begin paid search advertising?

The learning curve is number one, closely followed by issues with account architecture and Google Quality Score. From what I’ve heard and read, the churn rate on new small business Adwords accounts is immense as people try it, fail, and then leave. Google has tried to fix this I think with the learning center resources and videos, but most new advertisers won’t even get around to looking at those.

Part of the challenge is prepping clients for the fact that PPC is going to take real time and effort to be successful, and that time has to be budgeted and weighed against other demands. Obviously it’s worth it in the long run for well-organized businesses who have optimized their websites for shoppers. Those who don’t have a clear path to purchase or request additional info will find their PPC spend tends to go into a black hole.

When you are working with larger clients, what is the hardest part of paid search?

Many large companies have some sort of PPC campaigns running, but it’s not a core marketing focus for them to the extent that it should be. There’s almost a tendency to say “what we’ve got going is good enough” or “we’re breaking even” and leave it at that. Some of the easiest ways for the marketing team to move the needle sales or leads-wise in a large organization is to exploit paid search to the fullest extent possible. Overpaying Google and accepting less-than-ideal sales performance from PPC is something too many large clients put up with.

This is a big reason we had such a great time building out the Adwords Tax Calculator on PPCblog. When you actually quantify what you’re paying in overhead to straight to Google due to a number of completely fixable campaign tactics, it’s really motivating.

You have been running PPC Blog’s training program and community for close to 3 months now, and it has been getting strong reviews. What are some of the most important and interesting things you have learned from that experience?

It’s been very interesting. I really felt prior to running PPCblog that there wasn’t anywhere “safe” to discuss advanced tactics and observations about Adwords without Google either closely watching the discussion or directly hosting it. It’s been great to share and compare real campaign data in a trusted environment like the one we have going there.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the level of discussion and discourse is much higher when people are paying to participate. It weeds out a lot of noise and repetition. Additionally, I’ve also found that I’m using the custom tools we’ve developed for members far more often than I had originally thought I would, and that’s been helping me save time while keeping up with the community and running campaigns.

How do you feel paid search and SEO tie into each other?

Personally I feel they’re both essential ‘legs on the stool’ (email marketing I think follows closely thereafter). It always amazes me that SEOs will spend huge bucks buying links or doing biz dev deals to get traffic that’s not 100% guaranteed to flow, but they won’t spend a dime buying traffic directly with Adwords or Adcenter. When you see the amount of brand bidding that goes on with PPC, its a good reminder that if you’re not buying even in the least of your brand’s keywords, your competitors likely are. With organic results getting pushed farther and farther down the page each year, a two-pronged approach only makes sense.

Thanks Geordie. You can catch his latest paid search thoughts on PPC Blog & follow him on Twitter @geordiecarswell. There is a free 7-day PPC starter course here, and on the PPC training program he is currently offering a coupon for 25% off for new members.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

Posted by randfish

Just a short post tonight.

First, off, I’m honored to be interviewed by Aaron Wall. We’ve had our differences and maintain some divergent opinions on a few topics, but we both have an insane passion for helping make SEO professionals better at their job and work hard to grow the credibility of SEO as a whole.

SEOBook Interview

Second – we’ve got a lot of reason to be thankful. SEOmoz was recently named the 334th fastest growing company in the US by Inc Magazine. I was named to Seattle’s 40 Under 40 List (I’m guessing it’s a typo) and we’ve recently passed 6,000 PRO subscribers (actually, we’re up over 6,300 as of today).

SEOmoz's Jen Lopez as Wonder Woman

As amazing as all that is, nearly everyone at SEOmoz is thinking not about these milestones, but about one of our own – Jen Lopez – who noted on her Twitter feed that she’s out battling cancer. We are all with you Jen – every last one of us, with all our hearts. And we agree: #fuckcancer

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

It is no secret that in the past Rand and I have had some minor difference of opinions (mainly on outing). ;)

But in spite of those, there is no denying that he is an astute marketer. So I thought it would be fun to ask him about his background in SEO and to articulate his take on where some of our differences in opinions are. Interestingly, it turns out we shared far more views than I thought! Hope you enjoy the interview. :)

Throughout your history in the SEO field, what are some of your biggest personal achievements?

The first one would have to be digging myself (and my Mom) out of bankruptcy when we were still a small, sole proprietorship. Since then, there have been a lot of amazing times:

  • The first time I spoke at a conference (SES Toronto in 2004)
  • Transitioning from a consulting to a software business
  • Taking venture capital
  • Building a team (not just making hires)
  • Having dinner with the UN Secretary General (Ban Ki Moon) and presenting to their CTO on SEO – it was amazing to hear stories about how people in conflict-ridden parts of the world used search to find safe havens, escape and transmit information and the UN's missed opportunities around SEO. I'd never really thought of our profession as having life-or-death consequences until then.
  • Making the Inc 500 list for Fastest Growing Companies in the US (during a nasty recession)
  • Probably my biggest personal achievement, though, is my relationship with my wife. I know that no matter what happens to me in any other part of my life, I have her support and love forever. That gets a guy like me through a lot of tough times.
Geraldine & Rand in San Francisco
My wife and I in San Franicsco (via her blog)

What are the biggest counter-intuitive things you have learned in SEO (eg: that theoretically shouldn't work, but wow it does (or the opposite – should work but doesn't)?

The most obvious one I think about regularly is that the "best content rarely wins." The content that best leverages (intentionally or not) the system's pulleys and levers will rise up much faster than the material the search engines "intended" to rank first.

Another big one includes the success of very aggressive sales tactics and very negative, hateful content and personalities. Perhaps because of the way I grew up or my perspective on the world, I always thought of those things as being impediments to financial success, but that's not really the case. They do, however, seem to have a low correlation with self-satisfaction and happiness, and I suppose, for the people/organizations with those issues, that's even worse.

A very specific, technical tactic that I'm always surprised to see work is the placement of very obvious paid text links. We realized a few months back that with Linkscape's index, we could ID 90%+ of paid link spam with a fairly simple process:

  1. Grab the top 10K or 100K query monetizable terms/phrases (via something like a "top AdSense payout" list)
  2. Find any page on the web that contains 2+ external anchor text links pointing to separate websites (e.g. Page A has a link that says "office supplies" linking to 123.com and another link that says "student credit card" linking to 456.com)
  3. Remove the value passed by those links in any link metric calculation (which won't hurt the relevancy/ranking of any pages, but will remove the effects of nearly all paid links)

We've not done the work to implement this, so perhaps there's some peculiar reason why applying it is harder than we think. But, it strikes me that even if you could only do it for pages with 3 or 4+ links in this fashion, you'd still eliminate a ton of the web's "paid" link graph. The fact that Google clearly hasn't done this makes me think it must not work, but I'm still struggling to understand why.

BTW – I asked some SEOs about making this a metric available through Linkscape/Open Site Explorer (like a "liklihood this page contains paid links" metric) and they all said "don't build it!" so we probably won't in the near term.

One of the big marketing angles you guys tried to push hard on was the concept of transparency. Because of that you got some pretty bad blowback when Linkscape launched (& perhaps on a few other occasions). Do you feel pushing on the transparency angle has helped or hurt you overall?

I think those inside the SEO community often perceive a conflict or tiff internally as having a much broader reach than it really does. I'd agree that folks like you and I, and maybe even a few hundred or even a thousand industry insiders are aware of and take something away from those types of events, but SEOmoz as a software company with thousands of paying subscribers and hundreds of thousands of members seems to be far less impacted than I am personally.

Re: Linkscape controversy – there have been a few – but honestly, the worst reputation/brand problems we ever had have always been with regards to personal issues or disputes (a comment on someone's blog or something we wrote or allowed to be published on YOUmoz). I don't have a good explanation for why they crop up, but I can say that they seem to have a nearly predictable pattern at this point (I'm sure you recognize this as well – think I've seen you write fairly eloquently on the subject). That does make it easier to handle – it's the unpredictable that's scary.

We certainly maintain transparency as a core value and we're always trying to do more to promote it. To me, core value means "things we value more than revenue or profits" and so even if it's had some hard-to-measure, adverse impact, we'd maintain it. We've actually got a poster hanging up in the office that our design team made:
The "T" in TAGFEE
An excerpt from our TAGFEE poster

There's a quote I love on this topic that explains it more eloquently than I can:

"(Our) core values might become a competive advantage, but that is not why we have them. We have them because they define for us what we stand for, and we would hold them even if they became a competitive disadvantage." – Ralph Larson, CEO of Johnson and Johnson

What type of businesses do you think do well with transparency? What type of businesses do you feel do poorly with it?

Hmm… Not something I've tried to apply to every type of business, but my feeling is that nearly every company can benefit from it, though it also exposes you to new risk. Even being the transparency-loving type, I'd probably say that military contractors, patent trolls and sausage manufacturers wouldn't do so well.

How have you been able to manage the transparency angle while having investors?

I thought it would be tougher after taking investment, but they've actually been very supportive in nearly every case (some parts of Linkscape, particularly those re: our patent filings being exceptions). I don't know if that would be true had we taken on different backers, but that's why the startup advice to choose your investors like you choose your husband/wife is so wise.

When you took investment money did you mainly just get capital? What other intangibles came with it? How have your investors helped shape your business model?

It certainly made us much more focused on the software model. As you noted, we dropped consulting in 2010 entirely, and we've generally limited any form of non-scalable revenue to help fit with the goals of a VC-backed business. We did gain some great advisors and a lot more respect in many technology and startup circles that would have been tough without the presence of venture funds (although I think that's shifting somewhat given the changes of the past 2-3 years in the startup world).

Have you guys ever considered buying out your investors? Are you worried what might happen to your company if/when it gets sold?

While we'd love to, I doubt that would ever be possible (barring some sort of massive personal windfall outside of SEOmoz). Every dollar we make gets our investors more excited about the future of the company and less likely to want to sell their shares before we reach our full potential. Remember that with VC, the idea is high risk, high reward, so technically, they'd rather we go for broke and fall to pieces than do a mid-size, but profitable deal. Adding or million dollars back to a 0+ million fund is largely useless to a VC, so a bankruptcy while trying to return or 0 million is a very tolerated, sometimes preferable result.

VC Chart of Returns
I wrote about this more in my Venture Capital Process post (where I talked about failing to raise money in summer 2009)

Now that you are already well known & well funded you are taking a fairly low risk strategy to SEO, but if you were brand new to the space & had limited capital would you spam to generate some starting capital? At what point would you consider spamming being a smaller risk than obscurity?

You ask great questions. :-)

While I don't think spam has any moral or ethical problems, I don't know that I'd ever be able to convince myself that spam would be a more worthwhile endeavor than brand building for a white hat property. Overnight successes take years of hard work, and I'd much rather get started as a scrappy, bootstrapping company than build up a reserve with spam dollars and waste that time. However, I certainly don't think that applies to everyone. As you know, I've got lots of friends who've done plenty of shady stuff (probably a lot I don't even want to know about!), but that doesn't mean I respect them any less.

Speaking of low risk SEO, why do you think neither of our sites has hit the #1 slot yet in Google for "seo"? And do you think that ranking would have much business impact?

We've looked at the query in our ranking models and I think it's unlikely we could ever beat out the Wikipedia result, Google or SEO.com (unless GG pulls back on their exact-match domain biasing preference). That said, we should both be overtaking SEOchat.com fairly soon (and some of the spammier results that temporarily pop in and out). Some of our engineers think that more LDA work might help us to better understand these super-high competitive queries.

Analysis of "SEO" SERPs in Google
SERPs analysis of "SEO" in Google.com w/ Linkscape Metrics + LDA (click for larger)

In terms of business impact – yeah, I think for either of us it would be quite a boon actually (and I rarely feel that way about any particular single term/phrase). It would really be less the traffic than the associated perception.

As an SEO selling something unique (eg: not selling a commodity that can be found elsewhere & not as an affiliate) I have found word of mouth marketing is a much more effective sales channel than SEO. Do you think the search results are overblown as a concern within the SEO industry? Do you find most of your sales come from word of mouth?

I see where you're coming from, but in our analyses, it's always been a combination of things that leads to a sale. People search and find us, then browse around. Or they hear of us and search for information about us. Then they'll find us through social media or referring site and maybe they'll sign up for a free account. They'll get a few emails from us, have a look at PRO and go away. Then a couple months later they'll be more serious about SEO and search for a tool or answer and come across us again and finally decide, "OK, these guys are clearly a good choice."

This is what makes last touch attribution so dangerous, but it also speaks to the importance of having a marketing/brand presence across multiple channels. I think you could certainly make the case that many of us in the SEO field see every problem as a nail and our profession as the hammer.

What business models do you feel search fits well with, and what business models do you feel search is a poor fit for?

I think it's terrific for a business that has content or products they can monetize over the web that also relate to things people are already searching for. It's much less ideal for a product/service/business that's "inventing" something new that's yet to be in demand by a searching population. If you're solving a problem that people already have an identified pain point around, whether that's informational, transactional or entertainment-driven, search is fantastic. If that pain point isn't sharp enough or old enough to have generated an existing search audience, branding, outreach, PR and classic advertising may actually do better to move the needle.

Have you ever told a business that you felt SEO would offer too low of a yield to be worth doing?

Actually yes! I was advising a local startup in Seattle a couple years ago called Gist and told them that SEO couldn't really do much for them until people started realizing the need for social-plugins to email and searching for them. This is the case with a lot of startups I think.

In an interview on Mixergy you mentioned up racking up a good bit of debt when you got started in search. If a person is new to the web, when would you recommend them using debt leverage to grow?

Never, if you're smart. Or, at least, never in the quantities I did. The web is so much less costly to build on nowadays and the lean startup movement has produced so many great companies (many of them only small successes, but still profitable) from K or less that it just doesn't make sense, especially with the horror that is today's debt market, to go too far down that route. If you can get a low-cost loan from a family member or a startup grant through a government-backed, low interest program, sure, but credit card debt (which is where I started) is really not an option anymore.

How were you able to maintain presence and generally seem so happy publicly when you first got started, even with the stress of that debt?

To be honest, I really just didn't think about it much. If you have K in debt, you're constantly thinking about how to pay it off month by month and day by day. When you're 0K in debt with collectors coming after you and your wife paying the rent, you think about how to make a success big enough to pay it all off or declare bankruptcy – might as well go with the former until life runs you into the latter. There's just not much else to do.

As Bob Dylan says – "when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

Many people new to the field are afraid to speak publicly, but you were fairly well received right off the start. What prepared you for speaking & what are keys to making a good presentation?

Oh man – I sucked pretty hard my first few presentations. I think everyone does. The only reason I was well received, at least in my opinion, is because I'd already built a following on the web and had a positive reputation that carried over from that. The only thing that really prepared me for big presentations (things like the talk to Google's webspam/search quality team or keynotes at conferences) was lots and lots of experience and for that I'll always be grateful to Danny Sullivan for giving me a shot.

I'd say to others – start small, get as many gigs as you can, use video to help (if you're great on camera, you'll be good in front of a live audience) and try to emulate speakers and presentations you've loved.

When large companies violate Google's guidelines repeatedly usually nothing happens. To cite a random example…I don't know…hmm Mahalo. And yet smaller companies when outed often get crushed due to Google's huge marketshare. Because of the delta between those 2 responses, I believe that outing smaller businesses is generally bogus because it strips freedoms away from individuals while promoting large corporations that foist ugly externalities onto society. Do you disagree with any of that? :D

I think I agree with nearly all of that statement, though I'd still say it's no more "bogus" to out small spammers than it is to spam. I would agree it's not cool that Google applies its standards unfairly, but it's hard to imagine a world where they didn't. If mikeyspaydayloans.info isn't in Google's index, no ones thinks worse of Google. If Disney.com isn't in Google (even if they bought every link in the blogosphere), searchers are going to lose faith and switch engines. The sensible response from any player in such an environment is to only violate guidelines if you're big enough to get away with it or diversified enough to not care.

I'm unhappy with how Google treats these issues, but I'm equally unhappy with how spam distorts the perception of the SEO field. Barely a day goes by without a thought leader in the technology field maligning our industry – and 9 times out of 10 that's because of the "small" spammers. If we protect them by saying SEOs shouldn't "out" on another, we bolster that terrible impression. I don't think most web spam should even have the distinction of being classified as "SEO" and I don't think any SEO professionals who want our field to be taken seriously by marketing and engineering departments should protect those who foist their ugly externalities onto us.

I know we disagree on this, but it's always an interesting discussion :-)

One of the most remarkable things about the SEO industry is the gap in earnings potential between practicing it (as a publisher) and teaching it / consulting. Why do you think such a large gap exists today?

Teaching has always been an altruist's pursuit. Look at teachers in nearly every other field – they earn dramatically less than their production/publishing oriented peers. Those who teach computer science never earn what computer scientists who work at Google or Microsoft make. Those who teach math are far less well compensated than their compatriots working as "qaunts" on Wall Street. It's a sad reality, but it's why I have so much respect for people like Market Motive, Third Door Media and Online Marketing Connect, who are trying to both teach and build profitable businesses. I love the alignment of noble pursuits with profitable ones.

You guys exited the consulting area in spite of being able to charge top rates due to brand recognition. Do you think lots of consultants will follow suit and move into other areas? How do you see SEO business models evolving over the next 3 to 5 years?

I don't think so – our consulting business was going very well and I've heard and seen a lot of growth from my friends who run SEO consulting firms. The margins and exit price valuations wouldn't have made sense for VCs, but I don't think it was a bad business at all and others are clearly doing remarkable things. Just look at iCrossing's recent sale to Hearst for 5million. You can build an amazing company with consulting – it's just not the route we took.

In regards to the evolution of the SEO business model, I'd say we're likely to see more sophistication, more automation, more scalability (and hopefully, more software to help with those) over the next few years from both in-house SEOs and external agencies/consultants. It's sometimes surprising to me how little SEO consulting has progressed from 2002 vs. things like email marketing or analytics, where software has become standard and tons of great companies compete (well, Google's actually made competition a bit more challenging in the analytics space, but creative companies like KissMetrics and Unbounce are still doing cool, interesting things).

Small businesses in many ways seem like the most under-served market, but also the hardest to serve (since they have limited time AND small budgets). Do you think the rise of maps & other verticals gives them a big opportunity, or is it just more layers of complexity they need to learn?

Probably more the former than the latter. The small business owners I know and interact with in my area (and wherever I seem to visit) are only barely getting savvy to the web as a major driver of revenue. I think it might take another 10 years or more before we see true maturity and savvy from local businesses. Of course, that gives a huge competitive advantage to those who are willing to invest the time and resources into doing it right, but it means a less "complete" map of the local world in the online one, which as a consumer (or a search engine) is less than ideal.

When does the delta between paid search & SEO investment begin to shrink (if ever)?

I think it's probably shrinking right now. Paid search is so heavily invested in that I think it's fair to call it a mature market (at least in global web search, though, re: your previous question, probably not in local). SEO is ramping up with a higher CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) according to Forrester, so that delta should be shrinking.

Forrester Growth of SEO vs. Paid Search
via Forrester Research's Interactive Marketing Forecast 2009-2014

Often times a Google policy sounds like something coming out of a conflicted government economist's mouth. But even Google has invested in an affiliate network which suggests controlling your HTML links based on payment. How much further do you think Google can grow before they collapse under complexity or draw enough regulatory attention to be forced to change?

I think if they tread carefully and invest heavily in political donations and public relations, they can likely maintain another very positive 5-10 years. What the web looks like at that time is anyone's guess, and the unpredictable nature and wild shifts probably help them avoid most regulation. Certainly the rise of Facebook has been a boon to their risk exposure from government intervention, even if they may not be entirely happy with their inability to compete in the social web.

I remember you once posted about getting lots of traffic from Facebook & Twitter, but almost 0 sales from it. Does there become a point where search is not the center of the web (in terms of monetization), or are most of these networks sorta only worthwhile from a branding perspective?

As direct traffic portals, it's hard to imagine a Facebook/Twitter user being as engaged in the buying/researching process as a Google searcher. Those companies may launch products that compete with Google's model or intent, but as they exist today, I don't foresee them being a direct sales channel. They're great for traffic, branding, recognition and ad-revenue model sites, but they're of little threat to marketers concerned with the relevance or value of search disappearing.

What are the major differences between LDA & LSI?

They’re both methodologies for building a vector space model of terms/phrases and measuring the distance between them as a way to find more “relevant” content. My understanding is that LSI, which was first developed in 1988, has lots of scaling issues. It’s cousin, PLSI (probabilistic LSI) attempted to address some of those when it came out in 1999, but still has scaling problems (the Internet is really big!) and often will bias to more complex solutions when a basic one is the right choice.

LDA (Latent Dirichlet Allocation), which started in 2002, is a more scalable (though still imperfect) system with the same intuition and goals – it attempts to mathematically show distances between concepts and words. All of the major search engines have lots of employees who’ve studied this in university and many folks at Google have written papers and publications on LDA. Our understanding is that it’s almost universally preferred to LSI/PLSI as a methodology for vector space models, but it’s also very likely that Google’s gone above and beyond this work, perhaps substantially.

The “brand” update was subsequently described as being due to looking at search query chains. In a Wired article Amit Singhal also highlighted how Google looks for entities in their bi-gram breakage process & how search query sequences often help them figure out such relationships. How were you guys able to build a similar database without access to the search sessions, or were you able to purchase search data?

In a vector space model for a search function, the distances and datasets leverage the corpus rather than query logs. Essentially, with LDA (or LSI or even TF*IDF), you want to be able to calculate relevance before you ever serve up your first search query. Our LDA work and the LDA tool in labs today use a corpus of about 8 million documents (from Wikipedia). Google’s would almost certainly use their web index (or portions of it).

It’s certainly possible that query data is also leveraged for a similar purpose (though due to how people search – with short terms and phrases rather than long, connected groups of words – it’s probably in a different way). This might even be something that helps extend their competitive advantage (given their domination of market share).

Sometimes one can see Google’s ontology change over time (based on sharp ranking increases and drops for outlier pages which target related keywords but not the core keyword, or when search results for 2 similar keywords keep bouncing between showing the exact same results to showing vastly different results). How do you guys account for these sorts of changes?

Thus far, we haven’t been changing the model – it just launched last week. However, one nice thing we get to do consistently is to run our models against Google’s search results. Thus, if Google does change, our scores (and eventually, the recommendations we hope to make) should change as well. This is the nice part about not having to “beat” Google in relevance (as a competing search engine might want to do) but simply to determine where Google’s at today.

For a long time one of the thing I have loathed most in the SEO space was clunky all-in-one desktop tools that often misguide you into trying to change your keyword density on the word “the” and other such idiocy. Part of the reason we have spent thousands of Dollars offering free Firefox extensions was my disgust toward a lot of those all-in-one tools. A lot of the best SEOs tend to prefer a roll-your-own mix and match approach to SEO. Recently you launched a web application which aims to sorta do all-in-one. What were the key things you felt you had to get right with it to make it better than the desktop software so many loathe?

I think our impetus for building the web app was taken from the way software has evolved in nearly every other web marketing vertical. In online surveys, you had one-time, self built systems and folks like Wufoo and SurveyMonkey have done a great job making that a consolidated, simple, powerful software experience. That goes for lots of others like:

  • PPC – Google has really taken the cake here with Adwords integration and the launch of Optimizer and even GA
  • CRM – Salesforce, of course, was the original “all-in-one” web marketing software, and they’ve shown what a remarkable company you can build with that model. InfusionSoft and other players are now quickly building great businesses, too.
  • Email Marketing – Exact Target, Constant Contact, Mailchimp, MyEmma, iContact and many more have built tens-hundreds of millions of dollar/year businesses with “all-in-one” software for handling email marketing.
  • Banner Ads – platforms like Aquantive, DoubleClick, AdReady, etc. have and are building scalable solutions that drive billions in online advertising
  • Analytics – remember when we had one-off, log file analysis tools and analytics consultants who built their own tools to dig into your data? Those consultants are still here, but they’re now armed with much more powerful tools – Google Analytics, Omniture, Webtrends, etc. (and new players like KISS Metrics, too)

You’re likely spot-on in thinking that power players will continue to mash up and hack their own solutions, build their own tools and protect their secret processes to make them more exclusive in the market and (hopefully) competitive. But, these folks are on the far edge of the bell curve. In every one of the industries above (and many others), it looks like the way to build a scalable software product that many, many people adopt, use and love is to optimize of the middle to upper-end of the bell curve (what we’d probably call “intermediate” to “advanced” SEOs, rather than the outlier experts).

When you gather ranking data do you use APIs to do so? If not, how hard was it been on the technical front scaling up to that level of data extraction?

Some data we can get through APIs, but most isn’t available in that fashion, so relatively robust networks are required to effectively get the information. Luckily, we’ve got a pretty terrific team of engineers and a VP of Engineering who’s done data extraction work previously for Amazon, Microsoft and others. I’d certainly say that it ranks in the top 10 technical challenges we’ve faced, but probably not the top 3.

What do you gain by doing the all-in-one approach that a roll your own type misses out on?

Convenience, consistency, UI/UX, user-friendliness and scalability are all big gains. However, the compromise is that you may lose some of that “secret-sauce” feeling and the power that comes from handling any weird situation or result in a hands-on, one-to-one fashion. Plenty of folks using our web app have already pointed out edge-case scenarios where we’re probably not taking the ideal approach, and those kinks will take time to be ironed out.

Some firms use predictive analytics to automatically change page titles & other attributes on the fly. Do you see much risk to that approach? Do you eventually see SEO companies offering CMS tools as part of their packages to lock in customers, while integrating the SEO process at a much deeper level?

When we were out pitching to take venture capital last summer, a lot of VCs felt that this was the way to go and that we should have products on this front.

Personally, I don’t like it, and I’d be surprised if it worked. Here’s why:

  • Editors/writers should be responsible for content, not machine-generated systems built to optimize for search engines. Yes, those machine systems can and should make recommendations, but I fear for the future of your content and usability should “perfect SEO” be the driving force behind every word and phrase on your site.
  • With links being such a powerful signal, it’s far better to have a slightly less well-targeted page that people actually want to link to than a “perfect” page that reads like machine-generated content.
  • I think content creators who take pride in their work are the ones who’ll be better rewarded by the engines (at least in the long term – hopefully your crusade against Demand Media, et al. will help with that), and those are the same type of creators who won’t permit a system like this to automatically change their content based on algorithmic evaluation.

There are cases I could see where something like this would be pretty awesome, though – e.g. a 404 detector that automatically 301s pages it sees earning real links back to the page it thinks was the most likely intended target.

On your blog recently there was a big fuss after you changed your domain authority modeling scores. Were you surprised by that backlask? What caused such a drastic change to your scores?

We were surprised only until we realized that somehow, our internal testing missed some pretty obvious boneheaded scores.

Basically, we calculate DA and PA using machine learning models. When those models find better “correlated” results, we put them in the system and build new scores. Unfortunately, in the late August release, the models had much better average correlation but some really terrifically bad outliers (lots of junky single-page keyword-match domains got DAs of 100 for example).

We just rolled out updated scores (far ahead of our expected schedule – we thought it would take weeks), and they look much better. We’re always open to feedback, though!

When I got into SEO (and for the first couple years) it seemed like you could analyze a person’s top backlinks and then literally just go out and duplicate most of them fairly easily. Since then people have become more aware of SEO, Google has cracked down on paid links, etc. etc. etc. Based on that, a lot of my approach to SEO has moved away from analysis and more toward just trying to do creative marketing & hope some % of it sticks. Do you view data as being a bit of a sacred cow, or more of just a rough starting point to build from? How has your perception as to the value of data & approach to SEO changed over time?

I think your approach is almost exactly the same as mine. The data about links, on-page, social stats, topic models, etc. is great for the analysis process, but it’s much harder to simply say “OK, I’ll just do what they did and then get one more link,” than it was when we started out.

That analysis and ongoing metrics tracking is still super-valuable, IMO, because it helps define the distance between you and the leaders and gives critical insight into making the right strategic/tactical decisions. It’s also great to determine whether you’re making progress or not. But, yes, I’d agree that it’s nowhere near as cut-and-dried as it once was.

The frustrating part for us at SEOmoz is we feel like we’re only now producing/providing enough data to be good at these. I wish that 6-7 years ago, we’d been able to do it (of course, it would have cost a lot more back then, and the market probably wasn’t mature enough to support our current business model).

How much time do you suggest people should spend analyzing data vs implementing strategies? What are some of the biggest & easiest wins often found in the data?

I think that’s actually the big win with the web app (or with competitive software products like Raven, Conductor, Brightedge, etc). You can spend a lot less time on the collection/analysis of data and a lot more on taking the problems/opportunities identified and doing the real work of solving those issues.

Big wins in our new web app for me have been ID’ing pages through the weekly crawl that need obvious fixing (404s and 500s are included, like Google Webmaster Tools, but so are 20+ other data points they don’t show like 302s, incorrect rel canonicals, etc.)

Blekko has got a lot of good press by sharing their ranking models & link data. Their biggest downside so far in their beta is the limited size of their index, which is perhaps due to a cost benefit analysis & they will expand their index size before they publicly launch. In some areas of the web Google crawls & indexes more than I would expect, while not going to deeply into others. Do you try to track Google’s crawls in any way? How do you manage your crawl to try to get the deep stuff Google has while not getting the deep stuff that Google doesn’t have?

Yeah – we definitely map our crawls against Google, Bing and Majestic on a semi-regular basis. I can give you a general sense of we see ourselves performing against these:

  • Google – the freshest and most “complete” (without including much spam/junk) of the indices. A given Linkscape index is likely around 40-60% of the Google index in a similar timeframe, but we tend to do pretty well on coverage of domains and well-linked-to pages, though worse on deep crawling in big sites.
  • Bing – they’ve got a large index like Google, but we actually seem to beat them in freshness for many of the less popular corners of the web (though they’re still much faster about catching popular news/blogs/etc from trusted sources since they update multiple times daily vs. our once-per-month updates).
  • Majestic – dramatically larger in number of URLs than Google, Bing or Linkscape, but not as good as any of those about freshness or canonicalization (we’ll often see hundreds of URLs in the index that are essentially the same page with weird URL parameters). We like a lot of their features and certainly their size is enviable, but we’re probably not going to move to a model of continuous additions rather than set updates (unless we get a lot more bandwidth/processing power at dramatically lower rates).

the problem with maintaining old URLs became more clear when we analyzed decay on the WWW

In terms of reaching the deep corners of the web, we’ve generally found that limiting spam and “thin” content is the big problem at those ends of the spectrum. Just as email traffic is estimated to be 90%+ spam, it’s quite possible that the web, if every page were truly crawled and included, would have similar proportions. Our big steps to help this are using metrics like mozTrust, mozRank and some of our PA/DA work to help guide the crawl. As we scale up index size (probably December/January of this year), that will likely become a bigger challenge.

Thanks Rand. You can read his latest thoughts on the SEOmoz blog and follow him on Twitter at @randfish.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.
Jon Glick.
Jon Glick is one of the leading experts on search, having literally both wrote the code at leading search engines and later becoming an SEO professional. I remember speaking with him in 2004 at the Ghost Bar in Las Vegas and it was perhaps the most fascinating conversation about search I have ever been part of. I have wanted to interview him for years & just recently was able to. :)

In some past interviews (like this one) you have highlighted how Google’s key strength is perhaps brand rather than relevancy. After seeing Yahoo! bow out of the search game do you still hold that same opinion? What do you think of the Bing brand?

Brand is still Google’s strongest competitive asset in search. It means that to get someone to switch you have to be significantly better than they are, which is a tall order. Bing is the first search offering from MSFT that is in the same league with Google, so it’s more about branding and positioning than objective quality at this point. If Bing was a standalone brand they wouldn’t have a chance, but it has the advantage of default positioning in IE, so for now it just has to be close enough that people won’t swap it out. Over time Bing may evolve some interesting differentiation from Google, but that’s not really the case right now (at least it seems to be pressuring Google to experiment/innovate a bit more). It’s been quite a while since using a MSFT product was “cool” and Bing has that drag on its brand.

Some of the new upstarts entering the search game believe that perhaps the thinning of the herd is creating an entry opportunity? Have you checked out Blekko yet? Any other new general search projects interest you?

Google rose to prominence during the dot-com bust when the existing players were quite disinterested in search, since at the time (pre-PPC) it was money loser. Search is so ridiculously lucrative right now that any promising technology that starts to get traction or buzz is likely to be quickly acquired by one of the major players as a blocking measure. Google’s rumored attempt to acquire Cuil for MM pre-launch is an example. There is an opportunity, but it’s more about getting bought out for a sweet price than taking down the SEs.

There is also so much manual tuning in search these days that even a great system will take a lot of effort to return great results. “Plumber OR Pipefitter” is a Boolean query, “Portland OR Plumber” is not, and someone’s got to build code to recognize that. This is where the existing players have a huge legacy advantage.

Looking at new search technologies I’m very cautious about those that ask users to do more work in return for better results. Search is a low-intensity activity that people don’t really want to learn or spend time on. This is where an approach like WA (that Bing is also aiming towards) looks interesting. We’d all like search to be like the computer from Star Trek that gives you back exactly the answer/data you ask for. The complication with this, beyond the technical issues, is what benefit it has for the webmasters (i.e. why should I let you crawl/index my site). Current SEs take your data for their use, but provide traffic in return, which an answering system would not.

You are one of the few guys who literally wrote the relevancy algorithms & then later worked in the SEO space. Do you consider the roles to be primarily complimentary or adversarial?

So is SEO good or bad for SEs? On the whole I think it’s a benefit for them. From an algo perspective it’s a lot easier to determine the intent of a well SEO’d page. The SEs give webmasters a lot of tools and encourage them to use them because it makes search better. 301 your pages so we know where the content went, let us know what parameters don’t impact page content so we don’t get caught in robot traps, tell us what language your page is in using the metatags so we don’t have to guess, etc. If one of these tools ends up being a net negative, SEs can always change how they treat it (NoFollow), or just start ignoring it all together (Keywords MetaTag). This is not to say that a lot of work doesn’t have to be put into removing spam and factoring out overly aggressive optimization, but it’s a lot less than what they’d need to do if no one SEO’d.

Given your experience on both sides of the table, do you feel that ranking great in other search engines is like stealing candy from a baby, or is it still hard? What aspects of the SEO process do you find most challenging?

For SEO-ing established businesses it’s not a slam dunk, but it is still possible to generate very strong returns. At Become.com we have dozens of people working on SEO in a very organized manner and paybacks on investing effort are better than almost any other aspect of our business. The challenging part is the innate volatility of SEO and the fact that ultimately the SEs control our destiny. You can put together a great growth plan, and then watch an algo update like MayDay shred it.

For the spammers, it’s like stealing candy from a sleeping Doberman. It’s easy until the Doberman wakes up.

Does your experience allow you to just look at a search result and almost instantly know why something is ranked? If so, what are the key things SEOs should study / work on to help gain that level of understanding?

I wish. There is always some pattern recognition that comes from experience (i.e. this is a collage site), but there are so many nuances in the code and off-page stuff that it’s not always instant, you just get better at knowing what to look for. The real learning comes from looking at pages that are ranking well for no obvious reason and seeing what they are doing. It’s no secret why apple is #1 for “ipod nano,” but what is that site I haven’t heard of doing right to get the #5 position? Also if we see a competitor suddenly see a step-function traffic lift we look to see what they changed/added that the SEs seem to be liking.

Back in 2006 you highlighted the rise of some of the MFA collage websites. In 2010 content mills are featured in the press almost every week. Are you surprised how far it has went & how long it has lasted?

I think Google actually likes folks like Demand Media. What they are doing is seeing where GG’s users are looking for something and not finding it, then plugging that hole. It may not be the Pulitzer Prize-winning content, but it allows users to find something and thus makes Google more useful and universal. When better content comes along those pages will slip down, but they serve a purpose in Google’s ecosystem.

Collage websites (stitch sites in Yahoo! parlance) are another story entirely. They add virtually no value and are pretty much spam IMO. The difficulty is in detecting and eradicating them as fast as they can be robo-created.

You mentioned looking at the aboutness of a site for Become.com when judging links. Do you think broad general search engines care about link relevancy?

Personally, I have not seen it have much of an impact, which is a shame. I think the main reason is that it is quite difficult for general SEs to judge which site relationships are meaningful, and which are not. For example, a golf course might get links from a real estate site; golf and real estate might be classified as very different verticals, but the links are quite relevant because the real estate agent is pointing out one of the benefits of the community. As a result link relevancy has become more about avoiding bad neighborhoods (3Ps, link farms, etc.) than finding good ones.

How important do you think temporal analysis is in judging the quality and authenticity of a link profile?

It’s certainly a red flag if a site gains too many links too quickly. The same is true if the profile of the links looks unnatural. If all your new links are coming from PR3-PR4 blog sites, something’s off. If bloggers are suddenly that interested in you wouldn’t a lot of PR0 comments exist, FB mentions, tweets, and a few higher PR press mentions? At Yahoo! sites that got a sudden upsurge in inlinks were classed as “spike” sites. Legit spike sites (ex. the website of some unknown who wins an Olympic medal) have typical hallmarks like temporally-linked mentions in media sites that you can’t buy access to (AP, NYT, Time, etc.). The spikes that are blackhatted look totally different.

In an interview a couple years ago Priyank Garg mentioned Yahoo! looked at the link’s location on a page. Do you feel other search engines take this into account?

All of the major SEs have been doing boilerplate stripping for a while. They recognize footers, rail nav., etc. and look at those links differently. Also, SEs will only follow a limited number of links per page. They typically collect all the links, remove the checksum dups (note: if your links vary by even one parameter they will not be deduped at this phase), and follow the first N links from the code. None of the SEs will say exactly what N is, but it’s probably somewhere between 75 and 300 links (Google recommends you have <100). Put your important links high up in the code and save the header/footer stuff for further down.

What are some of the biggest advantages vertical search engines have over general search engines? As Google adds verticals, will they be able to build meaningful services that people prefer to use over leading vertical plays?

The big advantage of being a vertical search engine is the ability to limit the scope of the problem we’re trying to tackle. You can use a more focused taxonomy to provide a better experience, and present data in a way that is much more relevant than the 10 blue links. Sidestep is going to help me find the plane flight I want a lot easier than a Google search. The challenge is that the experience that you offer has to be dramatically better than Google. Google is easy, people know how to use it and it works for almost everything. Being 5% better at one thing won’t get anyone to switch behavior.

As Google adds verticals, it’s ironic that they are in a position in the browser similar to how I think of Microsoft historically on the desktop (link and leverage): they don’t need to win by being the best, they win by being the default. Google Product Search doesn’t have to provide a better user experience than say Shopping.com; it will get used because it gets placed prominently on the Google SERP.

At the upcoming SES you are speaking about meaningful SEO metrics. What are some of the least valuable metrics people still track heavily?

The one that jumps to mind is pages indexed. Depending on which GG servers you are hitting, that number is going to fluctuate, and I see people stress over those fluctuations when there is often no actual change. Also, getting indexed is virtually worthless; it’s getting ranked that’s valuable. It’s easy to get your “iPod” page indexed, getting a top10 ranking is another story. What’s the point of having 300,000 pages indexed if all your traffic is coming from 30 that have decent rankings? If you have pages that are indexed, but not ranking; either do some SEO for those pages (internal links, extra content, etc.) or NoIndex them and take them out of your sitemaps so other pages on your site get a chance.

Another is pageload time. Google has mentioned this as a ranking factor, but we really have not seen an impact. We focus on reducing latency, and loading search relevant content first (vs. headers or banner media), but that’s because it reduces abandonment rate not that it helps SEO.

What are some of the most valuable metrics which are not generally appreciated enough in the market?

The big one is revenue. Everything else is a means to this end; never lose sight of that.

The other is crawl rate (esp. from Google). This is a great leading indicator.

—-

Thanks Jon! To hear more of Jon’s insights on search check out his panel at San Francisco’s SES conference next week.

SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.

Hi Everyone
Anita Campbell will be interviewing me on her Small Business Radio program in ~ 1 hour & 15 minutes, at 1:30 PM Eastern.

I was on Small Business Trends Radio SEO Book.com – Learn. Rank. Dominate.
Post image for Interview with Loren Feldman of 1938 Media

For today’s post were going to be talking to Loren Feldman of 1938 Media. Hi Loren for my readers who might not know you can you tell us a little about yourself, your company, and what you do.

I make videos for companies and people. I also make them for my website.

Many people who read my blog know you best for your satirical puppet video about the tech industry and it’s celebrities, like this video of Mark Zuckerberg of facebook

Click here to view the embedded video.

Do you think that silicon valley and tech blogger taking themselves so seriously is part of what makes your videos stand out?

We all are. Tech is now like entertainment.

There’s no denying that you’re a funny person, but your also a smart guy. Back when the Bill Gates and Jerry Sienfeld commercials you where way ahead of the curve on understanding what was going on. What gives you an edge that a lot of tech pundits don’t seem to have?

Honesty.

Some people have said that the tech space is very spotty when it comes to real journalists. If you could change one thing about the tech bloggers and how they cover the industry what would it be?

So much of it is cut and paste and flat out scraping. They all are rehashing the same nonsense.

On the positive side who are two or three journalists, online blogs or news sources, that you admire or respect?

Kara Swisher, CNET, I like Wired lately.

Let’s change gears you have a conference in New York City coming up on August 14th called the Audience Conference, can you tell me a little bit about it.

It’s a learning experience on how to make your business more engaging to your audience by working with artists who deal with an audience up close and personal. We all want our business to be engaging and capture and audience ie.customers so I figured lets mash it all up and get some great ideas.

I spoke with a lot of people who went to last years show and said how different it was from traditional conferences. Can you tell me what makes your show different from the other shows.

I think it a lot more fun. We are also the least expensive.

Looking at your speaker list I can see you have quite a few marquee name presenters, can you tell me about them, and what they will be talking about?

All the comedians will do a set and then a Q&A about their experiences with an audience. The tech people will be talking about their tools and experience in dealing with an audience online.

If there where one or two things you hope that everyone who attends your conference could take back and put to use what would it be?

To always remember their is now an audience of some kind for your business. How do you best engage them.

Any closing thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

Just to remember to keep your eyes open. Thanks.

Thanks Loren for taking the time to talk to me today. If you’d like to read and see more of Loren’s work head over to 1938 Media. If you are going to be in the New York City area on August 14th you should think about attending the Audience Conference tickets are available online.
Photo via adrants

This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Interview with Loren Feldman of 1938 Media

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Post image for Interview with Steven Wyer of ReputationAdvocate.com

The following is a sponsored post.

For this post we’re going to be talking with Steven Wyer of Reputation Advocate. Steve, for my readers who aren’t familiar with your firm, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Reputation Advocate started in 2006 and is based just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in Williamson County. I have a deep history in media, marketing and software development and came to ORM out of a personal need. I was involved in protracted litigation and my own search results didn’t reflect the complete reality of the situation. At that time, there were very few options that addressed the needs of small business and individuals. While major corporations utilized online tools to defend themselves, solutions for those that fell under the Fortune 1000 were hard to find. Because of previous businesses I have owned, I put a team of Internet marketing professionals together and Reputation Advocate began to develop online tools and solutions with the goal of influencing and controlling the search engine results. Four years later we have been fortunate in representing business and individuals throughout North America, Latin America and Europe.

Online Reputation Management or ORM is a growing industry, and as more personal and private information makes its way onto the web it’s not always flattering. What types of clients does Reputation Advocate provide services to and what are some common problems encountered?

In the early years, most of our client projects were aimed at a handful of slander sites and blogs. They had high traffic, are very well optimized to rank, are magnets for organic back links and offered little in the way of presenting a balanced perspective for persons that they targeted. In 2010 the Reputation Advocate client base is much more diverse and the online violations now take on many forms. Reputation Advocate tracks several hundred complaint sites and there is a linear growth to these that is quite concerning. As public records become digitized and offered through the Internet, professionals can be repeatedly confronted with issues they assumed were addressed long ago. This content is now delivered at the top of someone’s search results and the ramifications can be very negative.

Businesses are now routinely attacked, and many times these violations come from former employees and competitors. Most businesses now have a presence on the Internet. They have focused on content and graphics and some clients are even employing SEO and PPC campaigns. However, problems appear because a broader perspective relating to online defense has not been considered.

Even though most people believe that they are careful about what they post about themselves online, that may not always true. Casual acquaintances, business associates and even family members might post content that is sensitive, untrue and damaging. Do you see that becoming a more serious problem in the future?

People have become much more aware of social media and with that awareness has come a certain power that has not existed before. 500 million Facebook members believe that they are “safe” and yet Reputation Advocate has seen many instances over the past six months that allow us to draw different conclusions. Hundreds of millions of blogs exist and everyone claims the First Amendment right to free speech. The difference is that you cannot confront your accuser, resolve differences in private and deal with conflict. When you are violated online you may never know who the attacker is. Client’s can speculate but very few individuals come to the point of confronting the attacker. Currently the courts have a very narrow body of law that specifically addresses these issues. While there have been several precedent-setting cases, most people attacked do not have the financial ability and stamina needed to even attempt to defend themselves. Until fundamental federal laws are adapted to meet our digital world, we believe that this problem will only escalate.

Let’s switch gears and talk about the corporate end of things. What are some of the common problems Reputation Advocate sees for your corporate clients?

As I mentioned before, most businesses now have a simple online presence. The Reputation Advocate clients we hear from most are those that believe that the digital world plays by the same ground rules that have been generally accepted business practices for decades. Traditional member organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the National Federation of Independent Business have offered channels for communication, conflict resolution and business validation. The Internet bypasses all of that. What we hear is that “It isn’t fair” and that these online attack practices “lack integrity”, and it’s absolutely true! The whole landscape for business has changed forever. Either businesses accept this new reality or they open themselves up in ways they cannot even comprehend. Businesses can actually lose their online identity, have others misrepresent themselves and even have their name associated with terms like fraud, scam, thief and worse. The only way to defend a business is to adopt a new perspective. Companies need to proactively create, monitor and manage their online reputation and Reputation Advocate is seeing an increase in the number of businesses hiring us before they are attacked online in order to build a defense for their online reputation.

As companies become more involved with social media and communication on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, the potential for an error or mistake increases. What are some guidelines companies can set up that will allow them to participate in social media without creating a reputation management problem for themselves down the road?

To begin with, every individual and business in the United States should read the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) and the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many businesses make key assumptions regarding rights and protections that are not correct. Once it is understood that the current laws put in place to protect Internet service providers may actually act against the protections that could be provided to individuals and business it wakes everyone up.

Next, monitor keywords. You will learn a great deal about your online reputation by simply utilizing Google Alerts. Monitor your name, your company name, company officers, products, brands, competitors and your industry as a whole. As the old saying goes: knowledge is power.  Also, make sure that you have formal, legal trademarks filed to protect your brands. If there is blatant slander against a trademarked name, a Takedown Demand can be sent to the hosting company based on trademark infringement.

Finally, the most basic of online defense strategies is to own the URLs that represent your company and your brand. Reputation Advocate consults with companies often and it seems that they almost never consider this, the most vulnerable area of all. Simply put, if you don’t own it, someone else can.
Reputation Advocate offers services both for reputation repair and reputation monitoring. Not everyone needs to monitor what’s being said about them online, but a lot of us do and more will as time goes on. When do you think people need to start being concerned about their online reputations?

The most direct answer to your question is right now! We believe that every individual and business should be concerned about what is presented about them online. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” absolutely holds true for a person’s online identity. There are a number of good general monitoring tools that can deliver comprehensive reports detailing every time you or your company are mentioned online. For most people this is just too much information. The sheer volume can overload small businesses and consume a major part of most days for business professionals. What most people need to be aware of is the negative information that can be found. Reputation Advocate offers these services as part of a comprehensive ongoing online defense.

What is some advice you can give people about preventing reputation management problems or minimizing them right out of the gate?


You must be vigilant. Just because a negative listing is not easily found today, does not mean that it will not begin ranking next week, additionally, you don’t always know what long tail search terms people use when doing research on you or your company. Reputation Advocate’s best advice is to establish your online presence immediately before you find the need to defend yourself. Also remember that whatever information you place on a social site can be used against you. This goes for contact information, pictures, family information and the names and titles of employees. For headhunters this is low hanging fruit. Slander has the ring of integrity to it when it includes specific information and many times this information comes from the client themselves. Always have the perspective that every piece of content that exists about you online is available to anyone at any time to be used for any purpose by those who know how to use it.

How does someone know they are in over their head and that it’s time to use a professional service like Reputation Advocate to help with the problem?

In general, by the time a person or company discovers an online attack, outside help is immediately needed. One reason for this is that when someone is slandered they react and want to be vindicated. Generally speaking their response, which is usually triggered by emotion, almost always hurts their online reputation rather than help it. The solution usually lies in a solid planned response that may not provide the immediate gratification of a fiery response but will deliver a stable long-term solution. Simply creating a bunch of social sites and hoping to hide the negative listing(s) does not work anymore and nicely asking for the content to be taken down seldom works. Online violations are not easy to address. There is no such thing as a “silver bullet” or cookie cutter solution. Companies that offer services with blanket marketing statements may not approach a client solution comprehensively. It is always easier to sell then to deliver. By partnering with the right online reputation management firm, over time a client can have confidence in a solid online defense that protects the most valuable thing they own; their name.

While every situation is different, what’s a reasonable timeframe to expect that it will take Reputation Advocate to “clean things up”?

While we read marketing materials that indicate conclusive permanent ORM results in a matter of days, our experience suggests that there is simply no definitive answer to this question. The biggest companies involved in ORM suggest 30 day results. We benefit from these claims when clients contact Reputation Advocate after being disillusioned by unrealistic expectations and disappointing results.

Everyone who contacts us receives a free initial evaluation. During this evaluation we review the negative listing(s) and their SERPs, and after this is completed we can provide them with a reasonable timeframe about when to expect to see new positive listings on page 1 and when they can expect the negative listings to begin to be pushed down. Clients are involved in reviewing content and the initial collaborative effort is an important aspect of a project for most of our clients. Our average client begins seeing results within two to three weeks of beginning a project.

Let’s look to the future a little bit … what are some interesting things you see on the horizon in your space … and how different do you see things in the next 12-18 months?

As I mentioned earlier, there is an absolute linier progression of growth as it relates to unwanted content for all sectors; business, professional and every day people. The damage is real. As additional historical information is digitized and social sites continue to expand, the need for services like Reputation Advocate provides will also multiply. The wild cards are held by the search engines and the dominant social sites. With Google changing algorithms daily and the projected growth for sites like Facebook and Twitter, an ever-growing percentage of business will be driven by SERPs. Congress is scrambling to address privacy concerns and foreign governments are asking for meetings with the CEOs of private social media companies. This digital landscape changes daily and those providing ORM will continue to adapt.

If the question is asked, “Where is this leading us?” everyone within this industry peers into the same dimly lit glass. I don’t believe many people have any true sense of what this means to the average business owner or college graduate looking for a job. What I do believe is that the need to take action is immediate, that those who take control of their online reputation will defend themselves better than those who ignore the inevitable and that all of us will be viewed increasingly as who we appear to be online and less by a more thoughtful examination of our business, our character and our lives. We are not going to stop this train.

Thanks Steven for taking the time to talk to me about Reputation Advocate. If you have any questions please contact Reputation Advocate or Steve Wyer at 888-229-0746 or request a free consultation regarding your online reputation.

The preceding has been a sponsored post. Find out more information about sponsored posts

This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Interview with Steven Wyer of ReputationAdvocate.com

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Michael Gray – Graywolf’s SEO Blog

Internet success stories rarely get any sexier than the story of Johns Wu. 

In 2006, while still an undergraduate research student in neuroscience, Johns started a WordPress blog he named Bankaholic.com. A one-man-show, Johns used an SEO/SEM-focused approach to build traffic and revenue. Just over 3 years later, he sold Bankaholic to BankRate for a reported .9 Million.

He was 22 years old.

Recently, we caught-up with Johns. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, as he is currently enjoying the ability to travel all over the world. He graciously stopped just long enough to answer some questions about his success and what it takes to create a multi-million dollar website these days.

So what leads a guy like you from studying neuroscience into SEO?

My original inspiration was the story of Anand Lal Shimpi and Anandtech.com. When I was in middle school, I saw a news report about how he became a media-tycoon when he was only in high school. Since then, I have always been fascinated by online media. In college, I was originally on track go to medical school, but the deeper I got into science, the more I realized that I hated it! I explored some computer and business classes on the side, and in 2005, I started a stock blog called thebulltrader.com. I had a good time blogging and running the site, and a year later, in 2006, I started Bankaholic. After getting my first AdSense check of +, I became interested in getting more traffic, and the rest is history! ;)

Online affiliates tend to do really well in areas that are either directly or closely tied to finance. Do you evaluate the proximity to finance when considering an area or niche where you’d like to build?

Not at all. The Internet is huge and there are tons great niches out there.

Is topical expertise required to compete in a valuable market?

It definitely helps, but it isn’t 100% required.

What are specific things you feel might substitute for topical expertise?

Being Internet savvy definitely helps. More specifically, understanding how SEO and SEM works will grow your business and give you a shot even if competitors have more topical expertise.

Do you like to operate in markets where there is passionate competition, or markets where people tend to approach it with less passion?

I always steer clear of competitive niches. Always. There is so much money out there that you shouldn’t be wasting your time chasing over-saturated/impossible niches like ringtones and online poker.

Let’s talk a bit about how you grew Bankaholic. What was your original vision for the site?

In 2006, it was the peak of the financial bubble. Banks were very aggressive with marketing so they were paying easy sign-up bonuses to new customers. Any average Joe with a social security number could make a couple hundred bucks a month by taking advantage of these deals.

My goal was to aggregate the best deals and create a SlickDeals/Fatwallet kind of site that was exclusively about banking. My vision was to create an online cult of "bankaholics" that would come to my site every day for the latest deals.

Great domain name, BTW. What led you to create a uniquely brand-focused name opposed to using a direct-match or keyword-rich domain within the finance sector?

Picking a domain name was incredibly frustrating because (as you can imagine) all the good names were taken. I remember the day I thought of the word "Bankaholic" very clearly. I was in the neuroscience lab waiting for one of my lab experiments to finish, so I went on the computer and used NameBoy.com to brainstorm some names. I saw the word "Bankaholic" and I thought hey, this sounds alright…so then I quickly registered it on GoDaddy.

Given the size of the sale {.9 Million}, it would seem you were quite ambitious and narrowly focused to build that much market leverage so quickly. Were you always focused on reaching that level of success?

Yes, after I graduated college, Bankaholic became my life. I knew that I was sitting on a goldmine and that it was my one shot in life to make it big, so I took it very seriously and spent every free moment obsessing over how to grow and improve my business.

Did you employ any offline strategies to help drive your success?

The only offline strategy I ever attempted was printing Bankaholic t-shirts and giving them out. Since the ROI was so dismal, I never did this again!!

Did you have any specific priorities that you feel contributed in a meaningful way to your success?

Measure and optimize. You can’t optimize what you don’t measure.

Are you still writing regularly on the site? (One of the current authors in particular seems to share your love affair with culinary treats).

LOL! I continued writing for a few months after the sale, but after the transition, Bankrate has totally taken over.

The social media scene was emerging as Bankaholic grew, but is a much stronger presence today. Has this changed the way you are approaching new ideas or projects?

I’ll be honest. I HATE social media. I admit, it can be powerful, but it is so unpredictable and uncontrollable that it is more of an afterthought for my online strategy. I personally would much rather spend my time on SEO since it is predictable, measurable, and (most importantly) 100% profitable.

However, Twitter and Facebook are valuable tools because they allow you to reach a fresh demographic that hasn’t yet descended into the ‘conversion funnel’… So in that respect, yes it is important to have a level of fluency in SMM depending on your niche and business model.

If new to a niche with limited resources, how does someone tackle bigger, more challenging markets?

Experience is everything. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t be afraid to fail your way to the top.

Do you feel a success story like yours is something that anyone can do, or what makes the difference?

Not just anyone can do it, but there are many who can. To be a successful affiliate marketer, you need to be a jack of all trades. You gotta be able juggle and excel at many disciplines: creativity, design, business, project management.

You can only pick one: which is the most valuable asset for a young webmaster starting a competitive website (with all things being magically equal):

  • capital to invest,
  • passion for the subject matter,
  • expertise on the subject matter,
  • SEO savvy,
  • technical/graphic/content development skills

Definitely expertise. If you are a true authority in your niche and you create remarkable content, your website will naturally attract links, advertisers, and business development opportunities.

How has the money affected the way you’re approaching new business interests?

I’m very active in domaining because it is a great place to put my money. I think premium domain names are great for my situation. Since I understand the Internet better than anything else, I know what valuations are attractive. Buying domains also leaves me the option to get into more web development in the future.

You’ve created an amazing “Rags to Riches” story with this entire effort. How does this affect the way you’re viewing future challenges?

Unfortunately, I have a lot less motivation these days. I am a lot less ‘hungry’ for success but it’s okay… eventually I will get back into my Internet marketing groove.

So what’s next for Johns Wu?

These days, I’ve just been traveling and relaxing. Once I get the travel bug out of my system, there is no doubt that I will continue chugging away at domain acquisitions and development.

Thanks for taking a moment to talk, Johns – safe travels, and here’s to your continued success!

Marty Lamers owns a Freelance SEO Copywriting company you can visit at Articulayers.Com. Since 2001, Articulayers has been fixing the world, one word at a time.


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