Talking International SEO with Gabriella Sannino

If you’re at all familiar with international SEO, then you’re most likely familiar with Gabriella Sannino.

Gabriella is the owner of Level 343, an international marketing and SEO agency based in San Francisco. She has worked in marketing and multi media for over 20 years, starting out as a Web developer in 1994 when she founded Level 343.

In the ensuing years Gabriella donned many hats, including research and development specialist, brand strategist, and creative director before deciding to specialize in international marketing and SEO in 2005.

We were fortunate to grab some time with Gabriella to ask her about her experience with international SEO, and to share her insights into this somewhat rarified field.

Read more

Rapid Results, Lots of Fun: Growth Hacking Tips from Ann Smarty

Do the words “rapid results” make your heart rate pitter patter with glee?

Are you looking for a fun way to help your clients?

If you don’t know Ann Smarty, you’re in for a treat. Ann has been on the forefront of blogging and content marketing for years — plus, she knows her SEO stuff (@seosmarty is even her Twitter handle!).

Read what Ann has to say about growth hacking strategies, why building your brand assets is so important — and why you may not need a blog. Enjoy!

The topic of “growth hacking” is hot – but I run into people who don’t know what it is. Can you please define growth hacking and tell us how it differs from digital marketing?

I am not aware of any formal definition. Here’s how I understand it: Growth hacking means coming up with efficient tactics to grow your business.

Growth hacking can be part of digital marketing but while the latter is more long-term and strategic, growth hacking is usually about rapid results, lots of experiments and fun.

Moreover, while digital marketing is comprehensive (it aims at building all kinds of aspects of your business including sales, reputation, usability, etc.), growth hacking is about mostly doing whatever it takes to grow the site user base.

Growth hacking is also less about watching competitors and more about developing unique growth ideas.

I’m asking this for all those businesses out there who really don’t want to blog. Is having an on-site blog a prerequisite for digital marketing/growth hacking? Or, are there any non-blogging “hacks?”

Blogging is just one growth hack. There are many more :)

For examples, growth hacks in my newsletter include YouTube tricks, ways to obtain natural links that bring traffic and users, creating brand assets that generate user base of their own, etc. It’s not just about blogging, though blogging usually makes it easier!

Do you run into people who insist email marketing is dead? Is it really? Where does email marketing fit into an overall growth hacking strategy? Or does it?

The death of email marketing was a thing a few years ago when social media sites were just emerging and many people thought social media communities would eventually replace email marketing.

Well, guess what, social media platforms are mature now, they are useful for marketers but they definitely never replaced email marketing. In fact, the two are most effective when combined!

You discuss increasing Google search exposure by answering niche questions. Are there any specific ways of doing this or Q&A forums you’ve found work better than others?

The most effective way to earn traffic by answering questions is to answer them on your site and build up a resource.

One of the most efficient scenarios I’ve come up with so far is the following:

  • Any time you plan to create and publish content, use SERPstat to find related questions people tend to type into Google’s search box
  • Break those questions into generic ones (those that deserve creating a separate page to address them) and specific ones (those that should be covered inside an article)
  • Do some more digging to research search volume and competition (SERPstat can show you both) to pick the best generic questions to create content around
  • Use specific questions as subheadings as well as a clickable table of contents within each article.

Here’s a good example of the above scenario in action.

Also, make a good habit of covering each customer’s questions on your site as a FAQ question. Not only will it increase your chances to rank higher, it will also decrease the amount of customer support emails.

You’ve also discussed creating alternative web traffic sources by building brand assets. Are you saying that Google traffic isn’t enough? How can that be? ;)

Even if we forget about the (always) disturbing Google whims (manual penalties, ever-growing list of tools), depending on one source for traffic, leads and customers is never a good idea! :)

What are the best hacks for building these assets? And what “alternative web traffic sources” should an agency or individual consider?

I’ve discussed my favorite platforms to build brand assets here. In short, brand assets can be any page or resource that can be bring you traffic (preferably on auto-pilot).

For example, a must-build brand asset is an email list (which you can scale by using automated workflows. Here’s more info on all the ways to automate your email communications and grow engagement with GetResponse).

Social media accounts are more brand assets to consistently develop.

Creating on-site brand assets is another great idea. Think eBooks, apps, aforementioned FAQs. These will bring return traffic from bookmarks and downloads.

The sky is your limit really… Creating an online course and publishing it throughout educational platforms is one idea, for example. Or publishing an instructional download, such as a pdf. Or even maintaining an author column at a high-profile niche publication.

The more you do, the more traffic sources you build!

It sounds like writing good copy (newsletter copy, email copy, web copy) is a needed growth-hacking skill – which is great for SEO writers! Is there anything else folks should know?

Content has always been the foundation of any other marketing efforts. It’s never “build it and they will come” though (unfortunately). Creating good copy is a necessary step 1, then there come many more steps including publicizing and marketing that content using your assets (e-newsletter, social media channels) or paid placements (search and social media ads).

What’s your top growth hack tip for snagging some “low-hanging fruit” success?

My favorite growth hack won’t work for everyone but it will hopefully inspire many. I have found that re-packaging old content is an easy and absolutely awesome way to create new traffic sources.

For example, I went back to my old content, ordered voiceover on Fiver and created three premium courses on Udemy. Now they work great for bringing brand recognition and site visitors.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while you’re writing?

I am not listening to music when writing. I am a multi-tasker. I am writing, monitoring Twitter and feeding baby – all at the same time. I cannot also add background music to all of that :)

Interview with SEW’s Jonathan Allen, Part 2: A Search Manifesto

Today we make good on our promise and post part 2 of our interview with SEW’s Jonathan Allen.

In this second half of the interview, “The Englishman in New York” and Search Engine Watch Director shares with us his thoughts on Google’s Search Plus and social (G+) networking ambitions, as well as where he sees the search marketing industry going with his self-described “manifesto on search.”

This year has been a tumultuous one with Google’s string of search & social initiatives and algorithm updates. What do you make of Google’s ambitions with Google Plus Search, Google+, and its Panda/Penguin algorithms?

In my view, Blekko has a lot to answer for in terms of the direction Google has taken in the last two years. By highlighting the problem of webspam, they whipped up a frenzy of pressure on Google.

To its credit, Google responded incredibly fast and seemed to fast-track a lot of features that were probably already in development. Larry Page taking the throne probably has a lot to do with this too, as what we have seen is a return to Google’s roots with a scrappier more reactive company. They are operating more like a startup.

I think it is important to ‘get’ that most of the features and updates we see today such as Search Plus Your World and Panda/Penguin were inevitable developments for search engines – and in particular, Google.

Whilst the link graph was already democratizing the distribution of information, people still needed to have the ability to actually code up a link. With the advent of social, the social networks have democratized information sharing even further, so that anyone can share from any device at the click of a Like or RT button – no coding required.

Even Google knew it was inevitable that links couldn’t be a ‘search signal’ forever, and that their algorithm first favored a kind of technical elite.

Replacing linking signals with social signals

Despite all reports to the contrary, Google still has not cracked social signals either.

Whatever role social signals do play in search is currently miniscule, and they are certainly no closer to a true concept of author rank. There are attempts at it, but in my opinion our industry overplays the importance of it.

Google is still trying to get a social graph, let alone analyze it. Proof of that is in the fact that Panda and Penguin are both algorithm updates that attempt to fight automation and reward the people who are content creators.

If Google did have a social graph already, they wouldn’t need a manual or algorithmic intervention. The very nature of social media is that it is self-policing and weeds out spam.

And this is where the rub is for search marketers.

As Google relentlessly pursues the goal of becoming a social platform (and cloud OS for their users), rather than just an interpreter for the web, search marketers are going to have to become self-policing too. And that is a huge threat to the relative anonymity we have been enjoying.

We either have to embrace the panopticon of Google+ or revise our understanding of the web and return to fundamentals that leave Google out of the equation.

Both positions are valid and ultimately imply the same thing – you have to think about your online marketing in terms of the true information needs of your potential customers and not the information needs of Google’s algorithm.

Google’s search rankings & illusions of absolutes in quality and relevance

The only reason Google delivers results in a ranked format is because that is the only possible way to manufacture the most important search signal there is – end user data.

Rank lists are just a byproduct of semiotic analysis – within one list of 10 results Google is showing all possible “Paradigms” (categories of information) and “Syntagms” (sets of information) that are present in the concept of the search query.

Put another way, paradigms and syntagms represent “all possible worlds” of the information need the user might have. It’s not until the user selects a result that Google can calculate relevance – namely, “meaningfulness” to the user. Everything before the click is just an estimate.

Google’s brand of relevance is little more than a Turing test because there is simply no such thing as absolute relevance – only the semblance of it. The less the results resemble a computer-generated list, the more confidence we have in the result and believe they are relevant.

But it’s an illusion to think that Google has any essential concept of quality or relevance.

Outputs, rather than inputs, are more important to Google – I cannot stress this enough – and chasing the input is a losing game.

You can analyze links and social shares as much as you like to get a sense of why things are ranking, but it is still just incidental data. For Google, the rank list is only the beginning of the journey to determine relevance.

The click that occurs after the rank list is the most important signal – the vital data – by which time all factors controlled by the machine and our SEO strategy are out of our control and the chaotic order of culture simply takes over.

Ultimately it is culture that dictates what ranks on the web – not links, not shares.

Google’s “semantic data” & culture

Despite announcements to the contrary from Amit Singhal, I would assert that Google is no closer to semantic data than anyone else because the principles of semantic data are fundamentally simple.

All you need is a reliable set of classifications, which pretty much anyone can create.

What is actually difficult is leveraging a training set for semantic data and apply that at web scale. Google has the best chance of all, given their super computing power, but that only serves to elevate the importance of end user data.

And end user data is simply a reflection of the cultural climate. At best, search can only reflect the status quo, which is simply the relationship of all “things” (web objects) to each other. To change the status quo online you actually have to transform the underlying relationships.

So “what is old is new again” 

So all in all, my sense of the latest round of Google changes is simply that “what is old is new again.” You need to market a business, not a search engine.

Your market for your business is people’s requirement for information they can trust. Therefore the only strategic difference between marketing in general and marketing on Google is that to succeed in the latter, your best chance of success is to adopt a “Googley business model” which offers freemium services.

The freemium offer you must make must be to freely offer the most important and useful information to help your potential customer make the right decision for their life, not your profits.

And if readers are looking for SEO tactics, then throw yourself at the opportunity that is Google Search Plus Your World – for the first time ever you can be on top of the pile for a generic term with relatively little work. Search results are going to be distributed and ranked according to your Google+ social graph, so grow that as fast and as quickly as possible.

Aim to tune into the real information needs of that subset of Google+ users because they are going to dictate the “relevance” of your site. As long as Twitter and Facebook lock their doors to Google, the Google+ social graph is the next training set of semantic data that Google is chasing.

And where do you see the search engine marketing industry going?  (a.k.a., Jonathan’s Search Manifesto)

The search engine marketing industry has matured.

To some degree, we’ve lost the cool factor to ‘social’ (whatever that really means), but what ‘search’ has gained is a huge amount of business and recognition that it is a required component in marketing.

However, the wider trend is that actual online advertising platforms are emulating search to take advantage of the search marketers’ skill set, whilst ironically, Google is starting to look less like a search engine everyday and seems to be utterly dismantling the search marketers’ toolset.

Simultaneously, as big brands have got smarter about online marketing, they have hit upon the realization that search only plays a certain role in the entire marketing equation.

Brands need a multiplicity of skills to tackle an end-to-end online marketing strategy. The problem is that in our industry, regardless of whether we are talking about SEO or PPC, or whatever satellite skills our industry implies, we tend to get pigeon-holed for working only in search, which is often seen as a closing tactic at the end of the customer purchase journey rather than the beginning.

So we get targeted and paid according to our ability to be efficient rather than on our ability to generate demand.

This attitudinal shift has also been a threat to Google as brands are asking, “how do we create demand in search engines?” Previously brands were concerned with just meeting demand via search and only a few were leading the pack with these “more essential” questions.

“These companies are now, quite literally, eating our lunch”

On the face of it (please excuse the pun), Facebook seems to offer ‘brand marketers’ something more ‘essential’ in terms of traditional marketing metrics: A closed network of “real people” (rather than queries) who spend a lot of their time in that environment.

The opportunity is closer to TV, which has traditionally been a good means for building awareness and brand recognition, and that is seen to ultimately drive demand.

But this is just Facebook mastering mystique in the market.

Facebook is actually more complicated than any media platform preceding it and its hidden complexities are a useful foil to Google’s “straight man in the market.” Brands have to go direct to really succeed – or invest heavily in tools.

In response we see that Google is leaning more heavily on YouTube as their brand-building opportunity to advertisers, whilst simultaneously gaining the social data they need to match Facebook via Google+.

In seeking to solve the problem of demand generation for brands, Google can match Facebook’s apparent dominance of the web – and ultimately forge deals directly with the brands by leveraging their market share.

It is an elegant solution for Google, because it solves the problem of complexity for brand advertisers, whilst they can quietly continue to dismantle a lot of the tools and tactics search marketers used to rely on.

These companies are now, quite literally, eating our lunch.

It’s on us, the SEO/search marketing specialists

The losers in this equation are SEO/search marketing specialists. By becoming a “no-brainer” strategy for brands to execute, it’s dropping down on the agenda amongst campaign planners in the boardroom – as its PPC and SEO are just naturally factored in.

It’s ironic that the increasing complexity of leveraging digital media for marketing is through generating demand to work directly with Google and Facebook rather than through agencies and specialists.

However, these step changes are natural and the fault lies with us as much as our ‘overlords.’

The online market has not fundamentally transformed, just accelerated. As an industry we have not been claiming the wins, and specifically the impact, that we as a marketing community have had on every aspect of digital marketing.

We don’t trump the good as much as the bad. Yes, few businesses were first built on search – they built a great product first – but search was key to their long-term growth.

Search marketers are naturally anti-authoritarian yet we don’t stand for something and so fall for anything.

Generally speaking, every practitioner still gets tarred with the ‘spammers’ brush and yet, every single digital marketing platform is to play more fluidly with the search marketing skill set – namely bidding, keyword/market research, relationship building and interoperability.

All of these skills are rooted in sourcing demand online, rather than in search engines per se. To drive our careers forward we need to recognize that we all have more essential skills.

Demand generation plays nicely with ‘ethical’ SEO tactics such as content marketing. Whilst I do not want to discount the importance of link building in SEO, as an industry we need to understand the actual, natural behavior behind link building. Most of the time it is a by-product of good marketing, good content and good relationships.

So what do we, as search/SEO marketers, stand for anyway?

The problem I see is that by obsessing too much about search algorithms and being too Google-centric, search marketers are losing touch with some of the genius that got us to where we are in the first place.

As an industry we are at risk of not owning our role in the web eco-system and we are becoming increasingly split over “what we should call ourselves” rather than who we should be.

To me, it makes no difference whether you call yourself an SEO guru, PPC expert, social media ninja, digital, connected or inbound marketer. What all of those titles lack is any kind of manifesto as to what we really do and what values we stand for.

Redefining the role of ‘search/SEO marketer’

There is an urge for us to redefine the role ‘search marketers’ play in the web, but rather than pulling together we are pulling in different directions. It might be time to drop ‘search’ from the equation and become just ‘marketers’ – namely, generalists rather than specialists.If we must remain specialists, then let’s specialize in what we actually do and not in Google.

Namely, meeting the average web users’ information needs.

We are the original relationship builders and tacticians of the web!

Online marketing success has always been dependent on relationship building, regardless of whether we are talking about links, video channel subscribers, or social shares.

This is what we know best.

For search to be sexy we have to position ourselves at the top of the customer food chain rather than the bottom.

Therefore, I believe that all search marketers and search marketing agencies should drop keywords, rankings, social media and conversion optimization as the starting point for discussions with their customers.

Instead strike at the heart of the matter: raise the question of how to generate demand, because if demand-generated, it will ultimately be reflected in search. This is our strength!

Tell your customer that their product exists in a market in which their customer can ask any question, any time, on any device, and receive an answer anywhere, at any time from anyone. Then ask them, “what are the long term information needs of your target audience?”

Search or social, inbound or outbound, every subsequent strategy, tactic or action flows down from the question of how you will fulfill the challenge of what your customer needs to know.

Our heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Allen for this most honest, thorough, and candid interview, as he honored us last Thursday with part 1 and with this eloquent, closing “search manifesto”! He’s now doing his thing at SES Toronto this week, but we’re sure he’d love to hear from you!

You can connect with Jonathan on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, all via  jc1000000 <that’s 6 zero’s>

Interview with the Englishman in New York, SEW’s Jonathan Allen — Part 1

If you’re at all familiar with SEO and search, then you must be familiar with Jonathan Allen. The self-described “Englishman in New York” heads up Incisive Media’s Search Engine Watch (SEW), having taken its helm as director in December of 2009.

As its new director, Jonathan was charged with transforming Search Engine Watch into a “vibrant, collaborative community” of search and tech marketing professionals. This he accomplished, along with a new voice and website design for SEW, a year ago.

On this one-year anniversary of SEW’s revision and new design, we’re honored that this philosopher, lover of literature, and distinguished search expert has agreed to so generously share with us the intimate details of his story, including how he came to be head of Search Engine Watch, as well as his “manifesto” on the search industry as it is today.

In this first of a 2-part series, Jonathan talks about his background and how he came to be the director of Search Engine Watch.

Would you share a bit about your background and how you came to be a search marketer?

I’ve been doing online marketing ever since I graduated the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2001. I didn’t intend to get into this field and saw myself as more of an academic with a particular love for philosophy and literature, despite always having the sense that vocationally speaking, they were completely pointless degrees. That didn’t matter too much to me at the time (as I studied that stuff for the love of it), but I anticipated that my career would be a bit of a non-starter and that there would always be a tension between my professional life and personal hobbies.

However, my first job out of UEA was working for a web design company that was creating an online 2001 holiday gift catalogue. My job was to search the web all day and find shops selling “cool gifts” that might want to advertise in our catalogue. The plan was that when the catalogue was ready to go live, a big PR push through magazines and offline media would drive visitors to the website where they would buy online. It was going to be ‘revolutionary’.

Unsurprisingly, the PR campaign and magazine push was a complete failure – and 10+ years later, it is still very difficult to use offline media to drive visitors to online pages. So, we needed a second strategy to drive awareness and traffic. My boss came over one day and dropped a printed-out PDF on my desk and said, “You are searching the internet all day, why don’t you work out how to get us to the top of the search engines?”

The PDF was a guide to writing meta tags and how search engines index keywords. Reading through it, it became apparent to me that a search engine is really just a giant question and answer machine using data crowd-sourced from web content.

Ultimately, what that meant to me was that just like philosophy, users had to ask the right questions to get the right answers, and just like literature, the right words and phrases had to be used to steer the reader into asking the right questions.

Getting hooked on SEO

Soon, I was hooked on SEO and became obsessed with the question, “What is the real intention behind this search query?” that is to say, what are users really looking for when they enter keywords into a search box? Most importantly, what are their information needs? So, I’m lucky to say that in the end I have married my hobbies with my profession.

Soon afterwards, I set up my own consultancy but that was more like a lifestyle business rather than a money spinner. It kept me in the black financially doing things I found interesting rather than “working for the man.” Eventually this wasn’t sustainable so I tried working at an agency but hated working for someone else. So I tried my hand at startups, teaming up with some good friends from UEA to build Cohack, an analytics platform for AdWords (pre-Google Analytics) and also Moblog, a mobile blogging social network for camera phone users (pre-Twitter/Twitpic).

Both enjoyed their share of successes, but ultimately we were all “too green” to make them into viable businesses. Nonetheless, working for yourself allows you to make some big mistakes and learn from them, and the risks we took then have paid off in terms of experience and confidence ever since.

I met a lot of my personal “influencers” during this period, such as Mike Butcher (European Editor of TechCrunch), Alfie Dennen (Creative Technologist, Bus-Tops), Ben Godfrey (Head of Product Delivery at Wonga), Mat Brown, Rob Chant, and Vincent Camara – all of whom have shaped my thinking about “online” in fundamental ways and probably don’t really know it. Principally, they instilled in me a practical appreciation for online communities.

So how did you come to be the Director of Search Engine Watch?

In 2006 I joined Incisive Media in the UK as a search marketing specialist to work on their job boards. Never looked back. Incisive is a company full of smart people, and senior management is composed of generous listeners who are quick to back ‘talent’ and take their fair share of risks.

Back then I was lucky to have two amazing mentors in Sophie Chesters (now, Head of Marketing at Google Analytics) and John Barnes (Managing Director of Digital & Tech at Incisive Media and Chairman of AOP, UK) who backed my strategies for better or worse, and helped me do “crazy cool stuff” under their command. They kind of opened the doors for me to pursue unofficial projects which, in a roundabout way, eventually led me to join SEW.

Although Incisive already owned SEW, I had little connection with the SEW team at the time. John sent me to SES (Search Engine Strategies) London (2009) to brush up on my skills, and I was working on an unofficial internal project with Vincent Camara from Intruders.tv at the time. We were doing interviews with tech people for a new TV channel we were creating for another Incisive brand, theInquirer.net. Knowing that there would be a lot of important tech geeks at SES London, I took a camera to shoot interviews.

“50 SEOs, 1 Question”

However, Vincent wanted to try out a completely different approach to B2B video interviews and had always been knocking around this brilliant idea to do a parody of “50 People, 1 Question.” SES London seemed like the perfect place to reach 50 outgoing business people. It sounded fun but I didn’t know what question to ask until I spoke to my friend at the BBC who suggested I ask, “what should we do with the Black Hats?”

Thus 50 SEOs, 1 Question was born:

I conducted the video interviews and shot the 50 SEOs video in the same day. One of the interviews I did was with Mike Grehan (the last gent on the video), who sort of grudgingly accepted to do a separate interview after ceaseless pestering from me. In the bar, at the end of the day, he came over and told me that it was the best interview on SEO he had ever given and gave me his card in case I was ever looking for a job.

I was thrilled to hear it, but honestly, I just thought he had had a few too many glasses of sauvignon blanc… I never suspected that coincidence would lead us to work together within the year.

With the help of another good friend, Joel Craigs (now, Technical Director at The OMC), the 50 SEOs video came out a few months later and the community response was awesome! In particular, Matt McGowan, who had just been made Managing Director of Incisive Media‘s Americas and Interactive Marketing, absolutely loved it.

Six months later, Matt asked Mike Grehan to join Incisive Media to head up the entire content strategy for SES, ClickZ and SEW. Matt heard that I was looking for a career change and keen to work abroad, so John Barnes suggested I go for a job opening at SEW in the NYC office. The coolest part of it all was Mike dispensed with the routine job interview and simply asked, how would you like to move to NYC and “help SEW get its Mojo back?”

I was like, uh, let me think about that… YES.

What I learned from the whole project and the outcome is that the role of content in SEO is to build relationships rather than produce it for it’s own sake. I’m indebted to SEO Chicks’ Judith Lewis and Lisa Myers for their encouragement during shooting, as there were times when I wanted to give up. Also Bas Van Den Beld (State of Search) and Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise) too, for being the first blogs to post the video online.

It’s been a year now since you’ve redesigned Search Engine Watch: how has that played out?

Although we were eager to re-launch SEW sooner rather than later, Associate Editor Danny Goodwin and I wanted to “cut our teeth” working together as an editorial team par excellence and win readers based on content and not just a glossy design.

We were also dealing with how to differentiate ourselves in the market and, with help from Frank Watson (who had been with the brand for longer than both of us put together), and a lot of trial and error, rediscover SEW’s ‘voice’. In the end we decided that we would be the east coast brand for search marketers.

We started redesigning Search Engine Watch in early 2010 with the blessing of Mike, Matt and John to try something completely different – and depart from the traditional site design concepts of Incisive Media. I had been following Ultra Knowledge for three years and their unique approach to publishing chimed with my intentions for the site – namely to put a search engine at the heart of the platform.

For the Love of New York City: Rebranding SEW

For about a year we experimented with a lot of different concepts on a staging server but formal plans didn’t really come together until the very end of 2010. It wasn’t until another old friend, Neil Tweddle, came to visit me in November and fell in love with New York City, that the visual concept of a re-branded SEW materialized.

Neil had just quit his ‘day job’ to start his own design boutique and in light of his obvious enthusiasm for the city, I asked him if it was possible to design a brand identity that screamed “New York City” – without resorting to the compulsory device of a skyscraper/empire state building.

We hit upon the subway theme as it was the perfect expression of not only where the brand is located, but also what the new SEW would be all about – complex, overlapping topics tackled by our writers and distilled into simple-to-use guides.

Fantastic feedback, killer core team & a supportive community

The redesign has been a hit with readers – within 6 months site traffic had grown by 80% (YOY pageviews) and in fact broken the record on every success metric for the site (since our records began). I’m pleased to say that a year later, our monthly stats for 2012 are on average 47% higher than 2011.

It’s obviously a harder challenge to grow as significantly purely on content, but that has been our focus for 2012.

Danny Goodwin’s editorial focus has been the mastermind behind this year’s sustained growth, but also the relatively recent addition of Miranda Miller as SEW’s official news correspondent has had a huge impact in terms of keeping our coverage fresh. Thom Craver has also been a massive support over the last two years and is now our resident MC for all SEW in-person events – he will be hosting the new eliminator quiz at SES Toronto next week – it’s gonna kick ass!

That’s the core team working daily on SEW, but we’re also privileged to have an extended family of contributors who are also really walking the walk and talking the talk every day. They are all influencing the direction of the brand internally and down tools at a moments notice to offer insights and new perspectives.

And from the sidelines, communities like the SEO Dojo often help us to find our “sea-legs” on difficult topics such as the fall-out from an algorithm update – a bit like the The Lone Gunmen from the X-files.

The goal for SEW going forward is to keep bringing the buy-side and sell-sides of the community together. Our role is to educate buyers as to what to expect and to give sellers the tools to educate their customers and train up their staff as quickly as possible. But our focus shall remain on steering practitioners into genius marketing initiatives that make use of all platforms – not just search, not just social, and not just video.

I want our readers to combine every online platform, tool, strategy and tactic under the sun – literally stitch the web together to make it work for their campaigns.

Be sure to check back on Tuesday, June 12th, for part 2 of this interview with Jonathan Allen. He’ll be offering his own “manifesto” on the state of search marketing, Google updates, and much more then!

 

Would you like to learn SEO Copywriting? Whether for your own career, or for your staff, there are several low-cost options available! All are taught by the widely-recognized SEO Copywriting pioneer, Heather Lloyd-Martin.

 

Yo! Yo! SEO’s Dana Lookadoo on Re-branding and SEO+

Today we’re honored to feature our interview with Dana Lookadoo, founder of Yo! Yo! SEO and one of the second wave of SEO women professionals who pioneered the SEO and search industry. Dana passed away a few years ago, but she was well ahead of the SEO/Search industry curve when she decided to integrate social media and education into her brand. Here, Dana shares her story with us. Enjoy!

Laura: Would you share with us how you came to be a second-generation SEO (woman) professional?

Dana: First, thank you for listing me in your Women who rock SEO: the second wave post! I give credit to the women who were part of the first generation for my inspiration.

Having been in the tech and Web development industry years before focusing on SEO, I was used to male-dominated conferences and meet-ups. My first Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose in 2005 sealed the deal for me: I was inspired by how many women were leaders in search marketing at SES!

I learned a lot from those 1st generation women, i.e., Shari Thurow, Jill Whalen, and Heather Lloyd-Martin, during this time. They openly shared best practices about information architecture, SEO, and copywriting.

I became even more excited that women were such successful technologists, marketers, and communicators! You could say I followed in their footsteps.

I also want to credit a couple of “first generation” men – Andy Beal and Lee Odden. From them I learned a well-rounded perspective about integrated marketing strategies (and less SEO-only approaches).

My initial focus on SEO was birthed out of a fork in the road in 2003.

I had previously co-owned a successful web development agency in Monterey, CA. Maybe we grew too fast, but my business partner attempted suicide. Pandora’s Box opened up. The result was dissolution of the business.

I regrouped and refocused. Web 2.0 was in its infancy. The shift to a more consumer-centric Web was underway. This fit perfectly with my passions – people, writing, and website usability.

I had no idea the choice to focus on SEO would be so pivotal.

I started Pixel Position, a firm to help people “position” their sites and marketing messages. That was in 2003, and I devoured as much information as I could to help clients develop and design search-friendly websites and content that people wanted to link to and talk about.

The road to a fairly good track record of success was paved with a lot of hard work, study, and doing what’s right for other people. Paying it forward and donating time to help non-profits has been part of that journey. “Give back, and it will be given back to you” has proven true.

Laura: So what is the story behind Yo! Yo! SEO:  What does it mean? (“Word-of-Mouth SEO”)?

Dana: It was time for a change. The importance of social media was growing, and I decided to rebrand, again. Listening and engaging people (online & offline) were pivotal aspects of marketing online. I called it “Conversational SEO.” I wanted to rebrand to express how Social Media and SEO fit hand-in-glove. I was also teaching clients how to optimize their digital content and their online conversations. I wanted an agency name that reflected such.

I played around with names and spent a lot of time researching available domains. I wanted something that expressed the combination of search and social, while also expressing my educational approach.

“You’re NOT On Your Own in SEO” was my initial tagline. Remove the “NOT,” and the resulting acronym is YOYOSEO. The domain was available. The rebranding began.

BUT, I didn’t want people thinking of a yoyo. To reflect the urgency of the growing importance of word-of-mouth and shouting out in social media, exclamation points were added : Yo! Yo!

Yo! Listen up … Yo! Shout it out …

Then there was the logo, which took a few months to perfect. The lips, conversation bubble, and information architecture outline summarized it all.

The Yo! Yo! SEO process is “Word-of-Mouth SEO.” We help companies optimize their online conversations, which means their websites and how they engage in social media.

The rebranding was a lot of fun, and it has paid off 3+ years later.

Laura: Describe for us a classic “day in the life of Dana Lookadoo” in or outside of Yo! Yo! SEO.

Dana: Oh, the days vary dramatically. I’d like to draw a picture of my ideal work day when I feel totally in control, but during the past couple years, days are more “reactive” than I’d like to admit.

Interestingly, working with corporate clients often means you’re part of their team rather than acting as an outside agency calling the shots. Helping to optimize and manage their social media presence often means I spend more time interacting with and getting to know a client’s audience and less time socializing and sharing with my own. I’m closely involved in the content optimization and creation process as well.

Lyena Solomon and I take an advisory and training approach, which means close collaboration is key. We analyze stats and campaign performance while researching to ensure clients are staying ahead of the competition. A lot of time is spent writing and critiquing content while documenting processes and helping clients prioritize their many tasks and needs.

Daily work hats include content developer, community engager, designer, business advisor, marketing strategist, conversion optimizer, analyst, and circus juggler! ;-)

Daily non-work hats? I admit it’s hard to turn off the optimization flow outside of work, but I do shut down from social and the computer. I spend time with non-search friends and family and log mile-after-mile cycling. My physical and spiritual parts of my life get a lot of attention as well. Then there’s gardening and organic foods.

I guess you could say I’m addicted to more than SEO.

Laura: You have an impressive list of clients as a business trainer. You also develop classes for corporate in-house training: What is it that you do as a business trainer? (i.e., is it strictly SEO copywriting, or a broader range of subjects?)

Dana: You’ve touched my passion point. Sharing, downloading, showing, teaching, and empowering others with the skills to make a difference fulfill me beyond end. I could sit on the phone or in-person for hours just explaining the hows and whys of various aspects of online marketing, or how to use software.

I used to teach and write a lot of technology courses, including train-the-trainer sessions, Web development, how to use the Internet, software, and Web tools.

Currently, training involves showing marketing and non-marketing departments the importance of SEO, copywriting, and social engagement and how they are a pivotal aspect of reaching out to clients and prospects.

The focus of most training revolves around helping companies in their paradigm shift from “me” messages to “you” terminology, focusing more on personas and their audience. Not-so-glamorous training involves showing best practices for using Photoshop, optimizing meta and Open Graph tags for search and social, tagging URLs with campaign variables, etc.

Laura: If you had to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, what would they be?

Dana: Hmmm… You had to ask the tough stuff. I’ll focus on Yo! Yo! SEO’s strengths and weaknesses rather than my own. (Isn’t that a nice way to skirt a tough question?)

STRENGTHS: We specialize in helping companies understand their audience (personas) to guide them with their online marketing.

That ranges from terms they use (keywords for SEO & PPC) to what attracts them and keeps them engaged (quality content) to what keeps the relationship going (social media interactions). The ultimate goal is to help them close more sales and/or generate leads.

Our key offerings include this approach with SEO at the core:

  • Website design/redesign and CMS migration
  • Content development and social engagement
  • Online visibility audits (SEO, Social, PPC, Usability)
  • Training

WEAKNESSES: Limited bandwidth. ;-)

Laura: As an SEO professional of some 9 years, what are your thoughts/perspective on the state of the SEO industry?

Dana: It’s an exciting time to be part of SEO and search. Google’s latest algorithms, especially Panda and Penguin, coupled with focus on Author Rank, mean companies who create quality content can finally win without link wheels and article spinning.

We’re not totally there with “clean” spam-free SERPs, but Google & Bing’s increased focus on social signals is helping weed the garden. In other words, companies who focus on the needs of their audience can reap the fruits of their labors.

It’s also a fast-moving time, and “integrative marketing” is key. Pure SEO is a thing of the past.

  • Marketers have to take a holistic approach and work closely with clients to help them understand that stuffing keywords and link schemes is not going to produce ROI and may hurt them.
  • Companies must be willing to listen by putting the customer first, taking time to build relationships online.
  • Quality content is essential, and companies need to stand out from the crowd.
  • In other words, they should not be afraid to shout out a Yo!, and show some leg!

Laura: Any words of advice for those just beginning their career in SEO?

Dana: Good question.

  • First, realize you can’t specialize in it all. Work your strengths.
  • Be realistic to know that this is a career and not an 8-5 job. You have to dedicate to constant study.
  • As a minimum, learn how to code HTML.
  • Learn how to write for the Web and an audience who has ADD.
  • Build relationships with peers in the industry. Don’t go into SEO if you don’t like people.

One more thing, don’t put “Guru” as part of your bio anywhere on the Web!

Laura: Thanks Dana!  :)

Dana: And thanks to you, too!

About Dana Lookadoo – Founder of Yo! Yo! SEO, Dana called herself a “search geek who prefers people over search engines but optimizes for both.” Her specialty was in coupling audience engagement and social media with SEO. Dana began a career in computing/PC training in 1984, then moved into website development and online marketing. As a business trainer, Dana developed and conducted technology classes for Sun Microsystems Open Gateway Programs, Monterey Institute of International Studies, U.C. Santa Cruz Extension, and Walmart’s MEM Technology Conference Series.

photo/image thanks to Top Rank blog

C.C. Chapman on SEO, Search Plus, and Doing the Unexpected

Today we’re delighted to share our interview with C.C. Chapman.

Most likely you recognize him as the co-author (with Ann Handley) of Content Rules, but once upon a time he was a corporate employee who broke out on his own…and no, you actually don’t know the rest!

Here, C.C. shares his story as well as his thoughts on SEO, content sharing and creation, Google’s Search Plus, and doing the unexpected…

Many folks who are entering the SEO copywriting and content marketing field would appreciate hearing your story about making the leap from your corporate job to a “recession-proof” self-employed career.

Would you share some of your story about your transition?

This could take a while if I went into all the details, so I’ll give a high-level overview.

I had started a successful marketing agency called The Advance Guard with a close friend. After two years of doing really fun work for a variety of clients, we were acquired by Campfire.

After being my own boss, the idea of working for someone else wore on me and I moved on after a while. I was in the process of writing Content Rules and decided it would be the perfect time to go out on my own so that I could focus on promoting the book.

With years of experience under my belt, I can now work with agencies and brands to help them come up with and execute cutting-edge marketing campaigns.

I now make a living speaking, writing and consulting. It is a lot of hard work and long hours, but I’ve never been happier.

Your book, Content Rules, emphasizes the fact that content is king. What other take-aways would you suggest for those just entering the SEO copywriting and content marketing world?

I have a feeling your audience might not appreciate this, but I think the best advice I can give them from the book is that you can’t only think about SEO when writing a blog post or creating any other content that you hope will perform well.

SEO is important, but it only gets you so far. If the content you create isn’t engaging enough to keep someone’s attention and fill them with an urge to share it with their community, then I don’t think you are being as successful as you can be.

Keywords and a catchy headline might help bring in the traffic, but what is going to keep them coming back?

One of our rules is “Do Something Unexpected” and I’d encourage anyone writing copy to never forget this one.

It doesn’t mean to be inappropriate, but something that the audience you are writing for might not expect. Something to grab their attention and make what you are writing stand out from all the other posts that will cross in front of their eyes that day.

You stated during your BlogWorld presentation that: “…even with the coolest, most engaging content in the world, it will fail if you don’t use manners and smart business skills to share it with others.” 

What smart business skills and manners would you suggest for sharing content? Is there a set of guidelines that you follow when sharing yours?

Since you asked about sharing, the main thing to remember is to always give credit to the source.

If you are sharing a photo then say who the photographer is and link to their site. Using a quote from another person’s post, give them credit and link to their name.

The audience reading this is SEO professionals, so they all know the importance of inbound links: so give them out accordingly when sharing other’s content.

In your opinion, where does SEO fit into the bigger content marketing/strategy picture?

It is something to think about, but it should never lead the content creation process.

You should know the proper keywords. You always want a solid headline. Those are basics for good writing online.

But, if you are slamming in keywords just for the sake of getting more Google juice and the reader can tell that, then you are going to lose their attention.

Much speculation and opinion are spinning around Google’s Search Plus Your World (Search Plus). What are your thoughts about it? How do you see Search Plus affecting content marketing?

I love it.

It makes it more important than ever to create content that gets shared, because now being the first result on a Google Page is not the only important thing. If no one else in my social graph has shared your post, I might never see it.

What I always tell my clients is to not focus on your immediate audience. By that I mean that the people already subscribed and reading your content on a daily basis are already paying attention and you’ve got them. But, what are you going to create to get them to share out to their networks and turn those people into regular subscribers?

You’ve already got your community, but you want their communities.

Search Plus makes this critical because as people search on topics and they see no one they know talking about or sharing it, they may ignore the organic results.

Interviewed by Laura J. Crest

About C.C. Chapman

C.C. Chapman is a digital lifestyle writer and the co-author of the best selling book Content Rules.

C.C. is a graduate of Bentley University and makes his home with his family in the woods outside of Boston.

You are welcome to connect with C.C. Chapman on Twitter @cc_chapman .

photo thanks to philcampbell

Queen of Link: Interview with Debra Mastaler

Today we are honored to feature our interview with link-building expert, Debra Mastaler.

In business since 2000, Debra shares some of the expertise she’s gained from executing hundreds of link building campaigns with us! Enjoy, as Debra gives her candid take on link marketing – how it’s evolved and where it stands today.

Please share a bit of your background with us: When did you start in SEO? What led you to specialize in linking? (or is it “link building”?)

I’ve always referred to it as link marketing because of the way I work, but most people call it link building.

In 2000 I launched a directory featuring organic food and clothing. It was a small site with about 200 products and a page for organic news.

I was new to the Internet and web design so the directory didn’t look like much but it was packed with great information. I marketed the site by emailing business owners selling organic products and asking them to feature the directory on their sites.

After a couple months I noticed I was ranking in the first three spots on almost every engine I used. I was happy but clueless as to why. When the business owners listed in my directory started asking me to help them rank, I knew I needed help and went looking online for information on internet marketing.

That’s when I found the old Rank Write newsletter Heather Lloyd-Martin and Jill Whalen used to publish. I read several editions and figured out what I was doing.

I ended up working for Jill for a while to hone my linking skills, and once I felt confident to offer link building as a stand-alone service, I launched Alliance-Link.

Prior to 2000, I spent 15 years in the marketing department of Anheuser-Busch and four years before that working for Uncle Sam as a civil servant in the Officers’ Club system.  Both positions gave me a solid marketing education and directly influence the way I work today.

In your opinion, how has the linking-building “landscape” changed over the years’ you’ve been involved in SEO?

You know I’ve been asked this question frequently over the years and I’ve never changed my answer… what I do has not changed but where I do it, has. I’ve always secured links by developing promotions, distributing content or working with the media; since they are core marketing functions it doesn’t matter what the algorithm – that stuff works regardless.

There are many different types of link builders: some people use mass submission tools or pay for links, others send request letters, or use private networks, etc. It’s all good and it all works, which is why I use a little of each when I build links.

No matter how you work, there are definitely more opportunities now. That’s a big change from when I started.  Back in the day, there were no blogs, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter.  When blogging went mainstream and the social media sites took off, opportunity exploded with it.  New sites bring new links and traffic streams, both gold for a linker.

What are the major challenges of link building now, given the search and social merger?

For me the biggest challenge has been keeping up with what’s new. I have to spend more time now than ever before reading, surfing and listening for new opportunities, new sites and new social media trends so I can be an early adopter. Sometimes, it’s just about being first.

What would you say has had the most dramatic impact on link building over the past year or so?

I believe two things have dramatically impacted linking and that’s the implementation of Universal search and the preference engines, especially Google, have given brands in the search results.

I didn’t include Panda because little of what we monitor was impacted and when it was, we found work-arounds so our sites have rebounded.

Unfortunately I don’t always have an easy time working around Universal search results and that can be uber frustrating.

Trying to find a non-brand, “regular” text listing can be a challenge: there’s far less room for them in the top ten since they are sharing space with sponsored ads, shopping, video, news, local, images, and product search. These are space hogs as the visual elements take twice the space as a text listing.

And then there are the brands, plus sites like Wikipedia and About.com. While easier to work around, the brand’s presence can sometimes be puzzling. The search engines harp on providing good content, user experience and quality linking, yet most brand pages in the search results are little more than product listings.

Here’s an example: when I search on the phrase “fresh water fishtanks”, my second result is from a national brand. I have to really hunt for the on-page fish tank information and two annoying pop-ups that hit me when I land.

I find no inbound links to this page so I have to assume it is pulling link pop from the domain.  So I wonder, where’s the good content, quality user experience and inbound links we’re told are needed to rank well? Do those criteria vanish because the page is a brand? Seems so, otherwise the well-optimized independent site should rank first and second –  but they don’t.

You mentioned it was easier to work around brands, About.com and Wikipedia: how do you build links in such competitive areas? 

Universal elements (Google news, shopping, etc.) use different algorithmic factors to determine search results, whereas brands and Wikipedia use algorithmic elements we’re more familiar with.

Things like link popularity, content, and social signals (supposedly) are used to rank and display pages. Dissecting back link profiles around sites like Wikipedia is smart – you find media and content sources in addition to sites that you can either get a link from or get a comparable link.

Earlier I said “sometimes it’s about being first.” Well, sometimes it’s also about having more :)

About Debra Mastaler

Based in Fairfax Station, Virginia, Debra Mastaler is President of Alliance-Link, an interactive marketing company focused on providing link building training and consultations.

Debra was voted one of the Top SEO Women of 2011 and recently was named one of Search Marketing Standard Magazine’s “Women of Internet Marketing.”  You can get more link marketing wit and wisdom from Debra at her blog, linkspiel, and you can find her on Twitter via @debramastaler.

An intimate interview with Marty Weintraub, CEO of aimClear

In a most brutally honest and open interview, Marty Weintraub shares his journey from his humble beginnings as a college web writer to the CEO of aimClear, battling and beating a devastating cancer diagnosis and kicking online marketing butt along the way. We are most grateful to Marty for sharing this amazing insight into his life, both personal and professional. He more than met any expectations of an “expert interview.” We were blown away, and we’re sure you will be, too.

LC: Please share a little history about aimClear, and how you came to be the CEO?

MW: This is a fantastic question, because the story is somewhat unique. I’ve never told it in writing, and it’s emotional for me.

From 2002-2005, I was the in-house web writer at a small .edu in Minneapolis. It was a fantastic job because I was in charge of all aspects of our online program. This included SEO, Yahoo PPC, Google PPC, running the affiliate program, email, and even building a cool custom student portal.  Those were heady times and I used to refer to myself as a “hybrid” marketer, with my fingers in all channels.

Coming from a classic .asp/MS SQL background, as early as 2002 I was programming dynamic landing pages and doing multi-variate message testing, building D.I.Y. curl-scrapers to automate Google and Yahoo Panama bidding, and I touched every lead that the school mined online, literally, for years.  Yes, those were heady days. In 2002 I think we spent about $700 on AdWords and booked about $3 million in business. The next year, we spent about $20K and did $5 million. Ah, those days of simple search PPC were freakin’ beautiful! As social media emerged and SEO became more complex, we evolved.

It was, seemingly, all too good to be true. In August 2005 I received devastating news, that I had stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was crushing to my family and me. During the treatment, 7 months of chemo and weeks of intensive radiation, my employers made it crystal clear that they did not care if I came to work every day, they just did not want me to stop doing their AdWords.  And so it was. Day after day at Mayo Clinic, and then recovering at home, I poached Internet access from my Treo650 and ran the AdWords program.  I literally sat there in chemo, praying with a needle in my arm, running AdWords on my laptop.

I was PET negative and clean from cancer by late 2006, and I got all good things in return, after so much pain.  At first I just wanted to give up.  Chemo and radiation had gutted my physically, though I had survived. I was sick to my stomach for years, had no stamina, was terribly out of shape and psychologically destroyed. #fuckcancer. My employer, who had been my friend and fishing buddy for 25 years, challenged me: “Where has your entrepreneurial drive gone Marty,” he chided me on his bass boat out on the Chippewa flowage one day. “You can’t give up!” That day he offered to turn my .edu job as an employee into the first client of a new company he dared me to start.

I took the risk. 5 years ago during Thanksgiving (2006), I made the decision, wrote the business plan, and began laying the groundwork for aimClear.  Shortly after that one of my early clients showed me a USA Today article about Danny Sullivan. I attended SearchEngineStrategies (SES) Chicago 2006 and it blew my mind.  It was my first live exposure to Danny, Rand Fishkin, Barry Schwartz, Chris Sherman, Chris Boggs,  Christine Churchill, Michael Gray and many others.  The last time I had been that piqued emotionally was at age 14, when I danced with the cute girl I coveted at a high school mixer.

It was amazing. I had been in the industry since 1995, when I helped a dozen CBS affiliate stations create their first website, but I did not know there were so many kindred spirits, lovely people, just like me, out there in the world. It was moving. I had found my true future. I set the goal of being qualified to be VP of Search for the New York Times and to build a company that was one of the top 100 boutique online marketing firms in the world.

I became fascinated with blogs and blogging.  Determined to participate as much as possible I resolved that aimClear would have a blog. By the time SES came around that spring, I was ready. I had moved into an office January 1, 2007, and already had a couple of employees. Things were moving quickly.  By later that year I was known for conference coverage and started getting press passes.

In 2008 I made it my goal to speak at 1 mainstream online marketing conference and write one article for a mainstream trade publication. I spoke at 8 conferences that year, wrote a dozen articles, and the company grew 2X over the previous year. Since then aimClear has doubled, year over year, for each of our 5 years. We have 10 employees in Duluth, Minnesota and 5 in Saint Paul. We’re about to add more.

All of this comes on the ragged tails of cancer. All this joy, world travel, these amazing clients, my Facebook advertising book (Wiley/Sybex 2011), my family life, aimClear, everything, is all a bonus…a gift.

LC: You’ve clearly a passion for Facebook marketing, as well as expertise. So what are the unique ways that marketers can use Facebook to reach target audiences?

MW: Look into the real world to find how humans cluster. Think about the publications users read, unions they belong to, causes that matter, people they follow, personal predilections, tastes, biases and every part of what makes them unique.

Most advertisers approach Facebook, and other social channels, and ask, “Who is here that I can advertise to.” The coolest marketers look to the physical world, note how humans actually cluster, and then look for the same clusters mirrored in Facebook.

LC: According to Top Rank, the rally cry heard throughout your SES Toronto presentation was “PPC is to SEO, as Facebook Ads are to social SEO.” Could you elaborate on this?

MW: Sure! SEO marketers use paid inventory tools like AdWords keyword research tools to blueprint their SEO. The reason we do that is because PPC inventory research tools are the only place that search engines give up what users search for. They have to, because otherwise it would be more difficult to sell that inventory (searches) by way of AdWords. The same dynamic exists for social. Anywhere social media platforms sell inventory, the have to give up where the users are. Otherwise, it would be hard to sell that inventory.

Also, SEO artists use PPC to test conversion funnels and messages. With SEO it’s too hard to move traffic fast enough and with quick enough feedback to undertake multivariate testing.  The coolest SEO practitioners test their keywords, messages, landing pages and funnels with PPC and then apply what they know to SEO. Social is the same. Use Facebook Ads to test messages that community managers take out into the social-virtual world. Anywhere you can buy focused eyeballs in social to test audiences, messages, landing page experiences, etc… consider taking advantage of it. PPC is to SEO what Facebook Ads is to community management.

About Marty Weintraub 

An expert, speaker, and author of Killer Facebook Ads: Master Cutting-Edge Facebook Advertising Techniques, Marty can be found at the aimClear Search Marketing Blog and on Twitter.

On SEO, B.S., Panda & Best Practices: Interview with Terry Van Horne

To refer to Terry Van Horne as an SEO expert is nearly redundant. An accomplished practitioner, sage and advocate of SEO best practices, Terry — well known in the SEO world as “Webmaster T”– is a partner in the SEO Training Dojo, the founder of SEOPros.org, and the director of the not-for-profit organization of Search Engine Optimization Professionals.

It’s a pleasure and honor to share this in-depth interview with Terry. — Heather

You’re a recognized SEO expert since back in the day, widely known at “Webmaster T.” So tell us: how did you get your start in SEO?

Pretty much how anybody does these days. I had a website and was looking for ways to promote it, only back then search engine optimization was just part of what you did to promote a website.

There were a lot of very bad search engines so most users were using directories like Yahoo!, which at that time had an even more dominant position than Google has now.

My passion for SEO started when one day I was trying to find Pegasus email software and noticed many engines were very challenged in finding the site. So I decided to see if I couldn’t figure out why.

What inspired your founding of SEOPros.org?

Founding SeoPros was a no-brainer. There were a lot of bad things being said about the industry and I felt there needed to be something done to start changing the image, or at the very least providing the other side of the story.

I was also a Telemarketer and definitely saw the potential for the industry to become regulated by government (think “do not call” list) in the same manner and for the same reasons, i.e., a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. I also hoped it would help the industry become a trade rather than just another Internet marketing business.

How would you describe the “mission” or philosophy of SEOPros.org?  How would you describe your role as Head of the Executive Committee on Standards?

Standards are tough because there is a stigma attached to them. IMO, most of that is more about people not being confident in what they do (i.e., afraid they wouldn’t pass the standards).

Mostly, I think many jump to conclusions about what standards can be applied to them. Anything using internet protocols, or are errors in Google Webmaster Tools, can be tested and standards applied because these do not change… or rather, very rarely change.

The second part of our “mission” is to provide free guidance and information to people looking to hire SEO’s. Quite frankly, it is absurd to think someone should have to learn about SEO to hire one.  Do I have to learn about the laws concerning my case before I choose a lawyer? Do you have to research your symptoms before choosing a doctor?

Considering I have over 16 years’ experience and am still learning something new every day, am I any less a professional than a doctor or lawyer?  No. But the industry holds itself back by clinging to “fight club” attitudes from the 90’s that are no longer valid or good for the industry.

SeoPros provides both an RFP generator and assistance in hiring an SEO. It is always good to have a third party opinion with no potential influences from a biased party.

There’s a plethora of SEO companies out there, all claiming to be the “best” or “absolute ‘expert’” provider of SEO services. How would you recommend weeding out the B.S. when searching for an SEO provider?

Always check out the linking techniques. That usually tells you a lot about the expertise and knowledge within an agency or of a consultant. Are they are providing all 3 types of links?

1. Foundational (directories, bookmarks and article marketing)

2. Promotional (begging for links from top sites, press releases)

3. Placed Content (guest posts, widgets, etc.)

Each website and business is unique! The best SEO’s and link builders will use a diverse strategy, using all three types of these techniques with variations according to the target audience.

Tell us a bit about the SEO Training Dojo.

The SEO Training Dojo was founded by David Harry, and I came on as Dave’s partner about 6 months in.  The Dojo is a unique community in that there is little if no hierarchy. Some may look from the outside and see Dave as the pinnacle, but that is an incorrect assumption in that all are on equal footing — which means the flow of information comes from many people, not just a few at the top of the hierarchy.

The networking aspects of the community have been its biggest asset, with members often preferring to work with others from the Dojo because there are a lot of synergies in what they do together. That has been a bit of a surprise for Dave and I, but it is something we are both very proud to be a part of and try to foster.

As “Webmaster T” with SEO Training Dojo, what do you enjoy most about this gig?

The people! They are outstanding individuals — not just as SEO’s, but as people. Getting a chance to interact with a lot of new and intermediate SEO’s in the Dojo has made me wonder how I worked on my own for so many years.

Google’s Panda update is still causing a fair amount of controversy. What is your take on the sites that got slapped by the Panda? And moving forward, what does Panda mean to SEO?

From the old SNL days, “Panda has been very, very good to me.” None of my or David’s clients have been hit, but we have had our newer SEO consulting biz take off like a shot from sites hit with Panda and something similar in Ecommerce that looks to have rolled out in January.

Sites that got hit by Panda in many cases deserved it! They followed bad advice like “build sites for search engines not users” (and the person who advocated that said almost the exact opposite after Panda). Following bad advice because someone is supposedly an “expert” is just silly.  Never, ever, ever believe anything you read on an SEO blog is the gospel according to Sergey.

Most of those who got hit did no future-proofing of their SEO. In other words, if they didn’t question the long-term value and see that directory submission, article marketing and comment spam were not long term solutions, then they were not thinking ahead and they will always be hit by new filters and dampening of link values.

Doing things because they work today is often a poor strategy in the long run… but keep it up folks, because those of us who do future-proof reap the benefits when you stumble. :-)

Mainly, if Panda means something to your SEO … you were doing it wrong and you’d best take a loooooonnnnnnnng look at everything you are doing! Panda is basically a return to the basics of REAL SEO. You know, before SEO’s became link whores and understood their job was to unlock visibility on sites that work!

Make your site search engine friendly with an optimized architecture and easy-to-understand navigation, and you’ll have happy users and enthusiastic crawlers. Keep thinking you can optimize through links and your SEO business will be struggling in a few years. There is definitely a trend away from link text/authority to more on-site relevance and personalization of authors and internet users.  Google now has the ability, using the Social Graph, to track reviewers, authors and other entities. Link authority will have some value…it will just be drastically reduced.

In your opinion, what are some of the “low-hanging fruit” SEO techniques that most businesses don’t leverage (or leverage well)?

A website that works! A website that is built to sell to people, not search engines — because, well, I’ve yet to have a crawler buy anything from a site. :-)

Fully optimized, on-page factors is a must. Building links into a poorly-optimized site is pouring link equity down the drain, and often means that link equity isn’t passed correctly down the link hierarchy.

Do you have any words of advice for copywriters who may be considering specializing in SEO?

Yes: don’t get too enamored with SEO! Learn as much as you can about keyword research! There is a lot more to it than just getting query data from a tool!

Keyword research and development of personas are keys to SEO Copywriting success in an age where Google is really developing its ability to know who you are and your status in your community.

Mostly, be careful not to change your writing style! The best SEO copywriting doesn’t look SEO’ed at all!

Just Write! Ian Lurie on Why You Have to, Even If You Think You Don’t

Guest Author, Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent Interactive, an internet marketing company he started in 1995. Ian started practicing SEO in 1997, and has been addicted ever since.  As a steadfast fan of Ian’s candid and wicked-smart expertise, I’m delighted to feature his words of wisdom today.  – Heather

It amazes me how many business owners and employees think good writing is optional. Some of my favorite justifications:

“My customers don’t read”

Really? Do you sell to reptiles? Illiterate rodents? Tribbles, perhaps? ‘Cause otherwise, your customers read. Every day. Even if they don’t want to. They read signs. They read directions. They read e-mails.

tribbles

If you sell anything, they read your e-mails regarding orders, sales, specials, etc.

If you provide a service, they read the reports and invoices you send ‘em.

And I guarantee they go to the Googles now and then to find an answer to a question.

Your customers do read. You’re confusing reading with reading books, or reading for fun.

The fact is, if your customers “don’t read”, then great writing is even more important. Your customers don’t want to spend a ton of time deciphering crappy writing. You need to get to the point with clear, directive prose. The best business writing goes unnoticed—all the reader remembers is the idea you were trying to communicate.

So, if your customers don’t read, you have to write that much better.

“My business doesn’t require any writing—it’s not that kind of company”

I. Uh.

Hmm.

I’m never sure how to answer that. When someone says that, my frontal lobe makes a kind of popping sound, and I black out for 30-45 seconds. Whatever happens after that must be bad, because when I come back to reality, the speaker looks like they got slapped with a rotten salmon.

salmon

If you make rubber grommets, you still need to explain why your rubber grommets are worth buying, right?

“Oh, but rubber grommets are a commodity. No one shops for them.”

Then you need to convince them to start shopping. That process starts with the first person who sees your site, if you’ve explained why you’re important to them. If you don’t bother, then yeah, they stop shopping, and go back to buying from the same place they always have.

There must be a reason you’re in the grommet business. If it’s just to sell to existing customers until they leave, I suggest you find a new line of work.

It’s up to you compel the reader. Saying “You’re not that kind of company” is just an excuse.

“My potential customers don’t use search engines, so I don’t need writing on my site.”

Surrreeee. It’s true. 10 or 12 North Americans out there never, ever search for stuff online. The rest of them, though, use Google, or Bing, or their computer’s search tools. Or, when they get to your site, they use your onsite search engine. Or, at a minimum, they’re going to search an individual page, with their eyes and brains, in an effort to figure out if they’re in the right place.

In all those cases, well-written copy that’s fully descriptive will help them find what they need. Which, in the end, is what turns visitors into customers.

At some point, customers search. Be ready when they do, with really good writing.

“No one’s going to read 500 words on shavers”

OK. So don’t write 500 words.

If you can present a compelling argument for your product in 25 words, do it. I don’t want 500 words where 5 will do.

“Writing” doesn’t mean “word diarrhea”. It means “communication”.

Yes, at some point, search engines get involved, and then it’s possible you’ll have to write more. That’s when you think about:

  • The questions you most often hear;
  • Special uses of your product;
  • Help/advice for best product use;
  • Your pet peeve (like people who think they don’t have to write);
  • Big changes in your industry that might have your customers wondering.

You can always drill deeper into a subject. There’s always someone who wants to read a 1,500 word treatise on the origin of the electric razor.

Just write!

No matter what business you’re in, you need to write:

  • Explanations of services, products, invoices, hours and policies.
  • Direction telling the reader what to do next, how to get help, etc.
  • Your case: Why customers should like you more than your competitor.
  • Communications with individual customers, via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or whatever comes next.

It may be 10 words. It may be 10,000. It’s most likely somewhere in between.

Just write. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And, even if they don’t notice, your customers will appreciate it.

For more of Ian Lurie’s smarts, raves, and rants, check out his Conversation Marketing blog.  He’s also published several reader-friendly, no-nonsense ebooks on SEO copywriting, including The Unscary, Real World Guide to SEO Copywriting.