Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with us today Aaron. I think almost everyone knows who you are, and in my opinion, you’re one on the top 3 go-to guys when it comes to SEO, but for anyone that’s been living under a rock, would you be so kind as to tell us a bit about yourself and your company, SEO Book?
I originally started the site to sell an ebook about SEO, but have since morphed the site into a leading online SEO training program offering a support community and exclusive member only tools. Our blog is one of the most popular blogs in the industry, and we offer a bunch of free SEO tools as well.
SEO has changed tremendously since we first got our feet wet, and there are obviously even more significant changes coming. When we first started, submitting your website to the search engines and tweaking your meta tags used to be all you needed, then it was keyword density, followed by backlinks. From a big-picture point of view, what major paradigm shifts do you see coming over the next year?
A lot of the easy link opportunities seem to have disappeared and seem to be disappearing. Directories and article directories are not as powerful as they once were. Many bought link networks have got bruised up. Blogs, where editorial voice and their viral nature caused them to be a great link source, are now greedier with their links, and we are seeing many of those links end up on networks like Twitter behind the nasty link nofollow tag. A lot of big brand companies have been buying out a network of related sites and try to have most of their links flow internal to their network.
A lot of mainstream media companies will collapse, but companies like eHow will quickly replace them in the search results. More books and videos and other such content hosted by Google will end up ranking in the Google search results as well.
SEO is getting more competitive, and the people who succeed going forward will need to be good at things like public relations, brand building, and traditional marketing. Amid the noise it is getting harder to be a solo operation unless you are creative.
Social media has become one of the fastest growing sectors of Internet marketing because of its low cost to entry and viral capability. I think if used properly, it can be a powerful tool, but how can people use it to provide more leverage to their search engine optimization?
Well the big thing with most social media is that it is a potential source of low cost editorial links. So the trick is figuring out where your site overlaps with an idea that would be well liked by many people on the web in general. Things like pranks, humor, and gadgets are likely to get links from sites will ingrained in the web. That is the broad based social media type stuff…but for most businesses it probably is not worth the cost and effort of building up accounts on sites like Digg and StumbleUpon unless they are going to leverage those accounts to promote a wide array of websites.
Another form of social media is simply interacting in your community. The beauty of that niche flavor of social media is
- it doesn’t require setting up an account and clicking arbitrary reciprocal votes for hours a day
- it makes it easier to get coverage whenever you do something great
- it gets you recommended amongst audiences that already are in tune with what you are selling, which actually have a chance to convert to buyers (whereas the broad based linkbait stuff typically only works indirectly through providing links) Think of how huge that Blendtec’s Will It Blend marketing was, they got 65,000,000 views and even all that exposure only increased the sales of a once-unknown (but now popular) brand by only 7 fold…and they were a mathematical outlier for success…so most people are wasting their time if they turn to broad-based social media strategies looking for sales.
We’ve both talked about user data and the potential impact on SEO for at least the last year or so. Based on a lot of research that I’ve seen lately, I think my opinion has changed. I hate to say it, but I think most people are generally lemmings and their actions are based largely on what is handed to them rather than thinking for themselves. For example, when the search results are mixed up, the most of the clicks still go to the top three results regardless of the order. What affect do you think user data will play long-term?
I think you are right. If most people thought for themselves the bankers would not have got away with looting TRILLIONS from the US Treasury. Imagine how hard it is to steal a trillion dollars. These career criminals did it multiple times over.
Consumers lost when
- they overpaid for their homes (with housing prices elevated through artificially low interest rates, appraisal fraud, underwriting fraud, and excessive leverage)
- their currency was devalued due to inflation caused by credit expansion due to bogus loans
- the stocks in their retirement account lost much of their value
- the currency was once again devalued to send a few trillion more dollars over to the criminal banking industry
Anand Rajaraman interviewed Google’s Peter Norvig, and in a blog post about it he wrote:
“Peter confirmed that Google does collect such [usage] data, and has scads of it stashed away on their clusters. However — and here’s the shocker — these metrics are not very sensitive to new ranking models! When Google tries new ranking models, these metrics sometimes move, sometimes not, and never by much.”
Branding is playing a larger role in SEO today. How does Google go about differentiating a brand vs. a non-brand and what specific advantages are their to a website that is considered a brand? Is there anything people can do to get their website classified as a brand in Google’s eyes?
I think familiarity breeds trust. Many of the top organic links come from off the cuff mentions when people are just writing about a subject…having a well known brand avails you to those links. Google can also look at things like repeat visits and brand related searches. Stripping out brand to try to solve what Google wants is hard because in the process of building a real brand you create almost every possible signal of quality that Google could evaluate, even if it was not looking at something as subjective as brand.
Google has been on a witch hunt in their quest to destroy paid links, asking users to help identify them, which I think is a pretty good indicator that they are unable to algorithmically factor them out on their own. You wrote an article on paid links about a year ago explaining how most people have nothing to lose when buying links because they aren’t getting any organic traffic anyway. At what point should a company start adjusting or eliminating their link buying to reduce their risk?
If you have a lot of clean organic links then Google generally will not mind if there are a few paid links in the mix…so long as your site offers a legitimate value add. The trick is to build up enough brand so that Google is less likely to want to whack your site, and then buy links in moderation with focused anchor text pointing at the specific pages you want to rank. Mixing anchor text is crucial. It also helps to do some of your link buying through sources that do not have focused anchor text but do deliver a lot of raw link authority.
Some companies are going to buy links no matter what. How risky is it and are their any precautions they can take to avoid penalties? How can they find reputable, quality website to buy relevant links from?
I like to try to buy links indirectly. If buying directly I like to try to buy the types of links Google generally considers ok (editorial directory listings) and to buy links that do not look like bought links (well blended into the site’s content). I also typically try to buy links directly rather than using networks.
I’ve been using (and highly recommend) your SEO Toolbar for Firefox for a while now and it’s saved me an immeasurable amount of time on researching our existing sites, competitor’s sites and new sites we’ve considered buying. For new users, or anyone that hasn’t tried it yet, what in your opinion are some of its most powerful features? Is there anything that even experienced users may not know it can do?
It gives you the ability to check your rankings, use a dozen different keyword tools, research link and traffic data, and compare sites against each other. I think it takes a good bit of playing with it to really feel it out and find all the features. Its free, fun, and addictive.
Well, there you have it. Sage advice and insight from one of the industry’s top SEO experts on current state of search engine optimization and the future of things to come. For all you do-it-yourself types, be sure to drop by Aaron’s site and consider becoming a member of his community. Your modest investment will quickly pay for itself in increased traffic and revenue. I also personally recommend digging around and learning about his back-story. Aaron can be a bit humble when talking about himself, but he’s overcome far greater challenges than most people will every face and achieved tremendous success, and he’s done so rather gracefully if I do say so myself. Many thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom, Aaron!