In the world of search engine optimisation, few names are more recognizable than that of the man who literally wrote the book on the subject. Today I had the pleasure of asking some burning SEO related questions I had for Mr. Aaron Wall.
Aaron is considered an industry veteran and the “go to guy” for all things SEO related.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your site SEO book ?
I have been doing SEO for about 5 years now, and work about 6.5 days a week. My wonderful wife and I just had our first anniversary. :)
SEO Book was born as a blog covering SEO, and has morphed into a site which is more about search and online marketing in general, which offers a popular suite of tools and a training program.
Can you tell us how much of a difference switching from the ebook model to the online training model has worked out well for you and what was the one thing that tipped you into moving?
I think we easily have the best SEO community on the web. The pricepoint has simply filtered out the noise common at most SEO forums while lively conversation occurs daily. The one big flaw with the current model is that the members and I spend so much time inside the forums that little time is spent externally on marketing to bring new people in, so growth has not been fast but I would rather go for quality than size any day of the week.
I was an unhappy person with the old business model. It required me to answer questions for people who valued my time at $0, which lead to me having too many customers when we reached around the 13,000 mark. Plus as some of the sleazy email list spammer hype driven internet marketers started hyping SEO it lowered lead quality at the lower end, which was where my business model was situated. A business model that is scalable with 10,000 customers with less than 1% of the customer interactions not going well becomes simply unsustainable when it grows to 13,000 with 5% of the customers being not customers well aligned with your brand and strategy. I was doing so much email that I started to easily become rude and frustrated.
Many customers have told me that I made their business careers and made them millionaires, but as search grew more complex the market for people wanting honest advice moved beyond the $79 pricepoint the old business operated at. Ultimately I was serving the wrong market and lowering the percieved value of my product by being available so cheaply, even while competitors selling information products at 50x or 100x the price of mine were asking for the latest copy of my ebook before making their next info product, and lifting lines from my work and integrating it into their work.
The other thing that happened was that my sites that were 5% of my time started to become the majority of my income. It does not make sense to spend most your time on a job that does not make much money, especially if it is no longer enjoyable. And so changing the business model of SEO Book allows me to enjoy it again, while increasing the value to customers and not drastically lowering its revenues or drastically increasing the amount of time needed to maintain it.
Google is all over the place right now and it is looking like a lot of factors that once held weight no longer do and vice versa. What do you make of the current state of flux? Where do you see Google applying more weight?
I see a lot of people talking about localization becoming a more important topic. Google is placing a lot of weight on exact match domain names, and their current reliance on domain authority is springing up a bunch of general websites like eHow, Mahalo, Squidoo, etc.
The big thing to really look out for is arbitrary hand edits. If your site does not look good it might get edited out of the search results even if you offer the highest quality information in your space.
How effective do you think buying established websites is to SEO leaving the branding, customer base and community factors out?
Buying old sites based on their link equity is amazingly profitable. The key is to not be too drastic or spammy with the changes you make such that you can get many years of cashflow out of such a site.
Do you think that there are any on or off page white hat techniques that if over used (Think over use of the nofollow attribute, borderline excessive internal linking etc.) may trigger a flag at Google? Do you believe there is such a thing as an over optimization flag?
Sure. I think many people repeate keyword phrases more than is optimal, and some of my pages have got automatically filtered out for being too well aligned with a keyword. The key when that happens is to lower the keyword prominence and repetition – make sure there is some variance between your page title, inbound anchor text, and how you are using the keywords in page content.
Why do you think so many webmasters spend so much time and money *cough* on buying links when the cost of developing content that attracts higher quality editorial links is far less?
Man is inherantly lazy. Editorial links in many markets require building a brand and social interaction. That can be a slow and low ROI path that looks like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, especially if you are new to the social aspects of the web and do not have any experience with blogs and the like.
You offer a great Google Global Firefox extension and we have a suite of well linked to SEO tools. For you and I it is cheaper to create content that builds free links, but for most people on the web the ROI of such an experiment is not as obvious until after they experience it.
Also worth noting that at the corporate end there is also less risk to buying links, and many more people and hurdles in between the creation of a good idea and the finished product.
For those who say that SEO is “Bullshit” and that correctly designed, semantically sound design is all that is needed to rank higher than your competition, what do you say to them?
I made a site to prove them wrong. A semantically sound site that gets no search traffic, and gave it the name dollarseo.com. Please give it a look and laugh, but please do not link at it though or it will mess up the test. ;)
What do you say to the same group who think that SEO should not be a dedicated profession?
A non-trivial portion of the business world is driven by arbitrage. Some industries have licenses that require people to jump through hoops before they can profit in them, but many of the best things to arbitrage are new fields where guidelines are not fully established and the market is not well informed.
It does not matter that some people do not like the field of SEO. If done well it is both highly profitable and highly effective. If you pick the right products and clients it is one of the rare opportunities where you can help ensure that everyone wins.
Having said all of the above, SEO is becoming much more complex, and is becoming a subset of marketing. In some industries it requires the use of public relations, in others it requires the act of smart publishing, and yet in others it comes down to ad buying. Any single strategy can get you to the top for some keywords, but the more tools you have the greater the likelihood you can compete across many different keywords and categories.
From a client perspective I think if you sell SEO services it might be helpful to bundle them with PPC services. People looking for a consultant on PPC are looking for cost savings where they are already spending money. Whereas many people looking for SEO are looking for free traffic. This was one of the reasons why I thought my wife had a good idea in launching PPC Blog. Rather than catering to a market saturated with free misinformation with prospective clients wanting everything for free it caters to an audience looking to spend money.
Do you have any tips on ranking country specific domains/sites in multiple locations. For example, if I have www.mysite.ie and want to target the US, UK and Ireland? What approach would you take if starting from scratch and what approach would you take with an established site?
I have nowhere near the international experience that some great SEOs like you from across the pond, but if I was on a limited budget I would set my main market on the main domain name and use subdomains for other markets. If I were using one main domain I would try to build from the .com. I would also try to secure the other names in case I later wanted to change my strategy.
If I had more budget and knew I would market all the sites then I would get 3 domain names (1 for each region) and host each of them in their matching location.
In the coming years, what SEO techniques do you predict are going to become more/most popular with dedicated hard working SEOs?
I think SEO is really going to become more and more about public relations and social interaction. Today I read a post by a web designer talking about how you should aim for a 2% keyword density. He was no SEO expert, but because he was a popular web designer his post got hundreds of comments and many inbound links.
It is not what you know but who you know. What communities do you want links from? How can you integrate yourself and your business in them?
In your experience, what has been the TYPE of link that has been most worth your time acquiring?
Links that come as endorsements from trusted members of your community help with rankings, pay directly through sales and referals, and are hard for competitors to replicate. They pay 3 different ways and lead to additional links, plus they are beyond the reach of most competitors. Those are the links I really love.
Finally, how do you think the search industry, SEO in particular can move away from the “cowboy”, “get rich quick” and “snake oil” labels that so many low quality providers have caused all SEOs to be tarred with the same brush by default?
I think the only way this would be possible is if we made a group effort to highlight the sleasy stuff that Google markets in their paid ads and help rebrand their service such that we introduced opportunity cost to them for them trying to trash us. But it would need to be well organized to succeed, but from what I have seen most well known people in the SEO space are looking out for themselves, so I don’t think we would have any chance unless we decide to use a different label.
Many of the smartest and most successful SEOs have moved out of the SEO industry and are now web publishers building online brands for themselves. If you do great SEOs for others then eventually building your own sites and brands is a must from a profitability, income diversity, and a credibility standpoint. I still love the SEO field, but realize that it is not the path toward highest earnings for most as a service based model.
So there you have it. I hope some of those answers were as helpful and enlightening to you as they were to me. If anyone is on the fence about learning the ropes of SEO, I encourage you to check out the SEO training offered by Aaron. It’s worth every penny. Also, consider reading and subscribing to his SEO Blog and his new pay per click marketing blog.
I’d like to thank Aaron Wall for taking the time to do this interview and I look forward to meeting him at PubCon this year in Las Vegas.