This is an interview series from 2006 that was originally published on my personal website, I have moved the series here and you can also see the other SEO interviews below.
Bill Slawski aka Braggadoccio Interviewed
SEO Analysis, Local Search, Moderation and the SEO Blogosphere
What is your main occupation?
SEO, consultant, writer, coffee drinker.
How did you become interested in SEO and Search Marketing? What was your first big break?
There were a lot more small breaks than big ones.
While I had a programming class in high school, feeding basic through ticker tape into and out of a micro-computer, I didn't do much with computing until law school, where I had the chance to do a lot of research for a required paper. I became addicted to LexisNexis, perhaps to the detriment of my legal studies. I learned enough wordperfect while earning my Jurisdoctor degree to write 100 or so pages on the topic of Antarctica as a Global Commons. Sort of an odd choice, but it prepared me for the idea of the internet as a global commons.
A year of so later, a couple of friends taught me how to put together PCs. I returned the favor when one of those friends needed a job, by suggesting that he and another friend who had an empty office in the building housing his law firm, join together and start a business. I digested a book on HTML, and built a web site for the business. The first version looked more like a Christmas card than a web site, but I tweaked it everyday, responded to user feedback, tested, and made changes. Ten years later, I still tweak the site, and promote it. Sometime during that decade, search engines came along.
In the late ninties, I came across Kim Krause's web site on web promotion and usability. I recognized many of the things I had been doing to promote sites in the articles on her pages, and learned some new stuff. Kim had a contact form which I used to tell her how much I liked her site. She invited me to join a couple of Yahoo clubs - one on small business, and one on web promotion and usability. I enjoyed them, and found myself posting a lot to both, and ended up as a moderator in both groups. I owe a lot to my friend, and part-time mentor, Kim.
At the time, I was working for the Superior Court of the State of Delaware, which is the highest level trial court in the State - the one that hears felony cases, and some civil cases with damages in the millions of dollars. My job transformed from a legal position in the Court to a technical one, matching my changing interests. Before I left, I was working on things like preparing the court for Y2K, bringing assistive technologies to courtrooms such as livetime transcription, and acquiring new case management software with electronic document filing and storage.
My efforts on the web were part time, but I spent a lot of time trying to learn as much as I could, working on both hobby sites, and sites for clients. I also tried to read everything I could about search engines, directories, usability, marketing, design, and the internet. Yahoo became too small and slow for the web promotion group, and Cre8asite Forums was born. It provided me with the chance to discuss and read about SEO, usability, design, and many other topics with some really sharp folks, like Ammon Johns, Jill Whalen, Kim Krause, Peter Da vanzo, and many others.
A couple of years ago, Loren Baker contacted me, and asked me if I knew anyone in the area where I live who did SEO. I told him no. He asked me if I might be interested in working at the firm he was at, and I thought about it, and said no. A couple of months later, he contacted me again, and I decided that it wouldn't hurt me to interview with the firm. I worked with Loren at until he moved to Japan about six months after I started. I enjoyed my time with this firm, but decided that starting my own SEO business wasn't a bad idea. I incorporated SEO by the Sea, Inc., in January, 2006, and have been providing SEO and consulting services since. I've added some paid writing to my core business, and worked with some great businesses.
Ok, maybe I had a lot of big breaks. :)
With over 13000 posts over at cre8asite, moderation is almost an oxymoron, how do you balance your time online?
Participating in a forum is part of the educational process that helps me keep in touch with ideas about search and marketing. The chance to interact and learn with others is priceless, and the time spent with marketers, designers, developers, usability consultants, site owners, and others in sharing experiences is well spent. The website hospital is one of my favorite parts of the forums, for a couple of reasons. First is that it gives me a chance to think critically about sites. The second is that it provides the opportunity to provide suggestions and feedback to others about those sites in a constructive and positive manner, and learn from others' suggestions.
To experienced search marketers it's fairly obvious you pull apart search patents for a purpose! All this analysis of content duplication, link analysis, blockrank, trustrank, pagerank, semantics, heuretics, usability, web design, web standards, etc. Are you secretly a search spammer??
I think that my inquiries into patents and white papers, design and usability are part of being a professional. I have a responsibility to those I work with to know and understand potential impediments that may cause sites to not perform as well well as they could, and to be able to recognize and understand where search may be headed in the future.
There's a benefit in being able to be proactive instead of reactive, and to be able to look at primary sources like web standards, search related patent filings, and academic white papers. Experimenting with ideas found in those means that instead of making choices that are completely guesses, I'm making decisions that have some research and reason behind them.
I had someone at the San Jose Search Engine Strategies Conference last month tell me that the posts I make on my blog have been helpful in allowing him to spam search engines. While not something that I really wanted to hear, I recognize the possibility that some of what I write might help those who take the time to read it regardless of their intentions. A number of recent papers from the Microsoft Research team mention in their conclusions that they recognize that sharing information about their efforts may make it easier for people to spam the search engines, but that the methods they propose focus upon making it more difficult and computationally expensive for people to manipulate search results.
The rumours are you have been filtering whitehat sites into the results with ease by finding legitimate holes in the Google search algo. Are these rumours true? Do you do SEO consulting for clients?
I'm not sure that's even necessary. I do SEO consulting for clients, and while we use ideas from some of the patents and white papers, a good competitive marketing analysis from an SEO perspective is often adequate to find ways to increase traffic to sites without having to try anything that relies too much on any one algorithm. Too often, people try to compete head on with established businesses instead of finding under-represented niches and approaches that are both unique and effective.
Also, many of the algorithms that you may see in patent filings and white papers try to benefit sites that use standards, semantically correct HTML, well defined site structures and information architecture, accessibility, well written content, and good use of information chunking upon pages. If you pay careful attention to these types of things, and make sure that your pages are spiderable, there's a good chance of acheiving success.
Do we really need to do the hardyards of seo researching, reading seo white papers, doing analysis, testing, studying, comparing, or do we just read seo by the sea and get all the answers?
I'd recommend that people do their own testing and studying, and keep some rational skepticism in whatever they hear or read when it comes to search related whitepapers. I can spend a couple of hours or a couple of days making my way through even one patent to try to understand what the authors are aiming at, and still possibly miss something. In trying to reduce what I've seen in a patent to a few hundred, or in some cases, a few thousand words for a blog post, it's possible that I'll miss or not cover some aspects that might be important.
While I appreciate people coming to SEO by the Sea, and reading what I'm writing, I hope that they treat posts about patents and papers as introductions to the subjects rather than the final word on them. I would love and encourage opinions that differ from mine. That's part of why I have comments enabled on the site.
Are SEO's potentially taking the longroad by avoiding the truth about search engines by spending too much time in the SEO blogosphere and not doing the appropriate research into white papers and search engine patents released by the main search engines?
I read a few hundred blogs everyday - through an RSS aggregator - and find it worth seeing different perspectives, and different approaches to talking about internet marketing and SEO. Reading patents and white papers gives you the perspective of search engineers and academics, so it helps to get some balance by reading other opinions, too. There's a lot of value in following the conversations in the blogosphere. I wouldn't have the large list of search related blogs and forums that I do have in my blogroll if I thought they weren't worth looking at.
What is your opinion on the SEOBlogosphere? Do we have information overload?
There are a lot of excellent blogs that focus upon search, and I would have to say that even with the use of an RSS aggregator, it's not always easy to keep up. There are a good number of blogs that you can, and possibly should, read everyday, but there are many others that provide unique perspectives and keen insights that could have a profound impact on the way that you work and the way that you think about search.
One of the ways that I try to use to keep up is to segment the feeds in my blog reader into different categories, with different priority levels attached to those - so that I look at some a few times a day, some daily, and some weekly.
If I find something that I really like, I may either read it if I have time, or bookmark it for later reading.
Does text book SEO still work, or is Search a new beast these days?
There's always something new in search, and there's never really been a "textbook."
That's not to say that there aren't a number of strategies that work effectively, and keep sites from being at the whims and mercies of changes in search algorithms. I've never been fond of marketing a web site relying completely on search engines, and never bought into changing pages around because of rumors or what people perceive to be a change in the way a search engine works.
You can do fine in search engines when you have a site that is spiderable, uses semantically strong html, a smart site structure, well written and organized content with the words that targeted audiences expect to see, and a balanced approach to linking. But, there's always been an aspect to SEO that can elevate a site's effectiveness even further - testing, a unique selling proposition, a strong and regularly updated marketing plan, testing, attention to usability, following and understanding changes in a market, and looking carefully at site analytics and log files. And testing.
I would have though with all your patent analysis you'd be fairly keen on local search and observing the engine at work assessing new content and phrases. Do you keep your 'finger on the pulse'? Do you keep track of what's happening in your local market? If so, how do you apply this to your seo analysis?
The potential market for location based niches is enormous. Some of the patent filings from search engines during the last year show that they recognize possibilities that may come along. Here are a few just from Google:
- Customized driving directions with landmarks shown, and advertisements from businesses along the route.
- Merchant Coupons coupled with kiosks in commercial areas and online realtime access to inventories, specials, store times, entertainment schedules, and more.
- Enhanced pay-per-call that allows for filling multiple goals such as making reservations, ordering, getting customer support.
There are a lot of patent applications that came out in the last year involving local search, and they are worth looking at carefully, and thinking about.
What is your opinion on Black Hat search marketing, does it have it's place in the Search landscape?
A large part of the web is noncommercial, and it provides ways for people to meet, communicate, collaborate, and build knowledge, regardless of distances. Search has a role in helping those activities happen, and unfortunately black hat search marketing has the capacity to hinder and harm those activities. I want to try to build something positive, and help make the web more useful for people. Sure, I want the sites I work with to rank highly for the terms that we are targeting - but the idea is to help people who want to find those sites and what they offer able to do so.
What inspires you to post with such enthusiasm each day (or half hour)? How fast do you type? or do you use voice recognition software?
Part of the inspiration is that I love what I do, and part is that I really enjoy talking with the people at the forums and places that I post at. Cre8asite Forums has been blessed in having a great crew of moderators and members, and I've met some wonderful folks in the search marketing industry.
I don't use voice recognition software, but I've had some people gape in opened-mouthed astonishment when they've seen me type. I don't know exactly how quickly I type, but I do end up writing a few thousand words a day, almost everyday.
Any hot SEO/SEM tips for our readers?
Learning about technical aspects of search engine optimization is fine and good, but I'd encourage people to also pay attention to other aspects of search marketing and web building, such as usability, accessibility, persuasive design, web development, and marketing. I also think that handheld devices will gain in importance quicker than many will realize.
Search Fact file for bragadocchio
Years in Search: 10
No of Clients: multiple
Services Offered: Consulting, Site reviews, Competitive SEO analysis, Writing.
Mentor(s): A forum and blogosphere full of them.
Favourite SEO/SEM reading material? I probably have too many favorites (one reason my blogroll is so long)
Are you Whitehat, Blackhat, Confused or Not into hats? Not into hats.
Who you know? or What you know? A mixture of dumb luck, perseverance,
and a sense of humor.
Biggest SEO/SEM mistake? No mistakes - just learning experiences.
What are your hobbies outside of Search? Exploring local history.
Any shameless plugs for our readers? Stop by Cre8asite Forums and say hello.
William Slawski may be contacted via the Seo by the Sea website or via any of the main SEO/SEM forums (bragadocchio).