Interview of Muhammad Saleem, Social Media Expert

After seeing the rapid rise of Tip'd, I figured it would be a good idea to interview Muhammad Saleem, a social media addict who knows social media both from site manager and site participant perspectives. You can follow him on Twitter.

How did you get into social media?

I got into social media by reading James Surowiecki's Wisdom of the Crowds. I think it's one of the best books written so far on the topic. The lessons from that book and Gladwell's The Tipping Point are essential for anyone who truly wants to understand social, collaborative media, and viral marketing.

Some friends I know who have been actively involved in social media got burned out quickly. How do you keep it interesting after years of experience?

I think its important to love the fundamentals of social media, be interested in the relationships and conversations, and the theory behind it. If you're genuinely interested then you won't get bored, in fact, I read 2-3 books a month on the topic and each one makes me appreciate it even more (I'm currently reading Groundswell).

On larger sites is social media largely a game of reciprocal voting, or is there something deeper to it?

I think a lot of people misunderstand what reciprocal voting really is. Consider this, people that are friends usually have similar interests and preferences (hence they bond and are friends), and when you have similar interests and preferences, of course there is going to be a large degree of voting for each others content. Keeping that in mind, I really don't see this as you rub my back and I'll rub yours, it's more like we share the same interests, we are friends, and naturally vote on each others submissions.

When there are thousands of people hunting for stories how do you manage to find new ones that have not yet been discussed? Do publishers give you exclusives?

There are definitely people who message me and say 'Hey, do you think this story would do well on Digg (or StumbleUpon, or...), and since they are friends or acquaintances, if the content is good, I see no reason why it shouldn't get exposure. Apart from that, I really don't have to 'hunt' for content much. I usually find most of my submissions when I'm just browsing my favorite websites and other social news sites.

From talking to friends it seems there is a lot of payola in social media. What percent of the top 100 and top 1000 contributors to sites like Digg, Reddit, Propeller, and StumbleUpon engage in payola?

There is quite a bit of payola that goes on but fortunately that's all short-term because the sites and users get banned pretty quickly. I routinely get some pretty spammy emails about payola and without exception I forward them to abuse@digg.com and let them deal with it.

How heavy is the user overlap amongst the big social media sites?

The user overlap is pretty heavy in terms of registrations but it's not that heavy in terms of activity. For example, most of the top users on Digg are also on StumbleUpon and Reddit, but Digg is their primary social news activity, and they participate much less on the others. The same is the case for many top Stumblers and Reddit users, they will be on multiple sites but use them much less than their primary community.

How does a person decide if social media should be a core part of their marketing strategy?

It all depends on what your conversion goals are and what vertical you're in. For example, if you're trying to get affiliate sales, make money from advertisement, get newsletter (or other) subscriptions, and so on, social news is probably the worst place you could go because most of those users have adblock plus installed and have a severe case of banner blindness. You should consider the following: your demographic, their social technographics profile, their interests and preferences, and your conversion goals before deciding if social media should be part of your online marketing strategy. Even then, most people default to Digg - social news is just one aspect, don't forget social networking, online video, online communities and forums, and so on.

What sort of marketing tips would you give to a person who said that their site simply did not fit existing social media sites?

People focus too much on social media sites and often have too narrow a definition of the term (i.e. social news - Digg). First of all, I doubt that 'social media' wont work for any niche, there is always rudimentary stuff like sharing content on microblogging or aggregator sites (Twitter and FriendFeed) or social networks (Facebook). And if that doesn't work, go back to the basics and participate in your blogging community, which is something you should be doing anyway. Work with other bloggers in your niche to increase both your audience and give them exposure.

When Tip'd launched you got a lot of coverage from bloggers. What was key to making that happen? Were you surprised with that level of coverage?

We didn't hire a PR firm or write up an official press release. Instead we reached out to people who we had relationships with and asked them if they could do a write-up, and only approached sites whose audience would enjoy the coverage. Actually I was personally a bit disappointed with the coverage. It seems I gave too much credit to some 'pundits' and 'gurus' who ultimately didn't have the foresight to appreciate why Tip'd is an important development in the social space.

What were some of the biggest keys to getting Tip'd up and growing?

There are several important considerations. The site has to function properly and has to be simple enough so that Joe non-techie can use it but also robust enough that more tech-savvy users can enjoy it. It has to score high on design, usability, and branding. You need to have a good pitch to draw people in. And finally you need to build relationships with publishers in the space. We were able to avoid the 'chicken and egg problem' of "no one wants to participate if there is no existing community, but you can't build a community if no one participates" by building and leveraging relationships with key players in the personal finance and financial news blogosphere.

What is the biggest mistake you feel you guys have made with Tip'd so far?

I don't think we've made any missteps so far. If the is limited in anyway, it's because we have decided to build, market, and grow it entirely ourselves and without taking funding from anyone. Think about this, it is a bootstrapped operation that started with $25,000 in funding, took 3 weeks to launch, and didn't push for any pr. Even with all that, our growth rate and the feedback is largely positive. Just yesterday a marketer messaged me and said "even with 24 votes, a front page story on Tip'd sent me 100 visitors, while with 75 votes on Mixx, they only send about 25 visitors." If a site with $25,000 in funding is already driving a larger audience than one with $3.5 million in funding and relationships with mainstream media, I think we've come a long way in three months.

Many niche social news sites have come to market. How many of these do you think will be successful and still around 5 years from now? What will separate those that succeed from those that fail?

I don't think even 25% of them will succeed. The problem, I believe, is that they are all self-centered and don't have a forward thinking vision. What will separate the successes from the failures is a focus on the site's own community, but also relationships with publishers. Community participation is one aspect of growth on social news sites, but people really underestimate how big a role online publishers and marketers play.

Interview of Greg Jarboe on PR, SEO, Video Optimization, and the Chicago SES Conference

I met Greg Jarboe at my very first SEO conference about 5 years ago and have chatted with him many times over the years. Recently we conducted an interview via email.

You are speaking at Chicago SES next month on a variety of topics from the first timers guide to SES and SEM, to an introduction to SEM, to SEO for video content. What are your favorite topics to talk about?

I'm also speaking about turning PR efforts into SEO results as well as teaching the optimizing for universal search workshop with Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit. So, I plan to get a pair of roller skates in order to make it to all five sessions in time. It's sort of funny how all this landed on my to-do list, but I think that it's a an example of being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. A couple of years back, SEO-PR pioneered press release optimization. It was a niche -- and it got our foot in the door. Then, we branched out -- and started optimizing video for YouTube. At that point, Amanda and I starting teaching workshops entitled "Getting found in all the right places," which covered getting found in Google News, YouTube, and other vertical search engines. Then, on May 16, 2007, Google introduced universal search -- incorporating information from a variety of previously separate sources – including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results. So, all of those niches that we had focused on in the early days had suddenly gone mainstream. This also fundamentally changed how you can best optimize content to gain "natural" or "organic" traffic -- because we no longer live in an era of 10 blue links. So, which one of these topics is my favorite? It's video search engine optimization. In fact, I'm writing a book for Sybex entitled: YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour A Day. It's part of the series that includes Web Analytics: An Hour A Day by Avinash Kaushik. So, I'm pretty focused on video right now.

How has video changed the SEO game? Do you recommend submitting to YouTube and other third party sites, or hosting video content on your own sites?

Hosting video content on your own site was the right thing to do in 2005, when Google Video, Yahoo! Video, Singingfish and other video search engines were the leaders in online video. But, in 2006, YouTube came out of left field -- and totally changed the game. That's why Google paid $1.65 billion to acquire YouTube, a video sharing site. It had beat all the video search engines hands down. According to Hitwise, YouTube accounted for 76% of all U.S. visits to online video websites in October 2008. Google Video had less than 4%. Yahoo! Video changed its focus to Yahoo-hosted video only in February of this year. And Singingfish has ceased to exist as a separate service. So, if you host video content on your own site, you're optimizing it for less than 4% of all U.S. visits. A much smarter strategy is to submit your video to YouTube, which gets about 20 times more visits, and then embed your YouTube videos in your website or blog.

Of the Search Engine Strategy conferences in the US, Chicago has traditionally been one of the smaller conferences. For a person new to SEO how can the smaller size benefit them?

SES Chicago will attract about 2,000 attendees, which SES San Jose got more than 6,000. So, yes, it is a smaller conference. But, it's the only SEM conference in the Midwest, so most of the people you see at SES Chicago aren't ones that you'll already seen at other conferences. In fact, 87% of attendees at last year's SES Chicago were new to SES, just 13% were alumni. And 85% of the SES Chicago attendees approve or recommend purchasing decisions. So, the quality of the audience is very high. I find that means the Q&A sessions are not only lively -- they are lively at all of the SES events -- but people come away feeling that they got "their questions" answered.

When I first got started with SEO, I remember sitting at a table with your partner Jamie and you, as you guys discussed some of your tips. Since then you have become more and more well known in the search marketing space. What were some of your keys to that growth in exposure and awareness?

It takes time for new ideas to catch on. So, part of this is just persistence. But the other part is the willingness of many of our clients to share their case studies with the rest of the industry. When we started in early 2003, press release optimization was an interesting concept. Then, we were able to show that optimized press releases had generated $200 million in qualified leads for Symmetricom’s chip-scale atomic clocks, more than $2.5 million in ticket sales for Southwest Airlines, and almost 1.3 million searches for “florists” on SuperPages.com. Later, we were also able to explain how combining blog outreach with press release optimization generated a record 450,000 unique visitors to The Christian Science Monitor, more than 85,000 entries into Parents magazine’s cover kid photo contest, and a record 1,100 attendees to the Wharton Economic Summit. So, if there is a tip, I say focus on measuring business outcomes instead of traditional PR outputs, like the number of clippings. Money talks. The other stuff walks.

With universal search and authority based search relevancy algorithms it seems Google keeps placing more and more weight on public relations. Are you surprised at how far this has come over the past few years? How far do you see these fields merging?

Actually, David Dalka posted an item to his blog about a year-and-a-half ago that said, "One can’t help but notice that if Greg Jarboe had gone to Google and designed Universal Search himself he likely couldn’t have designed it (better) to play into his strength areas in news and pr related issues." But, I didn't go to Google and I didn't design Universal Search. Nevertheless, it does play to our strength in public relations. We were among the first to recognize the getting links from blogs with a lot of authority wasn't a technical skill. It required public relations skills.

When should a new site consider using public relations as an SEO strategy? What are the keys to effectively using public relations as an SEO strategy?

Before it is launched. As it is being launched. And after it is launched. As for the keys, here is what the Google Webmaster Help Center says, "It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest."

When should people consider outsourcing PR, and how much of it should be driven by internal resources?

We've trained PR departments as well as PR agencies. So, it isn't that important whether this is outsources or handled internally. It is important to start -- and then to continue updating your skills -- because learning SEO isn't like learning the multiplication tables. The search engines are constantly changing -- and Universal Search is just an example of one of the bigger changes we've since in the past five years. So, learn how to optimize press releases, then learn how to optimize blogs and RSS feeds, then learn how to optimize video for YouTube, then keep learning.

While in Chicago what dish should everyone make sure they eat?

If you don't eat some Chicago-style deep dish pizza, then you haven't been to Chicago. You were just visiting some big city in the Midwest.

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Thanks Greg.

Check out SEO-PR to learn more about Greg and the intersection of public relations and search.

Interview of Quintura Search CEO Yakov Sadchikov

When was Quintura launched? What gave you the idea to launch it? What problems were you trying to solve by launching it?

Quintura was founded in August 2005 and released its first search application in November of that year. One year later, we launched a web-based search. It was based on visual context-based search concepts that the founders had been developing since 1990s. Quintura was founded to solve several fundamental problems inherent with today's search engines. Those problems include too many irrelevant search results returned, no one reads past the first page of results; inability to manage or tune results by defining context or adding search scope; no means for users to graphically visualize search terms or manage their relationship/relevance. Quintura is designed to make it visually simple for searchers to find what they are looking for, and to make it easy for web publishers to expose the content their visitors are looking for.

You guys have got a lot of great press from tech bloggers. On the marketing front what are some of the biggest and most successful surprises you have encountered? What have you found to be hardest when marketing your search service?

The simple fact that there is a tremendous amount of interest in our technology and service, in spite of the large field of alternative search engines on the market. We've invested most of our time and efforts in research and development. Our biggest challenge has been in getting our first marketing message out, which is we're in the process of expanding now to mainstream media.

How do you guys generate the keyword clouds?

That's part of the magic behind the Quintura technology. At the heart of our technology is a semantic-based 'neural network' algorithm. The cloud is literally a depiction of those search terms laid out to show their contextual relationship. Since the graphic depiction is dynamic - (you are interacting with the search in real time) one of our design goals has been to develop the widget to be extremely responsive. Through the past year, we think we've reached that point.

Quintura is popular as a keyword research tool amongst many SEOs (I use it all the time). Have you thought about combining your service with search volume data and/or competitive research data to create a formal premium keyword research (or competitive research) service/tool?

We've been asked that several times, but for now, our goals are to provide the best consumer site search services to the market and to provide our search widget to as broad an end-user audience as possible.

Quintura makes boolean search easy to visualize. Do you think searchers will eventually start using advanced search operators more on general web search engines, or will most only use it when it is presented in an aesthetically friendly way like Quintura does?

The question is whether users want to become adept at boolean logic or would they prefer to have that hidden in the background. From our experience, users would prefer to focus not on the math but on the search itself - finding the most relevant results in the least amount of time. By laying out search terms contextually and graphically, Quintura helps users manage their search and be in control of their search.

When partners sign up for Quintura you guys create a custom index from a crawl of their sites. How many domains can be part of the same index? What sort of sites does Quintura's visual search work great on? Which ones are not as strong of a match?

There is no limit. We're glad to work with large web publishers directly to assure that we are indexing all important content as part of our site search solution. The publisher of several web-sites can create a “vertical” search engine based on the Quintura search cloud. Quintura works well with all web-sites that we have worked with to date including numerous amount of blogs. Though, our first major site search clients were lifestyle portals and lifestyle magazine web-sites.

Do you see the face/interface of general web search changing drastically in the coming years? How might it change?

The web is getting more visual. So is search interface. That’s the trend. We are enabling our content-publisher customers to be more creative through customization of the widget itself. We're also looking at ways to make the search results even easier to see through the use of even more graphics.

Does Google have general search locked up? What competitive positions might allow people to build out a strong competitor that can take marketshare from Google?

General search is mostly locked up with Google. In my opinion, the best way of taking a marketshare from Google is not by building a better search destination site, but by changing the paradigm – give reasons for users not to make a decision to go to a search engine. Because when the think search engine, they think Google. Essentially, what Quintura site search does is creating environments where users keep exploring the passions, their interests, their information needs from where they are on the Web. People go to search engines when they can’t find what they want where they are.

Chitika has created a fairly large sized behaviorally targeted ad network by targeting ads to the search query prior to people landing on a page. Your site search strategy seems like it could be a rather powerful strategy for building a strong network. How has growth been going? Do you have any interesting success stories from the publisher or advertiser standpoints?

Quintura currently powers site search for a monthly audience of 8 million site users. The tests are underway on various U.S. sites, including two major men’s lifestyle sites and an educational publisher. We plan to reach the audience of 50 million in 2009. You can see Quintura search widget on lifestyle sites Maxim.com, Passion.ru and Cosmo.ru; technology news sites ReadWriteWeb.com and Compulenta.ru, business community portal E-xecutive.ru; web-sites of consumer magazines Hilary Magazine, Russian Newsweek, ComputerBild, luxury news site LeLuxe.ru, in addition to hundreds of smaller web-sites and blogs that joined our affiliate program for site search. We have also approached several online advertisers including security software vendor Kaspersky Lab to advertise on our search widget network of sites.

What types of ads work especially well with a service like Quintura? Which ones are less strong?

We have tested both contextual search ads and display ads. We are going to blend search ads with display ads for more visual appeal. Plus, can target those contextual graphic search ads with much greater precision because of our context-based algorithm. Ads from companies with established brand logos benefit from our ability to graphically display their logos in the search cloud.

What areas does Quintura have a lot of inventory in?

It is in lifestyle and technology areas.

Many search engines (Google, Yahoo! Search, Live), large content & commerce sites (Amazon.com, eBay, Wikipedia), and browsers (IE8 Beta 2, Google Chrome, Firefox 3) are now adding search suggestions in the browser via the search box and/or address bar. Do you see this eventually evolving into a Quintura-like service?

It’s a helpful feature that is mostly based on search statistics. We go a step further by offering contextual suggestions. One of the greatest aspects of our display cloud is that it shows contextually-related results, and to depict them with a graphical element. Can you imagine a shoppng experience that lets you see related items in real time?

Quintura is currently powered from the Yahoo! index. Do you guys ever plan on creating your own web-wide search index?

As a matter of fact, we are already creating our own web index from individual indexes of web-sites where Quintura powers site search. Quintura site search on those web-sites is powered by search results from Quintura index of those sites.

How many regular users does Quintura.com have as a search destination? Do you guys intend to become a consumer search destination, or are you more focused on providing search for third party sites?

We focus on providing site search, analytics and monetization platform for web publishers and content owners. As a search destination, Quintura has less than 1 million users per month. We will continue operating and developing our search sites to provide the benefits of our search technology to users. For example, Quintura.com will evolve into an online research tool where registered users will be able to save and share their searches online with the other registered members.

You guys have a vertical search service for kids. Is that seeing good adoption? Do you plan on coming out with any other vertical search engines?

Children are far more graphically oriented and can grasp contextual depictions easily. It was a natural extension for us to offer a search engine designed specifically for children - Quintura for Kids. It's also a great test bed for us to further evolve search technologies while giving kids a hand. The search engine is used mostly in the elementary schools and public libraries in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Since its first launch in March 2007, several hundred school and teacher web-sites linked to Quintura for Kids. According to site statistics, the search engine has 70 percent returning visitors. 75 percent of visitors come to the site directly from a browser. In June 2007, Quintura for Kidswas ranked the highest among search engines for kids by Search Engine Watch.

We evaluate additional opportunities including licensing our technology to intranets and major search engines.

For now, our hands are full with upcoming site search product enhancements and monetization as well as  with our growing site search customer base.

Interview of Neil Patel, Social Media Marketing Legend

I have been going to SEO conferences for many years, and it seems Neil Patel was at every one of them...always laughing, joking, and having a good time. I went from obscurity to being somewhat well known on the web from 2003 to 2005 and Neil did the same, but started about a year later. In addition to learning so much about social media, Neil shares tips on Pronet Advertising, runs ACS SEO, and created a start up named Crazy Egg. I asked him about his rapid accent and where he sees the future of social media heading.

True (and perhaps humbling story here)...a person I know said that they thought you were "the annoying kid at conferences," and then about 6 months later the same person said that you were the unsung hero and up and coming star in the field of SEO...and they were following everything you did. What did you do that made such a big impact in such a short period of time?

Great story, but I am probably still the annoying kid at conferences. ;-)

The main thing that took place in that short period of time was that I started leveraging social sites like Digg. When I started I was the highest ranked SEO on social sites like Digg and at one point I had a 75% success ratio.

The only other thing that happened in that period of time was that I started blogging and speaking at conferences. Once I started sharing my knowledge people started, somewhat, listening to what I had to say.

There is a lot of controversy in the online marketing space...with various marketers comparing who has a bigger penis (or, perhaps, who can act like a bigger penis) virtually every day. How did you get well known while avoiding much of the hollow self-promotional hype and conflict that is associated with so many other well known internet marketers?

My philosophy is that someone is always going to have a bigger penis than you, so might as well not try to compete and do the best you can do. Instead of getting involved with the self-promotional hype, I just concentrate on sharing my knowledge (similar to you), which I think helped with my personal brand.

And the main key to my success was that I let everything out. Because sooner or later others are going to know what you know, so might as well be the one to tell them.

Many bloggers have grown to (at least claim to) hate SEO. I go to lots of the top tech blogs and I see ACS logos on many of them. How did you build all those relationships and get that exposure? If I was just starting out in the SEO field today would that still be possible?

Bloggers in general don’t like paying for things and many of them believe that SEO is bullshit. So what I did was approach all the Technorati Top 100 bloggers and tell them that I could increase their traffic for free. And if I increased it drastically in return I would appreciate if they could place my company’s logo on their blog.

By offering this, they did not have much to lose. In today’s market it is probably more difficult to do this because most bloggers have already been approached. But either way, there is no harm in trying.

Have you ever had any linkbaits bomb, or worse yet, backfire? What are the lessons you learned the hard way when it comes to social media marketing?

I can’t recall of any linkbaits that have bombed or backfire. Some did not succeed, but none have really hurt my clients or me. The only thing that backfired for me was that people found out my Digg user name and started publicly bashing me that I was getting paid submissions from a lot of the Technorati Top 100 blogs. The funny thing about it was that those bloggers never paid me a cent and all the companies that did pay me never got called out.

With many people talking about gaming Digg it seems like they do not like people who create content that is targeted to their user's interests. As a marketer, is it worth the effort to target Digg? Does my site's general theme need to be aligned with that community?

It is definitely worth targeting Digg because it is a good place to obtain links. The trick with Digg is not to try and game the system, but instead to provide valuable content to the community. If your content is good enough you can still do somewhat well even if the community doesn’t like your sites theme.

For example, if I recall correctly your site made Digg for your Firefox extension. Even though they hate SEOs, you still got on the front page.

How do you come up with strategies for what topics to go after with linkbait? Roughly what is your success rate with launching linkbaits? How many links do your average linbaits get?

We come up with linkbait topics through brainstorming sessions. By passing ideas off to each other, sooner or later we come up with content ideas that can work. As for our success rate, we usually sit around the 50% mark with short linkbait pieces and around 80% with the in-depth pieces.

As for the average link count, it is around the 200 mark. This is probably a lot lower than the industry average, but in our count we don’t include links from the social networks. Also some search engines may show a certain blog is linking to your site 20 times, but we only count that as 1 link.

Do you target mainly social media sites with linkbait, or do you also pitch them to bloggers? If you pitch, how do you prevent it from backfiring?

We target bloggers as well as social sites. The best way to prevent this from backfiring is to first research a blogger you want to solicit. Make sure you truly understand the type of things they blog on because the last thing a blogger wants is to be approached to write on something that isn’t of their interest. After you have a list of bloggers that you want to hit up, then you want to write a tailored email (maybe with a bit of humor) to them. When doing this be honest as possible because people hate fake emails with tons of fluff.

Are most of your linkbait ideas temporal, or do they tend to have an evergreen aspect where they keep building links?

Most of our linkbaits have an evergreen aspect. Some are time sensitive, which means they stop building links after a while. But we prefer to create timeless linkbaits because this allows them to continually build links over time.

Is YouTube important? Do you have anyone you recommend for creating video content?

YouTube is very important in my opinion. If you are trying to brand your company, yourself, or just create buzz, you should consider YouTube. Billions of people visit YouTube and if you can get them to watch your video, that is effective marketing. Just think about how much companies spend on TV advertising. If you can get a video to the homepage of YouTube the effect can be much greater then any TV advertising, and it will be a lot cheaper.

Widgets have become popular in the SEO space recently. As more sites add social function will widgets continue to grow in popularity, or will they fade out? How important is it to integrate your site with social networks?

Widgets will continue to grow as long as the functions they add are useful. People like cool things such as social functions, but as they stop providing value people will remove them. The ones that do provide value will continue to grow.

I think it is very important to integrate your site with social networks because it turns your website into a community. This way you will be able to better understand your visitors and you will be able to get to know them on a personal level.

OpenSocial and other APIs are trying to help small sites bolt social aspects on to their sites. For a small company do you think it is more effective for them to blog, or create a community of sorts using something like Google Friend Connect or Ning? When do you prefer blogs? When do you prefer forums or social networks? When do you prefer not adding any social stuff but rather tapping into other social networks? What types of sites should have social aspects to them?

I think it is important for companies to do both, but I would first start off with a blog. Blogs have become common and more businesses are starting to use them. It is a great way to communicate to your client base as well as potential clients. And most importantly blogs are a tool that allows you to share your knowledge with the masses.

As for communities, it is usually effective to use them when you have tons of traffic or a large user base. If your company is just starting off, or if you are just starting a new site, it is probably not wise to make your site too social. The reason for this is because there will be very little use of your social features without a strong user base. And if you still want social features even if you are just starting out, I would leverage other social networks so you can tap into their user base.

When it comes to forums or social networks, I prefer forums when it comes to sharing knowledge between users. If you are trying to create interaction between users social networks do a better job.

Lastly, almost any site could use social features. But before you add them you need to make sure these features will benefit your users instead of just creating noise. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Do you ever see usage data and social voting taking the place of links as the backbone of Google's relevancy algorithms? Or do you feel much of that data is already reflected in linkage data?

I think much of that data is already reflected in linkage data. If you think about the sites that people most use or the sites that people vote for on the social web, they are the ones that usually have thousands of links. The sites that don’t do well on the social web or are not often used, usually don’t contain tons of links.

You were ahead of the curve on the social media and linkbaiting stuff a few years back. Where are you looking now? What should online marketers really be looking out for in the next couple years? Where should we focus our efforts?

Currently I am looking at the social networks and analyzing their growth rate. Social networks are growing at an extremely high viral rate, and why shouldn’t normal sites also experience that growth rate. I think marketers should look at the social web and see how we can bring those same principles to the rest of the web.

Digg, Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and Reddit and just the tip of the iceberg. If applications on Facebook can get a few hundred million pageviews, there is no reason why more websites can’t experience that traffic level. And more importantly as sites like Facebook grows they have a strong understanding of their user base, due to the data they are collecting. If we can collect Facebook type of data for all the sites on the web it will allow them to grow their traffic faster and more importantly increase their bottom line. I know this easier said than done, but hopefully it will happen sooner or later.

Thanks Neil!

Interview of Kevin Lee From Didit

Kevin Lee is the CEO of the search engine marketing firm Didit and an engaging speaker at many search conferences. While he loves his PPC, he also sells SEO videos on his personal blog. We recently chatted back and forth via email, and decided it would be a good idea to do an interview. Here are the questions I asked Kevin and his answers.

A recent report from a SEM firm highlighted that 55% of their clicks from the search portion of Yahoo! Search Marketing do not come from Yahoo! Search, but from syndication partners. Does that number sound high to you?

Yes, based on the last time I looked. I don’t have the latest HTTP referrer analysis handy, but I recall that the last time I looked the percentages varied rather dramatically by industry and keyword due to the fact that many of the domain traffic sources end up being lumped in as search. However, I’m not sure if that SEM had content turned on to get YPN traffic.

Why hasn't Yahoo! made it easier to opt out of syndication like Google has?

Yahoo has made some small progress in this direction but for the main search function it may have resisted the opt-out functionality for some combination of the following:

  1. Once you leave Yahoo, their network becomes highly distributed. Unlike Google which could at least hypothetically provide specific opt-in/out control or even bid boost-depression control on AOL and ASK, Yahoo doesn’t have any mega-search partners.
  2. The technological work in facilitating an opt-out system is significant and Yahoo has had its hands full with a bunch of other things
  3. They may be concerned about a mass-opt-out which would result in revenue drops at both Yahoo and their syndication partners resulting in a likely loss of those syndication partners upon deal-renewal.
  4. They may believe rightly or wrongly that not enough marketers would be interested in taking advantage of that functionality or care to exercise that level of control

It’s my opinion that Yahoo should certainly dedicate additional technology resources to the search-side of the business.

Yahoo! has the syndication that can't be opted out from, and by default Google opts advertisers into everything. And then there is broad match which might be a bit broad for some advertisers. It seems the networks almost have an "ignorance tax" which hurt many small advertisers who do not know any better. Each cool new feature they add works as a bonus for firms like Didit, while working against people new to the field. At what budget scale does it make sense to start looking for outsourced help?

I agree that the current ecosystem has an ignorance tax. However, one could make the same argument about nearly every form of marketing. Paid search can of course get particularly complex when one looks at all the targeting, segmenting and bidding levers available. As to the outsourcing issue. I think many marketers and agencies consider the idea of outsourced search a binary decision. It’s actually a continuum, more like the areas of legal work. A mid-to-large firm may have in-house legal counsel yet often still outsources certain work based on a variety of factors including how critical the issue is as well as whether they think their in-house team can handle it from either a production or skill level basis. Search is the same way. Some of our clients outsource everything to us, others use our managed technology option which we offer only to specific marketers where we believe that their in-house team can handle production and most of the strategy.

So, I’d urge any marketers that feels like they are missing either opportunities or perhaps running a wasteful campaign due to strategic issues, inferior campaign management technology, poor analytics or simply the fact that they can’t get the vast amounts of production work done to investigate partnerships that will help them achieve maximum overall profitability.

Also, when thinking about outsourcing, consider that technology can help ease a big chunk of the production burden, but someone still has to do the blocking and tackling within a campaign. In nearly every case, you get what you pay for (or less than you paid for), but rarely does one get more than one is paying for when it comes to production work.

In a number of past interviews you have highlighted that advertising has the ability to drive search volume. Does advertising that drives search volume typically drive it mainly for brand related queries? Does the value of the average search end up increasing or decreasing when search volume is build via advertising?

Advertising, PR and marketing of all sorts generally spikes brand keyword traffic to the largest degree. However, depending on the message of the advertising and the industry category, it may drive a significant lift in generic volume. As you might expect, that results in some really interesting opportunities to take advantage of volatility in keyword-search volume across a broad spectrum. It also make media mix modeling of search particularly tricky since you may have to add in external variables other than your own marketing/advertising.

Generally there aren’t major changes in the conversion rates when search was stimulated by advertising vs other factors. The reality is that most search was stimulated by some external factor. People don’t sit bolt upright at 3AM saying to themselves that they need to search for an “Alaskan cruise vacation.”

Speaking of brand, when is it beneficial to bid on brand related queries? What bid strategies make sense on brand related queries if the brand already dominates the organic search results?

Thus far in all the experiments and test we’ve conducted brand bidding is still worth doing even when the organic result is #1. Often to get the highest combined ROI the offer/landing page needs to be different. With universal search and the continued evolution of personalized search results within Google there’s an increasing likelihood that brand bidding will be a net-positive even after cannibalization if factored in. The increase in ROI and profit is more dramatic if others are bidding on the brand, but surprisingly even in instances where the brand is the only paid advertiser, it still generally is worth bidding. However, it’s something I’d always recommend structuring testing and experimentation around.

John Battelle believes that "brands are conversations," and is pushing something he calls conversational marketing. Do you think this movement will make a big impact on the web? Have you used the strategy for any of your clients?

I’m not sure I’d call it a “movement” more than any other scheme or analysis of marketing is a movement. Consumers have conversations about brands. Conversations about brands, problems and solutions stimulate search behavior. One can of course try to be present within conversations directly (which is a non-trivial problem), try to insert one’s brand into existing conversations (dangerous if it is done wrong) or simply wait patiently in the SERP for the curiosity of the consumer to manifest itself in search. I’m going overboard to make a point, but, the challenge for the marketer is determining the marginal value that any conversation has in moving the consumer closer to a purchase. That challenge holds true for any marketing or advertising. Increases in early brand metrics only matter if the consumer either purchases themselves or influences others to purchase.

In a number of your columns you have talked about search and the buying cycle. What strategies do you find most effective for early stage searches? How do those strategies compare to brand keywords and other keywords with more purchase intent?

Even on late stage keywords, clearly the vast majority of searchers don’t convert, at least not online. Other than a couple of instances with brand keywords, I can’t recall conversion rates even approaching 50%. So, the first hurdle for the search marketer is to get the CMO on-board with the idea of targeting a larger pool of non-immediate converters. It still makes sense to take every incremental marketing dollar and go after the next segment of converters. It’s trick is to understand the marginal value of each click based on conversion profiles and then you’ll know the best way to work back the buying cycle toward awareness and consideration while still capturing those consumers who were open to converting in the near term. Clearly the messaging in ads and landing pages may need to migrate a bit as one moves away from simply harvesting demand to helping influence the consumer during earlier stages of the buying cycle.

For a person short on budget running a small campaign, are the tools provided by the search ad networks adequate? Are there any other budget analytics or PPC tools that are surprisingly good? Would you suggest trusting sending your conversion data to Google Analytics?

Even for small marketers, I think one can make the case for the value of third-party analytics and technology. There are clearly reasons why one might not want the advertising seller to know the conversion data, but the issue is even broader than that. In a world where one of the next big frontiers is behavioral targeting, do you really want to give the traffic sellers BT data that might be exploitable at some point down the road?

Several firms are attacking the small marketer market with respect to search. One promising upcoming candidate is Clickable.com. They are technically still in beta I believe, but their mission is admirable.

A lot of affordable competitive research tools (like Compete.com, KeyCompete, Keyword Spy) have been launched in the past few years. Have you compared any of these to the higher priced services? Are these competitive research tools giving smaller players a chance, or are they only working to consolidate traffic for the largest market players?

We license the raw comScore data and have built internal tools and reports that have been quite valuable. I’ve experimented with many of the other services and the biggest problem with most of them for smaller marketers is that as one moves into the tail, data validity drops. So, ironically some of these tools are more useful for larger marketers than smaller ones.

comScore data has shown Google has been displaying ads against a smaller set of their total search queries over the last year. Does that trend surprise you? Might it go the other direction at some point?

There’s no point in showing ads if the ads aren’t sufficiently relevant. However as all of us know, Google uses both the carrot and the stick to drive marketers towards higher relevance in the PPC portion of the SERPS. As marketers build out content and ads to take advantage of this fact, it is quite conceivable that the ratio of paid to organic results could reverse itself and we see both more ads and more ads showing up above the organic results.

Have you found business models that do not do well with search? Or businesses that have done better than expected? What are some key signs and metrics for knowing if a business model works well with search?

Arbitrage doesn’t work as well as it used to. At some level of scale, one can get almost any business to work, but doing well requires that you have some advantages in your business over the competition. After all, economically speaking once everyone is making rational bid decisions (which may not happen for a while) if your competition have huge cost or profitability advantages over you even the best bidding strategies will have to cede them top position in many cases due to their inherent advantages.

In this video interview with Sage Lewis you talk about how with scale it is easy to break through many efficiency plateaus. What are some of the most common issues holding back new advertisers (or old advertisers with broken strategy)?

Ahh, the old logo and the frog. I miss them sometimes.

The most common thing I see is a failure to accurately predict their missed opportunities. Waste can be found in campaigns fairly easily but missed opportunities are difficult to quantify. So, they are usually significantly underestimated. As you well know, this is a challenge with organic SEO as well. Lack of the right technology of course cripples the marketer from executing on many of the strategies that would bring increase profit and scale. Lack of sufficient production capability is also a huge hurdle. If you never get around to the account reorgs ad testing, landing page testing or the keyword expansions you’ll continue to miss those opportunities.

Lack of education as you pointed out ends up also being a huge issue for new advertisers.

The Google AdWords blog had a post titled Websites that may merit a low landing page quality score. Some thin affiliates have been slapped with $10 minimum bids on every keyword, and can not profitably buy any traffic from Google. It seems Google is trying to clean up their ad network on some fronts, and yet they showed my wife an ad for cheating lonely housewives. If Google openly discriminates in their pricing models based on how well they like the business model of the advertiser, are they endorsing the ads that they allow to run for months and years? That lonely cheating wives ad was publicly referenced last November and the ad is still running.

I think Google continues to put most of its relevance efforts into its own SERP. If some irrelevant ads show up in the contextual network, unless the publisher complains, there’s not really damage to the Google brand among consumers.

As an SEO, in my experience, the complexity of the ranking algorithms and the amount of money needed to reliably rank in Google keeps increasing the opportunity cost of ranking in the organic search results (unless there is a healthy dose of public relations, brand building, promotion, community participation, and traditional marketing in that SEO mix). In a couple of past interviews you (at least to some extent) equated SEO to spam (or at least used both words in close proximity). Do you still think that SEOs have control over Google or do you see Google gaining more leverage in the relationship?

I’ve probably been taken out of context somewhat. However, I firmly believe that in the log run, Google, Yahoo and MSFT will police both their organic and their paid search listings (not so much contextual and behavioral) to assure relevance. That means that if you start to engage in SEO and you couldn’t make a credible argument as to why you in fact are the most relevant to a room full of strangers then you probably will get booted from the SERPS even if you used black-hat SEO to successfully manipulate yourself to the top. It’s not so much about leverage, as it is about tools Google could conceivably use to gauge relevance that they may not be using now. For example, the toolbars you see proliferating could watch post-click behavior and that could be combined with click-back percentages (those who abandon the top-listed site returning to the SERP) to flush out results that are not particularly relevant in comparison to others.

Marketers without the rankings their content deserves should absolutely invest in SEO. Those with the ability to create additional great content that ranks well should similarly invest. However, the one key thing is that when it comes to SEO, as with Public Relations, expectations need to be reasonable. If an SEO practitioner (in-house or outsourced) promises results that Matt Cutts would likely grade as poor quality SERPs well, then even in the unlikely instance where success was attained with white-hat methods there is clear risk that those results will be temporary.

One of my favorite SEO strategies is to use PPC to drive traffic to key pages for link building. What are your favorite PPC strategies that are rarely talked about, and do you use an SEO techniques to augment your paid search campaigns?

Actually your strategy is interesting, because it partially explains why relevant sites in the organic results often remain there. They get lots of traffic, some of those visitors blog, and even if one out of 1000 visitors links-in, that process creates a really sticky feedback loop for PageRank generation.

People rarely talk about geotargeting and dayparting. Both are favorites of mine. I’m a big fan of any segmentation analysis and cluster modeling that helps marketers cherry-pick the very best clicks from the stream of possibilities.

I advise clients to train their webmasters on SEO basics and best practices because if they are in fact relevant, perhaps some of their existing visitor stream will blog and can help cement better organic position.

Didit is one of the most well known and respected brands in the PPC space. What were some of the keys to growing into your market position?

Being around for a dozen years doesn’t hurt. However, putting the client’s success first is really the key. That forces us to innovate and also puts the pressure on us to provide the right level of service given the relationship. Many people also seem to appreciate our passion for the industry. We do a ton of speaking, writing and are involved in trade associations.

PPC ad networks, like search engines, have many publish guidelines. Some of which are loosely enforced, and some may erode profit to follow. Have you ever recommended to a client that they ignore such policies? Have you ever fought a search engine's policies and got them to change them?

We encourage marketers who have an issue with a guideline to understand the reason he guideline exists. That helps predict the likelihood of enforcement if something is perhaps in the grey zone and a policy might end up being tested. Similarly, that same understanding is key is attempting to get a policy changed or an exception made.

Thanks Kevin!

NFFC Interview 3 Years Later

I just came across an interview of NFFC from 3 years ago. It is just as good today as it was back then...maybe even better.

Interview of Nicholas Carr on The Big Switch, Blogging, & the Internet

I recently finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch, and as a longtime fan of his Rough Type blog asked if he would be up for doing an interview. He said sure, and here is the interview.

What is The Big Switch about?

It's about the interplay between technology and economics and how it influences the way people live and work. I look at how the electric grid transformed industry and society a hundred years ago, which is a cool story in itself, and then I use that story as a way to explain the similar shift that's going on today with computing, as software applications and data storage shift onto the Internet's computing grid. I argue that the rise of "cloud computing," as it's called, will also have far-reaching social, cultural, and business effects - some good, some bad.

What inspired you to write The Big Switch?

It's been clear to me for a number of years that the Internet was going to transform computing - to turn it into a kind of centrally supplied utility. I guess I just wanted to put that shift into a broader context for readers, a historical and economic context as well as a technological context.

The web empowers many individuals. Yet in spite of all this innovation, the middle class in the United States is hollowing out. Why is that? As individuals how can we protect ourselves from that trend?

People with computers and Internet connections have enormous new opportunities to express themselves, and a smaller set of people have also gained new economic opportunities thanks to the Net. But I don't see any sign that the economic opportunities are being widely spread, as they were with industrialization in the last century. I think what we're seeing, in fact, is that software can take the place of labor on a broad scale without creating large new pools of attractive jobs. That's one of the main reasons the middle class has been stagnant in recent years and the divide between the very rich and everyone else has been growing ever wider. As the cost of computing continues to fall, software-based automation will only expand and accelerate. There will still be lots of good opportunities for individuals - the ranks of the rich are bigger than ever - but for the middle class in general things will likely get tougher.

With the publishing economy becoming more attention based, will most writing come in chunks so small and so fast that they lack context and the bigger picture? If so, how could this trend be reversed?

I think it's quite clear that the Internet is training our minds to take in information in quick bursts and that in turn we're slowly losing our ability to maintain the concentration and patience necessary to read extended pieces of writing. This is a phenomenon that many people who use the web a lot have noticed. I think we're probably at the start of a major shift in cognition, and I doubt it's reversible.

Sometimes I read TechMeme and 100 claimed thought leaders are all agreeing on the same thing. Then the next day (or sometimes two days later) you write about how all of them are wrong, and then 2/3 of them agree with you. What makes your contrarian blogging so captivating and buzz-worthy?

The wisdom of crowds is, I think, greatly overrated. Crowds are usually full of crap. So if you see a blog mob happily racing off in one direction, you can be pretty sure that if you go the opposite way you'll find something interesting.

TechMeme, by the way, is a great site to visit if you want to get a quick read on what's going on at the moment in the Internet end of the technology world. But it's a very dangerous site to spend a lot of time on if you're a tech blogger. It narrows your view and promotes rapid-fire me-too-ism. It's better to try to seek out interesting new sources of information, to give yourself some space to think rather than just reacting.

Some bloggers have called you cynical, but many of them fail to see connections that you easily make. What makes it so easy for you to identify relationships that others miss?

I don't really know. Being open to a broad set of influences is important, I think. To me, what's fun about writing - and about thinking, for that matter - is making unexpected connections. When most people write, they get very earnest. They approach writing as if it were work. It's better to be playful, to let your mind and your sentences take chances.

Is user generated content an answer to anything, or does it only accelerate the diminishing content quality problem?

People write blogs and upload photos and videos and tag content because they enjoy it. It gives them satisfaction. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But user-generated content does not exist in a vacuum. It competes with other content, and because it's cheap to produce and usually given away free it has a big market advantage. You have to ask yourself what's going to be crowded out of the market - what good stuff are we going to lose. A lot of people seem to think that new digital media represents a break from mainstream mass media. I don't see it that way. I think new media represents a continuation of mass media and a further amplification of some of mass media's worst qualities.

You mentioned studies about political blogs in The Big Switch. From those studies, it seems links, attention, and readership seemed confined and self-reinforcing in some ways. How may search engines (and other gate-keepers) promote the creation of balanced content when people typically vote for content that is aligned with their biases and identities?

That's a good question, but I don't have a good answer. I think what we're going to see is greater personalization in search and other filtering and navigation tools, and in time that will tend to further reinforce biases and push people to have less sympathy for views that are different from their own. I think media personalization is good for search engines and advertisers. I don't think it's a great thing for society.

Some publishing companies already use profit potential to guide what types of content they create and what topics they cover. Could this create a thinning out in many important fields where the economic viability of the publishing in the field is limited?

In the long run, all for-profit publishers are influenced by profit potential. How could they not be? That's not meant as any kind of criticism of journalistic ethics. It's just a simple observation that production shapes itself to the market. So, looking again at the longer term, you can expect that the combination of unbundled content and precisely targeted advertising will mean that some types of content, including some times of very serious, very worthy content, will fall by the wayside or be shunted to a small elite. We may come to look back fondly on the days of bundled content and lots of cross-subsidies.

How far will the shift to publishing profitable topics go. Might we see a weekly (or daily) NYT story on Viagra?

I think it will be more subtle than that, at least for the top papers. What we'll see is a slow but meaningful change in what's published and how it's published as publications adapt to the new modes of information consumption among readers and the new expectations of advertisers.

I just added a subscription based service to access parts of my website. Do you see publishing shifting to charging less for content (using content for marketing) and charging more for interaction? In what areas may selling content without interaction be a viable business model 20 years from now?

I think there will always be niche markets where specialized content carries a high value, and printed books and magazines will probably continue to sell well for a good long time. But for most online publishing, including interactive publishing, a subscription fee is an awfully hard sell.

Increasingly we let machines make decisions for us, which on the surface simplifies things. But what are the hidden costs?

When you let machines take over parts of your thinking, you start to think like a machine. This is the greatest danger posed by the Net. Computers get a little smarter, we get a little dumber, and eventually we meet somewhere in the middle.

Do you feel you have a health records problem, or was Google's recent move into the space guided by profit potential? At some point will people refuse to use the data hoarding ad networks?

There's a huge health records problem - a fatal problem for some unfortunate folks. I think Google sees this as a problem to solve, a problem well suited to its own expertise. I applaud them for their ambition. But I think that using health records as a platform for advertising is dangerous and unethical, and so while I don't doubt Google's good intentions I am very suspicious of how its program will actually play out.

If I was new to the web and wanted to write for a living, where would you suggest I start? What was key to helping you becoming a great writer?

First of all, thank you for the compliment. I think the best way to learn to write well is to read a lot, particularly when you're young and impressionable. If you want to write for a living on the web, your best bet is to find a niche market that's attractive to advertisers, start a blog, and then work like hell. You'll still probably fail, but you never know.

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Thanks Nick. If you would like to read more from Nick please check out his Rough Type blog. Go buy The Big Switch today as well, I promise you will like it.

But Will it Pass a Hand Check?

A recurring theme in the 2008 link development panel was hand checks and the editorial nature of search, especially from Roger. Great article well worth a read. Thanks Rae!

Interview of Eli from Blue Hat SEO.com

I have been a longtime reader and fan of BlueHatSEO.com, and recently asked Eli for an interview. He said sure, and here it is.

What is your background? What got you into SEO?

I started around '95-'96. I had a lot of interest in music and games and stuff so I created a couple sites related to stuff I normally really enjoy and download a lot. I got in good company with a few guys who ran hosting and colocation companies who made quite a bit of money so naturally my focus started shifting towards how I can make as much as they do. From there it kind of spurred into researching and developing traffic generation and search engine related stuff in an effort to keep up with these guys who had quite a bit more resources and money than my broke ass did. From there it kind of escalated and apart from a short break in college I've been doing it ever since.

You have many original posts on your blog highlighting many interesting techniques I have never heard shared publicly before. How do you come up with all your new ideas?

Thanks, even though they seem pretty generalized and polished many of the techniques I talk about are developed from either a problem I've had to solve in the past or stuff I've encountered while dabbling in specific industries. For instance bloggers as an industry have a multitude of resources and methods they use to promote their blogs. While a lot of their techniques may seem like common sense to them and are well formed over years of experience and others fine tuning it, their methods and resources may not be so obvious to people in other industries. It's fairly safe to say that I have ADD when it comes to jumping around in various niches and markets so I get a good variety of the unique ways each one markets their sites. While it may be standardized stuff to them, many of the techniques can be spun and with a little creative twist can be applied to any other form of generic sites. So while many of the techniques may create a Why didn't I think of that moment, most are well practiced and many marketers within the specific industries they came from know no other ways of doing it. I just kind of twist them and collaborate them into a methodology anyone can use based on my own experiences and how I've applied them to my sites. Eitherway none of the techniques I talk about ever negatively affects my actual business and I usually have the techniques spun an even better way before I give out the old way.

Isn't the value of many aggressive SEO ideas inversely proportional to the number of people using them? What makes you decide what ideas to share and when to share them?

In many cases that's absolutely correct. I've shared several techniques that have died within days of posting them. Just to list a few examples, my Abandoned Wordpress series, Wikipedia Series, and Amazon.com exploits. In all these cases I know before I ever post it that it'll die moments after I do. So most of the time I'll post it out of greed. They are usually techniques I've been using for several years and have since retired them out and quit using them. Naturally with any technique others are bound to figure it out. When I start seeing them popup underground and are being used against me in increasing numbers when I'm no longer using them myself I might as well wreck it. There's a saying; If you're going to wreck a room, you might as well WRECK IT. So in those rare cases when a retired technique starts becoming this annoying little buzz in my ear I might as well squash it and help out a few of my readers at the same time. Win-win if you ask me. Most of my other techniques on the other hand are scalable and free range. I develop them to last, so whether I'm the only one doing it or everyone else on the net is doing it they're not something that can get stopped only suppressed. Often times through saying stuff like Don't do that, its sneaky and we don't like it. Existing propaganda and inherent difficulties in the technique itself usually take care of the rest and help weed out the people who just read for entertainment. There are a few people however that have been reading since the very beginning and after every single post actually do every technique and report back to me through email. They'll be the first to testify that the techniques almost never die, and just because many people know about them doesn't mean everyone is actually using them.

What are QUIT and SQUIRT? Is your system fairly scalable? What types of risks are associated with using them? What types of site should I consider using them on?

QUIT stands for Quick Indexing Tool and SQUIRT stands for Super Quick Indexing & Ranking Tools. My office is filled with wacky and weird acronyms. QUIT is the free one that basically employs several hands off indexing techniques I've developed over the years. It helps get the submitted site crawled by the search engines very quickly, and often times indexed within a day or two. It works off a very simple principle. How many ways can you think of to attract a search engine bot to a specific url? Make a list...figure out a way to do each one with a hands off approach (can't modify the site). You got yourself a Quick Indexing Tool. :) SQUIRT is the paid version and works much the same way. It employs all the techniques QUIT does plus a few extras that aren't scalable, so the membership must be limited. It also goes one step further and develops a bit of link worth to the site to ease it into better deep indexing and rankings. Lastly, it uses analysis of the site to counter a few shortcomings through hands off methods. Just as an example, if a page of the site doesn't have the targeted keywords in its title, then give that page a few backlinks with the keywords as the anchor text. Stuff like that. Most of it is very simple, there's just a lot of it in play at once.

If search did not exist what do you think you would be doing right now?

Lol, I'd be super sizing your Value Meal.

Currently it appears as though Google is heavily focused on domain age and authority. Do you see them staying this way for a long time? Does improving automated content generation technology make it hard to move away from domain authority? Where do you see them going next with their relevancy algorithms?

I'm going to have to politely disagree with that. I think Google is moving in the opposite direction. More towards LSI technology and content relevancy as it pertains to the domain as whole much like Yahoo has been trying to pull off for many years. I think the direction switch started taking place when MSN came out with its own engine. While MSN focuses heavily on age as it pertains to their index rather than actual domain age back when it first opened it had a very young and growing index. So the rankings were more determined by keyword relevancy. So there was a brief period where MSN had all these really nice fresh sites and while rankings were much easier to come by they had fresh results with newly updated content and newer sites with better information. Meanwhile Google, who was relying heavily on DMOZ (as a basic prerequisite for rankings) was finding themselves with SERPS that had a bunch of old stagnant abandoned sites. This was very apparent if you were developing sites in aged industries such as Real Estate. Just three years ago if you had a real estate site, no matter how good it was, it was constantly outranked by old agent cookie cutter sites, and unless your site was at least a year old it would have a hard time even popping into the top 100 for its keywords. Now you can see things moved in quite a bit different direction. You can get a site competing in an aged niche just as easily as long as the content fits properly and in a much shorter time (3-8 months as apposed to a full year minimum in certain cases). I do agree and see authority as a big issue though. Fortunately authority can be replicated and pushed. I did a post awhile back called SERP Domination that talked about ways to push authority and get a brand new site to compete in highly competitive niches. I think improving your automated content plays a big part in that.

Google is starting to move away from being a search engine toward being a content host. How do you see this affecting the future of spamming Google?

Absolutely. There is a breaking point in Google becoming a content host, which I'm certain is their overall goal. As long as they can reward the contributors with increased traffic to their site (ie. -negative rankings..above the top listing like with google base products) people will be willing to donate content to them. I for one will testify that Google Base is very difficult to spam on a mass level as apposed to their search. This is due to the fact that they have a very good hands on antispam team and their content levels are low enough for human checks to be possible. The way I see it is, as their content hosting efforts increase, so will the possibilities for spamming them on a mass scale. It's just a matter of time. Until then, I limit my spamming of them at a level just below getting caught. At the moment, unlike Adsense, their multiaccount banning capabilities are very well done and to be frank it works out well for them. Their content is very good and in all objectiveness very well kept as far as spam goes.

I have never done much overtly black hat SEO. I was not good at programming when I got on the web and after I had been online for a few years I decided to try to build things that can grow logarthimically. Can black hat techniques grow logarthmically? Do you have any strong branded sites to stabelize your income if the black hat streams come and go? How many different website marketing techniques do you use at any given time?

With beautiful domains like blackhatseo.com and seobook.com theres no doubt in my mind you have a nack for predicting the next big things in the industry. If I were you I wouldn't bother with black hat either. You obviously got it made with the skills you already have. I do preach a lot about programming and building sites through autogeneration. In fact a lot of people consider my style Code SEO. I have quite a few very high profile sites, you've probably heard of them and they do bring in good money but I don't ever really talk about them. I like to diversify my investments because not every investment is solid. As far as my blackhat network goes it is actually as solid as it gets. It's very rare when a black hat site of mine gets banned and if you saw one unless you have a really well trained eye you'd probably have a very hard time knowing it was black hat. Thats just part of the investment though. The more legit you can make things appear while autogenerating it the more income you can squeeze out of it in a site's lifecycle.

What is the longest timeframe you have seen an overt black hat site rank for in the various engines? How much have the lifespans of these types of sites changed over the past 5 years?

I think the lifespans of black hat sites increase as your skillsets increase. I have some black hat networks that are still around now and bringing in income and gosh I don't even remember when I made them. Thats also why I talk a lot of "hosted black hat sites" on orphan subdomains and such. Like in my recent SEO Empire post. They really help when making the obvious ones stick. I usually stick to the rule of thumb, if you can mimic the footprints of white hat sites and minimize the footprints of blackhat sites than theres no reason why they shouldn't last forever. Search engines can only ban a footprint that no legitimate sites use. So if you're interested in starting blackhat, as long as you stick by that principle you'll be just fine as far as investments go.

Are there some markets that are too competitive for automated marketing? How do you do successful black hat SEO in hypercompetitive markets like mortgage or insurance?

I don't personally compete in competitive black hat dominated markets, like you mentioned mortgages and pharmaceuticals and such. I feel a little more secure with my black hat sites roaming around the longtailed phrases and localities. It's just a matter of putting in the extra effort which in those cases I'm too set in my ways to sit down and accomplish. I know several people who do strictly that and make a very good living, but I personally have no strong opinions on the matter. So I leave those markets to the pros and if I want to get competitive I use my white hat sites to do it.

Do you do much client work? Have any AdSense sites? Do you mostly rely on affiliate commissions? Have any infoproducts or more tools coming out? What business model do you see as the best source of growth for established SEOs? What segment do you think looks best for new webmasters?

I've never done any client or paid SEO work. I couldn't imagine a worse form of hell to be honest :) I do answer a lot of questions privately though, or at least as many as I have time for. I have lots of adsense sites. I do mostly affiliate marketing and CPC, but I've spent a couple years of my career building actual ecommerce sites. Other than additions to SQUIRT I really don't have any new webmaster related products coming out. I had a few ideas I set into motion but it may be a looong time before they actually come around. I would like to do more though, but I'm afraid of spreading myself too thing. Internet Marketers as I'm sure you're well aware of can be very demanding of ones sanity. When it comes to business models though I wrote a post called SEO Empire. It is MY business model. I've always wanted to write a detailed article on web investments and that's probably as close as it comes to making me happy.

Given the offline macroeconomic trends and trends online what high growth markets do you think are currently less competitive than they should be?

Well of course I'd have to couple trademarked markets into that group, such as myspace, facebook, digg and such. As long as they are working hard to knock down the big boys in the coattailing markets theres always room for new growth. The biggest market I see right now that no one has yet to figure out a good way of capitalizing on is web episodes and webtv. Theres sites like tv-links and other show specific sites that give out streaming episodes of tv shows and movies that are in constant danger of copyright infringement and being shut down by their hosts. More often than not these types of sites get more traffic than they can handle very quickly just because they are in such high demand. Even just putting up a simple site for a small anime type show with all the current episodes available to stream can drive thousand of visitors a day within a month or two of being brand new. The only problem the industry has to figure out is how to keep from getting shut down and attacked constantly. This just goes in line with a theory I've started pushing my own company towards quite a few years ago that television and the Internet are increasingly having an effect on each other.

You seem to be quite outspoken about there being many scams and a lot of hype in the SEO market, complete with A lists and all that sort of stuff. Do you ever see these trends changing? Are these niche specific, or just a reflection of general social structures that cross all lands and industries?

Yeah thats definitely a topic I feel very passionately about. I think scams and hype only exist where theres opportunity. Our industry just happens to have a ton of opportunities for it to flourish. I just try to do my part, step up the plate and make a difference. I take it to a bit of an extreme though by attempting to cover the Advanced SEO topic which is kind of like the Antarctica of SEO, most know its there but how many have actually seen it talked about? The reality is, all I'm doing is making changes by example. I'm saying this is how I want SEO blogs to be like, the spirit can be applied to just about any aspect of our industry including newbie material. Persistently, instead of using the success of it to promote myself or advertisers I use it to promote other likeminded blogs. Many small blogs have made it big and exploded over night just by showing they have what it takes by writing a guest post on Blue Hat and getting it published. Thats where I'm seeing this trend go every day. I really don't think it'll be very much longer before the bloggers that work torwards being helpful start really showing that they are truly taking over. You can see the gurus that establish their expertise by bragging rather than showing are starting to slope and decline to make room for those that are mimicking the helpful spirit. It's just a matter of time and I think it'll come faster than people imagine :)

I am new to online marketing...what books, articles, blog posts, and blogs should I start reading?

Lol, ass kissing aside, i really do send nearly all new people to the industry that talk to me to SEOBook. SEO book gives it out clearly and explains the stuff they need to know. Everywhere else tends to be flooded with bait and switch tactics and misinformation that leads them to the exact opposite direction they should be going. Not only is it a good resource but it's miles ahead of the other blogs and books trying to attract "offer fillers." <- my affectionate term for John Chow readers (my words not Aarons). I also like several blogs where the writer is not only talented but is also in the thick of the industry just like his/her readers and trying to make his way. For instance JonWaraas.com does a great job candidly talking about his experiences and what he's learning at the moment. He's also cool enough to share his sites with you. A great step from there might be the late NetBusinessBlog.com where the new writer and past talk about nice little techniques that range anywhere from intermediate to advanced and are always a great read. Also can't go without mentioning EarnersBlog.com, busin3ss.name, and professionalmiddleman.com.

I am new to the web...when should I consider quiting my job to be a full time marketer/webmaster? What are the biggest attributes I need to succeed online in today's market.

By all means please eat. Three out of every four projects I develop fail overall. As a new person to the business expect to do much worse, so make sure to take care of yourself first and the business second. The added stress of having to pay bills while developing your business only escalates the toll off the inevitable failures that await you. Thats the beauty of the Internet business. hehe don't just dive into a pool without checking the water first. You can get started without a $100k+ startup cash and tons of risk. You'll still have to work just as hard as any other business startup, you just have the luxury of being capable of starting small. The only quicksand you'll run into is the myth that you can make money in your spare time. Many often figure out, who actually has SPARE time? You have to treat it just like a regular job. Make smart investments in both time and money. Build and escalate until your other job starts to phase out. When you can finally answer both of these questions with a yes you should be good to quit your day job. 1) Does your day job earnings supplement your online earnings? (or is it visa versa). 2) If you suddenly got sick and were taken away from your online work for three months, would you come back to a business that has grown?

What is the best keyword you have ever ranked for? What is the best keyword you ever ranked for using almost nothing but automated mareting free content?

Should have specified a time frame, but since you didn't we'll go old school :)

At one time or another in my career: Music, MP3, Downloads, Freeware, Real Estate, Games, WWW, Homes, Pamela Anderson, Internet, Bikini, Sites and College.

No, sad to say I don't have any sites that still rank for any of those terms. :( But I still do have some very competitive phrases amongst my sites today, they just can't compete with some of the million dollar ones from back in the day when SEO was relatively new.

Have you ever felt a search engineer was lying about something? If so, have you ever called them out on it?

I think we're being lied to about nofollow. Consider this the call out :)

It seems as though large branded sites are able to get away with far more than smaller newer websites can. What tools or features would you like to see search engines make available to help level the playing field? Do you think search engines are more focused on relevancy or profit?

I think they're focused on profit through relevancy, and currently they attempt to accomplish that with authority factors. The playing field isn't level because its designed not to be. I honestly wouldn't want it to become level and fair. I kind of see it as "I don't have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you."

Do you ever see search losing some of its importance? What might replace it?

Webmasters set the pace the web, they always have. What's important to the webmasters becomes important to the users. It was the webmasters that made Google, MSN, and Yahoo important not the other way around. Just throughout history, the moment webmasters quit caring about something it becomes obsolete and forgotten by everyone within no time, the opposite is also true. It's entirely possible that search will lose its importance. I don't see it happening anytime soon, but if the average webmaster gets frustrated enough with them and a good alternative comes out I'm sure it won't take very long from that point before its gone. A good way for them to begin that process might be to hand pick a couple sites like wikipedia and have them conquer every single result...oh wait.

Do you ever see Google losing their dominance? What might replace them?

Going along with the above question, there was a short time in Google's history right before Matt Cutts and Webmaster Guidelines/Tools where they started becoming very secretive about their algorithm and lost nearly all contact with webmasters outside of a submit url button. During that time a whole multitude of search engines and creative forms of search started popping up like crazy. It was like there was a new one almost every day. Some were really fun to play around with. None really had both the form and function that would of inspired a permanent switch for me, but it goes to show how easy it is and I doubt Google will make that mistake again.

Do you feel domains names have large synergies with SEO? I am currently not using the domain names BlackHatSEO.com and WhiteHatSEO.com to their full potential. What do you think I should do with them? What would you do with them if you owned them?

I think domains are a very large factor in SEO and I don't think many will disagree. I was always curious about those domains of yours Aaron. They're awesome. I'm sure you get asked 10 times a day to sell them. Why not throw up forums on them or even mashups? I understand your underuse of them though, I'd be all excited to get them but then I'm certain a hard reality would hit and I'd come up blank for what to actually do with them. I personally would love to some day see an AskABlank SEO site. I'm sure you've seen the format before, its like Ask A Midget(hypothetical, don't go searching for it). Then people get to submit questions and the midget answers and it gets posted publically covering various topics, but with SEO. An idea?

Why BlueHatSEO? Why not another word/color?

Completely, 100% random. I'm not even fond of the color Blue, Green is my fav. If you've ever noticed, the site is extremely generic. Default Wordpress template, No SEO, no link building (never even done a link exchange), no link bait, no nofollow tags, no submissions to social sites, no promoting...absolutely nothing from the very beginning. Very very -by- all definition and to the core... pure white hat. I did it intentionally to make a point. Interesting Trivia For Ya: Can you name the ONE other popular SEO blogger that has also done it? Minus maybe the ridding of nofollow tags. :)

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Thanks Eli. Be sure to check out his blog at Blue Hat SEO.com.

Interview of Debra Mastaler, the Link Guru

While being much less self promotional than others in the same field, Debra Mastaler is nonetheless one of the most well known and creative link builders in the industry. I have wanted to interview her for a long time since she has a unique way of working but she’s hard to pin down and not very good about returning interview questions…

How long have you been doing link building? What did you do before link building?

First, thank you for the nice intro and sorry to have been such a deadbeat about responding. Alliance-Link has been in operation since late 2000, it came about while I owned and operated a directory featuring organic food and clothing. When I started to rank well for a large number of money terms, business owners advertising in my directory asked if I could I help them do “SEO” on their sites. Well, I had no clue what “SEO” was so I started looking around for information and found the now defunct Rank Write newsletter by Jill Whalen and Heather Lloyd Martin. Jill took the time to explain what I was doing and how it influenced a website’s visibility in the search engines and from there, Alliance-Link was born.

Before that I spent 15 years in the marketing department of Anheuser-Busch and four years before that in the Civil Service. Both jobs provided valuable experience in all three of the main marketing segments – sales, promotions and publicity. It was an invaluable experience and a large part of why I work the way I do today. It’s also the reason why I won’t drink anything but A-B products. Buy Bud! Support my 401K!

Do you tend to build links in spurts or at a steadier pace?

Depends on the industry I’m working in. I use a tiered approach where one part of the linking service dovetails into the next or two services work in tandem. That way I increase my chances of attracting more links from different sources and can use the resources from whatever promotion I’ve created multiple times.

For example, if we’re focused on distributing link embedded content I’d build out the host site with a detailed version of the content (complete with photos, video, downloads etc). Much shorter versions would be sent to topical bloggers with a redeemable incentive or freebie for their readers. At the same time we’ll contact key media and announce the new resource. Once both the bloggers and media have been notified we’ll launch a standard press release and email the client’s customer base with an announcement and link incentive. All four tactics run either simultaneously or within days of each other. I am less concerned with attracting large numbers of links in a short period than I am of attracting many of the SAME type links. I try to avoid that.

Are you a fan of paid links?

I’m a fan of good solid links. If I need to pay to get them, then yes, I’m a fan.

But I’m definitely not a fan of the “paid links are evil” discussions going on all over. Google has its guidelines and either you choose to follow them or you don’t. I believe it’s that simple. If you don’t and feel paid links are worth the risk then buyer and seller beware. Search engines aren’t the only link police on the block anymore.

What are the most effective ways to buy links?

Anyway you can that keeps you under the radar!

LOL… It’s trite but true. I like to buy advertising links from large membership based organizations and associations and negotiate their email and mailing lists as part of the deal. This is especially effective for new product launches or rebranding since you can incorporate a special sales offer as part of the link request. Since you’re marketing to businesses belonging to a membership based association, you’ll end up with topically focused links from established companies. It’s the ultimate “link within your industry” tactic.

I also do a lot with paid and traded sponsorships. Find a publicity vehicle in your industry and buy a top sponsor position taking care to negotiate for options like mailing lists and viral email campaigns. A lot of people talk about this tactic in terms of finding a charity to sponsor – and that’s FINE but unless the charity has a national presence you’ll see little return in residual linking. Charities don’t give out donor lists and don’t include private business in mailings and auto responders. Basically, there is little opportunity for viral reach.
I wrote about finding sponsors recently, how to use them to build links and a couple of sources to mine for partnership leads. It might help if you’re interested in this type of link marketing.

Is anchor text still a big deal? Do you ever buy low quality links just for anchor text?

Yes I believe anchor text is still a big deal and yes occasionally I use low quality links for anchors. There are always handfuls on the lists I buy, I can’t help that. As long as they’re in Google’s and Yahoo’s index, its fine and I’ll use them.
I know there is a thought process out there that says – get links from a wide variety of sites since it emulates a natural linking pattern but I don’t purposely design a strategy to include a certain number of low quality links. I figure the scrapers will be by in due time and I’ll see some links from them so that’s enough junk for me.

That said I do keep an eye on the types of sites I’m extending my special promotions to and will eliminate a site from my list if it’s not indexed or hosts links to an objectionable site. For me, this is one of the most time consuming parts of link building – checking partner sites for compatibility.

How do you get focused anchor text while keeping the link profile looking fairly natural?

You make it sound conversational. It’s why using blogs to build links works so well. It’s much easier to embed links into a conversation than a static page.

Do you ever create content as a link building strategy? How do you know which webmasters to target and what ideas are likely to spread?

Well I personally don’t create the content but I do write the marketing plan that recommends what content should be written and the tactics used to promote it. I’m lucky to work with a couple of gifted women writers who NEVER let me get involved with that part of the linking program. I stick to research and linking and let them write.

When I start a job I never know which websites to target, that comes as a result of hours of research and review work before the first link is ever negotiated. I spend almost half my time researching the client’s industry looking for trendsetters as well as the sites getting the most attention and ranking well. The bigger the site the more keywords they have and the longer you have to look.

It’s probably easier to hit the Powerball than to figure out what ideas will spread and net links for a website. I’ve been wrong my fair share of times, sometimes it’s more about being first than being creative.

It’s not beyond me to look at what’s been done before and try to tweak it to fit my client’s products and services. I look for old press releases and articles printed in offline publications for leads as well as scour YouTube for old video. Ideas are only lacking if you give up looking for them.

How do free samples work to build links? If I don't have anything worth talking about how can I get people to want to link to my site

I am always amazed at what people will do for a free tee shirt. I had a client who offered a free company tee shirt to anyone linking to their site. We ran the promotion through their newsletter, email and snail mail list and converted over 22% of the membership. It was a substantial numbers of links.

The offer was simple. Link to us and we’ll send you a shirt. After a year, over half of the links were still in place using the targeted, anchor variations we provided. All for a beefy tee. Go figure!

Getting people to link to a site that has little linkable content means you need to know a good deal about the people who use your products. You might not have anything worthwhile on the site but if you know what motivates your customers you can create a “deal” and provide it as an incentive to link. Talk to your customers and ask what it would take to get them to link to you.

Do you ever recommend going to trade shows or doing anything else offline to build linkage data? What do you do if an industry exists mostly offline?

I’ve never recommended a client attend a trade show as a way to increase their inbound link counts but after thinking about it, it’s not a half bad idea. Anytime you have face-to-face opportunities with the people buying your products you have opportunities to capture links. It could be as simple as saying – “hey, link to us and we’ll give you $100 bucks off our widget” or some other incentive. It’s a passive approach but then you’re not expending any energy or money to get the link so why not?

Industries that exist mostly offline have online counterparts and that’s where I’d start looking for opportunities. Where’s the media covering their niche? Where are the how- to sites and the reference sites covering what they sell? Find those and you’ll find spots to secure links from.

If a client is unwilling to change their site how do you make their site more linkworthy?

If a client refuses to make recommended changes there isn’t much you can do overall except buy your link love. This happens more than you think, a lot of big companies have rules and CEO’s that make it hard if not impossible to change content. I try not to work with these types of accounts, linking is hard enough as it is. Sites like this can also add themselves to the directories and do a little utility linking for inbound links.

Do press releases still work? Are there better ways to garner media exposure?

Yes and yes. Press releases still work at attracting attention, and some are indexed in various media portals but overall they provide little link popularity weight.

I recommend clients buy a subscription from one of the media relations companies like Burrells Luce or Bacon’s. They provide media lists that are constantly updated and categorized by industry making it easy to find the right journalists. They also have a list of editorial calendars for many trade and consumer publications which allows you to submit content for consideration or reserve advertising space in a timely manner.

I also recommend you mine Topix on a continual basis for media contacts as well as basic sales and marketing opportunities. I get more from that site than many others!

Has link building changed at all since web2.0 came about, or are more people now aware of some of the techniques you have been using for many years?

Yes, I believe both linking and society as a whole has changed since Web2.0 has come about. The timing was right for the technology to morph and for the younger generation to be drawn in to push the growth forward. Google became a verb, MySpace the corner hangout and LinkedIn the company water cooler. Throw in the blogosphere as a pastime second only to baseball and yeah, I’d say linking has changed.

Funny thing is – the way I link hasn’t changed. I have more resources at my fingertips and more people to target but in the end, I still have to write the promotion, ask for the link and add it to the site in order for it to count. Even newer tactics like “link bait” need research and review before the first article can be written. So the principles haven’t changed but the vehicles have.

Are there directories media members look for when searching for a contact for a story?

Yes, there are resources out there the media uses when looking for experts in specific fields. Here’s an example:
SheSource.org - “an online braintrust of female experts on diverse topics designed to serve journalists, producers and bookers who need female guests and sources.”

If you’re a verifiable expert in something find resources like the one above and add yourself to them. And I stress “verifiable”; you need work experience, references and education to be considered so get your resume together before you run out beating your chest. No member of the media will use a resource (meaning you) unless they can verify their expertise.

What are 3 of the easiest things a webmaster can do to improve their site credibility and linkability?

There are hundreds but since you asked for 3 of the easiest, here’s what I do:

  1. Survey your customers and ask what they’d like to see on the site and then give it to them. Once you’ve upgraded the site, ask the same customers to link to it.
  2. Add an incentivized “link to us” request in all correspondence (auto responders, confirmation emails, reminders etc). Make the incentive a bounce back to stimulate further sales.
  3. Develop a fully functional resource center. Include all the information about your company and your industry you’d expect to find in an encyclopedia and then add photos, videos and podcasts. Look up what’s been written about your company by others and include that as well. Alert those authors and the media once the resource center is up and running..

I’ve been doing the last one since I started in this business; I call it building a “link library” on your site. It’s a corny old term but it’s the most effective linking attraction tactic I use.

When do link exchange partnerships make sense?

They make sense when you want to deep link using a specific term or if you want to launch an awareness campaign. I’ve always said the power in reciprocal linking isn’t the link as much as it’s the control you have on what it says and where it points. If someone wants to swap links and you agree, look at the page the link will sit on to be sure it’s not one of a hundred. Give the partner site a well worded anchor text link surrounded by carefully crafted verbiage that points to an internal money making page. If the partner site balks at giving you the additional real estate then I say pass on the link. Even well crafted anchor text links can benefit from intro or explanation paragraph around it.

Reciprocal linking also makes sense when it’s done “outside the box”. There are times I’ll offer link space on a client’s site in exchange for space in a mailing (online or off) to introduce a new section/product/service on a site. In this case I’ve swapped placement for exposure. Invariably I’ll see a link or two out of it but the purpose behind that promotion isn’t to build links but to build awareness.

When do business partnerships make sense for link building? How do you leverage someone else's brand to build links for your site?

I just blogged about how to leverage brand to build links on The Link Spiel, the partnership between the two sites mentioned is a classic case of targeted co-promotion. Partnerships can be as simple as donating time to a forum in exchange for signature/content links or can be more structured and formalized like the companies Wallstrip and optionsXpress mentioned in my blog post.

Consider creating an advisory board and invite people you know and respect to be part of a business partnership. Credit their work as you promote yours and you’ll find they’ll link to you.

Directories have fallen out of favor amongst many people on SEO forums. Do they still hold any weight? How do you tell if a directory is worth listing your site in?

Yeah, directory bashing by SEO’s seems to be the rage these days which is funny since so many of the newer ones have been developed by SEO’s.

The concept of “merit based inclusion” is what makes securing links in the better directories desirable. It’s reasoned that search engines bestow hub authority on these sites because human review is necessary before a site is included. And since human review is part of the co citation process search engines are programmed to reward, it stands to reason these types of sites would pass link popularity.

I use directories as a standard part of every link building service I offer and look at a number of things before I’ll submit:

  • Is the page my link will sit on in the Yahoo and Google index? If not, why? Is it something simple like it’s a new page or is something blocking that spider?
  • Does the home page of the directory show PageRank but not the internal pages?
  • Do the directory pages host an inordinate amount of adsense? If they do, I pass. Same applies for site wide links. If there is more than a handful of site wides, I walk.
  • If it’s a paid directory, is it a lifetime or annual submission fee? I go for lifetime with the exception of the Yahoo! Directory which I advocate using if you’re a new business.
  • Do you have to use the name of your business in the anchor text link or will they allow descriptive keywords? If they do, I mix up the keywords and the descriptions.
  • Does the directory allow deep linking?
  • How long has the directory been online? My threshold is two years.
  • Does the directory have an RSS embedded on its category pages? This is a bonus for me as I can keep tabs via keyword settings on new sites being added.
  • And lastly – does the directory allow you to edit submissions? It’s helpful to be able to change your descriptions/anchors to reflect the changes in your business.

I always submit to the “tried and true” directories such as JoeAnt, Ezilon, GoGuides, BOTW, UnCoverThe Net and RubberStamped as well as any niche directories I can find.

And yes, I still try to get into DMOZ provided I find a category editor on the page I want to submit to. Otherwise I don’t bother anymore.

One last tip about using directories…You’ll find a lot of the niche and local directories are hobby sites run by enthusiasts or business owners. Look around these sites for email signup boxes or an indication they publish a newsletter. If they do, write the owner and ask if he’ll resell his mailing list or allow you to place a text link ad in their newsletter. You’ll find it’s an inexpensive way to reach a targeted audience.

When should a company build links in-house? What amount of the link building should they do and when does it make sense to outsource?

A company should be building links the minute their site hits the Web! I recommend a new company use an experienced link building firm to develop a link marketing plan and a detailed analysis of the linking landscape. (Both crucial to move forward). The idea here is to research the linking structures of well ranked sites and determine what helped get them there. Whether you hire a consultant or use in-house staff shouldn’t matter at this point, both would have a first rate link marketing plan to work from.

That said I do believe it’s a good idea to bring in a link building consultant every nine to 12 months to refresh your in-house staff and bring them up to date on what’s working and what’s not. Or - at the very least, keep one on retainer and schedule monthly updates.

Thanks Debra. If you want to learn more about link building check out Debra's blog, The Link Spiel.

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