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