Interview of Neil Patel, Social Media Marketing Legend

May 27th

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!

Published: May 27, 2008

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Comments

May 28, 2008 - 5:13am

A lot of insight in this Q&A, and it's nice to see not only some great answers, but some great questions as well.

Well thought out, and some definite food for thought. As a frequent reader of Neil's blogs (Quicksprout is on my daily read list) I think it's great to get some thoughts on the status quo and what might be coming down the road.

I agree on the opinion on forums, as that's something we've gone back and forth on with our own e-commerce site. If the user base isn't big enough, or active enough, it could do more harm than good - if the forums aren't active, resulting in large time gaps between posts and responses it can give the impression that there isn't much activity or interest.

Keep up the great work.. oh and next time around, how about some deeper insight from Neil on the steps to take to get an American Express "Black". :)

May 28, 2008 - 7:28am

Aaron, sorry for the off-topic, but how can I contact you? I have a bug in the upgraded version of your SEO for Firefox plugin.

May 28, 2008 - 8:03pm

I read most comments posted here :)

May 29, 2008 - 2:16pm

The plugin doesn't show PR, Age of Domain, Y! Links and all the other information for Yahoo SERPs for me :(

May 28, 2008 - 8:35am

Great Q & A and has provided me with some food for thought.

I like the idea of:

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.

May 28, 2008 - 10:22am

Nice interview, but whatever Niel Patel talked about is past, what comes now is future!

My best advice to a client would be do it yourself. Go out there and show the human side of your Business!

Hey Aaron, made a stupid sign a while ago for my blog, but I still have it there, with credits to him.

Why? Because he showed me his human side!

May 30, 2008 - 7:18am

Thanks for the interview Aaron. You asked some very well thought out questions.

Neil makes some very good points and I especially agree with him on the importance of TouTube.

Have you seen the new tool on YouTube? It's a sort of "Analytics" clone that tells you some basic information about who is watching your videos. Quite neat!

It's obvious that Google are now starting to influence YouTube more directly now.

It's called Insight. Not sure if I can post a link to it here but this is the address

http://www.youtube.com/my_videos_insight

Cheers
Mike

May 31, 2008 - 5:05am

Hi Mike
Yes I have checked out the Youtube Insights stuff :)

July 3, 2008 - 3:25am

Hi,

What do you think about the .asia domain?

What is the value?

Choong Leng - from Singapore

July 3, 2008 - 7:58am

I am not a fan of .asia

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