I have a separate section on my blog that features my favorite SEOs around the globe and I try to get as much information as I can from their knowledge and experience.
It’s been a while since I have interviewed anyone but this is because of the client work that keeps me busy all the time. I decided to take some time out of my busy schedule and interview one of the brightest brains in the digital marketing world.
Today, the person I am interviewing is not only my favorite but he is also admired by almost all SEOs who are involved in advanced level SEO and digital marketing. He’s got real passion for search, patents and related stuff. A talented yet very humble person, he is none other than Mr. Bill Slawski, the president of SEO by the Sea.
Hello Sir, I know you are really busy but thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule and answering some of my questions. I will try to make this interview a little different than usual and focus more towards technical questions so that the readers can gain maximum value out of this interview.
So without further ado, here is my first question.
Q1.If you ask any member of my family, they would love to see me as a lawyer; you studied law and then moved towards website building and entered the search industry. What made you move towards the SE0 business instead of pursuing your career as a lawyer?
Thank you for the chance to answer some questions for you.
Before I made the decision to go through the three years of law school, I investigated what it would take to earn an undergraduate degree in computer science. It would have taken me the same amount of time to take the required classes for an undergraduate comp sci degree, if my classes for my English Degree were also counted. But I was seriously considering law school, and I took the LSAT test, and scored well, so I applied to a law school. I ultimately decided upon law school.
Our first year of classes, we could only do research using books in the library, but in the last two, we had virtually unlimited access to LexisNexis. This was a couple of years before the WWW, and I really enjoyed having all that computing power at my fingertips. In my last year, I was a research assistant to an environmental law professor who was doing research on using electronic databases to assess the costs of damages to natural resources – there were a lot of subscription-based services where that kind of information could be found.
After graduating from law school, I started working as the intern for the staff attorney at the largest trial court in the State of Delaware. I ended up staying at the Court for a number of years, first as a legal administrator, and then as a technical administrator. During that time, I helped a couple of friends start a business by building most of a site for them, and then promoting it online. I had picked up a “Learn HTML in 2 Weeks” book, and used it to learn HTML.
This was before Google and even AltaVista were around. When those were launched, we worked to figure out how to rank within them. I found I really enjoyed working within the field, and as the search engines grew and evolved, I worked to keep up.
I learned a lot about the law by working for the Courts, but I decided that I liked working on the Web and the Search Industry much more. I joined an SEO agency in 2005, after being a moderator and an administrator of a forum focused upon Search and Usability and SEO for almost 8 years. A friend from the forum asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in doing SEO for a nearby agency, and I offered myself for the position. I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of businesses and nonprofits since then, and I’m happy with the decision.
Q2. Bill, back in 1996 you started building some websites and then shifted towards SEO; it’s been more than a decade that you have been in this industry. My question is how much do you think SEO has changed over the years?
At its core, the basic ideas behind SEO itself haven’t changed – help the search engines fill the informational and situational needs of searchers. I’ve always focused upon many of the same things as well, such as creating a strong information architecture for a site, making each web page accessible at only one URL, creating content rich and unique pages, and making pages and sites that loaded and rendered quickly.
The first sites I worked on were in legal services industries, and content from those was linked to from other places on the basis of the quality of that content, including in legal papers written by lawyers. But, I’ve learned a lot from looking at patent filings and white papers from the search engines. Search Engines may have focused upon information retrieval-base relevance scores and link analysis based importance scores such as PageRank, but doing things like offering free access to tools such as currency converters and content that couldn’t be found elsewhere works as much now as it did in the 90s.
Search engines have gotten better at understanding geographic references, and now use semantic markup and better understandings of structured data found within the unstructured data found on web pages. They are better at learning about the meanings of words, and what kinds of words tend to appear on pages about the same categories of content.
Q3. I see many blogs (even some of the giant ones) in our industry talking about tips, tricks and how to write SEC articles. But SEC by the Sea has a very different approach and discusses white papers, patents and researches mostly related to search. Was it your intention to focus on these topics by not strictly following the ongoing trend and writing about things other people are not discussing or was it completely unintentional?
I taught a class on Internet Literacy one year at a local community college, and discovered that I learn best by trying to teach something to other people – by figuring out how best to present something in a way that other people could understand it.
My approach with my blog has been to treat it as a workspace, where I could try to take complicated topics and without losing too much of the nuance behind them, share those with others. Patents and papers are often great sources of inspiration for posts because they often outside of the stream of topics that get discussed in many other places, and they often reveal things that just really can’t be found elsewhere.
Q4.Google has Panda and Penguin to kill the spammers and hackers, on the other handspammers are getting more and more creative and we see content based link buying even on the websites like Huffington Post. Yandex recently come up with news that says links are dead for them, do you think Google or Bing will also come up with this kind of update anytime soon?
Both Google and Bing seem to be working on using additional ranking sources that look at things like social authority scores, natural language processes for understanding and re-writing queries, and using knowledge bases to understand concepts related to words and entities. They may not abandon previous ranking signals, but those seem to be playing less and less of a role in rankings.
Q5. Social media is a part of the overall 5E0 process; my question is very much specific to likes, shares, Tweets and .3.s.Doyou think Google and other search engines will count this social data as a replacement to links? Or consider it as important as links?
It’s kind of funny, but I recently came across a patent which specifically mentions social shares and endorsements and how those might be used to associate pages on the web with specific themes and how important those pages might be within those themes. Of course, I’m in the middle of writing a blog post about it right now.
Q6.Bill, please share one of your favorite link building tips!
I really don’t work on building links – I’d much rather create something that people find interesting and useful and attract links if viewers think those are worth sharing. I did earn a lot of links a couple of years ago from a blog post I wrote about Google acquiring over a 1,000 patents from IBM, from sites like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and a few thousands of other news sites. Many of those news articles were from wire services and disappeared after a month or so, but there are still a few around. So, definitely write about something news worthy, and it could pay off in a big way.
I also remember discovering that a lot of pages were linking to a currency converter that we added to a page on one of those legal services site, and that was the first page I remember seeing where the toolbar PageRank for an interior page on a site was higher than the home page of the site. Again, an example of providing something useful for people that they found worth linking to. The currency converter was something that the site originally sharing it offered to others to use on their own pages, but it wasn’t easy to code and customize it, so other people needing currency conversion linked to our version of it instead of creating their own.
Q7.Content is very important, but is content really king?
Creating content that people find interesting, engaging, unique and useful can be really helpful, but I think context is even more important. Getting the right information to people at the time they need it or want it can make a difference between whether or not people come back to your pages, refer them to other people, link to them, and use the services and/or goods that you might offer.
Q8.What according to you are the three least important things when it comes to on-page optimization (the things that do work but are not . important)?
I think that question might have been easier to answer if you asked me what might be the three most important things when it comes to on page optimization, because there seems to be a lot of meaningless things that people add to pages in the name of SEO, such as revisit meta tags and keyword density percentages.
I do believe that the more things that you can optimize the better off you are, because you are sending multiple signals that effectively align with each other to show some level of concordance or agreement. For example, if a page title signals one type of meaning, and alt text and file name from an image agrees with it, and text on the page itself and within HTML elements such as heading elements, list items, also agree, that helps send a positive signal to the search engines that a page is about something specific.
The words used don’t have to be exactly the same, and it might be a problem if they are, but if the words used are related semantically, then it can help.
Words or phrases might be seen to be semantically related if for instance, if they appear in search result documents (or document representations such as snippets) for a top number of results for a certain query. For example, on a query for “New York Yankees”, terms such as “baseball,” “Alex Rodriguez,” and “Bronx,” might be seen as related terms since they appear above a certain threshold amount of times in documents returned on a search for “New York Yankees.”
We know with some level of likelihood that a page title is more important than using the right keywords with a URL, but I’m not going to say that using meaningful keywords in a URL isn’t something that someone should do.
Q9.Authorship markup helps Google algorithms find and present relevant authors and experts in Google search results. Do you think there is a service coming up that says let us help you improve your Author Rank?Or a calculator that calculates the Author Rank?
We don’t know for certain what signals that Google might use to develop a reputation score for authors, and I don’t think I would feel confident in relying upon someone to build such a tool, or a calculator to calculate Author Rank unless if comes from Google itself. There are too many people who created tools such as a keyword density tool or LSI keywords identifiers who were building something that they thought people would buy, regardless of whether or not they really did anything worth doing, and chances are that neither did. There’s a tool presently that calculates an authorship score for contributors to different pages based upon the PageRank for those pages, even though the link analysis-based PageRank likely has nothing to do with a reputation score. The assumption it’s based upon is that the more popular pages are that a person contributes to, the “higher” the reputation of that author.
Given some of the documents that Google has published on calculating different reputation scores, such as the Agent Rank patents or Ranking User Generated Web Content (WIPO patent number WO2011050495), it’s likely that a content creator will have a number of reputation scores based upon different topics. So someone might have one score for SEO, another score for usability, a different score for nutrition, and another for scuba diving.
Such scores might be based upon content that they might contribute to sites they write at, posts at places such as Google Plus, responses they make to posts at different social networks, shares they make on different topics, and more.
Q10.Google is continuously trying to respond to queries that help users find what they want without event scrolling down the page and clicking any of the links given below. This is definitely a good move from Google’s point of view but what should he the plan of action for SMBs to get more qualified traffic?
Some of the “responses” that Google provides that might give shortcuts to finding answers within queries might be the knowledge base results that Google displays or the One Box displays that show things like weather, definitions, flight information, and so on.
But chances are that many of those are of limited use to someone truly interested in finding more detailed information on most subjects. Creating content that goes beyond answering such surface level questions may be a good strategy, and could lead to being listed and linked to as the authority sites where those factoids are listed.
Q11.One advice that you want to give beginners and intermediate level digital marketers to become successful like Bill Slawski?
I’d recommend that people follow their own paths to success, and develop expertise in areas where there’s a real need for that expertise. Be interesting, engaging, unique, and helpful.
Q12.Bill, SEO is kind of difficult to explain especially to the people who are not in the industry, how do you explain it to friends and family about what you do for a living?
I usually tell family and friends that I “help website owners improve the quality of the pages on their sites to make it more likely that they will be found in places like Google, for people interested in what they offer on their sites.”
I think they often understand that best when I help them find something that they might have looked for in the past using search strategies that they might not have anticipated, and explain that site owners who are smart enough to anticipate the need for such strategies and build pages that make it easier for searchers who don’t know about them are ones that have more success in being found.
For example, last year my family wanted to find an Airedale Terrier puppy, but they couldn’t find any places nearby where they might get one. I asked them where they might go to find a puppy, and they told me a “kennel.” I asked them if they had searched for nearby kennels, and they hadn’t. So we included that as a search term, and got a number of leads. We looked at the results that were being returned, and found some other terms that could help us in the search, and tried a few of those – and that presented us with a couple of options within 50 miles of where they lived. They made a couple of calls, and had a new puppy within a few weeks.
Thank you Bill for taking out the time to answer my questions in detail, I hope your valuable insight will help my readers as well.
Bill: Thank you, Moosa.
Note for Readers: If you have any other questions, you can ask in the comment section and I will try to request Bill Slawski to consider those as well.