Interview with the Sharpest Brain in Search, Bill Sebald

18 Comments

SEO Interviews are not only fun where I get a chance to interact with the people I professionally admire the most but this is a great learning experience for me and my readers who follow my blog regularly. This is why I try not to ask the same questions from everyone and try to customize the question as per the expertise of that particular person.

I am interviewing some of the finest brains in the search and digital marketing industry and today the personality I have invited is one of the most powerful, intelligent and sharpest brain in the search industry. He is the Founder, Partner and SEO at Greenlane Search Marketing LLC. He previously worked but bigger brands like GNC, Ace Hardware, eBay and more.

A person who have over 13 years of SEO and digital marketing experience, a music lover, he is none other than Mr. Bill Sebald.

Bill, thank you for taking time to answer my questions, I will try not to ask regular questions and focus more on technical issues so that my readers  and I can get most out of your knowledge and experience.

Here I go!

I struck out as a rock star so I had to have a plan B.  The truth is, my time in the music business was the best thing for my adult career.  I got into the web just as the music industry was accepting it as a real medium, and in parallel, was working on a music entertainment site.  Rollingstone.com wasn’t even a thing yet. Just as I learned to play guitar to impress women, I created the website to interview, meet, and hang with celebrities. But the byproduct was being introduced to SEO, which I took to more than web design or coding. I really just enjoyed the work (and obviously still do).  We had no budget, so we were all about the guerilla marketing – which SEO truly was at the time.

I look at it as a matter of priority.  Some sites don’t need a mobile site… yet.  Let’s say you have a car accident.  You’re standing on the highway frantically using your iPhone to find contact information on your insurance company’s website, and you’re looking for a collision center to come tow your heap.  It makes perfect sense to create a mobile experience for what most people would use your mobile site for – quick, fast access to certain information.  I just worked on a collision center’s site where they had 15 locations. Analytics told us that contact information and a mobile-friendly “store locator” were paramount.  I’m a responsive guy at heart, though we were able to especially promote a select few site assets with some clever coding.

However, if you’re a paper clip manufacturer, and nobody is searching you on a mobile device, I see no reason not to defer creating the mobile site until you have little else to do.  If you have a website, you better have goals. If the data allowed, I might first recommend for the paper clip manufacturer to put their resources into achieving those marketing goals before going down the “mobile-redesign” road.  I meet prospects all the time who think they should have a mobile site and a social presence, simply because they feel everyone has one.  That’s a terrible reason.  The problem is, sometimes they have nothing to promote or share, or any content strategy to speak of. Sometimes these companies would be better suited investing in marketing automation and investing marketing dollars into collateral for their business development department.  Get to the mobile site when it makes sense, and maybe after achieving website goals or content initiatives.  Unless you’re using a Blackberry from the 2008, most sites are passable on a smart phone anyway.  If it’s not, you probably have bigger existing issues with your desktop site.

I also think you shouldn’t just jump into bed with a standard “best practice” mobile design.  It really needs to be thought out and designed to fit the needs of the mobile users.  A lot of the mobile plugins I’ve seen are terrible.  I read one section of an entertainment site every morning that just upgraded to include a mobile design.  This design actually suppresses the section I like to read.  Why?

Local businesses always have the privilege of getting away with being really personal.  I suggest leveraging that.  It’s fun and engaging for searchers, but like any page, it won’t convert if it’s not the right flavor (is warm and fuzzy a flavor?).

Right now I find it quite easy to rank for local keywords due to much less competition (specific niche in a specific region), but in my opinion, ranking and converting are two separate things that should always be in the same sentence.  If you’re going to really benefit from a local listing, be a personal company screaming your values in the first 3 seconds of a visit. Don’t be a faceless pizza parlor. Promote the hell out of your dining room, your awards, your owner, your ingredients, your videos, etc.  Look like you have money to invest in your website, and you’ll look successful to visitors (neuromarketing for the win, especially on the local front!). People want to check out what they perceive to be the “most successful / friendly / award winning pizza place on the block!”  Again, you choose your flavor.

Don’t be a website that looks like nobody loves it. It’s such an easy, fun thing a local company can do for conversions.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Yet, so many local sites are pure vanilla.  I push this on all my local clients.  After all, I want the traffic I bring them from search engines to convert.  That’s how I keep my job.

Here’s the approach we’re taking at Greenlane (I asked Michael, Jon, and Keith on our team this question for their input too!  Super brilliant guys):

  1. Authority – Not the “authority” we generally tie to backlinking, but content that proves you’re an authority on your subject.  Big brands win because they’re seen as the best. The immutable laws of marketing worked for them, and should be applied for SEO’s work.  Bring marketing to SEO.
  2.  Entities and relationships – Google is clearly looking for new ways to rank pages, so we’re banking on building up these entities.  Triples all day!
  3. Topics – Google has graduated to a 7th grade education, and they’re comprehension is getting better.  So, our landing pages must play up to a smarter Google.  Our pages are going to rank even better when they deserve to.   The idea is to make them a must-have asset for potential visitors. Using the content to tell a story, answer a question or solve a problem, etc., in order to take better advantage of conversational search.

I’d say, don’t just make content that is nice. Everyone is making that content. Instead make content that changes the way people think. An infographic that someone will share, and maybe print out and put on their cubicle wall is nice, but an article that makes people say, “oh wow – I really need to relearn everything I’ve been taught,” will really give your website sticking power. Don’t phone it in, don’t be lazy… take a gamble.

At Greenlane we take ideas to our clients like typical marketers. We’ve had clients tell us they’re surprised by the type of ideas we bring since it’s not what they traditionally thought of as SEO. We love the ideas like they’re our babies. It’s hard to give tips here, because it’s very client (and industry) specific. But as you browse the web, take notes of cool things you see. Our team is always trying to think of how something cool can be leveraged by our clients.

My favorite part of the question is “a little push of promotion.” That’s the part that I feel gets too little play. Part of creating this content should be determining where the hell you’re going to release it. Going back to music for a little analogy – if a rock band plays in their garage, and never leaves their garage, nobody hears them. If the same band sets up their gear for an impromptu jam session on i95, traffic will back up for miles. That’s a band you’re going to pay attention to.

I’d be surprised if guest posting went away.  I think there will be plenty of lazy SEOs still going down this road (which is a shame, but hey, nobody beats a tactic to death like an SEO).  I wrote about guest posting in I’m Not Afraid Of A Google Update Against Guest Posting.  Since I wrote it, Google came out with some statements that sort of side with my take.  They’ve also come out with some absurd requests. Truthfully I’m not actively doing it for clients, but I think there’s perfectly valid use for it in a content strategy.  Authorship feeds guest posting.

Tons got SEO value and virtually no traffic value.  Google has since squashed them.  But now I think about link building – as often as I can – as a vehicle to get SEO value and referral traffic.  I really like building the links that get clicked.  The scholarship tactic for example; it hasn’t been abused yet that I can see (thought the SEO results appear to be softening), and students get a chance to benefit from the link in terms of receiving grants for their college education.  Take it a step or two deeper, and create something with the same value specific to the niche of your clients.  That’s good work!

The trick is to be where the people are.  They’re not in comment boards of outdated blog posts.  They’re not in old forum boards.  They’re not on abandoned websites.  The trick is to create the information people are seeking, and make sure you’re where the traffic is to give directions.  That takes research I think a lot of SEOs don’t tackle.

Or, like a Wiki or Freebase editor who cares about the quality and accuracy of information on the web, SEOs are usually really good at find information that’s outdated.  We know the tricks – they can benefit us.  I’ve had tons of success in updating content on the web with a link benefit to my clients’ expertise.  We wrote a post about the tactic and created a tool called The Outdated Content Finder.

My best tip is to gather up the tactics (authored from all the SEOs who are way more clever than me) and figure out the non-lazy way to use them.  But let me point you to 2014 Edition of Link Building Secrets Revealed – I just gave one in their ebook that has worked pretty well for me for eCommerce clients.  It’s about being where the customers are, and serving their need.

Usually there’s less red tape.  The big brands and the big dollars come with a lot of roadblocks.  The smaller companies are nimble.  Sometimes these are the companies of our actual point of contact (and not just a pit stop in someone’s career path).  When you’re talking to the dude who actually owns the company, you get a whole different level of passion, support, and respect.

I still work with a couple big brands now, and I do enjoy those challenges.  Enterprise SEO is a whole different beast.  It keeps you sharp.  I hate throwing recommendations over a fence and hoping they get adopted, but sometimes that’s all you can do from a vendor perspective.  I definitely try to avoid those kind of relationships, no matter what size the client is.  Truthfully not all big brands are that way, which is a great thing to see.

5 is tough!  I have several.

  • Buzzstream – It’s a CRM tool, a link manager and prospecting tool, and data retrieval system in one.  I’m a huge fan of this tool.
  • Rank Ranger – I still care about rankings.  I think they’re a great directional metric.  Rank Ranger does daily rank tracking with a ton of different metrics and white labeled reports.  You pay for the keywords, so we track our “vital” keywords here.
  • Advanced Web Rankings – for the big data research, Advanced Web Rankings can pull search metrics in addition to rankings for as many keywords as you throw at it.
  • Screaming Frog – I’m in there on a weekly basis.  This tool can do so much.  I’m excited to watch it grow.
  • Cognitive SEO – Awesome backlink analysis.  This tool is really helpful (and visual).
  • I know you asked for 5, but I have to also say SEMrush.  I’m all about competitive research, and from a SERP perspective, their core functionality is really brilliant.

My family has no idea what I do. I’m convinced they think I run porn sites. Surprisingly though, more people have heard of SEO than I would have expected. It’s more mainstream now than ever. If I’m at a party, and someone doesn’t know what it is, I say, “basically I get hired to help you rank #1 on Google.” Then they nod politely and walk away. The SEO is not the most popular guy at most parties.

Sir! Thank you very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule and answering some of my questions. I am sure your answers will help me and my readers to better understand how SEO works!

Note to Readers: If you have any other question in mind and you would like Bill Sebald to answer, Please share your questions in the comment section and I will try to request Bill to answer the questions.

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18 Comments
  1. Reply

    Great interview. Thanks Moosa for hosting it.
    I personally approached Bill to get some feedback on the SEO tool I’ve created and he gave me some great insights. Not every SEO star will take the time to do so. He’s a really cool guy.

  2. Reply

    Great interview. Thanks Moosa for hosting it.
    I personally approached Bill to get some feedback on the SEO tool I’ve created and he gave me some great insights. Not every SEO star will take the time to do so. He’s a really cool guy.

  3. Reply

    Great interview. Thanks Moosa for hosting it.
    I personally approached Bill to get some feedback on the SEO tool I’ve created and he gave me some great insights. Not every SEO star will take the time to do so. He’s a really cool guy.

    • AvatarUmar Khan
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hello,

    Thank you Mr.Moosa once again for approaching the genius and yes a very musical mind of our industry. While I was reading this valued interview, famous Liberty Bell started swinging in my mind with few questions. I’m very much hopeful that I’ll get the insightful answers from you:

    1). As you said, you switched your sexy profession to this super sexy field I’d like to know what were the obstacles did you face at the initial time? I suppose you didn’t work in any agency or associated with any in-house people. So did you learn from your experiences?

    2). You guys developed a very useful tool “Outdated content finder” for our industry. Are you satisfied with its success? and are you planning to develop any other tool in future?

    3). I re-scheduled my date on valentine’s day to read your Moz post.. (I’m serious) and I must say it was a worth read with superb real time examples. I’d like to know what common mistake you think SEOs make while handling E-commerce projects?

    I’m very much looking forward to get the answers from you and I wish that you may own a 2014 model of Harley very soon. 🙂

    Thanks

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Umar, your girl probably hates you and me for rescheduling your date!!!!

      But here are your answers…

      1) I actually did consulting first, and totally made things up as I went along. Then, thinking I knew something, I went into the big agency world, and got a huge trial by fire. I owe most of my experiences from the 5 years I was at an agency (now owned by eBay). I did in-house too, so I was lucky enough to see both sides of the fences. Both extremely different. I ultimately went for the consulting side.

      2) The OCF was kind of a whim. I had an idea to help with a tactic, and my buddy Mike Angstadt whipped it together. I was actually surprised how well it took off. When it comes to my own site, I do a terrible job of thinking big. Currently I don’t have any other good ideas for tools that aren’t already on the market, so it might just be blogging for a while.

      3) Dynamic database driven sites can be monsters. Because they’re often hard to optimize technically, I see a lot of SEOs giving really light “title and meta” recommendations en masse. But that’s not always going to move the needle especially in a sea of competitors who have a bigger brand equity (and organic pull). To keep an ecommerce client happy, I believe you have to help transform their store into a place people can come to, learn, and engage with – just like a real brick and mortar store. I’ve seen sites like bodybuilding.com smoke GNC.com because they have a lot going for them outside of just the shopping cart.

      Hope that helps! I also hope you’re not in the doghouse.

    • AvatarUmar Khan
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hello,

    Thank you Mr.Moosa once again for approaching the genius and yes a very musical mind of our industry. While I was reading this valued interview, famous Liberty Bell started swinging in my mind with few questions. I’m very much hopeful that I’ll get the insightful answers from you:

    1). As you said, you switched your sexy profession to this super sexy field I’d like to know what were the obstacles did you face at the initial time? I suppose you didn’t work in any agency or associated with any in-house people. So did you learn from your experiences?

    2). You guys developed a very useful tool “Outdated content finder” for our industry. Are you satisfied with its success? and are you planning to develop any other tool in future?

    3). I re-scheduled my date on valentine’s day to read your Moz post.. (I’m serious) and I must say it was a worth read with superb real time examples. I’d like to know what common mistake you think SEOs make while handling E-commerce projects?

    I’m very much looking forward to get the answers from you and I wish that you may own a 2014 model of Harley very soon. 🙂

    Thanks

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Umar, your girl probably hates you and me for rescheduling your date!!!!

      But here are your answers…

      1) I actually did consulting first, and totally made things up as I went along. Then, thinking I knew something, I went into the big agency world, and got a huge trial by fire. I owe most of my experiences from the 5 years I was at an agency (now owned by eBay). I did in-house too, so I was lucky enough to see both sides of the fences. Both extremely different. I ultimately went for the consulting side.

      2) The OCF was kind of a whim. I had an idea to help with a tactic, and my buddy Mike Angstadt whipped it together. I was actually surprised how well it took off. When it comes to my own site, I do a terrible job of thinking big. Currently I don’t have any other good ideas for tools that aren’t already on the market, so it might just be blogging for a while.

      3) Dynamic database driven sites can be monsters. Because they’re often hard to optimize technically, I see a lot of SEOs giving really light “title and meta” recommendations en masse. But that’s not always going to move the needle especially in a sea of competitors who have a bigger brand equity (and organic pull). To keep an ecommerce client happy, I believe you have to help transform their store into a place people can come to, learn, and engage with – just like a real brick and mortar store. I’ve seen sites like bodybuilding.com smoke GNC.com because they have a lot going for them outside of just the shopping cart.

      Hope that helps! I also hope you’re not in the doghouse.

    • AvatarUmar Khan
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hello,

    Thank you Mr.Moosa once again for approaching the genius and yes a very musical mind of our industry. While I was reading this valued interview, famous Liberty Bell started swinging in my mind with few questions. I’m very much hopeful that I’ll get the insightful answers from you:

    1). As you said, you switched your sexy profession to this super sexy field I’d like to know what were the obstacles did you face at the initial time? I suppose you didn’t work in any agency or associated with any in-house people. So did you learn from your experiences?

    2). You guys developed a very useful tool “Outdated content finder” for our industry. Are you satisfied with its success? and are you planning to develop any other tool in future?

    3). I re-scheduled my date on valentine’s day to read your Moz post.. (I’m serious) and I must say it was a worth read with superb real time examples. I’d like to know what common mistake you think SEOs make while handling E-commerce projects?

    I’m very much looking forward to get the answers from you and I wish that you may own a 2014 model of Harley very soon. 🙂

    Thanks

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Umar, your girl probably hates you and me for rescheduling your date!!!!

      But here are your answers…

      1) I actually did consulting first, and totally made things up as I went along. Then, thinking I knew something, I went into the big agency world, and got a huge trial by fire. I owe most of my experiences from the 5 years I was at an agency (now owned by eBay). I did in-house too, so I was lucky enough to see both sides of the fences. Both extremely different. I ultimately went for the consulting side.

      2) The OCF was kind of a whim. I had an idea to help with a tactic, and my buddy Mike Angstadt whipped it together. I was actually surprised how well it took off. When it comes to my own site, I do a terrible job of thinking big. Currently I don’t have any other good ideas for tools that aren’t already on the market, so it might just be blogging for a while.

      3) Dynamic database driven sites can be monsters. Because they’re often hard to optimize technically, I see a lot of SEOs giving really light “title and meta” recommendations en masse. But that’s not always going to move the needle especially in a sea of competitors who have a bigger brand equity (and organic pull). To keep an ecommerce client happy, I believe you have to help transform their store into a place people can come to, learn, and engage with – just like a real brick and mortar store. I’ve seen sites like bodybuilding.com smoke GNC.com because they have a lot going for them outside of just the shopping cart.

      Hope that helps! I also hope you’re not in the doghouse.

    • AvatarAlex
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hey Moosa,

    great interview, a couple of links to take away for further digging – for sure.

    I have no idea who Bill is, but he seems like a pretty chill dude who’s looking at SEO the right way, not like most dumb marketers these days.

    Good stuff, and let me know when another one of these come around.

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks Alex, that was actually a great compliment. I really appreciate it!

      • AvatarMoosa Hemani
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Alex! 🙂

      I started following Bill from twitter and after reading some of his posts on his blog and I figured out that he is one gem of a person! and probably that is the reason I decided to interview him! 🙂

    • AvatarAlex
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hey Moosa,

    great interview, a couple of links to take away for further digging – for sure.

    I have no idea who Bill is, but he seems like a pretty chill dude who’s looking at SEO the right way, not like most dumb marketers these days.

    Good stuff, and let me know when another one of these come around.

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks Alex, that was actually a great compliment. I really appreciate it!

      • AvatarMoosa Hemani
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Alex! 🙂

      I started following Bill from twitter and after reading some of his posts on his blog and I figured out that he is one gem of a person! and probably that is the reason I decided to interview him! 🙂

    • AvatarAlex
    • February 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hey Moosa,

    great interview, a couple of links to take away for further digging – for sure.

    I have no idea who Bill is, but he seems like a pretty chill dude who’s looking at SEO the right way, not like most dumb marketers these days.

    Good stuff, and let me know when another one of these come around.

      • AvatarBill Sebald
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks Alex, that was actually a great compliment. I really appreciate it!

      • AvatarMoosa Hemani
      • February 18, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Alex! 🙂

      I started following Bill from twitter and after reading some of his posts on his blog and I figured out that he is one gem of a person! and probably that is the reason I decided to interview him! 🙂

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