Here at SEO Boy we try to read as many top blogs in the SEO industry as possible. Mainly because we’re all kind of nerdy in our own way and enjoy this stuff, but also to learn and keep up with ever-changing technology. Aaron Wall is one-of-a-kind SEO guru so-to-speak and thus the prevalence of this interview with him. SEOBook.com is a blog by Aaron Wall covering anything and everything SEO. Aaron owns several websites and has been mentioned in publications like The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, Wired, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Business2.0, Time Magazine. So thanks Aaron for doing this interview for us and our readers!
SEO Boy: Will changes search engines have made to more carefully consider and attempt to quantify content quality change the actual people or type of people who are involved in/successful at SEO?
Aaron: I think many people who are in the SEO field ended up in the field out of curiosity or necessity. As a stand alone business strategy it will be harder and harder to build a business off of just doing SEO. But the value of integrating SEO (and SEO oriented thinking) into your holistic marketing strategy will keep increasing. I think many SEO firms will get marginalized as many mid sized to large sized companies bring SEO in house.
There will always be some fraction of people at the market edges that take advantages of new algorithmic holes created by changes in the structure of the web. There will always be some fraction of people on the market edges pushing some get rich quick stuff that is a waste of time. But outside of those 2 groups SEO will keep growing more holistic as part of a marketing strategy.
SEO Boy: What do you think are the most important factors in building trust and loyalty for a brand/website?
Aaron: I think being consistent and showing up every day is the key. It can take a long time and a lot of effort and investment to build an audience and produce sustainable returns. If you are in a competitive market where the winners are quite passionate then you need to be pretty passionate to compete with them. Passion makes work seem less like work, and allows you to last through all the set backs required to reach a position of sustained profit potential.
SEO Boy: For beginning SEO’ers – In your opinion what are the most important things to focus on when first beginning an SEO campaign?
Aaron: Market research – know how strong your competition is, map out some of your plan of attack, map out some of your promotional ideas. And if you don’t have anything mapped out you can just throw up a blog and start writing, then try to start promoting it. Community interaction should help you come up with marketing ideas, and online there are so many signs of success that you can research (search rankings, ad placements, recommendations in blogs, media coverage, etc.)
The more you invest in knowing your market well the easier it will be to get your ideas well known by your market. There will likely be some false starts and some epic fails, but on average over time you will be far more successful if you really invest into knowing your market better than the next guy.
And the good news is that many market leaders drink their own Kool-Aid and are so busy promoting themselves that they leave little time for new analysis and learning…spending time reading and researching increases your value significantly. And you can’t be afraid to be wrong or make someone angry. If you are never wrong then you probably are not doing anything worthwhile.
SEO Boy: What types of creative content do you think has become/will soon become most effective for SEO purposes?
Aaron: I believe that whenever you create content that is free that is better than what other people sell then eventually people take notice of it, particularly if you push it hard and nobody really pushed that idea hard yet.
There is a lot of narcissism online, and so awards and other forms of ego strokes will always be profitable strategies.
SEO Boy: Sorry for the 3-part question: What are some of the common roadblocks that established businesses have when approaching SEO for the first time? In conjunction with that, do you have clients that do not respond to the advice you have given them? If so, what is your strategy to get them to move forward with your recommendations?
Aaron: There is a lot of misinformation in the SEO space. Many people suffer from laziness and/or looking for the quick answer, and that often results into buying a scam (if a person pays too low they preclude the honest portions of the market from wanting to work for them).
We have some clients that do not do everything we recommend. Depending on the size and structure of the company you may have to get buy in from (or provide training to) different people. In larger companies SEO does not operate in a vacuum, as there are many other competing business interests. So you give them 50 suggestions and hopefully they will implement 35 of them. In some companies there are people inside the company who do not really believe in the power of SEO. In some such instances we have done on site training to help evangelize SEO throughout the company.
SEO Boy: How did you manage to learn about SEO to the point where you say you know it inside and out?
Aaron: I think it is just a process. All the following helped me out though:
- setting up websites and watching their rankings improve
- participating on public and private forums
- reading blogs
- working on client sites
- talking with many great friends that offer lots of insights
- going to conferences
- reading some patents and research papers from search companies
Each day we try to cure a bit more of our ignorance. Learn learn learn!
SEO Boy: Not to be confrontational at all, but you mention that you don’t really like most costly SEO tools, that they eventually become un-useful after time. What makes SEOBOOK different (besides the fact that it’s free)?
Aaron: The web, search relevancy algorithms, and seo strategies all evolve. Rather than sticking to any single tool and any single mindset we try to ebb and flow with the market. If you look at our new SEO toolbar ( http://tools.seobook.com/seo-toolbar/ ) it is very similar to our SEO for Firefox ( http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/seo-for-firefox.html ) plug-in with the data it shows, but it also contains a bunch of keyword tools. A year or two ago I would not have liked the idea of a toolbar, but as more free keyword research tools hit the market and more competitive research tools offered data it made a lot of sense to aggregate a lot of that data, and put it in a toolbar.
What makes our tools different than most tools is that most tools are created to sell you crap you don’t need. We create tools that we want to use, based on our knowledge of the market. We also get a lot of feedback from users on how to improve our tools. Since we rely on distributed computing (easy to do with free software, a bit harder with most paid software strategies) it keeps our cost overhead low, while allowing us to provide useful software that is used by 10,000′s of people every day.
It is not that any given tool is completely without value that is the issue…it is that most software rapidly gets commoditized, and many people who had their business model commoditized keep selling stuff even after it loses utility. There are a lot of all-in-one SEO suites that misinform their customers with useless data points. Rather than removing the useless tools from their suites, they keep offering them because it *looks* like there is extra value with that extra piece there, even if it actually lowers the value of the offering.
SEO Boy: How do you learn what the search engines are up to? Most SEO people go to your site to find out when Google updates their algorithms, or when you say that the search engines are getting better at scrubbing link quality…how do you know this? Or is it top secret? : )
Aaron: We track the rankings of a lot of sites and track how they change. If you know a few dozen keywords intimately well then when they change you can start piecing it all together, like we did when it seemed brands got a boost. I have great SEO friends that know far more than I do and a killer member’s only forum…both of them help flesh out ideas and operate at level above most SEO conversations.
SEO Boy: Did you really get into marketing just by selling baseball cards? : ) How did you decide that you wanted to learn SEO and not something else?
Aaron: I also sold basketball, football, and (to a lesser extent) hockey cards.
My desire to learn SEO came from wanting to market a whinge site and having no capital to do so. And from that I kept learning. Someone pushed to hire me before I was trying to sell anything, and next thing you know I am an SEO
SEO Boy: People always ask about how they can make money on a blog or website; Can you tell us more about how you went from making $300/month in 2004 to $10,000/month? What kind of dedication does one have to have to accomplish something even ¼ of this income?
Aaron: Those data points are a bit cherry picked…part of why I made so little at the beginning of the year is that most profits were invested in marketing and networking (so they seemed smaller off the start and higher at the end). By the end of that year I was somewhat well known. Some of my revenues that year came from affiliate marketing, some from direct product sales, and some from consulting.
Making 1/4 of $10k a months only $30,000 a year…which is not that competitive of a goal when you think of how many opportunities there are online. How hard you have to work and how dedicated you need to be depend on a wide array of factors, including…
- market timing & market saturation
- how good you are at networking
- how much you are willing to risk
- if you are willing to be wrong
- how quick you learn
- how much you are willing to invest in learning
- how much you are willing to reinvest profits into building up network effects and market leading positions
- if you chose the right friends and the right leaders
- your passion
- any abnormal skills that make you stand out and/or seem remarkable
Aaron, thanks so much for helping all of us understand the web and how it relates to SEO a little better! We appreciate your time and we’ll keep on reading your blog!