Below is a transcript of the interview I gave last week to Robert Croll, Course Director at Full Sail University. I’m posting this mainly to test out some new voice recognition transcription tools (which sucked, by the way; I had to practically rewrite it) and also because I mention some resources that I want to share with readers.
Tell us a little about how you came to be involved in the world of search engine optimization.
I went to college (Bond Uni) for Journalism. After I couldn’t find a job for a newspaper I started writing articles for online publications. Editors began asking if I could use certain words more than others, which got me asking questions about their motives. My friend Dave Zuls told me about SEO and I was hooked. My first SEO gig was writing several hundred descriptions about different kinds of meat for a large lunch meat brand in west-coast supermarkets. I was a sub-contractor for another SEO at the time.
You’ve been doing SEO for nearly a decade. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen? What do you foresee for the future of SEO and online information retrieval in general?
If you count back when I was running my own ecommerce business (Formerly balibones.com) during college, then yes. But I didn’t know what SEO was back then. I guess I’d say I’ve been doing SEO proper for about six years now. One of the biggest immediate changes I’ve seen since then happened pretty soon after I started doing SEO full time. It was called the Big Daddy Update and happened in 2005. Prior to that you could pretty much outrank most competitors by using automated reciprocal linking schemes or submitting for a bunch of crappy directory links. I remember we used to have an Excel file with several thousand free and paid online directories – most of them complete rubbish – and part of my job was the monotonous task of submitting each of my clients to all of them. Big Daddy put a stop to that by focusing more on the relevance of your links. In the end, I think it has been a positive thing for the industry, although it was painful at the time.
Most of the other big change I’ve seen have been rolled out slowly over time. For instance, universal search and local search have gone through lots of iterations over the last couple of years. Lately it’s been social search and personalized search.
I really like your description of being a keyword farmer. Can you explain that viewpoint to us?
I say that because it all starts with keywords. What is the point of optimizing a site if you don’t know what you want to rank for? If you have solid keyword research to work with you’ll be able to laser focus your efforts on the right goals right out of the box.
In our first SEO class, we focused on SEO for a small, local, (mostly) brick-and-mortar business. As an SEO with varied experience, you have a somewhat unique perspective of the level of difficulty of doing SEO for different types of businesses. You wrote an excellent blog post about how ecommerce websites are the most difficult to optimize. Tell us more about why that is, and what kinds of things you have to consider as an eCommerce SEO.
If you want to learn more about local search for brick-n-mortar businesses I’d recommend reading anything by Andrew Shotland of localseoguide.com, Mike Belasco at seoverflow.com, David Mihm of davidmihm.com or Mike Blumenthal at blumenthals.com.
But the reason I say ecommerce SEO is more difficult has to do with A: The national and even global level of competition on most keywords, B: How far behind most ecommerce platforms are compared to content management systems like Drupal or WordPress, C: The fact that most stores carry several different sizes and colors of the same product, which are often different skus and URLs, and D: The constantly fluctuating nature of things going out of stock, switching to other categories (like On-Sale), new products coming, old products being discontinued, shopping feeds, competition from aggressive affiliates and monsters like Amazon.com and the overwhelming amount of long-tail keywords that can build up when you sell thousands of different products.