Why an interview with Aaron Wall? To put it simple, because he is the author of the Web’s most popular “SEO Book” and one of the first 100 Google
qualified professionals in the world.
He is also quite young (29), one of the most expensive SEO consultants in the world ($ 500 hr) and one of the most reliable. As a matter of fact, next to Danny Sullivan, Aaron is the most well known SEO on the Web. He doesn’t have a “portfolio” or “clients” category on his website (because he respects clients privacy) and he is not looking for new clients either.
His book and his websites bring him enough revenue and that means his methods work. He is what one may describe as a “SEO Guru”; other SEO experts and many serious SEO companies quote him. He is one of the Web’s most powerful bloggers. But what really determined me to ask for this interview is Aaron’s answer when asked by John Scott: “If you could give one piece of advice to a novice SEO, what would it be?”
“Even if you do not know much about algorithms you can still do well if you understand people, network, and are interested in your topic.”
Mihaela Lica: To start this interview, I would like to ask you a rather general question: why is SEO important and particularly, why is SEO important for business websites (I mean especially for small or new firms, known mainly by a restricted community)? Do we need SEO after all?
Aaron Wall: Search is becoming the default prompt for how we find and consume information and media. Without exposure in the large search databases your business is at a distinct disadvantage to competing businesses which obtain that exposure.
Mihaela: What is, in your opinion, the most important concept of SEO? And which is the most popular misconception?
Aaron: Understanding that targeting and conversion are more important than just traffic. I also believe it is important to learn how and why ideas spread, and how you can relate your site or brand to your target audience or people talking about your subject. Sometimes it helps to start from their needs, wants, identity, and work backwards from there. Who can help me spread ideas? Why would they want to help me?
The single most popular misconception with SEO is that things are black or white / right or wrong / ethical or unethical. It is all just a matter of risk to reward ratios. Do enough stuff and some of it will stick. At either edge there is likely little profit unless you are an overpriced self promotional charlatan (religious white hat) or are really good at both being creative and analytical (black hat that can evolve quicker than the search engines can).
Mig: Would you recommend it to a website owner to hire a SEO expert without getting familiar with some basic SEO techniques and concepts? To make my question clearer, is “top ten results, guaranteed” a warranty of professionalism, or is it just a quack?
Aaron: I hired someone without learning about SEO. What was the end result? They provided poor services and I learned SEO. If I was a real business there would have been much more risk in buying ignorantly than there was buying as an individual with little to lose. But I was sure to get junk services based on pricing my request so low that no intelligent self-respecting value oriented SEO would price themselves that cheaply.
If you inadequately invest you preclude profitable business models from being able to provide custom services tailored to your site and business. I think you can’t shop on price if you want to do well, and you have to learn the market at least a bit to know what signs of quality and trust to look for in a service provider.
It is generally a bad idea to put too much of your business in the hands of any one company, and as the algorithms improve the sites that are real and are really part of the web will keep doing better. As a business owner, you have to know your own market well to help create the relationships needed to ensure the stability of your site in the search results.
Mig: What other SEO myths should a businessman be aware of, prior to hiring a SEO specialist? In other words: what is bogus SEO?
Aaron: One could type for hours on this question, but I think the best things that could be said are:
- Don’t view everything in terms of right or wrong. Guidelines change over time. Every action has associated risks and rewards. The riskiest thing anyone could do is to be so conservative as to never get any exposure or market feedback. If you screw up at least you learn from it.
- It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair.
Because of that second one, and a rapid increase in income and authority, and the desire to feel authoritative, many people (including me) likely doll out biased, self-serving or outdated information. Don’t let any one information source or marketing method be a crutch for your business. Make sure you have many irons in the fire. Keep learning and keep trying new things.
If 80 or 90% of your stuff fails but the rest hits well you are still going to be doing great. And you can’t always predict what will do well. I have put over 100 hours into ideas that were a complete waste of time. I have thrown out drivel and seen it spread. I think part of it is luck, but the more you learn and the more you share the more often you get lucky.
Mig: You’ve stated somewhere that you don’t believe in spam, yet “any type of SEO is spam”. Could you please explain your assertion?
Aaron: Well spam is a word search engines use to outsource the flaws of their multi billion dollar business models onto others. When the algorithm works Google is great. When it does not it must be the fault of a spammer. What is that?
So in my mind either spam doesn’t exist, or everything is some flavor of spam to some varying degree. It is hard to judge intent, but while Google pretends they are good at judging what is spam and what is not, we need to remember just how many AdSense spam sites are funded by Google. Why does Google fund so much low quality content if they want to be the default navigation system for the world’s information supply?
And if you read the media much you have to admire how good Google is at manipulating the media and getting coverage. Overshadowing news from competitors (and sometimes with non-news)…when they do that is it spamming the media? Or is that just good marketing?
Mig: What about the “Google” fever. Should the SEO efforts focus mainly on Google, or do you have other suggestions?
Aaron: For small niche markets AdWords is nice because it can provide you targeted clients and business quickly at an affordable price. Using PPC in conjunction with SEO also lowers your risk profile. As your SEO does better you can cut back on your PPC spend if you want to control the rate of growth of your business.
As far as what engines to focus on, I think if you have a real business long-term you should have a primary focus on Google, and realize that rankings in the other engines will fall into place as well as their relevancy algorithms move toward Google’s, and Google has a majority of the search market in many countries like Germany.
Mihaela: Would you involve other SEO techniques to optimize a website hosted on a German server (but still a .com) than on a… Canadian server?
Aaron: Some local databases may have criteria for inclusion, which may consist of any of the following
- host location
- local domain extension
- inclusion in trusted known local databases
- matching address on your site as in trusted local databases
- local whois data
- links from known local sites
- links out to known local sites
If a search system is useful you shouldn’t need to match all criteria to get in a local database, but the more criteria you match the easier it is to be seen as local.
Also to rank well in local search results it helps to think of your link popularity in multiple pieces. Most sites should have high quality inbound links from overall trusted authorities, some links from trusted topical authorities, and then maybe a few other links if you can get them easily.
With local sites you need to think of the topical authorities as two different things:
- sites that match your topic
- sites that are trusted local authorities
It may be hard to get links from sites that are both on topic and local, but those relevancy vectors probably add together and getting links from both types should help more than just concentrating on one or the other.
Mig: Is there such a thing as “regional SEO”? Do the SEO trends and tools vary according to a geographical area?
Aaron: There might be different useful data sources in some markets and in some markets there might be other major search players (like in Russia, Scandinavia, and China), but Google has a large (and growing) marketshare in most markets, so it is worth it to ensure you are doing well in Google.
Location can be viewed as a niche. If I know a language that most do not, and I know many webmasters and business people in that niche, then of course that is going to be a big advantage over others. I can write content that appeals to the local customs and fits the local language better than those foreign to my market. Also, as I just mentioned location as a type of niche topic, that is something that should be considered when building links as well.
Mig: What is the real importance and relevance of search engine rankings? Is SEO really worth the trouble if a website has a poor design and lacks accessibility?
Aaron: No. Search engines want happy users. They also tend to have an informational bias to their search results to offset the commercial bias to the ads that appear on the search results.
I think SEO is just one piece of the puzzle. You want to rank where you are relevant to the engines and the searchers. Relevancy and conversion are huge. No point trying to market something that doesn’t convert.
Mig: Do you believe it is important to know the language of the site to be able to optimize it?
Aaron: Yes. The underlying principals of SEO are the same for most languages, but it is crucial to understand the way we use language and the cultural biases of each language and market if you want to succeed in a local market.
For example, in the US we hire a taxi. In the UK they still use English, but over there you would ask for a car hire. If you don’t know how people are using language it is hard to target your messages to be relevant to the local market, and it is even harder to target a market and sound intelligent when you do not know the local market, language, history, and culture.
Mig: Have you ever had German clients?
Aaron: I have worked with small and large international clients in a variety of fields, but prefer not to disclose their names or industries. I have given general advice and ideas to people operating in German markets, but most of those people also had sites in other markets, and took the English market knowledge I gave them and applied those principals to their German sites.
Mig: Do you have any other special recommendations for small and new-grounded firms when it comes to employing SEO to help promoting their business on the Web?
Aaron: Structure your documents so they make sense. Make them have purpose to humans. Create some content or place some ideas on your site that will be highly linkable by your target market.
Network with other people in your industry. Links follow conversation. If people are talking about you then you win.
Learn a bit about why the Web was created. What can you share with others to build value? Why would others want to mention your website or business? Think of what makes you unique and what you could do that would make people want to talk about you.
Aaron’s advice should be clear for any website owner: the Web was created for people. There’s no better SEO than creating value. Google is also moving towards quality, users become pickier and the competition doesn’t sleep. It’s important that business owners understand the power of the Web and the importance of SEO for their success and to invest in creating quality, solid web presences. It is also important for website owners to understand the basics of SEO and search engine marketing. And it is also very important that they understand “SEO is just one part of the puzzle”.