Dustin Interviewed About SEO

The Search Engine Journal was kind enough to interview me about various SEO topics, including: evolution of SEO, using UGC to drive SEO, Domainers vs. SEOs, and making the transition from in-house SEO to out-house SEO (working out of my house as an SEO consultant).
Dustin Woodard
I didn’t realize it until now, but this is my 2nd interview with the Search Engine Journal–the first was over 3 years ago. If you dig reading about me 1/10th as much as I do, then I suggest you check out both interviews:

Dustin Woodard 2010 SEJ Interview
by Todd Mintz
Dustin Woodard 2007 SEJ Interview
by Jessica Bowman

Besides learning more about me, I think you’ll find some helpful SEO tips inside both interviews.

Time to Use Google Webmaster Tools

In the SEO community, there’s been debates as to whether you should bother using search engine webmaster tools. Thanks to the latest set of data Google is providing, there is more reason then ever before to create a webmaster tools account for your sites.

On the positive side of having an account were points like these:

  • Ability to verify ownership – sites willing to verify might be more trusted in the eyes of engines
  • Direct messaging & data from the search engines – the data to date hasn’t been very impressive & messaging typically only occurs if you’ve been hacked
  • Help identifying issues – learn about crawl errors, robots.txt issues.
  • Ability to submit things like sitemaps, canonical preferences, or report spam or malware.

On the negative side of having an account were things like:

  • Giving the engines too much information – personal emails, IP, site network, etc.
  • Most sites don’t register, and if you are properly optimized & crawlable there isn’t much reason to
  • The information provided was far from spectacular, so why bother.

google webmaster tools data expandedThanks to the new types of data Google is sharing, visiting the webmaster tool area is worthwhile. Now you can look at things like:

  • Natural search impressions
  • Natural search clicks & ranking data, including breakdowns by rank and the pages that rank, plus sortable data
  • Greater number of incoming links reported
  • Site crawl speed.

The ranking & impression data I find the most interesting. I’ve long used analytics tools to pull out the page 2 queries, for example, but having exact ranking, impression and click through data helps webmasters better understand areas to make improvements, the meaning of dropping from a #1 ranking to a #2, how much personalized & geographical search components might affect ranking, and the wide variety of rankings & words any one page can have. It would be nice to see the data be more specific & reliable (right now clicks of less then 10 during the reporting period leave us with essentially no data).

Preferabbly, all the new data shared in Webmaster tools would be included directly into Google Analytics, but I’m happy to see the new data & hope they continue to expand the data set. Nice work Google Webmaster Tools team!

Making LinkedIn Links Count

SEOs have long been preaching the importance of anchor text in links and have long pointed out LinkedIn as a great place to gain keyword-rich links. Hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn users have followed this great advice, but something changed late last year that no one else seemed to notice.

dustin woodard searchfest 2010Note from Dustin: This SEO tip is a reward for those following my blog. I’ve kept this one secret since late last year so I could share it at Searchfest during my talk on Reputation Management earlier this month. I’m sharing it here as a reward for people who have been following me, but will not be actively promoting this tip as I don’t want it to be discovered by too many people, causing LinkedIn or Google to make changes.

Again, SEOs, including myself, have long been preaching that the links you share in your LinkedIn profile should use custom anchor text so instead of the link saying “My Website” or one of the other generic terms, it could pass along a keyword-rich link. For example, my link to this site said something like “Dustin’s SEO Blog” so I was at least giving Google or other engines a better indication to what the site is about–something that is deemed very important in their algorithms.

Well, my advice has changed. Why? Turns out LinkedIn went the way of Twitter & other popular UGC sites and no-followed all the links. Let me say that again, in case you missed it: LinkedIn links no longer count in the eyes of search engines!

This is unfortunate as I believe those links should count. There’s no need for LinkedIn to hoard their link juice and the links are limited, transparent, and attached to real people with real business networks. It also gives spiders a chance to discover small sites it may not discover otherwise. I’m not familiar with search spammers using LinkedIn to game the search engines, but I suppose it may have happened enough for Google to pressure LinkedIn. For those who link to their LinkedIn profiles a lot, the fact that LinkedIn is not linking back to your site (even though you specifically tell it to do so) might be enough reason for you to reconsider.

After some tinkering, I discovered there is a way to get followed links from LinkedIn. Here’s what you need to do:

Go into your LinkedIn profile and edit the links section. Your choices in the drop down should look like this:

LinkedIn Links SEO

You’ll notice that I highlighted “My Website” and “My Blog.” If you choose one of those two, you will get a followed link from LinkedIn. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to customize the text as you can with the “Other” choice, but at least the links will count.

If you are a person who has a lot of different sites, I’d recommend using both My Website and My Blog & using one of the other choices as you prefer (knowing you won’t get link love). Take a look at my profile for an example: Dustin Woodard on LinkedIn. And if you haven’t already done so, you should be using a custom URL (see settings – I used “woodard” so my link is http://www.linkedin.com/in/woodard instead of some random number).

There you go, a free SEO tip of great value to pretty much anyone on the web.

Searchfest Photo credit: seandreilinger

Mike Siwek Lawyer MI Explained

To better explain Wired magazine’s reference to mike siwek lawyer mi searches, I created this experimental blog post. Wired’s excellent article on Google’s algorithm links off to the search phrase: “mike siwek lawyer mi”, which sends you off to Google’s search results page for that query.

The mike siwek search phrase was used as an example of how Google is superior to Bing. Here’s what wired wrote:

The top result connects to a listing for an attorney named Michael Siwek in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a fairly innocuous search — the kind that Google’s servers handle billions of times a day — but it is deceptively complicated. Type those same words into Bing, for instance, and the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.

The ironic part is that everyone who is reading the article gets a Google search page that is in no way superior to the Bing because the results have been flooded with coverage of the newly popular search.

Take a look at the current Top 10 Results for a “mike siwek lawyer mi” Google search:

  • Mike Siwek Lawyer Mi – What’s Hot (a result from Alexa.com hot urls)
  • Mike Siwek, Lawyer from Michigan, shows how Google dominates … (a blog post)
  • Mike Siwek, Lawyer from Michigan, shows how Google dominates (tweet meme for the blog post)
  • Siwek, Michael E. Attorney in Grand Rapids, Michigan MI (a crumby US Lawyers DB listing)
  • Mike Siwek Lawyer MI – Google Search Theory Torn Apart (another blog post)
  • Exclusive: How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web | Magazine (the actual Wired Article this post is about)
  • google | Tumblr (a tumblr page that links to the Wired article)
  • High-Tech PR Blog >> Beyond the Hype: How Google works (a PR company blog post summary of the Wired article)
  • New Michigan law mandates safer cigarettes, but smokers complain (a newspaper article that quotes the Mike Siwek, the actual Michigan lawyer this whole query is about, but no way to contact Mike)
  • How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web | B12 Solipsism (another blog post)

Of course, this isn’t fair to Google as the results when Steven Levy was writing the article were probably completely different. However, you would expect Mike Siwek’s site to show up shortly past the media mentions. Not so. Mike’s official law practice site didn’t show up until result 110 on page 11 of Google’s search results–a place where few searchers would dare take the time to navigate to and if they did find it, the listing description doesn’t even mention Mike Siwek, so it probably wouldn’t get clicked on:
Mike Siwek lawyer mi
The fact that this listing is so buried leads me to believe the search engine result that Google’s engineers were so proud of was result 4 that I list above, which is simply an address database site that is borderline spam and riddled with Google ads.
mike siwek mi lawyer listing
I count 28 different Google adsense ad listings if you include the next ads arrow tabbing, or 11 without the tabbing. No wonder Bing didn’t want to list this page! The only thing that is slightly impressive about this search is that Google thought to replace Mike Siwek with Michael Siwek.

I don’t mean to beat up on Google too much. I could certainly come up with many examples where Google’s algorithm is superior to Bing, but as an SEO consultant who is paid to constantly monitor the ugly flaws of search engine algorithms, I find this example of “Google’s algorithmic dominance” humorous & worry about the simple mindedness of Google’s top engineers when it comes to evaluating improvements in their algorithm.

Reflections of a Pivotal Point in My Career

Something recently reminded me of an event early in my web marketing and SEO career. For me, it was a very pivotal moment of my career; for you, it might be an entertaining story of a consulting douche bag and how SEO battles don’t change much.

dustin in magazinesRoll back the clock to a little over a decade ago when cell phones were bricks generally seen only in movies and Prince’s “Party Like It’s 1999” was forward-looking. I graduated from the University of Washington with a couple finance-related degrees and began working for, surprise, a financial company. After quickly proving that my abilities went beyond filling out paperwork for clients and managing portfolios, I spent my time on “special projects”, which included things like investing research, Y2K compliance, & building our web presence.

I quickly discovered the importance of search engines and was quite successful at driving leads & press to the site & company. In 2001, I had increased their assets by over $50 million, was named “Best of the Web” by Forbes three times, and was even selected by Inc Magazine as the best marketer of the year using techniques that have changed little to this day (but now have names). How was this success rewarded? They brought in a consultant.

bad consultantMy boss’s friend was unemployed after his start-up went belly up. I won’t name him, but will describe him. He looked very much like the Comic Guy on the Simpsons – he was large, sported a red goatee, and a greased back pony tail. His previous occupation was as a conservative radio talk show host (seriously – I’m not kidding) and as you can imagine, he was a talker. He loved buzz words, though a true understanding of them was of little importance. And now he was a consultant.

Things seemed a little backwards. If you looked at our resume’s & track records at the time, you would have guessed I was consulting for him. Considering it was my boss’s friend and upper management was wowed by the fancy words and whiteboard drawing, who was I to question the new relationship?

To this day, I can’t recall a single person I couldn’t work with–other then this guy. He was a bully and I was his young prey. His big idea was to change our various sites to a single flash site. When I warned him that search engines have trouble with Flash, his response was that “no one uses search engines to find websites.” Apparently countless web analytics reports showing all our traffic sources wasn’t enough for him, nor was an export of our client referral source records, nor the daily stories of new clients who found us via a specific search query. Facts meant little to this talk show host, unless the facts or half-truths supported his cause. After much back and forth, it was clear that it was his way or the highway.

I decided to take a very large risk (especially considering this was during the dot-com crash & a troubling time for the stock market) – I crafted an email to the President and Vice-president of the company explaining that the direction we were heading in was going to hurt us and that I was ready to leave the company if they continued to use his “services.” Clearly my boss would want to fire me for going over his head and making him look bad, but it was a risk I had to take to restore my sanity and keep the company from driving directly into the brick wall in which it was undoubtedly headed.

The story does have a happy ending. They did get rid of him and I used the existing sites to raise another $200 million (doubling the 20-year old company’s assets) before I left a couple years later to take my boss’s job at a larger company. The irony is that I am now a full-time consultant and he became an anti-consultant evangelist.

From that point on in my career, I decided I would never stay silent when I saw the company I worked for start to take a wrong turn, even if it meant losing my job because I wouldn’t want to work for a company that ignored evidence and experience anyways.