Let's be "imaginatives".
Here below I list you some Tolkien characters... what I ask you is: What SEO figure do you associate with that character? It is not necessary to put a real name (i.e.: Matt Cutts), but if you want...
Bilbo Baggins =
Bill Ferny =
The One Ring =
Bilbo Baggins = I... have no idea.
Gandalf = Bill Slawski. Definitely. If search were Middle Earth, he's the one who knows where the Balrog lives.
Aragorn = Danny Sullivan? I'm not sure he's much on horseback, but can't you picture him? "One day, the hearts of SEOs may fail, but not today!" And if anyone was going to do an expose on the Paths of the Dead, it'd be him.
Galadriel = Sergey Brin/Larry Page. Not saying that as a gender reference. But if you venture into his forest, you're torn between wonder and fear. Their creation is beautiful and terrible to behold.
Sauron = I'd better not say.
Saruman = Everyone who sells $99 SEO and then goes out link farming, or does nothing at all. You think you're powerful. Really, you're kind of sad, and someday the trees are going to get pissed and burn down your whole fortress.
Legolas = Rand. Definitely Rand. Every time you think he's in trouble, he leaps on his shield, surfs down a flight of stairs, shooting arrows left and right, and then has time at the bottom for a hair flip. He simultaneously brings tons of great attention to our industry, and drags all our nerdery mainstream.
Bill Ferny = oooooh. All the people who write posts clawing at everyone they think is 'successful,' in an effort to get attention. You know whereof I speak.
Gimli = Me. In a world of elves and wizards, I'm definitely a dwarf. Sturdy, dependable and very dangerous over short distances.
The One Ring = The secret sauce for a #1 ranking. Theoretically, it exists. It lures many to their doom. Sadly, we can't throw it into a volcano.
Amazing answer Ian!
Galadriel answer is so true. How did you get that one out? :)
Galadriel looks great but she scares the crap out of me. You get the sense she could sneeze you right out of existence. So it seemed like a logical choice.
One info that scared me was that in 2012 Google had 1.3 million servers. In 2013 they plan to go to 2.2 million. I cannot imagine the complexity and pure computational power. It is a great choice :)
Would you like a Diet Coke?
I've been typing non-stop since 7 AM. Definitely!
So we should send ice for your fingers instead?
Nah, they've got calluses.
What would be your number one tip for introverts trying to make it on the lecture/speaker circuit?
Love your time on stage. It's the one time you have a clear purpose, everyone's appropriate attention and no need to try to work your way into conversations.
Also: Record some videos to go with your blog posts. When I started doing that, folks got to 'hear' my style more and seemed more interested in having me speak.
Finally: Be patient, but not too patient. Don't be afraid to ask someone, "Hey, would you like me to speak at your conference?" The worst they'll do is say no, and since we're not great schmoozers, it's hard to work your way into the inner circles. I eventually learned that people don't ignore me because they're jerks or elitists. They ignore me because I drink 2 beers, stop speaking intelligently, break out in a cold sweat and then curl up in a ball in the corner.
Well, not ANYTHING, but anything about my work, marketing, cycling, Dungeons and Dragons, that kind of stuff.
In terms of advance link analysis what factors do you mainly focus on ?
I tend to favor Majestic SEO's citation and trust flow, as well as SEOMOZ's Domain Authority.
You have done a lot of seo audits.What is in you opinion THE perfectly optimized website regarding seo (inkluding speed, technical aspects etc.) and why?
Whoa. That's a tough call.
But I'd have to go with the New York Times as one of the leaders. They do a pretty ideal job considering the sheer size of the site, the fact that they have to acquire subscribers, and their integration of editorial teams right into their process.
REI.com is very strong as an e-commerce site. Dump the instantservice.com scripts and their pages load in about 1 second each, which is blazing fast in the e-commerce world.
Etsy has one of the best content strategies I've seen in a while, too.
Do you think your slightly British heritage makes you... not better, as such.... but perhaps just slightly culturally superior to the vast majority of other Americans?
I'm not sure about that, but I do notice that I enjoy the climate in Seattle more than most, and I don't mind the occasional warm beer.
Oh, and I can pronounce "nuclear." Which puts me ahead of at least 2 US Presidents.
You're a content guy. If you could sum up the state of content on the Internet in one word, what would it be and why?
Obviously the why can be longer than one word :-)
Sorry, but it's still true. There are great exceptions, and more and more of them. But for the most part, companies see internet content as hot dog buns: Something devoid of all nutritional value used to deliver a treat.
As long as people see content as a means to an end (getting higher rankings and distracting people so you sell more stuff) instead of part of the end itself (building strong relationships and an enduring audience who will ALWAYS buy your stuff) it'll stay this way.
Reminds me of this => http://www.slideshare.net/dougkessler/crap-the-content-marketing-deluge
Yep. HOW DO WE MARKET NOW OH NOES GOOGLES TOOK AWAY OUR LINKSES!!!! OH, WAIT, CONTENT!
Amen. Well said.
A while ago, you said you can't take an SEO job applicant seriously who doesn't even know what a log file is.
Would you dig into that a bit more w/ some more examples of technical knowledge it would be good to get familiar w/?
I'd like to broaden this one out a bit, because there's more to internet marketing than SEO. If you want me to take you seriously as an internet marketer, I need to see technical knowledge of 2 of the following:
1. Server infrastructure. What IS a log file, exactly? What can slow down/speed up a server?
2. Microsoft Excel. Excel-fu is a valuable martial art.
3. Basic HTML. You can't work on the web if you don't even know what an H1 tag is.
4. How search engines work. You don't need to know the PageRank formula, but it helps to understand what a crawler is, and how an index works.
5. Why the basic idea of citation matters on the web. Beyond rankings. What happens when lots of people refer to something you said or wrote? How can that impact your brand in social media? And yes, how might it impact search rankings?
6. How the different channels impact each other: PPC, SEO, social. They all interact one way or another. High-level understanding of this makes you a great strategist.
7. How to do basic audience research using keyword tools, things like Google Suggest, and demographics tools like the Facebook ads toolset.
8. How to do a presentation that doesn't make me weep with despair. This isn't really technical. But it will get you +100000 points in my book.
Hullo. When assembling an SEO team how soon is too soon to bring in more people and how late is too late? I.e. do you bring in the work and then the people to do it, or bring in the people and then go get the work? How do you stage that process to minimise pain points internally and for clients?
Eesh. If you figure this one out, can you let me know?
I hate - HATE - overworking my team. I'd love to bring in team members way ahead of time and get them trained up. But the realities of budget and business mean I get folks when I can afford them and find them. The two don't always coincide.
This is true of every role in the company, not just SEO.
For clients, we try to minimize the pain behind this by always having an understudy on a project: Someone who knows what they're doing but isn't in on things day-to-day.
In the end, though, the buck stops at my desk. If things go sideways, staffing-wise, I and the other leaders at Portent end up picking up the slack.
Thanks, appreciate that.
How does *your* time break down these days?
I know there's no such thing as a typical day / week, but give us some examples. What are the biggest changes in the last few years?
I spend a LOT more time on "management stuff" than I used to, and a lot more time on things that will hopefully grow the company, rather than things that maintain it.
My ideal week is like this:
Monday: Training development/writing/tools developmentT-Th: Client work, consulting, meetings, sales calls, blogging, training deliveryF: Training delivery/writing/tools development
My typical week looks more like 45 chickens in a hurricane, but we can all aspire.
Each day does follow a pattern though:
Up at 5:30 AMCycling, or straight to workEarly morning: E-mails, catching up from the previous day's to-dosMid-morning: Meetings and the day's tasksLunch: Reading. And eating.Afternoon: More tasks, plus writing (hopefully).Evening: Home. Drive kids around. Feed the various animals (guinea pig, hamster, 2 cats)Before bed: Another run through e-mail, outline tomorrow's to-do list.Sleep.
I was just gonna ask that... glad I looked 1st ;)
Thank you, Ian. What do you love most about your team at Portent?
Their stick-to-it-iveness. You'll never see anyone here just throw up their hands and say "I can't do it." Yes, we all get frustrated and have to take a walk around the block periodically, but everyone here is really creative at finding solutions, and learning along the way. It sounds corny, but it inspires me.
What's the most creative way you, or someone you know, got a link? (sorry, just love asking this question.)
I've always kind of been a crappy creative link builder. I tend to slug it out over time, fixing broken links, using content, etc.
The most creative way I ever DID get a link, though, was by savaging the blog of someone who kept stealing my posts. I embedded an invisible GIF in my post. When he scraped it, I replaced the GIF with an image from ratemypoo.com (exactly what it sounds like, don't look). Then I wrote about it. That did get a lot of links.
The most creative way EVER of anyone I've ever seen? Whoever built the first major Q&A section on their site was a genius.
Subdomains. Worst or the worstest way to organize a large site?
You just like to see me get yelled at.
Subdomains mean letting Google and Bing decide whether authority flows directly from the subdomain to the main site. So, if the content on the subdomain is important as part of an authority-building campaign, then subdomains are a bad idea. Subfolders will work much better, because you then control have authority passes back and forth.
I'm still ducking SEO kill teams after the last time I talked about this. Their whisper choppers hover outside our building every day, looking for a way in. So that's as much as I'll say on the subject.
Hi Ian. Thanks for doing an AMA session.
Do you still feel that spammers "Have all the power" or that Google are fighting back? In addition what more could Google do to help make life easier for the rest of us?
I think the disavow tool goes a long way to restoring the balance, because you now have an option beyond begging and pleading/bribery to get suspicious links removed. I DO think Google should put more algorithmic muscle behind detecting and devaluing spammy links, but I don't work there, and I certainly don't understand all the complexities.
As an alternative, a little more transparency around the whole Penguin process might help. Again, I understand the complexities: Google can't just say "This is a spammy link and this isn't" - then a lot of folks would just skirt the edges of the algorithm. But they could say more about exactly why someone's been penalized, or what exactly got their reconsideration request rejected.
Thanks Ian. The disavow tool was one of the requests in your original post so I'm pleased to see that has caused a positive effect. It certainly seems to be feeding in to the algorithm with Google supposedly doing round robin devaluations of certain types of link each week.
Hi Ian! Thank you for doing the AMA.What are some things an aspiring marketing professional can do to get more practice/be more marketable? Any certifications, blogging, exercises that you would recommend?
I'm not a fan of certifications, because they can't last long.
There are two exceptions: Consider studying for and passing the Google Adwords exam. If you can, it may give you an entrance-point for doing PPC at an agency. Also consider the Google Analytics Individual Qualification exam.
Aside from that:
You should definitely write, a lot. Not everyone agrees with me, but I'm a strong supporter of the "write every day" concept. You don't have to PUBLISH every day - just write. That'll build the single most important skill you can have as a marketer.
You can and should blog, as well, but be sure to pick topics you want to write about/have special knowledge to share. Don't pick topics because you think they'll attract attention.
Read the classics: Ogilvy on Advertising ("If it doesn't sell, it's not creative" is timeless advice) is a must.
Most important: Don't live in a bubble. Do some marketing of your own:
Find people you want replying to your posts and get in touch with them by leaving great comments on their own blog posts, or by connecting with them via Twitter/Facebook.
Curate and promote a really fantastic list of the top marketing books/videos/whatever you've seen in the last 2 weeks. I mean a REALLY fantastic list. Find stuff no one else has seen. Explain why each one is so great. Then set a goal of getting 100, 1000 or 10000 readers to that list.
By learning to create your own audience, you'll build your profile AND your skills.
The rest depends on your situation: If you're just starting out, and there are agencies in your area and you can afford it, consider interning part-time. Or, go to work in-house at a small business, handling writing and basic marketing tasks for them.
Thanks for the help! I'm sure this will be very useful for everyone :)
A cyclist? If you were to head up marketing strategy to make cycling more mainstream, what would you focus on specifically?
And what do you think of electric bikes?
Cycling IS very mainstream in most of the world. In the US, I don't know. Americans love their crashes - maybe jousting?
I COULD say stupid things like good urban cycling planning, easier mass transit options for cyclists, better urban infrastructure, etc., but that would mean spending tax dollars, and that makes me a socialist, right?
I think electric bikes are great if they get more people out on bicycles. I see them as a gateway drug to cycling.
If you had to pick a band or style of music to describe your approach to marketing, what would it be? Why?
If you look at my playlist, you'll find:
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult
So I may not be the right person to ask this question. But I'd say Queen. They're my all-time favorite band: Deep down they were masters of the sophisticated, but they always made it accessible. Bohemian Rhapsody had dozens of layered tracks - it was a technical masterpiece. But listeners don't have to know that to know it's a great piece of music.
Oh, and they never took themselves too seriously.
I can imagine when you listen to Marylin Manson...
Hey Ian, thanks so much for giving your time to inbound.org for the AMA.
My question is about terminology (no I am not going near the SEO or something else question!).
One of the most difficult issues I find in talking with clients centers around the the term "content". It seems many site owners think much used terms like "quality content" mean "write longer blog posts".
Have we created another Monster by using ambiguous terms like "content" and "content marketing"?
I think we have, yes. Every time I hear someone say "We're creating scalable content!" I throw up in my mouth.
It's not about content MARKETING. It's about creating MARKETABLE CONTENT. Which is also ambiguous, I know, but at least it doesn't make content sound like something you use as a candy coating to get folks to take your medicine.
The entire concept of 'content' is now totally upside-down. Content isn't what you fling out there to try to get a search engine's attention. It's what you produce to prove your significance to customers.
Sigh. I'm preaching. But you get the point. I hate the commoditization of content. It doesn't help anyone, except maybe people who want to make a living at $5/blog post.
I go with "A sign that something momentous is likely to happen."
Believe it or not, I have an optimistic side :)
Hey Ian... First time writer (caller), long time fan.
Are there any good guides for how to develop your robot.txt file for a a website when you have subdomains breaking apart tablet vs mobile vs PC?
Hmmmmmm can you give me a little bit more information?
Normally this isn't a robots.txt question - it's more about interpreting the visiting user-agent and then forwarding folks to the right place, depending on their device.
We're getting dinged because of duplicate content due to our tablet optimized site that is hosted on it's own sub-domain. Within 3 weeks of the new site being launched we saw a 45% decrease in traffic from Yahoo/Bing. We're putting rel=canonical tags on the tablet optimized pages to point back to our main domain, however one of the gentleman within Bing's algo team said that they do sometimes ignore the rel=canonical tags. We've got the user-agent strings in place, but Bing appears to be ignoring them. I've been trying to find best practices for implementing subdomain specific robots.txt files for tablet vs mobile versions of the site to help reduce the crawlers seeing the content as duplicate.
Hmmmm. And there's no way to just use responsive design, instead? Do you have the right doctype at the top of each respective site? I'm not even sure it'd help, but it might. The key is telling Google and Bing "This subdomain is for mobile content." Google at least says they won't ding mobile-only content.
Thanks for doing this AmA! What does Portent do to keep up to date with the 'dark side' of SEO/marketing? Do you have special test websites that you try new techniques on? If so, what is your most recent test?
We do quite a bit of testing. We also monitor sites we think are pushing their luck to see if/when they take a dive in the rankings.
Our most recent test involved running about 300,000 links from 100 or so sites through a program to analyze the ratio of suspicious to legit links. 'Suspicious' means directories, keyword-stuffed press releases, content farms and article spinning sites. We'll be publishing the results from that soon. For now, suffice it to say that Google's tolerance for suspicious link profiles is declining.
How did you get your start in search marketing?
I graduated from law school, hated it, and became a technical/marketing writer. I made a living at that for a few years (1993-1995) and then struck out on my own, starting Portent (then called The Written Word, Inc.) helping folks market their businesses in print and online in such centers of online commerce as AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy.
In 1997 a client called me and said "Why don't I rank #1 on Alta Vista for 'Seattle real estate'?" I was hooked.
We know you race, now define your class, level and moral alignment...as a Seo :D
As an SEO, I'm chaotic good. I WANT to be an elf, but I'm stuck as a dwarf. Class? Hmmm. I'd love to say ranger, but chances are I'm a blacksmith, level 30.
Or maybe a thief. A dwarf thief.
A chaotic good dwarf thief? Stealing your gold (rankings) back from the dragons (Well, you know...)?
I have no idea what you guys are talking about
Your loss ;) This is EPIC!
This is now officially the greatest thread EVER.
Cheers for doing an AMA Ian!When you wrote your book, did you start by defining the names of the chapters, or were you in a position where you had a ton of content, so you started with content and then decided to write a book? I'm mostly curious as I'd like to write a book and am struggling with knowing where to being.
I wrote a ton of stuff first, with the vague idea of writing a book. Then I strung it together.
But I had the idea of Conversation Marketing in my head for a long time, and had already come up with the structure.
It was a huge struggle for me, too! I ended up setting a goal of writing 2 pages per day. I threw out 1/2 of what I wrote, but eventually it came together.
Thank you Ian.
You're stopped in the street by someone who asks what you do for a living. You say "SEO." They're adamant that SEO's that "spammy voodoo nonsense" that's "ruining the Web." You roll your eyes. You have 60 seconds (or 2-3 paragraphs) to change their mind. What would you say to them?
Well, I have to say I wouldn't say I'm an SEO - I'd say I'm a marketer. But I'm sure SEO would come up, or they'd assume when I said "marketing" and "internet" in the same paragraph that I'm a spammer of some kind, so here's what I'd say:
I am not in the business of forcing search engines, or people, or Facebook, or anything else, to rank, like or buy stuff that doesn't deserve it.
MY job is to make sure great stuff connects with the people who need it. Period. And that means helping search engines, Facebook, etc. do what they're meant to do: Connect people to answers.
Definitely more polite than I'd be!
I haven't always said it as well as I wrote it above. There HAVE been meetings where people wanted to punch me, I'm sure.
Extended family sometimes ask me to tell them about my work, but to me it always sounds like "prove to me it's a real job".
I used to get that a lot. Less now that my family and I haven't all starved to death.
Thanks Ian! :-)
...Oh and apologies - I shouldn't have said that you'd definitely say "SEO," but I guess I was curious as to how you'd defend SEO if it were brought up (which you did). Thanks again!
No worries. Good question!
What angle do you take when meeting with clients who want "SEO"?
I always start with opportunity and ability: How much room do they have to grow, and will they be able to?
If someone has a site that's wall-to-wall SEO catastrophes and they have no inclination to fix it, the meeting's pretty much over before it began.
If they're already dominant in their space, we need to talk carefully about where they think the growth can come.
If, though, they've got some onsite and offsite issues and want to get to work (or let us get to work) then I'm all ears.
I've been a big fan since seeing you speak at MozCon last year, thanks for doing the AmA. As Portent has grown how have you managed to scale SEO procedures and activity? It's a challenge to ensure a couple of staff stay on the same page, as the team grows it must become much harder still. What's your secret? :)
I have no freaking idea. Seriously. Portent is my first management job.
I've been very, very lucky to find people who are good at running their teams. They take care of a lot of it.
For my part, I put a ton of time into teaching and training whenever I can (not enough) and try to get in front of the whole company often enough to remind folks what my goals and ambitions are, and check that I'm not taking us down a road everyone else hates.
One thing I just thought of as I write this: We AREN'T on the same page. That's actually a good thing. As far as basic values, of course, we are: I prize honesty and want everyone to give sound advice based on good information. But when it comes to the day-to-day, everyone has their own style and skill set. Sometimes it's more about putting people in the right spot than making them fit.
Oh, and people bring me Kit Kats. That helps a lot.
Awesome, that is very reassuring! Have just been reading "Good to Great" which mirrors the importance of getting the right people on board. I'm starting to learn that's a key part of the puzzle.
A really sophisticated toolset that could evaluate content for me. We've used some machine learning stuff to tell good from bad, and there are formulas out there for grade level calculation, but a really intelligent content evaluation system would really help.
Would you illustrate how to use server log data and onsite search data to for long range, strategic Web search engine purposes?
I'll give a couple of short examples here - maybe this is a blog post I can write though:
Log data: Find the slowest performing pages. Dig up areas of your site that aren't getting crawled but are getting visits, or vice-versa. Find broken external links that Google doesn't list. Find areas of your site that are completely 'dark' - neither search crawlers nor people find them.
Onsite search: Look for terms that folks use onsite but that don't generate traffic from search engines. Monitor the top 3-4 onsite search terms, and make sure you deliver that information on the top 3-4 landing pages on your site.
Ian, another question. Which e-commerce sites do you think make best use of content marketing? Also, why do you think that very few e-commerce stores use content marketing?
I'll answer that in reverse.
To most e-commerce sites, content feels almost like a distraction. They're there to sell products, and can't make a good, data-verified connection between content and sales. So content gets shunted off to the blog, separated from the products, which of course reduces the impact, and makes it seem more like a distraction.
Woot.com does the best job by far. Appsumo is purely information stuff but I love their tone and style. Amazon is clearly in the lead when it comes to using user-generated content.
Hope this helps!
Great answer! Thank you.
What do you think the right balance is between paid/organic search? Budget-wise and traffic-wise.
Particularly in light of PLAs dominating a large chunk of the SERP, etc.Also, how do you address situations of Paid cannibalization of Organic core terms with clients?
I like to play the percentages. If a client currently gets 50% of sales from PPC, and 50% from organic, then we know there's more to be had from organic. We can at least test that theory by putting a bit more effort into organic over time.
I'm not a big believer in cannibalization. If we have both paid and organic ads on a single page, we're just occupying more real estate. In my experience having both the paid and organic placement mean both generate more clicks in aggregate.
We've had clients really insist that we take down paid ads because they're ranking #1 for their own name, or some such. In every case we lose overall click and conversions.
Besides Wordpress, what's your favorite CMS for a blog or small site?
I love ExpressionEngine, as well as CodeKit if you want to run a static site and just publish from your desktop. I've played with Habari and CushyCMS, too, and they seem pretty cool.
Thanks for doing this AMA,
Say you are working on an ecommerce site that has 250,000 SKUs that fall into 5 main categories, they decide to expand their offerings and want one new main category and an additional 125,000 SKUs. How would you add these new sections to the site? All at once, big chunks over time or a little by little each day?
Ignoring the SEO implications, I'd still want to add them in big chunks over time. The implications for site performance, merchandising, etc. are pretty huge. Plus, you can use the addition of these new product sets as a reason for announcements and such.
I wouldn't be too concerned about SEO, if that's what you're asking. Yes, your site's going to grow a lot all at once. But assuming you have unique descriptions for each SKU, and you're not scraping them, you should be fine.
How about those Giants?
I'm OK. They beat the Eagles this year. That's like winning the Superbowl for me :)
SEO & (Google) Analytics data: let’s say you’re diving
into a client’s Analytics account for the first time – what are you looking at
and why, and what’s the sequence of steps you’re taking to find actionable recommendations for that client? I’m leaving the
business-type (ecommerce, lead gen) open on purpose.
I'm always looking for anomalies:
What pages get an unusual amount of traffic? Where do they get it from?
What parts of the site generate a disproportionate amount of conversions?
What traffic sources drive most traffic? The most conversions?
Are there any really bad exit points? What I mean is: Are there any parts of the site that seem to shed/repel visitors?
You want to look for the biggest opportunities, right off. That usually means:
1. Things that are broken but easily fixed, like a lousy call to action.
2. Things that work well but could work better, like a page that ranks #11 for something, generates sales, and could easily move up to #9.
3. Big uh-ohs that will require long-term fixes, but are worth it, like poor SEO, interface problems, site speed issues, etc.
Thanks for this AMA. I love to read your post on SEL. Always quirky & humoruos. Well, my question is this
Which Black Hat Technique you've ever used for Portent.com OR any other site?
I have to admit, up to 2003-2004 we played with link buying a bit. Then the risks seemed to get a little too big.
We also tried a sort of 'high end' content spinning, but that just got us 5,000 versions of an article and nowhere legitimate to place it.
There are a hundred billion SEO tools out there. Granted, they all are different in some way or another, but if there was some sort of apocalypse that wiped all but 3, which 3 would you hope were saved and why?
I love SEOMOZ and Majestic for the data they provide, so that's an easy one.
After that? Raven is awesome, but it combines a lot of OTHER tools, so I'll cheat and say I have a fourth: Portent's site crawler. I'm not just saying that because it's ours. It's also awesome, and it has more flexibility than anything else I've seen.
Well, it IS the apocalypse, so I guess a fourth tool could survive. Apocalypses are unpredictable like that.
They're fickle beasts.
According to you, which all would be the best options to increase the CRO of a offline business through online campaign? & how to measure the success rate & % of success through the particular campaign.? kindly explain.
I'm assuming all conversions happen offline, like in a local store or similar.
Put a lot of time into local SEO - make sure folks can find you when they need you.
Tie deals to online participation, if at all relevant.
Encourage visitors to review your store/location online.
Offer specials that are only accessible if you find them online.
If you want to get really fancy: Start using something like Apple Passport.
Then, track consumption of those special offers in your store.
That won't track everything, though - you'll want to track overall sales versus online participation over time, and see if there's a correlation, as well.
Ian, thanks for doing this AMA. Great stuff. Without being too overly biased :) - do you think Portent is strong in technical SEO services such as breadcrumbs markup, schema.org objects, and Open Graph markup?
HAH. Without being biased? :P
Yes, we're very strong in technical SEO. It goes way beyond markup, though. We dive pretty deep into server infrastructure, log file analysis, etc.
As a cyclist myself I'll start with that: what are your current bicycle(s) and what is your dream bike?
And we'll end with an SEO question: What three tools are your favorite for site audits?
Right now I have a Felt F2, a Cannondale tandem and a Santana tandem. The tandems are woefully underused. The F2 is basically a dream bike. I AM in the market for a good mountain bike though. And of course I'd never turn down a Trek Madone 7 series team edition, even if I'd be too embarrassed to ride it.
My favorite 3 SEO site audit tools:
- Portent's own internal crawler. I know, not helpful, so the next 3:
- Screaming Frog
- My command line, using CURL
- Google PageSpeed
Felt does make a nice bike. I've twice raced a tandem in a cyclecross race; scariest thing I've ever done. I love my Madone 6 series and would highly recommend it.
Thanks for this AMA and sharing your favorite site audit tools!
What do you use cURL for and what data do you collect with it?
I use cURL to check server headers, for the most part. I can also look at cookie data, but the server headers and responses are really valuable to me.
Interesting. I'm assuming that you're looking for the most accurate data because ScreamingFrog pulls this in too; more studying a practice! Thanks for the information.
Yup - I also use it to check how a server responds if I deliberately ask for a page that doesn't exist.
Tandem cyclecross? How do you decide when you're going to run next to the bike...? I'm picturing folks riding away from each other...
I was the captain and would thread my leg over the top tube while the stoker kept our speed way to high coming into the barriers. Once I was over he would dismount normally and we'd heave the bike over each barrier. Then I would run pushing the bike like a bobsled while he got back on and was able to start pedaling. At that point I'd get half my butt on the seat and thread my leg back over the top tube. It wasn't safe or pretty but it was faster than what the other guys were doing. We're Facebook friends, you can see the photos :)
My god. I once raced velodrome on a fixed-gear tandem, but that was a picnic by comparison.
SEOmoz has limit of
crawling 10K to 20K pages within their software under different plans. What
paid SEO software do you recommend for crawling the website with millions of
pages and identifying the technical SEO errors quickly? (includes Indexing,
crawling, 4XX, 5XX, redirection, server)
I actually don't know of any software that can handle millions of pages out of the box. That's what got me learning Python several years ago. It's fairly easy to code up a crawler and use it to test a very large site. Scrapy could do it, or HarvestMan.
Or, you can divide the site into chunks and try to do it using ScreamingFrog or Xenu. I suspect that'll take forever though.
How is your team structured? Do they work in teams? What does a team look like?
Our company is three basic 'divisions:'
The marketing geeks, which is the SEOs, PPCs, analytics specialists, etc.
The creative team: Writers, designers, producers.
The technical team: Developers
Any one project may have one or more people from each team. It's really hard to avoid siloing, and it's something we're working on. As connected as everyone is here, and even with everyone (almost everyone) under one roof, folks still tend to gravitate to their own teams. So we try to cross-pollinate whenever possible.
Thanks Ian. How are roles divided up on the SEO / Content Marketing Team? Outreach? Manager? Ideas?
On the SEO team, we've got folks who have specific skill sets - UX/UI, onsite technical, etc. - but the content team is actually part of Creative Services and a separate group. They work together, a lot, of course. But a separate team.
Thanks for your insights Ian.
OH, also: I'll be on from 7-10AM, 11-noon, 3-4 and then 5-?? Pacific time.
Two Questions about local search:
1) In the local search game, in what way do you feel local search has most evolved over the past year or so?
2) And, in your experience - how has Bing (Business Portal & Local) fared against Google+ (Local / Places)?
1: Towards mobile. I think the next few months will show the extent to which local search has evolved to be context-aware.
2: Bing in general hasn't fared well against Google. HOWEVER, I've seen fewer nightmares around incorrect addresses, stolen listings, etc. in Bing. In Bing Local I don't feel like I'm in a Franz Kafka novel.
For a really good answer, though, I think I have to punt on this one and ask David Mihm if he'd want to give it a shot.
1) Honestly not much has evolved in the last year or so on the front end. Facebook Graph Search has the potential to be a big-time game changer but not until it's released on a much wider scale. On the backend Google has made some changes to make the social layer that Plus adds feasible & when those changes roll out, some of the social features of Plus will play a larger role. Until they do, it's still citations, links, and reviews. Agree with Ian 100% that this entire space is going Mobile...
2) Bing Business Portal has a lot of the functionality of the Places Dashboard (in fact, MORE functionality) but Bing just doesn't have the mindshare among business owners (or market share among searchers) for it to be a big deal. It's a little bit complex to use from a business-owner standpoint but I bet that business owners who are REALLY engaged with their online marketing absolutely love it. The problem for Bing is that Google's "Business Builder" is likely to launch in the next quarter or two, and it's going to be even harder for them to catch up.
Thanks David! Now I have to go research business builder.
Interesting! I'll poke David and see if he mins chiming in :)
We are participating at a global conference cum exhibition in Cologne,Germany. Now based out India primarily we build healthcare saas products for doctors.
We would ideally like to understand how to get the buzz going about our presence at this event to our customers in India and would like to also spread word to global audiences.
Market the fact well that we are going to be out there - launching a couple of products and would like you to join us.
Collect a good amount of leads - we havet the event in March our niche ie : software for doctors etc has some decent no# of traffic on google.
So will you be able to suggest some ways to go about this for a successful drive overall.
Key points of note :
Spread the word as an organization
Get our existing customers to refer us to their friends and colleagues in those regions probably
Collect leads e-mail IDs / No# via campaigns
Be really active Pre- and during the show - how do we go about live updates while there or can be probably hold some discounts at the show etc
Can you help us on the above pointers.
Whoa there Aditya - that's a pretty tall order in an AMA :)
One easy tip though: The best way to get attention during a trade show is to help out. We often schedule 15-minute, free marketing audits for folks. They can stop by our booth, sit down with me or another Portent person, and get some fast marketing advice. In exchange, we get their business card and a chance to demonstrate that we know what we're doing.
You're selling software for doctors. You could advise doctors who stop by your booth how to streamline their practice management. DO NOT MAKE IT A SALES PITCH FOR YOUR SOFTWARE. Offer to give them a demonstration, of course, but also provide them with at least 1 piece of really great advice they can put to good use whether they use your products or not.
Hi Ian, enjoying the AMA
A few business development questions: How have you managed to grow your business, and grow client accounts?
I noticed you recently hired someone in a "President" role. How do you go about getting new business?
We get 70% of our business through referrals. That used to be 90%, but in the last 2 years we've made a concerted effort to get better at marketing ourselves (ironic, I know).
Hiring a president has let me put much more time into the stuff that generates leads for us: Writing, speaking, etc. That's made a huge difference. He's also worked on building a sales team, which we've never had.
But the vast majority of our business comes in through inbound leads, and I don't expect that to change too much in the coming years. It's a very natural fit for our company and our style.
I like playing the role of educator: Teach folks how to discern good from bad payday loans, or choose a decent personal injury attorney. Give scads of good advice.
Portent is in internet marketing - not exactly an industry with a great reputation. It's how we built our company, and it's worked for us.
What are the top 3 things you would do to help improve a client's quality score within Google AdWords?
1. Split out the networks. Don't have search ads on the same campaign as display ads, for example, and consider whether you want 'search partners' included in your PPC campaign.
2. Put ads with high CTR in a campaign separate from the ones with low CTR.
3. Create ads customized to each keyword or keyword set. That can really boost both CTR and conversion rates after folks click.
Thanks for the reply!
Do you and your clients differentiate the content pushed through your different social channels? E.g. certain types of content/links for Twitter, more visuals on Facebook etc.
Thanks for the AMA.
Absolutely. At a minimum, we differentiate by audience. We know the Twitter audience (until recently) wouldn't expect a video or photo embedded in their news stream, and that Facebook audiences respond far better to photos. On Reddit we might be far more detailed. Hope that makes sense.
Is there anyone in the industry that you've really want to meet in person but haven't gotten yourself around to doing so?
Wow. There are a lot. I hate to make a list, for fear of leaving someone out. I know, cheap answer. But I generally like meeting everyone. I'm just shy as hell and really poor at introducing myself. If you see me at a conference, hiding in a corner, just come over and say hi. I probably won't pass out.
Hi Ian, thanks for doing this AMA. :)
What do you consider as the 3 worst business decisions you had ever made as the CEO of Portent? What did you learn from those mistakes?
Only 3? Hmmm have to really narrow things down.
1: Selling my company in 1999. It was a complete disaster. I share plenty of blame for that, but in the end it was a poor idea at the wrong time for too little money. It basically extinguished the company, forcing me to start over again in 2000.
2: Firing a client when angry. I've had to part ways with plenty of clients, amicably or otherwise. But there were two times I did it before I cooled off from whatever incident precipitated the break. That was a huge error, both times. I'm not sure I would have acted differently, but stuff like that gnaws at you forever after.
3: Pricing our services too low. Even after all this time, I tend to sell us short. It's always easy to negotiate down - it's impossible to negotiate UP. And no serious potential client has ever run screaming from a bid.
Other horrifying mistakes:
- Hiring a friend (someone I knew outside the industry).- Hiring my wife as our CPA (I throw away receipts).- Trying to do it all myself. 2 bouts of pneumonia have taught me that.- Pulling an all-nighter for a client emergency request. The clients don't remember. You do. It's not worth it.
I know in the past you have talked about in-house training sessions/meetings that you hold to teach new concepts or chat about new industry happenings. How often do you have these, how formal are they, and what sort of subject matter do you typically cover?
We've recently tried to really step this up. I'm now meeting with each team once every two weeks, for 1-2 hours. The sessions are pretty informal, although I do typically have some kind of training slides, etc. put together. Everyone's welcome to bring 'stump Ian' questions, as well.
The goal is to steadily transfer stuff out of my head and into everyone else's.
We're not trying to get everyone absorbing 100% of what I say. It's more about the couple of tips or tricks everyone finds useful after I babble on for 1-2 hours.
I recently saw the press release you guys put out. First of all congrats for the growth! At what point did you feel the need to bring on a president to allow you to focus more on the core of the business?
Sometime around 2002, but I was slow on the uptake.
Seriously, it would've helped us years ago. No one can handle both the operations and strategic side of a business when it starts really growing. By the time we hit 25 employees, it would've helped us a lot.
Most (not all) internet marketing agencies require a college degree for employment. Most undergrad degree programs teach little or nothing about online marketing. A) Why is this? B) What value do you put on a college degree when hiring at Portent? and C) If I can self-teach myself online marketing or learn via internships, should I still pay $50K+ to go to college?
I've hired people with no college degree. The times I've found them to be short on something, it's not skills - they're missing the ability to function in a professional environment. Not always - just sometimes.
So picking up the skills is really valuable, but what you really have to show if you're going to work at an agency is that you can work with others, work on a team, deal with the inevitable bumps in the road, and such.
I'm looking for any feedback advice with regards to scaling a small SEO team in terms of clients and staff. Any advice regarding things that have worked for you and things that are a absolute no-no would be much appreciated.
Thanks in advance!
The main thing is automate everything you can. Stuff like site crawls, keyword mapping and log file analysis can be scripted to happen in minutes rather than hours.
Beyond that, teach time management. Make sure everyone has the tools they need to measure and manage their time. There's nothing that will serve you better.
Who's your favourite wrestler?
Whoever hits people with chairs gets my vote.
I feel there is huge market for Content Marketing in KSA. How should I research for facts here, tips?
It's not so much about 'content marketing' - look for companies who want to take a strategic marketing approach. That will naturally lead to content strategy.
If you want to learn how it all works, I recommend taking a look at Lee Odden's stuff on http://www.toprankblog.com/ . Read everything on SEOMOZ.org. And you might want to take a look at my company's blog, www.portent.com/blog.
Also, though, read Starting With Why by Simon Sinek. It will teach you more about compelling communications than any other single source.
"Online Marketing" - often people mistake it for just being able to pull off SEO & Facebook marketing / Adwords with eas ,etc. Indeed there's much more deeper connect to this.
What would your opinion be? Who would an ideal product marketer / online marketer fit to be?
Thanks for the AMA Ian. Portent is awesome!
What are your thoughts about what makes a successful start-up? Can you tell me 3 of the most important things that's going to make a business start-up successful?
Founder passion about the product (not acquisition)
A founder who understands the product
What are the most important thing to you talking about client relationship ?
Ensuring you provide trustworthy advice. I always say I'd rather have a client trust me than like me.
It's very tempting to tell clients what they want to hear. But that rarely works out as well as telling them what they need to hear.
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