I’ve had the pleasure to discuss with Rand Fishkin about SEO and content marketing. I asked him the most frequent SEO questions we get from our community and his answers are gold for those who want more organic traffic.
Without any further ado, here’s my interview with Rand.
For those new to online marketing, could you introduce yourself and tell us how you got started with SEO and what do you do now?
Being the CEO and co-founder of the most popular SEO software company, what are the most common mistakes you’ve seen people make with SEO?
- Investing in SEO as a one-time project, rather than an ongoing process. SEO is never done – it’s like social media marketing or brand building or content marketing. Treating it like a one-time exercise you do after launching your website is a recipe for getting outranked by the competition who consistently invests.
- Hiring the cheapest SEO (contract or in-house) you can find, getting frustrated with their lack of performance, and then giving up on the practice entirely. SEO is a challenging, advanced art and science. It requires a lot of technical knowledge combined with considerable creativity and empathy. SEOs need to work across teams, projects, and disciplines to get results, and the good ones command high salaries and high hourly rates. If you invest in bargain-basement service, you’ll get what you pay for.
- Creating lots of pages on a website to target very small variants of keyword terms and phrases – this technique used to exploit search engines’ poor language understanding/topic modeling algorithms many years ago, but has never been good for users and now isn’t good for SEO either, yet it persists.
- Creating multiple websites and linking them all together in the hopes that the links passed between the sites will boost their rankings. This also is a poor tactic that doesn’t work (it never really worked well) and may be considered spam/manipulation by the search engines.
- Failing to consider usability and user experience in concert with SEO – many folks complete a technical checklist of optimization tasks but don’t look holistically at whether the resulting pages or site serve visitors well or entice anyone to share/amplify the content. If you don’t delight searchers in addition to search engines, you’ll be outranked by someone who does.
A question we often get is: “How to get more good backlinks?” Do you have any tips for our readers? What backlinks are good and which ones they should avoid having?
- Before you create content, have tangible people in mind that you believe will have a strong reason to care about what you’re creating and who will be likely to help amplify it, share it, and link to it. If you can’t answer the question “Who will share this and why?” don’t make the content. There’s no prize for hitting publish.
- Think about the most likely audiences that share/link to content in your field (or related fields) – sometimes these groups of influencers are fundamentally different from your customer audience and you need to target and serve them differently. To succeed with links, you need people who can link to you consuming your work and wanting to share it, so pay attention to the bloggers, the journalists, the website owners, the social media sharers, the resource guides, review websites, and every other kind of potential linker/influencer.
- Investigate who’s linking to your competition and why – and don’t limit yourself to just your direct competitors; look at the sites and pages that regularly show up in the same search results alongside your target keywords. If you can reverse engineer the patterns, you can often identify new link opportunities.
Many would love to know what SEO techniques you recommend using and what’s working best right now.
- Understanding your audience’s needs and wants (both conscious and unconscious)
- Creating content that appeals to them more so than anything else in the search results
- Building a brand that people know, trust, and love (and want to visit more than anything else in search results)
- Matching the keywords and content you target to the way people search and what they search for
- Crafting a user experience that’s pleasurable to consume on any device at any speed
- Being novel with your approach in such a way that you stand out from the crowd
- Leveraging the many opportunities available for various forms of media and content in search
How important is content marketing for SEO? Do you think guest blogging is still worth it?
Moz recently introduced the Spam Score. How is the community using this metric so far? What’s the feedback?
- It’s much more useful once folks understand exactly how it works and what it can and can’t do (i.e. it’s a set of Yes/No factors that, when combined, are well-correlated with sites Google has penalized/banned. The higher the count, the greater the liklihood, but plenty of sites with high spam scores are not ncessarily spam).
- Folks wish our index covered a larger range of sites and pages so that Spam Score would be broader in its potential application
- There’s a desire for more factors to be included so that we can get more accurate and comprehensive with the score
How do you determine if a backlink is good or bad? What metrics do you look for when analyzing the quality of a website?
I look at whether the website generally has high quality content, is well-maintained, has a passionate, editorially-minded staff/operator, and links out to other high-quality stuff. Metrics like Spam Score, Domain Authority, and MozTrust can also be helpful, but a quick manual review of the site is still important.
Link building often has a bad reputation. How do you see link building 5 years from now?
I think it will continue to trend the way it’s been going the last 5 years – toward editorially given, unasked-for links that are intended as real endorsements of the site/content/organization/
Have you ever dealt with a Google penalty that was impossible to remove?
Impossible? No. But I did deal with some very frustrating ones back in my consulting days (and I’ve helped connect a number of tough cases with good consultants in the last few years). The worst part, in my opinion, is the lack of transparency on Google’s part about exactly what’s wrong, why, how to fix it, and when they might take action if it is fixed. Those factors combine for a massively frustrating experience for penalized site owners.
What Google penalty do you find to be the most complicated to recover from?
Link penalties are often the most frustrating because it’s so hard to control the links that point to you, and so many links can be viewed as manipulative depending on whom from Google is reviewing it (there’s not great consistency in what one reviewer will consider spam vs. another). I will give Google credit for being surprisingly good at penalizing the sites who’ve done the spammy link acquisition themselves vs. those that simply happened to have spam pointing at them through no intention or effort on their part. I don’t know all the things that go into that analysis, but it’s pretty darn accurate.