Interview with Aaron Wall - SEO Consultant and author of the SEOBook

By The Sandman · Jun 2, 2007 ·
  1. The Sandman
    Most forum owners/administrators are familiar with SEO guru Aaron Wall and his extremely successful SEOBook, and those who aren't probably should be. :) After all, what forum administrator isn't interested in increasing traffic and/or monetization of their forums? To be successful - to build an online presence and thrive against competition - requires an understanding of the way search engines work as they drive traffic to our sites. Things change quickly in the world of search engines - it takes constant updating to stay current. That's the beauty of Aaron's ebook - it keeps up.

    I'd like to thank Aaron for participating in this interview with the Admin Zone! Thanks Aaron!


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    Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

    I think that my "About Page" http://www.seobook.com/about.shtml says more than most about pages do. I am just an SEO and internet marketer, though.


    What is your educational background?

    Two weeks after high school I joined the military. Ick. After about 6 years of that I realized I would rather play on the web. I have attended college as a student, but have guest lectured, and have been offered the opportunity to become an instructor.


    Arguably, the one thing that most launched your career in SEO was the publication of your ebook, SEOBook. Where did you the idea to write this book first originate and how did it evolve? Did you expect it to be as successful as it has been?

    Thre big factors I noticed were:
    • client service based business models generally don't scale very well
    • blogs and editorial sites (perhaps unfairly) got a disproportionate amount of link equity relative to their content quality, so I started a blog to ensure I got more links than I deserved
    • SEO Books were claimed to be perpetually outdated, so maybe I could create an ebook and update it often
    It has been far more successful than I would have guessed it to be. I think being interested in and passionate about the topic is what lead to that.


    What did you do before you wrote this book? How did you get from there to here?

    After I got out of the military I had another job for 8 months. I quit it when I was making $100 a month off affiliate marketing. I had a few clients as well, but never too many because I was not very good at business when I first got on the web, and many potential clients need much more than SEO (like usability stuff, branding stuff, etc). and many potential SEO clients are scammers. For example, one wanted me to sign a formal agreement and guarantee rankings for highly valuable commercial keywords and only pay me $300 for the guaranteed rankings and guaranteed increases in sales worth about 6 figures. That shifty businessman spent more on his legal documents than he wanted to spend on SEO. Why would anyone want to work for someone like that?


    Are you working on any interesting projects that you can tell us about?

    I have lots of ideas, but many of them will probably fail. It only takes a couple sticking to do well though. My interests are so broad ranging that it is hard to know for sure what all I will do. I like lead generation, affiliate marketing, and blogging though.


    Who do you consider to be the authorities on SEO (other than yourself) and where do you go for news and discussion on the subject?

    Caveman is way up there. So are DaveN and Greg Boser. I use the IGoogle page and subscribe to about 50 different feeds about SEO, domaining, marketing, and web businesses.


    What are the biggest changes in SEO that you have seen in the past 3 to 4 years?

    Google's move toward overrepresenting large authority sites, authority sites spamming Google, Google mixing YouTube and news results directly into the search results, crawling depth based on minimum PageRank, Google filtering pages that are too focused on a topic, and local reranking of search results.


    What do you expect to see as the biggest changes in SEO in the next 3-5 years?

    More of a move to make more meaning of usage data, which will further lead to pushing the top offline players to be more represented online than they currently are. Google is also increasingly collecting usage data and hosting more content via things like YouTube. As they get more market data in many markets it will continue to get cheaper and more stable to be legitimate than to fake it.


    Do you have any experience in SEO for forums? Is it any different than SEO for any other type of website?

    I have not dealth with SEO on forums too much, but four things that are worth taking a look at are:
    • minimizing duplicate content from alternate archive formattings, printer friendly pages, reply to post links, etc
    • using mod rewrite for clean descriptive URLs
    • thinking through what types of people you want to attract
    • thinking through what types of controversies are worth dealing with and which are not

    Is SEO necessary for forums? Isn't having lots of good quality content enough?

    Some forum owners I know take care of both of the above ideas. In addition some of them add useful tools, write featured editorial content, and other stuff like that to make the site more sticky. The problem with forums is not a lack of content, but more a sea of content, and that the best threads get lost in that noise.


    Is there a "recipe" for SEO that forum owners can follow to increase traffic and monetization of new or existing forum communities? If so, can you share it with us?
    • Don't monetize too aggressively off the start.
    • Participate in other communities to help build up your community.
    • Offer a blog or some other service that wraps similar content in a lower noise format.
    • Reward the best members and highlight the best threads.
    • Create something unique that is not offered elsewhere.

    In recent years we've seen more and more "pre-packaged" SEO techniques used in forum and CMS software (most in the form of modifications). Do you feel this is a good or bad thing? What are some of the important things to look for and consider before installing a "pre-packaged" SEO solution?

    Think about the intended outcome, and see if the suggested changes make sense from the perspective of a search engineer. For example, something that guarantees twice as many pages of content for no work is probably crap because it can't just generate more meaningful content, and search engines do not want to index the same stuff over and over again.


    There has been a lot of discussion and speculation about Matt Cutts announcement about stepping up the war on link buying and selling. What do you personally see as the fallout from this announcement and how has that changed your SEO strategy? What other Google changes in recent weeks or months have significantly altered your approach to SEO?

    The fallout I see is that many people are going to start misusing nofollow, but those who are in the know realize that this scaremongering is only occuring because links work so well to move rankings. My strategy has not changed at all based on the recent scaremongering. Generally I try to create sites that I think are best of class and bolt on viral marketing ideas. It has been what I have been doing for a few years though.

    Do I buy links? Sure, but I typically do it in moderation, and mix up the link sources (some directories, some blogs, viral news, etc etc etc).


    Any comments/suggestions about the SEO (or lack thereof) of the Admin Zone that might be of instructional for other forum administrators?

    You 301 redirect those outbound ads... that probably passes out a lot of your link equity.


    Will Yahoo and MSN Search ever catch Google? Is anyone else on the horizon who may be in a position to launch a serious challenge to Google?

    I don't see it. But then again I am a Google stockholder.

    The only things that can screw Google at this point are:
    • privacy, copyright, and monopolistic concerns (and associated regulation)
    • them warping the web so much that there is a big backlash for it
    That second one would have to come from internal hypocricy being so blatent that the majority of people started caring about it, but I don't see that coming anytime soon. The first is a fine line just beyond the horizon though, especially in Europe.


    Do you advise a different or additional SEO strategy for MSN and Yahoo? Or is it fair to say that one should optimize for Google and let the other SEs follow along?

    You can get a bit spammier with your links on the first two, and their algorithms are a bit more literal. For my best keywords sometimes I make a second more literal page for those two and then have a less literal page that targets Google. Most of my site strategy for SEO revolves around Google though.


    Will too much diversification, or too much too fast, kill Google?

    I am still a shareholder of their stock. My server logs and AdSense checks tell me that they are killing the competition. I think when we look at the scale and margins of their business the free software and whatnot are like a rounding error. The big issue is formalizing copyright and distribution partnerships with the right people. That will take a lot of time.


    What is your take on the importance or lack thereof of DMOZ today? Google has not apparently updated their DMOZ feeds, other than search, since February 2006. Is the Google Directory dead? What is the role of other directories in today's effective approaches to SEO?

    Good directories sell links for far less than they are typically worth (especially when you consider how the web is waking up to the value of links due to AdSense). The top few in each vertical and the top half dozen or so general ones like the Yahoo! Directory, Business.com, JoeAnt, BOTW.org, Gimpsy, and GoGuides are probably worth buying into.


    What are the most common mistakes you see people make when it comes to their SEO strategy?

    Thinking SEO is a cure for a bad business model and bad product.


    You've done some interviews yourself in your career. What was the one interview that you would tag as your favorite or most interesting or surprising?

    Hard to pick just one. I think I learned a good bit from every interview.


    How do you stay in touch with the rest of the world? Surely you have a PC or three that you'd like to brag about.

    My PCs and my Macbook pro are tools that help me play on the web...but not anything I would brag about.


    What sites do you visit on a regular basis?

    Mostly the feeds I subscribe to on IGoogle.


    What do you do for fun and relaxation when you're not working or online?

    Work online. :) And hang out with my girlfriend and our dog. Exercising is cool when I get in the habit.


    What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?

    I like Radiohead, Cosmos, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, lasagna, bubble drink and tea.


    What do you know know that you wish you'd known 10 years ago?

    How much outright fraud there is in the military and how right I was when I thought most authority is a bunch of B/S as a child.


    What do you think the future holds for Aaron Wall? Do you see any major changes in direction? (Should we be making arrangements to get the women and children to safety?)

    I might move to another country. Lots of other things I might do, but the future is uncertain. No matter what I do I will probably still have a blog or two. :)

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