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

Discussion in 'Interviews' started by The Sandman, Jun 2, 2007.

  1. The Sandman

    The Sandman Administrator

    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!


    Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

    I think that my "About Page" 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    • SEO Books were claimed to be perpetually outdated, so maybe I could create an ebook and update it often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,, JoeAnt,, 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. :)
  2. JNudda

    JNudda Adherent

    Great interview. Nice job TAZ.
  3. shellspeare

    shellspeare Uninteresting

    Great read, plenty of food for thought there.

  4. minstrel

    minstrel Tazmanian Veteran

    Hi, Aaron. I wonder if you could clarify a few points:

    1. What do you think is the impact of duplicate content filters for a forum and what are your recommendations for minimizing duplicate content? Won't a decent robots.txt file take care of the "problem"? Given the reality that the worst case scenario for duplicate content is that only one of those URLs will be indexed, why is it even a concern?
    2. Your comment on mod_rewrite emphasizes two things: "clean" and "descriptive". Not all forums are created equal in this respect. To me, "clean" means eliminate session IDs and multiple parameters for spiders. I've argued repeatedly that vBulletin already does this out of the box and for that reason mod_rewrite is unnecessary and will not help. As for descriptive, again using the example of vBulletin but applicable to other forum software, the average thread title is not especially keyword rich and converting that to so-called keyword-rich URLs is not going to benefit you very much (look at the "New posts" list for any forum you'd care to choose. A third issue with mod_rewite proponents is the insistence, against all current evidence in my opinion, that static (HTML) pages are more better for SEO than dynamic pages. Can you comment on this?

    What would you say is the best way to avoid losing those best threads?

    Why do you call this "scaremongering"? Google has never made a secret of it's fight against PR selling and other "link schemes", and my take on this is that they are getting progressively better at detecting and discounting such practices. This is just one more step in an ongoing campaign. Admittedly, it's not a reason for panic or jumping out of windows since it isn't anything new, but in reality anyone who relies on buying links for SEO or selling links to pay the rent is (a) fighting a losing battle, and (b) capitalizing on a short-term solution to begin with. Your comments?

    Can you expand on what you mean by the term "link equity"?

    Are you talking here about redirecting specific spiders to specific pages, different from what the human visitor will see? :confused:

    In view of Cutts' recent comments on paid links in general and more specifically how directories are viewed in that context (see How to report paid links: Update, May 12th, 2007), do you see any value at all in the hundreds or thousands of directories based on scripts like phpLD? Do you differentiate at all between niche directories and general all-purpose directories?

    ...or poor content and poor on-page optimization?
  5. Participant

    A very to-the-point SEO reference guide. Another excellent interview!

    downloads Enthusiast

    Really worth to follow the guidelines. But everyone of us would be interested in the present updations of the seobook. As SEO is an ever refreshing act one should be ready to face the challenges.

    Thanx TAZ for the excellent interview.
  7. seobook

    seobook Neophyte

    For the most part that will work, but there still is the risk of spreading link equity across two URLs (even if one is blocked by robots.txt someone may still cite that blocked version, and that link equity goes nowhere).
    I think vbulletin is ahead of a lot of the other forum software. As far as keywords go, most threads may not be real descriptive, but as long as some percentage are I think that is a gain worth doing, but it does depend on how clearly we communicate and how much the lead moderators are involved with starting some of the conversation.
    Make best of threads, complement great threads by getting them exposure on an associated blog, sticky some of the how to guides or posts linking to best related posts at the top of related forums.
    Even the best products lose without market exposure and marketing. Everyone has to start from somewhere. No market is fair, etc.

    Recently someone posted on my blog that buying a Yahoo! Directory listing is dumb because Google is going to stamp out all paid links. That shows how effective the scaremongering of the few links Google recommends is being described as worthless by people new to the field.

    The reality of it is that most every link is in one form or another either pay for it with money, brand building, quality content, social interaction, or some combination of the above.
    PageRank or equivalent.
    No. I wouldn't do that without disclaimers and warnings and etc. What I was saying is make your normal page focused on Google. If that page is not ranking as well as you would like in the other engines try to make a second more literal page that uses the target keywords more frequently. Call the follow up page something like history of, faqs, q and a, or some other phrase that allows you to have an excuse to have that second page without it seeming too spammy.
    As far as general directories go, I generally only submit to about 3 or 6 off the start and then I may submit to another dozen a month or two later. If I have an old high trust site I might be willing to go further to gain a bit more anchor text and/or PageRank to help internal pages rank and flow more link equity deeper into the site.

    I also submit to a few decent niche specific directories.
    that too.
  8. minstrel

    minstrel Tazmanian Veteran

    Have you seen this study?

    Which web page elements lead to high Google rankings?

    Does that alter your take on mod_rewrite solutions?
  9. seobook

    seobook Neophyte

    Some people use URLs as link anchor text...just a few good source links like that with strong anchor text can make a big difference on relevancy

    Keywords in the URL improve information scent in the SERPs and increase CTR of a listing. That is why many AdWords ads include a few keywords after the root URL on the URL line.
  10. minstrel

    minstrel Tazmanian Veteran

    I would suggest that is pretty rare. Frankly, I just don't see this as a very helpful strategy for forums, especially for vBulletin which already provides good URLs for spiders.

    I'm not entirely anti-keyword URLs. I have some directories where the URLs to categories are keyword URLs. I even have a few original articles on a static HTML site that use keyword titles. I don't think those gain much of an edge but it probably doesn't hurt. But in those cases I have very carefully tailored the keyword URLs to correspond to selected keywords, not or
  11. sanjayadhakal

    sanjayadhakal Aspirant

    Thanks for the great always !
  12. Namesniper

    Namesniper Aspirant

  13. Red_wolf

    Red_wolf Aspirant

    The Sandman when r u gonna to interviewed Me:jiggy:
    haha Kidding...Good interview:tup:
  14. Swerve1000

    Swerve1000 Aspirant

    Great interview. Good to get the inside track on things.
  15. projectego

    projectego Participant

    Great interview! It's really really cool to learn more about the man behind SEOBook. :)
  16. nitr021

    nitr021 Quantity Surveyor

    Great interview. I got the book and it is massive and really worth it. As I am not used to reading 200+ pages on a computer I printed the whole book and binded it at work. Well in 2 binders as it was too heavy to carry on train.

    Very good work on the book. I hope there could be a section forum optimisation other than having unique urls. As table content = not so good.
  17. Participant

    I read the SEO book. Kind of hard to avoid the ads all over the internet for it. Gotta say Aaron, brevity should be your friend (=p) but really great information there.

    I certainly wouldn't mind your expertise taking a pen to resolving duplicate content in VB forums.
  18. minstrel

    minstrel Tazmanian Veteran

    Aaron really doesn't do forums. But the duplicate content issue with vbulletin is pretty straightforward - it's all done via robots.txt:

    User-agent: Mediapartners-Google* 
    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /admincp/
    Disallow: /archive/
    Disallow: /backup/
    Disallow: /calendar.php
    Disallow: /cron.php
    Disallow: /editpost.php
    Disallow: /joinrequests.php
    Disallow: /login.php
    Disallow: /member.php
    Disallow: /misc.php
    Disallow: /modcp/
    Disallow: /moderator.php
    Disallow: /newreply.php
    Disallow: /newthread.php
    Disallow: /online.php
    Disallow: /printthread.php
    Disallow: /private.php
    Disallow: /profile.php
    Disallow: /register.php
    Disallow: /search.php
    Disallow: /sendmessage.php
    Disallow: /showgroups.php
    Disallow: /showpost.php
    Disallow: /subscription.php
    Disallow: /subscriptions.php
    Disallow: /threadrate.php
    Disallow: /usercp.php
    User-Agent: msnbot 
    Crawl-Delay: 10 
    User-Agent: Slurp 
    Crawl-Delay: 10 
  19. dvduval

    dvduval Adherent

    For virtually any script there are good examples and bad ones. There are some well maintained directories out there, both general and niche. There are also some that are not very well maintained. The same can be said for forums. What Matt Cutts said was that directories need to have a good review process, and not accept just any link, and that charging for the review process is okay, but alluded to the idea that some other forms of charging customers may not be okay.
  20. seo_consultant

    seo_consultant Neophyte