Interview With Aaron Wall On His Online SEO Training, UK SEO, Blogging, Etc…
May 23, 2008 by Ben W.
Aaron Wall is a household name in the world of search engine marketing, the first edition of his book on search engine optimisation came out in 2003 and was immensely useful and popular. Now Aaron has shifted to offering an online SEO training program in addition to his free SEO tools and frequent blog updates. To the questions!
Aaron was kind enough to let us ask him some questions about his new training program, UK SEO, advice for small businesses looking for an SEO, and business blogging.
You currently are offering an online SEO training program instead of the SEO book you have sold for so long. Why did you decide to make the switch?
Some people would buy my ebook, not read it, ask for hours of free email consulting (when I actually made it hard to find the button for selling consulting at $500/hr because I was doing too much of it), and then some of those people who would waste hours of my time would also do a reverse charge. So basically they would steal $10 of my money and hours of my life.
Not all customers were like that (in fact most were not) but it only takes a few nasty ones to eat up most of your resources when you are a one person company. As the email list get rich quick hyped up traditional marketers started hyping the field of SEO too many potential customers were of poor quality. Given my fairly accessible price point, I was getting a lot of the get rich quick customers who could not afford to spend thousands of dollars on the offers the email list marketers were pitching.
So my time was becoming worth less and less and my job was becoming less and less enjoyable. And to some degree on bad days I think that made me kinda question humanity, and it made it harder to deliver value to some of the better customers. Then on my side projects…the ones that were getting 5% of my time my income kept increasing and increasing and increasing.
And on the other end of the spectrum Google got much more aggressive at hand editing the search results. Which meant that many answers to questions and strategies were quite subjective depending on a lot of factors. And so that made interaction between customer and teacher more important.
I figured by running a membership site it would basically erase that 5% of customers that were eating up 50% of my time, while simultaneously allowing me to engage in more meaningful relationships with customers who value my time. Plus if the price point was proper it would filter out bad leads and bring in people who were serious about doing well, and many customers would help each other. It has worked out better than expected thus far.
What skill level is the SEO training program aimed at?
Honestly most people who have been in the field for a few years are somewhat arrogent in their views, feeling that they already know everything, so based on that I think a lot of the potential client pool skews toward people new to the field.
But at the same time I have worked on some of the largest websites and networks…so I have a range of experience that can help beginners right on through to people who have been in the field as long or longer than I have. Plus some of the people in the community have been in the field over twice as long as I have, and have great insights that help me come up with new ideas and strategies. If I am learning a lot I figure most anybody who engages in the site should be able to learn something of tangible value. And if you are operating at scale just a couple decent ideas could be worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Do you think the SEO training program could do the majority of training for an in house SEO position at a larger company if the person is web savoy?
Sure. The one big issue is that if they have a big site it might also make sense to buy an hour or two of consulting if they wanted specific action oriented advice and were not comfortable getting too specific about their issues in our forum. Most people are quite open in our forums (after all the odds of one of the other forum members being a direct competitor are probably low).
Lots of larger sites have brand assets that can be creatively leveraged to dominate the search results. But sometimes you have to listen to people say their problems to really be able to get at the core of them. Meaning that I can write the answer in a training module, and I could answer the same question on the forum, but sometimes voice inflections and talking spews out stuff on accident…some of those accidents turn out to lead to answers to issues surrounding the company / brand / website / etc.
I guess I think there is a need for both formats for some people. In general one can get a lot out of our training program and forums, but some companies have specific issues which need addressed that are not common (due to custom content management systems and surrounding brand or business issues).
Do you think there is still an advantage to be gained when using a .co.uk domain to optimize for keywords in Google.co.uk, or with the addition of being able to tell Google Webmaster Central the country that the site is aimed at has that advantage disappeared?
I think this is one of the bigger issues facing non-US webmasters in the current marketplace. I am mostly focused on the US search results at the moment, but numerous SEOs I trust have claimed that they get much more ranking ability from a local domain than from a foreign domain with a local setting inside of webmaster central. Plus there is the perceived relevancy factor… .co.uk screams relevancy to a person living in the UK.
For companies that do business in both the USA and UK and want to rank in the top for keywords on both Google.com and Google.co.uk what do you recommend? Should they run two different sites each focused on one of those geographic areas?
Multiple separate domains make sense as long as you have the capital resources to market all the different websites. Another option if you have a small(ish) website and a limited budget is to use uk.mydomain.com for the UK and mydomain.com for the US. In this case you would still want to buy mydomain.co.uk and redirect it at uk.mydomain.com just in case your strategy changes down the road. And if it is not performing as well as expected and you have used up many of your best UK specific link sources it might make sense to go with mydomain.co.uk.
Paid links are a hot topic, do you still use them with your clients or do you avoid them for fear of Google’s wrath?
I use just about anything that works and is considered Google approved. If they say the Yahoo! Directory is legitimate then my sites get listed there. Beyond that much of my link buying is done indirectly – it comes as a side effect of a promotion. Last August I wrote a post on how to buy links without being called a spammer. I use many of those techniques on my most important websites.
What recommendations would you make to a small business owner who is currently depending on Google for 60% of their traffic yet afraid of this dependence?
Google aims to be a reflection of user intent, but perhaps with a bias toward large brands and informational websites. Sick of relying on Google too much? The solutions are to:
- Work on branding and public relations to get coverage and traffic flow from other sources.
- Create many different ways for people to find you and many reasons for people to want to talk about you.
- Make it easy for the media and/or thought leaders in your space to trust you by sharing valuable information.
- I am a big fan of blogs, but they are not for everyone.
For companies looking for an individual or agency to handle search engine marketing what questions should they ask to make sure they are hiring someone who knows what they are doing?
I think they should not rely on you or I to tell them those questions in a free online interview. Both of us have our own biases and business models to promote. Much of the free advice costs more than paid advice when you factor in the associated biases and self promotion. For instance, many domain registrars and hosts charge for an SEO service that offers no real value, but because the price point is low many people buy it.
Having said that though, here are some tips:
Before they invest in outsourcing they need to invest in learning. Perhaps they can go to an SEO related conference, join an online training program (though that tip is a bit self serving), or learn through experimentation and reading blogs and forums and books.
Install analytics on day 1 and perhaps even try some PPC ads to see what words work well for your business prior to committing thousands of pounds into an SEO strategy that might be targeting the wrong words.
There are lots of free SEO tools on the market. But do not expect any one of them to be a magic bullet that makes or breaks you. Before spending a lot on SEO tools consider some of the free tools that are offered by the engines. And look out for the instant autopilot SEO automation tools and never-ending scrolling sales letters…those are the products to avoid
Many of the times when a business chooses the wrong SEO vendor it is because the business is too cheap. If I can make X a month promoting my sites that I retain cash flow and ownership over it is hard for me to want to work to promote a far inferior site for 2% of X. John Andrews made a great post about SEO and a market for lemons worth reading.
Many of the times when the SEO fails it is because someone basically wanted to make a turd look like it was made of solid gold. Before hiring an SEO firm, a company should have points of differentiation in the marketplace other than price and quality of service – those two points of differentiation typically matter after people have already found you and bought from you.
Network in their own industry. If an external SEO can replicate all of their promotional and link building activities then they are not standing on stable ground. They need to be part of the promotion as well.
You have a great guide entitled the Blogger’s Guide to SEO at just the time I see more and more established UK companies starting blogs. One common fear I hear from them is that their industry is just too boring and they can’t figure out ways to make it exciting to get traffic that might result in sales and needed links. Do you think that any company can have a blog that helps them in their marketing efforts no matter the industry? Or are there limits?
I think the problem is that everyone says they have no time because their priorities are not in order. The best marketing and the best content ideas often come from founders and/or people deep inside businesses. But you can’t assume everyone knows how great you are or you know what you know if you do not share it.
The reporters covering your field and the bloggers in your space want to write about something – it may as well be you.
Once you have a premium brand position you can charge more for your services and you get quicker feedback when you make business changes…you go from being underpriced from a risk standpoint to being overpriced from the risk adversion and paying for quality standpoint. Blogs are crucial for knowledge workers.
Blogs and rankings also have a self-reinforcing network effect. It is a lot of effort to become a thought leader in your space, but once you enjoy that position it odes not go away. Even search companies like Google have guys like Matt Cutts blogging and highlighting new products. Someone in your company probably should be blogging too.
Great information and a big thanks to Aaron Wall of SEO Book for doing that interview with us! Be sure to check out his blog, tools, and new online SEO training program! I’m going to try it out later this week and should post a review here after a few months.