Your journey as an SEO specialist started with your first blog, God And You, a site dedicated to spirituality. First of all, what made you want to start blogging in the first place? How did you manage to stand out, in a crowded niche like Christian spirituality?
I wasn't really trying to stand out. Truth be told, I was simply a guy trying to write my heart out for what I believe in. Nothing more, nothing less. I was just amazed that what I wrote resonated with people and up to today God and You has more than a thousand readers a day.
The next step in your SEO journey was doing almost all of the SEO duties of a small start-up out of Ortigas, MNL, including handling all of the blog commenting and forum posting. How effective were your SEO efforts? Is this still the same way companies build their SEO ranking today?
I wasn't sure about the effectiveness of this approach, since I was practically the 'hands and legs' and nothing more. I didn't really have access to Google analytics and any dashboard that would show the data and results of the work I did. I was a robotic drone doing the work and that's pretty much it. What I was doing before is nothing compared to what me and my team are doing today.
Even with the ever-shifting search engine algorithms, are things like forum posts and blog ranking still an effective way to get back links to a website? Why or why not?
People are smartening up when it comes to backlinks. Plus, other SEO companies are just destroying the entire industry by exploiting the latest 'trend' in backlink strategies. This is evident in the advent of guest posting. When guest posting became a craze, I would receive emails from linkbuilders almost every day asking if they could post in my site. The emails would be generic and mostly templated. It was ruinous and unhelpful to the entire industry. Backlinking has changed dramatically since then. No one swears on just 1 strategy now. It's mostly a mix of multiple strategies being done at the same time.
What are some of the risks of employing "black hat SEO" tactics, especially if a company is intent on being taken seriously?
I personally wouldn't touch black hat strategies because it's not worth it anymore. You'd go through all the hassle and risk and Google just keeps evolving and smartening up. At the end of a couple of years, your efforts would be snuffed out. I'm more into the long haul. 10 - 15 years at least. And the way to go with that long of a haul is white hat strategies and methodologies.
You've described your first SEO experience as "horrible, actually", working 18-hour days, at times, for about $150 USD a month. It sounds like you were actually doing 5 jobs, not one. Can you break down what roles you were actually filling, at that time, and why it might be a good idea to have one person handling each dedicated activity?
I remember doing the linkbuilding, article writing, social media stuff, accounts management and technical SEO. It wasn't very fun when I got burned out. I wasn't very efficient, either. The quality also suffered. It just makes a lot more sense to hire people to do the work so that the output is good quality and consistent.
SEO marketing is changing rapidly from the old "keyword stuffing" days of yore. Can you share a few reasons why that is, and why it's actually a good thing?
It's a good thing because it takes on the form of the real world. Gamification of the search system is minimized to the least bit extent. Spam and other loopholes that used to be exploited are now heavily penalized. It's more than just the keywords now. It's about the entire experience of the average user who is searching for something online. Is the result relevant? Is it delivered quickly? Is it delivered well? Those are things that are more heavily weighed today and it makes a lot of sense because it's what the average user demands.
While the changing algorithms are good for users and readers, it DOES mean that companies have to try harder. Why should a company focus their energies and efforts into producing high-quality content to establish themselves in their industry? What difference can it make?
High quality content establishes authority. People don't listen to a nobody. Much less to a nobody in the online world. People with authority online are the only people with the opinion that matters. Great content helps build that.
One of the biggest differences in today's digital economy is that people tend to go looking for products, instead of being advertised to. Can you talk about how prevalent Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is becoming, and how it differs from classic SEO, if at all?
SEM is all about rented assets. After you stop paying for it, it expires and is gone in the blink of an eye. It's useful because it gets you up there fast but it also goes out fast. Yes, it's in the middle of the inbound/outbound marketing game but it's still a rented asset. I don't advise people to put all their eggs on rented assets. In the end, SEO wins the long term game - and for me that is worth investing in the most.
Can you also talk about a few SEO metrics, beyond keyword density, that people should keep in mind to find out how their material is truly performing?
Backlinks quality and quantity, brand co-citations, brand searches, site speed, SSL (site security), Schema, CTR, Time on site - these things, however small a factor as they are, all add up and are important.
For people that just don't have the time or expertise to build an online presence, how might they go about finding the right content marketing company to work with? What are some ways they could work with outside help to still maintain their own identity and voice while outsourcing the work to a marketing company?
Look at the company history, brands they've worked with, pricing model, response rate, customization and design of their proposal, and website design and rankings. These things signal a good provider.
Who I am:
Sean Si is the CEO and Founder of SEO Hacker and Qeryz. A start-up, data analysis and urgency junkie who spends his time inspiring young entrepreneurs through talks and seminars. Check out his personal blog where he writes about starting up two companies and life in general.
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