Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Expert Interviews
Recently I had the chance to interview search engine marketing (SEM) expert Eric Enge. Eric career began as a software engineer, but has been involved in the world of SEO since 2002. He is the founder, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting and is co-author of “The Art of SEO”, along with Rand Fishkin, Stephan Spencer and Jessie Stricchiola. Normally Eric is on the other side of the interview with his Stone Temple Interview series that focuses on top search engine employees, such as Matt Cutts. I’m excited to say he was willing to take his turn in the hot seat this time around!
Thanks so much to Eric Enge for spending the time to answer all of my questions!
Question: How has your background as a software engineer influenced the way you approach SEO?
Answer from Eric Enge: The years I spent as a programmer helped me understand better how algorithms work, and therefore have a more intuitive sense of what is possible. This type of judgment is never perfect, of course, but it still helps me make better estimates about how Google is likely to look at things.
Question: In your 2012 interview with Matt Cutts you said that “…link building is an interesting phrase that has misled people. It’s a bit of a cart before the horse thing. It has led people to think about links as something they get from the “dark corners of the web”. Places where no one ever goes, so it does not matter what you do there.” Where do you think that idea sprouted from?
Answer from Eric Enge: For a long time, building crappy links worked really well for people. An entire industry developed around link manipulation just to fool search engines. People launched crappy article directories, crappy regular directories, and crappy blogs just to sell links to people who wanted to improve their search rankings.
In addition, the culture has been that Google is the enemy, and doing anything to take advantage of them was fair game. I don’t believe in those things myself, and bought my last link in 2004, but, for those who believed that Google was evil, doing anything they wanted to improve their search rankings was OK.
Question: With so many respected industry leaders such as yourself and Eric Ward talking about the dangers of taking shortcuts with link building, why do some site owners still fall for those snake oil SEO salesmen?
Answer from Eric Enge: For the most part, they just do not know better. In the past, various methods of cheating were in many cases faster than doing it the old fashioned way (of earning it). People chose to do what they had learned works, and are often shocked and dismayed when it stops working.
Question: What is the worst mistake a site could make with their SEO? And can a single mistake sink your SEO campaign?
Answer from Eric Enge: Any campaign that does not have high quality user experience based on the product or service you are trying to sell/promote at the heart of it is risky at this point. People will find new tactics that work, but they will be walking around with a bullseye painted on their back. It is just not worth it. Focus on creating extraordinary value for the people who come to your site!
Question: You wrote an article on Search Engine Watch called “The End of Link Building as We’ve Known and Loved it” that was published just a few short months before Penguin rocked the SEO world. How long had you been waiting for an update like that to come down the pipeline?
Answer from Eric Enge: I actually wrote another article quite a bit earlier which I published in Search Engine Land. That was the first time when I was on the public record that the big link update was coming. But, I have believed the day would come for a few years before that. It is really important for people to learn how to execute a truly solid business plan and web site user experience together. Google will continue to make more and more changes until they get people to realize that.
Question: Do you feel that Penguin has a done a good enough job of finding all those “dark corners of the web” and weeding them out?
Answer from Eric Enge: Penguin was just the start. Expect many more changes to come, probably in 2013, such as:
1. Devaluing of infographics as discussed by Matt in the 2012 interview I did with him. I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree.
2. More adjustments in the world of anchor text mix. There is a lot more they can do here.
3. An attack on low relevance guest posts. This should happen in 2013.
4. A big move in the direction of AuthorRank, which I first publicly predicted here. 19 days later that was actually confirmed by Eric Schmidt in a quote extracted in his book “The New Digital Age”. The Wall Street Journal got a preview copy of the book and highlighted the following statement:
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
Question: Plenty of site owners claim to have been unjustly penalized by Penguin and Panda. I’m not saying that the algorithm is perfect but do you believe it can really mess up that much? Could a site with zero SEO skeletons really become “collateral damage” in an algorithm update?
Answer from Eric Enge: It can definitely happen. Google does try to avoid it, but some people are impacted unintentionally. However, at the risk of offending some people (not my intent), most of the people who believe they were unjustly penalized are simply not aware of the things they did that were wrong.
Question: Penguin has a lot of site owners running scared from link building. Could a site owner focus just on content marketing and social media in order to attract natural links and not worry about finding them on his own and still have a successful SEO campaign?
Answer from Eric Enge: Content marketing and social media together is an awesome idea. I am a big fan of that as, done well, it has a quality user experience are the heart of it. However, I do believe that there are various forms of link building that are in fact OK. For example, a high end guest posting campaign (i.e. focusing on MAJOR sites) can work quite well particularly if you resist the temptation to try and jam rich anchor text in the article or the attribution. Besides, this type of link building fits in well with a content marketing campaign.
Question: What is the biggest difference between unique content and differentiated content?
Answer from Eric Enge: If you search on something like <intitle:”mortgage tips”> in Google you get 8,250 results. You could write a brilliant, unique, new article on the topic, but no one will ever know. You will simply be the 8,251st article on the topic written. So the article may be unique, but there is really no chance that you are going to say something that others have not said before. The result: it does not stand out.
Question: Even with Panda on the watch sometimes cheap, generic content still does better in the SERPs than great articles/posts/etc. What do site owners need to do to give their great content a boost and make certain Google recognizes its value?
Answer from Eric Enge: The big key is to create something new that is user and search engine discernible. Don’t write the 8,251st article on mortgage tips. Find a way to discuss something new that people care about. Bring immediate new value that a user can recognize in 2 seconds or less. If the user can recognize it that quickly Google will see it in the users interact with your site (via Google Analytics, Chrome, Android, …)
Question: How can a small website hope to compete against a large brand when they don’t have the budget to open up the content marketing floodgates?
Answer from Eric Enge: Big brands are always slow to adopt new things. This is the where the opportunity for the smaller web site lies. The opportunity might be the latest hot new social site, it might be jumping on content marketing before larger brands do.
Small businesses always have the ability to more nimble and fast moving.
Question: Is mobile SEO really that different from the usual SEO strategy?
Answer from Eric Enge: Mobile SEO is something that will go through a lot of evolution in the next 2 years. There are some clear differences between the results already, and many of these are due to location based data, and what Google understands about how users on mobile devices have different intent.
During the course of 2013 you could see different ranking factors come into play. This could be things like page load time and user bounce rate.
Question: How much of an influence do you feel Google+ actually has (or will have) on the SERPs?
Answer from Eric Enge: I still don’t think that Google+ is a direct ranking factor. Many people believe that +1s and Google+ Shares are treated like links, and there is no evidence all to support that assertion. These signals are used for discovery and we even have statements from Google’s Matt Cutts that say they don’t:
“In the short term, we’re still going to have to study and see how good the signal is, so right now, there’s not really a direct effect where if you have a lot of +1s, you’ll rank higher.
I believe that this changes in a BIG way with AuthorRank. Once that comes out, we will see that the rate of social sharing of posts written by an author will have a big impact on AuthorRank. This will be a significant ranking factor for how rankings of articles are treated by Google. Look back to Eric Schmidt’s statement I quoted above for all the confirmation you need on that score.
This non-paid interview is designed to give the Brick Marketing audience insights and different perspectives of SEO, link building, social media and web marketing. Past expert interviews include: Ann Handley, Eric Ward, Mike Moran, Andy Beal, and Jordan Kasteler to name a few.
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