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Interview with SEO Expert Ted Ives

Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Expert Interviews

Interview with SEO Expert Ted IvesRecently I had the chance to interview SEO expert Ted Ives. Ted previously served as Vice President of Product Management at The Search Agency, and currently helps enterprises to scale up online marketing efforts through custom engagements tailored to their unique situations. His background working for technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft, APC, and National Semiconductor, gives him a unique perspective on SEO.

Thanks so much to Ted Ives for spending the time to answer all of my questions! :)

Question: Coming from a technical background, how has that work experience influenced the way you approach SEO?

Answer from Ted Ives: In a lot of ways, but probably the biggest impact has been being able to semi-automate and systematize a lot of the analyses I do using Visual Basic in Excel.

Question: There are plenty of site owners and marketers our there with zero skills that would get them ready for a degree in computer science—what do you think are some of the basic computer skills needed for SEO?

Answer from Ted Ives: A real understanding of Boolean logic (AND/OR/NOT), learning Excel’s FIND, Text-to-Columns, and VLOOKUP commands, and some basic understanding of HTML.

Question: There are a lot of SEO tools/software products out there but as you point out “most only do a very tiny micro-task.” What would the “perfect” SEO tool/software look like to you?

Answer from Ted Ives: The perfect SEO tool would be if Google would simply crush everything out there by offering real position tracking, and adding SERP competition measurement features to the Adwords Keyword Tool.  Why they continue to allow companies to create revenue streams out of these two things I just don’t understand; very often those revenue streams fund other SEO tool featuresthat Google severely dislikes.  Instead of fighting black-hat tools, why don’t they just cut off their air supply?

Question: How much valuable information can you really pull from keeping an eye on Google’s patent applications?

Answer from Ted Ives: I’ve found a lot of utility in reading academic papers that Googlers have presented at conferences versus the actual patent applications – and since the patent office doesn’t publish applications for a year, you can get a real jump on the information by finding papers they’ve presented.  All the *really* key stuff, i.e. groundbreaking critical developments in operating a search engine (i.e. crawling or near-duplicate detection), or in running an ad platform, get presented at conferences.

Question: What kind of impact do/will structured data markup standards have on SEO?

Answer from Ted Ives: I’m on the record as not being a big fan of them, but they’re inevitable.  It’s disappointing that Google has essentially cornered the market on Ph.D’s, but then, instead of having them solve classification problems, which are challenging and interesting, simply wants the rest of us to just spend all of our time just labeling everything.  It seems like a huge waste of human effort.

Question: When did you first create your Linking Strategies Taxonomy? Do you expect that graph to change much in the next few years?

Answer from Ted Ives: I created it for that blog posting actually, although most of it had been kicking around in my mind for about a year.   The landscape is very dynamic.  Since issuing the taxonomy, things have already changed.   For instance, in October, Google updated their Webmaster Guidelines definition of “Link Schemes”. In my experience when they update their definition, industry-wide pain usually follows, after some lag.

Question: How important is PageRank when evaluating the quality of a link? Can a “bad” link ever have a high PageRank?

Answer from Ted Ives: Well, you could have a ton of high-PageRank links, and if every one of them has different anchor text with so called ‘money’ terms, you’d probably get hit by Penguin, so in that sense, any link in that bunch could be thought of as ‘bad’.

If you’re asking, do individual links pass some sort of Anti-“TrustRank”, I think the jury is out on that.   I’ve not seen any credible studies, although Google has certainly made a lot of noncommittal statements which imply that there is such a thing as Negative SEO, by using the word “almost” as a qualifier.  It reminds me of the scene in ‘Dumb and Dumber’;…..”so you’re telling me there’s a chance?!?”  ;-)

I think anyone doing outreach should definitely be prioritizing potential targets, just from an ROI of effort standpoint; metrics like PageRank, mozRank, Domain Authority, and Majestic-SEO’s Trust and Citation Flow metrics are all useful.

Question: What is TF-IDF? Is it something the average site owner needs to worry about?

Answer from Ted Ives: It’s just a way of adjusting the frequency of a term in a document by also applying the inverse of its frequency in a “corpus” (collection of documents), for use in a search algorithm.  For instance, if you have a 400 word article and it has “the” 40 times, and more than any other term, that’s 10% keyword density right?  But if you take into account that “the” is really common, you might adjust that 10% number way down, maybe to below a half a percent.  Because it’s pretty unlikely your document is about the term “the”.  Other more rare terms might get promoted – if you mention “zebra” four times, that’s 1% keyword density, but applying TF-IDF you might think of it more as being 10% since it’s so rare.  For the most part, site owners don’t need to worry about TF-IDF because the correction curve becomes very flat very quickly – whatever term you’re optimizing for, you can probably just optimize for, you don’t need to take it into account.  All the head terms where the curve is not flat are all pretty well taken already so you’re unlikely to be bothering with them (like “debt consolidation”).

Question: Can you summarize your theory of “Peak SEO?”

Answer from Ted Ives: Positions 1-10 are increasingly being filled with SEO-optimized results; at some point we will run out of low-hanging-fruit keywords to target.  Try a thought experiment – how hard is it to rank for “debt consolidation”?  Pretty hard.  Well, clearly 15 years ago it was probably less hard.  Now extend that to every keyword and take the thought experiment to its logical conclusion.

Question: If you theory of Peak SEO proves true what can a site do to help itself stand-out in an ever increasingly competitive field?

Answer from Ted Ives: Get into PPC, yesterday!  The marketing stool needs more than one leg, if you’re relying on SEO only you’re crazy.  Also I think finding other traffic sources such as social is a smart move.  Other things sites can do is to focus on providing videos and other results that Google is more likely to display in its “Universal Search” sections for queries.

Question: What are some of the most common issues you’ve seen with enterprises trying to scale up their online marketing efforts, including SEO?

Answer from Ted Ives: Technical SEO changes (like site architecture changes, adding structured data markup, and so on) are usually great initial low-hanging fruit, but after that there’s usually a phase of focus involving herding all the cats throughout the organization that already crank out content  – which can really bog down into a million meetings about standards and processes.  People don’t like change, particularly people in bureaucracies.  So a lot of Enterprise SEO is more about coordinating across multiple departments, negotiating turf, managing through influence, those sorts of things – all the same types of skills you see product managers exercise.   I come from a software product management background and there are a lot of parallels between these two careers.

Question: Small businesses might not have the budget but they are usually quick to change as needed. Can a bigger budget make up for a slower turnaround when it comes to SEO?

Answer from Ted Ives: I think a budget for content development in particular can move things a lot more quickly.  Developing a stream of content that can make an impact can be a challenge, particularly for individual marketers at small and medium companies who are often already overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

Question: What was the focus of your latest talk at SMX West?

Answer from Ted Ives: It was a great panel discussion with Kent Lewis of Anvil Media (@kentlewis), Christina Zila of Textbroker (@textbroker), moderated by Elisabeth Osmeloski (@elisabethos) on “How to Build Links & Win Authority Through Public Relations”.  A few years back I launched a website called  FindHow – a trusted, paid directory for How-Tos (i.e. instructional material), much along the lines of a ‘Yahoo! Directory’ or a ‘Best of the Web’.

My portion of the talk was a case study of FindHow’s launch, and the best practices we leveraged to maximize our publicity.  A common theme the panel really resonated on was that although journalists and bloggers share some traits, they really are quite different animals and need to be approached differently in many respects.

I think instructional content is some of the best content people can promote –  it definitely makes the world a better place – so I’m pretty passionate about FindHow, which made the talk a lot of fun for me.

Connect with Ted Ives on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.


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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