April 8, 2014: Eric Enge is an active voice at top SEO sites such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and Moz.com. For more than a decade, he’s written perceptively about optimization. We caught up with Eric to get some insights on the future of link building and what Eric calls “holistic SEO.”
Didit: What is Holistic SEO?
Eric Enge: This is something that continues to evolve in terms of how we perceive it. The questions in the article that you linked to are good ones, but I’d express it a bit differently now. I think we now have two major disciplines:
Link-building, as many have defined it, is gone
1. On-page SEO, which is not going away. In fact, the need for this is growing. Things like Mobile SEO, Authorship, Schema, intelligent planning of what pages to create, based on keyword research and content optimization, are still very real, and very important disciplines. Some of these need to integrate very closely with usability and site optimization as well.
2. Link-building, as many have defined it, is gone (but link-building as they should have defined it is not!). At Stone Temple, for many years, we have viewed this as a means to build your visibility and reputation, as a first priority, and then let SEO benefits flow from that. I wrote about that recently in these places:
The key then is to think about building links with the following attributes:
1. Links that will drive direct referral traffic.
2. Links that build visibility with your target audience for your brand.
3. Links that build your reputation.
If you focus on building these types of links, your SEO will do just fine.
Didit: Is Page Rank Going Away? Should it?
Eric Enge: One can only hope! PageRank is such a bad measure of site authority, and it is something that Google does not use as part of its ranking algorithm. Google still defines PageRank as it was defined in the original Larry Page – Sergey Brin thesis, and even at the launch of Google they had evolved well beyond that. As publishers, we hang on to this metric, because it is one of the few that the search engines give us directly. However, it confuses many people, who use it in the wrong manner. Personally, I would not miss it. I certainly don’t use it any more.
Didit: LinkedIn recently announced that it would soon begin hosting long-form content. Could we soon see a lot of high quality content migrating from web sites? How will this new long-form possibility change the picture for publishers seeking online reach and influence?
Eric Enge: Platforms like LinkedIn (and other social media sites) are about “Other People’s Audiences” (OPA). You want to be active on them because it provides an opportunity to gain exposure to new audiences and grow your visibility and reputation. But, they are not the end game. Ultimately, you want to draw people to your site (or your App, or your mailing list). Use these platforms with that end goal in mind. LinkedIn’s publishing platform is quite interesting, and I am sure it will do quite well for them. We intend to be active on it, because we like OPA.
Didit: You observe that Google is moving the SEO profession to think more strategically, and write that “the focus is on understanding your target users, producing great content, establishing your authority and visibility, and providing a great experience for the users of your site.” Can you recommend some tools for better understanding one’s target users? If you could use only one, which tool would it be?
Great question. Here are a few ideas:
1. Ask your management team. A good place to start is to gather your internal team members together and ask them about things they have already learned. This can introduce some incorrect data but it will almost always be helpful in focusing the way you do the rest of your research.
2. Ask your current customers. Conduct a poll of some sort. Ask them to tell you about themselves. Collect that data right after you closed the sale. Get their email and ask them for more info later if they prefer. Offer them something in return for their time.
3. Industry surveys and analyst reports. Online research can turn up a lot of this type of information as well. You may well find a number of blog posts that cover the topic in your industry as well.
4. Go to trade shows and ask people there.
Note that none of these ideas involve a 3rd party tool, but they involve some basic blocking and tackling.
Didit: Google seems to be driving hard to establish authorship as an authoritative factor in SERPS, to the extent of granting an explicit page rank advantage to those who establish author rel, make use of Google Plus, and are otherwise “good net citizens.” Do you feel that this is a pipe dream and that authorship is too hard to establish, or do you feel that one day authorship will be established over most web content? Is it even worth pursuing?
Eric Enge: I don’t think that AuthorRank is in play today, but I do think that it is something that Google would like to do. It is just a lot harder than everyone thinks. The biggest problem is that the adoption of rel_author is nowhere near where it needs to be. So Google tries to supplement this with other data based on crawling. So for now, it is too hard, but Google does want this, so they will keep working on it. For right now, pursuing recognition as an authority brings all the benefits you need to justify it, so go for it, and do the rel=author tagging at the same time. Very little incremental effort, so why not?
Didit: We recently ran an interview with Rand Fishkin of Moz on the future of content. What’s your take? Is too much content chasing too few eyes? Do you agree with the Game of Thrones metaphors we use?
Eric Enge: Interesting interview with Rand. Personally, I believe that more than 90% of the content marketers are going to have a long cold winter, and many of them will end up looking for new careers. I don’t want that to be harsh, but a big content marketing glut is coming. Some people will do this well, and others will not. Those that do it well will truly thrive. So how do you win in this environment? I am going to agree with Rand here, but expand upon that a bit:
1. Build strong social media followings.
2. Build an email list.
3. Get people used to coming to your site.
4. Speak at conferences and do other things “in real life”
5. Spend a lot of time helping solve problems for others.
6. And, as Rand says, create especially compelling presentations for your content.
Didit: If you had a magic wand and could influence one thing that SEOs do in regards to practice, what would you change about the profession? What one practice or principle would you have SEOs adopt to make the industry better for both practitioners and clients?
Eric Enge: Stop being a hunter and learn to be a farmer. What I mean by this is don’t think you have to go shoot everything yourself (be manually involved in obtaining every link). Instead, think about how you can build a reputation where you publish new great content, promote it in your social media and to your email list, and links, visibility, and readers will happen automagically from there.
And, remember, the desire to scale is the enemy. Quality comes first, not quantity.
Didit: You have been part of this industry for as long as Kevin Lee, our CEO. What changes did you not anticipate when you first started in this industry? Do you anticipate another disruptive discipline like Social Media in the next 10 years?
The main thing I did not really understand back then is just how hard it is for Google to make changes to their algo. Like many others, I would visualize a possible signal Google could use, or some spam-fighting thing they could do, and assume we would have it within the year. It took quite some time before I understood how hard it really is.
Remember that Google knows about hundreds of trillions of web pages, crawls a very large number of them, performs semantic analysis on what they crawl, builds a link graph for the lot, then throws that in a database where they respond to an arbitrary search query from a user anywhere on the globe in 4/10ths of a second.
In addition, they have hundreds of different types of content scenarios. Local content, user-generated content, video content, images, social media sites, blog posts, static article pages, and a whole lot more.
It’s a whale of a task to figure all this stuff out, it’s fragile, and simple changes can have unintended consequences. The net is that changes come quite slowly, and not always in the way we expect!
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