For the last year or so, the SEO world has been in chaos. So I believe getting as many valid opinions on the state of search engine optimization is worthwhile.
One of the people I reached out to for opinions is Dori Friend of SEO Nitro.
Dori’s been one of the go-to girls of SEO for at least a decade. She’s run several top-level private workshops, built SEO software, and is behind several blog networks including SEO Nitro, one of the most exclusive closed-door link networks available. So I really appreciate her taking the time to share her opinions on SEO now in 2012 and in the future.
This interview will explain top mistakes small business owners make when it comes to getting high rankings, her favorite link building methods post Panda/Penguin, and thoughts on what to make of unnatural link warnings.
As you read, keep a few things in mind:
- Dori is definitely an authority in SEO. Since Google hasn’t let anyone in on what’s going on (especially in regards to backlinking and unnatural link warnings) her opinion is valuable.
- As the creator of the largest blog networks man and woman has ever seen, she’s got access to more data than anyone I know.
If you’re a small business owner struggling to figure out your next step for getting (or re-gaining) high rankings, then gathering information from the top minds in SEO makes sense.
Unfortunately Google really isn’t giving us answers.
In fact their motto seems to be right along the lines of a saying by the Spanish painter Salvador Dali, “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.”
If we’ve learned anything it’s that we can’t expect answers from them. Like anything in business, you’ll have to make your own decisions, but gathering data and researching first is the best step for putting a strategy together. From there it’s wise to figure out what your threshold for risk is before you take the plunge.
Read on and feel free to leave your comments at the end.
Interview with Dori Friend
Lisa: I know you’ve been doing SEO for a long time, exactly when did you first get started running an online business?
Dori: I’ve been online since 93’ and my first email address was email@example.com which was Apple Computer’s internal email network (I use to work for them). My FIRST online business was in 2000 and it was called TheLogoGuru.com but I got so enamored with Internet Marketing after attending an industry seminar in 2001 I just drifted away from that business and went head first into SEO.
Although, Logo Design has now become a HUGE online market so I always keep meaning to go BACK into it, but just haven’t found the time yet.
Lisa: If you’re willing to share it, what was the first business idea you put together?
Dori: Back in 1985 when the MAC came out (and yes that dates me!) I was heavily into HyperCard, which was the FIRST piece of software that used “hyperlinks.” (can you imagine?) I created a product called MACINFO.
It was just a directory of Macintosh products of the day but the novel thing was that you could “link” and “jump” around and get to information you wanted, so it was non-linear, which WAS pretty novel at the time!
Two MORE novel things about that that first product ..
1) I was sent a cease and desist letter for using “hyperlinks” by the guy who had the patent on it (Apple squashed that pretty quick) and,
2) at the first HyperCard conference where I was showing my wares, my booth was next to the guys who did a pretty cool animated product that eventually turned into the best selling game “Mist!”
Lisa: Did you start out with SEO right away as your favorite source of traffic?
Dori: Actually, I think I started out buying PPC traffic for TheLogoGuru, But in 2002 I had gotten heavily into SEO with a buddy of mine. Together, we created a piece of software that let us put sites and content up in MASS.
This is in the day when on-page optimization was all you needed, so it was typical for us to put up 50k page sites and crank in long tail traffic in hordes! We had been doing well with affiliate stuff at Commission Junction but when Adsense came to town, it quadrupled our income almost overnight and we dance a jig for 3 years on that business model! 😉
So yeah, you could say SEO was my favorite source of traffic right from the start. J
Lisa: Compared to what getting top rankings were like when you first got started, what do you see as the biggest changes to SEO over the last decade?
Dori: Wow, well, the biggest “change(s)” I have seen in that last decade have all happened in the last 6 months! I mean, things are always changing, SEO has always been a moving target even on a good day, but the last 6 months have been just horrendously HUGE. But since the infamous “Florida” update, things changed at a lower pace then what has just happened to the industry.
And those gosh awful “un-natural link notices!” Oye!
It is almost like we are turning full circle back to 2003-04 where on-page optimization counts as much as incoming links.
From about 2007 to six months ago, I didn’t give a squat about ANYTHING on-page! I could rank what I wanted just by using inbound links.
Even, if there was NO content on the page let alone “quality” content! (that by the way was another HUGE myth Google had everyone chasing for years, that content was king, cause back then in SEO, LINKS were KING, period! ) And to some extent they still are, but Google has really up’ed their game so now there is an ever-increasing amount of variables that we didn’t seem to have to pay as much attention to back then. And, on-page is back.
I had always paid attention to title tags, but now we have to really pay attention to ad to content ratios, bounce rate, time on site, inner linking over optimization and an entire line up of Panda disqualifiers.
Off-page, we are calculating things like “link density” and “referral ratios” for the first time. This is stuff we (or I should say “I”) would never give the time of day before.
Lisa: Do you have any funny stories of ranking? Like a site you built that should have never ranked, but was getting out-of-control awesome rankings in the search engines? Would you care to share what top rankings for a particular key phrase or phrases have meant to you in terms of money?
Dori: I have some GREAT ones right now!! But unfortunately I can’t share with your reader’s cause the data is reserved for my workshop attendees in September, but I will say this, it goes against, everything Google says is true. Crazy insane stuff even “I” didn’t believe until I saw it with my own eyes!
But, as far as rankings for super killer keywords go?
I have had my share of page one monster terms, like “blinds,” “payday loans,” “cover letter,” “area rugs,” “slipcovers,” “weight loss,” etc.. But it is my SeoNitro clients that REALLY hit them and of course I can’t share those, but I do have a funny story about one that a customer was trying to hit for a killer keyword.
It was for the keyword “Toner.”
I was sitting at the bar (which I do) at one of the industry events and was talking to this guy next to me and he asked me my name and I said, Dori. He then said, “oh, do you know a gal named Dori Friend?” and I said, “well as a matter of fact.. I do.”
He then preceded to give me a 30 minute dissertation on Dori Friend’s system SeoNitro and how it didn’t get his site to page one for “Toner” after a couple of months and so he angrily quit and signed up with Brian Horn (whom by the way is actually a friend of mine, in my seo mastermind group and will be speaking at my event in September) and that Brian was SO amazing he ranked his site on page one in the matter of weeks.
I listened to EVERYTHING he had to say and took it ALL in! I mean how often to you get a customer’s viewpoint like that, it was SO unfiltered. Remember, we were AT the bar and this guy was drinking!
And then, I paused and looked at him, and I said, “You DO know I AM Dori Friend right?” And, he turned 50 shades of purple!! It was actually pretty funny. He really didn’t put together that I was THAT Dori! He felt SO bad for saying all the things he said about me not knowing it was me but I just thanked him. It was actually the best “take home” from that event for me!
Then later, I then went up to Brian and ask him how did he rank that guy so fast for “toner” and he said, “Not much.. you had already done all the heavily lifting for me!”
And THAT is SEO for ya! Ya win some, ya lose some!
Lisa: It seems to me that Google is really learning toward brands, almost every health search I do anymore has webmd and the mayoclinic near the top. Do you think there’s still room for the little guys (and girls)? And if so what’s the best strategy for them?
Dori: Yeah, when this all started, SEO gave the little guy a chance to compete and more often out compete the BIG Corporations. And THAT is what really made SEO so fun and exciting! For the first time, small business were able to show up on the national level and bring in customers from all over the world.
It totally gave the middle class a bump and I don’t understand how Eric Schmidt, (Google’s CEO) can go on record for “being” for small businesses, when it is obvious that they just kicked small business’s teeth in!
Even Google’s poster child for Adsense, “AsktheBuilder.com” has come out to say Google’s changes have nearly destroyed their business. And these are the guys Google gave us as a THE example for a great Adsense Model.
So, room for the little guy?
Yes, I believe so. We just have to “look” like the big guy now. Remember, GoogleBot is still just a spider sending back information to the mother-ship. So, the game is the same as it always has been, to feed the BOT whatever flavor of the day it is.
Lisa: What do you think are the top mistakes small business owners are making when it comes to getting high rankings?
Dori: Right now it is, in no particular order..
- wasting time taking links down because they got an un-natural linking notice
- linking “just” to their homepage
- linking with the same anchor text over and over again (over optimization on exact match terms)
- not linking to their site using their Brand and URL in the anchor text
- not linking to their inner pages (which coincides to many just to home page)
- not paying attention to on-page optimization (never thought I would be saying THAT!)
- listening to Google
Lisa: What are your top 3 methods for getting links?
- Blog Networks (of course)
- Press Releases (which FYI for the exception of about 145 major news pick-ups you can get with the $200 paid release at PRWeb, news sites are really just glorified blog networks)
Lisa: You’re so tapped into the SEO industry; I bet you can give some pretty good predictions. Where do you see the SEO industry in 2 years?
Dori: Well I don’t know if you can listen to me on predictions cause I would of never in a million years predicted the things Google has just done to the industry in such a short amount of time. But, ok, I will give it a stab.
I think by this time next year the SEO industry will have caught up with the changes that have occurred in the last 6 months and once again have a standard “best practices” that work and work well again. We are coming really close to this already through all the testing we have been doing.
Then give it anther year to hit the two year mark and Google will probably do another switcheroo on us!
And at the same time, I think more emphasis will be placed on multiple methods of generating free traffic with social media being at the forefront of that.
Lisa: What about 5 years?
Dori: I hope we will see the emergence of another significant search engine (or multiple) diluting Google’s current monopoly and ability to somewhat “control” the industry.
But Bing/Yahoo is slowly increasing in market share and then there the development of verticals like YouTube and Facebook. We don’t really see them so much as “search engines” now, but YouTube already generates a TON of free traffic from internal keyword searches for those who are ranking “just” in YouTube, so I think this is one of the types of venue of free traffic I mentioned above we will be seeing more SEO attention placed on.
Lisa: What are your predictions for Google Plus? Is it worth the typical small business owner’s time to get started on it or will it fizzle out?
Dori: The jury is still out.
But, right NOW, I see more of a SEO factor to ranking on Google with Facebook shares and likes. And, that could change, that is just at THIS moment in time a TON of Google Plus’s seems to be over optimizing a bit so I wouldn’t go hog wild on getting them but instead focus Facebook shares and likes and probably more on shares.
Lisa: Google will supposedly come out with a link disavow tool. If so are you going to suggest people who’ve gotten unnatural links warnings to use it sparingly or just disavow pretty much everything linking back to their site?
Dori: Unless we have data that shows us that a webmaster regaining their rankings or show “any” type of improvement at all from using such a tool, I will say it’s a waste of time and don’t bother with it.
Now if such a tool does come out, we WILL test it and test it to get our own data, and if I have to eat crow on the above statement, I will.
I just don’t put much credence into they un-natural linking hype. I just HAMMERED a site in one of my test using ONLY links from de-indexed blogs and I didn’t even GET the notice!! Talk about un-natural linking!! So, until Google becomes more transparent to what that actually means, everyone who is reacting is shooting in the dark.
Lisa: Do you trust what Matt Cutts says?
Dori: Trust? Hmm. Let’s say this, I trust that he has Google’s back (of course) and tows the line with industry rhetoric that places the fear of you know who into webmasters and plays them like a fiddle. Do I believe ANYTHING that comes out of his mouth? Mostly no.
And like I said above, I have data that I would just LOVE to share with your readers, (but can’t) that goes directly against what Google and Matt Cutts tell us.
So, I will say this, learn how to read between the lines and “really,” only listen to test results rather then hear-say, EVEN (or ESPECIALLY) when it comes from the mother ship as THEY, like the rest of us, are looking out for numero uno. So unless you are a Google share holder (and a couple of my retired friends are!) then that is NOT you, and is certainly not me. So test everything or become friends with people that DO.
And let me rant for a moment if you will.
Google was a start-up that depended on the grassroots efforts for publicity back in the day. They courted the SEO Professional. And it was the SEO Professional that in-part has been responsible for Google’s success. We WERE the grassroots army that shouted from the rooftops to all offline business to GET ONLINE. Not only did we educate them on SEO we educated them on PPC. WE did that! So for Google to come back and WACK us on the side of the head for continuing to do SEO is, well, incredibly distasteful and heartbreaking.
And for those who think you are “White Hat” and are a Google darling, think again. Except for making your site easier to crawl, ANYTHING you do to try to increase your rankings is considered “manipulating” the search engines and IS very much against Google’s terms and conditions!
So the very nature of SEO itself is now against Google’s terms and conditions!!
In a recent video I watch Matt Cutts say they weren’t against SEO and he then went on to explain the role of a SEO professional from “his” eyes.
What he described was a PPC, Conversion and Marketing expert. Three things I am NOT. Even though PPC is about traffic, it is NOT SEO and “conversion and marketing?” Paaaleese, those two, are NOT SEO!
And even though some SEO Professionals fit into the “Internet Marketing Professional” model and help small businesses out with all of that stuff, most of us JUST DO SEO, which equals going after and getting FREE TRAFFIC AND ORGANIC RANKINGS, plan and simple!
OK, stop me before I break something! 😉
Lisa: You’ve been a major player in the blog network arena (if not THE top player) and I know there has been a major shake-up. I’m sure you’ve got something cooking now like a better version of a blog network, or maybe even something completely different. What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Dori: Oh yeah, lots in the popper! And yep, better versions of blog networks OF COURSE, as they are STILL work and they STILL work very well. And actually, since everyone is busy taking “down” their links (which I believe is doing more harm then good for them) we are having an easier time ranking new sites.
I am also building private networks for customers and will probably eventually create a monthly site package so people who can’t afford the pretty big chunk of change it costs to buy the sites for a major network, can grow it gradually.
I also have a super ninja Advanced SEO Workshop happening in September which is actually turning into a major SEO Event.
Because I have most of the guys from my elite SEO Mastermind group (which by the way we all pay $2k a year to be in it, so it isn’t your average popsicle, Perry Belcher, Keith Baxter and Brian Horn put it together and pulled in best of the best in all areas of SEO!) the brain power in the room (and in the bar 😉 is going to be like no other SEO event that has ever been held. I am pretty excited for it!
And last but not least, we are also working on some tools. The first one to come out will be http://www.linkdensity.com which I built because “I” needed to know my anchor text link density and not tool was reporting it yet.
It was strange cause I felt something happening with links last year, so I actually had an earlier version of this that I was using last November. But now that it has become industry significant to NOT over-optimize your anchor text link density, I decided to fancy up the tool and release it.
It is still in beta and is still free right now, but probably won’t be for long as it costs a bundle in processing and pulling API information on all those links we are analyzing.
And then after all that, maybe.. I will finally get back into Logo Design. 😉