Dean Bloomfield (DigitalGhost) interview on SEO/ SEM, Social Media Optimization and his take on Paid links.

This is transcript of podcast interview with Dean Bloomfield (DigitalGhost). The transcript has been modified and edited for clarity and for better reading. Dean Bloomfield is a well known SEO, copywriter and is popularly known as Digital Ghost. He is moderator at Webmasterworld. Milind Mody is CEO of Search Engine Optimization company eBrandz. He writes articles for industry magazines like Search Marketing Standard and Website Magazine.

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Milind- Hello listeners. Welcome to the show. There are many self proclaimed SEO gurus in this industry. But our guest today is undoubtedly one of the sharpest minds in the Search industry. He is quick witted and is admired by many. Please welcome Dean Bloomfield, popularly known as Digital Ghost.

Dean welcome to the show.

Dean – Hello! … Been looking forward to talking to you for quite sometime.
Milind- You started out by Ghost Writing and selling computers. So can you describe for our listeners your journey into SEO?
Dean – Actually I was showing computers to a company and I went over to the client who had a website and he asked me if I could help him get his sites rank better. Now this was back in the days when keywords stuffing worked quite well, so that was my introduction in to getting sites to rank.
Milind – Which year was this?
Dean – 1997
Milind – oh! That’s… more than ten years now
Dean- Yeah… been a while. But you know back then it was relatively easy to make sites rank and obviously we have come a long way.
Milind – Which search engines were there? You were optimizing for AltaVista, GoTo which engines?
Dean – You know I don’t even remember the engines, Google wasn’t around and it seems like there was a one that was run by television company and another was AltaVista was around then
Milind – Hmmm… Excite, Lycos?
Dean- And there was one engine that indexed constantly and you could check the rankings almost immediately by tweaking the pages and then changes here and there …
Milind – Ok keyword stuffing and all that stuff right?
Dean- Yeah, that’s what worked then. That’s about the level of SEO knowledge that everyone had.
Milind – Yeah because internet was quite new and people were very new to the concept of Search Engines, so I guess … but 1997 is more than ten years. I think you are one of the first few people in this industry, because I also heard a comment made by you saying that you didn’t know for two years that what you were doing was called SEO.
Dean – No! we had no clue, there was no industry at that time, it was individuals getting together and trying to make sites rank.
Milind – So how did you come across Webmaster World?
Dean – I’ve actually came across Webmaster World through a link on spider food forums of J K Bowman, and the first time I went to Webmaster World, I believe I dropped a link to spider food which is, you know the mods immediately said “Hey we don’t do that here!” So that was my introduction to Webmaster World.
Milind – Which year was this if I can ask?
Dean – Oh… it was… I did not post to Webmasterworld for a couple of years after I found it. Seems like it was 2000
Milind – 2000?
Dean- 2000 I believe.
Milind – Can you name a few people in this industry whom you like or admire?
Dean – Oh sure – Justin Stanner, on the list of people.. a very professional individual, very sharp guy.

Tedser from Webmaster World, he’s a true diplomat and he also knows his stuff. Well then – Todd (Malicoat), haven’t talked to him in a while, but he knows his stuff as well. Greg Boser. These are the people that I have personally met when I was learning that there was an actual industry called SEO.

Milind – Now what is your take on the three major engines?

Dean – Google is the premier search engine on the web, they are the gatekeepers. They deliver the traffic, perhaps there is an issue right now with paid links. I like the fact that Google really seems committed to relevancy and that they provide good set of search results. They are not as easy to game as they were in the past. That’s a good thing, it’s good for the industry as well. You know they have to stay relevant or then they will not be the traffic providers, it will fall to someone else.

Milind – Yahoo?

Dean – Yahoo, mmmm, I like Yahoo because they seem to be a lot more webmaster friendly, they seem to have a bit more transparency. I would say that the quality of their index is almost on par, and in some areas it’s better

MSN – I think they’ve to find the right direction, I don’t think they know where they’re headed yet, or even how to get there. They’re going to be competitors, and then they know they need to be in the search space, but they haven’t found the right combination of either talent or you know direction to get there. I think they can be serious contenders, but it’s going to take them a while.

Milind – Ok they are not quick on their feet as Google or maybe even Yahoo.

Dean- No. And they need to, to be in this industry.
Milind – Google started out as one of the favorite search engines of webmasters. They used this to influence and communicate with webmasters and also do some policing like reporting of invisible text etc. But now it is encouraging webmasters to report paid links. I believe you are one of the most vocal Google critics I know, so I would like to get your views on this?

Dean – Well to me they are pushing on an area where they are discouraging competitors. Its okay for them to sell Links, they’ve just recently removed the AdWords networker’s ads from SERPS (I think he meant Adsense ads from SERPS). Took them quiet a while to do that, but (1) they’re not going to stop paid links, they are going to make the buyers and sellers become more sophisticated. What they want to do is create a level playing field, what they’re doing is consolidating it even further in favor of the people who stay ahead of the game. It’s much more difficult now for the average webmasters who in the past could go buy some links and create some well optimized (Pages) and actually compete.

Now everything is going to be under the ground and they won’t be able to do that. Its okay to say this is our opinion; by the same token broadcast network can say well it’s our opinion that we don’t like your Ads so you can’t advertise with us. They can’t do that, and Google’s opinion is that they don’t like paid links, that’s fine, fix your algorithm, don’t try to fix people.

Milind – MSN has tied up with Facebook, Digg and now with CNBC for contextual advertising. Do you think they have enough deals in place to take on Google in the contextual advertising space?
Dean – No! No.
Milind – ok, still they need to form more committees (both laugh)
Dean– Yes definitely. They actually need to form some committee to get something done, which might take them quite sometime.
Milind – Are there any new exciting Search engines which you would like to discuss or comment on?

Dean – Yeah – Hakia Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a true semantic search engine. Still it seems to be based on keyword matching, but this is the first engine that came out that even came close to be a true semantic search engine. Actually they are not close, but they are the first one to announce a true intention of becoming a semantics search engine, other than that, the only thing really new that I’ve seen is like.com . Came out with a graphic search, you see a picture or something you like and it searches for pictures of that product that are similar.

Milind – Dean, you made an interesting comment “Does Amazon need 600 book reviews or does the world need 300 videos of people dropping mentos in diet coke”. So what are your views on Social Media Optimization?
Dean – Umm I think it’s an easy way out to get traffic, it’s definitely not SEO except, as link building, and actually it’s not fair to say it’s an easy way out, I know some of the guys who do that and its quite a bit of work, but it’s still an area that can be gamed quite easily. So I don’t know, you know, I think in the end you’re going to take a look at that, anything that can be easily manipulated, doesn’t tend to last very long in our industry. So, they will take a look at that and just as you have several links they will discount those links
Milind – So, but do you think that any SEO plan or any SEO strategy currently should factor in social media optimization to a great extent?
Dean – Yes, because it works right now. The only danger is relying on that, but then that danger is across nearly every technique in this industry.
Milind – It’s as any new fad which comes. If it’s very easy, we know that it’s not going to last long, so enjoy it while it lasts and then make sure that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Dean– Exactly — And try to think like search engineers and how they would combat any challenges they face and try to stay ahead of them; Proactive rather than reactive.
Milind – Yes, but then isn’t that what happened because this year also I think a lot of search results were adjusted for Squidoo and few such other social media sites where if they were prominently ranking their results were adjusted. So maybe search engineers saw that they were ranking quiet well and came in and said ok, let’s do some adjustment, I think even the same thing you see with Google coming out with Knol to combat I guess wikipedia.
Dean – Yeah; and that to me that’s another area. Google’s really started to push a lot of their own products on their own engine. That’s dangerous grounds for them too. They became popular because of their simple interface. It’s getting more crowded. Not as clean.
Milind – So you search web and you end up with one of Google’s properties, something like that, so they own the search and they also own the content?
Dean – Yeah; I think it’s a bad move to make, I’m not sure. Nearly every product Google has is in beta.
Milind – Google came out with Universal Search 6 months back. As a user, what is your experience using the new results interface.
Dean – I ignore everything, anything that they recommend. (Both laugh)
Milind – Okay that’s like a true Google critic!
Dean – I don’t want their recommendations, I want what I’m searching for, if I’m searching for blog links, I’ll search for blogs.
Milind – I think… we webmasters are wrong crowd to ask this question because we know what we want, so we’ll search it irrespective whether Google pushes it or not.
Dean – Exactly — We are trained searchers, so we expect results that we want, not what they want to handle. From an average user standpoint I still think it can be confusing, because if you’re looking for a product they can find products. People find products all the time, so they don’t need some special listings at the top. I have people not familiar with Froogle ask me what it was. They say that “What’s that Froogle thing?” It’s a pooled spelling and a bad pun. Anytime you have people asking “what is it?” they cannot use it. People do not use things they do not understand.
Milind – Now I am going to ask you to make 5 future predictions for SEO.

Dean

Five predictions….

1. Google will retain market share

2. Yahoo will make a strong push to compete with Google and will fail. They might try to pick up another engine. They will try to buy their way in.

3. Microsoft will do the same thing, and will realize that committees aren’t working

4. We won’t see a true semantic search engines till after 2010

5. And people will finally get tired of YouTube, because they’ll realize that most of the videos are inane and they’ve seen them all before.

Milind – Okay that’s a refreshing view! (both laugh). Okay, now many brilliant SEOs I know do not prefer working with clients. They do affiliate marketing instead. So what is your take on affiliate marketing Vs doing SEO for others?

Dean -Marketing…. Over the last four years SEO and SEM have become intertwined, I mean you can’t separate the two any longer, if you take on a client you have to market for them as well as take care of their SEO. I do look to see more seo’s pushing the technical aspects because it is getting more technical – for the dynamic sites – they have their own set of problems. You got issues with DNS poisoning, site hijacking and so on and I really look for seo’s to push the technical aspect to what they do.

Small to medium sized enterprises don’t have the time to deal with it, they don’t want to learn it, it’s confusing and it takes time away from what they need to be doing which is running a business.

Milind – Ok. Actually what I meant was Affiliate Marketing, SEO – earning money through affiliate marketing v/s doing seo for others.

Dean - I think that comes down to a personal choice, whether you to run your own business, I know that I had to work in affiliate marketing for a while. Personally I would much rather work with client. The sense of satisfaction I get from helping a client, get rankings is much better than if I’m working on my own sites, a lot of my own sites I just have for test purposes so that I can help clients rank.

And affiliate marketing from the very beginning has always been threatened, because now you’ve always got search engines saying look do we need ten thousand people to own these many camp. So it’s changed but it hasn’t changed significantly…

Milind – I think it has changed very significantly at least for the search engine marketing aspect, because now Google has come up with landing page score and (previously) people used to bid on thousands and hundreds of thousands of keywords, the long tail of search, but now Google has kind of made it difficult by saying you need to have the actual keywords in your landing page. If it’s not there, then they’ve simply increased the bid price (minimum bid price), so I think in the search engine marketing place at least there has been a change.

Dean – Okay, I agree with you at that. I think what you’re gonna find is that you are always going to have seo’s that… stay with affiliate marketing, I mean I’ve stayed with it even though it’s not my primary source of income.

Pharmaceutical has become an area that only the top seo’s could ever play in and it remains that way. I really expect to see SEO’s make that decision and they find themselves whether they want to be an SEO or a business owner.

If you’re optimizing your own sites, yeah, you are a seo – but for yourself. You are privately employed – that’s your business. If you’re consulting to other people, it brings a whole different perspective to it. You’re no longer just responsible for yourself, you’ve to take their (client) considerations and make decision based on that. Where I might say okay I can just smoke this domain and I don’t care – your client might not share that considerations … when (the client) might have just spent hundred thousand dollars on…

Milind – I believe you came out of 6 month hibernation last year — Any reason for the break?
Dean – Yeah… I don’t fit into the corporate culture well when I work.
Milind – Believe me no SEO does…

Dean- Yeah, I tend to shut myself away in my den until I’m finished with the project, I don’t communicate well in that period because until I’m finished with it, to me there is nothing to communicate. Doesn’t do me any good to call and say you know –tell the project lead “Well I’m half finished ok!”.

So I just tend to lock myself away and become a person with a single goal in mind until I complete that project.

So, I think right after I left one corporate environment, I took quite a bit of time and just worked for myself, then went in to another corporate environment and that’s truly when I realized that I don’t fit in the corporate environment, just not me!

Milind – ok. Now you constantly play with search algos. Any interesting results you can share with us?
Dean – What with my personal algos or their algos?
Milind – Their algos and even if you can share your algos, so whatever you’re in the mood of sharing.

Dean – Yeah, Google has several algorithms now, I don’t know they might have hundreds. Oh it is a same set of rules or it can be a complex set of rules. There has been some obvious flaws in Google’s algorithms from the very beginning, when it’s a link based algorithm, we’ve seen that Google finally admitted, hey ok we’ve been gamed we’ve to do something about it. You know that they introduced the no follow, which was a poor solution to that problem. I think when they first came up with the no follow that it was just the way to ease their way in to saying: ‘Hey why don’t you put this on your paid links?’

I think that’s what they openly had in mind from the very beginning. But in the end, it’s not going to solve anything; it’s just going to adversely affect the people that don’t have access to private networks that can’t keep their link buyers secret. Currently, there’s no way for an algorithm to detect a paid link if there is no mention of any words that would trigger a flag – “Sponsored Links,” “Paid Links,” “PageRank,” “Put Your Link Here,” “Free Directory,” “My Landing Page,” — Stay away from the language and you do everything through email, and keep relevant. There’s no way they can detect paid links, they know that, may not ever admit that publicly.

People tend to gave them a lot of credit, it’s almost like they think there is some magic box at Google they get answers to all these difficult challenges, and it just doesn’t work that way. I don’t care how many PhDs they have working on a project, if you know we were in an interview right now and you call me and say, “Hey Dean, I’ll give you a thousand dollar to link on this page and I said yes, and it was relevant, there’s no way in the world though they’ll be ever able to say “hey that’s a paid link – Discount that”.

Milind – I hear you are planning a book. So what will it be all about?
Dean – I’ve changed the focus of that book so many times now; it’s a mix-mash of SEO, Marketing, and Copywriting. The problem with writing a book, a paper copy of a book in SEO, is that things do change and I don’t want the information to be inaccurate, and the last thing I want to do is publish any inaccuracies. I don’t care if they (readers) are going to look back over time and say well that was true ten years ago! I want the person to be able to pick the book up and it all still is relevant.
Milind – So how about a digital version then, instead of a paperback?
Dean – Thought about that… Good friend of mine pretty much with the handle of the digital version of the book.
Milind – oh yeah. Aaron Wall?

Dean- Yes, yeah I don’t want to really break in to that market and I don’t want to compete with a friend.

It would be expensive too; he owns that market right now. You know you have players in certain sectors and got different people writing. Books about links, people writing about copywriting, what I’ve originally envisioned was guide to all that, what’s probably going to end up being published is my thoughts on Marketing and maybe a reflection of what a decade in this industry provides in terms of experience and the challenges. Because you’re going to run in some, I don’t care what guide book you get, what book you buy, you’re going to run in to something that if you haven’t before – that’s going to be unique to your situation.

Milind – Ok. If you can come out with a book, digital version of book, I’m sure there will be hundreds and thousands of people interested in buying, they most probably will have Aaron’s book, Planet Ocean book, but they would still like to have your book as well.
Dean – I really… hope to have it out about this time next year – 1st December, 2008.
Milind – ok. Thanks once again Dean for taking out valuable time from your busy schedule to talk with us. Appreciate it! I certainly hope to talk with you again in future and we can revisit some of the issues we discussed today.
Dean – Excellent