FMC Interviews SEO Experts: Ben Pfeiffer of RankSmart

Written by: Drew Lyon   Austin, Texas

Posted on: June 3, 2013

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To kick of this year’s Social Madness contest (vote here — we’re in the “Large” category), FindMyCompany is running a series of SEO Interviews we’ve conducted over the last few weeks. It’s been a great way for us to reach out to some of our most respected industry peers and get fresh perspectives on all things search engine marketing related. We are happy to say that we have gotten some truly insightful feedback. Big thanks to everyone who participated.

(Note: All interviews conducted over email. Answers appear in full unless otherwise noted.)

Kicking things off, we have Ben Pfeiffer, Founder and President of RankSmart Search Marketing.

When did you become involved with SEO & why?

I become involved with SEO and internet marketing in 1999, while I was still in high school. I was president the marketing club DECA and also was very good working with computers and the internet. It was kind of a natural fit so to say that I was attracted to learning how to using marketing on the web. I had a fascination with search engines at the time and wanted to figure out how to get websites included within the search engine results. At the time no one besides the librarian really knew how search engines worked. They used to give you these nifty sheets explaining how to use BOOLEN operators in a search which no one really paid much attention to. I started to discover you could submit websites to the search engines/directories so I started an early business doing website submissions. I became really good at getting websites listed in the Yahoo Directory, as Yahoo search was powered by their directory at the time. Google was still mostly unknown at the time, but I also focused on it because it wasn’t too hard to submit there. I started to make money off of website submissions and it started a career into SEO and many other businesses I started or was a part of.

What role does guest blogging play in SEO? How can businesses get started with guest blogging and where do you recommend beginning?

Guest blogging is still a valid strategy a webmasters can use to market their products or services. A lot of people are still using guest blogging as an approach to build links to their website. Because they look at guest blogging as a way to build links the focus is often not on the content, it’s the links at the bottom of the article. So the content suffers. It’s horrible. If you go out and try to get placements with horrible content that no one wants to read you are going to get horrible placements on low quality websites and have a low success rate.

I recommend webmasters start slow and really spend a lot of time developing some amazing content that it will be hard for another website not to want to place on their website. This can mean forgoing a link to you website and instead building your authority in a specific topic with authorship. I would also recommend webmasters write content specifically for a website. Write the content before you even contact the website and tailor it specifically to their audience. Add value to their business and do not be self-serving in your approach to guest blogging.

What do you see on the horizon for Google algorithm updates and how do you recommend businesses prepare for these?

Matt Cutts recently announced that there will be quite a few dramatic updates this coming summer. It will be another tough summer for businesses that depend on Google traffic. If they haven’t done so already they need to start aligning their website to get away from any spammy, manipulative SEO approaches that will definitely get them in hot water over the coming months. Even if you made it through Penguin and Panda last year and think you are sitting pretty, you still have to be prepared.

I would recommend businesses start looking at ways to increase stickiness on their website through conversion optimization, content marketing, and site redesigns. Look at ways to build links that are natural. Root out duplicate content and get rid of it. Take an inventory of your backlinks and find out which ones might be suspicious or included over-optimized anchor text. Invest in real business activities that not only increase the bottomline but make your authority in your area.

Lastly, consider taking a 3 month vacation and come back in late August after the dust settles.

Backlinks versus content: Who wins?

At this point I would say content. Google is expertly good at measuring the reaction of the web to your content. If you have crappy content, you get crappy results. Really really good content is winning right now for many reasons.

How do you see the landscape of social media affecting organic search in the future?

I think it has been a slower effect than most SEO and marketers have anticipated. I can still remember sitting in conference sessions many years ago with speakers telling the audience that if they don’t get on the social bandwagon they are going to fail miserably at their businesses. We haven’t really seen that quite yet. It’s takes a ton of social signals to make massive impacts on a pages rankings just by social means. If anything social is just allowing Google to spider the web more effectively and they are quietly collecting usage data and signals that will become a larger part of the algorithms over time. We have already seen how authorship/Author Rank while slow to start is starting to have a much higher influence in how high a page is getting ranked.

What do you think of recent LinkedIn search/social changes and how will this affect LinkedIn for business?

LinkedIn made quite a few changes in 2012 and I hope that the impact of these changes will be positive for businesses. Some of the complaints are centered around that LinkedIn is looking more and more like Facebook in that content/updates/whatever is continuing to stream in like a newsfeed.

I have had quite a few clients express new interest in LinkedIn as a marketing tactic recently. The biggest obstacle for them is that it’s still rather complicated to figure out. They don’t see the value yet. One client in particular is frustrated how their job postings hardly get seen among the clutter of larger companies postings. They feel they are at a disadvantage. The ranking algorithms still have a way to go I feel.

Do you have any advice for a small business needing content but may not have the resources to consistently create content?

They aren’t trying hard enough. There are a ton of writers out there wanting to work and write content for businesses on a consistent basis. You can easily find a writer by using Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Google, local paper, referral. Don’t be afraid to say no to writer you don’t think is very good. Get samples of their writing. Be willing to train that author to write for your company. If they won’t write according to your specifications, fire them. One of the best ways I find writers, is I ask them to generate ideas for me. I want writers that are creative and going to work hard on the content they produce. If they baulk at the idea of generating content ideas for you, then move on. Find one that will.

Lastly, if you don’t have the resources then I would recommend you consider writing yourself. Try it out, after a few bumps, you might find yourself getting good at it and this is the ultimate low cost way to put out content.

If you were to start optimizing a site for search engines from the ground up, what would you do?

Do a ton of research into your industry. Do that research again and look for niches and opportunities you can shine or that are underserved. Ask around and talk in person to people that are in that space and get ideas.

Next, focus on information architecture and usability. Use some free tools to wireframe the layout and map out the content pages you are going to need. Think about all the phrases you want to target and how you will deliver that to users. Make it the best you can.

What do you think about the Bing Challenge? Are you a fan of Bing or Team Google?

Bing.

Do you have any great SEO tips?

Tips are kinda over-rated these days for SEO. No one tip or magic tactic is going to get you ranked well in the search engines. It’s so much more than that these days. SEO has matured into a such a wide spectrum of activities from social media, authorship, content marketing, usability, technical SEO, etc.. that contributes to a good overall strategy that contributes to a success in acquiring organic traffic.

If I could give some good SEO advice to someone, it would be to stop trying to game the search engines. The days of trying to spam or link manipulate your way into good rankings is over. Companies need to focus on bringing value to their customers and content producers need to up their game so their content produces actionable results and extends their authority on a specific topic.

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Thanks Ben!

Ben Pfeiffer founded RankSmart in 2004 and has over 10 years of experience in the Search Marketing Industry. Find more from Ben and the rest of his team at www.RankSmart.com.

And stay tuned for the rest of our SEO Interviews Series.

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