Aaron Wall Interview – CEO and Founder of SEO Book
Mastering SEO is a Constant Battle for the Newbie Blogger and Online Entrepreneur – Let Aaron Wall of SEO Book Help you to Understand SEO and Achieve Better Search Engine Rankings.
I am so pleased to present you this interview today – SEO is something which has truly fascinated me since the day that I started out online. With this in mind it is a pleasure to be able to gather some great tips and advice from one of the internet’s leading and most successful SEO experts, Aaron Wall (founder of SEOBook.com).
From this interview it is very clear that Aaron Wall is the perfect interviewee for any blogger because he gives up pure content and free tips for nothing! It is also evident that Aaron has been blogging for many years now, because of the way this interview is not only a great lesson containing some valuable advice, but an enjoyable read too.
There are only 15 questions below but Aaron manages to deliver some fantastically detailed responses which really do give you a clearer and better understanding of his background, the importance of SEO and how you can follow his methods to find your own online success.
Who is Aaron Wall?
Born in 1979 and hailing from Oakland, California, Aaron Wall launched SEO Book in 2003 – SEO Book is the #1 SEO training program which offers marketing tips, search analysis, online business tips, and general commentary on the evolution of the web from an algorithmic, publishing & business model perspective.
SEO Book had originally launched as a blog which displayed continuous DIY SEO tips and was also used as a selling platform for the infamous SEO book eBook which has made well over $1,000,000 to date.
One of the main reasons for SEO Book’s huge popularity is that they have managed to build up their expertise through years and years of experience and education – their techniques & strategies are certainly not based on abstract theory.
Today SEO Book is far from your traditional blog and is now an SEO training program offering over 100 custom training modules, a private support community, exclusive premium tools, monthly newsletters, member’s only videos, process flowcharts, & custom SEO spreadsheets, and much more. Head over to the SEO Book ‘About’ page to find out more.
Aaron Wall Interview
1) Hey Aaron, first off it’s a pleasure to interview you for Blogtrepreneur and I would like to personally thank you for participating in what promises to be a great Q&A session! Please tell our readers what you do, what you did before the internet and a little bit about yourself (i.e. what they might not know already).
We publish a variety of websites and run a community of SEO experts. Generally some marketers who are successful like to paint themselves as rock stars & bask in perceived fame. I however am totally off the wagon on that front. I don’t really go to many conferences & am probably one of the 3 most boring people in the world. I like reading books and such & am quite the homebody.* 🙂
*All guaranteed to be 100% true, at least until I have some obligatory mid-life crisis down the road. hehehe. But truthfully, my wife and I are super comfy as we are, in spite of all the uncertainty in the world today. I do read quite a bit about macro-economics and investing, and that helps shape my understanding of markets and marketing.
When I first started learning about marketing was when I sold baseball cards at flea markets and card shows in high school.
Then I became a nuclear reactor operator on a submarine. Not recommended for friends or enemies!
After that I have been a full time webmaster with only one exception: I was a part time webmaster for about 8 months while I worked as a mid-level manager in an inventory management company.
2) This is a great opportunity for me because I am personally fascinated by SEO and the different techniques you can imply to your website to effect your search engine rankings (and unless your paying an expert, it’s FREE!) – as search engines develop and Google becomes wiser to ‘black hat’ techniques, would you say effective SEO has become harder or easier as we head into 2011?
SEO is not just about a black vs white dichotomy. There is a lot of gray area, and for many folks that is where greater profit lies: especially if they are new and have limited leverage. Also certain guidelines apply more to some webmasters than others. I actually wrote a case study about all the black hat crap Mahalo was doing ( http://www.seobook.com/black-hat-seo-case-study ) and yet they still rank. Sites that have done far less black hat stuff have been burned to the ground.
As far as SEO becoming harder…that is directionally absolutely true. As profitable SE’s keep reinvesting, relevancy algorithms improve (and push to promote big businesses), and big businesses wake up to the opportunity of search the space has become drastically more competitive over the past couple years. Add in additional Google efforts to further monetize their own results (by pushing people to certain popular searches with Google instant, by promoting more of their own stuff in the results, by pushing down the organic results with AdWords ads that have more links and features, etc.) and Google is taking a far larger slice of the pie as well.
3) As we all know SEO is a tough nut to crack, but when it has been done correctly it can REALLY pay off resulting in huge amounts of traffic – do you have any quick tips for my readers to help then rank better in search engines? (i.e. small tweaks, big results)
I don’t think SEO is something where you do a few small tweaks and get huge results – especially if you are just starting out. If you are already well established and profitable then digging through your analytics and finding where you are successful and reinvesting in growing those areas is smart. But if you are just starting out you need to have a strong strategy to compete. You need to build up links and content. And you need to work on conversion improvements.
Also with “building links” its not just building links … many links represent human relationships and such. So SEO is becoming more about holistic marketing strategy, rather than something that is primarily algorithmic. As such, we are generally beyond the few quick tweaks stage and more toward understanding the shape of your market and having a competitive strategy from beginning to end, as well realizing how the structure of the web is changing and adjusting along with it.
The best marketing isn’t really paint by number, but comes from knowing your market well.
It is a reflection of the enthusiasm & interest of the founder. That said, make sure you start your site on a good domain name that you own. Almost anything else you do can be changed easily down the road, but if you start on a horrible domain, or worse yet, on someone else’s website, then you might not be able to adapt and change with the market. It might force you to have to start over again.
4) As the founder of SEO Book, which is primarily a blog and information source for people learning SEO, you have very much established yourself as a problogger and authority within the SEO niche – from a blogging perspective how important do you feel it is to become an authority figure in your niche?Being an authority surfaces all sorts of opportunities..many of them indirect. For example, you might get media coverage because you are well known. You might be asked to speak at conferences because you are well known. Being well known might also mean that you are able to attract better employees. You might also attract clients who are larger and who have larger budget by being well known. Most importantly, my wife was a former customer 🙂
As SEO keeps getting more complex, in some ways for a lot of people it becomes cheaper and easier to try to interact with people directly & influence them directly rather than worrying excessively about the algorithms.
5) We all know that blogging is not the easiest way to make money online – it requires relentless focus and some skillful writing before you start to make any major returns. When you started did you ever envision SEO Book to be this popular and how did you keep on the right track?
I think few people who end up doing really well perceive their opportunities to be as deep as they are.
For example, Excite.com turned down buying Google for under a million Dollars. And that means the Google founders were willing to sell that cheaply…after you split it 2 ways and add in taxes that really is not much money…their company makes that much every few minutes now!
We tend to view history and the future through the lens of our recent past…which is why so many people get screwed by the stock market by buying in at the top & why it can be hard to break some self destructive habits, as things happen they become normal.
However most success stories start out with much smaller goals: get out of debt, quit my job, etc. And then as you reach new levels of success you can set new goals. I tend not to push too hard on goals at this point because we are already quite comfy & at some point the quest for constant growth leads to misery and burnout. Its easier to “get rich” by being cheap than it is to keep doubling your revenue every year. And the bad part about living anywhere near your salary is it prevents you from making some smart risks & it can set you back to 0 if you have a bad year or 2.
When I first started out online I actually moved into a mobile home and lived there for like 3 or 4 years, such that my living costs were basically nothing.
Then as income grew, in my personal life I kept living below my means. The only exception to that was when I first met my wife because I moved across the country, bought a new car, bought new furniture, got engaged, paid for a wedding, invested aggressively in business growth, etc. all in 1 year. Then we got close to living near our income and I felt the need to simply & be cheap again. 🙂
As far as business goes, I am all about aggressively investing to increase growth and stability. But in terms of personal life I am pretty darn cheap, and my wife might actually be more frugal than I am. 🙂
6) Having a blog is one thing but effectively monetizing it is another – do you have any monetization tips for my readers? – what is the most crucial and beneficial monetization technique implemented at SEO Book?
Some blogs work on the basis of “ads as content.” Some examples of this which are profitable are John Chow and the Manolo Shoe Blog.
But most blogs will never get any traction if they are too heavy with ads.
So I like to look at it a number of ways: people can pay you with attention, with links, with money, etc. If a certain technique isn’t working then don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
The nice thing about writing a well read blog is that it can gain a lot of authority. From that base you can then selectively monetize the blog itself and/or bolt some monetized pieces on the side which are carried based on the weight of the site.
Key points in improving monetization for us would be:
– my mentor telling me to double the price of my ebook.
– my wife pushing me for us to do more publishing away from SEO Book to help diversify and grow our revenue streams.
– my wife pushing me to realize that many of the people who were asking me for help via email for free were simply users who didn’t value or respect me and that I needed to have a barrier between what I would do to help people out for free & what I would charge for (of course she was right, but it required taking a major ego hit to admit it).
– my wife pushing me to make a membership site.
– me pushing me to hire more folks so I could spend more time on high level strategy & we can scale the stuff that is working more.
7) Many bloggers of today write posts on writers block and how they like to search for inspiration using various different techniques – how do you personally overcome writers block? Especially when your blog’s niche is something as narrow as SEO (developments in search engines etc.).
The more you read the more you learn.
The more experience you have the more lenses you have to write from. I suggest that anyone who doesn’t know what to write about either isn’t interested in their topic and/or hasn’t invested into books, and tracking forums & blogs in their space.
Also our site claims to be about SEO (because that is how the brand was originally set up) but our blog often wonders off the ranch a bit, tying in writing about things as varied as: content management, design, search businesses, economics, business in general, all stripes of marketing, online publishing, information architecture, conversion, etc.
A person who is an expert in a topic often sees how other topics relate to their own. So something that Jakob Nielson (http://www.useit.com/) mentions is a usability issue might be seen by a designer as a design issue and seen by an SEO expert as an SEO issue. A lot of this stuff overlaps.
8) I have heard of SEO techniques going out of date over time as Search Engines develop – how does a blog like SEO Book cope with such changes and how do you keep on top of them?
We run a variety of websites and our community probably has something large like 40% of the top 100 SEOs in the world who regularly use it. Between all of the following:
– a basic understanding of the lenses of business and history
– observing how algorithms change over time for close to a decade
– tracking the performance and data from a variety of websites
– bouncing ideas off of others in our great community who have other well informed lenses on the history of search
– I also think that Techmeme, the Webmaster World homepage, and Search Engine Land’s daily email newsletter surface a lot of interesting news
9) Like many of our readers you were once a budding entrepreneur with a dream and you have managed to turn that dream into a reality with the likes of SEO Book (and many other projects) but what advice could you give to someone who has a dream of starting their own online business but just does not know how to go about it? (do you need to be a techie? how did you do it?)
I don’t think you need to be a techie to do well. 4 nearly fundamental & universal tips I would offer are:
– work from your passions and interests off the start (this prevents you from getting bored, distracted & discouraged)
– try your best to avoid debt (debt is a claim on your future labor with interest. if you are in debt it may prevent you from taking on risks that would have been seen as lower risk if you had no debt)
– renivest aggressively into growth off the start (try to live cheaply and pour most your profits into buying awareness & marketshare & improving your product … at least for the first 2 or 3 years as a minimum)
– if you have limited capital and limited experience, do not get stuck in the trap that you can outsource everything … you have to have points of differentiation, and you only gain access to some of your best ideas by being actively involved in multiple aspects of the business
Try to live cheaply and pour most your profits into buying awareness, marketshare and improving your product
10) I personally think that having a mentor is very important – having somebody to follow and study has been the key to so many online and offline successes, who were your ‘role models’ when growing up and as you started to do business online?
In the order of first contact with them…
– my mom: has always worked super hard & been very giving
– Tim Berners-Lee: created the www
– Seth Godin: great marketing insights
– a friend nicknamed NFFC: was always blunt & honest…put me back on track a few times when my mind would slip off course
– my wife: is super loving AND pushes me toward results
11) Like many bloggers and internet marketers you are currently building a list of subscribers at SEO Book (which is what is called an ‘optin list’) – what have been your most successful list building techniques and how do you manage to monetize your list?We offer an autoresponder off the start that gives away some great SEO tips & promotes our membership website, but beyond that I don’t actively monetize the list very hard. I only send out a promotional email every year or so…super rare. Once when we announced we were increasing our price. Once to announce we launched a sister site at PPC Blog.
Whenever we send out emails we get responses & I just hate the negativity of the bottom 5% of the web. Some people presume that anyone who makes any money is a scammer precisely because they have already got worked over in the past by the kinds of folks who get featured on SaltyDroid for scamming people.
You can offer to give away something for free that is worth hundreds of Dollars and get emails like this one
At least if a person opts into a helpful auto-responder (which people send you daily thank you emails for & has an opt out link on every email) and the person is as ignorant as the above cited individual, I don’t feel personally responsible for bringing that negativity into my life (anyone who has any level of popularity will at some point attract all types). But if I consistently pitched stuff via email then seeing the above sorts of email would cause me to lose faith in myself (rather than losing my faith in humanity). I prefer to do work where I mostly get to deal with the positive side of positive folks (like in our forums) rather than dealing with (http://www.gapingvoidgallery.com/product_info.php?products_id=126) the internal self-hate of some of the bottom feeder freetard types (http://www.gapingvoidgallery.com/product_info.php?products_id=1685).
The reason a lot of the list builder guys ultimately do well with “list building” is that they view people like numbers to extract cash out of & do not do much actual follow up customer support. So those guys really need to keep building huge lists & paying out massive affiliate bounties to try to hype a few hundred folks into the next large launch with a 30% refund rate.
Running a regular business isn’t so much about hyped up launches & pounding a list as it is about trying to improve incrementally and add a bit more value each day.
12) Being a successful internet marketer gives you the chance to live a life unlike many others – clearly it’s not all easy but what is the best thing about living the internet lifestyle?
Hugh McLeod made this http://www.gapingvoidgallery.com/product_info.php?products_id=1564 & it resonates well with me.
No boss. Not needing to be up at hour x. Really a beautiful contrast to the ugliness which was the submarine lifestyle (http://www.gapingvoidgallery.com/product_info.php?products_id=1636).
13) Clearly asking an SEO expert what their best form of traffic generation is, there has to be only one answer. Alongside SEO what other methods and strategies do you implement to generate targeted traffic to your sites?
We have an affiliate program, do some viral marketing, have an autoresponder for new sign ups, and do a limited amount of advertising on networks like Google AdWords / Google AdSense. Over the years we have given away a good number of tools that people like. Finally, we also cross promote with our sister site PPC Blog.
14) You are clearly no stranger to creating eBooks as your popular SEO Book eBook was purchased by over 13,000 customers. Many of my readers will eventually want to be doing the same thing and although you no longer sell your SEO Book eBook as a standalone product, what advice would you give and what tools would you recommend to someone intending to enter a niche with an eBook of their own?
If I were to create an ebook today I wouldn’t call it an ebook (unless it was built off the back of an older ebook). This is largely down to a number of reasons
– in many markets the concept is old & dated
– as ebooks become more mainstream with stuff like the Kindle it will make people expect ebooks to be priced at $9.99
So I would call it a report or a case study or a manual or a white paper or research (rather than calling it an ebook). That said, many ebooks will end up quickly pirated (as soon as your brand becomes popular Google will start suggesting that searchers search for something like ‘seo book torrent’).
You can’t stop someone from China selling your ebook for $3.
You can’t get it off all the torrent sites. So what you need to do is include a variety of pieces such that if anyone runs into any one of them it feels dated and/or incomplete. If you can create a membership area of your site with updates, utilities, etc. then that at least allows you to offer something with lasting perceived value even as bits get commoditized. Also, interactive features like a forum are huge for getting people to deeply engage & create a community.
15) Finally, If you lost your products, your database, your online business and your contacts today, meaning you had to start from scratch all over again, what would you do tomorrow to get you back on the path to wealth and success?
Having a list or a database or whatever isn’t what sets me apart. IMHO what sets us apart is how we treat our customers. If we had to start from scratch many of them would want to stick with us & follow us wherever we went based on their past interactions with us. So that is sorta the “have a customer” end of the business. We would also push into affiliate or ad powered publishing. If we had plenty of capital we would either start building or own sites from scratch or buying other websites, whereas if we had no capital we might put up some content on 3rd party sites that share revenues to build the initial capital to have enough leverage to build our own stuff.
If things were to head super-south (US Dollar implodes, cities go feral, the internet stops working, etc.) I might also end up having to get a regular job for a short period of time, but the thought of it does make me cringe. 😉
Wow, I think you will all agree that that was a very honest a powerful interview from Aaron. By honest I mean that he didn’t really hide his true feelings on some of the subjects raised – he certainly showed his great passion for customer service and why it is so important to build a community of satisfied customers and users.
I think it is safe to say that Aaron is not fond of the ‘get rich quick’ way to succeed online, while making his reasons for this very clear and obvious; He has personally spent a lot of years online, building his brand and building a reputation which has awarded him with being an authority in his niche of expertise and he is certainly quite right in venting his frustration against the un-honest way to make money online.
I have personally learnt SO much from reading this great interview from Aaron and I hope you have too. I hope you also now have a clear understanding of what it takes to succeed with an online business and that it is certainly no ‘walk in the park’.
To our success,
Business Development & Partnerships