An Interview with Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea

bill slawski

I have had a golden chance of interviewing Bill Slawski, the president and founder of SEO by the Sea. He has been associated with Search Engine industry for 15+ years now. Bill mostly covers Google patents and widely known as the patent guy. He is one of the best digital marketers having more than a decade of experience in SEO and online marketing.

I’d like to thank him for taking some time out of his precious time to answer my questions. The Q&A is more of a technical interview where I have tried to clear some of my ambiguities. Note that I am open to take more questions in comments section and I believe Bill wouldn’t mind answering them too.

So without any further wait, start with the first question:

1- How long have you been in search industry and where did the idea of seobythesea came from?

I have been involved in the web promotion and search industry almost a decade before I started the website SEO by the Sea. I started part time, while working for the Delaware Court system full time. I had a friend who was managing the service desk at a car dealership, and he decided that he wanted to do something else. I suggested that he start up an incorporation business in Delaware its a popular state for people to incorporate in based upon low costs and court laws that make it a pretty stable and reliable place to incorporate a business. Another friend had an empty office in the house he was running his solo law practice out of, and I suggested that they start the business together. I put together most of their website for them, after picking up a Learn HTML in 2 Weeks book, and began to promote the business online. This was before Google and before Altavista.

One day, my friends sister sent us an email telling us about a new site that her company had launched. She was selling computers for Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), and they had just launched AltaVista. We learned how to get the site into the search engine, and that’s when I officially became an SEO. Later, when Google launched, we figured out how to get listed there as well. I followed along as both search engines grew and learned as much as I could about them. I was also busy learning as much as I could about design, usability, marketing, conversions, and other topics that I thought might be useful. I joined a Yahoo forum on small business and web promotion and ended up as a moderator on the forum.

We were fortunate to have a number of members join who were active and well known in the search industry, such as Ammon Johns and Jill Whalen, and when Yahoo acquired eGroups, they made changes to the forum that made it slow and harder to use, and we moved the forum to its own domain. The forums became pretty active and well-known within the industry, and one day Loren Baker (the founder of Search Engine Journal) asked if I knew of anyone who might be interested in joining an SEO agency not too far from where I lived. I suggested that I might be a good candidate, and applied for the job. I left the Courts, and left my role as a part time in-house SEO.

That year, I pitched for a speaking gig at Search Engine Strategies in New York, and had my first chance to speak at an industry conference. While it was a great experience, Loren and I started talking about having our own industry event, and decided putting on a free conference in the town we worked in, which was a popular destination for boaters on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. While looking out the office window at a couple of sail boats bobbing on the bay, I came up with the name SEO by the Sea. I bought hosting later that night, and put a WordPress blog up that night, with that name. The event didn’t attract a lot of participants, but it did give me a web site that I decided to blog on. I started writing about search related patents and white papers, and received a lot of positive feedback and responses. Ive been writing there since June of 2005, and have learned a lot from doing that, while sharing things I have learned along the way.

2- Given that you are running Go Fish Digital, Please share any secret advice that could benefit SEO agencies?

I am not sure that there is any secret advice that I can share. We have developed an expertise on addressing issues involving reputation management, and I have been working for years building up an expertise in SEO related issues. I do share a lot of secrets with my blog posts about patents, considering that there aren’t too many people in the industry writing about them.

If you want some secret advice about SEO, a recent article from Laura Lippay points out some great advice Think Bigger: 28 Ways to Be a Better SEO

3- Lately, John Muller announced that Google somehow pass link equity on 302 redirects. We were under an impression that only 301 redirects pass on link juice. Whats your call on that?

I believe that John said that when a 302 redirect doesn’t seem to be just a temporary redirect, then Google might start treating it like a 301 redirect. Considering that the 302 status code means that its a temporary move, and it doesn’t seem like its only temporary, it makes sense for Google to start treating it like its a permanent redirect. But, I wouldn’t rely upon Google making that change and would use a 301 if at all possible when trying to have PageRank passed along.

4- How do you think Google treats sub domains? It is pretty obvious that its value/power starts from scratch but how do they take it in linkings perspective? What if i host hundreds of subdomains on my domain and link my root domain from those sub domains? Would that be considered a good practice?

Google seems to treat most subdomains as if they were unique websites, though there are some crossover moments where Google treats them as if they were the same site. You can perhaps see this most clearly when Google shows sitelinks for a specific site, and some of those may be pointed to pages on a different subdomain.  Some sites are hosted at a specific domain, such as the domain, where the sites are unique and owned by different people and cover different topics and aren’t connected by a main site that connects them together, and it seems like the search engines definitely treat those as if they were unique entities by themselves. If they are connected by a root domain and linked to that domain, its possible that a search engine might see them to be affiliated with each other and could treat them more as if they were co-owned. Google was granted a patent titled Determining quality of linked documents which looks as signals such as how much sites are interlinked, and if they share a domain name or are on subdomains, have similar traffic patterns, and more, and may consider them to be affiliated with each other (not affiliates, but rather sharing common ownership or being related to one another in some significant way. Under that patent, links between the pages of those sites might carry less weight (PageRank, hypertext relevance, etc.) than if they weren’t related.

5- How much content on a website is duplicate? 99% of websites share same header/footers and sidebars so wouldn’t that be considered duplicate content? Any hard numbers you can suggest in percentage lets say 30% is ok?

Its not unusual for most sites to share common content in sections such as main header sections, footers, and sidebars, and often much of this content is referred to as boilerplate content. I don’t think there are specific guidelines as to how much boilerplate is ok for those pages to be considered possibly duplicate content or not, but Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all have been granted patents on Page Segmentation approaches where they can identify different blocks or segments of pages, and attempt to identify the main content on those pages, so that those sections can be given the most weight in terms of content that is given the most relevance for indexing purposes. I am inclined to believe that this lessens the impact of boilerplate content on pages, but there still needs to be sufficient unique content on pages to make them be seen as being about that content.

When I audit pages of a site, I try to make sure that the main content areas of pages do have sufficient unique content on them so that the pages aren’t seen as duplicates of each other.

6- If all the websites start building great content then what would be the base of SEO?

Google provided us with some hints of how they perceived quality to be, at least in terms of things that computers could interpret as signs of quality, when Amit Singhal published a blog post with 23 questions in it titled more guidance on building high-quality sites. But I want to add that it is easy to debate exactly what quality is when many choices involving the creation of content hinge upon differences of opinion in style and form and expression. Take the tip of the ice berg writing approach of Ernest Hemmingway and hold it side-by-side with the stream of consciousness writing style of William Faulkner, and its not so much a question of quality that makes one different from the other, but instead purposeful decisions regarding how to express oneself, how much to share, and how much to leave under the surface.

While quality might be something that a search engine may use to classify documents they find on the web, there are potentially many other signals that a search engine can use that dont stop at how relevant a page or picture or document might be in response to a short query and the intent that a search engine might infer that it evidences. (Of course, depending upon how you might define relevance to begin with, and there are multiple ways of doing that. Its likely that the academic-based citation scoring of PageRank will continue to have some shelf life and continue on as a ranking signal, but an author-based reputation scoring system may emerge and grow in usage. Social results may be an adequate replacement for many queries where there may be a preference for seeing the opinions of people you know over experts you’ve never heard of before.

7- Being a marketer, what are your thoughts on keyword not provided data? Does that mean Keyword based SEO is going to be dead in near future and well be seeing a lot of new KPIs?

I did a lot of SEO in the days before many organizations had a clue as to what analytics were, or log files, or knew that you can do something with them other than writing traffic reports that would gather dust on executive’s desks, and never ever be mined for actionable takeaways. Yes, back before you would ask new clients in a kickoff meeting to share their Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics account access with you, the conversations were more like, Can we have access to your log files? What are those?

Many of the steps that would lead you to know what keywords might potentially be good choices to target, and choose to monitor or look for in Google Analytics are still the same steps. Steer your site towards meeting the objectives you want to meet. Learn about the audiences you want to create pages for, and tasks that are appropriate to them. Find ways to engage them and persuade that audience to sign up for your newsletter, follow you on social networks, participate in your forums or comments, sign up for your demo or webinar or your whitepaper download, call to set up an appointment, or make a purchase.

The key performance indicators that you work with your clients to set up are going to be unique for each client. Keywords not being provided in analytics might make things a little more complicated, but not insurmountable.

8- Do you plan to run on any future experiments? Can you share with us?

Not any purposeful experiments where I set forth some hypothesis and try to find ways to prove or disprove it, but I’m a big believer in looking for things that I don’t expect to see showing up in search results, and trying to figure out why they are appearing.

9- Can you share any future Google patents and what kind of happenings we can expect in search industry in upcoming years?

I searched through Googles granted patents for this week, and there were seven of them that copied and pasted into text documents to read through later, and see if they are worth writing about. That’s a pretty big haul compared to most weeks. A few of those might not be significant enough to write about, and others might have more historical value than others. For example, one of them is on using resource load times in ranking search results. We have a pretty good sense that Google is looking at page speed issues to rank pages, or at least they’ve told us that in at least one Google Webmaster Central blog post, which didn’t go into too much detail. The patent provides some additional hints, including the following snippet from the patent:

Patent Snippet

10- You are inspiration for a lot of people out there but who’s your inspiration in search industry? Any advice to for aspiring digital marketers?

There are probably too many people to name whom I’ve found inspirational within the search industry, but I’m going to mention a couple. Warren Ted Ulle, known as Tedster over at Webmaster World shared an interest with me in patents and papers from the search engines, and was often the first to reach out a hand to people over at Webmaster World, to introduce new people to the industry, and to make people feel welcome. We lost him to illness last summer, but he made a difference to a lot of people in this industry. Ammon Johns has been an inspiration on forums and in blog posts and social networks in terms of teaching and mentoring others, and being an ambassador for the industry as well.

Advice? Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn and grow, and reach out to others. I accompanied a couple of co-workers to a conference once, and they acted surprised that I went up to a lot of people and introduced myself to them, and started talking shop, and they asked me how I did that. All I could think to say was, How many opportunities are you going to find where you’re surrounded by people who are as interested in search and SEO as you have here?

Thank you very much, Nabeel! 🙂

I am sure you enjoyed this interview and found it interesting to share with others. Looking forward to your comments and don’t hesitate to ask questions because if you don’t ask, you’ll never know!

About Nabeel

Nabeel has over 8 years of web marketing experience & is the founder of Search Engine Lead, a blog covering search news and web marketing tips including SEO, PPC and conversion rate optimization strategies.

View all posts by Nabeel →

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