In the first of the link builders series, I interviewed Paul Reilly, ex Head of Search at Stickyeyes in Leeds and now plying his trade down in London for MyDestinationInfo. This will be the first of a hopefully weekly series which will be featuring other link building experts such as Debra Mestaler and Wiep Knol.
But first to Paul…..
First of all I understand you were involved in the recent econsultancy Innovation in Online PR award so I think congratulations are in order for winning that…
Thanks Pete. The foursquare check-in seemed like an obvious twist to the North Pole expedition which David Newman (CEO of Carole Nash Motorbike Insurance) has been planning as a charity fund raiser for some time.
The idea came to me in the shower, where all my best ideas seem to come from. I remember at the time thinking that, providing it was actually possible, and that the team could execute it, not to mention David making it to 90 degrees north, then the campaign simply had to win some kind of award.
It had never been done before and there is no 3G at the North Pole. The only communication network is Iridium, which David was using to call in with his daily podcast updates.
Technically we were faced with a number of challenges. For instance, the Iridium satellite phones only have RS232 serial connectivity (no Bluetooth), so we had to figure out how to connect a GPS enabled smart phone running a Foursquare app to a sat phone and then initiate a dial up connection.
Android would have required a kernel hack in order to get it running in host mode and the iPhone is locked down and therefor a non-starter. The only phone we could find which supported the required configuration was the Nokia n900. Luckily the lead developer on the project happened to have an n900, which with a little persuasion and the promise of a shiny new Nexus One, he contributed to the project.
I remember how refreshing it felt to see cables, connectors and a soldering iron all being used to pull off a social strategy – it was loads of fun.
Everything seemed to be going very well until we discovered that there was another contender, 15 year-old Parker Liautaud. He had a couple of days lead on David, and ultimately unlocked the badge ahead of David, but he did it from a helicopter above the pole. I’m told he didn’t even touch down. David however actually unlocked his badge whilst on the ice. Not sure what constitutes a legitimate badge, but that’s how it happened.
All in all, it was great fun and a refreshing change from a typical Online PR campaign. The project polarised the entire team – it almost felt like we were with David on his big polar adventure.
Tell us a bit about yourself – you’ve recently changed roles haven’t you?
Yes. Hell I’ve been in the SEO game for about 13 years now and as you know, up until the end of November 2010, I was Head of Search at Stickyeyes. In my latest moved I’ve left the agency world and gone in-house in the travel sector. I still consult on occasion but my primary focus for the foreseeable future is building a world-class in-house team and dominating a single vertical – I fully intend on doing this entirely within Google’s guidelines. The white hat way!
Travel isn’t an alien environment to me. I used to be the in-house SEO at Superbreak.com, so I guess I’ve gone full circle. I love working in the travel sector, it’s a great business, and everyone enjoys travelling. What’s more, purest white hat SEO works very well in Travel. People love to share their experiences so it’s intrinsically social and there are so many SEO opportunities for quality informational travel sites to explore.
MyDestinationInfo.com offered the perfect business model which has high quality, localised content generation baked into the core of the business. The network of sites is such a great informational resources that we actually get links for free – many people think we’re a non-commercial entity which is great for SEO.
Tackling the casino markets globally in my previous role was very rewarding and nailing those SERPs really gave me a sense of fearlessness.
Focussing my energy on one brand makes a big difference and a lot of sense, as does building an in-house team. The cost per performance ratio makes it a no brainer providing you can get the right team in place.
We’ve just seen Eric Schmidt move from his position as CEO to be replaced by Larry Page. Do you think this will have any significant effect on Google?
I’d like to think so, however based on Larry Page’s personal social footprint; I just don’t think he fully gets social. So I very much doubt this move will have the required impact to combat the threat of Facebook, or more broadly the threat of change in how we interact with our connected devices. I guess this will address their agility in so much as that Larry will be better positioned to identify innovation and acquire it.
I’m curious as to how an inventor who has changed the world will deal with the CEO’s role at the helm of a publically traded company which impacts all our lives.
I loved the fact that the Pagerank update came on the same day as Page’s rank was updated – he’s still got a sense of humour.
Your background is heavily favoured towards gambling – how do you think SEO within the gambling sector differs from that of other verticals?
This is a good question. In recent years it’s fair to say that gambling has been my main focus. However, we also covered travel, mobile phones, legal, entertainment, and financial services. The common theme was highly competitive B2C markets. Prior to that my focus was almost exclusively insurance and prior to that I was in-house working on travel.
Most gambling companies are multi-product and usually cover Casino, Poker, Bingo and Betting and each of the iGaming products differ. Sports Betting is more closely related to travel than Casino or Poker.
It has a long tail, it’s news worthy, it’s seasonal and there are many sport fan related websites who run their sites because they love sport. The same is true for travel. Casino however is an entirely different animal. Casino isn’t news worthy; it has a very short tail. The only webmasters who maintain casino blogs do so because they know the value of casino traffic and players. You’ll never get a free link on a casino blog! Poker is slightly more “social” and Bingo even more so.
Where do you think the biggest change in Google’s psyche has been during the last couple of years.
They’re clearly focussing on mobile and location however in pure search, I don’t think Google’s psyche has changed. OK there has been a gradual inclusion of location, and failed attempts on social. Fundamentally they’re a search business. They’re good at search but the search era is ending.
Google have to find ways to better monetize their non-core business, which I’m sure they will. I believe that their positioning in the mobile space will enable them to sustain growth as a business over the next decade.
What role do you think social has in the modern day SEO campaign?
I think that if we want our “link worthy” message to go viral through certain communities, we should consider what makes the socially connected user tick. I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that Twitter citations have any impact on rankings in Google.
The suggestion that Google should use tweets as a ranking factor is like suggesting that Google should partner with mobile carriers and factor SMS citations into their core algorithm. A ludicrous suggestion I’m sure you’ll agree.
Do you think paid links have a place in any SEO campaign
In some markets yes, in other markets no. Buying links is a lazy way and will negatively impact your long term ROI but who will write about your Casino brand without being paid? Sport betting and Travel, by contrast have enough of a community out there who would find the notion of being paid for a link distasteful. It simply requires an understanding the acceptable norms and tolerances which vary from market to market and SERP to SERP.
Many ‘experts have suggested the days of Exact match domains have passed. In your opinion do they work or not?
This is an easy one to answer… Just Google, “Online Casino”, “Online Roulette” “Online Blackjack” and you’ll see that it’s works a treat. More importantly, there is a simple algorithmic reason why they work and will continue to work unless Google manually review every SERP and remove them. Even “Online Poker” and “Online Casino” have exact match domain sittings pretty. They’re actually great sites which largely deserve to be there.
Are we going to see you round on the conference scene much this year?
If the opportunity to talk about SEO comes up, I always love to do it. I particularly love speaking at the iGaming Business events, and will be at the London Affiliate Conference – this Saturday – the organisers are a lovely team and they really know how to party!
Naturally there’s also Sascon which I attended last year as a delegate and am looking forward to speaking at.
I hope to speak at some of the travel vertical conferences this year.
If anyone reading this would like an SEO geek to speak, tweet me @paulreilly. I never turn down the opportunity to talk about my favourite subject to captive audience of search geeks or marketeers. (excuse the blatant self-promotion)