I’ve known Scott for over 4 years now and I’ve been trying to get him to do an e-interview for almost that long. He’s a real smart guy with a strong background in areas (WordPress, Hosting, Affiliate) that are off the radar of many folks. Finally, after the release of his SEO Automatic plugin, he agreed to answer some questions for me.
1) Please give us your background and tell us what you do for a living?
In the late 1990s I owned a new and used computer / software store. Since we took old software in on trade, I was faced with the task of getting rid of the 4000+ software titles we had accumulated. That’s how I began learning about the search engines, trying to see that stuff online.
2) What is SEO Automatic and why should webmasters / site owners be interested in it?
“SEO Automatic” as a whole is a free membership site where I share some unique tools, WordPress plug-ins, an iPhone app, and some insights into automation of some of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks that people are faced with on a day-to-day basis.
Site owners should be interested in using the instant URL review where with just one click, they can find out nearly everything they need to know about there on page ranking factors of a given URL. Not only do we define and explain exactly what’s going on, but we also give details, links, and provide most of the steps to “fix” what may be wrong.
Webmasters and SEO’s should be interested in it because everything there can save them a pretty substantial amount of time, when compared to doing things manually. Whether it’s setting up a WordPress blog the right way, or creating links to multiple URLs with varying anchor text, all of our development energy has gone into one thing, which is essentially trying to replicate human effort that would otherwise have to be outsourced or done yourself.
3) I ran the SEMpdx website through the SEO Automatic URL Review and was very impressed with the detail of information generated. But, in 2010, how important are the on-page factors mentioned in your site review?
Thanks for saying so! The URL review at SEO Automatic is sort of the flagship of the site, and yeah, it is pretty detailed. I remember wracking my brain trying to come up with more and more things the tools could check for, even though in my heart I had (and still have) some skepticism about how important all them are.
While on the one hand I’ll probably take some flak for saying that none of it means a damn thing if you have the right inbound links, on the other hand, you have to give yourself a fighting chance, because everybody and their brother seems to “know SEO” these days, so getting those fundamentals to be as good as they can be make sense.
In the old days, all you had to do with stuff phrases into your keyword meta-tag and you could be at the top of AltaVista in an hour. I don’t even know if external factors had any relevance at all in their algorithm, and all it took was to simply mention something on the site.
Google swung the pendulum far in the other direction by putting so much emphasis on inbound links, and far less for on-page factors. I think it was in part because some things were being abused so heavily, so Google completely discounted any ranking value at all for the meta-keyword tag and for the description tag, and many SEO’s were saying even ALT tags were dead too.
However, as we all know, the top-heavy weighting of external factors created a huge black market for buying links, and I think Google’s very existence was in danger if they didn’t step in and begin cracking down hard on link brokers.
I’ve always believed that on page factors were important, and to this day I still recommend adding a meta keyword tag or two for every page, and I do it myself on nearly every blog post. Even if it’s a complete waste of time today, who’s to say that it might not come back some day, especially with the importance of tagging photos, videos and all other sorts of content?
The click-through reasons for writing a good description tag are obvious, but couldn’t those also come back as a factor someday the same way that ALT tags did? If you look back in the archives, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an old-school SEO one point or other didn’t agree that ALT tags were irrelevant. Just like keyword tags, I’ve never stopped recommending them over the years, although I admit to being a lot less diligent, because like anyone, I can be pretty lazy.
4) Please talk about the other SEO features offered at SEO Automatic.
We have several original tools besides the URL review, including a keyword multiplier, a bulk server response checker, an RSS feed tool, and an anchor text variation tool, that can be used for providing link code for authors, or even for creating variations to put into article spinning software.
We even have a free macro that makes 1000’s of links “live” in an Excel spread sheet. (doesn’t that drive you crazy?).
We’ve got a few WordPress plugins now, and we’ve turned the URL review tool into an iPhone app and into an Android app too, although we’re having some technical difficulties with the Android market that make finding the app with a phone next to impossible.
5) Please talk about the SEO Automatic WordPress plugins.
Only two of the plugins are available through the WordPress codex. The first is the Core Tweaks plug-in, which essentially saves even the most jaded expert 20 minutes when setting up a WordPress blog “correctly”.
To be clear, it doesn’t “replace” the All-in-one SEO or XML sitemaps plugins, but instead does nearly everything that they don’t, so you don’t have to do it by hand.
With over 11,000 downloads so far, multiplied by a minimum of 20 minutes saved for each download used just once, I figure we’ve conservatively saved people over 3500 man-hours, and that’s something I’m pretty proud of.
The other plug-in that’s available through WordPress is one that gives you all the main SEO tools we offer at SEO Automatic, with the exception of the URL review. The Keyword List Multiplier, the Bulk URL checker, the Link Variance tool, and the RSS Feed Commander are all in this one plugin, and should work on any WordPress blog EXCEPT one hosted in a Windows environment.
We also have a couple of beta plug-ins, one called Affiliate Store Creator that allows an affiliate to take a merchant datafeed, and import it right into their WordPress, creating a unique page for every single product. It still has a couple of things I’d like to see improved, like search engine friendly URLs, having pages to add it to your XML site map, and ultimately perhaps varying the descriptions with the manufacturer provides.
Frankly though, I’m not sure we’ll come back to this one anytime soon, at least not until affiliate merchants can provide respectable data feeds in a reasonable format. The poor quality of most affiliate feeds made for a frustrating experience. If your feed is perfect, it works great, but the level of support needed when someone’s merchant gives them a feed with weird characters can be very time consuming, and that’s why we never brought it to the WP plug-in directory.
We also have a plug-in that I WAS especially proud of called the “SEO Automatic Nofollowizer” that I thought was going to set the world on fire. We released it the day before SMX Advanced 2009, and two days before Matt Cutts announced to the world that PR sculpting using no follow was dead.
Sitting in the audience that day my heart literally bounced off the floor when I realized that nearly four months of development was for nothing, and I only mention it here because we’re trying to resurrect it in some other form – maybe we’ll call it the “link juicer” 😉
The last WordPress plug-in is a paid one, a white label / brandable version of our Instant URL review, which allows a search marketer to run the URL review in their own environment, not only giving instant SEO reviews, but controlling all of the advice, the ranking factor choices, the definitions of those factors, and defining the high / low parameters for things like file size and the number of outbound links on a page.
For the first version of our own SEO review tool, I had to provide my programmer with all of my definitions and advice ahead of time, and when I wanted to make a change, I actually had to go in and edit the code.
After three or four times making changes, I realized that I had to access it from inside the WordPress admin so I had it turned into a WordPress plugin for convenience. I never intended to make the review tool for sale until one day at a conference someone told me that he loved my tool, and in fact had sold a site critique for $1500!
He said he took my SEO automatic URL report, then copy / pasted it into his company letterhead, then removed my links, changed the content slightly, and got paid. That’s when it dawned on me to actually sell the plugin to Internet marketing firms.
This tool is far more than just a “white label” SEO report, because it’s actually using the exact results, advice, links, and information that the marketer wants to show to the end user. To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever existed, and if it had, I would have bought it years ago.
6) Why is WordPress the platform of choice for blog / site creation?
Developers love WordPress because it has a big community, and there are plug-ins for literally every function you can think of. In fact, if you can imagine it, and a plug-in doesn’t already exist, you can find a developer to build you a plug-in that will make it happen.
End-users and non-techies love WordPress because it’s so easy to use. Once you know the basics, even a monkey can add or edit content, from any Internet connected computer anywhere in the world with no special software required.
SEO’s love WordPress because – well… the SEO is automatic! Nearly all of the on page SEO can be taken care of, and there’s even a plug-in that pings Google with a new XML site map immediately for every addition. It’s not uncommon to have a new post indexed by Google in as little as 90 seconds, and that’s a lot of power.
Google doesn’t actually “love WordPress” and they don’t even necessarily “love blogs”. In reality, Google loves “properly created websites” and if WordPress is set up correctly, it’s got everything a search engine could love.
The dinosaur days of using Dreamweaver or FrontPage to manually edit .html are long gone, and any developer that tells you otherwise is simply trying to get you locked into a maintenance agreement, or they are “afraid” of learning CSS and .php.
7) What WordPress plugins do you recommend for a blog / site that wants to “cover all its bases” for both SEO & Social Media?
This month? There are 1.2 bazillion different plugins, and our “preferences” change all the time. Also, the more plugins you use, the more your performance can suffer, and the higher the risk you have for conflicts.
That said, these are a few that I can’t live without…
Setup with our own Core Tweaks
YARPP – Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
WordPress File Monitor
I’m sure some people will have some valid reasons for not using ANY of these plug-ins, but for the most part, I do like these the best for what they are trying to accomplish.
8) Many folks (including me) are reasonably clueless about webhosting. If you are looking for a balance of functionality and reliability at a reasonable price point for a web host, what are some tips & tricks to be able to achieve that balance?
For every person that tells you that a given web hosting service is great, you’ll find plenty more to tell you that it sucks. No matter how big the service, there’s always going to be some sort of problem at some point, because that’s the nature of computers. Does your computer work perfectly all the time?
Remember that “99.8 percent uptime” still means the site could be down more than 17 hours a year, and invariably, that timing will be at a critical moment. The key is how quickly your host reacts to those problems, and if you’re looking for a web host, I’d recommend calling their tech support line BEFORE you sign up rather than after there’s a problem.
On the other hand, if you have a mission critical site, which can NEVER afford downtime, then I think the most economical way to ensure uptime is to have a second web hosting account, then manage your DNS at a third-party service.
If one host goes down or becomes unavailable, then the service will send internet traffic to the other host instead. The cost of these DNS management services is about $50 a year per domain, and you can get a second backup host with unlimited domains pretty cheaply.