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Lee Odden

Interview with Eric Ward of URLwire

By Lee Odden     Interviews, Link Building, SEO, Spotlight on Search

Spotlight on Search – Interview with Eric Ward

If there is a ying and a yang to search engine optimization then many SEO professionals would agree that content is the ying and links are the yang. OK I’m simplifying, but work with me. Optimizing content without implementing a linking campaign is like trying to drive a car without wheels.

Linking is important for more reasons than building PageRank though. Links from high profile sites can drive significant amounts of traffic AND attract inbound links as well. In that field there’s one person that stands out as the prominent “old school SEO” authority on link building and that is Eric Ward.

Over the years Eric has developed effective processes and coveted relationships with leading online publications that you simply cannot buy your way into. As a result, if your campaign qualifies with his “newsworthiness” standards, you can expect some amazing results. I can personally testify that working with Eric is exceptional. He sets a very high standard and you can tell he truly enjoys his work.

Between handling clients, writing articles, webinars and conferences, Eric was kind enough to answer a few questions recently:

Please describe your background and how did you get involved with search marketing? How long were you promoting web sites before you took on Amazon.com as a client?

I worked in advertising and public relations for years and then a corporation I worked for went bankrupt I decided to go to graduate school in, of all things, Library and Information Sciences. This was 1992-ish. Over the next couple years the Internet started to really emerge into more mainstream use, especially after the first graphical web browser was made available to everyone. That browser was Mosaic and it’s Netscape’s great grandfather. :)

I watched all these new sites launching through the eyes of an advertising/public relations person who just happened to be in library school, and I just knew corporate America was going to jump on it. I went to a local ISP in Knoxville with my idea for a web site promotion service and asked if they thought it was viable. They contracted with me on the spot to handle all their clients, all of whom were local. My business was born.

At the same time I happened to be a member of what was at the time the very first email based discussion list about web marketing. And it so happened that Jeff Bezos was also a member. There were like, 25 members total. When I told the group about my business, Jeff called me and said “I’m launching an online bookstore, wanna help?”

And in retrospect that was the moment that changed everything for me.

What are the biggest differences in site announcement and promotion now compared to 5 years ago? What advice would you give to new search marketers that are looking for reliable and long term link building strategies?

The amount of noise you have to get past to get your message heard is insane. Spam, fake blogs, link farms, you name it. This has caused people to just try and be louder than everyone else, when in reality they need to take the exact opposite approach. Focus on your content and verticality. The web is self organizing. It’s a marketers dream. 3000 people all with the exact same interest in some little known subject all end up finding each other through tools like Yahoo Groups or blogs, etc. The key is understanding – and respecting- the medium. Few marketers respect the medium properly.

When you speak at conferences about link building, it is sometimes an interesting contrast to what’s being said by other master link builders like Jim Boykin, Greg Boser, Debra Mastaler and Patrick Gavin. Do you think there is a time and a place for every time of linking or should we all just get along and link one way?

People call me a “White Hat” Link Builder because I won‚Äôt use tactics that I know the engines do not like. That’s simply a choice on my part. But for me to say a particular linking tactic is “Black Hat” or bad would be a form of snobbery and simply wrong. It boils down to the competitive landscape you find yourself in. An informational site about helping your child understand hearing loss is not going to have as much competition as a site that sells Viagra, and thus the linking tactics they each must use can, and should, be very different.

On several occasions we’ve talked about the synergies between public relations and link building for site promotion. Can you elaborate on that connection? Are public relations related activities the next level or trend in link building?

Some links are more on the publicity and public relations side of the continuum. Yahoo Picks of the Week for example. You can’t buy or request that kind of link. It’s 100% editorial and its gold, traffic-wise. Same with USA Today Hot Sites or FORBES Best of the Web. This class of link is way above any other type of link and can also be seen as a more trustworthy link by the search engines. There are hundreds of online publications similar to these and obtaining a link from them is far different than a standard “lets swap links” approach.

I send out quite a few “optimized press releases” each month for quite a few of our SEO and PR clients for distribution and visibility on Google News, Yahoo News and many other sites. Do you use “press release optimization” as a tactic? What do you think of News Search SEO? Is there a right way and a wrong way or is it all wrong?

Press release optimization is no different than any other type of optimization except that press releases show up in the news search results at major engines. The positive effect is real but fleeting, which is why you have to do another and another and another. I’m not a fan of multiple deep links within a press release to the point where the press release looks like a freaking site map. And I’m not a fan of the fact that anyone with a few bucks and a keyboard can send out press releases all month long, because it’s only a matter of time until press release spam gets ridiculous.

Your URLwire service, which is a blog, is recognized as a news source on Google news. That means whatever you post there gets picked up on Google News, correct? What kinds of tactics do you use to promote URLwire? Or do you even need to?

URLwire site announcements show up on Google news within about 20 minutes of me posting them, and they also show up on the regular Google web search results a couple days later. Part of this is because URLwire was created (in 1994) as an antidote to bulk press release distributors. I do a few per week max, and URLwire only announces new web content, and only announces it to the exact editors, writers, and reporters that have asked for it. Because the URLwire site has been around for 11 years, I’m lucky in that I have never had to advertise the service. It has over 100,000 links already pointing to it. Plus, since I limit what I will announce, I don’t want hundreds of inquiries from sites I wouldn’t announce anyway. :)

I know you are in a situation to be fairly selective about the kinds of projects you work with. What are the criteria? What types of projects will you absolutely not do? Please describe your ideal client.

For me it’s about the content. Can I help the content get known or not? I don’t care if it’s a FORTUNE 500 company or a mom and pop site. If the content is about a specific topic and well done, then it deserves to be known and linked. If the content is crap, even if it’s produced by a large corporation, then why bother? It’s not me that gets the links for the content; it’s the content itself that earns the link. I’m just a conduit.

What kinds of tools do you use for link building; Analysis, competitive research, tracking, other functions?

All proprietary :) OK, I sometimes also use Google and Teoma, but mostly my own scripts.

What could search engines be doing better in terms of communicating with the SEO community? Are there tools for search marketers from the search engines that you would like to see?

I think they are doing a great job now compared to a couple years ago, Matt Cutts’ blog being a prime example. But it would be nice if the search engines provided more webmaster specific tools, like new link tracking tools. But I can see why this would conflict with the search side of their mission.

What are some of the resources you rely on for information on SEO/SEM? Best practices, news, industry information.

I read and scan hundreds of online pubs. Subscribe to everything I can find. I’m really a sponge for it because I still like it so much. SearchEngineWatch.com is indispensable. But there are lesser known pubs with awesome info, like WDFM.com

What search engines do you use most often? Do you use different engines for different purposes?

ElvisFind.com – thank you very much…

Thanks Eric!

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