Real People, Real SEO: An Interview with Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz

Rand Fiskin, CEO of SEOmoz, is arguably the leading voice in the SEO industry. Likewise, SEOmoz is home to perhaps the most expansive community of SEOs world-wide. Read about Rand, his thoughts on SEO in 2011, and much more in this "21.5 questions with Rand Fishkin" segment!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

Welcome to the beginning of a new series here on SEO Whistleblower. "Real People, Real SEO" is a series that will be comprised of guest interviews and unique presentations from some of the most influential and intelligent voices in the interactive marketing space -- be it SEO (Search Engine Optimization), social media, analytics, ROI (Return on Investment), et al. Maybe you have heard of these individuals or maybe you haven't, but anyone you see within this series is a person you can trust and a person you can positively invest time and interest into. With that said, the first person on the docket is Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz. Here is a quick bio courtesy of Rand's bio page on SEOmoz:

Rand Fishkin
Rand Fishkin is the CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz, a leader in the field of SEO software. He co-authored the Art of SEO from O'Reilly Media and was named on the 40 Under 40 List and 30 Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs Under 30. Rand has been written about it in The Seattle Times, Newsweek and the NY Times among others and keynoted conferences on search around the world. He's particularly passionate about the SEOmoz blog, read by tens of thousands of search professionals each day. In his miniscule spare time, Rand enjoys the company of his amazing wife, Geraldine. (Image courtesy of SEOmoz)

This interview is going to take place in two parts: "Down to Business" and "All for Fun." Basically, for those of you who want the business/SEO value from the interview, "Down to Business" is the section of the interview for you. If, however, you're like me and you like to read about the more light-hearted/non-business side of people, I think you will enjoy the "All for Fun" section. Last of note is that any usage of "@everywhereist" is in reference to Rand's wife, Geraldine; just so you know. So with that said, here are 21.5 questions with Rand Fishkin!


.:: Down to Business


What's your opinion of SEO in 2011? Where are things heading? What should people focus on these days?We're certainly on a path of greater integration and holistic thinking than ever before. It's rare to find an SEO who doesn't focus on social media marketing, viral content development, web analytics and even public relations or email marketing. With the practice of SEO becoming so closely tied to the success one can achieve in the website marketing field as a whole, this isn't a surprising development, but it does make it hard to say "focus on just this," vs. "become competent at all of these."


If you could pick 3 things you would want to be remembered for in the SEO industry, what would they be?Me personally? That's a tough one, but I'll say: 1 - Helping to make "SEO" a well-respected marketing channel. 2 - Supporting, empowering and introducing great people to the SEO field. 3 - Creating a company that has a powerful, positive impact on the day-to-day lives of marketers practicing SEO.


When someone says, "we want to hire an SEO," what should they mean? What I'm addressing here is the increased perception that an SEO should be a jack of all trades (Organic, PPC, Social, Web Dev, Usability Expert, et al).When I hear that phrase, it typically means the company/organization is specifically worried about organic search traffic and wants someone who can assist. However, as you note (and I mentioned above), it's very hard to do SEO without also working on content and promotion (which often bleed into other areas). The exception is when the issues are primarily technical and on-site (dealing with accessibility and optimization best practices), in which case a very pure SEO focus can be fine.


If you found yourself in an elevator with Bill Gates and you had to pitch him about SEO for his Web site, what would you say? Oh, and you've only got 15 floors to go once the doors close! This is a really easy one. :) I'd tell him - "Bill, you should Google 'bill gates seo' and read the article Danny Sullivan wrotegiving you some great advice."


Do you enjoy educating people about SEO more than actually doing it?To a certain extent, I think I do. I love the SEO process and I love the positive outcomes (particularly on tough mysteries), but my favorite part is probably sharing the work we've done or the experiences we've had with others and hearing from them about how it saved them heartache, brought them traffic or made them money.


If you had a close friend or family member who wanted to learn enough about SEO to do it for a profession, what would be your suggested curriculum going into 2011 (Web sites, books, courses, et al)? Start with the Beginner's Guide to SEO. Then read Aaron Wall's Blogger's Guide. Now you're ready to start your own blog. A Wordpress install is a great way to begin because there are lots of bells, whistles, plugins, editing and challenges to getting it right and you'll learn a lot in the process (vs. something simpler like Posterous or Tumblr). If you're very non-technical, use something like Page.ly to get the initial setup. From there, I'd challenge you to choose a niche you're passionate about in your personal life (e.g. a cooking blog, a travel blog or a blog about copywriting failures). Do a bit of keyword research and find some not-too-competitive keywords you want to rank for, then target them with great content and work on earning those rankings, monitoring your traffic (a Google Analyticsinstallation is a must-have) and improving. Within 30 days, you'll have a pretty good grasp of SEO and some true, hands-on experience.


Have you ever dabbled in affiliate marketing? If so, what has your personal experience and/or level of success been with that industry?I haven't done anything with affiliate marketing; sorry!


For every scathing CEO who believes SEO is BS but spends tens of thousands of dollars on PPC, how would you portray the prospective ROI of SEO to them? Search engines get hundreds of billions of queries each month. According to Google, around 14% of the clicks from those queries go to ads (the PPC portion) while 86% go to organic results (the SEO portion). Putting 90% of your budget and effort in a place that draws 10% of the traffic is a terrible missed opportunity. I've written more about this here.


What's the most ridiculous SEO "theory" you've heard of someone selling prospective clients on?Sadly, a lot of small businesses and site owners still fall for the "list your site in 800 search engines and directories." The problem, of course, is that getting listed or included in Google isn't the problem; it's having the accessible pages, quality content and valuable links to make it rank well that matters. And, being in 800 search engines when Google + Bing combine for 95%+ of market share doesn't strike me as particularly sensible either.


How much has the SEO landscape changed since you first became interested in it? Are there any outdated techniques that you still have to remind yourself not to use? It's definitely changed a lot, though the fundamentals have stayed surprisingly similar. I think one of the only big things I have to remind myself about now and again is that Yahoo! doesn't have its own search index.


Netting that first client is really a beast. What tips do you have to offer for freelance SEOs who want to make the jump into the industry but have a tough time selling themselves with no past clients under their belts for reference? Yeah - that is a tough one. My best advice is to build up a portfolio of your own work; volunteer for friends, non-profits and local organizations and establish your industry credentials with a public site or blog that's earned some references and notoriety from the community. There are a million topics and research projects in the SEO world just waiting to be done, and when you're trying to earn that first paying client, having the authority and background of experience (even if it wasn't paid) will help. I wrote about this a biton my personal blog recently.


What's your stance on "black hat," "gray hat," and "white hat" SEO? Some feel the labels harm the industry, but I think they help to create necessary discernment between tactics and methodologies (I previously wrote a detailed study of the psychology of "black hat" SEO here). What are your thoughts on this?The naming conventions exist whether we like them or not. Personally, I feel that having them is better than not - otherwise, everything black/gray hat would merely be lumped together with the word "SEO" and damage the industry's reputation even more.


Personally, I hate link-building with a passion. I love to educate people about SEO and I love doing on-page factors, writing, creating link bait, etc. for clients, but going out and tediously building links is truly the bane of my existence! What about you? Are there any parts of SEO that you dread?Manual link building is definitely no fun, but I love creating content that people link to and share naturally. I love the process of trying to make something viral and testing its potential for success. Even when I fail, I feel like I've learned something. I do hate the politics of SEO, though. Having to fight through ignorance and stereotypes in the management layers of a company is a miserable experience and one I don't envy for in-house SEOs.


.:: All for Fun


What is one question (SEO-related or not) you hope to get asked but never do? Likewise, what is the answer to that question? How will you spend this $1 million I'm handing to you? Wow. Thank you so much! I'm going to make sure it goes to amazing causes (a couple of my favorites are SeeYourImpact and Vittana).


What type of music does one Rand Fishkin listen to while banging out SEO-related endeavors? I really like thesixtyone.com- it's not so much a type of music as a collection of independent artists in a very cool format.


What are 3 things the world doesn't know about Rand Fishkin?#1 - I've never owned a car. I bought a scooter in 2008, and that was my first and only vehicle. #2 - I'm a huge fan of 19th and 20th century art; Homer, Hopper, Seurat and Chagall in particular. #3 - I don't use an RSS reader or a Twitter client; I'm still a manual website visitor (I just like the "feel" of the site when I'm reading its content).


What are 3 things @everywhereist doesn't know about Rand Fishkin (no, she didn't put me up to this question)?We're not going there. :) I doubt there are even 3 things!


Talking to the 7 year-old you, how far away are you from what you wanted to be when you grew up?Pretty far. My parents tell a story of how, as a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a dog, because they're loyal and friendly and everyone likes them.


"Rand Fishkin" is a pretty awesomely unique name! What is a "Fishkin," anyway? Irish? Eskimo? Antarctican?:) Jewish! But it's not actually our family's name. They changed my great-grandfather's name at Ellis Island; "Fishkin" was the name of his employer.


You're pretty much a celebrity in the SEO industry. Has that celebrity status been difficult for you to deal with at all? Do you get recognized in your home town or in random places by people you don't know?Almost never, and even when it happens, its usually someone I know or have met, so that doesn't really count. I don't think it's fair to say I have "celebrity status;" especially compared to all those "social media" experts who have 100K+ followers on Twitter.


If you could, what would... I'd be much happier in a small boat with a big shovel than... Yes, the question above is the ".5" out of "21.5;" just in case you were wondering. -Stephen


Closing Remarks: If you have anything you would like to say that we didn't cover in the interview, please feel free to take the opportunity now! Likewise, feel free to plug yourself to your heart's content if you'd like. I won't plug myself, but my wife just launched an awesome new blog all your readers should check out - http://copywronged.com/


In conclusion, I'd like to thank Rand Fishkin for taking the time out of his super-busy schedule to answer questions I'm sure he's answered a million times prior (and hopefully a few he hasn't). I certainly hope you enjoyed this interview and found something useful within it! If you have any questions or comments based on the content of the interview -- or if you would just like to provide feedback -- please leave your comments below as I would love to hear from you!

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