An Interview with David Harry – Owner and Founder of the SEO Dojo

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After just recently launching the SEO Dojo to the public, and winning the Top Rank Blog’s best paid subscription based SEO community, we thought we’d catch up with our good friend David Harry.

The SEO Dojo and David Harry

How did you get started in Online Marketing?

It was a somewhat odd journey for me to get to this point. Originally, back in the land of bricks and mortar, I took courses in business admin and marketing… which I was then employed in the construction industry as a manager/consultant. I’ve always enjoyed creative endeavors as well as numbers (yea, actually ENJOYED accounting).

Then, in my early thirties, I met the love of my life and she introduced me to the world of computers and the Internet (back in 1997 or so). Within no time I started working with her on a budding Web design career and we opened a company in 1998. That’s where it all began.

After 4 years of that we decided to expand (for the sake of the business AND the relationship) and focused on verticals. That’s when SEO caught my eye. We’d been asked may times and I had dabbled here and there… once I started to learn more, I was hooked.

So, I started in (offline) marketing, moved to Web design…and then back to (search) marketing.

For someone new to Search Marketing and looking to get into the business, what advice would you give them?

Don’t believe all that you read? There’s a lot of bad advice being written out there. You need to do your own due-diligence and experiments.

Start Networking! Sure, you could spend hundreds of hours learning the ropes, but it is much better to surround yourself with knowledgeable people to mine for gold.

Learn About Search Engines. Considering that 2/3’s of the job (‘search + engine’) – you better learn some IR (information retrieval). I am constantly shocked at the lack of knowledge about search engines that search engine optimizers have.

I could go on and on with that one, but those are a few important ones that I’d suggest to those new to the industry. Oh and of course join a rocking SEO community.

You’re renowned in the SEO community for your technical approach to SEO. Can you give us a general rundown of the variables you look at when testing?

For the so-called ‘technical approach’, once more I am constantly amazed at the lack of understanding of how search engines work with SEOs. To me it was simply a sound approach to getting into the job.

As far as testing, that’s actually one of my pet peeves. I read plenty of ‘testing’ out there that is so far off base in brings me to tears. If we consider the Google mantra of ‘2-300 ranking factors’ it can be next to impossible to isolate enough of them to get sound data. Believe me I’ve tried.

This is where I believe the ‘art’ comes in. As with anything, once you’ve done it hundreds/thousands of times, you get ‘a feel for it’. You will NEVER be able to nail down the various algorithms, you simply need some diligence in testing and the understanding that it’s all anecdotal evidence. By cross referencing tests you can get close, but there are always more potential metrics that are missed.

Let us consider temporal signals, filters, penalties and dampening factors alone, these can’t be readily accounted for and can make a mess of any testing. Then let’s add in the potential for personalization, regional anomalies…and well, you get the idea.

So, it’s not as much for the variables for me as it is the knowledge of what we don’t know and how that can affect the data ultimately.

How do you see Social Media and SEO evolving as both brand recognition and SERPs start to gain an equal importance?

I am not as keen on the whole ‘SEO & Social’ marriage as I believe ALL marketing elements need to work together to be effective. That means while social media has elements that can benefit the SEO department, so does PPC and other avenues. Social has brought a nice evolution to content strategy which I do enjoy… and employ.

The evolution of search is inclusive of social and brands, but there is still far more. If we look at all of the various verticals there are these days, and the differing market types and demographics, search will always have its own place outside of social. I really don’t think they’re synonymous or will ever be such.

As for brand recognition, there is a significant brand-lift to be had by effective search marketing that I have yet to see social outperform. Social success, on a conversion/CPA level, is the exception not the rule. For me social is still more about branding, customer service and networking than it is as a sales driver. On the other hand, that’s what search is. Search is not for the casual, it is for people ‘seeking’ something with informational/navigational/transactional needs.

Thus the question may be flawed in that I see SEO, PPC, SMM, PR as separate marketing elements contributing to the over-all marketing mix.

How much of a role do you see personalized search playing in the future of SEO?

Considering this is one of my main areas of study over the last few years, I think it will be huge. We’ve already seen great strides in how search engines such as Google personalize the experience and from what we’re seeing on the patent/paper front; there is plenty more to come.

I have to think, with adoption or not, that the recent ‘social search’ will be a player in how results are served to users in the future. Using not only individual behavioral data, but aggregate common user data is something I believe we will be seeing in the future.

It may be in the form of explicit data (that users give to the engines) or possibly more of the implicit (behavioral data), but we should see personalization expanding beyond simply what YOU personally do online. This type of approach has been broached many times by search engineers, the problem up until now has been the processing power to deal with it all. Enter Caffeine!

Let’s also remember that even elements of ‘local’ are a form of personalization – personalized to your location.

You can put your last dollar on the fact that personalization, in all their forms, are going to be one of the biggest areas for concern in the SEO world… Once again, people really should be learning more about how search engines accomplish it!

In your opinion, what are the five most important ranking factors?

Links, links… and well… links! Okay, seriously, first off let’s go back to verticals. We have to consider the query type for a given project. If the core demo is for a local market, then the local ranking factors are going to be more important that it would for a national/international campaign. In the modern era of SEO, I don’t believe there is a ‘one-fits-all’ approach.

Here’s my main ranking factors:

  • Inbound Link Strength (aka PageRank)
  • Page Title
  • Link text (relevance)
  • Page Text (relevance/prominence)
  • Domain strength (ability to pass PR internally)
  • Avoiding dampening factors/filters

The last one I just thought to add as it covers the MANY simple things (such as duplicate content, pagination issues etc) that can actually work against site managers that they may not realize are. Understanding how you can work against yourself is as important a ranking factor to consider as any of the others.

What gave you the idea of setting up the SEO Dojo?

I love my work… that’s what! It was just over a year ago that some mates of mine were talking about the need for a private community where we could hang out. As with many public social circles, the ones we had frequented were over-run with noobs and spammers. The joy had gone out of it for us.

Originally, that’s all it was meant to be. Over time we started adding some content and resources and the place just started to grow (organically even). What we wanted at the end of the day was a place for SEO and marketing professionals to exchange notes, test theories and generally bring SEO to a higher level.

I have been thrilled with the response so far and look forward to growing our legion of warriors in the years to come (we’ve around 150 members so far).

What is your favorite Raven feature and why?

Can I get away with; All of them? What I mean by that is one of the strongest points to Raven’s Internet Marketing Tools is that you have them ALL in one centralized command center. That is one thing I don’t think anyone has done well up until now. We generally have to use one tool here and another there, it’s nice to see a strong collection in one place.

That being said, if I had to choose, it would be the link building applications. I like having the ability to track prospects and other activities from a single interface. If link building is one of the most important factors, then a link acquisition application has to be one of my favorite elements.