Reddit Recap: Raven Co-Founder Jon Henshaw’s AMA

Written by and published

Earlier this week, Raven co-founder Jon Henshaw chained himself to his desk (that’s only a slight exaggeration) and offered himself up to the Reddit masses for a no-holds-barred “Ask Me Anything” session.

Lots of smart marketers and SEOs asked him many great questions on topics ranging from link building strategies to career progression to how to hire a developer, and you can read the whole 70-plus-comments thread here if you like.

But for those who aren’t fluent in Reddit, we thought we would recap some of the highlights here on the blog. Here are some of his most noteworthy answers.

On returning rankings to Raven:

“Historically, SEOs have (and some still do) sell ranking positions for keyword phrases as a service to their clients. Many years ago, early on when we were still providing services, we sold some form of that too. Why? Because we didn’t know any better and because Google was easier to manipulate back then (if you knew what you were doing). But a lot has changed since then.

I contend that tracking ranking results is not necessary to do good SEO. However, rankings can still provide insight and act as a barometer for the performance of a site. They absolutely have their place.

I compare rank tracking for SEOs with drugs…you don’t really need it but it feels soooo good!

The only services modern SEOs should be selling to their client are better search engine visibility (onsite SEO) and increased organic traffic that provides targeted traffic that converts, period. Everything else is research and tactics.

For me, and the majority of our customers, rankings from GWT is all they need in regards to discovering search performance insights and client reporting. However, other people need more data and more control over how they get that data, which means they need scraped data. They will then use that data in a spreadsheet or custom app to compare against a series of other metrics, followed by the execution of certain tactics based on the results of their custom formula. So there’s a place for rank tracking, and many clients have been trained to want it. But is it necessary to do good SEO? Nope.

Why did we bring back rankings? Well, we brought back rankings from GWT and Bing that are not scraped. And we brought it back because people still really want some form of that data, and that data can still be quite insightful. So we brought it back based on demand, but we did it in a way that would keep us within compliance of Google.”

On what’s coming up at Raven:

“What I can tell you is that we have several big and not-so-big updates coming to our social tools. We are also working on a major overhaul to our reporting system. In addition to that, we now have dedicated resources for working on smaller feature requests. Expect to start seeing weekly tweaks and updates being announced soon.”

On his five six favorite SEO tools:

“1) My obvious favorite is Raven, so I’ll go ahead and get that one out of the way.

2) We have our own Site Auditor, but if you want something more advanced and no frills, I highly recommend Screaming Frog.

3) MajesticSEO steals my heart for site and link research, but Open Site Explorer and SEMRush are pretty damn good too.

4) While it’s a “duh” answer, it still needs to be said. Google already provides a lot of what people need in regards to SEO. I can spend days just in Google Search getting exactly what I need for a site and client. In addition, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are must haves in my book.

5) For content ideas and insights I like using OpenCalais’ semantic search API. It can be extremely revealing, especially when you run it against a competitor’s site.

6) My other favorite tool is myself. Yes, I’m a tool. Seriously though, tools are only as good as the person using them. The best tool is an SEO that tests their own theories, not one that relies on whatever everyone else is saying in the SEO echo-chamber and/or relies on the half-truths that come out of Google.”

On his favorite link building method:

“Creating free tools or compelling interactive content coupled with awareness via social media. Takes longer and costs more, but works almost every time. It’s also the least risky and has the greatest ROI long-term.”

On moving up the career ladder in SEO:

“There are a several things you can do.

The first, assuming you’re at a place where you can be recognized for your work, is to kick ass at what you do. Be proactive and stay on top of the latest changes (not trends) that Google is making. For example, if your employer or clients consist mainly of ecommerce sites, integrate microdata and optimize the crap out of their product pages, categories, etc…

The second thing is to always be testing and trying new things. Don’t necessarily do that on your client’s sites. Instead, make your own sites on your own time.

Make your own WordPress themes and go with your gut, instead of following what everyone else says you should do. That’s how you discover new methods that work, and that’s how you progress.

The third thing is to capitalize on your testing and experiences. You do this by sharing it on your blog and being a contributor on other blogs. You can also do it by working your way into the speaking scene by starting small (local meetups and conferences) and building your way up into bigger venues, like Pubcon, SMX and SES.

The fourth thing – although this could actually start as your first step – is to network. Network online in forums and social networks, and network IRL at conferences. The relationships you make online and IRL will go a long way towards advancing your career. It will also help you get noticed and further your chances of being accepted to speak at conferences.”

On (not provided):

“I think near 100% (not provided) is very likely. Which is why I’m relieved that Google and Bing Webmaster Tools are providing anonymized keyword position data that would otherwise be not provided in Google Analytics.”

On what makes Raven unique:

“Before I talk about the unique tools and features, I want to point out that Raven centralizes your SEO, Social, Content and PPC research, management, monitoring and reporting onto one platform. We’ve also made it very affordable.

Site Performance and Site Auditor tools are unique to Raven. Other unique offerings include:

  • Event Manager – Highlights campaign events on graphs and charts, and in reports.
  • Email Metrics – Pulls in campaign results from EMMA, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, MailChimp and AWeber and also combines it with data from GA.
  • Research Central – While this technically pulls in data from other sources, it’s unique in that is mashes up data from MajesticSEO and Moz. It also has features that use data from AdWords and other sources all within one singular tool.
  • Rankings – It’s unique in its ability to automatically pull in data from GWT and BWT and combine it with data from GA and AdWords.
  • Link Manager – It’s one of the first and most beloved tools in Raven. It automatically monitors all link building efforts and take screenshots of active links.
  • Social Stream – Makes it easy to create custom quick views based on social monitor searches, multiple Twitter accounts (all tweets, mentions only, lists and/or saved searches) and Facebook posts.
  • Social Management – Supports full management of multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, including native image and video uploads, and scheduled posts. Also integrates with our CRM, which is also unique to Raven.
  • Persona Manager – Stores a brand’s/client’s social account info in one centralized location for easy access.
  • Powerful Reporting – Quickly and easily builds a report on any aspect of an online marketing campaign. Reports can be branded with a logo, saved as reusable templates, and also scheduled to be automatically sent to a client or manager. We’ve been told by many of our customers that the reporting system alone is worth the price of admission to Raven.

That’s certainly not everything that I consider to be unique to Raven, but those are some of the highlights.”

On how semantic search changes SEO:

“For me, ‘semantic search’ can mean a lot of things. It can relate to newer block level semantic elements in Living Standard HTML (aka HTML5), microdata as it relates to, non-linked brand citations and/or semantic meaning and relationships found within the context of sites/content (like OpenCalais). With that being said, I’ll focus on the first two.

The relationship between SEO and Google (et al) is symbiotic. SEO both challenges the algorithm and also (mostly) delivers better content/results to it.

The algo seeks to fully comprehend the context and meaning of every page and its attributes (like images). So when SEOs include ALT attributes, block level elements like nav and aside, and microdata based on, they are greatly improving the chances of the algo to both understand and provide better visibility for that page in the SERPs.

Raven created a helper site called Schema Creator along with a WordPress Plugin to help people understand how to create and use microdata. Our Site Auditor checks for the use of microdata and also reports on missing attributes, like ALT attributes for IMG elements.

Thinking ahead, I would like to update our Design Analyzer to focus on Living Standard HTML and check for block level elements, along with microdata. In addition, we plan to enhance the Schema Creator site and plugin, and also incorporate it into our content marketing tools. We also have some semantic related updates planned for the Site Auditor.”

On mobile SEO:

“I prefer serving one site for all devices by making the pages responsive. That way it keeps it dead simple for search engines. It also makes it easier to maintain.

Based on what I’ve observed, Google still doesn’t show a huge preference between mobile friendly and non-mobile friendly sites. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t affect which sites are included and excluded in mobile SERPs.

For example, if a site is mobile unfriendly (difficult to view and navigate on a smartphone), then site usage data is going to tell Google that when it’s accessed by a small device, most people bounce. Therefore, their algo may choose to exclude that site in the SERPs on small devices. I personally haven’t tested this, but it’s so logical that I would be surprised if they don’t do this already.

Another problem people worry about, which I don’t think is an issue, is hidden data on a responsive design. For example, when the site shrinks to fit a small device, the navigation disappears and is replaced with an icon. As long as the HTML is coded well – text and links are hidden inside of JavaScript – there shouldn’t be any problem with it.”

Got any other questions for Jon? Ask ’em in the comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.