Interview with SEO and Content Strategist Doc Sheldon

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April 10, 2014Interviews2 Comments

First of all, I would like to thank Doc Sheldon for spending his valuable time and answering the questions. Doc Sheldon is SEO and Content Strategist and he is the founder of Intrinsic Value SEO and the editor of The Meld. He also write for Search Engine Watch and many other publications. You can follow Doc Sheldon on Google+. I’ve been following Doc Sheldon since 2009 and his observations on SEO world always inspire me.

Here are some interesting answers from Doc Sheldon.

Q: Many webmasters and businesses are getting afraid after Google penalties. What should be done to follow the latest challenges?

Doc: detecting trends is always a challenge… trying to determine what Google intends, what they will do next, what their ultimate goal is… it’s not easy and certainly not an exact science. It involves some conjecture, some imagination and more than a little luck. Most of all, it involves objectivity and data.

To me, the important thing is to remain objective and try to imagine what exactly Google might be working toward. If you can foresee their probable goals, you may be able to predict what actions will take you closer to those goals.

Personally, I believe they are working to get away from links and PageRank (as we know it) as a ranking factor. But that can’t happen until they have something scalable ready to replace it, and in my opinion, that probably isn’t going to happen in the next year.

Q: So basically, PageRank is going to be dead?

Doc: PageRank could conceivably be replaced with AgentRank (authority, author rank) of entities – that’s my theory. But not until it’s able to be applied across the vast majority of the web. That’s still down the road a bit, I think.

So all my efforts are dedicated to building authority, both for myself and for my clients. If my theory is right, I’ve gotten an early start – if I’m wrong, it still can only help. At the very least, it’ll boost any branding effort.

I think the most important thing for all of us right now is to clean up our act… clean up our portion of the link graph, for one… that includes even 404s. Because although 404s don’t count against us now, I think they will soon.

Q: Are you afraid to link out? Should we make it no-follow or do-follow?

Doc: Nofollow has always been wise if the destination is irrelevant or unsavory. Now we have more questions about what is “safe”… and fewer answers. But I think followed links are still appropriate, if used cautiously. We’re just going to have to determine where that “appropriate” line is, according to Google.

I recently had to add nofollow to all the outbound links on one of my sites when I received a sitewide manual penalty which Google judged as evidence of selling links or participating in a link scheme. But I was trying to see how fast I could get the penalty revoked, and I wasn’t concerned about any impact to rankings for that site. Under most circumstances, that would not be the way to handle the situation – better to examine each outbound link from Google’s perspective and nofollow selectively.

So, no – I don’t advocate nofollowing all outbound links. Nofollow anything that could potentially be seen by Google as manipulative, just as has always been the case. They just seem to have broadened their idea of manipulative, so adjust your practices accordingly.

Q: What if we link out to Matt Cutts’ blog deliberately, as a whole, is Google going to penalize his blog? Or are they going to give leverage because Matt Cutts’ blog is an authority blog?

Doc: I think an experiment like that would be a dangerous game and probably wouldn’t accomplish anything.;) I doubt that they would penalize him. I would hope that because of the authority he (and his site, as another entity) has accrued, that it would be taken into consideration and protect him against a negative SEO attack like that.

If not, I think it’s reasonable to assume that he might stop anything from happening to his blog. Why? Because he can! LOL

Ewali.com: I don’t meant to follow this practice, but just had a thought that authority websites often survive the penalties because of years in business. New webmasters and websites are more likely to get penalized if they get links from different sources or link out to websites.

Q: Do you think your blog was also penalized because of MyBlogGuest?

Doc: In a word, yes. However, I had a number of small issues that could have contributed, individually or in combination:

  • I had a small handful of guest posts on my site.
  • I had a “Guestblogs” page on the site.
  • I had a few links out to MBG (one textual link in a post I wrote a video they had just released, a couple of Ann Smarty’s comments and a couple of announcements of contests that included links to MBG as another contest sponsor).
  • My old MBG member profile probably still exists in Google’s index from when I was a moderator there, early on.
  • I also had a sidebar widget that one-way links out to a friend’s site.

Any one of those might have flagged my site for examination. But I tend to think it was because of my ties to MBG. Ann’s site was selected as the sacrificial lamb, and a lot of people were deemed guilty by association.

That doesn’t mean that I blame MBG or Ann Smarty for my penalty. I was sloppy, and although I think my penalty was overly harsh, I don’t claim it was undeserved. But I told Ann a couple of years ago that openly requiring followed links might become a risky thing. She felt she was okay, which technically, I agree with. I think she complied with the letter of the Guidelines, but was found guilty of not complying with the spirit.

Q: Why is Google on a rampage and how is it going to effect the SEO community?

Doc: I have a theory on this, also I wouldn’t characterize it as a “rampage”.

Many of Google’s actions over the last couple of years are pointing to a focused effort to clean up the link graph, for instance. Google is already running learning algorithms, and those often require 4-5 times or more of the processing capacity of a “normal” filtering algorithm. They’ve been working for some time on various aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence and may now be getting into virtual reality in a big way. All of those require exponentially greater amounts of computing power, as well. While they certainly have the financial ability to construct many new data centers, doing so will increase capacity, but not speed. Their best solution is to decrease load on existing facilities.

Google has many reasons to want to clean up the link graph… it consumes a tremendous amount of their capacity… and that also slows them down. With the things they’re working on, more speed becomes essential.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 80%+ of the links in the graph right now are no longer valid. They can’t simply “ignore” existing links… to do so could render the link graph invalid. They need it cleaned up. Every redirect, every 404, every broken link, costs them machine cycles. Even if they were content to ignore links, spammers create scores of new links every minute of every day, so that’s a no-win situation. The only way they can hope to stop the out of control growth of the graph (and hopefully begin to decrease its size) is for webmasters to pitch in and remove or repair invalid links.

Google’s primary method of getting us to do things used to be offering a carrot on a stick – if you do this, it’ll help your rankings. But that just invited more abuse. So they threw away the carrot and started using the stick as a club – if you do this, you’ll be penalized.

I believe that their need to clean up the link graph is why link removal is a requirement of a manual penalty recovery. I also believe that’s why they came out with the disavow tool. And I believe that’s why 404s will be considered toxic before long.

Q: Search Engine Ranking Factors without Link Building?

Doc: I believe that authority is the thing to be building. Google’s mantra is you have to have great content. It will bring links, it will bring authority. There’s a lot of truth in that, but great content, by itself, isn’t enough. If War and Peace hadn’t been talked about, Tolstoy would be unknown. You also need to get eyes on your content for it to ever be appreciated.

Links certainly help attract eyes, but they should be earned, or Google may devalue them or penalize you for manipulation. I don’t want to sound like a Matt Cutts video, but content quality plays a critical role already and I think it’s becoming even more important. If you don’t stand out from the others in your niche, you’re doomed to obscurity.

Q: There is often discussion that Google is making their algorithms tough because they want to give leverage to Google Adwords so that more people advertise

Doc: I see it as very improbable that Google would ever take any sort of overt action that could leave them vulnerable to anti-trust actions. They’re already under intense scrutiny in Europe and the US, so they have to be very cautious.

Personally, I also tend to believe that Larry Page has more integrity than that. But then, my perceptions of him are based upon what he has chosen to show in public, so who knows?

When you look at it objectively, though, Google is already making mountains of money on ad sales every month… you have to ask yourself, why would they jeopardize that? It just doesn’t make sense.

Q: Why do people keep on repeating the same mistakes as we see same questions repeated over and over?

Doc: I think much of that is because there’s a low (if not nonexistent) barrier to entry in SEO/digital marketing. So many people enter the field knowing essentially nothing… they just intend to learn as they go. How do they learn? Mostly by reading what others are saying.

When I first started out, I followed what folks like Michal Gray, Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin and Aaron Wall were saying, along with dozens of others. Typically, I picked the most visible folks and followed them, as logic told me that if a lot of people were quoting them and referencing them, they must be credible. I learned that some were, but that some were offering completely useless, poorly thought out opinions.

So pretty quickly, I learned that visibility doesn’t equate to credibility, and I became more selective about who I listened to. As I learned more about how things work, I found it easier to sort out the gold from the BS. And I built relationships with others, listening to some of them like you listen to a mentor.

And I learned to employ critical thinking to my SEO studies- test things for myself, evaluate things objectively, build sustainable results – once I stopped following every word said by every “celebrity” SEO.

Unfortunately, a lot of people never reach that critical thinking stage. Whether they’re lazy, unsure of themselves or just so confused by it all, they elect to let others do their thinking for them, and as a result, they’re often following antiquated or downright wrong advice.

Over time, you can learn who seems to provide the most reliable information. If you don’t, you’ll just find yourself repeating old mistakes.

Q. Do you think we should focus more on Bing?

I may be a little hypocritical when I say “conditionally, yes”, because for most of my clients, Bing isn’t a logical focal point, even secondarily. I tend to try to help my clients diversify their dependence on leads as much as possible, so that the loss of leads from any one source has less impact on their business.

But when I see a need to start focusing more effort on a non-Google search engine, I tend to lean more toward Yahoo!, as I see them as a greater potential competitor to Google than Bing.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Marissa Mayer, and she is trying to get Yahoo! out from under Bing and get back into search as a major player. I’m betting she’ll be successful and I see Yahoo! as better positioned to take a huge chunk of Google’s business away from them.

Q: Recently, Google decreased the value of Author Rank, do you think Author Rank is going to replace the Page Rank?

Doc: I’m not sure what you’re referring to here, but I suspect you meant to say authorship, rather than AuthorRank. They recently reduced the number of authorship snippets they display in the SERPs, but that is different from AuthorRank. In fact, there’s a lot of heated discussion on whether AuthorRank (or AgentRank, as it’s called in the Google patent) is yet implemented to any degree.

Personally, I think some sort of AgentRank is already being developed and tested, and will eventually become a major factor in rankings in the SERPs. And I base my authority building upon that theory.

Q: Finally, your top SEO tips that you use for clients

Doc: When you throw a party in your home, you clean the house before the guests arrive, right? The same logic applies with a website. Focus on optimizing onsite – architecture, appearance, functionality, etc. – then work on attracting more traffic, whether organic or paid.

Testing is also an important part of effective optimization in any channel. Action without data is just activity. Meaningful action only occurs when it’s based upon data.

2 Responses to “Interview with SEO and Content Strategist Doc Sheldon”
  1. Andrew Tihnla

    There are some great points, here, thanks for the research Ahmad. it’s great to hear from someone that is a recognized expert, rather than a stream of “IMHO” posts.

  2. Adhitya Chandra

    And old saying says, “experience is best teacher”. And this kind of interview is what I’m looking for in learning SEO, better than using SEO services. Waiting for your next interview post, Mate. Already liked this post.