Ray “Catfish” Comstock interview, looking forward to SES Chicago 2009

Ray Catfish ComstockLast week, I caught up with a very busy guy in the realm of online marketing and SEO.  Ray “Catfish” Comstock, a true rock and roller of search marketing, a highly quotable and highly regarded SEO expert, is officially (by day) the senior search strategist at BusinessOnLine.  I’d be remiss to mention that by night he’s actually a genuine rocker with Dive Bomber, hence the photo to the right.  He’s also going to be participating in a panel entitled “Meaningful SEO Metrics: Going Beyond the Numbers” at SES Chicago 2009.  Is there anything he can’t do?  Let’s find out.

Garry: Catfish, thanks for taking the time for this interview.  Now that it’s been roughly 3 months since SES San Jose, our industry has changed quite a bit in a short a amount of time.  With search engines taking a hard look at “semantic” once again, do you think we’re seeing a fundamental shift in SEO?  It seems like people just started to grasp optimization tactics from a few years ago.  If you had three key pieces of advice for small businesses doing their own site optimization, what would they be and how would it differ from a few years ago?

Catfish: I don’t really know that semantic considerations are really important yet to the average Webmaster.

If you’re focused on writing good content that is keyword rich, valuable to users and unique, you should inadvertently be doing most of what you would need to be doing to take advantage of any engine using semantic language processing in their algorithm. -Ray “Catfish” Comstock

Ray Catfish ComstockI think the thing that would differ most today than a few years ago is the amount of competition in SEO.  That competition really necessitates an ongoing content strategy that is designed to establish you as an authoritative presence on the Internet for your most important topics and by extension, keyword phrases.

Spending resources on developing compelling content is hard for many companies when there is no direct ROI to point to, especially given the state of the current economic climate.  However, for those companies who are forward looking and building content and community, the results that we see more than justify the cost in most cases (if done correctly).

To that end, I don’t think there has ever been a time where social media and SEO were as intertwined as they are now.  So given that statement, here are my three key pieces of advice:

1)  Measure your long tail performance, not just your performance on competitive keyword phrases.  You can use the free keyword analysis Excel tool I made to help. If you aren’t measuring the long tail then you aren’t seeing the full results of your optimization.

2)  Produce Videos and Optimize them and upload them to YouTube.  YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and according to comScore accounts for 25% of Google’s reported searches.  Additionally with video thumbnails appearing ever more frequently in Universal Search results, video production and optimization is a key element to any SEO campaign.

3)  Produce Authoritative content in your niche that helps people solve problems and proves that you and your company really are experts at what you do.  Our blog and participation in Internet Marketing and SEO conferences has been critical in the growth of our company.

Garry: All extremely good pointers.  You mentioned the importance of social media in an online marketing strategy, but with businesses just starting to figure out social media monetization the scene appears to be changing yet again.  With Search engines now getting in the game, do you think we’re not also going to see a latent SEO effect.  Are we not just throwing old-school link building and professional networking into a blender and hitting the turbo button?

Catfish: Well I am a little confused by the question but clearly Twitter has changed a lot of things dramatically, not the least of which is the amount of information that is passing through the Internet.  Using Twitter and other social media platforms to augment your SEO campaign has never been more important than it is now, especially as it relates to getting the word out about your content and the links that come from people finding that content.

Additionally, we use a new technology we call Attribution Data that allows us to see what affect social media like FaceBook and Twitter is having on generating brand related search, which until now has been erroneously attributed to SEO.

We have found (with Attribution data) that there is a significant correlation to a company’s successfully run social media campaigns and the number of people who are looking for that company in Google.  -Ray “Catfish” Comstock

Clearly, there is more to it than throwing link building and networking into a blender and pressing the turbo button, but these technologies are certainly well suited for link building and networking so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are being used for that purpose.

Garry: When it comes to social media strategy and it’s benefit to SEO, I think many people forget corporate blogging.  How would you rate the importance of a corporate blog as part of an online marketing or social media strategy?

Catfish: I have long been a proponent of blogging for SEO purposes.  My own experience is that it not only gives you a fresh content channel that is cost effective as well as a great link acquisition tool, but it allows you to differentiate yourself in your niche and really prove to people that you (your company) are an expert at what you do.

A corporate blog allows you to differentiate yourself in your niche and really prove to people that you and your company are an expert at what you do.  -Ray “Catfish” Comstock

The amount of credibility and other business opportunities that result from a successfully run corporate blog make blogging worth doing even without the SEO benefits that come with it.  But if you throw those into the mix as well, blogging should be a part of any Web site that wants to be relevant in their space. Otherwise you leave it open for your competitors to own that part of your market.   I could go on and on about the importance of blogging but the bottom line is you should be doing it for SEO as well as other business objectives.

Garry: Couldn’t agree with you more, if you run a business and are serious about social media, start with a blog and maintain it.  So, as we’re entering the holiday season, and seeing as the engines are becoming increasingly generous (with free WiFi at US Airports courtesy of Google), could you share maybe 3 things on your SEO wish list from the search engines?  Changes they could make today that would make a great holiday gift and impact search marketing through 2010?

Catfish: Sure!

Dear Search Engines,

Even though I haven’t been a good boy this year, I would really appreciate the following:

1)  Organic Google engineers at SES, Pubcon, SMX and OMS who can actually answer questions.  The fact that there is such a focus on PPC at these conferences is understandable given the spend but there really needs to be more outreach in my opinion from people besides Matt and Adam who can talk to folks about their problems on a regular basis.  The same is true for Bing and Yahoo although Google is obviously much more important at this point in time.

2)  Better organic customer service.  God forbid you actually need to talk to someone at Google if you don’t already know someone (Garry: LOL).   Believe it or not, most Webmasters have no idea who Matt Cutts is.  I know Google has tried hard to help Webmasters by creating things like Webmaster Tools and their blog, but it’s not enough.  And don’t tell me that human customer service doesn’t scale.  Neither does human review of spam but they have no problem with that because there is money on the line.  Think about how many jobs you could create Google, if you had a responsive customer service department for Organic search.  Obama will thank you!

3)  Show me all my links already.  You would think I am asking for government classified information just because I want to know about all my links.  Webmaster tools is incomplete as evidenced by the data set from Majestic SEO.  (Garry: sweet tools!)

4)  Bonus Gift from Bing:  Would you guys invent some technology that actually improves search instead of putting a new face on a lot of Google ideas?  The reason that you’re not gaining in market share is because at the end of the day, your Decision Engine (which is some lame marketing BTW) is not better than Google.  It doesn’t return better results and there is nothing there that makes me want to switch.  And your handling of canonicalization errors, especially with regard to 302 redirects, isn’t even close to Google.  So instead of spending so much money on advertising, why not spend it on your product?  Just a little constructive criticism for you, Bill.

Garry: Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, no holds barred!  Speaking of no holds barred, you were on a panel at SES San Jose called “Meaningful SEO Metrics: Going Beyond the Numbers” and are scheduled for another session of the same name at SES Chicago.  I think everyone was caught a bit off guard when the San Jose session turned into an informal Q&A, but there was a lot of strategic and tactical advice shared in a very short time frame.  Have you been told whether the format will remain the same for Chicago (so you’re not the only one to the party with a PPT deck)? Can you give readers a sneak peek into what’s in store?

Catfish: Yeah that was a little strange but one thing I have learned about SEO is to roll with the punches because a lot of things are outside of your control.  I do not know what the format will look like this time but I will be emphasizing the importance of measuring long tail keyword traffic, the implications of measuring brand versus non-brand traffic and why it’s critical to your success, how to use analytics (a new technology that we call attribution data) to understand your brand related searches and a few reporting examples that we find useful for our larger clients to make sense out of the enormous data set that analytics can provide you (which can be very overwhelming on large sites).  That’s all assuming that we use a power point presentation format rather than the Q&A format.

Garry: Looking forward to it.  And with that, another interview comes to a close.  Keep your calendars open for December 6th through 9th for SES, and close out the year in search in Chicago, IL.  Special thanks to my guest, Ray Catfish Comstock for rolling with the punches and keeping it real.

About Search Engine Strategies

Search Engine Strategies is the definitive digital event for marketers, corporate decision makers, webmasters and search engine marketers (SEMs), including pay per click (PPC) advertisers and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals. Attend SES Chicago, network with your peers, meet with industry experts, and learn the tips, tactics and strategies that will grow your business online.

About Ray “Catfish” Comstock

Ray “Catfish” Comstock is the senior search strategist at BusinessOnLine. He has more than 10 years’ experience in the search marketing industry, specializing in organic search engine optimization and social media strategy. Ray has presented at numerous industry conferences, including the Online Marketing Summit, Online Market World, and the Business Marketing Association (BMA) Annual Conference. He is quoted extensively in trade and business publications and is considered an influential member of the SEO community. “Catfish” authors thought leadership papers and articles for industry publications, including the BusinessOnLine SEO Blog, which is syndicated through WebProNews.

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