Eric Enge interviews Bob Massa

Published: May 27, 2008

Bob Massa Photo

Bob Massa has been involved in the search business since 1997. Bob is known for his driect and honest approach, along with his sense of humor. He operates a directory of niche Internet communities and a web marketing services firm know as Techndu.

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: You have been doing online traffic development and link building for a long time. How has this evolved over the years?

Bob Massa: Yes, I have been doing it a long time and I’m grateful.

I don't see traffic generation as having evolved that much since I first started focusing on driving customers to my stores in the 70's. Of course technology has offered alternative means to an end, but traffic generation then and now has always been about:

Getting an idea for, or finding a need or desire for, a product or service.

Doing the research to determine market size, demand, cost, revenue potential and competition.

Setting an objective and developing a strategy based on competitive analysis, SWOTs, (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats), and available capital.

Execute the strategy and watch the numbers.

Link building is a horse of a different color.

Back in the late part of the 20th century, links were strictly, only, exclusively for directing traffic to places you thought your visitors would think was cool. Everybody linked out all the time with no ulterior motive other than helping people find stuff the webmaster thought was cool. Of course one reason people linked out so freely is because search engines pretty much sucked and was a long way from being scalable. Links were the dominate web and not search engines.

That's not to say there was no link spam. Anyone else old enough to remember guest books? I can even remember a time when a basic website offering had to include a questbook script as the 5 or 6 prerequisite pages.

As those started going up, here came the viagra ads. Oh wait, there was no such thing as viagra back then. Men with ED were left to rely on the miracles of penis pumps and attaching bungee cords with weights on one end to their minuscule members. So I've heard.

But the point is, there was no shortage of guestbook posts telling visitors about urls for home loans, backup software, web hosting, etc, etc, etc. Your garden variety pre-viagra, pre-page rank link spam.

Even so, these drive-by fruitings still had only to do with stealing direct traffic and had nothing to do with trying to influence any search engine.

Those type of links, (or any other links for that matter), had no effect on search engines because no search engine at the time was using anything other than on-site algorithms to determine relevancy and placement. It was wonderful in a never going to cut it kind of way. With all the majors at the time, Infoseek, Excite, Alta Vista, Lycos, Hot Bot, Web Crawler, and the like, it took little more than 45 minutes and a meta refresh tag to secure top 10 placements. A blind, deaf monkey with one arm could do it. Did I mention it was wonderful?

Well, we all knew this couldn't last forever. Especially the search engines and me.

Then in the early days of the 21st century, (after we all realized that the world would not end due to Y2K), I began noticing some strange things happening with the top search engine du jour, Alta Vista. Contrary to popular misconception, Google was not the first to incorporate links into the algorithm, they were just much better at setting up hardware to handle load balancing, (and of course public relations), than CMGI.

But it was obvious that everyone had accepted on site optimization alone was not an indication of quality or relevance controllable with automated programs and that inbound links was going to be the next step in the search for a scalable solution. Then came Google and the toolbar and their exceptional promotional skills. All of a sudden direct traffic became a secondary consideration behind Google SERP placement. Then came the SearchKing vs Google thing and the paid link industry was born. The following day Google's war on the paid links industry was born.

Then we went through the "a PR 7 beat a PR 6". That ship has sailed.

Then we went through the "if 1 link is good, then 3 million must be better, blog, comment spamming" era. That ship is still visible on the horizon, but it is fading fast. Good riddance!

Then we come to "trust rank". PR is just about as useful as a third handlebar on a Harley nowadays and a link that makes sense, sitting on a pr 1 will move a target site faster than a PR 7 page with a list of 300 resources (extreme sarcastic tone implied by italics> Now we are seeing a new wind beginning to blow and I believe it will be the next step in the evolution of the search for the perfect algorithm. Personalization.

I believe we are seeing the acceptance, (not the same thing as admission), of the fact that using links to determine relevance and placement is better than on site alone but it is far from flaw free. Bottom line, it doesn't work.

Now I believe the future is in tracking who you are, what you think and how you act in response to online experiences to determine trust in YOU in regards to a specific topic or even query is going to replace PR as the determining factor for who goes on top for what search query. Personality management I believe is going to start getting big fast. This shift in search engines accepting the limitations of page rank, coupled with blended results, will have a huge impact on the evolution of not only SEO but of online marketing in general over the next 5 years or so. But I could be wrong.

Eric Enge: What type of links help a new site rank quickly?

Bob Massa: The ones that make sense to be there. Page Rank R.I.P.

I have never liked the terms "on theme" and "natural looking" so I prefer to define them as making sense to be there.

The thing with "on theme" is that it implies your link needs to be on a site that belongs to a direct competitor and that has never been the case. Another common example has been a shoe site linking to your sock site. What if I don't run a sock site?

The fact is, anyone can pretty much connect the "theme" of anything to anything else within 6 degrees of separation and what we're really referring to is contextually on theme and that opens a LOT of doors and makes giving perfect examples almost impossible.

A webmaster of a gambling site probably wears shoes and socks at least sporadically, and it is conceivable that he may have occasion to discuss the occurrence. A link to your sock site from that discussion is on theme and it makes sense to be there. But to have a link to a gambling site from your Christian Dating Site is out of context and it does not make sense for that 5 word text link to be at the bottom of your index page. BUT if you start talking about gambling on god’s love, welllllllll -------

As for “natural looking”, it is either natural or it is not. As soon as you take even the least innocuous step at making something “LOOK” natural it ceases to be natural. Anytime you tell yourself you are making something look natural, you may as well admit what you really doing is trying to fool someone. Good luck with that.

You can fool some of the spiders all of the time and you can fool all of the spiders some of the time but you can’t fool all the spiders all the time.

So again, I try to avoid such opaque terms and try to be more unencumbered in my reference and simply say the links that move a target site the fastest are the ones that makes sense to the end user for them to be there.

Eric Enge: What would you recommend for a linking strategy if you were trying to build an authoritative web site?

Bob Massa: Research your content and read it over and over before you ftp it up making DAMN sure you are saying what you REALLY want to say. Pay close attention to your spelling and grammar.

Have a sensible strategy for your navigation.

Have a good, (great is better), professional design, (this one should actually be first).

Then give credit where credit is due. Linking out with an honest desire to flatter, praise, appreciate or piss off someone is actually the best, easiest, fastest and least expensive way to gain quality inbounds that eventually turn your site into an authority on a topic.

Finally, get involved in your topics community. Help when you can and always try to add value to the site you’re contributing to. If all you do is try to steal the traffic from an established community site to your site, you will fail and be labeled for what you are. A spammer, and not a very creative one at that.

BUT if you honestly try to add value to their site and be a productive member of the community, you will quickly gain a solid reputation as someone knowledgeable and willing to help. Did I mention honesty helps?

Eric Enge: What would you say the best options are for a small business web site?

Bob Massa: At the risk of being redundant: Do the research to determine market size, demand, cost, revenue potential and competition.

Setting an objective and developing a strategy based on competitive analysis, SWOTs, (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats), and available capital.

Execute the strategy and watch the numbers.

What I would add is that it is important to develop both long range and short term objectives and strategies. Review your short term numbers closely, (probably daily but at least weekly), and be ready to alter short term strategies when you see your trends starting to point downwards. You want all indicators pointing up. ALL INDICATORS- ALL THE TIME. Any short term downward pointing indicator is a problem that should be dealt with quickly before it influences the long range indicators.

I realize that you are probably asking this question in relation to linking and SEO techniques and as obtuse as my answer may appear it is actually my way of honestly trying to help.

Links are important. A good site is important. Organic traffic from search engines is important but all of those things are actually incidentals. What you HAVE to have is hitting your numbers. Sales and profits. More income than expense.

You can survive with sales and no links. You can survive with income and no search engine placements but you can NOT survive with thousands of links and all the organic #1’s in the world and no income.

Set your objective and strategy and THEN get your cool site and killer links if that is part of your plan, (and it will be).

Eric Enge: Are links still the key to generating search engine rankings and traffic?

Bob Massa: Yes.

I strongly believe the secret to success is actually design and value rich original content, but without the right links for the right objective you will have extreme difficulty beating your competitors for premium search engine rankings.

Traffic is a little different. There is plenty of traffic to hit your numbers without search engines but online, it still takes links to get that.

Eric Enge: How will this change in the future?

Bob Massa: Links will change to more of a “which people say what, where and about what terms or topics” kind of thing.

Eric Enge: Should people focus on search engines, or on other aspects of online marketing?

People should focus on ALL aspects of online marketing. Remember it is not about placements or links. It is about marketing and hitting your numbers.

Eric Enge: What are other online marketing techniques would you recommend?

Bob Massa: Use email more effectively. SEO’s have a tendency to forget or simply ignore the power of speaking to people when you honestly have something to say that is of interest to them.

Build a community around your topic. Make it as easy as possible for people to interact with you, your service or product and other like-minded people

Make yourself visible and build a reputation for yourself within your industry by simply doing what you say you will do and say you will do a lot where other people with an interest in your type of product or service will see you say it.

Eric Enge: What are your thoughts on raw traffic?

Bob Massa: By raw I’m assuming you mean untargeted. You know what they say about those who assume so I hope I’m right.

I believe traffic without conversions is the epitome of futility. Traffic generation is not free. It takes time and money and as much as either and/or both as you can afford. So to get traffic and not make a sale is a waste and if you do it enough you will go bankrupt and cease to exist as a viable enterprise.

However, online traffic is cheap and if you have an offering that appeals to a wide enough base that you can generate enough conversions to make a profit, well, if you can buy 1,000,000 hits for a dollar and get 2 sales for $1 each, you doubled your money. Now you just need a few billion more and you have pissed off billions of people BUT, you made a million dollars.

Basically, I far prefer 10 hits and 1 desired action taken to 10,000 hits and 1 desired action taken. While I concede it has it’s place, I don’t care much for raw traffic.

Eric Enge: What are the best 3 tips you can give someone thinking about their online marketing strategy today?

Bob Massa: #1. Never forget that you are being watched. Virtually everything you say and do online is available to anyone willing to spend the 2 or 3 seconds it takes to search for it. What you say and what you do follows you probably from the time you say or do it until the earth is no more. And those things become who you are. Kinda scary huh?

#2. Remember the Internet Golden Rule. The more you give, the more you get

#3. Run your online business by the DO PHILOSOPHY:

Do the best job you can DO

Be proud of what you DO

DO what you say you will DO

And charge accordingly

Have comments or want to discuss? You can comment on the Bob Massa interview here.

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About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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