Matthew Inman is a designer and developer of creative websites and comics with viral link worthy content. John-Michael Oswalt is part of the leading SEM team at Schipul. They discuss the Basics of SEO at SchipulCon 2009 held at the Houston Zoo.

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So the first thing, and this is an example
from the 8 Phases of Dating

so as far as creating content, can we talk a
little bit about the creative process that you

go through and kind of what inspires you
and what makes you think of the things

that you create? Sure, I mean, like I said
before if I'm actually really stumped

I do the thing where I make a list of
nouns and I connect them around like

connecting dating to these little blobs
or whatever they are I've also found

surfing a lot of other sites for
inspiration really really helps, and most

importantly when I create something, if
I'm laughing at it, if I'm

giggling at it as I make it I know it's
good, or if I'm really getting

sincerely interested in it it's good.
Maybe I'm just, what I like is in line

with I think what a lot of Digg users
like in a lot of rate users like so

understand who you're writing for, I
guess, if you're a non-profit or if

you're working the automotive industry
you probably actually are more inclined

to create bait for that industry, be
better at it. So, do you ever

find yourself working on something, and you get to kind
of the end of the product, and you look at it and you say

you know what, this is something. This doesn't make
me laugh, this isn't really what I had imagined.

What do you do with stuff like that?

A lot of the time I try to keep my investment low
so if they only took a few hours off I don't feel

you know too terrible about it, but
I'm real hesitant to seek feedback from

others, especially with humor, but just
because, you know, they have the best

intentions, but like I said, if you have
12 people editing a joke

you're going to come out with something
terrible. But I don't know, keep iterating

keep playing with it, look at what's
funny that's similar to that and see

what works and what doesn't.
Okay, so now I'm going to talk a little bit about the

kind of time you spend - you mentioned that you kind
of limit the time you invest in those kind of things

up here's a screenshot of mingle 2, and
why don't you give us a little

background on that and then tell us
about the process in creating it. Sure, so

yeah this is the dating site. It doesn't
look like this anymore, this was my

version of it. With this site I
was actually a little nervous about

making my own website. I'd always worked for
firms, and this was my first real

baby out on my own, so I felt like I had
the whole world watching me. One of

the things that I wanted to do was make
this as, put as little work into it

as possible, make it so that way if it
failed or if it went under, I hadn't

spent six months working on a product.
I actually built - I designed, coded,

conceptualize and launched this entire
thing in 66 hours using a combination of

active or rapid development frameworks.
You guys might have programmers out

there who use things like PHP or Python
or Perl, or whatever. There are these

frameworks that, what they do is they
take all the heavy lifting out of

programming, and I know it's kind of a
different topic than what this is about

but you can make stuff so fast now.
That's why teams of startups often

they have two guys, two or three guys.
They have the biz guy and they have the

programmer. There are no Gantt
charts, there are no air on chairs, there

are no meetings, there aren't offices. It's
just very low overhead and that's great

because if this had failed and I'd put,
if I had gotten a million dollars and VC

funding and hired all these people, that
would be a mess, but instead it

was very low low overhead, which is what
I like. So once you create something

that spins up in 66 hours, you
put this work into it or something

smaller like a quiz that takes two or
three hours, how do you go about

launching it, and how much time does it
take, I guess, to see the effects of getting

on dating those thousands and thousands of page views?

Usually any viral campaign you'll
know within 12 hours of whether it's

going to work. Sometimes I've seen some
where you'll launch them and then

they won't really do anything, and then
two or three days later they'll

pick up, but usually especially with dig,
if you submit something to dig you

have 24 hours for it to basically be
promoted on that site. That site works

sort of like suppose the New York Times,
let people feed them articles and then

everybody voted on what we're gonna read
today, and then whoever got the most

votes would show up - that's kind of what
Digg is. You vote on what's promoted

and then you get all the traffic, so
with that site it's pretty obvious

If you, if it's like two or three weeks out
and your viral campaign just is not

picking up, I would just let it die. It's not going
anywhere. Okay, kind of on to that, once we've

created a viral campaign, we've launched
something real quick, and you say

within the first 12 hours we see it start to

spike, how do you sustain that traffic?
How do you use it?

Well that's the thing about link bait
is that in viral marketing what I've

noticed is there's this huge upper curve
where you get this massive amount of traffic, and then

just trickles off, so you can't really.
It's like I said, it's more of a

gimmick. It's something to get people to link
to you, and either get them to look at who you are

or to build links and then rank with the search engines.

Okay, so the screengrab I've got here is another game:
"How many colors can you name in five minutes"

I did red, white and blue.

So I could name three, and at the end of it it gave
me this little badge. I know you mentioned the badges before

for the "How many 5 Year Olds Could You Take"

Can you talk a little bit more about how those
badges work with the search engines

and actually create that traffic that drives back those links?

Yeah, so the badges, this is really important

with these quizzes. What they, do like I
was saying before, is when people take

these quizzes, taking the actual quiz
itself isn't that fun. You guys

all use Facebook and I'm sure your
FriendFeed is flooded like mine is with

stupid "What Batman are You?" type
quizzes, you know what I'm talking about

What that shows you is that people
are more interested in sharing their

results, so with these badges like the
one you see on the right, really the core

of this is someone has completed a
task about themselves, and they want to

share it with everybody. That gives you
an opportunity to give them a little

snippet of HTML code, which gives you an
opportunity to get a link from them. That's

the primary benefit, the second being
those badges go on other blogs and that

sort of, it makes the traffic flourish a
little bit longer. On my comics, I was

talking a few seconds ago about how
the traffic spikes and then drops

down. That's for a lot of the comics and
stories I've written. The quizzes

actually, a lot of time until it's a lot
longer spike, because what'll happen as

it surges up all these badges get
installed, and it just keeps flourishing

and flourishing across the blogosphere,
so I love quizzes. I think they're a great

way to market a website.

Alright, so the next slide I have is about

some of the tools of the trade, and this
gets back more to kind of your past in

traditional SEO, so can you talk a little bit about
your time at SEO MOZ in making some of these tools?

sure yeah so I worked at

SEO Moz it was a marketing, a search
marketing firm, and I built a lot of SEO

tools to kind of give you an idea -
some of them were very advanced some were

very basic - it was to give you
an idea of how SEO worked and to

start you off on the path to becoming an
SEO. I've only actually built two or

three of those. Linkscape was after I left,
but Linkskape's a really cool tool if

you want to like, let's say you do a link
bake campaign like you know, the bug beds

Tyrannosaur one and there's another
bunkbed site that's out ranking me

Linkscape will give you a better idea of why
he's out ranking it, suppose I

didn't have enough links or something,
Linkscape could help me figure that out

There's a few others on there. Term
target will look at the page and decide

if you're using your keywords properly,
backlink analyze it so you can look at

who's linking to you, so if you guys want
check it out it's S-E-O-M-O-Z.org - SEO

Moz. They've got tons of articles,
they've got a beginner's guide to SEO

that'll probably cover stuff that I just
completely glazed over, so yeah check it out.

And as far as I know, I guess the page
strength tool, that's now the trifecta tool

Can you talk a little bit about how that,
how does it measure where you rank?

How does it know how strong your page is?

How does that work with the search engine?

So, page making in Google, it depends on a lot of things.

One of the tools I built tried to put all those
together and so you get kind of a

snapshot of why you are or are not ranking
at Google. Some of those factors - I mostly

cover links in this because I wanted to
talk about link bait - but some of those

other factors include the keywords on
the page. If you want to rank

for Houston singles, is that keyword on
the page? The age of your domain, believe

it or not, has a huge amount of, makes a
big difference. If you have a domain

that's ten years old and you want
to rank for a competitive keyword, having

an old domain - Google likes that. More
importantly, if you have old links. If

I'd done my my unicorn comic ten
years ago

those links would actually be more
valuable than they are now, that's just how

Google's algorithm works. I think
it's mostly to prevent

spam, so, and there's a few
others there's a few other factors but

it's called the trifecta tool now, and it will
sort of give you a snapshot of how

powerful your your site is, so if you're
up against somebody else use

it for competitive analysis.

And these are just a few of the tools that are
available at SEO MOZ, I didn't put all of them on here.

Are there any other ones that you'd like to mention, or
tools that you use to kind of measure some of your traffic?

Yeah, SEObook.com first of all
has a great guide on SEO, I think it's

79 bucks. Aaron Wall's a super smart dude, but he's

got a free tool there as well if if you
want. It's sort of like a, it's an SEO

tool bar that you install into Firefox,
works really well, it gives you a

snapshot of a lot of things I was talking
about - how many links you have, what your

compete rank is, and some other metrics
that are useful.

Great, and then as far as

as far as measuring the traffic that you get,
what tools do you use to do that?

Actually I use Google Analytics for the

big stuff like the long-term overall,
like oh my site got X page use last

year. For viral campaigns though, I use
something called Mint and it, what's

really cool about it is that it lets you
see in real time who's linking to you, so

with Google Analytics there's kind of a
lag to everything. With Mint it's instant

and it's actually really addicting
because what you do is you'll sit there

all day hitting refresh, looking at
who's linking to you. Oh my god I got

I got like two weeks ago I got on
Comedy Central's blog, and I was oh my

god, refreshing all day. It feels like
you're working, but you're actually not doing

anything. It's really great. So yeah.

Oh, mint. Haveamint.com

Or just google the word mint. I think it's
the second result.

That's great, that's a great set of tools and I
know I definitely I use the SEO book tool bar, I use

Google Analytics, I use a few of the
other tools in SEO Moz, so thanks for sharing

about those. Thank you. The next thing I
want to talk about - we took a

look at some of the comics that you made,
some of the quizzes, those types of

linkbait. This is actually an image from
an article that you wrote that was kind

of a linkbaity article about doing
design, and having other people mess your

design up, and I know you've mentioned
having twelve people design linkbait

isn't the way to do it, so can you talk
some about kind of writing linkbait?

Sure, you know, like I was saying before
this is actually one of the first pieces of

linkbait I ever did. It was years ago at SEOmoz.
I was talking about, the

title of this was "How to Ruin a Web Design",
and I think the important thing

to take away from this is despite your
opinions of web design, the title of it

"How to Ruin a Web Design" - that got on
Digg like instantly, I mean those guys

had jumped right on that, because a lot
of them have suffered like I have

suffered in big meetings before. But this,
yeah it's basically talking about how if

you have you know, design maybe not
necessarily, this isn't true it depends

on who's in the room, but with linkbait
if you have a lot of people, if it's if

it becomes too intense of a discussion, and
you're in Gmail or whatever going back

and forth forty five times with
revisions to something, it's probably not

gonna be so good, so having an agile
company really helps with this kind of

stuff, somewhere you can kind of jump
from foot to foot, make changes without

having to have a big process.

Well I know you mentioned crack.com before,
some of their articles that you read and

you find itself after you read one, you
click on another

and you click on another. Can you talk a little bit
about what it is, the way that they write, some of

the kind of a construction behind that
and how perhaps some of people here

could use that in some of the, perhaps
the linkbait that they write

yeah it's just

it's this formula they've got where,
I mean I don't think they invented it

they just have seemed to have perfected it,
and that's all they create at this point

so it's articles like I was talking about
where things titled like "The Top 10 Most

Frustrating Videogame Villains", so like
I don't if you've ever played I think it

was Sonic the Hedgehog and that was like,
it was this one level with this one

enemy where it was just frustrating. It
was unfair, everybody hated it

so writing an article about that is
gonna appeal to the geek crowd, it's

gonna appeal to the Digg crowd, so if
your website is about

the environment or something you want to
try and maybe find an angle on the

environment that pertains to that, maybe
it appeals to geeks or social media

enthusiasts or Twitter. I mean if you,
like I was saying before, if you can get

a lot of traffic from Twitter that's
just great

And oftentimes to do that you
take your product and you attach it to

something relating to something crazy,
weird, funny, or interesting.

Great, one other thing I want to kind of touch on is, as far as

and I know a lot of your stuff is fun
and it's quirky, and it's real kind of

entertaining things that bring back
links, but I know there's also people out

there that write very controversial
articles. I know there was an article

earlier this week. I'm trashing SEO
and SEO consultants, and it, while it

stirred up a lot of traffic and it
eventually kind of got refuted, it still

built up a ton of links and a ton of buzz
all at once, so do you have any

experience writing kind of controversial
anything?

Not anything newsworthy, I

have done a few times. I've only actually
done it twice and it was a desperate

situation. I lied and I made up a fake
news story on a website. The client paid

me to do it, and we did it simply because
the subject had, I had absolutely nothing

to write about. It was, I'll tell you what
it was: wedding favors, they're like these

little flowery things you put on tables
when you get married. I'm a pretty

creative guy, but I could not come up with
anything, so I made up a story about how

I made these wedding favors and I used a
fake person, put it on a, you know it

wasn't attached to Mingle and the
oatmeal, and it actually did really well

virally. It got a ton of traffic, but the
story was about how I made wedding

favors, and they were out of
salmon, they were almost like an

entree, and it gave everybody the runs
at the wedding, and I wrote this Illustrated

story about it, and I drew an atom bomb
coming out of the toilet and stuff, so

that's the closest thing that I've done
to that. I know some people have some

crazy success with it, but I just don't
think it scales very well. There's a guy

in SEO and I think his name's Lyndon Antcliff,
and he made this fake

news story up about how a 13 year old kid
used a credit card to

buy a prostitute, used his dad's credit
card, and this was on Fox News it was

I think I got 16 million page views. It was
totally fake and they found out

and his company was, got a really bad
reaction from it, I mean everybody was

just "oh you freaking liar", so if you're gonna
do it be careful, and I just don't think it

scales. I'm not gonna sit there and make
fake news stories all day, but stirring

up controversy certainly helps. I just
don't know, again, how much that scales.

Because stirring up controversy gets both
positive and negative, so if you're

constantly drawing both of those, it
may not be a good thing.

 

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