Rand Fishkin on PPC vs. SEO and Blackhat vs. Whitehat

SES Chicago is a little over a month away and will feature a very well respected online marketing veteran, Rand Fishkin. Rand is the CEO of SEO Moz and is a regular speaker in the international conference circuit. Earlier this week I caught up with Rand to get his insight on his sessions at Search Engine Strategies Chicago, read our chat below:
[Manoj]: Tell our audience a little bit about the sessions you’ll be participating in at SES Chicago and why attendees should drop by.

[Rand Fishkin]: I’ll be involved in two sessions – PPC or SEO? The Ultimate Search Marketing Battle and Black Hat, White Hat: Does it Really Matter Anymore?

I think both of these touch on relatively sensitive issues in the field of search marketing and the exchanges will contain a lot of substance and style between the panelists. The value of the debate should come in the form of the data presented and the arguments employed. I suspect that many practitioners face these same challenges in their day-to-day roles with clients and internal management, and can find a handful of good takeaways to help support their perspectives.

[Manoj]: Is SEO vs. PPC a cut and dry decision? – it’s really about your business and what your analytics tells you, correct?

[Rand Fishkin]: Yeah – definitely. PPC is so easy to get started with and simple to track that if you’re earning a positive ROI, there’s no reason not to make the investment. The only drawback is when PPC optimization takes up a great deal of time and attention that could be focused elsewhere. I’ve seen organizations that have multiple people devoted to PPC management on a full time basis, and if they could just take a couple weeks of their time and put them towards SEO, they’d likely generate massive amounts more traffic with an even higher positive return. SEO is an investment, but it’s almost always worthwhile.

[Manoj]: Are black hat tactics still employed by individuals/organizations. If so, can you give us some examples?

[Rand Fishkin]: Certainly it is, but no I can’t share examples :-) There’s a small but vocal minority in the SEO field who feels it is far more immoral to reveal those employing black hat tactics than to perform spam, so let’s talk in generalities instead. There are plenty of firms, large and small, who engage in link buying, cloaking, keyword stuffing, link injection, etc. In my opinion, the vast majority of these are doing nothing illegal, immoral, unethical or wrong, they’re simply operating outside the boundaries of what the search engines recommend. Although we don’t use these tactics at SEOmoz and don’t recommend them to our clients, I see no problem with those who choose a different path, so long as they’re honest with themselves about the risks and open with their clients/mangagers. Personally, I just feel that there’s (almost) always a better white hat solution to any problem you’re trying to solve with black hat SEO (exceptions might be in highly aggressive fields like gaming, porn & pharmaceuticals).

[Manoj]: If you were to pinpont a couple SEO tactics which are more important to consider now vs. a few years ago – what would they be?

[Rand Fishkin]: There’s quite a number of tactics that have gained in prominence and value over the last few years, some of which hardly existed in the early days of Google SEO. A few that fit that category include creation and optimization of XML sitemaps, canonicalization of duplicate URLs, social media marketing via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), viral content creation and promotion via social media, social media profile adoption/linkbuilding and optimization for popular search verticals like Google Local/Maps and Google News. A few of these have been around as long as 5-6 years, but many are new (or gaining prominence) even in the last 2-3.

[Manoj]: In a scenario where you are given 25K to spend for a client who has a brand new business/website, how would you spend it (in regards to Online Marketing)?

[Rand Fishkin]: I’d probably recommend they engage with a talented in-house marketer for 4-6 months (depending on their rate). Getting someone internal working full time on projects, having responsibility to the bottom line and being able to see the company metrics with a incented stake is, in my opinion, the best way to go. As for their tasks, I’d go in this order:

  • Content quality and value on the website (this could include things like a blog or UGC, but may just means top notch editorial content)
  • Web analytics – ensure that a good system for recording progress and traffic is installed on every page of the site
  • Conversion rate optimization and setup of a testing platform (assuming it’s a transactional-focused site)
  • SEO – confirm that all content is crawlable, that important keywords are targeted properly and that all best practices are followed (XML Sitemaps, good internal linking, page structure, etc.)
  • Viral Marketing – look at opportunities to help draw large quantities of traffic for branding/awareness of the site as well as attract links
  • Email Marketing – engage with the audience through at least an email newsletter and possibly more personalized/direct kinds of email marketing

After those, I might look into link building, paid search, display ads and other channels in tests, but those would be the first steps I’d recommend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>