Welcome to another session of Expert Interviews!
Nick Chernets is the co-founder and CEO at RankActive, a top SEO platform for webmasters and marketers. We had a chance to talk with Nick about the evolution of search engine optimization and today's "best practices" for approaching SEO as a small business owner or webmaster.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why are you so passionate about SEO?
When we started our business, SEO seemed to be a fresh idea. In 2009, it looked like all projects on the web were concerned only with their rankings. Back then, everyone was involved in the SERP race in one way or another. So, we decided to launch a relatively small startup called Areanda and go hand in hand with the emerging trends. Like many of our competitors, we started out with providing SEO services. And just like many other similar companies, we ran into the issue of gathering the necessary data from the web. That’s how we arrived at the idea of developing a tool for extracting data and then turning the obtained results into a powerful assistant for beating our competitors. Although it was originally conceived as an internal mechanism, RankActive quickly became a popular product in the framework of the SEO industry. For us, it was obvious that this particular tool would eventually become the most important project of our company.
I'm passionate about SEO because it represents the possibility of getting any project off the ground. People love the Internet. In most cases, we would buy an expensive low-quality product with a strong but fake online reputation rather than cheap, high-quality stuff that is not available on the web. The better your online presence is, the bigger piece of a pie you will get.
What are some common outdated SEO practices that are still being embraced today? What should these sites be doing instead?
The development of the SEO industry has witnessed a lot of ups and downs. There have always been a couple of “experts” screaming platitudes about the “death of SEO.” Yes, the industry is constantly changing. Yes, these changes – some more serious, some less – may upend the established order of things. However, new practices are there to replace outdated ones.
For example, things like “keyword stuffing,” “link farms,” and “link directories” are almost obsolete. Why did it happen? The main reason is that search engines are getting smarter day by day. Antiquated techniques can no longer stand in a good stead. By using them, you put your website at risk: remember that Google’s Panda and Penguin are out there watching you. Unfortunately, a large number of projects are not able to adapt and adjust to the Internet’s ever-changing climate. They should understand that staying in the office loop and giving customers what they need is now important more than ever before.
Finish this sentence: "The most neglected or underutilized aspect of SEO today is…"
Well, it’s all about the work on the site’s internal structure along with its metrics. Surprisingly, a lot of webmasters forget about things like bounce rate, average time on site, page views, and other old-school indicators. It seems like everyone cares only about content and links but doesn't pay much attention to the user experience; that’s a totally wrong approach.
If a company sees that a competitor has higher SEO rankings, what should it look for to find out the reason why?
There are a number of things you should look for, but I would single out just three of them:
- Internal optimization, which refers to the quality of content and the structure of internal links.
- External factors such as the number and (more importantly) the quality of inbound links.
- User experience. If visitors are not interested in the topic you are writing about or find it difficult to surf your website, this may be the main reason for a drop in rankings.
What are some of the things that can cause a broken link or similar technical error to "suddenly" pop up on a website?
First of all, it can be caused by some changes in the site’s structure. It is essential to make relinks or change URLs of pages with 301 redirects after any substantial changes in the site’s architecture. Human errors shouldn’t be neglected as well. A single mistake in the link’s URL can lead to the stifling of your best efforts.
Technical aspects could also result in a number of broken links. For instance, a lot of our clients forget to relink after CMS upgrades. Last but not least, your website could have moved to another web server. Let’s say there is an Apache installed on your server and you want to move to a nginx-based one. If you don’t take all the essential steps, you will end up with no backlinks at all.
There are a lot of differing opinions about backlinks and their relative importance to SEO success. What's your take on this issue?
The problem with high-quality backlinks is so common that it forced us to develop a specific tool which helps our users to ensure the quality of their links and manage all facets of link building. We had witnessed the significant shift in link building when Google first rolled out the upgrade of Penguin. I believe that now the quality of links is more desirable than their quantity, especially if you are running a relatively young website. Today, having a number of links from high-quality resources is a big part of the formula for success.
What are some innovative ways to boost one's brand using social media?
Using social media for boosting a brand is an innovative way in itself. Building a successful social media strategy is a lot of work. First of all, you should create an outstanding piece of content and develop an effective strategy for its promotion. There are a lot of ways to do that, and it’s hard to define whether they are innovative or not.
In the future, what will websites have to do to stay at or near the top of search engine rankings?
Well, websites just have to become more user-oriented. Things like keyword stuffing and link farms are no longer effective. Moreover, they can even drop your rankings. At the same time, if you think of your visitor’s experience and pay great attention to the usability of your site, you will never fall through the cracks.
What happens though if your website isn’t Google friendly? Check out this case study: lifting Google Penguin penalties for two online retailers.