Aaron Wall Interviews Digital Ghost

    December 18, 2006

DigitalGhost is an odd fellow, in a good way. Always a blast to chat with, and a smart guy who gives me lots of good advice. He recently started blogging again, and that prompted me to ask him from an SEO.

Why the name DigitalGhost?

Two reasons. I was making money ghostwriting when the ‘Digital Age’ came into being. CompuServe, Prodigy, etc. Everyone chatting online seemed to be just phantoms on a screen. Digital ghosts if you will.

How did you get into SEO?

I was selling computers and a friend of mine created a website, which was back in the days when maybe one person in fifty had an email account, and he asked me to look at it. The site had been live for six months but it wasn’t getting any traffic.

I noticed that the title for every page was new_page_1. I changed the titles to reflect what the page content was about, created a footer crammed with keywords for every page and boom. He started getting crazy amounts of traffic. Within a month I had 4 sites built and I was hooked. I quit selling computers three months later.

A woman that lived next door to me had a wine site and asked for help getting it to rank. She had a friend that had a site about 900 numbers, and he had a friend with a site about

I was an SEO for almost two years before I knew what it was called.

Does SEO, as a field, have much life left in it?

Of course it does. Search technology is still in its infancy. As the technology improves SEOs will be needed to help business owners deal with the changes. I believe that the technology will reach the point where the demand for SEOs is greater than it is now; especially as fewer and fewer of the self-taught SEOs are able to keep up with the technology.

Jakob Nielsen recommended using old words for findability. As a marketer, what is more important: using old words, or being able to create neologisms?

Keep it simple. Know your market and know the language your market uses. Banking on your ability to successfully market a new word isn’t a strategy; it’s a shot in the dark.

Why is linguistics important to SEOs and other internet marketers?

Linguistics offers insight into how people think, how they choose words and phrases, word dependencies, syntax, semantics, structure etc. The science is integral in search engine algorithms.

Are search engines matching keywords or concepts? What is the difference between the two? How might a shift in this change the SEO process?

They’re matching keywords. The keyword ‘war’ is quite simple, the concept of ‘war’ isn’t currently understood by the major engines. I could write an entire site about WWII without mentioning “WWII” and the engines would never rank it for ‘war’ unless it acquired links with ‘war’ in anchor text.

How might it change the SEO process? SEOs rely on keywords because the algos rely on keywords.

What are the most important books you have read about language, thinking, or communication?

There aren’t any single books that I feel are that important. A single idea, or several, contained within a book may be important but I think it is dangerous to assign too much importance to any one book. I place quite a bit of importance on reading many books and weighing the ideas found within them. I tend to think it is bullshit when someone says, ‘that book changed my life’.

What other books significantly helped shape you?

Now we’re getting somewhere. I remember reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and hating the kid that pulled wings off flies and threw stones at horses. Old Yeller taught me quite a bit about strength of character. Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn taught me about friendship. Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, all of them had lessons. Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, Burning Daylight, more lessons.

I think we learn the lessons that shape us the most when we’re young. But most importantly, the latent lesson that I learned was, ‘love words’. All of those authors taught that lesson, though I never saw it written.

What drinks have helped shape you? What is your favorite Tequila?

Well, beer has added about twenty pounds of shape. As for tequila, just about any Aejo works.

You recently posted about sensationalistic headlines which have nothing to do with the content of the post. As more publishers come online, search engines and efficient ad networks commodify many of them, and more people are fighting for a finite amount of attention, will the web devolve into a series of half thoughts marketed by sensationalistic headlines? Or what publishing business models do you see as sustainable?

The web is too large for any single bad practice to ruin it. Most of the web is nothing but half-assed thoughts now and people still find it useful. As the need for better technology grows it will be met. The ‘cry wolf’ headlines will meet the same fate as the little kid in the story.

As long as publishers focus on meeting their users’ needs current models are sustainable. As soon as publishers shift the focus to their own needs they may as well quit. I can’t count the times a site owner has said, ‘I need more traffic’. How come they don’t ask, ‘What do my users need’?

What are your thoughts on tagging and the like? Will it make search any more relevant, or is it an over hyped fad?

Tagging hasn’t helped relevance a bit that I can see. Self-governing systems typically end up as nothing more than a fuster-cluck. People that insist that the more people that use a self-governing system, the better the system will work, need to have the Pareto Principle etched into those rose colored glasses they’re wearing.

How can social media and other popularity based metrics promote the creation of quality content while maintaining a reasonable signal to noise ratio?

Editing. It would help if people didn’t equate ‘more’ to ‘better’. Does Amazon need 600 book reviews for a single book? Does the world need 300 videos of people dropping Mentos into Diet Coke? You can increase the signal to noise ratio by limiting the number of people that can broadcast eh?

What is the difference between a horse and a donkey? Which animal is generally more entertaining?

A donkey is smaller than a horse and it has longer ears. Cross a mare, (female horse) with a Jack, (male donkey), and you get a Mule. Donkeys are more entertaining. They’re like big dogs and they make excellent pets. Nothing in the world sounds like a donkey braying, except for the Jackass Penguin.

It seems Google in particular is placing a lot of weight on domain age and link authority related trust at the moment. Many people are leveraging this to spam Google via video hosting sites, social media sites, and attempts at mainstream media to get into consumer generated media. Where do you see Google going next with their algorithms?

Semantic search. Nofollow is a bust. They created this huge link mess with their damn green bar and an easily exploited algo, and then they tried to clean it up with something as pathetic as nofollow.

You post a lot about word and link relationships. How do people typically mess up internal linking?

By creating navigation that looks like a keyword list. By ignoring concepts and focusing on keywords. By thinking in terms of pages instead of thinking about an entire site. By neglecting in-context links.

As example, a client told me he had a site about “new and used trucks”. According to his navigation text, his site was about truck accessories. Every truck model had 10-30 accessory links. Great text for accessories, poor text for trucks and he was wondering why he wasn’t ranking for new/used/ trucks/ city/state.

Do you see search engines as moving beyond advertisement based business models? How might they change going forward?

No, it’s easy, it’s passive, and they have the whole world creating content they can slap ads on, why should they change?

Do you eventually see search engines as becoming more powerful than governments?

No, but I foresee governments using search engines to become more powerful.

How long might your current blog last?

No clue. Longevity isn’t a good metric for quality though. Not that I’m saying I have a quality blog, but it’s my blog. I can name some pretty pathetic directories that have been around for a long time. But I won’t.

Danny just launched a new blog and it looks pretty damn good. So maybe the search engineers will learn that it’s about relevancy, not domain age, link age, link authority or any of that other bullshit they throw out there to keep people distracted from the fact that it’s all about what? Relevancy. Or is it the SEOs that keep throwing out dumb shit like “link age” for discussion? ; )

What are your favorite SEO Tools?

Whiteboards and a proprietary pattern analysis gizmo. SEO for Firefox is pretty damn good too.

What are your favorite non-SEO blogs?

Drivl is the only one I can think of at the moment. But I read a lot of online newspapers. Oh, and you can download the N.Y. Times reader now which makes reading the news a lot nicer.

Do you see a day when search moves past being primarily weighted on link authority?

Yes I do. Search engines like Hakia are already moving away from link-citation as the most important metric.

What might the next major metric be?

Wait for it this is good relevance. Yes. Relevance. Three thousand people linking to ‘white’ using ‘black’ as anchor text shouldn’t make black rank for white. Relevancy isn’t a popularity contest and I don’t care what type of spin the Googlemeisters want to put on it.

What is the biggest piece of the concept relevancy that you think most SEOs overlook?

Not knowing when to quit. Carrying the concept relationship too far. For example, having a site about greeting cards, and creating a subdomain for birthday cake decorating and linking it from the ‘birthday cards’ section of the site. And then creating another sub for ‘catering’. And since catering is ‘related’, may as well have a sub for ‘entertainment’. Why not games? And toys? Toys can be… gifts… and damn near everything can be a gift so now the site has books, candles, ties, hats, pens, tools, Viagra, baldness cures and vacation packages.

SEOs have heard ‘content is king’ for so long that it’s second nature to cover every possible phrase with a targeted page. Stop it already! Small, targeted sites do well too.




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Aaron Wall is the author of SEO Book, an ebook offering the latest
search engine optimization tips and strategies. From SEOBook.com Aaron
gives away free advice and search engine optimization tools. He is a
regular conference speaker, partner in Clientside SEM, and runs the
Threadwatch community.