Meet your SEO: Ian Howells

Welcome to another episode of “Meet your SEO“, dear madeyskizzers (ok, now this sounds weird)! Once again I would like to thank you for reading this series and for all the nice words you are saying to me on twitter, and especially for all the gifts and money you are sending me here in Berlin.

Since last week, I started to send to all the people I interviewed a little “present”. So, everyone who is going to participate on this series will receive a custom photo of my noble italian beauty with an SEO tip. Some SEOs decided to publish it, some didn’t….so you might see it or not, and that’s the awesome part of this project.

OK, back to us. Who is gonna be the awesome SEO today? Ian Howells. Ian is SEO director at TrueAction and he is talking about a lot of nice SEO stuff in his blog called Halo18.

I had a first contact with Ian few months ago, when I did the SEOmusic post, and I immediately knew he was someone to follow since he is a fan of Amon Tobin and Nine Inch Nails. I mean, you really need something else to follow a person?

Anyway, I had the pleasure to interview him, and here you can find all the answers. Ready to be “more electronic, less guitars”?

Ian Howells

When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

I got into SEO in 2001. I had built and maintained a website since late 1999, and had gotten sick of not being able to get more than ~100 visitors a day. I started searching for ways to get more traffic, but only really found stuff about buying ads. In 2001, I ended up doing a banner for the launch of T Shirt Hell – and the owner asked me if I planned on joining the affiliate program. I had no idea what he meant, so he walked me through affiliate marketing basics. I decided to join up, and put affiliate banners on my site.

The first week was great – I sold about 25 shirts and made $125. Then the next week I made like $10. Then nothing. I had the same 100 visitors to my site every day, so once they all knew about it or purchased, I didn’t make any more sales.  I realized I need a lot of new traffic – and the answer to “What gets a lot of traffic?” was simple: porn.

I started making one page porn sites and slapping t shirt hell banners on them. I ended up getting about 150k visitors to a page that got listed on The Hun before my hosting gave out.

I made enough in t shirt sales to cover the bandwidth overage I ended up with, but it really woke me up to how much traffic/money there was in adult. I ended up at an adult webmaster forum called Netpond and learned about SEO there, mainly from a guys who went by “_LB_” and SleazyBear.

Bit of an odd way into the industry – but it got me here.

A great tip about onpage optimization?

I’m having a lot of success with Q&A pieces. Instead of trying to turn each question into a spammy, ehow style page – collect the top questions about the topic and answer them all in one page. I use ShortCode Kid to present them in a well designed way, so it’s not 30 miles of text.

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

I very recently heard a rep from a decent sized agency tell a mutual client that “We need to optimize your H1 tag – because of Google Penguin.”

A great tip on how you build links?

Post-penguin, I’m getting more and more focused on building resources with traffic (and ideally a community) and letting the links follow that. “Building” links in the literal sense – hand creating them somewhere on the web – is something I’m doing less and less by the week

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

People are absolutely losing their freaking minds over all these recent changes, Penguin in particular. One would be people freaking out about having too many nofollow links. Another is a recent post that talked about how links don’t matter at all – just have good content.

If you have to explain what you do at a 10 year-old kid , what are you gonna say?

I help people get more buyers on their website.

What do you drink when seoing?

In the office…

Dunkin Donuts (large, cream and sugar – in case you wanna buy me coffee).
Green tea with lemon.

And then at home…

Red wine, mainly. Coppola’s Malbec is a steady go-to and my current favorite < $20 bottle.
I try not to keep beer in the house, but when I do it’s Chimay (Blue Label) or Dogfish Chicory Stout. For the summer, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch IPA gets a lot of attention.

What do you think about SEO community?

I guess that depends on which community you’re talking about. I think in general, the.. “mainstream” community of conference speakers etc needs a change. People are going to every damn conference trying to spread their brand and its resulting in speakers repeating the same stuff over and over again.

That said – once you actually talk to people one on one, the community has a lot of genuinely great people. People can be shitty on message boards and whatever, but in person everyone’s pretty damn nice. …minus one guy from a small, local agency. He was nice enough to me, but got pretty aggressive and condescending to a newer guy (who didn’t have a lot of experience) at one of the Philly SEO Meetups. The guy on the receiving end hasn’t been back all that much. That kind of attitude really has no place in the industry. That incident aside – everyone that I’ve come across has been really helpful and supportive. I try to keep that going, despite not being outgoing (at all).

Make yourself a question and give an answer: Why don’t more people subscribe to your seo podcast on iTunes?

I don’t know – that’s a fantastic question.

Who is your biggest SEO influence?

Overall it’s been pieces of influence from a lot of people, but Eli from probably did the most to influence my overall approach. Go read his archives – it’ll blow your mind hole. Also – you’ll notice a lot of stuff he was blogging about in 2007/2008 is now making the rounds in the mainstream conferences, just altered slightly.

If you weren’t an SEO, what would you like to do?

Marketing vendor analysis/procurement. Having learned a new agency-speak vocabulary of buzzwords and fluff, I feel like I’d be really well positioned to help companies cut through the huge amounts of bullshit that marketing agencies pack into RFP responses and pitches. Every agency would hate me. It would be glorious.

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17 Comments Meet your SEO: Ian Howells

  1. Jason Diller

    This is turning out the be one of my favorite blogs. Yeah, I like his attitude as well. I got into SEO by working in house for a mulch company in NJ. Boy, we are from different worlds but now live in the same place.


    1. Michael J. Kovis

      For a second, I read that as “I want to be IN him.”

      Then I re-read and the world was round again.

  2. Michael J. Kovis

    His entrance into SEO has to be the best one yet. Porn. Hard to top.

    Good to get to know more about this guy. He isn’t afraid to debate with me either. Ian is definitely on my list to drink a few adult beverages with and talk about how to take over the world.

    Looking forward to the next one Alessio!

  3. Rob Duckers

    I’m a big fan of Ian’s podcast so it was great to read this and get a little more info about his background. Really enjoying these interviews Alessio!

  4. Devin Concannon

    Ian you handsome bastard! Fantastic interview and great to hear more from one of my favorite people in the industry. I love seeing all of my Philly guys getting behind each other too. Some of my favorite people…

    Cheers Alessio for a consistently good series of interesting reads!

  5. Mark Kennedy

    Like Nick, we’re lucky to have Ian here in Philly. Here shares a ton of valuable SEO info on his podcasts and in person, too. He just did a preso last night about Penguin and it was very insightful…with more to come. Good interview, good guy.

  6. Victor

    Thank you for doing the series – this is the fourth one I’ve read. I love seeing how everyone digs into the industry at another angle.

  7. Anthony Moore

    I always knew Ian was a porn-monger.

    Joking aside, I am lucky enough to sit next to this dude on a daily basis. Because of that my brain is crammed with more SEO and marketing knowledge than it probably should be. The trick to stealing all of Ian’s secrets? Keep your headphones on when he gets on a call, but turn the music off.

    I consider myself a straight shooter and strive to stay away from any SEO ass-kissery. So, all SEO-ass kissery aside…follow, read and listen to Ian.

    This interview also wins for best use of Alessio’s interview series to shamelessly self-promote.

    Well done.

    PS. Alessio, not that you need to hear it from me, but this series pretty awesome and a welcome break from the normal daily chatter. Thanks for putting the time in on them.

    1. Alessio

      thanks Anthony. It means a lot to me.
      Trying to keep this going. So far , everyone was willing to participate when I asked, and I’m pretty sure it’s not for the 1000$ pay.

  8. Nick Eubanks

    Ok, so Ian wins for most entertaining interview yet. I love the candid approach to porn and the ambiguous mention of everyone’s favorite #1SEO.

    Alessio – I can’t believe after what 8 of these? That they continue to get better and better, I only hope you are getting the traffic you deserve (and I bet you are). Cheers mate!

    1. Alessio

      thanks Nick, Ian is a superstar. 🙂

      you can see all the interviews here: << I made a page for all of your cute faces 🙂 as for the traffic. ahahahaha, ok, let's not talk about it. The traffic is not that high, and you know why? because people arrive to my site via twitter and my true followers are just I think 50 people more or less. Now, counting that folks often retweet the interview, chances are the traffic increases a bit. But not that much. I'm doing this tho, for me, and for my "true followers". I know there is a great potential in this project. Maybe only in a not well-known site like mine. But it's ok. It would be great to have these interviews in some big sites, because you and the other SEOs deserve a huuuuuuuge audience. Doing my best, but maybe it's not enough.


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