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.