Meet your SEO: Michael J. Kovis

Michael is a great guy. I mean, I don’t even remember how I started to follow him on twitter, but I know he has a sense of humor I really appreciate. Michael is even a great SEO, and he is always willing to help me with SEO tricks and stuff.

How I ended up to interview him? When I asked if he was willing to participate, this was his first email:


I am sorry, but I have to decline this offer. I don’t do interviews… Especially interviews about SEO.


I would be honored to do this for you. I appreciate the opportunity for this interview.

What date would you like to have my answers by? I know you mentioned I have plenty of time, but I would like to put in on my calendar as a reminder.

So I answered him back:

I changed my mind actually, I don’t have space for other interviews no more.


The rest is history! 😀

so, guys, here is Michael J. KovisMichael is the founder and CEO of TK421 Digital. He also does some good rants over twitter, and for me it’s always a plus 🙂 You can see Michael in the picture below. You have to guess who Michael is in this photo. Tip: he is not the one in the middle.

so ready for another episode of the “Meet your SEO” series? Let’s go.

Michael Kovis When did you enter the SEO world, and why ?

Long story. Are we sure we want to go here?

Yes Michael. Please go on. The world is waiting to know.

How about we jump into our wayback time machine and visit the mid 1990’s? There’s this eager teenager (that’s me) with a brand new computer running Windows 95, AOL dialup connection, and Netscape Navigator ready to browse the web in all its wonder. Believe me; this was so much better than using Q-Link on the old Commodore 128 or AOL on Windows 3.1.

At the same time the very first NASCAR game for PC was introduced. I was captivated. This game was the first of its kind and was superiorly dynamic to the amount of customization the player could have. You could customize your race setups and cars to the last minor detail. This led to other players building websites and posting these customizations to share with everyone. It was amazing and I wanted to join in on the fun.

Alright. We get it already. NASCAR game. Wow. Please move on.

Ultimately, where I’m going with this; is that this game is what would lead me into learning HTML and then figuring out that you could optimize these websites for these other websites called search engines. Back then, my search engine of choice was Webcrawler.

It was around 1996 or 1997 where I built my first website around this game. I cannot remember if it was on Geocities, Angelfire, or Lycos. Regardless, it was built on one of those free platforms. The site was for sharing my race setups for individual tracks and custom paint jobs. I also began to help build a community with many others wanting to do the same, but lacked the ability to actually code. So they contributed to my site.

It was soon after that I outgrew the free host and needed to expand. A group of guys I built a fairly decent relationship invited me aboard to help them with their site. They purchased the domain and hosting while I contributed to building the site, new relationships, and links. Little did I know at that time, but I was actually optimizing the site for search engines.

Believe it or not, at one point in time our site was so popular that Dale Earnhardt Jr frequented it. To prove it was him he sent pictures of his racecar with the domain name written on a piece of masking tape which was stuck to his car (and himself with the car of course). He was even kind enough to share his AOL username with me and I got to chat with him several times. This was actually really cool to me. I was only a teenager and easy to impress. From this point on I was infatuated with the web and wanted to learn as much as I could.

After graduating high school in 1999, I attended a local community college for a few years to work on my general studies. At the end of my first semester during my sophomore year, I lost interest and dropped out. It was funny, because at the time I didn’t know what type of career I wanted to pursue. Yet, building websites and learning how to optimize them for search engines just stuck with me. A career in this industry was blatantly obvious at the time, and I pretty much ignored it while I kept educating myself about it. Now 10 years later, look where I am.

A great tip about onpage optimization?

How many times does this one have to be mentioned? Don’t write copy for the search engines. Write for the traffic visiting the domain. Sorry if I sound redundant here. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes a bit because you have heard it so many times before, but it still amazes me at the amount of SEO’s who still focus solely on the search engine itself when writing meta data, page titles, and content for unique pages.

The point of search engine optimization is visibility, but even if your site is authoritative and ranks for thousands of keywords, what does it matter when you can’t keep traffic on your site? What does all the matter if you can’t sell your product? What does it matter if visitors cannot find what they are looking for? It doesn’t.

I wholeheartedly believe that if you consider yourself an SEO specialist or expert that you should have the ability and understanding to write for the web. This is kind of the same for any industry. If you call yourself a specialist, you should at least have a solid understanding and ability for the other elements of the entire process to create something. Think of it as a carpenter understanding the needs of electricians and plumbers.

The most stupid thing people believe about onpage optimization?

Two words. Keyword density.

Yes, there are still people out there who familiarize themselves with SEO that believe that by using your keywords X percent within any given page will rank those pages higher. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when the client writes content for me to publish online.

A great tip on how you build links?

This is nothing new, but one of my favorite and longest used techniques is utilizing my client’s current connections to build some “real” links to “real” companies that are already on the web. If you aren’t doing this now, then you are missing out on some ridiculously easily obtainable links.

The phrase “low lying fruit” ring any bells here?

The client has already established the relationship; you now have an open door to initiate outreach with a high percentage of conversion. There shouldn’t be any question as to why you don’t employ this as often as possible.

The most stupid thing you heard about linkbuilding?

There have been plenty of stupid link building tips witnessed by me over the years. The one that immediately comes to mind, and makes me go cross-eyed when I hear it, is “SEO’s” stating that reciprocal links are completely worthless and scoffs at the idea of having them in their backlink profile. What? Worthless? Give me a break…

Every time I see or hear this advice I literally want to slap them in the back of the head. Sure, if overused, this technique can be hazardous to your rankings. I’m dead serious when I say this; if the only thing holding you back from landing a decent link is a reciprocal, then do it. Who cares if you have a very small percentage of reciprocal links out of your 10K backlink profile? As long as they are not spammy and as clean as Nick Eubanks waterless urinal, there is no harm.

Always diversify, diversify, diversify.

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

It’s not like this happens every day, but I do have recent experience with this. A few months ago my 9 year old nephew wanted to know exactly what his Uncle Mikey did for a living. Without missing a beat I said to him, “I make websites and help people find them easier on the internet.” I wasn’t surprised when he understood that.

What do you drink when seoing?

Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Oh, by the way, did I mention coffee already? In the evenings, I do enjoy an adult beverage or two when I do some work. Other than that, I can go through a pot of coffee in the mornings, followed by some high quality H2O.

What do you think about SEO community?

Me answering this question might just unleash the rant teddy bear (side note, yes, Alan Bleiweiss blessed me with his permission to use this title). Is that ok Alessio?

Go for it Michael. Unleash your little teddy bear on us.

I literally have mixed feelings when it comes to this question. There are a lot of people heralding the community like unselfish martyr’s who jump at a whim to help a fellow SEO. I also see a lot of self serving pompous, haughty, and pretentious SEO’s who act like having 1,000+ followers makes them a celebrity. Um, I think not.

How about they prune through their 5,167 followers? After that, they might not have quite the following they thought they had. I really just want to tell them to get over themselves. This isn’t to say that everyone with a large following is an ignorant ingrate. The ones I speak of fail at responding to engagement unless you are a well known and authoritative figure in the industry. Please. Don’t condescend me like you are special. Unicorns are special. The rest of us are made equal, while some may excel more in certain areas than others. Does not mean you are any better than anyone else.

That part of the community annoys me. The other side. The brighter side makes me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. These guys do help each other out. They are responsive. They will help answer questions or even troubleshoot problems with you. These type of actions are what makes our industry unique in a way. I have literally been competing in the SERP’s with someone and yet we are able to engage in conversation and help each other out. Not many communities can say they do this.

Ask yourself a question and give an answer: What are your thoughts on negative SEO?

Let’s be 100% clear here. What I’m about to say is not insinuating that negative SEO isn’t possible at all. In fact, it has been possible for years. How else would you explain domains being penalized by Google for creating spammy links? The only difference is it isn’t the SEO building these links; it is a saboteur (using that term loosely here).

What I question is the fact that it can really be that simple to take down large, authoritative domains by creating thousands of crappy links. Sure, there are people reporting that someone has practiced negative SEO on their domain. What I want to ask is – how strong was your backlink profile in the first place? I would be a bit shocked to hear Google reveal that their algorithm has troubles picking out these spikes and analyzing that data against historical data, from authoritative domains, to determine whether or not a penalty should ensue.

Before anyone attempts to flame me on my thoughts, please keep in mind, I’m not saying it isn’t possible. I’m merely questioning the effectiveness of negative SEO on domains with a high level of authority.

Other than that, I honestly and firmly feel that this topic has been far too overplayed as of late. All the coverage and conversation has led to the outcries for a link removal tool from Google as well. Bing has given in and I would be extremely disappointed to see Google follow. I apologize, but I do not endorse the movement for such a tool to be so publicly accessible.

Who is your biggest SEO influence?

To be quite honest Alessio, there isn’t anyone whom I could really consider an influence to me over the years. I don’t say this because I think of myself as superior to anyone by any means, so please don’t take that the wrong way. It is simply because I’ve never really been influenced by one or more single individuals in the industry.

Now, there are many figures that I have the utmost respect for as internet marketers, SEO’s, and link builders. Of the top of my head there is Bill Slawski, Gianluca Fiorelli, Jon Cooper, Ian Howells, Bill Sebald, Wil Reynolds, James Agate, and Alan Bleiweiss.

Each one provides an insane amount of value to the community in a completely different fashion. That is no joke either. Their unique contributions and personalities are exactly why I respect them so much.

Beyond that, I have made many “friends” in the industry, which I respect as well, and look forward to an opportunity to meet them all in person some day and share a few frothy adult beverages with in frosty mugs.

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

What would I do besides SEO? Hard to say.

Realistically, back in my high school and college days, I wanted to be a teacher and coach soccer at the high school level. I could definitely see myself teaching and coaching if I wasn’t doing what I do now.

On the other hand, if I could do anything I wanted to, I would fancy a career as a professional footballer playing part of my career in the EPL. Soccer has always been my number one passion. So living out that dream would fulfill my deepest of desires.