I recently interviewed one of the most experienced Internet marketing experts, Stephen Noton, who has 11 years of experience on consulting and training individuals and businesses across different countries. Stephen has worked with companies including Dell Computers, Alibaba, and Global Sources on SEO/SEM projects. Before Google existed Stephen started optimizing web sites for organic search engine rankings. His company Adverted.com was the first Google Adwords Qualified Company in Asia.
Gordon Choi: Thank Stephen for taking the time to share your thoughts. Can you tell me a little about your online marketing and consulting experience?
Stephen Noton: I started online in 1997, went straight into ecommerce selling automotive racing parts online. I was only 19 so while I understood the Internet I didn’t have a good understanding of the business side, so after a year I sold off the assets of the company and started into consulting and marketing for other companies on the Internet. 11 years later I’m still doing consulting and working on some of my own passions, which still include car racing.
Gordon Choi: Google’s organic search algorithm has been changing so much in the past several years. Some of the factors once allowed a site to rank well can no longer apply. Where do you see Google applying more weight on the algorithm?
Stephen Noton: Google is getting away from their focus on external links as they are building up more and more signs of a good website. Google Trends for websites is a good public example of how Google can track the traffic, use, and possible value of a website rather then just looking at links. When you think about it back links are not the most effective way of assigning value, offline marketing, repeat customers, and traditional WOM (word of mouth) are all excluded if you just look at links.
Gordon Choi: Do you think webmasters should spend their time on creating valuable contents instead of spend large amount of money buying links? Why?
Stephen Noton: Other than the focus on links another misconception on the Internet is creating more and more content, while content is good, too much content can actually harm your focus and your goals. But your comment on creating “valuable” content is correct, people should be focused on creating, maintaining and improving the content their audiences wants.
Gordon Choi: With those companies you have worked with, what were the major SEO problems they commonly had?
Stephen Noton: It is usually a technology issue, most websites’ backend where built without thoughts of the users and SEO, so correcting a backend for a major website is often a major issue. Some websites have started from scratch others have patched their systems but the best companies start out with the user in mind long before any coding is done.
Gordon Choi: From your experience working with SEO teams of many companies across the world, do you find it easy or difficult to give SEO consulting and training? If it is difficult, what have been the major obstacles and how have you been overcoming them?
Stephen Noton: I have the unique challenge of language barrier in a lot of my training, so that’s probably the biggest issue. Other than that training is actually relatively easy as SEO is all about logic. So often all you need to do is outline the process and the how’s & why’s and 99% of the team can follow. Overcoming the language barrier is hard, but using drawings, simpler English and the help of a good translator I’ve been able to train in English, Thai, Vietnamese, & Chinese.
Gordon Choi: Some businesses were created without SEO in mind at the first place and they mostly do not believe in SEO or at least do not think SEO is important. How would you go about to convince them SEO will actually help their businesses?
Stephen Noton: A lot of people think SEO is some magic dust or something that only has to do with the coding, but actually it’s all about the user, so when I meet a company that doesn’t understand SEO I walk them through what a good SEO website is and how SEO and usability are almost the same functions.
Gordon Choi: What are the criteria for picking a good domain name?
Stephen Noton: Be something that can become a brand, all too often I see websites being created that have no hope of long term success, simply due to their domain being unbrandable. While some will say anything can become a brand, I also know that one day scientist might just get pigs to fly but I’d put my efforts into a domain that is: one word/brand name, less then 3 syllables, .com (international/US website) and of course no dashes.
Gordon Choi: What advices will you give anyone who is to buy an existing site that already possesses some level of fame?
Stephen Noton: If possible keep the previous owner on staff/part of the website for 3 months to 1 year. This will help prevent them walking off with your users, will make the transition to new management within the user base easier and will allow you to learn more about how the site became a success. There is nothing better then watching someone in action to learn, no book or no course can teach you what you can learn by watching someone’s natural ability/instinct.
Gordon Choi: What advices do you have for web sites that are to target the global audience?
Stephen Noton: It’s a big world, think twice before trying to go global, especially if you are trying to sell a product. Marketing, branding and logistically managing a global project is very costly and time consuming. Very few companies start global, Mc Donald’s and KFC both started with just 1 restaurant in 1 city, they saw that they had the right idea and the right system of operations and they grew. This is the same for websites, eBay, Amazon, started with 1 country and even sites like Craigslist which started just in 1 city all proved their idea locally then replicated globally.
Gordon Choi: With Google dominating the search industry, do you think it is a healthy environment? Which sites / companies do you think will give the biggest threats to Google’s business model?
Stephen Noton: Google has so many business models now that it is hard for anything to compete directly with Google as a company, now Google as a search engine, yes there will be changes and there already is. While in the US Google has the market share, outside of the US there are many countries where Google has little to no market share. Also think about this none of the search engines that where online when I started 11 years ago are here today, yes Google is big, but thinking that there can be no other possible options in the future is like thinking that the United States is and always will be the most powerful country in the world, one thing is certain on the Internet, things always change.
Gordon Choi: SEO has changed a lot since day one and it is still changing, mostly according to how Google wants it to become. What are the important techniques / qualities that a great SEOer should possess to always keep up-to-date with the fast changing SEO industry?
Stephen Noton: Understand the basic’s of SEO, these really haven’t changed since day 1, which is make sure you have what your user wants and give your user the best experience possible. Also understand that all search engines even Google are mathematical formula’s and every formula can be understood, while weights/values may change in that formula the inputs/variables are consistent.