I have interviewd Duane Forrester for OMReport.com during SES New York City in March 2011
Alpar: So, we are here to do a special interview. Can you introduce yourself please and what your role is?
Forrester: Yeah, my name is Duane Forrester, I am a Senior Product Manager with Bing, the search engine and my actual day job is running the webmaster program for Bing; so the forums, the community, the blog and the tools themselves.
Alpar: Okay, so how come you are hosting an SEO clinic at the SES? It’s confusing.
Forrester: (Laugh) Because for the past ten years, I have been an in-house SEO. I started with a small company in Eastern Canada and then moved on to run SEO for MSN in US America’s. So I understand small scale and large scale SEO, I have been doing it for a decade. So when we sit down, we want to do a bit of a review, it’s a great opportunity for me to help people understand what really makes a difference and to shed a little bit of light from the search engine’s perspective on what we are really looking for.
Alpar: Okay, but do you really have, I mean, if you were an in-house SEO, you were kind of reengineering to feel how, how the algorithm works, did you get insight into that once you have, you know, entered the, the other side?
Forrester: I, I have a very different point of view today, yes. (Laughs)
Alpar: Okay, okay.
Forrester: Nothing I can talk about obviously, but, but yeah.
Alpar: No, no, no, don’t worry about it, okay, okay. So, I mean, how did you, I mean that’s quite a, quite a, quite a game changer I mean, I mean, both steps to me sound like quite a game changer, even if, there is a lot of, I am aware of quite a few SEOs that are really successful like on the small or mid-size projects, but if you give them a long tail website with a couple of million sub-pages, they are lost. And they also then find out, they don’t even have the capacity to do it. So how, did you know that you could do even MSN?
Forrester: Well, it was a scenario where I kind of, like most people, started with my own website and just kind of played around, you know, even in the days before Google, when you just add more keywords and you don’t rank the competitor and then you’d come back the next day and update that and, and then that grew. And I got to a point where, I have a background in marketing from Caesars Palace, I used to work with casinos in Canada that were run by them; so that background in marketing combined with my own experience online led me to get into online marketing. And when I started with the company, it was relatively small; we had on the order of tens of thousands of pages and I think I was employee 11 or 13, or something; when I left they had two hundred employees, hundreds of thousands of pages. So we kind of grew over time. And while you’re doing that, you encounter scale because it’s easy to go in and optimize a webpage for the name of a pitcher, it was a sport website; but then, when you have to do this for every team, across all of the leagues, you know, that’s quite a bit of a work. Then when it comes to, to, to statistical data pages, that stuff’s constantly changing and then we added the extra layer of comparing stats between teams, so we were competing, or taking these very dynamic pages that could just be built on the fly. So you start really figuring out ways to do things at scale, right? Like you realize you can’t handwrite every title tag. What you have to do is work with the editors and educate them to understand that when they write something, it needs to target the right keywords. So when they produce the product, you have a good product on the other end. You have to work on what is the best way to automate a meta description tag, what’s the best piece of content on the page to take and put in that location, and so on.
Alpar: So you mostly talk to yourself or did you have like a mentor that guided you through, through the dark days?
Forrester: Well, actually, it’s interesting to say that; no, it’s funny because as I look back, I realize that, you know, ten, twelve years ago, when all this was just starting, I was at the beginning of it, I didn’t realize that then, I just, I naturally thought I was like to the party. So I started in the forums, asking questions, then answering questions, I was brought on as a moderator in one forum; I actually met a gentleman there who ended up being essentially a mentor to me and we bounced ideas off each other and tried new things; and, and it worked that great. And then, he was actually the guy who told me I should write my first book (Laughs). And so I brought that and …
Alpar: And that brought you to MSN?
Forrester: Well, that was posted on my blog, they found me through that effort and asked me to come on in for an interview and, and my life just totally changed after that. (Laughs)
Alpar: So how, how many employees does Microsoft have?
Forrester: Globally, globally it’s more than one thousand.
Alpar: So how was, how was it like everyday, everyday business life, definitely you know, is there, I mean even with two hundred employees you can probably still know everyone, you know from seeing, but Microsoft for me is like a huge company …
Forrester: It is. But you have to remember that within the organization, there’s different groups in there, alright?
Forrester: So where I worked at MSN, and even where I work now at Bing, I am, it’s very straightforward, alright? They’re small teams, they do very specific things. So if you need to do something, you could still go down and talk to someone. The difference is scale. When you do something at MSN and you say ‘okay, we need to change a title tag, we’re seeing the logo of the, of the brand is at the beginning, we want it at the end.’ When you make that change at MSN that happens on the order of tens of millions, not on hundreds or even thousands of pages, so …
Alpar: So are you then, you know, are you, are you more cautious because the effect just multiply by bigger numbers of pages?
Forrester: Absolutely, absolutely.
Alpar: So would you run tests like with the sort of like ten thousands sub-pages and then deploy it to all millions, or …
Forrester: No, typically not, because what, what we have to focus more on is…
Alpar: So your guts feeling is good (Laughs)
Forrester: Well, it’s, that’s part of it, right; part of it is that you work within a team of experts. So, you know, MSN actually has a global team of experts SEOs …
Alpar: How many of them?
Forrester: I think when I was there we had seven at one point.
Alpar: And they were all like one level or was there like one ahead?
Forrester: Yeah, we were all same level; well, we had one, we had one lead for a group.
Alpar: More equal … more equal than others.
Forrester: Exactly, he was the cat herder.
Alpar: And that was you or not?
Forrester: No, that was, it was actually my German friend, Frank Gosch, so great guy, based in London, and I kind of miss him, he’s a great fellow. But, but what we would do is, we would be very careful around, when we wanted to go do work, we would actually be not thinking of it in terms of, here’s the SEO; then we want; we would also be thinking in terms of ‘okay, we’re going to ask a developer to do this work, so we need time invested in a project and that has a cost to our company. And it’s not just that the right cost to our project but what other projects may be in need to be worked on.
Alpar: So you have to decide what’s more important.
Forrester: Absolutely. So before even getting to this stage of executing, you know, you’re very involved with all kinds of planning and /
Alpar: I guess you have to justify, you know, if, if it’s worth it or if it’s just those SEO guys doing some stuff they think is important.
Forrester: Exactly. And I mean, you know, don’t get me wrong; we are a bunch of SEO guys doing what we think is important (Laughs). Although we don’t have our fingers on the trigger; we are not pushing the buttons or pulling the leverage.
Alpar: So you have to decide, I mean you have to, you know, make sure that it’s really worth the effort, and not do it for the sake of it.
Forrester: Exactly. That’s probably the biggest change because when you’re working in a small organization, you know everyone and you, you’re seen as the expert on the top; it’s easier for you to go in and say, you know ‘hey Craig! Can you actually do this for me?’ And Craig trusts me, so Craig does that work. Now when I go in, it’s …
Alpar: There is a process.
Forrester: This is what I need to do, okay. Will you need to align the process, tell me what the return’s going to be, justify this thing. Then someone else takes that …
Alpar: Compare to the cost probably also.
Forrester: Exactly. And someone takes all over all those factors, and not only for my projects but for every project, and determines what will get worked out. And then …
Alpar: Okay. It’s so hard for me to imagine if I am, if I was an MSN, would I, would I do optimization and think, okay, Google’s going to send me traffic? Is that something you think of or is it…
Forrester: Oh, absolutely!
Forrester: It’s a website like any other. Right, so …
Alpar: I was, if I was Google and I, I probably don’t like Microsoft (Laughs), I would maybe … Do you think it’s all, they all play fair?
Forrester: Yeah, largely, they do; because here’s why: the search engine job is to bring back to best results for something. So if, either the engine decided that it wanted to remove a competitor from it own index, then that really hurts the relevancy in its index. It is not a good user experience, okay? It’s not, it’s just not the good thing to do but, but it hurts the user. And, and at the very core of everything we do, is the user experience. So we have to show this.
Alpar: It’s more like a long-term perspective.
Forrester: Exactly. It, it would be like, if you had a window in your home and you covered one pane with a piece of cardboard. You not seeing the full view and no one want to do that.
Alpar: So who’s usually competitive of MSN?
Forrester: Typically larger portals like Yahoo …
Alpar: New sites or that kind of stuff, general interest very much.
Forrester: Yeah, exactly; general interest entertainment, that kind of thing.
Alpar: But like, so MSN is just the, the content, it’s not like where you buy your window Samsung, this is not MSN?
Forrester: No, it’s a separate area.
Alpar: Alright. So, there was seven guys only for MSN?
Forrester: Globally, yes.
Alpar: Wow! It’s quite a, quite a few.
Forrester: It is, it is, but it’s …
Alpar: But, but then again, it’s the number of pages so …
Forrester: It is a huge project, huge project.
Alpar: Okay, so in, in, what kind of numbers were you looking because if, obviously MSN is like a publishing business or there is no leads, there is no sales, right?
Alpar: I would, I mean, for Hotmail you can probably generate leads or something.
Forrester: Those ads are all over MSN.
Alpar: Sure, sure. Again, you, you are kind of targeting the maximum reach, I guess.
Forrester: Yeah, yeah.
Alpar: This is like probably, like a typical publishing house target.
Forrester: Yeah, yeah. We’re, we’re really optimising our content driving traffic into the website; that was our main goal.
Alpar: So was it only US or were you also .. having some inside in the /
Forrester: No, no, every market, every market globally.
Alpar: So which market were you really active in?
Forrester: It’s, my area of coverage was US in Americas. So Canada and United Stated, Brazil, Guatemala, all of the Central and South American countries where MSN has a presence.
Alpar: Okay. Let’s, let’s talk about those, let’s talk about those. Did you have like different content for the different Spanish markets, or did you have additional local content?
Forrester: Yep! It depends on the market. There was always some local components to it and in a lot of cases, because there was common languages, or something was a regional issue, it would be shared across these areas, right?
Alpar: Okay, what did you do with duplicate content?
Forrester: It’s an ongoing; it’s an ongoing thing, right? (Laughs) There is, but the good thing about this is, when the search engines actually lock in a region, when you get down to the regional level, they are looking at the regional level. So when you go to Colombia, an article could be showing up in Colombia, an article showing up in Guatemala, both Spanish, same thing, two different URLs, two different market places. So it’s not really duplicate because it’s actually targeting that local market, right? So this is where the kind of globalisation research is paying dividends for really large publishers.
Alpar: And, and did you have like different top level domains for each country or did you have subfolders and or sub-domains?
Forrester: They were pretty much sub-domains, yeah.
Alpar: And how, how does it feel to, to work in those markets? I would think, just from a gut feeling, that there, it’s a little easier and less competitive than probably in the US.
Forrester: It’s, it’s very different from the US. It’s, there is a lot of competition in the US, but the competition you have in other markets tends to be very well established. Like for largest television channel in Brazil, happens to have the largest internet portal in Brazil as well. And then they can leverage that television coverage to drive people to the website. So it became…
Alpar: And in each country there is like strong media players that have strong websites?
Forrester: Exactly. So it’s, it’s …
Alpar: And MSN is online only.
Forrester: Right. So it, it becomes a bit of a challenge then, right? Because it’s not like in the US where, well in the US, MSN is one of the larger players in market place; in Brazil, it’s a smaller player. And it needs to actually be very creative at what it does. And my hat after the folks in Brazil, because they are amazing at what they do with MSN there.
Alpar: Okay. So which, which of the markets is the strongest? Is it Brazil because it’s bigger or, I am not, I don’t know all the markets well, so …
Forrester: Yeah, they are all strong, okay? The Brazilian market is growing but it is not just us that’s growing, it’s the internet at large is growing there. You know, the adoption rate of huge mobile usage is skyrocketing; the number of people coming online in Brazil is massive. I mean, it’s just a huge market as a country, right? So it’s, it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit difficult to say which one is the stronger, because they have the strength for different reasons.
Alpar: Okay. So, like, any highlight that you can mention that you still remember that, you know, amazed you from one of the countries?
Forrester: Pretty much the only thing (laugh) that I, that really sticks out to me is, it’s working with the people; that’s, that’s my big standard. Because SEO was the same, doesn’t matter where it is, right? There is some differences when you get in the keywords research and you try to translate different phrases or concepts between languages, that kind of stuff; but it was, it was working with people, you know. When you work with folks …
Alpar: So they work, they have a different working style with different nations?
Forrester: Oh absolutely, absolutely. So I, I, I travelled to Brazil and I was totally knocked off my game because I wasn’t used to the idea of having lunch at two o’clock in the afternoon, having dinner at ten o’clock at night and then going to bed at midnight and coming in, to the office later in the morning; I am very much up at five AM and get in the office early, that kind of thing. So you kind of hit that culture wall and you’re like ‘Wow!’ (Laughs) And, but it was, it was an amazing environment, it didn’t feel …
Alpar: How long did it take you to adapt?
Forrester: About two days (laughs). Yeah, it was pretty good, it was pretty good.
Alpar: It must have been really hard.
Forrester: Yeah, I mean, you know all the people; so you feel like you’re working within a family, right? So you’re on conference calls with them every week, you see them at the office, they’d fly out into the United States, you fly down to Brazil. So, so you really know these people.
Alpar: Can you wake up early enough?
Forrester: Well, I, I was up anyhow, right? (Laughs) Although the time difference kills me, six hours. But, but you have this real sense of family. And when I’d walk in to the office, it didn’t feel like going to an office where I was working. It felt like going to be with family members and the conversations were open back and forth, people trying things instantly and …
Alpar: It’s like the, the liking character that comes in to play there?
Forrester: That’s, that’s the feel that I get, you know. I’ve travelled a fair amount and I, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I am tourist or I am going for meetings. I, that same vibe exists there, right? It’s fantastic, a love working with folks out of the UK and Europe; I, I haven’t met anybody yet that I have been challenged with; every culture I have met, especially in the world, is, they’re thirsty for knowledge, they want to learn, they want to grow, they want to be successful. And that, we have, everyone has that in common. So, it’s pretty exciting.
Alpar: Okay. So is, do you think that, I mean, let’s, let’s talk a bit more the SEO side of things, because I think, I got carried away a bit (Laughs). Obviously you see how well I prepared for the interview. Do you think now that, thing Bing is, you know, gaining reach, is it, is it challenged more by spam or less, or …?
Forrester: I, I think the, the concept of being challenged by spam exists, no matter your size, right? Every time someone thinks they can exploit an area, they are going to go out of it 100 percent. So really, our focus is on, just making sure that we are doing everything that we can to manage that. And it’s an ongoing, it’s an ongoing approach; I mean, it’s constant. Every day, several times a day, work is being invested to make sure that we understand what the latest is, the areas that we need to improve on our end and we see any new patterns developing, capturing those, testing them and really understanding, okay, this is the new state of the union that we have to address, moving forward.
Alpar: So is this process a summary to over, other search engines where they have quality search analysts under one side that, you know, go from, from, let’s say, top view and then they have, let’s say, more use, cost user input they also think about the quality and then feedback? Is it, is it similar?
Forrester: About, the most I can tell you is that we’re continually investing in it, right? The actual process itself and how it all runs, it’s not really anything I can touch on.
Alpar: Okay, we were also curious in the, in the session where you just, where you just did the presentation, or the, the SEO clinic. And you, you mentioned really, like several times, really …
Voice: Three times.
Alpar: Three times at least, like three or four times about keyword density or it’s like something that I don’t think so often of; is it really those cases that matter to you, and did you, did you just like run all the keywords of the site, you know, reduce to the stem of the word and then look the percentage of how often that shows up and then, you know …
Forrester: Well, I’ve never said ‘keyword density’; I never said those words…
Alpar: Keyword stuffing that you mentioned.
Forrester: Right, keyword stuffing I mentioned. It’s interesting to bring up keyword density because …
Alpar: So you were, were referring to the matter information …
Forrester: Yeah, I am just talking strictly a little automated keyword tag there because, because literally, they are just, the folks are piling stuff in there it shouldn’t be; and it was that obvious.
Alpar: You mean the examples were not so advanced, so …
Forrester: Exactly. But on the topic of keyword density, it’s something a lot of people come across and they say ‘well I really have to nail this, I need to know what the percentage is on that’. Don’t be chasing keyword density, don’t be looking for that, don’t be trying to figure out if it’s five percent right, it’s nine percent right, write good content; find the keyword to focus on, write good content for it, be unique about it and then read it out loud. If it sounds good when you read it out loud, it’s probably fine. If it sounds like you’re saying the word too many times, you need to pull that out.
Alpar: Okay. Do you think leading SEOs agree on, with you on that?
Forrester: Some will, some won’t. (Laughs) It’s, it’s, I mean, but that’s typical; every time you seat, you talk with SEOs, right, you’ll get a variety of answers, you know. I, I have, I have, probably five or six years ago, I was a big proponent of keyword density, of figuring what it was, nailing it down and doing all that; then it occurred to me one day that every single page is rated against every other single page that it’s fighting against. So there is no way to predict what the best density will be.
Alpar: But, but you can start analyzing if, if you are targeting like, say, a limited amount of, of, of topical buckets; you can analyze what the average keyword density is in that topical area and then adjust your keyword density a little bit above the average.
Alpar: That would make sense, right?
Forrester: How much time does it take you to do …
Alpar: It must be automatically, it cannot be handmade.
Voice: With the script.
Alpar: With the script, I mean …
Forrester: So you’re going to hold to your content programmatically and it’s not going to be unique content.
Alpar: No, no; I mean, you can have unique content. Let’s say, like typical sta, I mean this is like really advanced topics, right?
Alpar: So who would do that, probably a price comparison engine who, like mostly lives off SEO, right? So they would have, let’s say, in categories, they would have unique content anywhere, right? They have it just to, you know, leg, legitimately they have it; but then again, there are some certain areas of the page where you can another keyword or two if you feel that, for this topical area, it makes sense; and you want to be a little above the average of your competitors in the topical area. So that would make sense?
Forrester: It can, it can make sense …
Alpar: It’s very advanced, so it’s not for everybody if I am selling, I don’t know, T-Shirts, it’s too complex, if you just have ten different products, it’s way too complex; but if you’re running like a large scale SEO operation, then, you know, it does make sense, or you, you don’t agree with me?
Forrester: Yeah. You see, to me, that’s, it’s just not something I invest in, right? Even a large scale e-Commerce, all those things, it’s not an area that I put time into; simply because what I know, I know what the search engines are looking for, is content. I know they are looking for good, deep, rich, authoritative content. So if you can prove to me that your blue sweater is the best blue sweater on the internet when somebody is searching for a blue sweater, then I am likely return that page as top result. If you’re doing that because you adding a couple of keywords on that page, in addition to what it is, that’s not adding extra content, that’s just putting a few things on the page. We can see that, we can see that’s not content, it’s not text describing the product, you are going to more detail; we can see that it’s a few words added to the page and that doesn’t carry a lot of weight.
Alpar: Okay. So what do you think about pictures and videos? I mean, I think it, it definitely helps with the bounce rate and the help people perceive the page; but then again, search engines are stupid. They don’t understand one single picture or one single video. They just don’t understand it. Yeah, I can put Alt Text in, I can, I can take my audio and you know, transcribe it; I put it in the, the description areas, but then again, they still don’t see the picture, they do not understand what’s on there. I mean, I, I know that some search eng, engines are buying smaller companies that tried, you know, to breakthrough, but, what’s your thought of that? Because there is so much work, you know, taking those great pictures and great videos and still, I mean, they, they only help me from those aspects; they don’t, neither help me on-page stuff really, they don’t help me with off-page stuff, they only help me, let’s say, the user aspect of it. But, then again, it, it sounds expensive.
Forrester: So here is the value to you, right? Well but, you, you hit on it, okay? This is user experience issue, alright? You want to make sure that when a user shows up on your website, they stay engaged on that page. You’re going to do that with videos, you’re going to do that with, with audio tracks, you’re going to do it with vid, images, all of that stuff; ‘cause that’s what people are looking for. They are looking for the multiple photos of that product, they want to see the video of that, that, that RC helicopter in action, you know. I know, a buddy of mine in Germany crashes is like several times a week, so he’s always looking for more.
Alpar: We just have one in the company and they destroyed it in less than an hour, so it’s like two hundred bucks gone. (Laugh)
Forrester: Exactly. If you want to see the video of that thing flying before you spend the first two hundred dollars …
Alpar: (Laughs) it was a short video.
Forrester: But a still’s enough. But this is the point, right? It’s the user experience. So imagine if I show you as a first result and then the user clicks on that and goes in, and stays on your website; they’re looking at the photos of the helicopter, they’re looking at the video, they’re watching this stuff, they’re engaged with it; this is what I see, I see me ranking them, I see the user clicking on it, I see the user leaving me and go to the website.
Alpar: And staying there for a while.
Forrester: I don’t see them coming back, right? That makes a big difference to us.
Alpar: One question directly on that. You know page, like page speed is a big factor too, it seems at least or at least, it has grown from zero to something. So if I have ten pictures per product and three videos, my page will take long to load if I am not, if I don’t go for like lazy loading or Ajaxrain, type of that funky stuff. Do you think, you know, people have to think of page load and let’s say content reach stuff?
Forrester: Definitely, there’s definitely a balance in there, right? Most websites, most web-pages, even if you add some more video and image content, don’t necessarily have to worry too much about it, okay? You know, it’s, it’s something that you want to be aware of, because if it has a negative effect on the user experience; we’re, we’re going to see that, we’re gonna ping the URL and the clock starts ticking, wondering what we’re waiting for, you know. And we also know the difference between, you know, we’re on a slow internet connection versus, you know, it’s actually components from your website, I mean. So, it’s not like you’re going to look at it from home and go like ‘Oh, I am lightning fast or I am so slow, this is a problem’. That’s a non reliable way to do it, right?
Alpar: So you have to weigh in for both and try to find to compromise yourself? If you think one is …
Forrester: If it’s my website, I’d be skewing towards using the experience; that’s what I’d be looking towards, okay?
Alpar: Because the internet will become faster over time anyways, or do you ….
Forrester: All of those things, yeah. There, we think we’re seeing bandwidth increase, we’re seeing speed increase, we’re seeing a lot of that stuff, that’s happening anyhow; but more importantly, all of this is when a user shows up and they look for something, they want to find it. Users generally will wait a little bit for that page to load; there, there’s an assumption of relative slow to all of this. The real kick though is that if you give them a lightning fast page, but it doesn’t have any tangible content that they can really look at or enjoy, or engage with, and you say ‘Alright, I know it’s 09:30 at night, I know you had a long day and I just gave you a thousand words, you’re going to have to read through. But I am going to give you the best description ever of a helicopter’. You know what? They’re going to go back because, at that time of night at home, the kids are in bed, they are relaxing; what they want, there’s a quick video to watch and images to look at, so they can dream about what they want to buy, right? So, so you have to make sure that it’s in there. Don’t go on load up fifty images on this thing that are all ten megapixels or that kind of stuff, right? People get carried away on that. They’d rather go and buy a really nice camera; they turn the thing up to full power and they are looking at it going. This is the most crystal clear image ever and there you go. I can show you details, I can show the small screw on that little thing; no one needs that level of detail, right? When they buy the product, they can look at it and see the little screw, you know (Laughs). Prior to that, they just need a nice small little idea, right? I remember, five, six years ago, the guideline on the image search was to have images somewhere around 250 by 250 pixels, right?
Alpar: Which is so small actually. I would say it’s a little too small.
Forrester: These days, it was a reasonable size then to have on a page, that you could click and see a larger version on it, right? So that …
Alpar: It’s like the mid-size, not the thumbnail but the mid-size version of it.
Forrester: Exactly, so it was like a large thumbnail that would allow somebody to click on the result, and then as a separate URL, you would see the full size of it.
Alpar: Which will still make sense. Can I jump a little on the topic? So let’s say, if we come back to Brazil, let’s say I have a content website that has like two hundred sub-pages, I am like local simple service not in a highly competitive area and I have an office in Portugal and in Brazil and, can I use the same exact content, just change the address and, if one top level domain is targeting Portugal like pt and one targeting Brazil; what’s your, what’s your take on that?
Forrester: Just be careful to try to make it as unique as possible to the market, right? They may be both Portuguese languages, but they’re totally different countries. So …
Alpar: So, let’s say my Portuguese website even gets ten Portuguese links and the Brazilian website gets ten Brazilian links; but the content is the same.
Forrester: Doesn’t change my answer. You have to try to be as unique as possible for the market, right?
Alpar: Okay, but within Brazil, this, this website is unique, the other one is not targeting Brazil?
Alpar: So you think for Portugal to …
Forrester: But they’re going to be things happening in Brazil that have nothing to do with Portugal, and vice versa. So you’re naturally going to be creating completely different contents.
Alpar: You think so? But look, if I , if I …
Forrester: The football team in Portugal is not the same one playing in, in Brazil.
Alpar: No, but look; I am, I, let’s say you have a grey t-shirt on, I am selling grey t-shirts.
Forrester: Okay, yes, yes.
Alpar: So, I am, I have a grey website like an online shop for grey t-shirts. And I sell grey t-shirts in Portugal and because this is the only language I speak, I sell grey t-shirts in Brazil too because I know somebody there they can do the logistics. So in this case, you know, it’s the same t-shirt, it’s the same sales pitch I am giving, it’s the same description about material and so on I can give; what about that?
Forrester: Make sure you’re giving us the right signals, right? Because if all you do is take that content and you say ‘Okay, copy and paste it over here’, we need to understand that that grey t-shirt /
Alpar: I will have ten, ten additional local links; that’s my only, only signal I am giving.
Forrester: But, but don’t just, don’t just rely on the links, right? Go into your webmaster account, make sure you get the Geo-targeting tags in your, in your header tags, make sure that you’re using not just those ten links but you are looking for other things to reinforce the fact that this is it; because are you hosting two different websites in two different locations, or you’re hosting in one location?
Alpar: I am hosting in one location in the US, both of them.
Forrester: Right okay. So all we need …
Alpar: it’s really confusing for you guys?
Forrester: No, we’re just going to need as many signals as you can give us to tell us which domain is applicable to which location. And, the more signals you give us about that, the stronger we can trust that that’s accurate; that the result we’re taking in from you and then the result to give back to that local market are accurate to the market.
Alpar: So we’re back to our Portuguese and, and, and Brazilian websites. So you say we have to give more signals which means, within the webmaster area, I define, okay, this is located for this, and in the meta tags I do the same, and I have some local links. You think that is sufficient or you think I should walk the extra mile and those hundreds page content that I, I have, I wrote different content? Just to be different?
Forrester: You should always walk the extra mile for us; there is no question about us, okay? We need to know that the result we’re going to give back is properly targeting that area, because if we’re going to take the result in, we’re going to have to understand and trust.
Alpar: But, but the uniqueness of content is something else, something different, then the, the targeting of a certain area, right?
Forrester: Yes, it is.
Alpar: So I don’t even want to optimise for grey shirt Brazil, grey shirt Portugal; I just want want to optimise for grey shirt. So duplicate content is the, which I am worried about and not which geographic area I am targeting.
Forrester: But if you’re using them in two different locations, then they are not duplicate to each other; because one is targeting one country and one is targeting a different country. So, so if you can tell us very strongly that these belong to two different countries, then you can avoid the duplication, okay? You can also avoid the duplicate issue by not using the same content, by writing it a little bit differently.
Alpar: So which, what would you do if, if you were the grey t-shirt seller?
Forrester: If it were me, I’d be going with the unique content route, no question at all. It’s easier, it’s more straight forward and it is very dependable. So you can actually sit down and say that’s what I wrote for Portugal, that’s what I wrote for Brazil. There are only so many ways to talk about a grey t-shirt, granted. (Laughs) However, …
Alpar: There is a Portuguese way and a there’s Brazilian way; it’s completely different. (Laughs)
Forrester: Exactly. Right. You may look at it and say ‘Well common language, but culturally this is how we’re going to tackle this. So we’re going to look it from …’
Alpar: I, I totally agree, but there are people from other big search engines that oversimplify this case and it’s, it’s really interesting to hear a, a different opinion. I, I think Sibita who’s listening all the time here has another question.
Sibita: Yes. At the SCS 2011 in New York, we were talking about bounce rates; that bounce rate became more important for search engines. What do you think about that? Do you think this might be not, that’s easy to, to, to tackle, like it’s open for spammers maybe; what do you think about the bounce rate? Is it, is it important?
Alpar: Can it be manipulated? … Oh, probably it’s a, maybe, different question, I am sorry.
Forrester: No, no, that’s okay; and, and, there is very little I can actually talk about this topic guys. To be honest with you, it’s a signal that we would want to look at because, it’s a, it’s a, it’s an intent or a, it’s a form of satisfaction that users are giving back to us, okay? But again, when we look at signals, we look at signals on scale, on really big scale, okay? And then we also look at them in a very small scale. So we can see patterns happening, right? So if a competitor are constantly coming into your website, or come into our website performing a search and then, going click and back, click and back, click and back, I mean, we see that pattern very easily and then we just count it
Alpar: But then again, probably, probably he is clicking and going back because the result just showing him that it’s not my website, so it’s not the good result, you know. (Laughs)
Forrester: No, that’s not the case (Laughs). We only show the best results. But if somebody is doing that to you, you then the pattern becomes obvious, right? So then, we can kind of like just ignore that pattern and say …
Alpar: If it’s way out of the ordinary, it’s suspicious.
Forrester: Right, exactly. Because we, we do have an understanding of what we’d be considering like ordinary. So if it’s, you know, somebody unleashes their robot on you and you know, and all of a sudden there are fifty thousand back actions every minute, that’s probably a problem, you know…
Alpar: Like running a TV add.
Forrester: (Laughs) No, it’s a fairly good signal, something is not normal. But the main thing people need to think about around this bounce rate is, it’s not the rate itself, right? It’s the reason behind the rate. So why are users doing this? And is that got anything to do with my landing page, my content, my presentation? Is it something that I am doing on the website that’s making users go back?
Alpar: And I am sure it’s also like a competitive factor; it’s not like only my bounce rate, but it is, it has to be compared with other people ranking for my keywords, for the same keywords and then compare to that, you know.
Forrester: Exactly. Because what you’ll find over time is …
Alpar: If you find a ninety percent bounce rate, and everybody in the surf has a ninety-five percent bounce rate, you’ll look really good.
Forrester: Exactly. And that’s quite a very critical point on this. Everything is kind of compared against everything else, so, you know, bounce rates can be lower or higher, you’d obviously want to have a bounce rate as low as possible. That’s what you’d strive for. But if the average bounce rate on that topic is twenty percent and you’re at ten percent, then you’re ahead of the curve.
Sibita: The bigger question was that’s manipulative, manipulative, no…
Alpar: It can be manipulated.
Sibita: Yeah. Isn’t, isn’t that true that it can be very easily man-, manipulated? My God!
Forrester: If it’s something that can be easily manipulated, then it’s not a good signal. So, we’re watching for that kind of stuff all the time. Right. So, it’s not like, we’re very smart (laughs). We’re not going to sit down going: ‘Well, you know, maybe no one will figure that out’ and we just leave it out there. We really do take pains to make sure that if we’re looking at something, we’re saying to ourselves, ‘Alright, what’s the logical op, outcome of this’. So, if we, if we want to rely on something, we need to know that it’s trustworthy before we can actually activate it, right. That is critical for us.
Sibita: So, it’s not on a long tail?
Forrester: It, it doesn’t matter where it’s applied, right. It’s always something that we’re watching for. And, and everything that we look for, applies whether it’s head or long tail, it doesn’t make a difference to us, right. The theory behind it’s all the same.
Alpar: Okay. And, what’s your take on SEO tools, they seem to they seem to proliferate in the last one or two years?
Forrester: Yeah! (Laughs). I love them. I think some of them are absolutely fantastic. I think some of them are just not so good, right. There are a lot of good enterprise level tools out there, which is primarily what I tend to gravitate toward. I am a fan of building tools for my needs, which what my team did back in MSN /
Alpar: Which is what every engineer does, right? Not inventor syndrome?
Forrester: No, no, exactly. I’m, but I’m not a, I’m not an engineer, so, my approach to it though is, we have to deal with scale somehow, and in order to deal with scale, you need certain factors in place. Most off-the-shelf systems are, are still trying to crack that level that I was in need of. But there are still lots of them out there that are fantastic for it, right? And there are tools today that can actually handle that load. Three years ago they weren’t there, now they’re there. I think yes the tools are fantastic but you have to really be careful what they’re telling you, right, and how you’re using it. You have to just make sure that the data bases are current in it, that if they’re running against rules and telling you the work they need to do, that the latest updates have been factored in. Worse is, how do you even factor in the latest updates because we, as an SEO you kind of haven’t figured out what it means yet and did that actually affect, you know, ‘do I rewrite something’, ‘does this have more prominence’, this kind of stuff. So, you need to make sure that what you’re using is stable as well, okay. I’m not a big fan of tools that do scraping for ranking results, people should be avoiding those things. It’s …
Alpar: Why? (Laughs). Because it’s, the server loads were causing a big… (laughs)
Forrester: The engines do not appreciate that, and we see where it’s coming from.
Alpar: But then again, but then again, you know, they still work?
Forrester: Well, it gives you a result and we see where it’s coming from. So, do you actually want to upset us or…
Alpar: But you don’t know if a search is ter-, like, if a search is initiated you don’t know which of the results is initiating the search. It might even be somebody who’s not ranking there, yet, because, you know…
Forrester: Right. But we see the IP addresses, we see all the background details of the request being made, and if we see, if we see a pattern, if we see a pattern…
Alpar: And I’m sure the tools providers deal with that all the time.
Forrester: Absolutely. And generally, Daemons tools, not a problem. However, if they’re overused, that can be an issue, and if we get pushed too hard, we can push back.
Alpar: Okay. So…
Sibita: You’re also working with a captcha?
Forrester: Pardon me?
Sibita: You’re working also with a captcha? If there’s too many…
Alpar: Like a captcha systems if there is …
Forrester: Oh, yeah! That’s, that’s a normal part of it, right, right. And it’s odd because I see that trigger sometimes, even when I’m doing something manually (laughs).
Alpar: It’s because we’ve installed stuff on your computer (laughs), a special Trojan stuff. Don’t worry, it’s natural, it’s okay. Okay, one last question, because it’s obviously a German podcast, where do you think, do you have contact with SEO in Germany and what do you think of it?
Forrester: Yeah, actually, part of my team, that I used to work for was based in Munich. And, I think it’s, I think there’s a, it’s very strange there are pockets of people around the world that have really gotten into online marketing and SEO, Germany is one of those areas.
Alpar: So, which are other areas?
Forrester: Portland, Oregon. I know! (Laughs).
Alpar: Never heard of it (laughs). I have to go there.
Forrester: I know. It’s one state below me on the West Coast, at a fantastic place. But the culture grows up, right, and the people get involved in it and they get together, and that’s what builds the culture; and it is so incredible because when you go to small events in these areas and you talk with people, it’s amazing the learning. The things they understand, the tasks that they’ve run, the stuff that they’ve kind of taken out of that, and then say ‘wow, this works, so we’re going to pursue this angle. It’s fantastic.’
Alpar: Alright, thanks for your time.
Forrester: Yeah, definitely.
Alpar : Thank you.