SEO BuzzBox Interview November/30/2005

Aaron Pratt Interviews Sebastian from Smart IT Internet Consulting

Smart IT Consulting I have been spending much time in Google groups (and other forums) developing an understanding of how things work. This is where I came across Sebastian from Smart IT - Internet Consulting. Sebastian agreed to an interview but wishes to remain anonymous. What I noticed about Sebastian is that he kindly offers free information in Google groups to newbies looking for answers. Google is much too busy to have anyone dedicated to this task so Smart IT does what it can to help. Let's learn more from Sebastian who obviously understands that you have to give to receive in today's new search engines algorithms.

Mr. Sebastian, can you give us a quick hint as to why one would not divulge their true identity online? I don't mind if you talk in generalities, just give is a tasty little treat to wet our appetites.

Aaron, Sebastian is my first name, so lets skip the Mister:)  I became kinda virtual cybergeek without surname and homeland caused by legal reasons many years ago. The contract hindering me to hand out particular advice has expired in the meantime, and I never really broke it because I've started to explore new fields, but I was pretty much paranoid at this time. As an Internet newbie I had build a small but highly profitable adult entertainment network from scratch. Most adult Webmasters use handles to stay anonymous, and in this area it wasn't that hard to make money without a business address. When I found my way back to Internet marketing after a long outage caused by health issues, I've started an experiment. I was, and still am, curious whether it would be possible to make a living from online consulting without a name, based on knowledge and competence alone. Interestingly, none of my clients has asked for my surname yet.

Hmm, very interesting, do you wear a white, grey or black hat?

Well, when I started out on the Web, I did everything for traffic, and "everything" included a lot of shady tactics. At that time the SEO hat color discussion had not yet begun, but retroactive I'd paint my former hat in a pretty dark gray.

Once I got hit heavily by a scraper and spamindexer who had crawled my domains, using snippets of my content to flood the engines with a huge load of crap. Back then link popularity wasn't that important for rankings at most engines, so this guy stole a fair amount of my search engine traffic. I contacted the search engines and eventually the bad guy's stuff was removed from all search indexes. Especially Matt Cutts and later Daniel Dulitz from Google did a great job, thank you again, and thanks to the Northernlight, Inktomi, Altavista, Excite... employees, who didn't sign their emails.

Matt Cutts helped me again as a couple of my domains got tanked for abusive linkage by Google's early spam filters, and I decided to clean up my network, including the questionable sites Google's algo didn't spot. Playing by the rules wasn't that easy, because like today many of the rules were unwritten. So I had to study the engines to develop a natural SEO strategy, and fair SEO tactics which work till this day.

I run experimental stuff to test the engines' spam thresholds --and to feed my ego--, so I'd say I wear a white hat with a gray hatband. I don't put my clients at risk, that is I'm not available for black hat or gray hat jobs.

I recently bumped into you in Google Groups, my immediate response was to call you a spammer, but when I followed the links you offered (to someone in need of some help) I saw that the advice you gave was extremely helpful. What do you get from dedicating time to helping others? I can't believe there is much AdSense dollars in it, is there?

You're right, the few AdSense bucks don't pay for the Web site. When I was a noob, I got free advice and help from experienced Webmasters. And I made amends for implementing bad advice from the boards. Thus a part of the answer is, that I'm just paying back. And I admit it's fun to help, I really enjoy it, actually this was the motive to work so many years for consulting firms. Another reason is networking, and of course propaganda. Giving good advice in the Google groups, or operating a Web site packed with information, does not reveal any business secrets. What I write anywhere on the 'Net is based on a tiny piece of my knowledge. It proves that I have at least an idea of the topic, and that I'm willing to help. A reader seeking help will get the message, s/he will realize that knowledge without experience and the ability to think big means next to nothing, and at some point s/he clicks the bold red get-help-link leading to my service request form. At least that's the plan ;)

I couldn't help but find your blog, I also notice that you have some very good articles scraped onto Smart-IT-Consulting. That's a new one, I have never heard of someone scraping their own sites? What is the difference between your blog and Smart-it?

The blog started as an experiment. I was looking for a medium to output random thoughts without the need to maintain the posted stuff later on when things or my opinion change. On my Web site I'm serious, or at least I try to stay serious, but on that blog I can joke and speculate. I can even start a neat rumor by accident, like "two bold dollar signs near the copyright notice boost MSN crawling". Surprisingly, a few days after posting this crap I stumbled across pages having hidden '$$' signs in the bottom line - this taught me another lesson.

The nature of a free hosted Google blog is, that old posts buried in the archives tend to phase out of search indexes. I didn't expect any foreign deep links to keep those posts visible, and I didn't plan to promote my blog. So I took a few worthy posts over to my Web site. Caused by the non-existent link popularity of those blog posts this didn't trigger duplicate content filtering. Since the blog got a low PageRank™, I don't copy any more. Instead I post summaries of new articles and thoughts which don't make it on the Web site (yet) on the blog.

So the difference is that my blog is a transient conglomerate of things, whilst my Web site provides persistent and structured stuff.

You obviously are fond of Google Sitemaps, did you write that cool Sitemap Validator and the other tools you offer?

Falling in love with Google's sitemaps program and supporting it was a natural thing to do. The launch of this program was a major step towards real world Webmaster relations, besides Google's presence on exhibitions and few private contacts the first official step to work with Webmasters. Sure it helps Google to make better use of its crawling capacities, but collaborate crawling takes Webmasters into the boat to some degree, and it helps both sides to understand the counterpart's needs and goals. Google's sitemap team kicks ass by the way, they are innovative folks and they do listen. Unfortunately, many Webmasters don't realize what it means to develop and maintain bleeding edge products in a huge operation like Google, so the bashing goes on. Remember the so called security flaw a while back. I know that 10 minutes after opening the inbox in the morning the sitemaps team tested and launched a bug fix, this would be impossible at Microsoft, IBM or the CityBank.

Ok, back to the question. Yes, I wrote those tools myself. Also I wrote the CMS including RSS parser and whatever, because there is no such thing as a user and search engine friendly CMS. Besides Google's Site Search there is no 3rd party software working at Smart-IT-Consulting.

I admire that you are not afraid to "link out" from Smart-it to other people's articles and websites; do you own all those websites? What is the current value of linking out to other sites, do you believe it helps improve your website's rank?

It improves my visitors' surfing experience. I'm way too lazy, and too busy, to outline everything myself, but I owe my visitors good information. So the natural way for me is to link to related resources which provide my users with exactly the stuff they are searching for. Another reason is, that English is a foreign language for me, and often others simply do the better job in explaining a particular topic. Anyways, I believe that a visitor honors a worthwhile recommendation in the same way as good on-the-site information.

Honestly, the linking attitude of most Webmasters sucks. What makes it worse is that Webmasters not linking out do actively devalue their search engine ranking potentials. Besides PageRank™ hoarding there are many other factors considered fishy by ranking algorithms. Link policies like forced reciprocation or the requirement of particular toolbar PageRank™ minimum values are plain sick, silly, and self-defeating.

LOL on the other hand has advantages. For example inverse PageRank™ calculations lead search engines to trusted authority hubs. Outgoing links embedded in interesting content do attract natural inbound links. Recommending great resources can make a site part of a distributed topical authority. Linking to valuable related sites is a way to join a good neighborhood. Finally, linking out is considered natural - avoiding or masking outgoing links is considered artificial. Guess what interesting games search engines play with artificial linkage beyond the 1,000 results barrier ... so the answer is yes, I believe the right outgoing links do help with rankings.

As far as I know I do not own any resource I link to from my Web site, except of my blog which is de facto owned by I don't think interlinking within a network does any good. It can be done when it makes business sense, but internal linkage does not count as much as 3rd party inbound links.

I see a HUGE advertising link on your blog to Aaron Walls SEOBOOK; can you confirm that you are not Aaron Wall?

I can confirm that I'm not Aaron Wall. I never joined the Navy because you know what Army and Navy personnel spot when they ever look on heavens scenes. Seriously, I link to Aaron's campaign for the same reason I link to Uganda CAN, because it's worth to support.

Will you ever close down Smart-IT and require a payment to access all your pages of free information?

I have no plans to do so. Actually, it would be foolish. This site provides me with consulting leads for many interesting problems from thousands of search queries week by week. As more information I publish, as more targeted search engine traffic I get. It's really that simple. I could put up every piece of information stored in my brain, and it would still generate consulting business, because complex problems need individual solutions developed by experienced people (that is my coworkers). I'm not interested in META tag optimization and simple tasks like that, this is the sort of question you can easily cover with online tutorials. Figuring out why Google has banned a site, and helping to lift the ban is a perfect example of an interesting SEO job one can't do based on a posted checklist and freely available information.

I am new to blogging, I believe its value is that you can use it blah blah blah about basically anything you choose but I also have a few sites that are highly focused. Is it possible to focus a blog and get good ranks in the search engines?

Yep, that's possible, but you need more than a blog software giving you chronological archives and categories, and you need connectivity beyond the blogosphere too. Sites like Darren's Problogger, Nick's Performancing, and Google's SEO Tips hand out good advice. Combine everything you read there with a large portion of common sense and you'll make it to a blog with top rankings in FeedSearch as well as WebSearch results.

I am interested in making a page on this site that displays current RSS Feed data from sources that I find informational; can you point me to something that will help me learn how to do this (I use wordpress blogging software)? My fear is that the search engines will confuse it as scraper trash.

If you aggregate related feeds on a page of your site, the engines will not penalize you. On my site I have even dedicated pages per feed and it doesn't harm. If you make up a complete site from feeds, or if the majority of your content is pulled from feeds, this would be another story. I've no experience with WordPress, but this plug-in could do what you want to achieve.

Close your eyes and tell us the first thought that comes to you head?

The awesome taste of a fresh Guinness served in an Irish pub, and the morning after.

Thank you Sebastian

I thank you Aaron, for the opportunity to spam your interesting blog with my thoughts and my propaganda. It was a real pleasure to answer your questions.

Please don't link to this local copy, the interview was published here: