I met Dennis at a small social get-together at SMX Advanced hosted by John Andrews. That was one of those super awesome evenings that began at a Seattle Wine Bar, moved over to a Speakeasy with the good folks from WebRanking (and the concept of reading about a Speakeasy on a user-review site strikes me funny FYI), Quinn's Pub (where I had the best hamburger of my life), and ended up at the SEOmoz party at The Garage. I certainly knew Dennis by reputation but it was just chance that I met him in the sort of setting that enabled me to get to know that he's every bit as great a person as he is an SEO. As you can see from these answers, he's a great interviewee as well…
Please give me you background and let me know what you do for a living.
Currently I'm Vice President Internet Marketing for Geeknet Inc. Media, where I'm responsible for SEO, Social Media marketing and paid Internet Marketing for sites like Slashdot, Sourceforge and Freshmeat. I just started at Geeknet on August 1st after I spent 9.5 years at eBay in various Internet Marketing roles. Last position I had at eBay was as Director SEO, where I was responsible for the global SEO strategy for the global eBay marketplaces.
As my work is quite technical, it might surprise you that my background is not at all technical. I have a master in Economics from the University of Amsterdam, with specializations in Marketing, Finance and Strategic Management. When I graduated from the University, I was eyeing a career in the banking industry, where my education in Investment, option hedging and interest rate swaps seems interesting to me. Looking back right now, I'm happy that I blew one of my first job interviews with a bank, and pursued a different career path. (I wrote a post on this interview and how I blew it. It's in Dutch, but you can find a translated version here).
One would think that your job at EBay would be the pinnacle position for an Enterprise-level SEO. Yet, you left for a job that appears to extremely different and much more mainstream and much less technical. Why the change in focus?
I would disagree with you that the new job is less technical as the former. Every SEO job, in each company can be as technical as you would like it to be, you only have different problems to solve. How you approach the problem, and try to solve these can be either done with technology solutions or more practical ones.
After 9.5 years with one company, it is good to change scenery and see how it's done somewhere else. Especially if the company is your first employer. You can read my full post on my blog here: Leaving eBay
There are four main reasons why I chose to change focus:
1. At eBay I was only focused on SEO, where so many forms of Internet Marketing, user engagement and new technologies are taking an important role in driving the business. I was involved in the social media strategy for eBay, where I sat on the social media council. However, I was not able to make a big impact on the direction due to my main focus being SEO and the expectations that came with it.
2. The CEO of Geeknet Inc. Media came from eBay, where I worked closely together with his team on a complex technical SEO infrastructure. He joined the company only in March, and we quickly connected to talk about the opportunity. And he simply offered me a really good job, with an attractive compensation package and complete freedom to set out the Internet Marketing strategy, building the traffic acquisition channel from the ground up.
3. Hopefully I can spend more time on my own websites, I'm running a Dutch & English blog, a site about San Francisco and working on one about California, both in Dutch. Speaking at conferences, and advising startups. I currently meeting with a number of companies in SOMA in SF, and will soon pick three maximum.
4. For 3.5 years I focused on making SEO a priority for the company. Which came with a lot of education, managing expectations and setting up specific check points and processes in the life time cycle for product management. In the last year, there have been many changes at the top executive management of eBay, where the thought of starting all over again with the education didn't appeal to me. Three and a half year of pushing and slamming head against the wall to get the resources I needed were enough for now.
Moving back to a big city like San Francisco was also a factor that made it easier to pull the trigger on the decision.
Nevertheless, I will miss lots of things from eBay. The data eBay has; the talented co-workers; the established business processes and working for a big, well established brand.
I've always thought that there was almost nothing in common between Enterprise SEO and the SEO of the typical business website. What's your take on this?
There are two main differences between enterprise SEP and the typical website:
2. Process; a.k.a. Politics
Everything you do on an Enterprise website, you need to think about how your projects or infrastructure will scale to large numbers. This usually means any investment in servers; load balancers or databases are much larger from the start.
When working on a project for SEO at eBay 2 years ago, we had to justify a number of investments in front of the Cap Ex committee. I learned a whole new world of the company I was working for. The scale we were operating at was just very large. The initial investment for a SaaS system of around 750K to serve 1B server-to-server request on a daily basis, was just the start of the project. That was still without disaster recovery.
Last week I requested a change for treatment of redirects on Sourceforge. It only took 7 minutes from the opening of the ticket; to the fix live to site. This kind of speedy implementation is hard to get in an enterprise level environment. Usually there is a lengthy process to submit a request, after which you would need to lobby and convince multiple other teams the change request is worth the engineering time.
Other than lengthy processes, you might be running into more politics the larger and more diverse your organization is. Politics can really drag your speed of implementation down. Especially if you have a large influx of new people in a company, accustomed to other ways of working.
What are some important SEO issues when considering how to best work with a large level of user-generated content on an Enterprise-level website?
On eBay, with every item, the item title and description is user generated. The seller is responsible for the content on the view item page. With the diverse community of sellers, internet savvy or not, the enterprise-level website should build tools to handle the input fields in the pages which are important for SEO.
I just published a long blog post on the changes eBay made to the item titles and the impact it can have on the SEO footprint of the item pages. Personally I would have rolled out an advanced page title optimizer, which would determine algorithmically or using conversion data on keywords from referral traffic, how to construct the optimal page title from the increased 80 character titles.
However, that would have made the whole project much more complex, and expensive.
In general, the amount of user-generated content is so large on a site like eBay that it's hard to police or optimize manually. So the lowest hanging fruit, is community education, and showing how the seller can become more successful by following best practices the company can provide.
How do you see +1 impacting Enterprise-level websites?
When we, SEO's, believe +1 is going to impact the search results, I believe these websites will have an advantage over all mom-and-pop sites. Enterprise-level websites usually have a strong brand and a lot of users/visitors.
More users will interact with the +1 button on these websites, where more trustworthy votes will push the enterprise-level website up in the rankings for the search results in an ever growing network of Google+ users.
I strongly believe +1 is going to play a major role in the search algorithms. The way a personal endorsement for a website can be sorted out through the +1 button, and the strict requirement to use your real name. As said, Google Plus is an identity service…
If you read the comments from people outside of the SEO industry, you can see that Google still has a long way to go to explain their product and how it will be used in search, and all other Google products.
How can one achieve an optimal crawl rate at the Enterprise level?
Analyzing crawl logs is one of the most important aspects to understand how the search engines view and access your website. However, the large volume of entries in the crawl logs forces you to build advanced filters or queries on top of all that data.
At eBay we had build a complete separate database to store the crawl data, as the amount of daily data was too large to keep for several weeks, or months.
When we were able to capture the Googlebot data on a daily basis, per page type and per keyword, the filter scripts we were running gave us so much extra data how the Googlebot was browsing through the site, that we could take specific actions to improve the efficiency of the bots.
The efficient usage of the crawl capacity which is assigned to your website can give you a huge improvement in SEO. At eBay we had one page that was crawled 70,000 times in a day. Putting measures in place to prevent excessive crawling of duplicate pages, will allow the bots to spend time on different pages of your site, and possibly crawl many more pages. In the process you will get more of your content discovered, pages indexed, more pages ranking, and hence more traffic.
Furthermore, optimization of your sitemaps is key. On a large site like eBay, there are many items for sale, which are duplicates. There is always a way to optimize the URL's you would submit through the XML sitemap in these cases. There is no need to submit 20,000 iPods on a daily basis, when the search engine would only include 2 on the first page. The optimization would focus on picking the 2 best listings, or maybe 10, and only submit these through the sitemaps.
There aren't that many Enterprise level SEO's visible in the social media sphere (you, Matt Brown, Marshall Simmonds, Adam Audette). How has being visible in social media affected your career?
When I moved to the US in 2006, I knew nobody in the SEO industry. I made it an effort to go to conferences and build connections. Through the years I've met some wonderful people on conferences but also through Twitter. Pretty crazy that I first got connected with Joost de Valk through Twitter, and then we met in real life after 1 year going back and forth over email, Twitter, blog comments and skype, while he is an SEO from The Netherlands as well. You would have thought we knew each other for a long time already.
When you are in-house SEO, for a Fortune 500 or medium size business, there is no incentive for you to go speak at conferences. Obviously, you don't have new clients you need to connect with. What speaking at conferences will bring you, is more connections in the industry, where people come up and talk to you during lunch or over drinks to talk about some problems the are trying to solve. You can learn so much from these conversations! And I can't deny that speaking at a conference will raise your visibility in the industry or on social media.
You should always be working on yourself, and treat your reputation as a brand you are trying to build. When I got married to my wife, whose maiden name is Brown, people asked me if I would take her last name, as mine is so difficult. I said: "No way, my name is better brand able as nobody is able to pronounce"
It also makes it easy to dominate the first results in every search engine for my name :.)