Ruud Questions: Brett Tabke

by Ruud Hein August 27th, 2010 

Brett Tabke needs no introduction. Literally.

Like Hollywood has Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the SEO world has Brett Tabke and Danny Sullivan. Of course you don't see that that way and are prone to say you're just a regular guy, like the rest of us.

Does having a legendary status cast on you put unfair expectations on you? Does it … cause people to point and you and go "and you're supposed to be so friggin' brilliant?!"

btabke Yes it can.

We have done some things unlike any other site or conference on the net. We've been criticized hard when those haven't worked out.

It is tough to balance tradition with leading edge tactics. However, we've never been afraid to fail or be contrary to popular opinion.

Do you still get in the trenches by promoting web sites? Dig the trenches, maybe, by building a site from the ground up? Or are those days over and you're comfortable where you are?

btabkeOh I absolutely stay hands on with everything. We are about a dozen people now (over 40 during conferences). It is easy to get disconnected from the leading edge if you don't keep up.

We are going through some site updates on both PubCon and behind the scenes at WebmasterWorld. I am hands-on both in the code and direction. I am a programmer by nature and any day I spend in the code is a good day. I only get to do it a couple days a month now.

We have other domain properties that are unrelated to webmarketing and those are still actively growing.

What, from where you sit, is the difference between Webmaster World, Cre8asite Forums and Digital Point?

btabkeI really don't try to compare our sites to theirs.

Johnny Carson was a great American late night talk show host for 30 years. Every time a new competitor would popup, he would have them on the show and give them all the same advice: "Don't worry what the other guys are doing. Do your own thing. Serve and feed your audience, and the competition will take care of itself."

I took that advice to heart and rarely look at the other forums. Our focus has always been on the quality of information. We do everything we can to get the best information in front of people in a timely manner.

Brett's life is more about conferences these days than about the forums. Partially true or leans more towards complete nonsense?

btabkeYes it is about 80% PubCon and 20% WebmasterWorld.

Conferences take so much time. Forums take time, but it is not urgent time like conferences.

You've likened search engine marketing (PPC) to traffic acquisition or "checkbook SEO" (funny, I must admit); search engine optimization to promotion. Is that a moot point these days? An … academic point?

btabkeI agree completely.

The declining ROI on SEO means PPC is attractive and social media is positively dreamy.

Is it over for the small guy now that it's no longer purely links but links + age + some trust?

btabkeNot if they see what is going on with Social Media. It is just time to switch focus from all-seo-all-the-time to social media half of the time.

In circa 2003, you could build a page and then tweak it with SEO specifics in an hour. That hour spent on SEO in 2003 is now ten hours or more in 2010 to see the same return.

That hour can now be spent on social media marketing to see even better results. The fun part, is that the hour spent promoting and marketing the site through social media turns around and helps your search engine rankings.

Do people underestimate or overestimate the level of search engine sophistication and thus, by extension, the effort and knowledge needed to rank?

btabkeI do believe people as a whole are under estimating the levels of efficiency that search engines are operating at.

the level
of
hand tweaks
is vastly higher
than people appreciate
I don't believe we are that sophisticated in ranking algo's, but I do believe the level of hand tweaks is vastly higher than most people appreciate.

It has been stated that Google has nearly 1000 people working as search quality raters. Half of those are reading and fixing PPC ads. So that leaves 500 or so to look at nothing but organic results. Ummm, 'cuse me – if the algo is all that fire hot stuff, why are there 500 people editorializing and scoring pages?

If 1 person can look at 1 website page a minute and make an editorial judgment about it, that is nearly a quarter million sites or pages per day – every day – for a year. If the top 10,000 make up pages in 85% of the results, you can clean and influence the mass majority of results in under a month. (think about it).

Hand checking is the single biggest input into the algo. Many SEO's I know simple don't appreciate that fact.

There was a thread on Reddit from current and former Google employees in June. One employee said:

"The publicly-exposed UI of Google is only the tip of the iceberg…there's lots of interesting information that we know how to extract but haven't figured out how to present to users in a way that would be useful for them."

It is the 95-5 rule of programming. That last 5% of the code that it takes to clean up and make it forward facing for public consumers, takes the greatest amount of time.

So they have all this code they have come up with that we never see. So what it is doing? There are many utilities that look at pages and know which pages to flag for hand checks.

You were fascinated with the web's ability to build communication bridges across the world. The current hausse in social networks must be a dream come true then, for you. In the 90's the web led you build Webmaster World, expand into PubCon — build you a career. How has social networking changed your life?

btabkeI had a column on my BBS site that I posted to about once a month. We didn't call it a blog – it was just our column. That was 1984. Social media is the web. It's first version was Usenet and then the big networks (compuserve – qlink – plink – and later AOL). Those are all social media networks and formats. The only thing new is the depth of public adoption of those networks.

The most amazing thing to me to see, is how minor the tweaks have been to the software to give us Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is a microscopic tweak on the 30 year old chat room. The first time I saw it, I said, "The web needs another chat room like it needs more Usenet groups". Turns out, that one minor tweak of being able to specify which group of people (followers) you listened to in the room, made a monumental difference. Even with that difference, it brings back that discussion of "ideas" vs "execution". Twitter didn't have a ground breaking idea – but they did have a top notch team that knew how to execute a plan.

Back to the question – social networking hasn't changed my life – it *is* my life. Most of my good friends live thousands of miles away. The best man at my wedding is from the UK. Social networking takes away the limitations of locality. It takes our lives global.

If you take marketing completely out of the picture for a moment — do social networks matter … at all? Which technology shift would you compare it to; handwritten to book print; letter to telephone; radio to television? Or…?

btabkeIt is hard to pin it down until you begin to define social networking. I reject that it is a new phenomena. It's been working for 30+ years – back to the first real email systems.

Social networking is the new heart of the internet. I think it is the most profound change in our lives in the entirety of human history.

Browsing through 50's magazines — heck even ones from the mid-ninties — it's funny to see how wrong expectations for the technologic future were. Which current expectations and predictions do you think will proof to be mostly hot air?

btabkeWe are in a fairly mature cycle right now. The phones have settled into a nice process. The new tablet computers are being exploited.

I don't see people making a lot of grandiose predictions like they were at the end of the 90's and early 00's. We can see a stable future going forward.

There clearly will be technological disruptions, but the foundation of the net is solid.

Father. Golden age horizon. What do you like from growing older?

btabkeThe continued growth in calm confidence. Also, driving nicer cars, affording more toys and an ever increasing passion for life. ;-)

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

You May Also Like

One Response to “Ruud Questions: Brett Tabke”

  1. [...] Ruud Questions: Brett Tabke, Search Engine People [...]