I started following Ed Bennett on Twitter because he consistently delivers interesting links and opinions ranging from healthcare to social media and SEO.
Not part of the traditional SEO community, Eds voice, his links and opinions, are refreshing.
Wanting to know a bit more about Ed, I asked for, and got, an interview.
You manage the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) web site which under your supervision receives no less than 2.5 million hits per month. What are 80 thousand people per day searching for?
Our hospital is a academic medical center that cares for more than 32,000 inpatients and 300,000 outpatients each year. Our doctors treat hundreds of different conditions, and as a tertiary care center we offer expertise not available at a local community hospital.
We want people to find our services they research on Google and other search engines.
80% of internet users search health and medical topics. It's a high-demand area.
On any given day, millions of people are dealing with illness, chronic conditions, and other medical problems. It's no surprise the Web gets used to find answers.
We have SEO optimized content on over 5,000 topics ranging from Gallbladder Attacks to Lung Cancer and everything in between. The vast majority of people visiting our site are not going to become patients, but that's not the point. The point is that the small number of potential patients will find us because of SEO.
SEO-wise the question is: why? Why would UMMC do SEO on its site in the first place?
We do SEO for the same reason we do other marketing like TV and print advertising.
Many times, patients can choose where they get care, and there are many excellent hospitals in our region. We want them to be aware of our services and expertise. According to Pew Internet Research 61% of U.S. adults go online for health information.
We want to be seen in this space.
In a way working for a university web site seems like being out of the e-commerce loop. On the other hand, I guess a university too needs to make money, meet budget goals, stay in the picture.
Who is your primary competition : other universities or commercial sites going after Viagra and Plastic Surgery terms?
Our competition on search results comes from three areas: First is Government sites like the the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.. Next are ad-supported, commercial sites like Webmd.com and MayoClinic.com. And finally there is the Wikipedia.
Search any medical term and these sites will be battling it out on the first page of results. There's not much room for hospitals!
.edu links are a desirable target. You *are* your own .edu. Unfair?
It's certainly an important factor, but I would give equal weight to other areas. Our biggest advantage is the site content. Deep and wide, it's the result of over ten years work by our editorial staff. Each page is designed to focus on a narrow topic, which is what our visitors want and search engines love.
Here's the secret – Don't compromise your content for SEO, but do keep the basics in mind. Clear writing, focused on a single topic and then coded following best practices.
In that regard, do you have to deal with a tremendous amount of .edu link requests? Does the site get attacked a lot to try to inject spam/links?
We get many requests, and 99% are ignored since most are auto-generated spam. We've had a reciprocal links program in place for 11 years, but it follows one hard rule – the sites must have high value for our visitors. We honestly don't look at the page-rank, only the quality of the content.
Injection attacks? – yes it happens. Dot EDU's are seen as an easy target. Fortunately, we have experienced Admins and always stay current on security updates, etc.
Besides "getting links", which single SEO factor, from tag to internal anchor text, do you find the most valuable? If you had to focus on only one, which would it be?
I don't have a technical answer to this one. I'm not an SEO expert, just someone who took the long view when building our site ten years ago. My strategy is to provide accurate information from an authoritative source (our doctors.) Links, rankings and traffic build over time.
Of course speaking completely as Ed and not as Ed the UMM webmaster — if the Internet is changing us as some studies suggest, do you think these changes are (probably) like the ones we must have undergone when books and TV media became commonly available or is there something unique to the Internet-caused changes that we should worry for or look forward to?
I think it's obvious that the Internet (and GPS, Cell Phones, SMS, etc.) are changing our expectations and behaviors. I don't know how it will sort out, but these are fundamental changes – at the same level as the invention of the written word. From instant communications to instant communities, blurred definitions of privacy and personal space all contribute to a new way of living.
Your daughter is 23. Given the Internet and other technology she grew up with, how is her humanity and human experience today essentially different from yours when you think back to when you were 23?
Interesting question. In many ways she is more mature than I was, with a better sense of community and relationships with her friends. There's an "always connected" sense, almost a group mind enabled by technology.
As we digitize our moments and memories, does an ELIZA-like simulation of Ed becomes possible? One your daughter can talk with later on to hear what dad would have thought about this or that?
I suppose it's possible, but I doubt she would listen to me
How would you word the Last Advice to your daughter if you have to strike a sane balance between "seize the day" and "make a living"?