Ruud Questions: Michael Gray a.k.a. Graywolf

Michael Gray and I don't really talk. We're moving around in different online circles. He's like the softer, sane, balanced version of Rae Hoffman (interview).

He's also one of those people I like because as you follow him around the web, you'll notice that he (cozy word alert) "gives back" to the community. Scanning a couple of his statements around the web will give you more immediate money ideas than submerging yourself in your SEO feeds.

You're world famous in a small community of SEO geeks people and (affiliate) marketers. And you won't go away ... so that requires maintenance, staying in the limelight. The Michael we see; carefully crafted, well marketed -- or who gives a damn and what we see is what we get?

Well I don't know that I'd consider myself famous, but I admit to having some name recognition.

I think as soon as you start to believe you are as smart/cool/funny/awesome as people say you are, is when the trouble starts.

I try
hard to
be informative
Does maintaining a public facing take time, sure it does, but you have to do it in a way that eventually turns into something you can make a living at. I'll do blog posts, guest articles, interviews, videos, and speak at conferences throughout the year.

When I do I try really hard to be informative, entertaining, and demonstrate a level expertise and insight. I hope that people recognize that expertise and it will turn into consulting work or business opportunities.

If you're doing it just for ego and fame, IMHO you're wasting your time. As Lee Odden once wrote "It's hard to pay the rent with a wallet full of famous".

In a basic day you hang around on the couch, throw random stuff out on Twitter, cook, and are generally occupied with being famous. A reality check says that's unlikely -- so what is it that you do?

One of the great things about working for yourself, is you can set your own schedule, so if you have personal business to take care of during the day, you can shift your schedule around and get the work done at night.

Of course you have to have the discipline to keep to your deadlines when you make those changes. When I'm in conversation mode or rant mode the twitter activity is real time, but a lot of other times the tweets are scheduled.

I'm in Dad mode until after dinnerI don't know that there's a typical day, but I'll try and get all my email and reading done before 11. I schedule all my calls, between 11 and 2. If there aren't any calls that's also when I'm looking at stats, information, doing research, writing reports, doing site audits, working with sub-contractors and virtual assistants. After that it's another quick pass through the inbox, RSS and twitter.

I have two children, so when school lets out I'm in Dad mode until after dinner, and yes I like to cook 🙂 . After 7 it's another email and RSS scan, and I finish up any open work from the afternoon, or work on any blog posts or articles.

I don't spend a lot of time with things like TV at night, it's the price I pay for shifting my day around.

There are 3 levels to making (affiliate) money on the web: penny-a-day losers, 2 mile long one-page sales letter publishers, and super "you can't touch this" affiliates running networks and companies. Accurate description?

I think there'a whole spectrum of affiliates out there, I just think a lot of them are doing it "wrong".

If you're making more money than your investing, or making more money than your time is worth, it's hard to say it's wrong, but is it sustainable in the long term?

A lot of times when we talk about right and wrong we're talking about Google's vision of how the web should work. We could debate for days if that's how it should be, but like it or not that's the reality of our situation, we're all just squirrels trying to get a nut in Google's world.

Affiliates need to evolve, anyone who's read the leaked 2009 quality raters guide can see that. If you can build crash and burn stuff really quickly in an automated fashion, go for it, but for most people there's more money, and less stress in building a brand-able website that is within Google's guidelines.

Someone tells you, "Michael, I tried hard at making money from the web but there's no way I can quit my day job at this rate" -- what's the common, essential mistake they're making?

I think a lot people don't want to give the things that make them money, the prime real estate, they are to afraid they will end up looking like a sellout.

How many times have you come to a blog with adsense below the fold in the lower right corner? How many times have you seen affiliate links down at the bottom of posts? You need to put the adsense in the main body and integrate the affiliate links into the posts, not make them an after thought.

One of my favorite tools to do this is with date based triggers. When I publish blog posts they don't have adsense, but after two weeks the ads turn on. So many people didn't understand how to do this, so I wrote a tutorial (see: Thesis Tutorial: Adding Date Based Triggers).

If people are in space where affiliate marketing isn't the right model, then they need to integrate advertising. Most people aren't willing to give up the prime above the fold real estate to the advertisers. Website owners need to create a place that is advertising friendly, Patrick Gavin wrote about this in Blog Advertising is Broken Here's How to Fix it.

You run tons of PPC campaigns. First question: why? You're an SEO rockstar -- PPC is below you, no?

I've shifted away from a lot of PPC. It's not that PPC is bad or that there's anything wrong with it, but I only have so many hours in a day, and I prefer working on the organic side of things.

That said I think every organic SEO should have a basic working knowledge of PPC, it's a very valuable tool, and you can also learn that there's some sharing of information that goes on between organic rankings and quality score.

Unless you're in a just created niche, the bigger the money, the harder the game, right? So in that area where the Tough Girls play, it's either running a huge linking pyramid or buying the right links -- true or not?

I'm not going to be naive and tell you creating a huge automated linking pyramid won't work, and that buying paid links is completely ineffective, because that's not the case.

However I will say they are high risk activities, and if you aren't willing to risk losing your website you shouldn't be engaging in them.

there's a lot of easy money to be
made going
after the keywords
that aren't so sexy
If you're late for a very important meeting and stuck in bumper to bumper traffic you might jump in the HOV lane, the risk of getting that ticket is justified by risk of missing the meeting. The same is true with high risk SEO tactics, don't play the game if you aren't willing to pay the price when you get caught.

Everybody wants to be the rockstar ranking for the vanity level keyword, but the truth is there's a lot of easy money to be made going after the keywords that aren't so sexy. There's a lot more opportunity and less competition in places that everyone isn't paying attention too.

What's the right way to determine competition? Number of phrase results? Adwords advertisers? intitle + inanchor searches?

Well ... it's complicated.

It's not just number of results or anything, IMHO the part of Google's algo that is the most important is trust.

You have to look at who is ranking now and how trusted they are.

Think of trust as Google's way to measure brand equity online. Since Google doesn't publish this value it takes some experience to spot know what you are looking for.

You've talked about defensible traffic, defensible brand, defensible community, defensible readership; getting out there with gadgets and feeds to connect ... Seems like you're talking about an awful lot of work.

Ideally you want to put yourself in a position where you are as immune from search engine ranking fluctuations as possible.

Everyone who has been in the game for any length of time has learned this lesson. You spend time working a site and it finally pops, traffic comes rolling in the adsense money or affiliate commissions are growing and you get some nice paychecks. This goes on for a few weeks or months and then you wake up one day and notice you're #1 ranking dropped to #432 over night, and that monthly check you were counting on is gone.

Try to build something that users want to visit or use, and maybe even pay for. Provide information that compels people to click through and "buy" something. Create a space that is so valuable advertisers want to associate with you and want to be seen there.

Don't be dependent on search engines as the only way people will ever find you.

Some essential stuff to end with. Stir fry or steamed? Do you do microwave cooking? And finally ... your favorite toy/tool at the moment.

Personally I prefer stir fry, but yea I know steamed is much healthier. I don't do a lot of microwave cooking, but I do use it to defrost and reheat quite a bit.

Some of my favorite tools right now, I'm a big fan of Easytweets, IMHO it's a really powerful suite that lets you do a tremendous amount of things with twitter especially if you use multiple accounts.

I really enjoy using Google Chrome for browsing now, Firefox just became a bloated pig, slow, and prone to crashing.

I also think Google Voice is going to be a game changer, the ability to use a software management layer and reduce your cell phone, home or office lines to nothing more than "dumb pipes" is revolutionary.

And the link analysis data we're getting is pretty interesting, tools like Linkscape and Majestic SEO could prove to be essential in the near future.

About the Author: 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

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