MARK: We are sitting here with Adam Audette, of AudetteMedia.com and the LED Digest, we mustn’t leave out. Boy, Adam’s roots go back a ways and he’s been at this for quite a while. His father of course is the founder of MMG, John Audette. So, you’ve been surrounded by this for quite a long time. We just want to rewind a little bit and have you tell us about your beginnings and also about what you are doing today.
ADAM: Todd Mintz of SEMpdx and various other sites and infamy, coined me as the “second generation internet marketer,” which I thought was great. That has stuck in my head. My dad started and he kind of brought me in. Only in the last two years have I really been focused on it full time with Audette Media, but I’ve done the LED Digest since, wow, 1997, when it was the Link Exchange Digest. Way back then, one of our clients of MMG, which was the early company that my dad founded, was Link Exchange. Tony Sheah was the guy that started Link Exchange; he’s now the CEO of Zappos. He became a client of MMG and back then the big thing to do was community building just like it is now, but the only vehicle we had was email. There were forums online and bulletin boards but a lot of companies were hesitant to do that because it was too transparent, they were opening too much up, in a way. Email was huge, so we were really big on discussion lists. Back then, the discussion was for Link Exchange; it was one of the big services that we had done. Then Microsoft bought Link Exchange for $200,000,000 or something like that.
ADAM: Yeah, it was huge. Tony cashed out. Then I started working for MSN bCentral.
MARK: What year did that happen?
ADAM: That was ’99 to 2000, right in there.
MARK: Before the big dot bomb, of course. The price would have probably been different a year later.
ADAM: It would have been a lot different. And interestingly enough, bCentral closed it’s doors right in the middle of it. They spent all that money and ended up closing. I don’t even know if they have done anything with bCentral since then but I’m sure they have wrapped in some small business services and stuff.
MARK: That was some pretty good timing on your part.
ADAM: Kind of interesting, yeah. But we’re here in Bend, Oregon, home of Smart Solutions and all these other search marketers. Andrew Goodman called it the “primordial soup of search” Bend, because it’s like a back water Podunk in a way; it’s just off the radar, it’s not Seattle or San Francisco or somewhere big.
MARK: Right, why Bend?
ADAM: Yeah, there is tons of search here. Yeah, “Bend?! Why are they there?” It’s pretty funny that they all stick here. Actually Derrick Wheeler who now works for Microsoft, he is supposed to be in Seattle, but he’s doing the commute thing, working there a few days a week and staying in Bend. So he’s still around. But everyone is pretty much still here.
MARK: And Seattle is a great city. I would probably prefer to live here, but it’s only a one hour flight and you’re in Seattle.
ADAM: Yep, exactly. I think that motto works.
MARK: So Microsoft buys Link Exchange, rolls it into bCentral, and you go to work for bCentral. Now, did you move to Seattle or did you stay here in Bend?
ADAM: No, I flew up there a couple times, but I stayed here in Bend. Actually, right around that time when MMG was sold to Outrider, I ended up going back to school. I was focused on college, so I was doing consulting and doing the bCentral Digest, just on the side.
MARK: Cool. So what happened next? You go through school and get that behind you…
ADAM: Yep, went through school. Then, I had a baby (laughs) and my whole world changed. My goal was medical school, that was what I wanted to do, and I realized that medical school just wasn’t for me because of debt, no work equals no financial stability for the next ten years, so I decided to throw all of my chips on the table and just do full time search and internet marketing stuff. So I had my foot in the door already, had clients that I had been working with, so it was easy to turn it into a full time gig. Yeah, it’s fun.
MARK: So one of the things we’re thinking about here at the History of SEO is helping the folks that are getting started and they are wondering, “Hmm, there are all of these superstars out there with big muscles and they all know how to do all of these wonderful things,” and they are just getting started and it’s a little overwhelming, almost a sea of information. So we try to meet with folks like you, industry leaders, and rewind to your beginnings and go over some of the challenges that you have faced accomplishing things within the world of search engine optimization. And kind of walk someone through how you tackled those problems. Hopefully in the end it would be a word of encouragement to help those folks through some of their tough times.
ADAM: Yeah, I think that is a great point because it’s such a chaos of information online so, “I want to learn about SEO, where do I start?” You’ve got big hub sites like SearchEngineWatch, SearchEngineLand, and then community sites like Sphinn. You’ve got all kinds of forums and communities and stuff, but it’s very hard to get really good information that you know is quality, that you know has been vetted, that is not just somebody’s opinion. I think it’s such non-standardized industry and it’s probably always going to be that way to an extent but it matures it will get better. When we started, it was completely unmapped-unknown-I mean there was nothing. The big resource way back was WebMasterWorld, there was the I-Search email list that Marshall Simmonds started and moderated for a little while and then Detlev Johnson took it over. Then there were maybe a few other lists and forums and stuff. HighRankings.com I think was a forum back then.
MARK: Oh yeah, Jill Whalen.
ADAM: Jill has been around forever. So it was easier because there were fewer resources so it was kind of easier to meet people and learn that way. Now, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I think that is probably one of the problems with the industry. It’s a growing pain probably as it matures. I think really a really good resource is HighRankings.com. That’s a great one because of Jill’s approach, high quality, very solid. Also, reading SearchEngineLand; the columns there a quite good. And kind of starting in that way. Clickz actually has good content, even though the site has changed a lot over the years. Mike Grians still has good articles on there, Shari Thurow sometimes still writes on there. So kind of those main stream sources, then WebMasterWorld is still a good resource; that’s kind of where you would want to get your foot in the door. I think the absolute best thing to do is to go to conferences because you get to meet people and you get to listen in on sessions and it’s a lot of real newby friendly material, and it just kind of gets you talking to other people that are probably at the same level, so I think that is really a good bridge to go from kind of new to gaining knowledge and getting ramped up. What do you think about that?
MARK: I like those. That’s excellent. Back in the MMG days, I remember there was some resources out there. Danny was out there writing guidelines for webmasters essentially, then you had your top one hundred things to do.
ADAM: It was the top one hundred link sources. It was actually link building. But they were all directories and such.
MARK: When was that?
ADAM: I think that was ’95 or ’96; The Web Step Top 100. Yahoo! was on there. There were sites like Rex, AltaVista, and all kinds of these directory sites where you could do it yourself. I think the big business decision back then for MMG was when my dad decided to make that free. He had been charging for that as a service and that was how I started, was doing those actually submissions and building links. He said, “Hey I’m just going to give that away, and then we’ll layer on a service level where if you don’t want to do it yourself you can pay us.” That really exploded the business. Back then Danny actually came to MMG to train MMG on SEO, because he was the only one really doing it back then. He still is ‘the SEO’; he’s the center; he’s it. I think it was the Web Masters Guide to Search Engines, was his document. It’s still available on archive.org if you look at SearchEngineWatch back in ’95 – ’96. It’s really cool actually. So he came to MMG with Shari Thurow and some other people and just kind of trained up MMG on SEO. That must have been in ’96.
MARK: Yeah, back then Yahoo! probably was not spidering sites. It was a directory. But a lot of this is still preparing the way you develop your site so that you’re crawlable and the engines can find you rather then being in the right places. Best of the Web has a nice verification system if you find a way to get your company in there. It’s a legitimate source of an inbound link. And they qualify it for quality. So that best of 100 concept is still out there but I think what is also still true is, gosh, there is still a bunch of stuff to do. Just because you know the 100 things to do, doesn’t mean you have the time to do them all.
ADAM: You know what I think is neat is what Vanessa Fox and Nate Buggia did, JaneAndRobot.com. It’s taking the whole SEO thing, but it’s taking it from the perspective of designers and developers who aren’t really interested in the marketing side and necessarily being aggressive with it or doing any kind of tricks or anything, but more of, “How do I make it accessible, crawlable? How do I make sure my pages are semantic and are easy to be indexed?” and it’s focused for on-page stuff. I like that and I think its really neat and fulfilling a niche there.
MARK: Yeah, that is an excellent site. She just shared that site with us a few weeks ago. Very good stuff.
ADAM: Such a smart idea.
MARK: And those two are just spot on in a lot of ways. In her article yesterday on the Robots.txt.
ADAM: That was awesome.
MARK: Yeah, I saw your comment on that.
ADAM: Yeah, that aggregated all the information across all the major engines, MSN, Yahoo, and Google, and on the REP – Robot Exclusion Protocol – and on link attributes, like Nofollow and all these other things. Compared across each engine how they treat them. One thing that I dug out of there was that it said, “It’s important to know that the No Follow attribute is a recommendation or a suggestion, it’s not a command,” that was specifically put in there, which I thought was interesting. But yeah, that’s a really good idea. It has the potential to become a really good resource.
MARK: Yes, and historically, conceptually these are similar concepts, “We are making our site easy so the engines can find us. Taking care of our human visitors too, of course, but also doing some things on the site to help the engines find us better.” Back then there was no real Nofollow back in the early SEO days but there were different things to do.
MARK: Well Page Rank didn’t exist.
ADAM: Google didn’t exist (laughs).
MARK: Google didn’t exist, yeah. The other thing too is back then I remember, it wasn’t one dominant force with a number two player and then a side kick, like today. You really had to pay attention to three, four, maybe five engines, which is where the whole landing page/doorway thing… “Well I’m going to have this page do this for Yahoo!, and that page do this for MSN,” they were sharing market share, gosh, even seven years ago the market share was somewhat similar between Yahoo!, MSN, and Google and that’s all she wrote from then. Google has pretty much dominated that space. So that is one of the differences I’ve noticed. Now you really do have to pay attention to Google, which means links and you can’t ignore that. You wouldn’t build a site and say, “Well, I’m only focusing on Yahoo!,” and maybe ten years ago you could potentially if more of your customers were at Yahoo! than elsewhere.
ADAM: That’s true. If anything now we just focus on Google to the exclusion of the others a bit, because everyone is so focused on Google.
MARK: I’m trying to think historically about all of the other things. In some ways it’s a little simpler that way.
ADAM: I like that its going towards, in a way it’s all Google, but whats right for Google is or should be right for Yahoo and MSN and any other search engine that comes around, really. Kind of minimizing the fact that at the core of Google’s, at least maybe it’s outdated now, but at the core of their ranking algorithm used to be and maybe still is, this huge emphasis on links and link citations, which has become kind of a vulnerability which they’ve had to counteract.
MARK: (Laughs) Not for anything that you or I have done.
ADAM: Oh of course not, never.
MARK: But for other things that happen out there.
ADAM: That we are aware of.
MARK: That we’ve heard about.
ADAM: Yeah, heard through the grapevine.
MARK: Of course.
ADAM: (Laughs) Yeah, but absolutely. I think that to standardize across how search engines are treating different things, you know there is that whole issue where every search engine has the right to interpret different meta data and link attributes; however they want, or even add their own meta data out there, like Yahoo! has the meta tag you can add. They are all going to treat different things different ways, but the more we can standardize so that what we’re doing is for search engines and not just for Google, Yahoo!, or MSN; not that we would ever do anything just for MSN. Sorry MSN, it’s just the way it is. We love you, we really do, but the market share is not there yet. It could be though. But anyway, actually what they are doing with Live is great. They are putting together web master tools and building that out slowly and getting that together. They’ve got some cool stuff planned.
MARK: So what kind of things are you doing today at Audette Media, and things people should know about if they wanted to give you a call, and how you could help them.
ADAM: We do a lot of organic SEO, so we really focus on site architecture, building good sites, the user experience, really focused on building great resources. We do a lot of link building, link development, which is very content focused. You know there is the link bate hook, ours is very much a resource bate technique, where we try to build great content that is valuable that contributes to the web ecosystem basically and it has a tendency to build links over time, and it scales really well. Whereas a lot of link bate, if it’s kind of pop culture focused or if it’s timed somehow then the link worth of that content fails over time.
MARK: It’s like a flash and then its gone.
ADAM: Exactly. So we do that and that’s kind of our focus, organic SEO. We do some PPC.
MARK: Do you do different size companies or any specific industries?
ADAM: Mid-sized businesses are our main focus.
MARK: Which would be a certain number of employees or revenue?
ADAM: You know, we have one client that has probably over a million pages, but I would consider them a mid-sized business. I don’t really know. One thing we like working with are small niches – really focused niches. Like if somebody is selling crab online, or someone that is selling a certain kind of hardwood floor, or whatever. That’s what we really like to do, but then again we work with Zappos that sells thousands upon thousands of products, and it’s a different approach when you get to that scale. You hit the low hanging fruit and it tends to pay big dividends because you have so many pages and large sites like that have huge amounts of domain authority, so it’s definitely a different approach with that.
MARK: Well thank you so much for coming, I hope I didn’t leave anything out, and if we did we’ll get you back in here and plug any holes.
ADAM: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. Smart Solutions Rocks!
MARK: (Laugh) Thanks. Hey, I didn’t pay him for that.