I’m excited to interview Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent Inc., which he founded in 1995 and co-writer of “Web Marketing All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies,” along with Elisabeth Marsten.
Ian regularly writes for top industry sites and speaks at many of the top internet marketing conferences such as SearchLove, MozCon, and SMX, just to name a few.
A big thank-you to Ian Lurie for spending the time answering my questions! I’m happy to include you in my list of great internet marketing personalities.
Also on TechWyse:
Interview with Dharmesh Shah @dharmesh of HubSpot @HubSpot
Interview with Michael King @iPullRank
Q. How has search marketing changed in the last twelve months (August 2013-2014)? How has Portent adapted to the change?
A. Google’s been busy, that’s for sure. They’ve really removed a lot of classic SEO tactics from the picture. Traditional link building gets more and more difficult. “SEO” content is a terrible idea. Blatant PR spam is pretty much useless.
Portent hasn’t really changed, though. We’ve never been a 100% SEO agency. And our approach to SEO focuses on good technical implementation – making sure your site is fast, error-free and doesn’t do any of the things that can tangle up a crawler – and a great communications strategy. So we haven’t altered what we do: SEO is about getting all the other stuff right.
Q. After a brief period of 6 months, you are back as CEO of Portent. Was this already planned and what are the items on your to do list as CEO?
A. Like a lot of business, it wasn’t completely planned, but it made sense. My biggest focus at Portent right now is getting us to think more strategically. We’ve always been full-service, with creative, PPC, etc., all in-house. But we haven’t always been the best at pulling them all together for the good of our clients. This is the first time I’ve been able to be very deliberate about it, teaching exactly how it all fits together.
Q. You started building your agency in 1995 and got into search in 1998. What were the unique challenges you faced over these years and how did you successfully overcome them? What is your biggest challenge presently with Portent?
A. For our first 15 years in business, our main challenge was cash flow. Probably not as sexy as you wanted, but there you have it!
In the last 5 years, we’ve gotten out of ‘survival’ mode. Portent’s very established, growing steadily. My biggest challenge now is taking this great leadership team I’ve got, and all of our great specialists, and evolving Portent to the point where it can thrive as a 50+ person agency. Growth is hard. We want to preserve our culture without stunting the company, add capabilities without killing profit, and make everything scalable. That’s a heck of a challenge.
Q. What will be your focus towards link building moving forward? Please share your views on sustainable link building methods that more companies start doing.
A. Our focus hasn’t changed in 8-10 years. We build links by fixing existing ones and attracting positive attention from discovery to conversion. Period. All companies have to do that. If they’re still looking for link building tactics, they’re fooling themselves.
I’m not sure what it’s going to take to convince business owners and marketers that marketing is how you build links and authority, but they’d better get on board soon. If not, they’ll get left behind by an increasingly cranky Google.
Q. At Portent, what is the process involved when producing evergreen content and which strategies have given you the best results?
A. I’d love to say we carefully research topics, find the best audience, etc. etc.
But it’s more of a cumulative process. As we learn a client and an industry, we start percolating ideas, producing the highly scalable day-to-day stuff. Along the way, we get other ideas – ones that will require more effort. We file those away for future use, and pitch the client.
The next step is a lot of selling work. We have to really show clients why a project that might take 2 months is a better idea than 2 blog posts a week, and that’s a major leap of faith on their part.
Then we begin planning communications around the piece. How are we going to build visibility? We have to make sure folks discover it.
Finally, we produce and promote.
The most successful one so far is one we’ve done for ourselves: The Content Idea Generator at http://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker
The social shares don’t really do it justice. It’s one of the most active pages on our site. It’s got links from some nice, high-authority sites. And it’s a good micro-conversion that brings us in-house marketers who are looking for consulting help.
Q. What is your view on social signals being a factor in search ranking?
A. Well, there’s an awfully high correlation. To be honest, I don’t care if it’s a causal link or not. The higher-quality a social media audience, the easier it is to grow your brand. The more you grow your brand, the more you grow authority. That means links and all of the good stuff that helps you rank.
So, even if there isn’t a direct link, social signals are crucial.
Q. After recent removal of author pics from Google search, what’s your take on Author Rank? Have you seen a decrease in clicks or impressions for the blogs where you’ve added authorship?
A. Authorship links content to profiles – it’s not just about those thumbnails. So it might be how Google builds a central repository of authority. When you write an article for another site that uses authorship markup, Google can use authorship to pass that authority back to your profile, which then links to your primary site. That means authority gets passed, without links, back to your site.
I can’t guarantee that’s how it works. But it seems like that’s where Google’s headed.
Q. What are the major misconceptions that you have heard from other authorities and experts? What are you views about them?
A. Wow. Where to start? Here’s a quick list:
1. Google shares dominant factors with the SEO community. Seriously guys: When Google says “Convert to SSL” or “site speed matters,” think for a second. There’s not a chance in Hell that those are major factors. So, when you choose to do something like speed up your site, make sure you have other reasons for doing it. I’m a huge advocate for fast sites, and that’s because a speedy site means more conversions and other good stuff. Don’t jump on every bandwagon.
2. There’s an ideal keyword density. I can’t even answer this without getting indigestion.
3. There are ‘OK’ purchased/acquired links. No, there aren’t!!!! There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ purchased link, period.
4. Rel canonical is a good solution. No. It’s a bandage for really bad site implementation. The best solution is fixing duplicate content problems. Anything else leaves Google to figure it out. You don’t want Google deciding this stuff for you.
5. Everything has to have an SEO justification. This may be the single most aggravating belief I hear. If you’re hired as an SEO, you’re hired to help a client get more out of their web presence. If a tactic (like speeding up a site) has a small impact on rankings but a huge impact on overall performance, explain it to the client, and then do it. Don’t be narrow-minded.
I know these may not seem like stuff shared by ‘experts,’ but everyone claims they’re an expert, and business owners take them at their word.
Q. How much importance does Portent give to local search optimization? What are the main criteria that you target for local search optimization?
A. It’s really, really important to local businesses or companies with local distribution channels. For us, it’s pretty straightforward: Number one, you have to clean up citations. That means digging into Google Places and other accounts, verifying that the client owns them, getting them up to date and then making sure they include things like photos.
We also ensure that all pages are correctly tagged, of course, and a host of other ‘little things.’ Again, though, authority and engagement matter. Reviews, checkins, local events, etc. all matter a lot. We try to help the client craft a real communications strategy focused on their community.
Q. Are you an advocate of work/life balance? How do you balance both?
A. Very much so. I’m married and have two kids, 12 and 14. I also can’t stay focused if all I do is work my ass off. Nor does an occasional vacation do the trick. You have to be present for your family. You also have to give your brain refreshment breaks doing whatever it is you enjoy. You need to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.
As a leader, one of your main duties is to remain standing. Working until you drop isn’t “dedicated” or “ambitious.” It’s self-destructive and hurts performance. Trust me, I’ve been there.
And that wraps it up! What do you think about Lurie’s views on SEO and online marketing?
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