Peter Da Vanzo Interview

After way too long, I decided to finally get around to interviewing Peter Da Vanzo. His Search Engine Blog is one of the few sites I read on a regular basis. Somehow, Peter D. finds the time to stay on top of all the search engine news, and formats it in a uniquely interesting way.

John Scott: Who is Peter Da Vanzo? Born where? Married? Kids?

Peter Da Vanzo: Firstly, thanks for inviting me John.

I run various web sites, I consult on Internet strategy, and I specialise in search marketing. I was born in New Zealand, am married to a very patient and understanding wife, no kids, one needy cat.

John Scott: How long have you been doing the Search Engine Blog?

Peter Da Vanzo: Since 2002.

It started out of a frustration I had with news feeds, which often carried the same stories for days, and consisted of regurgitated PR fluff that took itself far too seriously. Google News didn’t exist when I started, so niche news was often difficult to locate. I also found that great information was being written, and buried, in the forums, and in other hard-to-reach places. I wanted to produce a site that would help a professional webmaster find timely, relevant search marketing information quickly and easily, and not bore them with too much opinion. Cut to the chase, essentially.

I’d had an interest in blogs for some time. I especially like the writing style – it isn’t formal and corporate, it tends to be more irreverent, direct and open.

So I put these aspects together, and created SearchEngineBlog. The emphasis is on clarity of information and providing relevant editorial, delivered with a healthy dose of irreverence. Hopefully it succeeds in giving something back to the SEM community that has so generously given to me.

People seem to like it, so here I am.

John Scott: Who is that guy in the header of your site? Why he screaming?

Peter Da Vanzo: Doesn’t SEM make you feel like that sometimes?

That logo was designed by Sophie at Nitrogen Interactive, and I think she captured the feel of my site well. It’s a picture of an opinionated loud-mouth, shouting into the ether, wondering if anyone is listening. I think that pretty much sums up journalism! .

John Scott: How did you get into search engine optimization?

Peter Da Vanzo: I saw an ad for a job with a web services agency and applied.

I’d just come back from the UK and wanted a change in direction having spent ten years in technology occupations. I was also sick of wearing ties. I’ve been on the internet since 1992, so I recall using Yahoo when there was hardly anything in it, and relentlessly spamming Infoseek when they introduced the instant crawl-and-refresh feature . I guess that qualified me. I’ve since moved on to running my own sites, and doing consultancy and SEM on the side.

There’s not that much to SEO, really. Anyone who has a grasp of how the internet works, and armed with a good book or two can pick it up quite quickly. However, this area does change often, so you need to keep up with the changes in order to be able to operate effectively.

I think SEM can be a good lead-in to get people thinking about how they approach the internet, and you often see a light flicker on in their eyes when they realise that the web isn’t a collection of brochures, but is actually user driven.

John Scott: What is the annual rainfall of Tibet?

Peter Da Vanzo: Ha! Nice to know you read my About Page, John. I have it on reliable authority that the answer is 1250 mm, on average.

John Scott: If you could give one piece of advice to a novice web pro, what would it be? What is the secret to success?

I’m not sure I know the answer to that. If I did, I’d have more Ferraris parked in my garage. For the record, I don’t have any Ferraris parked in my garage 🙂

I can boil it down to this – 95% of what you hear will be rubbish, so be careful who you listen to.

Here are a few top 5% resources that I’ve found to be pure gold:

Read SearchEngineWatch. It will give you a solid foundation.

Read http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum3/2010.htm . It will help you tie the basics of SEO into an effective strategy.

Read www.useit.com. Usability and effective SEM are inseparable. Never make it hard for people to give you money.

Then step away from the computer 🙂 I recommend reading Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples, just about anything by Seth Godin, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, and Taking your Talent to the Web by Jeffrey Zeldman.

Read those, and I guarantee you will be head and shoulders above the rest.

John Scott: Do you see any serious competition for Google on the horizon?

Peter Da Vanzo: It’s been an interesting year so far, hasn’t it.

I think the big three, Yahoo, Google and MSN will be trying to leap-frog each other. I think there is a lot room for search to go vertical – into niche searching, and local searching. It’s not particularly difficult, technically speaking, to provide relevant results if you narrow your focus enough. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more small players entering the market and complimenting the offerings of the big three with more specialised search initiatives.

John Scott: Who is the King? Content or links?

Peter Da Vanzo: Conversions.

You need the links to get people there, then you need the content to deliver your message, then you need to convert the visitor to desirable action. Those things have to work together.

However, I think I know why you’re asking this question. It’s in reference to the “inbound link vs content seo strategy” debate, yes ? In terms of search engine ranking, criteria, clearly links, and how those links are phrased, is very important. Links are a major part of the search engine algorithms, so no matter how much you tweak on-page factors on your own site, that’s only ever going to get you so far.

Another (or combined) approach is to create many pages that loosely target less competitive terms, and the cumulative effective of those pages can add up to many visitors. See Brett’s “Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone” article for more on this.

I think the best advice I could give to webmasters is to take a step back and define a) who the audience is b) what they want and c) what you need to tell them. Then make sure all aspects of your strategy work together in order to deliver to that audience. It’s no use having high rankings if your copy sounds like it was written by a ten year old, of if your site is impossible to use. Get the links, write great copy, and, above all else, keep the visitor clearly in mind at all times.

They are the reason you are there.

John Scott: The text link business is booming. Recently phpBB.com, a PR10 site, started selling text links based partially on PageRank. Do you think PageRank – or more specifically, the display of PageRank on the toolbar – is a good thing or a bad thing?

Peter Da Vanzo: I think the search engines effectively created that market by assiging value to links. It was only a matter of time before people traded on their value. However, as we all know, link buying is nothing new. Yahoo have been selling links for some time, as have many media properties. Links make the Internet what it is, and did so long before search engines existed.

As far as displaying PageRank goes, I guess I have to wonder about the value in doing that. Does a regular visitor really pay any attention to PR? Is the PR display simply a left-over from when PageRank was a new idea, so the toolbar was a visible means to draw attention to that aspect?

As far as SEM is concerned, yes, we have to be aware of the function of PR because it is a major part of how Google works. An SEM needs to know how Google works in order to derive benefit from it. Anyone who tells you to ignore PageRank really isn’t giving you good advice.

John Scott: Thank you for taking the time to share with us.

Peter Da Vanzo: Thanks for inviting me. It’s an honour 🙂

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