Bob Massa Interview

About Bob Massa

Bob Massa has been one of the more respected figures in SEO & Internet marketing since before my time. He originally gained fame – or notoriety – for suing Google after Google dropped the PageRank of his SearchKing network. Although most would recognize it as an extremely well placed publicity stunt, many folks with devout loyalty to the non-profit organization called Google bent over backwards to vilify Bob Massa.

I first made his acquaintance two or three years ago when I was living in Las Vegas, and had an opportunity to meet Bob and talk shop. I was impressed with Bob’s insights into Google, SEO & marketing as a whole, and intended to get an interview with him for years. After many requests, threats and cajoling, here it is.

The Interview

John Scott: Thank you for taking the time to talk today, Mr. Massa.

Bob Massa: Wow. Mr. Massa huh? After our brief encounter in a sleazy Vegas hotel room, John, that seems a little formal. Massa will do just fine Mr. Scott.

John Scott: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself personally?

Bob Massa: I’m not that comfortable talking about myself. I’m shy. So I asked my mom to say something about me and she said I was a pain in the ass, so I’m not going to use that!

Let’s see, I’m 6 feet tall with an athletic build. I have long blonde hair and deep blue eyes. I work out a lot when I’m not doing charity work at the hospital, reading to blind children or working on my masters in metaphysical manipulation of exterior impulse behavior. My favorite past times are long walks in the moonlight and cat tossing. Not professionally, I’m not that good yet.

Is that enough about myself or should I keep on shoveling cyberspeak? Actually, that more closely describes you John except I think you’re more like 6 foot 6.

John Scott: How did you get into Internet marketing of all things?

Bob Massa: Couldn’t find a real job.

I’d been fired from Wal Mart as a greeter earlier in the year, and then that summer even my mom had to let me go from her lawn care service. How
was I supposed to know those damn things growing up against the house were flowers?

So finally, I ended up in the printing business. I was killing myself trying to make a living in a small printing company. I was working hard trying to keep a 1950ish multi-lith 1250 with a swing away T head running at a profit. It’s tough making a living when you’re selling sheets of paper for a penny each. Especially when Kinkos sells them 5 for a penny. Then in 96 the 14 hour days, cheeseburgers 2 meals a day and the three packs of cigarettes caught up with me and I had a series of heart attacks at the age of 41. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because they were all mild, (something only a doctor would say), and it did force me to take a hard look at my life and cut back to one cheeseburger and two and a half packs a day.

I’m not much of a take-it-easy kind of guy so while I was recuperating, I put in the AOL disk I’d been spammed in the mail with and even back then knew that sucked. BUT, since we already had customers coming into our print shop asking us if we did webpages, and I couldn’t sell them printing, I talked my wife into reading Webpages for Dummies and we were rolling.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out, Ok, there’s the webpage, now what? That led to me reading everything I could get my hands on about search engines and search engine placement. Back then there wasn’t much, it wasn’t called SEO yet and what there was was wrong. It was great. It was fun and it was easy to sell. In 96 the gold rush was on and I could see that digging for gold wasn’t nearly as lucrative as selling shovels. Did I mention it was fun?

We celebrate our 10th anniversary this year and I’m looking forward to the next 10.

John Scott: What makes you happy?

Bob Massa: To slay my enemies and hear the lamentations of their women.

Seriously. My wife makes me happy. My daughter makes me happy. The fact that my Mom and I are finally friends makes me happy. Those are just a few of the things that make me happy, but what makes me who I am is setting objectives, developing strategies and hitting my numbers. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than having clients come to me with businesses that need attention, then looking at the business and coming up with strategies to make them better and then actually seeing those things work. For some weird reason, that kind of thing turns me on.

While I am on this subject, I’d like to take just a moment to tell you just how much I really wish I had thought of that contest thing before you John. CRAP! that really pisses me off! Congratulations on that damnit!

John Scott: Reading your rare forum postings, you seem to have some profound insights into linking. What type of links do you value the most? And how has linking changed in last year or so?

Bob Massa: The links I value most are the ones I believe will serve my needs at the moment. Sometimes clients say they want links that get their site indexed quick. Sometimes they say they just want PR and sometimes they say all they want is themed links. All of these requests comes directly from bad information being spewed about the various forums. In the web promotion business, and the link acquisition business, a lot of clients have said they want a lot of things based on something they read in some guru blog, but they all really just want one thing. For me to make them money and that rarely has anything to do with Page Rank.

There are different reasons to want different links. The trick is in being able to guess which one is likely to do what for whom and when and being right more often than you are wrong. Luckily, we have a pretty large group of partners that provide a wide range of sites and topics to draw from. Some of these people we’ve been doing business with for years and that does make it easier. Plus I have Ronda heading up the link acquisition department. Ronda has been with me now for over 5 years and can spot hot link a mile away. She knows how to find em, evaluate em and make the deal on em. THAT makes it easier for me.

As to how linking has changed, you know as well as I do John that within this industry, information flies from pie hole to pie hole at the speed of light but change comes slowly. I can’t really say it has changed much from the retail/wholesale perspective. We still get the ole, “how much for a PR8″ question almost daily, but it has changed a lot from 2002 where the guy with a million links beat the guy with only 999,999. Then in 2004 when the guy with a PR 5 beat the guy with a PR4.

Now it is all about trust. Not in a general trust algo but in specifics. In other words, some sites can be trusted about specific topics or keywords, but not about others. For example, depending on your target keywords/phrases, a gambling site with a PR 2 may be a better link than a blog with a PR of 5 FOR THAT SPECIFIC TARGET. Far too often in SEO circles, people talk in broad generalities and we hear people say things like, “Google is devaluing sitewide links”. That is true IN SOME CASES, but certainly not true in all cases.

But, I realize you asked about links specifically and this is really more about advertising, but the biggest change in linking in my opinion, is advertisers are once again starting to see the value of advertising with links instead of just chasing PR. I know you may be too young John, but when I first started on the net, there was no such thing as a Goolge toolbar and no one had any idea of what Page Rank was. People back then actually paid other people to put links on their sites in the form of banner ads and text links. They were paying because it created a brand and actually presented a value proposition to the visitors of that site. That is coming back in a big way.

Adsense may be the 800 lb google-illa at the moment but there is a lot of opportunity for webmasters to generate revenue for their efforts and from their net real estate regardless of their PR. It is quickly turning into being all about the end user. Very soon the links to value most will be the ones that your target market bookmark and use.

John Scott: I used to hate the sandbox when I was a kid. Looked like a big kitty litter box. What’s your take on the sandbox? How does one beat the kitty litter box?

Bob Massa: Geez, I’m jealous of you again John. You had a sandbox??? My mom would never let me play in the sandbox when I was a kid. The neighbors cat kept trying to bury me.

My take on the sandbox? There is no such thing. I won’t elaborate here because so many others have spoken about it at length and much more eloquently than I can. But there is no corporate strategy to keep all new websites from getting in the top of Google. It is about trust and applying a trust score to a site and that can take some time. But you want to avoid it? Mike Grehan, (don’t shoot me for saying the M word please), actually laid out a very good way to never know such a thing exists in his article here.

Even I have seen the non-sandbox effect myself. I spoke of it in a threadwatch post but I can’t recall where exactly. It had to do with a friend of mine plastering restroom walls in Scotland with a url with nothing but the words BEWARE on the post it note. He generated a mini-buzz and that tiny budget promotion tactic alone had him at the top of results in a matter of days.

That is not to say you can get in the top quick if you put some papers in toilet stalls. It also is not meant to be a slap in the face of the many, many webmasters who have waited months to see their site generate any placements at all. My point is that to simply blame a filter is a mistake. What you have to do is think of ways to get your site to be a trusted resource about your target terms. The faster you do that, the faster you find your placements. If you do the same thing everyone else is doing, you can certainly expect the same results.

The trick is to get other sites that you can identify as trusted sites, to link to you. So how do you do that? Answer that question and you’re gold.

So John, how long were you in the sandbox for keywords like V7N contest? I just did a search for seo contest at Google and V7N was #4. And, more importantly, the “trusted” sites in there with you were talking about you. So, how long did you suffer the horrible effects of the sandbox John? Personally, I think you are the one who should be answering questions about the sandbox instead of me and I hate that too! Damn you!

John Scott: How do you see search engine optimization in the coming years? A lot of people saying Google killed SEO, others saying it just got harder.
What’s your take?

Bob Massa: It’s all about specialization and networking. The internet marketing community is kind of like a small town. We may not all eat at the same burger joint, but we all know where all the burger joints are. And like a small town, we have our own social order. I believe we are going to see more people become much better at smaller skill sets and then have the circle of friends to rely on to sell their services to and to seek acceptance from.

One way of looking at it is, the internet is shrinking the world in the ways we used to think of it. We can communicate daily with people that actually work long distances apart. That develops a relationship and often a close one. That is how it has changed. Now throw in the added mystique of internet conferences such as the SEO Roadshow, (what a great time that was!), where you can put faces to the forum posts, blogs and emails and now you have the basis for some very unique relationships that can be worth a LOT of money. As online marketing communities mature, I see that becoming the norm. It basically already is.

However, there are certain laws of nature that govern business and business people that the internet has not changed and I don’t think anything ever will. Life is a comprise. Everyday, each of us has the opportunity to have our asses kissed, or, to kiss someones ass. Asses like the IRS, clients with unrealistic objectives, banks, credit card companies, competitors and the list goes on. To me, the trick is to end up with more lipstick on your ass than shit on your lips. That part of life, the internet has not changed.

It has not been killed or even been made harder. Just different and for those who don’t see a way to adapt, they will evolve or die. That is not Google, that is business.

John Scott: It seems like decades since the SearchKing v Google thing. Any regrets there?

Bob Massa: Yes, it does seem like it’s been a long time.

Basically no. I did what I thought was the right thing to do at the time. The only regret that I have is that too many people did too many things, too fast for too many of the wrong reasons. It didn’t have to go the way it did but it did. It’s just business.

John Scott: Which search engine do you use when you’re not doing SEO?

Bob Massa: Well, first of all, to my mind, I don’t do SEO. I do online business development, with traffic generation being one part of that, but I know
what you mean.

I use Google more than I wish I did and Yahoo/MSN less than I should. The choice of Google has much more to do with their incredible talent for marketing and self promotion than relevancy. Without question, they are as brilliant at those things as they are at programming and it works even on me. Honestly, I think the big three all do what they do very well and if MSN results showed up tomorrow on Google or vice versa, I doubt I would notice.

John Scott: If you could give one piece of advice to a novice SEO, what would it be?

Bob Massa:Pick a specialty. Something you love to do and get very good at it. Better than anyone else. Then build a network of resources for yourself
by following a simple philosophy.

  • Do the best job you can do
  • Be proud of what you do
  • Do what you say you will do

Then charge accordingly.

Finally for the novice I would say, lay a little lipstick on the asses of those who can help you meet your personal objectives, then wipe the shit off your lips and get to work.

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