Aaron Wall is a search engine marketer, blogger and author of the popular “SEO Book.” After blogging for a couple of years, working on over one hundred websites and reading many thousands of pages about search and SEO, Aaron Wall usually knows the answer to most SEO questions, or who to ask when he does not.
What are you working on right now?
I’m upgrading “SEO Book” for a re-launch. We were on Drupal 5, with a hand rolled membership management system, and have decided to upgrade. We have already upgraded to Drupal 6 and are quite literally putting the Drupal 7 site live right now. While doing the upgrade we decided to redesign the site, improve the membership management system (to allow multiple tiers of access) and do a refresh of the training content area as well.
3 trends that excite you?
The lowering of costs and increasing capabilities of open-source software. Knowing that the Web still has tons of growth ahead of it as some of the developed world downsizes (relatively) and some of the developing world grows rapidly as it leapfrogs technologically. Seeing that search is still rapidly changing. (If it gets too stagnant and static, then far older and richer companies would easily displace us in the search results).
How do you bring ideas to life?
In most cases we are incremental in our approach. We have certain criteria in mind when starting projects, but we are typically willing to go to market a bit ugly and then evolve over time. In such a way we limit risks off the start and can scale into ideas as they earn more investment. Google doesn’t like new sites … so we do whatever we can in order to sorta get in the game, and then we try to push to make the best site we can. Whenever possible I enjoy investing 100 percent (or more) of revenues into growing the site, because I know that doing so provides somewhat of a competitive moat for us over new people entering the same space.
What, or who, inspires you?
My wife (http://www.heygio.com/). My mom (http://www.fattyweightloss.com/). My mother in law. Lots of other people in different ways. You learn different things from different people. Matt (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/) is brilliant at public relations. Danny Sullivan (http://daggle.com/) is great at fitting search into the narrative of life. Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) is great at making complex marketing ideas accessible.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I would say being too trusting. A lot of folks who I took as friends took me as a fool.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think a lot of people fail to make money online because they fail to get outside of the “make money online” theme. There are tons of huge verticals out there with lots of opportunity if you look beyond what is convenient and obvious and instead toward where things are headed. I like to read about macro-economic stuff and read sites like Trend Watching to come up with new ideas and try to get out in front of some of them.
What is the one tool that helps you the most in your daily business?
Probably Gmail. Threaded conversations and searchable email are absolutely crucial when you have about a dozen employees and hundreds of customers.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Chris Angus. He is great at creating linkbait and is probably the top SEO in all of the UK.
You produce a lot of really high quality content. How do you manage to do that?
I think most people writing about search have a much more limited perspective. When I got started online I did so (stupidly) with a credit card. And we are now in our eighth year. During that time period we have consulted for small businesses, Fortune 500s, sold an ebook to 10,000+ people and ran a membership site. In addition to those lines of work, we run a variety of websites monetized through contextual ads, affiliate marketing and other ad sales. Furthermore, our community has many of the smartest minds and most honest people in search participating in it. Between their experiences, the experiences of past and present consulting clients, and our experiences on our sites, it’s quite a field of view … it’s many lenses through which to view the search game.
You work with your wife. Do you have any advice when it comes to working with a loved one?
I think it is a bit hard (and perhaps unfair) to have your spouse work with you in something you have done a long time. If you have done something a long time, then you can be fairly well set in your ways, even if there are better ways to do things. (As a good example, in one area where I didn’t really see opportunity my wife pushed into the market and made five figures rather quickly.)
I also tend to under-value my own work (I think as a psychological mechanism to force myself to learn more and get better) so, as an extension of that, if my wife works in the same areas, then I perhaps don’t appreciate some of the work stuff my wife does as much as I should. (Even when she works hard and does a lot then it might be amazing for a normal person but still not on my bizarre savant sorta level.) I think my mom is the only person I know who worked more than I do.
More recently my wife has helped some with work stuff, but also is doing a lot more off the Web logistic sorta stuff, like looking at houses. She also does a lot of stuff around the house that I don’t really do, like take the dog to go get washed, ensure the bills get paid on time, etc. The other thing I can say about my wife is that she is more supportive and understanding than anyone else I know. Most wives don’t care that much about what their husbands do and would likely get angry with a husband that works as much as I do. But she does understand that working for yourself means making sacrifices sometimes. Like right now while we are upgrading our site I have been trying to stay in sync with our programmer’s cycle a bit, and he lives halfway around the world. That would earn a lot of husbands a couch-only sleep regiment. And they would likely get woken up mid-sleep to get yelled at. 😉
But the big problem with Web stuff is that it’s so isolated. It can work well for some, but not so good for others. Fundamentally everyone needs outlets (social, physical AND creative). Even I (who am often quite isolated and was happy living isolated offline in a town where I knew nobody before meeting my wife) run a community website with hundreds of customers and have about a dozen employees and friends that I chat with sometimes. My wife loves meeting with people, interacting and doing face-to-face sales. When we first met, she ran a retail website and was hustling all over the place meeting customers, picking up and shipping goods, etc. Even if some of the stuff she was doing was routine, it would feel different because she was interacting with different people in different places. The Web gives us more scale, but it takes away that interaction (unless you are really passionate about what you are doing). I am somewhat passionate about search. My wife has a decent level of interest, but not on the same level. She doesn’t follow the news and get all the inside scoops as much as I do. That said, when she is in work mode she does find lots of cool tools/resources/shortcuts. But she doesn’t give herself enough credit for how driven she can be if she needs to be. But as we have done pretty well our financial stuff has moved away from “needs” more to where we sorta work for the sake of it … because it is familiar more than because there is any “need” for more income.
On the Web a lot of things are very much routine driven and can become boring. I have a thread in our member forums titled: “It’s the boring stuff that makes money.” If something is boring it often means that you have a process in place, you know what you are doing, and the results are fairly predictable. But that typically means there is little excitement left in that piece of your business. I tried a long time to try to have my wife do some of the things I do, but it might be sorta round peg in a square hole. I mean when she wants to kick butt or is under tons of stress, she can work like a machine, but it’s not healthy for our relationship for me to be the boss giving instructions … she is simply not receptive toward that sort of stuff. I was flipping through channels a couple weekends back and there was one sorta gospel channel that was on for a few minutes where the guy was trying to state that when you wish for others to change it is often you that is the one who needs to change. My wife doesn’t like doing the boring stuff, so I try to encourage her to create websites about topics she likes. She has still shied away from that but another thing we have been thinking about is maybe starting up an offline business as well. That would add more stability and diversity. Though my wife also wants to have a kid soon, and I suspect when we do that will change a lot of things, and maybe it will be OK if she mostly takes care of the kid while I do more of the work stuff.
I have sorta come to realize that in spite of what my wife says about being money driven, that it is really purpose that drives her. So, I try to push my wife toward doing things that give her more of a chance to interact with others and make our stuff have more meaning and purpose. Recently she visited a bunch of kids at an orphanage, and then on another trip she fed like 120 poor kids lunch. Doing stuff like that inspires, which makes me want to work harder and produce more. It turns money into something that really helps people, rather than just some digit in a bank account somewhere.