Interview With Michael Marshall

What are 3 SEO trends to watch in 2010?
1)     Increasing complexity of sources of information in search results akin to Universal Search with Google incorporating new, video, audio etc. in normal search result listings.
2)     The increasing importance of Mobile and Local Search.
3)     The increasing influence of Personalization of Search.
What are 3 critical skills for any SEO professional to master?
1)     Keyword Research
2)     Competitive Intelligence – understanding strengths and weaknesses of competitors
3)     Measuring performance through Web Analytics
You mentioned personalization of search.  Can you elaborate on the impact of this on SEO?
The impact the personalization of search has on SEO should not be treated lightly.  A quote from Mike Moran is worth noting here:
Widespread personalization will doom traditional rank checking. The question won’t be ‘Does my site rank No. 1?’ but rather ‘For what percentage of searchers does my site rank No. 1’ or ‘What was my average ranking yesterday?’ . . . [I]t’s the biggest change in search marketing since paid search.
– Mike Moran (Search is Getting Personal, Revenue January/February 2007)
Any traditional SEO methodologies or SEO Tools that depend heavily on traditional rank checking methods are similarly doomed.  This means that any methods for:
1)     Determining which competitors you should emulate, as well as how they should be emulated, and
2)     Determining the effectiveness of your SEO efforts
that depend on traditional rank checking methods are destined for obsolescence.  The overall thematic relevance of a page also becomes more important.
You also mentioned competitive intelligence research. What is competitive intelligence and how could a local business with limited SEO budget use competitive intelligence research to compete against larger companies for top rankings? Would this work in ultra-competitive industries like the hotel, travel, banking and finance industries?
Competitive Intelligence is the process of determining the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors so that you can properly ascertain what the threats and opportunities are for your success in natural search against those competitors.  When done properly, it can save you several months of trial and error in developing an SEO strategy, especially in very competitive industries and for very competitive keyphrases.  The most accurate method would employ artificial intelligence similar to how AI is employed in multivariate analysis for optimizing landing pages with PPC.
A local business can use it to prioritize which target keyphrases are really worth going after and also to discover important components of a larger company’s SEO strategy, which of those components are most worthy of your attention and emulation, and which of those may be weaknesses that can be exploited.
You have remarked that within the SEO industry as a whole, competitive intelligence is not that well known yet and most SEO professionals use more traditional approaches. Does competitive research complement traditional SEO and if so to what degree?  Should a business first get its traditional on-page and off-page SEO in order, before embarking on competitive intelligence?
Competitive intelligence in SEO on par with AI methods like multivariate analysis in PPC is not very widespread and most SEO professionals do still use predominately traditional approaches, even approaches that are vulnerable to the challenges posed by the personalization of search.  Competitive intelligence (with AI) has much the same goals as traditional approaches but uses a different means to reach those goals.  In that regard, it replaces many aspects of the traditional approaches but because it has many of the same goals it is a compliment to many elements of SEO best practices.
Competitive intelligence and taking care of SEO best practices should be addressed concurrently.
What is the most misunderstood thing in competitive intelligence for SEO?  Why and how did you create the SEORecon competitive intelligence software?
The most misunderstood aspect of competitive intelligence is a false belief that it constitutes reverse engineering a search engine’s algorithm.  It does not.  It is a more accurate method for understanding your competitive landscape that saves time and minimizes trial and error.
I created the SEO Recon software because I foresaw the need to address the challenges posed by the personalization of search (it does not rely on tradition rank checking methods) and wanted to investigate whether artificial intelligence could be brought to bear on SEO research the way it had been with much success for landing page optimization in PPC.
In creating the software, I brought together my background in AI software development, my university degrees in linguistics and philosophy, and my years of experience in Internet marketing.
Can you explain how SEORecon works?
SEO Recon gathers data from competitors (on-page and off-page factors), and then uses artificial intelligence to:

  • Determine which factors are most influential in the competitive landscape,
  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor,
  • Provide recommendations for what values to target for which factors and in what priority.

Could you elaborate on how SEORecon provides actionable data on “what to do, when to do it, and why”?
SEO Recon provides as part of its output a report called, Action Steps Report, and details the order of steps you need to take in understanding your competitive landscape as well as the detailing which SEO factors you need to change, how you need to change them, and in what order of priority.  It also shows you which competitors are significant threats to you and opportunities for you as your quickest path in the minimal number of steps for improvement.  These recommendations are provided in the form of easy to read charts, graphs, and actionable instructions.
Everything that you’ve explained makes sense.  However is there any way we can independently validate the recommendations SEORecon provides?  Should traditional SEO ranking and back-link analysis still be used to supplement our competitive intelligence analysis?
The best way to validate any recommendations in SEO is by results.  Many have used it to achieve results in areas where they’ve been stumped or stuck for months or even years.  All recommendations from SEO Recon are keyphrase-specific so the recommendations provided in one report cannot be indiscriminately applied to other pages optimized for different keyphrases.  Back-link analysis is actually a part of the competitive intelligence performed by SEO Recon and can be used to aid in your ongoing link building efforts.
SEORecon is obviously a powerful weapon for any SEO expert to possess. What training is required, when should one use it and how might they incorporate it in their SEO activity workflow?
The only training required beforehand is a background understanding of the overall SEO process (entry level understanding is sufficient) and understanding of the SEO terminology used in the reports.  No understanding of the background technology, AI, or mathematics is required.  The Action Steps Reports should be used both to prioritize your SEO plan (which SEO factors to work on) and guide your decision process as to how you make changes to your pages and what kind of link partners you seek out to help in the optimization process.
Optional Questions:
SEORecon takes a snapshot in time of the competitive landscape and competitor strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Is more than one snapshot required to determine our competitor’s strategies?
More than one snapshot is generally required because the competitive landscape changes as your competitors are making improvement s to their pages and which competitors are in your landscape changes.  The more competitive the keyphrase and the move active the landscape, the more frequently you should get new snapshots.  Once per month is generally recommended as a minimum for competitive keyphrases.