Interview with the Noble Rhea Drysdale

Interview with the Noble Rhea Drysdale

14th June 2012

This is a guestpost interview from Moosa Hemani, a search strategist from Pakistan. He usually shares his ideas as a guest blogger on multiple named blogs in the search world. You can find his complete profile on He recently comes up with his own blog named SE Talks. He has interviewed Rhea Drysdale from Outspoken Media and offered to share this interview here.

I read an old post on Outspoken Media today and if you love and respect SEO you must read that too. This interview was due on me since long because if nowadays I have a good job with a proud title called “SEO”, some of its credit goes to the noble lady of the industry named Rhea Drysdale.

Why Noble? Well, If you spend a couple years and $17,004.33 (and a great amount of mental trauma) just for fighting the SEO trademark, I will really didn’t mind calling you a hero. So, yes the Noble Lady Rhea Drysdale.

Rhea, Thank you very much for taking some time to answer my questions and let people know more about you and of course SEO.

Rhea: Thank you, I’m excited to share and I’ll do my best!

Rhea, before I go for the technical questions I wanted to know how you spend those two years until you won, specially the time when you remain alone in the opposition? Were you calm enough about you decision or there were doubts around you?

Rhea: There were a lot of doubts. When I started the opposition I didn’t have much to lose besides time and money. Throughout the course of the opposition, I got married and became more established in my career. Then I had to consider my family’s financial goals and my reputation in the industry. There were always people who supported me and did everything they could during the process, but there were just as many SEOs saying I wasting my time.

It was impossible not to get confused and question the path I was on. We took it one month at a time, because there isn’t much you can do to expedite the process. Certain months, when the invoice came in, my husband and I would have to reaffirm the decision given the progress that was made to date. In the end, it set a precedent, but had the trademark been approved, I doubt it would have been enforceable. Regardless, my opinion is that we taught the industry a lesson—don’t be a jerk. This industry can and will band together when it has to despite the crap we sling at each other day to day.

I interviewed Lisa Barone for Search Engine Journal and to be honest her answers helped me build myself as a better professional. Not too long ago Lisa Barone stepped down from Outspoken Media, how challenging it is for a CEO (in general) when a key person in the company steps down or leaves?

Rhea: Someone once taught me that a CEO has three jobs—1) set the vision, 2) get the right team in place and 3) make sure the business is profitable. On the most fundamental level those are the only things a CEO truly needs to do with their time. That can branch into a number of other responsibilities, but those are the most vital. When a vocal player leaves the team, the biggest challenge is setting the tone for the business and keeping the remaining team focused on the vision. There are also the staffing considerations—do we replace them? If not, how is their work allocated to the remaining team?

Lisa’s departure came at a time when we were in the throws of a massive organizational development process. This means that we were already undergoing role allocations, a new company vision, restructuring of our SEO consulting services and literally dozens of other changes. We were restructuring from the ground up, so it was great timing. With a strong vision, amazing team and emphasis on profitability, we’re now focused on what we need to be doing to scale the business. As a result, we’ve asked the community to be patient with us while we become what we will eventually be. We are in a state of transition and it’s exciting taking a moment to reevaluate our business goals and values.

A few months back there were a number of long debates on many different blogs and forums about SEO and Inbound and whether or not SEO should be rebranded. What is your opinion on RE-Branding SEO and do you think future is Inbound?

Rhea: I don’t. Maybe I’ll eat my words one day, but I’m seeing intense opposition to this movement except from a select few and their communities. Those are very vocal communities, but there are just as many less vocal and incredibly powerful communities, organizations and associations out there. Until I see inbound popping up in those conversations, I don’t see it replacing the brand of “SEO.”

I know Outspoken Media is very picky about hiring employees but there must be some general qualities you look in a person to work with. Can you please share some of things you notice in a SEO applicant?

Rhea: Yes, I can! We just did a LOT of work in this area as a team and recently hired two new employees that really match our culture without compromising performance. It’s important that anyone we hire be in the area or willing to relocate and become an Albany SEO. The qualities that matter most to us are honesty, passion, results, accountability, agility, tenacity and social responsibility. These qualities define the team we have today and the team we need to grow. They may sound like buzz words, but take a minute to truly think about each and how it plays out in business and you’ll get a strong sense of who we are at Outspoken Media and what new employees need to succeed with us.

I would be stupid if I didn’t ask you some technical questions (I know you are a great SEO ;)). My question is more targeted towards client management, How to handle a client to make them stay with a company for a longer period of time? Some techniques that make them feel confident that they are in right hands… specially the starting few months because results might take time!

Rhea: Communication. Communicate early and communicate often. Define expectations. Be honest with your client about your capabilities and theirs. We’re really big on this right now, basically transitioning from the vendor to long-term consultant relationship with the majority of our clients. We’ve managed to do this with virtually all of them in a short period of time.

How did we build their rust? We got back to the basics. Rather than thinking tactically, we talked about the entire reason our clients are in business in the first place—what they value, what their goals are, the audience they need to reach, etc. Now we figure out the tactics that are a) achievable, b) can produce great results and c) match the vision and values of both our client and our agency. This engenders an open, honest relationship with our client because we get them and they get us.

Now that we’ve got a big love fest going on, let’s get to work and kick some ass. Continue to communicate and stay focused on the big priorities. Most consultants get bogged down in the details, but as long as you’re making steady progress and rolling out physical work, links, on-page changes, etc, you will see progress.

If you’ve done everything possible and your client still isn’t trusting you, I would fire the client, because they’re going to rob you of your performance or consume so much time and energy that it will detract from your other clients. There is no profitability (on either side) in trying to keep everyone happy.

Rhea, you have a great understanding of on-page optimization so I believe it’s great to ask you this question, what do you think about the density of keyword in the content and do you think copywriters should care too much about it?

Rhea: This is incredibly important, even more so today after Penguin. Google is a bot. They are starting to get better at understanding relationships and context between sites through entity search, but at their core, Google doesn’t understand what a site or a page is about unless you tell them! Sometimes telling Google that you’re about blue widgets is tricky because you have a limited amount of content to work with. In those situations, you need a content manager who is brilliant to achieve the perfect balance of optimization, tone, readability, etc. We have Michelle Lowery who manages our content creation and strategy for clients and the company. She’s amazing.

I will be straight, short and simple here. Do you think social is the new link building? Please back your opinion with explanation!

Rhea: No. Links still matter. You have to build up your domain’s trust, relevance and authority and links are still key to this. Anchor text may be less of a factor and certain link types and tactics may be less effective, but Google still relies heavily on the link graph. Look at any site that ranks for a certain set of keywords, but gets no social traffic whatsoever. How do they rank? Through links. Links are not obsolete nor do I think they will ever be, because in certain industries and fields you will never be able convert them to social media for legal reasons, privacy concerns, etc. Social factors are gaining prominence and I think that with personalized search (which I’m speaking on at SMX Advanced, catch the SMX Advanced 2012 coverage) this is becoming an important means of gaining SERP dominance.

What do you think are the 3 least important techniques that still work in on-page optimization as well as link building?

Rhea: That’s a tough question, because if something works, it works. In on-page optimization, I would say the meta keywords tag, which Google doesn’t use anymore, but Bing recently stated they do still use it. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t ignore populating it. I’d also say with regard to on-page optimization, HTML sitemaps are important, but far less important than back in the day when we needed a way for the search engines to get quick access to the most important pages of our site. The search engines crawl faster and more frequently today and with an XML sitemap we can submit our content on-demand. The third on-page tactic that I think is least important, but still adds value is code validation. There’s something to be said for your code validating, but do a competitive analysis and you’ll see some of the top performing sites validate with thousands of errors in W3C. Get your page load time down and keep your content crawlable and I think trying to combat every validation issue can be tackled when the rest of your work is done.

When it comes to link building, let’s go with submitting to DMOZ as an effective, but least important tactic. When I started in SEO DMOZ was vital. You had to be listed and everyone was trying to become an editor of a category or reach out to one for inclusion. My advice to our team is submit and then forget about it. If you get in, great, but their time is better spent elsewhere. I suppose blog comments would be another area where I feel like they can and do work well, but I would never count them towards link acquisition for a client.

Everything else I keep thinking of works regardless of whether I think it should or shouldn’t and if it works it’s just a matter of the site’s value as to whether it’s important. So, I’ll have to leave you with these to two tactics and if I think of a third, I’ll let you know, but if a link passes value I’ll always think it’s important. 😉

What is Negative SEO? Do you believe in it? If yes, how can one stay on the safe side?

Rhea: Negative SEO is effectively damaging someone’s rankings usually in an attempt to gain competitive search rankings. Yes, this happens. Yes, this works. We’ve worked in poker, mesothelioma, coupons, and credit cards. Those are highly competitive and in many cases incredibly shady industries where negative SEO can and does happen. I agree with Danny Sullivan’s comments in Aaron Wall’s post that negative SEO isn’t new, but also isn’t rampant. One of my first freelance SEO jobs was repairing the rankings of a site that no longer ranked for its own domain. He was taken down by an unnatural link portfolio, which was not built by him. That was back in 2007, so awhile ago, but it still can happen and not just through “blackhat” tactics as evidenced by Grindstone SEO.

Rhea, lets come to the lighter side. This is one question that I ask everybody and I usually expect a funny answer but how do you explain SEO to your non industry friend including parents and other family members?

Rhea: I tell them I work with Google. That’s what my little sister said back in the day and it stuck. Everyone knows I don’t actually work there, but no one really gets what we do, so it’s cute and nerdy enough that everyone laughs and we move onto more sexy subjects like online reputation management.

Thank you Rhea for taking time and answering my question, I am sure your answer will be the great source of improvement for me and other others in the community on a professional and personal scale.


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