Flashforward: Exclusive Interview with Aaron Wall

Aaron Wall on SEO, the future of the Web, Google dominance, and life as a professional taste tester

As someone who keeps a close eye on the mystical world of Search Engine Optimization, one of my favorite sources of information is SEO-guru Aaron Wall. Aaron is the author of the immensely popular SEOBook.com, where he shares his knowledge, ideas, and opinions on a wide range of SEO-related topics. I have always admired the direct, informative way in which Aaron presents his content, which itself is always insightful and intriguing. Having read much of Aaron’s thoughts on SEO and marketing, I wanted to “zoom out” and ask Aaron a few questions about the possible future of SEO and life on the Web in general. Recently, Aaron was generous enough to respond to some of these rather eclectic questions, including some interesting “behind-the-scenes” questions revealing how Aaron works on the Web..

Hi Aaron, thanks for your time. Please tell us a little about yourself and your involvement with the Web.

I have been online for close to 6 years now, and have been studying SEO for all but about 6 months of that. We publish a number of sites, work with a few Fortune 500 clients. Via our SEO Book site we offer SEO tools, SEO training material, and an exclusive SEO community.

What are some of the most important SEO practices today, and how will they change in the near future? Far future?

Currently links are the backbone of Google’s ranking algorithm. They may remain that way for a long time, but Microsoft has recently done research to use actual browsing data rather than PageRank as the core of an algorithm and found that to offer relevant results. As Google and other Internet companies gain more data they mix in usage data into the relevancy algorithms a lot more.

Because link building requires influencing other people it can be a long, hard, and complex process unless you really get the psychology that goes into link building. So link building gets discussed more than any other SEO activity, but things like keyword research, on page optimization, and setting up a strong site structure are also important.

What do you think the Internet will look like far into the future, like maybe 100 or 200 (or more) years from now?

I think the distinction between the web and the real world will be hard to draw, or perhaps non-existent. Communication technologies will keep evolving and information will available readily in whatever format you like, but with well blended ads. It will become nearly impossible to see the difference between ads and content.

When it comes to long-term planning of Web content, what steps should we take now to prepare for the future?

Know your market better than most competitors by tracking it. Participate in the social aspects in your field (like blogging and conferences) such that when you have something important to share your message spreads far and wide.

How would life on earth be different if the Internet were to suddenly cease to exist? How important has it become?

I think many people are addicted the web for entertainment, communication, and/or income. The web makes *most* markets that touch it far more efficient. Less efficient markets would create some arbitrage opportunities and strengthen some old gatekeepers, but in general it would be bad for most societies that have integrated the web heavily into their culture and/or infrastructure.

I would be hosed. So would millions of other people. The web is not just a business platform, but is a creative outlet that connects people. Without the web my wife never would have found me.

Let’s get personal for a moment: What would you be doing if the Web were to suddenly disappear?

I would probably still be a marketer of some sort. Maybe my wife and I would be running a small business of some sort…maybe a pastry shop or something…she could run the business and I could be a professional taste tester. :)

Unless Google invents the key to immortality, we all need to be thinking about what happens to our web content after we die. How should we prepare our sites for this? What should happen to them? Should they be archived, sold, given away, or deleted?

I think much of it will likely live on through Archive.org, but I think loved ones should have instructions for what to do and what is important in case you die.

Will Google ever “own” the web? More and more, it seems that the sacred name of Google is synonymous with the Internet. How unlikely would it be at some point in the future to see Google as the only (i.e, 99.999% market share) way to find information on the Internet?

AOL tried it and failed. Others have given internal content preferential treatment and eventually lost market momentum. Google is now actively engaged in the likes of promoting YouTube and Knol…but they can only push it so far before people fight back. Google is smarter than the other companies though…they keep taking baby steps toward self promotion. One thing that scares me about Google is that they are pre-baked into one of my hosts..how long until Google offers free hosting in exchange for a piece of the AdSense revenues (or perhaps just free, hoping that there will be a lot of sites publishing with AdSense ads on their content)?

What about government regulation and taxation of the Internet? Will it always be as “open” and “free” to use the Web as it is today (in the US at least)? What might cause things to change? What about the consequences?

Well there has already been some violations of net neutrality, Google promotes their own properties in their search results, and New York plans on charging sales tax to any company that has affiliates located in New York So some of the openness is already dying away.

But at the same time more and more free and open source software is being built. Does it take a lot of work to establish a following? Yes. But the technology behind establishing a presence is getting more affordable (usually free), more powerful (each WordPress plug-in and Drupal module makes those CMSs better), and easier to use.

Finally, I am intrigued by your idea of new-media artists as primary content creators. Would you mind elaborating and sharing this concept with our readers?

I think the post that triggered this question was our post about publishers needing to become interactive media artists. As the web gets more competitive people are going to compete against each other for attention, and we will compete with increasing levels of creativity and interactivity. Maybe I offer free SEO tools to help promote my brand, and maybe the next guy offers a free SEO Book…so whatever you end up selling you need to ensure it is an interactive experience that benefits from word of mouth marketing. Interactivity adds value that is hard to duplicate when it is coupled with topical expertise and a well known brand. This is why I had to move away from selling an ebook to a more full featured and more interactive SEO training program that also includes a members-only forums.

Aaron, thanks again for sharing your time with us. Before we close, would you mind answering a few quick “bonus” questions for all those inquiring minds out there..

What is your preferred computer platform and operating system?

I use a Dell with Windows XP.

How many hours per week do you spend online and/or on the computer?

Probably around 80 to 100 hours.

What is the longest consecutive stretch of time you have been at the computer? Away from the computer?

I am online everyday now that we have a community site. But I think around 2 years ago I went like 10 days without being online, but had a trusted friend managing emails for me.

How much offline reading do you do?

Much less than I would like…but I go in spurts where I read a lot straight, then don’t read a book for months.

Three most important/significant sites on the Internet today.

Depends on who you ask :) but Google (with the largest search and ad networks and buying up large content plays like YouTube) has to be near the top of the list. And then lots of the software infrastructure plays (Linux to MySQL to WordPress to Drupal) are rather important.

Thanks Aaron!

To read more from Aaron, and for some high-performance SEO tools, check out his site at SEOBook.com and be sure to subscribe to SEOBook.com for all the latest SEO news, tips, and information.